Archive for the ‘CD Review’ Category

The Creation: Action Painting

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

The Creation gets their due with deluxe box set

Many U.S. listeners were first introduced to the Creation via the inclusion of their debut single, “Making Time,” in the film Rushmore. It was a canny selection, harboring the angst of the early Kinks and Who, but without the familiarity that’s turned their viscerality into a nostalgic echo. Fans have been serviced by reissues and compilations, but never before a comprehensive box set of their mid-60s glory. Numero fills the void with this 2-CD, 46-track collection, served up with a hard-covered 80-page booklet of photographs, ephemera, label and sleeve reproductions, liner notes by Dean Rudland and detailed session notes by Alec Palao.

Like many bands of the beat era, a complete catalog of the Creation’s releases includes singles, albums, mono and stereo mixes, versions prepared for foreign markets, and sundry odds ‘n’ sods. Numero collects all of this, starting with the original mono masters on disc one and four (of the original eight) mono sides by the pre-Creation Mark Four kicking off disc two. The bulk of disc two is taken up by new stereo mixes created for this set by Alec Palao (and approved by original producer Shel Talmy), along with previously unissued backing tracks for “Making Time” and “How Does It Feel to Feel,” and an unedited cut of “Sylvette.”

The stereo mixes maintain a surprising amount of the original recordings’ punch. To be sure, there’s alchemy in the mono sides, but the guitar, bass, drums and vocals are each so individually driven that the stereo mixes don’t drain the records of their attack. And spreading out the guitar, lead and backing vocals adds welcome definition to many tracks. Even more interesting is that both in mono and stereo, producer Shel Talmy’s distinctive style – particularly in recording the drums and the presence of Nicky Hopkins on piano – puts these tracks in a sonic league with the early sides he made with the Who.

The earliest Mark Four singles (unfortunately not included here) featured cover songs, but by 1965 the group was recording original material that had the blues base of the Yardbirds with the garage attitude of Mouse & The Traps and the Shadows of Knight. The B-side “I’m Leaving” finds Eddie Phillips wringing truly original sounds from his guitar as the drums vamp a modified Bo Diddley beat for a then-generous 3:32 running time. It was a sign of what was to come, as the group’s 1966 debut as the Creation sported what many believe to be the first use of a bowed guitar.

Eddie Phillips departed in late 1967, but with vault material still being released, and tours still being offered, the band soldiered on into 1968. They added Ron Wood in between his time with the Birds and the Jeff Beck Group, and he played on a handful of singles that started with “Midway Down” and its flip, “The Girls Are Naked.” Some iteration of the group (exactly which is a subject of discussion in Palao’s session notes) recorded posthumously released covers of Larry Williams’ “Bony Moronie” and Cannonball Adderley’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” and the group’s final single, “For All That I Am” garnered little attention in its Germany-only release.

At well over two hours of music, Numero’s set provides a definitive recitation of the Creation’s original mono run, a worth-hearing restatement in stereo, and the odds ‘n’ sods that mark a spelunking of the vault. The book is rendered in microscopic print, but it’s worth digging out a magnifying glass to read Palao’s meticulous recording and mixing notes. The reproduced photos, correspondence, labels, picture sleeves and tape boxes perfectly complement this salute to a band whose commercial fortunes never rose to the level of their musical and stage artistry. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Vic Damone: The Lively Ones

Monday, March 13th, 2017

Superb vocalist backed by sizzling Billy May charts

With Frank Sinatra having decamped to start his Reprise label, his former label, Capitol, signed the next best thing, Vic Damone. The Brooklyn-born Damone had the same working class roots as Sinatra, and after getting his first break on Arthur Godfrey’s talent show in the late ‘40s, he signed with Mercury. Damone had several hits with Mercury, as well as subsequently with Columbia, but in 1961 he began a five-year run on Capitol. This third long-player for Capitol, released in 1962, was also Damone’s second to pair him with arranger Billy May. The latter had worked with Sinatra in the late ‘50s on the seminal Come Fly with Me and Grammy-winning Come Dance with Me, and paired again with Sinatra for two more titles in 1961.

Entering the studio in 1962, Damone was an established star, and May was coming off a string of superb swing albums with one of Damone’s vocal role models. The result has the hallmarks of Sinatra’s great sessions – sizzling horn charts, swing surfaces, jazz underpinnings and thoughtful interpretations of material that leans heavily on standards. Winningly, however, this doesn’t sound like someone imitating Sinatra, as Damone asserted the beautiful tone of his voice on both ballads and up-tempo numbers. There’s none of Sinatra’s ring-a-ding-ding bravado here, and Damone sings with a friend’s smile rather than a pack leader’s wink.

Damone settles easily into the lush strings of “Laura” and “Ruby,” as well as the late-night feel of “Nina Never Knew.” He coasts smoothly through “Cherokee” and “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” with the band vamping energetically all around him, and swings both “I Want a Little Girl” and the album’s title track. The latter also lent itself to Damone’s summer replacement musical variety show, which he hosted for NBC in 1962 and 1963. The Lively Ones was previously available on CD as a two-fer with Strange Enchantment, but with the disc having fallen out of print, this digital download provides a value-priced option. Damone would record several more fine albums for Capitol before moving on to Warner Brothers, but this set is among his best. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Vic Damone’s Home Page

The Cherry Hill Singers: An Exciting New Folk Group

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

Early ‘60s folk revivalists with bright futures ahead

The Cherry Hill Singers were one the many folk revival bands to follow in the form of the Kingston Trio. What makes them distinct are the futures of their members, Michael Whalen, who would go on to replace Barry McGuire in the New Christy Minstrels, and Ted Bluechel, who would become a charter member of the Association. The dozen tracks on this 1964 release are standard folk-revival fare, with strong harmonies, acoustic guitars, bass and banjo, all rendered in wide stereo. This is a nice period piece, though not one of the era’s more adventurous recordings. [©2017 hyperbolium dot com]

Sammy Johns: Sammy Johns

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

Sammy Johns’ 1973 debut album

The massive success of “Chevy Van,” and the financial troubles of his record label consigned Sammy Johns to the career of a one-hit wonder. Which isn’t to say he was a flash-in-the-pan or an untalented singer-songwriter, because he was neither – he paid his dues in North Carolina clubs before making the big time, and he wrote other soft-rock tunes that are worth hearing. But like so many who had a brief flash of fame, the stars simply didn’t align to sustain a hit-making career. This self-titled debut album, recorded for and released by the General Recording Company in 1973, includes Johns’ chart smash, along with two lower-charting follow-ups, “Early Morning Love” and “Rag Doll.” With a hit in his pocket, he signed with Warner-Curb to record the soundtrack to The Van, but further hits failed to materialize.

This 14-track reissue includes eight of the original album’s ten songs (omitting “Jenny” and “Hang My Head and Moan”), and adds six more, including “Peas in a Pod” from The Van soundtrack. He’d get one more shot in the early ‘80s with Elektra, cracking the Country 100 with “Common Man,” before settling into a career as a songwriter. John Conlee topped the country chart with “Common Man,” and Johns placed songs with Waylon Jennings (“America”), Conway Twitty (“Desperado Love”) and a cover of “Chevy Van” by Sammy Kershaw. Johns passed away in 2013, but this eponymous album and its iconic hit single will forever be remembered for their laid-back echoes of the mid-70s. Now who’s going to get The Van back in print? [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Guy Clark: The Best of the Dualtone Years

Friday, March 10th, 2017

Selections from his last three albums, plus demos

The Nashville-based Dualtone label has an enviable catalog, including albums by the Lumineers, Shovels & Rope, and perhaps most precious of all, Guy Clark. Clark arrived at Dualtone in 2006 as an oft-covered songwriter and a well-loved recording artist. His three studio albums for the label were each nominated for a Grammy, and 2013’s My Favorite Picture of You took home the trophy. Clark’s May 2016 passing turned these recordings into a capstone to a thirty-nine year career that made earlier stops at RCA, Warner Brothers, Asylum and Sugar Hill. Dualtone’s 19-track collection cherrypicks Clark’s three studio albums and his 2011 live release Songs and Stories, and adds a trio of previously unreleased demos that were co-written with Hal Ketchum, Marty Stuart and Holly Gleason.

No song in this collection is more emblematic of Clark’s observational powers than “My Favorite Picture of You,” in which he draws a lifetime’s worth of knowing – “a thousand words / in the blink of an eye” – from a bent and faded snapshot of his wife. Elsewhere in the collection he turns a thrift store guitar into a ghost story, and under his watchful gaze, a roadhouse parking lot harbors the drama and detail of a novella. The dreamlike interior of that dancehall is extolled in “Cornmeal Waltz” as a fiddle moves dancers gently around the floor in three-four time. Clark was a writer’s writer, musing on the physical and psychic costs of his art in “Hemingway’s Whiskey” and turning fierce weather into humorous poetry with “Tornado Time in Texas.”

The live tracks add several of Clark’s most-loved songs to the collection, including “L.A. Freeway,” “Homegrown Tomatoes,” and “The Randall Knife.” The former features a mid-song monologue that further illuminates Clark’s poor fit in Los Angeles, while the latter draws a portrait of his grief from an elegy to his father. Clark’s mantle as a songwriter is represented by songs that were covered by Kenny Chesney, Jerry Jeff Walker, Brad Paisley and John Denver, and his influences by a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” The three newly uncovered recordings that end disc two are guitar-and-voice songwriter demos that emphasize the songs’ folkloric qualities. The tri-fold digipak includes liner notes by Gleason and spreads 68 minutes of music across two discs. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Guy Clark’s Bandcamp Page

Brian Owens & The Deacons of Soul: Soul of Ferguson

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

New old-school soul

It’s no accident that Brian Owens’ latest album cover looks like a well-worn favorite. Together with the Deacons of Soul, Owens reaches back to the soul sounds of the ‘60s and early ‘70s with electric piano and organ, deep bass, punchy horns, strings and vocals that fly smoothly into falsetto for extra impact. Owens is a terrific vocalist, influenced by Curtis Mayfield, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Sam & Dave, but imitating none of them. His songs are so redolent of gospel-influence classic soul that you may wonder if they’re covers, but they’re all originals. He writes optimistically and thankfully of married life, fatherhood and love that’s both corporeal and spiritual. The album’s lead single “For You” teams Owens with ex-Doobie Brother Michael McDonald, drawing an emotional, hard soul performance from the latter. Fans of Stax, Tamla and Curtom will be thoroughly pleased by Owens’ latest album. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Brian Owens’ Home Page

The Muffs: Happy Birthday to Me

Monday, March 6th, 2017

“A home run in an empty ballpark” – 2017 reissue w/bonuses

The Muffs 1997 swan-song for Warner/Reprise continued the hook-filled pop-punk of their previous pair of albums, but with an even tighter shock of guitar, bass and drums than the previous Blonder and Blonder, and vocals that wrap emotion in a frock of snotty attitude. Having burned in the trio dynamic on tour, the Muffs were more musically connected than ever before. Shattuck’s production really galvinized the album, and engineers Sally Browder and Steve Holroyd got a ferocious guitar-first mix on tape. Shattuck always wrote openly of her desires, and sings with a passion whose blisters can obscure the candidness of her admissions. She’s keenly aware of herself, whether testing the waters, surrendering to her emotions, standing up, stepping away or squarely laying the blame on her way out the door. And though she doesn’t mince words in eviscerating those who’ve mistreated her, there’s often a shadow of insecurity that makes her songs more than stock kiss-offs.

This 2017 reissue includes seven bonuses: a B-side cover of The Amps’ “Pacer” with “best guess” lyrics, and six previously unreleased songwriter demos. Shattuck’s guitar, bass and drums demos don’t have the sonic force of the album tracks, but they show how the band took her templates to finished product, and highlight her melodies. And her melodies are worth paying attention to, as she wrote great vocal hooks for “That Awful Man” and “Honeymoon,” and crafted a power-pop earworm in “Outer Space.” The commercial failure of Blonder and Blonder lost Warners’ interest, and though given creative freedom to record, the band was dropped before Happy Birthday to Me was released. Drummer Roy McDonald opines, “I couldn’t help but feel like we had hit a home run in an empty ballpark.” Omnivore’s reissue adds a 20-page booklet of photos, liner notes from McDonald and Barnett, and track notes from Shattuck, making for a terrific twentieth birthday present. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Muffs’ Facebook Page

OST: Wheeler

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

The real music of a fictional Nashville up-and-comer

The soundtrack to the film Wheeler makes real the fictional Wheeler Bryson. Written and sung by screenwriter, producer and actor Stephen Dorff, the songs are neither workmanlike imitations nor certified hits – laying somewhere in between studied craft and the bottled lightning of stardom. In that sense, they’re perfectly tuned to a story of Nashville aspiration that sits on the precipice of success. Dorff has a bit of rock ‘n’ roll husk in his voice, and it serves both the up-tempo numbers and the ballads. The album’s single, “Pour Me Out of This Town,” was co-written by Dorff’s late Nashville songwriter brother Andrew, and Kris Kristofferson (who appears in the film) adds “New Mister Me” to the soundtrack. If the film struck a chord with you, this thirteen song soundtrack will be a nice souvenir; but even if you’re haven’t seen the film, there’s still something here to catch your ear. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Scott Nolan: Silverhill

Monday, February 27th, 2017

A singer-songwriter balances hope against defeat

There are several shades of weariness in Scott Nolan’s latest album. He’s exhausted by a lifetime of emotional weight on his shoulders, both his own, and that which he’s assumed, and his soul seems worn by having to tell these stories. It’s a tone that effectively brings the listener into both the confidence of the story and of the singer. Nolan sings of emotional dead ends and the positive expectations that make them all the more depressing, drawing fragmented details that reveal a shared picture in the chorus. He opens the album with a canny observation of the dichotomy between temporality and immortality, surrendering to the inevitability of change while still seeking to guide its course. He may feint to fatalism, but there’s a current of hope animating his songs.

Recorded in Alabama with the band Willie Sugarcapps, the tempos are contemplative, almost tentative in spots, as the group discovered the songs live, without rehearsal. The result taps into the slower pace of the South, and turns the session into an intimate performance. Nolan draws on childhood nostalgia for “Fire Up,” but it’s tinted blue by innocence lost. Grayson Capps opens “Curl & Curves” inhaling and exhaling long notes on his harmonica, building up the nerve of Nolan’s quest for love – something that turns hoarse with sleepless expectation on “When Can I See You Again.” The album is beautifully crafted without being overworked, and closes with a pair of melancholy portraits that touch on the moods of John Prine and Neil Young. Nolan may be haggard, but he’s not defeated, and his music harbors a spark of hope. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Scott Nolan’s Home Page

Otis Taylor: Fantasizing About Being Black

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

Timely observations of the African-American experience

Otis Taylor continues to create a very individual sound. The heart of his music is in the blues, but he sings in short phrases and plays in circular grooves that invoke a trance-like mood; and with Ron Miles’ cornet and guest string players Jerry Douglas and Brandon Niederauer, he adds jazz, Americana and Latin flavors. It’s a powerful musical base for his latest album of original material, essaying the African American experience from slavery to heroism, and documenting racism, hatred, violence and fear as constant, unwanted companions. The opening “Twelve String Mile” echoes Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, but the album quickly turns to the ways in which unsolicited notice unilaterally distorts African-American lives.

Though its timing with the divisional ascent of Donald Trump is apparently coincidental, Taylor’s songs foretell the renewal of dynamics that have haunted African Americans since their forced arrival on U.S. shores. In the world Taylor describes, freedom is often found only in the mind, and every day trials – break-ups, affairs, adoption, protests – gain an extra dimension of complexity with race factored in. Taylor is backed by bass and drums as he moves between electric and acoustic guitars, and adds touches of banjo. He sings the first-hand experiences you expect from the blues, but with an historical reach that makes the album even more potent. The timing may be coincidental, but the current political context heightens the work’s power. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Otis Taylor’s Home Page