The Zombies: Odessey & Oracle

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]

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

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]

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Flamin’ Groovies: Live 1971 San Francisco

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]

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Curtis Knight [featuring Jimi Hendrix]: Live at George’s Club 20

April 21st, 2017

Jimi “Jimmy James” Hendrix, transitioning from R&B sideman to star

Last year’s You Can’t Use My Name rescued Hendrix’s early career as a featured sideman for R&B singer Curtis Knight. During his lifetime, Hendrix resented his work with Knight being represented as his own artistic statement, but in retrospect, those studio recordings, and now these mid-60s live dates, help flesh out Hendrix’s climb up the professional ladder to stardom. These do not represent Hendrix’s explosive creativity of just a year later, but they show off the solid blues grounding that provided him a launching pad, his growing confidence as a performer, and his emergence as a musical leader. He hadn’t yet been afforded the stage space for his wildest innovations, but neither was he still marking time as a sideman. Hendrix crams a lot of playing into short solos, with vocal asides to himself and the crowd, and even his rhythm playing had a snap one wouldn’t expect from a backing player.

The songs includes titles from Howlin’ Wolf, Hank Ballard, Bo Diddley, Smokey Robinson, Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles, Albert King and Earl King, with the blues titles providing the most excitement. Albert Collins’ “Driving South” – a song Hendrix took with him to the Experience – provides an especially fiery showcase. The tapes are amateur recordings that had no obvious historical value at the time, and though rough, they’re quite listenable. The vocals (which trade off leads between Knight and Hendrix) and guitar are up-front, the guitar reflecting both the volume at which Hendrix played and his musical leadership. Eddie Kramer’s restoration and Bernie Grundman’s mastering peel away years of edits, overdubs and studio effects that sought to bury the ephemeral, primitive beauty of the original recordings. Fans only perhaps, but Hendrix has a lot of fans. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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Derrick Anderson: A World of My Own

April 19th, 2017

Veteran L.A. power-pop bassist steps back into the spotlight

Bassist Derrick Anderson may not be a household name, but those he’s played with – Dave Davies and the Bangles, among others – certainly are. His eponymous L.A.band featured power pop luminary Robbie Rist, and released a pair of albums to considerable fan enthusiasm. The band’s conceit – that the three core members were half-brothers by a shared father – put Anderson’s name on the cover, but shared musical credit. On this solo debut he’s backed by a who’s who of famous fans, including the Smithereens, Bangles, Cowsills, Andersons!, Matthew Sweet, Kim Shattuck, Tommy Keene and Steve Barton.

Anderson plays bass with a McCartney-like buoyancy and sings in a voice that remains, as it did with the Andersons!, decades younger than his chronological age. Interestingly, the essential questions of youth still resound in his songs, but with the adolescent angst of typical power-pop replaced by midlife perspective. Anderson’s empathy and solace are more superego than id, his quests more philosophy than impulse, and the life in “my whole life” is richer in his fifties than it could have ever been in his twenties. It’s an interesting twist on classic themes, one that others have explored as they aged, but few realized on their first solo outing.

The songs range from the Revolver-esque “Happiness” to the soul-infused rocker “Stop Messin’ About,” and there’s even a heavy, Lenny Kravitz-style cover of “Norwegian Wood.” The distinctive harmonies of the Bangles are heard on “Something New” and “Spring,” and the Cowsills on “A Mother’s Love,” but it’s Anderson’s layered vocals on the rave-up “Phyllis & Sharon” and the optimistic “My Prediction” that make his personal mark. The results are, as Vicki Peterson labeled them, “timeless,” with Anderson’s talent, craft and experience making for an unusually mature “debut.” [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer: Two of a Kind

April 14th, 2017

Swinging 1961 session reissued in 2017 with bonuses

From “Splish Splash” to “Mack the Knife” to “Simple Song of Freedom,” Bobby Darin showed off a restless artistic soul. In 1961 Darin teamed with songwriter (and Capitol Records co-founder) Johnny Mercer for a swinging set of Tin Pan Alley standards, arranged and executed with brassy sizzle by Billy May. The album’s joie de vivre is undeniable, sparked both by the principals’ chemistry and the band’s relentless push. Darin and Mercer seem to be unreeling these classics extemporaneously, with each inserting playful ad libs as the other sings. Imagine if Martin and Lewis, or Hope and Crosby, had both been vocalists first, rather than vocalist-comedian pairs, and you’ll get a sense of this duo’s playful power. Their 27-year age difference evaporates as they express their shared love of these songs, including a few of Mercer’s own titles.

The recordings, engineered by Bill Putnam, are crisp, fanning the orchestra out in stereo and leaving center stage for the vocalists. Omnivore’s reissue augments the album’s original thirteen tracks with seven bonuses, including five alternate takes and two songs that didn’t make the cut. The newly released songs are Dreyer and Herman’s mid-1920s “Cecilla” and Leslie Stuart’s late nineteenth-century British music hall tune “Lily of Laguna.” The latter had been shorn of its racial lyrics in the early-1940s, and it’s this swinging rewrite that Darin and Mercer tackle here. The CD release includes an eight-page booklet that features original cover art, Stanley Green’s original liners, and new notes by Cheryl Pawelski. Originally issued by ATCO, and reissued in 1990, this title’s been a hard-to-find gem in Darin’s catalog. Now, with bonuses, it has even more sparkle. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Greg Wickham: If I Left This World

April 13th, 2017

The return of Hadacol’s co-founder

It’s been fifteen years since Hadacol founder Greg Wickham dropped a new album. He hadn’t intended to leave the music industry, but a break blossomed into marriage and children, and though he continued to make music, he stayed away from the business. But it was the family that led him towards hiatus that also led him back to the studio, as he sought to complement his pre-parenthood work with songs created as artifacts for his children. And with that motivation, he began writing the sort of contemplative and mortal songs one couldn’t feel or even imagine as a 20-something singleton. Think of it as parental advice from a rock ‘n’ roll father whose adolescent excesses taught him not to carelessly blunder into a banal midlife.

On board with Wickham is his brother and Hadacol co-founder, Fred, along with the group’s former bassist Richard Burgess, who combine with Wickham’s voice to produce a familiar sound. It’s not Hadacol 2.0, but something grown from the same roots in a different time and emotional place. The blue country rock “How Much I’ve Hurt” would have fit easily into Hadacol’s repertoire, and you’ll hear the waltz-time of the band’s “Poorer Than Dead” in the opening “Angel of Mercy (Song for Sophie).” The latter, however, replaces the former’s downbeat surrender with an expectant tone of home, and stretches out the backing with organ and horns.

Co-producing with Kristie Stremel, Wickham’s indulges his love of roots music with the back porch strings of “Me Oh My” and “I Will Comfort You,” and turns downtempo for the somber “Small Roles.” He confronts his baggage and contemplates how the remaining roads will shape his legacy, drawing experience from the former to inform the choices of the latter. He places a quiet duet of contemplation, “If I Left This World,” back to back with a brash moment of realization, “Wake Me Up,” turning philosophical questions into a call to action. The album closes with the previously recorded “Elsie’s Lullaby,” a father’s catalog of wisdom, wishes and advice, capping a strong return to the stage, and lovely future memories for his children. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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The Creation: Action Painting

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

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]

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The Cherry Hill Singers: An Exciting New Folk Group

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]