Mister Rogers: Bedtime / You’re Growing / You Are Special / Coming and Going

December 31st, 2020

Reissues of four albums of acceptance and empowerment

In celebration of the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and the film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Omnivore released the Mister Rogers best-of compilation It’s Such a Good Feeling, alongside the instrumental collection Johnny Costa Plays Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Jazz. They now dig deeper into the catalog with reissues of four original albums, 1992’s Bedtime, You’re Growing, and You Are Special, and 1997’s Coming and Going. Each album is bookended with unique versions of the signature songs “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and “It’s Such a Good Feeling,” collect songs that loosely fit around the album’s title theme, and are backed by Mister Rogers’ longtime jazz trio of Johnny Costa (piano), Carl McViker (bass) and Bobby Rawsthorne (percussion).

Bedtime features songs of comfort and reassurance that will help send a young child’s worried mind into dreaming wonder. Rogers addresses a common childhood concern on “Nighttime Sounds,” turns existential for “When the Day Turns Into Night,” and closes out the theme with “Peace and Quiet.” You’re Growing highlights the momentous physical and emotional growth that comes in a child’s early years – changes that are often confusing or frightening. You Are Special centers on acceptance, self confidence and individual empowerment, and Coming and Going is about new experiences and the comfort of the familiar. The latter visits the Neighborhood of Make Believe for several songs.

Rogers’ empathy for a young child’s concerns is demonstrated through his deeply considered validation of their feelings. His lyrical themes are universal and timeless, and in these performances, his caring has survived his corporeal form. The trio’s light jazz backings are equally empathetic to Rogers’ thoughts. Rogers’ was a unique television star, but more centrally, he was a unique friend and educator of young children, and his song catalog retains the caring that he poured into everything he did. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

The Reflectors: First Impression

December 31st, 2020

Terrific ‘70s-styled teenage power pop

Although their U.S. label, Burger Records, collapsed in a heap of sexual abuse allegations, the joyous power pop of this four-piece Southern California band survives on CD, vinyl, cassette (!), and digital download. With their electric guitars leading the way, the Reflectors harmonize on lyrics of attraction, desire, longing, doubt, frustration, loss and heartache; all with the hormonal urgency of teenage years. The rhythm section pounds away as the guitars charge things up with just enough distortion to contrast with the hurt and anxiety of James Carman’s vocals. All that’s missing is a tear-stained ballad, as the band doesn’t really drop the tempo between the opening “Act a Fool,” and the closing “Caught Me Off Guard.” Perhaps their upbeat ways earned them the label “pop punk,” but their melodicism lands them squarely in the power pop camp. Fans of the Nerves, Beat, Wonders, 20/20, Shoes, Material Issue, Knack, Undertones, and other pop luminaries will find a lot to sing along with here. Also check out their recent live release! [©2020 Hyperbolium]

The Reflectors’ Bandcamp Site

KEYS: Home Schooling Album

December 31st, 2020

The homemade pop sides of a Welsh indie-rock psych band

Although one might connect the pop sounds of KEYS latest album to their earlier incarnation as the indie band Murry the Hump, the bubblegum-styled opener “This Side of Luv” was no doubt transported through a tartan-patterned fissure in the space-time continuum; it’s worthy of segueing between Nick Lowe’s “Bay City Rollers We Love You” and “Rollers Show.” The psychedelia of the band’s previous album, Bring Me the Head of Jerry Garcia, can be heard in the moody organ of “Cargoes” and the Dukes of the Stratosphere-styled “Leave Your Mind Behind,” but glam is the touchstone for “Trick of the Light,” and the powerpop of Badfinger and Teenage Fanclub for “Phases” and “The Strain.”

All of these influences were perfectly compressed into the hissy four-track cassette deck the band used for this home-sheltered recording, giving the album an instant, unfussy feel. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the title track, with its mechanical rhythm and pandemic-inspired children’s voices tracking, interrupting, and finally derailing the session. The closing instrumental “Pressure Cooker” wigs out in the manner of Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come and early Pink Floyd, offering a capstone to a wonderfully engaging album recorded in involuntary social captivity.  [©2020 Hyperbolium]

KEYS’ Facebook Page

Bonnie Hayes & The Wild Combo: Good Clean Fun

December 21st, 2020

Expanded 2020 reissue of 1982 pop classic

Originally released in 1982 amid the MTV/New Wave boom, this San Francisco band’s only full-length album shared some of the boom’s pop sensibilities, but with a craft that was more musically rich than its video-enhanced counterparts. Hayes’ roots in jazz might have informed some of the chords and harmonies, but her musical training never hindered the album’s pop joy, finding expression in a depth of songwriting that was often missing from the mainstream. The band’s indie label (Slash) and its corporate distributor (Warner Brothers) failed to turn any of the album’s tracks into hit singles (though “Girls Like Me” and “Shelly’s Boyfriend” both appeared on the soundtrack of Valley Girl), and Slash dropped the band after this album. A follow-up EP, Brave New Girl, was self-released in 1984, and marked the end of a surprisingly short run for a group whose debut was so brimming with life, and whose songwriter proved to have a great deal more to say (notably penning “Have A Heart” and “Love Letter” for Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time).

The original album was reissued in 2007 by Wounded Bird, but is augmented here by the follow-up EP, the pre-LP single version of “Shelly’s Boyfriend” (and its flip “Rochambeau,” released as The Punts), and a trio of demos that failed to make the album. The debut opens with the exuberant one-two punch of “Girls Like Me” and the cautionary sibling shout-out “Shelly’s Boyfriend.” Hayes’ slow piano intro doesn’t tip off the punchy rhythm of “Separating,” and her organ and coy vocal give “Dum Fun” a hint of new wave before her solo and Paul Davis’ scorching guitar give the throwaway-titled song some soulful musical heft. The original “Coverage” would find subsequent cover on David Crosby’s 1993 release Thousand Roads, giving Hayes’ songwriting the exposure its lyrics seemed to beg for.

The follow-up EP is highlighted by the wondrous impressions of “After Hours” and the closing “Night Baseball,” the latter of which Hayes characterizes as a “multi-meter modal extravaganza about my love affair with San Francisco.” The pre-LP Punts single is a treat whose lack of distribution made it a rarity. The earlier version of  “Shelly’s Boyfriend” is taken at a slower tempo that is less anxious with its advice than the album take. The B-side pairs a lovely vocal with an unusual rhythm and a dash of Hayes’ jazz background in the instrumental passage. The collection’s demos were recorded by the pre-Wild Combo Punts (including producer Steve Savage on drums), and though a bit more punk rock in attitude than what ended up on the album, it’s not hard to imagine how these songs might have fit. Altogether, this is a terrific upgrade to Wounded Bird’s straight-up album reissue, and the place to start if you missed the album in its previous incarnations. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Bonnie Hayes’ Home Page

Pop-O-Pies: Get Outta My Way

December 21st, 2020

1982 debut EP of irreverent, pointed and catchy pop-punk

San Francisco’s Pop-O-Pies may have been one of punk rock’s most melodic bands. Punk in attitude more than sound, but punk nonetheless. They alienated and then enthralled early audiences by playing a set that consisted entirely of the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’,” and wrote original songs that sarcastically appraised Catholics and cast cops as donut eating fascists. A 1983 opening slot for Iggy Pop in Seattle so agitated the crowd that by the time the headliner appeared the mood was incredibly dark; fittingly, Pop’s set ended in 30 minutes after some stage-dancing audience members toppled the speaker stack into the crowd.

The band’s debut, the six-song The White EP, was a college radio staple, with two versions of “Truckin’” (one pop-punk, the other styled like “Rapper’s Delight”), an ode to Timothy Leary (which the LSD guru apparently took to playing at his public appearances), the hard-driving rhythm guitar monotone “Fascists Eat Donuts,” sing-song reggae “The Catholics Are Attacking,” and punk-styled lament “Anna Ripped Me Off.” The Pop-O-Pies simultaneously take the piss out of both their subjects and their listeners with songs that are funny, ironic, serious, irreverent, pointed and catchy, all at the same time.

The 2020 reissue puts the complete debut EP in digital form for the first time, and adds seven bonuses, including the poison apple “I Love New York,” a sardonic, Minutemen-styled “A Political Song” (and its acoustic reprise), the grungy “Slow and Ignorant” and the hallucinogenic collage “Lenny in Wonderland.” The added tracks show off Joe Pop-O-Pie’s range (as did subsequent albums), but having the six songs of the original EP back in print is the real prize here. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

The Pop-O-Pies’ Home Page

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