Posts Tagged ‘Memphis’

Van Duren: Idiot Optimism

Saturday, November 7th, 2020

Rare 1970s Memphis pop-rock follow-up

The 1970s Memphis rock scene was fertile but largely ignored in its time. Big Star rose to influence and renown only decades after they failed to make a commercial impression and disbanded. Others on the scene – Icewater, Rock City, the Hot Dogs, Cargoe, Zuider Zee – caught varying degrees of reflected post-mortem Big Star spotlight on compilations and reissues, but Van Duren, who recorded one of the city’s best ‘70s rock albums, remained obscure. This 1978 release, originally on the short-lived Big Sound label, garnered favorable reviews and FM radio play, but has been little known by even those who’ve collected the endless stream of Big Star reissues and vault material, and has been selling for big dollars in secondary markets.

Spurred by the documentary Waiting: The Van Duren Story and its accompanying soundtrack, Omnivore’s gone back to the vault and reissued Duren’s debut, Are You Serious?, alongside this even rarer second album. Idiot Optimism was recorded shortly after the debut, but disagreements with the label led to it being shelved. The album appeared briefly on the Japanese Air Mail label in 1999, and again in 2003 on Terry Manning’s Lucky Seven imprint, but this is the first issue in which Duren’s been involved, and remastered from the original analog tapes, with liner notes by Duren and a previously unpublished cover photo, this is the album’s definitive rendering.

Unlike Duren’s multi-instrumentalist performance on his debut, here he engages a band. Also unlike the debut, the well of material was mostly newer, many songs having been written during the time between the debut album’s recording and its release. Duren also included the only cover he’d recorded to that point – Chris Bell’s “Make a Scene” – as well as a song he co-wrote with Jody Stephens in 1975, “Andy, Please.” He also leaned more heaviy into mid- and up-tempo numbers, having found that ballads didn’t work as well on stage, with the fetching “What’s Keeping You?” being the only piano ballad included on the album.

Jon Tiven returned to co-produce, but after a falling out with the label, Duren was left to produce most of the album with help from engineer Richard Robinson. Oddly, the record label had forsaken vinyl LPs for cassette tapes, which allowed the album to stretch out to fifteen tracks. Musically, Duren’s songs have many of the musical hallmarks of those on his debut, but the players rock a bit more freely than Duren had as a multi-instrumentalist. Tom MacGregor rips on lead guitar for “Convincing Convictions,” and Hilly Michaels opens “Torn in Half” with an inventive drum pattern alongside Jeff Batter’s synthesizer.

Duren finished mixing the album before splitting with Big Sound, but the label did a poor job of mastering, and the previous Air Mail and Lucky Seven releases used the label’s inferior master. Omnivore has returned to the original analog tapes with a new transfer by Adam Hill, and a new master by Michael Graves. Those new to Duren’s catalog will want to pick this up alongside the debut, and fans who previously picked up the earlier issues of this title will want to upgrade! [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Van Duren’s Bandcamp Page

Van Duren: Are You Serious?

Saturday, November 7th, 2020

Long-lost 1970s Memphis pop-rock classic

The 1970s Memphis rock scene was fertile but largely ignored in its time. Big Star rose to influence and renown only decades after they failed to make a commercial impression and disbanded. Others on the scene – Icewater, Rock City, the Hot Dogs, Cargoe, Zuider Zee – caught varying degrees of reflected post-mortem Big Star spotlight on compilations and reissues, but Van Duren, who recorded one of the city’s best ‘70s rock albums, remained obscure. This 1978 release, originally on the short-lived Big Sound label, garnered favorable reviews and FM radio play, but has been little known by even those who’ve collected the endless stream of Big Star reissues and vault material, and has been selling for big dollars in secondary markets.

Spurred by the documentary Waiting: The Van Duren Story and its accompanying soundtrack, Omnivore’s gone back to the vault to reissue Duren’s debut and second album, Idiot Optimism. While the latter was remastered from the original analog tapes, Omnivore’s used Bob Ludwig’s original master from the 1970s for this CD. The vinyl editions of both albums were freshly remastered by Jeff Powell at Phillips Recording in Memphis. Omnivore’s reissue of Are You Serious? includes the original thirteen tracks, performed by Duren and drummer Hilly Michaels, with help from Doug Snyder and co-producer Jon Tiven. The three tracks anthologized on the soundtrack album expand here into a surprisingly assured album-length statement of a twenty-something who was packing eight years experience as a band leader and songwriter.

Duren’s songs yearn to express his romantic feelings, acknowledging the natural connection of “Chemical Fire,” nervously marking time in “Waiting,” and confessing his innermost hope on “This Love Inside.” There are echoes of the Raspberries on “Oh Babe,” and Badfinger and Todd Rundgren on the angry “Grow Yourself Up.” “Stupid Enough” essays the chagrin of staying too long, and the acoustic closer “The Love That I Love” displays the sort of mood Alex Chilton brought to “Thirteen.”

Duren’s debut burns with the passion felt between the naivete of teen years and the growing cynicism of one’s thirties. He’s articulate, both lyrically and musically, which might seem preternatural if he hadn’t been developing his craft and polishing his songs on stage and in demo sessions for several years. Big Sounds garnered surprisingly broad FM radio play, but it didn’t translate into big sales or chart action, and the album quickly disappeared. Omnivore’s reissue includes an eight-page booklet that features new liners from Duren and previously unpublished period photos. This is a great intro to Van Duren, and a perfect complement to the parallel reissue of his second album. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Van Duren’s Bandcamp Page

Sid Selvidge: The Cold of the Morning

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

SidSelvidge_TheColdOfTheMorning

It’s safe to say that Big Star wasn’t the only 1970s Memphis act that didn’t find the contemporary recognition they deserved. They weren’t even the only 1970s Memphis act produced by Jim Dickenson to sail in that uncharted boat. Singer-songwriter Sid Selvidge, having been reared in Greenville, MS, followed the migratory trail to Memphis in the early 60s and continued to steep in the music of his native South. He fell under the tutelage of Furry Lewis, made friends with Dickenson and Don Nix, waxed an album for a Stax subsidiary and after a multi-year stint in academia, returned full-time to music to make art rather than commerce.

After an early 70s album for Elektra was shelved, Selvidge teamed with Dickenson to record this 1976 release for the local Peabody label. Unluckily for Selvidge, the label chose that very moment to go out of business (echoing Big Star’s trouble with Stax a few years earlier), returning the master and an initial press run that had no distributor. Luckily for Selvidge, the album was strong enough to gain notice with only haphazard distribution of a small number of copies. But with big city eyes upon him, Selvidge discovered that New York showcases and major label interest wasn’t what he was looking for. Instead of pursuing these leads, he returned to Memphis, revived the Peabody label as a going concern, toured and released sporadic albums of his own.

Though The Cold of the Morning garnered some critical notice at the time of its release, it fell out of print more than twenty years ago and drifted into the memories of the few who discovered its original issue or lucked into a word-of-mouth recommendation. The same could be said of Selvidge’s sporadically released later albums: treasured by a small number of in-the-know fans, but physically elusive to the larger audience of blues and guitar listeners who would have enjoyed them. The track lineup include three fine originals (“Frank’s Tune,” “The Outlaw” and “Wished I Had a Dime”), but it’s the album’s cover songs that fully reveal Selvidge’s breadth and interpretive depth. The set opens with superbly selected and rendered take on Fred Neil’s “I’ve Got a Secret (Didn’t We Shake Sugaree),” sung a shade more upbeat to Selvidge’s solo finger-picked backing.

The album’s other mid-60s gem is Patrick Sky’s “Many a Mile,” a song whose wistfulness is amplified by the purity of Selvidge’s voice and guitar playing. Reaching further back, George M. Cohan’s “Then I’d Be Satisfied with Life” retains a turn-of-the-century tone in Selvidge’s vocal slides and ragtime guitar. The jazz age “I Get the Blues When it Rains” is augmented by the piano and washboard of Mud Boy Slim and the Neutrons, and “Miss the Mississippi and You” is sung with an introspective lilt that’s less sentimental than Jimmie Rodgers original. Omnivore’s 2014 reissue adds six bonus tracks, each of which matches the quality of the original dozen. The traditional “Wild About My Lovin'” and Charley Jordan’s mid-30s blues “Keep it Clean” are especially fine, but truth be told, Selvidge picked great songs and made great recordings of each one.

Selvidge balances the nostalgia of older material with a timeless folk presentation of guitar and voice. Mud Boy and the Neutrons lend support for two tracks (“Wished I Had a Dime” and “I Get the Blues When it Rains”), but Selvidge’s picking and singing (including a cappella and yodeling) are so musically complete that the production really benefit from the clarity of his presentation. The productions are spare, but the complex interplay of voice, guitar, melody and lyrics is filled with subtlety and depth. Omnivore’s reissue includes a twenty-page book filled with photos and extensive liner notes by Bob Mehr. If you managed to miss out on this album over the past thirty-eight years, this is a perfect chance to get acquainted. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Sid Selvidge’s Home Page