Posts Tagged ‘Rock’

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]

Chip & Tony Kinman: Sounds Like Music

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

The musical adventures of punk icons and cowpunk reactionaries

Chip and Tony Kinman’s first band, the Dils, offered political anthems that resonated with the late-70s punk rock scene of their adopted San Francisco. A move to Los Angeles found the brothers increasingly disaffected from the growing aggressiveness of punk, and after settling into Austin, they developed the singular mix of pop punk, new wave and country that was Rank and File. Where the Dils had adopted the requisite punk sounds and styles of their times, Rank and File sounded like nothing else then extant. There was a maverick quality that was mindful of earlier country-rock pioneers, but ever the rebels, the band evolved into power chords and a more heavily produced drum sound by their third and final album. The brothers next formed the industrial techno-based Blackbird, mixing guitars and electronica (and a reworking of the Dils “Class War”) for a run of three albums. Then, just as everyone’s memories of Rank and File began to fade, the Kinmans returned to Americana with the campfire-ready western songs of Cowboy Nation.

In the wake of Tony Kinman’s passing last year, his brother Chip assembled this collection of twenty-two previously unreleased tracks from their archives. The revelation of this collection is the fluidity of the duo’s musical identities, with the pair often changing bands before they fully consecrated a new direction. What was rendered in public releases as discrete groups is shown here to be more of a continuum, as a 1978 take of “Rank and File” shows off the song’s punk rock genesis, and the arch vocal tone of the Dils threads into the Blackbirds’ buzzy “Me Too.” There’s a brawny riff hefted from “Louie, Louie” into “Candy,” Beach Boys sunshine buried in the muddy “She’s Real Gone,” noisy wistfulness in a modern arrangement of “Old Paint,” and delicacy and tenderness in a cover of Tom Waits’ “Jersey Girl.” As a collection, the material highlights the borderless world in which the Kinman’s made music, and for fans of their many-flavored bands, this provides a bittersweet reminder of their ever-changing sounds and restless musical souls. [©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

Various Artists: Thank You Friends – Big Star’s Third Live… And More

Saturday, August 10th, 2019

A celebration of Alex Chilton and Big Star

Although Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens revived Big Star in 1993 with the help of the Posies’ Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, they never sought to recreate the full majesty of their seminal studio recordings. The 2.0 lineup lasted nearly 18 years of intermittent live performances and the studio album In Space, but with Chilton’s passing in 2010, Big Star morphed from a going concern into a well spring of reissues, archival releases, biographies, documentaries and tribute performances. The first of the tributes took place within days of Chilton’s passing, as Big Star’s remaining three members were joined by the band’s friends and colleagues to deliver a musical wake at SXSW.

By the end of that year, a more formal tribute was organized with a live performance of Big Star’s Third, complete with the album’s full, original orchestration. And from that show, a core musical collective formed to tour the tribute internationally, engaging guest musicians and orchestras at each stop. A full rendering of Third remains the centerpiece of the show, but with the addition of material from Big Star’s first two albums and Chris Bell’s post-Big Star work to fill out the story. This 2017 performance features Big Star’s Jody Stephens and musical director Chris Stamey alongside Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer (The Posies, Big Star), Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Jeff Tweedy and Pat Sansone (Wilco), Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tango), Robyn Hitchcock, Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers), Dan Wilson (Semisonic), and a full chamber orchestra.

Paying tribute to a band as beloved as Big Star is a tricky proposition. Covering too closely offers nothing new or of yourself, while straying too far risks losing touch with the object of your tribute. Add to that a small catalog that allows for talmudic-like study by fans and the stretch from single song cover to a full concert and album reading, and the balance point seems to grow more elusive. As musical director, Stamey has plotted out musical waypoints that anchor these covers to the familiar originals, while at the same time employing vocalists and harmony singers whose tone and style are reverent, yet fresh. The combination of familiar and new renews the chestnuts that had fossilized into icons, and animates the songs that were never performed live by the original band.

The performers’ deep affection for the material is evident throughout, and the split between earlier material on disc one and Third on disc two mirrors the changes in the band’s personnel, circumstances and resulting direction. The song sequence for Third has long been debated, and the order selected here doesn’t seem to match any of the well-known sequences; i.e., the 1975 test pressing on Stax, the 1978 vinyl issue on PVC, the 1992 CD issue on Ryko, the 2016 Complete Third on Omnivore, or any of the many reissues in between; notably missing are the test pressing’s covers of “Femme Fatale” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” and reissue inclusions “Till the End of the Day” and “Nature Boy.” Still, no matter the track selection or order, the musical schizophrenia of the original sessions comes across in both the individual songs, and the idiosyncratic range of material.

Third was such a personal, one-of-a-kind document of an artist in a particular period of his life, that a staged tribute is necessarily removed from the circumstances under which the album was created. The performers rely on the personal resonances the music strikes in themselves and the audience, and connect with the material on musical, lyrical and emotional levels. Jessica Pratt and Jon Auer capture the somnambulistic late night of “Big Black Car,” Skylar Guasz and Mike Mills rock “You Can’t Have Me,” and Jody Stephens’ shines with fragile hope on string-backed performances of “For You” and “Blue Moon.” The personal and professional disintegration that Chilton captured on Third couldn’t possibly be reproduced with full emotional fidelity in a tribute, but as an homage and an echo of Chilton’s miasma, this is a fulfilling production. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Big Star Third’s Home Page

Steve Goodman: Artistic Hair & Affordable Art

Saturday, August 10th, 2019

Bonus-lad­en reissues of Steve Goodman’s final two albums

Goodman lived his entire professional career on borrowed time. Diagnosed with leukemia in 1969, he made the most of his 15 years on the public stage. His best known song, “City of New Orleans,” was a hit for Arlo Guthrie, and again for Willie Nelson, and is recounted from his debut album in live form on Artistic Hair. But his most sung song is the Chicago Cubs victory anthem “Go Cubs Go,” included as a bonus track on this reissue of Affordable Art. The latter album, the last released during Goodman’s lifetime, includes a double-header of baseball-themed tracks in its original lineup, “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” and a sprightly dawg-grass arrangement of the national pastime classic “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Goodman recorded for Buddah and Asylum before inaugurating his own Red Pajama label with this pair of albums, reissued here with eighteen bonus tracks between them. 1983’s Artistic Hair was constructed from live material cherry-picked from a decade’s worth of recordings. The selected tracks show off the intimate stage presence that matched the intellectual intimacy of Goodman’s music. The material features a half dozen originals, including the humorous realities of  “Elvis Imitators” and “Chicken Cordon Bleus,” and the icons “City of New Orleans” and “You Never Even Called Me By Name.” Goodman’s covers ranged widely from early twentieth century tunes “Tico Tico,” “Red Red Robin” and “Winter Wonderland” to Shel Silverstein’s acoustic blues, “Three-Legged Man.”

The album’s ten bonus tracks, originally released on the posthumous No Big Surprise: The Steve Goodman Anthology, feature a similar mix of originals and covers, including Goodman’s chanty about a notorious Chicago-area towing company, “Lincoln Park Pirates,” the ad-libbed stage performer’s nightmare, “The Broken String Song,” and the celebration of love’s polyglot nature, “Men Who Love Women Who Love Men.” Covers include Leroy Van Dyke’s tongue-twisting “The Auctioneer,” the Albert Brumley spiritual “I’ll Fly Away” and the mid-30s dance tune “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” popularly recorded by Fats Waller, the Ink Spots and Patti Page. Goodman is relaxed and confident as he variously performs solo and with a band, and while the settings and recording quality vary, the constructed set is a treat.

Affordable Art mixes live and studio tracks, with a song list composed almost entirely of originals. The album opens with the instrumental “If Only Jethro Was Here,” featuring Goodman on mandola and Jim Rothermel on recorder, and highlighting mandolinist Jethro Burns’ absence. Burns himself is heard on an old-timey rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which is stretched into a double with Goodman’s “A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request,” and legged into a triple with the bonus track “Go Cubs Go.” As on his previous album of live material, Goodman is heard both solo and with a band, including the driving drums and electric slide of “How Much Tequila (Did I Drink Last Night)?” and an acoustic ensemble highlighted by Marty Stuart’s mandolin and Jerry Douglas’ dobro on the hopeful “When My Rowboat Comes In.”

Goodman’s humor drives the consumerist fever dream “Vegematic” the sardonic “Watching Joey Glow,” and the jazzy shuffle “Talk Backwards.”  He duets with John Prine for their co-written “Souvenirs” and dips into sentimental nostalgia on “Old Smoothies,” evidencing the humanity that anchored the wide reach of his songwriting. The album’s bonus tracks include the sing-a-long Bo Diddley beat of “Go Cubs Go” and seven previously unreleased acoustic tracks that include British folk singer Ralph McTell’s “Streets of London,” studio alternates of “Old Smoothies” and “Vegematic,” and four more originals. Affordable Art provides a solid capstone to Goodman’s career, and together with Artistic Hair shows off his songwriting, guitar wizardry, studio craft, stage presence, and power as both a solo performer and band leader. These are worthwhile upgrades for fans who have earlier editions. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

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

Luther Russell: Medium Cool

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019

New rock ‘n’ roll sounds of the late ‘70s

For someone born in 1970, Luther Russell sure managed to soak up the feel of late ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll. If you were there, this album will transport you back to a time when Jimmy Carter was in the White House, and your copy of Twilley Don’t Mind (not to mention the cutout copy of Radio City you managed to score) hadn’t been worn flat. It turns out that rock ‘n’ roll didn’t die with Tom Petty, even if there are few guitars to be heard on Spotify’s Top 100. Medium Cool not only conjures the sound – the instruments, melodies, rhythms and production – of late ‘70s rock, but the mood. It’s almost as if Joe Walsh continued on from the James Gang instead of eventually joining the Eagles.

Russell’s fealty to the late-70s is on-the-nose with the Roger Christian/Alex Chilton mashup, “Corvette Summer,” a tune that, in an alternate 1978, would have been the title theme to the like-named Mark Hamill film. “Have You Heard” turns a mythical comeback of rock ‘n’ roll into a clarion call, and all of the album’s elements are pulled together as “The Sound of Rock ‘n’ Roll” frees broken hearts to find one another in a misery-eliding drug haze. The acoustic “At Your Feet” suggests an emotionally prostrate version of Big Star’s “Thirteen” (which Russell has previously performed with Jody Stephens), but here the protagonist literally throws himself at the feet of his objet d’affection.

There’s a hint of Joe Jackson in the chorus of “Can’t Be Sad,” but the verses, powered by rock ‘n’ roll guitar, bass and drums that reach back past any hint of a new wave. The ringing guitars of “Talkin to Myself” bring to mind the Seattle pop moment just before grunge, and the introspective closer, “Can’t Turn Away,” doubles down on Russell’s unshakeable loyalty. Over the years Russell’s shifted from Replacements-styled rock with the Bootheels, to Joe Cocker-inspired sounds with the Freewheelers, to folk-pop with Big Star’s Jody Stephens in Those Pretty Wrongs. Elements of each can be heard here, but the trio’s playing is an especially pleasing tonic for ears that came of age in the late ‘70s. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Luther Russell’s Home Page