Sunday, June 12, 2011

Trona - Trona

Trona was one of the three bands I saw at that epic (for me) show at TT The Bear's Place in Cambridge, MA during the summer of 1996 (the other two being The Laurels and The Kelley Deal 6000, both of which have had their albums previously posted on this blog - so now you have music by all three bands from that evening). Trona was the opener, a local band fron Boston. A four-piece, with two guys and two girls, they belted out their songs with energy and abandon, with a sound that immediately caught my attention.

For all I knew at the time, Trona was made up of neophytes to Boston's rock landscape. But as I discovered, most of the band members had been kicking around the Hub scene for years. Christian Dyas, the guitarist and one of the lead singers, had been a member of the popular local band Orangutang (they released only one long-player, 1995's Dead Sailor Acid Blues).  Pete Sutton, the bassist, was formerly a member of the indie group The Barnies. Drummer Nick White had also made the rounds with a number of small Boston-area bands. The only music newcomer to the band was Mary Ellen Leahy, who shared guitar and vocal duties with Dyas; she was a former publicist for Taang! Records when it operated out of Boston.

Trona's sound was . . . well, I won't say "generic Boston indie rock" (first, because that's sort of an oxymoron; and second, because such a description sounds like a disparagement of a style of music that I enjoy immensely) . . . but there was definitely more than a small tinge of early Pixies/Throwing Muses/Mass. Ave.-type inflection in their music. Atop this 'indie' foundation, the band had erected a strong Western (in some cases, almost country-Western) sound into many of their songs, usually by juxtaposing Dyas' and Leahy's twangy voices. And this construct seemed to work - In describing this band to a friend later, the best way I could think of to describe them was that "they were what The Pixies would sound like if they were fronted by John Doe and Exene Cervenka [the lead singers of X]". And that was A-OK by me - I thought every song they did that evening was superb. I went to the show that night to see Kelley Deal's band, but of the two openers, Trona was the one that made to biggest impression on me at the time (not to say that The Laurels weren't bad either).

I didn't pick up their self-titled album (Trona, released by Cosmic Records) at the show that night; I waited a day or two, and found it at the Newbury Comics in the basement of the student union at M.I.T., close to where I was living that summer. I was really looking forward to getting into their CD, and once again hearing those great songs they played at T.T.'s earlier that week. But when I played it, I remember feeling VERY disappointed. The songs on the disc didn't seem to approach the quality of the sounds I heard and recalled from their live gig. At the time, it all just seemed sort of . . . blah. Outside of an unexpected and pretty good cover of Stereolab's "Wow And Flutter", there was nothing on the album that really held my attention. I regretfully chalked that purchase up as one of my occasional mistakes, and stuck Trona on the shelf, where it sat unplayed for several years.

As for the band: Trona's second album, Red River (released in 1998 on Cherrydisc/Roadrunner), shifted them more firmly into the countrified roots rock X vein. By then, even the critics were openly comparing them to X and the X countrified side project, The Knitters. Not a good thing, when you're trying to blaze your own musical trail. And it did nothing for band cohesiveness - Trona broke up in August 1998, when Leahy quit the band over the usual reason, "musical differences". Chris Dyas and Pete Sutton moved on to join the Ray Corvair Trio, a 60's lounge/surf revival band, for a time. Dyas now fronts a band called The Lingering Doubts out of New York, recording on L.E.S. Records. Oddly enough, a couple of members of Trona later found themselves involved with, of all things, Blue Man Group. Drummer White played in the Las Vegas version of Blue Man Group for a while during the mid-2000s; Dyas became musical director for the New York BMG immediately after Trona broke up, performing live with them and cowriting thair Grammy-nominated album Audio in 1999.

It's only been within the past year or so that I've revisited Trona's first album. And I have to say that, upon hearing it with ears fifteen years older, I can't understand why I dismissed this disc the first time I heard it. I made a mistake. The entire album - not just "Wow And Flutter", but all of it - is actually pretty doggone good. Sure, Trona probably isn't ever going to be considered for the Pantheon of Great Boston Indie Bands - they really weren't at the level of the aforementioned bands. But Trona had enough chops and execution to at least allow them to look groups like The Pixies square in the eye. Although their time on the scene was short, they have nothing to hang their heads about.

Don't take my word for it - have a listen yourself, and (as always) let me know what you think:

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