Posts Tagged ‘Orchestral Pop’

Essential Reissues of 2019

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

Some of the best reissues of 2019. Click the titles to find full reviews and music samples.

Various Artists: The Bakersfield Sound

A towering achievement in musical archaeology, even when measured against Bear Family’s stratospherically high standard. Reissue producer Scott B. Bomar digs deeply into Bakersfield’s musical soil to explore the migrant roots that coalesced into the history, connections, influences and circumstances that forged the Bakersfield Sound. Ten discs, nearly three-hundred tracks, and a 224-page hardcover book essay the scenes development, how lesser-known players contributed to those who would become stars, and how the stars blossomed from their roots. Reissue of the year.

Various Artists: Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records – The Definitive Collection

Triple-disc set cataloging the riches of Narvel “Cadillac Baby” Eatmon’s Chicago-based labels, including Bea & Baby, Key, Keyhole, Ronald and Miss. Competing with Chess, Vee-Jay, Brunswick and Delmark in the early ‘60s, the entrepreneurial Eatmon sourced acts through his Show Lounge nightclub, and built a small, but artistically important catalog that includes blues, soul, R&B doo-wop and Latin-tinged numbers. The accompanying 128-page hardbound book includes a lengthy interview with Eatmon, alongside producer’s notes, liners, and artist profiles.

Blinky: Heart Full of Soul – The Motown Anthology

Sondra “Blinky” Williams may be Motown’s most widely heard unsung singer. She recorded dozens of sides for the Detroit powerhouse, but only a few ever made it to market. At the same time, she was heard weekly by millions of television viewers as Jim Gilstrap’s duet partner on the theme song to Good Times. Her many fans have lobbied for years to “free Blinky from the vaults,” and with Real Gone’s two-CD set, their wish has finally been granted.

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos: The Complete Capitol Singles 1971-1975

The third of three double-disc sets cataloging Buck Owens’ singles on Capitol. Though he didn’t have the same level of commercial success in the early 1970s that he’d had throughout the 1960s, his artistry was undimmed, and his omnivorous musical appetite was still unsated. Recording primarily in his own Bakersfield studio, he covered material from outside the country realm, and stretched out from his classic Telecaster-and-steel sound to incorporate pop, bluegrass and gospel. A strong and fulfilling chapter of the Buck Owens legacy.

Hank Williams: The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings

Third try is the charm. Williams’ 1949 radio transcriptions for patent medicine sponsor Hadacol have slowly been resuscitated and restored over a series of releases, culminating in this best-yet edition. In a year that saw Williams transition from the Hayride to the Opry, and evolve his material from a cover of “Love Sick Blues” to the iconic original “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” these eight shows capture Williams on a fast-moving train to stardom. This new restoration attends to both the physical issues of the source transcriptions and the aural issues of earlier remasters.

Van Duren: Waiting – The Van Duren Story

Following Big Star by a few years, Van Duren suffered the same lack of renown as his fellow Memphians. Though Big Star’s public renown grew over the decades, Duren has remained obscure. A limited edition Japanese reissue of his 1977 debut failed to spread the word, and his follow-up album remained vaulted for decades. But with this documentary soundtrack sampling the rich Badfinger/Rundgren sounds of his late-70s power-pop, Duren’s music may finally reach the sympathetic ears it deserves.

Uncle Walt’s Band: Uncle Walt’s Band

This springboard for Walter Hyatt, Champ Hood and David Ball was well-known in their adopted Austin, and among in-the-know music fans; but their instrumental finesse and joyous mix of country, jazz, folk, blues, bluegrass and swing was too sophisticated for reduction to a commercial concern. Omnivore’s reissue of the group’s 1974 debut polishes the brilliant gem by doubling the original track count with eleven bonus demos and live recordings.

Yum Yum: Dan Loves Patti

The conflagration of criticism and meta-criticism that burned this release to a crisp two years after its release is one of the stranger chapters in pop critic history. Yum Yum’s Chris Holmes was, according to his former roommate Thomas Frank, a prankster faking out his record company in a quixotic bid to supplant corporate Alternative Rock with finely crafted orchestral pop. Absurd on its face, Frank’s critique caught fire in an escalating war of meta-criticism. More than twenty years later, Holmes’ creation remains sweetly satisfying to those with a taste for candy.

Robin Lane & The Chartbusters: Many Years Ago

Triple-disc set pulling together the great Boston band’s entire first-run catalog, including pre-signing demos and an indie single, two albums and a live EP for Warner Brothers, a post-Warner EP, demos, session tracks, and live material. The music rings with the passion of its author and the intensity of the band’s playing.

The Strangeloves: I Want Candy

Three Australian sheep-farming brothers turned out to be a trio of New York songwriter-producers coping with the British Invasion. The authors of the Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back” turned themselves into a beat group with the earworms “I Want Candy,” “Cara-Lin” and “Night Time,” and waxed a full album of catchy Bo Diddley beats. Reissued on red vinyl, the original mono mix delivers an AM radio gut punch and an object lesson in the power of mid-60s mono vs. stereo.

Various Artists: That’ll Flat Git It! Vol. 32
Twenty-eight years and thirty-two volumes in, there is still life in Bear Family’s rockabilly anthology series. This latest edition takes a fourth trip into the vaults of Decca, Brunswick and Coral, and turns up a surprising number of worthy sides. The label’s typical attention to detail fills out a 39-page booklet with period photos, label reproductions, and knowledgeable liner notes by Bill Dahl.

Yum Yum: Dan Loves Patti

Saturday, April 13th, 2019

Fetching orchestral-pop eviscerated in a critical crossfire

It’s hard to say which is stranger: the creative genesis of this album or its fiery critical aftermath. In retrospect, the inferno that consumed the album two years after its 1996 release feels more fictional than the actual fiction of the album’s lyrical themes. Originally conceived as a backstory for names carved into a pair of collectible guitars (a Gibson Hummingbird shown on the front cover, and a Martin D25 shown on the back, for the gearheads out there), the album imagines the histories and emotions of the carver’s failed relationships. But written and arranged by Chris Holmes, the album’s intricate layers of orchestral pop became a post-mortem cause célèbre in an escalating war of indie scene criticism. Was Holmes serious or ironic? Was his album art or merely industrial product? Was it authentic or fake? Thomas Frank’s essay “Pop Music in the Shadow of Irony” brought these questions to bear on the career of his former roommate, and much discussion ensued.

Now, decades removed from the original release and the onslaught of analysis that followed, it’s difficult to imagine how the former begat the latter. For Holmes’ part, he suggests that Frank misconstrued his story of an artist navigating the record industry, selecting elements that fit a handy narrative. Frank described Holmes as having run an ironic play that reversed his label’s mass-market aspirations by doubling down with music that ironically harkened back to the sunshine pop sounds of the 1960s. But decades removed from the Indie vs. Alternative imbroglio of the mid-90s, it’s difficult to hear anything ironic in the album’s beautifully crafted sounds. Perhaps that’s because the made-for-AM-radio pop music from which Holmes took inspiration has turned out to have artistic value and emotional resonance that’s outlasted the taint of its arguably crass production source.

Frank labels Holmes’ claims of “heartfelt and genuine and un-ironic” as fake, and perhaps they were. He describes Holmes’ musical touchstones as “lowbrow” and “schlock,” and derides the idea that this music engenders deep, long-lasting meaning to listeners. But even if Frank is right about the layers of Holmes’ intentions, he’s wrong about the source music’s lasting relevance, and he’s wrong about the outcome of Holmes’ process. Whether or not Holmes was ironic (as were, say, Spinal Tap) or loving (as were, say, the Pooh Sticks), the end result is music to love. And if Holmes was simply faking it, he did a good enough job to render the fraud immaterial. It’s hard to imagine that either Holmes’ label, or Holmes himself, thought this music could successfully fill the market space being vacated by “Alternative,” which leaves Frank’s critique as more fantastic than the story he purports.

If you’re already lost in the multiple levels of revisionism and meta criticism, you may want to skip Brian Doherty’s critique of Frank’s essay, and the additional layers of explanation it reports from Frank and his then-editor at Harper’s. It all sums to an incredible amount of critical ink spilled over a market stiff that somehow managed to become emblematic, to a certain strain of intellectual cognoscenti, of all that is wrong with the fruits of commercial production. It’s hard to recall a pop confection that caused this much critical heartburn since the Monkees complained publicly about their own artistic disenfranchisement. And much like the Monkees, Yum Yum is better taken on its musical merits than the contortions of its creation myth.

Holmes originally developed his industry cred as part of the Chicago space rock band Sabalon Glitz, but when a solo deal materialized with a subsidiary of Atlantic, he decided to pursue the orchestral pop he had bubbling on the sideline. The lessons of Sabalon Glitz aren’t lost here, as the album is layered with vintage mellotron and chamberlin, strings, brass, organ, acoustic and electric guitars, bass and drums. Holmes’ lyrics imagine Dan lamenting his failed relationships, reminiscing about both the joys and stings of love, closing himself off to simmer in bitter thoughts, dream of better outcomes, and imagine cautiously dipping back into the romance pool. It hasn’t the stinging bitterness that informed Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend, nor the variety of musical motifs, but Holmes’ hushed vocals and lyrics of romantic dissolution are effective, and his melodies are catchy, if not always sufficiently distinct to be instantly memorable.

Omnivore has resuscitated this album from the deep sea of critical burial with ten bonus tracks that include a fuzz mix of “Uneasy” that lends the song a Jesus & Mary Chain sound, along with U.K. B-side covers of Prince’s “When You Were Mine,” the Ronettes’ “Baby, I Love You,” and the Muppets’ “Rainbow Connection,” and six previously unreleased demos that had been developed on for a follow-up album that never came to fruition. The gentle reimagining of the iconic hits would have kicked the critical lambasting (which was still engendering bitterness in 2011) into another gear, but add a sweet coda to the original album. The demos offer similar sounds to the album, but with an upturn in the lyrical outlook. “Summertime” has an outro hook worthy of the Archies (that’s a compliment), “I Took Advantage of the Spring” skips along hopefully, and though Holmes eventually re-recorded “Holding Out for Love” with Ashtar Command, the planned follow-up album surrendered to disappointing commercial results and “changes at the record label.”

The original album may be the rediscovered gem, but the demos show even more clearly that if Holmes was putting on a charade, it was an Andy Kaufman-like bid to maintain character. Which would have been a lot of work for no obviously attainable gain. The simpler explanation, the one that most closely fits Occam’s razor, is that Holmes was sincere about this project; that he loved the pop music from which he drew nostalgic inspiration, and that these sources continue to ring with emotional resonance that inspires authentic, long-lasting emotional responses in its fans. That Thomas Frank couldn’t connect with this is more a reflection of Thomas Frank’s musical preferences (or rhetorical needs) than of the music, its fans, or the musicians that it influenced. Omnivore’s reissue includes a booklet featuring previously unpublished photos, and informative liner notes by Erik Flannigan, adding up to the package this album deserved from the start. [©2019 Hyperbolium]