Tommy James and the Shondells: Gettin’ Together

James and company solidify and refine their pop

Capitalizing on the success of the previous year’s pop-oriented I Think We’re Alone Now, Tommy James and the Shondells paired again with producers Bo Gentry and Richie Cordell to cut their second album of 1967. The album cover depicts the group in a field of blossoms, but that’s as close to flower-power that the Shondells came on this album. There are production touches of the era, including the tight segue between the first two tracks, the feedback, fades and false endings of “Happy Day,” and the audio markers closing “Side 1” and opening “Side 2,” but the melodies and lyrics remain teen-pop. The seeds planted here would fully bloom the following year on 1968’s Crimson & Clover.

For now, the band polished the transition from garage and frat rock to production-oriented pop they’d begun earlier in the year. James finds more space to unleash the power of his vocals, the band’s harmonies fit together more tightly, and arranger Jimmy “Wiz” Wisner’s touches add decoration without distracting from the chewy pop-rock center. The title hit opens with a riff copped from the Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’,” but lightened to the tone of a 1910 Fruitgum Company production. James and Shondells’ bassist Mike Vale contribute four originals, including the galloping rocker “Love’s Closin’ in On Me” and the frenzied “You Better Watch Out.”

Though many of the tracks verge on bubblegum, as Ed Osborne’s liner notes point out, the album’s ballads reach to the more sophisticated vocal arrangements and considered tempos of what would become known as West Coast Sunshine Pop. Like their previous album, these sessions were recorded on a 4-track at Allegro Sound, and though most of the instruments are still panned hard left-and-right, the sound is smoother, the band sounds more settled into their surroundings, and the album more cohesive. For many listeners the hit collections Anthology or The Definitive Pop Collection are better places to start, but fans interested in getting past the hits will enjoy finding that the group’s albums are fleshed out with more than the typical singles-band filler.

Collectors’ Choice’s straight-up 12-track reissue clocks in at under 30-minutes, leaving one wishing they’d doubled-up with a second album (or add bonus tracks), as they did for recent reissues of Jackie DeShannon, Waylon Jennings, B.J. Thomas and others. This is one of four albums (also including I Think We’re Alone Now, Travelin’ and James’ third solo release, My Head, My Bed & My Red Guitar) billed as an initial offering from the entire Shondells and Thomas solo catalogs. The six-page booklet includes full-panel reproductions of the album’s front and back covers, and newly struck liner notes by Ed Osborne that add fresh interview material from James himself. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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