Posts Tagged ‘Cover Songs’

Various Artists: The Bakersfield Sound

Friday, November 15th, 2019

Awe-inspiring anthological history of the Bakersfield scene

Bear Family is well-known to collectors for the imagination and thoroughness of their box sets. Their cataloging of American country music in artist-based collections is unparalleled in its detail. But even against that high bar of quality, this set is something else, as it draws a comprehensive picture of a scene, rather than a more easily defined artist or label catalog. To assemble this set, producer Scott B. Bomar needed to develop a deep understanding of the history, connections and influences that forged the Bakersfield Sound over thirty-five years. They needed to identify artists, producers, engineers, studios, labels, clubs, radio and television stations, and records, and they needed to dig deep beneath the commercial surface, to find the rare materials that spurred and cross-pollinated artistic advances. The results are ten discs, nearly 300 tracks, and 224 pages that demonstrate how the scene developed, how lesser-known players contributed to those who would become stars, and how the stars themselves grew from their roots. It’s an astounding achievement, even on the Bear Family scale.

Situated at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, Bakersfield is a commercial hub for both the Central Valley’s agriculture and the surrounding area’s petroleum and natural gas production. The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl drove many Texans, Oklahomans, Arkansans and Missourians west, with many migrants resettling into agricultural and oil work. The Owens family moved from Texas to Arizona in the late ‘30s, and Buck Owens eventually settled in Bakersfield in 1951. The Haggard family moved from Oklahoma to California in the mid-30s, where Merle Haggard was born (in Oildale) in 1937. Bakersfield became both a physical confluence of refugees from the Plains states, and an artistic melting pot of their musical tastes; a place and time in which influences could combine and grow into something new.

As Bomar notes in his liners, Bakersfield was really more of an aesthetic than a singular sound. The range of artists ascribed to Bakersfield (including some who never actually lived or recorded there) are as varied as the influences that shaped the city’s music. As Joe Maphis chronicled, Bakersfield’s honky-tonks – including the Blackboard, Trouts, Lucky Spot, Tex’s Barrel House, and the Clover Club – were genuine dens of dim lights, thick smoke and loud, loud music, and as Nashville softened its approach in the 1950s, Bakersfield hardened its own. As Nashville toned down the twang and added strings and backing choruses, Bakersfield plugged in electric guitars to complement the fiddle and steel. As Nashville sweetened the arrangements and slowed the tempos for crooners, Bakersfield picked up the beat and highlighted vocalists singing harder-edged lyrics. Bakersfield wasn’t necessarily reacting to Nashville’s changes, but acting outside its commercial forcefield.

Owens’ and Haggard’s legends are rooted in Bakersfield’s honky-tonks, where they developed and honed their particular brands of music alongside the many foundational acts documented here. Bear Family has cast a wide net to haul in field recordings, radio and television broadcasts, live sessions, vault finds, vanity recordings, alternate takes, demos, rare local singles, B-sides, album tracks, and a selection of hits, to tell the story of Bakersfield’s development, rather than recite the well-known riches at the end of the creative rainbow. The set begins with early ‘40s field recordings gathered in the Central Valley migrant work camps that were run by the Farm Security Administration (FSA). The rustic vocal, guitar and banjo music of the camps’ residents was as important a cultural touchstone as were the physical wares they’d packed into the trucks and beat-up cars that carried them west, and its mix of influences the roots of the Bakersfield music scene.

The set moves to 1944 with a fiddle-heavy cover of Fred Rose’s “Home in San Antone,” and establishes radio’s role in expanding local musicians’ regional reach with transcriptions from Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, the Maddox Brothers and Rose, and Elwin Cross & The Arizona Wranglers. The latter group, whose “Back in Dear Old Oklahoma” strikes a nostalgic, homesick note, included Bill Woods, who would soon become a pillar of the Bakersfield scene as a bandleader at the Blackboard. From these earliest days of the Bakersfield scene, the upbeat tempos of swing and boogie drove many of the original songs, with twangy steel, guitar and fiddle prominently featured throughout. Billy Mize is heard on 1949’s “Got a Chance With You” and Roy Nichols’ influential guitar playing on 1950’s “Baby Blues.”

Capitol Records and producer Ken Nelson – both key elements of Bakersfield’s commercial success – enter the collection with Ferlin Husky’s 1951 single “I Want You So,” recorded under the stage name of Terry Preston. Buck Owens first turns up at Capitol as a studio picker on Tommy Collins’ “You Better Not Do That,” and Capitol’s Hollywood studio was the site of Bakersfield’s first national hit with Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky’s “A Dear John Letter.” The song had been recorded twice before on local Bakersfield labels Grande and Kord, which along with Mar-Vel and others featured early performances by Bakersfield figures Bill Woods (who was so important to building the Bakersfield scene, that Red Simpson released a tribute to him in 1973), Fuzzy Owen, Lewis Talley, Billy Mize and Bonnie Owens. Many of the records most deeply associated with Bakersfield were actually recorded in Los Angeles, including the Blackboard Club-inspired honky-tonk of Joe Maphis & Rose Lee’s 1953 “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music).”

The early songs of home and homesickness quickly gave way to songs of romantic infatuation, love and recrimination, often with a forwardness that was disappearing from Nashville’s productions. The Farmer Boys’ “It Pays to Advertise” is surprisingly direct with the romantic boast, “when it comes to making love, I don’t leave girl neglected,” and Billy Mize’s “Who Will Buy the Wine” is scathing in its appraisal of a wayward spouse’s downfall. By 1956, rock ‘n’ roll was influencing Bakersfield’s players as Wanda Jackson’s “I Gotta Know” features a tug of war between upbeat rockabilly verses and a slow country chorus, Dusty Payne & The Rhythm Rocker’s “I Want You” has a rockabilly backbeat, Sid Silver’s “Bumble Rumble” offers up countrified skiffle, the bluesy guitar of Johnny Taylor’s “Sad Sad Saturday Night” is backed by Bill Woods’ piano triplets, and Buck Owens’ jangly guitar adds flair to Bill Woods’ “Ask Me No Questions.”

Buck Owens’ first session for Capitol as a leader included the bouncy 1957 single “Come Back to Me,” and his charting single, “Second Fiddle,” is also included early in the set. Owens quickly became a monumental presence in the Bakersfield scene as he dominated the country charts throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Owens had one or more Top 10 singles every year from 1959 until 1974 (including fourteen straight #1s from 1963 to 1967), with 1974 marking the death of Don Rich, and not coincidentally the year that ends this set. Owens’ catalog is detailed elsewhere, including three Bear Family box sets [1 2 3], and so the producer has cherry-picked sides that demonstrate Owens’ evolution as a singer, songwriter, producer and live performer, including the classic Buckaroos’ lineup first session on 1964’s “Close Up the Honky Tonks.” The Buckaroos were such a prolific, powerhouse group that they had a parallel career without Owens out front, represented here by selections fronted by Don Rich and Doyle Holly, the instrumental “Chicken Pickin’,” and sides backing artists who recorded at Buck Owens’ Bakersfield studio. The latter includes a track from Arlo Guthrie’s 1973 album Last Of The Brooklyn Cowboys, and Don Rich’s last session, backing Tony Booth’s “A Different Kind of Sad.”

Wynn Stewart also recorded for Capitol, but it was at Challenge and its subsidiary Jackpot that he waxed the singles most associated with the Bakersfield sound. Included here is his superb 1960 take on the Bakersfield club favorite “Playboy,” but his hits – 1958’s “Come On,” 1959’s “Wishful Thinking” and “Above and Beyond (The Call of Love),” and 1961’s “Big Big Love” – showed off an artistic range emblematic of Bakersfield’s many influences and musically adventurous spirit. Though not as commercially successful as Owens or Haggard, Stewart was highly influential, and he left behind a rich catalog (documented in full on Bear Family’s box set Wishful Thinking) that’s worth its own investment.

Haggard was in and out of juvenile detention and jail as the city’s music scene developed, but a late-50s stretch in San Quentin renewed his interest in a music career in which he’d previously dabbled, and upon his release in 1960 he began performing and subsequently recording for Tally. Like Owens, Haggard was both an artistic and commercial force. Though born in California, his autobiographical songs were rife with the hardship of Dustbowl refugees, and the struggles of outsiders. He first appears on this set as a songwriter and bassist for Johnny Barnett’s 1963 Tally single “Second Fiddle,” and he debuted on Tally’s next single with “Singin’ My Heart Out” and its flip, “Skid Row.” Haggard’s early Tally releases also included themed song, “Life in Prison,” as well as his first duet with Bonnie Owens, “Slowly But Surely.” Haggard’s transition from Tally to Capitol was meant to be heard in two versions of “I’m Gonna Break Every Heart” (one recorded for Tally, one recorded for Capitol) but the earlier unreleased Tally version ran into legal issues, and though described in the book, has been elided from the disc. A well-curated selection of his Capitol sides threads through the remainder of the set, and shows off both his commercial and artistic reach.

Owens and Haggard may have garnered the bulk of the scene’s commercial success, but the sheer volume of Bakersfield-related material that’s been collected here is astonishing. The Hollywood-based Capitol (and its Tower subsidiary) had the lion’s share of major-label Bakersfield success, but Columbia and RCA made inroads with Billy Mize, Liz Anderson, Tommy Collins, and others. Even more impressive is the wealth of local indie singles that paint a full color picture of Bakersfield’s deep pool of singers, songwriters and instrumental talent. Bakersfield essentially fielded a country version of the Wrecking Crew with a core group of musicians that formed and reformed in various aggregations to back singers in Bakersfield and Los Angeles. There are too many ace musicians in the crew to name them, but among them, only one regular female presence in Helen “Peaches” Price, a much sought-after drummer who played with Wynn Stewart, and backed Merle Haggard on several of his classic albums and singles.

Gary S. Paxton appears as an artist on 1966’s “Goin’ Through the Motions,” but makes his mark as a producer, both in Los Angeles, and for a time in 1967-68, in Bakersfield. His productions include the Gosdin Brothers country hit “Hangin’ On,” and a variety of singles that includes Leon Copeland’s cover of Merle Haggard’s “I’m Out of My Mind,” the Sandland Brothers’ tight duet “Vaccination for the Blues,” and the sly instrumental “Buckshot” by Larry Daniels and the Buckshots. Many of Paxton’s productions featured the inimitable guitar playing of Clarence White, including White’s unissued-at-the-time cover of “Buckaroo.” Paxton’s stay in Bakersfield wasn’t long, but he was productive, and cut records with Suzi Arden, Dean Sanford, Larry Daniels, Stan Farlow and others.

Each of the ten discs reveals surprises, including Barbara Mandrell’s 1966 single “Queen for a Day,” released three years before she signed with Columbia, the Marksmen’s 1961 guitar instrumental “Scratch,” recorded in Seattle by Gene Moles with the Ventures’ Nokie Edwards on bass, Roy Nichols’ virtuoso version of “Silver Bells,” songwriter Fern Foley’s original version of “Apartment #9,” Harold Cox & The Sooners’ “Pumpkin Center” offering some iffy rhymes in celebration of a local weekly dance, Herb Henson’s Trading Post TV show theme song, “You’al Come,” and songwriter Homer Joy’s original recording of “Streets of Bakersfield.”

The set’s final disc include live tracks, songwriter demos and work tapes from many of Bakersfield’s mainstays. The disc opens with hot live material from Buck Owens’ 1973 Toys for Tots show, featuring Owens, Buddy Alan, Tony Booth, Susan Raye, and the Buckaroos. There’s a treasure trove of songwriter demos and alternate takes from Bonnie Owens, Vancie Flowers & Rita Lane, Billy Mize, Red Simpson, Bill Woods, Tommy Collins, and Joe & Rose Lee Maphis, providing a behind-the-scenes look at how the first nine discs came to be. The disc closes with eight tracks drawn from television and radio broadcasts, giving listeners a feel for a world before records came to dominate media, and consultants came to homogenize playlists. Sadly missing from disc ten are five Merle Haggard alternate takes and a live radio broadcast that were last minute, contractual-dispute scratches.

As overwhelming as is the typical Bear Family box set, the breadth and depth of this anthology is doubly so. The panoramic view of Bakersfield’s music includes folk, bluegrass, country (and western), boogie, rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll, swing and more. Each disc provides a terrific program of music, and the arc from disc one to disc ten is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying. The accompanying 224-page hardbound book (weighing in at nearly four pounds) is as detailed as the music program, with historical notes, artist biographies, and song notes, and hundreds of photos and record labels. With 298 songs and a running time of more than twelve hours, this is a set to live with, rather than just listen to, and one you’ll be drawn back to over and over as you gain a feel for thirty-five years of Bakersfield’s musical history. No doubt this will be on many country music fans’ holiday gift lists, and by all rights it should be on Grammy’s list too. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Jefferson Airplane: Woodstock – Sunday August 17, 1969

Saturday, September 28th, 2019

Limited edition 50th anniversary 3-LP colored vinyl reissue of Jefferson Airplane’s complete Woodstock performance

Although the Jefferson Airplane was one of the most famous groups in the world in 1969, their presence at Woodstock has long been rendered something of a festival and career footnote. The problem wasn’t with their performance, but the short-shrift they gave themselves in the film (in which they didn’t appear) and soundtrack albums (on which they appeared for only one track on the initial triple-LP, and two tracks on the follow-up Woodstock II). Originally scheduled to headline the festival’s Saturday night lineup, weather and logistics pushed the performance to early Sunday morning, by which point the band and the crowd should by all rights have been totally exhausted. But the Airplane took off to provide a long, powerful set of what Grace Slick called “morning maniac music,” and in retrospect (that is, once the acid wore off) it was a much stronger performance than they imagined they’d given.

The set list includes material from the band’s three studio albums then-to-date, as well as three songs from the then-soon-to-be-released Volunteers, the latter including the rarely performed “Eskimo Blue Day” and a lengthy version of the Crosby, Stills and Kantner co-write “Wooden Ships.” Jorma Kaukonen sings “Uncle Sam Blues” and “Come Back Baby,” the band jams at length on “The Ballad Of You & Me & Pooneil,” and closes out with a strong encore of “White Rabbit” and Crown of Creation’s “The House At Pooneil Corners.” Although a few more of the Woodstock tracks appeared on 1992’s Jefferson Airplane Loves You and 1994s Woodstock – Three Days of Peace and Music, it wasn’t until 2009’s Woodstock Experience that the full set was delivered. That full set is now delivered in grand fashion as a double-gatefold, 3-LP set on “blue dawn” colored wax, with photos by Henry Diltz and new liners by Richie Unterberger. This is a sweet collectible for the band’s fans. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Los Straitjackets: Complete Christmas Songbook

Saturday, September 28th, 2019

A brightly wrapped gift of guitar-driven Christmas classics

Yep Roc’s twenty-seven track anthology compiles all of the Christmas-related titles that Los Straitjackets have released across 2002’s Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets, 2009’s Yuletide Beat, 2011’s “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” single, and Yep Roc’s 2007 collection Oh Santa!, and adds a bonus live version of Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus & Lucy” recorded on the band’s 2015 tour with Nick Lowe. The playlist is dominated by ‘60s-styled guitar-driven instrumental versions of Christmas classics, often cleverly augmented by motifs borrowed from “La Bamba,” “Pipeline,” “Walk Don’t Run,” “Misirlou,” “I Fought the Law,” “Buckaroo,” “Sing, Sing, Sing” and other iconic tunes. There are playful Latin beats on  “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “O Tannenbaum,” Memphis soul on “Joy to the World” and power-pop on “Groovy Old Saint Nick.” The band’s three originals include two instrumentals, “Christmas in Las Vegas” and “Christmas Weekend,” and the album’s only vocal, “Holiday Twist.” This is a creative collection of Christmas tunes that will spruce up your holidays. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Los Straitjackets’ Home Page

NRBQ: Turn On, Tune In

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

The latest NRBQ lineup tears it up live in the studio

More than fifty years from its founding, NRBQ is as much an ethos as it is a band. Rebuilt by founding member Terry Adams after a seven-year hiatus, the current lineup carries on the earlier group’s unique blend of rock, pop, rockabilly, boogie-woogie, jazz, blues and other American music forms, both in the studio and, as was the original band’s hallmark, on stage. Performing for SiriusXM in 2015 and New Jersey’s WFMU in 2017, the band’s latest lineup (which added drummer John Perrin in 2015) works through a typically diverse and impromptu set that leans heavily on material penned by Adams. The set list sidesteps classic ‘Q material written by former bassist Joey Spampinato and guitarist Al Anderson, but does reach back to the group’s early days, and stretches out with the sort of brilliantly selected covers the band is known for.

Making up the setlist in the moment has long been Adams’ job, and the nightly change in the band’s live performances has kept NRBQ from devolving into a nostalgic set of charts. The opening cover of Goffin & King’s “Don’t Ever Change” is emblematic of NRBQ’s quirky reach, as they tackle (apparently for the first time in this very performance) an obscure UK hit for the post-Buddy Holly Crickets. Perhaps they keyed off of the Beatles 1963 cover or Brinsley Schwarz’s version a decade later, but its lead harmony and polite drum rolls remain as charming today as they were in 1962. The set’s other covers aren’t as obscure, though they’re just as interesting. The Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” features bassist Casey McDonough reprising the falsetto vocal he sang on Brian Wilson’s fiftieth anniversary tour of Pet Sounds, Johnny & The Hurricanes’ 1959 instrumental hit “Red River Rock” features drummer John Perrin on lead organ, and Jimmie Driftwood’s “The Wilderness Road” includes a harmonica solo that’s as high and lonesome as the song’s lyrics.

Closer to home, the band resurrects favorites and obscurities from friends, family and former members. Guitarist Scott Ligon’s first recorded his older brother Chris’ twee “Florida” in 2005, and Chris recorded the song again in 2011 with his group the Flat Five. The harmony lead vocal is filled with yearning for America’s vacation land and a wordless hook of vocal jazz syllables. Terry Adams’ brother Donn is represented by the bombastic, incredibly rare Dickens’ B-side “Don’t Talk About My Music,” a song whose NRBQ story has to be read to be believed. Reaching back to the band’s early days, Steve Ferguson’s “Step Aside” recalls the group’s 1970 outing with rockabilly legend Carl Perkins, Terry Adams’ “Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard” provides a prog-rock tribute to the Three Stooges, a trio of tunes from 1977’s All Hopped Up includes the sweet “It Feels Good,” and the WFMU show closes with Adams’ ode to Southern comfort food, “RC Cola and a Moon Pie.”

More recent releases are represented by material from Adams’ solo albums, and the resurrected group’s albums Keep This Love Goin’ and Brass Tacks. Long-time WFMU DJ Bob Brainen provide liner and song notes, and the CD and LP include a professionally shot DVD of the WFMU performance. Those still lamenting the disbanding of the classic lineup of Adams, Anderson, Ardolino and Spampinato, may find it sacreligious for this new quartet to have adopted the NRBQ name, but they hold the torch high, and carry on the marriage of studied musicianship and musical whimsicality that’s long defined the band. Their new music plays well with the deep catalog entries, and the covers are lovingly selected and deftly executed. There are few bands that have been this fun for this long, and the latest lineup definitely keeps the love goin’. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ’s Home Page

Cheap Trick: The Epic Archive Vol. 2, 1980-1983

Saturday, August 10th, 2019

Second volume of odds ‘n’ sods reissued on CD

Originally released for digital download in 2015 [1 2 3], the three volume Epic Archives series gathers together rarities from the Cheap Trick catalog. Now being reissued on CD, volume two augments the re-release of volume one with 16 more odds ‘n’ sods gathered from singles, B-sides, EPs, live performances, film soundtracks, demos, remixes and edits. All of this is neatly wrapped with liner notes by Ken Sharp and track-by-track commentary from Bun E. Carlos, Rick Nielsen and Tom Petersson. Fans who got the download will want to re-up for the full-fidelity CD, the liners and the booklet’s rare photos. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Cheap Trick’s Home Page

Hank Williams: The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings

Saturday, August 10th, 2019

Essential, remastered 1949 radio transcriptions

For a star of Hank Williams’ magnitude, it’s surprising that these October 1949 radio transcriptions have had a life as rough as his own. First released by MGM in the early ‘60s in bits and pieces, the transcriptions were subjected to overdubbed applause intended to turn the studio recordings into live sets. Polygram’s 1993 reissue, Health & Happiness Shows, stripped away the manipulations, but evidenced physical problems with the transcriptions, and Time-Life’s 2011 reissue, The Legend Begins, repaired many of the transcription issues, while offering a remastering that some listeners found too heavy on the high end. This latest version features new transcriptions and remastering by Michael Graves, alongside liner notes by Colin Escott.

As with the two previous releases, this set includes the eight shows that Williams recorded on two successive Sunday’s at WSM-AM’s Nashville studio. Each show stretched to fifteen minutes when augmented by ad copy read by a local announcer, and here they clock in a few minutes shorter. Williams opens each show with the Sons of the Pioneers’ “Happy Rovin’ Cowboy” and fiddler Jerry Rivers closes each episode with the instrumental “Sally Goodin.” In between Williams sings some of his best-loved early hits, original songs and gospel numbers, and much like the later performances gathered on The Complete Mothers’ Best Recordings… Plus! (or its musical-excerpt version, The Unreleased Recordings), the spontaneity and freshness of the live takes often outshine the better-known studio versions.

Williams had a few hits in 1947 and 1948, but 1949 was the year his career really took off. Moving from Shreveport’s Louisiana Hayride to Nashville’s Grand Ol’ Opry, Williams’ catalog evolved from February’s chart-topping cover of the 1920’s show tune “Love Sick Blues,” to November’s iconic original “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” The latter’s release, as a B-side to “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It,” was still a month away when performed on this show, but as Williams explains to his radio audience, it’s performance on stage was already generating requests. It’s taken here a hair slower than on the single, and with the single’s fiddle solo omitted there’s more room for Williams and Don Helms’ pedal steel to draw out the song’s anguish.

As noted, each of the eight shows opens with Williams singing the Sons of the Pioneers’ “Happy Rovin’ Cowboy,” followed by WSM announcer Grant Turner introducing Williams to sing one of his original songs. A commercial break, unfortunately not included here, led into a second Williams song, a second commercial break, a tune by fiddler Jerry Rivers, a sacred song, and the fiddle song “Sally Goodin’” to close things out. The repetition gets a bit tiresome by the eighth go-round, but the shows are broken into discrete tracks that allow you to choose whether to listen to the continuity of a program, or navigate past the intros and outros to pick out your favorite tracks.

Williams was in fine voice for both days of recording, and the live-in-the-studio setting brought out vital performances from this initial Nashville lineup of the Drifting Cowboys. Williams omits his earliest hits (“Move It On Over” and “Honky Tonkin’”) and the then-yet-to-be-released novelty “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It,” but features the rest of his hits to date, including 1948’s “I’m a Long Gone Daddy” and “A Mansion on the Hill,” and 1949’s “Lovesick Blues” and “Wedding Bells,” twice each, “Mind Your Own Business,” “You’re Gonna Change (Or I’m Gonna Leave),” “Lost Highway” and the upcoming “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” These are terrific renderings – in both performance and sound quality – that easily sit side-by-side with the better known singles. Williams’ performance catalog at this point also included the non-charting 1947 single “Pan American” and the non-charting B-sides “I Can’t Get You Off My Mind” and “There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight.”

The sacred songs include the only known recording of Hazel and Grady Cole’s “The Tramp on the Street,” Pee Wee King’s “Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine,” and the originals “When God Comes and Gathers His Jewels” and “I Saw the Light.” On the latter, steel guitarist Don Helms and bassist Hillous Butram step up to the microphone to provide backing vocals. Williams’ wife Audrey sings a number on each of the first four programs, and while her solo slots – “I’m Telling You” and a cover of Doris Day’s then-current “(There’s a Bluebird) On Your Windowsill” – don’t evidence much talent, the duets “Where the Soul of Man Never Dies” and “I Want to Live and Love” show off the chemistry she shared with her husband and her resolve to be heard.

These shows sat in the vault until the Spring of 1950, latching on to the fame Williams would generate over the next three years. Colin Escott takes a third swing at the liner notes for this material, having written the notes for Polygram’s and Time-Life’s earlier reissues, and tells the tale of the show and the show’s patent medicine sponsor, Hadacol. As with Joe Palmaccio’s restoration for Time-Life’s 2011 release, Michael Graves erases the sonic artifacts that plague the transcription discs, and reveals the high quality of the original recordings. Williams would record additional transcription programs in 1950 (Garden Spot) and 1951 (Mothers Best), but these 1949 sessions, caught at the start of his rocket ride to stardom, are as essential as any recordings in his catalog. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Lyres: On Fyre

Saturday, August 10th, 2019

More wicked good early-80s Boston garage rock

After gaining attention with their debut EP, AHS 1005, and the transcendent follow-up single “Help You Ann,” Boston’s Lyres released their first full-length album. The focus remained resolutely on catchy, stripped-down garage rock, with just a hint of psych in the tremelo guitar and whining organ tone. Singer, vocalist and organist Jeff  “Monoman” Conolly wrote just as good as he borrowed, with his new songs that intertwining easily with choice covers of the New Colony Six, Kinks, Mickey and the Clean Cuts, and Pete Best’s post-Beatles “The Way I Feel About You.” Richard Harte’s production gives the instruments fidelity and definition without forsaking the band’s garage roots, and Conolly’s voice found its spot in the mix.

Rick Coraccio’s bass is more of a throb than a rhythm, which leaves drummer Paul Murphy plenty of room for his snare and cymbals. Guitarist Danny McCormack offers up economical guitar solos that make the most of his Dynalectron’s unusual tone, and Conolly’s organ lurks behind most of the songs with high-pitched notes. Best of all, the music is relentless in its danceable rock ‘n’ roll grooves, and Conolly proves himself a tireless frontman. It was hard to top the wicked guitar riff of “Help You Ann,” but the chorus of the opening “Don’t Give It Up Now” is nearly as hypnotic.

The album has been reissued several times with varying bonuses. The original U.S. vinyl had ten tracks, augmented on the promo by “I Really Want You Right Now.” The French New Rose label issued a vinyl LP that added eight bonuses (four from the AHS 1005 EP, three from the “Someone Who’ll Treat You Right Now” EP and a cover of Pete Best’s “I’ll Try Anyway”). Matador issued a CD that added nine bonuses (five session tracks, three from the “Someone Who’ll Treat You Right Now” EP and the Pete Best cover). And here, Ace of Hearts (in conjunction with Munster) includes only the five bonus session tracks offered on the Matador release.

The session tracks include covers of the Kinks (“Never Met a Girl Like You”), Wailers (“Swing Shift”) and Roy Lee Johnson (“Busy Body”) by way of the Jolly Green Giants. The two originals, “How Could Have I Done All These Things” and “Trying Just to Please With You” are solid rockers, and fit the general vibe of the album. For collectors who’ve picked up AHS 1005 separately, the out-of-print Matador CD provides the best coverage; but if you can’t find that, this Ace of Hearts / Munster reissue is the ticket. And if you can’t find either for sale here, try direct from Ace of Hearts Records. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Lyres’ Facebook Page

Lyres: AHS 1005

Saturday, August 10th, 2019

Wicked good early-80s Boston garage rock

In 1981, while many of us were still discovering the Nuggets compilation and Pebbles series, Jeff Conolly had already worked backwards and ingested garage rock’s roots. Breaking out of Boston’s rock scene with this debut four-song EP, Lyres had both the muscle and melodicism of ‘60s hitmakers like the Standells, Sonics, Chocolate Watchband and Boston’s Remains. As good as was the EP (and the concluding cover of the Hangmen’s “What a Girl Can’t Do” is really, really good), the 1983 follow-up single, “Help You Ann,” was even better. With an unforgettable guitar riff and a hypnotic lyric hook on the flip “I Really Want You Right Now,” this could easily have been a regional hit that broke through to the national charts, had it only been released in 1965.

Filling out this disc are seven tracks recorded in the summer of 1980, before the band laid down the EP. Included are early versions of all four EP tracks and the subsequent single “She Pays the Rent.” The band hadn’t fully locked into their garage groove yet, with the slower tempo and muddier production of “High on Yourself” sounding more like hard soul, and “Buried Alive” leaning more to punk at that point. The vocals have also yet to find the pocket, standing startlingly out front of “What a Girl Can’t Do.” Two lost titles include  “Ain’t Going Nowhere” and the rockabilly-styled “100 CC’s (Pure Thrust).” The demos, EP and post-EP single provide a good look at Lyres’ ramp-up to greatness (all that’s missing is the 1979 single single “How Do You Know?” b/w “Don’t Give It Up Now”). If you can’t find it for sale here, try direct from Ace of Hearts Records. [©2019 Hyperbolium

Lyres’ Facebook Page

Various Artists: Thank You Friends – Big Star’s Third Live… And More

Saturday, August 10th, 2019

A celebration of Alex Chilton and Big Star

Although Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens revived Big Star in 1993 with the help of the Posies’ Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, they never sought to recreate the full majesty of their seminal studio recordings. The 2.0 lineup lasted nearly 18 years of intermittent live performances and the studio album In Space, but with Chilton’s passing in 2010, Big Star morphed from a going concern into a well spring of reissues, archival releases, biographies, documentaries and tribute performances. The first of the tributes took place within days of Chilton’s passing, as Big Star’s remaining three members were joined by the band’s friends and colleagues to deliver a musical wake at SXSW.

By the end of that year, a more formal tribute was organized with a live performance of Big Star’s Third, complete with the album’s full, original orchestration. And from that show, a core musical collective formed to tour the tribute internationally, engaging guest musicians and orchestras at each stop. A full rendering of Third remains the centerpiece of the show, but with the addition of material from Big Star’s first two albums and Chris Bell’s post-Big Star work to fill out the story. This 2017 performance features Big Star’s Jody Stephens and musical director Chris Stamey alongside Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer (The Posies, Big Star), Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Jeff Tweedy and Pat Sansone (Wilco), Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tango), Robyn Hitchcock, Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers), Dan Wilson (Semisonic), and a full chamber orchestra.

Paying tribute to a band as beloved as Big Star is a tricky proposition. Covering too closely offers nothing new or of yourself, while straying too far risks losing touch with the object of your tribute. Add to that a small catalog that allows for talmudic-like study by fans and the stretch from single song cover to a full concert and album reading, and the balance point seems to grow more elusive. As musical director, Stamey has plotted out musical waypoints that anchor these covers to the familiar originals, while at the same time employing vocalists and harmony singers whose tone and style are reverent, yet fresh. The combination of familiar and new renews the chestnuts that had fossilized into icons, and animates the songs that were never performed live by the original band.

The performers’ deep affection for the material is evident throughout, and the split between earlier material on disc one and Third on disc two mirrors the changes in the band’s personnel, circumstances and resulting direction. The song sequence for Third has long been debated, and the order selected here doesn’t seem to match any of the well-known sequences; i.e., the 1975 test pressing on Stax, the 1978 vinyl issue on PVC, the 1992 CD issue on Ryko, the 2016 Complete Third on Omnivore, or any of the many reissues in between; notably missing are the test pressing’s covers of “Femme Fatale” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” and reissue inclusions “Till the End of the Day” and “Nature Boy.” Still, no matter the track selection or order, the musical schizophrenia of the original sessions comes across in both the individual songs, and the idiosyncratic range of material.

Third was such a personal, one-of-a-kind document of an artist in a particular period of his life, that a staged tribute is necessarily removed from the circumstances under which the album was created. The performers rely on the personal resonances the music strikes in themselves and the audience, and connect with the material on musical, lyrical and emotional levels. Jessica Pratt and Jon Auer capture the somnambulistic late night of “Big Black Car,” Skylar Guasz and Mike Mills rock “You Can’t Have Me,” and Jody Stephens’ shines with fragile hope on string-backed performances of “For You” and “Blue Moon.” The personal and professional disintegration that Chilton captured on Third couldn’t possibly be reproduced with full emotional fidelity in a tribute, but as an homage and an echo of Chilton’s miasma, this is a fulfilling production. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

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Steve Goodman: Artistic Hair & Affordable Art

Saturday, August 10th, 2019

Bonus-lad­en reissues of Steve Goodman’s final two albums

Goodman lived his entire professional career on borrowed time. Diagnosed with leukemia in 1969, he made the most of his 15 years on the public stage. His best known song, “City of New Orleans,” was a hit for Arlo Guthrie, and again for Willie Nelson, and is recounted from his debut album in live form on Artistic Hair. But his most sung song is the Chicago Cubs victory anthem “Go Cubs Go,” included as a bonus track on this reissue of Affordable Art. The latter album, the last released during Goodman’s lifetime, includes a double-header of baseball-themed tracks in its original lineup, “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” and a sprightly dawg-grass arrangement of the national pastime classic “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Goodman recorded for Buddah and Asylum before inaugurating his own Red Pajama label with this pair of albums, reissued here with eighteen bonus tracks between them. 1983’s Artistic Hair was constructed from live material cherry-picked from a decade’s worth of recordings. The selected tracks show off the intimate stage presence that matched the intellectual intimacy of Goodman’s music. The material features a half dozen originals, including the humorous realities of  “Elvis Imitators” and “Chicken Cordon Bleus,” and the icons “City of New Orleans” and “You Never Even Called Me By Name.” Goodman’s covers ranged widely from early twentieth century tunes “Tico Tico,” “Red Red Robin” and “Winter Wonderland” to Shel Silverstein’s acoustic blues, “Three-Legged Man.”

The album’s ten bonus tracks, originally released on the posthumous No Big Surprise: The Steve Goodman Anthology, feature a similar mix of originals and covers, including Goodman’s chanty about a notorious Chicago-area towing company, “Lincoln Park Pirates,” the ad-libbed stage performer’s nightmare, “The Broken String Song,” and the celebration of love’s polyglot nature, “Men Who Love Women Who Love Men.” Covers include Leroy Van Dyke’s tongue-twisting “The Auctioneer,” the Albert Brumley spiritual “I’ll Fly Away” and the mid-30s dance tune “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” popularly recorded by Fats Waller, the Ink Spots and Patti Page. Goodman is relaxed and confident as he variously performs solo and with a band, and while the settings and recording quality vary, the constructed set is a treat.

Affordable Art mixes live and studio tracks, with a song list composed almost entirely of originals. The album opens with the instrumental “If Only Jethro Was Here,” featuring Goodman on mandola and Jim Rothermel on recorder, and highlighting mandolinist Jethro Burns’ absence. Burns himself is heard on an old-timey rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which is stretched into a double with Goodman’s “A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request,” and legged into a triple with the bonus track “Go Cubs Go.” As on his previous album of live material, Goodman is heard both solo and with a band, including the driving drums and electric slide of “How Much Tequila (Did I Drink Last Night)?” and an acoustic ensemble highlighted by Marty Stuart’s mandolin and Jerry Douglas’ dobro on the hopeful “When My Rowboat Comes In.”

Goodman’s humor drives the consumerist fever dream “Vegematic” the sardonic “Watching Joey Glow,” and the jazzy shuffle “Talk Backwards.”  He duets with John Prine for their co-written “Souvenirs” and dips into sentimental nostalgia on “Old Smoothies,” evidencing the humanity that anchored the wide reach of his songwriting. The album’s bonus tracks include the sing-a-long Bo Diddley beat of “Go Cubs Go” and seven previously unreleased acoustic tracks that include British folk singer Ralph McTell’s “Streets of London,” studio alternates of “Old Smoothies” and “Vegematic,” and four more originals. Affordable Art provides a solid capstone to Goodman’s career, and together with Artistic Hair shows off his songwriting, guitar wizardry, studio craft, stage presence, and power as both a solo performer and band leader. These are worthwhile upgrades for fans who have earlier editions. [©2019 Hyperbolium]