With minor assistance, multi-talented New York power pop genius Heyman does it all — vocals, Rickenbacker guitars, keyboards, drums (his initial instrument), etc. — on his six-song EP and sparkling debut album, both of them impressively accomplished 8-track brews. The EP contains such stellar pop achievements as “The Gallery,” “Special Love” and “Masquerader Man” which build on the baroque beauty of ’60s bands like the Left Banke by layering on harmonies and Spectoresque quantities of massed instrumentation. The rush of melodicism is truly magnificent. On the home-made Living Room!! Heyman realizes an undated collection of tuneful styles in shapely songs that favor subtlety rather than eccentricity. (After its initial release, the album was remixed and minorly resequenced for reissue inside a new cover.)
Co-produced by Andy Paley, Hey Man! accomplishes the same audacious one-man-band feat, taking advantage of a real studio situation to multiply the arranging details (including multi-tracked vocal harmonies) without succumbing to pointless doodling or numbing slickness. What the winning album does indulge a little is Heyman’s ability to summon up the sound of archetypes, which he does in the precise Beatlisms of “Loud,” the baroque Left Banke intricacy of “To Whiskey Flats” and the Byrdsy harmonies of the Dylanesque “In the Scheme of Things.” If he sometimes gets a little too close to the flame of the past, Heyman elsewhere makes fine use of his knowledge of past pop lore, channeling it into delightful originals like “Caught in a Lie,” “Falling Away” and “Back to You.” The best tunes pair magical melodies with substantial lyrics that reveal a strong individual personality after all. The faint military metaphors that march through Heyman’s love songs are finally explained near the end of Hey Man! in the revealing “Civil War Buff.”
If not be the speediest power pop auteur in the recording universe, Heyman is certainly one of the most gifted and consistent. (And, as it turned out later, prolific: he’s got ’em, he just doesn’t always release ’em.) Made with steadfast wife/bassist Nancy Leigh (“she is my cornerstone,” he writes in the notes), guitarist Andy Resnick and occasional instrumental or vocal assistance from others, Cornerstone contains one heartbroken song for the ages, the rushing “Out of My Hands,” and others of nearly equal distinction. For an album avowedly about an enduring relationship, the songs wisely look at love from both sides. The happily fatalistic “From This Day Forever” is balanced by the Dylan/Byrdsy “If We Should Ever Meet Again”; the harpsichord-pinned “When It Was Our Time” looks back without anger, while the Rundgrenesque “Racing After You” looks ahead sadly.
Following the release of a disc of six studio leftovers from Cornerstone plus the earlier “Hoosier,” sung by Peter “Herman” Noone, Heyman recorded Basic Glee in his (surprise!) living room. Arranged with less of a stylistic debt to past icons than on his past records, Heyman distills ringing melodic guitar pop to its essence and lets it fly with open-throated glory. “Pauline,” “Broken Umbrella” and “When Evening Comes” (the melody of which, oddly enough, briefly resembles Bob Mould’s “Heartbreak a Stranger”) are only three notable tunes in an altogether sterling collection. The fan-club-only Rightovers is a full-length collection of new songs recorded for, but left off, Basic Glee.
Actual Sighs is a conceptual oddity: re-recorded versions of the six songs that were on 1986’s Actual Size combined with 14 previously unrecorded songs that date back 20 years or more. As Parke Puterbaugh’s liner notes detail, this is meant to be a 2006 rendition of what would have been his debut album had he possessed the financial resources to complete it at the time. Beyond the clarified versions of familiar items in the oeuvre, what makes Actual Sighs especially notable is the atypically forceful rock element that crops up repeatedly. The rampant “Stockpile” has a real kick that threatens to overwhelm the poppiness and could remind Bryan Adams of a thing or three, while “RXH’s Love in the First Person Blues” sails right past acceptable limits with a shrill intensity only slightly ameliorated by jiggly guitar licks. “Twelve Bars and I Still Have the Blues” barrels along, a goodtime boogie that is no more recognizable as Heyman’s work. But a few bouts of overzealousness do little to undercut the pop glories that abound here: the Association-like “Kenyon Walls,” the wistful and haunting “Winter Blue,” the slow and soulful “Written All Over My Face” and “Can’t Keep Me From Talkin’,” which revs up to a dangerous energy level but has such clever hooks and sharp guitar work that it locates Heyman’s usual magic with ease.
Although never advertised to fans of his pop career, as a New Jersey teenager in the 1960s, Richie Heyman was the drummer in a rockin’ band called the Doughboys, which was for a time the house band at Cafe Wha? and also included a future member of Ram Jam. The quartet reunited for a gig in 2000 and then (despite the intervening death of original guitarist Willy Kirchofer) cut is it now?, an unselfconscious garage-stomp of vintage-appropriate originals (the best of which is “Maybe I’ve Gone Crazy, written by guitarist Gar Francis) and covers of the Animals, Bobby Troup, Otis Redding, Stones and the Raiders. It’s highly unlikely anyone in the last 40 years has performed “I’m Cryin'” or “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” with such penetrating anguish.