Hawks and Doves: From a White Hotel

August 14th, 2018

Returning from self-inflicted wounds and widespread destruction

Kasey Anderson’s hard road back to rock ‘n’ roll is a journey that he wasn’t sure he could, or even wanted to make. Alcohol and substance abuse, addiction, bipolar disorder, self-delusion, desperation, deceit, fraud, conviction, prison, sobriety, probation, recovery, amends and restitution are a deeper well of troubles than most songwriters accrue in a lifetime, let alone before they turn thirty-four. Released from prison, he edged back into playing music as an artistic outlet rather than an onramp to a former career, and with the support of friends and fans, his writing and performances have grown over the course of a couple of years from a restorative avocation into an ongoing concern.

Fans who can look beyond the damage Anderson wrought will find an artist whose commitment to music was deepened by the limited opportunities he found in prison. The physical and mental isolation of incarceration taught Anderson to use his imagination rather than leaning solely on experience, and the endless hours of self reflection allowed him to ponder questions of redemption. Patience has replaced drug- and bipolar-induced binges, letting his songwriting craft flow in whatever time it naturally takes. That said, his passion for what he writes is unhindered, and when he steps up to the microphone, there’s an urgency to express what he’s learned about himself.

The album opens with the chaos that’s engulfing the world, but quickly turns personal as Anderson reflects on the freedoms and indiscretions of youth, suffers the debilitating “Lithium Blues,” and takes a sober look at the personal turmoil that consumed him. Yet even as he thinks back, he’s careful not to be trapped by the past, nor, perhaps owing to his own track record, measure others by his personal yardstick. The solemn “Geek Love” paints a touching portrait of sideshow freaks (which, for the few who know it, pairs beautifully with the Babylon Minstrels’ “Gibsonton”), and demonstrates Anderson’s growing ability to parlay seeds of personal experience into rich fictional stories.

Musically, the album stretches from anthemic rock that recalls Willie Nile and early John Mellencamp, to moody tracks that include the clanky bottom end of “Get Low,” the soulful horns of “Every Once in Awhile” and the pump organ of “Lover’s Waltz.” Anderson’s been quoted as noting that the forced disconnection from his audience has left him, perhaps only temporarily, less inhibited as a songwriter. Unknowing of who’s likely to be listening, he can only write for himself – a rare opportunity for a seasoned songwriter, and one that Anderson and his gathered musician friends – Jordan Richter, Ben Landsverk and Jesse Moffat – make good on. Very good. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Kasey Anderson’s Home Page

The Rose Garden: A Trip Through the Garden – The Rose Garden Collection

August 6th, 2018

Charming, but little-known mid-60s folk-rock band

You might be excused for thinking John Einarson’s fascinating, detailed liner notes for this reissue are an early draft of the script for That Thing You Do! Much like the fictional Wonders, the Rose Garden managed to catch breaks and side-step many of the pitfalls that line the path to fame, only to be pulled back to shore by the tide that grounded many of the bands that followed in the Beatles’ wake. They pulled together a band, worked hard to gain local notice, crossed paths with an artistic mentor, signed with well-connected managers, scored a major label contract with the Atlantic subsidiary Atco, recorded an album, had a hit single, toured on package bills, and appeared on American Bandstand. The group reached the Top 20 with “Next Plane to London,” but internal conflicts and two members awaiting disposition from their draft boards led to label disinterest, a stillborn follow-up single (“If My World Falls Through),” foundering and disbandment.

Had the Rose Garden been nothing more than a studio concoction, their epitaph would have been an endlessly anthologized needle drop of the hit single. But the group had more going for it than their brief brush with fame might suggest, and their album, augmented here by the post-album single and fourteen bonus tracks, provides a lesser-seen view of the culturally fertile mid-60s Los Angeles music scene. The Beatles and the Byrds may have been the group’s north stars, but influences also included the Seekers, Mamas & Papas, Lovin’ Spoonful, Beau Brummels and early Grass Roots. The group played nearly all the instruments on the album – unusual for the time – but didn’t write any of the material. The one song credited to the group, “Flower Town,” is a rewrite of Derroll Adams “Portland Town” that substitutes “flower” for “Portland” and elides the song’s most stridently anti-war verses. What the group did bring to the song is a new approach that turned the original folk vocal and banjo arrangement into a languorous, flute-lined flower-power tune.

Of specific interest to Byrds fans are two songs given to the band by Gene Clark: “Till Today” and “Long Time,” the former of which Clark recorded with the band as a demo that’s included among the bonus tracks. Additional material was drawn from Bob Johnston & Wes Farrell, and in an original arrangement, Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me.” John Noreen’s 12-string Rickenbacker lends a Byrdsian tone to many of the album’s tracks, but none more so than Pat Vegas’ “Coins of Fun,” with a terrific duet vocal from Jim Groshong and Diana De Rose. The wide range of writers from which the material was drawn, and the shuffling of lead vocal duties might have produced an album with no band identity, but the collection hangs together as it ranges through beat pop, sunshine harmonies and flower power. The band suggests that their instrumental abilities were shortchanged by their managers’ lack of production prowess, but the forward mix of the vocals is quite engaging.

The bonus tracks make this edition a must-have upgrade from earlier reissues of the album. Included are the group’s follow-on single (in both both mono and stereo), with backing harmonies on the top side and absent on the flip, suggesting that internal band conflicts might have already been taking their toll on the group’s harmony. Previously unreleased tracks recorded for an uncompleted second album include a cover of Neil Young’s “Down to the Wire,” the First Edition’s “Charlie the Fer De Lance” and Al Kooper & Bob Crewe’s “The World is a Great Big Playground.” Also included are five live tracks from August of 1967 that find the band singing their hit, covers of the Byrds’ “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “She Don’t Care About Time,” Sonny & Cher’s “It’s the Little Things,” and Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me.” The bonuses provide a nice coda to the career of a band whose talent and opportunity carried them far, but whose luck ran out before they could make an indelible commercial mark. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

The Rose Garden’s Archived Home Page

The Jack Cades: Music for Children

August 3rd, 2018

Garage rock ‘n’ soul from the UK scene

This four-piece brings together experience from such UK garage, soul and freakbeat bands as the Embrooks, Mystreated, Baron Four, Thee Vicars, and Masonics. Their debut is an eight-song mini-album stuffed with snotty vocals and guitar solos from Mike Whittaker, catchy rhythm guitar riffs from Elsa Whittaker, and a solid bottom end from bassist John Gibbs and drummer Mole. Their eight originals suggest early Stones, the Pretty Things, Faces and Standells, and the album closes with the surf-tinged psychedelic sounds of “Don’t Let Them Bring You Down.” Eight tasty morsels for garage dwellers. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

The Jack Cades’ Bandcamp Page

Cliff Westfall: Baby You Win

August 1st, 2018

Twangy throwback country with a clever, humorous edge

Native Kentuckian Cliff Westfall’s country songs harken back to the clever and funny writing of Roger Miller and Tom T. Hall. And though he’s relocated to New York City, he’s recruited like-minded country music players as his backing band, ensuring there’s plenty of twang behind his humor and wordplay. Westfall lists Chuck Berry as his favorite songwriter, and he exhibits the same sort of attention to detail in his lyrics, choosing his words in parallel service of story, meter and rhyme. The album opens with the honkytonk of “It Hurts Her to Hurt Me,” as Westfall tends to his romantic wounds with a self-delusional salve. He’s a relationship pragmatist, staring past criticism, content to be Mr. Right Now until Mr. Right comes along and he’s pushed out of the picture. The chugging “Off the Wagon” surveys a dysfunctional relationship whose blurry attraction wears off along with the booze and pills, and runs out with a lengthy, twangy instrumental.

Westfall’s protagonists have the self-awareness to know they’re playing the doormat. They expect to be left behind, and only occasionally think of their own feelings, as one realizes “more and more I love you less and less.” They suffer lies, wait for the other shoe to drop, and wallow in self-deception to avoid thinking about what they really believe to be inevitable. The romantic powerlessness and emotional resignation of the album’s lone cover, “Hangin’ On,” fits perfectly with the originals, and the use of pedal steel in place of the Gosdin Brothers’ acoustic guitar underscores the broken will of the lyrics. Bryce Goggin and Graham Norwood’s production is clean, but not so modern that it loses the spirits that inspire Westfall’s writing, and the assembled players offer up everything from honkytonk twang to the jazzy turn of “Sweet Tooth.” Fans of Rodney Crowell, Dwight Yoakam, Moot Davis, and the Derailers should take this out for a spin. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Cliff Westfall’s Home Page

Vince Guaraldi: The Complete Warner Bros.–Seven Arts Recordings

July 31st, 2018

Guaraldi reconsiders Peanuts, wigs out, and returns to his piano

After a two year fight to break his heavy-handed contract with Fantasy Records, San Francisco pianist Vince Guaraldi was free to follow his muse, and be compensated fairly for doing so. His first outing, the self-released Vince Guaraldi with the San Francisco Boys Choir, failed to gain any traction, and he subsequently signed a deal with Warner Bros.-Seven Arts. Omnivore’s 2-CD set collects the albums that Guaraldi recorded for the label in 1968 and 1969, Oh, Good Grief!, The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi and Alma-Ville, and adds four previously unreleased bonus tracks to lead off disc two.

Guaraldi won a 1963 Grammy for “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” and was praised for his work with guitarist Bola Sete, but it was the 1965 soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas that catapulted his music from jazz clubs into American households. He returned to the Peanuts canon for his first album with Warner Bros., revisiting eight selections with a quartet that included electric guitar, bass and drums. Guaraldi opens the set with a new recording of his most famous composition, “Linus and Lucy,” and its hurried tempo and electric harpsichord flourishes are more big city bustle than the joyous dance of the original.

The harpsichord steps to the fore to open the waltz-time “You’re in Love, Charlie Brown” falling back to vamp as Guaraldi solos on piano. The piano and harpsichord trade the spotlight throughout the album, with only “Great Pumpkin Waltz” and “Rain, Rain Go Away” given fully to acoustic piano. The band swings, and the piano and guitar solos add soul, but the electric harpsichord doesn’t provide Guaraldi’s touch the musical colors of the piano, and now sounds more like an anachronistic infatuation than a solid artistic choice. That said, the harpsichord doesn’t dominate to the point of distraction.

By the autumn of 1968, Guaraldi had grown out his hair and started jamming with the likes of Jerry Garcia. The San Francisco rock scene’s influence is heard both overtly and implicitly on his next album, as Guaraldi stretches out in new musical directions. Self-produced, and recorded over several months with a variety of drummers, bassists and guitarists, Guaraldi even included a string section on a few tracks. The opener has a pensive Latin influence, but with arching string lines that suggest grand landscapes, while the longer jams “Lucifer’s Lady” and “Coffee and Doe-Nuts” feature driving, progressive solos.

Stretching even further, a vocal cover of Tim Hardin’s “Black Sheep Boy” brings to mind trumpeter Jack Sheldon, but Hardin’s “Reason to Believe” shows off Guaraldi’s limitations as a singer. The harpsichord on Sonny & Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” sounds more like a primitive synthesizer than a keyboard, and the strings on the Beatles’ “Yesterday” sound like Muzak. Guaraldi plays thoughtfully on a cover of “It Was a Very Good Year,” and finds some life in his electric harpsichord on a swinging cover of “Do You Know the Way to San Jose.” The latter is offered here as a bonus track from the original sessions, alongside a alternate take of “The Beat Goes On” whose jamming improves upon than the album cut.

The renowned that Guaraldi had earned back with his first Warner Bros. album dissipated with the lack of response to the second, and the label brought Shorty Rogers on board to produce his third and final effort. Guaraldi also returned to acoustic piano and wrote the bulk of the album’s material, giving the album a coherency the previous effort lacked. Guaraldi warmed up with Rogers in the producers seat with an organ-based instrumental cover of Edwin Hawkins’ “Oh Happy Day” and the speedy original “The Sharecropper’s Daughter.” Neither were used for the the album, and are offered here as bonus tracks.

Alma-ville returns Guaraldi’s piano to the fore, opening with the Latin-tinged theme for Snoopy’s arm-wrestling alter ego, “The Masked Marvel,” and offering thoughtful variations on “Eleanor Rigby.” Colin Bailey’s cymbal work adds just the right push to Guaraldi’s right hand and Herb Ellis’ guitar solo on the original “Detained in San Ysidro,” and the rhythm section swings hard on a then-new arrangement of the title tune. Duke Person’s “Cristo Redntor,” previously recorded in definitive versions by both Pearson and Donald Byrd, is an album highlight, opening in a meditative mood before transitioning to a more lively tempo.

Sadly, despite Alma-ville’s focussed song list and deep artistry, its predecessor had sacrificed the label’s goodwill, and the album went unpromoted, leaving Guaraldi’s tenure at Warner Bros. to live in the shadow of his earlier work for Fantasy. Of his three albums for Warners, only the commercially successful Oh, Good Grief! remained in steady circulation, making this complete set the first widely-available retelling of Guaraldi’s quirky, but fruitful last recording tenure. A must-have for Guaraldi’s fans, and a welcome second chapter for those who’ve worn out their copies of A Charlie Brown Christmas. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Vince Guaraldi’s Home Page

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