From Russell Crowe's 30 Odd
Foot of Grunts to Jared Leto's 30 Seconds to Mars, and from Gary Sinise's
Lt. Dan Band to Keanu Reeves' Dogstar, actors-turned-rockers have generally
proven to be even lamer when switching artistic gears than NBA
players-turned-rappers. But the Los Angeles quartet Cranky George is a
Using instruments ranging
from guitar, mandolin and cello to accordion, ukulele and a hatbox played
with a bass drum pedal, the group delivers a rollicking brand of
Celtic-tinged folk-rock that is the veritable definition of good-time,
seafaring pub music. Yes, the band's immediate claim to fame is that it
features actor Dermot Mulroney ("The Wedding Date," "Must Love Dogs," "About
Schmidt," etc.) and his brother, actor, writer and director Kieran (whose TV
credits include episodes of "Judging Amy," "NYPD Blue," "Enterprise" and
more). But the two Alexandria, Va.,-to-Hollywood transplants were making
music long before they were making movies or TV shows.
The Mulroney brothers
first made a name for themselves in the music world in the mid-'90s as
members of the Low and Sweet Orchestra, which also featured Zander Schloss
(Circle Jerks, Thelonius Monster) and Mike Martt (Tex and the Horseheads,
Thelonius Monster), and which released one well-received album in 1997 on
Interscope Records, "Goodbye to All That." In Cranky George, they are joined
by two undeniably impressive full-time musicians: Pogues accordionist and
multi-instrumentalist James Fearnley and Brad Wood, the former Chicagoan
whose production credits include Liz Phair, Smashing Pumpkins and Veruca
Salt, and who first rose to prominence on the indie-rock scene drumming for
Wood is not the group's
only connection to the Windy City: Another Mulroney brother, Sean, is a
Chicago attorney better known in these parts as the co-owner of the Double
Door (along with Andrew Barrett and Metro impresario Joe Shanahan), as well
as an active musician in a number of bands, including Cooksie and Casolando.
"James and Brad's kids
go to the same school, and they were both friends with my brothers Dermot
and Kieran, so they put this project together to play out around L.A.," said
Sean, who may be his brothers' and Cranky George's No. 1 fan. Added Fearnley
in a post on the group's Web site: "We all sang at our first show, and we
were all nervous: It had been 17 years leading up to this gig, for we all
met in 1988 or thereabouts, and have been playing in one another's houses
for that long. The joke was that the next gig was going to be 17 years
hence, but I hope it's sooner than that."
It will be, since Cranky
George will make its Chicago debut Saturday night at the Double Door. Sean
Mulroney has put together a bill that he calls "a real family affair" in
order to introduce his brothers properly, and to welcome Wood back to town.
"In addition to Cranky George, the lineup includes what is probably one of
the best pop bands I have ever seen in my life: the Incredible Casuals, who
are led by Johnny Spampinato of NRBQ. They do a residency every summer on
Cape Cod, where our family vacations, and we've been seeing them for 22
years at the same place, and the three Mulroney boys just decided, 'We want
to play with our favorite band, the Incredible Casuals!'"
Rounding out the
Mulroney musical family reunion: Sean's current groups, Cooksie, the
alternative-country combo front by another pair of brothers, John and Matt
Cook (who also grew up in Alexandria, and Casolando) and Carlos Ortega's
Latin-folk-rock band. "And, just because I love the pageantry of it, the
Beer Nuts," Sean said.
In between gigging,
championing his brothers, running one of the city's most vibrant rock clubs
and maintaining his law practice, Mulroney is launching a venture that could
have a major impact on the music world. Currently in its "beta testing"
phase, Mulroney and his partners envision SpliceMusic.com as a sort of
MySpace or Friendster site designed to bring people together not for the
purposes of dating, but for making beautiful music together even though they
may never meet.
"It's for the kid who
sits in his dorm room and is too shy to ask someone to be in a band with
him, or the guy with no friends into the sort of music he likes, or some
young musician who can't pull together a whole band. The site is basically a
digital mixing board, and you can drag and drop the tracks from anybody
anywhere in the world and put them on your song, pitch-correct and
time-correct them, and make a new collaboration. If you're a DJ and you have
a cool track but need some vocals or a piano, you can just drag and drop
those in. You don't need to buy any software, and it's all done virtually.
Essentially, what we think it can be is an online community built around
How does Mulroney find
time for all of these endeavors?
"If you think about it,
with the exception of the law practice, everything I do revolves around
music, and even with the law practice, I do represent a bunch of local
bands," he said, laughing. "Basically, it's the law practice that allows me
to buy the toys and have the money to do all of these other things."
REASONS FOR LIVING
The bland and sleepy
music they've given us on their recent Warner Bros. albums can make you
forget that the Favorite Sons of Athens, Ga., were once one of the most
fiery and inspired bands on the indie-rock scene. Now, in order to celebrate
their 25th anniversary, R.E.M. is releasing two welcome documents surveying
what is now clearly the best and most consistent phase of their career,
before they left cult status and I.R.S. Records for Warners and
"When the Light is Mine"
is a DVD that rounds up all of the group's primitive but endearing early
videos -- including "Radio Free Europe," "Driver 8" and "It's the End of the
World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" -- as well as killer live
performances of "Talk About the Passion," "Pretty Persuasion," "Can't Get
There from Here" and other tunes from TV shows such as "The Tube" and "Old
Grey Whistle Test." There are two episodes of MTV's late, lamented indie
showcase, "The Cutting Edge," and an early interview rounding out the
package as extras.
The 42-track CD
companion, "And I Feel Fine ... The Best of the I.R.S. Years, 1982-1987," is
less essential, since all of the group's albums through the mid-'90s are
must-owns. But in addition to the expected '80s hits compiled on disc one,
the two-CD set includes a second disc of hard-to-find rarities, among them
the original Hib-Tone single versions of "Radio Free Europe" and "Sitting
Still"; demos for "Gardening at Night" and "Hyena"; the studio outtake "Bad
Day," and a few more live and alternate recordings of tunes such as "Finest
Worksong" and "Swan Swan H."
The band's original
lineup -- Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, Peter Buck and since departed drummer
Bill Berry -- recently reunited for two shows at Athens' 40-Watt Club,
marking their induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. That news,
together with these two nostalgic offerings, can't help but prompt longtime
fans to wonder if a return to the R.E.M. we knew and loved might be in the
offing. We can only hope.