Our World's Been Empty Without Them
|The Monuments "Supreme" CD single (art by Russel Stone)
Originally hailing from the Baltimore/Annapolis area, The Monuments have been working off and on for more than 40 years, from their early `80`s heyday (when they played regularly at venues like The Marble Bar and the Parrot Club/Trenton Street Stop) to the present, such as their recent "Last Picnic of the Year" performance at founding member William "Lump" Sutherland's Dundalk abode on November 5, 2023.
|The Monuments then (1983)...
|...The Monuments now (2023)
Like Washington, DC's The Catholics (remember their "James Brown Brown Medley" single?), they were known for their rocked-out arrangements of Motown, Stax & Soul classics - especially '60s Girl Groups such as Diana Ross & The Supremes, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas ("Dancing in the Street"), The Shirelles ("Baby, It's You"), Aretha Franklin, Lulu ("To Sir With Love") - and early Rock & Roll (Buddy Holly's "Rave On," Bobby Day's "Rocking Robin"), Rhythm & Blues (Rufus Thomas' "Walking the Dog"), and anything by The Rolling Stones.
Though a number of players have come and gone over the years, the nucleus remains frontwoman Cindy Borchardt (Bobby Sox, The Beaters, Silver Birches) on vocals, William Sutherland (Judie's Fixation) on guitar and vocals, Russel Stone on guitar and vocals, and Jay Turner (Judie's Fixation, Tom Principato Band, Leah Simmons) on bass, with Richard King now providing the rock-steady beat on drums.
The Monument's live streaming concerts were one of the few highlights of the recent Covid-19 pandemic, as the band turned home isolation and boredom into an opportunity to dust off their chops while providing a creative outlet for themselves and their fans. After all, the last time any of us in Baltimore had the opportunity to catch them live was a pre-pandemic show at Raven's Inn in Loch Raven back in January 2018 (where Cindy and Lump pulled double duty on a triple-bill that featured both The Monuments and Judie's Fixation - with Cindy filling in for their late-great front man Vaughn "Ben Wah" Keith) and another Sunday afternoon cookout at Casa de Lump back in 2022 (billed as "Two Blondes and a Bum," with Cindy and "Queen of the Marble Bar" LesLee Anderson proving blondes have more fun, while Lump represented the Bum - though the late Adolf Kowalski was there in the audience to lay claim to that title, as well.)
Alas, my wife Amy and I missed the Two Blondes and a Bum gig, which is why we were excited when we heard the Monuments would reprise their appearance at Lump's place on Sunday. It was a perfect sunny afternoon in Dundalk that opened with acoustic sets by The Silver Birches (Cindy's other group with her sister Sue Borchardt) and Mt. Airy's Fruit Jar Howlers. The Silver Bitches presented an eclectic playlist of classic '60s & '70s pop tunes (Bonzo Dog Band, The Monkees, Hollies, Queen, Velvet Underground), as well as more recent fare like their lovely dulcimer and ukelele-strummed take on First Aid Kit's "Emmylou."
|Cindy & Sue Borchardt are The Silver Birches
And what a treat it was to discover the Fruit Jar Howlers, purveyors of Americana, bluegrass and hillbilly music at its finest! (I suspect their name is a nod to Uncle Dave Macon's Grand Ole Opry staples The Fruit Jar Drinkers). No doubt Lump knew them through his association with similar Mt. Airy string bands like his old outfit Darla Jean & The Something or Others. The Howlers - Adrienne Kelley (fiddle and vocals), her brother Paul Kelley (bass), Mark Dickinson (guitar and vocals), and Greg Fury (mandolin) - were augmented that day by their banjo-plucking friend Brad Feldhaus. I was impressed that fiddle player Adrienne not only went to Towson STATE University when I did, but actually remembered Thee Katatonix! "I don't remember anything from the '70s, '80s, '90s, or early 2000s," she confessed, "But I do remember THEE Katatonix!" (Of all things to remember!)
|The Fruit Jar Howlers
The Monuments then electrified the proceedings, plugging in the guitars to light up the day with a set that was hot enough for a bonfire (appropriately enough, it was also Guy Fawkes Day for all you Anglophiles marking your calendars!). A special highlight was Lump stepping to the mic to sing and solo on the Merseybeats' classic "Sorrow."
|A Sorrowful Lump steps to the mic (photo by Patti Codd)
Watch "To Sir With Love/Sorrow" ("Sorrow" starts at 4:12 mark):
After the performance, Cindy B. handed out copies of The Monuments' first-ever CD, Supreme, which is available to stream or purchase on CD (yes, old-school, touchy-feely physical media still exists!) from Bandcamp. As the title suggests, the single features two Supremes covers, "Stop! In the Name of Love" and "My World Is Empty," both written by Motown's hit songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. Check out The Monuments channeling The Supremes live and with some bite below:
Many groups have covered the Motown songbook and countless female singers have tackled Diana Ross' vocal stylings, but Cindy Borchard's pipes are more than up to the task. Sharon Jones, Amy Winehouse, and Gloria Gaynor have got nothing on Miss B.'s confident singing on display here, which takes a classic and makes it her own. (I love the way she ends the song with an imperative "I said STOP!".) In addition to Cindy's fantastic vocals on "My World Is Empty" (a challenging song for any vocalist not named Diana Ross!), she was joined on backing vocals by none other than William Sutherland, whose gritty basso profundo rekindled memories of Barry White.
But what really makes The Monuments' covers a Supreme achievement is the arrangements. They retain Holland-Dozier-Holland's soulfulness, while the twin guitar attack of Stone and Sutherland add a hard-edged punk vibe to the classic soul melodies, like The Jones Brothers (the Pistols' Steve and The Clash's Mick) sitting in with The Funk Brothers. But don't tale my word for it, check them out for yourself at their Bandcamp page: monumentz.bandcamp.com (Yes, it's Monumentz spelled with a "z" because there are other bands using that name! Same deal with their email, it's TheMonumentz@gmail.com.)
The Supreme sessions were recorded at Hudson Street Sound by Noel White and mastered at Mobtown Studios by Matt Leffler-Schulman, and I have to say the mix is well-balanced to perfection. Cindy's vocals are upfront but so is everyone else - the guitars growl, Jay Turner's fluid basslines are masterfully captured (especially on Stop!"), and Richard King's crisp beat is razor sharp. It couldn't have been better produced by either Rick Rubin or Sir George Martin.
|Jim Moon (blue shirt) goes to talk to the police
But amplified rock & roll, no matter how soulful, is not to everyone's taste. That's why The Monuments November 5 backyard show was eventually shut down by the cops, who answered a neighbor's call and delivered a noise citation to Lump (as captured on video here). But as audience member Jim Moon put it, "It's not a successful party unless it gets shut down by the cops!" What he said!
Monuments playlist (YouTube)