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Review: Bob Dylan and The Band, “The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes – Complete”

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Dylan and The Band - Basement Tapes CompleteI. They Shall Be Released

1967: Jimi Hendrix asks, “Are You Experienced?” The Beatles plead, “Let me take you down” to “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Brian Wilson spins a yarn of “Heroes and Villains.” The Summer of Love is in full swing, and psychedelia is in the air. Fast forward one year. In July, The Band releases Music from Big Pink. Reportedly, hearing the album convinces Eric Clapton to leave Cream. The ripples of its influence would be felt in the ranks of The Beatles and Pink Floyd. The next month, in August, The Byrds unveil Sweetheart of the Rodeo, arguably the first major country-rock album by an established band. There’s nary a whiff of patchouli. But neither Big Pink and Sweetheart – nor countless albums that followed in their footsteps – would likely have existed, at least as they’re now known, if not for The Basement Tapes.

Big Pink introduced the world to “I Shall Be Released” and “Tears of Rage,” and included “This Wheel’s on Fire.” Rodeo began with “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and ended with “Nothing Was Delivered.” All of those songs were composed and first recorded by Bob Dylan and the group that would become The Band in a fertile period of recording from March 1967 to February 1968 (with some breaks in that period). Yet, The Basement Tapesen toto, the whole enchilada – have remained largely unreleased, until now. Just how these recordings became more influential than most platinum-selling hit records is one of music’s enduring mysteries. Would a full commercial release of this “cosmic American music” (to steal from Gram Parsons) diminish its mystique? The answer, happily, is no. The new Columbia/Legacy release of The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes: Complete, over six CDs, should quickly become the cornerstone of many a musical library and the key to a deeper understanding of not only its artists – who pushed the envelope by looking back as well as forward – but of an entire period of popular music and culture.

Dive into The Basement Tapes cache after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 4, 2014 at 13:40

Posted in Bob Dylan, Box Sets, News, Reviews, The Band

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Here’s Your “Vehicle,” Baby! Real Gone Expands Ides of March Debut

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IdesNever judge a book by its cover…or an album, for that matter.

In his illuminating new memoir Through the Eye of the Tiger, Jim Peterik writes of the moment he first bore witness to the cover artwork of his debut album with his band The Ides of March, 1970’s Vehicle: “When we saw it there was an audible gasp and then an ‘Oh shit! This stinks!’ We wondered out loud what some perverted ‘genius’ was thinking when on the cover of our life’s work he put an image of a naked baby doll abandoned carelessly in a field with an ominous black sedan lurking in the background…We were apoplectic.” Indeed, the offbeat cover– which Peterik recalls kept the album off the shelves at the retail chain Korvette’s due to its “tasteless” imagery – hardly calls to mind a hot, young Chicago band with a set of brassy, muscular pop-rock originals inspired by Blood, Sweat and Tears. Real Gone Music has restored to print the band’s first Warner Bros. album on a new, expanded reissue with four bonus tracks.

Jim Peterik (lead vocals/lead guitar), Larry Millas (keyboards/guitar/bass/vocals), Mike Borch (drums/percussion/vocals) and Bob Bergland (bass/saxophone/vocals) had, since 1965, been steadily working on their craft, first as The Shondels and then as The Ides of March. Recording for the Parrot label and playing venues from sock hops to clubs, the band developed its own sound from roots in Hollies and Kinks-inspired white R&B. Peterik was finding his own voice as a songwriter, too, honed from years of performing covers of songs by James Brown, The Beatles, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Traffic and the Buffalo Springfield. Joined by Ray Herr (guitar/bass/vocals), John Larson (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Chuck Soumar (trumpet/vocals), the band entered Chicago’s Columbia Studios to record an album of both originals and time-tested covers that had worked well onstage and fit into the “heavier” sound the band was cultivating.

The title track of Vehicle, of course, was destined to be the band’s calling card. With its indelible blast of brass offering up a killer riff, it was also the first major hit song for Peterik (No. 2 in the U.S.) who would go on to pen further anthems like “Eye of the Tiger” (No. 1, 1982) and “The Search is Over” (No. 4, 1985) for his later band Survivor. With crack support from Millas’ organ, Borch’s drums, and the three horns, Peterik channeled BS&T’s David Clayton-Thomas on the title track, tearing into its over-the-top, sexually-charged lyrics. He candidly admits in Richie Unterberger’s excellent liner notes that the Canadian soul man was his vocal “idol,” and appropriately enough, it was an American Idol that helped push “Vehicle” back into the spotlight in 2005. Though “Vehicle” had been covered previously by everybody from Shirley Bassey to Chet Baker, Bo Bice’s performance of the song catapulted it back into the popular culture and onto classic rock radio, where it remains today. “Vehicle” was one of four songs recorded by the Ides of March on the demo that was sent to Warner Bros.; the searing, similarly brass-infused “The Sky is Falling” from the same tape also made the cut for the album. (A third of the demo tracks, “Lead Me Home Gently” was released as a single and is also included here by Real Gone.)

But Vehicle, the album, isn’t a one-trick vehicle. The wealth of experience Peterik and the Ides had gained playing everybody else’s hits allowed them to create a group of diverse songs drawing on varied influences. While “Bald Medusa” traded in the same double entendre and horn-fuelled sound as “Vehicle,” “Factory Band” was an homage to Creedence Clearwater Revival. The Ides captured that band’s signature chooglin’ rhythm and Peterik traded his David Clayton-Thomas belt for a John Fogerty yelp without resorting to imitation.  The beautifully-arranged ballad “Home” has an early Neil Diamond feel crossed with The Righteous Brothers’ Goffin/King hit “I Can’t Make It Alone,” with sympathetic strings giving added lift to the yearning track. (The Ides of March once opened for Neil Diamond. In his book, Peterik recalls the solitary man advising him succinctly if sharply: “Next time, boys, only play your best material.” The Ides took the message to heart.) “One Woman Man” was released prior to Vehicle, the album, and was the Ides of March’s first single. It remains a mystery why the band didn’t catch fire with such a strong selection. Melding the rich harmonies of The Association with the Ides’ developing horn sound (and another memorable trumpet riff), it’s one of the strongest tracks on Vehicle.

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Written by Joe Marchese

October 29, 2014 at 10:24

Posted in News, Reissues, Reviews, The Ides of March

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Review: Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, “The Complete Epic Recordings Collection”

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Stevie Ray Vaughan - Complete

It may seem unbelievable, but it’s been nearly 25 years since Stevie Ray Vaughan perished at the age of 35, victim of a helicopter crash. Yet it’s a testament to the guitar slinger’s blazing talent that his musicianship even today remains a high watermark for those playing his instrument. A six-time Grammy winner and inductee into the Blues Hall of Fame and Musicians Hall of Fame, the Texas native created music that is as vibrant and stirring today as when it was first committed to tape. The Legacy Recordings/Epic Records release of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble’s The Complete Epic Recordings Collection (8884 309142 2) makes the guitarist’s core catalogue available in one package for the first time. The 12-CD set contains nine albums on 10 CDs (including the 2-disc Live at Montreux) all recorded between 1980 and 1989, the year before his untimely death. These albums are sequenced, for the most part, in order of performance, not of release. Two Archives CDs of odds and ends (outtakes, alternates, jams and more) culled from various compilations and reissues round out the set.

As Vaughan and Double Trouble only left behind four studio albums (Texas Flood, Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Soul to Soul and In Step), much of this compendium is dedicated to live material. But seeing as how Vaughan’s talent shone most brightly in a live setting, this is far from a handicap. When David Bowie saw Vaughan at Montreux in 1982, he promptly enlisted him to play on his smash “Let’s Dance.” The first track on the first disc in this box – Freddie King and Sonny Thompson’s “In the Open” from 1992’s posthumous In the Beginning, recorded for radio in 1980 with a line-up including Jackie Newhouse on bass and Chris Layton on drums – has an apropos title. Once Stevie (he hadn’t yet acquired the Ray) Vaughan played his axe in the open, there was no going back. Even in this embryonic set from his home state of Texas, Vaughan had all of the ingredients that would lead to his eventual success: inventive and deeply felt phrasing, technical skill, a distinctive tone, and the ability to bring joie de vivre to the blues. Throughout his career, Vaughan also used effects pedals conservatively, giving him a pure, raw sound.

At the Texas show preserved on In the Beginning, original songs sat comfortably alongside those by the masters like King, Willie Dixon, Otis Rush and Howlin’ Wolf, with Vaughan’s style recognizably in blues tradition but with enough edge and immediacy to captivate a modern audience. With a seemingly endless supply of lacerating licks, Vaughan showed off his innate swing on the boogie-woogie strut of “They Call Me Guitar Hurricane” and conjured up high-octane Chuck Berry riffs of “Love Struck Baby.” He could also bring things down and still rivet as on “Tin Pan Alley (a.k.a. Roughest Place in Town).” Besides his instrumental skills, Vaughan could also belt the blues convincingly. Having the “whole package,” it’s no wonder that legendary A&R man and producer John Hammond, Sr. (veteran of artists from Benny Goodman to Bruce Springsteen!) championed the young artist at Epic.

There’s more after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 28, 2014 at 09:59

A Little Love In Her Heart: “She Did It” Spotlights Songs of Jackie DeShannon

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Jackie DeShannon - She Did ItThat Jackie DeShannon is one of the most gifted singer-songwriters in popular music should come as no surprise to anybody reading this. Equally skilled at interpreting her own songs as well as those of others, the multi-talented Miss DeShannon was the concerned yet optimistic voice of “What the World Needs Now is Love,” the flower-power spokeswoman who implored you to “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” one of the first Ladies of the Canyon, and one-half of the songwriting team behind the eternally sensual “Bette Davis Eyes.” And that’s just naming a few of her accomplishments. Ace Records has celebrated DeShannon’s career on a series of her complete Liberty and Imperial singles as well as on a series of volumes recognizing her songwriting, the second of which has recently arrived. Take one glance at the list of artists populating She Did It! The Songs of Jackie DeShannon Volume 2 to get an idea of the breadth of her songwriting’s reach: The Carpenters, Marianne Faithfull, The Righteous Brothers, Olivia Newton-John, The Ronettes, Tammy Grimes, Kim Carnes (of course). The first volume, Break-A-Way: The Songs of Jackie DeShannon 1961-1967, had 27 of the more than 300 songs in her catalogue. In true Ace fashion, this set adds another 26, from the familiar (Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes”) to the obscure (Broadway star Grimes’ previously unissued “The Greener Side,” and the very first DeShannon cover, Brenda Lee’s bouncy, twangy “My Baby Likes Western Guys”). As DeShannon wrote as both a solo composer-lyricist and with other tunesmiths, there’s plenty of variety here, too.

Though most of Jackie’s songs from her halcyon days emanated from Metric Music, California’s answer to the Brill Building, they often ended up in surprising places. She Did It kicks off with southern soul singer supreme Doris Duke tackling the rootsy “Bad Water,” co-written by the “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” team of Jackie, her brother Randy Myers and singer Jimmy Holiday, as produced by Swamp Dogg in Alabama and arranged by Philadelphia’s Richard Rome. She Did It also spotlights the team’s aforementioned now-standard “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” as sung with equal parts passion and funk by ex-Edwin Hawkins Singers vocalist Dorothy Morrison and Holiday’s own, soulful rendition of 1969’s “Yesterday Died.” A true rarity comes from Myers’ band dubbed Raga and the Talas by Liberty Records imprint World Pacific. Jackie supplied her brother with “My Group and Me” in 1966, arranged in a then-cutting-edge Eastern-influenced style.

One of the most versatile of songwriters, She Did It features songs in pop, R&B, country and folk modes. In the latter, there are particularly wonderful discoveries in Bay Area duo Joe and Eddie’s “Depend on Yourself,” arranged by Leon Russell, Marianne Faithfull’s haunting 1966 rendition of Jackie’s “With You in Mind,” and an early recording by Delaney Bramlett of Delaney and Bonnie: the propulsive folk-rocker “You Have No Choice,” superbly produced as well as written by Jackie! As fans of her “Splendor in the Grass” with The Byrds know, DeShannon was a top proponent of the folk-rock sound. She Did It features another rarity in this vein, the very first 45 by beloved voice Olivia Newton-John: a version of Jackie’s “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine,” dating from 1966 – long before Grease and even before Toomorrow!

Jackie’s 1975 Columbia album New Arrangement, produced by Michael Stewart, proved a fertile source for a number of cover versions, three of which are included here. Rita Coolidge quickly latched onto the beautifully wistful “I Wanted It All,” co-written by Jackie and John Bettis. And then there’s “Bette Davis Eyes.” DeShannon admits in her sensational track-by-track recollections that producer Stewart envisioned the song as a shuffle, leaving it to producer Val Garay six years later to bring out the sex and the sass in the DeShannon/Donna Weiss tune. Kim Carnes’ raspy vocal was a perfect fit, and the song won Song of the Year and Record of the Year in addition to remaining atop the charts for nine weeks. It wasn’t a bad ending at all for a song which didn’t live up to its potential in its first recording. DeShannon had enlisted Brian Wilson for the background vocals on New Arrangement’s dreamy “Boat to Sail,” a song on which he’s actually name-checked in the lyrics. When The Carpenters revisited the escapist ode one year later in the version included here, the brother and sister duo brought their inimitable style to it. Karen’s invitingly warm and pure vocal evokes relaxed nostalgia, supported by Richard’s beautifully understated, tranquil orchestration.

Six songs here hail from the fruitful, early partnership of DeShannon and Sharon Sheeley including “It’s Just Terrible” (trust me, it isn’t) by Everly Brothers sound-alikes The Kalin Twins, the martial yet sensual ballad “Don’t Put Your Heart in His Hand” from young Kiki Dee, and the raucous “He Did It” from the pre-Phil Spector Ronettes. DeShannon and Sheeley’s “The Other Side of Town” is sung by P.J. Proby in full-on Elvis mode. If you ever wondered what The King might have sounded like crashing an uptown soul session by the likes of Chuck Jackson or Tommy Hunt, wonder no more. Here’s Proby as Elvis in a background of slashing, swirling strings and horns, doing full justice to the big ballad. Darlene Love has the lead on Spector’s production of “I Shook the World” for Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, but the fine liner notes reveal that the vocals were merely overdubbed on Jackie’s original demo as arranged by Spector’s usual right-hand, Jack Nitzsche.

There’s much more after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 22, 2014 at 10:25

Special Review: Neil Diamond, “Melody Road”

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Melody RoadFor Neil Diamond, good times never felt so good.

The venerable singer-songwriter, a robust 73, continues his late-career winning streak with Melody Road, his 32nd studio album. It’s a record of firsts – his first LP under a new agreement with Capitol Records following 40+ years with Columbia Records, and his first of original material since 2008’s Home Before Dark. On this 12-track set, Diamond is in a contemplative mood, offering songs of age and experience in his still-resonant voice. But this brooding “solitary man” is now writing and singing from a place of contentment, embracing the sunshine and sentimentality of a life clearly enriched and inspired by his 2012 marriage.

Sonically, Melody Road melds the rootsy acoustic approach of the Rick Rubin-helmed 12 Songs and Home Before Dark with the widescreen orchestrations that were a major part of the Diamond sound in previous years. Significantly, though, Diamond’s guitar is still out front as on those two albums, and the “back to basics” style still prevails under the auspices of producers Don Was (The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan) and Jacknife Lee (R.E.M., Snow Patrol, Taylor Swift). He’s joined by a cast of musicians including Joey Waronker on drums, Richard Bennett and Smokey Hormel on guitars, and Benmont Tench and Greg Phillinganes on keyboards, plus The Waters on backing vocals and longtime associate Alan Lindgren for string arrangements. With these talents bringing his new works alive, Diamond’s craft as a songwriter remains undiminished, and Melody Road radiates the light in which he seems to be basking. As a result, it’s a less stark collection than either 12 Songs or Home Before Dark. But despite lacking the grit of those two albums, Melody Road still feels like the conclusion of a trilogy, or the light at the end of the tunnel.

The warm, inviting title track (“Melody from the heart/Melody from the start/Telling me things will be okay/I think that I just might stay/On Melody Road…”) bookends the album. With its “Song Sung Blue” lilt, it’s a balm that sets the tone for this sunny and frequently autobiographical album. Despite song titles like “Something Blue” and “Nothing But a Heartache,” Diamond is upbeat on this trip down Melody Road. The former is, simply, classic Neil Diamond. One of many songs here inspired by and directed to his new wife, it’s an expression of what the artist calls “the accident of love.” It’s set to a gentle bounce strummed on guitars and banjo with bass and brushed percussion, subtle horns, and a rollicking piano solo. One can easily see this perky pop gem taking a clap-along place at a future Diamond show.   (He’s embarking on a major tour in 2015.) As for the impassioned, intense “Heartache,” its full-throated delivery is reminiscent of “Beautiful Noise” crossed with “I Am…I Said.”   In it, a genuine-sounding Diamond paints love as one’s personal savior, or a light from the darkness. Sharp electric guitar adds to the textures on this track, the album’s dramatic centerpiece.

New wife Katie McNeil is also the likely recipient of the gently romantic “(Ooo) Do I Wanna Be Yours” and the straightforward, amiable “Marry Me Now,” on which low, oom-pah brass turns into an exultant, almost-Dixieland revel. As ever, Diamond is wholly believable even when espousing a simple sentiment like “Marriage is not an easy thing/But look at all the joy it brings…” The aura of sweetness continues on the appealing “Sunny Disposition.” “She had a sunny disposition/He had a cloud that never went away,” sings the famous loner in this heartfelt, third-person story song.

Other tracks on Melody Road look to Diamond’s past rather than present. The singer sounds like a man reborn on the upbeat, guitar-driven splendor of “First Time,” a note of encouragement to those just starting out. “Alone at the Ball” is a more pointed “word to the wise” from someone who’s been there. Diamond is likewise in reflective mode on the sad, ironically uptempo “In Better Days.” He’s touching as he revisits a past relationship in loving if conflicted terms: “Why do we promise forever and never stay that long? Why do we swear to care until we die? And what does it mean when two lovers sing a loving song/Then move along and not know why?” When listening to this confessional track, it’s hard not to think of the singer’s 26-year marriage to his wife Marcia, which ended amicably in divorce in 1995.

Hit the jump to keep travelling down Melody Road! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 21, 2014 at 14:30

Posted in Neil Diamond, News, Reviews

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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.”

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Written by Joe Marchese

October 17, 2014 at 12:30

Posted in Compilations, News, Pugwash, Reviews

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Now Sounds Celebrates 50th Release With Paul Parrish’s Trippy “Forest”

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Paul Parrish - ForestOn a map of the psychedelic landscape, down a ways from the windmills of your mind and not too far from Strawberry Fields, somewhere between Itchycoo and MacArthur Parks, you might find the forest of Paul Parrish’s mind. The Michigan native could be best remembered for a couple of singer-songwriter albums on the Reprise and ABC labels in the 1970s, or as one-half of Parrish and Toppano in the 1980s…or perhaps as the lead vocalist of The Brady Bunch theme during the sitcom’s first season! But before all that, Parrish signed with MGM’s short-lived Music Factory label for a 1968 one-off: The Forest of My Mind. Over its twelve tracks, the troubadour delivered psychedelia ripe for the flower-power generation, with images of nature, seasons, animals and the elements recurring on almost every track and in many of the song titles, too. This soft throwback to a time when everything was beautiful – and a little mysterious, too – has just arrived in a beautifully crafted reissue from Now Sounds, rescued from the dustbins of vinyl obscurity and given a new, sparkling lease on life.

The Forest of My Mind, recorded at Tera Shirma Studios, may be one of the least Detroit-esque albums to come out of the Motor City as it by and large steered clear of R&B. So it might come as a surprise to some to find that veterans of Motown house band The Funk Brothers, including drummer Uriel Jones and bassist Bob Babbitt, played the exquisite arrangements here. Those charts came courtesy of the team of guitarist Dennis Coffey (a Funk Brother himself) and Mike Theodore, the same duo responsible for arranging and producing Sixto Rodriguez’s 1970 Cold Fact. Rodriguez melded folk with psychedelia and funk, and so did Paul Parrish, though with a quite different lyrical sensibility. The luscious production on Forest was handled by Clay McMurray, producer of Spyder Turner’s offbeat rendition of “Stand by Me.” Hired by Motown to be part of its quality control department, McMurray worked his way up to producer, and in 1971, he co-wrote and helmed Gladys Knight and the Pips’ R&B No. 1 “If I Were Your Woman.” Soon, further work came from The Temptations, The Spinners, and The Supremes, all heavy hitters in the Motown stable. Yet with Parrish, McMurray tapped into a Donovan-esque delicacy, dappled with sunshine.

On the twelve melodic nuggets on The Forest of My Mind, the timbre of Parrish’s voice most closely recalls Micky Dolenz’s, though there are slight echoes of Paul Simon and others throughout. The recurring pastoral imagery gives the whole project the feel of a song cycle. Taut guitar lines intertwine with atmospheric, plucked strings and spacey flute (think Charles Lloyd on “Feel Flows” and you get the idea) on “English Sparrows,” the album’s evocative opening track. The catchy title track is even funkier. Years before Billy Joel had a “heart attack-ack-ack-ack,” Parrish was inviting listeners to the “forest of his mi-i-i-i-ind” with far-out blasts of electric guitar. The song’s baroque outro illustrates just how many influences Parrish was incorporating into his music; that classical-inspired style comes to the fore on the storybook fantasy of “The Painter (Who Lives in the Cellar).” Singing of one who “lives within a shifting world of colors,” Parrish could well be describing himself. The lysergic, Donovan-esque “Dialogue of Wind and Lover” and “The White Birds (Return to Warm Seas)” both betray an Eastern influence in the arrangements; the latter has a particularly spellbinding harpsichord part.

You’re not out of the forest yet!  Hit the jump for more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 9, 2014 at 14:03

Posted in News, Paul Parrish, Reissues, Reviews

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Baby Let’s Swing: Edsel Continues Todd Rundgren Deluxe Series

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Rundgren - Runt DeluxeOnce he wraps up the current leg of Ringo Starr’s sold-out All-Starr Band tour, Todd Rundgren will embark on a series of solo dates billed as “An Unpredictable Evening.” But in fairness, isn’t every solo concert with Rundgren an unpredictable evening? A typical (?) night with Todd could draw upon impeccable AM pop, heavy metal, prog rock, electronica, Gilbert and Sullivan and even bossa nova – and still not present every side of the musical iconoclast. As Rundgren has amassed a back catalogue now totaling 24 studio albums and numerous live releases and anthologies, it’s no surprise that there’s considerable interest in the varied music he’s crafted over the years.

In 2011, Demon Music Group’s Edsel label began reissuing Rundgren’s Bearsville catalogue, both solo and with Utopia, and continued onto his Warner Bros. years. Those titles were largely delivered in multi-album sets combining two or three LPs in one package. This year, Edsel has been revisiting the early Rundgren catalogue as standalone CDs in its deluxe casebound book format (previously utilized for reissues by Everything But the Girl, Bananarama, Belinda Carlisle and others), with discs enclosed within a lavish hardbound book. The second batch in this series includes 1975’s Initiation, 1978’s Hermit of Mink Hollow, and a special 2-CD version of Rundgren’s 1970 solo debut Runt as paired with the first-ever standalone CD presentation of the complete sequence of The Alternate Runt. Taken together, they dramatically illustrate the arc of a career as songwriter, producer and artist.

Following his defection from the Philadelphia rock group Nazz, Rundgren spread his wings as a solo artist in May 1970 at the age of 23. While in a pop/blue-eyed soul vein, Runt introduced Rundgren the eclectically-inclined artist on its 10 tracks. He was joined by musicians including Tony and Hunt Sales, and on one track, future Utopia member Moogy Klingman. Buoyed by the impossibly catchy – and often-misunderstood – hit single “We Gotta Get You a Woman,” Runt featured Rundgren as piano-playing singer-songwriter (the yearning ballad “Believe in Me,” garage rocker (the driving “Who’s That Man”) and studio auteur (the haunting, wordless exercise in stacked harmony vocals, appropriately titled “There are No Words”). Runt found room for the brassy, nine-minute rock opus “Birthday Carol,” and welcomed Levon Helm and Rick Danko of The Band for “Once Burned,” another pretty ballad distinguished by Rundgren’s mannered vocal, on which he sounds a bit like Alan Wilson of Canned Heat!

After the jump: more on Runt, plus Initiation and Hermit of Mink Hollow! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 8, 2014 at 10:27

Posted in News, Reissues, Reviews, Todd Rundgren

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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!

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Written by Joe Marchese

October 6, 2014 at 12:17

In Memoriam: Paul Revere (1938-2014)

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The official website of Paul Revere and the Raiders has just confirmed the passing of group leader Paul Revere at the age of 76.  Today, we remember Revere for the timeless music he created with Mark Lindsay,  Phil “Fang” Volk, Mike “Smitty” Smith, Drake “The Kid” Levin, Freddy Weller, Joe Correro, Jr. and Keith Allison – songs like “Kicks,” “Hungry,” “Just Like Me,” “Good Thing” and so many others, all of which reminded listeners besotted with the British Invasion that Americans still knew a thing or two about rock and roll!  Long after the group had called it a day in the recording studio, Revere kept the band’s name, music and spirit alive through continuous touring right up to the present day including annual visits to Walt Disney World’s Epcot.  Though the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has inexplicably overlooked the rich and varied legacy of The Raiders, the band’s music endures as some of the most exciting of its era – or any other.

We’re republishing our March 18, 2011 review of The Essential Paul Revere and the Raiders and Country Wine…Plus in memory of a great musician and beloved artist, Paul Revere.  Rest in peace.

If kicks just keep getting harder to find, fear not! The deep catalogue of Paul Revere and the Raiders has just gotten much easier to find, thanks to two new releases. Legacy’s The Essential Paul Revere and the Raiders has just hit stores, while Raven Australia has brought to CD the band’s final released album for Columbia Records, Country WineThe Essential spans 1963 and 1972 and covers “where the action is” (though ironically not the song “Action!”).  Country Wine reflects the sound of a band adapting with the disappearing AM radio format that afforded them so many hit records.

The Essential Paul Revere and the Raiders (Columbia/Legacy 88697 81565-2) represents the best domestic release on the group currently available. While single-disc compilations are available as imports, this does Raven’s Kicks: The Anthology and Rev-Ola’s Hungry for Kicks: Singles and Choice Cuts 1965-1969 one better. Over its thirty-six tracks compiled by producer and mastering engineer Bob Irwin of Sundazed, The Essential takes listeners from the Raiders’ garage roots in 1963 to the polished pop sheen of their latter-day singles including the 1971 chart-topper “Indian Reservation,” surprisingly the group’s first No. 1 single.

Dominic Priore’s fine new liner notes recount the story of the Raiders, anchored by Paul Revere (organ/piano) and Mark Lindsay (vocals/saxophone). And yes, that really was Paul Revere’s real name; he was born Paul Revere Dick and simply dropped his surname. One of the most successful bands to come out of the fertile Pacific Northwest music scene, the Raiders first came to national recognition in 1963 on the strength of their rendition of Richard Berry’s “Louie, Louie,” the first track on the new compilation. Unfortunately, The Kingsmen got to it around the same time (it’s lost to time as to which version was released first), and reached No. 2 on the charts.  The Raiders’ version stalled at No. 103. Revere’s recording is somewhat less primal than the Kingsmen’s, but established the group’s garage punk sound, rooted in hard-driving rhythm and blues. The band’s tastes were eclectic, though; Allen Toussaint’s “Over You” and “Ride Your Pony” deftly display a funky side. 1965’s “Steppin’ Out,” co-written by Revere and Lindsay and produced by Terry Melcher, really set the wheels in motion for the group’s biggest successes, and coincided with the band being selected by Dick Clark to appear on his ABC after-school program, Where the Action Is!

Revere and the Raiders defied the British invasion, going so far as to make Revolutionary War costumes (inspired by Revere’s name, natch) their de facto attire. And while their music had similarities to British acts like The Kinks and The Animals, those bands were influenced by the same tough American R&B as Revere’s group. After “Steppin’ Out” and its No. 65 chart placement, the hits just kept on coming, and so Disc 1 of The Essential is all-killer, no-filler. “Just Like Me” topped its predecessor at No. 11, with a prominent organ part keeping the band true to its garage sound. Much as he helped foment the folk-rock sound with The Byrds, Terry Melcher surely deserves much of the credit for shaping the sonic signature of Paul Revere and the Raiders, although he never boxed them into one style. Continue reading after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 5, 2014 at 01:11