Archive for the ‘CD Review’ Category

Rosebud: Rosebud

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Bonus-laden reissue of 1971 one-off w/Judy Henske and Jerry Yester

Although Henske and Yester are both well-known, this one-off collaboration under the group name “Rosebud” has remained surprisingly obscure. Henske had come up through the coffee houses and folk revival of the early ‘60s, notching a pair of albums for the Elektra label in 1963-4. Yester had likewise played the folk clubs, with his brother Jim and as a member of the New Christy Minstrels and Modern Folk Quartet, before finding even greater commercial success as a producer. Henske, Yester and Zal Yanovsky (whom Yester had replaced in the Lovin’ Spoonful) released the eclectic Farewell Aldebaran on Frank Zappa’s Straight label, and two years later Henske and Yester teamed with Craig Doerge, David Vaught and John Seiter for this short-lived group’s one and only album.

Rosebud retains the musical eclecticism of Farewell Aldebaran, though not its sonic experimentation. The album is highlighted by the group’s tight execution of Yester’s superb vocal charts, and though Henske’s extraordinary voice is prominently featured, Yester, Doerge and Seiter all get leads. The songs, written by various groupings of Henske, Yester and Doerge, fit the singer-songwriter vibe of early ‘70s Southern California, with touches of country rock and 1960s San Francisco. “Roll Home Cheyanne” is redolent with the atmosphere of big sky country, and “Reno” (included here in both its album and single versions) would have fit easily into the Jefferson Airplane’s set. The harmonies take a baroque turn for the harpsichord-lined “Lullabye II” and to gospel rock with “Salvation.”

The album’s emotional high point comes in the chorus of “Western Wisconsin” as the group’s harmony singing vanquishes any hint of treacle in the lyrics’ sentiment. The legendary steel player Buddy Emmons is heard on “Yum Yum Man,” and again on the bonus track “Easy On Me, Easy.” Though justly proud of their album, the group split after only a few live performances, amid Henske’s separation from Yester, and before the group gained any traction. Most listeners will be surprised by the group’s mere existence, but those already familiar with the album will be shocked by the quality of the material that was left in the vault. Omnivore doubles the album’s original ten tracks with singles and seven previously unreleased recordings, along with new liners by Barry Alfonso. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Craig Doerge’s Home Page
Judy Henske’s Home Page
Jerry Yester’s Home Page

Peter Rowan: My Aloha!

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

A love letter to Hawaiian aloha from an old country soul

Though mainly viewed as a bluegrass musician, Peter Rowan’s musical adventures have also includes rockabilly, blues and rock. For much of his career, starting with his 1965 induction into Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, he’s played bluegrass, teaming with David Grisman in Muleskinner and Old and in the Way, touring with his brothers, and continually growing his roots in new directions. His latest album seemingly takes a bit of a detour, indulging in Hawaiian-influenced original material as he collaborates with island musicians, and, just as importantly, vintage, region-specific instruments.

But what might at first look like a detour, turns out to be an extension of his roots. Having spend downtime on the beaches and in the clubs of Hawaii, Rowan’s found connections between island sounds and his bluegrass roots, and made friends out of those who carry on the traditions. Here he’s gathered a few of his island colleagues, and they brought along vintage guitars, ukuleles and mandolins whose resonance with one another is astounding. As Kilin Reece writes in the liner notes: “It became immediately clear to us that these entities of wire and wood had a lot to say to each other.”

Rowan’s originals are filled with aloha as he pines for a departed hula girl, is mesmerized by love and nature, and contemplates the inevitability of mortality. The tempos are relaxed and the mood serene as Jeff Au Hoy’s slide provides a distinctive sound, and Rowan’s voice edges into falsetto. It’s hard to imagine a younger or less-experience musician making an album this loving of a second spiritual home. If you’ve been to Hawaii, this album will remind you of the enveloping warmth of the air and the sunset’s perfect hue; and if you haven’t been, this album will make you long to go. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Peter Rowan’s Home Page

Cait Brennan: Third

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Pop music in a grand ‘70s vein

Brennan’s full-length 2016 debut, Debutante, set a high bar for this follow-up. Though she began making music as a child, she retreated from public performance for nearly two decades before edging back into the spotlight. Such a period of woodshedding is often emblematic of the industry aphorism, “you have a lifetime to write your first album, but only a year to write your second.” Thankfully, Brennan didn’t empty her artistic bank account on her debut, or even the shelved second album Introducing the Breakdown, and – bonus – since this is technically her third album, it’s ineligible for a sophomore slump.

And slump this is not. ‘Ascent’ is more apt. Together with creative partner Fernando Perdomo, Brennan combines the best of ‘70s pop – Nilsson, Bowie, Todd Rundgren, Emitt Rhodes, Sparks, Raspberries, ELO – with the snap of Prince’s ‘80s funk. Perdomo plays most of the instruments and Brennan provides all of the vocals, but it sounds like an ensemble rather than a construct. With tracking laid down in only three days, the productions are full of early-take life that’s magnified by canny overdubs of guitar, mellotron and other atmospheric touches. This has the energy of a live set and the finesse of a crafted studio product.

Recording at Ardent’s fabled studio A, the duo not only channeled Big Star’s influence, but employed some of their original equipment. Perdomo played Chris Bell’s Gibson 330 on the opening “Bad at Apologies,” and Brennan picked it up for “Collapse.” The duo’s production is as inviting as the songs and performances, with a gorgeous choral finish to “Perish the Thought” and a superb vocal treatment on the closing “Goodbye Missamerica.” E-Bow, Mellotron, Moog and a wah-wah pedal add period vibes, but the overall sound is modern, with some tech terminology thrown into a few songs for good measure.

Brennan’s stories of crisis and revival may spring from her transgender identity, but she doesn’t pigeonhole herself. As she noted in an interview with Curve, “The beauty of words on a page…is that it’s beyond gender and sexuality and race and age—it’s the ideas that count.” Her songs transcend personal history, and her bountiful sense of humor is evident in tagging “He Knows Too Much” with a disclaimer, referencing Dr. Seuss in “A Hard Man to Love,” and giving a song title shout-out to Benedict Cumberbatch. Those new to Brennan should prepare to be dazzled; fans should prepare to be dazzled anew. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Cait Brennan’s Home Page

The Golden Gate Strings: Stu Phillips Presents The Monkees Songbook

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

Legendary film and television composer orchestrates the Monkees

While teenagers of the 1960s were anointing new musical heroes, their parents were being drawn across the generation gap by orchestrated, instrumental versions of popular hits. A few, such as the Chess-based Soulful Strings, were deep artistic statements, but many were easy listening cash-ins by faceless studio assemblies. Stu Phillips’ work in this area lies somewhere in between. Phillips is a highly-regarded composer of film and television scores, and as the creator of the Hollyridge Strings, he charted a string-laden cover of the Beatles’ “All My Loving” in 1964. Additional Beatles cover albums followed, intertwined with LPs dedicated to the Four Seasons, Beach Boys, Elvis Presley and in 1967, the Monkees.

Interestingly, this is not the only string-based album of orchestrated Monkees covers, as RCA’s Living Strings released I’m a Believer and Other Hits in 1966, and Tower (a subsidiary of Capitol) released the Manhattan Strings’ Play Instrumental Versions Of Hits Made Famous By The Monkees in 1967. What makes this album unique among the three, besides Phillips’ talent as an arranger, is his connection to the Monkees as the composer of the television show’s background music. The twelve tracks, drawing titles from the group’s first two albums, are all carefully arranged, conducted and played, with bowed and pizzicato strings, forlorn brass and other instruments taking turns on the vocal lines.

There’s nothing here that challenges the iconic memories of the Monkees’ originals, but Phillips adds new mood and detail to songs from Boyce & Hart, Neil Diamond, David Gates and Mike Nesmith. He threads some funk into “Mary, Mary,” emphasizes the joyous bounce of “I’m a Believer” with strings, horns and swinging percussion, adds a hint of slinky mystery to “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” and gives the novelty “Your Auntie Grizelda” a foreign flair. What might initially appeal as a cash-in turns out to be craftily executed arrangements of deftly written pop songs, and fifty years removed from the Monkees’ original releases, they’re still tinted by nostalgia, but stand nicely on their own. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Stu Phillips’ Home Page

The Sneetches: Form of Play – A Retrospective

Friday, May 26th, 2017

Retrospective of undeservedly obscure Bay Area pop band

Amid the post-punk, indie-rock and the phoenix-like rise of grunge, there was a thread of late-80s pop that focused on melody and craft. The dB’s, Game Theory and Bongos were more cerebral than their power-pop counterparts but no less fetching to listen to. And standing tall artistically, if not in record sales, was San Francisco’s Sneetches. Initially formed as a duo of Mike Levy and Matt Carges, the group became a bassless trio with the addition of drummer Daniel Swan (ex-Cortinas), and a quartet with the addition of bassist Alec Palao (ex-Sting-Rays). Their releases nearly snuck out in singles, EPs and albums across multiple labels (including Kaleidoscope, Creation, Alias, spinART and Bus Stop), and though there was no commercial success, they were well-loved by a coterie of fans and well-played by in-the-know college radio stations.

This first-ever career retrospective collects material ranging from Levy and Carges’ terrific first single, 1985’s “Only For a Moment,” through a solidly-played 1994 live date at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. In between are stops at singles, albums and a pair of previously unreleased studio tracks that include the euphorically melodic “Juliana Why” and an acoustic demo of “How Does It Feel.” It’s a fair cross-section of the group’s guitar-driven pop, with nods to the Beatles, Zombies, Big Star, Velvet Underground, Buzzcocks and others, and its retrospection provides a double layer of nostalgia as listeners listen back to the ‘80s listening back to the ‘60s and ‘70s. The arrangements center on guitars, bass and drums, but horns and keyboards add dimension to a few tracks, and Levy’s vocals stretch into falsetto for “They Keep Me Running” and hypnotic repetition for the psych-tinged “Take My Hand.”

Sneetches bassist (and noted archivist and reissue producer) Alec Palao scoured the vaults for the live tracks and unreleased material, but more importantly, hard-to-find singles mixes that recount the story as it unfolded to the band’s original fans. Missing is material from their 1993 collaboration with the Flamin’ Groovies’ Chris Wilson, but given that it’s really a Chris Wilson record, the minutes are better spent here on original Sneetches material. The 16-page booklet is filled with photos and liner notes by Palao that provide an inside look at the band and life as a Sneetch. At twenty-two tracks, clocking in at seventy-seven minutes, this is a good buy for those just meeting the band, but also those who collected everything along the way. Fans may find a few favorite tracks (*cough* “54 Hours”) missing, but what’s here is a great introduction, with bonuses that sweeten the pot. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Los Straitjackets: What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

It takes a quirky band to cover a quirky man

As his career matured, Nick Lowe developed a measure of respectability that might have surprised his younger self; particularly the irreverent Nick Lowe who recorded as The Tartan Horde and titled his solo debut The Jesus of Cool. Lowe’s lyrics have always drawn listener attention, but his melodies, as emphasized in these instrumental treatments, deserve their share of the limelight. By reimagining each song, sometimes quite radically, Los Straitjackets have freed the melodies to strike entirely new moods. Pathos is turned on its head with a snappy arrangement of “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide,” and the dark emotional territory of “I Live on a Battlefield” is brightened with a vintage dance beat. “Heart of the City” is still upbeat, but now with Duane Eddy-styled twang, and the relentlessly ebullient “Rollers Show” is crossed between a Shadows-styled bandstand piece and something Chet Atkins might have recorded for teenagers. Lowe’s lone worldwide hit, “Cruel to Be Kind,” is taken downtempo to a very contemplative place, and the folk-rock treatment of the title track is more reminiscent of Lowe’s later solo work than the song’s origin. This is a delightfully original twist on Nick Lowe tributes that have included Lowe Profile, Labor of Love and Lowe Country; all that’s missing is Lowe’s own instrumental, “Shake That Rat,” which the band covered on 2001’s Sing Along With Los Straitjackets. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Los Straitjackets’ Home Page
Nick Lowe’s Home Page

Blackfoot Gypsies: To the Top

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

East Nashville blues-soaked rock ‘n’ roll

Oh rock ‘n’ roll, where have you been? Where have your pounding bass lines, screaming saxophones, scorching guitars and wild-eyed vocals been hiding? The Blackfoot Gypsies make the case for East Nashville, as their third album marries together the roots-rock swagger of the Black Crowes, the grit of the early-70s Stones, the West Coast country of the Byrds and Burritos, and the wildness of 1960s garage rock. In addition to reminding you of the Crowes’ Chris Robinson, Matthew Paige might remind you of Steve Marriott, Ian Hunter or Willie Nile, and the band draws on each of these singers’ groups without landing squarely on any one.

The guitars that open the album echo the Kinks “I Need You,” accompanied in the front seat by the rhythm section, Paige’s howling vocal and Ollie Dogg’s wailing harmonica. There’s barely a breath before Dylan Whitlow’s driving bass and Paul Thacker’s urgent sax push “Everybody’s Watching” into the red. Paige and drummer Zack Murphy lock into their shared roots as the founding two piece Murphy describes as “everything in the extreme.” Even when dialed down, the folk-country “Potatoes and Whiskey” and country-blues “Velvet Low Down Blues” are still edgy.

There’s a twist of soul on “Everybody’s Watching,” second-line roll on “Back to New Orleans,” Jan & Dean-styled backing vocals on “Promise to Keep” and a Bo Diddley beat on “Gypsy Queen.” The rootsy “Woman Woman” suggests the Band, and the hard blues of “I’ve Got the Blues” echoes Led Zeppelin in acoustic mode. There’s longing, loneliness, drinking and mean, mistreating women, but more in a blues vein than country, and “I Wanna Be Famous” thrashes out a swipe at those famous for being famous. At 62 minutes, the album’s intensity can get a bit exhausting, but there’s no doubting the band’s talent and groove. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Blackfoot Gypsies’ Home Page

The Zombies: Odessey & Oracle

Friday, May 19th, 2017

50th anniversary of 1968 standout, with bonus tracks

Standing out among the class of ‘68 is tough. And yet, against The Beatles, Astral Weeks, Electric Ladyland, Beggars Banquet, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, White Light/White Heat, Bookends and dozens of others, the Zombies’ swan song made its mark. Perhaps it stands in relief by virtue of its 1967 recording dates – sessions held amid, and no doubt inspired by, 1967’s torrent of musical landmarks and social movements. Or maybe it was the group’s impending sense of professional doom, invention born of a constrained budget, the choice to self-produce and the artistic freedom to record all original material. Whatever the inspiration, the result was one of 1968’s lasting musical achievements.

Achievement and epitaph, actually, as the group disbanded at the end of 1967, four months before the album was released in April 1968 to critical acclaim and little commercial response. A quartet of UK and US singles failed before a re-release of “Time of the Season” finally reached #3 US in early 1969. Worse, with the Zombies disbanded and Rod Argent having formed his eponymous follow-on group, the chance to capitalize on the single’s belated success fell largely to fake touring units. Argent and Chris White recorded material for a 1969 Zombies release, but other than the singles “Imagine the Swan” and “If It Don’t Work Out,” the tapes languished in the vault until their eventual release as R.I.P.

Recorded primarily on the same Abbey Road 4-track as was Sgt. Pepper’s, Odessey & Oracle was carefully rehearsed and laid down quickly. Initially mixed to mono, a stereo mix was created afterwards, and it’s the latter that’s reproduced here. Varese augments the original dozen tracks with seven bonuses, including the mono B-side “I’ll Call You Mine,” a horn-free, stereo mix of “This Will Be Our Year,” and backing tracks and alternate mixes that include a scrapped cello overdub on “A Rose for Emily.” The 12-page booklet includes photos, ephemera and liner notes by Andrew Sandoval that quote interviews conducted by Alec Palao and Claes Johansen. The stereo mix is welcome, but the mono is missed. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Zombies’ Home Page

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen: Live From Ebbets Field

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

Live from the Denver ozone in 1973

For many rock listeners, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen’s 1971 debut, Lost in the Ozone, was a taste-expanding experience. The group’s catalog of country, western swing, boogie-woogie, jump blues and rockabilly was broader than the country excursions of 1960s rock bands like the Byrds, and though others – notably NRBQ – blended multiple genres, the Airmen’s cover of “Hot Rod Lincoln” turned commercial attention into a following. The band hit the road in 1973 in support of their third album, Country Casanova, with a new-used tour bus and ace steel player Bobby Black in tow. The tour schedule was apparently quite grueling, but produced superb shows, including this stop in Denver, Colorado.

The group’s core lineup – George “Commander Cody” Frayne, Billy C. Farlow, Bill Kirchen, John Tichy, Lance Dickerson, Andy Stein and Bruce Barlow – had been steady since their debut, and the chemistry they’d developed in San Francisco Bay Area clubs is evident in this set. They weave together a handful of originals with a wealth of brilliantly selected covers, including sad truckin’ songs, rockin’ rave-ups, Cajun and swing dance numbers, novelty tunes and a cowboy closer. The stereo recording is well preserved, though there are major dropouts on “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)” and “Diggy Liggy Lo,” and the live mix lets some of the instruments and vocals peak in the red.

The set features three tracks from Country Casanova, including the original “Rock That Boogie,” but skips the earlier hit “Hot Rod Lincoln.” The Commander gets a spotlight on Merle Travis’ “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette),” and the crowd seems quite pleased with the set and six song encore. The 1973 tour has now produced several albums, including the classic Live From Deep In The Heart Of Texas and the more recent Tour From Hell. There are a few overlaps in the set lists, but the group’s huge repertoire provides eleven songs here that don’t appear on the other two. There’s a bit of stage banter to give you a feel for the 68-minute show; all that’s missing is the evening’s second set! [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Commander Cody’s Home Page

Flamin’ Groovies: Live 1971 San Francisco

Monday, April 24th, 2017

Historic Flamin’ Groovies live date – closing the Fillmore West 1971

Not only was this live date part of a series of shows closing Bill Graham’s Fillmore West, it was also co-founder Roy Loney’s last show with the Groovies. Having just released Teenage Head, the table seemed set for the Groovies; but a disinterested label, a malicious manager and the loss of guitarist Tim Lynch deflated Loney’s interest, and led to his departure. The Groovies wandered off into the wilderness for several years before returning with two mid-70s albums (Shake Some Action and Now) produced by Dave Edmunds. This 1971 date represents the last exhalation of the band’s initial incarnation.

The band’s early act has been surprisingly well represented on disc, including shows from 1968 and 1970. This 1971 performance turned up in edited form on Norton’s 1997 release In Person!!!!, but on this edition RockBeat restores Bill Graham’s spoken introduction, the band’s uncut cover of the Who’s “Can’t Explain,” and all eleven minutes of “Road House,” including a drum solo! The lack of edits is a plus, but there appear to be more spots of fading and channel dropouts than the earlier release. The artifacts don’t kill the buzz of hearing the Groovies in their prime, but listeners should adjust their expectations.

The night’s set featured several of the Groovies’ early classics, including “Slow Death” and “Teenage Head,” and covers of Chuck Berry, Randy Newman, Johnny Kidd, Rufus Thomas, Bo Diddley, and the national anthem of rock ‘n’ roll, “Louie, Louie.” As Cyril Jordan recounts in the liner notes, the band fell in and out of Bill Graham’s favor, so their surprise at being asked to play one of the Fillmore’s closing shows seems to have translated into musical intensity. Graham may not have always cared about the Groovies, but the Groovies cared about playing the Fillmore, and gave it everything they had, one last time. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Flamin’ Groovies’ Facebook Page