Posts Tagged ‘Pop’

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

The Sneetches: Form of Play – A Retrospective

Friday, May 26th, 2017

Retrospective of undeservedly obscure Bay Area pop band

Amid the post-punk, indie-rock and the phoenix-like rise of grunge, there was a thread of late-80s pop that focused on melody and craft. The dB’s, Game Theory and Bongos were more cerebral than their power-pop counterparts but no less fetching to listen to. And standing tall artistically, if not in record sales, was San Francisco’s Sneetches. Initially formed as a duo of Mike Levy and Matt Carges, the group became a bassless trio with the addition of drummer Daniel Swan (ex-Cortinas), and a quartet with the addition of bassist Alec Palao (ex-Sting-Rays). Their releases nearly snuck out in singles, EPs and albums across multiple labels (including Kaleidoscope, Creation, Alias, spinART and Bus Stop), and though there was no commercial success, they were well-loved by a coterie of fans and well-played by in-the-know college radio stations.

This first-ever career retrospective collects material ranging from Levy and Carges’ terrific first single, 1985’s “Only For a Moment,” through a solidly-played 1994 live date at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. In between are stops at singles, albums and a pair of previously unreleased studio tracks that include the euphorically melodic “Juliana Why” and an acoustic demo of “How Does It Feel.” It’s a fair cross-section of the group’s guitar-driven pop, with nods to the Beatles, Zombies, Big Star, Velvet Underground, Buzzcocks and others, and its retrospection provides a double layer of nostalgia as listeners listen back to the ‘80s listening back to the ‘60s and ‘70s. The arrangements center on guitars, bass and drums, but horns and keyboards add dimension to a few tracks, and Levy’s vocals stretch into falsetto for “They Keep Me Running” and hypnotic repetition for the psych-tinged “Take My Hand.”

Sneetches bassist (and noted archivist and reissue producer) Alec Palao scoured the vaults for the live tracks and unreleased material, but more importantly, hard-to-find singles mixes that recount the story as it unfolded to the band’s original fans. Missing is material from their 1993 collaboration with the Flamin’ Groovies’ Chris Wilson, but given that it’s really a Chris Wilson record, the minutes are better spent here on original Sneetches material. The 16-page booklet is filled with photos and liner notes by Palao that provide an inside look at the band and life as a Sneetch. At twenty-two tracks, clocking in at seventy-seven minutes, this is a good buy for those just meeting the band, but also those who collected everything along the way. Fans may find a few favorite tracks (*cough* “54 Hours”) missing, but what’s here is a great introduction, with bonuses that sweeten the pot. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Easybeats: Vigil

Friday, May 26th, 2017

The Easybeats’ fifth studio album was released in several different forms. The 14-track UK release was slimmed to 12 tracks, resequenced and retitled Falling Off The Edge Of The World for the U.S. market. In the group’s native Australia, the album retained its title and cover art, but lost three cover songs, gained the original “Bring a Little Lovin’,” and was issued only in mono. It’s this latter Australian release, with its track list, sequencing and mono master, that’s featured on this limited edition Record Store Day 2017 reissue. In addition to the multiple configurations of the album’s release, its construction was likewise multiheaded, as two songs recorded in mid-1967 with Glyn Johns (for the shelved Good Friday album) were combined with material recorded later the same year with Mike Vaughan.

The Australian edition sticks entirely to Vanda-Young originals, but there’s a great deal of musical range on offer. Soul influences course through the hard-grooving opener “Good Times,” rhythmic “See Saw,” mid-tempo “What in the World, and psych-gospel “Come in You’ll Get Pneumonia.” The group dips its toes into bubblegum-ska on “Sha La, La, La, Leah,” but more interesting is the social social commentary of “We All Live Happily Together” and the baroque polish of “Land of Make Believe.” And speaking of polish, the soft-pop closer, “Hello How Are You” may be the album’s most audacious in its distance from the group’s roots. There are numerous musical highlights here, if not an artistic vision that pulls it all together. Get Varese’s vinyl for the mono punch, and the CD for the bonus tracks. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Los Straitjackets: What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

It takes a quirky band to cover a quirky man

As his career matured, Nick Lowe developed a measure of respectability that might have surprised his younger self; particularly the irreverent Nick Lowe who recorded as The Tartan Horde and titled his solo debut The Jesus of Cool. Lowe’s lyrics have always drawn listener attention, but his melodies, as emphasized in these instrumental treatments, deserve their share of the limelight. By reimagining each song, sometimes quite radically, Los Straitjackets have freed the melodies to strike entirely new moods. Pathos is turned on its head with a snappy arrangement of “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide,” and the dark emotional territory of “I Live on a Battlefield” is brightened with a vintage dance beat. “Heart of the City” is still upbeat, but now with Duane Eddy-styled twang, and the relentlessly ebullient “Rollers Show” is crossed between a Shadows-styled bandstand piece and something Chet Atkins might have recorded for teenagers. Lowe’s lone worldwide hit, “Cruel to Be Kind,” is taken downtempo to a very contemplative place, and the folk-rock treatment of the title track is more reminiscent of Lowe’s later solo work than the song’s origin. This is a delightfully original twist on Nick Lowe tributes that have included Lowe Profile, Labor of Love and Lowe Country; all that’s missing is Lowe’s own instrumental, “Shake That Rat,” which the band covered on 2001’s Sing Along With Los Straitjackets. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Los Straitjackets’ Home Page
Nick Lowe’s Home Page

The Zombies: Odessey & Oracle

Friday, May 19th, 2017

50th anniversary of 1968 standout, with bonus tracks

Standing out among the class of ‘68 is tough. And yet, against The Beatles, Astral Weeks, Electric Ladyland, Beggars Banquet, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, White Light/White Heat, Bookends and dozens of others, the Zombies’ swan song made its mark. Perhaps it stands in relief by virtue of its 1967 recording dates – sessions held amid, and no doubt inspired by, 1967’s torrent of musical landmarks and social movements. Or maybe it was the group’s impending sense of professional doom, invention born of a constrained budget, the choice to self-produce and the artistic freedom to record all original material. Whatever the inspiration, the result was one of 1968’s lasting musical achievements.

Achievement and epitaph, actually, as the group disbanded at the end of 1967, four months before the album was released in April 1968 to critical acclaim and little commercial response. A quartet of UK and US singles failed before a re-release of “Time of the Season” finally reached #3 US in early 1969. Worse, with the Zombies disbanded and Rod Argent having formed his eponymous follow-on group, the chance to capitalize on the single’s belated success fell largely to fake touring units. Argent and Chris White recorded material for a 1969 Zombies release, but other than the singles “Imagine the Swan” and “If It Don’t Work Out,” the tapes languished in the vault until their eventual release as R.I.P.

Recorded primarily on the same Abbey Road 4-track as was Sgt. Pepper’s, Odessey & Oracle was carefully rehearsed and laid down quickly. Initially mixed to mono, a stereo mix was created afterwards, and it’s the latter that’s reproduced here. Varese augments the original dozen tracks with seven bonuses, including the mono B-side “I’ll Call You Mine,” a horn-free, stereo mix of “This Will Be Our Year,” and backing tracks and alternate mixes that include a scrapped cello overdub on “A Rose for Emily.” The 12-page booklet includes photos, ephemera and liner notes by Andrew Sandoval that quote interviews conducted by Alec Palao and Claes Johansen. The stereo mix is welcome, but the mono is missed. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Zombies’ Home Page

Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer: Two of a Kind

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Swinging 1961 session reissued in 2017 with bonuses

From “Splish Splash” to “Mack the Knife” to “Simple Song of Freedom,” Bobby Darin showed off a restless artistic soul. In 1961 Darin teamed with songwriter (and Capitol Records co-founder) Johnny Mercer for a swinging set of Tin Pan Alley standards, arranged and executed with brassy sizzle by Billy May. The album’s joie de vivre is undeniable, sparked both by the principals’ chemistry and the band’s relentless push. Darin and Mercer seem to be unreeling these classics extemporaneously, with each inserting playful ad libs as the other sings. Imagine if Martin and Lewis, or Hope and Crosby, had both been vocalists first, rather than vocalist-comedian pairs, and you’ll get a sense of this duo’s playful power. Their 27-year age difference evaporates as they express their shared love of these songs, including a few of Mercer’s own titles.

The recordings, engineered by Bill Putnam, are crisp, fanning the orchestra out in stereo and leaving center stage for the vocalists. Omnivore’s reissue augments the album’s original thirteen tracks with seven bonuses, including five alternate takes and two songs that didn’t make the cut. The newly released songs are Dreyer and Herman’s mid-1920s “Cecilla” and Leslie Stuart’s late nineteenth-century British music hall tune “Lily of Laguna.” The latter had been shorn of its racial lyrics in the early-1940s, and it’s this swinging rewrite that Darin and Mercer tackle here. The CD release includes an eight-page booklet that features original cover art, Stanley Green’s original liners, and new notes by Cheryl Pawelski. Originally issued by ATCO, and reissued in 1990, this title’s been a hard-to-find gem in Darin’s catalog. Now, with bonuses, it has even more sparkle. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Sammy Johns: Sammy Johns

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

Sammy Johns’ 1973 debut album

The massive success of “Chevy Van,” and the financial troubles of his record label consigned Sammy Johns to the career of a one-hit wonder. Which isn’t to say he was a flash-in-the-pan or an untalented singer-songwriter, because he was neither – he paid his dues in North Carolina clubs before making the big time, and he wrote other soft-rock tunes that are worth hearing. But like so many who had a brief flash of fame, the stars simply didn’t align to sustain a hit-making career. This self-titled debut album, recorded for and released by the General Recording Company in 1973, includes Johns’ chart smash, along with two lower-charting follow-ups, “Early Morning Love” and “Rag Doll.” With a hit in his pocket, he signed with Warner-Curb to record the soundtrack to The Van, but further hits failed to materialize.

This 14-track reissue includes eight of the original album’s ten songs (omitting “Jenny” and “Hang My Head and Moan”), and adds six more, including “Peas in a Pod” from The Van soundtrack. He’d get one more shot in the early ‘80s with Elektra, cracking the Country 100 with “Common Man,” before settling into a career as a songwriter. John Conlee topped the country chart with “Common Man,” and Johns placed songs with Waylon Jennings (“America”), Conway Twitty (“Desperado Love”) and a cover of “Chevy Van” by Sammy Kershaw. Johns passed away in 2013, but this eponymous album and its iconic hit single will forever be remembered for their laid-back echoes of the mid-70s. Now who’s going to get The Van back in print? [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Muffs: Happy Birthday to Me

Monday, March 6th, 2017

“A home run in an empty ballpark” – 2017 reissue w/bonuses

The Muffs 1997 swan-song for Warner/Reprise continued the hook-filled pop-punk of their previous pair of albums, but with an even tighter shock of guitar, bass and drums than the previous Blonder and Blonder, and vocals that wrap emotion in a frock of snotty attitude. Having burned in the trio dynamic on tour, the Muffs were more musically connected than ever before. Shattuck’s production really galvinized the album, and engineers Sally Browder and Steve Holroyd got a ferocious guitar-first mix on tape. Shattuck always wrote openly of her desires, and sings with a passion whose blisters can obscure the candidness of her admissions. She’s keenly aware of herself, whether testing the waters, surrendering to her emotions, standing up, stepping away or squarely laying the blame on her way out the door. And though she doesn’t mince words in eviscerating those who’ve mistreated her, there’s often a shadow of insecurity that makes her songs more than stock kiss-offs.

This 2017 reissue includes seven bonuses: a B-side cover of The Amps’ “Pacer” with “best guess” lyrics, and six previously unreleased songwriter demos. Shattuck’s guitar, bass and drums demos don’t have the sonic force of the album tracks, but they show how the band took her templates to finished product, and highlight her melodies. And her melodies are worth paying attention to, as she wrote great vocal hooks for “That Awful Man” and “Honeymoon,” and crafted a power-pop earworm in “Outer Space.” The commercial failure of Blonder and Blonder lost Warners’ interest, and though given creative freedom to record, the band was dropped before Happy Birthday to Me was released. Drummer Roy McDonald opines, “I couldn’t help but feel like we had hit a home run in an empty ballpark.” Omnivore’s reissue adds a 20-page booklet of photos, liner notes from McDonald and Barnett, and track notes from Shattuck, making for a terrific twentieth birthday present. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Muffs’ Facebook Page