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Just Desserts / Give Up The Ghost

David Avery, CMJ
Backed by an understated and cleverly arranged ensemble, singer-songwriter / guitarist Tom Laverack offers lyrical gems about everything from alcoholism ("Alcohol") to homogenized rock radio ("Last Rock and Roll Band").

For fans of Mark Eitzel, Bruce Springsteen, Replacements.

Mathew Lawton, ALBUM NETWORK
Just Desserts is a truly fulfilling band. Give Up the Ghost will keep ya coming back for more.

The ecclectic folk-rock group Just Desserts' new album Give Up The Ghost (Earhorn Disks), is full of songs that express real emotions, both the good and the bad. The simplicity of the music is what makes it so enjoyable. No pretentious elitism or "artiste" airs, this band is down home and in your backyard. Check out: "Last Rock n' Roll band," "Maybe I'm the One," "Save You from Yourself," "Beautiful Life," "Alcohol," "Road to Ruin," and "Mystery."

Just Desserts / Give Up The Ghost & Sentimental War

Drive, they said. Drive on! As the streets passed by, and BMWs roared their way through beggars and broken windows, I thought I'd find solace in my big stereo. I had just received a couple cds by Just Desserts. First, their 1987 album Does anybody notice this sentimental war going on or is it just us? , reissued last year as a cd. The title in itself was 10 years ahead of recent variations by Modest Mouse. The war was everywhere in that album : class wars, environmental poisonings, alcohol abuses, inner fights, family feuds and love struggles. Tom Laverack's guitars and Larry Fessenden's saxes explored all the breaks between the "New Man" of the postmodern world and the "Same ol' Stories" still haunting us. Musical influences ranged from Bob Dylan to Talking Heads, and quite a way beyond all of them, thanks to Wharton Tiers' production. I also had their new release, Give Up The Ghost. Wharton Tiers has accompanied Just Desserts - as he's done with Sonic Youth - through the last ten years. A more stable album, more focused, more serene. The acoustic side of the band has become more confident, less exposed to the outbursts of electricity periodically invading Sentimental wars. As if struggles had turned even more inwards. The class wars are still raging, but as "the walls are crumbling down", all we are now looking for is simply "a small place where we can hide out."

And as I was driving, the difference between the desolation in the streets and the inner void of our age started vanishing. At a red light I closed my eyes, and I could not tell whether I was hearing the frustration of the city, the quiet rage of the songwriters or my own disarray : "I heard a song about injustice/ On a big stereo/ That cost more than a year's worth/ To a man in the ghetto." I turned off my big stereo and opened my eyes. But the man in the ghetto did not seem to care.

So I listened to a few more songs and a few more questions. How come the worst genocides can only go as far as "almost shaking us up"? How come "we'll never be quite certain of our killer's name"? "Am I a fool to think/ That I spent my whole life/ running from this paradise?/ Haunting questions for haunting songs. These two releases are two statements of doubts, ten years apart - a reflection of our history : "No one thinks to look up/ From what they are doing/ To notice we are heading down/ A short road to ruin." Drive on, they said.

Almost Shook You Up b/w Flashing Blue

New York Press March 1992
Out comes the Cure's "Hot Hot Hot!!!"/"Hey You!!!" In goes Just Desserts' stark raving, uh, stark "Almost shook you up"/"Flashing Blue" (Bar/None). Singer-songwriter Tom Laverack═s jagged folk-rock cuts to the bone straight through the most opportune vein, not unlike the song of American Music Club's Mark Eitzel. Recorded live, with Laverack on guitar/vocals and band mate Larry Fesenden on sax/vocals, "Almost Shook You Up" chillingly depicts a numbed-beyond-belief protagonist whose wife has split, whose daughter has vamoosed ("Said she'd rather be anywhere than in this morgue you call a home"), and whose mom just died-and still he's blank. Disturbingly real. So too "Flashing Blue," taken from Sentimental War (I'm ISO it) wherein Laverack and Fessenden trade ragged lines about the jittery dead-endedness of detox hell, accompanied-but never overwhelmed-by mood-manipulating organ, bass, guitars, and drums. Gripping stuff.

Goo Bonastia, NY REVIEW OF RECORDS, Nov 1991
"Almost Shook You Up" is a simple, direct, and honest slice of strummed melencholia. The only glitch is the high-pitched background vocals on the chorus. The earthy sax solo on the fade pushes it over the edge from good to damn good. "Flashing Blue," an unglorified look at the horrors of detox, is the sequel to the Replacements "Here comes a Regular."

Sentimental War

Michael Eck ALBANY TIMES UNION, Jan 29, 1988
...This is a great record. Buy it. Borrow it. Believe in it.

Sarge Blotto METROLAND, Jan 1988
This is a super record. The problem is although I've played it over and over, I've no idea how to describe it. It's a batch of beautiful, unclassifiable music that won't be pinned down.

Dianne Pine ROCKPOOL April 1988
They say revenge is sweet, but Just Deserts is absolutely delicious...they sound a little like Tom Waits fronting the Violent Femmes...There is something for everyone to get hooked on. Try it you'll like it. I sure did.

New York's Just Deserts may remind you of Tom Waits meeting Buster Poindexter in a smoky jam, but their debut album, "Sentimental War" feels like a visit with an old friend...

Robert Christgau, THE VILLAGE VOICE, April 1988
...the best of the writing-notably a detox diptych and an acrid call to arms and alms-kept me listening for the sprawling masterpiece I had somehow missed. It wasn't there. But I never got tired of the good stuff. B

David Hinkley NY DAILY NEWS, May 1988
...There's some good exciting music here, played on everything from sax to pan flute. The tone, in general, is somber tilting to bitter. From "Same Old Stories": "But ya couldn't put a cork in that jug of gin / Behind the wheel / Ya did a whole family in." The band takes a fairly dim view of humanity, you might say; in the middle of the lyric sheet is a note that reads, "In the time it takes to listen to 'Monkey Farm,' 360 test animals will die in U.S, labs." Yet the music is catchy enough that this may be exactly the way to sell these messages: Get people interested before they even know what it's about.

CMJ REPORT Jan, 1988
Just Desserts is an eclectic five-piece unit which combines a slew of instruments and styles to carve out a sound identity for themselves. They bring a sense of old country-folk tradition (that often resembles Irish dance or drinking songs) that is mixed with a spunky urgency that suggests The Violent Femmes. Their sound often takes rhythmic twists and unexpected mood swings, not only from one song to the next (note the way "Class War"'s lilt gives way to the fierce electric power of "Final Hour"), but in the middle of a song as well, and to startling effect. Best segment: when the saxophone on "Monkey Farm" (a protest of animal testing) squonks and cackles like a hysterical monkey only to subside into the quiet lament "Silent pring." Thomas G. Laverack (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Larry Fessenden (saxophone, vocals) wrote and produced the LP, but the rest of the band-Noah Staein (bass, trumpet), Mark Ellison (guitar, banjo, accordian, harmonica) and Bob Muller (drums, tabla and percussion)-is equally skilled and versatile. The songwriting is as emotionally charged as the vocal performances, which reveal a ragged, somewhat beaten spirit that has more than enough strength and smarts to shed light on the darkest of situations. For full effect, let this one track from start to finish.

Carle VP Groome, DOWNTOWN 1988
...So what you might like about this lp is that before you're halfway through side one there are enough intimations of brightnes and talent to make you think you might have something that gives you pathos instead of bathos and care instead of chaos.

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