Posts Tagged ‘Pop’

Big Star: In Space

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

Expanded edition of reformulated Big Star’s 2004 return to the studio

After reformulating Big Star with the Posies John Auer and Ken Stringfellow in 1993, Alex Chilton eventually mustered up the interest to record a new album in 2004, and release it the following year. But in ways similar to Big Star’s third album (and to be fair, even the Chilton-led, mostly Bell-free Radio City), one might ask what it means to be a Big Star album. There is material here – largely from Auer, Stringfellow, and original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens – that harkens back to the band’s early-70s British pop inspired beginnings. But there are also strong currents of Alex Chilton’s rag-tag solo work, and his propensity to record cover songs. It’s difficult to hear this as continuous with the band’s earlier work, though there are moments; it’s not an erszatz doo wop band touring under someone else’s name, but it may be more accurate to think of this Big Star moniker as more ancestry than identity.

Despite having acceded to performing as Big Star, Chilton retained an uneasy relationship with the group’s earlier material. The new album was apparently born out of both his boredom with the narrow setlist he was willing to play on stage, and the opportunity to collaborate with bandmates with whom he enjoyed making music. After ten years of sporadic gigs, the group was really solid, rooted in the legacy material they performed, but not beholden to its ghosts. Chilton evidenced little interest is writing material for the new album that echoed his past, leaving it to his bandmates to mine the band’s legacy. Jon Auer and Jody Stephens’ co-writes touch most closely on the band’s earlier work, with both “Best Chance” and “February’s Quiet” offering guitar riffs and melodies that fit comfortably with the band’s first two albums. Stephens’ drumming on the former highlights just how fundamental he was to Big Star’s sound, and the closing chord of the latter song will provoke aural deja vu.

Chilton’s funky “Love Revolution” and “Do You Want to Make It” are more in line with his solo career than earlier Big Star, and the Olympics’ “Mine Exclusively” is just the sort of obscure cover that had long since become a Chilton trademark. Chilton’s post-Big Star penchant for spontaneous, raw performances threads through several tracks, including the rock ‘n’ roll rave-up “A Whole New Thing,” a ploddingly-delivered arrangement of Georg Muffat’s baroque “Aria, Largo,” and the cacophonous closer, “Makeover.” There’s craft to be heard, as on Ken Stringfellow’s Beach Boys’ pastiche “Turn My Back on the Sun,” but it’s not the sort of crystalline sounds the original band recorded in the early 1970s.

The original album is expanded on this 2019 reissue with a half-dozen bonus tracks that include songwriter demos, an a cappella take of Auer’s Beach Boys tribute, a rough mix of “Dony,” and “Hot Thing,” a track originally recorded by Big Star for their own tribute album Big Star, Small World. The demos are particularly interesting as working documents that sketch the initial inspiration and evolving views of the singer-songwriters. Liner notes from Auer, Stringfellow, co-producer/engineer Jeff Powell, assistant engineer Adam Hill, and Rkyo Records exec Jeff Rougvie offer first-person memories and warm anecdotes of what turned out to be a one-off studio effort. In retrospect, this is a nice coda to the Big Star legend, if not exactly a straightforward element of the canon. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Laura Nyro: More Than a New Discovery

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020

Laura Nyro’s 1967 debut back on vinyl in its original mono mix

Laura Nyro was more than a new discovery on this 1967 debut, she was a wholly new musical entity, bringing together the songcraft of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, blues, jazz and pop. Her lyrical and singing voices melded these strands into something wholly new, and years ahead of other singer-songwriters who’d venture into similar polymusical directions. Even more impressive is that her songs were strong enough to create space for both her authoritative original versions and the iconic hit covers of others. Nyro’s passionate reading of “And When I Die” is wholly satisfying, and uneclipsed by Blood, Sweat & Tears’ iconic cover. The same can be said for “Stoney End” (Barbara Streisand) and “Wedding Bell Blues” (The Fifth Dimension), both of which are equally remarkable as originals and covers. Originally released by Verve/Folkways, the album was reissued by Columbia (under the title The First Songs, with revised running order and cover art) with Nyro’s move to the major. The original formulation has had a few import CD reissues, and is now returned to vinyl in a limited-edition, violet-colored mono LP, with remastering by Vic Anesini from the original master tapes, and a new lacquer cut by Clint Holley. In addition to Nyro’s preferred mono mix, this reissue is also free of the reverb that Columbia added to The First Songs. This is a super souvenir for Nyro’s many fans! [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Coven: Blood on the Snow

Saturday, November 23rd, 2019

Third and final album from misunderstood one-hit wonders

Though now remembered for their remake of the Original Caste’s “One Tin Soldier,” this Chicago-bred band initially gained renown for the controversy that had previously sunk their commercial opportunities. Led by vocalist Jinx Dawson, the Coven was arguably the first rock band to adopt occult symbology, inverted crosses and the hand-thrown sign of the horns, and their 1969 Mercury debut, Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls, included a thirteen-minute “Satanic Mass.” Ahead of their times, they were tripped up by growing public anxiety about cults, and when an Esquire magazine suggested a false connection between the band and Charles Manson, the group’s fortunes quickly collapsed; albums returned, shows cancelled, and their recording contract dropped. Had their debut (which was reissued digitally by the band in 2015, and more recently on vinyl by Real Gone) been their epitaph, they would have earned an interesting niche in rock ‘n’ roll history. But there was more.

Resettled in Los Angeles, Dawson was tapped to cover the Original Caste’s 1969 anti-war song as the theme for the film Billy Jack. Recorded with studio musicians and an orchestra, but credited to Coven, the single rose to #26 in 1971, and netted Jinx and a newly formed Coven a record deal with MGM. Their eponymous album included a band version of “One Tin Soldier,” which itself charted in 1973 and again in 1974, cementing the group’s popular identity as a one-hit wonder. At the same time, the group had moved from MGM to Buddah where they released this third and final album. By this point, the public connection to their occult beginnings were lost in the sands of time, and neither the controversy that had originally derailed them, nor their one-off movie hit could lift them back into the mainstream.

By the time this album was released in 1974, Coven was playing catch up with the more calculated occult references others had built into heavy metal. Produced by Shel Talmy, the album features a variety of hard rock, glam, and pop that was closer to the mainstream than the blues-rock theatricality of the group’s debut. “This Song’s For All You Children” suggests radio-friendly Todd Rundgren, “Lady-O” has strings and touches of country in the piano and vocal melody, and “Don’t Call Me” resounds with the punk energy of the Dolls. But there are also traces of the band’s early days in the blues rock “Hide Your Daughters,” the progressive “Lost Without a Trace,” and “Easy Evil,” and the closing title title track.

In 1974 Buddah was likely focused on the success of their marquee act, Gladys Knight & The Pips, and reintroducing Coven to AM (which was by then was only lightly speckled with BTO, Bad Company and Grand Funk) would have been difficult. FM had long since forgotten the controversial genesis that might have made the band interesting to the underground, and even an experimental music video couldn’t reignite interest. All of which is a shame, as Dawson remained a powerful vocal talent, and many of the songs are catchy and played with style. Pop music acclaim has always been  a fickle reward based on a supernatural alignment of circumstances, and the stars didn’t align for this third and final album. Reissued with the original album’s gatefold cover, this is a nice souvenir of a band whose momentary fame overshadowed the charms of their catalog. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

The Archies: The Definitive Greatest Hits & More!

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

Limited edition, blue vinyl reissue of iconic bubblegum music

The origin story for this cartoon band suggests that having lost artistic control of the Monkees, music impresario Don Kirshner happened upon the idea of a purely fictional group – one that could have no artistic aspirations of its own and, to quote Kirshner, “won’t talk back.” And thus was born the musical career of the long-time Archie comic book characters on a series of singles and albums that peaked with the chart-topping “Sugar, Sugar.” Kirshner’s reputation as a publisher with golden ears served the studio musicians who played and voiced the Archies, drawing upon material from Jeff Barry, Andy Kim, Bobby Bloom, Mark Barkan and Ritchie Adams. Real Gone’s 14-track vinyl LP features five of the group’s U.S. charting singles (omitting only 1970’s “Together We Two”), and includes material from the group’s first four albums (omitting tracks from 1971’s This is Love).

The Archies’ music may have been designed primarily for pre-teens, but the records were backed by talented songwriters, producers and studio musicians, and fronted by the infectious vocals of Ron Dante. Dante was a jingle singer whose voice perfectly fueled the sunshine vibe and puppy love singalongs that made up much of the Archies’ catalog. The group’s third single, “Sugar Sugar,” is rightly considered the national anthem of bubblegum music, but there are many more gems in the catalog. “Jingle Jangle” and “Get on the Line” show off touches of soul, “Inside Out – Upside Down” plays like a nursery rhyme and “Archies Party” rocks out in an ecstatic, pre-teen way. Though often denigrated for their market calculation, there is real craft in these records, with hooks that remain sharp. Real Gone’s vinyl-only release is a nice throwback to the Calendar and Kirshner originals, and a nice collectible for fans. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

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

The Strangeloves: I Want Candy

Saturday, August 17th, 2019

Red vinyl mono reissue of terrific mid-60s curio

The Strangeloves – Australian sheep-farming brothers Giles, Miles and Niles Strange – were in fact a trio of New York songwriter-producers, searching for hits amid the onslaught of the British Invasion. The thressome – Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein, and Richard Gottehrer – had written and produced the Angels’ chart topping hit “My Boyfriend’s Back” in 1963, but with the change in musical tide, they began looking for beat groups. Rather than finding a group for which to write and produce, they made one up in the studio and created a fictional backstory. Their first single, “Love, Love (That’s All I Want from You)” bubbled under the Top 100, but their second single, “I Want Candy,” rode its Bo Diddley beat to #11. They’d score two more Top 40 singles with “Cara-Lin” and “Night Time,” and perhaps even more impressively, their original backing track for “Hang on Sloopy” was reused for the McCoy’s chart-topping hit.

The group’s one and only album is reproduced here on candy apple red vinyl, and includes their three hits, alongside several excellent album tracks. The group’s rendition of “Hang On Sloopy” includes the extra verse that was cut from the McCoys’ single, and a cover of Gary “U.S.” Bonds’ “New Orleans” infuses Cannibal and the Headhunters’ “Na Na Na Na Na” chant from “Land of 1000 Dances.” The original “(Roll On) Mississippi)” temporarily drops the dominant Bo Diddley beat for a stomping New Orleans rhythm and wild Jerry Lee Lewis-styled piano. The proto-bubblegum original “Rhythm of Love” was rewritten into a fetching power-pop tune by the appropriately fictitious Pooh Sticks, and “Just the Way You Are” closes the album with the band’s favored Diddley beat.

Goldstein would go on to discover and produce War’s singles and albums, while Gottehrer would co-found Sire and produce seminal early works by Blondie, Marshall Crenshaw, the Go-Gos, and many others. But years before, they were the Strange brothers, sporting zebra-striped vests and leather pants, and pounding on aboriginal drums while performing their ode to dancer Candy Johnson on Hullabaloo. Real Gone’s 2019 vinyl reissue reproduces the original mono mix, providing a textbook example of mono’s power to deliver the gut punch that’s often dissipated by stereo. The stereo mixes included on the group’s Best Of CD are good to have available, but they don’t deliver the Boss Radio memory of mono. For fans who don’t have an original vinyl issue, this is a great get! [©2019 Hyperbolium]

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

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

Tuesday, June 4th, 2019

Buck Owens closes out his phenomenal first run on Capitol

After a pair of double-disc sets covering Owens’ trailblazing, chart topping singles of 1957-1966 and 1967-1970, Omnivore closes out the Bakersfield legend’s run on Capitol with this superb third volume. Owens’ early ‘70s singles didn’t repeat the commercial dominance of his 1960s output, but several still landed in the upper reaches of the charts (and at #1 with Bob and Faye Morris’ “Made in Japan”), and demonstrated continued creativity. The early ‘70s were a time of artistic exploration for Owens as he recorded in his then-newly built Bakersfield studio, produced himself, covered material from outside the country realm, and stretched out from his classic Telecaster-and-steel sound to incorporate pop, bluegrass and gospel. As this set attests, his declining chart fortunes were more a product of changing public tastes and industry trends than a slip in artistry.

Owens opened 1971 with a moving cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” featuring a solemn vocal, acoustic guitar and atmospheric backing harmonies that take the song to a different emotional place than Simon & Garfunkel’s original. He showed off his omnivorous musical appetite and sense of humor with a southern-funk take on Jimmy Driftwood’s “Battle of New Orleans” a transformation of Shel Silverstein’s “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” into the country-styled “On the Cover of the Music City News,” a loping bluegrass arrangement of Cousin Emmy’s “Ruby, Are You Mad at Your Man” and an energetic version of the traditional “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms.” The latter two expanded the Buckaroos’ musical palette with the addition of Ronnie Jackson’s banjo.

The biggest hits in this five year span came from the pens of others, but Owens continued to write fresh material for himself. He cracked the Top 10 with “Great Expectations,” and the novelties “Big Game Hunter” and  “(It’s A) Monster’s Holiday,” and further down the chart he scored with the defeated “In the Palm of Your Hand,” the discontented “Arms Full of Empty,” the defiant “You Ain’t Gonna Have Ol’ Buck to Kick Around No More” and the happy-go-lucky “Ain’t It Amazing, Gracie.” Owens clearly had fuel left in his songwriting tank, even if country radio and the listening public weren’t paying as close attention as they had the previous decade.

Owens’ songwriting prowess can also be heard in B-sides that include the Mexicali-tinged waltz “Black Texas Dirt” and the steel and fiddle heartbreak of “I Love You So Much It Hurts.” He picked up excellent material from Terry Clements, John English, Dennis Knutson, Robert John Jones and Buckaroos Jim Shaw, including “(I’m Goin’) Home,” “41st Street Lonely Hearts Club,” and his last Capitol single, “Country Singer’s Prayer.” With the 1974 death of Don Rich having deeply dented his enthusiasm for music making, his waning commercial success led him to a mutual parting of the ways with Capitol (who shelved his last album in the process). He signed with Warner Brothers for a pair of albums that garnered middling chart success before he slipped into a hiatus that lasted much of the 1980s.

Omnivore’s double disc set includes the A’s and B’s of all 21 singles that Owens released on Capitol from 1971 to 1975, both with the Buckaroos, and in duets with his son Buddy and his protege Susan Raye. The latter includes charting covers of the Browns’ “Looking Back to See” (with a twangy steel solo from Ralph Mooney) and Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love is Strange,” and a re-recording of “The Good Old Days (Are Here Again),” a song that Owens had released as a Buckaroos-backed B-side just two months earlier. The 16-page booklet includes liner notes by Scott Bomar, photos, picture sleeve reproductions, and detailed release, chart and personnel data. This is a worthy capstone to Owens’ monumental career at Capitol, and an essential volume for fans of his music. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

John Denver: Leaving on a Jet Plane

Saturday, May 18th, 2019

John Denver’s pre-superstar years as a pop folkie

Six years before John Denver catapulted to fame with 1971’s “Take Me Home Country Roads,” he was a hard working folkie on the Los Angeles club scene. In 1965, when Chad Mitchell left his eponymous folk trio for a solo career, Denver survived the audition process to assume the group’s leadership. The new lineup issued a pair of studio albums and a live set on Mercury, and when the last original member, Mike Kobluk, left the group, Denver carried on with recent addition David Boise and the newly added Michael Johnson, as Denver, Boise & Johnson. The latter trio released only one single, Denver’s “Take Me to Tomorrow,” but recorded additional material, of which three previously unreleased selections are included here.

The Mitchell Trio’s legacy of humor is heard in the 1967 single “Like to Deal with Ladies as Sung in the Shower Accompanied by a Twenty-Seven Piece Band,” as well as a live performance of “He Was a Friend of Mine.” The latter, stretching to nearly eight minutes, finds Denver intertwining smart-aleck stage patter with an audience sing-along and the trio’s superb harmonizing. Denver’s early years found him writing several of his most beloved songs, including “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” originally self-released in solo form as “Babe, I Hate To Go (Leaving On A Jet Plane).” The retitled song is offered here in both a poorly conceived, band-backed studio single, as well as a beautifully sung acoustic live performance from 1967.

Denver, Boise & Johnson’s single “Take Me to Tomorrow” is a terrific up-tempo original, while it’s B-side, “‘68 Nixon (This Year’s Model),” sung in barbershop harmony, carries on the satirical social criticism of the Mitchell Trio. The set includes three previously unreleased tracks from Denver, Boise and Johnson, including superb vocal arrangements of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and Tom Paxton’s “Victoria Dines Alone,” and a 1968 take on Denver’s “Yellow Cat” that’s more sedate than the version recorded for Rhymes & Reasons. The disc closes with the unison singing and banjo of “If You Had Me in Shackles,” capping a set that highlights the folk roots that preceded Denver’s transformation into a “far out!” ‘70s superstar. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

John Denver’s Home Page

Roy Oribson: Unchained Melodies

Saturday, May 18th, 2019

Second set of Orbison vocals set to new orchestral arrangements

After two volumes that set Elvis Presley’s voice to newly constructed instrumental backgrounds, producer Nick Patrick did the same for Roy Orbison with 2017’s A Love So Beautiful. In Orbison’s case, Patrick’s arrangers often found themselves reimagining existing string arrangements on the grand scale of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and here they do the same. With the original records as templates, the arrangements echo some of the existing percussion and melodic motifs, but with Orbison’s vocals as the guide (rather than, as in the case of Orbison’s original recordings, the vocals either being sung with or over the instrumental backings), the arrangements are more studied and constructed in their support.

As on the first volume, some tracks fare better than others, though here the song selection and Orbison’s original vocals are bigger variables. The arrangement for “Unchained Melody” seems to grow organically from Orbison’s vocal, while the strings of “Blue Bayou” fill in the space that gave the original its lonesome air. More recent material, such as the posthumously released “Heartbreak Radio” and “Careless Heart,” haven’t the hook of engrained familiarity to boost them up, and album tracks such as Orbison’s 1961 cover of “The Great Pretender,” weren’t among his greatest performances. That said, the mid-charting “Crawling Back,” low-charting “Walk On,” and the UK hit cover of the Orioles’ “It’s Too Soon to Know” are welcome rediscoveries.

While not as surprising as the first volume, nor as strong in song selection (particularly in its generous helping of material from the last stage of Orbison’s career), it’s still interesting to hear these songs reimagined (though it’s not clear anyone needed to reimagine “Heartbreak Radio” twice, including the album closing rendition with contemporary country artist Cam added as a duet vocalist). None of these reworked versions replace the originals, but if you’ve listened to those classics thousands of times, this gives you an opportunity to hear something new in the familiar. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Roy Orbison’s Home Page