Robert Lamm: Time Chill – A Retrospective

July 19th, 2017

Solo sides of founding Chicago keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter

As a founding keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter for Chicago, Robert Lamm was a regular visitor to the Top 10 with “25 or 6 to 4,” “Beginnings” and “Saturday in the Park.” His solo career began with 1974’s Skinny Boy, while still a member of Chicago, but it wasn’t until the early ‘90s that he fully emerged, and it wasn’t until 1999’s In My Head that he began to produce solo releases on a regular basis. Omnivore’s fifteen-track collection selects studio material from his 1999 coming out through 2012’s Living Proof, and adds a few remixes and previously unissued tracks. The collection touches on Lamm’s collaboration with America’s Gerry Beckley and the Beach Boys’ Carl Wilson (“Standing at Your Door”), and shows off a wide range of musical interests that include rock, Europop, bossa nova, funk, classical composition and reggae. His lyrics draw inspiration from his personal life, but spiced with philosophical thoughts drawn from poetry and the realities of the headlines. Lamm’s solo releases didn’t have the commercial impact of his records with Chicago, but with or without the band, his creativity was unabated. This is a good introduction for those who only know his work with Chicago, and fans of his solo career will enjoy previously unreleased bonuses that include a cover of Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” an a deconstructed take on Chicago’s “Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?” [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Robert Lamm’s Home Page

Peter Cetera: The Very Best of Peter Cetera

July 19th, 2017

The ‘80s solo hits of a ‘70s rock powerhouse

Peter Cetera is best known as a founding bassist and vocalist of Chicago Transit Authority. He was the lead vocalist on the breakthrough “25 or 6 to 4,” as well as the group’s first chart-topper, “If You Leave Me Now.” His earliest solo work, a self-titled 1981 album and the single “On the Line,” was overshadowed by continued success with with the band; but by mid-decade, his vocals on Chicago’s hits, and his presence in the band’s videos provided enough personal notoriety to relaunch his solo career. 1986’s Solitude/Solitaire scored back-to-back #1s with Karate Kid II’s “Glory of Love” and the Amy Grant duet, “The Next Time I Fall.” He scored again with 1988’s “One Good Woman,” and continued to find success in adult contemporary throughout the ‘90s. Varese’s fourteen track collection runs through 1992’s World Falling Down, highlighted by a handful of original single versions. Cetera’s solo work, tinged by the production sound of the ‘80s, isn’t as timeless as his early sides with Chicago, but his tenor is fetching among the synthesized keyboards and big drums, and his power ballads are well crafted. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Peter Cetera’s Home Page

Cowbell: Haunted Heart

July 14th, 2017

Wicked mix of late-60s and early-70s soul, blues and garage

This London duo’s third album is chock-full of garage-soul built on guitar, drums and splashes of organ that take things into darker places. The title track suggests the voodoobilly of the Cramps, while the rolling “Doom Train” melds sparse blues and tack piano with backing vocals that suggest Dan Hicks’ Hot Licks. There are echoes of the Kinks and Cream, but also the early-60s folk of Richard & Mimi Farina and the 1970s sounds of Laurel Canyon. Guitarist Jack Sandham sings most of the leads, but drummer Wednesday Lyle steps to the mic for the punk-fired “Downlow” and the cool-as-ice “New Kinda Love.” The album is tasteful, but even when taken downtempo, it remains sultry rather than sedate, with horns adding texture to several tracks. This is a sophisticated set that wanders through blues, soul and roots rock, like a shuffle through a music-lover’s record collection. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Cowbell’s Home Page

The Darling Buds: Evergreen

July 9th, 2017

Melodic 80s-90s indie-poppers return with fresh sounds

Twenty-five years after their last release, Erotica, this South Wales band returns with their melodic pop intact. Spurred by the positive response to several reunion shows, the band regrouped for this four song EP, with original vocalist Andrea Lewis Jarvis and bassist Chris McDonagh supported by ‘90s-incarnation guitarists Matt Gray and Paul “Chaz” Watkins, and drummer Erik Stams. Released on 10” vinyl and cassette (and for the modern set, digital), the four songs are highlighted by Jarvis’ breezy vocals. The effect is both nostalgic and, amid today’s inhumanely exaggerated autotuning, refreshing. Fans will enjoy hearing the band again, and those looking for a respite from modern chart pop’s mechanization will enjoy the sweetness of Jarvis’ voice, melodies that linger in your head, and the analog sounds of electric guitars, bass and drums. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Darling Buds’ Facebook Page

The Platters: Rock

July 8th, 2017

The mid- and uptempo sides of ‘50s ballad legends

Like many of rock ‘n’ roll’s founding acts, the decades have largely reduced the Platters’ memory to their hits – “Only You,” “The Great Pretender,” “My Prayer,” “Twilight Time” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” But, also like many of their colleagues, there was a great deal more to the Platters catalog than these iconic singles. Bear Family’s generous thirty track collection explores beyond the group’s familiar ballads, and focuses on mid- and uptempo tracks from the Mercury years of 1955-1962. The set’s most rocking tunes, including “Bark, Battle and Ball,” “Don’t Let Go,” “Hula Hop,” “I Wanna,” “Out of My Mind” and “You Don’t Say,” reach back past the pop balladry to the group’s R&B roots; but even the slower songs, including bass vocalist Herb Reed’s interpretation of “Sixteen Tons,” are more juke joint than supper club.

The group revs up the standards “On a Slowboat to China,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” and “Let’s Fall in Love” to show tempo, giving a sense of what they might have sounded like at a hop. All five Platters get lead vocal spots, and the group is supported on several tracks by the orchestral direction of Mercury’s David Carroll. Also heard here are Wrecking Crew regulars Plas Johnson, Barney Kessell, Earl Palmer and Howard Roberts, and on the scorching opening pair, saxophonist Freddie Simon and guitarist Chuck Norris. Bear Family’s crisp reproductions of mono and stereo masters are housed in a tri-fold digipak with a 36-page booklet of photos, liner notes and a detailed discography. This is a novel view of the Platters’ catalog, but one that sheds new light on their range. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Herb Reed’s Platters’ Home Page

Sunshine and the Rain: In the Darkness of My Night

July 8th, 2017

As if Kim Wilde fronted the Jesus and Mary Chain

When a group describes themselves as a “bombastic and chaotic” spin on girl group sounds, you’re probably in for an adrenaline-charged good time. Imagine if Kim Wilde had fronted a version of the Ramones that had been inspired by The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “f’d up distorted sound.” Ashley Morey sings with a tart sweetness that’s sublimely at odds with her overdriven bass, husband Justin’s buzzing guitars and their pummeling drum machine. Her voice floats in a pop bubble above the sonic fray, with Beach Boys-styled harmonies and chimes seeming almost dissonant against the distorted backings and shouted asides.

What’s really appealing, besides melodic hooks that burrow deep into your ear, is the combination of aggression and vulnerability that drives many of the songs. Morey creates an emotional quiet/loud dynamic as she mates the imperious power of Mary Weiss to the vulnerability of Feargal Sharkey, producing the sense of someone who’s confident but not wholly sure. She’s bloodied by romantic wreckage, but damn well isn’t going to bleed out, and even the relatively tender “So Far So Close” is colored by thrumming bass and a distorted edge on the vocals.

The obsessive desire of “Little Rag Doll” is endearing and maybe a bit scary, depending on whether it’s a private thought written into a diary or a love letter shoved into someone’s locker. There are moments of less harrowing desire, such as the hopeful realization of “Come On Baby,” but much of the album’s romance is seen in postmortem hangover as Morey wrestles with lingering attachments and emerging feelings of righteous anger. A cover of Fugazi’s “Merchandise” retains its urgency amid the duo’s electric hum, but it’s the girlgroup hooks and baion beats that really give this record its power. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Sunshine and the Rain’s Bandcamp Page

Art Pepper: The Art Pepper Quartet

July 6th, 2017

An overlooked gem in Pepper’s mid-50s catalog

Despite his extensive drug-related jail time, Pepper was a prodigious and surprisingly consistent recording artist. The late-50s and early-60s were particularly fruitful years, minting classics that include 1957’s Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section and 1959’s Art Pepper + Eleven. But among these well-known catalog highlights were smaller gems, such as this 1956 release. Recently freed from a federal penitentiary, married his second wife, Diane, and gigging regularly around Los Angeles, Pepper recorded this one-off, low-key quartet date for the Tampa label. Accompanying Pepper is his longtime colleague Russ Freeman on piano, and West Coast regulars Ben Tucker on bass and Gary Frommer on drums.

The repertoire for this outing included five Pepper originals, along with interpretations of the standards “I Surrender Dear” and “Besame Mucho.” Pepper’s widow, Laurie, notes in the liners that the takes are shorter than one might expect for a jazz album – all of the master takes are under six minutes, and “Val’s Pal” a tidy 2’04. But that still leaves room for Pepper and Freeman to exchange ideas, and the conciseness of their solos is appealing. Freeman’s comping leads the rhythm section as Pepper solos, and though this isn’t the saxophonist’s most adventurous outing, its relaxed, optimistic mood is charming and unusual among Pepper’s catalog as a session leader.

Omnivore’s reissue adds alternates of “Pepper Pot” and “Blues at Midnight,” and session tapes from the recording of “Val’s Pal.” The latter are particularly interesting, as they detail a complete first pass, and the false starts and incomplete takes that led to the master. Laurie Pepper’s liner note provide background on the session’s recording and its road to reissue, providing the sort of context that’s often lost or overlooked in a straight-up reissue of a lesser-known catalog entry. This may not be the place to begin an appreciation of Pepper’s catalog – his ‘50s and early-60s highlights and remarkable comeback in the 1970s are more obvious starting points – but its reissue is a welcome addition to the Pepper library. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

Tom Armstrong: The Sky is an Empty Eye

July 4th, 2017

Superb private press album of guitar instrumentals

When you can make a record with a USB microphone and cloud-based recording, it’s hard to remember the revolution that was home recording. TEAC’s 4-track reel-to-reel recorders (and TASCAM’s later cassette-based Portastudio) for the semi-pro market allowed home recordists to multi-track and overdub without the overbearing expense (and ticking clock) of studio time. Some of these sessions ended up in the commercial market, but many were unspooled only for friends and family, or circulated in local vinyl pressings. Tompkins Square sampled several of these small batch recordings on Imaginational Anthem, Vol. 8: The Private Press, and now expands on the theme with this first of several planned full album reissues.

Tom Armstrong had hung around the edges of the music business, playing bars and open mics, but when his engineering career took off, dreams of a professional music career were put aside. But a 4-track gifted to him by his wife kept his guitar playing alive, and provided a creative outlet into which he poured this original music. Though he kept recording for more than a decade, this is the one collection of songs he had mastered and pressed to vinyl, handing out copies mostly to friends and business associates. He favors meditative acoustic tracks, such as the harmonic-filled opener and the somnambulistic “Dream Waltz,” but he adds dripping neo-psych notes to “Keller,” picks electric slide on “The Thing,” and sings the title track.

The album’s variety might have driven a market-seeking record label crazy, but it’s exactly that free-spiritedness that gives the album its charm. The segue from the finger-picked electric “Mama’s Baby” to the echoed, nearly discordant “Bebop” suggests the evolution of blues into jazz, and the album continues to evolve as it closes with the driving spaciness of “Thunder Clouds.” Most of the arrangements appear to be two or maybe three guitars, sometimes rhythm and lead, often interleaving in original ways. Armstrong’s technique is good, but it’s his musical imagination and the freedom to follow his muse without commercial pressure that really gives these recordings their power. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Tompkins Square’s Home Page

Sara Petite: Road Less Traveled

July 4th, 2017

Eleven years from her debut, Tiger Mountain, the title of Sara Petite’s latest album is at odds with the miles of experience in her voice. What had once been a musical pastime turned into a sanity-saving career choice, that in turn transformed her personal struggles into artistic fuel. This latest set explores intimate themes of restlessness, desire, discovery, love, loss and recovery, and though the shuffling rhythms and moody horns suggest Johnny Cash, there’s a delicate vulnerability in Petite’s voice that Cash’s baritone couldn’t have sustained. Petite makes palpable the broken heart of “Getting Over You” with lyrical detail whose innocuousness turns out to be its revelation. She turns in an original drinking song with “Monkey on My Back,” and finds self-confidence in the surreal Tom Petty-influenced dream of “Good 2 B Me.” Recorded with her band (who get a terrific showcase on the swampy “Sweet Pea Patch”), rather than the Nashville studio hands of her earlier releases, the album has a more organic and exploratory feel – both of which complement an artist who’s fully come into her own as an autobiographical writer. If you’ve been following Petite’s career, you’ll be pleased with her continuing growth as an artist, and if you’re new, this is a great place to jump in. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Sara Petite’s Home Page

The Beau Brummels: The Very Best Of – The Complete Singles

July 1st, 2017

The mono A-sides of the Beau Brummels, and more!

San Francisco’s Beau Brummels cast a long shadow with a surprisingly short chart resume. Their run in the Top 40 lasted two years, and amounted to only three hit singles, “Laugh, Laugh,” “Just a Little” and “You Tell Me Why.” From there, the singles dwindled down the chart, and ended with 1966’s “One Too Many Mornings.” But their sound – particularly their harmony arrangements – was unique, and their albums and non-album singles have retained an artistic currency beyond their commercial success. All six albums are on CD, along with best of and rarities collections, and a pair of deep vault explorations. Varese adds to the catalog a sixteen-track set that collects the group’s twelve original mono A-sides, a trio of Sal Valentino singles and the group’s 1975 reworking of “You Tell Me Why.” The 45-minute disc is accompanied by a twelve-page booklet of photos, liner notes by noted West Coast music historian Alec Palao, and song notes that Palao gathered from band members Ron Elliott, Sal Valentino, John Peterson, Ron Meagher and Don Irving, lyricist Bob Durand and producer Lenny Waronker. Those new to the group’s catalog may find a greatest hits collection to be a better overall introduction, but fans will really enjoy the original mono A-sides (and long for the B’s!). [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Beau Brummels’ Home Page