Singers, lyricists, masters of sound

Tommy Dean's '10 for the Road'

Atlanta music fans may not realize it, but our most talented local artists aren't home that often. They're traveling, earning a buck or two. The road can be many things — exciting, crazy, but monotonous, too. How do Atlanta artists combat the mind-numbing blandness of airport delays, interstate miles, fast-food joints and anonymous hotels?

With music, of course.

Thus, we introduce "10 for the Road," in which local musicians reveal their favorite road music. It's a variation of the old deserted island premise, but (seven stranded castaways aside) who the hell ever ends up on a deserted island?

We christen this column with Tommy Dean, bandleader/vocalist of the League of Decency, which has been weaving an eclectic, delightfully twisted blend of swing, soul, rock and R&B since 1984. The League sends up everything from Elvis to Ellington, Ray Charles to Frank Zappa, and does it all well. An obsessive music fan, Dean was delighted to oblige. His choices are as follows:

1. Nina Simone, Best of Nina Simone

"If I could sing like anybody, I would sing like Nina Simone. Nobody can be as fierce or as fragile."

2. k.d. lang, All You Can Eat

"Other vocalists I admire include Tony Bennett, Bob Marley, Joe Williams, Otis Redding, Ella Fitzgerald and k.d. lang. Lang's All You Can Eat is a favorite. The sparseness of that album opens up vast amounts of space for her impeccable voice. Her phrasing is always choice and understated."

3. Bob Dylan, New Morning

4. Randy Newman, Trouble in Paradise

5. Mose Allison, Best of Mose Allison.

"Songwriting is a talent I admire. Lyricists who knock me out are Johnny Mercer, Randy Newman, Bob Dylan and Mose Allison. Where Johnny Mercer is fine wine, Dylan is a deep Italian red laced with LSD. You can get as deep as you'll ever want to go with Dylan. Nobody can be funnier than Randy Newman. I thought I'd die the first time I heard 'My Life Is Good.' Newman is seldom recognized for his dark, somber side. He shows both sides on Trouble in Paradise. Mose Allison is the master of telling it like it is: 'Everybody's crying peace on Earth/Just as soon as we win this war.' He tells the truth in a blues vernacular."

6. Beach Boys, Pet Sounds

7. Captain Beefheart, Clear Spot

8. Bob Marley, Natty Dread

"I was digging sounds way before I cared about lyrics. Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds is beautiful. Clear Spot has incredible guitar interplay. I'm drawn to the manic sounds of Zoot Horn Rollo and Winged Eel Fingerling. There's something about single-string bass and guitar lines moving in unison. Bob Marley uses this sound effectively, but mixes it with a hypnotic groove, voodoo vocals and horns. The rebel in me can get to his revolutionary stance, too."

"Before I move on, understand that I'm inclined to mix cuts from my favorite artists with favorite classical pieces: Pavarotti singing Puccini, Samuel Barber's Adagio, 'Short Ride in a Fast Machine' by John Adams, Ave Verum by Mozart, Gabriel Faure's Pavanne, The Hoffman Concerto by Grieg, and nearly anything by a Russian composer. I'd include Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Joe Williams singing 'Everyday I Have the Blues' with Count Basie's Band, something from Duke Ellington's Live At Newport, Ray Charles' version of 'Ruby' and 'I'll Be Seeing You,' as well as 'Three Cool Cats' or 'Idol With a Golden Head' by the Coasters."

9. NRBQ, Peek-A-Boo

10. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Freak Out.

NRBQ kicks ass. These guys are my heroes. They write fantastic songs with unbelievably cool chord changes. They write serious music. They write fun music. They are never pretentious and ever infectious. 'Green Light,' 'Little Floater,' 'RC Cola and A Moon Pie,' 'Housekeeping' and 'Things to You' with Skeeter Davis are all gems. I choose Freak Out by Zappa and the Mothers of Invention because they twisted my teenaged mind. I still want to know, 'Who are the Brain Police?'"


League of Decency performs Fri., July 4, at Powder Springs on the Square. For more info, visit www.leagueofdecency.com.