Bay Area music legends Dick Bright (Bammies, SRO, Dick Bright Orchestra) and Tommy Dunbar (Rubinoos, Vox Pop) have teamed up to produce an album of dog-themed treats. Each track re-imagines a popular song – including tin-pan alley classics, ’50s rock and doo-wop, ’60s pop, ’70s soul and ’80s new wave – as it should have been, written in the voice of, or about, a dog. There are a few Singing Dogs-styled barks, but mostly Bright and Dunbar draw upon their talented human friends for the vocals. For the most part, these songs retain their original mood, but with the subject shifted a dog’s perspective. The Irish ballad “Danny Boy” retains its sense of loss, longing and renewal as “Chewy Toy,” and the Vapors’ bouncy “Turning Japanese” is transformed into the equally catchy “Turning Pekingese.” The collection’s most clever trick is Maurice Williams & The Zodiac’s doo-wop “Stay,” a song whose title clearly anticipated this collection. Shirley Ellis’ “The Name Game” is just as dance-worthy when riffing on classic dog names and the Champs’ “Tequila” stays South of the border as “Chihuahua.” Dunbar has previously dabbled in both covers and childen’s music with the Rubinoos, and Dick Bright etched his name in the mash-up cover song hall of fame with “Gilligan’s Island (Stairway).” Their combined humor and musicianship makes this collection fun for kids without wearing out its welcome with the elders. The CD is delivered in a Hugh Brown-designed, hard-bound 30-page book that features lyrics, photos and even a dog advice column. All in all, it’s a howl. [©2014 Hyperbolium]
Squirrel Nut Zippers founder Jimbo Mathus actually never strayed far from the blues of his native Mississippi. Just as the Zippers were taking off in the late ’90s, he recorded an album of Delta blues, ragtime and jug band music in honor of Charley Patton, and in financial support of Patton’s daughter (and one-time Mathus nanny), Rosetta. Following the Zippers’ initial disbanding in 2000, he toured and recorded with Buddy Guy, set up his own studio, and began a string of albums that explored the many Southern flavors with which he grew up. In 2011 he waxed Confederate Buddha, his first album with the Tri-State Coalition, and explored various shades of country, soul, blues and rock ‘n’ roll.
The band’s third album knits together many of the same musical threads, but in a finer mesh than the debut, and with an edge that leans more heavily on rock, blues and soul. You can pick out moments that suggest the Stones (and by derivation, the Black Crowes), but a closer parallel might be an older, grizzled version of Graham Parker, as Mathus sings his deeply felt, soulful declarations and confessions. There’s a confidence in these performances that suggest songs workshopped for months on the road, but in reality they were developed over a year of casual studio time, and nailed by Mathus in demo sessions and by the band live in the studio. Mathus connects with these songs as if they’re extemporaneous expression, and like the best slow-cooked ribs, the exterior may be lightly charred, but the heart remains tender.
Listeners will enjoy the swampy southern rock and hint of Hendrix in “White Angel,” Memphis soul (and a lyrical tip to Lou Reed) in “Rock & Roll Trash,” and the Neil Young-styled fire of “Burn the Ships.” Matt Pierce’s and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s guitars are featured throughout, with scorching electric leads answering Mathus’ vocals. The album turns to country for the moonshiner story “Hawkeye Jordan” and Casey Jones (the railroad engineer, not the Grateful Dead song) is given an original spin in “Casey Caught the Cannonball.” Mathus covers a lot of ground between the love song “Shine Like a Diamond” and the addict’s lament, “Medicine,” but it’s the album’s unrelenting rock ‘n’ soul intensity that will both will keep your undivided attention. [©2014 Hyperbolium]
Canadian guitarist Steve Dawson has often treated his concert audiences to solo acoustic performances, but his albums have always supported his picking with a full band. On his latest album, Dawson gives listeners an opportunity to hear a conversation between his imagination, fingers and guitars (including 6- and 12-strings, traditional wood bodies and a National tricone), unadorned by other instruments or even vocals. Listeners will quickly realize how easily the rich particulars of a guitar’s sound are subsumed by other instruments, and that freed from the competition of a band, each guitar sings with a unique and detailed voice.
In these eleven performances, Dawson keeps meticulous time, but the tempos and changes flow from each song’s internal rhythms. Dawson is a well-rounded player who weaves together blues, folk, country and jazz, finger-picking ragtime on “The Medicine Shows Comes to Avalon,” playing slide on “Flophouse Oratory,” and adding lovely rolling lines on “Butterfly Stunt.” His originals range from contemplative to up-tempo, ending the album with the 12-string “The Alter at Center Raven.” Fans of Fahey, Kottke and Cooder will recognize Dawson as a kindred soul. [©2014 Hyperbolium]
David Bielanko and Christine Smith, of the rock band Marah, have put together an album that is as folky as folk can be. Starting with an obscure compendium of songs gathered from turn of the twentieth century Pennsylvania backwoods, lumber camps and hunting cabins, Bielanko and Smith have brushed up the material, written new melodies and recorded with a band organized from local talent. The invitation to perform drew in not just a core set of players (who brought along their banjo, guitar, harmonica), but an eight-year-old fiddler and the townspeople of Millheim, PA (pop. 900). In addition to the odd tuba or bagpipe, you can hear a hundred of the assembled citizens and a local barbershop quartet singing “Ten Cents at the Gate.” The record was recorded live to tape, returning these songs not just to listeners’ ears, but to the shared joy of music-making. The assembled band not only brings the songs back to life, but also the people, places, half-truths and flat-out myths recorded within them. [©2014 Hyperbolium]
This 1970 soundtrack to a blink-and-you-missed-it Don Kirshner-produced film would likely have remained a quick blip on the pop landscape, had the like-named group, film and soundtrack not featured a young Olivia Newton-John. At the time of the film’s release, John was still a year away from breaking through internationally with the Dylan-penned “If Not for You,” but she already had plenty of experience under her belt. She’d recorded a terrific cover of Jackie DeShannon’s “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine” and was gaining notice from club performances when Kirshner (who’d found success assembling the Archies and Cuff Links after being booted as the Monkees’ producer) brought her into the group.
The film was part of a deal Kirshner struck with James Bond producer Harry Saltzman, and after funding troubles sank the picture’s prospects, it was shelved shortly after release. The soundtrack album was released concurrently on RCA, but given the film’s vanishing act, the vinyl quickly followed suit. The group released a follow-up single and B-side on Decca, but Newton-John was soon off to the beginning of her superstar solo career. Real Gone’s first-ever reissue of the soundtrack, struck from the original master tape, includes the album’s original dozen tracks.
The film stars Toomorrow as the only band with the “curative vibrations” that can save an alien race dying from a lack of emotion. The screenplay is filled with late ’60s tropes, faux hipster dialog and science fiction cliches, which, of course, makes it worth screening. But the project seems to have really been a launching pad for the group, as had been the Monkees television show and the Archies’ animated series; unfortunately, there was no commercial lift-off. The soundtrack, written and produced by veteran pop songsmiths Mark Barkan (“She’s a Fool,” “Pretty Flamingo,” “The Tra La La Song”) and Ritchie Adams (“Tossin’ and Turnin’”), is an amalgam of bubblegum sounds that include pop, soul and lite psych, hints of folk and country, and is threaded lightly with primitive synth.
Olivia Newton-John is featured on the Motown-inflected “Walkin’ on Air” and the closing “Goin’ Back.” She’s also sings harmonies and takes a verse on the title theme. Guitarist Ben Cooper provides lead vocal for the space-age garage-rocker “Taking Our Own Sweet Time,” the pop-blues “Let’s Move On,” and the hippie themed “HappinessValley.” A trio of instrumentals includes Hugo Montenegro’s bachelor pad-styled “Spaceport,” and orchestral arrangements of “Toomorrow” and “Walkin’ on Air” that sound as if they’re drawn from a commercial production music library. This doesn’t measure up to ONJ’s later hits, but as a quirky start to her career, it’s great find for fans. Real Music’s reissue includes a six-panel booklet with extensive liner notes and full-panel front- and back-cover reproductions. [©2014 Hyperbolium]
This 1970 anthology, reissued on CD for the first time, is a one-of-a-kind time-capsule of the Mamas and the Papas. In addition to their first six Top 10 hits, the track list adds non-charting singles, B-sides and album tracks, carefully selected and ordered to show off the many sides of the group’s talent. In addition to the harmonies that graced the radio, there’s also the tight jazz work of “Once Was a Time I Thought,” thoughtful originals and keenly interpreted covers. Knitting it all together, and elevating this collection above a simple recitation of hits, are interview clips with John Phillips and Cass Elliot interspersed among the tracks. Their dialog reflects on the group, their producer, sessions and songs, and though the spoken words overlap the instrumental lead-ins of a few tracks, they’re surprisingly unobtrusive.
Several of the original tracks are also enhanced with bits of session chatter, vocal outtakes and rehearsals, providing listeners a few moments in the studio. The songs are organized as a musical program, rather a strict chronological run-through, which gives the set a holistic, album-like flow that’s unusual for an anthology. Though released after the group split in 1969, the tracks only cover through 1967′s Deliver; nothing from 1968′s The Papas and the Mamas (and their 1971 contractual obligation release, People Like Us) is included, which leaves out Elliot’s solo-career launching “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” But even without the last chapter and afterward, this set does an excellent job of telling the group’s story.
Real Gone’s reissue reproduces the 20-track double-LP lineup on a single sixty-six minute disc, and includes the original album’s photo-rich 16-page booklet, shrunk down to CD booklet size. This leaves the lyrics and Andy Wickham’s liner notes to be read with a strong magnifying glass (or find the latter here). In addition to a brief recounting of the group’s formation, Wickham also provides illuminating detail on the men who formed Dunhill Records. The disc was remastered from the original tapes by Mike Milchner at SonicVision, and shows off the rich sound that producer Lou Adler got out of the Wrecking Crew at the famed Gold Star studio. There are more complete sets (e.g., Gold and All the Leaves are Brown) but not even the Complete Anthology tells the story in the same novel way as this collection. [©2014 Hyperbolium]
Inventively marketed free EP of tuneful fuzz-pop
Dutch Barn is neither Dutch (they’re English) nor a dutch barn (they’re a five-piece pop band), but their new three-song release – two originals and a cover of Tearjerker’s “So Dead” – is both a good record (they call it as a single with two bonus tracks, but you might consider it an EP) and an original piece of marketing. Working with EardrumsPop and illustrator Estelle Morris, the band’s put together a rich digital package that augments the three new recordings (available as either high-quality MP3s or lossless FLAC files) with original cover art and a PDF booklet. The latter includes profiles (of both Dutch Barn and Tearjerker), an interview with the illustrator, and an inventive band interview in which the group answers questions by composing photos. Musically, Dutch Barn produces the sort of fuzz-heavy pop-rock that first found favor in the early 90s – think Teenage Fanclub and Stereolab – and continues to thrive on Slumberland, spinART and (of course) EarDrumsPop. [©2014 Hyperbolium]
The artist known as Nudie is a bit of a mystery. His bio admits to an Ontario birth, residencies in Quebec, Arizona, Texas and New York, and settlement on Prince Edward Island, off the east coast of New Brunswick. He developed a following busking, playing clubs and touring with his band the Turks (completing his homage to country music’s famed haberdashers, Nudie Cohn and Nathan Turk), but after a pair of albums, he’s moved on to a solo career. Nudie’s debut shows many of the same country influences as his earlier work (and includes vocal and instrumental work from two of his three former bandmates), but the arrangements stretch a bit further. Gone is Gordie MacKeeman’s fiddle and mandolin, but added are organ, piano and percussion; also added is a more relaxed vocal style that grabs your attention with understated confidence rather than stage-ready showmanship.
None of which is meant to suggest that Nudie’s twelve new originals wouldn’t play well on stage, but that many will have you listening intently before singing along. Then again, the upbeat Bakersfield-styled “Why Do We Keep Hanging On?” will grab you right away, as will the Neil Diamond-cool of “My Sweet Ache. There’s steel guitar and tic-tac guitar on “You Try to Be Right” and the yodel that opens “Fiona” signals Hank Williams-styled woe ahead. Nudie writes in the many shades of anguish that anticipate and result from broken hearts. He’s on the lookout for cracks in his relationships and laments those that have already failed. Even in the depths of his misery, Nudie brings the wry storytelling of Tom T. Hall to several songs, including “Pawn Shop” and “I’m Tired of Living with No Fun.” Think of this as buenas noches from an unlikely place. [©2014 Hyperbolium] [©2014 Hyperbolium]
David Serby’s Honkytonk and Vine revisited 1980s Los Angeles’ honky-tonk with its cowboy-booted country twang. Serby’s follow-up, Poor Man’s Poem, turned from honky-tonk to folk-flavors, but still kept its roots in country. So what to make of this double-album turn to the sunshine harmonies and chiming electric guitars of power pop? Well first off, the change in direction works. Really well. You can hear influences of both ’60s AM pop (particularly in the faux sitar of “You’re Bored”) and late ’70s power pop and rock, including Gary Lewis, the Rubinoos, and the Records. Serby’s quieter vocals are full of the romantic yearning one would normally ascribe to a love-sick teenager; it’s the bedroom confession of a twenty-something who’s finally enunciating out loud what’s been confusing him for years. Disc two rocks harder and more country than disc one, but even the two-step “I Still Miss You” is set with chiming 12-string and wistful answer vocals. The country-rock “Gospel Truth” brings to mind Rockpile and the Flamin’ Groovies, and the cheating-themed “Rumor of Our Own” connects to Serby’s honky-tonk background. Each of these ten-track discs would have made a good album on their own, but together they show off a terrific continuum of pop, rock, country and a touch of the blues. Serby’s reach across country, folk and rock were evident in his earlier releases, but the pure pop side is a welcome surprise. [©2014 Hyperbolium]
Modern pop, but with a breakdown that somehow manages to echo Buffalo Springfield. Perhaps the band’s promo blurb says it best:
Little Children’s auditory sustenance fully personifies the essence of modern pop music’s history. No genre goes unexplored or escapes its distinctive formation! Essentially, Little Children has established an original and sensational standard within music’s modern empire.
Standing tall next to the striking melodies and poetic worlds built by Little Children’s fate-driven lyrics shines the involvement of multi-instrumentalist Andreas Söderström. Söderström’s indispensable contribution to the album’s diversity allows Little Children’s vocals to reach depths from both ends of a spectrum resulting in an obliging mélange that ranges from the darkest of tones to a weightless dictum, moving with an unreserved synchronization.
“Walk Within” contains all of the delicate ingredients that characterize an upcoming milestone: sincerity, clarity and energy, all the while retaining the essential passion that tugs at your heartstrings and reaches deep into your bones.
Ultimately “Walk Within” reminds us that it is indeed 2014 and the auditory continuation of music by its example is invigorating, striking and irrefutable.
Then again, maybe it’s better to just listen to their fantastic new single.