Mason Summit: Gunpowder Tracks

October 22nd, 2016

Mason_Allport_cover-1400x1400.inddSouthern California pop prodigy spreads his wings

On the cusp of adulthood (his twentieth birthday party was held October 15th at Genghis Cohen), Mason Summit’s already on his third full-length album of original music. He’s a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose music brings to mind the craft of Brian Wilson and Chris Stamey, and the emotional delicacy of Elliot Smith. Working with engineer John McDuffie and a selection of top-flight L.A. studio players, Summit has fashioned an even more sophisticated version of his introspective sound, and his lyrics showcase the emotional and artistic discovery that marks the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Summit wrestles with the onset of outside awareness (“What I’m trying to say / Is that I don’t know what to say”) and the disturbing things it can bring to light. He struggles with relationships that are out of balance, the mystery of temptation, the banalities of daily living, and – surprisingly for a teenager – mortality. His introspection gives voice to teenage thoughts that aren’t often spoken aloud, at least not within earshot of adults. “When Time Was Mine to Spend” ruminates on the heavier burdens and narrowed freedoms of adult life, and though sung in the second person, “Suede Pockets” rings with first-person break-up details.

Without a band identity to maintain, Summit is free to give each song a unique mix of instruments, and though the mood is typically pensive, the textures are varied. The music thins to guitars for “Side Street,” turns jazzy with the muted trumpet, piano and guitar of “Detour,” and gains a Nilsson-like feel on “Snakeskin Shoes and Crocodile Tears.” Summit’s put a lot of craft into the arrangements, vocabulary, meters and rhymes, using his freedom as a developing indie artist to experiment. He’s also gained experience interning with Rob Schnapf, working shows at McCabe’s ,and attending music school, all of which should multiply the opportunities for this talented singer-songwriter. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Mason Summit’s Home Page

The Fleshtones: The Band Drinks for Free

October 22nd, 2016

fleshtones_thebanddrinksforfreeThe garage door is open and the organ’s plugged in

Forty years and twenty albums from their founding, New York’s Fleshtones are still cranking out garage-powered rock ‘n’ roll. Even more impressive than the length of their career is its consistently high quality amid a lack of commercial acclaim. Though the band parlayed its New York City club following into a deal with IRS, soundtrack placements, an American Bandstand appearance (alongside the band War!) and college radio play with 1983’s Hexbreaker!, it never added up to mainstream success. Which makes their perseverance and adherence to a core musical vision all the more admirable.

The band’s seventh album for Yep Roc puts their guitar, bass, drums, organ and harmonica to everything from a cover of the Hondells’ surf ‘n’ drag-themed “The Gasser” to Peter Zaremba’s original blues “The Sinner” and Keith Streng’s gothic soul “Respect Our Love.” Ten Years After’s “Love Like a Man” is taken uptempo with a psychedelic party vibe, and the excess that sparked the late-70s back-to-basics movement is suggested in the title “Rick Wakeman’s Cape.” Rock music may no longer be in the commercial limelight, but it still retains its punch, particularly in the hands of masters like the Fleshtones. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

The Fleshtones’ Facebook Page

Bobby Rush: Porcupine Meat

October 22nd, 2016

bobbyrush_porcupinemeatOctogenarian blues master remains vital, funky and blue

Your should hope to have this much life force at the age of 82. Sixty years into his career, and still logging more than two-hundred live dates each year, bluesman Bobby Rush sounds as vital as he did in his twenties. Born in Louisiana and musically schooled in Chicago clubs, he finally broke out as a solo artist in the early 1970s, adding soul and funk sounds to a blues base as he released a long string of albums and singles. This first release for Rounder teams him with producer Scott Billington and a slate of New Orleans musicians who double-down on Rush’s funky brand of the blue grooves. Rush’s voice is strong and his harmonica says as much as his lyrics.

At turns he’s ornery, defiant and stalwart in his own defense; he’s lived long enough to know what he wants, and what he doesn’t, but he’s not immune to the world’s irresistible forces. He’s a victim of circumstance, accused of crimes he didn’t commit and hamstrung by the siren’s call of mistreating women. The slow, spare blues of “Got Me Accused” provides the perfect space for a moving vocal and a deeply felt harmonica solo, and a horn section adds snap to the “Polk Salad Annie”-styled funk of “Catfish Stew.” Guests include Vasti Jackson, Dave Alvin, Joe Bonamassa and Keb’ Mo’, the latter adding his slide guitar to “Nighttime Gardener.” But Rush is the star of the show, and one who’s still shining bright and blue. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Bobby Rush’s Home Page

The Dazies: Hungover & Weird

October 22nd, 2016

dazies_hungoverandweirdBoston basement rock is alive and still sweating

Boston’s M. Holland (Tulsa, Mean Creek, Trabants) has been working as a solo act for the past few years, pressing friends into guest roles, and releasing a string of singles and EPs as The Dazies. In late 2014 he began working with multi-instrumentalist and engineer Kurt Schneider, and together they recorded this six song EP. The opening “Little Things” and “1-2-3 (What You Do To Me)” conjure the ‘70s punk-adjacent power pop of Tom Petty and Dwight Twilley, mating catchy hooks delivered and DIY verve. Holland name-checks an ‘80s juggernaut with the thrashing guitars and distressed vocal of “Nirvana Summer,” riffs through the should-be nationwide dance craze (and ode to the Creaturos) “Do the Snake,” returns to power pop with “Stuck,” and echoes the drive of the Vibrators and Undertones on “Piece of My Love.” If you were there for the Neighborhoods, Nervous Eaters and Real Kids, this will take you back; if you weren’t, this will clue you in to what you missed. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

The Dazies’ Facebook Page

Dwight Yoakam: Swimmin’ Pool, Movie Stars

October 21st, 2016

dwightyoakamswimminpoolsmoviestarsSwaggering bluegrass reinterpretations of Yoakam highlights

Commercial country music has become so commoditized by its formulas that it’s often difficult to recognize who you’re listening to. Not so with Dwight Yoakam. Not ever with Dwight Yoakam. Not only is his voice a singular instrument, but so is his taste as an artist. Not that he’s ever sat still in a pigeonhole; he’s maintained a throughline of artistic integrity and fidelity to country music’s emotional foundation even as he stretched the boundaries of country with former partner Pete Anderson, lured Buck Owens back to work, and stripped down to solo guitar for the reassessment of 2000’s The outline of this latter solo acoustic jaunt is reprised here, but with a twist of bluegrass applied to catalog selections that favor deserving album tracks over hits.

Yoakam’s interest in bluegrass isn’t new – he was born in Kentucky (though raised in Ohio), and he’s recorded with both Ralph Stanley (“Down Where the River Bends” on Stanley’s Saturday Night & Sunday Morning and “Miner’s Prayer” on Dwight’s Used Records) and Earl Scruggs (“Borrowed Love” on Scruggs’ Earl Scruggs and Friends). He’s had his songs reimagined in bluegrass arrangements, having been paid tribute on 2004’s Pickin’ on Dwight Yoakam, and he’s featured bluegrass arrangements in his live show for several years. But this is the first time he’s settled down in the studio with a bluegrass band for his own album, and buoyed by the first class backing of Bryan Sutton, Stuart Duncan, Barry Bales, Adam Steffey and Scott Vestal, he finds new layers in eleven of his own compositions and a compelling cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain.”

The opening “What I Don’t Know” turns the original’s simmering accusation into an angry holler, and the lead vocal and harmonies of “These Arms” are sorrowful in a different way than the hard honky-tonk of the original. “Two Doors Down” is sung high and lonesome, without the tenderness and redemptive organ of the original or the stark introspection of the earlier acoustic take. As in his collaborations with Pete Anderson, Yoakam leans on his partners for both tradition and invention. His take on bluegrass is similar to his take on Bakersfield (and Bakersfield’s own take on country): knowledgeable, perhaps even reverent, but never slavish. Everyone clearly had a lot of fun reinterpreting these songs, and their spontaneity is infectious; you won’t put away the originals, but neither will you skip these remakes. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Dwight Yoakam’s Home Page

Various Artists: Afterschool Special – The 123s of Kid Soul

October 12th, 2016

various_afterschoolspecialthe123sofkidsoulInfectious collection of 1970s kid soul

In the same way that “A Hard Day’s Night” launched a thousand rock bands, the Jackson Five launched a wave of family and kid bands that rolled on for decades. A few – including the Osmonds, DeFrancos and New Edition – found fame, but many more issued obscure records that have become crate diggers’ rarest finds. The archival Numero Group label has pulled together a collection of this delicious bubblegum soul, packed tightly around the seminal kid soul year of 1973. The track list reaches back to 1970 for the Folkways-released “James Brown” (CD/LP only) and the topical “I’m Free, No Dope For Me,” hits its choreographed stride with Magical Connection’s 1972 “Girl Why Do You Want to Take My Heart,” and is fully consumed by 1973.

Jimi HillIronically, just as the Jackson Five’s chart results were fading, their influence was blooming in charming, adolescent lead vocals and propulsive soul backings on obscure indie labels. Among the jewels are the Scott Three’s “Runnin’ Wild (Ain’t Gonna Help You)” and Next Movement’s “Every Where You Go,” but you can also hear the Jacksons’ impact in Jimi Hill’s Memphis-tinged “Guessing Games” and Leonard (Lil’ Man) Kaigler’s frantic “You Got Me Believing.” The sounds of the Dells and Dramatics and some harder funk backings are also here, but the kid vocals always bring your ears back to Michael Jackson in his early prime. By the mid-70s you can hear the beat of disco in “I Love You Still” and jazz-funk in “Love Got a Piece of Your Mind,” but it’s still sweet as candy.

Greer BrothersThere are a few actual hitmakers here. Chicago’s Brighter Side of Darkness reached the Top 20 with “Love Jones,” appeared on Soul Train and released a full album on the 20th Century Fox label (coincidentally, also the home of the DeFranco Family). But their follow-up indie single “Because I Love You” failed to click and the group quickly faded. The Next Movement never hit the top of the charts, but after a scattering of singles in the ‘70s and ‘80s they landed in Las Vegas where they continue to perform to this day. Numero Group has put together a brilliant collection (including a terrifically potent cover of Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and the original protest song “We Don’t Dig No Busing”) and magnified it with detailed liner notes, rare photos and label reproductions. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Feral Ohms: Love Damage

October 5th, 2016

If you missed the MC5 and Stooges at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom, Oakland, California’s Feral Ohms gives you a chance to tap a similar vein of unhinged rock ‘n’ roll. Their full-length debut, Live in San Francisco, drops October 21st, and the first single, “Love Damage,” streams below.

Feral Ohms’ Facebook Page

All Things Must Pass – The Rise and Fall of Tower Records

October 3rd, 2016

dvd_allthingsmustpassThe high flight and quick descent of Tower Records

A five year fall from billion dollar sales to bankruptcy is a startling denouement, but not the message of Colin Hanks’ documentary on Tower Records. At the heart of the story is founder Russ Solomon, the staff he nurtured with his business, and the customers, artists and customer-artists they served for over fifty years. Solomon and crew tell the story of Tower’s rise from a counter in a Sacramento drug store to an international chain, and the technological advances that at first spurred growth, and later conspired with debt-financed expansion to prompt reorganization, bankruptcy and liquidation.

Tower was both a beneficiary and victim of major technological and social changes. Throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, baby boomers came of age, music became a cultural rallying point, and record stores turned into social gathering places. Tower’s first standalone store opened on Sacramento’s Watt Avenue in 1961, and their second on Broadway in 1965; but what really signaled the future was the 1968 opening of the San Francisco store at Columbus and Bay and the 1970 opening of the Los Angeles store on Sunset Blvd. Filled with vast inventory, knowledgeable staff and billed as “The Largest Record-Tape Store in the Known World,” Tower Records was unlike any record shop ever seen.

By the end of the 1970s, Tower had more than twenty stores along the West Coast, and expanded successfully to both the East Coast (with a landmark New York City store), and internationally with stores in Japan. With expansion came opportunities for staff growth, and Solomon actively grew his clerks and junior employees into senior staff and executives. Tower’s CFO Bud Martin provided the corporate yin to Solomon’s more freewheeling yang, but it was Solomon’s gregariousness that set the tone for the company’s culture, and made it “the place to work” for many young people. Each Tower store had its own personality, and within each store the major genres (i.e., rock, jazz, classical) often felt like independent shops.

Tower rode a wave of unparalleled musical creativity and concomitant growth in the record industry. They innovated in advertising, store displays (both inside and outside the stores), and developed the in-house music magazine, Pulse! When a recession hit the music industry in the early ‘80s, Tower’s fortunes were not only salvaged but accelerated by the high price point of the newly introduced CD. The late-80s and 1990s saw profits grow, but also planted the seeds of Tower’s eventual downfall: over-expansion and digital music. The former included unsuccessful stores in Asia and Latin America, and bond financing that would turn into crushing debt. The latter provided the technological foundation that would obsolete physical musical retail.

Even before debt and digitalization took their toll, the entry of mass market retailers – Walmart, Target and Best Buy – created pricing pressure that deflated the CD balloon. Napster may be fingered for triggering piracy (the old saw “how do you compete with free?”), but its real impact was in salting the wound of listeners who wanted to buy songs from an industry that wanted to sell albums. To be fair to Tower, few in the industry saw how quickly MP3s would erode CD sales, or that on-demand services would subsequently erode downloads. Terrestrial retailers born to a culture of collecting couldn’t pivot into a world of networked borrowing.

By 2000, CFO Bud Martin had retired and Russ Solomon had been sidelined with heart problems. Martin’s replacement had taken on debt to fuel expansion, and Solomon’s son Mike had taken the helm. The son hadn’t the magnetic, rallying personality of the father, and with sales flattening (for the first time since 1966), the debt holders instigated management changes whose ideas failed to prevent the downward spiral. The money-making Japanese stores were spun off, the American business pruned of its differentiators, and by 2004 the company filed for bankruptcy and was liquidated in 2006.

Interviews with celebrity customers Bruce Springsteen and Elton John exemplify how dazzling the Tower shopping experience was, and testimony from employees paints a colorful picture of the backroom. There were tears and anger at the end, but the reader board closed the Watt Avenue store on a fatalistic note: “All Things Must Pass – Thanks Sacramento.” Hanks’ 96-minute documentary is more a love-letter than an analysis, as Tower’s impact on local record stores isn’t discussed, and the fate of its peers (Wherehouse, Peaches, Musicland, Virgin, etc.) is unexplored. But for those who spent countless hours roaming the aisles and perusing the stock of Tower stores, this is a love letter worth viewing. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Tower Records Online
Tower Records Japan

The Well Wishers: Here Comes Love

September 30th, 2016

The Well Wishers recent album Comes and Goes is only the latest in Jeff Shelton’s catalog of superb power pop. Check out this one from 2012’s Dreaming of the West Coast.

Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet Reissued!

September 29th, 2016

After a few false starts, the three album run of Canada’s Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet has been finally reissued in expanded form on LP, CD and digital download!

shadowymenonashadowyplanet_savvyshowstoppersSavvy Show Stoppers

Formed in Toronto in 1984, this instrumental trio released a number of singles and EPs before dropping this compilation album in 1988. The original sixteen track lineup cherry-picked from 1985’sLove Without Words, 1986’s Wow Flutter Hiss ’86, 1987’s Schlagers!And Live Record With Extra Bread And Cheese and 1988’sExplosion Of Taste. Out of the gate, this was a trio to be reckoned with, as their compositional and instrumental talents collided with a wicked sense of humor. Though often pegged as a surf rock band (leading eventually to the composition “We’re Not a Fucking Surf Band”), they were more truly an instrumental combo in the vein of the Shadows, Link Wray (whose 1963 single “Run Chicken Run” is covered here), the Fireballs and peers like the Raybeats and Pell Mell.

The collection’s most familiar tune is likely to be “Having an Average Weekend,” which gained exposure as the theme for Kids in the Hall, but listeners will also recognize “Harlem by the Sea,” as it gives a rousing guitar-rock twist to the Viscounts’ moody “Harlem Nocturne.” Other highlights include the deep bass and tense guitar of “Zombie Compromise” and the Cramps-like “Vibrolux Deluxe.” Bonuses on the 2016 reissue include the primitive “Big Saxophone Lie,” which (appropriately) doesn’t feature a saxophone, covers of Erroll Garner’s “Misty” and Heinz Meier’s “Summer Wind,” the Charles Burns-narrated “Big Baby,” and a sax fueled version of “Customized.” Remastered from the original tapes, this is the album’s first CD reissue since 1993, and first-ever digital download. A must have for instrumental rock fans!

shadowymenonashadowyplanet_dimthelightsDim the Lights, Chill the Ham

Three years after collecting together singles and EPs for their 1988 full-length debut, Savvy Show Stoppers, this Toronto instrumental trio released their first full album of new material. The band augments their twangy guitar instrumentals with organ, harmonica and whistling, and edits in odd bits of dialogue here and there. Their original material is complemented by covers of the Beach Boys’ “In My Room” and Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang,”, and Louis Prima’s swing-era “Sing, Sing, Sing” is threaded into the original “I Know a Guy Named Larry.”

As on their debut, the band’s rhythm section drives Brian Connelly’s guitar, and the music stretches beyond instrumental rock to include blues, jazz and post-punk. Yep Roc’s 2016 reissue adds bonus tracks from 1989’s Tired of Waking Up Tired, 1991’s Music for Pets and 1994’s It’s a Wonderful Records! Missing from the digital download are bonuses that accompanied the original vinyl (“Vinyl”), cassette (“Tape, Tape, You Bought Our Tape”) and CD (“Thanks For Buying Our CD”), as well as a Johnny Kidd cover (“Shakin’ All Over”) that appeared on all three. But even without those original extras, this is a sweet second chapter!

shadowymenonashadowyplanet_sportfishinSport Fishin’ – The Lure of the Bait, The Luck of the Hook

The third and final album from this Canadian trio features plenty of the twangy, boss guitar for which they were known, including the rockabilly-styled “Fortune Tellin’ Chicken” and a revved-up cover of Gene Pitney’s tale of forbidden love, “Mecca.” The latter’s surf style is wiped-out a few tracks later by the post-punk declaration, “We’re Not a Fucking Surf Band.” The trio stretches out with Celtic and progressive flavors in “Spend a Night, Not a Fortune,” hypnotic mystery in “Relax, You Will Think You Are A Chicken,” surf vs. spy drama in “Plastics for 500, Bob,” and terrific, jazz-like interplay in “Cheese in the Fridge.” The album also includes the group’s first (and hopefully only) melodic vocal, on the saccharine “The Singing Cowboy.”

Duane Eddy, Link Wray and other guitar giants echo throughout the album, and the crescendo of a live cover of Johnny Kidd’s “Shakin’ All Over” can be found as an unlisted bonus at the end of “Babywetsitself.” Yep Roc’s 2016 reissue features seven bonus tracks, including two (“Lick” and “Sugar in My Hog”) drawn from Fred Schneider’s 1996 solo album, Just Fred. The bonuses close with a six-minute medley of signature riffs from the B-52s, Nirvana, Deep Purple, Dee-Lite, T-Rex, Mott the Hoople, Kinks, Rolling Stones, Ramones, Bad Company, Alice Cooper, Cream, Thin Lizzy, Sly & The Family Stone, Gary Glitter, Sweet, Golden Earring and many others. The band dissolved three years later, and after several false starts, their catalog is finally back in print! [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet Tribute Page