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Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013

Gary Tanin: Otto & The Elevators (Vera Records)

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Otto & The Elevators
is the great, lost Milwaukee album from the ’70s. On this 40th anniversary reissue of the vinyl LP (with a CD tucked into a plastic sleeve), the most remarkable thing—aside from the A-plus songwriting—is the timelessness. Gary Tanin’s writing and production synthesized many influences into a coherent style—a seamless construction made from The Beatles, blues, gospel, soul, country and classical music. It’s a gorgeous pop record from a rock perspective, with Tanin singing songs of hope, humor and loss in a bell-like voice. Otto & The Elevators doesn’t sound like 1973. In many ways, it sounds like today.

With remarkable ambition for a young artist, Tanin assembled some of the area’s ace musicians, including a pair of violinists, a couple of horn players and a pedal steel guitarist, programed an ARP synthesizer (a rarity in these parts in those days) and recorded with a sonic clarity that didn’t sacrifice power for polish. In recent years, and has been heard more in connection with other people’s music than his own. Perhaps Tanin was always more comfortable in the studio than on stage. Otto & The Elevators is an album that should have put his name on marquees.

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