Wednesday

THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME (REISSUES AND ANTHOLOGIES) By Michael McDowell


YOUNG WINGS CAN FLY: In one of the most ambitious reissue projects seen in some time, the enigmatic WJBK label has released the first eight installments of what promises to be an ongoing CD series, WJBK Hits, chronicling the most rare and overlooked singles from the weekly surveys of the legendary suburban Detroit radio station's prime run between 1956 and 1964. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell has the story below (Click on above image to enlarge).

 CD REISSUES / ANTHOLOGIES
(REVIEWS ARE POSTED IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER BY ARTIST)

THE  COMPLETE AUTHORIZED RECORDINGS -
The Majic Ship
(Gear Fab)

Upon emerging from a brief sabbatical slightly more than twenty years ago, Roger Maglio's Littleton, Colorado-based Gear Fab label literally hit the ground running. Since that time, it has more than sustained its momentum as one of the premier reissue labels in all of music.

Appropriately and somewhat inevitably, Gear Fab has come full circle with this expanded edition of one of its earliest and most acclaimed collections. First issued in late 1997, The Complete Authorized Recordings brought together for the first time the richly diverse works of this ambitious Long Island quintet. The original project was presented in a manner not unlike Tommy Roe's late 1969 Twelve In A Roe anthology album for ABC Paramount, in which excerpts from interviews with Roe introduce each track in the album itself. Maglio followed suit with this Majic Ship project, providing valuable first hand observations into the legacy of this somewhat enigmatic band.

For the twentieth anniversary reissue, Gear Fab dropped the jewel case format used for the 1997 edition and added a bonus track, an expanded essay and newly discovered band photos. But as before, the music nonetheless takes center stage here. Featured of course is their 1969 signature cover of Sam and Dave's You Got Me Hummin' (originally issued as a single on the Crazy Horse label), as well as their entire 1970 album for Bel-Ami Records and their unique takes on Sir Mack Rice's Mustang Sally, the Tokens' Green Plant, Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth and Bert Sommer's And When It's Over.

With another installment in their ongoing Psychedelic States series (with the next one spotlighting West Virginia) and a CD reissue of the hopelessly rare 1971 album by the Pearl River, New York-based quintet Daybreak scheduled for July 2017 release, Gear Fab's momentum is happily continuing unabated. In the meantime, this upgraded Majic Ship collection is, in the words of one of the band's signature tracks, an On The Edge essential. 


INVITATION -
Jeremy Morris (JAM)

Over the course of the past four decades, the Portage, Michigan-based vocalist, composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, session musician, record label president, Foursquare denomination pastor and family man Jeremy Morris has arguably earned status as the current holder of the title of the Hardest Working Man In Show Business. 


With more than several dozen albums to his credit (which feature primarily original material that alternates regularly between garage rock, psych, progressive rock and Gospel), it would seem unlikely that a great deal of archival material remains on hand. Nonetheless, the twenty-three selections that comprise Invitation are just that: tracks which heretofore have not seen release.

Recorded in his home studio at the onset of his career (between 1975 and 1979), the originals herein are somewhat of a dichotomy with regards to the observer perspective. Musically speaking, Morris was in much the same vein then as he is now; not only in terms of genre, but also in terms of pushing the envelope technically in ways that were not yet as commonplace as they are today. Indeed, given the circumstances, the results are extraordinarily well documented. 

Yet however unintentionally, in terms of his artistic vision, such periphery as geography may well have played at least a minor role in its development. For while much of the musical world by the mid to late 1970s was embracing the so-called punk/new wave movement in its endeavors to rid the world of music of the bloated excess that characterized much of the mainstream fare of the first few years of the 1970s, it was not uncommon to find pockets of Michigan being slow to embrace the changes, with the tedium of FM / stadium rock still holding sway, despite having shown distinct signs of wearing out its welcome elsewhere.

This is not to say that Morris followed in lockstep with that lack of development. Indeed, while drawing from the available examples through those limited resources, he nonetheless strove to put a stamp of originality on his own endeavors that suggested solidarity with those external signs of optimism, if not yet an outright embrace of them. Tracks such as the Gentle Giant/Kursaal Flyers hybrid The Promise, the breakneck speed quasi-bluegrass instrumental Walking On Marbles, the lavishly acoustic Gospel track Sonlight and the somewhat out of character David Seville and the Chipmunks-like romp, A Little Mouse (which Morris in the sleeve notes attributes to the inspiration of Pink Floyd's Bike) state the case reasonably, if not decisively.

And of course Morris' hugely successful JAM Records is today a well established hallmark of the fruits of the forward thinking of those humble beginnings. Not just through his own releases, but via those whom have been a part of JAM's roster, as well as the various like minded independently recorded artists whose releases JAM makes available to a consistently growing audience around the world.

And while Morris' primary Invitation - both then and now - is to come to a relationship with Jesus Christ through the Gospel that he so frequently shares in song, in terms of pure musical entertainment, he as always follows suit in a way that (in the words of two of this collection's stand out tracks) bring a bit of Daylight to our Choices.

MARSHMALLOW SKIES--
Various Artists (Teensville)


The sugar-based confection known as marshmallow has long been a double-edged sword in terms of its impact as an edible substance. While its water and gelatin content may enhance to a degree its visual (if not digestive) appeal, it nonetheless contains ingredients that many individuals have found to be detrimental to their health.



Given its potentially deceptive nature, marshmallow also served as a variable metaphor in a variety of settings. In terms of music, marshmallow enters the collective consciousness each Christmas season with the frequent revisits of the 1949 Carl Sigman and Peter DeRose composition, Marshmallow World, which was recorded that year by Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby. Ultimately, it has been subsequent interpretations by Darlene Love (1963) and Dean Martin (1966) which have long endeared themselves to devotees of the Christmas music canon. In the process, the fantasy side of that double-edged sword is emphasized and celebrated, thereby bringing the concept full circle.


In 1967, pioneering musical visionary Eric Hilliard "Rick" Nelson took the experiment a step further in his Another Side Of Rick album for Decca. Therein, Nelson expanded upon the groundbreaking country rock that defined his two previous releases in that genre (1966's Bright Lights And Country Music and 1967's Country Fever); combining the back to basics yet all encompassing, Bill Anderson / Bob Wills-inspired material which defined those LPs with the burgeoning psychedelic influence championed by many a first generation garage rock band. In the process, Nelson laid the foundation for subsequent endeavors in that respect by the International Submarine Band, the Byrds and Michael Nesmith and the First National Band. 

Within Another Side Of Rick, tracks such as Don't Blame It On Your Wife and I Wonder If Louise Is Home best serve the purpose of maintaining solidarity with those two earlier releases. But it is with such material as Dream Weaver, Promenade In Green and Marshmallow Skies from that album that Nelson broke the necessary ground.

A half century later, it was inevitably Marshmallow Skies that provided the inspiration for the concept at hand. This latest collection from Ash Wells' New South Wales-based Teensville label features twenty-eight tracks by established artists whom, true to their respective mission statements, consistently thought outside of the box and sought to take their music to the next level. 

Not surprisingly, the results are richly diverse without exception, while in keeping within the strengths of each individual artist. To wit, given his increasingly ambitious releases for Warner Brothers throughout 1966 and 1967 (including Run For The Sun, In My Wildest Dreams and Maverick's Flat), covering the Doors' 20th Century Fox was a logical step for legendary rock and roll pioneer Frederick Anthony "Freddy Cannon" Picariello. Not surprisingly, Cannon's trademark hard edged vocal delivery served him well in enhancing the more subtle aspects of the song's multi-layered template. To his considerable credit, taking note of the relatively less successful attempts by other artists to follow suit in the coming months, Cannon in 1968 provided a much needed reality check by returning to form with hard-hitting interpretations of Bill Haley and the Comets' Rock Around The Clock and Frankie Ford's Sea Cruise for the aptly named We Make Rock 'N Roll Records label.

In turn, the Everly Brothers combined the best of Rick Nelson and Freddy Cannon's approach, with their 1967 Gerry Goffin and Carole King-penned You're Just What I Was Looking For Today placing greater emphasis on the psychedelic aspects, while not straying too far from the mid-tempo and relatively harder edged feel of such then recent outings as Bowling Green and She Never Smiles Anymore. Rockabilly giant Eugene "Gene Vincent" Craddock took a similar approach with his transitional Born To Be A Rolling Stone for Challenge, as did his one time Capitol label mate and fellow rocker Tommy Sands with his seriously ambitious and inspiring Candy Store Prophet (both included here).

Conversely, many of the artists herein demonstrated solidarity with Nelson's example by exploring the more introspective elements of their work. Blessed with creative autonomy via his recent affiliation with Parlophone, beloved rocker Ronald "Billy Fury" Wycherley went in the opposite direction of the endearing straight ahead rock in which he excelled (best demonstrated in his utterly stupendous Go Ahead And Ask Her for London and Decca in 1963). The highly prolific Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde also did so on a larger scale, with the Gary Usher-produced Sunstroke being an ideal representation of their 1968 Columbia album, The Ark for the project at hand.

To their considerable credit, a number of artists represented here took similar great pains to take their art to the next level. Witness Cilla Black's somewhat bizarre, George Martin-produced Abyssinian Secret, Bobby Vinton's Strange Sensations (flip side of his 1968 cover of Bobby Vee's Take Good Care Of My Baby and a continuation of Vinton's occasional "fun with the flip side" forays, which began in earnest in late 1966 with his wonderfully screwy Don't Let My Mary Go 'Round), Brian Hyland's aggressive Come With Me and Gene Pitney's off the wall Animal Crackers (In Cellophane Boxes). Interestingly enough, it took the great rock and roll master Ellas "Bo Diddley" McDaniel to provide the voice of reason with his astute and cautionary tale, I'm High Again.

Herein, Gary Lewis helps provide the necessary balance between the two extremes with Bring The Whole Family (from his 1967 Listen! album), as does the immensely prolific and respected composer and vocalist, Neil Sedaka with his 1966 late RCA Victor-period Cold Girl. Sedaka has long championed the perspective of confounding expectations, as evidenced in his 2009 Waking Up Is Hard To Do album for Razor & Tie, in which he revisits some of his best known tracks with lyrical revisions targeted at a specific demographic, including Calendar Girl (as Dinosaur Pet) and Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen (as Happy Birthday Number Three).

And in some cases, the material at hand was either inspired by hardship or produced unforeseen challenges in the long run. With respect to the latter perspective, the Tokens' highly acclaimed account of the everyman, Green Plant now takes on a somewhat bittersweet perspective in light of the sudden and most tragic passing of the band's highly charismatic front man, Mitchell Stuart "Mitch" Margo at age 70 in November 2017.

In turn, Jan and Dean's Girl You're Blowing My Mind from their groundbreaking Carnival Of Sound album is a prime example of genius borne of adversity, in that guitar virtuoso, occasional Beach Boys bassist and long time colleague Glen Travis Campbell filled in as lead vocalist on the track while demonstrating remarkable solidarity with the vocal persona of Jan and Dean's William Jan Berry. At the time, Jan and Dean's resident visionary was still in recovery from the horrific automobile accident in which he crashed his Corvette into a parked truck on Whittier Drive on 12 April 1966. 

Intriguingly, several artists represented in this essential collection were blessed with the foresight to have long maintained a perspective of musical diversity. The highly prolific Ernest "Chubby Checker" Evans did so as early as 1963 with a series of acclaimed folk recordings for Parkway. In 1966, he then changed directions and recorded one of the so-called Northern Soul genre's definitive masterpieces in Hey You! Little Boo-Ga-Loo (also for Parkway). So by the time Checker released Stoned In The Bathroom on his Chequered album for London in 1971, he had long been established as an artist who confounded expectations. 

While they were relative late comers to the concept, the veteran vocal group greats, Little Anthony And The Imperials nonetheless also rose to the occasion magnificently. Following an acclaimed series of primarily (although not exclusively) ballad singles for George Goldner's End Records and Don Costa's DCP label (including such standards as Tears On My Pillow, Hurt So Bad and the wonderful Take Me Back), the group signed with the Veep label in 1966, where in the Spring of that year they released what arguably remains their finest moment with the hard hitting, attitude rich and high impact Better Use Your Head single. As such, 1967's My Love Is A Rainbow (also for Veep and included here) was not so much a quantum leap as it was a logical next step.

Sadly, the "borne of adversity" concept meant walking a risky line for several top drawer artists represented here. Although both had flourished considerably while apart from one another in the years preceding their 1967 reunion album for ABC Paramount, the Belmonts and Dion DiMucci managed to rally for the common good in My Girl The Month Of May.

Likewise, the otherwise incapable of error Charles "Del Shannon" Westover, still reeling from the relative indifference afforded his sublime 1965 Move It On Over single for Amy Records (as chronicled in Blitz Magazine's landmark two-part interview with Shannon, published in the early 1980s), set his sights on visionary mode for the next several years. While the resultant The Further Adventures Of Charles Westover album for Liberty Records most assuredly bore the prerequisite fruit, the uncharacteristic misstep of theological incorrectness articulated in Gemini (a notion with which Shannon was in complete solidarity by the time of that Blitz Magazine interview) provides an ongoing caveat moment for even the most faithful.

Finally, there is little doubt that Teensville's Ash Wells would concur with the notion that lead off track in this collection was placed as such by design rather than happenstance. With a vast and essential catalog that continues to main its high impact to the present day, the Four Seasons nonetheless at the time seemed to be taking the risky step of covering all bases with the release of their Watch The Flowers Grow single in 1967. Despite the increasingly ambitious material released by the group in 1966-1967 (including Tell It To The Rain, Beggin' and C'mon Marianne), Watch The Flowers Grow came inbetween the release of their endearing cover of Frank Sinatra's Lonesome Road (as the Wonder Who) and their return to form interpretation of the Shirelles' Will You Love Me Tomorrow, two singles that told more of a cautionary tale in times of uncertainty. And while a half century of perspective has somewhat softened the more abrasive elements of that single's imagery, herein Watch The Flowers Grow nonetheless serves as an out of sorts attention getter to the proceedings at hand. Equally engaging offerings by Lesley Gore, Johnny Tillotson, Jay and the Americans, the Searchers, Roy Orbison, Bobby Vee and Tommy Roe round out the set.

While much of the material in this single disc collection can be found elsewhere, its presence under the collective umbrella of concept makes it a most mandatory acquisition for devotees of artist and genre alike. To that effect, on the evening of 26 December 2017, a long time customer of Freak Beat Records in Sherman Oaks, California expressed to store founder Bob Say no small amount of anxiety upon learning that Freak Beat was temporarily sold out of Marshmallow Skies and that the next shipment would not arrive for two days.

But then again, such is a common reaction to the vast and impressive legacy of Teensville and its affiliate Rare Rockin' Records label, both of which continue unabated as front runners in the reissue industry. As the respective offerings by Bobby Vinton and Bobby Vee herein attest, they remain a prime source of Strange Sensations that make the listener seemingly Fly Away in ecstasy.


WJBK HITS, VOLUMES ONE THROIUGH EIGHT-
Various Artists (WJBK)


"Lack of critical thinking is hurting my brain".

So said one highly respected entertainment industry veteran recently in a spirited social media discussion about the current socio-political climate. Indeed, while invective has become increasingly commonplace in such settings, it can also be inferred that a seeming lack of critical discernment has likewise clouded the vision of many within the musicologist and record collector demographic.



To wit, there remain many who were instrumental in the critical backlash against the protracted aesthetic slump in which mainstream music at large found itself in the late 1960s and early 1970s. To their considerable credit, the faithful stood their ground and took above and beyond the call of duty action by either forming bands (resulting in the so-called punk/new wave revolution of the mid to late 1970s) or by becoming journalists, who picked up the slack in the mainstream and once again made certain that credit was given where credit was due. Indeed, Blitz Magazine was a part of that movement, and remains the lone still active survivor within the genre.



Most curiously, many of those same individuals who took such a groundbreaking stance more than four decades ago are now a regular presence in the aforementioned social media circles. Yet they now espouse a much more conciliatory and much less imaginative perspective on the very subject which had previously so moved them. For example, many within their ranks will post online various musical selections which are to their liking. Often these are tracks that are celebrated and well respected within their circles, and the artists behind them are routinely afforded the admiration, respect and attention that their work deserves.



But instead of singing the praises of that particular piece's merits, the posting is often accompanied by complaints from the one who posted it along the lines of, "I can't believe this never went any higher than number 92 on the national charts", "Why isn't this artist in the Hall?", or "I'm amazed. I didn't think this record would be any good. It was never a hit".



And therein lies the paradox. If the aesthetic merit of a given musical work is subject to its performance on a so called national chart, or whether or not some hall with no public mandate and no more authority to act in that respect aside from that which they have bestowed upon themselves has deemed them worthy of an autographed picture on their wall, then those making such observations have contradicted themselves. For it is often those same individuals who will champion the works of such beloved musical visionaries as the Pretty Things, Ronnie Self, the Chocolate Watchband, Charlie Feathers, the International Submarine Band and Johnny Powers, each of whom enjoyed only modest (at best) mainstream success.

So does the lack of commercial acclaim for those artists infer that the quality of their work is substandard? If that were the case, the ongoing demand that has kept their catalogs in print for more than a half century would not exist. But what is most disconcerting is that those who should know better remain so jaded by their early indoctrination into a system that drilled into them a "charts and radio" method of shaping their musical perspective (and again, this is supposedly a more discerning audience, not the rank and file peripheral "fan" for whom music was little more than background fodder for their personal revisionist history) continue to make such laments, as if they need the permission of the mainstream to proceed with their opinion of a given artist or recording. In other words, an inability to think for themselves. Or, as the astute entertainment industry veteran noted above, "a lack of critical thinking".

All of which makes the project at hand as much of a seeming incongruity as the limited perspective of those who once espoused the height of critical discernment.

From the onset, Blitz Magazine has acknowledged the impact of the legendary Dearborn, Michigan radio station, WKNR Keener 13 and its vaunted air staff (known as the Keener Key Men Of Music) as the single most impacting and enduring influence on our own work. Our ongoing series of salutes to the station's vaunted alumni (which to date has included lengthy dialogues with Jim Sanders and Frank "Swingin' " Sweeney) will resume soon, featuring long time station mastermind and resident visionary, Bob Green.

So, as a radio station with a 32 singles and four album weekly playlist, how could the likes of WKNR be cited as a catalyst for critical thinking? For the simple reason that each member of its air staff brought to the broadcast booth a thinking outside the box mission statement that Green subsequently (and somewhat infamously) referred to as "intelligent flexibility".

In other words, while a weekly WKNR Music Guide provided a template, it soon after their late October 1963 inception became a template without walls. On the spot creativity could prompt everything from the airing of such off the charts moments as Kenny Young and the English Muffins' Mrs. Green and Norma Tracey's The Skateboard Song to customized renditions of crucial classics (with Edwin Starr re-cutting his landmark 1966 Ric-Tic label Stop Her On Sight single as Scott's On Swingers, as well as first generation garage rock greats the Shy Guys reinventing their signature Palmer/Panik label single, We Gotta Go as The Burger Song as tributes to Keener Key Man Scott Regen, not to mention Keener's J. Michael Wilson himself overdubbing the New Vaudeville Band/Dana Rollin smash, Winchester Cathedral and the Underdogs' Love's Gone Bad with unique vocals by his on air "assistant", Rodney the Wonder Rodent).

Or as Sweeney and Green have both noted, the WKNR experience was a consummate one, not merely filler in between records. That is, the news segments (from their award-winning Contact News team), commercials and inventive (and often adlibbed) banter of the Keener Key Men Of Music was as much a part of the entertainment as the music itself. And instead of the time, temp and call letters soundbite common to much of their counterparts elsewhere (exacerbated exponentially by the rise of the Drake Format prior to decade's end), the Keener Key Men Of Music by example (if not design) articulated their case sublimely, leaving the listener to form their own perspective and draw their own conclusions.

WKNR did this so well, that theirs was the fastest ascent to the top spot in their respective market (Windsor/Detroit) in the history of the medium. By early 1964 (a mere three months after their change of call letters from WKMH, and in the wake of such potentially momentum derailing events as the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the on air meltdown of morning drive Keener Key Man Mort Crowley as a commentary of sorts against perceived injustices against the station by a local utility company), WKNR was a solid number one, both in its own market and within the industry at large. Throughout those most crucial years in the development of rock and roll (1964-1968), WKNR was one of two stations that routinely broke records nationally, with the rest of the nation's broadcasters following suit weeks (or in some cases, months) later.

While such developments bode well for the WKNR mission statement, it nonetheless came at the expense of others who were long established in the market. Among them was the suburban Southfield-based WXYZ 1270 AM, which at its pinnacle employed such giants of the industry as Dave Prince, Joey Reynolds, Joel Sebastian and Lee Alan (who went on to author an acclaimed book on the subject, Turn Your Radio On). WXYZ soldiered on bravely throughout 1966, finally switching formats to Easy Listening in January 1967.

In turn, the success of WKNR meant the imminent demise of the station that for all practical purposes was its forerunner in terms of that so-called "intelligent flexibility". That station, WJBK made its debut on 07 October 1925 on 1290 AM in nearby Ypsilanti, Michigan. WJBK relocated to Detroit in 1940, at which time it switched its broadcast frequency to 1490.

The station once again took a slight move to the right on the AM dial in 1954, when it ended up at 1500 AM. Two years later, WJBK increased its power to 50,000 watts and concurrently embraced a wide variety of music, with rock and roll in the forefront.

With such formidable and relatively free thinking on air talent as Kemal Amin "Casey" Kasem, Marc Avery, Clark Reid, Robert E. Lee, Bob Edgington and future first generation garage rock giant Richard Terrance "Terry Knight" Knapp (as Jack The Bellboy), WJBK espoused its own version of consummate entertainment, only to be inevitably overshadowed by WKNR's undeniable mastery of the concept. WJBK conceded the race in 1964, persevering throughout the 1960s with a series of variations on the Easy Listening format before changing call letters to WDEE on 26 December 1969 and quickly taking over the reins of the country music demographic from the Royal Oak-based WEXL 1340 AM. Now known as WLQV, 1500 AM features a Christian talk format that includes regular broadcasts by such beloved and influential evangelists as John MacArthur and the late Adrian Rogers, as well as the magnificent John Vernon McGee's renowned five-year Thru The Bible series.

During its formidable run, WJBK also published a weekly Radio 15 Record Review survey, which embraced a much larger and diverse template of seventy-five singles. It is from those most ambitious weekly chronicles that the magnificent CD reissue series at hand takes its cue.

Compiled by sympathetic industry veterans with considerable research and painstaking attention to detail in terms of sonic and visual quality, the WJBK Hits series offers an average of twenty-nine to thirty-two tracks per disc, each taken from the weekly Radio 15 Record Review charts between 1956 and 1964. Every volume features a reproduction of a classic WJBK survey on the front cover, while the back cover chronicles title and artist, year of release, peak chart position on WJBK and whether each track is presented in stereo or monaural (with a most welcome generous helping of stereo whenever possible).

And therein is the key to the thinking outside the box mission statement championed by WJBK, WXYZ and WKNR, and reinforced with this remarkable reissue series. For example, consider the year 1963. While current revisionist history within sympathetic circles continues to summarize the year through a handful of familiar singles (including among others the Kingsmen's Louie, Louie, Steve Lawrence's Go Away Little Girl, Jan and Dean's Surf City, Lesley Gore's It's My Party, the Trashmen's Surfin' Bird, Marvin Gaye's Can I Get A Witness and Dion DiMucci's Donna, The Prima Donna), WJBK (and before year's end, WKNR) took a much broader perspective on the musical landscape, both then and as commemorated within this CD series.

For while those aforementioned singles were a key part of the WJBK canon, so were a wealth of releases that were as integral to their focus, yet which remain largely overlooked by the supposedly sympathetic demographic that curiously continues to defer to mainstream outlets to dictate their taste for them. WJBK Hits sets the record straight accordingly, including among the eight volumes such landmark 1963 releases as the late, great James Louis "Jimmy Soul" McCleese's tongue in cheek romp, Go 'Way Christina, the Temptations' pre-David Ruffin Farewell My Love, the Chordettes' vocal harmony rich True Love Goes On And On, Nina Simone's extraordinarily thinking outside of the box live rendition of Little Liza Jane (which was inspired in part by composer Stephen Foster's 1850 standard, Camptown Races and which was honed to perfection via its impassioned live duet performances by banjo virtuosos Louis "Grandpa" Jones and David "Stringbean" Akeman), Nancy Sinatra's commendable take on Peter, Paul And Mary's The Cruel War, beloved country rock pioneer Big Al Downing's Mister Hurt Walked In, veteran rocker Jimmy Clanton's ambitious Red Don't Go With Blue, Baby Jane and the Rockabyes' Bert Berns-produced exercise in vocal euphoria Hickory Dickory Dock, Preston Carnes' high drama ballad Someone, Herb Alpert's masterful vocal ballad (as Dore Alpert) Dina, the Pennsylvania-based Classmen's Limelight label upbeat rendition of Bobby Helms' My Special Angel, actress and vocalist Noreen Corcoran's essential Vee Jay label Love Kitten single, the great Vic Dana's unique take on Vernon Dalhart's The Prisoner's Song, visionary blues rocker T-Bone Walker's Cold, Cold Feeling, the Darlings' Mercury label mid-tempo tale of woe Two Time Loser, the Jaynettes' magnificent Keep An Eye On Her, the legendary Waylon Jennings' utterly stupendous A&M label ballad Love Denied, Boot Hog Pefferly's cover of Clyde McPhatter's I'm Not Going To Work Today, Danny Wayne's stupendously hard rocking Card label single You're Wrong, the O'Jays' magnificent Stand Tall, the Appalachians' variations on a theme by the Coasters (Over Yonder), and the late, great vocal virtuoso Dean Martin's sublime take on the Ray Peterson interpretation of Corrina, Corrina.

As if that poignant cross section of groundbreaking music from 1963 alone was not enough, WJBK Hits at large combs the station's playlists in depth to emphasize just how richly diverse was the musical landscape throughout their run at the top throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s. Among the many, many highlights are Ruth Brown's repertoire-expanding What Happened To You, the Four Aces' inventive rearrangement of Ace Brigode's 1925 standard Yes Sir That's My Baby, James Hugh "Sonny James" Loden's engaging cover of Hank Williams' Lovesick Blues, Rusty Draper's arguably definitive rendition of the Hollywood Flames' larger than life rocker Buzz Buzz Buzz, the Rev-Lons' wonderfully screwy After Last Night, the Tarriers' Kingston Trio-inspiring Pretty Boy, Hank Snow's uncharacteristic My Arms Are A House, the Delroys' brilliant Bermuda Shorts, the Adorables' euphoric Deep Freeze, Boyd Bennett's risk taking cover of Dickey Doo And The Don'ts' Swan label monster classic Click Clack (risk taking in that covering such a landmark record basically amounts to tackling absolute, utter perfection, which Bennett nonetheless did most admirably here), the Four Tunes' somewhat bizarre take on the Sons Of The Pioneers' Cool Water, the late vocal powerhouse David Whitfield's majestic rendition of I'll Find You from the motion picture Sea Wife (which the legendary Ron Goodwin also recorded as an instrumental for Capitol), the Rockaways' Red Bird label prototypical garage rock and surf rock hybrid Top Down Time, the Couplings' Josie label rendition of the rocking Young Doves Calling (which shared the spotlight with a determined take by the Mudlarks),the late Debbie Reynolds' dramatic I Saw A Country Boy, and the Surfaris' straight ahead hot rod rocker, Boss Barracuda. Others among the too numerous to mention essentials include worthwhile and less than obvious contributions by the Clovers, Del Vikings, Miles Stone, the Secrets, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Tony Williams, Bill Haley and the Comets, the Tymes, Bill Doggett, the Fiestas, JoAnn Campbell, Barbara and Brenda, the Dave Clark Five, the Darnells, Jackie DeShannon, Clairette Clementino, Diane Ray, the Cascades, Otis Williams and the Charms, Dee Edwards, Johnny Faire, the Society Girls, Billy Eckstine, Dotty and Kathy, Steve Lawrence, the Percells, La Brenda Ben, the Victorians, Count Basie with Joe Williams, O.C. and the Holidays, the Playmates, Henrietta, Jerri Adams, Kay Starr, the Darnells and the Prodigals.

"Some of the best music ever made", said CKLW veteran and renowned musicologist and music historian, Ric Allen. Allen was not a contributor to the WJBK Hits series, but nonetheless regularly chronicles the subject masterfully via such online sites as Michigan Music, as well as his own Facebook page.

"And some of the rarest, rather than the same 600 to 800 songs we currently get crammed down our throats".

While by its very nature the series is both a very limited pressing and available only in select outlets, WJBK Hits is nonetheless an inspiring and essential enough project to hopefully prompt some of the faithful to reassess their own self-imposed limitations and engage in a bit of that critical thinking necessary to both procure it and raise their own bar back to the high standards they have long professed to champion. Or, in the words of one of this series' most endearing tracks by first generation garage rockers, the Mojos, Everything's Alright.


 

Thursday

THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME (NEW RELEASES) By Michael McDowell


I WROTE THE BOOK: The Greg Kihn Band has turned in one of their most ambitious and engaging releases to date with their all new Riot Media release, Rekihndled. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell has the story below (Click on above image to enlarge).

CDs AND VINYL - NEW RELEASES
(REVIEWS ARE POSTED IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER BY ARTIST)

JOHNNY GOLTOOTH AND
THE CHEVY CASANOVAS -
Kevin Breit (Stony Plain)


If thinking outside of the box is a primary goal for a musician, then Kevin Breit has taken a paper cutter to the box and sent the remains to the shredder.

The guitarist and McKarrow, Ontario native has confounded any possible expectations with Johnny Goldtooth And The Chevy Casanovas, his most recent release for the Edmonton, Alberta-based Stony Plain label. The largely instrumental album draws from a wide array of inspirations, from Juan Garcia Esquivel (Zing Zong Song), Ellas "Bo Diddley" McDaniel (One Mo Bo) and Link Wray via Earl Bostic (Chevy Casanova) to Phil "Snakefinger" Lithman (C'mon Let Go), Chet Atkins (I Got 'Em Too) and Buddy Merrill (The Knee High Fizzle).

A seasoned session veteran, Breit has collaborated in various capacities with such greats as the Rankins, Roseanne Cash and Norah Jones. He has also in recent years devoted a significant portion of his schedule to working with his band, the Sisters Euclid. 

To be certain, Breit's fierce individualism has made him an ideal addition to the Stony Plain roster, which also features such visionaries as Sue Foley, Duke Robillard and Ian Tyson. While on the surface his work may seem a bit more difficult to approach than that of his label mates, even a cursory overview of Johnny Goldtooth And The Chevy Casanovas suggests a revelation borne of the familiar; an attribute used to full advantage by such like minded pioneers as Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks and Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. To invoke one of Breit's stellar compositions, A Horse By Another Stripe that won the race.

OFF THE BEATEN TRAIL -
The Hot Texas Swing Band (Indie)


In terms of prerequisite technical proficiency, there are simply some musical genres which are not for the faint hearted. 



One such genre is Western Swing. By definition, the intricate arrangements, as well as the frequent key and time signature changes (not to mention the ongoing need for vocalist and instrument to play off of one another) make it among the most demanding of forms to render both competently and with conviction. 



To wit, a 1955 color video clip has most thankfully survived in which country music giant Jimmy Dickens introduces an instrumental workout of the monster classic Decca label single, Roanoke by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. What follows Dickens' opening remarks is roughly two and a half minutes of full on, no holes barred virtuoso assault by some of the most jaw dropping technical masters in all of music, including the great Jackie Phelps on banjo and Monroe himself on mandolin. Without uttering a word, Monroe and company come to a cold ending with looks of a job extraordinarily well done that at once suggest both gratitude to the Lord for being blessed with such remarkable gifts, offset by a self-satisfaction that dares one and all to, "Try and top that!" before casually walking off stage.

Indeed, it is attaining and retaining that level of proficiency, inspiration and the indispensable attribute of heart that inspires the Hot Texas Swing Band on to similar heights. Fronted by bassist and primary lead vocalist Alex Dormont, the ten-piece band in this, their fourth album, comes closer to that goal than ever before. Meshing astutely chosen covers with duly inspired original material, the band herein draws the necessary fine line between dutiful imitation and thinking so far outside the box as to lose sight of the original vision.

To that effect, one particular cover places them in solidarity with their professed inspirations of Bob Wills, Cindy Walker and Johnny Gimble. Composed by the great Stuart Hamblen (who also wrote This Ole House for Rosemary Clooney, as well as Dean Martin's Remember Me), Texas Plains has been recorded by such absolute masters as Gene Autry, Hank Snow, Roy Rogers and others. This vivid tale of life Off The Beaten Trail affords Dormont the best opportunity herein to soar, with his unique vocal persona (a potent mix of the best of Sollie Paul "Tex" Williams and the late and much missed Beat Farmers drummer, Daniel Monte "Country Dick Montana" McClain, with a touch of Fugs co-founder Tuli Kupferberg) and the band's judicious accompaniment providing the closest realization of the basics of their professed mission statement. 

In turn, co-lead vocalists Selena Rosanbalm and Liz Morphis are also featured prominently throughout the proceedings. And once again, it is a well chosen cover that brings out the best of that facet of the band's focus, in the form of the great Ella Mae Morse's 1942 signature single, Cow Cow Boogie, as well as the endearing 6/8 romp, Baton Rouge Waltz.

And while spot on interpretations of Julie London's 1956 default Liberty single, Cry Me A River and George Jones' Jiles Perry "The Big Bopper" Richardson-penned White Lightnin' may seem like curious diversions, they nonetheless double as both examples of the flexibility of the band's mission statement, as well as the instrumental dexterity of steel guitarist Dave Biller, trumpeter Jimmy Shortell and saxophonist Joey Colarusso, all of whom especially shine accordingly on Snow In Amarillo and the Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington and Lester "Les Paul" Polfus-inspired instrumental, Bull Whip.

Indeed, while the Hot Texas Swing Band may envision themselves in the physical realm as being drawn Off The Beaten Trail, from a musical perspective, they are making decisive and inspiring steps towards attainting the level of perfection consistently demonstrated by their inspirations. Herein, they profess to be Headed Back To The Barn to do so. But irrespective of their venue of choice, it seems that being Off The Beaten Trail is actually remaining on the right track.


REKIHNDLED -
The Greg Kihn Band (Riot Media)

It is always most gratifying when veteran artists continue to outdo themselves with each successive release.


Such is the case with renowned vocalist, composer and Baltimore, Maryland native Gregory Stanley "Greg" Kihn. An integral part of the artist roster of the vaunted Beserkley label in the 1970s (which also launched the careers of the Rubinoos, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers and Earthquake), Kihn has continued to record and tour prolifically in the ensuing years. To date, he has more than fifteen albums to his credit, and has also authored several novels. 



But with Rekihndled, Kihn has more than lived up to the plays on words that have often defined his album titles. Buoyed by a sympathetic and savvy line up that currently includes Robert Berry on keyboards and Kihn's son, Ry Kihn on lead guitar, Rekihndled is as much of a solid, articulate and cohesive chronicle of life and art at his particular stage of life as was the Monkees' landmark 1996 Justus album and the Beach Boys' like minded late 1970s - early 1980s releases. 



To wit, the album's hard rocking opener, The Life I Got matter of factly incorporates a universal metaphor into a mid-term report card of sorts. The territory and approach is familiar, yet executed with a first time freshness. Likewise, the tongue in cheek Big Pink Flamingos invokes Kihn's long standing penchant for word play, underscoring the point with a template inspired by Golden Earring's signature Radar Love single and reaffirming solidarity with the everyman by deftly name checking everything from Judy Jetson to (indirectly) Carl Perkins and mobile home parks. 


In turn, the Nick Lowe-flavored (a la Heart Of The City) Cassandra does much for the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" perspective. Furthermore, Good To Be Me defers to the mainstream overview extant during his initial heyday to simply affirm his artistic resolve.

Lest the faithful fear compromise, the no nonsense The Brain Police and Trained Monkey decisively reassure that Kihn's core mission statement continues unabated. And with Rekihndled, Greg Kihn and his band most encouragingly not only affirm and celebrate a mission statement that is still in peak form, but they also take decisive steps to assure all concerned that, from his perspective, It's Never Too Late.



TODAY MY MIND......TOMORROW THE WORLD -
Rob Martinez (Karma Frog)


As Karma Frog Records founder and president Adam Marsland continues his sabbatical overseas, the label's remaining artist roster is persevering with a vengeance.


Foremost among them is the Albuquerque, New Mexico - based composer and vocalist Rob Martinez, whose Today My Mind.....Tomorrow The World was released in the closing weeks of 2017. A firm believer in the potential of the tried and true verse, chorus and bridge template, Martinez once again takes that basic framework far beyond the parameters of his professed primary inspirations of Cheap Trick and Crowded House.


To that effect, the ten originals in this collection (each of which were either written or co-authored by Martinez) all boast exceptionally strong bridges (as evidenced in abundance in the album's opener, Let Me Tell You Why), which serves as a pause for reflection in between the slices of relentless optimism that bookend it. In turn, the slightly psych-tinged, mid-tempo Sooner Or Later finds Martinez relying more on atmosphere to deliver a message that is somewhat incongruous with expectations. Taking it a step further, Conspiracy confounds expectations by mixing relational, spiritual and socio-political metaphors to revisit the basis of the human experience, underscored by a score with a propensity towards the fatalistic.


Aiding and abetting Martinez in this project are the usual world class support team, including Adam Marsland on the majority of instrumental responsibilities, Dragster Barbie's utterly stupendous Teresa Cowles on backing vocals (on the album's closer, Will U B My Lover, aided and abetted by Pacific Soul Limited) and the legendary Earle Mankey seeing the mastering process through to completion. Once again, in his endeavors to state his case decisively, Martinez has managed to, in the words of one of this collection's standout cuts, Get It Right.


POLYPHONY -
The Tol-Puddle Martyrs
(Secret Deals)


Among many still active veteran artists, the tendency has been among their long faithful press colleagues to afford them a free pass, irrespective of their current level of creativity or ongoing acumen in live performance. Much of that assessment is often borne of unwavering respect for their catalogs which, in the case of many, still set the standard of excellence more than a half century after the fact. 

As such, it is somewhat disconcerting when some such artists presume that their present day audience is unable to discern their legacy from that of others who may have for whatever reason attained and sustained a relatively greater degree of notoriety. The result is often a live set bereft of much of what has made them, in favor of overdone cover material by a small cadre of like minded and more obvious artists who really don't need the additional exposure.

Such is most assuredly not the case with the still very much active and prolific first generation garage rock pioneers, the Tol-Puddle Martyrs, who are still led by band founder, principal architect and Bendigo, Victoria native Peter Rechter. A veteran of both Peter and the Silhouettes and (later) the Secrets (not to be confused with the legendary Cleveland, Ohio vocal quartet that released He's The Boy, Here He Comes Now! and The Boy Next Door for the Philips label in 1963 - 1964), Rechter reactivated the Tol-Puddle Martyrs in the twenty-first century after a decades-long sabbatical, with nearly a half dozen albums of all new and primarily original material to their credit. 

With Polyphony, the band once again relies on the strengths of Rechter as composer and instrumentalist (keyboards) and long time collaborator Graham McCoy (guitars). The twelve selections herein vary slightly from the more psychedelic-oriented offerings that dominated their A Celebrated Man and Psych-Out USA albums. To wit, the opening track, When I Was Young is not a cover of the Animals' 1967 single, but a straightforward and candid account of how concurrent visions continue to resonate and inspire.

In turn, the genial 20/20 To Zero provides an upbeat showcase for a number of universally recognized causes for change. That pattern reoccurs throughout the proceedings, from the everyman impasses highlighted in One Drop In The Ocean to the somewhat abstract clarion call outlined in Mrs. Merkel. Rechter even went as far as to draw from the inspiration of Gary Lewis and the Playboys with Count Me In, an original inspired by that band's March 1965 single of the same name.

And while the issues highlighted in the lyrics may be somewhat generic, the execution is most assuredly well arranged, well executed and (most of all) resplendent in that most essential attribute: heart. One more reason for the band's resident visionary to continue to be A Celebrated Man.