Chicky Stoltz walks the line between camp and cool

 Return of the Roebuck
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  December 4, 2013


BACK ON THE SCENE Chicky is still silly, with
a tinge of seriousness, and just off-beat enough
to keep you interested.

You remember Chicky Stoltz? There was a time when you couldn’t miss the guy in this town. Back in the halcyon days of the Skinny, Chicky was the hostest with the mostest, a comedian/personality/entertainer who was great at making sure no one took themselves too seriously.

He was also, in case you missed it, a versatile drummer who was the foundation for more than one iconic local band. Tripe are old enough that no one really wrote about them on the Internet. But Munjoy Hill Society? With Darien Brahms fronting?

I can’t be the only one who misses that, and misses Chicky. When he and the fam moved to Vermont not long after the demise of Chicky’s (the restaurant that’s now the Frog and Turtle, in Westbook), a certain silliness departed the scene with him that hasn’t really been replaced. It was a fine line he walked between camp and cool, artistry and asinine, and no one’s done it quite as well since (though he has been doing some sorta-secret Ruski’s gigs with Brahms lately).

Thus, there should be a contingent quite happy to welcome him back to Portland for the release of his second solo album, Camp Recording #2, The Roebuck, recorded in his home studio in the hills of Vermont. It walks that very same line Chicky has always walked, where you can’t quite tell if he’s being serious or not — or whether he cares if you can tell.

Generally, this is a boozy collection of eight songs that sounds very much like a home-studio creation. The vocals are often filtered through a not-particularly-sophisticated reverb effect. The drums sound kind of toy-like. At one point on “King Kong,” I’m pretty sure the percussion in the left channel is just Chicky whacking his legs with his hands.

But he can write songs and he’s just off-beat enough to keep you interested. “Kong” is just the kind of song Jeff Daniels would be singing in that country music movie of his, and Chicky cuts through much of his silliness with glimpses of seriousness: “But keeping my job, now baby/It’s proving too hard/And keeping my home now, baby/It’s got me hoping there’s a better calling.”

There’s a Zappa quality to the seriousness of his silliness. “Election Cycle” may be social commentary, with its perfect encapsulation of American apathy — “I’d gladly lend a helping hand, but there’s a game that’s starting soon” — but then, quite literally, there’s a vocal break where he simply croons “meow, meow, meow, meow.” An extrapolation of the absurdity of American life? Or just the first thing that came to his head?

The closing “Better Dead than Red” would seem to be a corollary, except that it’s a narrative indie-rock song about a dead guy who used to wear colorful suits, which Chicky now wears, but wouldn’t wear a red one. Because he thought red was for communists? Well, maybe. If you can take the song seriously in the first place, after its pretty chiming guitar and meditative delivery combine with the Q&A lyrics to create something akin to a goth kid juggling.

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