Posts Tagged ‘Cover Songs’

Flamin’ Groovies: Fantastic Plastic

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

The Flamin’ Groovies rise again

San Francisco’s Flamin’ Groovies broke into the underground with a string of critically revered records – Sneakers, Supersnazz, Flamingo and Teenage Head – whose lack of commercial success drove the band to musical itinerancy. By 1971, founder Roy Loney had left the band, and his co-founder, Cyril Jordan joined with Chris Wilson to shift the band from retro- and blues-influenced rock ‘n’ roll towards British-invasion styled pop. They resurfaced in the UK five years later, releasing the iconic “Shake Some Action” and three albums full of solid originals and covers of the Beatles, Byrds and others.

But much like the band’s original lineup, the revised and revitalized Groovies garnered critical accolades, but didn’t break through commercially. Chris Wilson left the band in 1980, and though various configurations and editions of the group have reunited and toured off and on, it’s been nearly forty years since Cyril Jordan and Chris Wilson have collaborated on new material. For this reunion, they recorded with original Groovies bassist George Alexander and latter-day drummer Victor Penalosa over the course of three years, laying down ten originals and covers of the Beau Brummels and NRBQ.

The band charges out of the gate with the Stones-ish “What the Hell’s Goin’ On,” reaching back to the band’s bluesier roots (though oddly crossed with the central riff of John Mellancamp’s “Hurts So Good”) and playing to Jordan and Wilson’s guitar chemistry. There are numerous moments that rekindle memories of the band’s jangly 1970s Sire albums, including the harmonies of “She Loves Me,” the hopeful “Lonely Hearts,” the Shadows-styled instrumental “I’d Rather Spend My Time with You” and a cover of NRBQ’s “I Want You Bad.” The chime reaches its apex with the Byrdsian closer “Cryin’ Shame.”

There are dabs of psychedelia on “End of the World” and the jammy coda to their cover of “Don’t Talk to Strangers.” There’s also a defiant anthem, “Let Me Rock,” that would have sounded at home at the Grande. Jordan and Wilson lean to the group’s British rebirth, but give their due to the band’s full range of blues, R&B, rock, rockabilly and pop roots. Jordan’s original cover art pays tribute to Jack Davis’ cover for Monster Rally and RCA’s Living Stereo logo, and the CD is screened with an homage to the Laurie Records label. The retro touches are nice, especially for an album that’s a great deal more vital rock ‘n’ roll than nostalgic rehash. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Flamin’ Groovies Facebook Page

Jan & Dean: Filet of Soul Redux – The Rejected Master Recordings

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Jan & Dean fulfill their contract with a satire of Jan & Dean

By 1965, Jan & Dean were riding high. They’d minted a dozen top-40 singles, including the chart-topping “Surf City,” collaborated extensively with Brian Wilson, hosted the T.A.M.I. Show, filmed a television pilot, begun work on a feature film, and as highlighted here, added comedy to their stage act. As the last album owed to Liberty, Filet of Soul, was apparently too outre for a label looking to milk the last ounce of profits from a departing act, so a more conventionally edited version was released in 1966 as Filet of Soul – A Live One. The full length original record, with sound effects and comedy bits intact remained in the vault, unreleased for more than fifty years, until now.

Although technically a contractual obligation album, Jan & Dean used the opportunity to experiment, rather than simply complete their obligation. The duo brought members of the Wrecking Crew to the Hullabaloo Club for two nights of live recording, and then tinkered with the tapes in the studio. As they sweetened and edited the live recordings, they sought to offer something interesting, while not giving their soon-to-be-ex-label chartworthy new material. The answer was to present a live set of cover songs augmented by sound effects and satirical comedy bits. Except it wasn’t an answer to their contractual obligation, as the label rejected the master and demanded more songs.

To appease the label, several songs from the duo’s television pilot were added, but so too a spoken word piece that was sure to raise the label’s ire. But before the lawyers could engage, Jan Berry was involved in the auto accident that ended the duo’s recording career. The label, seizing the opportunity to release amid the ensuing publicity, edited the album down to its songs, releasing a cover of “Norwegian Wood” and “Popsicle” as singles, the latter rising to #21. So how does the original fare? On the one hand, the label was likely right about its commercial potential among Jan & Dean’s teenage audience in early 1966; on the other, Jan & Dean clearly knew what they were doing, and were ahead of their time.

The album’s opening trumpet flourish suggests something grand, only to have its pomposity punctured by the sound effect of a rooster crowing. A live take of “Honolulu Lulu” is awash with the excited screams of female fans, but the subsequent monolog, “Boys Down at the Plant,” lampoons the show business facade. The live tracks are tightly performed, if not always with huge enthusiasm, but the duo’s chemistry, command of the stage and improvisational skills are on full display. The studio manipulations and dadaistic sound effects point forward to the surrealistic rock and comedy records of the late-60s and 1970s, but haven’t the conceptual coherency that the Firesign Theater and others would bring to records a few years later.

Omnivore reproduces the ten tracks of the resubmitted master, and includes Beatles songs (“Michelle,” “Norwegian Wood” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”), Jan & Dean’s own “Dead Man’s Curve,” and pop hits of the day (“Cathy’s Clown,” “Lightnin’ Strikes” and “Hang On Sloopy”). The recordings are taken from a mono acetate (hand labeled “Fill it with Shit,” seemingly to indicate the duo’s non-commercial intentions). The 10-page booklet includes liner notes by Dean Torrence and surf music historian David Beard, photos and some of the original graphical elements that Torrence designed for the originally planned release. This isn’t the high point of Jan & Dean’s musicality, but it’s an interesting suggestion of where they might have gone, if not for Berry’s accident. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Jan & Dean’s Home Page

Dwight Yoakam: Live from Austin, TX

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

Dwight Yoakam at the peak of his commercial success

This October 1988 date found Yoakam headlining a bill with his hero and mentor, Buck Owens. Yoakam had rescued Owens from self-imposed retirement earlier in the year, and together they topped the chart with a remake of Owens’ “Streets of Bakersfield.” The day before the show, Yoakam’s third album, Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room, crested at #1 on the Billboard country chart, and it would go on to net Grammy, ACM and CMA awards. Owens opened the show with a tight 30 minute set (available on a companion volume), with Yoakam joining him for “Under Your Spell Again.” Owens returned the favor during Yoakam’s set to sing their recent chart topper.

Yoakam’s set combined selections from his first three albums, mixing original material with covers of songs by Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman (“Little Sister”), Homer Joy (“Streets of Bakersfield”), Johnny Cash (“Home of the Blues”), Johnny Horton (“Honky Tonk Man”), Lefty Frizzell (“Always Late With Your Kisses”) and Stonewall Jackson (“Smoke Along the Track”). His original material included nearly all of his hits to that point, as well as several album tracks. The band is superb, with Pete Anderson’s guitar and Scott Joss’ fiddle really standing out. Yoakam turns on the sex appeal as he introduces the sultry “What I Don’t Know,” the band turns up the heat for “Please, Please Baby” and “Little Sister,” and the audience joins in enthusiastically to close “Honky Tonk Man.”

As on the duet sung together in Owens’ set, the happiness shared by Yoakam and Owens in teaming up for “Streets of Bakersfield” is palpable – Owens reveling in the new artistic partnership that rekindled his interest in music, and Yoakam in working with his idol and mentor. Each has such a distinct voice, that the delight in hearing them sing together continues to rise as they swap verses and share the chorus. Flaco Jimenez joins the band onstage and stays to accentuate the sorrow of “Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room,” with Joss’ fiddle and Anderson’s low strings adding mournful notes. Yoakam tells several stories on the DVD that are elided on the CD, including an account of his first meeting with Johnny Cash.

The partnership between Yoakam and Anderson was incredibly fruitful, both artistically and commercially, but it wasn’t always easy to see past Yoakam’s charisma to Anderson’s immense talent as a guitarist. But here, even with Yoakam center stage, you can’t help but be drawn to Anderson’s licks as he solos on “Home of the Blues,” hot picks the closing “This Drinkin’ Will Kill Me,” and plays Yoakam on and off the stage with a twangy instrumental bumper. New West’s reissue combines the previously released CD and DVD, and it’s four-panel booklet provides credits, but no liner notes. It’s a terrific package that plays just as well on the stereo as it does on the screen. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Dwight Yoakam’s Home Page

Buck Owens: Live from Austin, TX

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

The king of the Bakersfield Sound on the comeback trail in 1988

There is no shortage of live Buck Owens recordings, but nearly all of them date to his record breaking run in the 1960s. Owens was not only a terrific songwriter, guitarist, singer, bandleader and businessman, but a gifted stage performer whose personal magnetism drew fans to his tours and to his dying day, to his beloved Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. By the time of this 1988 performance on Austin City Limits, it had been more than a decade since Owens had recused himself from his music career. The 1974 death of Don Rich had drained his enthusiasm, and with his energy focused on the radio stations he’d begun buying in the 1960s, it took an insistent Dwight Yoakam to pry Owens out of his self-imposed exile.

This October 1988 date found Owens and Yoakam on the same bill, each playing a full set and guesting on the other’s. Yoakam’s Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room had just crested at #1 on the album chart, the lead single, a duet with Owens covering “Streets of Bakersfield,” had topped the singles chart in June, and the title single from Owens’ own return to the studio, Hot Dog, would be released the following week. So there was a lot to celebrate on this Sunday night in Texas, as Owens showed that the layoff hadn’t impacted his musicality or showmanship, and that the latest edition of the Buckaroos, including keyboard player Jim Shaw, bassist Doyle Curtsinger, guitarist and steel player Terry Christofferson and drummer James McCarty, was sharp and powerful.

With sixty Top 40 hits (and more than twenty chart toppers!), Owens could barely graze the highlights of his catalog in this thirty minute set But in only 11 songs he manages to touch on classic hits, album cuts, covers of his hero Chuck Berry, and material from his upcoming album. And he does it without resorting to the medleys that had helped him squeeze more fan favorites into his live sets of the 1960s. The jangle of Owens’ silver sparkle Telecaster (which may very well have been Don Rich’s ‘66) kicks off “Act Naturally” and the band falls in behind him. Curtsinger provides the harmony foil once supplied by Don Rich, and Christofferson echoes Tom Brumley’s steel solo on “Together Again.”

Owens is in terrific voice, and his enthusiasm belies the number of times he’d performed “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” “Crying Time,” “Tiger By the Tail” and “A-11,” each remaining fresh and potent decades after they’d been introduced. Even more enticing is a duet with Yoakam on “Under Your Spell Again.” The pair don’t lock their vocals together as seamlessly as had Owens & Rich, but the joy in their voices – Owens rediscovering the joy of a singing partner, and Yoakam singing with his hero – is palpable. The single “Hot Dog,” a cover of Owens’ 1956 turn as Corky Jones, gives the band a chance to rock, as does the closing cover of “Johnny B. Goode.”

This set combines the previously released CD and DVD into one package, with the same song list shared by both formats. The four-page booklet includes credits, but no liner notes, and no remembrances from anyone involved as to how this show came together or what it meant to the participants. For the second half of the bill, including “Streets of Bakersfield,” check out the companion volume on Dwight Yoakam. Owens took this band on the road, producing the belatedly released double-disc Buck Owens Live In San Francisco 1989, but it’s hard to top a Sunday night in Texas with Buck & Dwight! [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace

Art Pepper: Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 4 – Bill Watrous

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

1979 Japan-only release reissued with bonuses

After a gap in the first half of the ‘70s, alto saxophonist and West Coast Jazz icon Art Pepper returned to recording. By decade’s end he was under contract with Galaxy, and when a small Japanese label came calling, he had to get creative. Unable to record for Atlas as a group leader, he picked session leaders and took credit only as a sideman. The albums were issued only in Japan, previously anthologized in the box set Hollywood All-Star Sessions, and are now being reissued by Omnivore with bonus tracks. Volume 4 is headlined by trombonist Bill Watrous, and backed by a hand-picked quartet of Pepper, Russ Freeman (piano), Bob Magnusson (bass) and Carl Burnett (drums). Originally issued as Funk ‘n’ Fun, Omnivore’s reissue adds two alternate takes to the original eight tracks.

Recorded in March, 1979, the session features a 40-year-old Watrous who’d played with many jazz luminaries and led his own big band, the Manhattan Wildlife Refuge. The label’s suggestion of Watrous was seemingly at odds with their stated desire to record West Coast jazz veterans, but Pepper and Watrous had been gigging together, and Pepper’s longtime association with Freeman, and then-recent gigs with Magnusson and Burnett, made for easy chemistry in the studio. The set opens with a trio of 1930s jazz standards, with fine solos and unison playing, and Magnusson’s fluid bass and Burnett’s drum accents stoking the beat. Pepper takes flight on Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” and Watrous’ trombone is forlorn and Freeman’s piano introspective on the ballad “When Your Lover Has Gone.”

Watrous’ original “For Art’s Sake” picks up from the ballads in a frenetic mood, and Watrous, Pepper and Freeman all find swinging grooves through the choppy rhythm as they dodge Burnett’s snappy fills. Pepper’s “Funny Blues” is taken at a mellower tempo than the 1956 original, though Pepper is energetic with his runs, and inspires the same in Watrous. The album closes with the oft-recorded mid-40s ballad “Angel Eyes” and Al Cohn’s “P. Town.” Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and liner notes from Pepper’s widow, Laurie. Laurie Pepper has kept the flame of Pepper’s music alive through biography, blog and archival releases, and now with this series of reissues, an important chapter in Pepper’s career is revived. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

Art Pepper: Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 3 – Lee Konitz

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

1982 Japan-only release reissued with bonuses

After a gap in the first half of the ‘70s, alto saxophonist and West Coast Jazz icon Art Pepper returned to recording. By decade’s end he was under contract with Galaxy, and when a small Japanese label came calling, he had to get creative. Unable to record for Atlas as a group leader, he picked session leaders and took credit only as a sideman. The albums were issued only in Japan, previously anthologized in the box set Hollywood All-Star Sessions, and are now being reissued by Omnivore with bonus tracks. Volume 3 is headlined by saxophonist Lee Konitz, backed by a hand-picked rhythm section composed of Michael Lang (piano), Bob Magnusson (bass) and John Dentz (drums). The last of Pepper’s sessions for Atlas, this was originally released as High Jingo; Omnivore’s reissue adds two alternate takes to the original seven tracks.

Recorded in 1982 at Sage & Sound, the set list leans heavily on jazz standards, augmented by original pieces from each of Pepper and Konitz. The set opens with a breezy take on the Gershwins’ “S’Wonderful,” with potent solos from both saxophones, mellower bridges by Lang and Magnusson, and toe-tapping cymbal work by Dentz. Laurie Pepper’s liner notes deftly dissect the different styles of Pepper and Konitz, pointing out that the former came out swinging from the first note, while the latter built up to his most potent improvisations. By the time they join together at song’s end, Konitz is warmed up, and when he enters on “High Jingo” with a mellower tone, he springboards off of Pepper’s energy. Paul Chambers’ “Whims of Chambers” cools things down a bit, as Magnusson’s walking bass line starts everyone’s head bobbing, and Lang’s comping provides superb backing for the sax solos.

Pepper’s “A Minor Blues in F” includes a fine solo from Lang and an unexpected “a cappella” sax duo in which the band drops away to leave the horns to their own conversation. The set’s ballad, “The Shadow of Your Smile,” finds Pepper on clarinet, ceding the bulk of the soloing to Konitz and Lang. Pepper’s solo on “Anniversary Song” stretches the waltz into more abstract territory before the band returns to the theme, and the set closes with a rousing take on “Cherokee.” Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and liner notes from Pepper’s widow, Laurie. Laurie Pepper has kept the flame of Art Pepper’s music alive through biography, blog and archival releases, and now with this series of reissues, an important chapter in Pepper’s career is revived. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

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

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

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

Los Straitjackets: What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

It takes a quirky band to cover a quirky man

As his career matured, Nick Lowe developed a measure of respectability that might have surprised his younger self; particularly the irreverent Nick Lowe who recorded as The Tartan Horde and titled his solo debut The Jesus of Cool. Lowe’s lyrics have always drawn listener attention, but his melodies, as emphasized in these instrumental treatments, deserve their share of the limelight. By reimagining each song, sometimes quite radically, Los Straitjackets have freed the melodies to strike entirely new moods. Pathos is turned on its head with a snappy arrangement of “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide,” and the dark emotional territory of “I Live on a Battlefield” is brightened with a vintage dance beat. “Heart of the City” is still upbeat, but now with Duane Eddy-styled twang, and the relentlessly ebullient “Rollers Show” is crossed between a Shadows-styled bandstand piece and something Chet Atkins might have recorded for teenagers. Lowe’s lone worldwide hit, “Cruel to Be Kind,” is taken downtempo to a very contemplative place, and the folk-rock treatment of the title track is more reminiscent of Lowe’s later solo work than the song’s origin. This is a delightfully original twist on Nick Lowe tributes that have included Lowe Profile, Labor of Love and Lowe Country; all that’s missing is Lowe’s own instrumental, “Shake That Rat,” which the band covered on 2001’s Sing Along With Los Straitjackets. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Los Straitjackets’ Home Page
Nick Lowe’s Home Page