Archive for the ‘CD Review’ Category

Fastball: All the Pain Money Can Buy

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

Twentieth anniversary edition of Austin band’s commercial high point

Twenty years on from the success of their 1998 single “The Way,” the album from which it sprang still sounds fresh. The band’s sophomore release for the Hollywood label produced two more hits (“Fire Escape” and “Out of My Head”), and sold more than a million copies in its first six months of release. The album drew inspiration from pop, soul and psych, but expressed them through a then-modern-rock aesthetic. The effortless melodies and instrumental focus on guitar, bass and drums has aged well, giving away its ‘90s origin without feeling boat-anchored to the decade’s trends. This anniversary edition augments the original thirteen tracks with compilation tracks, two excellent B-sides, and of particular interest to fans, four previously unreleased demos highlighted by the original 4-track cassette recording of “The Way.” The collection closes with bonus covers of the Replacements “Androgynous,” Bacharach & David’s “This Guy’s in Love With You,” and an acoustic take on “The Way.” Scott Shindler’s liner notes include newly sourced interviews with the band, and the booklet includes numerous period photos. This is a nice upgrade for those who’ve long loved this album, and the perfect entry point into Fastball’s catalog for newbies. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Fastball’s Home Page

Marianne Faithfull: Come and Stay With Me – The UK 45s 1964-1969

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

English songbird in a gilded cage

Although she had four Top-40 Billboard hits in 1964 and 1965, Marianne Faithfull’s early years as a singer are largely remembered in the U.S. for her original version of “As Tears Go By.” She gained worldwide fame with her 1979 comeback, Broken English, but her early years as a UK hitmaker have remained relatively unknown in the States. More surprisingly, Faithfull herself doesn’t reflect with great fondness on these early records, suggesting at the time of her late-70s re-emergence, “I’ve never had to try very hard. I’ve never really been expected to try at all. I’ve always been treated as somebody who not only can’t even sing but doesn’t really write or anything, just something you can make into something.” She continued, “I was just cheesecake really, terribly depressing. It wasn’t depressing when I was 18, but it got depressing when I got older because you’re a person just like anyone else, even if you are a woman.”

The truth of her early works lays somewhere between her own negative reaction and the positive commercial success bestowed upon her. After debuting with “As Time Goes By,” Faithfull tackled Dylan’s well-covered “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and B-sides – “Greensleeves” and “House of the Rising Sun” – drawn from the trad catalog. Her fragile tremolo seems overmatched by the ornate arrangements, but her shy delivery is bolstered by a sense of determination. It’s that balance between introversion and steadfastness that makes these singles so intriguing. Her third single, Jackie DeShannon’s “Come and Stay With Me,” demonstrates Faithfull’s growing confidence, as does the anguished questioning of “What Have I Done Wrong.” The harp and strings of her next single, John D. Loudermilk’s “Little Bird,” leave more room for her voice, and she takes flight with the Tennessee Williams-inspired lyrics.

Faithfull’s catalog includes titles by Goffin & King (“Is This What I Get For Loving You?”) and Donovan (“The Most of What is Least”), and a sprinkle of original material (“Oh Look Around You” and “I’d Like to Dial Your Number”). Her final single for Decca was 1969’s “Something Better,” written by Gerry Goffin and Barry Mann, and performed by Faithfull in the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus. The B-side featured the rare, original recording of “Sister Morphine,” released two years before the Stones included it on Sticky Fingers. Her transformation from English songbird to ravaged chanteuse is foreshadowed in the desperate lyrics and vocal, and despite Jagger’s dramatic performance on the album, it’s Faithfull’s original that resounds with the personal truth that reclaimed her songwriting credit for the lyrics.

These early sides don’t reflect the lived life of Broken English, but you can hear Faithfull gaining experience at light speed. Her 1965 cover of “Yesterday” and the following year’s “Tomorrow’s Calling” are filled with melancholy, and her 1967 cover of the Ronettes’ “Is This What I Get For Loving You?” might not have been an expression of doubt about Mick Jagger’s fidelity, but seems to bely a fundamental insecurity. The collection pulls together the mono A’s and B’s of her eleven singles and a three-song EP, as released by Decca between 1964 and 1969. The 24-page booklet includes liner notes from journalist and longtime Marianne Faithfull fan Kris Needs, as well as numerous period photos, sheet music, label reproductions, and song credits. With the concurrent release of Faithfull’s new album Negative Capability, and its newly struck version of “As Time Goes By,” this is a timely spin for fans who’ve never taken the opportunity to enjoy Faithfull’s early work. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Marianne Faithfull’s Home Page

NRBQ: All Hopped Up

Monday, December 10th, 2018

1977 debut of the classic NRBQ lineup, with bonus tracks

Originally released in 1977, NRBQ’s fifth album marked the first appearance of drummer Tom Ardolino, and the debut of the band’s Red Rooster label. Having spent time on Columbia and Kama Sutra, the responsibility of producing and recording for their own imprint seems to have brought both freedom and focus to their music. To be sure, all the NRBQ trademarks are here, including oddball originals like Terry Adams “Call Him Off, Rogers,” lovingly selected covers of “Cecillia,” “I Got a Rocket in My Pocket” and “Honey Hush,” a ragged, minor key send-up of the theme to Bonanza, and generous helpings of the Whole Wheat Horns.

As usual, the band mashed up a wide array of pop, rock, soul, blues and jazz influences, but the original material from Adams, Al Anderson and Joey Spampinato includes some especially fine pop songs. Anderson’s nostalgic lead-off, “Ridin’ in My Car” has a double-tracked vocal and sunshine backing harmonies, and Terry Adams’ “It Feels Good” mixes ‘50s romanticism with, in true NRBQ fashion, a Japanese koto solo. Adams also offers an echo of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys with “Things to You,” and Joey Spampinato’s “Still in School” and “That’s Alright” have harmonies that sound like Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe channeling the Everlys.

This reissue adds four bonus tracks recorded during the album’s two years worth of sessions. A cover of Bill Justis’ “Chicken Hearted” offers a heavier dose of chicken-pickin’ than Roy Orbison’s original, while the originals include the jazz-country hybrid “She’s Got to Know,” rockabilly “Start It Over,” and low-key New Orleans funk “Do the Bump.” The latter was originally issued as a B-side, while the other three were woven into Rounder’s Ridin’ in My Car sort-of reissue of All Hopped Up. Omnivore’s tri-fold slipcase augments one of NRBQ’s best albums with new liners by John DeAngelis and vintage photos. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ’s Home Page

Willie Nile: Children of Paradise

Monday, December 10th, 2018

Fine set of rock ‘n’ roll originals drawn from a seemingly bottomless well

Anyone who’s been listening to or writing about Willie Nile over the past decade is likely running out of things to say. Nile’s twelfth studio album continues a string of incredibly consistent releases that dates back to 2006’s Streets of New York, and his enduring belief in rock ‘n’ roll’s redemptive powers is a welcome tonic amid social and political turbulence. Recording with his longtime road band, Nile offers up straight-ahead rock music with no apologies for the guitars, bass and drums, and topical songs that offer both concern and salvation. The title track’s recognition of those on the fringe is echoed by Cristina Arrigoni’s striking album cover portraits, and “Gettin’ Ugly Out There” seeks to hold on to a strand of human goodness amid the torrent of deceit that is our current political climate. Though mostly written in singalongs and anthems, Nile turns down the volume for the intimate ballad “Have I Ever Told You” and the solemn closer “All God’s Children.” If you like Nile’s last half-dozen albums, you’ll find more to like here; and if you haven’t yet listened to Willie Nile, this is a great place to dive in. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Willie Nile’s Home Page

Various Artists – The Complete Christmas on the Ponderosa

Friday, December 7th, 2018

A warm and inviting Christmas with the Cartwright clan

Originally released in 1963 just as television’s Bonanza was climbing to #1 in the Nielsen’s, Christmas on the Ponderosa was one of several commercial tie-ins that accompanied the show’s success. Released by RCA, the thirteen tracks feature the golden throats of Bonanza’s four stars – Dan Blocker, Lorne Greene, Michael Landon and Pernell Roberts – performing in character, along with the backing vocals of the Ken Darby Singers. The album is structured as a story, with the Cartwright clan’s caroling neighbors invited into the Ponderosa’s ranch house for a Christmas party. The music includes both traditional and new Christmas songs, and they’re held together by continuity that includes toasts, elegies, dramatic conversations and humorous dialog.

Pernell Roberts proved himself the family’s standout singer on his lone track,“The Newborn King.” His solo album, Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies, was also released by RCA the same year, and here he sings in a similar folk style. Michael Landon is appealing on “Oh Fir Tree Dear” and the novelty “Santa Got Lost in Texas,” and though Dan Blocker gives it a go on “Deck the Halls,” his gifts are better applied to the recitation of “The First Christmas Tree.” Lorne Greene uses his sonorous voice to conjure both gravitas and humor in his performances, as he would later employ on the chart-topping single, “Ringo.” In addition to the Christmas album’s thirteen tracks, this reissue adds the first-ever CD release of Lorne Greene’s 1965 seasonal album, Have a Happy Holiday, and both sides of his 1966 single “Must Be Santa” b/w “One Solitary Life.”

The Bonanza characters provided a surprisingly sturdy platform for acting, singing and merchandising. The Christmas album followed the cast’s initial 1962 foray into recording, Ponderosa Party Time, and was in turn followed by Lorne Greene’s 1964 album Welcome to the Ponderosa (both of which are included in Bear Family’s Bonanza box set). This Christmas collection includes remastered audio by Mike Piacentini at Sony’s Battery Studios, liner notes by The Second Disc’s Joe Marchese, and rare cast photos. Christmas on the Ponderosa’s sing-along party theme will add a celebratory spark to your own holiday gathering, and the addition of Lorne Greene’s follow-up album and single adds another gift under the tree. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Lefty Frizzell: An Article From Life – The Complete Recordings

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

The exquisite, final word on a country legend

Born in Texas, and raised in Arkansas, William Orville “Lefty” Frizzell took in the seminal influences of Jimmie Rodgers, Ernest Tubb and others, and forged an original vocal style that impacted an entire generation of singers. His next-generation disciples included Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, George Jones and Roy Orbison, and his influence continues to reverberate today through the works of Brennen Leigh and many others. His 1950 debut topped the charts with both “If You’ve Got the Money (I’ve Got the Time)” and its flip, “I Love You a Thousand Ways,” and the hits that followed stretched into early 1953. But Frizzell was a mercurial artist, firing his manager and band in 1952, joining and quitting the Grand Ole Opry, and moving to Los Angeles, where he joined the Town Hall Party. His 1954 single “I Love You Mostly” would be his last Top 20 hit for four years, and though he’d move to Nashville and regain the top slot with 1964’s “Saginaw Michigan,” his health and success steadily declined until his death at the age of 47 in 1975.

Bear Family has pulled out all the stops to honor Frizzell’s legendary career, gathering 361 tracks on 20 CDs, including all of his singles (45s and 78s) and albums, demos and session material, and a wealth of newly discovered material. The discs are packaged in double digipaks, which are themselves housed in a 12-½” x 12-½” x 3” box that includes a massive 264-page hardcover book. This box set represents the third iteration of Bear Family’s archival work on Frizzell, having previously issued the 14-LP set His Life, His Music in 1984, and the updated 12-CD set Life’s Like Poetry in 1992. This is a superset of both earlier releases, and though a few scraps might still be hiding in a dusty vault, this is likely to be the definitive statement on Frizzell’s recording career. In addition to complete coverage of his 25-years of commercial releases, the demos, private recordings, radio airchecks and U.S. military program transcriptions stretch back into the 1940s. The set’s final eight discs feature Frizzell’s younger brother David reading his biography I Love You a Thousand Ways.

Discs 1 through 9 repeat the same commercial material as was originally offered on Life’s Like Poetry. Discs 10-12 include demos, radio airchecks and transcriptions that provide a rich picture of the artist in development. These latter recordings vary in quality, and some of the earliest material is rough in spots, but Frizzell’s voice always manages to emerge from the surface noise of acetates and metal parts. New to this box are two dozen full and partial demos and non-session recordings, including late-40s covers of Ernest Tubb (“I’ll Always Be Glad to Take You Back” and “I’ll Always Be Glad to Take You Back”), Jimmie Rodgers (“My Old Pal of Yesterday,” “Jimmie the Kid” and “California Blues”), Ernest Tubb (“Mean Mama Blues”), Hank Williams (“I’m a Long Gone Daddy,” “Last Night I Heard You Crying in Your Sleep” and “There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight”), and 1950 band recordings of Frizzell originals “If You’re Ever Lonely Darling,” “I Love You A Thousand Ways” and “Lost Love Blues.” Of particular interest among the new tracks are three solo acoustic takes of “I Won’t Be Good For Nothin’” that show how Frizzell developed his approach to the song.

The transfers and mastering of the studio material highlight the microphone’s love for Frizzell’s voice. His presence is palpable sixty years after he first stood and sang these numbers, and his feel for a song’s tempo remains unerring, never rushing a lyric, but never dragging the beat. As described by Merle Haggard, Frizzell would “hold on to each word until he finally decided to drop it and pick up the next one.” Charles Wolfe’s biographical essay, updated and revised by Daniel Cooper and Kevin Coffey, pieces together Frizzell’s personal and recording history from a variety of sources. Frizzell was apparently not fond of being interviewed, and the authors augment the artist’s own memories with those of his family, friends, supporting musicians and colleagues. The book (weighing in at a somewhat unwieldy five pounds) is laced with archival photos, and supplemented by Richard Weize and Kevin Coffey’s detailed discography. This collection is the epitome of the Bear Family box set, overwhelming in its completeness, attention to detail and love for the artist. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Permanent Green Light: Hallucinations

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

After the Three O’Clock

In the late ‘80s, after an EP and four LPs with the Three O’Clock, bassist/singer/songwriter Michael Quercio found himself without a band for the first time in a decade. His long-time association with Game Theory led to touring and recording in San Francisco, but by the early ‘90s he’d returned to Los Angeles. Back in the southland he connected with guitarist/singer/songwriter Matt Devine, and together with drummer Chris Bruckner, formed Permanent Green Light – the group’s name seemingly lifted from the closing song of the Godz 1967 album Godz 2. As a trio, the band returned Quercio’s to the pre-Three O’Clock format of the Salvation Army, but with a co-founder sharing singing and songwriting duties, PGL had more range to draw upon.

The band debuted in 1992 with the single “We Could Just Die.” The song’s signature guitar riff and vocal hooks put this in a class with Michael Quercio’s most memorable songs. The trio played with the sort of fervor that had electrified the Salvation Army, but with less overt psychedelic and punk undertones. The single’s B-side, “The Truth This Time,” opens with a funky wah-wah guitar riff, but breaks into the sort of melodic verse for which Quercio is known. The single begat a self-titled EP, from which Quercio’s “Ballad of Paul K.” is included, but Matt Devine’s songs and and lead vocals are left behind.

A fuller picture of Devine’s contributions is drawn from tracks selected from the band’s first and only full-length alum, 1993’s Against Nature. The six tracks anthologized here include solo writes from from both Quercio and Devine, as well as several co-writes that include the single “(You and I Are the) Summertime.” Devine’s “Marianne Gave Up Her Hand” has a baroque-rock feel, while “Portmanteau” adds Spanish-styled acoustic guitar to the trio’s near prog-rock. Devine’s voice is pleasant, though not the instantly recognizable, idiosyncratic instrument that is Quercio’s. The jointly written “Wintertime’s A-Comin’, Martha Raye” recalls the tripiness of Quercio’s early songs with the Three O’Clock.

Fans will enjoy this collection’s vault finds, starting with 1991 demos of “(You and I Are the) Summertime” and Quercio’s otherwise unknown “Lovely to Love Me.” The former is played faster and harder than the single, the latter highlights the quirkiness of Quercio’s voice, with Merseybeat harmonies sung against crashing cymbals. The B-side “Street Love” is served up in demo form that’s more raw and urgent than the final version, and stray tracks from Flipside’s RAFR compilation and a Sassy magazine phone promo round out the rarities. Those new to the band will find this a balanced intro, but with such a slim catalog, the original EP and LP are worthwhile follow-ups. Those who are already hooked will dig the demos and other bonus tracks. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Dan Mangan: More or Less

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

The philosophical road from troubadour to parent

Dan Mangan’s fifth album finds his life in transition from globetrotting musician to mid-30s parent. The confluence of emotional changes that marked this life change provides rich ground for an introspective singer-songwriter, and Mangan confronts both the loss of his youthful degrees of freedom and the satisfactions of adult responsibilities. On a meta level, his six-year hiatus from touring also finds him re-entering a music industry that’s drastically different than the one from which he laid out. In addition to his album, he’s developed a behind-the-songwriting video series and accompanying playlist for Spotify, as well as a live variety show for Instagram – all the accoutrements of a modern music artist.

The set opens with Mangan contemplating the emotional wreckage and resulting rebirth born of questioning and destabilizing one’s beliefs. He sees life’s lynch pins as containing both risk and opportunity, a mechanism whose tension stores energy. He ponders the dichotomy of his innocent infant son being born into a world whose balance was swung by the 2016 presidential election, and he seeks to insulate himself from the unknown that then lay ahead. The lies and half-truths of the election cycle inform “Troubled Mind,” as Mangan seeks to balance the urge to stay informed with the reflex to avoid the deceit of the political class. The song’s anxious rhythm suggests an intellectual timebomb threatening to explode from the rising cognitive dissonance.

Such philosophical quandaries are balanced with the seemingly mundane responsibilities of parenthood. Having given up the adventure of a musician’s world travel, Mangan surprises himself with the satisfaction of staying put and exploring the complexities of growing up and staying put. On “Cold in the Summer” he’s pulled into middle-age even as his youth tries to hang on. He’s trading the footloose freedoms of youth for the repetitions of adult life, but he’s unsure whether to lament the loss of the former for the gain of the latter. The solemn sounding “Fool For Waiting” is as close as Mangan gets to a love song, though even here he’s inside his own head, analyzing the experience of his feelings.

Mangan writes of approaching the album with a new-found sense of minimalism, but there’s a lushness to the music that belies the lack of thickly woven instrumental layers. The arrangements are minimal, but the album never sounds spare; that’s because Mangan’s voice is itself quite rich, and Drew Brown and Simone Felice’s production supports him with smooth bass tones, crisp drums and cymbals, and instrumental touches that occasionally lead to light psychedelic moments. It’s the right sound for such contemplative lyrics, inviting listeners to both feel the mood and interpret the lyrics. Though recorded in bits and pieces over several years, the album feels whole, and offers an eye-opening step forward. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Dan Mangan’s Home Page

The Persian Leaps: Pop That Goes Crunch!

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

Power pop revisited, re-recorded, remixed and remastered

Minnesota’s Persian Leaps have been making catchy, guitar-based power pop since their formation in 2012. They’ve released an EP-per-year since their debut with 2013’s Praise Elephants, and now pause to reflect on the intersection between what they knew then and what they’ve learned since. In particular, their first full-length cherry picks seventeen of their previously released tracks and reworks them with remixing, re-recording and remastering that injects into the recordings the lessons they’ve learned from playing these songs live. Some of the changes find the band tweaking the mixes, while others are more radical. The single “Entropy” was entirely rebuilt atop the original bass and drums, and “Not That Brave” substitutes a live radio appearance for the original studio take. Artists often revisit their songs, but rarely their recordings, so it’s interesting to hear the band consider how their deepened familiarity with the material impacts their view of a song’s best presentation.

The band’s stated influences – Teenage Fanclub, Guide by Voices and the Smiths – are easy to hear, but traces of Eddie & The Hot Rods, the Feelies, Velvet Crush and Material Issue also echo through their music. Singer/guitarist Drew Fosberg can write the requisite power pop odes to budding, failing and failed relationships, but even here he sketches more in poetic images than on-the-nose laments. His protagonists are optimistic as they step past obstacles to make a move, but once inside they’re too late in catching on to their failings, and end up wallowing in the aftermath a few minutes too long. Beyond romantic trevails, Fosberg writes about social anxiety, the ostrich-like posture of climate change deniers, and in 2014’s “Truth = Consequences,” an equation that seems oddly out of synch with today’s political realities. Those who’ve already met the Persian Leaps through their EPs will enjoy the reconstructions offered here, but those new to the band will find this full-length a great introduction! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

The Persian Leaps’ Home Page

Peter Holsapple & Alex Chilton: The Death of Rock

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

A brief intersection of an acolyte and a reluctant idol

1978 was a year of transition. Punk rock was morphing on the commercial front into new wave. Alex Chilton, who’d found fame with the Box Tops, and belated artistic immortality with Big Star, had resurfaced in a 1975 session on the EP Singer Not the Song, and was subsequently steering into the skid of his life circumstances with the pop deconstruction that would produce 1979’s anarchic Like Flies on Sherbert. In contrast, the North Carolina-bred Peter Holsapple ventured south on a Big Star pilgrimage to Memphis in early 1978, and moved to Bluff City later that year. Though he’d initially sought out Chris Bell, it was Alex Chilton who showed interest by insulting Holsapple’s work and offering to “show him how it’s done.”

Holsapple had begun recording in off-hours with producer Richard Rosebrough at Sam Phillips Recording Service, and when Chilton dropped by, they took a run at several of each other’s songs. Two of the Holsapple titles – “Bad Reputation” and “We Were Happy Then” – turned up on the first two dB’s albums, and were recorded alongside a pair of Chilton originals (the Chris Bell slight “Tennis Bum” and the topical “Martial Law”), instrumental rehearsals of Big Star’s “O My Soul” and “In the Street,” and a then-becoming-usual Chilton-favored assortment of covers that included titles by Hoagy Carmichael, Tiny Bradshaw and Bo Diddley.

Recent interviews with Peter Holsapple lay out the contentious relationship he had with Chilton, and though the music recorded here doesn’t evidence such behind-the-scenes hostility, it does find two musicians moving in opposite directions. As Robert Gordon’s liner notes ask, “Alex had done everything right already and he’d been screwed every which way, so what if he did everything wrong?” And while Chilton doesn’t deconstruct Holsapple’s music the way he’d deconstruct his own, you can feel the two musicians pulling in opposite directions – one striving for the grace of purposely constructed pop, the other for the immediate grace of the moment.

Holsapple offers an endearingly strained cover of the Ronettes’ “Baby I Love You,” and the rehearsal of his original “Death of Rock” (which would later be retooled for the Troggs as “I’m in Control”) is wonderfully bombastic compared to the session’s final version. Chilton’s “Tennis Bum” borrows its mojo from “Wooly Bully,” and his prom-quality instrumental cover of “Heart and Soul” sits alongside lively jams of “Train Kept A-Rollin’” and “Hey Mona.” Those who saw Chilton on stage as a solo artist will recognize the idiosyncratic mood of these covers.

All of this material sat in Richard Rosebrough’s archives until recently discovered by Omnivore’s Cheryl Pawelski, and though not originally slated for release, it provides an interesting footnote to each musician’s path. Chilton would go on to release Like Flies on Sherbert in 1979, Holsapple to join the dB’s very soon after these sessions, and the two would cross paths several times in subsequent years. Omnivore’s package includes liner notes and period photos from Holsapple, a new transfer and mix by Brian Kehew, and mastering by Michael Graves. An interesting, unexpected spin for fans of Chilton and Holsapple. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Peter Holsapple’s Blog