The Hello People were a late-60s sextet that performed in white face and mimed skits amid their live musical performances. Their visual imagery and theatrical skills landed the band slots on several television variety shows, but even with national exposure, their records failed to dent the charts. The group’s best known track, “Anthem,” was a pungent reaction to songwriter Sonny Tongue’s incarceration for draft-dodging, but even its socially-charged message couldn’t lift the group beyond regional success. The group’s sound incorporated several then-current trends, including baroque-pop, sunshine harmonies, country-rock, electric folk and and old-timey jazz. You can hear influences of the Left Banke, Grass Roots, Blues Project, Lovin’ Spoonful and others, and though the band was quite accomplished (especially in flautist Michael Sagarese and bassist Greg Geddes), their lack of a singular style and the novelty of their stage act seem to have relegated them to a footnote. The group continued into the mid-70s in various formations, releasing their own records and backing Todd Rundgren on Back to the Bars, but this 1968 album is the most complete expression of their original concept. Real Gone’s first-ever CD reissue includes the album’s original ten tracks and a twelve-page booklet with new liner notes by Gene Scalutti. Separated from their stage visuals, the group’s music still holds up. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
Posts Tagged ‘Country Rock’
A label as big as Columbia in the early ‘70s was bound to miss a few opportunities, even ones they’d signed, recorded and released. Such was the case for this 1973 rarity, the product of an Indiana singer-songwriter, the famous producer he engaged and the all-star studio band wrangled for the occasion. The singer-songwriter is the otherwise unknown Bill Wilson, the producer, who’d already helmed key albums for Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen, was Bob Johnston, and the band was a collection of Nashville legends that featured Charlie McCoy, Pete Drake and Jerry Reed. Wilson had made Johnston’s acquaintance by knocking on his door and naively asking to make a record; Johnston agreed to listen to one song, and by that evening, was in the studio with his unknown artist and hastily assembled band.
The record features a dozen original songs, and though released by Columbia, it was quickly lost in the wake of Clive Davis’ departure from the label (and reportedly a pot bust). The few copies that circulated disappeared before the album could even make an impression as a sought-after, long-lost treasure. It just vanished. It wasn’t until former Sony staffer Josh Rosenthal found a copy in a record store bargain bin that the title dug its way out of obscurity to this reissue. Johnston and Wilson never saw one another after their recording session, but Johnston was able to sketch out the album’s background. Wilson had landed in Austin after a stint in the Air Force, and found that Johnston had set up base there after leaving his position as a staff producer at Columbia. Wilson had some prior musical experience, singing and playing dobro in local bands, but it was as a singer-songwriter with a Southern edge, that he was compelled to make music.
Wilson’s touchstones included Dylan (and perhaps Bobby Darin’s late-60s activist sides), but also Austin songwriter Townes van Zandt, singer-guitarist Tony Joe White, and the open road sound of the Allman Brothers. The quality of the songs and performances would be impressive as a peak moment among an artist’s catalog, but as a one-off it’s truly extraordinary. Wilson is confident and earthy, while the band handles his material as if they’d been playing it on tour for years. The songs, in shades of folk, blues and rock, touch on traditional singer-songwriter themes, and the religiously-themed numbers have a strong hippie vibe. The label lists this as remastered from tape, but there seem to be a few vinyl artifacts that are more patina than distraction. The album’s rediscovery is an incredible feat of crate digging, and its return to circulation is most welcome. [©2013 Hyperbolium]
As fine as was 2009’s Golden Apples of the Sun, Herring’s latest release is even more completely her own. In addition to writing ten of the album’s songs, she’s reanimated the eleventh, “Flee as a Bird,” from a mid-nineteenth century hymn book. Her music is given added muscle by producer Erick Jaskowiak and a backing band (including guitar, pedal steel, fiddle, banjo, bass and drums) that leans more to country than folk. Her vibrato, reminiscent of Buffy St. Marie and Joan Baez, remains a plaintive instrument whose tone is as telling as its words. Her songs are literate and historical, telling of injustice, greed, and inextinguishable hope that intertwines the struggles and accomplishments that have threaded through country, folk and blues. Her stories highlight moments of redemption, triumph and peace against a backdrop of turmoil and grief, but tears – whether of anguish or relief – are never far away. Herring welcomes Claire Holly, Katherine Roberts and Jackie Oates as harmony vocalists, and an a cappella turn with Mary Chapin Carpenter and Aoife O’Donovan on “Traveling Shoes” is especially fine. Herring’s fans will enjoy this next chapter, and those new to her work will be quickly motivated to explore the back catalog. [©2012 Hyperbolium]
Clover was a Marin County, California four-piece that formed in the late ‘60s and recorded this pair of albums for Fantasy Records in 1970-71. Their renown, however, stems from later exploits, including the slot as Elvis Costello’s backing band on his 1977 debut, My Aim is True, as well as spinning off Huey Lewis and the News, and launching the solo and songwriting (including Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny”) career of Alex Call. Their original albums didn’t catch on upon initial release, and have been tough to find. Reissued on this two-fer, the performances reveal a band drawing inspiration from both the San Francisco scene and the country-rock wafting up from Los Angeles, and with additional dashes of blues and soul Clover was ready to rock the local clubs and bars.
The albums, like the band’s set list, sprinkled covers (Jr. Walker’s “Shotgun” Rev. Gary Davis’ “If I Had My Way” and a Creedence-styled jam on the spiritual “Wade in the Water” that surely stretched out to fifteen minutes on stage) amid originals that included country, electric blues, and jazz- and funk-rock. The former comes in several varieties, including the traditional-sounding lament “No Vacancy,” Bakersfield-influenced “Monopoly,” Clarence White-styled guitar picking of “Lizard Rock and Roll Band,” and bluegrass “Chicken Butt.” Guitarist John McFree shows off his steel playing on “Howie’s Song,” and drummer Mitch Howie adds funky beats to “Love is Gone.” In the end, Clover was a good band, though not particularly distinct, and their albums provide a reminder of how deep the bench was in the San Francisco scene. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]
If the Brill Building had lasted into the twenty-first century, one could only hope they’d be turning out pieces of pop perfection like the Perishers’ “Spectre.” The song builds from a lovely guitar riff, gently strummed acoustics and an infectious vocal melody, and by time the drummer kicks in with Hal Blaine’s iconic “Be My Baby” beat, the strums have gained force, the bass line has grown insistent and the guitar solo chimes with simple authority. The song’s lyrics are slight but potent, particularly the line “I have always loved this sound,” a sentiment that will ring in the ears of anyone who loves great pop music. The album makes good on its opening statement, with Who-like moments from the rhythm section on “I’ll Deny” and a variety of rock, indie-pop and vocal harmonies that bring to mind Teenage Fanclub, the Byrds (in their folk-, psych- and country-rock phases), Velvet Crush and other indie- and power-pop favorites. Don’t confuse this London-based quartet with the Swedish alt-rock group of the same name, as their albums are often interspersed in on-line catalogs. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
This Chicago quartet stirred up some truly original publicity with their 2009 release The Evolution EP, and gained fans of all ages with the EP’s ode to Charles Darwin, “Evolution Rocks.” Two years later, they’re back with a full album that explores a variety of musical directions. Several of the songs combine ‘70s rock with modern touch points, such as the exuberant opener’s combination of Matthew Sweet’s post-Girlfriend guitar rock with Nirvana-like vocal quirks; you can also hear liquid 70s guitar threaded through the Oasis-styled psych of “So Many Stars.” At other turns the songs are lighter country- and folk-rock, suggesting ‘70s crossover acts like Brewer & Shipley, and deploying the emotional grip of Harry Chapin in the expectant “Come Home Soon.” There’s a Red Hot Chili Peppers’ influence in the vocal melody of the title track, but not the funk rhythms deployed last time out. Overman’s retained their sense of humor (as heard in the pop-punk “The Mother in Me”), but they’re writing more deeply emotional songs, either from personal experience or the experience of songwriting itself. The album’s a bit schizophrenic in its collection of styles, but after two releases, that seems to be a band hallmark. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]
If you charted the Texas trio Emory Quinn amid the circles of a Venn diagram, you’d find them at an intersection that neatly combines twang, beat and melody. For those who like their country to rock, and their rock to sparkle with catchy melodies, these ten original songs will have you humming along as you imagine yourself moving to the band’s guitar-bass-drums in a Texas dance hall. Clint (Quinn) Bracher sings with enough rootsy emotion to keep country radio at bay, but in a world where the Eagles and Wallflowers once had hit records (and numerous Nashville acts are only a pace or two away from rock), one can hope this sort of musical hybrid could again find a mainstream audience.
Bracher’s an ace wordsmith who employs a mix of detail and allusion, setting concrete moments amid more ephemeral thoughts. The group’s melodies are often misleadingly upbeat, hiding the dark murder and unhinged smile of “Holes Through the Windows” behind Byrds-like jangle and harmony. The banjo closer “Falling Down Again” is among the more chipper songs about detoxing you’re likely to hear, and though Dylan and Petty are obvious touchstones, there’s also the wariness and foreboding of Chris Knight in “Tear Down the Walls.” Bracher explores both sides of a vagabond’s life in a pair of songs; the rootless party times of “Moving On” offer contrast to the enduring loneliness of constant motion in “Finds Danger.”
Emory Quinn is a talented band with impressive original material and the musical chops to bring their vision to fruition. They create fuller arrangements in the studio than the basic sound of their stage performances (such as heard on Live at Gruene Hall), but they never overdo it. Nathan (Emory) Rigney adds finely played touches of guitar, violin, banjo and pedal steel, bassist Case Bell offers up a tasty keyboard solo on “When I Dream,” and touches of strings add atmosphere without overshadowing the group’s basic sound. Here’s hoping the band finds a way to break out of the Texas dance hall and college circuit! [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]
One time metal guitarist (with the group Kilgore/Smudge) Brian McKenzie was drawn to singer/songwriter roots music as a mental escape from tours “packed like damned sardines in a cargo van.” He transitioned from electric guitar to acoustic relocated from Rhode Island to Nashville for a couple years, and honed his songwriting with the city’s pros. Now returned to the Ocean State, he’s cut this 7-song release. Judging by the retro country rock of the first two tracks McKenzie seems to have been listening to some classic B.J. Thomas sides, along with radio hits from one-time stars like Gallery, Lobo and the Stampeders. The productions are modern, but the melodies and harmonies sport a terrific ‘70s vibe. The remaining tracks are solid, hinting at Chris Isaak’s romantic croon and the thoughtful style of Gordon Lightfoot. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]
Group harmonies are returning to country music, and they’re just as pleasing today as they were in the 1970s. You can feel the joy they bring to Stonehoney as they vocalize the wordless “oh-ahhh” exclamations on the opening track. They revel in the way their voices blend with one another’s, and then collectively with the songs’ emotion. It suggests what CS&N must have felt the night they first harmonized. What really makes this Austin quartet’s debut special is that it was recorded live, with no sweetening and no overdubs. The synergy of voices, instruments and songs honed on stage followed the group into the studio, giving these fourteen songs (culled from forty cut in two days!) a wonderfully organic feel. As vocalist/guitarist Nick Randolph writes on their website, “The band grew out of us just hanging out, and it still has that same feeling.”
All four members credit their vocals first, their instruments second, and they reconfigure the lead/harmony assignments from song to song. All four contribute original songs, as well, and the results lean on a variety of country, country-rock and southern-rock influences. The opening line of “I Don’t Want to Go Home” might fool you into thinking it’s sung by John Fogerty, but by the time the song gets to its cleverly crafted lyric “now that you’re gone, the house is like a heartache with a view,” the vocal blend has the richness of Alabama. The lead vocal of the road-warrior themed “White Knuckle Wind” has the earthy edge of Levon Helm, with twangy guitars and Earle Pool Ball’s piano adding honky-tonk sparks.
The foursome find several ways to express longing for departed mates, writing alternately as the one leaving and the one being left. There’s understanding rather than angst in the remains of these relationships, with sadness filling up the spaces where bitterness might have grown. When the relationships succeed, such as in “Lucky One,” they’re proclaimed with open-throated joy, and in “There is Light” there’s optimism at the end of a dark emotional tunnel. The album’s one resolutely downbeat track is Shawn Davis’ letter from jail, “Good as Gone,” filled with somber reflections whose regret can’t turn back the clock on bad decisions. With four talented singer-songwriters, Stonehoney offers many different looks, but it’s their power as a group that’s truly arresting, and given the strength of these live-in-the-studio performances, they’re sure to be a killer stage act. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]
Named after one Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks’ songs from the mystique-laden Smile project, this Oregon quintet’s harmonies certainly nod to the brothers Wilson. And despite the Pet Sounds-styled bridge “Instrumental No. 2.,” the group artfully melds too many flavors, including pop, glam, psych, blue-eyed funk, West Coast country-rock, and even swingy jazz, to call out the Beach Boys as a singular influence. The mix is more upbeat and retro than 2005’s Comes Back to You, motoring along with the summery smile of “Thought/Start” and drifting into space with the South-of-the-Border horn instrumental “Ruby’s Moon Elevator.” The song list artfully mates the hooks of AM singles with the finely crafted segues of FM albums. The band’s mix of British pop (T Rex, Thunderclap Newman, Badfinger, post-Beatles Paul McCartney), country-rock (Byrds, Burrito Brothers, CS&N, Creedence Clearwater Revival) and sunshine psych (Beach Boys, Millennium, Sagittarius) is sure to perk up a cloudy day, whether or not you’re from Portland. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]