by Jack Silbert
(above: Ellie Kitman photo)
It’s safe to say that Dave Schramm is Hoboken’s most sought-after guitarist of the past 35 years. So obviously his band’s eagerly awaited new album begins with 30 seconds of skronking clarinet. And yet, that’s absolutely fitting on an album called Omnidirectional, because even though this is a superb rock record, it welcomes compelling sounds from across the musical spectrum.
For those late to the story, Dave Schramm was in the original incarnation of Hoboken’s own Yo La Tengo, contributing one of the strongest songs, “The Way Some People Die,” to their early catalog. After YLT’s debut album, he left to form the Schramms with bassist Al Greller and drummer Ron Metz. They released five critically-acclaimed LPs between 1990 and 2000 (Schramm also issued a solo album in 1999), and the 2003 live document 2000 Weiss Beers From Home. In addition, Schramm has been a much in-demand studio musician, contributing guitar to records by the Replacements, Soul Asylum, Freedy Johnston, Little City Books’ Kate Jacobs, and more. And he’s been back in the YLT fold for the albums Fakebook (1990) and Stuff Like That There (2015). Omnidirectional finds the Schramms on the noted Hoboken-based label Bar None, working for the second time with producer JD Foster.
After Doug Wieselman’s clarinet brazenly announces that the Schramms are back in town, the opening track “Honestly Now” offers Dave’s friendly strumming, plinking piano, and subdued vocal, with gentle flavoring from bass clarinet, shaker, and backing vocals courtesy of Yo La Tengo’s James McNew. Two minutes pass before we hear Greller’s reassuring bass, leading into a power-chord-enhanced chorus.
The urgent “Spent” is paced by piano, fuzz guitar, and Metz’s steady drumming, while “In Error” features a phased vocal and raw guitar. “Faith Is a Dusty Word” is an early highlight, with instrumentation evoking a lost Pet Sounds outtake. That song title is one of many provocative turns of phrase on an album full of impressionistic lyrics, Schramm wrapping his warm hum of a voice around the syllables. Listeners will make their own interpretations, but togetherness, loss, memory, and carrying on are all on the table.
In “Good Youth,” banjo and xylophone accompany bass clarinet, and later, Schramm’s guitar barks at the heels of the other players. Oh, you want strings too? They’re on the slow, pretty “Not Calling.”
The next batch of songs follow a more traditional rock vein. “Hearts and Diamonds” is the most classically Schrammsian of the album’s tracks — indeed, it’s the only one recorded by just Schramm, Greller, and Metz — plus there’s a sweet guitar solo. “New England” is a slow-simmering rocker. “Still Standing Still” is another stand-out, with an electric guitar that sounds like it was strung with rubber bands, and excellent backing vocals from McNew. Then I thought I heard a harpsichord, but it’s actually a century-old instrument called a Marxophone, played by Andy Burton. Followed by another glorious Schramm solo.
There’s nimble piano playing throughout the jaunty “Won’t Fall Down,” as Metz sturdily keeps the beat. With Burton’s sonically soothing Hammond organ in the mix, and an uplifting chorus, the song is a gem. “The Day When” is the album’s biggest rocker, loaded with all-caps GUITAR. And “Two A.M. Slant” brings it all home… literally. Dave Schramm recorded this gorgeous acoustic, improvised instrumental at home in Hoboken. I’m so glad he’s back, but the guy never really left.
Omnidirectional by the Schramms is available on vinyl and CD at Tunes, 225 Washington St., plus everywhere else fine records are sold, and is on streaming services. There is a record release show at the Berlin club, 25 Avenue A, NYC, on Monday, July 1, at 7:30pm. You can follow the Schramms on Facebook and Instagram.