J.D. Souther: Home by Dawn

April 9th, 2016

JDSouther_HomeByDawn2Souther’s sole 1980s album reissued with four bonus tracks

After breaking in as part of the Los Angeles scene of the 1970s, Souther retreated from the record racks, releasing only a pair of singles and this lone 1984 album between 1979 and 2008. These mid-80s sessions were helmed by Nashville songwriter and producer David Malloy, with a mid-80s studio sound that would soon establish itself on the country charts – though not for Souther, whose album only lightly brushed the bottom rung of Billboard’s Top 200. It’s not for want of good original material, touching vocals (including an appearance by Linda Ronstadt on “Say You Will”) and a timely popped-collar video. Apparently Warner Brothers didn’t know how to market the album, despite the title track having some resonance with the then-current hit “Footloose.”

That said, the album’s aged reasonably well, with songs and performances that outweigh the period sound. Souther had been listening to a lot of rockabilly prior to making this album, and you can hear the 50s influences beneath the layers of production and digital studio effects. Among the bonus tracks added to Omnivore’s 2016 reissue is a demo of “I’ll Take Care of You” whose vocal is more restrained, yet more impassioned than the album take. Also included is Souther’s duet with Linda Ronstadt on the Urban Cowboy soundtrack’s “Hearts Against the Wind,” and the unreleased session tracks “Little Girl Blue” and “Girls All Over the World.” The bonuses make for a nice upgrade, and sweeten an often overlooked Souther album. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

J.D. Souther’s Home Page

Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis: Today I Started Loving You Again

April 9th, 2016

If you’re going to pay tribute to a fellow musician, there’s no better way to say it than with music.

Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis – Vocals
Warren Hood – Fiddle
Scott Davis – Banjo
David Grissom – Guitar
Kelley Mickwee – Background Vocals
Geoff Queen – Steel Guitar
Dom Fischer (Wood & Wire) – Bass
Trevor Nealon (The Band of Heathens) – Keys

Willie Nile: World War Willie

April 9th, 2016

WillieNile_WorldWarWillieNew York rocker on a roll

Last we saw Buffalo, NY rocker Willie Nile, he’d stripped himself of his six-string, and sat down for a more introspective turn at the piano for 2014’s If I Was a River. The declarative rock ‘n’ roll of his recent albums gave way to a more conversational style, both between Nile and the piano, and between Nile, the piano and their listeners. Though only a temporary detour, it proved a valuable addition to Nile’s catalog, and a resting spot to gather himself for another album of highly-charged rock. Now into the latter-half of his 60s, Nile hasn’t lost a thing; one has to wonder if there’s an album in his attic whose music is aging away, Dorian Gray style.

Nile’s rock ‘n’ roll was bred in the 1970s, as a fellow traveler of those who fused the resuscitating spark of punk rock with a reverence for the roots of rock ‘n’ roll and blues. He’s played alongside Springsteen and the original panoply of CBGB acts, and the true-believer banner he hoisted with his 1980 debut still flies just as freely in his fourth decade of music making. Rock ‘n’ roll isn’t mere entertainment for Nile, though it’s certainly entertaining; more deeply, Nile shares Springsteen’s view that music is a redemptive force, and in Nile’s capable hands, it’s an emotional contact sport.

The album opens with a line drawn from teenage years to elder statesman, but it’s nearly superfluous to say in the wake of Nile’s unwavering commitment to rock ‘n’ roll. Rock isn’t Nile’s avocation or occupation (or even pre-occupation), it’s a fundamental tenet that leads to the only halfway tongue-in-cheek “Grandpa Rocks.” And Grandpa does rock. Hard. But he also takes it down to a knowing ballad for “Runaway Girl,” with lovely castanets (courtesy of Patricia Vonne) that echo Mink DeVille channeling the Brill Building. He breaks down to the blues for “Bad Boy” and the humorous social critique, “Citibank Nile,” and free associates a Dylan-esque catalog of unusual companions for the title track.

The free-spiritedness continues with the rockabilly “Hell Yeah,” and Nile’s love of all things music comes in a pair of tributes: Levon Helm is remembered in the original “When Levon Sings,” and fellow New York rocker Lou Reed in the album-closing cover of “Sweet Jane.” The latter builds to an anthem, and rings especially true as Nile sings “me, I’m in a rock ‘n’ roll band.” Thirty-six years after his debut, that membership, both in his exceptional band and in the larger brotherhood of rock ‘n’ roll, still seems to fulfill Nile’s deepest need. Lucky for us, he’s willing to share his personal fountain of youth. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Willie Nile’s Home Page

John David Souther: John David Souther

April 3rd, 2016

JohnDavidSouther_JohnDavidSoutherThe debut of a ‘70s L.A. songwriter w/7 bonus tracks

Like many singer-songwriters, J.D. Souther is better known for songs performed by others, including the Eagles (“New Kid in Town”), Bonnie Raitt (“Run Like a Thief”) and Linda Ronstadt (“Faithless Love”), than for his own performances. But in the early ‘70s, the Detroit-to-Texas-to-Los Angeles transplant was introduced to David Geffen by his downstairs neighbor, Jackson Browne, and found himself signed to the nascent Asylum label. This 1972 debut features ten originals, and includes accompaniment by Souther’s then-roommate, Glenn Frey, as well as handpicked session stars Bryan Garafalo, Gary Mallaber, Wayne Perkins and Nashville West fiddler Gib Guilbeau.

The album’s sound helped develop the templates for ‘70s Southern California music, adding country to rock, while keeping the singer-songwriter sensibility front and center. The album was recorded at Pacific Recorders in Northern California, rather than one of the reigning L.A. studios, but you wouldn’t know it from the musical vibe. Souther sounds a bit like his pals Browne and Frey, and his songs have a similar shade of inviting introspection. In “Kite Woman,” which Souther had previously recorded with Frey as the duo Longbranch Pennywhistle, and “How Long,” you can hear the voice that would carry him forward, and the songwriting that would come to fit the Eagles. The latter song was in fact resurrected by the Eagles for their 2007 comeback Long Road Out of Eden.

The album failed to click commercially, and it would be four more years until Souther waxed his second solo effort, but the lack of sales doesn’t reflect on either the songs or the performances. Souther apparently didn’t have the commercial “it” of Browne, but his music is heartfelt and effective. Omnivore’s 2016 reissue augments the original ten tracks with seven period bonuses, including an alternate version of “Kite Woman” and six demos. The latter, stripped mostly to guitar and vocals, provide more intimate readings than the band versions, and include the otherwise unrecorded “One in the Middle.” Delivered in a digipack with a 12-page booklet, this is a worthy upgrade and a good introduction for those who haven’t yet dug J.D. Souther. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

J.D. Souther’s Home Page

Ron Jacobs: KHJ – Inside Boss Radio

April 2nd, 2016

RonJacobs_InsideBossRadioThe invention of Boss Radio

Originally published in 2002, and republished as an e-book in 2010, Ron Jacobs Inside Boss Radio is the story of Top 40 radio’s highest peak. From 1965 through 1969, Jacobs served as program director for KHJ-AM, and together with the legendary radio consultant Bill Drake, created the Boss Radio format that conquered Los Angeles and was duplicated successfully in markets around the country. Jacobs covers the format’s origin, the boss jocks who brought it to life, the promotions that furthered KHJ’s reach, and the day-to-day workings involved in seeding and growing a format into a competition stomping dynamo.

The story begins in Fresno, where, as program director for KMAK, Jacobs battled head-to-head with Bill Drake, who was consulting for station owner Gene Chenault at KYNO. Rock ‘n’ roll had reached the major markets through Chuck Blore’s “Color Radio” Top 40 format at KFWB (a time documented in Blore’s Okay, Okay I Wrote the Book), but by the mid-60s, Blore had left KFWB, and KRLA, with Dave Hull, Bob Eubanks and Casey Casem was getting hot. Drake had decamped from Fresno to work at KGB in San Diego, and upon moving to KHJ he brought in Jacobs as program director. The station switched formats in May 1965, rechristening Los Angeles as “Boss Angeles,” and rewriting the mechanics, content and focus of Top 40 radio.

Jacobs’ book is in two parts. The first half of the book is a multi-person verbal history that threads together stories and anecdotes from many of the original characters. The second half, and really the meat, is the blizzard of memos that Jacobs rained upon his DJ staff, announcing changes to the hourly clock, pushing upcoming promotions, nitpicking the details of their on-air work, highlighting records, discussing ratings and always reminding them to program their music (particularly the “goldens”) with thought and flair. The verbal history is difficult to follow the first time through, as the characters aren’t drawn with enough detail to become sticky in the reader’s head. But after plowing through the memos, you’ll want to circle back to the book’s first half for a second read.

KHJ’s innovations and methods were many, including 20/20 newscasts, fresh and numerous promotions (including The Big Kahuna, Mr. Whisper and Location X), a KHJ-branded television program, premieres, exclusives, musical specials (such as 1969’s 48-hour The History of Rock ‘n ‘Roll), and teen-targeted day-parting. Jacobs was relentless in driving towards a “standard of attempted perfection,” and his drive was rewarded by towering ratings. The format was technical, complex, intricate and always under revision. Jacobs’ biggest headache seems to have been the fight against complacency as the station quickly rose to #1 and crushed its competition. By early 1968, KFWB switched from music to news and KRLA was cutting shifts and eventually turned to automation.

What’s missing is an explanation of the philosophy or stimulus that led to many of the changes outlined in the memos. The reader is often left to guess what Jacobs was responding to, or exactly what he was trying to accomplish, but even for Jacobs, annotating the memos nearly fifty years after the fact may just not have been possible. Still, it would be fascinating to have him break down a few of the format tweaks, to give lay people some deeper insight into the day-to-day mind of a program director. Also missing from the memos is Bill Drake’s voice, and so the daily dynamic between consultant and program director is not seen.

By 1968, you can feel KHJ losing its dominance as the golden age of teen power began to wane. KHJ aimed itself at “mass appeal” musically, ignoring the youngest teeny-boppers and the oldest stoners, and shifted to fewer and bigger contests. Jacobs resigned four years after he arrived, departing in May of 1969 at the ripe old age of 31. Two of Boss Radio’s key jocks, Robert W. Morgan and The Real Don Steele, were leaving at the same time, and though KHJ carried on, it never again flew as high. Jacobs’ book is enhanced with reproductions of Boss 30 flyers and trade advertisements, showing how the station positioned itself with both listeners and advertisers. What’s missing most is the sound of KHJ, which you can find in airchecks on You Tube and Reel Radio. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Ron Jacobs’ Obituary
Ron Jacobs’ Blog

Neil Sedaka: The Very Best Of (RCA)

April 2nd, 2016

NeilSedaka_TheVeryBestOfStereo catalog of Neil Sedaka’s late-50s and early-60s hits

Neil Sedaka topped the chart in 1974 with “Laughter in the Rain,” and as a songwriter with Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together,” but these were far from his first brush with fame. In fact, this mid-70s resurgence (due in large part to his signing with Elton John’s Rocket Records) was a renewal of a talented Brill Building songsmith whose performing and songwriting success had tailed off a decade earlier in the wake of the British Invasion. From 1958 through 1966, Sedaka recorded charmingly boyish hit records for RCA, falling out of the Top 40 in 1964 with the arrival of the Beatles. This fourteen track collection includes all thirteen of Sedaka’s Top 40 sides for RCS, as well as one that just missed (“I Go Ape,” #42/1959). This represents the core of Sedaka’s first run of fame, including his chart-topping original version of “Breaking Up is Hard To Do” and the icons “Calendar Girl,” “Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen” and “Next Door to an Angel.” All of the sides are presented in true stereo, which will make some collectors happy, but begs Real Gone or Bear Family to step up and release the original mono singles. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Stan Getz: Moments in Time

April 2nd, 2016

StanGetz_MomentsInTimeStan Getz live in San Francisco in 1976

Recorded at San Francisco’s late Keystone Korner during the same week that Getz and his quartet backed Joao Gilberto, this selection of eight tracks offers a deeper sampling of Getz’s saxophone and a more balanced hearing of his group. Where the Gilberto sets, documented on the companion release Getz/Gilberto ‘76, focused primarily on the Brazilian artist’s vocals and guitar, these tracks give time to Getz’s accompanists, pianist Joanne Brackeen, bassist Clint Houston and drummer Billy Hart. The mood is a great deal more lively here, and you can almost hear Getz working to distinguish his solo work from the bossa nova collaborations that had fueled his popular success. His backing trio is sophisticated and outgoing, with Brackeen, in particular, offering up melodically complex solos. The song selections range from the 1930’s standard “Summer Night,” to then-contemporary jazz pieces by Wayne Shorter and Horace Silver, and the Antonio Carlos Jobim samba “O Grande Amor.” Resonance offers the CD with typically thoughtful packaging, including a 28-page booklet stuffed with full-panel photos, extensive liner notes, and interviews with Billy Hart and Joanne Brackeen. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Stan Getz’s Home Page

Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto: Getz/Gilberto ‘76

April 2nd, 2016

StanGetzJoaoGilberto_GetzGilberto76A rare and previously unreleased teaming of Getz and Gilberto

Recorded at San Francisco’s long-gone Keystone Korner in May, 1976, this collection of live performances adds to the slim, but highly influential catalog of Getz-Gilberto pairings. The duo had initially teamed for an album in 1964 and a live outing in 1966, and came back together is 1976 for The Best of Two Worlds. The latter album prompted a tour with Getz’s quartet of Joanne Brackeen (p), Clint Houston (b) and Billy Hart (d), whose San Francisco stand is captured here. The recordings focus primarily on Gilberto’s vocals, which are superb, his guitar and Getz’s sax. The band is mostly relegated to supporting Getz’s solos, and even then they’re mixed (or they played) very low, with only Hart’s cymbals making much of an impact. None of which distracts from the pleasures of the music, but one might wish there’d been more conversation with the band, as heard on the parallel Getz release Moments in Time. Resonance has augmented this CD with a 32-page booklet filled with superb full-panel photos and detailed notes and interviews, including Q&As with Hart and Brackeen. They’ve also included a new cover painting by Olga Albizu, whose work was featured on the covers of the first two Getz/Gilberto albums. A great find for fans of Gilberto and Getz & Gilberto. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Stan Getz’s Home Page
Joao Gilberto Tribute Page

Jim Waller and the Deltas: Surfin’ Wild

March 27th, 2016

JimWallerAndTheDeltas_SurfinWildHot 1963 R&B-styled surf and go-go

As a product of Fresno State College in California’s Central Valley, one might assume that “Deltas” referred to the nearby Sacramento-San Joaquin delta. And while there is a tinge of surf in some of the compositions, the album’s sax-and-organ foundation has more in common with inland R&B frat-rock that coastal guitar-based surf-rock. Guitarist Terry Christofsen added a bit of twang, but without the reverb common to the surf scene, and Ray Carlson’s fat sax tone suggests King Curtis and Buddy Savitt. Everything has a wild, road house air, from their instrumental cover of the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’” to Nat Adderly and Oscar Brown’s jazz standard “Work Song.” Waller’s many originals, including the raging title track riff on “You Can’t Sit Down,” surely tore the house down and left sweaty dancers in search of refreshment. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Bon Scott: Early Years 1967-1972

March 27th, 2016

BonScott_EarlyYears19861972Bon Scott’s pre-AC/DC pop, rock and soul sides

Bon Scott was so compelling as the howling front-man of AC/DC that it’s nearly impossible to imagine the more tender pop vocals of his earlier years. Compiled here are twenty-two tracks that Scott recorded with his earlier groups, The Valentines and Fraternity, in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Highlights include an Everlys-ish take on Phil Spector’s “To Know Him is to Love Him,” a soulful version of Arthur Alexander’s “Every Day I Have to Cry,” covers of the Small Faces, Soft Machine and Steppenwolf, and songs from the Easybeats’ Vanda & Young.

Hints of Scott’s distinctive tone can be heard, but the material, vocals and arrangements are drawn from the pop, rock and soul music of their times, rather than the hard-rock of AC/DC. By the time the Scott joined Fraternity in 1970, his more familiar bluesy phrasings began to emerge, but not yet with the full-blown leer he’d bring to AC/DC. Diehard fans will enjoy hearing Scott’s evolution towards his famous style, as will those interested in late ’60s pop and early ’70s blues-rock. [©2016 Hyperbolium]