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Review: The Sugar Shoppe, “The Sugar Shoppe”

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The Sugar ShoppeWho was a proprietor of The Sugar Shoppe?

Was it Thomas Andrews, architect of the Titanic?  Was it Anthony Hope, the lovestruck sailor who befriended the murderous barber Sweeney Todd?  Or was it Jesus himself?  Well, actually it was all of the above, as The Sugar Shoppe was co-founded by none other than actor/singer Victor Garber years before his roles in Titanic, Sweeney Todd and Godspell (not to mention Alias, Argo, Assassins, Damn Yankees, and so many more).  Garber joined singer, songwriter, musician and vocal arranger Peter Mann, Lee Harris and Laurie Hood in the harmony vocal group.  Through the Shoppe doors also passed producer Al De Lory (“By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman”), string and horn arranger Mort Garson (“Our Day Will Come”) and the elite of Hollywood’s Wrecking Crew – Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Larry Knechtel, Earl Palmer, Mike Deasy, and Plas Johnson.

Mann, Garber, Harris and Hood intended their group as a sort of Canadian answer to the Mamas and the Papas, and parlayed their success up north into a Capitol Records contract.  Though the Shoppe was ultimately short-lived, its sole long-player has just received its very first legitimate CD reissue from Cherry Red’s Now Sounds imprint.  And it turns out that The Sugar Shoppe, newly remastered and comprehensively expanded, is quite an enjoyable place to spend some time!

Hit the jump to pay The Shoppe a visit!

What’s most striking about The Sugar Shoppe (Now Sounds CRNOW 41) is how well the foursome adapted songs of various origins (folk, country, soul, rock, and showtunes!) into their chosen sunshine-pop genre.  Thanks to an inventive repertoire, as well as an emphasis on melody and lush harmonies, this debut confidently transcends its Mamas and the Papas influences.  Despite the group’s name and song titles like “The Candy Children Song,” The Sugar Shoppe isn’t treacly bubblegum.  Instead, it’s smartly-arranged orchestral California pop from four talented twentysomethings with their eyes on the then-current scene.

The A-side of the group’s first single went to Donovan’s bright “Skip-a-Long Sam,” from the Scottish troubadour’s then-recent A Gift from a Flower to a Garden.  The nursery rhyme-esque ditty was also chosen to open the album, but it only paints part of the picture.  John Phillips’ influence as a vocal arranger comes to the fore on Peter Mann’s “The Attitude,” previously recorded by The Sugar Shoppe on one of its pre-Capitol singles for the Yorkville label.  Embellished with Bill Plummer’s sitar, it’s very much of a nugget of its day (“I can’t see behind the attitude you wear/With your clothes and your modern hair…drop the attitude, baby!”) with further beguiling instrumental flourishes courtesy of arranger Mort Garson.  But Lee Harris and Laurie Hood’s harmonies – one part gentle, one part boisterous – most directly recall Phillips’ “California Dreamin’” quartet.

The group takes joint writing credit for two songs including the breezy, autobiographical “Hangin’ Together.”  Mann’s “Let the Truth Come Out” is far funkier, with some blistering guitar and another tough lyrical admonishment to a less-than-trustworthy partner.  Even darker is Mike Leander’s “Privilege,” from the 1967 film of the same name.  Drawing on the movie’s story of a tortured teen idol, it was quite a departure from “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” the 1967 Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen movie tune which had been previously recorded by the group for Yorkville.

“Millie” had been a pitch-perfect twenties pastiche, but The Sugar Shoppe drew on the real thing for the album with Billy Rose and Harry Woods’ “Poor Papa.”  They pull out all of the stops: arch singing, a Rudy Vallee-esque megaphone and a bit of vo-de-oh-do!  The ironic, modern treatment of a true oldie somewhat recalls Harper’s Bizarre.  Just as whimsical as “Skip-a-Long Sam,” “Poor Papa” (the B-side of second single “Privilege”) again might have confused the group’s identity, but adheres perfectly to its reewheeling, anything-goes spirit.

The album’s strongest tracks are its reinventions of songs from unlikely sources.  The Sugar Shoppe looked to the U.K. for a cover of Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent’s “Take Me Away.”  Less brash than Trent’s 1966 original, it adds stellar harmonies, a persistent tambourine and even a baroque touch to Hatch’s typically-irresistible melody.  Capitol country star Bobbie Gentry’s “Papa, Won’t You Let Me Go to Town” is rendered by the Shoppe with a jazzy flair.  And Helen and Kay Lewis’ obscure Motown cut “Baby Baby,” previously recorded by The Miracles and later by The Supremes, is given a dreamy makeover with moody piano far removed from Detroit.

And then there’s Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s “Follow Me” from the Broadway musical Camelot.  Loewe’s haunting melody lends itself nicely to this ethereal rendition led by Harris and Hood.  Sung in the musical by Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, Lerner’s pastoral imagery could easily pass for the folk poetry of a younger generation: “To the tree where our hopes hang high/To the dream that should never die/Where our long lost tomorrows still are in the sweet bye and bye…Through the clouds, gray with years, over hill, wet with tears/To a world young and free, we shall fly, follow me.”  The Sugar Shoppe’s light psychedelia was in unexpected, perfect harmony with Lerner and Loewe’s theatre classic.

Production value was high on The Sugar Shoppe.  Like other famous pop aggregations (think MFSB, the Stax and Muscle Shoals house bands and the Funk Brothers, just to name a few) the loose, versatile Wrecking Crew brought a hallmark of quality to every song on which they played, including those on The Sugar Shoppe.  Victor Garber’s voice, recognizable to musical theatre fans, stands out among the tight arrangements of numerous tracks, but his assured vocals are matched every step of the way by those of Mann, Harris and Hood.

Now Sounds’ deluxe reissue adds both sides of The Sugar Shoppe’s two mono Capitol singles plus acetates of “Save the Country” and “Easy to Be Hard,” released as a 1969 Epic single.  Garber soars on the rollicking yet socially conscious Laura Nyro A-side which the group performed on The Ed Sullivan Show; he points out in the liner notes that “The 5th Dimension stole that arrangement and had a hit with it!  But ours was first!”  (Indeed, The Sugar Shoppe’s 45 predated The 5th Dimension’s 1970 release.)  The B-side is similarly affecting.  The Sugar Shoppe’s version of “Easy to Be Hard” was recorded one month before Three Dog Night took Galt MacDermot, James Rado and Gerome Ragni’s empathetic Hair ballad to No. 4 on the pop charts, but it holds its own.  The final bonus track is a live recording of non-LP track “Charlie and Fred,” a folksy composition borrowed from The Hollies.

The attractive sixteen-page booklet, written and designed by reissue producer Steve Stanley, offers copious notes and photographs in exemplary period style.  Garber, Mann and Hood all participated in the creation of the reissue, which has been dedicated to the late Harris.  Alan Brownstein has done his customary fine job in remastering from the original stereo master tapes.

Though reports surfaced at the time that a follow-up for Capitol was being planned, no such album arrived.  Following the Epic single, the group continued to perform, with particular success in Canada.  The Sugar Shoppe disbanded in 1970, but shortly thereafter, it was reborn as, simply, The Shoppe.  But that iteration – with Mann, Garber and Sandy Crawley – didn’t last, only yielding recordings for a couple of various-artists anthologies.  By 1973, The Sugar Shoppe’s members had gone their separate ways, with Garber’s acting career taking off, Mann working behind-the-scenes in television, and Hood continuing as a singer and background vocalist.  Lee Harris valiantly struggled offstage with multiple sclerosis, and passed away in the early 1990s.

The soft and yes, sweet, pop of The Sugar Shoppe will surely take you back to that “world young and free” the group sung about all those years ago.  Now Sounds’ reissue shouldn’t be missed.

You can order The Sugar Shoppe at the link below!

The Sugar Shoppe, The Sugar Shoppe (Capitol ST 2959, 1968 – reissued Now Sounds CRNOW 41, 2013)

  1. Skip-a-Long Sam
  2. The Attitude
  3. Baby Baby
  4. Take Me Away
  5. Let the Truth Come Out
  6. Follow Me
  7. Poor Papa
  8. Privilege
  9. Papa, Won’t You Let Me Go to Town with You
  10. The Candy Children Song
  11. Hangin’ Together
  12. Sing-a-Long Sam (Mono) Capitol single 2233, 1968)
  13. Let the Truth Come Out (Mono) (Capitol single 2233, 1968)
  14. Privilege (Mono) (Capitol single 2326, 1968)
  15. Poor Papa (Mono) (Capitol single 2326, 1968)
  16. Save the Country (Acetate)
  17. Easy to Be Hard (Acetate)
  18. Charlie and Fred (Live)

Written by Joe Marchese

April 24, 2013 at 09:21

Posted in News, Reissues, Reviews, The Sugar Shoppe

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