Archive for the ‘Free Stream’ Category

Sunshine and the Rain: In the Darkness of My Night

Saturday, July 8th, 2017

As if Kim Wilde fronted the Jesus and Mary Chain

When a group describes themselves as a “bombastic and chaotic” spin on girl group sounds, you’re probably in for an adrenaline-charged good time. Imagine if Kim Wilde had fronted a version of the Ramones that had been inspired by The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “f’d up distorted sound.” Ashley Morey sings with a tart sweetness that’s sublimely at odds with her overdriven bass, husband Justin’s buzzing guitars and their pummeling drum machine. Her voice floats in a pop bubble above the sonic fray, with Beach Boys-styled harmonies and chimes seeming almost dissonant against the distorted backings and shouted asides.

What’s really appealing, besides melodic hooks that burrow deep into your ear, is the combination of aggression and vulnerability that drives many of the songs. Morey creates an emotional quiet/loud dynamic as she mates the imperious power of Mary Weiss to the vulnerability of Feargal Sharkey, producing the sense of someone who’s confident but not wholly sure. She’s bloodied by romantic wreckage, but damn well isn’t going to bleed out, and even the relatively tender “So Far So Close” is colored by thrumming bass and a distorted edge on the vocals.

The obsessive desire of “Little Rag Doll” is endearing and maybe a bit scary, depending on whether it’s a private thought written into a diary or a love letter shoved into someone’s locker. There are moments of less harrowing desire, such as the hopeful realization of “Come On Baby,” but much of the album’s romance is seen in postmortem hangover as Morey wrestles with lingering attachments and emerging feelings of righteous anger. A cover of Fugazi’s “Merchandise” retains its urgency amid the duo’s electric hum, but it’s the girlgroup hooks and baion beats that really give this record its power. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Sunshine and the Rain’s Bandcamp Page

Art Pepper: The Art Pepper Quartet

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

An overlooked gem in Pepper’s mid-50s catalog

Despite his extensive drug-related jail time, Pepper was a prodigious and surprisingly consistent recording artist. The late-50s and early-60s were particularly fruitful years, minting classics that include 1957’s Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section and 1959’s Art Pepper + Eleven. But among these well-known catalog highlights were smaller gems, such as this 1956 release. Recently freed from a federal penitentiary, married his second wife, Diane, and gigging regularly around Los Angeles, Pepper recorded this one-off, low-key quartet date for the Tampa label. Accompanying Pepper is his longtime colleague Russ Freeman on piano, and West Coast regulars Ben Tucker on bass and Gary Frommer on drums.

The repertoire for this outing included five Pepper originals, along with interpretations of the standards “I Surrender Dear” and “Besame Mucho.” Pepper’s widow, Laurie, notes in the liners that the takes are shorter than one might expect for a jazz album – all of the master takes are under six minutes, and “Val’s Pal” a tidy 2’04. But that still leaves room for Pepper and Freeman to exchange ideas, and the conciseness of their solos is appealing. Freeman’s comping leads the rhythm section as Pepper solos, and though this isn’t the saxophonist’s most adventurous outing, its relaxed, optimistic mood is charming and unusual among Pepper’s catalog as a session leader.

Omnivore’s reissue adds alternates of “Pepper Pot” and “Blues at Midnight,” and session tapes from the recording of “Val’s Pal.” The latter are particularly interesting, as they detail a complete first pass, and the false starts and incomplete takes that led to the master. Laurie Pepper’s liner note provide background on the session’s recording and its road to reissue, providing the sort of context that’s often lost or overlooked in a straight-up reissue of a lesser-known catalog entry. This may not be the place to begin an appreciation of Pepper’s catalog – his ‘50s and early-60s highlights and remarkable comeback in the 1970s are more obvious starting points – but its reissue is a welcome addition to the Pepper library. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

Tom Armstrong: The Sky is an Empty Eye

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

Superb private press album of guitar instrumentals

When you can make a record with a USB microphone and cloud-based recording, it’s hard to remember the revolution that was home recording. TEAC’s 4-track reel-to-reel recorders (and TASCAM’s later cassette-based Portastudio) for the semi-pro market allowed home recordists to multi-track and overdub without the overbearing expense (and ticking clock) of studio time. Some of these sessions ended up in the commercial market, but many were unspooled only for friends and family, or circulated in local vinyl pressings. Tompkins Square sampled several of these small batch recordings on Imaginational Anthem, Vol. 8: The Private Press, and now expands on the theme with this first of several planned full album reissues.

Tom Armstrong had hung around the edges of the music business, playing bars and open mics, but when his engineering career took off, dreams of a professional music career were put aside. But a 4-track gifted to him by his wife kept his guitar playing alive, and provided a creative outlet into which he poured this original music. Though he kept recording for more than a decade, this is the one collection of songs he had mastered and pressed to vinyl, handing out copies mostly to friends and business associates. He favors meditative acoustic tracks, such as the harmonic-filled opener and the somnambulistic “Dream Waltz,” but he adds dripping neo-psych notes to “Keller,” picks electric slide on “The Thing,” and sings the title track.

The album’s variety might have driven a market-seeking record label crazy, but it’s exactly that free-spiritedness that gives the album its charm. The segue from the finger-picked electric “Mama’s Baby” to the echoed, nearly discordant “Bebop” suggests the evolution of blues into jazz, and the album continues to evolve as it closes with the driving spaciness of “Thunder Clouds.” Most of the arrangements appear to be two or maybe three guitars, sometimes rhythm and lead, often interleaving in original ways. Armstrong’s technique is good, but it’s his musical imagination and the freedom to follow his muse without commercial pressure that really gives these recordings their power. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Tompkins Square’s Home Page

Sara Petite: Road Less Traveled

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

Eleven years from her debut, Tiger Mountain, the title of Sara Petite’s latest album is at odds with the miles of experience in her voice. What had once been a musical pastime turned into a sanity-saving career choice, that in turn transformed her personal struggles into artistic fuel. This latest set explores intimate themes of restlessness, desire, discovery, love, loss and recovery, and though the shuffling rhythms and moody horns suggest Johnny Cash, there’s a delicate vulnerability in Petite’s voice that Cash’s baritone couldn’t have sustained. Petite makes palpable the broken heart of “Getting Over You” with lyrical detail whose innocuousness turns out to be its revelation. She turns in an original drinking song with “Monkey on My Back,” and finds self-confidence in the surreal Tom Petty-influenced dream of “Good 2 B Me.” Recorded with her band (who get a terrific showcase on the swampy “Sweet Pea Patch”), rather than the Nashville studio hands of her earlier releases, the album has a more organic and exploratory feel – both of which complement an artist who’s fully come into her own as an autobiographical writer. If you’ve been following Petite’s career, you’ll be pleased with her continuing growth as an artist, and if you’re new, this is a great place to jump in. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Sara Petite’s Home Page

The Beau Brummels: The Very Best Of – The Complete Singles

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

The mono A-sides of the Beau Brummels, and more!

San Francisco’s Beau Brummels cast a long shadow with a surprisingly short chart resume. Their run in the Top 40 lasted two years, and amounted to only three hit singles, “Laugh, Laugh,” “Just a Little” and “You Tell Me Why.” From there, the singles dwindled down the chart, and ended with 1966’s “One Too Many Mornings.” But their sound – particularly their harmony arrangements – was unique, and their albums and non-album singles have retained an artistic currency beyond their commercial success. All six albums are on CD, along with best of and rarities collections, and a pair of deep vault explorations. Varese adds to the catalog a sixteen-track set that collects the group’s twelve original mono A-sides, a trio of Sal Valentino singles and the group’s 1975 reworking of “You Tell Me Why.” The 45-minute disc is accompanied by a twelve-page booklet of photos, liner notes by noted West Coast music historian Alec Palao, and song notes that Palao gathered from band members Ron Elliott, Sal Valentino, John Peterson, Ron Meagher and Don Irving, lyricist Bob Durand and producer Lenny Waronker. Those new to the group’s catalog may find a greatest hits collection to be a better overall introduction, but fans will really enjoy the original mono A-sides (and long for the B’s!). [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Beau Brummels’ Home Page

Willie Nile: Positively Bob

Friday, June 30th, 2017

An acolyte pays tribute to Bob Dylan

Given the influence Dylan’s had on Nile’s singing and writing voices, this set of ten covers is a natural. That said, the reverence in which Dylan’s catalog is held and the lengthy history of Dylan tributes can make an album of covers quite fraught. Navigating a line between sacrosanct devotion and reactionary irreverence requires an artist who’s as familiar with himself as he is with Dylan. It takes someone with youthful naivete or aged confidence to avoid being intimidated into pale imitation. Luckily, Nile is both: an elder statesman whose lengthy experience has never eclipsed his youthful enthusiasm. The renaissance of his career’s third phase has proven rock ‘n’ roll the most potent elixir of youth.

Nile’s maturity and self assuredness allows him to revel in the Dylanesque tone of his voice, proving it not an imitation but a natural derivation. For him to sing these songs in any other voice would be a cop out, and so the nasal tone of Dylan’s originals are heard in these covers, even as Nile’s more sing-song delivery brands the interpretations as original. Like others before – including Dylan himself – Nile takes some liberties with the arrangements, but nothing that loses the songs’ souls or plays as attention-getting novelties. The selections stick primarily to well-known Dylan material from the early-to-mid ‘60s, stretching past this pivotal early period for the mid-70s “Abandoned Love” and early ‘80s “Every Grain of Sand.”

Nile was a teenager when Dylan (and Peter, Paul & Mary) burst forth with “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and it’s clear that the power of the song’s revelatory rhetoric hasn’t faded. Nile sings “The Times They Are A-Changin” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” with a zeal that’s not just undimmed by the passing years, but renewed by experience. Dylan’s clarion calls, poetic flights and love songs resound with both history and currency as their joys and ills have come around again and again. Album highlights include a beautiful take on the oft-covered “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and a warm, family-styled reading of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” Dylan’s songs harbor personal import and shared experience, and Nile reminds of both with these touching performances. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Willie Nile’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 Easybeats: Vigil

Friday, May 26th, 2017

The Easybeats’ fifth studio album was released in several different forms. The 14-track UK release was slimmed to 12 tracks, resequenced and retitled Falling Off The Edge Of The World for the U.S. market. In the group’s native Australia, the album retained its title and cover art, but lost three cover songs, gained the original “Bring a Little Lovin’,” and was issued only in mono. It’s this latter Australian release, with its track list, sequencing and mono master, that’s featured on this limited edition Record Store Day 2017 reissue. In addition to the multiple configurations of the album’s release, its construction was likewise multiheaded, as two songs recorded in mid-1967 with Glyn Johns (for the shelved Good Friday album) were combined with material recorded later the same year with Mike Vaughan.

The Australian edition sticks entirely to Vanda-Young originals, but there’s a great deal of musical range on offer. Soul influences course through the hard-grooving opener “Good Times,” rhythmic “See Saw,” mid-tempo “What in the World, and psych-gospel “Come in You’ll Get Pneumonia.” The group dips its toes into bubblegum-ska on “Sha La, La, La, Leah,” but more interesting is the social social commentary of “We All Live Happily Together” and the baroque polish of “Land of Make Believe.” And speaking of polish, the soft-pop closer, “Hello How Are You” may be the album’s most audacious in its distance from the group’s roots. There are numerous musical highlights here, if not an artistic vision that pulls it all together. Get Varese’s vinyl for the mono punch, and the CD for the bonus tracks. [©2017 Hyperbolium]