Tag Archives: Country Rock

Rosebud: Rosebud

Bonus-laden reissue of 1971 one-off w/Judy Henske and Jerry Yester

Although Henske and Yester are both well-known, this one-off collaboration under the group name “Rosebud” has remained surprisingly obscure. Henske had come up through the coffee houses and folk revival of the early ‘60s, notching a pair of albums for the Elektra label in 1963-4. Yester had likewise played the folk clubs, with his brother Jim and as a member of the New Christy Minstrels and Modern Folk Quartet, before finding even greater commercial success as a producer. Henske, Yester and Zal Yanovsky (whom Yester had replaced in the Lovin’ Spoonful) released the eclectic Farewell Aldebaran on Frank Zappa’s Straight label, and two years later Henske and Yester teamed with Craig Doerge, David Vaught and John Seiter for this short-lived group’s one and only album.

Rosebud retains the musical eclecticism of Farewell Aldebaran, though not its sonic experimentation. The album is highlighted by the group’s tight execution of Yester’s superb vocal charts, and though Henske’s extraordinary voice is prominently featured, Yester, Doerge and Seiter all get leads. The songs, written by various groupings of Henske, Yester and Doerge, fit the singer-songwriter vibe of early ‘70s Southern California, with touches of country rock and 1960s San Francisco. “Roll Home Cheyanne” is redolent with the atmosphere of big sky country, and “Reno” (included here in both its album and single versions) would have fit easily into the Jefferson Airplane’s set. The harmonies take a baroque turn for the harpsichord-lined “Lullabye II” and to gospel rock with “Salvation.”

The album’s emotional high point comes in the chorus of “Western Wisconsin” as the group’s harmony singing vanquishes any hint of treacle in the lyrics’ sentiment. The legendary steel player Buddy Emmons is heard on “Yum Yum Man,” and again on the bonus track “Easy On Me, Easy.” Though justly proud of their album, the group split after only a few live performances, amid Henske’s separation from Yester, and before the group gained any traction. Most listeners will be surprised by the group’s mere existence, but those already familiar with the album will be shocked by the quality of the material that was left in the vault. Omnivore doubles the album’s original ten tracks with singles and seven previously unreleased recordings, along with new liners by Barry Alfonso. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Craig Doerge’s Home Page
Judy Henske’s Home Page
Jerry Yester’s Home Page

Michigan Rattlers: Michigan Rattlers

Confessional folk-tinged country-rock

The debut from this Americana duo – guitarist Graham Young and bassist Adam Reed (with guest drummer Mike Avenaim) – pops with urgency and confessional intimacy. Produced by Johnny K (Plain White T’s, 3 Doors Down), Young shares confidences through his lyrics and the exceptionally moving tone of his voice. He sings of midwestern boys discovering themselves and building the confidence to ask for a date, but the story is far from ordinary, as the discovery is bittersweet and the date is with a widower in need of emotional rescue. Young’s vocals are mixed a half-step forward of backings driven by bass and drums, and the lyrical emphasis turns the closing “Strain of Cancer” into a harrowing recitation of a divorcee’s dismantling by a vindictive ex. Relocated from Petoskey to Los Angeles, the duo recorded the EP live at North Hollywood’s NRG Studios, giving the set an energy that’s hard to achieve piecemeal. Five songs, fifteen minutes, great debut. RIYL: Ryan Adams, Jeff Tweedy, Tom Petty, Steve Earle, Gin Blossoms. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Michigan Rattlers’ Home Page

For Singles Only

DVD_ForSinglesOnlyFor Singles Only is an unremarkable 1968 comedy (imagine the AIP beach party kids grown up and living in a singles-only apartment building) that’s worth seeking out for its unusual list of musical guests:

  • The Walter Wanderley Trio with Talya Ferro (poolside!)
  • The Cal Tjader Band (poolside at the body painting contest!)
  • Lewis & Clark Expedition (in fringed leathers and playing Vox guitars!)
  • The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (at the Sans Souci club dance!)
  • The Sunshine Company (in the credits but not in the film?)

The cast includes John Saxon, Mary Ann Mobley (two-time Elvis Presley co-star and Miss America 1959!) and the always delightful Chris Noel (playing the incredibly bitchy Lily), and the film was directed by Arthur Dreifuss, who’d helmed Riot on Sunset Strip and The Love-Ins the year before. The score was written and conducted by Fred Karger, who was apparently an object of affection to no less than Marilyn Monroe! This film turned up on GetTV last week, so keep an eye on their schedule for a repeat. You can also buy it on DVD.

Jonny Two Bags: Salvation Town

JonnyTwoBags_SalvationTownA compelling country-rock voice emerges from a punk-rock guitarist

Despite a resume that includes Youth Brigade, U.S. Bombs, Cadillac Tramps and Social Distortion, guitarist Johnny Two Bags (nee Wickersham) turns out to have a few country bones to pick. His solo debut is full of twanging guitar rather than power chords, forlorn realizations instead of reactionary anger, and it’s all played in tempos that linger rather than thrash. The mood replaces his customary O.C. punk with a vibe that’s Los Angeles country rock, magnified by guest appearances from Jackson Browne, David Lindley and David Hidalgo, and a wonderfully versatile rhythm section anchored by Pete Thomas and Zander Schloss.

Two Bags’ vocal suggests Browne’s on “Forlorn Walls,” and Browne joins him to sing “Then You Stand Alone,” but it’s Lindley’s guitar that evokes the strongest memory. Greg Leisz provides his customarily fine pedal steel, and Joel Guzman’s accordion adds border accents. Two Bags’ voice is surprisingly sweet, but he sings of a life that’s not always been smooth. His songs are populated with loneliness, regret and, unlike a lot of Americana, physical danger. The productions are lived in but not overly polished, providing a feel of performance rather than studio craft. Producer David Kalish was spot-on in pushing Two Bags to write and record a solo project, and together they’ve realized a complete and completely unanticipated musical vision. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Jonny Two Bags’ Home Page

Amazing Rhythm Aces: Stacked Deck / Too Stuffed to Jump

AmazingRhythmAces_StackedDeckTooStuffedToJumpTerrific mid-70s Memphis country, rock and soul back in print

The U.S. Top 40 is a fickle mistress that rewards one-hit wonders of many stripes. One such stripe is the talented band with a long history and deep catalog who, due to complications of label politics, promotion, distribution or simply the herd-like buying patterns of the record buying public, only manages to strike a single hot iron. Such was this superb Memphis band, whose 1975 debut single, “Third Rate Romance,” cracked the Top 20, but whose follow-ups fell shorter. They had better luck on the country charts, where their soulful sound produced two more hits, “Amazing Grace (Used to Be Her Favorite Song)” (#10 country, #72 pop) and “The End is Not in Sight (The Cowboy Tune)” (#20 country, #42 pop). All three appeared on the group’s debut and sophomore albums, which are anthologized here along with the non-LP B-side “Mystery Train.”

Despite their Knoxville roots, the Aces were a Memphis band, with southern roots stretching across country-rock, blues, soul, funk and gospel. Their debut album is filled with solid originals and a superb R&B cover of Charlie Rich’s “Who Will the Next Fool Be?” The next year’s follow-up followed a similar formula, and once again cracked the country Top 40. The band was effective in playing everything from straight country to gospel harmonies, swampy funk, southern rock and even ragtime and progressive changes. Real Gone’s reissue improves upon Collectors’ Choice’s out-of-print two-fer, with fresh remasterings, a 12-page booklet featuring full-panel album covers, lyrics, credits and new liners. If all you know is “Third Rate Romance,” this is a great opportunity to hear the fine albums behind the hit. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

The Amazing Rhythm Aces’ Home Page

The Hello People: Fusion

HelloPeople_FusionTuneful “mime rock” from 1968

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]

Bill Wilson: Ever Changing Minstrel

BillWilson_EverChangingMinstrelExtraordinary, yet virtually unknown singer-songwriter Americana from 1973

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]

Caroline Herring: Camilla

CarolineHerring_CamillaPlaintive mix of country, folk and blues

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]

Caroline Herring’s Home Page

Clover: Clover / Fourty Niner

Early ‘70s country-rock, blues and soul from Marin County

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]

The Perishers: All These Years

Hook-filled guitar-based indie-rock and power-pop

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]

The Perishers’ Home Page