Posts Tagged ‘Folk Rock’

The Mamas and the Papas: A Gathering of Flowers

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

MamasAndPapas_AGatheringOfFlowers

This 1970 anthology, reissued on CD for the first time, is a one-of-a-kind time-capsule of the Mamas and the Papas. In addition to their first six Top 10 hits, the track list adds non-charting singles, B-sides and album tracks, carefully selected and ordered to show off the many sides of the group’s talent. In addition to the harmonies that graced the radio, there’s also the tight jazz work of “Once Was a Time I Thought,” thoughtful originals and keenly interpreted covers. Knitting it all together, and elevating this collection above a simple recitation of hits, are interview clips with John Phillips and Cass Elliot interspersed among the tracks. Their dialog reflects on the group, their producer, sessions and songs, and though the spoken words overlap the instrumental lead-ins of a few tracks, they’re surprisingly unobtrusive.

Several of the original tracks are also enhanced with bits of session chatter, vocal outtakes and rehearsals, providing listeners a few moments in the studio. The songs are organized as a musical program, rather a strict chronological run-through, which gives the set a holistic, album-like flow that’s unusual for an anthology. Though released after the group split in 1969, the tracks only cover through 1967’s Deliver; nothing from 1968’s The Papas and the Mamas (and their 1971 contractual obligation release, People Like Us) is included, which leaves out Elliot’s solo-career launching “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” But even without the last chapter and afterward, this set does an excellent job of telling the group’s story.

Real Gone’s reissue reproduces the 20-track double-LP lineup on a single sixty-six minute disc, and includes the original album’s photo-rich 16-page booklet, shrunk down to CD booklet size. This leaves the lyrics and Andy Wickham’s liner notes to be read with a strong magnifying glass (or find the latter here). In addition to a brief recounting of the group’s formation, Wickham also provides illuminating detail on the men who formed Dunhill Records. The disc was remastered from the original tapes by Mike Milchner at SonicVision, and shows off the rich sound that producer Lou Adler got out of the Wrecking Crew at the famed Gold Star studio. There are more complete sets (e.g., Gold and All the Leaves are Brown) but not even the Complete Anthology tells the story in the same novel way as this collection. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

The Hello People: Fusion

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

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]

Lost Leaders: The Line the Lie

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

New video from New York’s Lost Leaders (Peter Cole & Byron Isaacs), with a heavy CSN feel to the melody, harmony and guitars. Isaacs plays with Levon Helm and Ollabelle, Cole is reportedly a member in good standing of the American Automobile Association. You can hear a live performance (the so-called “Scarf Session”) in the video below, and download the studio version (plus a second song from their upcoming EP) on the band’s home page.

Lost Leaders’ Home Page

Herman’s Hermits: Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter / Hold On

Friday, June 24th, 2011

OST two-fer featuring tunes from Sloan, Barri and Gouldman

With oldies radio having reduced Herman’s Hermits catalog to only a couple of their hit singles, many listeners may be unaware of the group’s immense mid-60s popularity. The Hermits were the top-selling British group in 1965, besting even the Beatles, spurred manic responses from female fans, and starred in two feature-length films. ABKCO’s two-fer pulls together the soundtracks from both 1966’s Hold On! And 1968’s Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter. To be fair to the Fab Four, neither of the Hermits’ films holds a creative candle to A Hard Day’s Night (or even Help, really), and while the soundtracks haven’t the brilliance of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, they do combine charming hit singles, interesting explorations of folk-rock, good album tracks, and yes, some filler.

Hold On spun off two hit singles, the music-hall styled “Leaning on the Lamp Post” and the folk-rock “A Must to Avoid.” The latter is one of four titles penned by ace Los Angeles writers P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri. The Hermits’ original version of Sloan & Barri’s “Where Were You When I Needed You” hasn’t the venom of the Grass Roots’ subsequent hit, but Peter Noone’s double tracked vocal is a nice touch, and the band cuts an interesting groove that marries British Invasion beat music and West Coast folk-rock. The title track quickly reveals Sloan’s fascination with Dylan, and the tambourine, hand-claps and waltz-time of “All the Things I Do for You Baby” suggest the Sunset Strip sound of the Leaves and Byrds.

The remainder of Hold On includes the novelty “The George and Dragon” and a generous helping of tunes written by soundtrack specialists Fred Karger, Ben Weisman and Sid Wayne. Wayne and Weisman wrote several of the more passable songs for Elvis Presley’s films, and here they work up the foot-stomping “Got a Feeling,” Zombies-styled “Wild Love,” and, for film co-star Shelley Fabares, the mid-tempo ballad “Make Me Happy.” Mickey Most’s productions, heard here in true stereo, hold up well, sounding punchier and more nuanced than one might have heard through an AM radio in 1966. The entire album clocks in at just over twenty-two minutes, and so it pairs nicely with the Hermits’ second soundtrack.

The Hermits scored their second feature film two years later, but by this time the music scene had moved on from cute mod style to hippie couture, and the band’s commercial fortunes had waned. The soundtrack’s single, “The Most Beautiful Thing in My Life,” managed a measly #131 in the U.S. and didn’t chart at all in the UK. Still, the album contained several interesting songs from ace pop songwriter (and then soon-to-be 10cc founder) Graham Gouldman, including the Hollies-influenced “It’s Nice to be Out in the Morning.” Filling out the track list were the band’s 1965 title hit (reproduced here in mono) and their last top-five, 1967’s “There’s a Kind of Hush.”

ABKCO’s reissue (with fantastic digital transfers by Peter Mew, Teri Landi and Steve Rosenthal) adds a bonus rehearsal session of “Mrs. Brown” in which Peter Noone tries out an a cappella introduction and pins down the tempo. Noone was among the most charming front-men of the British Invasion, and his good nature and hard-work shines through on both the hits and album tracks. Much like the recent Herman’s Hermits documentary, these soundtracks show off an endearing band that cannily picked their material from top-flight writers. The two-fer CD is also available as individual album downloads [1 2], but both soundtracks are recommended, and the two-fer is the way to go. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Weird Al Wraps Bob Dylan in Palindromes

Friday, June 24th, 2011

John Meeks: Old Blood

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Old-timey voice sings original alt.country laments and murder ballads

John Meeks lived the itinerant life of a troubadour before he was even old enough to drive or strum a guitar. Toted along to gigs by his musician father, and driven around the Southwest by his mother, Meeks racked up a lot of miles at a very young age. After a brief stab at college he settled in San Diego and tried out the indie-rock scene, but it wasn’t until he hooked up with the city’s roots musicians (including Pall Jenkins, Jimmy LaValle and Matt Resovich) that the sounds his father made came back to call. Meeks sings with a ghostly lonesomeness that’s partly Roy Acuff, partly Neil Young and partly a bluegrass yodel. It’s a voice from a much earlier era. His studied tempos provide time to hold onto notes in an expressive drone, bending and trilling here and there for George Jones-styled emotional emphasis.

Meeks’ downtrodden lyrics are written from the gut, rather than the mind, and they’re fit to melodies that feel like a natural wander rather than composed map. Taken together, they make songs that feel lived in, musical expressions of emotions that aren’t so much wondrous discoveries as they are worn resignations. It’s the unlikeliest of music to be made in a city renowned for its temperate weather and beautiful beaches. Of course, Tijuana is just a stone’s throw away (neatly echoed in the moody trumpet of “Been Down By Love”), and Los Angeles is only a few hours up the highway, but Meeks’ murder ballads and laments of lost and crossed love remain surprisingly dark. Even at mid-tempo his keening melodies and the drifting backgrounds of guitar, bass, drums and fiddle are often laid out as a wail of defeat.

“I Don’t Even Want to Think of You” is taken slowly, wracking its balladry with more pain and isolation than its ‘50s styling would normally admit. The album’s heartbreak flares into moments of violence, but Meeks sings in the voice of a man whose personality is broken in two, whose misdeeds are hidden from his waking self. Even his threats hang ambiguously between leaving and ensuring no one ever leaves him. Meeks’ anguish is uncompromisingly singular, lending even the sprightly numbers, such as the Everly-esque “Oh My Sweet Darlin’” (listen carefully for “Bye Bye Love” woven cleverly into the melody) a powerful feeling of doom. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Bay Moon
MP3 | I Don’t Even Want to Think of You
John Meeks’ Home Page
John Meeks’ MySpace Page

Dan Kwas: Dreams Die Hard

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

A power-popper succumbs to the existential worries of middle age

What happens when a power pop songwriter’s 20-something angst resurfaces in the voice of a married, 50-something father? Dan Kwas answers that very question with his second solo album, a dispirited collection whose mid-life crisis runs a great deal deeper than adolescent heartbreak. Kwas finds that the end-of-the-world urgency of his earlier years was little more than naivette, while the disillusion of middle-age is considered from a vantage point that affords little remaining time for achievement. In contrast to music careers that stretch continuously from youth to middle age, Kwas put his musical dreams away at a young age, only to crack open the amber twenty-five years later. The emotions he freed no find youthful romantic crises upon which to alight; instead they weigh him down with the tired sense of mortality one develops in middle age.

Kwas first solo album, 2007’s A Life Too Long Forgotten, was meant to be a “catharsis for the longings of middle age,” but in making new music, he awakened long-dormant dreams and ignited the realization his musical ambitions were killed off prematurely. His early-80s band, The Sidewalks, found regional fame in Milwaukee, but failing to attract a larger audience or record label, the group folded and Kwas moved on to other endeavors, including marriage and children. Dreams Die Hard is a home-brew affair, with Kwas singing and playing all the instruments, and writing everything save a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time.” The tracks were “recorded in a cold, damp basement in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin,” which befits his intimate complaints of middle-age’s settlement.

Kwas isn’t (or isn’t any longer) a hot-shot guitarist or drummer (the bass sounds to be his main instrument), but that works in his favor, as the home-spun folk-rock productions befit the album’s ragged emotional tenor. His slow-motion take on the Stones’ “Last Time” leans more heavily on the song’s indecision than its spittle, and by the time he finally sings of romantic distress on “My Heart” and “Never Saw it Coming,” it’s overshadowed by the larger disappointments that have already been cataloged. Kwas existential crises surface in “Nowhere to Go But Down” and “One More Nail in My Coffin But One Less Day of Pain” mulling death more closely, and he closes the album with a Salvation Army band rhythm and bitter faithlessness in “Jesus Saves (Save for Me).”

There’s tremendous irony in a happily married power-popper discovering that romantic harmony leaves room for larger, previously unimaginable life disappointments. The issues of earlier years have been replaced by the forsaking of a musical mistress (“Don’t Dreams Die Hard”), the repetition of work life (neatly echoed in the clock-like rhythm of “Worn Down”), and religious disillusion (“Magic Touch,” which could also be heard as begging a second chance with his artistic muse). Kwas’ middle-class jealousy, depression, and emotional malaise are topics well explored in books and films, but less regularly a wellspring for pop music. Listeners of a certain age will find that having these realizations couched in the power-pop tones of their youth is a powerfully depressing combination. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Worn Down
Dan Kwas’ Home Page
Dan Kwas’ MySpace Page

The Clefs of Lavender Hill: Stop! Get a Ticket

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Long-lost stereo LP from obscure Florida ‘60s rock/folk-rock band

The Clefs of Lavender Hill are an obscure mid-60s Florida four-piece built around the brother and sister guitar/vocal team of Travis and Coventry Fairchild (born Joseph and Lorraine Ximenes) and the rhythm section of Bill (bass) and Fred (drums) Moss. The B-side of their first single, “Stop! Get a Ticket,” has long been a favorite of the garage-folk crowd, having appeared on the box set reissue of Nuggets, as well as Rock Artifacts 3. Little was known about the band, though singles collectors managed to document four singles released on Date records between 1965 and 1967. Rumors persisted about a full album that had been shelved after recording in 1966, and now forty-four years later, Wounded Bird has unearthed the eleven album tracks in terrific full-fidelity stereo, as well as a non-LP single and two additional mixes (one stereo, one mono) of “Stop! Get a Ticket.” Whew!

The band’s rock ‘n’ roll roots were stoked by the British Invasion, evident not only in covers of the Beatles (“It Won’t Be Long”), Rolling Stones (“Play With Fire”), Donovan (“Sunshine Superman”), but also in the Zombies-styled original “One More Time.” The group conjured a folk-rock sound on “You Don’t Notice” and “First Tell Me Why” that nodded to the harmonies of San Francisco’s Autumn Records and Jefferson Airplane. The Fairchild’s originals are excellent, and their dramatic take on “Play with Fire,” with Coventry Fairchild singing lead, is even more seething than the Stones’ original; their cover of “New Orleans” amplifies the party vibe of Gary U.S. Bonds’ hit with dynamic bass and drums and a hot guitar substituting for the original’s sax.

This is a terrific find that greatly expands on the band’s one well-anthologized track and four difficult-to-find 45s. The four-panel booklet includes vintage photos but – incredibly – no liner notes. Given the band’s obscurity, Wounded Bird should have stepped up and hired someone to write at least a cursory band biography, if not track down the members for contemporary interviews. The original mono mixes of the band’s four singles would have been a nice addition to the stereo album tracks, but it’s hard to complain too loudly given the quality of the album masters. What’s here is truly great, but what could have been here would have (and should have) been definitive. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Galapaghost: Neptunes

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

Second EP from one-man indie-folk-pop band

Casey Chandler’s follow-up to 2009’s Our Lost Generation finds him once again working alone in his studio, overdubbing his vocals with guitar, ukulele, bass, drums, chimes and layers of falsetto harmonies. He depends less on his uke here, and the results are less wound-up and more contemplative. The opening “Aloner” sounds like one of Chris Bell’s down-tempo numbers, with quiet hints of Clem Snide’s “Moment in the Sun,” and a terrific closing flourish. The tempo picks up to a trot for the strummed country-folk “Beauty of Birds,” the plea “Don’t Go & Break My Heart,” and the Celtic-tinged guitar instrumental “Solemn.” Chandler’s lyrics tend to the poetic as he seems to contemplate isolation, loneliness, malignant behavior and self-preservation. The title track’s synthesizers, rock ‘n’ roll drums, guitars and bass show some interesting versatility, even if the volume provides a startling punctuation mark at the EP’s end. Galapaghost may soon morph into a group, as Chandler’s moving to Austin where his two EPs will serve as calling cards to hopefully like-minded bandmates. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Aloner
Galapaghost’s MySpace Page

Galapaghost: Our Lost Generation

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Enchanting indie-folk-pop one-man band

Galapaghost is multi-instrumentalist Casey Chandler alone with his studio craft (and not to be confused with the Galapaghost Trio). Like most “bands” assembled through overdubbing, there’s a charming insularity born of one set of hands repeatedly tugging on the beat. Chandler’s assemblages are enchanting, particularly how the emotions of his vocals – lead and harmonies – interact with his ukulele. Chandler’s four-string opens the album with harp-like plucked notes before turning to strumming alongside drums, bass and guitar; his vocal slides from note to note like a trombone, punctuated with a few Buddy Holly-styled hiccups. His combination of ukulele and falsetto sidesteps the early twentieth-century vibrato of Tiny Tim, though a few excursions into his top end suggest the delicacy of Art Garfunkel, the brooding of Del Shannon and the bittersweetness of Neil Young. The toy-like tone of the ukulele lends innocence to Chandler’s music, even when his vocals are sorrowful or bereft. The contrast of chipper strings, chimes and tambourine with Chandler’s forlorn vocalizations is emphasized by his productions, thoughtfully layering the instruments and voices, and often introducing them serially as the song builds. Chandler released Our Lost Generation at the end of 2009, and followed with another EP, Neptunes, only a few months later; he’ll soon relocate from upstate New York to Austin where he’ll put together a band. Let’s hope he can guide like-minded musicians to the same magic results he creates by himself in the studio. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | You’re All I Need
Galapaghost’s MySpace Page