Various: International Pop Overthrow, Volume 22

November 28th, 2020

Triple-disc collection of catchy pop (power and otherwise)

Jangly guitars? Check. Catchy melodies? Check. Broken hearts and vocal harmonies? Check and check. Three discs filled to the brim with three hours and forty-five minutes of pop (power and otherwise) recorded in studios and bedrooms all around the world. After a couple of volumes on the Del Fi label, more than a decade on Not Lame, and another seven volumes on Bruce Bordeen’s purpose-built Pop Geek Heaven, IPO bestowed its annual compilation (which became a triple-disc affair with volume five) on Omnivore with volume twenty-one. The latest collection, featuring bands that have played the annual IPO festival, and some that have not, is a solid entry in the series. 69 tracks that include a few luminaries (Bird Streets, Peter Holsapple, Van Duren, Kimberly Rew, and others), and a load of bands you may not have heard of.

There are too many highlights to name them all, but standouts include the joyously wordy verses and harmony choruses of Pecker’s “They Painted With Their Fingers,” the Popdudes’ dance floor-filling cover of the Wonders’ “Dance With Me,” Wolf Circus’ compassionate indie pop “I Will Answer,” the Posers’ Beach Boys-tinged psych “The Time and Place,” the magical mix of Rain Parade’s drone and Simon & Garfunkel’s duet harmony on Harrison Clock’s “Divine,” the catchy rhythm guitar on the Brothers Steve’s delicious bubblegum “She,” the Knack tribute sounds of Japan’s The Sharona on their original “Oh My Girl,” the full-throated harmonies and drippy guitar of Three Hour Tour’s “Lonely Place,” the Pat Benetar power of Slyboots’ “The Fall,” the twin lead guitars and emotional rebirth of the Jeremy Band’s “Joy Comes in the Morning,” the grungy psych of the Anderson Council’s “Lord Cornelius Plum,” the aptly named Zombies of The Stratosphere’s groovy cover of Billy Nicholls‘ (and Dana Gillespie’s) “London Social Degree,” and the Last Hurrah’s set-ending “Saturday in the Sunshine.”

Most of the tracks are rabbit holes into band websites, Facebook and Bandcamp pages, YouTube videos, digital downloads, CDs, vinyl singles, scene reports and info on related bands. This set is both a sampler of each band’s wares and a link to their catalogs; it’s a great spin on its own, but even better as a guide to bands you’d like to get to know. IPO founder David Bash and with his wife, Rina Bardfield, distill hundreds of audition tapes to select acts for the festival, and distill the festival lineup even further to fill these three discs (which, incredibly, fit into a standard-sized jewel case). The four page booklet includes band lineups, production credits and website URLs, but no background info – this is left for the listener to discover. But the music is great, and will motivate you to find out more about your favorites, of which there will be many. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

International Pop Overthrow’s Home Page

Jah Wobble: A Very British Coup (Cadiz)

November 14th, 2020

Post punk greeting to Brexit’s end of the beginning

Though originally released in Europe as a vinyl EP, this domestic maxi-single CD was out just in time to greet Britain’s exit from the EU. Jah Wobble is joined by his forner PiL bandmates, Richard Dudanski and Keith Levene, fronted by the Pop Group’s Mark Stewart, augmented by loops from Primal Scream’s Andrew Anderall, and produced by Martin Glover. The single is a hypnotic blend of Wobble and Dudanski’s rhythm lock, Levene’s buzzing guitar, and a vocal that rolls warnings, accusations, defenses, and dire prognostication into compact lyrics that echo the fragmentation and chaos of Britain’s near term. The additional tracks on this maxi-single include a radio edit, a spacey dub, and a ska-fueled dub that adds loops and pushes the bass and drums forward. Apparently angst breeds fine art. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Jah Wobble’s Home Page

Rod McKuen: Greatest Hits of Rod McKuen

November 13th, 2020

Expanded edition of McKuen’s popular 1969 hits album

San Francisco poet and singer Rod McKuen was as popular with the people as he was reviled by critics. The latter labeled his works schmaltzy and facile, while the former bought his books and records, and attended his readings and concerts in tremendous numbers. The gap between his lack of critical accolades and his surfeit of popular acclaim likely hinges on the resonance his plainspoken words of isolation and spirituality struck with an audience who might otherwise not read poetry. The raspy earnestness of his vocal performances was often parodied, but the loneliness that threaded through his songs struck a deep emotional chord with listeners, and his uplifting messages provided hope.

Despite the sales of his records, McKuen’s chart success as a musical artist was limited; more successful were his songs, which were recorded by 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”), Waylon Jennings (“Doesn’t Anybody Know My Name”), and many more. Other writings – notably “Listen to the Warm” and “A Cat Named Sloopy” – remain fan favorites in both their original poetic form, and when subsequently set to song. The former is included here as a bonus track, the latter, unfortunately not.

This 1969 collection was unusual for its time, as rather than anthologizing existing recordings, McKuen re-recorded a hand-picked collection of his most popular songs with new arrangements by Arthur Greenslade. The album was among the most popular of his catalog, selling gold, but eventually falling out of print. A 1996 CD release by Laserlight also fell out of print, after which an anthology by Varese Sarabande filled the gap. But Real Gone has now reissued the 1969 album with original cover art and six added tracks, including McKuen’s bittersweet theme song for the movie The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the late-night jazz love song “Rock Gently,” and a duet with Petula Clark on the oft-covered “The Importance of the Rose.” As when originally released in 1969, this collection is an excellent introduction to McKuen’s popular charms as a poet and singer. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Carla Olson: Have Harmony Will Travel 2

November 13th, 2020

The dream duets of a singer, producer and music fan

The role of vintage Top 40 radio can’t be understated in its influence and impact on the generation of musicians who grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In the years before consultants balkanized commercial radio into genre islands, AM radio offered a regionally-influenced mix of pop, rock, folk, country and soul that fueled the taste and imagination of both listeners and artists. Olson grew up in Austin, Texas listening to long-gone (and now surprisingly obscure) KNOW-AM, taking in the wide variety of influences reflected in this eclectic collection of covers. This follow-up to 2013’s Have Harmony Will Travel cherrypicks Olson’s deep musical memories of the Buffalo Springfield, Searchers, Governor Jimmy Davis, David Allan Coe, and adds songs, such as the previously unrecorded “Haunting Me,” that she picked up in her musical travels.

Olson pairs herself with compatriots and idols that include Gene Clark, Percy Sledge, Peter Noone, Terry Reid, Mick Taylor and Mare Winningham. The album opens with the Long Ryders’ Stephen McCarthy joining Olsen for a superb cover of Patty Loveless’ 1989 country hit “Timber, I’m Falling in Love.” Slowed to a deliberate tempo, the duet parlays the original’s ecstatic declaration into a mature, deep-gazing conversation of magnetic mutual attraction. For much of the album, Olson acts more as ringmaster than singing partner, drafting participants (including former Bee Gees’ guitarist Vince Melouney for a gallop through Governor Jimmy Davis’ “Shackles & Chains”), selecting song with the ears and heart of a music fan, singing harmonies and producing tracks.

As a producer, Olson fits the guests with songs, complimenting the pairings with nostalgia-tinged, guitar-based arrangements. Peter Noone rekindles the emotional throb of his early days with a cover of the Searchers’ “Goodbye My Love,” and Olson provokes appealing contrast in pairing the gravel of Terry Reid’s voice with the gentility of “Scarlet Ribbons.” She joins Eagle Timothy B. Schmit and steel player Rusty Young for the Buffalo Springfield B-side  “A Child’s Claim to Fame,” and adds harmony to actress Mare Winningham’s fetching cover of Gene Clark’s “After the Storm.” The latter track, along with Percy Sledge’s “Honest as Daylight,” I See Hawks in L.A.’s “Bossier City,” and Gene Clark’s “Del Gato,” were all previously released, but fit seamlessly among the newly recorded performances.

Olson pulled songwriter Jim Muske into the vocal booth to sing “Haunting Me,” a song he co-wrote with Pat Robinson for Phil Seymour, but left unrecorded with Seymour’s passing in 1993. This collection has been percolating in Olson’s musical soul for years, as she made mental notes of songs and colleagues she’d like to pair. The result is a roadmap of Olson’s journey from listener to diehard fan to working musician, fusing her childhood memories and influences with the professional experience and colleagues she gained over the decades. Her ear for combining songs, singers and arrangements pays remarkable dividends in the joy of these vocal and instrumental blends, and provides a fine complement to the earlier volume. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Carla Olson’s Home Page

Explorers Club: To Sing and Be Born Again

November 9th, 2020

Well-crafted mid-60s pop covers

Relocated to Nashville, and with a band of friends and studio musicians behind him, sunshine pop mastermind Jason Brewer has released this album of covers songs in parallel to an eponymous album of original material. The titles are drawn from 1966-1968, and mix well-known hit singles with a few lesser known gems. Among the latter are Danny Hutton’s pre-Three Dog Night “Roses and Rainbows,” the Zombies’ album track “Maybe After He’s Gone,” and Orpheus’ 1968 single “Can’t Find the Time.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, by picking material that’s so firmly in his musical wheelhouse, Brewer has left himself little room to stamp these covers as his own. They’re not carbon copies, and Brewer’s vocals (both lead and backing) provide a fresh alternative to the originals, but these songs are so deeply ingrained in his musical ethos that the covers can’t help but trace the original templates. Brewer’s taste in cover material is superb, and his craftsmanship is exquisite, but as interesting as it is to hear him essay some of his favorites, it doesn’t hold the surprise of hearing his musical sensibility applied to original material. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

The Explorers Club’s Home Page

Explorers Club: Explorers Club

November 9th, 2020

Bright rays of sunshine pop

Jason Brewer’s fourth album as the Explorers Club finds him relocated to Nashville and fronting friends and studio musicians, rather than a set band. The results show the strength of Brewer’s musical vision as he expands well beyond the Pet Sounds / Smiley Smile stylings of earlier albums with 60s-tinged pop that flows with the airy feel of Boettcher, Bacharach, Usher and others. And he does so without landing hard on any one; there are echoes, such as the piano of “Ruby” drawing upon Three Dog Night’s “One” and vocals suggesting the Turtles; but, winningly, the songs never linger on any one influence long enough to be branded imitative. Brewer has so deeply internalized ‘60s and ‘70s pop that his creations are inevitably shaped by the era’s melodic, instrumental, vocal and production style, without overtly copying.

The album deftly combines guitar, bass and drums with rich vocal harmonies, strings and horns, the latter suggesting the Buckinghams on “One Drop of Rain,” cooing coyly on “Don’t Cry,” and turning boozy for “Dreamin’.” The album stretches into burning neo-psych for “Somewhere Else,” adding an extra touch of surreality with its oddly time-signatured breaks. The closing “Look to the Horizon” has a timely, optimistic message of better days ahead, though with this album in hand (along with the companion volume of covers, To Sing and Be Born Again), listeners will find their mood improved today. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

The Explorers Club’s Home Page

Groovie Goolies: Groovie Goolies

November 8th, 2020

1970’s TV bubblegum music

After Don Kirshner’s falling out with the Monkees he fell in as music director for the Archies – a cartoon band with no creative aspirations of their own. With Ron Dante singing lead, and Jeff Barry, Andy Kim and others contributing top-quality songs, the Archies climbed onto the charts, peaking with the national anthem of bubblegum, “Sugar Sugar.” In addition to their success on the music charts, the Archies also had a top-rated Saturday morning TV show, all of which prompted their production company, Filmation, to try and replicate their dual success. The result was the 1970-71 Groovy Goolies, a monster-themed cartoon that featured two songs per episode, one performed by the monster trio Drac, Frankie and Wolfie, and the other by a rotating lineup of guest bands such as the Bare Bones and the Rolling Headstones. In reality, as with the Archies, the songs were performed by music industry pros, in this case, Dick Monda (better known as Daddy Dewdrop of “Chick-A-Boom (Don’t Ya Jes’ Love It)” fame), the Challengers’ Richard Delvy and Ed Fournier, and studio aces Larry Carlton and Ron Tutt.

The album was released in 1970, harvesting eight songs from the television show and adding “We Go So Good Together” and “Spend Some Time Together.” The songs were written by the team of Linda Martin and Sherry Gayden, and the album was co-produced by Monda and Ed Fournier, who also appeared on the front cover as Frankie (Fournier) and Drac (Monda). Sadly, the Rolling Headstones’ original version of “Chick-A-Boom (Don’t Ya Jes’ Love It)” wasn’t included on the album. The ten tracks that did make the cut are good quality bubblegum, though without the songwriting genius of Barry and Kim. “First Annual Semi-Formal Combination Celebration Meet-The-Monster Population Party” was issued as a single to no acclaim, and the album quickly became a rarity. Real Gone’s CD reissue marks the album’s first digital appearance, and along with two vinyl versions (one pumpkin orange, the other Franken-green) this is a nice nostalgic get for those who assembled in front of the TV to rock with the monsters on Saturday mornings! [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Van Duren: Idiot Optimism

November 7th, 2020

Rare 1970s Memphis pop-rock follow-up

The 1970s Memphis rock scene was fertile but largely ignored in its time. Big Star rose to influence and renown only decades after they failed to make a commercial impression and disbanded. Others on the scene – Icewater, Rock City, the Hot Dogs, Cargoe, Zuider Zee – caught varying degrees of reflected post-mortem Big Star spotlight on compilations and reissues, but Van Duren, who recorded one of the city’s best ‘70s rock albums, remained obscure. This 1978 release, originally on the short-lived Big Sound label, garnered favorable reviews and FM radio play, but has been little known by even those who’ve collected the endless stream of Big Star reissues and vault material, and has been selling for big dollars in secondary markets.

Spurred by the documentary Waiting: The Van Duren Story and its accompanying soundtrack, Omnivore’s gone back to the vault and reissued Duren’s debut, Are You Serious?, alongside this even rarer second album. Idiot Optimism was recorded shortly after the debut, but disagreements with the label led to it being shelved. The album appeared briefly on the Japanese Air Mail label in 1999, and again in 2003 on Terry Manning’s Lucky Seven imprint, but this is the first issue in which Duren’s been involved, and remastered from the original analog tapes, with liner notes by Duren and a previously unpublished cover photo, this is the album’s definitive rendering.

Unlike Duren’s multi-instrumentalist performance on his debut, here he engages a band. Also unlike the debut, the well of material was mostly newer, many songs having been written during the time between the debut album’s recording and its release. Duren also included the only cover he’d recorded to that point – Chris Bell’s “Make a Scene” – as well as a song he co-wrote with Jody Stephens in 1975, “Andy, Please.” He also leaned more heaviy into mid- and up-tempo numbers, having found that ballads didn’t work as well on stage, with the fetching “What’s Keeping You?” being the only piano ballad included on the album.

Jon Tiven returned to co-produce, but after a falling out with the label, Duren was left to produce most of the album with help from engineer Richard Robinson. Oddly, the record label had forsaken vinyl LPs for cassette tapes, which allowed the album to stretch out to fifteen tracks. Musically, Duren’s songs have many of the musical hallmarks of those on his debut, but the players rock a bit more freely than Duren had as a multi-instrumentalist. Tom MacGregor rips on lead guitar for “Convincing Convictions,” and Hilly Michaels opens “Torn in Half” with an inventive drum pattern alongside Jeff Batter’s synthesizer.

Duren finished mixing the album before splitting with Big Sound, but the label did a poor job of mastering, and the previous Air Mail and Lucky Seven releases used the label’s inferior master. Omnivore has returned to the original analog tapes with a new transfer by Adam Hill, and a new master by Michael Graves. Those new to Duren’s catalog will want to pick this up alongside the debut, and fans who previously picked up the earlier issues of this title will want to upgrade! [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Van Duren’s Bandcamp Page

Van Duren: Are You Serious?

November 7th, 2020

Long-lost 1970s Memphis pop-rock classic

The 1970s Memphis rock scene was fertile but largely ignored in its time. Big Star rose to influence and renown only decades after they failed to make a commercial impression and disbanded. Others on the scene – Icewater, Rock City, the Hot Dogs, Cargoe, Zuider Zee – caught varying degrees of reflected post-mortem Big Star spotlight on compilations and reissues, but Van Duren, who recorded one of the city’s best ‘70s rock albums, remained obscure. This 1978 release, originally on the short-lived Big Sound label, garnered favorable reviews and FM radio play, but has been little known by even those who’ve collected the endless stream of Big Star reissues and vault material, and has been selling for big dollars in secondary markets.

Spurred by the documentary Waiting: The Van Duren Story and its accompanying soundtrack, Omnivore’s gone back to the vault to reissue Duren’s debut and second album, Idiot Optimism. While the latter was remastered from the original analog tapes, Omnivore’s used Bob Ludwig’s original master from the 1970s for this CD. The vinyl editions of both albums were freshly remastered by Jeff Powell at Phillips Recording in Memphis. Omnivore’s reissue of Are You Serious? includes the original thirteen tracks, performed by Duren and drummer Hilly Michaels, with help from Doug Snyder and co-producer Jon Tiven. The three tracks anthologized on the soundtrack album expand here into a surprisingly assured album-length statement of a twenty-something who was packing eight years experience as a band leader and songwriter.

Duren’s songs yearn to express his romantic feelings, acknowledging the natural connection of “Chemical Fire,” nervously marking time in “Waiting,” and confessing his innermost hope on “This Love Inside.” There are echoes of the Raspberries on “Oh Babe,” and Badfinger and Todd Rundgren on the angry “Grow Yourself Up.” “Stupid Enough” essays the chagrin of staying too long, and the acoustic closer “The Love That I Love” displays the sort of mood Alex Chilton brought to “Thirteen.”

Duren’s debut burns with the passion felt between the naivete of teen years and the growing cynicism of one’s thirties. He’s articulate, both lyrically and musically, which might seem preternatural if he hadn’t been developing his craft and polishing his songs on stage and in demo sessions for several years. Big Sounds garnered surprisingly broad FM radio play, but it didn’t translate into big sales or chart action, and the album quickly disappeared. Omnivore’s reissue includes an eight-page booklet that features new liners from Duren and previously unpublished period photos. This is a great intro to Van Duren, and a perfect complement to the parallel reissue of his second album. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Van Duren’s Bandcamp Page

Keys: Bring Me the Head of Jerry Garcia

November 3rd, 2020

Delicious Welsh psych rock

Having risen from the embers of the Welsh indie-rock band Murray the Hump, Keys has now developed into a powerhouse neo-psych band. They punch up their Fillmore-ready jams and Pink Floyd-ish sound explorations with Cream- and Stooges-level power riffing, and on “You Wear the Loveliest Gowns” add a melody line and harmony vocals that, surprisingly, suggest Jan & Dean. Fans of Green on Red’s first album, the Beatles’ mid-period psychedelia, the freakouts of Red Krayola and other ‘60s touchstones will find a lot to like here. Recorded live, the sound is more overtly psychedelic than the band’s earlier catalog, the lyrics more impressionistic, and the performances punchier. Matthew Berry perches his slinky sing-song vocal delicately atop the heavy riffage of  “Black and White,” with drummer Dave Newington and guitarist Gwion Ap Siôn Rowlands locked together before the latter’s axe explodes in a wah-wah frenzy; Rowlands later takes a wonderfully wandering solo on the closing “Broken Bones.” The band has apparently been playing this material live for years, and recorded in an abandoned cinema without overdubs, the album resounds both artistically and aurally. This is a treat for lovers of muscular, melodic psych. [©2020 Hyperbolium] 

Keys’ Facebook Page