Posts Tagged ‘Rockabilly’

Various Artists: Big City Christmas

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

various_bigcitychristmasBear Family’s Christmas present to the label’s fans

There are few reissue labels with Bear Family’s long, consistent history of knowledge, taste and quality, and all three are part of the package for this 2016 Christmas collection. The 30 tracks, totalling more than 70 minutes of music, mostly sidestep the oldies chestnuts, though Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run” and Dean Martin’s “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” will be very familiar to American holiday shoppers. More surprising are the lesser-known recordings from well-known artists, including Frankie Valli and the Four Lovers’ hopped up “White Christmas” (an alternate take to the commercial single, no less!), Brenda Lee’s Cajun-influenced B-side “Papa Noel” and Dean Martin’s 1953 single “The Christmas Blues.”

Chestnuts are also spruced up, as Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock” is sung by a very jolly Teresa Brewer, and “Jingle Bells” is given a jazzy read by Ricky Nelson and turned jivey by Pat Boone. The former also provides a warm version of “The Christmas Song” and the latter returns to MOR form with “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” The Cadillacs lay some R&B on “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Eartha Kitt gives a year-later update to “Santa Baby,” and Irving Berlin’s “Snow,” featured as a group number in 1954’s White Christmas, is sung solo by Rosemary Clooney. Chuck Berry’s B-side cover of “Merry Christmas Baby” is backed by Johnnie Johnson’s inimitable piano stylings and Berry’s riff on “White Christmas.”

But what really animates Bear Family releases, aside from the encyclopedic length of their box sets and booklets, are the obscure singles and unreleased vault finds they bring back to life. By digging through the label’s catalog of compilations and box sets, the producers have assembled a wealth of Christmas-themed pop, rock, rockabilly, blues and R&B rarities. Highlights include Charlie Starr’s homage to Chubby Checker, “Christmas Twist,” Cathy Sharpe’s rockabilly “North Pole Rock,” the Moods’ original B-side “Rockin’ Santa Claus,” and novelties from the Holly Twins (“I Want Elvis for Christmas”), Patty Surbey (“I Want a Beatle for Christmas”) and Sheb Wooley (“Santa Claus Meets the Purple Eater”).

Doris Day is delightful as she sings “Ol’ Saint Nicholas,” Frankie Lymon’s beautiful soprano is both bold and solemn on “Silent Night,” and the collection closes with Jo-Ann Campbell’s year-end “Happy New Year, Baby.” Reissue producers Nico Feuerbach and Marc Mittelacher (the latter of whom also provides short song notes) have beautifully sequenced recordings from the ‘40, ‘50s and ‘60s into an incredibly compelling program, and Tom Meyer’s mastering blends it together aurally. All mono, except 4, 15, 16 and 23, but you’ll hardly notice, as the fidelity is crisp throughout. In the annual avalanche of recycled holiday oldies, Bear Family’s terrific collection tops the tree. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

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Various Artists: Feel Like Going Home – The Songs of Charlie Rich

Saturday, November 12th, 2016

various_feellikegoinghomeA tribute to Charlie Rich’s Sun-era songwriting

Though Charlie Rich found his greatest fame as a Nashville country crooner for Epic, the soul of his music was born in Memphis. Rich’s smooth countrypolitan ballads topped the charts in the mid-70s, but it was in fact a departure from the jazz, blues, rockabilly, gospel and soul flavors of his earlier work. And it’s those earlier flavors that are revisited here, as thirteen artists – including Charlie Rich, Jr. – perform songs written and performed by Rich during his years as an artist, sideman and songwriter for Sun and Phillips International.

In addition to the well-known “Lonely Weekends” (given a bluesy treatment by Jim Lauderdale) and “Who Will the Next Fool Be” (sung with sultry southern soul by Holli Mosley), the set includes non-charting singles and B-sides. Highlights include the Malpass Brothers’ crooned “Caught in the Middle,” Juliet Simmons Dinallo’s hot rockabilly “Whirlwind,” Johnny Hoy’s wailing “Don’t Put No Headstone On My Grave,” Keith Sykes’ snakebit “Everything I Do Is Wrong,” and Kevin Connolly’s heartfelt closing title song.

The sessions were held primarily in the same post-Sun Sam Phillips Recording studio that hosted Rich for the originals, and the collection has been released on the same Phillips International label. You can find Rich’s original sides on the single disc The Complete Singles Plus: The Sun Years 1958-1963, or the deeper box sets Lonely Weekends: The Sun Years, 1958-1962 and The Complete Sun Masters, but these new takes are a treat, as Rich’s early work informs new generations of musicians with his unique blend of country, blues, rock, soul, gospel and jazz. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

The Kingbees: The Big Rock

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Kingbees_TheBigRockRockabilly revivalists’ 1981 sophomore outing w/bonus tracks

Omnivore’s bonus-laden reissue of the Kingbees debut album is now matched by a reissue of the band’s lesser-known follow-up. Originally released in 1981, the album stalled amid label problems and the band’s breakup. Lead bee Jamie James recorded four more tracks with a new rhythm section, and they’re included here as bonuses along with fresh liner notes, photos and a period press release. As on their debut, the band remained grounded in rockabilly, but never allowed themselves to become enslaved by retro fashion. Their goal was to make “short, snappy and punchy rock ‘n’ roll songs,” and though James, bassist Michael Rummans and drummer Rex Roberts took inspiration from the stand-up style of rockabilly, they weren’t limited by it.

What’s especially impressive is how the group recorded rump-shaking rockabilly with a crisp ‘80s studio sound, without surrendering to the era’s sterility. James’ original songs thread seamlessly with covers of Charlie Rich, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. The bonus tracks, three originals and a cover of the Burnettes’ “Tear it Up,” were recorded the following year with bassist Lloyd Stout and drummer Jeff Donovan, and appeared briefly as singles on James’ indie label. The extras expand a great album that was saddled with lousy timing. This is an essential companion to the band’s debut, and well worth the shelf (or disk) space of rockabilly connoisseurs. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

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Banditos: Banditos

Saturday, October 17th, 2015

Banditos_BanditosNashville-resident Alabamians surge with boogie, country and soul

No doubt Mary Beth Richardson’s heard enough Janis Joplin comparisons to last a lifetime. But her Joplin-like fervor is arresting, and only one of the ingredients that makes up this Alabama band’s insurgent stew. The flavors are Southern – boogie, country, rockabilly, blues, R&B and soul – but they’re blended loosely rather than mashed together, and each gets a turn in the spotlight with one of the group’s three lead vocalists. The band shows off their instrumental talents and stylistic diversity, but never wanders too far from the gritty, stage-ready drama that is their calling card. The vocals beseech, the guitars buzz, and the band barrels down the track with a load tightened up in a hundred second sets. This is a powerful debut that surely plays well on the road. Make sure to buy the singer a drink and request “Still Sober (After All These Beers).” [©2015 Hyperbolium]

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The Kingbees: The Kingbees

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Kingbees_KingbeesThe Kingbees’ debut still has its sting thirty-five years later

It’s hard to believe that at thirty-five, this album is nearly a decade older than was rockabilly itself in 1980. The Kingbees emerged in the late ‘70s, alongside the Blasters, Stray Cats, Pole Cats and others, and though primarily known for only this one album (their follow-up, The Big Rock, was stranded by their label’s bankruptcy), it’s among the very best of the 1980s rockabilly revival. The Kingbees laid down a solid backbeat, but weren’t afraid to move beyond the sound of vintage microphones, standup bass and slapback echo. Even better, they had great songs, guitar riffs that crossed classic tone with modern recording sonics, a fiery rhythm section (check out the bass and drum solos on “Everybody’s Gone”) and a terrific vocalist in lead bee, Jamie James.

Produced in the group’s native Los Angeles, the album initially failed to stir commercial interest, but in a page from the book of 1950s record promotion, the band gained a second wind through the regional airplay on Detroit’s WWWW and WRIF. “My Mistake” and “Shake Bop” both charted, and the band’s club performances led some to think they were local. The group’s second album garnered a cameo in The Idolmaker and an appearance on American Bandstand, but that was basically it. The group and their label both disbaned, leaving behind a small but impressive collection of recordings. The albums have been reissued as a twofer, but this remastered anniversary reissue sweetens the debut’s ten tracks with the demos that landed the band a contract, live tracks from a 1980 Detroit show, and a 12-page booklet featuring period photos and new liner notes from Jamie James.

The demos show how fully realized the band’s sound was before they signed with a label; even more impressively, the subsequent studio versions of “My Mistake,” “Man Made for Love” and “Ting a Ling” take the performances up another notch. The latter, a cover of the Clovers’ 1952 doo-wop hit, pairs with an inspired reworking of Don Gibson’s “Sweet Sweet Girl to Me” to show just how thoroughly the group knew what it had to offer. The latter kicks off the album, hotting up Warren Smith’s Sun-era cover in the same way Smith transformed Gibson’s original into rock ‘n’ roll. The live tracks show the trio to be a tight unit with plenty of spark, and the band’s simple, percussive covers of “Not Fade Away” and “Bo Diddley” speak to James’ roots rock inspirations; the former shines with the sheer joy of singing a Buddy Holly song, the latter gives all three players a chance to really lean on the Bo Diddley beat.

James’ originals are superb and sound fresh as he sings about girls, lust, romance, broken hearts and rock ‘n’ roll. “No Respect” builds from a slinky bass line and snappy snare drum to James’ lead guitar, and after a short verse, a sharp solo; Rex Roberts really grabs your attention with his drumming on both “My Mistake” and “Shake-Bop.” There’s a pop-punk edge to the faster numbers, but the rockabilly beat and James’ glorious ‘57 Fender Strat absorb, rather than fetishize the ‘50s roots. Cross-pollinated with the energy of ‘80s power-pop and new wave, the Kingbees forged a rock ‘n’ roll sound that’s proven quite timeless. Omnivore’s reissue features a master by Gavin Lurssen and Reuben Cohen, and includes a 12-page booklet highlighted by period photos and liner notes from Jamie James. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

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Hypercast #5: The Fool Anthology

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

“The Fool” was written by Lee Hazlewood (though credited to his nom de spouse, Naomi Ford, and with a guitar riff borrowed from Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin’“), and first waxed by Sanford Clark in 1956. Since then, the song’s been recorded dozens of times across a surprising range of genres. Here, for your irritainment*, are twenty-eight different recordings, clocking it at over ninety-six oddly hypnotic minutes.

* Thanks to artist Gordon Monahan and his Exotic Trilogy series for inspiration.

The Crags: Long Shadow Day

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Crags_LongShadowDayIntoxicating combination of country, punk, rockabilly and surf

When last heard from, this Durango, Colorado band was sporting a charming lo-fi sound. Three years later, their production is richer, their arrangements more polished and their musical scope widened. Tracy Ford sounds like Patti Smith backed by a rockabilly band on the opening “It Can’t Be So Hard,” and just as you’re settling into the two-step groove, Tim Lillyquist lays staccato surf picking into “Walida.” The band’s punk-rock, country, psychobilly, doo-wop and surf sounds are surprisingly sympathetic to one another, with Lillyquist’s guitar and Ford’s varied vocal moods tying it all together. There’s chicken-picking (“Tokyo”), ‘50s styled balladry (“Where Can I Go”) and even drippy neo-psych guitars (“In the Breeze”), and the distance between them all is shorter than you might imagine. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

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NRBQ: Brass Tacks

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

NRBQ_BrassTacksTerry Adams’ latter-day NRBQ keeps chugging along

The discussion no doubt rages on, as to whether founding member Terry Adams’ reconstituted lineup should be using the NRBQ name. Even Adams wasn’t so sure back in 1989. But with the band’s long-time lineup starting to fray in 1994, and an official hiatus ten years later, a number of interrelated projects took the group members in various directions. Adams, who turned out to have been dealing with throat cancer, returned to full-time music-making with the Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet in 2007, and four years later, with the rest of NRBQ still dispersed in other bands and projects, reapplied the NRBQ name to his quartet for the album Keep This Love Goin’.

Is it NRBQ? Many of the original band’s fans would probably say ‘no,’ but Adams, guitarist Scott Ligon, drummer Conrad Choucroun and bassist Casey McDonough, certainly carry on the NRBQ ethos of musical taste, deep knowledge and an irreverent sense of adventure. You need a pack full of hyphens to describe their mosaic of R&B, jazz, sunshine pop, country, folk and rockabilly, and their topics range from sweet (“Can’t Wait to Kiss You”) to loopy (“Greetings from Delaware”) to fantastical (“This Flat Tire”), and their music even stretches to a cover of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Getting to Know You” that’s more California sunshine than old Siam. Call them what you will, just make sure to call their music really good. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

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OST: Porky’s Revenge

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

OST_PorkysRevengeA terrific Dave Edmunds-helmed soundtrack to a forgettable film

If you don’t remember, or never knew, the film Porky’s Revenge, don’t be surprised. As the third film in the Porky’s trilogy (filled in the middle by Porky’s II: The Next Day), its sophomoric humor was a tired rehash that had little of the original film’s raunchy charm. What this sequel did have is an inexplicably fine period-influenced soundtrack piloted by Dave Edmunds and stocked with A-list talents that include Jeff Beck, George Harrison, Carl Perkins, Clarence Clemons, Willie Nelson, Robert Plant, Phil Collins, Slim Jim Phantom, Lee Rocker and the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Edmunds was initially hired to produce only the film’s theme song, but he grew the project into a full original soundtrack – the only one of the series. And by selecting songs and then drafting friends and colleagues to perform (including a backing band of Chuck Leavell, Michael Shrieve and Kenny Aaronson), he elevated the soundtrack well beyond the artistic qualities of the film itself. At the time of the soundtrack’s mid-80s recording, Edmunds was a few years past a commercial run that began with 1979’s “Girls Talk.” But he’d maintained his well-earned reputation for modern-edged roots music, and had recently worked on projects with the Everly Brothers and the Sun class of 1955, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins.

The original album included two Edmunds originals – the bouncy “High School Nights” and the synth-laden instrumental “Porky’s Revenge.” The 2014 CD reissue adds “Don’t Call Me Tonight” (which had appeared two years earlier on Edmunds’ Information), and a Carl Perkins remake of “Honey Don’t.” The bulk of the album is filled with lovingly crafted covers, including Jeff Beck’s impressive take on Santo & Johnny’s “Sleepwalk,” George Harrison’s recording of the obscure Bob Dylan title, “I Don’t Want to Do It,” the Fabulous Thunderbirds torrid version of Lloyd Price’s “Stagger Lee,” Carl Perkins remake of “Blue Suede Shoes” with Perkins’ guitar and the Stray Cats’ rhythm section dialing up some real heat, and Clarence Clemons blowing his thunderous sax on “Peter Gunn Theme.”

Edmunds finishes out his contributions with a bright, double-tracked cover of Bobby Darin’s “Queen of the Hop,” which was also released as a B-side to Harrison’s track. The album included two tracks not overseen by Edmunds: a Chips Moman production of Willie Nelson covering “Love Me Tender,” and a Robert Plant-led cover of Charlie Rich’s “Philadelphia Baby.” Other than the closing instrumental, everything here resounds with Edmunds retro sensibility and the talent of his guests. Perkins shines especially bright, with Slim Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker stoking the rockabilly rhythm. If you missed this the first time around – and most probably did – here’s a chance to get your hands on a truly unexpected treat. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Various Artists: Moonage Timequake

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

Various_MoonageTimequakeSpace pop, early electronica, rockabilly and outside jazz

Cherry Red’s Righteous label offers up this stellar collection of twenty-seven kitschy, space-themed tunes. Space age bachelor pad collectors may be familiar with the selections drawn from Jimmie Haskell’s 1959 space-twang orchestral-pop classic Count Down!, as well as the orchestra, oscillator and Theremin “Out of This World” from Frank Comstock’s Project: Comstock – Music from Outer Space, but this set stretches much more broadly. In celebration of the moon landing’s fortieth anniversary, the collection reaches back to the late ‘50s and early ‘60s fascination with all things space. The lion’s share of these tracks are early rock, rockabilly and hillbilly boogie, but there’s also early electronic music from Thomas Dissevelt and Theremin virtuoso Samuel J. Hoffman, orchestral scores from Ron Goodwin and Bobby Chistian, and outré jazz from Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra. Tying it together are snippets of spoken word and dialog, including a short piece from NICUFO founder Frank Stranges. The breadth may be too eclectic for some, but the range demonstrates how widely the space race infiltrated the popular imagination, and the rock ‘n’ roll rarities will set any party on a collision course with fun. [©2013 hyperbolium dot com]