This two-CD set is by the all-but-unknown duo of Andy & Leslie Zwerling, who between 1973 and 1986 recorded some of the most solid, endearing, heartfelt pop/rock the U.S. has ever known. That said, it sadly seemed to end up on demos and studio recordings few people ever had the opportunity to hear -- until now. Andy Zwerling's story is a familiar one: Teenage kid with guitar and songwriting talent wants to be a rock star. He doesn't know or care how hard it is because he believes in himself. He does everything, literally everything, to make that happen -- including enlisting his kid sister's vocal talent -- to no avail. Heartbreak after no break after heartbreak, Andy & Leslie Zwerling -- who did gain some critical raves for their band's live performances in New York's premier clubs -- did not give up until there was little else left to do. He never stopped writing songs though, and still does. He tried again in the '80s with the same result. In the process he became an entertainment lawyer and his sister a successful jewelry designer. Now, none of this would matter if the music contained here wasn't good.
But it's far better than that. With its effects and production values, it may echo the time period in which it was recorded, but the songs themselves are timeless. This is American rock & roll played the way most who grew up in that era envisioned it: always reaching beyond the boundary of normalcy and boredom for the source of passion and transcendence itself. There is a profound innocence at work in these songs, but there is also angst and humor with a dynamic profundity that only East Coast rock could offer at that time. Andy Zwerling's "Unmistakably Amy" is among the more beautiful love songs of the period, and it's hard to believe that, with Leslie's swirling, soaring chorus vocal, it wasn't fought over by every record label that encountered it. His "Girls Are Forever" is a rock & roll anthem that came from pop heaven. Leslie's vocal adds a kind of sexual ambiguity, but there's no tension; it comes from Phil Spector and travels down a line that includes Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny without the posturing. "One O'Clock in the Morning" has just enough Righteous Brothers and Jonathan Richman to make it a bona fide American rock & roll oddity.
There is a romantic purity in it that touches on the early '60s, but there is wisdom enough to know that hooks, not tenderness, are what get a song across. Disc two furthers the notion that rock & roll this pure of heart can never collapse in on itself. It can't implode because it's too busy searching for the next step forward. One listen to "Someday Forever" makes the listener long for the day when the rock anthem was part of the canon; it was what every act sought to write, record, and be remembered for (now it's a denigrating term). And this is such a worthy one it makes no difference that Andy & Leslie Zwerling were out of time with their material; great music is great music -- end of story. But what makes this music so fine, so memorable, and so undeniably timeless is its refusal to adapt to a marketplace that had (and still hasn't) any idea of what "art" is, let alone what it really wanted in the first place. This double-CD package is how Andy Zwerling heard rock & roll in his heart -- from the time he was 15 and Leslie was ten -- and how it got out onto tape.
The absolute worth of these recordings lies not just in their musical integrity, but also in their obvious place in time (illustrated by the sound quality of the demos, which is so far from today's pristine digital coffin effects). This is heart-on-its-sleeve rock that reached for the sky and fell a bit short. Andy & Leslie Zwerling bet and almost lost it all until now. Though it's available by mail order only from their website (www.andyzwerling.com), listeners all win because it is available. It's never too late; open your ears to the trumpets that sound, somewhere south of pop heaven and north of the ground. Thanks Andy and Leslie for helping listeners to believe once more that music has a purpose: to transfer emotion from one human being to another. ~ Thom Jurek