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Archive for December 5th, 2012

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Various Artists, “Surf Age Nuggets: Trash and Twang Instrumentals 1959-1966”

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Surf-Age Nuggets

In 1996, Rhino Records released Cowabunga!  The Surf Box, a four-disc celebration of surf music, both vocal and instrumental, from its earliest days to the then-present.  It’s taken more than fifteen years, but James Austin, the co-producer of that long-out-of-print box, has returned with an all-new companion piece.  Surf Age Nuggets, released through the RockBeat label (ROC-CD-3098), offers another four discs’ worth of “trash and twang instrumentals,” as the cover promises.  Its 104 tracks include some of the rarest of the rare surf tracks, and they’re almost exclusively from artists of whom you’re not likely to have heard.  So while the Rhino box included hits from The Beach Boys, The Ventures, The Bobby Fuller Four and Annette Funicello, Surf Age Nuggets instead concentrates on artists with names like The Newport Nomads, The Elite UFO, The Toads and Calvin Cool.  Drawn from the period of 1959-1966 (the golden age of the surf instrumental), the box set – nattily packaged in a hardbound book format – is a collector’s dream.

Surf Age Nuggets’ four discs aren’t arranged chronologically, which may be the only detriment to its well-told story of the surf music underground.  Virtually every one of these songs conjures up an image of girls on the beach, as the California sun shines bright.  Of course, their boyfriends are nearby, showing off their hot rods or their new woodies.  So it’s most surprising that many of these tracks were recorded far away from the Pacific Ocean.  These fast-and-furious, guitar-driven nuggets originated in places as far-flung as New Mexico, Alabama and Arizona, proving definitely that California was as much a culture as a place.  Regional labels latched onto the surf craze and made music as compelling as that being issued by the majors of the day.  It’s unclear what guitarist Terry Schmidt of Minnesota knew about 80-foot waves, but he certainly delivered with a song of that title for his band The Vaqueros.  (The band’s name, of course, was inspired by The Fireballs’ hit song.)

Long before punk, surf rock quenched a desire for a primal, DIY sound.  Though many of these tracks are sonically primitive, almost all burst with the reverb-drenched energy of rippling and twangy guitars, booming drums and distinctive bass.  Some even add saxophone or organ to the mix; a piano truly stands out on Steve Rowe and the Furys’ 1965 “Minor Chaos.”  Sprinkled throughout these four discs are a few familiar names or titles.  Arguably no surf compilation would be complete without at least one song from Dick Dale, so Nuggets has included his less often-heard, Bo Diddley-inspired “Jungle Fever” with its kooky jungle hollers and sounds.  Dale’s “Jungle,” however, is less strange than the bizarre, war-whooping “Mr. Custer’s Stomp,” a 1962 single from The Scouts!  Dale is also represented indirectly with the 1966 recording of “Misirlou” [sic] by Wisconsin band The Emotionals.  Dale’s 1962 recording of the song may be the most influential surf recording of all time, but The Emotionals’ charged versions shows there was still life in the chestnut yet.

What else will you find?  Hit the jump and catch a wave! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 5, 2012 at 13:04

Morello Label Rescues Rare Glen Campbell with Bobbie Gentry and Anne Murray, Brings Helen Schneider to CD

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The Morello imprint of Cherry Red Records has kept busy of late. Following its initial slate of country releases from George Jones, Marty Robbins and Lacy J. Dalton, the Morello team reintroduced gems to the catalogue from Crystal Gayle and Dan Seals, respectively Crystal Gayle / Somebody Loves You, and Rage On / Rebel Heart. Though Dan was England Dan in the pop duo England Dan and John Ford Coley, Rage On and Rebel Heart were both excursions into pure country. For its latest two releases, however, Morello is diversifying. A most exciting addition to the label’s slate is the two-fer pairing 1977 and 1978 albums from New York-born chanteuse Helen Schneider, while Morello reaffirms its country commitment by premiering on CD two very hard-to-find albums from the legendary Glen Campbell.

Though she’s found her greatest success in Germany, singer/actress Helen Schneider is a native of Brooklyn, New York. She’s found tremendous acclaim singing the cabaret songs of Kurt Weill as well as the big Broadway ballads of Andrew Lloyd Webber. But long before Schneider appeared as Norma Desmond in Lord Lloyd-Webber’s Sunset Boulevard, she recorded a pair of pop albums in the late seventies with two very well-known producers. These two rare LPs are back on one CD from Morello.

1977’s So Close teamed an expressive if tremulous-voiced Schneider with Ron Dante, then in the midst of a string of successes as co-producer of Barry Manilow’s hit albums. Dante and engineer Michael DeLugg (also a Manilow veteran) selected the crème of the pop crop for Schneider’s debut, pairing her with top arrangers including Charlie Calello (of Four Seasons fame) and a “Who’s Who” of songwriters. The title track was a Jake Holmes tune. Neil Sedaka contributed “Trying to Say Goodbye” with Phil Cody and “Sad Eyes” with Howard Greenfield. Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys and Daryl Dragon, the Captain with Tennille, offered “Cuddle Up.” Ron Dante brought his own “How I Miss You” to the table, and two songs he had already recorded with Manilow: Barry and Marty Panzer’s heartfelt “All the Time” and the up-tempo rocker “Why Don’t We Live Together.” Laura Nyro was tapped for “I Never Meant to Hurt You,” already recorded by artists including Barbra Streisand. Dante even anticipates Schneider’s future work in musical theatre with the offbeat cabaret take on Mose Allison’s “Your Mind is on Vacation.” This classy collection of big pop ballads so distinctively sung by a youthful Schneider has long been ripe for rediscovery, and makes for one of the most enjoyably unexpected reissues of the year. But that’s not all.

So Close has been paired with Schneider’s 1978 follow-up Let It Be Now, in which Tony Camillo took the producer’s chair. The R&B-oriented Camillo had his biggest success co-producing Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia,” but also worked with artists including Dionne Warwick, The Ebonys, Freda Payne and Millie Jackson. Camillo, recording in New York, didn’t stray too far from the orchestral template of the first album, and strings enhanced a number of the songs including David Gates’ “Someday.” Gates is just one of the top-tier songwriters represented on this album, including David Pomeranz, Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher, and Tom Snow. Musicians included Ascher, Funk Brother Bob Babbitt and future David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer. Schneider cut loose on the disco-flecked “Every Step of the Way,” and the wailing “Rock Me and Caress Me,” while she taps into the melancholy of Williams and Ascher’s “Loneliness.” Kudos to Morello for rescuing these two different, but ultimately complementary, albums.

After the jump: we revisit two duets albums from Glen Campbell! Plus: track listings for all titles plus order links!

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Written by Joe Marchese

December 5, 2012 at 12:03