• Handsome Dick Manitoba – Born In The Bronx (Liberation Hall Records) CD Review

    Handsome Dick Manitoba – Born In The Bronx (Liberation Hall Records) CD Review
    Released by: Liberation Hall
    Released on: November 8th, 2019.
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    Richard Blum, better known as Handsome Dick Manitoba, has led a storied life. He started his musical career as a roadie for The Dictators, and later became their ‘secret weapon,’ sometimes handling backing vocals, sometimes handling lead. As the band evolved, he took over vocals full time and after they split in 1981, he basically got the band back together (less founding member Andy ‘Adny’ Shernoff) to form Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom. They put out one album and disappeared but The Dictators reformed in 1991 and kept things going, on again/off again, until just last year when they seem to have hung up their collective hat for good. In the interim, Manitoba opened a great Lower East Side watering hole called, appropriately enough, Manitoba’s, and had a long career on Sirius XM’s Little Steven Van Zandt's Underground Garage channel and from 2005 through 2012 he handled vocals for a reformed MC5.

    This summer New York City saw the bar close and a year before that saw the man go through some personal issues with his longtime partner Zoe Hansen that were, to be blunt, flat out horrible and landed him in court on abuse charges. But with that said, we’ve now been given his first ever solo album, Born In The Bronx. Those expecting a Dictators Redux or an MC5 clone should look elsewhere – this isn’t that. Instead, it is instead an album seemingly influenced by the stuff he listened to growing up. It’s a mix of soul, R&B, early rock n roll and charming sincerity.

    Without Shernoff and Ross ‘The Boss’ Friedman behind him, HDM’s sound has changed. This is evident right from the opening track, Shelley, is a catchy slice of vintage pop sung with the earnest style and gruffness that Manitoba is known for. You’d never say he had a golden voice, but he does sound like he means it when he sings, and in a lot of ways that’s a better quality for a vocalist. Back To My TV is a humorous track about how much HDM loves to watch TV and it’s a really fun track, while his cover of Eve Of Destruction, originally recorded by P.F. Sloan and released in 1965 on the album Songs Of Our Times, is delivered with an authentic reflectiveness that works really well.

    Surfisde shows a strong Beach Boys influence, while The Cooker & The Hit is a look back at the trials and tribulations of the kind of hard living that Manitoba experienced firsthand. Big Army Brass is three-minutes of ballsy swagger and attitude, while Layers Down is an old fashioned rock n roll track that again looks back at the tough type of living so often associated with the rock n roll lifestyle. The piano playing on this track makes it stand out. Callie May is all about meeting a girl after a show and hitting it off and hitting the road – a decent enough track but it’s repetitive and a big longer than it feels like it should be. Thicker Than Blood is a much more soulful track, a relaxed mid-tempo swinger about growing up with family and friends, and honestly, for lack of a better term, it’s kind of sweet.

    Magenta Street is another track about growing up on the streets, hitting on girls and getting into trouble – and as such, it’s a nostalgia track maybe, but it’s also the theme that runs throughout the album. HDM is clearly looking back and reflecting here, and it’s kind of endearing. 8th Avenue Serenade, a track about romance on the subway, has got some great musicianship behind it, with some horns and some castanets very audible in the mix. Soul Punk King Of NYC is a bluesy, jazzy boast track about HDM’s prowess on and off the stage. It’s got some jangly guitar work and soulful backing vocals to flesh out its sound. The album finishes up with Born In The Bronx, which is a track that’s as endearing as it is corny. It’s four-minutes of Dick looking back on his younger days, growing up in the Bronx, warts and all. If it delivers a decidedly rose-tinted view of things, so be it, it’s hard not to get a kick out of a song that talks about talking Quaaludes, hanging out at The Bronx Zoo, eating at White Castle and DJ Kool Herc.

    The album was produced and co-written by Jon Tiven, who brought in some Nashville players like Buddy Miller, Harry Stinson, Beth Hooker, Shannon Pollard, Chuck Mead, Donte M’Shawn to help out. The album also features work from Mickey Curry, Mat Reale, Simon Kirke and Mike Shrieve. It’s got a very clean, polished sound that contrasts in interesting ways with HDM’s growly and remarkably unpolished vocal delivery. Overall though, this works quite well. Yes, there are those out there that hate the guy, and their reasons are sometimes valid, but there’s an undeniable authenticity to this album that goes a long way.

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      You best Kapital K Kool Herc, my friend.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -