A generous document of an extraordinary collaboration
Recorded on the last stop of Finn and Kelly’s 2013 tour of Australia, this double-disc live set was initially released that same year, but only down under; Omnivore now favors stateside fans with this reissue. Finn and Kelly were joined on tour by a full band as they picked their way through both solo material and songs from their previous bands. The latter includes titles drawn from the catalogs of Split Enz, Crowded House and the Messengers. There’s an impressive connection between Finn and Kelly as both songwriters and singers, their songs flowing together seamlessly and their voices enthusiastically shading one another’s.
Let the good times roll – funky country, blues, soul and ragtime
Tennessee-to-Texas transplant Lew Card is determined for you to have a good time. The spirited tone of his third album contrasts with the acoustic style of last year’s Low Country Hi-Fi, substituting keyboards and brass (the latter from the superb Tijuana TrainWreck Horns) for fiddle and dobro. The opening “Walkin’ Shoes Blues” brings to mind the daydream of Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime,” with a tempo that beckons the listener to strut down the street. Josh Vernier’s backbeat will have you bopping your head to “Baby Won’t Ya,” as Card beseeches a prospective mate, accompanied by fingerpicked acoustic guitar, electric piano and Doug Strahan’s tastefully rugged guitar solo.
It’s hard to imagine, given the state of musical archaeology, there are still bands to discover among the roots of the ‘70s New York punk scene. But this pop band remains surprisingly unknown, despite numerous performances at CBGB, Max’s Kansas City and the Mudd Club, and fanship from the likes of fellow travelers Blondie, the Ramones and New York Dolls. No doubt their obscurity is rooted in a lack of record releases – the band’s period catalog appears to consist of only a single track on the compilation Live at CBGB’s. There appears to have been no self-released cassettes with handmade inserts, no impossibly rare indie singles (or the requisite bootleg reissue of same), and most detrimentally of all, no record label contract.
But even without records, there were recordings; some made in the studio (and funded in part by Mercury Records) and some cut live. There was, forty years after the fact, a self-released CD collection of the band’s studio work that circulated primarily among those already in the know. But now, finally, there’s an expanded collection that presents a full picture of the band’s wares, with the international distribution that eluded the group in the ‘70s. So why did it take so long for the rest of the world to hear the Miamis? Why didn’t the band latch on to the gravy train that turned a number of downtown club bands into international stars? Though they weren’t the only ones from the scene that failed to click, they may have been the most fully realized act that didn’t catch a break. Why?
The A&R shorthand was apparently “too punk for pop, too pop for punk.” But the set’s title track is clearly pop enough for pop, and fits easily alongside contemporaries like Blondie and the Paley Brothers, and power pop exponents like the Raspberries and Knack. You can hear a bit of New York bravado – ala the Dolls and Dictators – in a few tracks, but by today’s post-hardcore standards, it’s hard to remember how punk this might have sounded at the time. The songs are playful and joyous, melding the puppy love vibe of Gary Lewis, Joey Ramone’s affection for the Brill Building, the Rubinoos’ harmonies and a touch of soul on “I Want a Girlfriend.” The titles and lyrics are clever, as in the group’s salute to modern art, “Dada Mama,” which manages to rhyme “brioche” and “gauche” without breaking stride.
For the first time in 50 years, the original mono single edits and mixes
Although the Mamas & Papas’ hit songs are nearly elemental in their familiarity, the actual hit singles are still rare to the ear. That’s because the mono mixes collected here often differ from the more commonly circulated versions by virtue of edits, instrumental changes and vocal overdubs. Unless you have the original singles, you probably haven’t heard these versions since they were on the radio, and even then, you likely heard them only through the limited fidelity of AM broadcast. But heard in remastered form, your ears will be impressed with the coherence of the mono productions and vocal blends, and in their absence, the problems that have plagued the group’s stereo catalog. To make things even better, the group’s A’s and B’s are complemented by the ABC/Dunhill solo singles of Cass Elliot, John Phillips and Denny Doherty.
The set opens with the group’s incredibly rare first single, “Go Where You Wanna Go.” While the recording is well-known through its inclusion on the debut album and greatest hits anthologies (and the song is even more familiar in its later hit cover by the Fifth Dimension), the 7” single saw only very limited release, possibly even promotional only, and was quickly superseded in distribution, record company attention, public acclaim and chart success by “California Dreamin’.” The group would continue to ride high in the charts through 1967’s “Creeque Alley,” fading a bit before “Dream a Little Dream of Me” returned them to prominence and charted the way for Cass Elliot’s solo career. Elliot, Doherty and Phillips all recorded solo material for ABC/Dunhill, and their singles fill out disc two.
After several decades with no newly discovered material, Wes Montgomery’s catalog has expanded rapidly in the past few years. First came Echoes of Indiana Avenue, a collection of live material from late-50s dates in Indianapolis clubs. Next was the 2-CD In the Beginning, collecting live and studio material from Montgomery’s early years. And now, for the first time since it was recorded fifty-seven years ago, a one-of-a-kind date between Montgomery and pianist Eddie Higgins. The pair are accompanied by the esteemed drummer Walter Perkins and an unidentified bassist on forty minutes of pop and jazz standards, including Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” and Thelonious Monk’s “Ruby, My Dear.”
Recorded at the Indianapolis Jazz Club, the performance was recorded by club members (the IJC was more a club of jazz aficionados than a nightclub) and passed along the decades until it reached noted photographer Duncan Schiedt. Schiedt contacted producer Zev Feldman with the idea of getting the tape issued, and two years later, here it is: the only known document of Montgomery and Higgins playing together. Originally released on limited-run vinyl in 2015, the tape now makes its debut on CD. The sound quality is very good, especially so for a hobbyists recording, with all instruments having good presence, a surprisingly solid bottom end and warm tone. There’s some distortion in places, but it never get in the way of enjoying the music.
It’s tempting to see Them primarily as a launching pad for Van Morrison, and though anyone who saw them live or heard these early singles would quickly zero in on Morrison, the band’s tight, tough sound was as essential to framing Morrison’s vocals as Morrison’s vocals were to defining Them. Though not a huge commercial success in the U.S., cracking the Top 40 only twice with “Here Comes the Night” and “Mystic Eyes,” the band still had a lasting impact on American music. In addition to their iconic cover of “Baby Please Don’t Go” (a single that failed to crack the stateside Top 100 but remains as familiar as if it had), Morrison’s original “Gloria” proved to be one of the foundational pillars of garage and punk rock.
Sony’s three-CD set gathers together all of the material recorded for their first two albums, Angry Young Them and Them Again, non-LP singles and EPs, and adds a large helping of demo tracks, live recordings and alternate takes. In the process the set provides a huge helping of crisply remastered mono originals and introduces a few new stereo sides on disc three. Some will be disappointed that true stereo mixes weren’t used everywhere they were available, but mono is what just about everyone heard in the mid-60s, and the punch of these mixes makes the band sound all the more visceral. Neither Morrison nor the band ever seem to lose steam, even when the tempo slows they remain ferocious, and their mix of original and cover material is seamless.
The gap between Rod McKuen’s popular success and his critical station may be larger than any musical artist or poet in history. McKuen sold more than 100 million records and 60 million poetry books, wrote hit songs for numerous A-list artists, brought Jacques Brel to an American audience, scored films, won two Grammys and a Pulitzer, yet critics regularly derided his work as “schmaltz,” “treacle” and “kitsch.” He read his poetry side-by-side with the San Francisco Beats, sang at the famed Purple Onion, appeared in concert and on television, and collaborated with Henry Mancini, but had his work labeled “superficial” and “irrelevant,” and his poems called “facile” in obituaries that followed his January 2015 passing.
Merle Haggard may be known as the “poet of the common man,” but Rod McKuen has probably been quoted more often in love letters and wedding vows. His plainspoken words of isolation and spirituality resonated with an audience that might not otherwise have ever read a poem, and his songs captured the attention of artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to Waylon Jennings. McKuen rasped his way through both vocal and spoken word performances of his own, releasing dozens of solo albums, collaborations with Anita Kerr and the San Sebastian Strings, and more than a dozen film soundtracks, including the Oscar-nominated A Boy Named Charlie Brown.
Though McKuen’s personal accomplishments on the singles chart were meagre (including only the 1959 Bob McFadden and Dor novelty “The Mummy” and 1962’s “Oliver Twist”), his songs were hits for Oliver (“Jean”), Terry Jacks (“Seasons in the Sun,” an English translation of Jacques Brel’s “Le Moribond”), Damita Jo (“If You Go Away,” a translation of Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas”), Perry Como (“I Think of You,” co-written with Frances Lai), Frank Sinatra (“Love’s Been Good for Me”), Perry Como (“I Think of You”), the Kingston Trio (“Ally Ally, Oxen Free”) and others. McKuen’s own versions of these hits are included here, along with poems, such as “Listen to the Warm” and “A Cat Named Sloopy,” which were set to original music.
McKuen sang in a hushed, hoarse tone – a byproduct of oversinging rock bands in his youth – that made his words feel like the confidence of a friend. Joe Marchese’s liner notes dub McKuen “the poet laureate of loneliness,” and though this captures the essence of his songs, the effect of his records is one of connection. McKuen’s writing may have been sentimental, treacly and even schmaltzy, but it voiced feelings that struck a chord with listeners. His remembrance of his cats Sloopy and A Marvelous Cat, is almost painful in its diarist’s sincerity, but it’s remained a listener favorite since it was released in 1967. Interestingly, the song’s invocation of “midnight cowboy”, from which the film apparently drew its title, seems to hint at McKuen’s complex sexuality.
It may have been this sort of intimacy that rubbed critics the wrong way, as McKuen sewed threads of acceptance and hope, if not quite happiness, amid thoughts of melancholy, lost love, abandonment, loneliness and isolation. “Lonesome Cities,” which was recorded by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Nina Simone, speaks to McKuen’s wanderlust, a remnant of his early life drifting along the West Coast in the 1940s. McKuen sings many of the selections included here to lush orchestrations and touches of then-contemporary pop instrumentation. A few tracks, including “Rock Gently,” “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” and “A Man Alone” lean to jazz, “Listen to the Warm” is arranged as a samba, “Kaleidoscope” as a waltz, and “The World I Use to Know” is backed by folk guitar and harmonica.
This Long Island band just gets better with each release. The early demos of their debut, One More Time, were accomplished and perfectly unpolished, and though the songwriting, playing and production has matured over the course of five years, songwriter Pete Mancini hasn’t lost the emotional wear that makes his singing so appealing. Their last full-length, Destination Blues, explored the realizations and disappointments that set in with age, but this new EP gets up from the couch to seek action. Mancini doesn’t leave his new found knowledge behind, but uses it to prompt forward motion rather than wallow in place.
This Philadelphia quartet’s first single sounded like something you’d have heard on Girls in the Garage or perhaps from the Pussywillows, or the Bangs before they became the Bangles. The group’s second single moves from the garage to the ballroom with a flowing neo-psych sound and a driving beat. Their debut EP is slated for January 22!
Waco Brothers (Dean Schlabowske, Joe Camarillo, Jon Langford, Tracey Dear and Alan Doughty) return with their first full-length album of original material in 10 years. Going Down in History drops on February 26th, but you can stream the first single now!
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