Posts Tagged ‘Pop’

The Robert Kraft Trio: North Bishop Ave.

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

Old-school pop-soul from Austin trio

If Robert Kraft wasn’t actually born in Muscle Shoals, he clearly grew up listening to its music. The sweetness of his throwback soul is informed by a troubling childhood whose main solace was the radio. Specifically, KKDA 730 – “Soul 73” – in Grand Prairie, Texas, belting out a mix of soul and R&B, with some gospel, jazz and blues thrown in for good measure. It was the sort of local station that spoke to its community, and in Kraft’s case, provided mentoring that defined the core of his musicality. And despite having played other genres – including alternative rock and an album of standards – the soul music of his youth was always edging its way on stage.

Backed by guitarist (and arranger) JD Pendley and bassist Lindsay Greene, and with guest appearances by drummer Robb Kidd and organist (and producer) David Boyle, the Austin-based Kraft cooks up seven original tunes that would have fit nicely onto KKDA’s playlists. The arrangements are spacious, leaving room for Kraft’s sweet voice and Pendley’s vintage guitar licks. Kraft likens his songs to recapturing “the feeling of a perfect summer day in the park with a girl who might actually like me.” That summer feeling manifests itself in the longing of “I Want to Show You” and “Alone With You,” and blossoms into the colorful metaphors of “So Beautiful.”

Kraft drops a romantic placeholder in “You’ve Still Got a Place in My Heart,” but makes a more illicit offer in “Gotta Have You.” The latter suggests Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away,” but with the guilt of an agonizing dilemma burned away by amatory fire. Pendley offers several tasty guitar solos, and Greene adds nice flourishes to the rhythm section’s time keeping. The set closes with the funky “Stand (The Ally Song),” building on a Bill Withers-styled groove and rounding the vocal tone with a hint of Sinatra. Kraft is a polished singer, and the trio’s Friday night gig at the Continental has honed them into a swinging soul trio whose debut CD is a treat. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Robert Kraft Trio’s Home Page

Arthur Alexander: Arthur Alexander

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

A quiet 1972 gem from a country-soul legend

Arthur Alexander’s music career was as heartbreaking as were his songs. A writer of indelible sorrow, he sang with a depth that seemed to flow directly out of his aching soul. He reached the Top 40 with “You Better Move On” and the R&B Top 10 with “Anna,” but his songs quickly became better known for other artist’s covers – the Stones, Beatles, Steve Alaimo, Gary Lewis & The Playboys and Bob Luman in the ‘60s – than for his own performances. The covers kept coming, as Mink DeVille, Chris Spedding, Marshall Crenshaw, Pearl Jam and others discovered Alexander’s songs, but various revivals of his own recording career never reached the commercial heights his artistry deserved.

Dropped by Dot in 1965, Alexander recorded a handful of singles for Sound Stage 7 and Monument (collected here), and in 1971 was signed by Warner Brothers to record this album. Alexander wrote five of the twelve titles, serving up heartbreak tinged with the difficult loyalty of “Go On Home Girl” and the painful memories of “In the Middle of It All.” Amid the sadness he surprises with resilience, haunted by failure but not knocked out in “Love Is Where Life Begins,” and resolutely focused on the prize in Dan Penn and Donnie Fitts’ troubled “Rainbow Road.” He aches with quiet desire on “It Hurts to Want It So Band,” and offers up an early version of Dennis Linde’s “Burning Love,” but without the fire of Elvis’ subsequent hit.

Released in 1972, the album and its singles garnered little interest from radio and no commercial results to speak of. A pair of follow-on singles, included here as bonus tracks, fared no better commercially. “Mr. John” has the sleek feel of Bill Withers, and the follow-up cover of “Lover Please” has a bouncy New Orleans roll. Two more tracks, the yearning “I Don’t Want Nobody” and optimistic “Simple Song of Love” were recorded for Warner Brothers but left unreleased until now. Alexander resurfaced a few years later with a charting cover of his own “Every Day I Have to Cry Some,” as well as the Elvis tribute, “Hound Dog Man’s Gone Home,” but unable to sustain this success, he left the business.

Two decades later he bubbled up again with the superb Lonely Just Like Me, finally receiving the attention and accolades he deserved. Sadly, and perhaps in keeping with the melancholy of his best work, Alexander passed away just months after the album’s release. Omnivore’s reissue of Arthur Alexander reproduces the original 12-song running order, adds six additional tracks waxed for Warner and original cover art. The 12-page booklet includes full-panel photos, label reproductions, and original and new liner notes by Barry “Dr. Demento” Hansen. Although his time with Warner Brothers was short, it was artistically triumphant, and adds a valuable chapter to his small but influential catalog. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Big Star: The Best of Big Star

Monday, July 24th, 2017

Cherry-picked collection of the band’s first three albums w/singles

There’s an element of triumph in the unjustly-ignored-in-their-time Big Star being celebrated in retrospect. At the same time, the books [1 2 3 4], documentary, reissues [1 2 3], box sets [1 2] archival artifacts [1 2 3 4 5 6], resurrections and reunions [1 2 3 4], tributary performances (and resulting concert film) and best-ofs [1 2], threaten to overwhelm the rare brilliance of their slim, original catalog. For the uninitiated, the two-fer of the band’s first two albums provides the original testaments, and the challenging third album the capstone. But if three albums is too much to absorb up front, this collection provides a a Cliff’s Notes to a musical novella whose briefness belies its importance and nuance.

The disc intertwines material from the group’s three 1970’s albums, #1 Record, Radio City and Third/Sister Lovers, and includes many of the band’s most beloved songs. For fans, the draw is a half-dozen single versions. Robert Gordon’s liner notes summarize the ill fates that befell the band, and their Phoenix-like rise from obscurity to seminal influence. The music essays the group’s sweetest acoustic moments, their hardest rocking, and the despair that gripped Alex Chilton as he spiraled into the third album. A “best of” is only a short hop away from an ouvre that can be had in two discs [1 2], but if you’re not ready for the plunge, this is a good place to start. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Big Star’s Home Page

Robert Lamm: Time Chill – A Retrospective

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

Solo sides of founding Chicago keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter

As a founding keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter for Chicago, Robert Lamm was a regular visitor to the Top 10 with “25 or 6 to 4,” “Beginnings” and “Saturday in the Park.” His solo career began with 1974’s Skinny Boy, while still a member of Chicago, but it wasn’t until the early ‘90s that he fully emerged, and it wasn’t until 1999’s In My Head that he began to produce solo releases on a regular basis. Omnivore’s fifteen-track collection selects studio material from his 1999 coming out through 2012’s Living Proof, and adds a few remixes and previously unissued tracks. The collection touches on Lamm’s collaboration with America’s Gerry Beckley and the Beach Boys’ Carl Wilson (“Standing at Your Door”), and shows off a wide range of musical interests that include rock, Europop, bossa nova, funk, classical composition and reggae. His lyrics draw inspiration from his personal life, but spiced with philosophical thoughts drawn from poetry and the realities of the headlines. Lamm’s solo releases didn’t have the commercial impact of his records with Chicago, but with or without the band, his creativity was unabated. This is a good introduction for those who only know his work with Chicago, and fans of his solo career will enjoy previously unreleased bonuses that include a cover of Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” an a deconstructed take on Chicago’s “Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?” [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Robert Lamm’s Home Page

Peter Cetera: The Very Best of Peter Cetera

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

The ‘80s solo hits of a ‘70s rock powerhouse

Peter Cetera is best known as a founding bassist and vocalist of Chicago Transit Authority. He was the lead vocalist on the breakthrough “25 or 6 to 4,” as well as the group’s first chart-topper, “If You Leave Me Now.” His earliest solo work, a self-titled 1981 album and the single “On the Line,” was overshadowed by continued success with with the band; but by mid-decade, his vocals on Chicago’s hits, and his presence in the band’s videos provided enough personal notoriety to relaunch his solo career. 1986’s Solitude/Solitaire scored back-to-back #1s with Karate Kid II’s “Glory of Love” and the Amy Grant duet, “The Next Time I Fall.” He scored again with 1988’s “One Good Woman,” and continued to find success in adult contemporary throughout the ‘90s. Varese’s fourteen track collection runs through 1992’s World Falling Down, highlighted by a handful of original single versions. Cetera’s solo work, tinged by the production sound of the ‘80s, isn’t as timeless as his early sides with Chicago, but his tenor is fetching among the synthesized keyboards and big drums, and his power ballads are well crafted. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Peter Cetera’s Home Page

The Beau Brummels: The Very Best Of – The Complete Singles

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

The mono A-sides of the Beau Brummels, and more!

San Francisco’s Beau Brummels cast a long shadow with a surprisingly short chart resume. Their run in the Top 40 lasted two years, and amounted to only three hit singles, “Laugh, Laugh,” “Just a Little” and “You Tell Me Why.” From there, the singles dwindled down the chart, and ended with 1966’s “One Too Many Mornings.” But their sound – particularly their harmony arrangements – was unique, and their albums and non-album singles have retained an artistic currency beyond their commercial success. All six albums are on CD, along with best of and rarities collections, and a pair of deep vault explorations. Varese adds to the catalog a sixteen-track set that collects the group’s twelve original mono A-sides, a trio of Sal Valentino singles and the group’s 1975 reworking of “You Tell Me Why.” The 45-minute disc is accompanied by a twelve-page booklet of photos, liner notes by noted West Coast music historian Alec Palao, and song notes that Palao gathered from band members Ron Elliott, Sal Valentino, John Peterson, Ron Meagher and Don Irving, lyricist Bob Durand and producer Lenny Waronker. Those new to the group’s catalog may find a greatest hits collection to be a better overall introduction, but fans will really enjoy the original mono A-sides (and long for the B’s!). [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Beau Brummels’ Home Page

Willie Nile: Positively Bob

Friday, June 30th, 2017

An acolyte pays tribute to Bob Dylan

Given the influence Dylan’s had on Nile’s singing and writing voices, this set of ten covers is a natural. That said, the reverence in which Dylan’s catalog is held and the lengthy history of Dylan tributes can make an album of covers quite fraught. Navigating a line between sacrosanct devotion and reactionary irreverence requires an artist who’s as familiar with himself as he is with Dylan. It takes someone with youthful naivete or aged confidence to avoid being intimidated into pale imitation. Luckily, Nile is both: an elder statesman whose lengthy experience has never eclipsed his youthful enthusiasm. The renaissance of his career’s third phase has proven rock ‘n’ roll the most potent elixir of youth.

Nile’s maturity and self assuredness allows him to revel in the Dylanesque tone of his voice, proving it not an imitation but a natural derivation. For him to sing these songs in any other voice would be a cop out, and so the nasal tone of Dylan’s originals are heard in these covers, even as Nile’s more sing-song delivery brands the interpretations as original. Like others before – including Dylan himself – Nile takes some liberties with the arrangements, but nothing that loses the songs’ souls or plays as attention-getting novelties. The selections stick primarily to well-known Dylan material from the early-to-mid ‘60s, stretching past this pivotal early period for the mid-70s “Abandoned Love” and early ‘80s “Every Grain of Sand.”

Nile was a teenager when Dylan (and Peter, Paul & Mary) burst forth with “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and it’s clear that the power of the song’s revelatory rhetoric hasn’t faded. Nile sings “The Times They Are A-Changin” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” with a zeal that’s not just undimmed by the passing years, but renewed by experience. Dylan’s clarion calls, poetic flights and love songs resound with both history and currency as their joys and ills have come around again and again. Album highlights include a beautiful take on the oft-covered “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and a warm, family-styled reading of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” Dylan’s songs harbor personal import and shared experience, and Nile reminds of both with these touching performances. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Willie Nile’s Home Page

Rosebud: Rosebud

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Bonus-laden reissue of 1971 one-off w/Judy Henske and Jerry Yester

Although Henske and Yester are both well-known, this one-off collaboration under the group name “Rosebud” has remained surprisingly obscure. Henske had come up through the coffee houses and folk revival of the early ‘60s, notching a pair of albums for the Elektra label in 1963-4. Yester had likewise played the folk clubs, with his brother Jim and as a member of the New Christy Minstrels and Modern Folk Quartet, before finding even greater commercial success as a producer. Henske, Yester and Zal Yanovsky (whom Yester had replaced in the Lovin’ Spoonful) released the eclectic Farewell Aldebaran on Frank Zappa’s Straight label, and two years later Henske and Yester teamed with Craig Doerge, David Vaught and John Seiter for this short-lived group’s one and only album.

Rosebud retains the musical eclecticism of Farewell Aldebaran, though not its sonic experimentation. The album is highlighted by the group’s tight execution of Yester’s superb vocal charts, and though Henske’s extraordinary voice is prominently featured, Yester, Doerge and Seiter all get leads. The songs, written by various groupings of Henske, Yester and Doerge, fit the singer-songwriter vibe of early ‘70s Southern California, with touches of country rock and 1960s San Francisco. “Roll Home Cheyanne” is redolent with the atmosphere of big sky country, and “Reno” (included here in both its album and single versions) would have fit easily into the Jefferson Airplane’s set. The harmonies take a baroque turn for the harpsichord-lined “Lullabye II” and to gospel rock with “Salvation.”

The album’s emotional high point comes in the chorus of “Western Wisconsin” as the group’s harmony singing vanquishes any hint of treacle in the lyrics’ sentiment. The legendary steel player Buddy Emmons is heard on “Yum Yum Man,” and again on the bonus track “Easy On Me, Easy.” Though justly proud of their album, the group split after only a few live performances, amid Henske’s separation from Yester, and before the group gained any traction. Most listeners will be surprised by the group’s mere existence, but those already familiar with the album will be shocked by the quality of the material that was left in the vault. Omnivore doubles the album’s original ten tracks with singles and seven previously unreleased recordings, along with new liners by Barry Alfonso. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Craig Doerge’s Home Page
Judy Henske’s Home Page
Jerry Yester’s Home Page

Cait Brennan: Third

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Pop music in a grand ‘70s vein

Brennan’s full-length 2016 debut, Debutante, set a high bar for this follow-up. Though she began making music as a child, she retreated from public performance for nearly two decades before edging back into the spotlight. Such a period of woodshedding is often emblematic of the industry aphorism, “you have a lifetime to write your first album, but only a year to write your second.” Thankfully, Brennan didn’t empty her artistic bank account on her debut, or even the shelved second album Introducing the Breakdown, and – bonus – since this is technically her third album, it’s ineligible for a sophomore slump.

And slump this is not. ‘Ascent’ is more apt. Together with creative partner Fernando Perdomo, Brennan combines the best of ‘70s pop – Nilsson, Bowie, Todd Rundgren, Emitt Rhodes, Sparks, Raspberries, ELO – with the snap of Prince’s ‘80s funk. Perdomo plays most of the instruments and Brennan provides all of the vocals, but it sounds like an ensemble rather than a construct. With tracking laid down in only three days, the productions are full of early-take life that’s magnified by canny overdubs of guitar, mellotron and other atmospheric touches. This has the energy of a live set and the finesse of a crafted studio product.

Recording at Ardent’s fabled studio A, the duo not only channeled Big Star’s influence, but employed some of their original equipment. Perdomo played Chris Bell’s Gibson 330 on the opening “Bad at Apologies,” and Brennan picked it up for “Collapse.” The duo’s production is as inviting as the songs and performances, with a gorgeous choral finish to “Perish the Thought” and a superb vocal treatment on the closing “Goodbye Missamerica.” E-Bow, Mellotron, Moog and a wah-wah pedal add period vibes, but the overall sound is modern, with some tech terminology thrown into a few songs for good measure.

Brennan’s stories of crisis and revival may spring from her transgender identity, but she doesn’t pigeonhole herself. As she noted in an interview with Curve, “The beauty of words on a page…is that it’s beyond gender and sexuality and race and age—it’s the ideas that count.” Her songs transcend personal history, and her bountiful sense of humor is evident in tagging “He Knows Too Much” with a disclaimer, referencing Dr. Seuss in “A Hard Man to Love,” and giving a song title shout-out to Benedict Cumberbatch. Those new to Brennan should prepare to be dazzled; fans should prepare to be dazzled anew. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Cait Brennan’s Home Page

The Golden Gate Strings: Stu Phillips Presents The Monkees Songbook

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

Legendary film and television composer orchestrates the Monkees

While teenagers of the 1960s were anointing new musical heroes, their parents were being drawn across the generation gap by orchestrated, instrumental versions of popular hits. A few, such as the Chess-based Soulful Strings, were deep artistic statements, but many were easy listening cash-ins by faceless studio assemblies. Stu Phillips’ work in this area lies somewhere in between. Phillips is a highly-regarded composer of film and television scores, and as the creator of the Hollyridge Strings, he charted a string-laden cover of the Beatles’ “All My Loving” in 1964. Additional Beatles cover albums followed, intertwined with LPs dedicated to the Four Seasons, Beach Boys, Elvis Presley and in 1967, the Monkees.

Interestingly, this is not the only string-based album of orchestrated Monkees covers, as RCA’s Living Strings released I’m a Believer and Other Hits in 1966, and Tower (a subsidiary of Capitol) released the Manhattan Strings’ Play Instrumental Versions Of Hits Made Famous By The Monkees in 1967. What makes this album unique among the three, besides Phillips’ talent as an arranger, is his connection to the Monkees as the composer of the television show’s background music. The twelve tracks, drawing titles from the group’s first two albums, are all carefully arranged, conducted and played, with bowed and pizzicato strings, forlorn brass and other instruments taking turns on the vocal lines.

There’s nothing here that challenges the iconic memories of the Monkees’ originals, but Phillips adds new mood and detail to songs from Boyce & Hart, Neil Diamond, David Gates and Mike Nesmith. He threads some funk into “Mary, Mary,” emphasizes the joyous bounce of “I’m a Believer” with strings, horns and swinging percussion, adds a hint of slinky mystery to “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” and gives the novelty “Your Auntie Grizelda” a foreign flair. What might initially appeal as a cash-in turns out to be craftily executed arrangements of deftly written pop songs, and fifty years removed from the Monkees’ original releases, they’re still tinted by nostalgia, but stand nicely on their own. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Stu Phillips’ Home Page