Posts Tagged ‘Rhino’

The Lively Ones: Surf Drums

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Second helping of instrumental surf from 1963

The second album from this Southern California instrumental surf quintet, one of four they released in 1963, isn’t quite as thrilling as their debut, Surf Rider! As on the debut, the band mixed twangy surf guitars with a fat-toned sax that recalled rock instrumentals of the ‘50s. Also as on their debut, this one mixes a few pre-album singles with tracks recorded especially for the long-player, with the song list sticking to covers, including Duane Eddy’s “40 Miles of Bad Road,” the Rockin’ Rebels’ “Wild Weekend,” Arthur Smith’s “Guitar Boogie” (rechristened as “Surfer Boogie”), Link Wray’s “Rumble” and “Rawhide” (the latter rechristened “Surf Drums”), and so on. Tom Fitzpatrick’s drumming isn’t mixed as snappily to the fore as on the debut, and the heavy use of Joel Willenbring’s sax sometimes weighs this more towards ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll and Las Vegas Grind than pure surf. Still, the band is tight, with some great stop-start arrangements and energetic bass lines by Ron Griffith. There’s stereo sound throughout and the tracks are available as an album of MP3’s or a two-fer (with Surf Rider!) as a CD. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

The Lively Ones: Surf Rider!

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Solid instrumental surf from band’s 1963 debut LP

The Lively Ones’ debut album remained their best effort, and a great example of ‘50s instrumentals morphing into ‘60s surf rock. Joel Willenbring supplies the fat-toned sax, and Jim Masoner and Ed Chiaverini the reverbed guitars. The quintet’s first full length pulled together previously released singles – notably the title track’s reworking of the Ventures’ “Spudnik” – with a handful of covers and a few memorable originals. The album opens with Tom Fitzpatrick’s crisp drumming kicking off Dick Dale’s “Surf Beat,” smoothly integrating Willenbring’s growling sax with the low twanging guitars. A take on the classic “Miserlou” hasn’t the manic staccato virtuosity of Dale’s version, but the drums once again cut sharp lines behind the energetic guitars. The more obscure covers are even better: a moody take on the Strangers’ “Caterpillar Crawl” and an upbeat romp through “Walkin’ the Board” each sound like something Thee Swank Bastards would use to get Szandora LaVey’s hula-hoop up to speed. The two originals, “Goofy Foot” and “Happy Gremmie” are quite fine, the latter with a bluesy edge to its combination of surf and Vegas grind. Great sound (stereo except track 2, 4, 5 and 6) – this is a must have for any surfer stomp; available as an album of MP3’s or a two-fer (with their second album, Surf Drums) as a CD. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Soul Clan: Soul Clan

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Legendary soul men cut one strong single as a quintet

Soul Clan – Solomon Burke, Arthur Conley, Don Covay, Ben E. King and Joe Tex – turned out to be more of a concept than a working concern. They waxed only one single as a group, pairing the Southern-styled “Soul Meeting” with the gospel-influenced “That’s How it Feels,” leaving their 1969 album to be filled out with two solo sides apiece. It’s a great set, highlighted by Conley’s transcendent “Sweet Soul Music,” but the two collaborative sides leave you wondering what might have been, if Atco could have coordinated more sessions together. Those with deep collections of the individual performers can now snag the two Soul Clan collaborations as individual digital downloads. Collector’s note: despite the stereo cover art, Rhino’s digital reissue is mono. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Frankie Lymon: Rock ‘n’ Roll

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Teenager steps out for 1958 solo debut

After two successful years fronting the Teenagers, vocalist Frankie Lymon stepped into a surprisingly unsuccessful solo career with this fine 1958 studio album. Having lost his childhood soprano to adolescence, his 16-year-old voice still had plenty of punch, and continued to leap from the grooves. His out-of-breath delivery of “Waitin in School” has an adolescent everything-is-happening-at-once fervor that Ricky Nelson’s cool-cat style didn’t match. It doesn’t hurt to have an ace guitar player – Mickey Baker, perhaps – tearing thing up in the breaks. Producers Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore double the vocals on “Wake Up Little Suzie,” creating a more saucy mood than the Everly’s original, and though covers of the Rays’ “Silhouettes” and the Coasters’ “Searchin’” aren’t particularly inspiring, there’s still plenty here to impress. Lymon’s adolescence adds a note of sweet longing to Nat King Cole’s “Send for Me,” and the R&B “Next Time You See Me” and “Short Fat Fanny” give Lymon a chance to really wail. Most impressive are original approaches to “Jailhouse Rock” and “Diana” that pay each song its due without imitating the hits. Several of these tracks were released as singles, but none had the success of the early Teenagers’ sides; worse, with a heroin habit eating away his abilities, Lymon was dropped by Roulette in 1961. He’d record a few sides for other labels, but this album and a handful of non-LP singles for Roulette (that should have been included here as bonus tracks) represents the end of Lymon’s run as a bright thread in the rock ‘n’ roll tapestry. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

The Anita Kerr Singers: All You Need is Love

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

Soft-pop vocal arrangements of ‘60s hits

The Anita Kerr singers are among the most heard, and least known-by-name, vocal group in the history of recording. That’s because Kerr’s group was the go-to backing group (along with the Jordanaires) for hundreds of sessions during the Nashville Sound era of the early ‘60s. They appeared almost constantly on the charts backing top country hits by Jim Reeves, Ernest Tubb, Faron Young, Brenda Lee, pop records by Pat Boone, Perry Como, Bobby Vinton and many, many others. Alongside their choral work, the group recorded several albums for RCA, including the Grammy winning We Dig Mancini. In the mid-60s Kerr disbanded the Nashville edition of her group, convened a new edition in Los Angeles, and commenced recording for Warner Brothers. This is the group’s fourth, and last album for the label, and was originally issued in the flower-power year of 1967.

Kerr picked her material with an arranger’s ear for possibilities, finding new vocal interplay even in songs as originally complex as the Association’s “Never My Love.” The songs are drawn from pop, rock, folk, soul and easy listening, and Kerr’s arrangements and orchestrations always find something new, often with a vocal-jazz feel. She expands on the vocal work of the Mamas & Papas “No Salt on Her Tail” and turns the Bee Gees’ moody “Holiday” into something contemplative. Less successful are her transformations of the soul tunes, “A Natural Woman” and “How Can I Be Sure.” The album is more a period piece than the lasting art Kerr created with her hit background arrangements, but it remains a pleasant breeze that blew across the heavier rock and soul of the ‘60s. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Arthur Conley: Soul Directions

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

Conley’s tragedy turned into great soul music

Southern soul singer Arthur Conley is known to most for his perfect celebration, “Sweet Soul Music.” Based on a “Yeah Man” by his vocal inspiration, Sam Cooke, and co-written with his mentor, Otis Redding, the song topped out in 1967 at #2 on both the Hot 100 and R&B charts and became the lasting emblem of the ‘60s soul movement. But like so many true artists that have one defining single, Conley recorded terrific material both before and after the lightning strike. This 1968 album was a bittersweet affair that collected singles and album sides recorded just months after the airplane crash that killed Redding and the Mar-Keys.

Unlike Conley’s earlier hits, which had been waxed at Muscle Shoals, the album was mostly recorded at the same American Studios in Memphis where Elvis would cap his late-60s comeback. Conley wrote half the songs, including the somber memorial “Otis Sleep On,” and collected a pair from Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn. Memphis horns resound in “Funky Street,” “Hear Say” and “People Sure Act Funny,” and Conley draws from both Redding and Cooke in the pleading “This Love of Mine.” Conley saves his most scorching vocal for the Redding written and produced “Love Comes and Goes.” This is a terrific, deeply felt album that should be in the collection of all soul music fans. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Various Artists: Hot Rod City

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Gary Usher and the Challengers tune up some car songs

Though the tracks are credited to the Customs, Quads and Grand Prix, this is apparently the work of the Challengers and legendary writer/producer Gary Usher. The twenty-one tracks (fourteen original and seven bonuses) include workmanlike cover versions of the Four Speeds’ “RPM,” Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” and “Little Queenie,” and the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Shutdown,” and “409.” The originals are laced with the car jargon the genre brought to mass culture, though little of this is as clever as the best that Wilson, Christian and Usher brought to the Top 40. The Everly’s-styled duet on the opening “Candy Apple Buggy” is about the most exciting vocal on an album that’s sung with surprising listlessness; there’s little evidence of the adolescent joy one expects from surf ‘n’ drag music. Collectors might like the cover of Brian Wilson’s “She Rides with Me,” though the Wilson-produced version by Paul Peterson is better and easily found here and here. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

The Avalanches: Ski Surfin’

Monday, January 17th, 2011

1960s L.A. studio players cut some rockin’ instrumentals

The Avalanches were a one-off studio group formed around Los Angeles studio players Billy Strange and Tommy Tedesco on guitar, future Bread main-man David Gates on bass, and legendary Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine. The original instrumentals offered here (in addition to the themed covers, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “Winter Wonderland”) are the sort of studio rockers that populated dozens of mid-60s albums and exploitation film soundtracks. Strange and Tedesco blaze away in their respective twangy and fuzz-soaked styles, and the rhythm section burns down the slopes. There’s little here that’s really surf music, aside from a few moments of half-hearted staccato picking; the occasional jabs of pedal steel suggest Alvino Rey and the electric piano leans to the soul rave-ups of Ray Charles. But mostly this sounds like incidental music from a low-budget AIP teen-film. And that’s a complement. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Big Star: Keep an Eye on the Sky

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

BigStar_KeepAnEyeOnTheSkyThe essential second (or third) Big Star purchase

It’s hard to imagine anyone issuing a Big Star release that’s a more perfect introduction to the band than the two-fer of #1 Record and Radio City. You could include their third album, dig in the archives for alternate versions and live tracks, stretch through their reunion music, add pre- and post-Big Star releases, and solo work for context, and you could write lavish liner notes to explain and contextualize their ill-fated story. But as an introduction, every bit of it would simply distract from the perfection that is that first perfect couplet of albums. If you want to turn someone on to Big Star, the stepping stones are #1 Record and Radio City.

But once they’re hooked they’ll want to know more; they’ll want to know everything. Where did the players come from and what did they do before and after Big Star? What else did the band record? What’s Ardent Records and what else was the label doing at the time? How did Memphis influence the band’s sound? Are there alternate versions or unreleased tracks? What were they like as a live unit? And of course: why haven’t I heard of this band before? The latter question is less likely to be asked these days, since obsessive fans have dug up many of the other answers, and many well-known bands have cited Big Star as a seminal influence. But until this box set was released, the full picture of Big Star’s career had to be pieced together from a shelf-full of CDs [1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9], a pair of books [1 2] and assorted fan web sites.

With this 4-CD set, Rhino has reduced all of the purchases that normally follow the two-fer into a rich and convenient box. This is not a substitute for the original albums, nor does it replace the full-length live albums, lead-ins and follow-ups, or the detailed written histories of the band; but for many, this consolidated view of Big Star will be the perfect follow-up to the initial infatuation. For those who’ve already collected everything that’s been legitimately released, the box still provides something extra in previously unreleased live and studio items from the archives. Some of the alternate material is subtle, but some, like “Country Morn” fronts the well-known backing track of “Sunrise” with entirely different lyrics. The B-side mix of “In the Street” has a noticeably different feel to the album track, and the alternate version of “The Ballad of El Goodo” sports a different lead vocal take.

There are early versions of “I Got Kinda Lost,” “There Was a Light” and Loudon Wainwright III’s “Motel Blues” that never made it to final form, and revealing demos for songs that made each of the group’s first three albums. Perhaps the biggest treat of all, however, is the live show featured on disc four. This disc is a distillation of three sets performed by the three-piece (Chris Bell-less) Big Star in Memphis in January 1973. Recorded from microphones set in front of the stage, it’s not the crisp line recording of the band’s previously released shows, but it’s a superb performance whose room sound offers a bit of you-are-there ambiance. It’s a shame the audience mostly ignore the greatness in front of them as they await the headliner, Archie Bell & the Drells.

The physical presentation, a folder containing the four discs and a hundred-page book housed in a slipcase, is superb. An introductory note from Ardent Records founder John Fry shows the emotional connection the insiders still carry with them. Robert Gordon’s historical notes are informative, but Bob Mehr’s essay brilliantly captures the slowly-built cult of Big Star, replaying the clandestine mystery and wonderful discovery the band’s fans felt in the years before the Internet and this  box set put the story at everyone’s fingertips. The book closes with song notes from Alec Palao that gather the scattered details that could be reassembled from tape box labels and participants memories. The 7.5-inch square book includes superb full-panel pictures, most of which have never been seen by even Big Star’s biggest fans.

Could the set include more? Yes. Would that make it better as a box set? Not really. The purpose of these four discs is to tell a story, to provide substance and dimension to a band whose story was revealed ever so slowly over the course of three decades. By intermixing standard and alternate versions of key recordings this set offers new angles on the well-known corpus. By including a full disc of live music the collection fleshes out Big Star from a studio incarnation into a band populated by flesh-and-blood musicians. Start with the band’s first two albums, but once you’ve been bitten, continue here. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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Stephen Stills: Live at Shepherd’s Bush

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

StephenStills_LiveAtShepherdsBushCareer-spanning 2008 concert performance

With so many artists retreading their catalogs with concert performances of classic albums, Stephen Stills’ career-spanning live set provides a different proposition. Rather than take his audience back to a single point in time, he takes them on the musical journey he mapped out for himself with Buffalo Springfield, CSN(&Y), Manassas, and various solo releases. The set list focuses primarily on the years 1966 through 1973, but reaches to Stills’ last solo album, 2005’s Man Alive! for “Wounded World” (segued here with Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way”) and draws in a cover of Tom Petty’s recent Mudcrutch song “Wrong Thing to Do.”

The show is split into solo acoustic and electric band sets, and rather than following a strict timeline, Stills has arranged the songs into a program that makes for a good show, with crowd-pleasing favorites placed strategically among the deeper album cuts. The solo tunes show Stills to still be a powerful acoustic picker (both finger and flat-pick), and though his singing voice is rough in spots, the song introductions and storytelling are incredibly engaging. Best of all, the disc provides generous helpings of between-song continuity and gives you a good sense of how the show felt as a whole. This is a document of a live concert performance rather than a cleanly edited set of live songs.

The show kicks off with “Tree Top Flyer,” a 1968 solo tune that didn’t appear on a commercial release until CS&N tackled it fifteen years later. Fan favorites “4+20” and “Change Partners” bracket a touching version of the Manassas tune “Johnny’s Garden,” and a couple of covers, Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country” and the traditional “Blind Fiddler” show off some of Stills’ own favorites. The acoustic set closes with a 9-minute rendition of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” that shows off Stills’ blistering guitar skills, and provides a transition to the electric band set. The second set opens with the little heard “Isn’t It About Time,” from the second Manassas album, and unlike the chestnuts that follow, the arrangement and performance sound very fresh as Stills adds some meaty Stratocaster playing.

The Buffalo Springfield numbers are a mixed bag. They’re stretched into jams that give Stills an opportunity to show that his guitar can reach heights that his voice can’t always follow. “Rock & Roll Woman” retains its passion, “Bluebird” is reworked enthusiastically to fit Stills’ limited vocal range, but a bluesy 7-minute version of “For What It’s Worth” can’t muster the vocal pungency of 1966, despite its on-going political relevance. Overall, Stills sounds more enthusiastic about the material that’s newer to him, including his own “Wounded World” and the Petty and Walsh covers.

The widescreen DVD offers the same track line-up as the CD, though with the option of DTS Surround. The only extras are a short intro clip by Stills and credit-roll clips in which Stills discusses the set list. The lighting and videography are excellent, giving viewers a chance to see close-ups of Stills singing and picking. He sells his songs with facial expressions, postures and body movements, and his lack of vocal flexibility is more than made up for by watching him rip on guitar. This is a nicely selected mix of hits and album cuts, performed with the freedom of someone with nothing left to prove. CD and DVD discs are packaged in a three-panel cardboard slipcase. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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