Turn-Up Records TU-11
Rock songsmith Richard X. Heyman has been making music since the mid-1960s, starting out as a drummer. His band, The Doughboys, was signed to Bell Records but their two singles for the label didn’t make a dent in the charts. However, the band continued to play, opening for big name bands and modifying their lineup and style in an attempt to find an audience. When they folded in 1968, Heyman went solo, backing a variety of musicians, including Link Wray and Brian Wilson.
By the late ’80s, he was recording his own music, handling all the instruments and vocals. He self-released Living Room!! in 1988, and Cypress Records, an imprint of A&M Records, picked it up for national distribution two years later. In 1991, Sire Records stepped up for his next album, Hey Man! Heyman has continued to write and record over the years, mostly for his own label, Turn-Up Records, releasing albums of memorable, well-written, and ear-grabbing tunes. AllMusic.com calls him “one of the sadly overlooked pop craftsmen of the ’90s,” but goes on to note: “His albums are widely regarded in power pop circles as instant classics.”
Heyman’s newest album, his 14th, is Copious Notes. The first track, “Nearly There,” opens with a gorgeous, layered chorus of harmony vocals, briefly unaccompanied until chiming guitars, drums, and a bouncy, fluid bass line combine to create a sound reminiscent of the great melodic rock singles that dominated ’60s AM radio. Heyman’s formidable drumming, aided by Nancy Leigh’s bass, give a rock’n’roll kick to the song’s soaring melody and rich vocal harmonies. Heyman has long carried a torch for the glories of ’60s rock, and he makes a strong case for the genre’s continued validity while never seeming to be locked in the past.
Heyman, like many musicians over the last year or so, wrote the 12 songs on Copious Notes in response to the pandemic, and the songs remind us that hope and love will carry the day. “The future is ours for the taking,” he sings on “Choices We Make,” and his advice on “Sink or Swim” is something worth keeping in mind as we go forward in uncertain times: “You think you got nothing more / But then something inside you leads you back to shore.”
Aside from the drums, which Heyman recorded at East Side Sound in New York City, Copious Notes is a home recording, but the songs are packed with great sonic touches. The beautiful baroque-pop arrangement for “Opal” includes a vibraphone tucked into the dense array of guitars and effects that carry the song’s melody along, and Heyman brought in a string quartet to help out with “But Our Love.” The delightful “Ransom” includes strings, horns, and various keyboards, including an electronic harpsichord, to create a mingling of sounds that never tips into excess.
The 12-string guitars on “Choices We Make” reminded me of the Byrds, but the song’s upbeat, hummable melody stands on its own. Heyman’s well-placed Hammond organ line in the song is the sort of detail that helps lodge a tune in your ear. “Cedarbrook Park” opens with a simple piano line and Heyman’s voice before guitars, strings, and harmony vocals fill the song out, creating a lush and intricate recording that lets the song’s gorgeous melody flower.
Copious Notes switches styles effortlessly, from the solidly rocking “Sink or Swim” and “One and All” to the Motown-influenced “The Greater Good.” The lush but rock-based pop that courses through the album shows Heyman’s affection for the Left Banke, and it’s clear he has listened to and learned from Todd Rundgren, another artist who has often handled all the chores in his own recordings. Like Rundgren, Heyman is more than the sum of the music he’s heard and absorbed through the years. His songs are so strong and individual that it’s puzzling why he isn’t better known.
Tony Lewis mixed and mastered Copious Notes at Hivoltage Music, and I would have preferred a lighter touch with the compression. The bass is out a bit too much, but otherwise I could hear how effectively Heyman had layered the instruments and vocals to create sonic and harmonic effects for his songs. Heyman has some allies in his mission to remind us of the glories of power pop—the Grip Weeds and Marshall Crenshaw, for instance—and he belongs in their august company. Copious Notes is available for streaming and download from various sources, and you can buy the CD from his website.
. . . Joseph Taylor