Category Archives: MP3 Review

Marah: Presents Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania

Marah_PresentsMountainMinstrelsyGhosts from the backwoods and lumber camps of Pennsylvania

David Bielanko and Christine Smith, of the rock band Marah, have put together an album that is as folky as folk can be. Starting with an obscure compendium of songs gathered from turn of the twentieth century Pennsylvania backwoods, lumber camps and hunting cabins, Bielanko and Smith have brushed up the material, written new melodies and recorded with a band organized from local talent. The invitation to perform drew in not just a core set of players (who brought along their banjo, guitar, harmonica), but an eight-year-old fiddler and the townspeople of Millheim, PA (pop. 900). In addition to the odd tuba or bagpipe, you can hear a hundred of the assembled citizens and a local barbershop quartet singing “Ten Cents at the Gate.” The record was recorded live to tape, returning these songs not just to listeners’ ears, but to the shared joy of music-making. The assembled band not only brings the songs back to life, but also the people, places, half-truths and flat-out myths recorded within them. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

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Dutch Barn: About Time EP

DutchBarn_AboutTimeInventively marketed free EP of tuneful fuzz-pop

Dutch Barn is neither Dutch (they’re English) nor a dutch barn (they’re a five-piece pop band), but their new three-song release – two originals and a cover of Tearjerker’s “So Dead” – is both a good record (they call it as a single with two bonus tracks, but you might consider it an EP) and an original piece of marketing. Working with EardrumsPop and illustrator Estelle Morris, the band’s put together a rich digital package that augments the three new recordings (available as either high-quality MP3s or lossless FLAC files) with original cover art and a PDF booklet. The latter includes profiles (of both Dutch Barn and Tearjerker), an interview with the  illustrator, and an inventive band interview in which the group answers questions by composing photos. Musically, Dutch Barn produces the sort of fuzz-heavy pop-rock that first found favor in the early 90s – think Teenage Fanclub and Stereolab – and continues to thrive on Slumberland, spinART and (of course) EarDrumsPop. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

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Liverpool Five: The Best Of

LiverpoolFive_BestOfMid-60s Northwest R’n’R’n’B from ex-pat British Invasion band

The most honest part of this group’s name is “Five,” as they were indeed a quintet. The “Liverpool” part, however, seems to have been stuck on them by a manager in an effort to ride the Beatles’ coattails. All five members were from England, but apparently none from Liverpool, and their greatest success came after relocating to Spokane, Washington. The band toured the country as an opening act for U.S. hit makers and visiting British musical royalty, appeared on teen television shows, and recorded a pair of albums for RCA. There are remnants of the British Invasion to be heard in their RCA sides, but more on the London R&B side than Liverpool Merseybeat. More deeply the band was informed by the hearty sounds of Northwest rock and touched by the buzz of the American garage. Sundazed’s 18-track collection (originally issued on CD in 2008 and reissued for digital download by RCA/Legacy) cherry-picks from the group’s RCA recordings, sprinkling a couple of band originals among a wealth of well-selected, interestingly arranged and often wonderfully rare covers. Oddly, the group’s one brush with the charts, a cover of Chip Taylor’s “Any Way That You Want Me,” is omitted. Still, Sundazed’s done a wonderful job of resurrecting the core catalog of this undeservedly obscure transatlantic British Invasion transplant. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

The Charlie Watts Riots: The Christmas Fit

CharlieWattsRiots_TheChristmasFitPower pop Christmas

With so many great Christmas songs covered and recovered ad infinitum, this Albany, New York power pop trio was compelled to write their own. Cleverly, the song expresses their inability to find a cover they can call their own. As on their recent full-length release, A Break in the Weather, the band’s guitar, bass and drums recall the power pop hey-day of the early ’90s, giving this song a rock ‘n’ roll kick that will perk up your holiday playlist. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

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One Mile an Hour: One Mile an Hour

OneMileAnHour_OneMileAnHourAchingly beautiful second coming of UK progressive folk-rock

This South England trio describes their debut as “outsider folk,” and while it certainly bears strong influences of Pentangle, Fairport Convention and others of the UK’s ’70s folk-rock movement, several of the tracks also compare to the winsome tone of Big Star. The opening “Sunken Ships,” in particular, echoes the feel of Chris Bell’s 1970s solo work, itself no doubt influenced by what was then happening in the UK. The self-produced recordings, made in their home-built studio, have the sort of crispness in the picked acoustic guitars and intimacy in the vocals that Big Star achieved at Ardent. Apart from the writing, playing and singing – all of which are impressive – the recordings sound gorgeous.

The band draws much of its inspiration from nature: the ocean visible from their studio is a primary muse, with the rhythm of waves pulsing through their music. But there are also pristine mountains spoiled by greedy manifests, sentinel magpies, and introspective songs that map emotions to physical landscapes. The tempos are easy, creating an expressive instrumental tone; the band’s confident enough with their music’s texture to place an atmospheric interlude in the middle of the record, a short driving instrumental at track eight and a powerful ten-minute jam (the latter recorded at Abbey Road) to close things out. This is a sophisticated and well-wrought album that ought to be picked up by an enterprising label with good ears. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

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The Most: Auto-Destructive Art

Most_AutoDestructiveArtModern-day Freakbeat, savage garage and mod-soul from Sweden

This Swedish quartet draws heavily from 1960s British rock, especially the Who. The opening “Problems” plays like a buoyant tribute to the Who’s “Run, Run, Run,” and their grungy, original ode to “Spiderman” echoes the Who’s take on “Batman.” The full-kit drum fills and punchy bass solos owe a lot to Moon and Entwistle, but the guitar has a harder edge than Townshend’s, sounding more like the axes of the Creation’s Eddie Phillips and the Eyes’ Phillip John Heatley. After several EPs and compilation appearances, the Most have released this first long player, with twelve original songs that reach back to the transitional Freakbeat period, the folk-psych influences of the Byrds and Leaves, and the frenetic American soul that inspired the Mods. Sharp guitars, drums and bass that push the beat, and vocals that have the tinge of sweaty basement clubs (and American garages) add up to a good time for those who like their rock mid-sixties style. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

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Preston Epps & The Bongo Teens: Surfin’ Bongos

PrestonEppsBongoTeens_SurfinBongosBongo-lined surf music from 1963

Released on the Original Sound label in 1963, the 12 tracks combined a trio of bongo-heavy tunes by Preston Epps, including his one true hit “Bongo Rock,” together with nine tracks recorded by Dave Aerni on guitar and Paul Buff on everything else as the Bongo Teens. Epps’ freak hit (which rivals Sandy Nelson’s “Let There Be Drums” for most famous Billboard top twenty hit with a drum lead) begat a few more singles, including the low-charting “Bongo Bongo Bongo” included here. The Bongo Teens’ tracks lean to guitar, organ and sax-led covers of then-popular surf and non-surf songs, with Epps’ bongo rhythms running underneath and taking a few solos. What make this pair of reissues so interesting are the bonus tracks, and the release of separate mono and stereo versions. Watch out for Essential Media’s 12-track version of this set – the Crossfire reissues have 23 tracks. The bonuses include rare singles by the Rotations and Brian Lord & The Midnighters, along with Bongo Teens sides (with and without Preston Epps) that were only released abroad. Despite its cash-in origins, this is some pretty groovy go-go music, and the remastered sound is excellent. [©2013 Hyperbolium]   (Mono)   (Stereo)

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Lord Sitar: Lord Sitar

LordSitar_LordSitar1968 sitar-pop cash-in

The discovery and popularization of the Indian sitar in Western music, most famously through the recordings of George Harrison with the Beatles, and bolstered by the introduction of Danelectro’s electric sitar, led to numerous hit singles and album tracks sporting sitars. A small subgenre of sitar pop and jazz sprung up and led to full albums that included Vincent Bell’s Pop Goes the Electric Sitar, the Folkswingers’ Raga Rock, Big Jim Sullivan’s Sitar Beat, Gabor Szabo’s Jazz Raga, and this relatively uninspiring entry for EMI/Capitol. Produced by John Hawkins, and with Sullivan manning the sitar, the arrangements aren’t particularly sympathetic to the resonant drone, sounding instead as if they were lifted from one of the instrumental covers albums that clogged job-racked shelves in the late 60s. Unsurprisingly, Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way” works reasonably well, as does the Beatles’ “I am the Walrus.” A horn-heavy arrangement of the Who’s “I Can See for Miles,” with the sitar singing the lead, is schlocky fun, and the closing cover of Los Bravos’ “Black is Black” manages to really take flight mid-song. There are far greater ‘60s cover albums to be found, but if you’re a devotee of pop sitar, this is something you’ll need to add to your collection. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Sonny Bono: Inner Views

SonnyBono_InnerViewsSonny freaks without Cher

Sonny Bono’s one and only solo album was released in 1967, just as Sonny & Cher’s hits and Cher’s solo success were entering a three-year drought. The obvious touchstone for this 5-track, 33-minute experimental outing is the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which Sonny quotes in the album’s title track. But the acid-tinged lyrics (including quotes from both “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “A Day in the Life”) and pseudo-psych musical freakouts have neither the expanded consciousness nor musical inventiveness of the Beatles. The anti-drug Bono might have heard Sgt. Pepper’s, but he didn’t really seem to understand it. The drums, likely played by Wrecking Crew ace Hal Blaine, sound as if they were lifted from a Phil Spector session, and the sitar noodling and tuneless harmonica blasts are indulgent and irritating, especially at the jam-session length (12’45) of the opening track.

The social commentary of “I Told My Girl to Go Away” might have drawn more attention had Bono been a more commercially compelling vocalist, or perhaps if Janis Ian’s scathing “Society’s Child” hadn’t exploded earlier in the year. The 32-year-old Bono sang with an air of defeat that couldn’t compare to Ian’s searing defiance. “I Would Marry You Today” might have made a nice light-pop folk-rock production for Sonny & Cher, and would have greatly benefitted from the latter’s ability to carry a tune. A few years earlier, and with a gender switch and some editing, “My Best Friend’s Girl is Out of Sight,” might have made a good tune for one of the New York girl groups, but sung as light-pop and stretched to over four minutes, it hasn’t the focus of Bono’s hits. The closing “Pammie’s on a Bummer” is more successful with its instrumental experimentation, though its message (prostitution leads to pot leads to LSD) isn’t particularly knowing.

The initial reissue of this album was produced by Rhino Handmade in 1999. That limited edition CD added eleven bonus tracks, including all of Bono’s singles for Atco: his 1965 releases “Laugh at Me” (in three versions) and “The Revolution Kind” along with their instrumental B-sides, and single edits of Inner Views album tracks that still couldn’t make these productions consumable by radio. A subsequent CD edition by Collectors’ Choice dropped the bonuses, and Rhino’s digital reissue restored everything but the shortened album tracks and session backing for “Laugh at Me.” This is by no means a masterpiece; Bono wrote much better songs for Sonny & Cher, and produced more compelling records when he stuck to the classic techniques he’d learned at the feet of Phil Spector. His vocals were never his strong card, and without a catchy angle, his record falls flat. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Various Artists: Moonage Timequake

Various_MoonageTimequakeSpace pop, early electronica, rockabilly and outside jazz

Cherry Red’s Righteous label offers up this stellar collection of twenty-seven kitschy, space-themed tunes. Space age bachelor pad collectors may be familiar with the selections drawn from Jimmie Haskell’s 1959 space-twang orchestral-pop classic Count Down!, as well as the orchestra, oscillator and Theremin “Out of This World” from Frank Comstock’s Project: Comstock – Music from Outer Space, but this set stretches much more broadly. In celebration of the moon landing’s fortieth anniversary, the collection reaches back to the late ‘50s and early ‘60s fascination with all things space. The lion’s share of these tracks are early rock, rockabilly and hillbilly boogie, but there’s also early electronic music from Thomas Dissevelt and Theremin virtuoso Samuel J. Hoffman, orchestral scores from Ron Goodwin and Bobby Chistian, and outré jazz from Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra. Tying it together are snippets of spoken word and dialog, including a short piece from NICUFO founder Frank Stranges. The breadth may be too eclectic for some, but the range demonstrates how widely the space race infiltrated the popular imagination, and the rock ‘n’ roll rarities will set any party on a collision course with fun. [©2013 hyperbolium dot com]