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Sigmund Snopek III - WisconsInsane CD (album) cover


Sigmund Snopek III

Eclectic Prog

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3 stars By the late eighties Sigmund Snopek III was pretty much an iconic fixture in the Milwaukee music scene with a vast live and recording history to his credit. His progressive and avant- garde experimental days were largely behind him, and his association with the post-punk (and fellow Milwaukee natives) the Violent Femmes was something of a regular gig.

'WisconsInsane' is probably his most well-known album, though that is a relative distinction with him being largely unknown outside the region and his narrow touring circles. The music is mostly pop in nature with smatterings of Zappaesque jazzy interludes and occasional musical bedlam in the vein of Femmes tunes like "American Music" and (I Dig the) "Black Girls". But still, Snopek's talent for charming and accessible tunes make this album a pleasant diversion at least, and a solid example of a regional marquee act at best.

The album opens and closes with "Wisconsin Waltz", the sort typically Polish polka- sounding number that the Femmes and other American post-punk acts like the Dead Milkmen (Pennsylvania), Camper van Beethoven (California) and the Larrys (Kansas) largely built their limited careers around. "Shake the Fruit" is a middle ager's lament on changing times and nostalgia, a horn-driven tune with hip-swirling percussion and little in the way of substance but still catchy.

Too bad "Slip Away" didn't find its way into radio rotation somewhere. This is a smooth pop song with almost imperceptible jazz undertones and a casual verse delivery that comes off so much like an Elvis Costello tune that I have to believe that's exactly what Snopek was going for. The female backing vocals from Robin Pluer and Xeno are totally seductive and bring the thing home beautifully. I love this song and have it on several of my mp3 player playlists. The guy can definitely write a memorable song when he sets his mind to it.

Snopek also managed to work in roles for his parents on the aimless spoken-word interlude "On the Way to Oconto", as well as his son Shaun who cranks out some decent fuzz guitar on Snopek's signature anthem "Thank God This Isn't Cleveland". The Snopek brand is nothing if not a family affair.

Several songs here aren't much more than playful pop tunes with various instrumental embellishments from the vast assemblage of Milwaukee-area guest musicians Snopek employs throughout. "The Rose of Wisconsin" is a shallow but toe-tapping song about a local gal who still manages to turn heads as she saunters by despite her emotional baggage and messed-up head. "Sing for Me" strikes me as a lost-love song to someone in particular, but probably only Sigmund knows who that person is. "Summer Guest" is a lovely piano piece, while "I'm so Tired of Singing About the Sky" is another Costello clone delivered as a twisted sort of Donny & Marie duo with Robin Pluer, another longtime Milwaukee musical landmark. And "Movie Songs" is a name-dropping affair where Snopek blurs the lines between reality and an obvious penchant for old-time classic big-screen films. Steve MacKay plays saxophone all over the album but is particularly effective here.

My second favorite track is "Call Me in Wisconsin (Before the War)" which strikes me as something close to a musical biography about Snopek's family, sort of a Joe Jackson- meets-Harry Nilsson doing Leonard Cohen covers thing. This one is meant to sound like a timeless tune, and Snopek expertly pulls it off.

I like this album. It's pretty much pop, as I've pointed out several times already. But that's okay; Snopek established his progressive rock and avant-garde credentials years before this one was recorded, and given the state of the music scene in the late eighties this is at least a record that is filled with sincere, non-commercially oriented songs that are simply meant to entertain and provoke thought. 'WisconsInsane' succeeds on both counts in my opinion. Easily three stars for an album I would recommend to anyone who just wants to feel good while enjoying the offerings of a bunch of musicians who love their work and put an honest day's effort into practicing their craft.


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Posted Saturday, September 24, 2011 | Review Permalink

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