THE SPLIT SQUAD
Red Chuck Records (CD) / FOLC Records (LP)
By John Curley
The Split Squad, self-proclaimed as “America’s Least Famous Supergroup,” are comprised of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Clem Burke of Blondie on drums, guitarist Eddie Munoz of The Plimsouls, guitarist Keith Streng of The Fleshtones, bassist and lead vocalist Michael Giblin of Cherry Twister and Parallax Project and keyboardist Josh Kantor of The Baseball Project. Kantor is also the organist for MLB’s Boston Red Sox at Boston’s Fenway Park. The band took its name from the practice of MLB teams sending two separate sets of players, known as split squads, to play two different teams in separate locations during preseason Spring Training.
The band’s sophomore effort Another Cinderella, which follows 2014’s Now Hear This…, benefits not just from the band’s veteran lineup but also from the contributions of special guests that include Jason Victor (The Dream Syndicate), Brian Hurd (Daddy Long Legs), David Minehan (The Neighborhoods/Aerosmith/The Replacements), Scott McCaughey (R.E.M./The Baseball Project/The Young Fresh Fellows), Joe Adragna (The Junior League) and violinist Deni Bonet.
The album kicks off in spectacular style with the propulsive New Wave-style power pop of “Hey DJ.” It sounds like a great lost track from FM rock radio of the late 1970s with Giblin’s vocal a cross between Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. The instrumental break features great guitar work, Burke’s drumming is solid throughout and the backing vocals are top notch. A soul-inflected reprise of the song, “Hey (Soul) DJ,” closes the album. It adds horns to the mix and has a lighter, less-rocking approach than its sister track, and it sounds more like a 1960s power-pop/soul song. The female backing vocal toward the end of the song is outstanding.
The trippy “Taxi Cab” has the feel of late 1960s psychedelia, with its distorted vocal at the start, shimmering guitars and powerhouse drumming by Burke. It’s got a good vocal by Giblin with effective backing vocals. “Bigger Than Heroin” is done in the style of late 1970s NYC rock. It’s somewhat trippy and features some terrific guitar toward the end of the song.
“As Bright As You Are” is something of a wild card on the album in that it sounds completely different from the rest of the tracks. It’s quite beautiful, and it showcases Kantor’s piano work, Giblin’s terrific vocal and Bonet’s violin. It also makes perfect use of the backing vocals.
“Trying To Get Back To My Baby” takes on 1960s-style power pop with Burke’s drums and Kantor’s organ at the start before the rest of the band and Giblin’s vocal kick in. The backing vocals are perfect.
Other highlights include the title track, which is a rocker with quite effective female backing vocals; the distorted, shimmering guitars of “Invisible Lightning”; the powerful glam rock of “Showstopper,” with its fantastic guitars and drumming, and strong vocal by Giblin; and “Not My Monkeys,’ with its late-1970s punk style and excellent guitar work in the instrumental break.
The band’s influences and lengthy list of musical experiences shape this album into a very enjoyable and rocking listen. “Hey DJ,” in particular, is a terrific song that deserves to be a hit. Hopefully, radio programmers give it the playlist support that it should receive.
The video for “Hey DJ” can be seen below: