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Archive for October 17th, 2014

Review: Pugwash, “A Rose in a Garden of Weeds” (Or: The Best Band You Never Heard?)

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Pugwash

Pugwash is currently wrapping up its first-ever U.S. tour with two more performances scheduled in Los Angeles: this Sunday, October 19, on a bill alongside Wings’ great guitarist Laurence Juber and Now Sounds’ musical guru and all-around renaissance man Steve Stanley; and next Friday, October 24, with Love Revisited!  If you’re in the area, you just might want to check the lads out!

The first track on the first-ever North American release by Irish band Pugwash implores “Take Me Away,” but where to? A Rose in a Garden of Weeds: A Preamble Through the History of Pugwash, Omnivore Recordings’ new 17-track anthology drawn from five studio releases and one single originally issued between 1999 and 2011, will take you away to a world of jangly guitars, rich harmonies, unabashedly catchy melodies, bright productions, and vibrant colors, all delivered in a voice eerily reminiscent of Electric Light Orchestra hero Jeff Lynne. That voice belongs to Thomas Walsh, who much as Lynne did for ELO, wrote, sang, produced and played multiple instruments for Pugwash. A Rose in a Garden of Weeds, however, transcends pastiche – which, let’s face it, takes a great deal of skill to do well, anyway. It’s best experienced as a continuation of the story begun by The Beatles and continued by bands from ELO to XTC – as well as a number of other groups with more than three letters in their names.  Pugwash fits squarely in this tradition of smart, polished and exuberant guitar-pop practitioners unafraid to utilize the studio and all of the instruments it can house, among them organ, mellotron, sleigh bells, woodblock, harpsichord, strings, horns, vibes, glockenspiel, kazoo, and enough guitars and keyboards to sate even the most gargantuan musical appetite.

If “Take Me Away” is pitch-perfect ELO by way of The Byrds with a SMiLE-era Beach Boys interlude (and adding to the verisimilitude, Nelson Bragg of The Brian Wilson Band and The Now People plays on the track), the sounds in this Garden are, in truth, a rather diverse lot. This is in no small part due to the varied personnel. Sonic auteur Walsh is joined by a rotating cast on these tracks; Keith Farrell is the second most constant presence on a variety of instruments including Moog, Hammond organ and bass. The current band-line up with Tosh Flood (guitar/keyboards), Shaun McGee (bass) and Joe Fitzgerald (drums) is also represented. Andy Partridge and Dave Gregory of XTC drop by for good measure, and Jason Falkner of Jellyfish and TV Eyes adds various instruments to a number of tracks.

Falkner’s VOX Continental organ rides a cascade of acoustic and electric guitars, including Stephen Farrell’s George Harrison-esque inspired slide, on “Keep Movin’ On,” a wonderfully anthemic power-pop ode to perseverance. Another Beatle, John Lennon, is called to mind on the sincere, aching “Finer Things in Life,” on which Geoff Woods’ cello and strings add subtle elegance. Walsh has a knack for rhythmic yet attractive ballads, such as the yearning, vulnerable “Here” and the title track. The Section Quartet adds the baroque string ornamentation worthy of George Martin to both of those songs. (The liner notes tell us that the strings for “Rose” were recorded in Abbey Road 38 years to the day after “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Something was definitely in the air.) “Fall Down,” tinged with pretty melancholy, and the dynamic “Answers on a Postcard” – perhaps the most wonderfully realized production on this collection – pick up right where the Fab Four and ELO left off, and that’s intended as a high compliment, indeed. “Answers” incorporates some fleeting Brian Wilson-esque touches, too, and the master’s sonic approach is echoed, but not strictly recreated, on the effervescent, blissfully childlike “It’s Nice to Be Nice.”

Don’t miss a thing – hit the jump to keep reading! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 17, 2014 at 12:30

Posted in Compilations, News, Pugwash, Reviews

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Got To Be Real: SoulMusic Reissues Cheryl Lynn, Labelle and Johnnie Taylor

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LabelleWith a trio of recent releases from Labelle, Cheryl Lynn and Johnnie Taylor, Cherry Red’s SoulMusic Records imprint turns its attention once again to bona fide R&B royalty.

When Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles transformed into Labelle, the change was more than merely cosmetic.  The quartet was reduced to a threesome when Cindy Birdsong headed to Hitsville USA to replace Florence Ballard in The Supremes.  Moreover, under the direction of British manager, producer and songwriter Vicki Wickham, the girls ditched their traditional repertoire to pursue a gutsy new direction.  Their first album as Labelle, a 1971 self-titled effort for Warner Bros., had songs written by all three members – Patti LaBelle, Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx – as well as Carole King, Laura Nyro and The Rolling Stones.  1972’s Moonshadow saw Hendryx’s songwriting talent blossom alongside compositions from Dash, Pete Townshend (a searing cover of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”) and Cat Stevens (the title track).  Post-Moonshadow, Wickham and Labelle decamped for RCA.  SoulMusic has just reissued Labelle’s first and only RCA album, 1973’s Pressure Cookin’.

Nona Hendryx continued to shine on seven of the album’s nine tracks, and she was particularly concerned with social issues of the day. In A. Scott Galloway’s fine essay which accompanies this reissue, Hendryx relates, “I was inspired by artists…like Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Stephen Stills and Joni Mitchell.  There was so much racism, sexism, drugs…there needed to be a revolution of the mind.”  Hendryx and Labelle provided one with the scorching title song, and even the album’s cover material reflected that raised consciousness.  A medley melded Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air” with Gil Scott-Heron’s spoken-word “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” with all three women taking raps. Hendryx found room for the personal, too.  “(Can I Speak to You Before You Go to) Hollywood” took aim at the people who might later have been deemed poseurs: “There were many people we knew who went from being new to major stars, i.e. divas, and things went to their heads…These were the same people that at one time you’d shared dressing rooms and chicken legs with on the chitlin circuit!”  (Some have suggested Cindy Birdsong was a possible inspiration for the song.)  On “Mr. Music Man,” Hendryx addressed the rapidly-changing musical climate, specifically the marginalization of certain artists from Top 40 radio.  (The more things change…!)  The funky “Goin’ on a Holiday” was co-produced by Wickham and an uncredited Stevie Wonder, and Wonder also wrote “Open Up Your Heart” for Labelle.

After the jump: more on Pressure Cookin’, plus Cheryl Lynn and Johnnie Taylor! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 17, 2014 at 10:44