Posts Tagged ‘Pop’

Lucy and the Rats: Lucy and the Rats

Thursday, July 19th, 2018

Garage-punk-pop flashes back back to the ‘80s, ‘70s and ‘60s

The Australian-born, London-based Lucy Spazzy conjures the retro-tinged blend of power pop and DIY garage punk that fueled 1980s acts like the Pussywillows, Primitives, Josie Cotton, and Nikki & the Corvettes. It pairs melody with attitude, as did the Shangri-Las, Lesley Gore, Blondie and the Ramones, with loud guitars, vocal harmonies and driving rhythms powering lyrics of romantic longing, anticipation, confusion, despair and second chances. Spazzy teeters between exultation and heartbreak, vacillating between surrendering to and fighting off love’s inexorable pull. The album closes with the sun-drenched problems of “Can’t Surf,” timed perfectly for the record’s summer release. Roll the windows down and turn the stereo up! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Lucy and the Rats’ Bandcamp Page

Keely Smith: Sings the John Lennon-Paul McCartney Songbook

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

Imaginative early covers of Lennon & McCartney

Keely Smith is most often remembered for the 1950s Las Vegas lounge show and recordings that came from her partnership with then-husband Louis Prima. Her deadpan comedic chops gave way to a solo career in the 1960s, signing with Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label and attracting the talents of arrangers Nelson Riddle, Ernie Freeman and Benny Carter. After two albums of standards, this 1964 release drew exclusively upon the early works of Lennon & McCartney, cannily resetting them to make the most of Smith’s jazz and pop stylings.

“If I Fell” opens the album with a dramatic string-and-vocal passage that gives way to a Latin beat, while the chart for “This Girl” tips its fedora to Sinatra’s “That’s Life.” The latter is no surprise, given that Smith and Sinatra’s tracks were both arranged by Ernie Freeman and produced by Jimmy Bowen. Smith’s voice is in superb throughout, whether skipping along breezily or holding onto dramatic notes. The walking bass and fingersnaps that open “A Hard Days Night” nod to “Fever,” but Smith’s blue-jazz vocal and the quiet horn accents give the recording its own mood.

The Beatles’ quick fame made the Lennon & McCartney catalog ripe for exploitation, and while a few of the arrangements lean to novelty, the productions are full, and Smith found real artistic resonance with many of the songs. There’s a swinging sax solo on a waltz-time version of “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” and Smith punches up “Can’t Buy Me Love” with her brassiness. The album may been a commercially-inspired lark, but the talent elevates it well above the Beatle-related cash-ins that flooded the market. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Michelle Phillips: Victim of Romance

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

1977 solo album provided Phillips a fetching turn in the spotlight

Upon the 1970 dissolution of the Mamas and Papas, three of the four members carved out solo careers, while Michelle Phillips departed the music world for a career as an actress. Five years later she edged back into the studio with the singles “Aloha Louie” and “No Love Today,” and in 1977 released this album, with production and arrangements by Jack Nitzsche, and backing from some of Los Angeles’ finest studio players. Singing material by Moon Martin, Alan Gordon, John Phillips, the Bee Gees, Scott Matthews & Ron Nagle, as well as a pair of originals, she sounds surprisingly self-assured and effortless for someone who’d mostly been away from the microphone for the previous seven years. Her reported lack of confidence in her solo voice proved unfounded as she showed off a command of a spotlight that was previously diffused by her talented groupmates.

Martin’s opening “Aching Kind” has a dreamy ‘70s feel, with Phillips’ double-tracked vocal gliding thoughtfully along the song’s self-reflective sorrow. Nitzsche gave her the full Crystals’ treatment, complete with Steve Douglas sax solo, for Martin’s title track, and added Drifters-styled triangle, castanets, strings and a baion beat to Phillips’ Mexicali-tinged “There She Goes.” There’s a ‘50s R&B feel to Martin’s “Paid the Price,” but with guitars that bring the song into the ‘70s, and both “Trashy Rumors” and “Woman of Fantasy” have a modern, jazzy edge. Among the album’s surprises is a reggae-tinged cover of Doris Troy’s “Just One Look” that predates\d Linda Ronstadt’s single, and closing out the original set is Scott Matthews & Ron Nagle’s sleepy “Where’s Mine.”

Real Gone’s 2018 reissue adds three session outtakes as bonuses, including Phillips’ original “Guerita,” the New Orleans-styled funk “Practice What You Preach,” and a second Bee Gees cover, “Had a Lot of Love Last Night.” Together with the ten album tracks, this collects all of the finished material from the Nitzsche sessions. The CD’s booklet adds new liner notes by Joe Marchese with a fresh interview with Phillips. At album length, Phillips showed how easily she could slip into a variety of styles without surrendering her Laurel Canyon roots. Following this album, she sang backup on a few projects, and recorded “Forever” for the California Dreaming soundtrack, but that was basically it. Phillips returned to acting, leaving this album as her sole full-length statement as a musical artist; a statement that will leave fans wishing there had been more. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Various Artists: Technicolor Paradise – Rhum Rhapsodies & Other Exotic Delights

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

Top shelf Exotica rarities

“Exotica” is a musical genre born at the post-war intersection of jet travel and high fidelity. It’s name was coined for Martin Denny’s pioneering debut album, and it’s sound offered an intoxicating blend of world percussion, tribal rhythms, orchestral arrangements, wordless vocals, jazz changes and modern instrumentation. Exotica offered an invitation to an exotic Shangri-La through expansive, often culturally ersatz, sounds. Though born in tropical climes, exotica expanded, particularly in retrospect, to include Asian and Latin influences. The genre’s 1990’s revival, amid a broader look back at “space age bachelor pad” culture, spurred numerous reissues of thrift store rarities, artist anthologies and genre compilations, alongside new books, visual art, weekenders and analyses of the revival itself.

Canadian artist Gordon Monahan posited a holy trinity of exotica songs in “Taboo,” “Caravan” and “Quiet Village,” repeating them in triplet form in both performance and on record. “Taboo,” though written by Cuban singer and composer Margarita Lecuona, is closely associated with Hawaiian vibraphonist Arthur Lyman. “Caravan” began its life as a jazz standard written by Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington, and though first performed by the latter in 1936, became an exotica staple in the 1950s. It’s offered here by percussionist Bobby Christian, with a twangy guitar lead and a siren’s ghostly vocal from Christian’s daughter. “Quiet Village,” written and originally recorded by Les Baxter, was turned into exotica’s national anthem by Martin Denny’s 1957 arrangement. It appears here in a vocal version by former Our Gang actress Darla Hood, as well as a vibraphone-led instrumental by Five Glow Tones.

Numero expands on Monahan’s trio of exotica pillars with 54 (48 for the LP release) expertly curated rarities. A few of the titles may be familiar, such as “The Moon of Manakoora” and “Nature Boy,” but they’re presented here in versions all but the most devout have not likely heard. And given that “exotica” is more a retrospective label applied by crate-digging collectors than a cohesive musical category, collections such as this define the borders for themselves. Disc 1, titled “Daiquiri Dirges,” focuses on guitar instrumentals, including a surprisingly mellow early recording from the Pacific Northwest’s Wailers entitled “Driftwood,” the Blazers’ surf-tinged “Sound of Mecca,” the Palaton’s languorous “Jungle Guitar,” the Voodoos’ Quiet Village-inspired “The Voodoo Walk,” and the Chayns’ earworm “Live With the Moon.”

Disc 2, titled “Rhum Rhapsodies,” expands the program to vocal tracks, giving a feel for some of the not-particularly-exotic acts that hitched a ride on the good ship exotica. In addition to a second track by Darla Hood (“Silent Island,” also rendered in a wonderfully moody orchestral arrangement by Modesto Duran), there’s a dramatic harmony chorus on film composer Andre Brummer’s “Tumba,” comic actress Martha Raye cover of the exotica chestnut “Lotus Land,” Jerry Warren’s Paul Anka-styled B-side “Enchantress,” the Potted Palm’s AIP-soundtrack-ready “My House of Grass,” and Akim’s frantic “Voodoo Drums.” Don Reed’s sax-heavy cover of “Nature Boy” gains a dollop of exotica cred from its haunting, Yma Sumac-styled vocal, and the Centuries’ “Polynesian Paradise” faintly suggests folk and surf origins, even as the wordless vocalist loses track of the islands’ tranquil feeling.

The set’s third disc, titled “Mai Tai Mambos,” returns to instrumentals, sailing into port with Latin, guitar, jazz and orchestral arrangements from Cuban conga player Modesto Duran, Canadian rockabilly Arnie Derksen, Americans Nick Roberts, Eddie “The Sheik” Kochak and Jimmy McGriff, and others. The percussive arrangements and pulse-racing rhythms revive the set’s exotica vibe, with even soul singer Bobby Paris finding an Afro-Cuban groove for 1961’s “Dark Continent.” The instrumentalists take the exotica elements as new flavors – rhythms, instruments, melodic lines and song titles to be imbibed – rather than overt commercial opportunities to be chugged. Each of the three discs harbors unique charms, and listeners may find their favorite shifting with the sybaritic tide.

The CD set’s 129-page hard-cover book is perhaps even more impressive than the CDs. Ken Shipley’s liner notes provide a scene-setting introduction, and the song notes are spectacular in their encyclopedia detail. Michael Graves has conjured magic in his audio restoration of the mixed bag of tape and vinyl he was served, knitting together the disparate sources into a smoothly flowing program. The book is filled with period photos and record label reproductions, and while the overall design is beautiful, some of the backgrounds make the text hard to read. The selection of lesser known artists and songs makes this set a terrific complement to exotica’s best known recordings, and a set that both the novice and experienced fan can enjoy. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Matt Dorrien: In the Key of Grey

Friday, May 18th, 2018

Broken-hearted homage to Tin Pan Alley, Nilsson, Randy Newman and more

The old-time vibes in Matt Dorrien’s music are unmistakable. The influence of Nilsson is the top-line note, but the archness of Randy Newman, the melancholy of Elliot Smith and Brian Wilson, the introspection of Paul Simon, and Paul McCartney’s penchant for British music hall aren’t far below the surface. After a pair of folk-influenced guitar-based albums recorded as Snowblind Traveler, Dorrien returned to his first instrument, piano, and crafted a set of tunes whose optimistic melodies belie the broken heart that sparked their creation.

The immediate fallout of the breakup is captured in “I Can’t Remember,” but the bottom is found in the post-romance doldrums of “Baby I’m So Lost.” The latter suggests an emotional cul de sac whose only apparent escape is an unlikely reconciliation. The post-breakup phone call of “All I Wanted to Say” attempts the impossible navigation of friendship lost amid romantic dissolution, and the boozy “Mister Pour Another” does its best to literally drown Dorrien’s sorrows.

There are pickups and one night stands in “Pretty Little Thing” and “Underwear Blues,” but their salve proves to be temporary. The actual path to recovery begins with the album’s title track, and blooms into conscious thought with the Ted Mosby-like faith of “Maybe This Time.” The vulnerability of Dorrien’s public confrontation with his emotions provides an intimate connection for the fraternity of the dumped, and while it’s an engaging listen at any time, it will resound especially well in your own emotional cul de sac. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Matt Dorrien’s Home Page

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos: The Complete Capitol Singles – 1967-1970

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

Stupendous second chapter of Buck Owens’ career at Capitol

Omnivore’s previous set on Owens’ groundbreaking Capitol singles is now joined by a companion volume that catalogs his expanding reach as an artist. The commercial dominance of his initial rise to fame – which included twenty-two Top 40 hits and thirteen consecutive chart toppers – was unlikely to be matched, and yet this second collection rises to the occasion, both commercially and artistically. Of the eighteen singles Owens released across these four years, all but two made the Top 20; of the two misses, “Christmas Shopping” charted #5 on the holiday list, and only the internationally-themed instrumental “Things I Saw Happening at the Fountain on the Plaza When I Was Visiting Rome or Amore” missed entirely. Fifteen of the A-sides reached the Top 10, and six topped the country chart.

More importantly, the late ‘60s found Owens branching out from twangy Bakersfield country with innovative pop touches. He opened 1967 with the back-to-back #1s “Sam’s Place” and “Your Tender Loving Care,” dipped to #2 with “It Takes People Like You (To Make People Like Me),” and climbed back to the top with 1968’s “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone.” He scored three more chart toppers in 1969 (the originals “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass” and “Tall Dark Stranger,” and a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”), and just missed the top spot with 1970’s “The Kansas City Song.” Owens joined Hee-Haw in 1969 and continued to chart throughout the 1970s, but with the passing of Don Rich in 1974, his interest in a music career quickly declined. After a pair of albums and a handful of mid-charting singles for Warner Brothers he basically retired from releasing music for more than a decade.

But in the mid-to-late ‘60s, Owens was still accelerating. As he and the Buckaroos had shown with their 1966 Carnegie Hall Concert album (and reaffirmed here with the 1969 live take of “Johnny B. Goode”), the group was one of the hottest bands in the land. The singles featured here include the talents or Don Rich, Doyle Holly, Tom Brumley and Willie Cantu, as well as later members Jerry Wiggins and Doyle Curtsinger, and numerous sidemen. Perhaps most startling is the inclusion of smooth backing vocals from the Jordanaires and the Nashville-based Anita Kerr Singers on several tracks, and strings are heard on both A-sides and flips, including “Big in Vegas.”

Owens authored a seemingly inexhaustible supply of great songs, and by the mid-60s he’d begun expanding beyond the classic Bakersfield Sound. The acoustic guitars of “It Takes People Like You” and “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone” weren’t unprecedented, but the songs’ moods, particularly in Owens’ vocals, were new. Owens love of ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll is heard on “Christmas Shopping,” there’s fuzz guitar on the waltz-time “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass,” and Earl Poole Ball adds organ to the intro of “The Kansas City Song.” Rather than hoarding his best work for A-sides, Owens often complemented his hits with interesting flips, including the transfixed vocal of “That’s All Right With Me (If It’s All Right With You)” and the funereal “White Satin Bed.”

Owens found terrific chemistry with protege Susan Raye on several hits, including the Johnny & June-styled sass of “We’re Gonna Get Together,” the harpsichord-lined fairy tale “The Great White Horse,” and the terrifically stalwart B-side remake of Owens’ “Your Tender Loving Care.” Omnivore’s double-disc includes 18 singles (A’s and B’s), ten in mono and eight in stereo, mastered from original analog sources by Michael Graves at Osiris Studio. Scott B. Bomar’s liner notes are accompanied by detailed session notes, photos, and picture sleeve and label reproductions. This is a stupendous second chapter, showing Owens and the Buckaroos in full artistic and commercial flight. It’s every bit as essential as the first volume, and will leave fans eagerly anticipating the third and final Capitol chapter. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Home Page

Johnny Mathis: Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head

Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Johnny Mathis updates his groove for the 1970s

When Johnny Mathis first paired with producer Jack Gold for 1970’s Sings the Music of Bacharach & Kaempfert, it seemed like an opportunity for an update. But the double album’s combination of previously released recordings of Burt Bacharach songs with new recordings of older Bert Kaempfert material failed to align Mathis with the new decade’s music. This second collaboration takes a bolder approach in its song selection, bringing Mathis up to date, while still maintaining lush arrangements to surround his inimitable vocal styling. This was less an attempt to cross him back over to the pop chart than an acknowledgement that the crafting of pop hits had expanded to a new generation of songwriters.

Mathis’ continuing affinity for Bacharach and David’s material led him to cover the album’s title track (a 1969 hit for B.J. Thomas), “Alfie” (a 1966 UK hit for Cilla Black, and a 1967 US hit for Dionne Warwick) and “Odds and Ends” (a 1969 adult contemporary hit for Warwick). Stretching out, he included material from Jimmy Webb (“Honey Come Back,” an R&B single for Chuck Jackson in 1969, and a country hit for Glen Campbell the following year), George Harrison (“Something,” Harrison’s first A-side and chart topper), Rod McKuen’s “Jean” (an Academy Award nominee and a #2 single for Oliver), and a pair of tunes from the film Midnight Cowboy, the latter of which are surprisingly good fits for Mathis.

Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” dated back to 1967, but with Nilsson’s version having been a hit in 1969, it had gained new currency. Mathis’ strong vibrato, supported by plucked strings and a free-spirited flute, pushes the song beyond the introspection and melancholy of Neil’s and Nilsson’s earlier versions. The theme song from “Midnight Cowboy” is performed with lyrics written by the album’s producer, turning John Barry’s haunting instrumental into a stalwart statement that echoes the drama of Ferrante & Teicher’s hit single. At its most contemporary, the album samples George Harrison (“Something”) and Paul Simon (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”), the latter closing out the original album’s track list.

Real Gone’s 2018 reissue adds five contemporaneous singles and B-sides, with material that stretches from a wonderfully crooned take on Coots and Lewis’ 1934 standard “For All We Know,” through Bachrach & David’s “Whoever You Are, I Love You” (from the musical Promises, Promises), Bert Kaempert’s “Night Dreams,” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wherefore and Why” and “The Last Time I Saw Her,” the latter pair with arrangements by Perry Botkin, Jr. Although the album cracked the Top 40, and “Midnight Cowboy” climbed to #20, the artistic revitalization outweighed the commercial impact, and buoyed Mathis’ recording career well into the 1980s. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Johnny Mathis’ Home Page

NRBQ: NRBQ

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

The 1969 debut of a polyglot music legend

Originally released in 1969, this debut outlined the wide musical grasp and irreverent sensibility that would grow the band’s legend over the next 49 years. 49 years in which this initial explosion of creativity sat in the vault unreissued. 49 years in which either the group’s continuing activity diverted their attention from a reissue, or in which lawyers intermittently haggled over muddy contractual rights. Either way, Omnivore has finally liberated the album from its resting place and reissued the fourteen songs in a tri-fold slipcase with original front and back cover art, Donn Adams period liner notes, and contemporary notes by Jay Berman. Berman characterizes the band’s repertoire, even at this early point in their career, as including “nearly anything,” and the eclectic mix of covers and originals bears that out.

This first studio lineup included long-time members Terry Adams and Joey Spampinato (the latter then credited as Jody St. Nicholas), along with vocalist Frank Gadler, guitarist Steve Ferguson and drummer Tom Staley. The group stakes out the audacious corners of their musical omniverance with covers of Eddie Cochran’s rockabilly “C’mon Everybody,” Sun Ra’s avant garde jazz “Rocket Number 9,” Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s folk blues “C’mon If You’re Comin’” (which the group revisited on 1972’s Workshop), and a country soul arrangement of Bruce Channel’s 1962 chart topper, “Hey! Baby.” Few bands at the time would have even known this range of material, let alone find a way to make it fit together on an album.

The original material from Adams, Spaminato and Ferguson is equally ambitious. Adams mashes up trad jazz and rock ‘n’ roll for “Kentucky Slop,” boogies hard on “Mama Get Down Those Rock And Roll Shoes,” captures the melancholy of Carla Bley’s 1964 jazz instrumental “Ida Lupino” with original lyrics, and closes the album with the piano-led “Stay With Me.” Ferguson’s trio of originals include the pop and soul influences of “I Didn’t Know Myself,” the gospel rocker “Stomp” and the country, folk and gospel flavored “Fergie’s Prayer.” Spampinato offers the album’s most ebullient moment with “You Can’t Hide,” a title the band would revisit ten years later on Tiddlywinks.

The album’s collection of first takes (including the previously unreleased first take of “Stomp” substituting for the re-recorded version that appeared on the original vinyl) provides a snapshot of the band as they played live. The set list reflects the confluence of musical interests, knowledge and talent the band members brought to the group, and the performances have an all-in quality that made second takes superfluous. Whether or not the renditions were note-perfect (and they pretty much are), they were perfect expressions of the musical ethos that sustains the band to this day. It’s a shame that the originally released second take of “Stomp” wasn’t included as part of this reissue, but that’s a nit, given the historical and artistic riches that have been sprung from the vault. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ’s Home Page

Juliana Hatfield: Sings Olivia Newton-John

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

Charming and heartfelt tribute to Olivia Newton-John

Born in 1967, Juliana Hatfield was seven years old when Olivia Newton-John scored her first U.S. pop chart topper, “I Honestly Love You.” Newton-John scored again with the follow-up singles, “Have You Ever Been Mellow” and “Please Mr. Please,” and though she continued to chart adult contemporary, it took her three more years to climb back to the top of the pop chart with 1978’s John Travolta duet “You’re the One That I Want.” Hatfield, known for her work with Blake Babies, the Juliana Hatfield Three and solo has “never not loved Olivia Newton­-John,” and it shows in the endearing performances and song selection of this tribute album.

In addition to heartfelt interpretations of Newton-John icons that span 1974’s “I Honestly Love You” to 1981’s “Physical,” the song list includes several deep fan favorites. “Totally Hot,” which stalled out at #52 in 1979, is deftly recast as buzzing Suzi Quatro-styled glam rock, and the pop-country “Dancin’ Round and Round” is taken uptempo and backed by hard-charging guitar and drums. The album reaches an emotional peak with “Please Mr. Please,” as Hatfield pours every last drop of the emotion she must have felt as an eight-year-old bonding with her first artistic idol.

Hatfield has internalized these songs and their artist in a thousand bedroom and car singalongs, and filters them through the original artistry they helped inspire. The contentment of “Have You Never Been Mellow” retains its optimistic mid-70s introspection while being deepened by Hatfield’s additional decades of life experience, and “Hopelessly Devoted to You” could just as easily be Hatfield singing about Newton-John as it was Sandy singing about Danny. This is a treat for fans of both Newton-John and Hatfield, and the only thing missing are some Grease photo cards to stick inside your locker. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Juliana Hatfield’s Home Page

The Oak Ridge Boys: When I Sing For Him – The Complete Columbia Recordings & RCA Singles

Monday, April 16th, 2018

The pre- and post-MCA sides of the Oak Ridge Boys

Those who know the Oak Ridge Boys from the hit singles that began with 1977’s “Y’all Come Back Saloon” and ran through crossover icons “Elvira” and “Bobbie Sue,” may be surprised to find the group’s Southern gospel roots stretch back to the 1940s. Starting out as Wally Fowler and the Georgia Clodhoppers, they became the Oak Ridge Quartet, and then in the early ‘60s, the Oak Ridge Boys. The group’s best-known lineup came together in the early ‘70s when bass singer Richard Sterban and tenor Joe Bonsall joined mid-60s arrivals Duane Allen and William Lee Golden. It was this quartet that charted with Johnny Cash on the 1973 single “Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup” and eventually expanded from gospel to country hit making.

By 1974 the group had moved from the Heart Warming gospel label to the secular Columbia where they recorded the trio of albums anthologized here: The Oak Ridge Boys, Sky High, and Old Fashioned, Down Home, Hand Clappin’, Foot Stompin’, Southern Style, Gospel Quartet Music. The self-titled Columbia debut cracked the top 40, but the remaining two albums, despite quality material and performances, failed to chart. The group’s Columbia singles fared no better, with the first six failing to chart, and the seventh, “Family Reunion,” barely scraping onto the charts at #83. A large part of the group’s problem seems to have been Columbia’s lack of service to gospel radio, but their stylistic range, which included gospel harmony, MOR ballads, country and soul diluted their identity as gospel singers without providing a ready hook for secular radio.

Which is a shame, because the singles and albums deserved an audience. The group’s debut single for Columbia, the Grammy-winning “The Baptism of Jesse Taylor,” could easily have fit country radio in 1973, but it was a year or two late to mingle with the God Rock pop hits of 1971-2. Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me” hasn’t the wasted soul of the original, but it was a canny pick for a cover, as was their non-charting take on Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock.” The group turned soulful with Allen Toussaint’s widely covered “Freedom for the Stallion,” and the debut album’s “Give Me a Star” provides a powerful close to the debut Columbia album. Their sophomore effort opens with the album’s non-charting single “Rhythm Guitar,” featuring honky-tonk piano and a terrific bass vocal.

The opening verse of “Nobody Special” briefly shows off the quartet’s vocal blend in an a cappella arrangement that could have supported the entire track (or an album!). Porter Wagoner’s “When I Sing For Him” gave lead vocalist Duane Allen an opportunity to really soar, a performance so moving that Wagoner asked him to sing the song at his funeral, which he did in 2007. Beyond the album’s songs of praise, the group offers Christian life principles in “We Gotta Love One Another” and “Plant a Seed,” essaying the pitfalls of part-time faith. The closing “Mighty Fine” would have made a catchy second single, had Columbia been more interested in promoting the group. Disc one is filled out with six bonus tracks that include a pair of vault tracks from All Our Favorite Songs, the singles “Heaven Bound.” and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup,” and the B-side “Look Away Mama.”

Disc two opens with the ten tracks of the group’s third Columbia album, and features a second collaboration with Johnny Cash on his original “No Earthly Good.” The non-charting single “Where the Soul Never Dies” and “Jesus Knows Who I Am” offer revival tent zest, but the album’s split between old-timey gospel, country-flavored numbers and middle-of-the-road ballads doesn’t quite live up to the collection’s home-spun title. As with the previous two albums, the breadth is admirable, but it plays more like a variety show than a group’s album. The final two Columbia singles, David Allan Coe’s “Family Reunion” and George Jones’ “All Our Favorite Songs” are included along with their B-sides.

The group moved from Columbia to Dot in 1977, then to Dot’s parent, ABC, and then to ABC’s parent MCA, minted the biggest hit albums and singles of their career. In 1990, with Steve Sanders having replaced William Lee Golden as the group’s baritone, the group signed with RCA and released Unstoppable and The Long Haul. Disc 2 is filled out with four RCA singles from this period, including a grandiose cover of Mann & Weil’s Brill Building classic “(You’re My) Soul And Inspiration,” the country hit “Lucky Moon,” its bluesy B-side take on “Walking After Midnight” and the fine, but low-charting “Fall.” The set closes with a funky cover of “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” drawn from Sounds of the Season.

The Columbia sides show the group branching out from their gospel roots, but not yet fully committing themselves to the country market. As Joe Bonsall opines in Joe Marchese’s detailed liner notes, “Those were the days when we rode the fence musically trying to appease everyone… Although some of the songs were really cool, we just couldn’t seem to gain any real traction.” This set provides bookends for the group’s hit years on MCA, showing how they expanded their material and style from gospel to pop, rock, country and soul without ever dropping the thread of faith. Their Columbia material didn’t produced the mainstream fame they’d find on MCA, but it opened their ears to the opportunity that lay just ahead. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

The Oak Ridge Boys’ Home Page