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Ain’t That The Shames! Now Sounds Reissues, Expands The Cryan’ Shames’ Psych-Pop LP “A Scratch In The Sky”

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Cryan Shames - A Scratch in the SkyPut “California Girls” in a blender with “Cherish” and you might well wind up with something like “A Carol for Lorelei,” the bright, harmony-drenched pop nugget that opens The Cryan’ Shames’ sophomore album, 1968’s A Scratch in the Sky. Though the Chicago band recorded the LP in New York City, the good vibrations of the Summer of Love were clearly in the air back east for the Columbia Records artists. Whereas the band’s debut album Sugar and Spice was a blast of energetic rock and roll by way of Tony Hatch, George Harrison and Gene Clark, A Scratch in the Sky was an ambitious collection of mainly original songs on which The Cryan’ Shames used the studio as their playground. It’s just been reissued by Now Sounds in a stellar expanded all-mono edition with seven bonus tracks.

Between Sugar and Spice and A Scratch in the Sky, the band suffered a couple of key losses. Rhythm guitarist Gerry Stone was drafted, and replaced by Lenny Kerley. Bassist Dave Purple then departed, replaced by Isaac Guillory. Both Kerley and Guillory were talented multi-instrumentalists, however, and brought new possibilities for the group’s sound when they joined remaining members Jim Fairs (guitars/bass/vocals), Jim Pilster (vocals/tambourine), Tom Doody (lead vocals/autoharp/percussion), and Dennis Conroy (drums/percussion). Sugar producer Jim Golden was joined by Bob Monaco to helm Scratch, but if the producers (owners of the Destination label) were wary of their charges trying something different, it doesn’t show in the finished release featuring nine songs by the team of Fairs and Kerley and just two covers.

The Cryan’ Shames had made an impression with their first LP for strong harmonies and above-average instrumental talents. A Scratch in the Sky would take both of those qualities much further in embracing the nascent, often unpredictable sounds of psych-pop. With no slight to the Shames’ originality, they were able to distill disparate elements with invention and inspiration. Fairs and Kerley’s songs eschewed conventional song structure in large part, marrying intricate melodies, sophisticated arrangements and often impressionistic lyrics.

“The Sailing Ship” is redolent of The Byrds channeling The Beatles’ “Rain,” but goes its own way with Jim Fairs on bagpipes and Jim Pilster on backward cowbell (!). There’s a Brian Wilson beauty and bounce to the sweet, jaunty “It Could Be We’re in Love,” which preceded the album as a single release. Though it’s one of the most straightforward compositions on the album, with euphoric harmony vocals and an infectious melody, it’s still not without its quirks – such as an offbeat interlude punctuated by laughter. Both baroque and jazz styles inform the beguiling “what if” story “In the Café,” while the band runs amok with studio experimentation on the atmospheric, stylistically-shifting “The Town I’d Like to Go Back To.”

Still other productions on the album are leaner. “Mr. Unreliable” was a reworking of the Shames’ third single release, from 1967. With its tempo slowed down and the band more vocally confident, the new version oozed attitude, even if its lingering garage-rock feel and “Day Tripper”-style riff sound a bit out of place on A Scratch in the Sky. “Sunshine Psalm” isn’t what you might think based on the title; it’s actually one of the tougher rockers on the LP, with searing guitar. “Cobblestone Road,” though, has a freewheeling country feel. The hypnotic “I Was Lonely When” was another remake of a 1967 single, also to great effect. A spellbinding ballad worthy of The Association, it just might be the album’s most stunning track.

Whereas Sugar and Spice was dominated by familiar songs, only two covers found a place on A Scratch in the Sky – but they’re both choice. Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s oft-recorded “Up on the Roof” takes on a dreamy, lullaby-esque quality in the Shames’ treatment, with Pilster on French horn. “Dennis Dupree from Danville,” written by Geoff Bryan and Ron Holder of fellow Chicago band Saturday’s Children, is quite a bit more edgy and funky.

After the jump: what bonuses will you find on Now Sounds’ new Scratch in the Sky?  Plus: the full track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 7, 2014 at 12:28

Posted in News, Reissues, Reviews, The Cryan' Shames

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