By Eleni P. Austin
Tony “Cisco” Marsico and Darran “Dewey” Falcone are men on a mission. The duo originally became friends and began creating music together back in the mid ‘90s, but, to paraphrase the musical philosopher, John Lennon, “Life is what happened to them while they were busy making other plans.”
Cisco grew up in Philadelphia, but moved to Los Angeles to further his musical ambitions. He arrived just as the Punk scene really exploded. Tito Larriva and Chalo Quintana had just formed the Plugz (sometimes known as Los Plugz), and Cisco signed up for bass duties.
The Plugz were L.A.’s first Latino Punk band, as such, they shared many spit-stained stages with progenitors like X, the Germs and the Circle Jerks. They also started their own record label, Fatima, in 1979.
It’s amazing to recall just how ubiquitous The Plugz were throughout that halcyon time. They were one of the featured bands in the definitive Punk Rock doc, “The Decline Of Western Civilization.” Their music was featured in the film, “Repo Man” an instant cult classic starring Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton. Even Bob Dylan was a fan.
In 1984, Dylan asked the Plugz to be his backing band at his appearance on “Late Night With David Letterman.” They performed three songs, a radically reconfigured version of “License To Kill” as well as a New Wave-ish rendition of “Jokerman,” both from his most recent album, Infidels. They also unleashed a wicked cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me To Talking.”
Not long after the Letterman appearance, the Plugz added gutarist Steve Hufsteter to the mix and officially became the Cruzados. Their sharp distillation of Punk/Latin/Roots-Rock resulted in two well-received albums on the Arista label. The band also toured with big names like Fleetwood Mac and INXS.
Once the Cruzados called it quits, Cisco became a sought after session musician, playing bass for artists like Neil Young, the Williams Brothers, John Doe and Peter Case, Dr. John and Linda Ronstadt. Along the way his acting and musical skills meshed in movies like “Road House,” “Georgia,” “L.A. Story” and “She’s So Lovely.” He also spent several years touring with Matthew Sweet’s band.
Darren “Dewey” Falcone grew up in Redondo Beach in a house filled with music. As a kid, he was inspired by everything from the Rolling Stones and Country Western to the Moody Blues. When he met Cisco, at a recording session for Gerry Goffin, he was being mentored by Barry Goldberg and Goffin.
Gerry Goffin is best known as the Brill Building-era lyricist who collaborated (personally and professionally) with Carole King on million selling hits like “He’s So Fine,” “The Loco-motion” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” (just to name a few). Following the dissolution of his partnership and marriage to King, he continued writing and recording music with myriad collaborators including Barry Mann and Michael Masser. Sadly, he passed away in 2014.
Cisco and Dewey had an immediate affinity, musically and personally. They began to write songs together, but Cisco was in high demand as a touring musician, so their collaboration suffered from a little coitus interruptus. Cisco went out on the road and Dewey continued cultivating a solo career.
By early 2014, Cisco came across the old cassettes he and Dewey made back in 1995. The music was even better than he remembered, so he decided to track Dewey down.
It turns out Dewey had abandoned the music scene and Los Angeles altogether. He relocated to the desolate and beautiful surroundings of Joshua Tree. There, he was free to indulge in his passion for motorcycle racing. Despite the change of scenery, he had never stopped making music, now he did it for his own satisfaction.
Cisco finally located Dewey and it was as though no time passed. They began making music again and the result was their self-titled debut, released in early 2015.
Recorded in the High Desert, it included contributions from heavy-hitters (and old pals), like Greg Leisz, Joel Alpers, Tony Gilkyson, Barry Goldberg and Gia Ciambotti. Although these session superstars have played with everyone from Eric Clapton and k.d. lang to X and Bruce Springsteen, the album was laid back and loose, warm and inviting.
The duo spent the Spring and Summer playing live at such disparate venues as Pappy & Harriets, the Grammy Museum, La Luz De Jesus Gallery and Schmidy’s Tavern. Not only did Cisco find time to publish a book, Late Nights With Bob Dylan, but he and Dewey wrote and recorded a brand new album, All Across This Ghost Town.
The album opens with the mid-tempo charmer, “Always On The Run.” The winsome melody is propelled by layered acoustic and electric guitars, honeyed harmonica notes and a high lonesome lap steel. The lyrics ponder the vagaries of life. Dewey notes we all long for human connection, but run from the challenges they represent, leaving you “mixed up, confused, under the gun, always on the run.”
It’s clear that the High Desert has provided inspiration for Cisco and Dewey. The barren landscape has seeped into the songwriting process conjuring old West imagery on three tracks.
“All Across This Ghost Town” is anchored by rippling piano runs, sawing harmonica and a sturdy back-beat. The melody shares some musical DNA with Van Morrison’s “And It Stoned Me” as well as the Band classic, “The Weight.” The boys spin a spectral yarn worthy of Zane Grey. A weary traveler stumbles across a saloon populated with “ghosts and gamblers from the Gold Rush boom.” A phantasmagoric guitar solo slices through the supernatural tableau.
On “Let Me Down” liquid lap steel, wheezy harmonica fills and Hammond B3 colors are tethered to a galloping gait. The opening couplets sketch out a vivid Butch & Sundance scenario; “I carried you through Mexico when you didn’t even know your name, you let the fire die that night, you put out the flame.” But the outlaw tale serves as a metaphor for romantic betrayal.
“Long Since Dead” is something of a Wild West torch song. Loping rhythms are accented by burnished lap steel runs and searing guitar riffs. The feeling of heartache is palpable as it plays out alongside coyotes and dry riverbeds.
Mid-way through the album, “Fire Away” is an ambitious song that allows Cisco & Dewey to add new colors to their sonic palette. An epic Civil War saga, the melody and instrumentation split the difference between Appalachian twang and Celtic balladry.
A martial cadence provides ballast for an aural tapestry of mandolin, banjo and weeping violin. Dewey slips into the skin of a weary soldier facing certain death. “And high up on the mountain I hear the bugle cry/Death marches onward and in the morning we arrive.”
The most heartfelt songs here are “Gone With The Wind” and “Under A Silver Moon.” Both pay homage to recently departed loved ones. The former is part restless farewell, part tender encomium to Dewey’s late dad, Darren, Sr.
The melancholia is tempered by a mid-tempo groove awash in Hammond B3 notes and soulful harmonica fills that snake through the serpentine melody. In the end the tune is buoyed by this assurance; “Someday I’ll see you again on down the line/Ghosts of prophets and kings wait on the other side.”
Feelings of loss and sadness are camouflaged on the latter. Framed as another Wild West ramble, this rollicking song is a guns-blazing ode to a fallen companion. Like an accelerated “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” the song tells the tale of a gunslinger Pistol Pete, gunned down in his prime. Of course they’ll meet again in the big round-up in the sky; “My friend, save a chair for me, besides the cattle rustlers and horse thieves/Like cowboys in an ole saloon, tellin’ stories of days gone by under a silver moon.”
In reality, Pete Phillips was a consummate guitarist and longtime running buddy of Cisco’s who sadly passed away earlier this year. More powerful than an eloquent eulogy, the track is bookended by incendiary guitar solos from Roots-Rock legend, Dave Alvin.
Other interesting tracks include the locomotive rush of “Wild And Free.” The anthemic love song “The Days Ahead Of You,” and “Nothin’ But Time.” That last tune is a sweet, drifting waltz that exudes the same gentle spirit as Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.”
The album closes with “Little By Little.” A piano-driven rocker, it offers this trenchant epiphany; “With these thorns around my heart, my life has changed with turns in the road/Looking back I’ve always known you build your love stone by stone.”
Once again, Cisco and Dewey have surrounded themselves with a crack Wolfpack of pickers and players, guitarists Dave Alvin, Mark Knight and Bernard Yin; drummers Joel Alpers and Gary Malaber; Bill Maresh on pedal steel; Tom Lavin on banjo and mandolin; Gee Rabe on accordion; keyboard duties fell to Barry Goldberg, Craig Fundyga and Mike Thompson; Lyn Bertles on violin; Alex Vincent on cello, and the lovely Gia Ciambotti provided backing vocals.
On All Across This Ghost Town, Cisco & Dewey exhibit the same easy-going charm of their debut. Dewey’s rough-hewn vocals have found a perfect harmonic blend with Cisco’s warm tenor. They’re definitely making up for lost time. Two excellent albums in less than a year must be some kind of record, but for these guys, it just seems like business as usual.