Posts Tagged ‘Rock’

Shawn Mullins: Soul’s Core Revival

Saturday, February 16th, 2019

A flash of inspiration turned into an essay of experience

Shawn Mullins was six years and four albums into his recording career when he waxed the 1998 breakthrough album Soul’s Core. He was at the point in a musician’s career when they start to wonder if they’ll ever break out of the artistically-rich but commercially-lean orbit in which they’ve been traveling. The pace of recording often turns studio sessions into snapshots of inspiration, with a long tail of discovery ahead as the album is toured. The initial writing and recording are coated in layers of experience as songs are contextualized in the flow of a live set, developed by a road band’s chemistry, reflected by audience reaction, and interpreted through the changing circumstances of the performer. Material with artistic depth is in a sense never finished.

Given the pivotal role that Soul’s Core played in Mullins’ career, it’s no surprise that many of the album’s songs have remained central to his live set, and that over time, his relationship to the material, and his perspective on its meaning has deepened. For this self-released double-CD, Mullins has re-recorded the album twice: once with his road band, and once in an acoustic solo setting. The former’s live-in-the-studio setting captures the band’s decades-long development of the songs as stage material, while the latter more deeply introspects the songwriter’s changes in personal relationship to his younger self. The band disc perfectly blends the tight playing of oft-played material with the stretching and exploration of songs whose core theses have become second nature; the solo disc gives Mullins an opportunity to look back twenty years on his own.

Mullins has doubled down on the soulfulness of these songs with both his singing and touches of organ and horns. His feel for the entirety of each song allows him to hang back at key points so as to emphasize others, exchanging the glow of the adolescent incarnations for versions steeped in the added details of nightly retellings. The spoken word intros to the acoustic renditions nominaly return the material to its songwriter roots, but as with the band versions, Mullins long-term relationship with his material yields a deeper connection than could have been captured at its genesis. This is a terrific gift to longtime fans of the original album, and an interesting entry point for new fans to capture both Mullins’ early years and his current state. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Shawn Mullins’ Home Page

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]

Various Artist: 3×4

Saturday, February 9th, 2019

The Paisley Underground revisits itself

For those who weren’t around to enjoy the 1980s revival of 1960s sounds, “The Paisley Underground” was the name given to a collection of like-minded Los Angeles bands that shared a fondness for retro sounds. Initially finding one another as fans, they quickly became friends and colleagues, and released a varied catalog of records that touched on a number of different pop, psych and punk echoes of the ‘60s. Three decades years later, four of the scene’s pillars reconvened for a pair of reunion shows in 2013, and six years after that they’ve joined together to celebrate their musical and personal affections via this album of covers. Cleverly, each band – The Bangles, Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade and Three O’Clock – tackles one each of the other three band’s songs, drawing out their web of stylistic connections.

The Three O’Clock kicks off the set with the A-side of the Bangles first single, “Getting Out of Hand.” The cover has a bass-heavy go-go beat that sits well with the organ and guitar, and the band takes the tune at a more relaxed tempo than Michael Quercio’s impromptu 1983 rendition with the Bangles. The Dream Syndicate’s signature “Tell Me When It’s Over” (from The Days of Wine and Roses) finds Quercio dipping into an unusually low (for him) vocal register that’s dreamier than Steve Wynn’s Lou Reed-inflected original, and the Rain Parade’s debut single, “What She’s Done to Your Mind,” retains its original melancholy even as it’s turned poppier. The original lineup of bassist/vocalist Quercio, drummer Danny Benair, and guitarist Louis Guiterrez is joined by keyboard player Adam Merrin, and with Earle Mankey in the producer’s chair, the tracks conjure the flowery buzz of the band’s early days.

The Bangles cover the Dream Syndicate’s “That’s What You Always Say,” with the harmony vocals paired with a guitar solo that pays tribute to Karl Precoda’s screeching feedback without seeking to imitate it. The Rain Parade’s “Talking in My Sleep” (from their debut LP Emergency Third Rail Power Trip) is lead by Susanna Hoffs’ distinctive voice, and backed by Beatle-esque harmonies and instrumental hooks drawn from original. Completing their triptych, the band draws from the Three O’Clock’s Sixteen Tambourines for the joyous “Jet Fighter Man.” Susanna Hoffs, Debbi Peterson and Vicki Peterson are rejoined on these sessions by original bassist Annette Zillinskas, who exited the quartet between the release of their self-titled 1982 EP and their debut on Columbia.

Steve Wynn’s moving vocal and strong guitar work lead the Dream Syndicate’s cover of the Rain Parade’s “You Are My Friend” (from 1984’s Explosions in the Glass Palace), and give the song an Americana flavor that suggests the Long Ryders. Their cover of the Bangles “Hero Takes a Fall,” the lead single from All Over the Place, offers an interesting backstory, as the song is revealed in the liner notes to have been written about none other than… Steve Wynn. The Dream Syndicate’s third contribution reaches back to the Three O’Clock antecedent Salvation Army for “She Turns to Flowers,” a record that proved to be an early inspiration to then record store employee Steve Wynn. Wynn is joined by drummer Dennis Duck, and supplemented by longtime bassist Mark Walton and more recently added guitarist guitarist James Victor.

That Rain Parade’s covers of the Three O’Clock’s “As Real as Real” (from their debut EP Baroque Hoedown) and the Dream Syndicate’s “When You Smile” show off both the psychedelic threads that connected these bands, but also the differences that distinguished their sounds. “As Real as Real” is shorn of the vocal effects of the original, but retains the slow-motion “Tomorrow Never Knows” rhythm that gave the record its languorous grace. “When You Smile” expands upon the original with acoustic choruses and backing harmonies that contrast with the song’s underlying menace, and The Bangles “The Real World” is given an understated treatment that deepens the song’s innocence. Matt Piucci and Steven Roback lead a revised Rain Parade that includes guitarists John Thoman and Derek See, keyboard player Mark Hanley, and drummer Stephan Junea.

The album makes explicit the musical intersections and personal camaraderie that bound these bands together. The liner notes, penned by Steve Wynn, Matt Piucci, Danny Benair, Michael Quercio, Vicki Peterson and Susanna Hoffs, show how the bands became fans of one another, how their fanship turned into friendship, and eventually into professional relationships that found them gigging on shared bills. Within a couple of years the bands split off in different directions, including major labels, chart success, new projects, reunions and reformations; yet through the decades, the base interests that created the original artistic gravity seem to have survived. This return to the roots of a short-lived scene built on artistic sensibilities is a fine tribute to the scene’s collective musical consciousness. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Big Star: Live on WLIR

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

Reissue of seminal 1974 live recording

With so much Big Star material having been issued and reissued over the past thirty years, it may be difficult to remember what a blinding light from the cosmos this live set was upon its original Rykodisc release in 1992. Fans had memorized every detail of the band’s slim album catalog and adjunct singles, and in those very early internet years, there was little else to know about the band. Even Alex Chilton’s reemergence in the late ‘70s had failed to shed much retroactive light on a band that had come and gone before most fans had even heard of them. Robert Gordon brilliantly described the sensation of hearing this live set for the first time in the liner notes of the original Rykodisc release:

“You find an old picture of your lover. It dates from before you’d met, and though you’d heard about this period in his or her life, seeing it adds a whole new dimension to the person who sits across from you at the breakfast table. You study the photograph and its wrinkles, looking for clues that might tell you more about this friend you know so well–can you see anything in the pockets of that jacket, can you read any book titles on the shelf in the background. You think about an archaeologist’s work. When you next see your lover, you’re struck by things you’d never noticed. The skin tone, the facial radiance–though the lamps in your house are all the same and the sun does not appear to be undergoing a supernova, he or she carries a different light. As strikingly similar as the way your lover has always appeared, he or she is also that different. You shrug and smile. Whatever has happened, you like it. That’s what this recording is about.”

It’s hard to imagine this album having the same sort of revelatory impact in a world now populated by multiple live sets, demos, rehearsals, alternate takes and mixes, a reformed band, new material and posthumous tributes; yet, it remains one of the preeminent artifacts of Big Star’s first run, and an essential element of the canon. Recorded at Hemstead, New York’s Ultrasonic Studios for broadcast on Long Island’s WLIR, the band shows off a three-piece lineup of Chilton, Jody Stephens, and Andy Hummel’s replacement on bass, John Lightman. The material is drawn from both #1 Record and the then-recently released Radio City, with the lion’s share from the latter. The performances are loose, with Chilton energized in both his singing and guitar playing – perhaps not yet realizing that Big Star’s commercial fortunes were about to flatline for a second time.

Chilton’s vocal on “You Get What You Deserve” and the extended jam of “She’s a Mover” free the songs from the amber of the studio albums, and a solo acoustic mini-set includes “The Ballad of El Goodo,” “Thirteen,” “I’m in Love With a Girl,” along with a cover of Loudon Wainwright’s “Motel Blues.” When first released, the disc stood on its own as a document of the band in action; it’s now complemented by an earlier live set captured on Live At Lafayette’s Music Room – Memphis, TN, and the rehearsals and live material found on Nobody Can Dance. Combined with the studio albums, the live performances fill out an arc that eventually extended to the reformed band’s coming out on Columbia: Live at Missouri University and Live in Memphis, as well as their latter-day studio album, In Space. Omnivore’s reissue includes new liners from Robert Gordon and a new interview with John Lightman. It also includes stage patter not found on Ryko’s original, and a louder remaster. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Fastball: All the Pain Money Can Buy

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

Twentieth anniversary edition of Austin band’s commercial high point

Twenty years on from the success of their 1998 single “The Way,” the album from which it sprang still sounds fresh. The band’s sophomore release for the Hollywood label produced two more hits (“Fire Escape” and “Out of My Head”), and sold more than a million copies in its first six months of release. The album drew inspiration from pop, soul and psych, but expressed them through a then-modern-rock aesthetic. The effortless melodies and instrumental focus on guitar, bass and drums has aged well, giving away its ‘90s origin without feeling boat-anchored to the decade’s trends. This anniversary edition augments the original thirteen tracks with compilation tracks, two excellent B-sides, and of particular interest to fans, four previously unreleased demos highlighted by the original 4-track cassette recording of “The Way.” The collection closes with bonus covers of the Replacements “Androgynous,” Bacharach & David’s “This Guy’s in Love With You,” and an acoustic take on “The Way.” Scott Shindler’s liner notes include newly sourced interviews with the band, and the booklet includes numerous period photos. This is a nice upgrade for those who’ve long loved this album, and the perfect entry point into Fastball’s catalog for newbies. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Fastball’s Home Page

NRBQ: All Hopped Up

Monday, December 10th, 2018

1977 debut of the classic NRBQ lineup, with bonus tracks

Originally released in 1977, NRBQ’s fifth album marked the first appearance of drummer Tom Ardolino, and the debut of the band’s Red Rooster label. Having spent time on Columbia and Kama Sutra, the responsibility of producing and recording for their own imprint seems to have brought both freedom and focus to their music. To be sure, all the NRBQ trademarks are here, including oddball originals like Terry Adams “Call Him Off, Rogers,” lovingly selected covers of “Cecillia,” “I Got a Rocket in My Pocket” and “Honey Hush,” a ragged, minor key send-up of the theme to Bonanza, and generous helpings of the Whole Wheat Horns.

As usual, the band mashed up a wide array of pop, rock, soul, blues and jazz influences, but the original material from Adams, Al Anderson and Joey Spampinato includes some especially fine pop songs. Anderson’s nostalgic lead-off, “Ridin’ in My Car” has a double-tracked vocal and sunshine backing harmonies, and Terry Adams’ “It Feels Good” mixes ‘50s romanticism with, in true NRBQ fashion, a Japanese koto solo. Adams also offers an echo of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys with “Things to You,” and Joey Spampinato’s “Still in School” and “That’s Alright” have harmonies that sound like Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe channeling the Everlys.

This reissue adds four bonus tracks recorded during the album’s two years worth of sessions. A cover of Bill Justis’ “Chicken Hearted” offers a heavier dose of chicken-pickin’ than Roy Orbison’s original, while the originals include the jazz-country hybrid “She’s Got to Know,” rockabilly “Start It Over,” and low-key New Orleans funk “Do the Bump.” The latter was originally issued as a B-side, while the other three were woven into Rounder’s Ridin’ in My Car sort-of reissue of All Hopped Up. Omnivore’s tri-fold slipcase augments one of NRBQ’s best albums with new liners by John DeAngelis and vintage photos. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ’s Home Page

Willie Nile: Children of Paradise

Monday, December 10th, 2018

Fine set of rock ‘n’ roll originals drawn from a seemingly bottomless well

Anyone who’s been listening to or writing about Willie Nile over the past decade is likely running out of things to say. Nile’s twelfth studio album continues a string of incredibly consistent releases that dates back to 2006’s Streets of New York, and his enduring belief in rock ‘n’ roll’s redemptive powers is a welcome tonic amid social and political turbulence. Recording with his longtime road band, Nile offers up straight-ahead rock music with no apologies for the guitars, bass and drums, and topical songs that offer both concern and salvation. The title track’s recognition of those on the fringe is echoed by Cristina Arrigoni’s striking album cover portraits, and “Gettin’ Ugly Out There” seeks to hold on to a strand of human goodness amid the torrent of deceit that is our current political climate. Though mostly written in singalongs and anthems, Nile turns down the volume for the intimate ballad “Have I Ever Told You” and the solemn closer “All God’s Children.” If you like Nile’s last half-dozen albums, you’ll find more to like here; and if you haven’t yet listened to Willie Nile, this is a great place to dive in. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Willie Nile’s Home Page

Permanent Green Light: Hallucinations

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

After the Three O’Clock

In the late ‘80s, after an EP and four LPs with the Three O’Clock, bassist/singer/songwriter Michael Quercio found himself without a band for the first time in a decade. His long-time association with Game Theory led to touring and recording in San Francisco, but by the early ‘90s he’d returned to Los Angeles. Back in the southland he connected with guitarist/singer/songwriter Matt Devine, and together with drummer Chris Bruckner, formed Permanent Green Light – the group’s name seemingly lifted from the closing song of the Godz 1967 album Godz 2. As a trio, the band returned Quercio’s to the pre-Three O’Clock format of the Salvation Army, but with a co-founder sharing singing and songwriting duties, PGL had more range to draw upon.

The band debuted in 1992 with the single “We Could Just Die.” The song’s signature guitar riff and vocal hooks put this in a class with Michael Quercio’s most memorable songs. The trio played with the sort of fervor that had electrified the Salvation Army, but with less overt psychedelic and punk undertones. The single’s B-side, “The Truth This Time,” opens with a funky wah-wah guitar riff, but breaks into the sort of melodic verse for which Quercio is known. The single begat a self-titled EP, from which Quercio’s “Ballad of Paul K.” is included, but Matt Devine’s songs and and lead vocals are left behind.

A fuller picture of Devine’s contributions is drawn from tracks selected from the band’s first and only full-length alum, 1993’s Against Nature. The six tracks anthologized here include solo writes from from both Quercio and Devine, as well as several co-writes that include the single “(You and I Are the) Summertime.” Devine’s “Marianne Gave Up Her Hand” has a baroque-rock feel, while “Portmanteau” adds Spanish-styled acoustic guitar to the trio’s near prog-rock. Devine’s voice is pleasant, though not the instantly recognizable, idiosyncratic instrument that is Quercio’s. The jointly written “Wintertime’s A-Comin’, Martha Raye” recalls the tripiness of Quercio’s early songs with the Three O’Clock.

Fans will enjoy this collection’s vault finds, starting with 1991 demos of “(You and I Are the) Summertime” and Quercio’s otherwise unknown “Lovely to Love Me.” The former is played faster and harder than the single, the latter highlights the quirkiness of Quercio’s voice, with Merseybeat harmonies sung against crashing cymbals. The B-side “Street Love” is served up in demo form that’s more raw and urgent than the final version, and stray tracks from Flipside’s RAFR compilation and a Sassy magazine phone promo round out the rarities. Those new to the band will find this a balanced intro, but with such a slim catalog, the original EP and LP are worthwhile follow-ups. Those who are already hooked will dig the demos and other bonus tracks. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Peter Holsapple & Alex Chilton: The Death of Rock

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

A brief intersection of an acolyte and a reluctant idol

1978 was a year of transition. Punk rock was morphing on the commercial front into new wave. Alex Chilton, who’d found fame with the Box Tops, and belated artistic immortality with Big Star, had resurfaced in a 1975 session on the EP Singer Not the Song, and was subsequently steering into the skid of his life circumstances with the pop deconstruction that would produce 1979’s anarchic Like Flies on Sherbert. In contrast, the North Carolina-bred Peter Holsapple ventured south on a Big Star pilgrimage to Memphis in early 1978, and moved to Bluff City later that year. Though he’d initially sought out Chris Bell, it was Alex Chilton who showed interest by insulting Holsapple’s work and offering to “show him how it’s done.”

Holsapple had begun recording in off-hours with producer Richard Rosebrough at Sam Phillips Recording Service, and when Chilton dropped by, they took a run at several of each other’s songs. Two of the Holsapple titles – “Bad Reputation” and “We Were Happy Then” – turned up on the first two dB’s albums, and were recorded alongside a pair of Chilton originals (the Chris Bell slight “Tennis Bum” and the topical “Martial Law”), instrumental rehearsals of Big Star’s “O My Soul” and “In the Street,” and a then-becoming-usual Chilton-favored assortment of covers that included titles by Hoagy Carmichael, Tiny Bradshaw and Bo Diddley.

Recent interviews with Peter Holsapple lay out the contentious relationship he had with Chilton, and though the music recorded here doesn’t evidence such behind-the-scenes hostility, it does find two musicians moving in opposite directions. As Robert Gordon’s liner notes ask, “Alex had done everything right already and he’d been screwed every which way, so what if he did everything wrong?” And while Chilton doesn’t deconstruct Holsapple’s music the way he’d deconstruct his own, you can feel the two musicians pulling in opposite directions – one striving for the grace of purposely constructed pop, the other for the immediate grace of the moment.

Holsapple offers an endearingly strained cover of the Ronettes’ “Baby I Love You,” and the rehearsal of his original “Death of Rock” (which would later be retooled for the Troggs as “I’m in Control”) is wonderfully bombastic compared to the session’s final version. Chilton’s “Tennis Bum” borrows its mojo from “Wooly Bully,” and his prom-quality instrumental cover of “Heart and Soul” sits alongside lively jams of “Train Kept A-Rollin’” and “Hey Mona.” Those who saw Chilton on stage as a solo artist will recognize the idiosyncratic mood of these covers.

All of this material sat in Richard Rosebrough’s archives until recently discovered by Omnivore’s Cheryl Pawelski, and though not originally slated for release, it provides an interesting footnote to each musician’s path. Chilton would go on to release Like Flies on Sherbert in 1979, Holsapple to join the dB’s very soon after these sessions, and the two would cross paths several times in subsequent years. Omnivore’s package includes liner notes and period photos from Holsapple, a new transfer and mix by Brian Kehew, and mastering by Michael Graves. An interesting, unexpected spin for fans of Chilton and Holsapple. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Peter Holsapple’s Blog

Peter Holsapple: Game Day

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

Vicennial solo album finds Peter Holsapple reflecting on middle age

It’s been just about twenty years since Peter Holsapple stepped up front to lead a solo effort. After achieving reknowned with the dB’s, he served as a sideman for R.E.M., joined the Continental Drifters, reunited with Chris Stamey for the albums Mavericks and Here and Now, and with the dB’s for Falling Off the Sky. In 1997 he released the solo album Out of My Way, but it would be two more decades until he was once again ready to put his name above the title without any company. He dipped his solo toes in the water with the 2017 single “Don’t Mention the War”, which is included here with its flip (“Cinderella Style”), a cover of Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes” and thirteen new solo tracks. Really, really solo, as Holsapple writes, sings and performs nearly everything on the album.

Now in his early ‘60s, Holsapple’s lyrical view has grown into middle age, but his voice remains instantly recognizable. He opens the album in the present with the title song’s pragmatic view of aging, but transitions into nostalgia with the thirty-years-late thank you of “Commonplace.” He remembers his time with and laments the end of the Continental Drifters in an eponymous song, and wanders through memories as he deconstructs the intimate details of his parents’ home in “Inventory.” Mortality provides a prism for looking backward in “Don’t Ever Leave,” contemplating the musical friends no longer extant, and illuminating the motivation he discussed in a recent interview: “I think about friends who’ve passed away whom I would love to hear records by today, and I won’t be able to do that, so I feel a little bit of compunction simply by being on this side of the sod.”

Though rock guitars dominate many of the productions, Holsapple digs into electric blues, psych, country-rock, and mournful organ and electric piano. His cover of “Them Changes” combines a heavy central riff, funky keyboard sounds, a few production tweaks and a punchy, heavily processed guitar solo. The set closes with Holsapple’s 2017 single, “Don’t Mention the War,” essaying a nephew’s disheartened view of his favorite uncle’s PTSD-fueled demons, and his memories of the man that once was. The flip side, “Cinderella Style,” is an imaginative peek into the creative process of a seamstress, as Holsapple spies the fairy tale fabric compositions of a sewing room. The latter provides a gentle exit from the turmoil of the A-side, and a lovely close to this welcome return. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Peter Holsapple’s Blog