Archive for the ‘CD Review’ Category

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

Blue Yonder: Rough and Ready Heart

Monday, November 19th, 2018

Country, swing and honky-tonk from talented West Virginia trio

This West Virginia trio – singer/songwriter John Lilly, guitarist Robert Shafer and acoustic bassist Will Carter – make country music from another era. There are Western tones that suggest the Sons of the Pioneers, but Lilly and Carter’s harmonies are bluegrass brotherly, and Shafer’s picking ranges through swing, rockabilly, bluegrass and folk. Add in the playing of guests Russ Hicks on steel guitar and Tony Creasman on drums, and the group covers a lot of range with their original material. The album opens with Lilly on the side of the road, thumb out and wanderlust intact. His travel turns emotional, as he contemplates the scars that have toughened him and the memories that bind him steadfastly to the past. “Rough and Ready Heart” suggests he’s ready to soldier on, but his attachment to the past puts tomorrow on hold for “Lost in Yesterday.” It’s not until “Emerald Eyes” that Lilly finds his way back to the present, and with the clever barroom lesson of “You Can’t Get There From Here” he spies the exit. The album closes with the upbeat rockabilly “Green Light,” the rhythm section stoking the beat as Shafer shows off his flatpicking prowess. Sharp songwriting and instrumental virtuosity has made Blue Yonder a weekly favorite at the Bluegrass Kitchen, and their latest album brings it home. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Blue Yonder’s Home Page

Robbie Dupree: Robbie Dupree & Street Corner Heroes

Monday, November 12th, 2018

1980s Yacht Rock classics reissued with bonus tracks

Brooklyn native, and working musician, Robbie Dupree hit it out of the box at the age of 32 with his first single, “Steal Away,” a song whose soft soul sound may be as emblematic of “Yacht Rock” as anything else in the canon. His self-titled 1980 debut album spun off a second top twenty hit with the romantic “Hot Rod Hearts,” and though he was nominated for a Grammy (losing out to Christopher Cross as best new artist in 1981), he’d only manage one more album and charting single before dropping off Elektra’s roster. He continued his career as a musician, returning to top-line status with 1987’s “Girls in Cars,” but despite steady work and a catalog of solo releases over the years, he never regained the commercial momentum of his debut single. His debut album offers a solid set of originals that suggest the sound of Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers, but without the earworm magic of the hit single.

1981’s Street Corner Heroes failed to fully capitalize on the commercial buzz of the debut, with the lead single, “Brooklyn Girls,” topping out at #54, and the album failing to crack the Top 100. Despite its lackluster commercial performance, the album, like the debut, is a solid set of early ‘80s soft rock and soul. Dupree remained a fetching vocalist, sounding a bit less like Michael McDonald than on the debut, and his original songs are complemented here by material from soft rock and country pros Bill LaBounty, Rafe Van Hoy and Roy Freeland. The album’s highlight is a left turn into a cappella doo wop with a cover of the Chessman’s “All Night Long,” reaching back to Dupree’s early years on the street corners of Brooklyn. Perhaps there was no career in doo wop singing in 1981, but Dupree’s enthusiasm for the genre infuses more life in this track than the laid back soul that dominates the rest of the album.

Dupree has remastered both Elektra albums with bonus tracks and released them via Blixa Sounds. The debut is augmented by four Spanish-language translations of album tracks that went unreleased in 1980, while the follow-up includes the single edit of “Saturday Night” and a Spanish language version of “Lonely Runner.” These are nice additions for fans who may own previous reissues, and these reissues renew everyone’s opportunity to listen beyond the iconic hit single. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Robbie Dupree’s Home Page

Jim Ford: Harlan County

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

Your favorite’s favorite country-soul singer-songwriter

You may have never heard country-soul singer-songwriter Jim Ford, but you’ve likely heard his songs, and you’ve certainly heard his fans. Ford co-wrote P.J. Proby’s hit single “Niki Hoeky,” an album for the Temptations, and songs recorded by Bobby Womack, Aretha Franklin, Bobbie Gentry, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe. The latter named Ford as his biggest musical influence, and recorded Ford’s songs with his pub rock group Brinsley Schwarz and as a solo act. This 1969 debut was the only full-length release of Ford’s lifetime, which also included singles, unreleased albums for Capitol and Paramount, and a wealth of session tracks that slowly found their way out of the tape vault.

Recorded in Los Angeles with support from James Burton, Dr. John, Jim Keltner and Pat and Lolly Vegas, Ford laid down an unusual mix of funk, soul, country and swamp pop. Burton’s guitar figures combine with soulful backing vocals, horns and strings, to create an album that sounds as if it could have just as easily been recorded in Memphis as in Southern California. The title track looks back at the poverty and back breaking work from which Ford ran away as a teenager. The song’s breakdowns into hymn contrast with full throated pleas for relief, as Ford recounts the sort of living that wears a man down by his early twenties. His early years inform his recording of Delaney & Bonnie’s “Long Road Ahead,” and his move from New Orleans to California is essayed in the autobiographical “Working My Way To LA.”

Oddly, for an album by a songwriter, half the selections are covers, including Stevie Wonder’s “I Wanna Make Her Love Me,” a swamp-boogie take on Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” and a vocally strained rendition of Alex Harvey’s “To Make My Life Beautiful.” Ford’s originals include the broken hearted road metaphors of “Under Construction,” the emotionally satisfied “Love on My Brain” and the not-too-subtle drug references of “Dr. Handy’s Dandy Candy.” None of this made an impression on radio programmers or record buyers, and the album quickly disappeared. Ford eventually made his way to England where sessions with Brinsley Schwarz and the Grease Band failed to generate releases, and additional masters recorded for Paramount were shelved.

Ford drifted into partying and out of the music industry, eventually ending up in Northern California’s Mendocino County, where he passed away in 2007. Bill Dahl’s liner notes tell the story of Ford’s career leading up to, through and following this album, and the booklet reproduces the album’s front and back cover art. The original ten tracks have been reissued several times on vinyl and CD, including a 2014 release by Varese, and an expanded 2013 edition by Bear Family. Additional volumes [1 2 3 4] of previously unreleased material have also been issued, but if you’re new to Ford as a performer, this 1969 debut is the place to start. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Peter Holsapple: Game Day

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

Vicennial solo album finds Peter Holsapple reflecting on middle age

It’s been just about twenty years since Peter Holsapple stepped up front to lead a solo effort. After achieving reknowned with the dB’s, he served as a sideman for R.E.M., joined the Continental Drifters, reunited with Chris Stamey for the albums Mavericks and Here and Now, and with the dB’s for Falling Off the Sky. In 1997 he released the solo album Out of My Way, but it would be two more decades until he was once again ready to put his name above the title without any company. He dipped his solo toes in the water with the 2017 single “Don’t Mention the War”, which is included here with its flip (“Cinderella Style”), a cover of Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes” and thirteen new solo tracks. Really, really solo, as Holsapple writes, sings and performs nearly everything on the album.

Now in his early ‘60s, Holsapple’s lyrical view has grown into middle age, but his voice remains instantly recognizable. He opens the album in the present with the title song’s pragmatic view of aging, but transitions into nostalgia with the thirty-years-late thank you of “Commonplace.” He remembers his time with and laments the end of the Continental Drifters in an eponymous song, and wanders through memories as he deconstructs the intimate details of his parents’ home in “Inventory.” Mortality provides a prism for looking backward in “Don’t Ever Leave,” contemplating the musical friends no longer extant, and illuminating the motivation he discussed in a recent interview: “I think about friends who’ve passed away whom I would love to hear records by today, and I won’t be able to do that, so I feel a little bit of compunction simply by being on this side of the sod.”

Though rock guitars dominate many of the productions, Holsapple digs into electric blues, psych, country-rock, and mournful organ and electric piano. His cover of “Them Changes” combines a heavy central riff, funky keyboard sounds, a few production tweaks and a punchy, heavily processed guitar solo. The set closes with Holsapple’s 2017 single, “Don’t Mention the War,” essaying a nephew’s disheartened view of his favorite uncle’s PTSD-fueled demons, and his memories of the man that once was. The flip side, “Cinderella Style,” is an imaginative peek into the creative process of a seamstress, as Holsapple spies the fairy tale fabric compositions of a sewing room. The latter provides a gentle exit from the turmoil of the A-side, and a lovely close to this welcome return. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Peter Holsapple’s Blog

Bob Seger: Heavy Music- The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-1967

Wednesday, October 24th, 2018

The pre-fame Cameo sides of a Detroit rock ‘n’ roll legend

When Bob Seger broke out commercially with 1976’s Live Bullet and Night Moves, he seemed to those outside the Motor City to spring fully-formed out of nowhere. But Seger had been paying his dues with a string of albums for Capitol that dated back to 1969’s Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man, and before that, a string of singles for the Philadelphia-based Cameo label. In the wake of his 1976 breakthrough, Capitol reissued several of Seger’s earlier albums, but what remained obscure were his earlier singles. As half of the Cameo-Parkway equation, Cameo was best known for the hits of Bobby Rydell, Dee Dee Sharp and the Orlons, but by 1966, the label, briefly reinvigorated by Neil Bogart, had signed ? and the Mysterians, and a young Bob Seger.

Cameo released five Seger singles over ten months of 1966-67, but the label’s failing fortunes kept all but the last from breaking nationally. The fifth single, “Heavy Music,” scraped the bottom of the Billboard chart at #103, but it failed to represent the commotion that Seger was generating in his native Detroit. That local success begat a contract with Capitol, which provided a moment of fame with 1968’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” but it would be eight more years of slogging away before international fame came calling. Cameo-Parkway withered away in the shadow of American Bandstand’s relocation from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, and the labels’ catalogs went dormant for many years. Select reissues of Chubby Checker and others have been released over the past few years, and now, finally, Seger’s singles.

Seger’s first recording was a demo with his group the Decibels, but his first released record was Doug Brown and the Omens frat-rock R&B single “T.G.I.F. (That Goodness It’s Friday),” on the Punch label. The group’s second single, a Beach Boys pastiche titled “Florida Time,” was released on a subsidiary of Punch (as the Beach Bums), and backed with an anti-draft dodger parody of Barry Sadler’s “The Ballad of the Green Beret.” Seger had begun writing and producing for the Hideout label, and in 1966 he recorded the gritty, socially trenchant “East Side Story” as the first single to be released under his own name. The success of the single’s local issue caught the attention of Cameo, which reissued the title later in the year. Seger’s second Cameo single, “Sock it to Me Santa,” shows off James Brown’s influence on the young Seger, suggesting the sort of rocking soul with which Mitch Ryder stormed the charts.

Seger’s third single, “Persecution Smith,” has a distinctly Dylan (or perhaps Mouse & The Traps) vibe as the lyrics lampoon half-hearted protestors. His fourth, “Vagrant Winter” has a poetic lyric and a melody that leans to psychedelia, and Seger’s last single for Cameo, “Heavy Music,” had a Detroit groove that helped fuel Seger’s breakthrough with an eight-minute workout on 1976’s Live Bullet. The B-sides include the catchy R&B of “Chain Smokin’,” the soul ballad “Very Few” and a replay of the Beach Bums’ “Florida Time.” The variety packed into the five singles is impressive, and it’s hard to imagine how Seger’s rock ‘n’ soul grooves could take so many years to catch on. Jim Allen’s liner notes, a sessionography, label reproductions and period photos round out a must-have package for Seger fans. For chronological play, program 2, 10, 8, 7, 4, 3, 5, 6, 1, 9. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Bob Seger’s Home Page

Buck Owens: Country Singer’s Prayer

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Buck Owens’ previously unreleased final album for Capitol

Don Rich’s death in a 1974 motorcycle accident had a well-documented impact on Buck Owens. With his musical drive in neutral, his chart success declining and his Capitol contract expiring, Owens departed his longtime label, recorded a pair of albums for Warner Brothers and faded into a musical hiatus. Lost in the shuffle was this final album Owens recorded in 1975 for Capitol at his Bakersfield studio. Two singles – “The Battle of New Orleans” and “Country Singer’s Prayer” – were released to little chart action, and anthologized on the album that turned out to be Owens’ last Capitol release, The Best of Buck Owens, Vol. 6. The remaining tracks, shelved for more than forty years, are released here in their original running order, from the master tapes, for the first time. Both singles and their B-sides are included alongside liner notes by Scott B. Bomar and new interviews with Buckaroo Jim Shaw, and songwriters Robert John Jones and Dennis Knutson.

The album opens with Homer Joy’s New Orleans-tinged “John Law.” Joy played an important role in Owens’ career as the writer of his comeback vehicle “Streets of Bakersfield,” and here he writes a tale of a colorful night in a county jail. The song’s opening lyric tips its hat to Don Rich, who plays guitar on this 1973 track. By this point in Owens’ career, he wasn’t writing much, but he collected good material from RJ Jones, Jim Shaw, David Knutson and David Frizzell. Though still grieving the loss of Don Rich, he puts on a brave face for a few up-tempo numbers, but really digs into the sad songs of cheating spouses, lost souls and fraying relationships. The title track’s reminiscence, written by Jim Shaw and RJ Jones, proved dear to Owens as he thought back on the road traveled with Rich and the Buckaroos, and “A Different Kind of Sad,” again by RJ Jones, could easily have been written for Owens about Rich.

Owens’ distress eventually sapped his drive for recording, but it never dented his talent or star power. The mood here is more sedate than the explosive performances of his early, groundbreaking years, but Owens poured his sorrow into his singing, and found enough resonance with this material to re-record many of these songs for Warner Bros. The studio hands that backed those later recordings, though Nashville pros, didn’t muster the deep connection that Owens found with his Buckaroos, and Owens himself didn’t sound as emotionally invested as he had on these original drafts. After more than forty years, it’s a real treat for Owens’ many fans to have this album finally released. It’s a more fitting bookend to his Capitol career than a sixth volume of hits, and shows that even amid in his personal and professional grief he found solace in music. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Home Page