Third time’s a charm for the Knack’s excellent 1998 reunion album
Few bands have suffered so much from their success. The Knack’s debut album, Get the Knack, and the lead single “My Sharona” each reached #1, but the resulting radio saturation, and their seemingly out-of-nowhere rise to fame created blowback that sabotaged their future commercial prospects. A number of publicity choices – cover art that mimicked the television stage set of A Hard Day’s Night, a 1960’s Capitol rainbow label design and a tight lid on interviews, didn’t help. The critical backlash was swift and strong, fueled in part by artist Hugh Brown’s “Knuke the Knack” campaign.
The band’s years of sweat equity, a fan base grown organically from gigs, and most of all, the craft of their songs were unilaterally overshadowed by the notion that they’d been manufactured and sprung on the world. But it wasn’t a gigantic publicity machine that accelerated their nationwide fame, it was the catchiness of their music, a world-class hook in “My Sharona,” and – not at all unusually for the record industry – some lucky timing. Sadly, the Knack weren’t able to take advantage of the pop renaissance they helped spark, and to this day they’re often remembered more for the backlash than their success.
The band split at the end of 1981 amid disappointing sales of their third album Round Trip, but reunited over the years for club shows and albums; this 1998 title was their second and best reunion. With Terry Bozio filling in on drums, and new material from vocalist Doug Feiger and guitarist Berton Averre, the band was re-energized. Feiger’s voice still had the tone of youth, and the band’s Beatleisms, such as the guitar figures and vocal harmonies on “Terry & Julie Step Out,” didn’t have to withstand the critical barbs of 1979. And that last point is probably the most important. Removed from their rocket-fueled fame and ensuing backlash, listeners can stop worrying and start hearing the Knack as a pop band, rather than a phenomenon.
Feiger himself seemed to be thinking about the band’s place, rather than worrying about it. The opener, “Pop is Dead,” decries the fate of pop music in the TV-saturated late ‘90s, but makes its point with actual pop music. Feiger’s Rickenbacker chimes in homage to the Searchers as the band looks to its inception with “Can I Borrow a Kiss,” and their problems with the media is echoed in Wonders-like “Mister Magazine.” The album hits for the power-pop cycle of heartbreak (“Everything I Do”), breakup (“Harder On You”), recrimination (“Smilin’” “Harder On You” “Tomorrow”) and renewal (“Love is All There Is” “You Gotta Be There”). Feiger is emotionally invested as he strains into his upper register for “In Blue Tonight” and closes the album with the psych-tinged “(All In The) All in All.”
Extraordinary live and studio material from Montgomery’s early years
Wes Montgomery’s Riverside, Verve and A&M catalogs have been reissued over the years, but previously unreleased material has been remarkably rare. Aside from Verve’s controversial Willow Weep for Me and Resonance’s Echoes of Indiana Avenue, there hasn’t been much to fill out the well-known recorded legacy. This 2-CD (3-LP) set dramatically changes the situation with a rich cache of previously unreleased live and studio recordings from Montgomery’s formative years. Among the treasures are late ‘40s sessions with Montgomery as a sideman that had been available as extremely rare 78s on the Fresno-based Spire label, home and nightclub recordings from the mid-50s, and an entire 1955 album produced by Quincy Jones.
Disc 1 is filled primarily with Montgomery Brothers recordings made at the Turf Club in their hometown of Indianapolis. Recorded in mono by hobbyist Philip Kahl, the tapes capture Wes (guitar), Buddy (piano) and Monk (bass) with saxophonist Alonzo Johnson and drummer Sonny Johnson in August 1956, and in November with John Dale on bass and vocalist Debbie Andrews sitting in for two numbers. The restored audio is clean and of good fidelity, and though the solos aren’t always given the prominence one might like, neither are they buried. By this point, Montgomery’s Gibson had already developed its distinctive tone, though the tempos have him playing with more heat than his more famous sides of the 1960s. The disc closes with a relaxed, home recorded seven-minute jam on “Ralph’s New Blues,” featuring Buddy Montgomery on vibes.
Disc 2 finds Montgomery in the company of Melvin Rhyne (piano), Flip Stewart (bass) and Paul Parker (drums) at the Missile Lounge in 1958. The quartet strikes a bluesier nighttime groove than the 1956 Montgomery-Johnson quintet, and improvises at greater length. They pick up the tempo for Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia,” providing Montgomery a showcase for his incredible technique. The set winds back to 1955 for five tracks from the shelved Quincy Jones session with the same hard-charging quintet that opened disc one. The disc’s final three pieces rewind to 1949, for a peek at Montgomery’s early years as a sideman. Across the two discs the set lists include jazz, swing and tin pan alley standards, alongside the Montgomery originals “Wes’ Tune,” “Far Wes” and “Blues.”
It’s not surprising to find that this Norfolk, Virginia band has gigged for years before committing themselves to a first full-length album. Their passionate, throwback rock ‘n’ soul has clearly been honed for the stage and dance floor, and their combination of pop melodies, organ and horns brings to mind the Southern sounds of early Stax, but also the Northern rock ‘n’ soul of the Buckinghams, Rascals, Grass Roots, Southside Johnny, Tower of Power and Chicago. There’s a helping of the Band in “Somedays” and “Sunshine,” and the group’s instrumental flights suggest the jazz-funk bumper music of the Saturday Night Live band.
Despite his indelible 1977 hit “Lonely Boy,” Andrew Gold has still been heard by many more listeners than have heard of him. That’s because his own recordings (which include “Thank You For Being a Friend” before it was reworked as the theme of The Golden Girls, and the UK hit “Never Let Her Slip Away”) never achieved the same level of immortality as the records he produced, arranged and played on for others. Notably, his work on Linda Ronstadt’s Heart Like a Wheel was elemental to the chart topping success of “You’re No Good” and its follow-up “When Will I Be Loved,” as was his presence in Ronstadt’s band on her memorable string of 1970s albums for Elektra/Asylum.
Gold was in demand as a musician throughout the mid-70s, augmenting his regular gig with Ronstadt by contributing to records by Maria Muldaur, Rita Coolidge, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Art Garfunkel, J.D. Souther, Carla Bonoff and many others. At the same time, he developed a solo career, and his second album, 1976’s What’s Wrong With This Picture?, yielded the semi-autobiographical chart hit “Lonely Boy,” which also led to increased touring opportunities. This live set was recorded on the closing night of Gold’s 1978 U.S. tour, performed in front of a wildly enthusiastic hometown audience at Hollywood’s Roxy Theatre.
By the time Gold returned to Los Angeles in April of 1978, his single “Thank You For Being a Friend” had been on the Billboard chart for six weeks, and his third album, All This and Heaven Too, had just been released. The setlist included his hits, album tracks from his first two albums, and a generous helping of material from his then-new release. He also reached back to two of his primary influences with rocking covers of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and the Beatles’ “Doctor Robert.” The latter, the only track here that’s been previously released, provides Gold and his longtime compatriot Bruce Walsh an opportunity to demonstrate their Lennon/McCartney vocal chops.
Colorado guitarist Otis Taylor can play the blues, but he’s never content to just repeat the same old 16 bars. His latest opens with a cover of “Hey Joe” that quickly displays the album’s reach, as violinist Anne Harris answers his vocals, cornetist Ron Miles adds a melancholy solo, and Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes wails on guitar. The song’s middle section finds the players interweaving in a hypnotic instrumental whose crescendo gives way to a shell-shocked vocal that’s equal parts grief and defiance.. The song coasts to a stop as it segues into the instrumental “Sunday Morning,” and it’s here that the album’s psychedelic flavors take hold. The driving rhythm at the song’s center is embroidered by echoed guitar and insistent cornet lines, driving the song into prog rock and fusion territory.
Formed from members of the Red Stick Ramblers and Pine Leaf Boys, the Revelers cover a lot of Southern musical ground. Their last release, a four-song salute to swamp pop, showed off just one of their many influences. Their latest features all original material that combines zydeco, cajun, southern soul, pop, country, jazz and blues into a wonderfully potent mash. The Revelers mingle their roots into joyful dance music that’s hard to pin down; one can point to a particular accordion, fiddle, throaty saxophone, waltz-time rhythm or Cajun French lyric, but no single element fully defines the Revelers. Think of NRBQ with a stronger Southern pull.
Solid 3-CD set of seminal mid-50s sides and mid-60s comeback
It’s hard to believe, but Little Richard’s key sides – “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Rip it Up,” “Lucille,” “Jenny, Jenny,” “Keep A-Knockin’,” “Good Golly Miss Molly” and others – were recorded in only seventeen months, between September 1955 and January 1957. This will particularly surprise fans who first heard the original releases stretched out another eighteen months, through July 1958. Part of that schedule was due to the natural tempo of radio play and the singles charts, but a larger part was a byproduct of Richard’s late 1957 exit and subsequent hiatus from secular recording.
In the Fall of 1957, at the very height of his fame, Richard stepped out of the rock ‘n’ roll spotlight to devote his life to God and record gospel for End, Mercury, Atlantic and Coral. He returned with a one-off secular single for Little Star in 1962, recorded briefly for Specialty in 1964 (scoring a minor hit with “Bama Lama Bama Loo”), and returned full-time to rock ‘n’ roll with Vee-Jay from mid-64 to late-65. Richard’s stay on Vee-Jay included a number of royalty-recovering remakes that seemed more to imitate his earlier self than break new ground, but there was also new material and contemporary covers that found the showman’s vitality and ingenuity completely intact.
Specialty’s three-CD set cherry-picks Richard’s brilliant initial recordings of the mid-50s and his return to rock ‘n’ roll in the mid-60s. The set includes hits and B-sides that show off his initial failure to find an original sound, the spark lit in 1955, his inimitable string of hits, and his 1960s reworking of his own creation. Most startling to this day are the early hits he cut at Cosimo Matassa’s J&T studio, backed by the finest players in New Orleans. The morning session produced R&B that failed to differentiate itself from his earlier work for RCA and Peacock. But his off-the-cuff lunchtime rendition of the raunchy “Tutti Frutti” turned producer Bumps Blackwell’s head and was quickly spun into gold.
In short order, Richard laid down the most famous portion of his catalog, garnering radio play, chart hits, international tours and feature film appearances. But just as quickly as his fame came, he stopped it cold in its tracks with an October 1957 decision to abandon rock ‘n’ roll. Specialty managed to extend Richard’s chart presence with patched up demos of “Keep A-Knockin’” and “Ooh! My Soul,” the 1955-6 recordings of “True Fine Mama,” “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Baby Face,” and Little Richard singles continued to pour out of Specialty for another year. But only a 1955 recording of “Kansas City” even grazed the charts, bubbling under at #95 in 1959, and Richard all but disappeared from popular music.
To be more nuanced about his first morning session, there are several highlights among what might otherwise have been pedestrian R&B sides. Richard croons movingly on “Wonderin’,” Alvin “Red” Tyler’s sax adds muscle to “All Night Long,” and Justin Adams’ guitar solo is an unexpectedly raw delight on “Directly From My Heart.” By the time Richard swings into “Baby,” you can start to feel it in his vocals, but the jump to “Tutti Frutti” is really a full quantum leap. Richard’s opening “wop bop a loo bop a lop bom bom” turns everything up several notches, and the band – particularly drummer Earl Palmer – ignites.
Over the next few months Richard built on the invention of “Tutti Frutti,” reinventing its opening call for “Heeby-Jeebies Love,” taking emotional pleading to a new level with “True, Fine Mama” and “Shake a Hand,” lighting up the band’s New Orleans second-line on “Slippin’ and Slidin’ (Peepin’ and Hidin’),” and laying down the rock ‘n’ roll templates “Long Tall Sally,” “Ready Teddy” and “Rip it Up.” The band’s cool groove on “Lucille” contrasts with Richard’s unrestrained vocal, and he sets the studio on fire with his signature “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and the awesomely salacious “The Girl Can’t Help It.” By 1957, even the straight blues of “Early One Morning” succumbed to the edgy power of Richard’s singing.
Richard’s 1964 full return to rock ‘n’ roll found his fire stoked by the gospel he’d been recording. His televised live set for the UK’s Granada transitions seamlessly between secular and gospel material, and his recordings showed new sparks. 1964’s “Bama Lama Bama Loo” has more of a go-go rhythm than his earlier work, and “Poor Boy Paul” has a light Calypso undertow for its novelty chorus lyric. Moving to Vee Jay, Richard spent considerable time re-recording his hits in an attempt to regain royalties he’d signed away in 1957. This set sidesteps those re-recordings in favor of new material and covers that find Richard tackling songs from Leadbelly, Larry Williams, Fats Domino and others.
Though the Vee Jay performances aren’t as incendiary as the mid-50s Specialty sessions, there’s some great material here that shows Richard still expanding his reach. Among the more notable sidemen in his 1964 comeback sessions was reported to be Jimi Hendrix, whose guitar is said be be heard on several tracks, including a cover of Don Covay’s “I Don’t Want What You Got But It’s Got Me.” More definitively documented is the electric violin of Don “Sugarcane” Harris on the blues “Goin’ Home Tomorrow.” Richard successfully reaches back to rock ‘n’ roll’s roots for “Money Honey,” “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” “Blueberry Hill,” and “Short Fat Fanny,” but also rocks contemporary material, such as Nilsson’s “Groovy Little Suzy” and Alvin Tyler’s “Cross Over.”
Richard’s originals during this period included “My Wheels They Are Slippin’ All the Way,” “Dancing All Around the World” and the wonderfully funky “It Ain’t Whatcha Do (It’s the Way How You Do It).” Richard seemed to be searching for his place in the musical landscape of 1964, singing rock, soul and orchestral ballads, and even swinging brassy updates of the Platters’ “Only You” and Dean Martin’s “Memories Are Made of This.” Unfortunately, with Vee Jay crumbling amid financial malfeasance (not to mention the loss of the Four Seasons), and the British Invasion washing up on American shores, there was little mainstream chart action and no commercial comeback for Richard’s records.
As a songwriter, Jackie DeShannon had tremendous success throughout the 1960s, but it wasn’t until she recorded 1969’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” that she found fame with her own material. But despite the song’s commercial success, the following year’s To Be Free would be her last for Imperial, and after a brief stop at Capitol for 1972’s Songs, producer Jerry Wexler landed her for his Atlantic label. Her two albums, Jackie and Your Baby is a Lady, included both original material and covers, and though artistically satisfying, neither achieved much sales and DeShannon moved on to a short stay at Columbia as her recording career wound down.
Lost in the transition was an album made for Atlantic, but never released. Recorded in 1973 with producer Tom Dowd at the fabled Sound City and Criteria studios, the sessions were a distinct change from Jackie’s strong Memphis flavors. Gone were the backing chorus, strings and the heavier horn charts, and in was a smaller group sound highlighted by a wider choice of material that spanned folk, pop, soul and gospel. In addition to four new DeShannon originals (co-written with Jorge Calderon, a multi-instrumentalist who would famously collaborate with Warren Zevon), the album included well-selected covers of Dylan, Alan O’Day, Christine McVie and others.
With the album in the can and awaiting release, DeShannon did some additional recording with Van Morrison in his home studio. Those sessions yielded four more tracks (15-18 here), of which the Morrison original “Sweet Sixteen” was released as a single, with the Dowd-produced “Speak Out to Me” as the B-side. When the single failing to chart, Atlantic shelved the entire year’s output, and DeShannon eventually began work on her next album. Six of the Dowd tracks (1-3 and 5-7 here), and all four Morrison productions, eventually appeared on Rhino’s 2007 reissue Jackie… Plus, but the rest of the Dowd-produced material remained in the vault until now.
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