Posts Tagged ‘Rock’

The Rubinoos: The CBS Tapes

Saturday, June 26th, 2021

Previously unreleased cache of early Rubinoos studio tracks!

In the years after their initial retirement, the Rubinoos have been generous with their vault recordings. The Basement Tapes (and the expanded Basement Tapes Plus) offered up demos from a third album that never came to be. Garage Sale, Hodge Podge and One, Two, That’s It provided demos, unreleased session tracks, alternate takes and compilation contributions. The UK box set Everything You Always Wanted To Know About The Rubinoos But Were Afraid To Ask included more rarities, including a 1978 live date in London that was later released separately as Live at the Hammersmith Odeon. So it’s quite the surprise to discover there were still more riches to be had, and they were very early, very good, and very unusual.

These November 1976 tracks were recorded during the sessions for the band’s 1977 debut album, and served as a studio soundcheck for engineer Glen Kolotkin. With tape rolling, the band ran through eleven songs, live and without second takes or overdubs. The on-the-fly mixes aren’t perfect (though quite good!), but the sound quality is excellent, and the spontaneity, energy and attitude they capture show off a more raw and edgy (and at times wonderfully adolescent) side of the band than did the debut LP.

The song list includes early Rubinoos originals and covers drawn from the band’s varied influences. Jon Rubin’s voice is sweet and the signature group harmonies are tight, but there’s a level of aggression that’s more reflective of the band’s live set than their studio recordings. Hearing the group rage through the Psycotic Pineapple’s “I Want Her So Bad” (written by the Rubinoos’ Tommy Dunbar) shows off the bands’ shared roots, and the inclusion of the national anthem of bubblegum music, “Sugar, Sugar,” as well as a mash-up of “Pepsi Generation” with King Curtis’ “Memphis Soul Stew” displays the sort of provocative choices with which they bewildered live audiences.

The band covered the Beatles’ “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” with talent and joy, and added to their catalog of DeFranco Family covers (which began with their first Beserkley single, “Gorilla”) with a raunchy take on “Heartbeat, It’s a Lovebeat.” Rubin’s soaring vocal on the bubblegum-soul “Nooshna Kavolta” is nearly overrun by the charging guitar, bass and drums, and the Ventures’“Walk Don’t Run” provided a young Tommy Dunbar the opportunity to show off his formidable guitar-playing chops. Closing the album is a cover of Jonathan Richman’s “Government Center,” complementing the earlier Beserkley Charbusters version on which the Rubinoos backed Richman.

This is a terrific, exuberant artifact of the band’s early years. It shows off the wide range of influences – pop, rock ‘n’ roll, funky soul, garage punk, bubblegum – that fueled their musical imaginations, and the talent they’d developed as a live unit. Standing in front of the studio mics, they effortlessly roll out a solid, impromptu eleven song set that’s been in the vaults for way too long. Rubes fans will truly enjoy what is essentially a well-recorded (if not perfectly mixed) in-studio live set of the band at the start of their recording career. Resurrected from a surviving stereo cassette mix with mastering by John Cuniberti, the band’s humor, self-assuredness, and instrumental and vocal talent shine through on every track. [©2021 Hyperbolium]

The Rubinoos’ Home Page

Richard Hell and the Voidoids: Destiny Street Complete

Thursday, January 28th, 2021

Forty years in the life of an album

After being in the thick of New York’s underground scene with the Neon Boys, Television and the Heartbreakers, Richard Hell founded the Voidoids with guitarists Robert Quine and Ivan Julian, and future Ramones drummer Marc Bell. The quartet’s 1977 debut was headlined by Hell’s anthem “Blank Generation,” and became a touchstone for the nihilistic themes, cynical attitudes and rejection of societal norms that would come to define the scene’s musical, intellectual and sartorial aesthetics. Hell’s disenchantment with touring, the music business, and a deepening drug addiction led to a four year gap before he and the reformed Voidoids (then consisting of guitarists Quine and Juan “Naux” Maciel, and drummer Fred Maher) recorded this second and final album.

By the time of the album’s 1982 release, Richard Hell was thirty-two, punk rock had been supplanted in public spaces by the more commercially digestible new wave, and the underground had morphed into indie and hardcore scenes. The reactionary societal repudiations of the debut had given way to more ruminative views, but Hell had become impaired by addiction, and his sporadic involvement in the sessions led to disappointment in arrangements and production that didn’t match his conception of the songs. Upon regaining rights to the album some years later, Hell removed it from print, with a wish to remix it more to his liking. But with the original multitracks having been lost, his wish was put on hold until he discovered a cassette of the album’s rhythm tracks. This opened the door to re-record the album with new vocals, and new guitar leads by Bill Frissell, Marc Ribot, and original Voidoid Ivan Julian.

The results of these sessions were released in 2009 as Destiny Street Repaired. “Repaired” is a figurative description, since the album’s breakage was in Hell’s artistic soul, and the repair was more of a reimagining. Think of Brian Wilson finishing the Beach Boys’ Smile,  rather than Paul McCartney stripping Phil Spector from the Beatles’ Let It Be. The urge to revise strikes artists of many media, and the twenty-seven year gap between the original album and the remake created interesting artistic resonances. The almost-sixty-year-old Hell revisited works from his thirties with new compadres and a guitarist who’d accompanied him in his twenties. Further twisting the timeline, the title track features a narrator visiting himself ten years earlier, a song that Hell himself was revisiting many years later.

A decade after repairing the album, three of the four original 24-track master reels were found, and together with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner, Hell indulged his original desire to remix the original performances. With only three-fourths of the masters available, tracks from Repaired were used to fill in the holes. This Remixed version provides a halfway house between the Remastered original and Repaired revision. Fans of the original album get (mostly) the original performances they grew to love, while Hell gets closer to the sonics he’d originally envisioned. And if three different versions of the album isn’t enough, this set adds demos, the original Nick Lowe-produced single versions of “The Kid With the Replaceable Head” and “I’m Your Man,” the 1980 single of “Time” b/w “Don’t Die,” and a live recorsing of “Time.” When they say “complete,” then mean “complete.”

So how do they compare? The original album still stands strong, Hell’s dissatisfaction notwithstanding. Quine and Naux took Hell’s absence as an opportunity to cut loose, and despite the songwriter’s reservations, his writing was strong enough to withstand the guitar and sonic assaults. If Hell was impaired by despair and drugs at the time, it seems to have fueled passion in his vocals, both on the original songs and covers of the Kinks’ “I Gotta Move,” Dylan’s “Going Going Gone,” and Them’s (by way of the Little Boy Blues’) “I Can Only Give You Everything.” The Remixed edition widens the original’s near-mono soundstage, and unlike stereo renderings of powerhouse 1960s singles, the expansion offers more instrumental detail without dissipating the punch of the performances.

The Repaired edition offers the biggest changes, with guitar parts that are informed by the originals, timeboxed by the vintage rhythm tracks, and exciting in original ways. Hell’s vocals are born from the original writing and cover selection, but with decades more experience, and vocal chords that weren’t worn out by a lengthy music career. Hell’s singing is strong throughout, and while the original vocals often feel reflexive and instinctual, the new recordings seem to be informed by additional decades of perspective. More ego, less id, and in some ways like alternate takes made after a twenty-seven year smoke break. Perhaps the best test of the Repaired versions is how seamlessly these versions fill the holes in the Remixed edition – sonically, they’re a close match, and attitudinally they still seem to capture the earlier zeitgeist.

Hell’s most covered song, “Time,” provides the album’s most poignant moment, as the then thirty-something songwriter opined, “Only time can write a song that’s really really real / The most a man can do is say the way its playing feels / And know he only knows as much as time to him reveals.” Listening to him sing the lyrics nearly three decades later on Repaired is to hear a writer taking a note from his younger self, a reminder that every age is a way-station, informed by life to that point, but never fully realized. It’s a fascinating example of prophecy colliding head-on with memory.

The bonus tracks include the Nick Lowe-produced B-side “I’m Your Man,” the 1980 single version of “Time” and its flip “Don’t Die,” an unreleased album version of “Don’t Die,” demos of album tracks (“Going Going Gone” and “Ignore That Door”) and songs that didn’t make the album (including a cover of Fats Domino’s “I Lived My Life”), and a teary live take of “Time” performed by Hell and guitarist Ivan Julian at Robert Quine’s 2004 memorial. Altogether, this is a well-deserved accounting of an album that was well reviewed upon release, but overshadowed in public memory by its predecessor. The original retains its primal charm, Remixed refines the sound, Repaired layers the artist’s memories of his vision upon the foundation, the bonus tracks add color, and Hell’s liner notes tie it all together. This a must-have for Richard Hell fans, as well as those just discovering the original gem. [©2021 Hyperbolium]

Richard Hell’s Home Page

KEYS: Home Schooling Album

Thursday, December 31st, 2020

The homemade pop sides of a Welsh indie-rock psych band

Although one might connect the pop sounds of KEYS latest album to their earlier incarnation as the indie band Murry the Hump, the bubblegum-styled opener “This Side of Luv” was no doubt transported through a tartan-patterned fissure in the space-time continuum; it’s worthy of segueing between Nick Lowe’s “Bay City Rollers We Love You” and “Rollers Show.” The psychedelia of the band’s previous album, Bring Me the Head of Jerry Garcia, can be heard in the moody organ of “Cargoes” and the Dukes of the Stratosphere-styled “Leave Your Mind Behind,” but glam is the touchstone for “Trick of the Light,” and the powerpop of Badfinger and Teenage Fanclub for “Phases” and “The Strain.”

All of these influences were perfectly compressed into the hissy four-track cassette deck the band used for this home-sheltered recording, giving the album an instant, unfussy feel. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the title track, with its mechanical rhythm and pandemic-inspired children’s voices tracking, interrupting, and finally derailing the session. The closing instrumental “Pressure Cooker” wigs out in the manner of Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come and early Pink Floyd, offering a capstone to a wonderfully engaging album recorded in involuntary social captivity.  [©2020 Hyperbolium]

KEYS’ Facebook Page

Bonnie Hayes & The Wild Combo: Good Clean Fun

Monday, December 21st, 2020

Expanded 2020 reissue of 1982 pop classic

Originally released in 1982 amid the MTV/New Wave boom, this San Francisco band’s only full-length album shared some of the boom’s pop sensibilities, but with a craft that was more musically rich than its video-enhanced counterparts. Hayes’ roots in jazz might have informed some of the chords and harmonies, but her musical training never hindered the album’s pop joy, finding expression in a depth of songwriting that was often missing from the mainstream. The band’s indie label (Slash) and its corporate distributor (Warner Brothers) failed to turn any of the album’s tracks into hit singles (though “Girls Like Me” and “Shelly’s Boyfriend” both appeared on the soundtrack of Valley Girl), and Slash dropped the band after this album. A follow-up EP, Brave New Girl, was self-released in 1984, and marked the end of a surprisingly short run for a group whose debut was so brimming with life, and whose songwriter proved to have a great deal more to say (notably penning “Have A Heart” and “Love Letter” for Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time).

The original album was reissued in 2007 by Wounded Bird, but is augmented here by the follow-up EP, the pre-LP single version of “Shelly’s Boyfriend” (and its flip “Rochambeau,” released as The Punts), and a trio of demos that failed to make the album. The debut opens with the exuberant one-two punch of “Girls Like Me” and the cautionary sibling shout-out “Shelly’s Boyfriend.” Hayes’ slow piano intro doesn’t tip off the punchy rhythm of “Separating,” and her organ and coy vocal give “Dum Fun” a hint of new wave before her solo and Paul Davis’ scorching guitar give the throwaway-titled song some soulful musical heft. The original “Coverage” would find subsequent cover on David Crosby’s 1993 release Thousand Roads, giving Hayes’ songwriting the exposure its lyrics seemed to beg for.

The follow-up EP is highlighted by the wondrous impressions of “After Hours” and the closing “Night Baseball,” the latter of which Hayes characterizes as a “multi-meter modal extravaganza about my love affair with San Francisco.” The pre-LP Punts single is a treat whose lack of distribution made it a rarity. The earlier version of  “Shelly’s Boyfriend” is taken at a slower tempo that is less anxious with its advice than the album take. The B-side pairs a lovely vocal with an unusual rhythm and a dash of Hayes’ jazz background in the instrumental passage. The collection’s demos were recorded by the pre-Wild Combo Punts (including producer Steve Savage on drums), and though a bit more punk rock in attitude than what ended up on the album, it’s not hard to imagine how these songs might have fit. Altogether, this is a terrific upgrade to Wounded Bird’s straight-up album reissue, and the place to start if you missed the album in its previous incarnations. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Bonnie Hayes’ Home Page

Pop-O-Pies: Get Outta My Way

Monday, December 21st, 2020

1982 debut EP of irreverent, pointed and catchy pop-punk

San Francisco’s Pop-O-Pies may have been one of punk rock’s most melodic bands. Punk in attitude more than sound, but punk nonetheless. They alienated and then enthralled early audiences by playing a set that consisted entirely of the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’,” and wrote original songs that sarcastically appraised Catholics and cast cops as donut eating fascists. A 1983 opening slot for Iggy Pop in Seattle so agitated the crowd that by the time the headliner appeared the mood was incredibly dark; fittingly, Pop’s set ended in 30 minutes after some stage-dancing audience members toppled the speaker stack into the crowd.

The band’s debut, the six-song The White EP, was a college radio staple, with two versions of “Truckin’” (one pop-punk, the other styled like “Rapper’s Delight”), an ode to Timothy Leary (which the LSD guru apparently took to playing at his public appearances), the hard-driving rhythm guitar monotone “Fascists Eat Donuts,” sing-song reggae “The Catholics Are Attacking,” and punk-styled lament “Anna Ripped Me Off.” The Pop-O-Pies simultaneously take the piss out of both their subjects and their listeners with songs that are funny, ironic, serious, irreverent, pointed and catchy, all at the same time.

The 2020 reissue puts the complete debut EP in digital form for the first time, and adds seven bonuses, including the poison apple “I Love New York,” a sardonic, Minutemen-styled “A Political Song” (and its acoustic reprise), the grungy “Slow and Ignorant” and the hallucinogenic collage “Lenny in Wonderland.” The added tracks show off Joe Pop-O-Pie’s range (as did subsequent albums), but having the six songs of the original EP back in print is the real prize here. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

The Pop-O-Pies’ Home Page

Carla Olson: Have Harmony Will Travel 2

Friday, November 13th, 2020

The dream duets of a singer, producer and music fan

The role of vintage Top 40 radio can’t be understated in its influence and impact on the generation of musicians who grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In the years before consultants balkanized commercial radio into genre islands, AM radio offered a regionally-influenced mix of pop, rock, folk, country and soul that fueled the taste and imagination of both listeners and artists. Olson grew up in Austin, Texas listening to long-gone (and now surprisingly obscure) KNOW-AM, taking in the wide variety of influences reflected in this eclectic collection of covers. This follow-up to 2013’s Have Harmony Will Travel cherrypicks Olson’s deep musical memories of the Buffalo Springfield, Searchers, Governor Jimmy Davis, David Allan Coe, and adds songs, such as the previously unrecorded “Haunting Me,” that she picked up in her musical travels.

Olson pairs herself with compatriots and idols that include Gene Clark, Percy Sledge, Peter Noone, Terry Reid, Mick Taylor and Mare Winningham. The album opens with the Long Ryders’ Stephen McCarthy joining Olsen for a superb cover of Patty Loveless’ 1989 country hit “Timber, I’m Falling in Love.” Slowed to a deliberate tempo, the duet parlays the original’s ecstatic declaration into a mature, deep-gazing conversation of magnetic mutual attraction. For much of the album, Olson acts more as ringmaster than singing partner, drafting participants (including former Bee Gees’ guitarist Vince Melouney for a gallop through Governor Jimmy Davis’ “Shackles & Chains”), selecting song with the ears and heart of a music fan, singing harmonies and producing tracks.

As a producer, Olson fits the guests with songs, complimenting the pairings with nostalgia-tinged, guitar-based arrangements. Peter Noone rekindles the emotional throb of his early days with a cover of the Searchers’ “Goodbye My Love,” and Olson provokes appealing contrast in pairing the gravel of Terry Reid’s voice with the gentility of “Scarlet Ribbons.” She joins Eagle Timothy B. Schmit and steel player Rusty Young for the Buffalo Springfield B-side  “A Child’s Claim to Fame,” and adds harmony to actress Mare Winningham’s fetching cover of Gene Clark’s “After the Storm.” The latter track, along with Percy Sledge’s “Honest as Daylight,” I See Hawks in L.A.’s “Bossier City,” and Gene Clark’s “Del Gato,” were all previously released, but fit seamlessly among the newly recorded performances.

Olson pulled songwriter Jim Muske into the vocal booth to sing “Haunting Me,” a song he co-wrote with Pat Robinson for Phil Seymour, but left unrecorded with Seymour’s passing in 1993. This collection has been percolating in Olson’s musical soul for years, as she made mental notes of songs and colleagues she’d like to pair. The result is a roadmap of Olson’s journey from listener to diehard fan to working musician, fusing her childhood memories and influences with the professional experience and colleagues she gained over the decades. Her ear for combining songs, singers and arrangements pays remarkable dividends in the joy of these vocal and instrumental blends, and provides a fine complement to the earlier volume. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Carla Olson’s Home Page

Van Duren: Idiot Optimism

Saturday, November 7th, 2020

Rare 1970s Memphis pop-rock follow-up

The 1970s Memphis rock scene was fertile but largely ignored in its time. Big Star rose to influence and renown only decades after they failed to make a commercial impression and disbanded. Others on the scene – Icewater, Rock City, the Hot Dogs, Cargoe, Zuider Zee – caught varying degrees of reflected post-mortem Big Star spotlight on compilations and reissues, but Van Duren, who recorded one of the city’s best ‘70s rock albums, remained obscure. This 1978 release, originally on the short-lived Big Sound label, garnered favorable reviews and FM radio play, but has been little known by even those who’ve collected the endless stream of Big Star reissues and vault material, and has been selling for big dollars in secondary markets.

Spurred by the documentary Waiting: The Van Duren Story and its accompanying soundtrack, Omnivore’s gone back to the vault and reissued Duren’s debut, Are You Serious?, alongside this even rarer second album. Idiot Optimism was recorded shortly after the debut, but disagreements with the label led to it being shelved. The album appeared briefly on the Japanese Air Mail label in 1999, and again in 2003 on Terry Manning’s Lucky Seven imprint, but this is the first issue in which Duren’s been involved, and remastered from the original analog tapes, with liner notes by Duren and a previously unpublished cover photo, this is the album’s definitive rendering.

Unlike Duren’s multi-instrumentalist performance on his debut, here he engages a band. Also unlike the debut, the well of material was mostly newer, many songs having been written during the time between the debut album’s recording and its release. Duren also included the only cover he’d recorded to that point – Chris Bell’s “Make a Scene” – as well as a song he co-wrote with Jody Stephens in 1975, “Andy, Please.” He also leaned more heaviy into mid- and up-tempo numbers, having found that ballads didn’t work as well on stage, with the fetching “What’s Keeping You?” being the only piano ballad included on the album.

Jon Tiven returned to co-produce, but after a falling out with the label, Duren was left to produce most of the album with help from engineer Richard Robinson. Oddly, the record label had forsaken vinyl LPs for cassette tapes, which allowed the album to stretch out to fifteen tracks. Musically, Duren’s songs have many of the musical hallmarks of those on his debut, but the players rock a bit more freely than Duren had as a multi-instrumentalist. Tom MacGregor rips on lead guitar for “Convincing Convictions,” and Hilly Michaels opens “Torn in Half” with an inventive drum pattern alongside Jeff Batter’s synthesizer.

Duren finished mixing the album before splitting with Big Sound, but the label did a poor job of mastering, and the previous Air Mail and Lucky Seven releases used the label’s inferior master. Omnivore has returned to the original analog tapes with a new transfer by Adam Hill, and a new master by Michael Graves. Those new to Duren’s catalog will want to pick this up alongside the debut, and fans who previously picked up the earlier issues of this title will want to upgrade! [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Van Duren’s Bandcamp Page

Van Duren: Are You Serious?

Saturday, November 7th, 2020

Long-lost 1970s Memphis pop-rock classic

The 1970s Memphis rock scene was fertile but largely ignored in its time. Big Star rose to influence and renown only decades after they failed to make a commercial impression and disbanded. Others on the scene – Icewater, Rock City, the Hot Dogs, Cargoe, Zuider Zee – caught varying degrees of reflected post-mortem Big Star spotlight on compilations and reissues, but Van Duren, who recorded one of the city’s best ‘70s rock albums, remained obscure. This 1978 release, originally on the short-lived Big Sound label, garnered favorable reviews and FM radio play, but has been little known by even those who’ve collected the endless stream of Big Star reissues and vault material, and has been selling for big dollars in secondary markets.

Spurred by the documentary Waiting: The Van Duren Story and its accompanying soundtrack, Omnivore’s gone back to the vault to reissue Duren’s debut and second album, Idiot Optimism. While the latter was remastered from the original analog tapes, Omnivore’s used Bob Ludwig’s original master from the 1970s for this CD. The vinyl editions of both albums were freshly remastered by Jeff Powell at Phillips Recording in Memphis. Omnivore’s reissue of Are You Serious? includes the original thirteen tracks, performed by Duren and drummer Hilly Michaels, with help from Doug Snyder and co-producer Jon Tiven. The three tracks anthologized on the soundtrack album expand here into a surprisingly assured album-length statement of a twenty-something who was packing eight years experience as a band leader and songwriter.

Duren’s songs yearn to express his romantic feelings, acknowledging the natural connection of “Chemical Fire,” nervously marking time in “Waiting,” and confessing his innermost hope on “This Love Inside.” There are echoes of the Raspberries on “Oh Babe,” and Badfinger and Todd Rundgren on the angry “Grow Yourself Up.” “Stupid Enough” essays the chagrin of staying too long, and the acoustic closer “The Love That I Love” displays the sort of mood Alex Chilton brought to “Thirteen.”

Duren’s debut burns with the passion felt between the naivete of teen years and the growing cynicism of one’s thirties. He’s articulate, both lyrically and musically, which might seem preternatural if he hadn’t been developing his craft and polishing his songs on stage and in demo sessions for several years. Big Sounds garnered surprisingly broad FM radio play, but it didn’t translate into big sales or chart action, and the album quickly disappeared. Omnivore’s reissue includes an eight-page booklet that features new liners from Duren and previously unpublished period photos. This is a great intro to Van Duren, and a perfect complement to the parallel reissue of his second album. [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Van Duren’s Bandcamp Page

Booker T. & The M.G.’s: The Complete Stax Singles Vol. 1 (1962-1967)

Friday, January 24th, 2020

Killer soul instrumentals from the Stax house band

As the Stax house band, Booker T. & The M.G.’s were often heard backing seminal recordings by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and other label stars, but their career as a standalone group also produced iconic singles, B-sides and albums. Real Gone pulls together the original mono mixes of the group’s first 15 singles, A’s and B’s, to highlight the hits and deep-grooved flips of the band’s first six years. The hits include their chart-topping 1962 debut, “Green Onions,” and a pair of crossover Top 40’s from 1967, “Hip Hug-Her” and a cover of the Rascals’ “Groovin’.” The latter kicked off a string of crossover hits that stretched into 1969 (and will hopefully be anthologized on Volume 2). In between, the group delivered catchy singles that touched the bottom of the Top 100 while generating bigger success on the R&B chart.

The band’s debut album was filled with instrumental covers, but their singles featured original mid-tempo groovers built on soulful organ leads, searing guitar solos, and propulsive backbeats. The group’s first B-side, “Behave Yourself” is a dark, late-night blues, but their second single, “Jelly Bread,” turns the tempo up as Jones vamps behind Cropper’s introductory guitar riffs. The rhythm section of Jackson and Steinberg get everyone moving for 1964’s “Can’t Be Still,” and Isaac Hayes reportedly keys the organ on the follow-up “Boot-Leg.” 1966’s “My Sweet Potato” trades organ for piano, as does the country-inflected “Slim Jenkins Place.” The set’s covers include Buster Brown’s “Fannie Mae,” Gershwin’s “Summertime,” a pair of holiday releases, and, under the title “Big Train,” the gospel classic “This Train.”

Real Gone has packed twenty-nine original sides onto a single 74-minute CD, with liner notes and discographical detail by Ed Osborne, and mastering by Dan Hersch. For the vintage minded, they’ve produced a limited-edition 2-LP set on blue vinyl with a gatefold cover. Shorn of album tracks and the temporal condensation of greatest hits albums, this chronological recitation of the group’s mono singles showcases what listeners heard through their radios at the time. Album sales would later become a central focus of both the recording ethos and marketing strategy of music groups, but in the early-to-mid-60s, singles were still the lingua franca of pop music, and Booker T. & The M.G.’s made some great ones! [©2020 Hyperbolium]

Booker T.’s Home Page

Big Star: In Space

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

Expanded edition of reformulated Big Star’s 2004 return to the studio

After reformulating Big Star with the Posies John Auer and Ken Stringfellow in 1993, Alex Chilton eventually mustered up the interest to record a new album in 2004, and release it the following year. But in ways similar to Big Star’s third album (and to be fair, even the Chilton-led, mostly Bell-free Radio City), one might ask what it means to be a Big Star album. There is material here – largely from Auer, Stringfellow, and original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens – that harkens back to the band’s early-70s British pop inspired beginnings. But there are also strong currents of Alex Chilton’s rag-tag solo work, and his propensity to record cover songs. It’s difficult to hear this as continuous with the band’s earlier work, though there are moments; it’s not an erszatz doo wop band touring under someone else’s name, but it may be more accurate to think of this Big Star moniker as more ancestry than identity.

Despite having acceded to performing as Big Star, Chilton retained an uneasy relationship with the group’s earlier material. The new album was apparently born out of both his boredom with the narrow setlist he was willing to play on stage, and the opportunity to collaborate with bandmates with whom he enjoyed making music. After ten years of sporadic gigs, the group was really solid, rooted in the legacy material they performed, but not beholden to its ghosts. Chilton evidenced little interest is writing material for the new album that echoed his past, leaving it to his bandmates to mine the band’s legacy. Jon Auer and Jody Stephens’ co-writes touch most closely on the band’s earlier work, with both “Best Chance” and “February’s Quiet” offering guitar riffs and melodies that fit comfortably with the band’s first two albums. Stephens’ drumming on the former highlights just how fundamental he was to Big Star’s sound, and the closing chord of the latter song will provoke aural deja vu.

Chilton’s funky “Love Revolution” and “Do You Want to Make It” are more in line with his solo career than earlier Big Star, and the Olympics’ “Mine Exclusively” is just the sort of obscure cover that had long since become a Chilton trademark. Chilton’s post-Big Star penchant for spontaneous, raw performances threads through several tracks, including the rock ‘n’ roll rave-up “A Whole New Thing,” a ploddingly-delivered arrangement of Georg Muffat’s baroque “Aria, Largo,” and the cacophonous closer, “Makeover.” There’s craft to be heard, as on Ken Stringfellow’s Beach Boys’ pastiche “Turn My Back on the Sun,” but it’s not the sort of crystalline sounds the original band recorded in the early 1970s.

The original album is expanded on this 2019 reissue with a half-dozen bonus tracks that include songwriter demos, an a cappella take of Auer’s Beach Boys tribute, a rough mix of “Dony,” and “Hot Thing,” a track originally recorded by Big Star for their own tribute album Big Star, Small World. The demos are particularly interesting as working documents that sketch the initial inspiration and evolving views of the singer-songwriters. Liner notes from Auer, Stringfellow, co-producer/engineer Jeff Powell, assistant engineer Adam Hill, and Rkyo Records exec Jeff Rougvie offer first-person memories and warm anecdotes of what turned out to be a one-off studio effort. In retrospect, this is a nice coda to the Big Star legend, if not exactly a straightforward element of the canon. [©2020 Hyperbolium]