The Valentinos: Lookin’ for a Love

February 21st, 2015

Valentinos_LookinForALoveGospel-soul gold from Sam Cooke’s SAR label

The goldmine that is the ABKCO vault continues to pour out its riches. Earlier releases from the Stones, Sam Cooke, Herman’s Hermits, and the Cameo-Parkway catalog, are now complemented by a pair of seminal compilations by the Soul Stirrers and Valentinos. The former launched Sam Cooke’s career, and he returned the favor by signing the group to his own SAR label. The latter, comprised of future solo-legend Bobby Womack and his four brothers, (Friendly Jr., Curtis, Harry and Cecil), wove their father Friendly Sr.’s deep faith into a soulful sound born of Cleveland’s meanest streets. They held onto the fire of their church grounding even as their material moved from gospel to secular, and the arrangements from harmony-laden worship to hard-charging soul.

The group’s transition from sacred to profane didn’t happen all at once, nor ever completely. The driving rhythm of their first single, “Somebody’s Wrong,” and the soulful croon of “Somewhere There’s a God,” were never really left behind. Their lyrics soon turned to a search for romantic love, but the vocal fervor continued to resound with a congregant’s search for heavenly connection. Having himself made the transition from gospel to R&B in the mid-50s, Sam Cooke well understood both the stigma and opportunities. But after failing to gain commercial traction with Bobby Womack’s original gospel “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray,” Cooke convinced the group to try R&B, commissioned his staff songwriters to rework the melodic hook of “Pray” into “Lookin’ for a Love,” rechristened the group as the Valentino’s, and scored their first and biggest hit single in 1962.

It wasn’t the last time that the Womacks and their songwriters would develop R&B material from gospel roots. The 1962 B-side, “Somewhere There’s a Girl” borrowed its melody and lyrical structure from 1961’s “Somewhere There’s a God,” and 1963’s “She’s So Good to Me” was based on the gospel standard, “God is Good to Me.” Curtis and Bobby Womack wrote the lion’s share of the group’s material, supplemented by songs from Sam Cooke, J.W. Alexander and a few others. “Lookin’ for a Love” was followed by the low-charting “I’ll Make it Alright” and the non-charting “Baby Lots of Luck,” putting the group’s commercial fortune in question. But two years after their breakthrough, Bobby Womack offered up a song that would top the charts. Just not by the Valentinos.

The Valentino’s country-tinged original “It’s All Over Now,” co-written by Womack and his sister in law, Shirley, was just starting to gain notice when the Rolling Stones rushed into the Chess studio in Chicago to wax their immortal cover. The Valentinos original still managed to climb to #21 R&B, but stalled out in the low 90s Pop as the Stones version rode to the chart’s upper reaches. Womack initially felt oppressed, like so many other African-American artists before him who’d been covered on pop radio, but his mood quickly turned. As he told Terry Gross in 1999, “Well, I didn’t like their version ’cause I didn’t think Mick Jagger – and to this day I say Mick Jagger can’t out-sing me. You know, but, when I saw that first royalty check, I liked their version.”

A final single for SAR, “Everybody Wants to Fall in Love,” was released in 1964, and with Cooke’s death in December of that year, the label folded. Bobby Womack, who’d been playing in Cooke’s road band, moved on to session work and solo stardom, and a depleted Valentinos finished out the decade with Chess and Jubilee. Of the nineteen tracks included here, ten appeared on the 2001 anthology Sam Cooke’s SAR Records Story, but – incredibly – this is the first official reissue of the Valentinos’ full SAR catalog, including both sides of all seven singles, six previously unreleased masters (13, 15, 18, 19, 20, and 21), and a hidden bonus track of Sam Cooke giving direction in the studio. The 12-page booklet features session, chart and personnel data, photos, ephemera and extensive liner notes by Bill Dahl. This collection is decades overdue, but now that it’s here, you’ll find it was more than worth the wait. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Ron Nagle: Bad Rice

February 20th, 2015

RonNagle_BadRice1970s cult classic gets the deluxe reissue it’s always deserved

If you’ve worked at a college radio station with a deep library of vinyl, you might have been tipped to Ron Nagle’s 1970 album by a knowledgeable elder. Assuming it hadn’t been stolen, of course. Or maybe a songwriting credit (Barbra! The Tubes!) or the music he made on 1979’s Durocs prompted you to ask questions. Questions that led you on a journey through used record stores, flea markets and collectors’ forums. Perhaps an indie record store clerk even shelved a copy of Edsel’s 1986 vinyl reissue behind the counter for you. But more likely, and like the many fans of Nagle’s ceramics, you’ve never heard (or even heard of) this album. And that’s a wrong that’s finally being righted forty-five years after the fact.

Nagle’s one and only solo album was something of a lark, and was conceived at the intersection of his music and art careers. With his group the Mystery Trend having folded a few years earlier, he was focused full-time on ceramics. To help promote his first solo gallery show, he recorded the original “61 Clay,” and when the recording made its way to San Francisco’s KSAN-FM it caught the ear of the station’s major domo, Tom Donahue. Donahue got Nagle signed to Warner Brothers, and stayed on to co-produce the album with the legendary Jack Nitzsche. Recorded in both San Francisco and Los Angeles, the result drew heavily on Nagle’s Bay Area connections. In addition to his impressive vocals and keyboards, the album includes Beau Brummels Sal Valentino and Ron Elliott, Commander Cody’s steel player Steve Davis, Stoneground guitarists John Blakeley and Tim Barnes, and soon-to-be Pablo Cruise founder David Jenkins.  

Beyond the San Francisco connections, Nagle drew upon the talents of guitarist Ry Cooder, and legendary drummers Mickey Waller and George Rains. But even with all that talent on board, Nagle remains very much the star of the show. Launching his songs from biographical seeds, he sings of a childhood crush, his parents hyperbolic storytelling, and his marriages – the first dissolving in an ex-wife’s identity crisis, the second providing him the support to turn back alcohol problems. He adds a twist to the neighborhood bodega of “Frank’s Store,” creating heartbreaking pathos with his vocal and Nitzsche’s string arrangement. Nitzsche’s production is spot-on throughout the album, ranging easily from ballads to guitar rockers to the steel-lined country rock of “Something’s Gotta Give Now.” This is the mix of sounds that made the transition from ‘60s jams to tighter ‘70s songwriting so riveting.

So what happened? Why isn’t this universally known as one of the era’s great rock albums? Reportedly, Nagle’s reluctance to tour and FM radio’s lack of support caused the album to disappear almost immediately. Looking at underground FM playlists from the era, it’s hard to imagine how this failed to gain major turntable time, particularly with Warner Brothers’ publicity machine and Tom Donahue’s connections. But disappear it did, and despite two more attempts at stirring some commercial interest (the post-album tracks “Berberlang” and “Francine”), Nagle’s music career moved out of the spotlight. He’d return with Scott Matthews in the Durocs and Profits, write with Barbra Streisand (“Don’t Believe What You Read”) and the Tubes (“Don’t Touch Me There”), produce, and create sound affects for film, but as a solo musical act, he never returned.

Omnivore’s reissue augments the album’s original eleven tracks with material mined from Nagle’s vault, including two alternate mixes, a pair of period radios spots and a full disc of demos. The latter includes both material that was later re-recorded and Nagle originals that have otherwise gone unheard until now. Among the former is the original version of “61 Clay” and an early take on “Saving it All Up For Larry” that differs markedly from the Durocs version. Of the fourteen demos, only “From the Collection of Dorothy Tate” and “61 Clay” have been previously issues – the remaining dozen are heard here for the first time. As with the album tracks, Nagle drew heavily on his personal life, mining his relationships and emotions, and sharing his perspectives on the people he knew.

The production quality of the demos is surprisingly thoughtful and full, sounding more like outtakes than writer’s samples. Omnivore’s deluxe reissue spans two full discs housed in a tri-fold digipack with a twenty-page booklet. Gene Scalutti’s liner notes include fresh interviews with Nagle, and provides details on each of the demos. The booklet also features lyrics to the original album’s eleven songs. Bad Rice has appeared on most-wanted-CD lists for decades, and it’s hard to imagine a more fitting renewal than this lovingly crafted set. Though it’s only February, this may be the set to beat for reissue of the year. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Ron Nagle’s Home Page

Paul Kelly: The Merri Soul Sessions

February 10th, 2015

PaulKelly_TheMerriSoulSessionsPaul Kelly’s extraordinary soul revue

Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly’s turned his solo-act-with-band into an old school soul revue. Touring with multiple vocalists in his band, Kelly found his songs gaining a new life. Recorded a-song-a-day over two weeks, the tracks feature punchy arrangements and the soul stirring voices of Clairy Browne, Vika and Linda Bull, Dan Sultan and Kira Puru. Each takes their turn in the spotlight to deliver unrelenting, knock-out performances, building on Kelly’s new material and burning down the house with Vika Bull’s cover of the catalog chestnut “Sweet Guy.” Kelly sings a few tracks (“Righteous Woman,” “Thank You” and “Hasn’t It Rained”), but it’s his generosity as a songwriter and his ears as a producer that make this album so exceptional. Originally released as a set of four 7” singles, the original eight tracks are augmented with three bonuses for this digital release, including the superb gospel closer “Hasn’t It Rained.” Kelly’s currently touring Australia with the Merri Soul Sessions; here’s hoping the group’s tour bus has pontoons that will get it off the continent. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Paul Kelly’s Home Page

Lee Gallagher and the Hallelujah: Lee Gallagher and the Hallelujah

February 10th, 2015

LeeGallagherAndTheHallelujah_LeeGallagherAndTheHallelujahSoulful rock with the fire and brimstone of the ’70s

Gallagher’s press pitches his band as psych-tinged Americana, but this album’s rock hearkens back more to the ‘70s than the ‘60s, and the roots more to soul than country. Gallagher sings in a high, keening voice that reaches with extra conviction in the most emotional moments, drawing the listener’s ear to regret and sorrow of his laments. The guitar, bass, drums and piano suggest the hearty guitar rock music you would have heard on a mid-70s bill at San Francisco’s Winterland. There’s an echo of the Black Crowes, Lee Michaels and others, but with more boogie and less blues.

Psychedelic touches are found in Jacob Landry’s guitar playing and Gallagher’s impressionistic lyrics. The latter occasionally come into sharp focus with memorable lines such as “… faith and fame / one will keep you honest / the other is just a game.” Even in his most poetic moments, Gallagher sings with the fervor of a preacher, exhorting the listener to break through self-imposed limitations and to create one’s own rock ‘n’ roll gospel. Gallagher’s high voice and enthusiastic delivery might suggest Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon or even Slade’s Noddy Holder, but backed by a band on a mission, the effect is more like Rod Stewart on Jeff Beck’s Truth, or Jeff Bebe in the fictional Stillwater.

Gallagher adds harmonica to the fire-and-brimstone “Shallow Grave” as the rhythm session bashes it out alongside Kirby Hammel’s organ and piano, and the combination of vocal harmonies and hard-edged guitar soloing in “Feel Like Going Home” brings to mind CSN&Y’s Déjà Vu. Landry gets ample time to solo without the songs wandering into jam-band territory, and really lets loose for the closing “1935.” Written and rehearsed in only a few weeks, the album is surprisingly cohesive, doubly so when you realize the band’s only been together a year. Chemistry is key, and Lee Gallagher and the Hallelujah have started out with a winning formula. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Lee Gallagher’s Home Page

Rubinoos vs. Psycotic Pineapple

February 7th, 2015

Given the incestuous relationship between the Rubinoos and Psycotic Pineapple (Jon Rubin and Tommy Dunbar were charter members of the Pineapple, and early Rubinoos keyboardist Alex Carlin joined the Pineapple for their hey-day), it probably shouldn’t be surprising that artist (and bassist) John Seabury drew inspiration from (and took friendly aim at) the Rubinoos single. Still, how did we not realize this until today?



John Seabury’s Facebook Page
The Rubinoos’ Home Page
Psycotic Pineapple’s Facebook Page

Marti Brom: Ambush

February 1st, 2015

The first single from Marti Brom’s upcoming Rancho Notorious album is a fine cover of New Zealand singer Maria Dallas‘ 1966 single “Ambush.” Catch Brom’s cover and Dallas’ original below!

Marti Brom’s Facebook Page

RIP Rod Mckuen

January 29th, 2015

Hey… let’s do something bizarre, like walk into Vesuvius in our underwear smoking black cigarettes. Crazy. And we’ll throw pennies at the tourists… I’d like to meet the rich lady with the wart. She looks like she could use a friend. So could I, I’m a tourist too. What do ya say for kicks we hop in your Volkswagen and tear off for Watsonville? I mean, can you imagine a more out place for two in people? I’ve got eyes for a little fresh air anyway. Like it’s Bartok time and this party’s had it. -Rod McKuen, Beatsville

The Jeanies: The Jeanies

January 23rd, 2015

Jeanies_JeaniesGarage-bred power pop time-warped from 1978

This is music that could only have arrived through a tear in the space-time continuum. The Jeanies have somehow managed to create mid-70s DIY power pop forty years after the fact. The mid-fi production and endless hooks are so genuine as to rise above mere homage. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear this is a reissue of a long-lost Bomp release. Actually, and even more impressively, it sounds like an anthology of indie singles whose B’s were as heartfelt as the top-sides. Each track has you humming along almost immediately and invites you to listen again – if only to keep you from arriving too quickly at the end of your new favorite record.

If you collected singles by the Nerves, Neighborhoods, Zippers, Stars in the Sky and Shoes, you’ll remember how uplifting it felt to find music this good. You had to hunt for it; you had to make friends with record store clerks in small independent shops and hope they’d stash a copy for you behind the counter. And when you found albums by the Beat, Real Kids, Dwight Twilley, Flamin’ Groovies and Raspberries, you couldn’t believe your good fortune in finding something to expand your love of the Beatles, Beach Boys and Byrds. That’s how you’ll feel when you unwrap this one. And as good as it sounds in digital form, it’s going to sound even better when you play the limited edition cassette in your Chevy Vega. It’s a shame they didn’t issue this as five singles.

Songwriter and lead vocalist Joey Farber evinces just the right sense of angsty, adolescent longing as he recounts the breathless anticipation and unrequited moments of first sightings, second thoughts and postmortems. The guitars (courtesy of Farber and Jon Mann) strike a balance between sweet and tough, with succinct, melodic leads that verge winningly into garage-psych for “I’ll Warm You” and “Her Flesh.” There’s bubblegum-glam in “The Girl’s Gonna Go,” and the Who gets a nod with “The Kids Are No Good.” Fans of the Heats, Plimsouls, Posies (another band that debuted on cassette!) and Flying Color will dig this album from the downbeat. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

The Jeanies’ Facebook Page
The Jeanies’ Bandcamp Page

Trevor Rabin: Live in L.A.

January 9th, 2015

TrevorRabin_LiveInLALatter-day Yes guitarist and songwriter on a 1989 solo tour

This reissue returns to print Rabin’s performance from his 1989 solo tour. Rabin came to international attention through his membership in the second major incarnation of Yes, most notably the group’s 1983 smash 90125 and its group-penned hit, “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Rabin managed to squeeze in the 1989 solo album Can’t Look Away while still a member of Yes, and toured with a powerful quartet in support. This reissue of a 2003 release documents the tour’s final night, at the Roxy in Los Angeles.

Rabin’s guitar leads a tight four-piece band that plays larger and is flush with the backing vocal talent of keyboard player Mark Mancina and bassist Jim Simmons. This is particularly evident on the South African flavored “Sorrow.” Rabin’s originals mix pop and prog-rock, much as did Yes at the time, and the set includes both solo and group material. The band’s rendition of “Owner of a Lonely Heart” is turned into an enthusiastic audience sing-a-long that will remind you of the song’s immense popularity and the importance of Jon Anderson’s original vocal.

Varese’s reissue includes new cover art, a four-panel booklet, liner notes by Jerry McCulley and a master by Chas Ferry at Rock Talk Studios. The new CD expands the original ten-track lineup with a performance of Rabin’s mesmerizing acoustic guitar solo “Solly’s Beard.” The latter seems to be the same version as was available on the Yes album 9012Live: The Solos. Rabin moved on from Yes to an extensive and successful career composing film soundtracks, but his solo and Yes music of the 1980s still shines brightly. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Trevor Rabin’s Home Page

Ohio Players: Observations in Time

January 5th, 2015

OhioPlayers_ObservationsInTimeThe ‘60s Stax-styled soul of a ‘70s funk powerhouse

Before they conquered the charts with the heavy ‘70s funk of “Skin Tight,” “Fire” and “Love Rollercoaster,” Ohio Players were a band whose 1968 debut for Capitol resounded more with the soul sounds of Memphis than the hard-funk of Detroit. Dating back to the late ‘50s (as the Ohio Untouchables), the band backed the legendary doo-wop group The Falcons, and landed briefly in New York in the late ‘60s, where they recorded singles on Compass and this album for Capitol. The group offered new twists on Allen Toussaint’s “Mother-in-Law” and the Gershwins’ “Summertime,” turning the former’s New Orleans groove into Sam and Dave-styled soul, and stretching the latter into an eight minute jam of gritty blues and forceful jazz. The instrumental “Find Someone to Love” gives some indication of the sounds the Players would make in the ‘70s, but the majority of their original tunes, filled with soulful rhythm guitar, deep bass lines and punchy horn charts, could easily be mistaken for prime Stax sides. Originally reissued on CD by the Edsel label in 2002 (and subsequently dropped from their catalog), this set has been reissued for digital download by Capitol. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Ohio Players’ Home Page