The Jeanies: The Jeanies

January 23rd, 2015

Jeanies_JeaniesGarage-bred power pop time-warped from 1978

This is music that could only have arrived through a tear in the space-time continuum. The Jeanies have somehow managed to create mid-70s DIY power pop forty years after the fact. The mid-fi production and endless hooks are so genuine as to rise above mere homage. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear this is a reissue of a long-lost Bomp release. Actually, and even more impressively, it sounds like an anthology of indie singles whose B’s were as heartfelt as the top-sides. Each track has you humming along almost immediately and invites you to listen again – if only to keep you from arriving too quickly at the end of your new favorite record.

If you collected singles by the Nerves, Neighborhoods, Zippers, Stars in the Sky and Shoes, you’ll remember how uplifting it felt to find music this good. You had to hunt for it; you had to make friends with record store clerks in small independent shops and hope they’d stash a copy for you behind the counter. And when you found albums by the Beat, Real Kids, Dwight Twilley, Flamin’ Groovies and Raspberries, you couldn’t believe your good fortune in finding something to expand your love of the Beatles, Beach Boys and Byrds. That’s how you’ll feel when you unwrap this one. And as good as it sounds in digital form, it’s going to sound even better when you play the limited edition cassette in your Chevy Vega. It’s a shame they didn’t issue this as five singles.

Songwriter and lead vocalist Joey Farber evinces just the right sense of angsty, adolescent longing as he recounts the breathless anticipation and unrequited moments of first sightings, second thoughts and postmortems. The guitars (courtesy of Farber and Jon Mann) strike a balance between sweet and tough, with succinct, melodic leads that verge winningly into garage-psych for “I’ll Warm You” and “Her Flesh.” There’s bubblegum-glam in “The Girl’s Gonna Go,” and the Who gets a nod with “The Kids Are No Good.” Fans of the Heats, Plimsouls, Posies (another band that debuted on cassette!) and Flying Color will dig this album from the downbeat. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

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Trevor Rabin: Live in L.A.

January 9th, 2015

TrevorRabin_LiveInLALatter-day Yes guitarist and songwriter on a 1989 solo tour

This reissue returns to print Rabin’s performance from his 1989 solo tour. Rabin came to international attention through his membership in the second major incarnation of Yes, most notably the group’s 1983 smash 90125 and its group-penned hit, “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Rabin managed to squeeze in the 1989 solo album Can’t Look Away while still a member of Yes, and toured with a powerful quartet in support. This reissue of a 2003 release documents the tour’s final night, at the Roxy in Los Angeles.

Rabin’s guitar leads a tight four-piece band that plays larger and is flush with the backing vocal talent of keyboard player Mark Mancina and bassist Jim Simmons. This is particularly evident on the South African flavored “Sorrow.” Rabin’s originals mix pop and prog-rock, much as did Yes at the time, and the set includes both solo and group material. The band’s rendition of “Owner of a Lonely Heart” is turned into an enthusiastic audience sing-a-long that will remind you of the song’s immense popularity and the importance of Jon Anderson’s original vocal.

Varese’s reissue includes new cover art, a four-panel booklet, liner notes by Jerry McCulley and a master by Chas Ferry at Rock Talk Studios. The new CD expands the original ten-track lineup with a performance of Rabin’s mesmerizing acoustic guitar solo “Solly’s Beard.” The latter seems to be the same version as was available on the Yes album 9012Live: The Solos. Rabin moved on from Yes to an extensive and successful career composing film soundtracks, but his solo and Yes music of the 1980s still shines brightly. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Trevor Rabin’s Home Page

Ohio Players: Observations in Time

January 5th, 2015

OhioPlayers_ObservationsInTimeThe ‘60s Stax-styled soul of a ‘70s funk powerhouse

Before they conquered the charts with the heavy ‘70s funk of “Skin Tight,” “Fire” and “Love Rollercoaster,” Ohio Players were a band whose 1968 debut for Capitol resounded more with the soul sounds of Memphis than the hard-funk of Detroit. Dating back to the late ‘50s (as the Ohio Untouchables), the band backed the legendary doo-wop group The Falcons, and landed briefly in New York in the late ‘60s, where they recorded singles on Compass and this album for Capitol. The group offered new twists on Allen Toussaint’s “Mother-in-Law” and the Gershwins’ “Summertime,” turning the former’s New Orleans groove into Sam and Dave-styled soul, and stretching the latter into an eight minute jam of gritty blues and forceful jazz. The instrumental “Find Someone to Love” gives some indication of the sounds the Players would make in the ‘70s, but the majority of their original tunes, filled with soulful rhythm guitar, deep bass lines and punchy horn charts, could easily be mistaken for prime Stax sides. Originally reissued on CD by the Edsel label in 2002 (and subsequently dropped from their catalog), this set has been reissued for digital download by Capitol. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

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The Rimshots: 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 Blow Your Whistle

January 5th, 2015

Rimshots_7654321BlowYourWhistleHot ’70s soul (train) and disco from Sylvia Robinson’s house band

The Rimshots were the house band for Joe and Sylvia Robinson’s All Platinum label and its subsidiary, Stang. Sylvia Robinson had previously found success as a performer, teaming with Mickey Baker for “Love is Strange” and charting solo with “Pillow Talk,” but it was as producers and label executives that the husband-and-wife duo made their longest-lasting impact. In addition to All Platinum, the Robinson’s founded Sugar Hill and launched rap music into popular consciousness. But before that, in the early ’70s, the Robinson’s were producing funk and soul records, and various incarnations of the Rimshots got a chance to step into the spotlight.

The band’s most widely heard U.S. side was their reworking of King Curtis’ “Hot Potato (Piping Hot),” which had been used as the original theme song for TV’s Soul Train. The Rimshots recording was released on the subsidary A-I label as “Soultrain Part 1″ b/w “Soultrain Part 2.” The group’s 1972 debut album, titled after the single, was a masterpiece of two- and three-minute ’70s soul jams, with hot percussion, funky rhythm and lead guitar, deep bass and a variety of keyboard sounds. In the UK, the group became best known for their hit cover of Gary Toms Empire’s, “7-6-5-4-3-2-1 (Blow Your Whistle),” which itself was a reworking of Blue Mink’s “Get Up.” The 1976 album released under this later single’s title shows the band to have moved towards a glitzier disco sound.

Sequel’s twenty-one track compilation collects both of the band’s albums, and augments the lineup with four non-album tracks, including the popular 1974 instrumental “Who’s Got the Monster.” Though the latter single still has a punchy beat and fuzz guitar, you can hear the group’s sound turning towards disco – a trend upon which the band doubled down for 1976’s “Super Disco,” it’s flip side, “Groove Bus,” and the post-LP single “We’ve Got You Singing.” Those looking for early ’70s soul might want to bail out halfway through the disc, but even the group’s disco manages to dig some worthy grooves. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Ray Price: A New Place to Begin

January 5th, 2015

RayPrice_ANewPlaceToBeginCountry and pop from the mid-80s, with unreleased sides

These sixteen tracks date to Price’s mid-80s deal with Snuff Garrett’s short-lived Viva label. At the time, their collaboration resulted in the 1983 album Master of the Art, seven low charting singles and several tracks placed in the films of Viva’s co-owner, Clint Eastwood. This collection expands on the released material with seven tracks that were left in the vault when Garrett’s illness sidelined the label’s activity. Price is in good voice throughout (as is his trademark shuffle rhythm), and arrangements featuring the Cherokee Cowboys and Johnny Gimble that range from fiddle tunes to pop standards. The country songs, including the previously unreleased “Old Loves Never Die,” have withstood the years better than the pop productions, though Price’s vocal on the steel and vibe arrangement of “Stormy Weather” suggests it might have been a good idea to follow Willie Nelson’s lead in recording standards. Newbies should start with Price’s essential honky-tonk and countrypolitan catalogs, but fans will find these mid-career recordings worth hearing. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Lloyd Cole: Standards

January 4th, 2015

LloydCole_StandardsLloyd Cole renews his rock ‘n’ roll license

Thirty years into his career, Lloyd Cole can’t exactly “go” electric; that honor belongs to the Commotions’ 1984 debut, Rattlesnakes. But after a decade making what he terms “age appropriate music,” he’s “re-gone” electric with an album that reteams him with several players who help shape Cole’s 1990 solo debut, including Fred Maher on drums, Matthew Sweet on bass and Blair Brown on keyboard. Guitarist Robert Quine is missed from that lineup (having passed away in 2004), but Cole’s son Will, along with Mark Schwaber and Matt Cullen fill the guitar spot well.

You could call this a return to form, if the past decade’s acoustic work wasn’t such a pleasing form of its own; perhaps “welcome return” is more apt, given Cole’s previous forsaking of electric pop and rock. The group (which also includes Joan As Police Woman on piano and Michael Wyzik on percussion) sounds tighter than the 1990 aggregation as the album opens with its lone cover, John Hartford’s “California Earthquake.” Written for (and recorded by) Cass Elliott, Cole’s vision is more grittily determined, almost shell-shocked, with guitars that bring to mind the intertwining drone of Television.

Cole’s songs have always been literate and poetic, but often with strong narrative lines. The narration is fragmented in the scenes-from-a-college relationship “Women’s Studies” and the nostalgic “Period Piece.” The latter is sung as (rather than about) the Berlin Wall, and offers a first-person view of the wall’s existence and demise. The lyric’s mention of “Hansa” likely refers to the West Berlin Hansa recording studio, an easter egg that might escape many listeners’ notice.

Such references are easier to decipher in the Internet age, but you still have to recognize there’s something there to decode. The lyric “And I should be the one touched by your very presence, dear,” for example, will strike a chord with Blondie fans, yet seem wholly original to most everyone else. It’s really not cheating, since the original lyric is there to be found, and provides context to the astute listener. For each one you find, there are no doubt two more that pass you by.

Cole spends considerable time looking at relationships, including the tugs-of-war “Myrtle and Rose” and “Opposites Day,” and the dissolutions of “Silver Lake” and “No Truck.” The latter cleverly shifts the opening lyric’s acceptance (“don’t mind”) to the closing lyric’s expectation (“won’t mind”), as the narrator steadies himself for the exit. The album is filled with ambivalence in its knowledge of what needs-to-be butting heads with a sense of what’s possible. It’s encapsulated neatly in the paradoxical lyric “I can’t stay / But I can’t leave you like this.”

“Kids Today” takes an ironic stroll through the perils of bebop, heavy metal, rock ‘n’ roll, electric guitar, long hair, comic books, body art and decades of fashion as Cole realizes there’s nothing more wrong with the kids of today than the childhoods of his own generation. The album returns to failed relationships for “Diminished Ex,” admitting that “Maybe I aimed a little too high / No question that I failed in my endeavour,” and suggesting that Cole is coming to grips with a music career that’s rich in dedicated fans, but not worldwide hits. Lucky for him (and his fans), the lack of the latter won’t keep the former from embracing this superb album. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Lloyd Cole’s Home Page

Malo: Malo

January 4th, 2015

Malo_Malo1972 debut of a Latin rock and soul powerhouse

Coming in the wake of Santana’s 1969 breakthrough debut, and led by Carlos Santana’s guitar-slinging brother, Jorge, there’s no getting away from comparing this group to their Latin-soul brethren. Malo trawled a similar groove of rock, soul, funk and Latin jams, though with a larger aggregation of musicians, a heftier dose of percussion and a tight horn section. This 1972 debut, the only album recorded by the group’s early lineup, includes their lone chart hit, “Suavecito” (presented here in its original six-minute album mix and its three-minute single edit). This is a hard-driving album that’s a great deal more energetic than the summertime vibe of the single. The album has been available part of Rhino Handmade’s limited edition Celebracion box set; fans can now get Malo’s debut as a standalone with a four-panel booklet that includes liner notes by A. Scott Galloway. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Mark-Almond: Mark-Almond

January 3rd, 2015

MarkAlmond_MarkAlmondA neglected early ‘70s British rock-jazz classic

Guitarist Jon Mark and wind player and percussionist Johnny Almond met in 1969 as members of John Mayall’s band. Upon their departure from Mayall in 1970, they formed this eponymous quartet (not to be confused with Soft Cell’s Marc Almond!) with bassist Rodger Sutton and keyboardist Tommy Eyre. As with the music they recorded with Mayall, Mark and Almond chose a drummerless configuration that continued to work surprisingly well. Eyre’s piano, Sutton’s bass and Mark’s rhythm playing each take turns holding down the beat, leaving the others free to jam and improvise.

The album’s original five tracks clocked in at forty minutes, with two suites (“City” and “Love”) stretching past eleven minutes apiece. This provided the players – all four – a lot space to stretch out and interplay. The opening “The Ghetto” is a gospel soul number with a moving lyric of desperation set to a vocal chorus and Eyre’s perfect mix of acoustic and electric piano. Almond’s superb sax solo is perfectly set in a middle section between the hushed vocals of the opening and closing.

“The City” has a short lyric of escape, but quickly gives way to a jazz-tinged instrumental that provides each player a chance to shine. Sutton’s bass flows underneath as Almond takes a sax solo and Eyre vamps on piano, the two occasionally joining one another for to riff. Sutton steps to the front for a short interlude before Almond returns on flute; a few minutes later the song turns heavy with Mark’s low twanging guitar and assorted hand percussion.

The moody “Tramp and the Young Girl” hits blue notes in both its vocal melody and the tragic disposition of its title characters. The bass, electric piano, vibraphone and flute provide superb backing for Mark’s perfectly wrought, jazz-tinged vocal. Things pick up for “Love,” a suite that opens in a renaissance style before transitioning into a percussive, bass- and vibe-led middle section. The song’s vocal is a short, blues should, which leads to an ear-clearing, calling-all-dogs sax solo and a mellower instrumental play out.

What’s truly impressive about this band – aside from the talent of the four players – is its range between songs and within suites. The compositions carry over the ballroom jam of the ‘60s, but tighten them up and expand the instrumental and musical palettes, much as did Traffic, Steely Dan and others. It’s hard to imagine how this album was allowed to fall out of print; even Line’s German reissue disappeared. Varese’s domestic issue augments the original five tracks with a pair of single edits and a four-page booklet that includes liner notes by Jerry McCulley. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Swamp Dogg: The White Man Made Me Do It

January 3rd, 2015

SwampDogg_TheWhiteManMadeMeDoItNew album from outspoken soul music legend

Though Alive has recently reissued several of Swamp Dogg’s classic albums (including Total Destruction to Your Mind, Rat On and Gag a Maggot), as well as his work with Irma Thomas and Sandra Phillips, this is their first opportunity to release new material. And forty years after the landmark Total Destruction, Swamp Dogg’s brand of humorous social commentary remains as potently entertaining and educational as ever. That’s because the social, racial and gender issues of the 1970s haven’t gone away, and Swamp Dogg’s eyes and tongue are still sharp.

The title track lays down James Brown styled funk, but Soul Brother No. 1 never laid down a philosophical position as direct, quirkily self-reflective and far-reaching as “The White Man Made Me Do It.” Swamp Dogg manages to simultaneously curse slavery and celebrate the heroes that emerged in its wake, all to a catchy chorus chant and deep dance groove. The groove turns to Family Stone-styled soul (complete with a brief “listen to the voices” breakdown) for “Where is Sly” and low-down for a strutting cover of Leiber and Stoller’s “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.”

At 72, Swamp Dogg still has an ambivalent relationship with women, serenading on “Hey Renae” and a cover of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” castigating on “Lying, Lying, Lying Woman,” and humorously apologizing to his stepdaughters in the liner notes. But contradictions, or perhaps more accurately, colorful positions on complex subjects, have always been part of Swamp Dogg’s charm. Swamp Dogg sings side by side of a satisfied life (“I’m So Happy”) and ruminates on “What Lonesome Is,” showing that every coin in his pocket has at least two sides.

On balance, Swamp Dogg seems happy with the life he’s led. He may joke about his lack of popular acclaim, but where there might be bitterness you’ll find belief. Belief in his music, belief in his principles, and despite the social ills he’s cataloged over the years, belief that things have, can and will improve. “America’s sick, and it needs a doctor quick,” he sings in “Light a Candle… Ring a Bell,” but his roll call of the housing crisis’ bad actors is both an outpouring of frustration and a call to more responsible behavior. Swamp Dogg’s been calling it like he sees it since his 1970 debut, and in 2014 he still finds plenty to call.

Release note: The U.S. edition of this title is a 14-track single disc on Swamp Dogg’s S.D.E.G. label. Outside the U.S. this title includes a bonus disc of Swamp Dogg performances (including the landmark “Synthetic World”) and productions, featuring cuts by Sandra Phillips (“Rescue Me”), Lightning Slim (“Good Morning Heartaches”), Irma Thomas (“In Between Tears”), Charlie “Raw Spitt” Whitehead (“Read Between the Lines”), Z.Z. Hill (“It Ain’t No Use”), Doris Duke (“To the Other Woman (I’m the Other Woman)”) and Wolfmoon (“What is Heaven For”). The two CD edition (in a tri-fold digipack) can be found domestically on the Bomp website. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

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Willie Nile: If I Was a River

January 3rd, 2015

WillieNile_IfIWasARiverA New York rocker trades his guitar for piano

Willie Nile’s artistic renaissance continues unabated. Having championed rock ‘n’ roll guitars on his last few albums [1 2 3], he now strips himself down to singer-songwriter roots with his own piano serving as the primary backing for these intimate vocals. The piano brings an entirely different mood to the album than did the guitars, and while Nile’s songs have always been deeply personal, he sings here with introspection instead than proclamation. Rather than readying songs for a stage and an auditorium and an audience, these feel as if they were written to be sung directly to each listener, one-on-one.

Nile is an expressive pianist, and the Steinway Grand on which he recorded the album is an old friend from earlier days at New York’s Record Plant. His affection for this musical partner is detailed in the album’s promotional video, but even more so in the conversation he has with the keys. The piano’s sustain hangs in the air more moodily than that of an electric guitar, and recording without a drummer (or even a click track), frees Nile’s singing to follow the ebbs and flows of his songs. The lyrics display Nile’s social consciousness, particularly in the opening track, but also the way in which he uses ambiguity to leave himself open to interpretation.

“Lost” could be sung either by a lover without his mate or a lapsed believer seeking his forsaken God. Similarly, “The One You Used to Love” could be a call to an ex or a renewal of faith. Nile writes of love and war, lullaby wishes, and on “Lullaby Loon” a sarcastic loathing of just about every kind of music. With the bulk of a full band stripped away, the album becomes a duet between Nile and the piano, supplemented by light touches of guitar, strings and backing vocals. Trading guitar for piano impacts not only the playing and recording, but also the writing and singing, which keeps the songwriting familiar, but the expression new, unexpected and entirely welcome. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

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