Posts Tagged ‘Pop’

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

Gordon Lightfoot: The Complete Singles 1970-1980

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

Thirty-four A’s and B’s from Lightfoot’s hit years on Reprise and Warner Brothers

Gordon Lightfoot wore many hats as a musician. Initially signed to United Artists in the 1960s, he subsequently arrived at Reprise as a songwriting album artist, where he spun off a series of hit singles that included “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown,” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and many others. His international commercial success cooled a bit after moving to Warner Brothers and releasing 1978’s Endless Wire, but he remained popular in his native Canada and on the concert circuit. Real Gone’s thirty-four track anthology collects Lightfoot’s singles from 1970’s “Me and Bobby McGee” through 1980’s “If You Need Me,” including several hard-to-find single edits and mono mixes, but leaving out the latter part of his run at Warner Brothers. Lightfoot’s music was typically grounded in singer-songwriter folk, but the productions variously add a backing band and singers, strings and even pedal steel, all without distracting from the emotional directness of his lyrics and vocals. With remastering by Mike Milchner at SonicVision, new liners by Richie Unterberger, and the pairings of A- and B-sides, this is an interesting alternative to a standard greatest hits package, and a treat for Lightfoot’s longtime fans. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Pearl Harbor and the Explosions: Pearl Harbor and the Explosions

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

Early ’80s San Francisco new wave

Pearl Harbor and the Explosions was a short-lived new wave band that developed a club following in their native San Francisco music scene. Led by Pearl E. Gates (formerly of Leila and the Snakes), their debut single on the local 415 Records label was helmed by then-neophyte producer David Kahne, and begat an album deal with Columbia. This full-length debut, produced by Kahne at the Automatt, has a crisp sound that almost borders on brittle, but highlights the pop and progressive angles of the band’s music. New versions of the 415 single’s songs (“Drivin’” and “Release It”) were produced alongside a promotional video, and released as a Warner Brothers single that garnered regional radio play.

Though poppier than 415 labelmates like Translator and Romeo Void, there’s a funky new wave Dance Rock undercurrent that suggests contemporaries like Missing Persons. The songs are filled with easily loved hooks, and Harbor’s singing foreshadows the rockabilly sass that would enamor Clash bassist Paul Simonon, and fuel her solo follow-up, Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost Too. Blixa’s reissue augments the album’s original nine tracks with seven bonuses, including the non-LP flip “Busy Little B-Side,” the original 415 Records single, and a trio of live tracks from 1979.

The live material, featuring covers of Nick Lowe’s “Let’s Eat,” the Sparkletones’ “Black Slacks” and Ron Woods’ “I Can Feel the Fire,” shows off the dynamism that established the band as a popular local act. The album scraped the bottom of the Billboard chart, and though the label seemed interested in a follow-up, artistic tensions within the band blew things up. Harbor moved to England and waxed her solo album, the rhythm section hooked up with Chrome, and later with guitarist Henry Kaiser, and guitarist Peter Bilt worked with producer and Automatt owner David Rubinson. In under two years the group had formed, signed a deal, released a record and disbanded, leaving behind few traces besides this catchy album. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Yum Yum: Dan Loves Patti

Saturday, April 13th, 2019

Fetching orchestral-pop eviscerated in a critical crossfire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Lane & The Chartbusters: Many Years Ago

Monday, March 18th, 2019

Boston band gets its due, with electrifying bonus live tracks

The Los Angeles-born, Laurel Canyon-bred Robin Lane developed her musicality as a Golden State folky, but broke through as an east coast rock ‘n’ roller. Lane migrated from California to New York and then north to Boston, where she formed a band that quickly established itself in the late ‘70s as a regular at The Rat. Club and college dates led to a record deal with the soon-to-be-bankrupt Private Stock label, and then a more fruitful signing with Warner Brothers. The group’s self-titled 1980 debut spun off the singles “When Things Go Wrong” and “Why Do You Tell Lies?,” with the former turning up as the eleventh video played on MTV’s first day on the air. Lane’s original material was emotionally moving and melodically catchy, and her voice had the heft to lead a talented band made up of former Modern Lovers Asa Brebner and Leroy Radcliffe, Reddy Teddy bassist Scott Baerenwald and Sidewinders drummer Tim Jackson.

Formed in the middle of punk rock’s golden age, the Chartbusters managed to deploy their seasoned talent with enough passion to fit in among the less instrumentally gifted. Live and on record, the band was incredibly tight, but never seemed out of place among their punk rock colleagues. The album gained regional and college radio airplay, despite the band’s sense that it didn’t capture the essence of their guitar-centered sound, but failed to break nationally. A live EP, 5 Live and a sophomore LP, Imitation Life, failed to break the band beyond Boston, and they were dropped by their label. Lane’s pregnancy and the birth of her daughter combined with the band’s disappointing commercial results to seal the group’s fate. One more independently released 1984 EP, Heart Connection, was produced before Lane went into hiatus that eventually produced new career directions.

The Chartbusters original recording history is catalogued here in full, with all three Warner releases complemented by a pre-Warner indie single, the post-Warner EP, and a wealth of previously unreleased demos, session tracks, and live material; all that’s missing is the 2003 reunion, Piece of Mind. The debut album, despite the band’s reservations, still resounds with a great deal of rock ‘n’ roll charm. Those who first heard the band live may have been disappointed by Joe Wissert’s bright production, but the guitars aren’t exactly buried, and the drums add a lot of punch to the mix. Lane is commanding as she opens the album with a triple-shot of emotional counsel, and sings of longing that’s personal (“Be Mine Tonight”) and spiritual (“Without You”). She captured her in-the-moment reaction to Nancy Spungen’s death on the rocker “I Don’t Want to Know,” and the guitars offer Byrdsian-chime and McCartney-seque bass on “Kathy Lee.”

But even with Lane’s intense vocals, the band’s impassioned playing, and an album full of memorable lyrics and melodic hooks, the label couldn’t find a way to break the band beyond New England. Whether it was the production, the New Wave album cover, or just the random breaks of the music business, neither the singles nor the album charted nationally. The subsequent live EP, recorded at Boston’s Orpheum Theater, includes three songs not otherwise recorded by the band (“Lost My Mind,” “When You Compromise” and “8.3”), along with a scorching cover of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over.” The recording captures the band’s strength as a stage act, as well as the crowd’s enduring love for their hometown band. But again, the spark of regional enthusiasm couldn’t be grown into a national fire.

The band’s sophomore album was released the following year, and though it’s a solid effort, it didn’t have the obvious singles of the debut. The band’s continuing intensity is heard on “No Control” and the title track, and the poppier “Pretty Mala” and closing ballad “For You” are easily liked, but nothing here reaches out and really grabs the listener’s by the ears like the debut. The band’s tenure on Warner Brothers closed with a good album that wasn’t good enough to hurdle past the failed launch of the superior debut. The 1984 EP Heart Connection opens strongly with “Hard Cover,” and includes three tracks whose keyboards and handclaps date the recordings in a way that don’t affect the previous releases. The EP sessions produced seven additional tracks that are included here as bonuses. The quality of this material could certainly have merited the release of a full album, but was consigned to the vault until now.

Additional demo material includes a pair of pre-Chartbusters recordings, “Rose for Sharon” and “Never Enough” that show off Lane’s California country-folk roots. They also explain the surprise with which Lane’s earliest fans greeted the rock ‘n’ roll sound of the Chartbusters. “Never Enough” was recorded by the Pousette-Dart Band as the title song of their fourth album before Lane rewrote it as “When Things Go Wrong.” The band’s pre-Warner Brother single includes the original versions of “When Things Go Wrong” and “Why Do You Tell Lies,” along with a moving folk-pop original titled “The Letter.” This early material’s connections to Lane’s musical influences is both a treat and a revelation. Disc two is filled out with a 1980 demo of the singer-songwriter styled “The Longest Thinnest Thread,” and the fragile, violin-lined “Little Bird,” taken from the band’s 2002 reunion album.

Disc 3 is dedicated to live material, including the 5 Live EP and seventeen previously unreleased tracks recorded in clubs (Paradise Rock Club and Jonathan Swift’s) and studios (RCA and Normandy Sound) between 1979 and 1981. The Normandy tracks, apparently recorded before an intimate audience, are particularly electrifying. The band is tight and powerful, and Lane’s punk-inspired energy is mesmerizing at the mic; it’s here that the band’s reservations about the sound of their debut album become clear. These tracks also show off the wealth of original material the band had early on, with many of these songs never having made it past live performance. Additional in-concert highlights include a terrifically urgent cover of Del Shannon’s “Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow the Sun)” and a stomping rock ‘n’ roll treatment of Willie Dixon’s “Violent Love”

As pleasing as it is to finally have the second album and both EPs in the digital domain, it’s the generous helping of the band in prime live form that will get you on your feet. The three discs are delivered in a four-panel slipcase, with photos, cover art, and new liner notes by Brett Milano; as noted earlier, all that’s missing is the readily available reunion album. Listening to this set, it’s clear that the vagaries of fame often have more to do with circumstance and luck than raw talent, the latter of which the band had in abundance. As Lane opined in Tim Jackson’s 2014 documentary, “Maybe it’s easy to get stuck in Boston, be a big thing in Boston, and then the rest of the world doesn’t even know about you.” Perhaps with some of the luck that didn’t find the band in 1980, this set will help renew and expand the band’s much deserved acclaim. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Robin Lane’s Songbird Sings Organization

Van Duren: Waiting – The Van Duren Story

Friday, February 15th, 2019

A 1970s Memphis pop act even more obscure than Big Star

Obscured by the success of soul music emanating from Stax, Hi and American, the 1970s Memphis rock scene was as potent as it was little heard. Decades after their commercial failure, Big Star actually became big stars, and others Memphians making pop and rock music at the time – Icewater, Rock City, the Hot Dogs, Cargoe, Zuider Zee – eventually caught varying amounts of reflected spotlight. But even among all the retrospective appreciation, singer, guitarist and songwriter (and Memphis native) Van Duren remained obscure; his 1977 debut Are You Serious? was reissued in limited quantities by the Airmail and Water labels, his 1979 follow-up Idiot Optimism got stuck in the vault for twenty years, and his later albums went undiscovered by many of those who would appreciate them.

That lack of renown is now set to be corrected by this soundtrack and a like-named documentary. Pulling together material from his two late-70s studio albums, a 1978 live show, previously unreleased sessions at Ardent, and the 1986 album Thin Disguise, the collection easily makes the case for Duren having been the artistic peer of his better-known Memphis colleagues. Duren’s public renaissance was stirred by two Australian fans, Wade Jackson and Greg Carey, whose latter-day discovery of Are You Serious? turned into a two-year documentary project that sought to understand why the albums didn’t hit, and why Duren didn’t achieve the fame that his music deserved.

No one is guaranteed fame, not even the talented, and as noted, Memphis wasn’t exactly a springboard for rock band success, yet Duren’s connections with Ardent, Chris Bell, Jody Stephens, Andrew Loog Oldham and Jon Tiven might have tilted the odds in his favor. From his debut, recorded with Tiven on electric guitar and Hilly Michaels on drums, the set’s opening “Grow Yourself Up” has the chugging beat of Badfinger and a vocal melody that favorably suggests the early-70s work of Todd Rundgren. “Chemical Fire” offers a touch of southern funk in its bassline, and the ballad “Waiting” is filled with the yearning its title implies. A pair of live-on-the-radio tracks show how well Duren’s material translated to performance, and how easily he could summon the same level of vocal emotion on stage as in the studio.

The earliest track on this collection, the 1975 demo “Andy, Please,” was cut at Ardent with Jody Stephens on drums and vocal harmonies. It’s as assured as the album cut two years later and features a hint of Eric Carmen in the vocal and a terrific guitar outro from Jack Holder. The second album’s cover of Chris Bell’s “Make a Scene” offers a slice of power pop, and two tracks from Duren’s latter-day band Good Question (including the local hit “Jane”) remain consistent with the quality of his earlier work. Listening to Duren’s music, your head will know that his lack of recognition wasn’t unusual in the breaks-based world of commercial success; but your ears and heart will continue to wonder how he could have fallen so thoroughly through the cracks. Here’s hoping the new interest in his career leads to full reissues of his original albums, and more widespread recognition of his more recent material! [©2019 Hyperbolium]