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Archive for October 6th, 2014

Review: Spanky and Our Gang, “The Complete Mercury Singles”

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Spanky and Our Gang - SinglesBetween 1966 and 1970, Spanky and Our Gang released three studio albums, one greatest-hits collection, one live set and 21 single sides. Though the gang was, in Spanky McFarlane’ s words, “eclectic as hell”– they covered John Denver and The Music Man on their first LP alone – they’re best remembered for three AM radio staples released in 1967 and 1968: “Sunday Will Never Be the Same,” “Lazy Day” and “Like to Get to Know You.” These three tunes are inextricably tied to the period in which they were recorded, yet are timeless evocations today of that era in which anything was musically possible. Despite the quality of the band’s album material, however, it can be fairly said that Spanky’s outfit (named, of course, after Hal Roach’s gang of Little Rascals!) was a “singles band,” making Real Gone Music’s release of The Complete Mercury Singles (RGM-0270) a particularly felicitous one.

This superlative 21-track anthology spans the period between 1966’s “And Your Bird Can Sing” b/w “Sealed with a Kiss” and 1969’s “Echoes (Everybody’s Talkin’)” and traces the evolution of the group. Spanky McFarlane, Paul “Oz” Bach and Nigel Pickering first joined together in Florida and then reunited in Chicago before being discovered by prolific Philadelphia producer Jerry Ross (“The 81,” “1-2-3,” “98.6” – seems he had a thing for numbers!). The trio was joined by Malcolm Hale (of The New Wine Singers) for their first recording session at Mercury Records, the label with which Ross was then affiliated.

The Complete Mercury Singles begins not with the sound of shimmering sunshine pop but with a rather brisk but largely straightforward cover of The Beatles’ “If Your Bird Can Sing” and an update of Gary Geld and Peter Udell’s Brian Hyland oldie “Sealed with a Kiss.” Arranged like “Bird” by prolific Philly-based arranger Joe Renzetti (who would later pen the string chart for Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” and pick up an Oscar for The Buddy Holly Story), “Sealed” was beefed up with a strong drum rhythm while strings kept the track appropriately ethereal. Still, neither side captured the zany, theatrical and eclectic quality that had made the group a standout on Chicago’s stages or effectively utilized the band’s foremost weapon: Spanky’s distinctive, powerful voice, a kind of combination of Grace Slick’s husk and Cass Elliot’s big belt. She was out front on the A-side of the group’s second single, “Sunday Will Never Be the Same” – and Spanky and Our Gang’s career would never be the same, either.

Gene Pistilli and Terry Cashman’s melancholy reflection of a love lost was originally conceived as a ballad and included on the duo’s Bound to Happen LP, but another Philly native, arranger Jimmy “Wiz” Wisner, turned it into a dynamic, ironically upbeat, pure-pop reverie. Ross and Wisner employed the cream of New York’s session players on the record and brought not only Spanky’s voice to the fore, but the Gang’s intricate vocal harmonies (somewhat recalling The Mamas and the Papas, one of the groups originally pitched the song by Cashman and Pistilli.) Released just a few months prior to the Summer of Love, it was an ideal, sunny soundtrack to that blissed-out period.

John Morier’s uptempo, positive “Making Every Minute Count” was the immediate follow-up to “Sunday,” but the real stylistic sequel was on the very next 45: Wisner’s arrangement of “Lazy Day” from writers George Fischoff (the Broadway musical Georgy) and Tony Powers (an early collaborator of Ellie Greenwich’s). Fischoff and Powers had written the Top 10 hit “98.6” for Keith, produced by Ross and arranged by Renzetti, in late 1966. The ebullient “Lazy Day,” with its happy, pastoral imagery, captured the zeitgeist of the era, and did almost as well as “98.6.”

The flip of “Lazy Day,” “(It Ain’t Necessarily) Byrd Avenue” introduced the names of Bob Dorough and Stu Scharf to a Spanky and Our Gang single; soon they would take over for producer Ross upon his departure from Mercury. Dorough brought with him a jazz background, and Scharf one in jazz. Both qualities would inform their work with Spanky and Our Gang. The infectious “Byrd Avenue,” also recorded by the Harmony Grass and the Serendipity Singers, married a breezy melody and bossa nova-inspired arrangement to some rather absurdist wordplay; it’s actually a stronger side than some of the tracks chosen as A-sides!

Hit the jump for more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 6, 2014 at 12:17

Kritzerland Premieres Stereo Restoration of Jerry Goldsmith’s “Rio Conchos”

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Rio ConchosToday, Kritzerland announced its latest film score restoration, and its fourth title by the late, renowned composer Jerry Goldsmith (following Breakheart Pass, Poltergeist II and Alien Nation): it’s the score to 1964’s western Rio Conchos, a CinemaScope adventure directed by Gordon Douglas and starring Richard Boone of Have Gun – Will Travel, Stuart Whitman, Tony Franciosa. Edmund O’Brien and future football legend Jim Brown.

Based on the novel by Clair Huffaker (The Comancheros), Rio Conchos has Richard Boone as Lassiter, a former Confederate major in the wake of the Civil War seeking vengeance against the Apache after his wife and child are killed by “savages.” Despite some decidedly non-politically correct casting, including Tony Franciosa and Vito Scotti as Mexicans, the film is surprisingly forward-thinking in its depictions of discrimination as well as in its study of the effects of one’s obsession with revenge. Jerry Goldsmith supplied an exciting, vibrant and stirring score that compares favorably to the iconic western scores by such composers as Elmer Bernstein and Ennio Morricone. Goldsmith, of course, was no stranger to the western genre; his very first film, 1957’s Black Patch, fell into that category, and he would return to the genre in such future films as Stagecoach (1966), Hour of the Gun (1967), Bandolero! (1968) and Rio Lobo (1970). The composer’s career would be bookended when his final film, 2003’s Looney Tunes: Back in Action, also allowed him to call on his gifts for western scoring with its sequences parodying the genre.

Goldsmith’s score to Rio Conchos was previously available on CD from the late, lamented Film Score Monthly label in 2000. That edition was presented primarily in mono, with just five cues in stereo appended as bonus tracks. For Kritzerland’s reissue, film music guru Mike Matessino returned to the original elements and, thanks to improvements in technology, was able to perform a full stereo restoration with only three cues remaining in mono.

After the jump, we have more including the track listing and pre-order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 6, 2014 at 10:08