Posts Tagged ‘Pop’

America: Heritage – Home Recordings & Demos 1970-1973

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

Plotting the course of soft rock with demos from 1970-1973

The three expats that formed America in London in 1970 began their climb to stardom in late 1971 with the release of their eponymous debut. But it wasn’t until the album was reissued with the addition of “A Horse With No Name” that they captured the top spots on the album and singles charts. The debut also spun off “I Need You,” and the follow-up album, Homecoming, launched “Ventura Highway” the same year. The rest of the second album’s singles, and the third album, Hat Trick, registered successively lower on the charts, and it would take a few more years to return the band to hitsville with 1974’s “Tin Man” and “Lonely People,” and 1975’s “Sister Golden Hair.” The band has continued on to this day (minus Dan Peek, who left in 1977 and passed away in 2011), occasionally popping back up on the adult pop and contemporary charts.

Omnivore’s volume of demos and home recordings shows that the band was always destined for success. The magic blend of their voices was present from the beginning, and even as teenagers, they had a clear idea of their direction. Although many of these demos were successfully re-recorded for their albums, the excitement of recording together for the first time gives these initial takes their own unique feel. The earliest recordings were laid down at Chalk Hill Studios in 1970, and combines material from their debut (“Riverside” “Here” “Rainy Day” “Donkey Jaw”) with songs that never made it back to the studio. All are surprisingly well played and recorded, with the acoustic and electric guitars in balance and the harmony and backing vocals tightly arranged and sung.

The second set of recordings, from 1972 and 1973, were recorded at Gerry Beckley’s home studio, and include several titles that ended up on Hat Trick, songs and fragments that were never completed, and bits of studio chatter. Of interest to even casual fans will be a 1972 take of “Ventura Highway” that preceded the hit recording, and a vocal isolation of “A Horse With No Name” that’s nearly a cappella. Tracks 1, 3, 6, 7, 9 and 14 have been previously released on earlier America anthologies, but the remaining ten tracks are issued here for the first time. Founding member Dewey Bunnell provides original liner notes, and period photographs by Henry Diltz grace the cover and booklet. This is a great find for the band’s fans! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

America’s Home Page

The Choir: Artifact – The Unreleased Album

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

Cleveland garage rock legends’ stellar unreleased 1969 album

Many rock ‘n’ roll fans were introduced The Choir through the appearance of their 1966 single “It’s Cold Outside” on Pebbles, Vol. 2. In those pre-Internet days, fans learned from the album’s liner notes of the band’s Cleveland roots (and teased Stiv Bators’ 1979 cover), but failed to learn of the connection between the Choir and Cleveland’s greatest-ever pop export, Raspberries. What many found out later is that the Choir’s Wally Bryson, Jim Bonfanti and Dave Smalley would join with Eric Carmen (who’d unsuccessfully auditioned to sing with the Choir) to form Raspberries. Even less known was that after the Choir initially disbanded in 1968, they reformed a few months later with three new members, including organist Phil Giallombardo, joining keyboard player Kenny Margolis and drummer Jim Bonfanti.

This latter lineup recorded ten tracks in 1969, unsuccessfully shopped the results to labels, released a cover of the Easybeats’ “Gonna Have a Good Time Tonight,” and broke up for good in 1970. Although the title track of this collection was included on a 1976 Bomp EP, and three more turned up on Sundazed’s 1994 collection Choir Practice, the rest of the 1969 project was only recently rediscovered by the studio owner’s son, and is issued here for the very first time. By this point in the Choir’s history their sound was heavier than the garage rock of 1966, anchored by Hammond organ and hard rock, psychedelic guitars. Touches of pop-jazz (ala BS&T) and progressive rock mingled in, but the band retained their melodic roots in the British Invasion, as evidenced here by a cover of the Kinks’ “David Watts.”

Phil Giallombardo cites Procol Harum as a primary influence, but you can also hear the Left Bank’s baroque pop in “Anyway I Can,” Steppenwolf’s roar in “If These Are Men,” Robin Gibb’s fragility in “Have I No Love to Offer,” Santana’s organ magic in the instrumental “For Eric,” and the Lovin’ Spoonful’s good-timey vibes in “Mummer Band.” What’s most bewitching about this material is that three years on from “It’s Cold Outside,” the new lineup touches on the band’s earlier pop roots while seamlessly transitioning to a new, heavier direction that includes explosive drumming, heavy organ and blistering guitar solos. These are finished stereo productions, packaged with a 12-page booklet that includes period photos and a band family tree. It’s hard to imagine how no one took a commercial interest in these tapes at the time, but it’s great to have them now! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: The Punishment of Luxury

Monday, January 29th, 2018

They’re back – with catchy, intellectually-stimulating electronic pop

The bottom-heavy digital beats of today have all but obliterated the analog pop synthesis that sparked in the late-70s. OMD’s first single, “Electricity” (and its politically-conscious B-side “Enola Gay”) had many antecedents, but the mix of cool synthesizers and warm vocals sounded revolutionary in 1979. Even as the pre-programmed sounds of cheap Casio keyboards became hackneyed, OMD’s combination of analog and electronic instruments gave a modern edge to the former without letting the latter sap the music’s humanity. Although their early music combined intellectual subject matter with pop hooks and experimental sounds, they reached the zenith of their popularity in America in 1986 with the straightforward commercial ballad “If You Leave.”

The shift into the mainstream caused a rift between the band’s founders, with Andy McCluskey leaving in 1988, and co-founder Paul Humphreys carrying on with a varied cast until 1996. It would be ten more years until Humphreys and McCluskey rejoined under the OMD banner, returning to the band’s roots with a tour that included 1981’s seminal Architecture and Morality, a celebration of 1983’s avant-garde Dazzle Ships, and new material that began with History of Modern. 2017’s The Punishment of Luxury is the third album since the reformation, and the group’s first in four years. The title, derived from a nineteenth century painting by Giovanni Segantini, evokes the illusory value of luxury and the oppression of manufactured demand.

The reformed OMD has continued to explore the combination of industrial-inflected electronics, found sounds, intellectual subjects and catchy melodies with which they started. They wrap their dire warnings in bewitchingly catchy melodies, airing the tension between advancement and subversion that’s inherent in machine-based modernity. The cheeriness of the album’s title track obscures its analysis of a first-world so bathed in convenience, that the spark of its now lukewarm embrace no longer creates sensation. Numbed isolation found in the banality of commoditized information and the inevitability of decay is played in counterpoint to the human thirst for renewal.

The search for redemption reaches its zenith on “Ghost Star,” which poetically weaves together longing, lost chances, existentialism and hope. The magic of OMD is their ability to dress heady topics and synthesized, at times mechanical, backings in warm vocals and major keys. The mechanical overlord of “La Mitrailleuse” is illuminated by vocal effects and percussive backings that hang between snare drumming, typewriting and automatic gun fire – both horrific and danceable at the same time. The album closes with an invitation to face the challenges of modern life, suggesting that whether or not they’re surmountable, the journey may be worth failure. Those whose interest in OMD dates back to their earliest years will be delighted by this new album, and those who’ve yet to indulge can jump in right here. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s Home Page

Big Star: Live At Lafayette’s Music Room – Memphis, TN

Saturday, January 20th, 2018

Regrouping between #1 Record and Radio City

Over the past thirty years, the size of Big Star’s posthumously released catalog (including reissues, a box set, archival dig, biography, documentary and tribute concert), has grown to match their stature as a key influence in rock music. What’s remained dear, are recordings of the band as a live act. With their debut having been stillborn commercially, the band played relatively few shows, and recorded even fewer. The scant live material known to exist includes rehearsals and a board tape from the Overton Park band shell in Memphis, an in-studio appearance on New York radio station WLIR-FM, and a widely bootlegged set opening for Badfinger in Cambridge.

The 2009 box set Keep An Eye on the Sky introduced another live performance, recorded in January 1973 in Memphis. Those same tracks are presented here in a standalone volume, with new restoration and mastering by Michael Graves, augmented by new liner note from Bud Scoppa, and a download of a previously unreleased 1972 radio interview with Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel. Recorded as a trio, after the departure of Chris Bell, the set list includes material from the debut, #1 Record, the yet-to-be-recorded follow-up Radio City, and covers of the Kinks, T-Rex, Todd Rundgren and Flying Burrito Brothers.

The fallout of #1 Record’s commercial failure, and Bell’s subsequent departure, left Big Star as more of a concept than a working band. The trio lineup had Chilton singing Bell’s leads (e.g., “My Life is Right”), and Stephens doing his best to fill in the harmonies. For a band that’s a man down, with no wind at their backs, an uncertain future ahead, and a passive crowd waiting to see Archie Bell & The Drells, they still muster plenty of emotion and energy. Chilton shows off his solo guitar skills on several tunes, including “She’s a Mover” and “Don’t Lie to Me,” and strums a mini-acoustic set that leads off with “Thirteen” and closes with “Watch the Sunrise.”

The stereo room recording isn’t as nuanced as their carefully crafted studio work, but it’s balanced and full, and Stephens and Hummel’s rhythm work comes across as both melodic and powerful. The audience, which to be fair, had likely never heard of Big Star, is oblivious to what’s happening in front of them and offers smatterings of polite applause. The trio could easily have taken the lack of response as a negative comment on their performance, but the set actually picks up steam several times, and after covers of Todd Rundgren’s “Slut” and the Kinks’ “Come on Now,” the band closes with the fiery take on the song that would open Radio City’s, “O My Soul.” The performance is sparse and raw compared to the finesse of the album’s layered productions, casting the set’s best-known songs in new light. Robert Gordon captured the effect perfectly in his 1992 liner notes for the original issue of Big Star Live:

“You find an old picture of your lover. It dates from before you’d met, and though you’d heard about this period in his or her life, seeing it adds a whole new dimension to the person who sits across from you at the breakfast table. You study the photograph and its wrinkles, looking for clues that might tell you more about this friend you know so well–can you see anything in the pockets of that jacket, can you read any book titles on the shelf in the background. You think about an archaeologist’s work. When you next see your lover, you’re struck by things you’d never noticed. The skin tone, the facial radiance–though the lamps in your house are all the same and the sun does not appear to be undergoing a supernova, he or she carries a different light. As strikingly similar as the way your lover has always appeared, he or she is also that different. You shrug and smile. Whatever has happened, you like it. That’s what this recording is about.”

Chilton and Hummel’s laid-back, 14-minute 1972 interview covers the creation of #1 Record, group dynamics, Chilton’s musical tastes, touring and allusions to future recording. It’s an interesting peek into the mindset of musicians that don’t yet realize their first album isn’t going to be vested as an icon until several decades after its release. The interviewer asked, “Is the album out yet in the stores?” and Andy Hummel presciently replies, “Yeah, the album should have hit the stores today. I believe. That’s what they told us, but, you know, you never can tell when they’re actually gonna get there.” That reality-tinged optimism is a microcosm of the bridge this set constructs from the euphoria of the debut to the grief of its failure to the renewal that was still ahead. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Big Star’s Home Page

Sam Marine: Big Dark City

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

Hard-charging, guitar-driven roots rock

There’s a delirious feeling you get at the end of the night when exhaustion, alcohol and dawn combine into a euphoric feeling of opportunity. You can sense this in Sam Marine’s roots rock stories of late nights that blend into mornings after. His rhythms echo the heartland pulse of John Mellencamp, with drummer Mitch Marine (Brave Combo, Smash Mouth, Dwight Yoakam) and bassist Aaron Stern providing the muscle behind hard-charging electric guitars. Marine’s vocals have a raspy edge that suggests Springsteen and Mellencamp, but on “Freeze ‘em Out” he sings with the sort of urgency Robin Wilson brought to the Gin Blossoms. At only five songs, the EP is packed with memorable songs in which Marine explores the anonymity, rootlessness, connections and friendships one can find in the heart of a big, dark city. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Sam Marine’s Home Page

Chris Bell: Looking Forward / I Am the Cosmos / Complete

Saturday, December 30th, 2017

The most detailed look yet at Chris Bell before and after Big Star

Chris Bell’s untimely death in 1978 not only robbed the world of his musical greatness, but also froze his artistic assets. A full appraisal of his art was retarded by the paucity of available recorded material that lingered for many years after his passing. Big Star’s debut, #1 Record, despite the contemporaneous critical praise and retrospective glory lavished upon it, had been poorly distributed at the time of its 1972 release. Reissued in 1978, apparently to Bell’s delight, it’s imported manufacture delegated it to specialty shops. That same year, Bell’s solo single, “I Am the Cosmos,” was released on Chris Stamey’s Car label, but it would be fourteen more years until Ryko’s 1992 full-length I Am the Cosmos really started to flesh out the Chris Bell story. By then, Big Star had become an iconic reference among 1980s indie pop bands, and with Alex Chilton’s new Big Star formation in 1993, interest in Bell continued to grow.

The next cache of Bell material to turn up were pre-Big Star recordings by The Jynx, Rock City, Christmas Future and Icewater on collections dedicated to Big Star and the Ardent label. In 2009, Rhino Handmade provided further insight into Bell’s post-Big Star period with an expanded edition of I Am the Cosmos. Omnivore now pulls this all together, expanding upon what’s been excavated before with three new releases. First is the single CD Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star, which adds six previously unissued tracks to the existing corpus of pre-Big Star material. Second is a deluxe reissue of I Am the Cosmos that adds eight tracks to the 2009 Rhino Handmade reissue. Third is an omnibus vinyl-only box set, The Complete Chris Bell, which collects the material from the first two sets, and adds an excerpt from Rich Tupica’s forthcoming biography, There Was a Light: The Cosmic History of Big Star Founder Chris Bell.

What’s immediately striking about the material on Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star is how good it sounds. Ardent studio owner John Fry had the presence of mind to train a handful of musicians on recording technique, and let them practice in the studio’s down time. These sessions were free from the pressure of a studio clock or a label’s budget, and they allowed the musicians to explore their craft as players, engineers and producers. The six previously unreleased tracks include recordings by The Wallabys (“The Reason”) and Icewater (“A Chance to Live”) and four backing tracks. Big Star fans drawn to the backing track “Oh My Soul” will find it unrelated to the Chilton song of the same name, but the chugging groove is infectious and Bell’s guitar work superb. The unfinished “Germany” has fine vocal overdubs, and the gritty guitar on the alternate of “Feeling High” is terrific.

What shines through the early Ardent sessions is everyone’s unbridled enthusiasm, and for Chris Bell in particular, an optimism that had yet to be crushed under the weight of #1 Record’s commercial failure. From the earliest track, “Psychedelic Stuff,” through the British Invasion tones of the Wallabys, breakthrough compositions like “All I See is You,” and material that would be re-recorded by Big Star, everything rings with a sense of musicians chasing their muse, unencumbered by commercial considerations and with a growing sense that they could make music as meaningful and moving as their idols. Alec Palao’s liner notes include insightful interviews with John Fry, Steve Rhea, Terry Manning, Alan Palmore, Jody Stephens, Tom Eubanks, providing detail on the scene, sessions and tracks.

The eight tracks added to I Am the Cosmos include alternate versions, backing tracks and mixes that provide the final clues as to the journey Bell’s songs took throughout his lifetime. As Alec Palao notes, “unless some new studio sessions come to light in the future, [this set] is essentially the last word on the work of this quixotic talent.” Omnivore relocates the Icewater and Rock City tracks Rhino added in 2009 to a more natural spot on Looking Forward, and adds several mixes from the Big Star documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me. Bob Mehr’s liner notes tell of Bell’s spiritual, musical and geographical odysseys to record, overdub, mix and find a record deal. Alec Palao’s track notes further dissect Bell’s artistic restlessness by piecing together details of his intercontinental quest for perfection.

The avalanche of material that’s been posthumously released on Big Star, Chris Bell and Alex Chilton might feel Elvis- or Jimi-like, had the band not been so thoroughly ignored in their prime. The drive to learn how these artists came to produce #1 Record, Radio City and Third, and what became of them afterwards is delayed discovery rather than morbid curiosity. The books, documentary, reissues, best-ofs, box sets, archival artifacts, resurrections, reunions, and tribute performances might overwhelm lesser artists. But in the case of Chris Bell, the before and after provide a surround that magnifies the all-too-brief artistic flame. Those new to the Big Star canon should start with their albums, those who’ve already imbibed will want to dig the roots and the afterwards, and those who’ve already thoroughly explored the periphery will find something of value in upgrading. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Alex Chilton: A Man Called Destruction

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

Reissue of Chilton’s 1995 album of deep covers and R&B originals

Alex Chilton had an on-again-off-again relationship with accessibility. His earliest hits with the Box Tops, and his initial work with Big Star were tightly produced and memorably tuneful records that were easy on the ears. But his third album with Big Star and several of his solo releases seemed to be deliberately challenging. While some fans are enervated by the search for charm among the controlled chaos, others would favor the label “masterpiece” over “hot mess.” By the time of 1987’s High Priest, Chilton had begun to lean heavily on an eccentric catalog of R&B and pop covers, culminating in 1993’s solo acoustic all-covers album, Cliches. 1995’s A Man Called Destruction picks up the idiosyncratic song selection and adds a band performance to a mix that feels less ironic than the crooning that came before.

There may still be a knowing wink in covering Danny Pearson’s “What’s Your Sign?,” but Chilton’s fascination with astrology is well known, and the affection for the song heard in his voice is clear. Placing he Italian rockabilly number “Il Ribelle” alongside Crescent City staples, and sandwiching a falsetto-laced cover of Jan & Dean’s “New Girl in School” between two hard-R&B originals may cause a bit of listener whiplash, it suggests the jumble of influences that seeded Chilton’s musical genius. Omnivore’s 2017 reissue adds seven bonus tracks to the albums original dozen, including alternates, an off-the-cuff take on Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s “(I Don’t Know Why) But I Do” and several otherwise unreleased originals, including the memorable “Give It to Me Baby” and the jam-ready “You’re My Favorite.”

Recording in Memphis for Ardent, Chilton assembled a three-piece horn section of veterans Jim Spake and William “Nokie” Taylor, and newcomer Jim Spake. Spake was given the task of working out horn charts ahead of time. Chilton drew in his regular bassist Ron Easley, and two of his road drummers, alongside the organ playing of 22-year-old Al Gamble and Peabody Hotel pianist Bob Marbach. It was a surprising amount of intention for a Chilton session, and though the bonus tracks show some improvisation and in-studio development, Chilton came prepared with his songs ready to go. The results swing without devolving into loose ends, and Chilton sounds at ease with his material, band, guitar playing and singing, resulting in a session that wasn’t subject to the usual deconstruction. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ: Happy Talk

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

Playful new EP from the new NRBQ

Some of NRBQ’s longtime fans have a hard time accepting this revision of the band as legitimate, but with founding member Terry Adams at the helm, the new quartet has captured a chunk of the original band’s ethos as they move forward with new material. 2011’s Keep This Love Goin’ and 2014’s Brass Tacks each displayed the broad musical taste and sense of irreverence that were hallmarks of the earlier lineups. This five-song EP continues in the same direction with two originals, and covers of Roy Orbison, Rodgers & Hammerstein and the blues saxophonist, Abb Locke (“Blues Blues Blues”). The originals are playful novelties, while the covers are given original spins such as a tic-tac rhythm for “Only the Lonely” and the dreamy quality of “Happy Talk.” If it sounds a bit like a lark, that’s because amusement and adventure married to taste and musical chops have always been the band’s raison d’être, and that DNA has passed through to this revitalized quartet. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ’s Home Page

The Foundations: The Best of the Foundations

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

A legacy that’s richer than their four hits

This late-60s, multiethnic, multinational soul ensemble is best known to U.S. audiences for its two Top 40 singles, “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” and “Build Me Up Buttercup.” Both hits, and a good deal of their other material, were co-written by producer Tony Macaulay, often with his regular writing partner John MacLeod. The band had two more hits in the UK (“Back on My Feet Again” and “In the Bad Bad Old Days (Before You Loved Me)”), as well as a number of minor chart entries, but after only four years, and numerous personnel changes, they packed it in. Various members toured and recorded under variations of “The Foundations” name throughout the 1970s, but it’s the original material from 1967-1970 that’s featured here. Varese has included all of the group’s A-sides for Pye (UK) and Uni (US), including the UK-only “Baby, I Couldn’t See” and US-only “My Little Chickadee,” a handful of B-sides and a pair of tracks from the band’s final album, Digging the Foundations.

The band’s 1967 introduction attached them to the backside of the British Invasion, and their association with Macauley gave their hits a pop breeziness. But their innate sound was more in line with Motown, Stax and American horn bands. Given the chance to record original material, the group showed off grittier soul, jazz and blues influences on the B-side “New Direction” and the late A-Side “I’m Gonna Be a Rich Man.” That said, they could also write bubblegum, such as the B-side “Solomon Grundy,” and they picked up sunshine pop tunes that include “Baby, I Couldn’t See” and “Take a Girl Like You.” Varese’s sixteen track set (including mono single mixes on 1, 4-6, 11, 13 and 15) provides a good overview of the group’s charms, and the CD’s screening with the rainbow swirl Uni label is a nice touch. For a more complete rendering of the group’s story, look for the out-of-print Build Me Up Buttercup – The Complete Pye Collection, but for most this is a good place to start. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Jerry Yester: Pass Your Light Around

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

Finely-crafted, previously unreleased 1970s studio gems

Though having been a member of the New Christy Minstrels and Modern Folk Quartet, and a replacement for Zal Yanovsky in the Lovin’ Spoonful, Jerry Yester is known mostly for his behind-the-scenes work as a studio musician, arranger and producer. His album with then-wife Judy Henske, Farewell Aldebaran, and a follow-up collaboration as Rosebud, are both highly revered, but did little to establish Yester’s name commercially. A pair of 1967 singles on the Dunhill label were his only commercially released solo material, but he wrote and recorded at a variety of Los Angeles studios throughout the 1970s, and fifteen of those pieces are collected and released here for the very first time.

These are finished studio recordings, not songwriter demos, and their artistry, quality and polish are undimmed by the decades they’ve spent on the shelf. Yester’s collaboration with lyricist Larry Beckett yielded a wide range of material, with the former responding musically to the latter’s words. The material covers pop, folk, bubblegum, country-rock, baroque and more. The lyrics, which were often inspired by real-life events, are filled with yearning, period detail and allegorical depth. The overdubbed harmonies of “Brooklyn Girl” show what Yester could accomplish on his own, and the backing of the Manhattan Transfer’s Laurel Massé on “Dance for Me, Anna Lee” shows off the artistic circles in which he traveled.

Yester repurposed a few of his earlier melodies, borrowed a few from Bach, and for the vocal intro of “Brooklyn Girl,” he deftly lifted the hook from “Stop! In the Name of Love.” The latter’s production of beautifully layered harmonies and harmonium combine to suggest the Tokens singing a Left Banke song. There are several songs of unrequited infatuation, and Beckett’s lyric of marital dissolution, “The Minutes,” echoed Yester’s split from Judy Henske. Although several of these songs were recorded by a reformed mid-70s MFQ, the originals remained on Yester’s shelf until now. It’s surprising that no one spotted the commercial possibilities of “All I Can Do Is Dance” or the FM potential of an album. Liner notes by Barry Alphonso and photos by Henry Diltz fill out a very special package. [©2017 Hyperbolium]