Raising A Furor (or two)

by Fran Fried /

A tribute album to a not-so famous local duo is unheard of – let alone a two-CD, 38-song set.

The idea of tribute albums is just so old-hat. But a two-CD album by 38 acts to honor a local group whose success is measured in albums sold by the hundreds?

How do you explain “Let’s Get Furious,” the tribute to New Haven’s minimalist pop duo, The Furors? It’s like that final scene of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where George Bailey watches all his friends pay him back for years of gratitude – minus the financial ruin and suicidal despair leading up to the climax. Folks have come from near and far to contribute.

“My friend who used to play bass with us asked me, ‘Did you fake your own death?'” said Derek Holcomb, the group’s impish-grinned, hiccup-voiced singer/guitarist/writer. He met drummer Tom Dans at Long Island’s Huntington High School when Dans, in 11th grade, dated Holcomb’s sister.

Even if you don’t know their five albums of songs, from the double-45 “Electric Guitar and Drums” to “Pleasure and Revenge” – the unabashed pop of “Janet, Janet,” the longing of Hey, Joni,” the eerie crawl of “All Over You in Seconds” – their music has an ageless quality.

“They’re such nice people. And their live shows are amazing,” said New Haven’s Shellye Valauskas; she sang “My Shy Superstar.” “They’re so high-energy and their songs are well-crafted. What they can do with two guys floors me.”

Meanwhile, Craig and Claudia Bell of Indianapolis are still enthralled. Craig was on the ground floor of the alternative music scenes in Cleveland (Rocket From the Tombs) and New Haven (The Saucers, Future Plan/The Plan/The Bell System). Claudia, then the New Haven Advocate’s music columnist, wrote the liner notes to The Furors’ second album, “Completely Furious.”

“Take ‘A Pretty Picture.’ It’s such a beautiful song,” Craig Bell said. “‘We were so beautiful together, but not now.’ Or ‘Go, go far away, and when you get there, don’t stop.’ He’s a phenomenal writer.

“(The songs) can all stand up to being done by so many people in so many ways,” Claudia added. “Right there, that says it all.”

Indeed, The Furors’ songs are adaptable to many styles: The Forgotten Ones’ country-twang on “This Is a Desperate Man”; The Manchurians’ Bo Diddley shake on “A Thing for Blondes”; the solo acoustic “I Kissed Your Wife” by Frank Critelli; “Her Other Man,” a three-chord punk rave by The Survivors; or the punk-meets-country flair of “I Went Out at Night” by The Big Fat Combo – led by Tom Hearn of Cheshire, who conceived the tribute in the first place.

(OK, disclosure time: After much prodding by Hearn, I made my recording debut singing “(All I Get Is) Letters” with members of Hearn’s band as Fran Fried & the American People.)

“They write really good songs,” said The Forgotten Ones’ Jamie McGann of Branford – the former James Methwreck of New Haven punks The Poodle Boys. “I think it’s wonderful they’re the last band standing.”

Plus, there’s the “Q” factor – “quirky,” a word used to describe The Furors before They Might Be Giants cornered the market. Maybe it’s Holcomb’s grin or his vocal delivery, but it’s a word that’s not very far away.

“People always called me quirky. Now I take it as a compliment,” Holcomb said. “(But) it’s like emo bands – there are certain words nobody wants to be considered.”

But it all came together, to their eternal surprise.

“We had played a gig at a place in Wallingford called the Sanctuary,” Holcomb said. “Hearn (then) called me and said he’d like my blessing, but if he didn’t get it, he was still doing it. I said, ‘Good luck.’ I thought that you couldn’t cover our material. Nobody could sing it.”

Hearn thought otherwise. He mentioned his idea to Critelli and Rob DeRosa of Meriden, who released the album on his Thin Man Music label.

“I was marveling at how good these guys were,” Hearn said. Every time I went to see them, no one was there. But the people who went to see them had a band or a label or a column, and they all had big smiles on their faces, and it seemed like there must be something about them.”

“He said we should do it,” said DeRosa. “We called a few people. We thought, at best, we’d have 10 acts.”

“Within one week, we had 24 people on the list,” said Hearn. “By April, we realized, we said, ‘If it’s gonna go to two discs, it’s gonna go to two discs.'” And after much, much delay, here they are. And The Furors were floored.

“It was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for us,” Dans said. “I was amazed to hear our material so well-produced, better than we could do. I was excited by the thought of anybody besides us playing our music.”

“The entirety of it, to hear it all in one listen, was stunning,” Holcomb added. “I wanted more! Where’s the third disc?”
They were both in the orchestra and choir at Huntington High School on Long Island. “Tom played the flute, I played violin,” Holcomb said. “Tom played well, I played badly.”