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Czarina Fronts LA Cover Band The Romanovs, Or Something Like That


John Mendelsohn is one of the legends of the world of rock criticism, a reputation he sheds and adds to at random, denying some of his greatest achievements (he got the Kinks completely right on his epochal The Kinks Kronicles liner notes, but you can’t even discuss the band with him today) while maintaining a career in the more than difficult worlds of social commentary and pop groups. His extremely gifted work as a graphic designer (he designed the cover of rock nyc Steve Crawford’s “1000 Essential Songs from the 1970s” as well as the logo for rock nycs’ Facebook page) only adds to the reputation as he keeps on writing and writing. Currently his Mendel Illness blog (here) is the place to read him, at his best, which is often, he hasn’t missed a beat though he is a pop music reactionary.

And the place to hear Mendelsohn, who has been in and out of bands for decades, was his solo stuff which I had the effrontery to give a “B+” a coupla years back (though he might be right to be pissed , I mean if you’re gonna give Chris Brown an “A-“…). Till now, where you can listen to his latest area of self-expression with LA based “pre-classic rock and pop, reimagined” band, The Ramonovs. A multi-media piece of serious parody. The three songs I’ve heard, “Honey Don’t”, “Tell Her No” and “Cry Just A Little” are all just about perfect to these ears.

And what is most perfect of all, is the thrilling singing of Lisa Svetlana (aka Motorina, aka Lisa Crystal) she has a lot of stamina and a lot of power and she can roll through the songs and pick up steam. Both modern and timeless, she is the dimension here that keeps on giving, even as the band reminds you of songs you’ve either forgotten or never knew to start with. She sounds sweet 60s but also hard and obdurate, a rangeful, rangy sexiness. From “Telstar” soundalike  Beau Brummel’s’ “Cry Just A Little” through the  Zombies cover “Tell Her No”, Lisa owns the songs. Not easy with such a great band behind her.

John has written a press release well worth cribbing here, and while the concept of making a back story steeped in Russia lore is hardly populism at its best, the kid can write nearly as well as he plays drums:

In spite of rumors of her escape that had endured for decades, it has been well documented that Bolshevik revolutionaries executed Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, the youngest, most beautiful daughter of Russia’s last tsar, along with the rest of her family in mid-1918, a few weeks after her 17th birthday.

What isn’t so widely known is that the year before, she had had a daughter, Olga, out of wedlock in Warsaw, to which her furious father had sent her on learning of her pregnancy. After the collapse of communism in 1991, Olga’s great-granddaughter Svetlana Motorina relocated from Poland to Tula, a industrial city 120 miles south of Moscow, where she had two sons and then, 14 years after the birth of the younger, a daughter of her own.

As Russia struggled to find its feet under the erratic Boris Yeltsin, many came to yearn more and more openly for a restoration of the country’s royal family. This alarmed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who directed that anyone related to the Romanovs be made to disappear. Getting wind through a sympathetic informant in the local police department that they were in jeopardy, Svetlana Motorina and her daughter, 10 by this time, fled the country, living first in Warsaw, and then in Paris. But Vladimir Putin’s reach doesn’t extend only to his own country’s borders, and Svetlana Motorina was kidnapped in front of the 16th arrondisement building in which she and her daughter shared a tiny flat. Sympathetic neighbors determined that an uncle of Svetlana’s had been living in Los Angeles as John Mendelssohnsince the 1970s, working as a journalist and occasional musician, and successfully appealed to him to provide refuge for his great-great niece.

Years later, Lisa appealed to her great-uncle to let her sit in with one of the covers bands in which he made vodka money playing the drums. He was so impressed with both her vocal abilities and her obvious adoration of the spotlight that he contacted two musicians with whom he’d played in glam and hair metal bands his own first decade in America, bass guitarist Kirk Henry and the legendary Pete Castle, like whom every young guitarist between LAX and San Diego County’s northern border had yearned in the 1970s and 1980s to be able to play. The three older musicians and the vivacious young singer — who renamed herself Anastasia, after her ill-fated antecedent — discovered that they complemented each other wonderfully, and became a band.

In the past, the three instrumentalists, all songwriters, had squabbled bitterly about whose songs to perform. They decided that this time they would avoid such acrimony by performing songs from that wonderful era between rock and roll’s birth and the onset of psychedelia. They performed an ancient Dion favorite as Bob Marley might have, an early Who number in the style of Johnny Cash, a once-dark Velvet Underground song as Rosemary Clooney might have sung it in 1952.

While Lisa hijacks the first two songs, even making you forget the break on “Cry Just A Little”,  wait for Pete Castle’s  guitar solo on “Honey Don’t” and John and bassist Kirk Henry’s rumbling on the same song, it is like train in the background till Pete kills it with a spitfire solo, a perfect example of less is more.

Still, it is”Tell Her No” that knocked me for a loop, it  is obscure enough to be a hit all over again in the sort of world where the Czar beat back the White Russians and the Commies and took his people from the brink of destruction to a bright white and light future world where The Romanovs rule the world.

Tell Her No – A

Honey Don’t – A

Cry Just A Little – B+

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