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The Violent Femmes were considered an indy music breakthrough when Chrissie Hynde plucked them off the streets of Milwaukee in the 1980s. Victor DeLorenzo was the Femmes’ stand-up drummer and now he’s joined forces with Sheboygan native and Eden Prairie resident “Lost Jim” Ohlschmidt and longtime Madison musician and former West Side Andy and Mel Ford bassist Tony Menzer to form the cleverly-monikered Lorenzo Menzerschmidt. The music is a pretty far cry from the Femmes’ blend of quirky riffs and anxious delivery. The music of LM has more in common with Dan Hicks and Mississippi John Hurt; blues with a swing.
Thankfully the humor remains and that’s in full evidence on the opener “I’m a Mess,” a self-deprecating blues shuffle driven by acoustic guitar. The ladies will fall for this dude who “brushes his teeth every once in a while when [he] changes his underwear.”
The original songs on the album were all written by Ohlschmidt who has an impressive resume of acoustic recordings as well as stints with Cincinnati’s Star Devils and and with his trio, Lost Jim & the Boxcar Scholars. He also is lead guitarist and singer for the Madison-based electric blues band the Velveetatones, which also features Menzer. Ohlschmidt wrote and produced several musical segments for The Rhythm of the River, a film produced by Dave Erickson documenting efforts to preserve the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. He’s written numerous articles for Acoustic Guitar magazine and other publications, was featured on A Prairie Home Companion for several years and teaches at Homestead Pickin’ Parlor in Richfield, MN, and in the guitar program at Lakeland College in Sheboygan. He’s a disciple of Mississippi John Hurt and has recorded three albums of Hurt’s material.
DeLorenzo and Menzer are in impressive lockstep throughout Lorenzo Menzerschmidt. Nothing flashy here but the grooves never waiver. Ohlschmidt takes the vocal leads and sings with a resigned coyness and affability.
You can’t get any more Wisconsin than “29’s a Good Road,” a smooth groovin’ road trip to Titletown. “Check the Gauge” references a certain organic leaf with a funkified playfulness (Is that Menzer laughing in the background?) and a fittingly demented guitar solo. “It Don’t Work That Way,” ventures into social commentary, and “Shades of Blue” are both slower tempo but are standouts. Here Ohlschmidt’s classy guitar tones are on display. Curious covers include the obscure Dylan tune “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” and a blues-shuffle version of “Johnny B. Goode.” The maestro Mississippi John Hurt gets a nod with “Payday.”
Blues-lovers: Lorenzo Menzerschmidt, like the Velveetatones, are not to be missed so get out to see them live before the sand turns to glass.