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By Dave Chamberlain

OCTOBER 20, 1997:  Don't accuse Chicago's Scratchie Records of ignoring home-grown talent in search of greener pastures. Next week Scratchie will release the second full-length album by Fondly, a trio of eclectic-but-focused musicians from Chicago. Their eponymous first record on Bent garnered enough critical praise and college airplay for Scratchie to get behind the band's sophomore effort, "F Is For Fondly."

The first record also attracted the band's drummer, Tom Shover, who first tasted nominal success playing in another local band with huge potential, Brown Betty. "I was working at Tower Records when I heard the first Fondly record," Shover recalls. "I loved the disc. Someone working with me mentioned that Fondly was looking for a drummer, so I went home and learned the songs." Lead singer and guitarist Brian Burkhard interjects: "When we first started playing, Andy [Grzenia, the third member] would say 'Let's play this song,' but Tom didn't know the names. We'd just start, and sure enough, Tom would have the song down perfectly."

"F Is For Fondly" is not a typical alternative record. The sixteen songs span a vastarray of styles, from adulterated pop to psychedelia, from spare to intricately composed. Fondly is also not your typical band. All three members have professional day jobs (even Shover has turned in his Tower badge for a white collar) and they are fully aware of the odds against any band -- even a good one -- being successful.

The members can't help but get excited, however, when talking about the final outcome of "F Is for Fondly." Both Shover and Burkhard laud Brian Deck of Red Red Meat as a driving force behind the recording. "Working with him was just a fantasy," Burkhard says. "He becomes just like another member of the band. Before we even went in the studio, he collected demos of the songs, took them home and flushed them out. When we went to record, he already had new ideas for every song."

On one track, "Take Your Time," Deck had lead singer Burkhard learn the chorus phonetically backwards, and aside from one chorus refrain, the vocals were recorded in reverse to lend a different cadence and slant to the song. "When you do things like that," Burkhard notes, "great imperfections arise." Adds Shover: "Yeah, lots of cool accidents."

Not that such complex experimentation comes cheap. "That was the good thing about having a label," Shover says. "You have the liberty to try everything. And that was the atmosphere we promoted: any idea anybody has, let's do it. Every band should operate on the theory that this is the last record we'll ever make, because nine times out of ten, it is."

Fondly hired a violinist and cellist for recording sessions. For one song, "Sucking on the Root," the band used real tape loops that ran for ten feet around the studio."When we got our advance from Scratchie," Shover says, "we decided to make the album that we always wanted to make."

A different color: Jim Jarmusch's "Year of the Horse," a concert film that paints an in-depth portrait of Neil Young and his off-and-on Crazy Horse bandmates of more than thirty years, starts Friday at the Music Box. The film, a grainy palette "proudly shot in Super 8," frames nine Young and Crazy Horse songs with interviews of the band and Young's father and flashbacks to 1976 and 1986 concerts and touring footage.

If you're a huge Crazy Horse fan, this film is 107 minutes of pure bliss, especially the nine songs performed in their entirety. Viewers less familiar should keep the coffee warm unless they can sit through super-extended guitar jams from a band that just doesn't do a whole lot on stage other than buckle their knees and head-bob to the beat. The film's golden moments come between the songs -- during interviews and footage from previous tours.

From a haggard Young decked out in jeans and a Sturgis T-shirt, to bassist Poncho Sampedro's permanently donned sunglasses, these guys look to be running on fumes. Jarmusch interviews each member, hoping to understand Crazy Horse's longevity and the cohesiveness of a thirty-year-old band. The gems come when the camera sits back and observes without interaction. Jarmusch captures rock in its stereotypical glory, from band members smoking joints and breathing in beer to Young setting fake flowers on fire in a Glasgow hotel room, causing high stress for the Scottish maid who pops in.

Ultimately, Jarmusch's adoration of Crazy Horse works against the final product. There's too little behind-the-scenes and too much concert footage. Had Jarmusch taken less of a superfan approach, we might better understand the legends.


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