Anonymous emerged from a group of friends who played at each other’s houses in and around Indianapolis in the early ‘70s. They recorded their debut and sole album in a garage in Milwaukee in 1976, the same year that the Ramones and Blondie released their debuts. They pressed approximately 300 copies, but never played a gig, never promoted the album, and released only one follow-up, albeit under a different name and with a different lineup. That one record is remarkable though, a private press gem with excellent musicianship, beautiful vocal harmonies, and imaginative songwriting from their front man, Ron Matelic.
Inside the Shadow was recorded in just a couple of days, but it sounds like it should have taken much longer. Matelic’s songs are lithe, unpredictable things that jump from one time signature and one style to another seamlessly. He juxtaposes colorful choruses with tricky rhythmic patterns and contrasts lilting vocal harmonies with hard edged guitar solos, hiding the seams as he goes. The band’s performances match Matelic’s nimble writing with energy and precision, sounding equally at ease whether they’re drawing out a slow, bluesy chorus or riding on the wave of an electric 12-string’s melody.
As it turns out, Shadow’s eight songs were written over a period of several years; starting perhaps as early as 1972, when Matelic befriended bassist Glenn Weaver. Vocalist Marsha Rollings and drummer John Medvescek were old friends who shared a mutual love for Buffalo Springfield, the Beatles, and groups like Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane, so there was a rapport between them all before they ever rehearsed a song or stepped into the studio.
Their long friendship translated into magic on record. Marsha and Ron’s harmonizing and singing are two obvious highlights, but Medvescek and Weaver make for an impressive rhythm combo. They rarely just keep time, and Ron’s songs give them plenty of room to show off their virtuosity. When Matelic takes off on longer solos or rips into his 12-string, they drive the music forward, accenting it with snappy about faces, big crescendos, and sudden left turns. On the slower songs, they anchor Ron and Marsha’s lighter moments with heavier material, whether that means hitting the skins harder or laying down an extra layer of melody on the thicker strings.
Stylistically Anonymous may wear their influences on their sleeves—Matelic admits to borrowing ideas and melodies from The Byrds and the Mamas and the Papas—but the band integrates everything they borrow so completely that I can’t boil the record down to a particular style or a single source.Inside the Shadow sounds of its time, is maybe even a little anachronistic, but it isn’t just another psychedelic record or rock ‘n’ roll curiosity.
So maybe Anonymous weren’t following the trends of ’76 when they recorded Inside the Shadow, but they weren’t living in the past either.
Listen to “Pick Up and Run”: