East River Pipe

The Gasoline Age

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Having unintentionally pulled off a "Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle" that makes the (equally accidental) Sex Pistols look like rank amateurs, Fred M. Cornog finally reappears with LP number four. A few years ago, he signed to a major label that subsequently folded. So he never recorded a note for them, but got to keep most of his generous advance. Good things sometimes happen to good people: this lightning stroke of outrageous luck meant that the reclusive but affable, well-loved solo songwriter could move his home studio out of New York to a small house in the New Jersey town of his youth. The first result is The Gasoline Age, an album that revolves around Cornog's modest but buoyant charm. Not that he's lost his throbbing melancholia or overriding sense of the shy underdog having his day. But somehow, the boy seems jazzed, more contented behind even his most pointed little barbs such as "All You Little Suckers" and "Shiny, Shiny Pimpmobile." With a little more space to set up his microphones than a tiny corner of a cramped Queens living room, Cornog's self-production seems more expansive, brighter but not glossy, warmer but no less homespun than earlier efforts such as 1994's Poor Fricky and 1996's Mel. His songs still come as aural tapestries of ringing guitar chords, mood keyboards, pitter-patter drum machine, and that reassuring, vulnerable but determined voice. They just seem to glisten more now. With so long to stockpile, Cornog is overflowing with tunes just waiting to be discovered, like chocolate bars in gold paper wrapping, or little jewels in tissue paper. The mini-Spector may never play a live gig in his life, still recovering from his post-high school alcoholism and homelessness nearly two decades ago, but you can bet that several of these compositions will again be performed by other bands on stages soon. A knack is a knack, and a Cornog tune comes complete with all the right nuances and playful touches behind his straightforward melodies. It's an LP like a little-'burb New Jersey lemonade stand in summer, friendly conversation with every cup sold. Like the old Ian Dury song, with a little well-earned good fortune, Cornog has reasons to be cheerful, and you can hear it.

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