Neil Finn and Paul Kelly: Goin’ Your Way

February 4th, 2016

NeilFinnPaulKelly_GoinYourWayA generous document of an extraordinary collaboration

Recorded on the last stop of Finn and Kelly’s 2013 tour of Australia, this double-disc live set was initially released that same year, but only down under; Omnivore now favors stateside fans with this reissue. Finn and Kelly were joined on tour by a full band as they picked their way through both solo material and songs from their previous bands. The latter includes titles drawn from the catalogs of Split Enz, Crowded House and the Messengers. There’s an impressive connection between Finn and Kelly as both songwriters and singers, their songs flowing together seamlessly and their voices enthusiastically shading one another’s.

Perhaps it’s just a mark of their talent and preparation, but this summer fling sounds more like a long-running artistic love story. Their mutual affinity is evident in the way they weave into each other’s songs, highlighted by a Finn-led audience reprise of Kelly’s “One for the Ages.” The performances are thoughtful and often low-key, though Finn’s “She Will Have Her Way” and “Won’t Give In” are given heavier beats and moving electric guitar crescendos. The band, which includes Finn’s son and Kelly’s nephew, provides finely calibrated support throughout. Those who saw the tour must have known it was something rare and special, and this generous set lets the rest of us in on the occasion. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Neil Finn’s Home Page
Paul Kelly’s Home Page

Lew Card: Follow Me Down

February 4th, 2016

LewCard_FollowMeDownLet the good times roll – funky country, blues, soul and ragtime

Tennessee-to-Texas transplant Lew Card is determined for you to have a good time. The spirited tone of his third album contrasts with the acoustic style of last year’s Low Country Hi-Fi, substituting keyboards and brass (the latter from the superb Tijuana TrainWreck Horns) for fiddle and dobro. The opening “Walkin’ Shoes Blues” brings to mind the daydream of Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime,” with a tempo that beckons the listener to strut down the street. Josh Vernier’s backbeat will have you bopping your head to “Baby Won’t Ya,” as Card beseeches a prospective mate, accompanied by fingerpicked acoustic guitar, electric piano and Doug Strahan’s tastefully rugged guitar solo.

The album’s themes span intimate pleasures (“Paradise” “Come On Up”) to broad social criticism (“Condo Town Rag”), stopping off at a claim for independence, “Do My Own Thing,” that brings to mind Charlie Robison. The horns add a moody touch to “30 Pieces,” with a dragging beat, dripping guitar and bird chirps that nod to the Beatles’ “Blue Jay Way.” The album’s ten originals are joined by a full throttle cover of Norman Blake’s “Southern Railroad Blues” stoked by Earl Poole Ball’s boogie-woogie piano and Strahan’s electric guitar. Fans of The Band, Commander Cody, the Neville Brothers,, Dr. John, Little Feat and Creedence Clearwater will certainly cotton to this album. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Lew Card’s Home Page

The Miamis: We Deliver – The Lost Band Of The CBGB Era (1974-1979)

January 29th, 2016

Miamis_WeDeliverThe best 1970s CBGB band you’ve never heard of

It’s hard to imagine, given the state of musical archaeology, there are still bands to discover among the roots of the ‘70s New York punk scene. But this pop band remains surprisingly unknown, despite numerous performances at CBGB, Max’s Kansas City and the Mudd Club, and fanship from the likes of fellow travelers Blondie, the Ramones and New York Dolls. No doubt their obscurity is rooted in a lack of record releases – the band’s period catalog appears to consist of only a single track on the compilation Live at CBGB’s. There appears to have been no self-released cassettes with handmade inserts, no impossibly rare indie singles (or the requisite bootleg reissue of same), and most detrimentally of all, no record label contract.

But even without records, there were recordings; some made in the studio (and funded in part by Mercury Records) and some cut live. There was, forty years after the fact, a self-released CD collection of the band’s studio work that circulated primarily among those already in the know. But now, finally, there’s an expanded collection that presents a full picture of the band’s wares, with the international distribution that eluded the group in the ‘70s. So why did it take so long for the rest of the world to hear the Miamis? Why didn’t the band latch on to the gravy train that turned a number of downtown club bands into international stars? Though they weren’t the only ones from the scene that failed to click, they may have been the most fully realized act that didn’t catch a break. Why?

The A&R shorthand was apparently “too punk for pop, too pop for punk.” But the set’s title track is clearly pop enough for pop, and fits easily alongside contemporaries like Blondie and the Paley Brothers, and power pop exponents like the Raspberries and Knack. You can hear a bit of New York bravado – ala the Dolls and Dictators – in a few tracks, but by today’s post-hardcore standards, it’s hard to remember how punk this might have sounded at the time. The songs are playful and joyous, melding the puppy love vibe of Gary Lewis, Joey Ramone’s affection for the Brill Building, the Rubinoos’ harmonies and a touch of soul on “I Want a Girlfriend.” The titles and lyrics are clever, as in the group’s salute to modern art, “Dada Mama,” which manages to rhyme “brioche” and “gauche” without breaking stride.

The group’s ten studio sides are augmented by two demos, two alternate versions and nine high quality live tracks recorded at CBGB. The latter show off a polished, energetic and engaging stage show, with nary a hint of DIY punk in their instrumental chops and harmony vocals. Their set includes a generous helping of rock ‘n’ roll, R&B and blues, adding a bit of the ‘50s to their ‘60s, and recalling J. Geils on “Detente.” They get downright goofy with their remembrance of “Elvis, Groucho and Bing,” and together with titles like “Wang It” and “We Need a Bigger Navy,” may have simply distracted A&R reps from the high quality of their music. Hopefully this retrospective can dispel that confusion as it welcomes new fans into the fold. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

The Miamis’ Home Page

The Mamas and the Papas: The Complete Singles

January 24th, 2016

MamasAndPapas_TheCompleteSinglesFor the first time in 50 years, the original mono single edits and mixes

Although the Mamas & Papas’ hit songs are nearly elemental in their familiarity, the actual hit singles are still rare to the ear. That’s because the mono mixes collected here often differ from the more commonly circulated versions by virtue of edits, instrumental changes and vocal overdubs. Unless you have the original singles, you probably haven’t heard these versions since they were on the radio, and even then, you likely heard them only through the limited fidelity of AM broadcast. But heard in remastered form, your ears will be impressed with the coherence of the mono productions and vocal blends, and in their absence, the problems that have plagued the group’s stereo catalog. To make things even better, the group’s A’s and B’s are complemented by the ABC/Dunhill solo singles of Cass Elliot, John Phillips and Denny Doherty.

The set opens with the group’s incredibly rare first single, “Go Where You Wanna Go.” While the recording is well-known through its inclusion on the debut album and greatest hits anthologies (and the song is even more familiar in its later hit cover by the Fifth Dimension), the 7” single saw only very limited release, possibly even promotional only, and was quickly superseded in distribution, record company attention, public acclaim and chart success by “California Dreamin’.” The group would continue to ride high in the charts through 1967’s “Creeque Alley,” fading a bit before “Dream a Little Dream of Me” returned them to prominence and charted the way for Cass Elliot’s solo career. Elliot, Doherty and Phillips all recorded solo material for ABC/Dunhill, and their singles fill out disc two.

Nearly all of these tracks appeared on original albums, though as noted earlier, often in different mixes or edits than the singles. A few, “Glad to Be Unhappy,” “All For Me,” and “The Costume Ball” were originally released only as singles, and though Doherty’s “To Claudia on Thursday” was released as an album track, it was on Jimmy Haskell’s California 99, rather than one of Doherty’s own albums. The UK-only B-side “I Can’t Wait” is omitted from this set, but that’s a nit among the wealth of mono singles returned to print here. Ed Osborne’s liner notes feature interviews with Michelle Phillips and producer Lou Adler, and the 24-page booklet includes full-panel photos, master and release data, and chart info. This is a must-have for fans, but even casual listeners will find it an incredibly compelling collection. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Wes Montgomery: One Night in Indy

January 20th, 2016

WesMontgomery_OneNightInIndyWes Montgomery and Eddie Higgins jamming in 1959

After several decades with no newly discovered material, Wes Montgomery’s catalog has expanded rapidly in the past few years. First came Echoes of Indiana Avenue, a collection of live material from late-50s dates in Indianapolis clubs. Next was the 2-CD In the Beginning, collecting live and studio material from Montgomery’s early years. And now, for the first time since it was recorded fifty-seven years ago, a one-of-a-kind date between Montgomery and pianist Eddie Higgins. The pair are accompanied by the esteemed drummer Walter Perkins and an unidentified bassist on forty minutes of pop and jazz standards, including Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” and Thelonious Monk’s “Ruby, My Dear.”

Recorded at the Indianapolis Jazz Club, the performance was recorded by club members (the IJC was more a club of jazz aficionados than a nightclub) and passed along the decades until it reached noted photographer Duncan Schiedt. Schiedt contacted producer Zev Feldman with the idea of getting the tape issued, and two years later, here it is: the only known document of Montgomery and Higgins playing together. Originally released on limited-run vinyl in 2015, the tape now makes its debut on CD. The sound quality is very good, especially so for a hobbyists recording, with all instruments having good presence, a surprisingly solid bottom end and warm tone. There’s some distortion in places, but it never get in the way of enjoying the music.

The mood is relaxed, and Higgins and Montgomery warm up to each other quickly on a breezy, swinging run through “Give Me the Simple Life.” Montgomery and Higgins each play extended solos, with Higgins’ light touch providing relief for Montgomery’s more forceful lead, and there’s also some playful back-and-forth before the quartet returns to the theme. The tempo heats up for “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” cools for a romantic pass at Neil Hefti’s “Li’l Darling,” and closes with a fiery ending to Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.” Among the material recently added to Montgomery’s catalog, this may be the most unexpected, given the lack of history between the principals, and the most surprising, given their quick chemistry. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Wes Montgomery’s Home Page

Them: The Complete Them – 1964-1967

January 18th, 2016

Them_CompleteThemThe complete Them with Van Morrison

It’s tempting to see Them primarily as a launching pad for Van Morrison, and though anyone who saw them live or heard these early singles would quickly zero in on Morrison, the band’s tight, tough sound was as essential to framing Morrison’s vocals as Morrison’s vocals were to defining Them. Though not a huge commercial success in the U.S., cracking the Top 40 only twice with “Here Comes the Night” and “Mystic Eyes,” the band still had a lasting impact on American music. In addition to their iconic cover of “Baby Please Don’t Go” (a single that failed to crack the stateside Top 100 but remains as familiar as if it had), Morrison’s original “Gloria” proved to be one of the foundational pillars of garage and punk rock.

Sony’s three-CD set gathers together all of the material recorded for their first two albums, Angry Young Them and Them Again, non-LP singles and EPs, and adds a large helping of demo tracks, live recordings and alternate takes. In the process the set provides a huge helping of crisply remastered mono originals and introduces a few new stereo sides on disc three. Some will be disappointed that true stereo mixes weren’t used everywhere they were available, but mono is what just about everyone heard in the mid-60s, and the punch of these mixes makes the band sound all the more visceral. Neither Morrison nor the band ever seem to lose steam, even when the tempo slows they remain ferocious, and their mix of original and cover material is seamless.

The three discs come packed in a four-panel digipack with a 16-page booklet that includes newly written notes from Morrison. The return to the original mono master tapes undoes some of the changes brought by 1997’s The Story of Them; the earlier collection is worth hanging onto for its true stereo mixes, but it’s no substitute for the original mono sides presented here. Add in the demos, alternate and live tracks featured on this set’s third disc (including “Mighty Like a Rose,” which was omitted from the 1997 set), and this compilation becomes an essential addition to any Van Morrison fan’s collection. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Van Morrison’s Home Page

Rod McKuen: Reflections – The Greatest Songs of Rod McKuen

January 15th, 2016

RodMcKuen_ReflectionsGreatestSongsDisparaged by critics, loved by the people

The gap between Rod McKuen’s popular success and his critical station may be larger than any musical artist or poet in history. McKuen sold more than 100 million records and 60 million poetry books, wrote hit songs for numerous A-list artists, brought Jacques Brel to an American audience, scored films, won two Grammys and a Pulitzer, yet critics regularly derided his work as “schmaltz,” “treacle” and “kitsch.” He read his poetry side-by-side with the San Francisco Beats, sang at the famed Purple Onion, appeared in concert and on television, and collaborated with Henry Mancini, but had his work labeled “superficial” and “irrelevant,” and his poems called “facile” in obituaries that followed his January 2015 passing.

Merle Haggard may be known as the “poet of the common man,” but Rod McKuen has probably been quoted more often in love letters and wedding vows. His plainspoken words of isolation and spirituality resonated with an audience that might not otherwise have ever read a poem, and his songs captured the attention of artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to Waylon Jennings. McKuen rasped his way through both vocal and spoken word performances of his own, releasing dozens of solo albums, collaborations with Anita Kerr and the San Sebastian Strings, and more than a dozen film soundtracks, including the Oscar-nominated A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

Though McKuen’s personal accomplishments on the singles chart were meagre (including only the 1959 Bob McFadden and Dor novelty “The Mummy” and 1962’s “Oliver Twist”), his songs were hits for Oliver (“Jean”), Terry Jacks (“Seasons in the Sun,” an English translation of Jacques Brel’s “Le Moribond”), Damita Jo (“If You Go Away,” a translation of Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas”), Perry Como (“I Think of You,” co-written with Frances Lai), Frank Sinatra (“Love’s Been Good for Me”), Perry Como (“I Think of You”), the Kingston Trio (“Ally Ally, Oxen Free”) and others. McKuen’s own versions of these hits are included here, along with poems, such as “Listen to the Warm” and “A Cat Named Sloopy,” which were set to original music.

McKuen sang in a hushed, hoarse tone – a byproduct of oversinging rock bands in his youth – that made his words feel like the confidence of a friend. Joe Marchese’s liner notes dub McKuen “the poet laureate of loneliness,” and though this captures the essence of his songs, the effect of his records is one of connection. McKuen’s writing may have been sentimental, treacly and even schmaltzy, but it voiced feelings that struck a chord with listeners. His remembrance of his cats Sloopy and A Marvelous Cat, is almost painful in its diarist’s sincerity, but it’s remained a listener favorite since it was released in 1967. Interestingly, the song’s invocation of “midnight cowboy”, from which the film apparently drew its title, seems to hint at McKuen’s complex sexuality.

It may have been this sort of intimacy that rubbed critics the wrong way, as McKuen sewed threads of acceptance and hope, if not quite happiness, amid thoughts of melancholy, lost love, abandonment, loneliness and isolation. “Lonesome Cities,” which was recorded by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Nina Simone, speaks to McKuen’s wanderlust, a remnant of his early life drifting along the West Coast in the 1940s. McKuen sings many of the selections included here to lush orchestrations and touches of then-contemporary pop instrumentation. A few tracks, including “Rock Gently,” “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” and “A Man Alone” lean to jazz, “Listen to the Warm” is arranged as a samba, “Kaleidoscope” as a waltz, and “The World I Use to Know” is backed by folk guitar and harmonica.

With McKuen’s earlier greatest hits albums having fallen out of print, this 24-track, 74-minute disc provides a good introduction to his most popular songs (including 1971’s anti-war “Soldiers Who Want to Be Heroes,” which returned to the original lyrics after a 1965 parody), and provides a good helping of the lyrics and poetry whose popularity confounded critics. Having recorded hundreds of albums, fans are left to explore his original and live albums, spoken word and classical recordings, soundtracks, collaborations and collections of his songs recorded by others. Perhaps Andy Warhol’s appraisal of painter Walter (and in reality, Margaret) Keane is the best summation of Rod McKuen: “I think what Keane has done is just terrific. It has to be good. If it were bad, so many people wouldn’t like it.” [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Archive of Rod McKuen’s Home Page

Butchers Blind: A Place in America

January 11th, 2016

ButchersBlind_APlaceInHeavenSuperb EP of pop-inflected Americana

This Long Island band just gets better with each release. The early demos of their debut, One More Time, were accomplished and perfectly unpolished, and though the songwriting, playing and production has matured over the course of five years, songwriter Pete Mancini hasn’t lost the emotional wear that makes his singing so appealing. Their last full-length, Destination Blues, explored the realizations and disappointments that set in with age, but this new EP gets up from the couch to seek action. Mancini doesn’t leave his new found knowledge behind, but uses it to prompt forward motion rather than wallow in place.

The addition of keyboards gives several songs new timbres, and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s mix puts everything in balance. The band balances country, rock and pop, with “Black & White Dreams” suggesting both Jackson Browne and Matthew Sweet, and the whistling organ of “Twisting in the Wind” adding a soulful touch to the electric guitars. The album’s title track is a centerpiece that builds from snapshots of a tattered American dream to a refrain whose yearning wish is spurred by ever more insistent guitars. The arc of Butchers Blind’s catalog is the sound of a band finding themselves, and this EP is their best self yet. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Butcher Blind’s Home Page

Queen of Jeans: Rollerdyke

December 30th, 2015

This Philadelphia quartet’s first single sounded like something you’d have heard on Girls in the Garage or perhaps from the Pussywillows, or the Bangs before they became the Bangles. The group’s second single moves from the garage to the ballroom with a flowing neo-psych sound and a driving beat. Their debut EP is slated for January 22!

Queen of Jeans’ Facebook Page

Waco Brothers: Had Enough

December 30th, 2015

Waco Brothers (Dean Schlabowske, Joe Camarillo, Jon Langford, Tracey Dear and Alan Doughty) return with their first full-length album of original material in 10 years. Going Down in History drops on February 26th, but you can stream the first single now!