It has been only a year since The Badlees released "Up There Down Here," and just 16 months since they released "Amazing Grace." But from a band that has been consistently creative, prolific and busy for more than a decade, it should come as no surprise that the latest bit of news from The Badlees camp involves one thing and one thing only: Music.
Lots of new music.
A new CD, "50:45 Live" has been released by members Pete Palladino, Jeff Feltenberger and Ron Simasek. The 11-song collection includes a few previously unreleased numbers, plus reworkings of some Badlees' favorites and a few choice covers. And it is the first in a series of solo and side-projects expected in the coming months from the musicians that make up one of Pennsylvania's best and most entertaining bands.
"There's a whole lotta stuff going on," says Palladino. "There are things that are more formal and have a bit of direction, and there are things that are basically for fun. We decided to get together and play as a trio because we love playing, and as the Badlees were playing less, we wanted to get out there and play more. The trio's record really just spawned out of that. I showed up one day at a college show in Williamsport and said 'Y'know, we're going to record a live record tonight.'
"We didn't set out to do this but just playing as a three-piece, the directions of songs were taking off. The arrangements were so wide open, we had the chance to go back and really reinvent some of these songs. I've always loved playing acoustically, where you strip everything away from the arrangements and let the songs show through."
Palladino says there are other projects in the works. Early next year, he will release his first solo album, and The Cellarbirds — which features Badlees members Bret Alexander, Paul Smith and Simasek — will have an album out this year. Feltenberger also has been recording his own material and is planning a country-flavored album, and even The Badlees — after another bitter experience with another inept record label — might record together again.
"We weren't really sure at times what we were doing with the band," Palladino says. "The mood swings and the decisions of what's next are constantly changing, so to keep updating people with our whims would just get confusing. We decided 'Let's cut back and let's play less,' because the state of rock 'n' roll in central Pennsylvania — where we're making our living and where we can afford to tour — is definitely waning. We wanted to make sure we could still keep it special, and every time the band did play, we'd make it a little more of an event."
That hasn't always been an easy task, particularly in more recent years. In 1995, the Badlees hit big with "River Songs," a marvelous album that produced two national hit singles and helped put the group in a promising position for a follow-up. But in 1997 — just as the "Up There Down Here" sessions were being completed — the band became tangled in the massive Polygram/Seagram sale, which left the album in corporate limbo for more than a year. In 1999, a new label, Ark 21 Records, acquired the masters from Universal Records and finally released the album.
Still, the group's experience with Ark 21 was equally frustrating.
"We had a horrible record company that pulled tour support on us when 'Up There Down Here' came out," Palladino says. "How can a band of five guys with a crew of three guys head out there and play without any support from the record company whatsoever? We couldn't do it. At that point we decided to stay close to home, where we know we can continue to play good shows that are going to be well attended."
The Ark 21 disappointment, says Palladino, also contributed to some inner turmoil and frustrations that nearly broke up the band.
"There was talk of stopping, there was talk of just calling it a day, and now there's talk of doing another Badlees record," he says. "It might not be next summer, it might be the summer after. We don't know. All we've decided is that when the time is right and when it presents itself, we are going to do another Badlees record."
Palladino says the current solo projects and albums in the works should not be perceived as simple holdovers until that time. Everyone, he stresses, is highly committed to the work at hand.
"The Cellarbirds record is going to come out real soon," he says. "And if they have great success, I'm going to be so proud of them and be psyched. When my record comes out, hopefully I'll have a moderate bit of success, and I hope I would be afforded the same respect and everybody would be excited that somebody else is doing something."
Palladino says that in the long run, all of the side projects and the production experience Alexander and Smith are gaining at their own Saturation Acres studio in Danville may simply make The Badlees an even better band.
"I'm really excited. I think that the Badlees record that we're going to make after we make these records is going to benefit ten-fold from us doing this. Part of what happened with The Badlees is that we tried to take it apart and figure out why it was the way it was and what made it work. You're better off not even touching it and just knowing that everybody has got their niche and it works. When you dissect it and you try to fix all of the moving pieces and you put it back together, it doesn't work as well. I'm all for self-examination, but I think we went a little bit beyond that point."
A little on-stage magic at some recent shows, says Palladino, helped the band mend its wounds and, ultimately, stay together.
"It's become apparent to everybody as we continue to do shows that when we're on, no one can touch us," he says. "We've proved it to ourselves. We realized we're a good rock 'n' roll band and we all do our thing very well."
"50:45 Live," again, is the proof. It's a good record consisting of thoughtful lyrics and melodies and — like all of the members' previous work — an uncompromising sense of musical integrity.
"It's really a 'for the fans' kind of thing," says Palladino, adding that only a limited number of CDs have been pressed. "When we were picking out songs that we were going to put on this record, I wanted to do just songs that were my songs or Jeff's songs from over the years and go back and reinvent them.
"It's just three friends playing music."