Posts Tagged ‘Television’

Johnny Costa: Plays Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Friday, November 15th, 2019

Jazz impressions of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

By the time that Pittsburgh pianist Johnny Costa met Fred Rogers, he was an accomplished jazz musician who’d led albums released by Coral, Savoy and Dot, was featured on Manny Albam’s A Gallery of Gershwin (a theme Costa revisited on 1994’s A Portrait of George Gershwin) and served as music director for television’s Mike Douglas. Costa returned to Pittsburgh in the mid-60s where he met and partnered with Fred Rogers in creating the music for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Costa’s college background in both music and education matched that of Rogers, and his fluid musical style (one that Art Tatum likened to his own) and imaginative arrangements were a perfect match for the emotional insights that Rogers illuminated with his song concepts and lyrics. Costa was a charter resident of the neighborhood, joining in 1968, playing live, adding improvisational continuity, appearing on camera on occasion, and serving as Rogers’ musical director until the pianist’s passing in 1996.

This 1984 release features Costa’s piano in a trio setting with Carl McVicker on bass and Bobby Rawsthorne on drums. As an instrumental jazz outing on the short-lived Mister Rogers Neighborhood label, but not featuring Mister Rogers himself, it likely didn’t sell well to either the television show’s preschool viewership or jazz hounds, and so the original vinyl release has become quite rare. Omnivore’s reissue includes the album’s original thirteen tracks, all written by Fred Rogers. Fans of the television show will immediately recognize the warm welcome of the opening “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” but as you would expect from a talented jazz musician, Costa uses the theme as a launching point for spirited improvisation. The same is true for the closing “Tomorrow,” which is given a heavier dose of optimistic melancholy than in its television incarnations.

Costa’s playing is florid, dramatic, inquisitive, frenetic, humorous and contemplative, mirroring the themes and emotional lessons of Rogers’ lyrical compositions. The yearning for reassurance that Rogers wrote into the lyrics of “Please Don’t Think It’s Funny” is equally well expressed in Costa’s introspective soloing. “Everybody’s Fancy” includes fancy runs, “I Like to Take My Time” proceeds at a jaunty stroll, and “Something to Do While We’re Waiting” is filled with irrepressible childhood energy. Costa is fleet-fingered and lyrical as he expresses through his piano the emotional core of each song. This collection of  instrumental treatments provides a terrific complement to Fred Rogers’ originals, twenty-three of which are collected in Omnivore’s companion volume, It’s Such A Good Feeling: The Best Of Mister Rogers. Taken together, the two releases highlight the musical and emotional resonances between Rogers, Costa and their audience. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Various Artists: The Bakersfield Sound

Friday, November 15th, 2019

Awe-inspiring anthological history of the Bakersfield scene

Bear Family is well-known to collectors for the imagination and thoroughness of their box sets. Their cataloging of American country music in artist-based collections is unparalleled in its detail. But even against that high bar of quality, this set is something else, as it draws a comprehensive picture of a scene, rather than a more easily defined artist or label catalog. To assemble this set, producer Scott B. Bomar needed to develop a deep understanding of the history, connections and influences that forged the Bakersfield Sound over thirty-five years. They needed to identify artists, producers, engineers, studios, labels, clubs, radio and television stations, and records, and they needed to dig deep beneath the commercial surface, to find the rare materials that spurred and cross-pollinated artistic advances. The results are ten discs, nearly 300 tracks, and 224 pages that demonstrate how the scene developed, how lesser-known players contributed to those who would become stars, and how the stars themselves grew from their roots. It’s an astounding achievement, even on the Bear Family scale.

Situated at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, Bakersfield is a commercial hub for both the Central Valley’s agriculture and the surrounding area’s petroleum and natural gas production. The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl drove many Texans, Oklahomans, Arkansans and Missourians west, with many migrants resettling into agricultural and oil work. The Owens family moved from Texas to Arizona in the late ‘30s, and Buck Owens eventually settled in Bakersfield in 1951. The Haggard family moved from Oklahoma to California in the mid-30s, where Merle Haggard was born (in Oildale) in 1937. Bakersfield became both a physical confluence of refugees from the Plains states, and an artistic melting pot of their musical tastes; a place and time in which influences could combine and grow into something new.

As Bomar notes in his liners, Bakersfield was really more of an aesthetic than a singular sound. The range of artists ascribed to Bakersfield (including some who never actually lived or recorded there) are as varied as the influences that shaped the city’s music. As Joe Maphis chronicled, Bakersfield’s honky-tonks – including the Blackboard, Trouts, Lucky Spot, Tex’s Barrel House, and the Clover Club – were genuine dens of dim lights, thick smoke and loud, loud music, and as Nashville softened its approach in the 1950s, Bakersfield hardened its own. As Nashville toned down the twang and added strings and backing choruses, Bakersfield plugged in electric guitars to complement the fiddle and steel. As Nashville sweetened the arrangements and slowed the tempos for crooners, Bakersfield picked up the beat and highlighted vocalists singing harder-edged lyrics. Bakersfield wasn’t necessarily reacting to Nashville’s changes, but acting outside its commercial forcefield.

Owens’ and Haggard’s legends are rooted in Bakersfield’s honky-tonks, where they developed and honed their particular brands of music alongside the many foundational acts documented here. Bear Family has cast a wide net to haul in field recordings, radio and television broadcasts, live sessions, vault finds, vanity recordings, alternate takes, demos, rare local singles, B-sides, album tracks, and a selection of hits, to tell the story of Bakersfield’s development, rather than recite the well-known riches at the end of the creative rainbow. The set begins with early ‘40s field recordings gathered in the Central Valley migrant work camps that were run by the Farm Security Administration (FSA). The rustic vocal, guitar and banjo music of the camps’ residents was as important a cultural touchstone as were the physical wares they’d packed into the trucks and beat-up cars that carried them west, and its mix of influences the roots of the Bakersfield music scene.

The set moves to 1944 with a fiddle-heavy cover of Fred Rose’s “Home in San Antone,” and establishes radio’s role in expanding local musicians’ regional reach with transcriptions from Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, the Maddox Brothers and Rose, and Elwin Cross & The Arizona Wranglers. The latter group, whose “Back in Dear Old Oklahoma” strikes a nostalgic, homesick note, included Bill Woods, who would soon become a pillar of the Bakersfield scene as a bandleader at the Blackboard. From these earliest days of the Bakersfield scene, the upbeat tempos of swing and boogie drove many of the original songs, with twangy steel, guitar and fiddle prominently featured throughout. Billy Mize is heard on 1949’s “Got a Chance With You” and Roy Nichols’ influential guitar playing on 1950’s “Baby Blues.”

Capitol Records and producer Ken Nelson – both key elements of Bakersfield’s commercial success – enter the collection with Ferlin Husky’s 1951 single “I Want You So,” recorded under the stage name of Terry Preston. Buck Owens first turns up at Capitol as a studio picker on Tommy Collins’ “You Better Not Do That,” and Capitol’s Hollywood studio was the site of Bakersfield’s first national hit with Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky’s “A Dear John Letter.” The song had been recorded twice before on local Bakersfield labels Grande and Kord, which along with Mar-Vel and others featured early performances by Bakersfield figures Bill Woods (who was so important to building the Bakersfield scene, that Red Simpson released a tribute to him in 1973), Fuzzy Owen, Lewis Talley, Billy Mize and Bonnie Owens. Many of the records most deeply associated with Bakersfield were actually recorded in Los Angeles, including the Blackboard Club-inspired honky-tonk of Joe Maphis & Rose Lee’s 1953 “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music).”

The early songs of home and homesickness quickly gave way to songs of romantic infatuation, love and recrimination, often with a forwardness that was disappearing from Nashville’s productions. The Farmer Boys’ “It Pays to Advertise” is surprisingly direct with the romantic boast, “when it comes to making love, I don’t leave girl neglected,” and Billy Mize’s “Who Will Buy the Wine” is scathing in its appraisal of a wayward spouse’s downfall. By 1956, rock ‘n’ roll was influencing Bakersfield’s players as Wanda Jackson’s “I Gotta Know” features a tug of war between upbeat rockabilly verses and a slow country chorus, Dusty Payne & The Rhythm Rocker’s “I Want You” has a rockabilly backbeat, Sid Silver’s “Bumble Rumble” offers up countrified skiffle, the bluesy guitar of Johnny Taylor’s “Sad Sad Saturday Night” is backed by Bill Woods’ piano triplets, and Buck Owens’ jangly guitar adds flair to Bill Woods’ “Ask Me No Questions.”

Buck Owens’ first session for Capitol as a leader included the bouncy 1957 single “Come Back to Me,” and his charting single, “Second Fiddle,” is also included early in the set. Owens quickly became a monumental presence in the Bakersfield scene as he dominated the country charts throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. Owens had one or more Top 10 singles every year from 1959 until 1974 (including fourteen straight #1s from 1963 to 1967), with 1974 marking the death of Don Rich, and not coincidentally the year that ends this set. Owens’ catalog is detailed elsewhere, including three Bear Family box sets [1 2 3], and so the producer has cherry-picked sides that demonstrate Owens’ evolution as a singer, songwriter, producer and live performer, including the classic Buckaroos’ lineup first session on 1964’s “Close Up the Honky Tonks.” The Buckaroos were such a prolific, powerhouse group that they had a parallel career without Owens out front, represented here by selections fronted by Don Rich and Doyle Holly, the instrumental “Chicken Pickin’,” and sides backing artists who recorded at Buck Owens’ Bakersfield studio. The latter includes a track from Arlo Guthrie’s 1973 album Last Of The Brooklyn Cowboys, and Don Rich’s last session, backing Tony Booth’s “A Different Kind of Sad.”

Wynn Stewart also recorded for Capitol, but it was at Challenge and its subsidiary Jackpot that he waxed the singles most associated with the Bakersfield sound. Included here is his superb 1960 take on the Bakersfield club favorite “Playboy,” but his hits – 1958’s “Come On,” 1959’s “Wishful Thinking” and “Above and Beyond (The Call of Love),” and 1961’s “Big Big Love” – showed off an artistic range emblematic of Bakersfield’s many influences and musically adventurous spirit. Though not as commercially successful as Owens or Haggard, Stewart was highly influential, and he left behind a rich catalog (documented in full on Bear Family’s box set Wishful Thinking) that’s worth its own investment.

Haggard was in and out of juvenile detention and jail as the city’s music scene developed, but a late-50s stretch in San Quentin renewed his interest in a music career in which he’d previously dabbled, and upon his release in 1960 he began performing and subsequently recording for Tally. Like Owens, Haggard was both an artistic and commercial force. Though born in California, his autobiographical songs were rife with the hardship of Dustbowl refugees, and the struggles of outsiders. He first appears on this set as a songwriter and bassist for Johnny Barnett’s 1963 Tally single “Second Fiddle,” and he debuted on Tally’s next single with “Singin’ My Heart Out” and its flip, “Skid Row.” Haggard’s early Tally releases also included themed song, “Life in Prison,” as well as his first duet with Bonnie Owens, “Slowly But Surely.” Haggard’s transition from Tally to Capitol was meant to be heard in two versions of “I’m Gonna Break Every Heart” (one recorded for Tally, one recorded for Capitol) but the earlier unreleased Tally version ran into legal issues, and though described in the book, has been elided from the disc. A well-curated selection of his Capitol sides threads through the remainder of the set, and shows off both his commercial and artistic reach.

Owens and Haggard may have garnered the bulk of the scene’s commercial success, but the sheer volume of Bakersfield-related material that’s been collected here is astonishing. The Hollywood-based Capitol (and its Tower subsidiary) had the lion’s share of major-label Bakersfield success, but Columbia and RCA made inroads with Billy Mize, Liz Anderson, Tommy Collins, and others. Even more impressive is the wealth of local indie singles that paint a full color picture of Bakersfield’s deep pool of singers, songwriters and instrumental talent. Bakersfield essentially fielded a country version of the Wrecking Crew with a core group of musicians that formed and reformed in various aggregations to back singers in Bakersfield and Los Angeles. There are too many ace musicians in the crew to name them, but among them, only one regular female presence in Helen “Peaches” Price, a much sought-after drummer who played with Wynn Stewart, and backed Merle Haggard on several of his classic albums and singles.

Gary S. Paxton appears as an artist on 1966’s “Goin’ Through the Motions,” but makes his mark as a producer, both in Los Angeles, and for a time in 1967-68, in Bakersfield. His productions include the Gosdin Brothers country hit “Hangin’ On,” and a variety of singles that includes Leon Copeland’s cover of Merle Haggard’s “I’m Out of My Mind,” the Sandland Brothers’ tight duet “Vaccination for the Blues,” and the sly instrumental “Buckshot” by Larry Daniels and the Buckshots. Many of Paxton’s productions featured the inimitable guitar playing of Clarence White, including White’s unissued-at-the-time cover of “Buckaroo.” Paxton’s stay in Bakersfield wasn’t long, but he was productive, and cut records with Suzi Arden, Dean Sanford, Larry Daniels, Stan Farlow and others.

Each of the ten discs reveals surprises, including Barbara Mandrell’s 1966 single “Queen for a Day,” released three years before she signed with Columbia, the Marksmen’s 1961 guitar instrumental “Scratch,” recorded in Seattle by Gene Moles with the Ventures’ Nokie Edwards on bass, Roy Nichols’ virtuoso version of “Silver Bells,” songwriter Fern Foley’s original version of “Apartment #9,” Harold Cox & The Sooners’ “Pumpkin Center” offering some iffy rhymes in celebration of a local weekly dance, Herb Henson’s Trading Post TV show theme song, “You’al Come,” and songwriter Homer Joy’s original recording of “Streets of Bakersfield.”

The set’s final disc include live tracks, songwriter demos and work tapes from many of Bakersfield’s mainstays. The disc opens with hot live material from Buck Owens’ 1973 Toys for Tots show, featuring Owens, Buddy Alan, Tony Booth, Susan Raye, and the Buckaroos. There’s a treasure trove of songwriter demos and alternate takes from Bonnie Owens, Vancie Flowers & Rita Lane, Billy Mize, Red Simpson, Bill Woods, Tommy Collins, and Joe & Rose Lee Maphis, providing a behind-the-scenes look at how the first nine discs came to be. The disc closes with eight tracks drawn from television and radio broadcasts, giving listeners a feel for a world before records came to dominate media, and consultants came to homogenize playlists. Sadly missing from disc ten are five Merle Haggard alternate takes and a live radio broadcast that were last minute, contractual-dispute scratches.

As overwhelming as is the typical Bear Family box set, the breadth and depth of this anthology is doubly so. The panoramic view of Bakersfield’s music includes folk, bluegrass, country (and western), boogie, rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll, swing and more. Each disc provides a terrific program of music, and the arc from disc one to disc ten is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying. The accompanying 224-page hardbound book (weighing in at nearly four pounds) is as detailed as the music program, with historical notes, artist biographies, and song notes, and hundreds of photos and record labels. With 298 songs and a running time of more than twelve hours, this is a set to live with, rather than just listen to, and one you’ll be drawn back to over and over as you gain a feel for thirty-five years of Bakersfield’s musical history. No doubt this will be on many country music fans’ holiday gift lists, and by all rights it should be on Grammy’s list too. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Fred Rogers: It’s Such a Good Feeling – The Best of Mister Rogers

Saturday, October 19th, 2019

The timeless understanding and caring of Mister Rogers

Children’s entertainment is often filled with empty merchandising calories, and devoid of the thoughtful content that promotes intellectual and emotional growth. But that is not the case with the music of Fred Rogers, creator and host of the eponymous Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Educated in musical composition, divinity and child development, Rogers turned the meditations of his solitary childhood into a helping hand for preschoolers. While Sesame Street focused on helping young children get ready for the cognitive growth of schooling, Rogers prepared them for the parallel emotional development they would experience in new social situations. Rogers spoke and sang to children with insight and patience that acknowledged feelings and fears that adults had long since forgotten. He offered a helping hand through songs whose fundamental truths connected deeply with his audience.

His television show included many memorable characters and activities, but his music reached deeper. For those who grew up watching the show (or parenting children who did), the songs remain a sense memory that can instantly transport you back to an age of uncertainty and seemingly endless questions. His lyrics encompasses thoughts and lessons in friendship, optimism, attentiveness, confidence, vulnerability, perseverance, empathy, imagination, self-worth, humor, individuality and a myriad of questions, emotions and anxieties that children first encounter in their formative years. Rogers’ songs put a name to these feelings, and let children know that such feelings are both natural and shared.

Rogers recorded with a trio of musical director and pianist Johnny Costa, bassist Carl McVicker, and percussionist Bobby Rawsthorne. Their light, jazzy instrumentals typically stayed in the background, underlying the emotional lessons of the lyrics. Rogers released dozens of singles, EPs and albums, but few remain in print. Omnivore’s 21-track collection cherrypicks from four previous albums (You’re Growing, Coming and Going, Bedtime, and You Are Special), and adds five previously unreleased recordings, including the closing rendition of Rogers’ trademark show closer “Tomorrow.” The eight-page booklet includes an introductory note by film biographer Morgan Neville, and liners by Pittsburgh TV critic Robert Bianco. Rogers’ gentle manner may seem out of place in today’s belligerent times, which makes his lessons in civility all the more relevant. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Various Artist: Hula Land – The Golden Age of Hawaiian Music

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

Various_HulalandTheGoldenAgeOfHawaiianMusicHawaiian roots and their many colorful blossoms

Those looking for a history of native-made Hawaiian music may be disappointed by this set. But they’re about the only ones. Most will enjoy the four discs’ and 102-page hardbound book’s exposition of Hawaiian music and its multiple eruptions in mainstream entertainment. While the set does include a helping of native-made Hawaiian sounds, particularly on disc three, its reach is wider and its statement broader. In both sights and sounds, this set essays both the roots of Hawaiian music, and its many manifestations in pop culture. As the book’s photographs and sheet music art demonstrate, Hawaii has long been both a destination and a mythology, and there are few places the two elements have fused more fully than in music.

Tempted by brilliant poster imagery and stoked by the speed of plane travel, South Seas tourism flourished in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Upon arriving in the Hawaiian islands, visitors found both authentic and ersatz culture awaiting them. And upon their return to the states, tourists brought back memories and souvenirs that served to deepen Hawaii’s allure as both a vacation getaway and a dramatic visual setting. Hawaii has provided a picturesque backdrop for films, television shows, commercials and even cartoons, and its songs and instruments (particularly the ukulele and steel guitar) provided material for a surprisingly wide range of non-Hawaiian artists. Hulaland pays homage to the stateside displays of Hawaiiana that grew from island roots, blossoming in Hollywood, Chicago, New York and elsewhere.

The set opens with Louis Armstrong singing “On a Little Bamboo Bridge,” backed by the Waimea-born Andy Iona and his group, the Islanders. Iona’s mix of traditional melodies and American swing provided a welcome spot for the New Orleans-born Armstrong, and together they lay out a template of the set’s riches. Disc one includes Hawaiiana from several unlikely artists, including Jo Stafford, Ethel Merman, Burns & Allen, Dorothy Lamour and the yodeling country star, Slim Whitman. The disc explores everything from kitschy ‘30s cartoon themes to ‘50s steel-guitar swing, and shows how Hawaiian music was popularized by native-born artists, collaborators and appropriators.

Hawaiiana threaded into popular music throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, with Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman developing their inventive strain of exotica in the mid-50s. Disc two explores these exotic sounds as their waves echoed in a stateside culture gripped by rock ‘n’ roll and surf music. Here you will find the full flower of American media’s fascination with Hawaii in the television themes from “Hawaii Five-O,” “Hawaiian Eye,” and a lap steel variation on “Peter Gunn.” Also included are selections from several of exotica’s pioneers, and others, like organist Earl Grant and guitarist Billy Mure, who were swept up by the wave. By the early ‘60s, Hawaiian music was often more of an ancestral headwater than a direct tributary to the mainstream, as classic island themes were rendered with twanging electric guitars, sung in doo-wop vocals and accompanied by jazz arrangements.

Disc three returns the listener to the 1930s for a disc of Hawaiian classics, waxed primarily in Los Angeles and New York, with a few Honolulu recordings thrown in for good measure. The song selections mirror some of the selections on the previous discs (e.g., “Hawaiian War Chant” and “Ukulele Lady”), providing listeners an opportunity to compare. Disc four splits the difference by sampling contemporary acts that play a wide range of material (including the Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run”) in vintage style. The time hopping between and within the discs adds to the image of Hawaii as a timeless, Xanadu-like paradise. The set’s old-timey acoustic music blends surprisingly well with the Hawaiian-themed jazz and rock, and the last disc’s contemporary performances are powered by the same breezes as the set’s earliest tracks.

In many ways, the four discs provide a soundtrack for the 102-page, 9×11 hardcover book in which they’re housed. The rattan-textured cover and heavyweight, glossy pages are stuffed with eye-popping reproductions of vintage photographs, full-page sheet music covers, postcards, and travel posters. James Austin’s liner notes (which, along with other text in the book, are riddled with typos unbecoming of a set this lavish) provide context for the project, and a bit of history on Hawaiiana, but not the sort of detail on artists, songwriters, publishers and licensing one might expect. But this set isn’t intended to be a scholarly tome on Hawaiian music or even Hawaiiana; it’s an alluring brochure that beckons with romantic images meant to be imbibed rather than studied. As the notes say, “this is for tourists, not purists,” so dim the lights, mix yourself a Mai Tai, and enjoy. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Vince Guaraldi Trio: Peanuts Greatest Hits

Saturday, August 15th, 2015

VinceGuaraldiTrio_PeanutsGreatestHitsA taste of the music that made Peanuts swing

San Franciscan Vince Guaraldi had already established himself as a pianist and composer, first with Cal Tjader and then as a leader of his own group, when producer Lee Mendelson came knocking. Mendelson had been enchanted by Guaraldi’s 1963 surprise hit single, “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” and asked him to write some original music for a documentary to be entitled A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Though the program didn’t air at the time, Guaraldi’s music so perfectly captured the mood and character of Peanuts, that he was invited to write the soundtrack for the first Peanuts special that did air, 1965’s landmark A Charlie Brown Christmas.

There were so many unlikely elements to the Christmas special (including the overt religious theme and the use of child actors to voice the characters), that Guaraldi’s literate, mirthful and sophisticated jazz score didn’t feel at all unorthodox. Bringing along key pieces from the unaired documentary, most notably “Linus & Lucy” and “Charlie Brown Theme,” Guaraldi’s music was as important in lifting the characters off the comics page as was the animation. Guaraldi continued to provide music until his passing in 1976, scoring a total of seventeen Peanuts specials and the feature film A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

Fantasy’s twelve-track collection pulls together selections from four television specials, leaning heavily on the original A Boy Named Charlie Brown (tracks 1-5) and A Charlie Brown Christmas (tracks 1 and 9-12). Also included is the gentle, piano-and-woodwinds “Great Pumpkin Waltz” from 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, and a pair from 1973’s A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, “Thanksgiving Theme” and “Little Birdie,” the latter including a rare vocal from Guaraldi himself. At twelve tracks, this only scratches the surface of Guaraldi’s Peanuts’ canon, and though the heavy tilt towards earlier material supports the “Greatest Hits” theme, the lack of completeness might make reissued soundtracks [1 2] a better place to start. What’s here is great, but it’s not enough! [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Keith Allison: In Action – The Complete Columbia Sides Plus!

Friday, May 16th, 2014

KeithAllison_InActionLos Angeles studio musician’s mid-60s solo shot

Keith Allison’s discovery at a taping of Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is is an only-in-Hollywood tale to rival that of Lana Turner’s first sighting at the Top Hat Malt Shop. Allison had been living a relatively anonymous life as a session musician (that’s his harmonica on the Monkees “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day“) and latter-day band member for his cousin Jerry Allison’s Crickets. Allison’s appearance as an audience member on Where the Action Is quickly led to a featured slot and a recording contract with Columbia. The latter gave Allison an opportunity to work with producer Terry Melcher for a single and Gary Usher for a pop-rock album.

His first Columbia release turned Joey Brooks and the Baroque Folk’s “I Ain’t Blamin’ You” into folk-rock, and featured an excellent, original B-side, “Look at Me” that turned up two years later as a Cher album track. His next single brought him Boyce & Hart’s “Action, Action, Action” and Mann & Weil’s bounch sunshine pop, “Glitter and Gold.” The former, produced by future Scooby Doo theme song vocalist Larry Marks, is offered here in both its stereo album and mono single mixes.

Allison’s full-length album played to his television audience, who knew him for his covers of hits-of-the-day. The album’s lone original is the very fine country rock “Freeborn Man,” co-written with Mark Lindsay; the rest of the track list is filled with tunes from Boyce & Hart, Neil Diamond, Donovan, Ray Charles and Lindsay. As the liner notes highlight, the variety of material provided a showcase for Allison’s versatility, even when the covers don’t add anything radical to the better-known hits. “Louise” and “Good Thing” give an early indication of how easily Allison would later fit into Paul Revere & The Raiders, and the country-rock arrangement of “Colours” adds something vital to Donovan’s original.

More interesting is the discovery of Neil Diamond’s early single “Do It,” the rave-up “Action, Action, Action,” and a take on “Leave My Woman Alone” that adds a psychedelic edge to the Everly Brothers earlier interpretation. Real Gone’s twenty-three track collection pulls together the Columbia album and singles and adds a self-produced one-off single for Amy that backs Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” with the Byrdsian original “I Don’t Want Nobody But You.” The post-LP singles include an emotional cover of “To Know Her is to Love Her,” a rave-up medley of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis and a lite-psych version of Tommy Roe’s “Everybody.”

Despite a promising start and continuing success as a musician and songwriter, Allison’s solo career never really took off. His work with the Raiders can be heard on several albums, starting with 1968’s Hard ‘n’ Heavy, and he turned up on tracks by Al Kooper, Johnny Rivers, The Dillards and others. He dabbled in acting (including a bit part on The Love Boat!), and has recently gigged with the Waddy Wachtel Band, but the quality of these mid-60s sides suggest there was something more to be had. Stardom is a fickle mistress, and though Allison had the talent and a shot, the stars simply didn’t align. Lucky listeners can now cast themselves back and ask “what if?”  [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Keith Allison Info Page

Various Artists: Swamp People

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

Various_SwampPeople

Whether or not you’re a viewer of the History Channel’s Swamp People, this collection of bayou-inspired tunes is sure to please Louisiana music fans. Though subtitled “music inspired by the television series,” the album’s best known titles (“Amos Moses,” “Polk Salad Annie,” “Fire on the Bayou,” and “Jambalaya (on the Bayou)”) predate the program by decades. Only the collection’s title track is newly written, and the set is filled out with finely selected Zydeco, country, bayou funk and soul from the Rounder vault. The set closes with Bobby Charles’ original recording of “See You Later, Alligator,” showing off the song’s New Orleans roots with some fine second-line drumming. All in all, a good disc to accompany a gator hunt, or just a bowl of gumbo. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Swamp People Home Page

Nakia: Drown in the Crimson Tide

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Nakia_DrownInTheCrimsonTideStrong neo-soul from season one Voice contestant

For those who haven’t explored the nuances that differentiate The Voice from American Idol, this Voice graduate’s new EP provides good evidence. The Alabama-born, Austin-based vocalist sings soul music that’s subtle, earthy and unlikely to attract votes on American Idol (and, in fact, also left him shy of the top four spots on The Voice). But that which doesn’t catch the attention of a prime-time television audiences may have a good chance of pleasing the ears of music aficionados. Like several other Voice contestants, Nakia had already begun developing a professional music career before appearing on television. His pre-TV resume includes work with Fastball’s Miles Zuniba, backing vocals for Alejandro Escovedo’s Street Songs of Love and two solo albums. His six new originals fit easily into the neo-soul scene, adding modern touches to classic Stax and Muscle Shoals soul, gospel, blues and rhythm ‘n’ blues, and featuring superb support from the Texicali horns. Nakia may still be chasing the artistic hopes of “Dream Big” and seeking the confirmation of “Tight,” but he’s proven himself a rousing soul singer and talented songwriter. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Nakia’s Home Page

Buck Owens: Honky Tonk Man – Buck Sings Country Classics

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

BuckOwens_HonkyTonkManPreviously unreleased cache of cover songs

After dozens of original album reissues, an omnibus box set series [1 2 3], pre-Bakersfield and post-Capitol material, tributes [1 2 3], and a two collections of duets with Susan Raye, one might wonder what was left in the vault. Omnivore answers that question this month with two new releases, including a previously unreleased album by Owens’ right-hand man, Don Rich, and this volume of cover songs originally recorded for the syndicated run of television’s Hee Haw. Those who enjoyed Owens’ weekly performances at his Bakersfield club might remember how enthusiastically he played requests for country classics, and how easily they mixed with his original hits. The same was true for his television performances, where the covers gave older audiences a comforting connection to country music’s past.

The eighteen tracks collected here were originally produced by Owens between 1972 and 1975 in his Bakersfield studio for exclusive use on the television show. In the recording studio, Owens would lay down a guide vocal that was dropped for the television soundtrack; Owens sang live on the Hee Haw set as the band mimed the backing track. But ever the perfectionist, Owens invested in the guide vocals, giving performances that demonstrate his deep affection for these songs. The Buckaroos, led by Don Rich on all but one recording from 1975, were as sharp as ever, and though the backing tracks were reduced to mono for Hee Haw, this CD is mixed in full-fidelity stereo from the original multi-track studio masters.

The songs reach back as early as 1928 for Jimmie Rodgers “In the Jailhouse Now,” but focus heavily on the 40s, 50s and 60s. A pair from the mid-40s include Bob Wills’ “Stay a Little Longer” and Jack Guthrie’s “Oklahoma Hills,” and Johnny Horton’s mid-50s hit “Honky Tonk Man” would become a hit for Owens’ protégé, Dwight Yoakam, in the mid-80s. Owens gives a nod to fellow Bakersfield resident Merle Haggard with “Swinging Doors” and fellow country music iconoclast Waylon Jennings with “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line.” There are three songs from Hank Williams’ catalog, a superbly forlorn take of Ray Price’s “My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You” and tunes written or made famous by Hank Snow, Faron Young and Webb Pierce.

Owens, together with then-recently added Buckaroo Jim Shaw, picked these titles from the catalogs of artists who’d been early Owens influences as well as his contemporaries. The album closes with a cover of Johnny Russell’s “Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer,” connecting back to Owens’ first chart-topper, the Russell-written “Act Naturally.” These covers don’t sport the genre-busting invention Owens had pioneered in the 1960s, but neither are they mere recitations – Owens was too devoted an artist to merely fill space, even on a scratch track he never expected the public to hear. If you love Buck Owens and classic country songs, this unexpected and rare treat is for you. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Buck Owens’ Home Page

Don Rich: Sings George Jones

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

DonRich_SingsGeorgeJonesPreviously unreleased solo album from Buck Owens’ right-hand man

Though Don Rich achieved greatness as Buck Owens’ band leader, guitarist, fiddler, harmony vocalist and musical foil, his solo stardom stayed on the backburner. An anthology of his instrumental and vocal turns with the Buckaroos was issued in 2000, but his only true solo album was shelved after its recording in 1970. As with the anthology, this first-ever release of Rich’s turn in the spotlight shows him to be a warm vocalist, perhaps not quite as polished a lead or as star-ready as Owens, but distinct, compelling and certainly worthy of some early ‘70s chart action. Produced by Owens in his Bakersfield studio, and backed by the 1970 edition of the Buckaroos (including Rich, Buddy Alan Owens, Jim Shaw, Doyle Curtsinger and Jerry Wiggins), the sound is much the same as Owens’ own recordings of the era.

The song list sticks mostly to Jones’ familiar hits of the early-to-mid-1960s, though it reaches back to 1957 for “Too Much Water.” Rich sings his own harmonies, but the doubled vocals sound remarkably like the Owens-Rich (or Owens-Owens) combination heard on the Buckaroos recordings. Supplementing the album’s original ten tracks are four more Jones covers originally recorded for Hee Haw and featuring Buck Owens singing lead. Neither Rich nor Owens sing anything like Jones, nor do the Buckaroos sound like a Nashville band, all of which help liberate these songs from Jones’ long artistic shadow. As with Omnivore’s companion volume of Buck Owens’ recordings for Hee Haw, this vault find is a welcome discovery and a real treat for fans of Don Rich, Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. [©2013 Hyperbolium]