April 18, 2005

A band you've never heard of and CDs you'll never be able to find

A couple weeks ago I was once again reminded of a band I loved back in my college days, the Balancing Act. They were a eccentric folky band from California that was briefly signed to I.R.S., made two and a half very good but not so successful albums (New Campfire Songs, an EP; Three Squares and a Roof; and Curtains, produced by freakin' Andy Gill, people!), and vanished. I own all their albums on tape -- although, I must confess, I shoplifted them, because that was my preferred method of music acquisition when I was 18.

The last time I got curious about the Balancing Act and what ever happened to them, my investigation happened to nearly coincide with the release of a new album from bandmember Jeff Davis, who had started up a new band, Niagara. Niagara ended up releasing two CDs, both of which I own, and they're pretty good, although I didn't quite feel the old magic was entirely there; one of the things I most dug about the Balancing Act were their tight harmonies, and those were absent on Jeff's mostly-one-person singer-songwriter foray. Still, the CDs are worth having, and thank goodness I found out about them promptly, because the Niagara website is totally gone now.

This time around I decided it was time to try upgrading my old Balancing Act cassettes to CD, since the tapes were sounding a little creaky last time I listened to them -- and, more importantly, now that I have an MP3 player, I want those albums on it, and the tapes are totally useless for making decent MP3s. So I found the CDs on eBay (there are only two CD -- one of the CDs includes the EP), got outbid for them (and, I mean, I guess I should be pleased that I'm not the only person alive who remembers that band, but still -- couldn't you remember about them a different week?), but then managed to track them both down for cheap at two online used-CD sites, coming to about $15 total when you include shipping. Guess it's good I didn't give up and order from this guy, huh? (Though maybe I shouldn't gloat until the second CD actually arrives.)

Additionally, I discovered that another band that includes an ex-Balancing-Act guy among its members, MysteryPop (formerly Spanish Kitchen) had finally gotten itself organized and put out a CD. Haven't received my copy of the album yet, but the samples I listened to were promising. If you're feeling spendy, you can get yourself a copy at CD Baby -- and that CD is part of the $5 sale, where, if you buy three sale CDs, they cost only $5 each. I highly recommend these two CDs as your second and third choices.

At this point I must apologize if I've gotten you interested in a band that has largely disappeared from the face of the earth. But there are some MP3 rarities online that you could check out -- try the demos of "Dangerous Roof", "Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat", and "She Doesn't Work Here", and the live version of "Red Umbrella".

Posted by Francis at 02:32 PM

Are you sure it was the tight harmonies that gave the original releases that extra "magic"? I'm guessing it was really just the thrill of shoplifting that made the difference. Of course, to test this theory we would need a control group consisting of one individual who is exactly like you in every respect, except that he acquired the tapes legally. (And I bet there's grant money out there somewhere for such a study, too.)

Posted by: Jonathan Caws-Elwitt at April 18, 2005 07:20 PM

Believe me, there's plenty of tapes I shoplifted that haven't aged as well.

Posted by: Francis at April 18, 2005 07:25 PM

Hey, I bought "Three Squares and a Roof" quite legally, but lost it in Pensacola like 15 years ago and still miss it. Where do you find online used-CD stores?

Posted by: Marc at April 18, 2005 08:14 PM

Well, I buy a lot of CDs from djangos.com (where I found "Curtains" for $4.99), but I found "Three Squares and a Roof" by searching on Froogle. When my CD arrives, I'd be happy to send you a zipped file of the MP3s if you like -- you did buy it once already, after all.

Posted by: Francis at April 18, 2005 09:56 PM

By chance, I heard them at Black Mountain College (long after it had gone under, but someone was trying to revive it). They sang a song called "There's a TV Guide in the Olduvai Gorge," and even though I only heard it that once, I still remember it vividly fifteen years later. Really catchy.

Posted by: Dean at April 18, 2005 11:17 PM

Hey Francis:

Simon from MysteryPop here. E-me at akrinst@aol.com.

Posted by: Simon at June 4, 2005 02:40 PM