The Quick: Mondo Deco

July 19th, 2018

Long-lost ‘70s power-pop gem liberated from the vault

Music impresario Kim Fowley’s outsize personality and professional longevity both exaggerated and overshadowed the commercial and artistic success of his artists. As half of the fictional Hollywood Argyles he topped the charts with “Alley Oop,” had his hand in a string of 1960s novelties that included the instrumental “Nut Rocker,” the doo-wop “Papa Oom Mow Mow” and the treacly “Popsicles and Icicles,” threaded his way into the British rock scene, and became an icon on the Sunset Strip. The mid-70s were a particularly fertile period for Fowley on the L.A. pop-rock-glam scene as he produced three albums for the Runaways, and releases for Venus and the Razorblades, Dyan Diamond, and The Quick.

The Quick formed, played their first gig, were discovered by Fowley, signed to Mercury (the home of Fowley’s other proteges, the Runaways), and recorded and released this debut album all within 1976. Though the Ramones released their debut the same year, and the band played on bills with many of Los Angeles’ punk rock luminaries, the Quick’s early influences leaned heavily to glam, glitter and the lyrically cutting works of the British Invasion. As engineer and co-producer, Sparks founding guitarist Earl Mankey brought a generous helping of quirky pop sound to the table, and the high, sweet voice of Danny Wilde (made even higher by a change in tape speed) added a campy, devilish edge. Guitarist Steven Hufsteter was a prolific writer whose songs overflowed this debut into demos, fan club singles and covers by Los Angeles notables such as the Dickies.

Hufsteter’s songs were literate and cynical in the manner of Ray Davies, with scathing Elvis Costello-like sarcasm effectively delivered with a smile instead of a sneer. The album’s sugary melodies and power chords undersell the sardonic humor in songs of feral teenagers, dominatrixes, and the brilliantly essayed San Fernando Valley malaise of “My Purgatory Years.” The band showed off their instrumental sophistication with the ringing drums and hard guitars of “Anybody,” and drew the Beatles and Four Seasons into their musical orbit with covers of “It Won’t Be Long” and “Rag Doll.” All of the group members went on to other glories (Wilde with the Rembrandts, Hufsteter with the Cruzados, Danny Benair with the Three O’Clock, bassist Ian Ainsworth with Great Building, and keyboardist Billy Bizeau as a songwriter for the Runaways), but never again realized a sound this unique.

The band was a favorite of KROQ’s Rodney Bingenheimer, and got spins on college radio, but gained no commercial traction and broke up in 1978. The album was reissued as a needle-drop LP in 2009, but now comes to CD from the original master tapes with ten demos and a session outtake. Several of the demos are close to the album in attitude and arrangement, but others, including “Hi Lo,” add new twists. The band had a surprisingly firm handle on their musical ethos, given the speed with which they formed and headed into the studio. Mankey added clarity and sheen to the recordings, but didn’t fundamentally reshape the songs. The demos include a few tunes (“Teacher’s Pet” and “Heaven on Earth”) that didn’t make the album, along with a snippet of “Born Free” that showed how far the band could reach. This is a long overdue reissue that revives a memorable, transitional moment in the L.A. music scene. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Lucy and the Rats: Lucy and the Rats

July 19th, 2018

Garage-punk-pop flashes back back to the ‘80s, ‘70s and ‘60s

The Australian-born, London-based Lucy Spazzy conjures the retro-tinged blend of power pop and DIY garage punk that fueled 1980s acts like the Pussywillows, Primitives, Josie Cotton, and Nikki & the Corvettes. It pairs melody with attitude, as did the Shangri-Las, Lesley Gore, Blondie and the Ramones, with loud guitars, vocal harmonies and driving rhythms powering lyrics of romantic longing, anticipation, confusion, despair and second chances. Spazzy teeters between exultation and heartbreak, vacillating between surrendering to and fighting off love’s inexorable pull. The album closes with the sun-drenched problems of “Can’t Surf,” timed perfectly for the record’s summer release. Roll the windows down and turn the stereo up! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Lucy and the Rats’ Bandcamp Page

Dennis Coffey: One Night at Morey’s – 1968

July 2nd, 2018

Second set of hot Detroit soul instrumentals from Motown funk brother

Following closely on the heels of last year’s exquisite Hot Coffey in the Big D – Burnin’ at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge, Omnivore delivers a second set from Motown guitarist Dennis Coffey’s 1968 residence at Morey Baker’s Detroit club. As with the previous release, Coffey plays guitar in a trio led by organist Lyman Woodard, and backed by drummer Melvin Davis. And as with the previous collection, the trio cooks with three burners on full blast. The set list mixes up originals (“Mindbender,” “Big City Lights” and “Union Station”) with covers selected from the catalogs of Wilson Pickett, the Beatles, the Meters, the Young Rascals, the Soulful Strings, the Isley Brothers and Charlie Parker.

The inclusion of then-contemporary hit songs provides an entry point for the audience, but like a jazz outfit, the themes are mostly launching points for improvisation, including a fiery guitar-and-organ jam on “Eleanor Rigby” and extended riffing on the Meters’ “Cissy Strut.” Richard Evans’ “Burning Spear,” released by the Soulful Strings in 1967, is turned into a thirteen-minute inferno with a lengthy solo slot for Davis, and “It’s Your Thing” finds Coffey playing fuzz guitar, as he did two years later on “Ball of Confusion,” but with a harder fuzz tone in front of the combo. Coffey and Woodard are outstanding throughout, and Davis’ funky rolls, fills, backbeats and cymbals give the trio a deep rhythmic groove.

Coffey’s originals are worthy complements to the better-known cover material, with the rocking “Mindbender” suggesting the guitarist kept his ears open while opening for the MC5 at the Grande Ballroom, and “Big City Lights” offering Memphis-tinged funk. It’s been fifty years since the trio laid down these jams for the audiences that flocked to Morey’s, but they remain as propulsive and innovative as they were in 1968. Taken together with last year’s Hot Coffee in the Big D, these tracks fill out a picture of the trio’s wide-ranging set list, and more importantly, the original music of a guitarist whose day job garnered commercial hits, but whose evenings let explored his musical soul. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Dennis Coffey’s Home Page
Dennis Coffey’s weekly gig at the Northern Lights Lounge

Keely Smith: Sings the John Lennon-Paul McCartney Songbook

June 28th, 2018

Imaginative early covers of Lennon & McCartney

Keely Smith is most often remembered for the 1950s Las Vegas lounge show and recordings that came from her partnership with then-husband Louis Prima. Her deadpan comedic chops gave way to a solo career in the 1960s, signing with Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label and attracting the talents of arrangers Nelson Riddle, Ernie Freeman and Benny Carter. After two albums of standards, this 1964 release drew exclusively upon the early works of Lennon & McCartney, cannily resetting them to make the most of Smith’s jazz and pop stylings.

“If I Fell” opens the album with a dramatic string-and-vocal passage that gives way to a Latin beat, while the chart for “This Girl” tips its fedora to Sinatra’s “That’s Life.” The latter is no surprise, given that Smith and Sinatra’s tracks were both arranged by Ernie Freeman and produced by Jimmy Bowen. Smith’s voice is in superb throughout, whether skipping along breezily or holding onto dramatic notes. The walking bass and fingersnaps that open “A Hard Days Night” nod to “Fever,” but Smith’s blue-jazz vocal and the quiet horn accents give the recording its own mood.

The Beatles’ quick fame made the Lennon & McCartney catalog ripe for exploitation, and while a few of the arrangements lean to novelty, the productions are full, and Smith found real artistic resonance with many of the songs. There’s a swinging sax solo on a waltz-time version of “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” and Smith punches up “Can’t Buy Me Love” with her brassiness. The album may been a commercially-inspired lark, but the talent elevates it well above the Beatle-related cash-ins that flooded the market. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Barry Goldberg: In the Groove

June 26th, 2018

Deep in the soul pocket

Barry Goldberg has magic in his fingers. Early on, the Chicago-born keyboardist developed that magic in sessions with Muddy Waters, Otis Rush and Howlin’ Wolf; he backed Dylan in his first electric gig at Newport, played on the infamous Super Session with Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Stephen Stills, and co-founded the Electric Flag. He carved out a career as a studio player, and recorded a solo catalog that began with 1966’s Blowing My Mind. He’s remained active as a producer and musician ever since, and now, nearly twenty years after his last solo release, he’s recorded a collection of blues, soul and rock that show off both his early musical influences, and the seemingly infinite reservoir of magic that still resides in his fingers.

Mixing five new compositions and seven covers, Goldberg pays deep tribute to the music that primed his musical dreams. His mastery of piano, Wurlitzer piano and Hammond B-3 is matched by a musical sensibility weaned on the African-American programming of legendary Chicago radio stations WGES in the 1950s, and the Chess-owned WVON in the 1960s. The album opens with its lone vocal track, a co-write with vocalist Les McCann, “Guess I Had Enough of You.” Don Heffington and Tony Marsico lay down a heavy bottom end here, as Rob Stone’s harmonica and Goldberg’s organ add flourishes to McCann’s vocal riffing. It’s a solid opener to an album that is all about the groove.

Goldberg’s originals include the hard-swinging Hammond workout, “The Mighty Mezz,” the low blues “Ghosts in My Basement,” the jazz jam “Westside Girl,” and the relaxed funk of the title track. The covers are just as varied, including Milt Buckner’s late-night “Mighty Low,” Joe Sublett’s growling sax on Doc Bagby’s “Dumplin’s,” Goldberg’s boogie piano on the Cyclones’ “Bullwhip Rock,” a tough stroll through Sil Austin’s “Slow Walk,” titles from Johnny and the Hurricanes and the original northwest Wailers, and a rolling piano solo of Lead Belly’s “Alberta.” Goldberg selected his musicians as thoughtfully as his songs, and their expert touch is captured by Carla Olsen’s production and Johnny Lee Schell’s engineering, as they all venture together deep into the groove. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Barry Goldberg’s Home Page

Michelle Phillips: Victim of Romance

June 22nd, 2018

1977 solo album provided Phillips a fetching turn in the spotlight

Upon the 1970 dissolution of the Mamas and Papas, three of the four members carved out solo careers, while Michelle Phillips departed the music world for a career as an actress. Five years later she edged back into the studio with the singles “Aloha Louie” and “No Love Today,” and in 1977 released this album, with production and arrangements by Jack Nitzsche, and backing from some of Los Angeles’ finest studio players. Singing material by Moon Martin, Alan Gordon, John Phillips, the Bee Gees, Scott Matthews & Ron Nagle, as well as a pair of originals, she sounds surprisingly self-assured and effortless for someone who’d mostly been away from the microphone for the previous seven years. Her reported lack of confidence in her solo voice proved unfounded as she showed off a command of a spotlight that was previously diffused by her talented groupmates.

Martin’s opening “Aching Kind” has a dreamy ‘70s feel, with Phillips’ double-tracked vocal gliding thoughtfully along the song’s self-reflective sorrow. Nitzsche gave her the full Crystals’ treatment, complete with Steve Douglas sax solo, for Martin’s title track, and added Drifters-styled triangle, castanets, strings and a baion beat to Phillips’ Mexicali-tinged “There She Goes.” There’s a ‘50s R&B feel to Martin’s “Paid the Price,” but with guitars that bring the song into the ‘70s, and both “Trashy Rumors” and “Woman of Fantasy” have a modern, jazzy edge. Among the album’s surprises is a reggae-tinged cover of Doris Troy’s “Just One Look” that predates\d Linda Ronstadt’s single, and closing out the original set is Scott Matthews & Ron Nagle’s sleepy “Where’s Mine.”

Real Gone’s 2018 reissue adds three session outtakes as bonuses, including Phillips’ original “Guerita,” the New Orleans-styled funk “Practice What You Preach,” and a second Bee Gees cover, “Had a Lot of Love Last Night.” Together with the ten album tracks, this collects all of the finished material from the Nitzsche sessions. The CD’s booklet adds new liner notes by Joe Marchese with a fresh interview with Phillips. At album length, Phillips showed how easily she could slip into a variety of styles without surrendering her Laurel Canyon roots. Following this album, she sang backup on a few projects, and recorded “Forever” for the California Dreaming soundtrack, but that was basically it. Phillips returned to acting, leaving this album as her sole full-length statement as a musical artist; a statement that will leave fans wishing there had been more. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: Are You One of Jay’s Kids? The Complete Bizarre Sessions 1990-1994

June 18th, 2018

Screaming hot in the 1990s

To many, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins career consists of his 1956 release “I Put a Spell on You,” and the coffin from which he arose to perform on stage. His theatrical, macabre image may have been novel, but his records were anything but novelties. Oddly, despite the single’s healthy sales and its iconic stature in the rock ‘n’ roll canon, it never made the charts, leaving Hawkins, technically, a no-hit wonder. But hitmaking wasn’t Hawkins’ musical metier, as he followed the beat of his very distinctive drummer with songs like “Constipation Blues” and “Feast of the Mau Mau.” And when he connected with Bizarre label owner (and subsequently manager and producer) Robert Duffey in 1990, the goal was to just let Jay “be Jay,” rather than overtly court commercial success.

Hawkins showed off his range of rock, blues and R&B on three albums for Bizarre, Black Music for White People (1991), Stone Crazy (1993) and Somethin’ Funny Goin’ On (1994). The material includes originals from both Hawkins and Duffey (including the latter’s memorable “I Am the Cool”), covers that mine Hawkins’ first-person knowledge of 1950s music, and Tom Waits’ “Heart Attack and Vine,” “Ice Cream Man” and “Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard.” Hawkins’ mojo was in full flight throughout his time with Bizarre as he hollers, growls and wrestles the songs into submission. The backing bands, assembled from talented local rock and blues players (including the Beat Farmers’ Buddy Blue) backed Hawkins’ howling vocals with hot rhythms, wild guitars, tight horns, and fat saxophones.

Manifesto’s 2-CD set gathers together all three of Hawkins’ albums for Bizarre, adds five previously unreleased tracks, and a sixteen-page booklet with full-panel album cover reproductions and liner notes by Chris Morris. Highlights include the piece-of-mind “Ignant and Shit,” the tribal Bo Diddley beat of “Swamp Gas,” a schizophrenic take on “Ol’ Man River,” a fevered cover of Ray Charles’ “I Believe,” an energetic run at “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” (retitled “Call the Plumber” here), Duffey’s purpose-written “Rock the House,” homages to Sherilyn Fenn and the Long Island Lolita, Amy Fisher, and spoken word passages that echo Hawkins’ on-stage monologues. Of the three albums, the grittier production of the third has aged the least, but all are worth hearing! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Malo: Latin Boogaloo – The Warner Bros. Singles

June 12th, 2018

The single edits of a 1970s Latin-rock jam band

Omnivore takes a fresh look at the San Francisco-based Latin-rock group Malo through the lens of their singles. The band’s original run of 1970s albums (Malo, Dos, Evolution and Ascención) can be found in reissue, alongside live albums and best ofs, but the original single edits (courtesy of Malo’s producer, David Rubinson) have been harder to come by. The interest in these sides lays in the resonance they will have for those who first met Malo on the radio. The group’s first single, “Suavecito,” is presented here in the shortened 3:29 version that climbed to #18 on the Billboard Top 100. The longer album version, from the group’s self-titled debut, is certainly worth having, but may seem oddly long to those weaned on the single.

The band’s mix of rock, soul, funk and Latin flavors were powered by a punchy rhythm section, tight horn charts, and the guitar playing of Jorge Santana and Abel Zarate. The tightly edited singles presented here elide intros, instrumental passages and lengthy jams that gave the albums flavor. That said, the highly-charged arrangements of guitar, percussion and horns were the band’s calling card, and though not heard at album length on the singles, are still the focal point of many of these sides. Some of the tunes, such as “Cafe,” feel as if they were cut off just as the band was taking flight, while others were more artfully edited into shorter form.

Omnivore has gathered Malo’s six singles for Warner Bros. – A’s and B’s – plus a single that was prepared (“Just Say Goodbye” b/w “Pana”) but only released in Turkey. Given that the band’s first single was the only one to chart, it’s likely that many listeners will be unfamiliar with terrific sides that include a soulful cover of “I Don’t Know,” the funky B-side “Think About Love” and the instrumental “Just Say Goodbye.” To hear the band in full flight, you’ll need the albums, but those looking for an intro, or deep fans wanting to hear how the band’s jams were tamed for radio will enjoy this volume. All stereo, except #4. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Various Artists: Technicolor Paradise – Rhum Rhapsodies & Other Exotic Delights

May 30th, 2018

Top shelf Exotica rarities

“Exotica” is a musical genre born at the post-war intersection of jet travel and high fidelity. It’s name was coined for Martin Denny’s pioneering debut album, and it’s sound offered an intoxicating blend of world percussion, tribal rhythms, orchestral arrangements, wordless vocals, jazz changes and modern instrumentation. Exotica offered an invitation to an exotic Shangri-La through expansive, often culturally ersatz, sounds. Though born in tropical climes, exotica expanded, particularly in retrospect, to include Asian and Latin influences. The genre’s 1990’s revival, amid a broader look back at “space age bachelor pad” culture, spurred numerous reissues of thrift store rarities, artist anthologies and genre compilations, alongside new books, visual art, weekenders and analyses of the revival itself.

Canadian artist Gordon Monahan posited a holy trinity of exotica songs in “Taboo,” “Caravan” and “Quiet Village,” repeating them in triplet form in both performance and on record. “Taboo,” though written by Cuban singer and composer Margarita Lecuona, is closely associated with Hawaiian vibraphonist Arthur Lyman. “Caravan” began its life as a jazz standard written by Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington, and though first performed by the latter in 1936, became an exotica staple in the 1950s. It’s offered here by percussionist Bobby Christian, with a twangy guitar lead and a siren’s ghostly vocal from Christian’s daughter. “Quiet Village,” written and originally recorded by Les Baxter, was turned into exotica’s national anthem by Martin Denny’s 1957 arrangement. It appears here in a vocal version by former Our Gang actress Darla Hood, as well as a vibraphone-led instrumental by Five Glow Tones.

Numero expands on Monahan’s trio of exotica pillars with 54 (48 for the LP release) expertly curated rarities. A few of the titles may be familiar, such as “The Moon of Manakoora” and “Nature Boy,” but they’re presented here in versions all but the most devout have not likely heard. And given that “exotica” is more a retrospective label applied by crate-digging collectors than a cohesive musical category, collections such as this define the borders for themselves. Disc 1, titled “Daiquiri Dirges,” focuses on guitar instrumentals, including a surprisingly mellow early recording from the Pacific Northwest’s Wailers entitled “Driftwood,” the Blazers’ surf-tinged “Sound of Mecca,” the Palaton’s languorous “Jungle Guitar,” the Voodoos’ Quiet Village-inspired “The Voodoo Walk,” and the Chayns’ earworm “Live With the Moon.”

Disc 2, titled “Rhum Rhapsodies,” expands the program to vocal tracks, giving a feel for some of the not-particularly-exotic acts that hitched a ride on the good ship exotica. In addition to a second track by Darla Hood (“Silent Island,” also rendered in a wonderfully moody orchestral arrangement by Modesto Duran), there’s a dramatic harmony chorus on film composer Andre Brummer’s “Tumba,” comic actress Martha Raye cover of the exotica chestnut “Lotus Land,” Jerry Warren’s Paul Anka-styled B-side “Enchantress,” the Potted Palm’s AIP-soundtrack-ready “My House of Grass,” and Akim’s frantic “Voodoo Drums.” Don Reed’s sax-heavy cover of “Nature Boy” gains a dollop of exotica cred from its haunting, Yma Sumac-styled vocal, and the Centuries’ “Polynesian Paradise” faintly suggests folk and surf origins, even as the wordless vocalist loses track of the islands’ tranquil feeling.

The set’s third disc, titled “Mai Tai Mambos,” returns to instrumentals, sailing into port with Latin, guitar, jazz and orchestral arrangements from Cuban conga player Modesto Duran, Canadian rockabilly Arnie Derksen, Americans Nick Roberts, Eddie “The Sheik” Kochak and Jimmy McGriff, and others. The percussive arrangements and pulse-racing rhythms revive the set’s exotica vibe, with even soul singer Bobby Paris finding an Afro-Cuban groove for 1961’s “Dark Continent.” The instrumentalists take the exotica elements as new flavors – rhythms, instruments, melodic lines and song titles to be imbibed – rather than overt commercial opportunities to be chugged. Each of the three discs harbors unique charms, and listeners may find their favorite shifting with the sybaritic tide.

The CD set’s 129-page hard-cover book is perhaps even more impressive than the CDs. Ken Shipley’s liner notes provide a scene-setting introduction, and the song notes are spectacular in their encyclopedia detail. Michael Graves has conjured magic in his audio restoration of the mixed bag of tape and vinyl he was served, knitting together the disparate sources into a smoothly flowing program. The book is filled with period photos and record label reproductions, and while the overall design is beautiful, some of the backgrounds make the text hard to read. The selection of lesser known artists and songs makes this set a terrific complement to exotica’s best known recordings, and a set that both the novice and experienced fan can enjoy. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

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