Matt Dorrien: In the Key of Grey

May 18th, 2018

Broken-hearted homage to Tin Pan Alley, Nilsson, Randy Newman and more

The old-time vibes in Matt Dorrien’s music are unmistakable. The influence of Nilsson is the top-line note, but the archness of Randy Newman, the melancholy of Elliot Smith and Brian Wilson, the introspection of Paul Simon, and Paul McCartney’s penchant for British music hall aren’t far below the surface. After a pair of folk-influenced guitar-based albums recorded as Snowblind Traveler, Dorrien returned to his first instrument, piano, and crafted a set of tunes whose optimistic melodies belie the broken heart that sparked their creation.

The immediate fallout of the breakup is captured in “I Can’t Remember,” but the bottom is found in the post-romance doldrums of “Baby I’m So Lost.” The latter suggests an emotional cul de sac whose only apparent escape is an unlikely reconciliation. The post-breakup phone call of “All I Wanted to Say” attempts the impossible navigation of friendship lost amid romantic dissolution, and the boozy “Mister Pour Another” does its best to literally drown Dorrien’s sorrows.

There are pickups and one night stands in “Pretty Little Thing” and “Underwear Blues,” but their salve proves to be temporary. The actual path to recovery begins with the album’s title track, and blooms into conscious thought with the Ted Mosby-like faith of “Maybe This Time.” The vulnerability of Dorrien’s public confrontation with his emotions provides an intimate connection for the fraternity of the dumped, and while it’s an engaging listen at any time, it will resound especially well in your own emotional cul de sac. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Matt Dorrien’s Home Page

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos: The Complete Capitol Singles – 1967-1970

May 15th, 2018

Stupendous second chapter of Buck Owens’ career at Capitol

Omnivore’s previous set on Owens’ groundbreaking Capitol singles is now joined by a companion volume that catalogs his expanding reach as an artist. The commercial dominance of his initial rise to fame – which included twenty-two Top 40 hits and thirteen consecutive chart toppers – was unlikely to be matched, and yet this second collection rises to the occasion, both commercially and artistically. Of the eighteen singles Owens released across these four years, all but two made the Top 20; of the two misses, “Christmas Shopping” charted #5 on the holiday list, and only the internationally-themed instrumental “Things I Saw Happening at the Fountain on the Plaza When I Was Visiting Rome or Amore” missed entirely. Fifteen of the A-sides reached the Top 10, and six topped the country chart.

More importantly, the late ‘60s found Owens branching out from twangy Bakersfield country with innovative pop touches. He opened 1967 with the back-to-back #1s “Sam’s Place” and “Your Tender Loving Care,” dipped to #2 with “It Takes People Like You (To Make People Like Me),” and climbed back to the top with 1968’s “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone.” He scored three more chart toppers in 1969 (the originals “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass” and “Tall Dark Stranger,” and a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”), and just missed the top spot with 1970’s “The Kansas City Song.” Owens joined Hee-Haw in 1969 and continued to chart throughout the 1970s, but with the passing of Don Rich in 1974, his interest in a music career quickly declined. After a pair of albums and a handful of mid-charting singles for Warner Brothers he basically retired from releasing music for more than a decade.

But in the mid-to-late ‘60s, Owens was still accelerating. As he and the Buckaroos had shown with their 1966 Carnegie Hall Concert album (and reaffirmed here with the 1969 live take of “Johnny B. Goode”), the group was one of the hottest bands in the land. The singles featured here include the talents or Don Rich, Doyle Holly, Tom Brumley and Willie Cantu, as well as later members Jerry Wiggins and Doyle Curtsinger, and numerous sidemen. Perhaps most startling is the inclusion of smooth backing vocals from the Jordanaires and the Nashville-based Anita Kerr Singers on several tracks, and strings are heard on both A-sides and flips, including “Big in Vegas.”

Owens authored a seemingly inexhaustible supply of great songs, and by the mid-60s he’d begun expanding beyond the classic Bakersfield Sound. The acoustic guitars of “It Takes People Like You” and “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone” weren’t unprecedented, but the songs’ moods, particularly in Owens’ vocals, were new. Owens love of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll is heard on “Christmas Shopping,” there’s fuzz guitar on the waltz-time “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass,” and Earl Poole Ball adds organ to the intro of “The Kansas City Song.” Rather than hoarding his best work for A-sides, Owens often complemented his hits with interesting flips, including the transfixed vocal of “That’s All Right With Me (If It’s All Right With You)” and the funereal “White Satin Bed.”

Owens found terrific chemistry with protege Susan Raye on several hits, including the Johnny & June-styled sass of “We’re Gonna Get Together,” the harpsichord-lined fairy tale “The Great White Horse,” and the terrifically stalwart B-side remake of Owens’ “Your Tender Loving Care.” Omnivore’s double-disc includes 18 singles (A’s and B’s), ten in mono and eight in stereo, mastered from original analog sources by Michael Graves at Osiris Studio. Scott B. Bomar’s liner notes are accompanied by detailed session notes, photos, and picture sleeve and label reproductions. This is a stupendous second chapter, showing Owens and the Buckaroos in full artistic and commercial flight. It’s every bit as essential as the first volume, and will leave fans eagerly anticipating the third and final Capitol chapter. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Home Page

Late Blossom Blues – The Journey of Leo “Bud” Welch

May 5th, 2018

The incredible story of an 81-year-old blues rookie

When Leo “Bud” Welch burst onto the blues scene with his debut album Sabougla Voices, he was both an 81-year-old rookie and an elder statesman. The story of how he flew under the radar for sixty years, was discovered by a fan (who was subsequently thrust into the role of manager), recorded for a label that had all but given up believing there were any more blues unicorns in the wilds of Mississippi, and was feted in the last few years of his life, is as authentic and unexpected as is his music. The film weaves together interviews with Welch, his family and his manager, Vencie Varnado, along with performance and studio footage. The film looks at Welch’s background as a lumberjack, his church life, the separation he kept between the devil’s music and the lord’s, and the incursions of age into Welch’s daily life.

This is less a linear biography than a look at the whirlwind of worldwide activity that followed his discovery. Viktor Schaider’s cinematography is noteworthy as he captures formal and informal interview setups, indoor and outdoor performances, cinema verite action, and establishing shots that capture the feel of Welch’s native Mississippi. This is a fitting accompaniment to Welch’s two albums, helping to dispel the mystery that accompanied his arrival on the scene, and adding dimension to the bluesman heard on record. Make sure to check the extras for bonus interviews, live and archival footage, and watch all the way through the end credits for a riveting 1985 performance of “Praise His Name.” [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Late Blossom Blues Home Page

Don Gibson: The Best Of The Hickory Records Years, 1970–1978

May 5th, 2018

Don Gibson’s second wind on Hickory Records

By the time that Don Gibson landed at Hickory Records, he’d been scoring hits for more than a decade at RCA. 1958’s chart-topping “Oh Lonesome Me” kicked off a string of RCA hits that ran through the end of the 1960s, and continued at Hickory into the late-70s. His biggest Hickory singles, “Country Green,” “Woman (Sensuous Woman)” and “Touch the Morning,” included his third (and final) #1, and provided the commercial face of a solid catalog that’s seen surprisingly little reissue activity. Omnivore offers twenty-five well-selected singles and album tracks, covering original and cover material that ranges from the twangy “Don’t Take All Your Loving” to a soulful take on Mel & Tim’s “Starting All Over Again.”

Gibson is remarkably consistent as he brings soul to Joe South’s “Games People Play,” heartbreak to Bobby Bond’s “If You’re Goin’ Girl,” and compelling blues to Grady Martin’s “Snap Your Fingers” and Mickey Newbury’s “If You Ever Get to Houston (Look Me Down).” Producer Wesley Rose cannily framed Gibson’s voice in a number of different ways, without losing his identify as a singer or his connection to country music. Rose’s sound wasn’t as clean as that produced by Chet Atkins at RCA, but neither was it tained with the badly aging affectations of many 1970s sessions. The guitar and steel players, uncredited here, add terrific stutter and twang on many of the tracks.

Gibson’s songwriting remained strong throughout his tenure at Hickory, and though his biggest Hickory hits came from the pens of Eddy Raven and Gary S. Paxton, he wrote fine singles, B-sides and album tracks, including the effervescent love song “I’m All Wrapped Up in You,” the ballad “Pretending Everyday,” and the remorseful “Praying Hands.” Omnivore’s collections pulls together all of the charting singles that hit #29 or above, and includes tracks from each of Gibson’s Hickory albums. That leaves nearly a dozen lower-charting singles and a wealth of album material for Bear Family to extend its series of Gibson box sets; but as an introduction to Gibson’s second wind of fame, this is terrific! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band: The Best Of

May 1st, 2018

Turn-of-the-70s funk and soul grooves w/2 new tracks

With Warner Archives’ Express Yourself no longer in print on CD, Varsese fills the vacancy with this sixteen track set. Included are the Los Angeles group’s three crossover hits (“Do Your Thing,” “Love Land” and “Express Yourself”), an additional selection of period material, and two new tracks (“Happiness” and “Remember That Thing”) that anticipate an upcoming album. The Mississippi-born Wright moved to Los Angeles as a pre-teen, where he performed in a number of doo-wop bands before founding and growing what would become the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. Wright was equally at home with hypnotic James Brown-styled riffing as with soul vocals, and the interlocking rhythm section of bassist Melvin Dunlop, drummer James Gadson and guitarist Al McKay, was equally adept with percussive funk riffs as they were with melodic tunes.

In addition to the crossover hits, the set includes three singles that charted R&B – “Till You Get Enough,” “Must Be Your Thing” and “Your Love (Means Everything to Me).” Those who already own the Warner Archives release will find four more vintage titles here, including the funky “I Got Love,” but six from the previous volume, including the instrumentals “The Joker (On a Trip Through the Jungle)” and “65 Bars and a Taste of Soul” are dropped. Also note that “Spreadin’ Honey” seems to have a shorter drum intro here than on the previously anthologized recording. Fans will want to track down the expanded reissues of the original albums (and look forward to the new album), but those just looking for a taste of this band’s funk and soul will find this a good place to start. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Charles Wright’s Home Page

Lloyd Green & Jay Dee Maness: Journey to the Beginning – A Steel Guitar Tribute to the Byrds

May 1st, 2018

Sweetheart of the Rodeo’s steel players reflect and pay tribute

The Byrds’ 1968 Sweetheart of the Rodeo wasn’t their first dance with country music, but it was their most full throated. The addition of Gram Parsons to the band’s lineup magnified the country music that had threaded through the Byrd’s earlier albums, and with Nashville ace Lloyd Green and Los Angeles player Jay Dee Maness contributing their steel guitar prowess, the group made its most powerful roots music statement. Now, on the album’s fiftieth anniversary, the steel wizards salute both the Byrds’ invention and their contribution to it by recreating the entire album as steel and fiddle-led instrumentals. And as a bonus, a reprise of the opening track, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” is offered with superb, heartfelt vocals by Jim Lauderdale, Jeff Hanna, Richie Furay and Herb Pedersen. Recorded at Nashville’s Cinderella Sound (the oldest independent studio in town), the new arrangements largely stay true to the original melodies, but with steel guitars and fiddle taking lead, the mood is more languorous, and the twang pushes the songs of Charlie Louvin, Cindy Walker, Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan and Gram Parsons even further into the country domain. This isn’t meant to replace the iconic original album, but as a reflection on the turn it helped to usher in, and a musical conversation in steel between two of the original players, it’s a wonderful echo. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Johnny Mathis: Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head

April 26th, 2018

Johnny Mathis updates his groove for the 1970s

When Johnny Mathis first paired with producer Jack Gold for 1970’s Sings the Music of Bacharach & Kaempfert, it seemed like an opportunity for an update. But the double album’s combination of previously released recordings of Burt Bacharach songs with new recordings of older Bert Kaempfert material failed to align Mathis with the new decade’s music. This second collaboration takes a bolder approach in its song selection, bringing Mathis up to date, while still maintaining lush arrangements to surround his inimitable vocal styling. This was less an attempt to cross him back over to the pop chart than an acknowledgement that the crafting of pop hits had expanded to a new generation of songwriters.

Mathis’ continuing affinity for Bacharach and David’s material led him to cover the album’s title track (a 1969 hit for B.J. Thomas), “Alfie” (a 1966 UK hit for Cilla Black, and a 1967 US hit for Dionne Warwick) and “Odds and Ends” (a 1969 adult contemporary hit for Warwick). Stretching out, he included material from Jimmy Webb (“Honey Come Back,” an R&B single for Chuck Jackson in 1969, and a country hit for Glen Campbell the following year), George Harrison (“Something,” Harrison’s first A-side and chart topper), Rod McKuen’s “Jean” (an Academy Award nominee and a #2 single for Oliver), and a pair of tunes from the film Midnight Cowboy, the latter of which are surprisingly good fits for Mathis.

Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” dated back to 1967, but with Nilsson’s version having been a hit in 1969, it had gained new currency. Mathis’ strong vibrato, supported by plucked strings and a free-spirited flute, pushes the song beyond the introspection and melancholy of Neil’s and Nilsson’s earlier versions. The theme song from “Midnight Cowboy” is performed with lyrics written by the album’s producer, turning John Barry’s haunting instrumental into a stalwart statement that echoes the drama of Ferrante & Teicher’s hit single. At its most contemporary, the album samples George Harrison (“Something”) and Paul Simon (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”), the latter closing out the original album’s track list.

Real Gone’s 2018 reissue adds five contemporaneous singles and B-sides, with material that stretches from a wonderfully crooned take on Coots and Lewis’ 1934 standard “For All We Know,” through Bachrach & David’s “Whoever You Are, I Love You” (from the musical Promises, Promises), Bert Kaempert’s “Night Dreams,” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wherefore and Why” and “The Last Time I Saw Her,” the latter pair with arrangements by Perry Botkin, Jr. Although the album cracked the Top 40, and “Midnight Cowboy” climbed to #20, the artistic revitalization outweighed the commercial impact, and buoyed Mathis’ recording career well into the 1980s. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Johnny Mathis’ Home Page

Peter Rowan: Carter Stanley’s Eyes

April 26th, 2018

Peter Rowan returns to his bluegrass roots

Folk musicians gain a part of their artistic lineage through the literary tradition of the songs they learn and the generational artists with whom they play; and bluegrassers often trace their roots more formally through the apprenticeships they serve. Like many, Peter Rowan can document his lineage all the way back to Bill Monroe, who hired him as a Blue Grass Boy in the early 1960s. In addition to employment and teaching, Monroe introduced Rowan to Carter Stanley, whose voice and songs provided Rowan a second foundational stone. That 1965 meeting is the subject of this album’s title song, and from the awakening essayed in the song’s spoken verses, it’s clear that that personal connection informed everything Rowan has done ever since.

In that “ever since,” Rowan’s branched out from traditional bluegrass with folk, rock, Tex-Mex and even an album of Hawaiiana, but here he assembles a classic lineup of guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo and bass, adding snare drum and other percussion only sparingly. He offers three originals (including “Wild Geese Cry Again,” as retitled “Drumbeats on the Watchtower” by Ralph Stanley), but the bulk of the set list is crafted as an homage to his influences, drawing on songs written by Charlie and Ira Louvin, Carter and Ralph Stanley, Lead Belly, Bill Monroe and A.P. Carter.

The material spans a wide variety of misfortune, sorrow and redemption, including children’s tears, fateful train rides, broken hearts, lonesome nights, last chances, dark endings, hopeful hereafters and enduring spirits. Rowan sings both solo and in tight harmony with his bandmates, evoking the mystic longing of Carter Stanley. The pickers include fiddler Blaine Sprouse, guitarist Jack Lawrence, banjoist Patrick Sauber, and mandolinists Don Rigsby and Chris Henry. The picking is clean and lively, without being overly flashy, and one can only hope that Rowan takes this material and some of his bandmates on the summer bluegrass circuit! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Peter Rowan’s Home Page

NRBQ: NRBQ

April 23rd, 2018

The 1969 debut of a polyglot music legend

Originally released in 1969, this debut outlined the wide musical grasp and irreverent sensibility that would grow the band’s legend over the next 49 years. 49 years in which this initial explosion of creativity sat in the vault unreissued. 49 years in which either the group’s continuing activity diverted their attention from a reissue, or in which lawyers intermittently haggled over muddy contractual rights. Either way, Omnivore has finally liberated the album from its resting place and reissued the fourteen songs in a tri-fold slipcase with original front and back cover art, Donn Adams period liner notes, and contemporary notes by Jay Berman. Berman characterizes the band’s repertoire, even at this early point in their career, as including “nearly anything,” and the eclectic mix of covers and originals bears that out.

This first studio lineup included long-time members Terry Adams and Joey Spampinato (the latter then credited as Jody St. Nicholas), along with vocalist Frank Gadler, guitarist Steve Ferguson and drummer Tom Staley. The group stakes out the audacious corners of their musical omniverance with covers of Eddie Cochran’s rockabilly “C’mon Everybody,” Sun Ra’s avant garde jazz “Rocket Number 9,” Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s folk blues “C’mon If You’re Comin’” (which the group revisited on 1972’s Workshop), and a country soul arrangement of Bruce Channel’s 1962 chart topper, “Hey! Baby.” Few bands at the time would have even known this range of material, let alone find a way to make it fit together on an album.

The original material from Adams, Spaminato and Ferguson is equally ambitious. Adams mashes up trad jazz and rock ‘n’ roll for “Kentucky Slop,” boogies hard on “Mama Get Down Those Rock And Roll Shoes,” captures the melancholy of Carla Bley’s 1964 jazz instrumental “Ida Lupino” with original lyrics, and closes the album with the piano-led “Stay With Me.” Ferguson’s trio of originals include the pop and soul influences of “I Didn’t Know Myself,” the gospel rocker “Stomp” and the country, folk and gospel flavored “Fergie’s Prayer.” Spampinato offers the album’s most ebullient moment with “You Can’t Hide,” a title the band would revisit ten years later on Tiddlywinks.

The album’s collection of first takes (including the previously unreleased first take of “Stomp” substituting for the re-recorded version that appeared on the original vinyl) provides a snapshot of the band as they played live. The set list reflects the confluence of musical interests, knowledge and talent the band members brought to the group, and the performances have an all-in quality that made second takes superfluous. Whether or not the renditions were note-perfect (and they pretty much are), they were perfect expressions of the musical ethos that sustains the band to this day. It’s a shame that the originally released second take of “Stomp” wasn’t included as part of this reissue, but that’s a nit, given the historical and artistic riches that have been sprung from the vault. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ’s Home Page

Juliana Hatfield: Sings Olivia Newton-John

April 18th, 2018

Charming and heartfelt tribute to Olivia Newton-John

Born in 1967, Juliana Hatfield was seven years old when Olivia Newton-John scored her first U.S. pop chart topper, “I Honestly Love You.” Newton-John scored again with the follow-up singles, “Have You Ever Been Mellow” and “Please Mr. Please,” and though she continued to chart adult contemporary, it took her three more years to climb back to the top of the pop chart with 1978’s John Travolta duet “You’re the One That I Want.” Hatfield, known for her work with Blake Babies, the Juliana Hatfield Three and solo has “never not loved Olivia Newton­-John,” and it shows in the endearing performances and song selection of this tribute album.

In addition to heartfelt interpretations of Newton-John icons that span 1974’s “I Honestly Love You” to 1981’s “Physical,” the song list includes several deep fan favorites. “Totally Hot,” which stalled out at #52 in 1979, is deftly recast as buzzing Suzi Quatro-styled glam rock, and the pop-country “Dancin’ Round and Round” is taken uptempo and backed by hard-charging guitar and drums. The album reaches an emotional peak with “Please Mr. Please,” as Hatfield pours every last drop of the emotion she must have felt as an eight-year-old bonding with her first artistic idol.

Hatfield has internalized these songs and their artist in a thousand bedroom and car singalongs, and filters them through the original artistry they helped inspire. The contentment of “Have You Never Been Mellow” retains its optimistic mid-70s introspection while being deepened by Hatfield’s additional decades of life experience, and “Hopelessly Devoted to You” could just as easily be Hatfield singing about Newton-John as it was Sandy singing about Danny. This is a treat for fans of both Newton-John and Hatfield, and the only thing missing are some Grease photo cards to stick inside your locker. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Juliana Hatfield’s Home Page