LOVIN' SOUND: A recent discovery of master tapes in Sylvia Fricker Tyson's attic has resulted in the most welcome release of The Lost Tapes, the Stony Plain label's new collection of heretofore unreleased  live performances recorded in the early 1970s by folk rock pioneers IAN AND SYLVIA, with guest appearances by the great LUCILLE STARR. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell has the story below (Click on above image to enlarge).


The Stan Getz Quartet (Verve)

In some social media circles, the so-called "wow" emoji is often invoked to express surprise in reaction to a given proclamation, opinion and/or development.

Somewhat disconcertingly, the wow emoji is seen more often than it should be in music-related discussions. This generally occurs when a given poster comments on a particular work by an artist that varies in terms of style and delivery from that artist's most instantly recognizable efforts. 

To wit, a poster may (for example) share an audio clip of the late Tony Perkins' 1957 RCA Victor single, Moon-Light Swim. Perkins released a number of fine recordings for RCA Victor and Epic in the late 1950s. And while Moon-Light Swim remains his signature single and was afforded due exposure and respect upon its release, even the most cavalier of self-proclaimed musicologists would (or should) at least be aware of the 1962 cover version by Elvis Presley in the soundtrack album of his Blue Hawaii film.

Nonetheless, in such scenarios, the mere posting of such a single (even within social media gatherings frequented by those with above the herd experience in such matters) invariably generates more than a few wow emojis, followed by comments like, "How can this be? Perkins was an actor! He's not supposed to make records!!" Or "I never knew this before, as I only saw him in a couple of films on television, and I waited for them to be on TV so I wouldn't have to pay to see them in the theatre". 

And those are supposed to be the experts. And the hardcore devotees.

The problem at hand in terms of recognition and/or acceptance is most assuredly not the fault of the artist. A true artist thinks outside of the box, as Tony Perkins did throughout his remarkable career in both music and film. However, there are many among their so called "fans" who want to shove such an artist back into the box and nail the lid shut. 

To such an ad hoc music industry version of the armchair quarterback, that which is showcased to them within the mainstream media (and as such does not require any expenditure or effort on their part) is enough to inspire them to presume to weigh in authoritatively on a given subject with only minimal knowledge. But invariably, when presented with a bit of thinking outside of the box, the reaction is almost always one of surprise (the wow emoji), followed by varying degrees of defensiveness and out of hand dismissal; the latter apparently (and most tellingly) based on pride upon being confronted with a reality check of sorts. 

All of which should make the landmark release at hand enough to generate a larger amount of wow emojis within those circles than usual.

Tenor saxophonist, veteran Woody Herman sideman and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native Stanley "Stan Getz" Gayetski had spent the years immediately prior to 1961 in residency in Scandinavia and other European locales. He had previously earned a formidable reputation throughout the 1950s that found him consistently placing atop various listener and trade polls. 

But during his absence from the United States, a group of artists that championed an even more ambitious approach to the genre emerged as front runners. They included (among others) Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins and (most notably) fellow saxophonist John Coltrane. A group of artists that raised the bar so high, that they continue to set the standard within the genre to the present day.

A fellow visionary by definition, these developments did not escape Getz's attention. As such, upon his return to the United States, he resumed his place at center stage with a reinvigorated mission statement that is captured sublimely in this heretofore unreleased collection. 

The Stan Getz Quartet represented herein is a supergroup not unlike the John Coltrane Quartet. For these live dates, Getz was accompanied by pianist Steve Kuhn (who had briefly played in Coltrane's group the previous year), bassist John Neves (who had worked in that capacity with the Herb Pomeroy Orchestra for five years) and drummer Roy Owen Haynes (who from 1949 to 1952 blessed and was blessed immeasurably as a part of Charlie Parker's orchestra). 

As a unit, this incarnation of the Stan Getz Quartet was in some respects like the giant Redwood trees found in Northern California. That is, while their roots go reasonably deep, those roots also interconnect and feed off of one another, enabling each to grow and soar in the process. 

For a group with such a wealth of experience, even the most challenging of outside material is celebrated with a finesse and command found only among the most capable. But following introductions by announcer Edward Herbert Beresford "Chip" Monck, the quartet herein quickly takes command and soars throughout the proceedings. 

To be certain, the material at hand is of the caliber that is usually judged by the strictest standards when in the hands of others than its creators. Nonetheless, Getz and his colleagues more than do justice to a wide range of material, including Sonny Rollins' ambitious Airegin, Jackie Cain and Roy Kral's Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, a spirited variation on Thelonious Monk's 52nd Street Theme,(in which Haynes more than proves his mettle) and nods to Miles Davis' So What and John Coltrane's Impressions.

Not a set list for the fainthearted, to be certain. However, this landmark recording remained unreleased in the Verve archives since November 1961. Getz of course went on to tremendous acclaim in the ensuing years via collaborations for the label with composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and vocalist Astrud Gilberto. 

Most notably, their joint ventures produced the classic single, The Girl From Ipanema, which became the signature track for all concerned. And more than half a century after the fact, it is still viewed by many as the be all and end all of their collective legacies, thereby inspiring the aforementioned wow emoji among those to whom the collection at hand is even suggested.

In all fairness, a peripheral development concerning this release could warrant the wow emoji reaction, and with good reason. Much ado has been made in recent months about the June 2008 fire at Universal Studios in Universal City, California, which destroyed the master tapes and other priceless recordings of a number of veteran artists. Yet while Verve presently falls under the jurisdiction of the Universal umbrella, the fact that such crucial recordings as this one have nonetheless survived suggests that, while the damage chronicled to date is both regrettable and most disconcerting, it may not have been as pervasive as was initially suggested.

Whatever the case, on its own merits, Live At The Village Gate 1961 stands as a fitting testimony to not only the formidable technical acumen and visionary perspective of the various participants, but as a triumphant landmark that takes its place alongside the best that the genre has to offer. And that in and of itself is a real "wow" moment.

Jimi Hendrix (Experience Hendrix / Legacy)

For the first time in their shared history, vinyl is expected to outsell compact discs in the year 2019.

The ongoing resurgence of the vinyl format is not surprising, given the concerted push in its favor made by both musicologists and record collectors in recent years. Its supporters almost invariably cite the format's relative warmth and the visual appeal of the album covers among their primary reasons for their preferences in that respect.

That said, as is most assuredly the case with genre myopia, format myopia is also not without its consequences.

Among the few but undeniable drawbacks of the vinyl format is its relative lack of space. By definition, even under the best of conditions, a vinyl album can contain at best nearly a half hour of content on either side without compromise of sonic quality. Those who were prompted to acquire the numerous vinyl Various Artists collections of hit singles that were omnipresent throughout most of the 1970s often found that out the hard way, when they discovered that the ten songs per side format meant either reduced fidelity or edited and excerpted tracks in most cases.

Space limitations were especially evident in live recordings, where essential parts of a given artist's show were edited out of the vinyl release for that very reason. This drawback was thankfully rectified to varying degrees with the advent of the compact disc, when material previously unavailable on the vinyl renditions was at last restored to the program on such key releases as Johnny Cash's Johnny Cash At San Quentin album and Rick Nelson's groundbreaking In Concert album, which was recorded live at the Troubadour in Los Angeles.

One album that has similarly given music enthusiasts pause for concern in that respect for nearly a half century is the original Capitol Records release of Band Of Gypsys. That landmark LP features excerpts from the concerts on New Years Eve 1969 and New Years Day 1970 by guitarist James Marshall "Jimi" Hendrix, along with bassist (and one time Sam Cooke and Slim Harpo side man) Billy Cox and former Electric Flag drummer George Allen "Buddy" Miles. 

In its original form, the Band Of Gypsys album was a nonstop one/two punch of the highlights of those concerts. Issued by Capitol in late March 1970, the album release sidestepped the familiar in order to present as much of a variety of previously unavailable material as possible.

However, in the process, the format limitations of vinyl only allowed for a total of six tracks on the entire album. The riveting and essential Machine Gun (from the third show) took up more than half of the first side, with Miles' signature track, Changes opening side two and limiting the remainder of the proceedings to three previously unavailable Hendrix compositions (Power To Love, Message Of Love, We Gotta Live Together, all from the fourth show).

In the ensuing years, various re-releases of the project gave the faithful a sampling of what was missing from that original vinyl release via the occasional bonus track. Thankfully, as the half century mark of that event approaches, Experience Hendrix and Legacy have at last rectified the situation with Songs For Groovy Children, a five CD box set that makes the entire series of live shows available in their entirety.

By 1969, with Jimi Hendrix Experience co-founders Mitch Mitchell (drums) and Noel Redding (bass) having gone on to other projects (with Redding's Fat Mattress releases for Atco garnering the most attention), Hendrix opted to surround himself with colleagues who were not only most sympathetic to his vision, but who (like Mitchell and Redding) were more than capable to execute that vision accordingly. 

Cox had been a colleague of Hendrix's since their shared time in the American military in the early 1960s. An accomplished bassist, Cox was a seasoned sideman with a wealth of session experience on his curriculum vitae. 

In turn, Miles had been a guest artist on the Monkees' groundbreaking NBC television special, 33-1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee in early 1969, sharing percussion responsibilities with Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz on an extended version of the Monkees' Listen To The Band single. The Monkees and the Jimi Hendrix Experience had toured together in 1967, and both bands had remained close friends. Throughout that season, Hendrix and Monkees bassist / keyboardsman Peter Tork likewise enjoyed the occasional fishing trip on Tork's boat. 

As such, with sympathetic colleagues on his side, Hendrix was ready to return to form in grand style. And as the evidence in this magnificent box set more than underscores, they did just that.

While there are invariably some repeats throughout each of the shows (particularly Machine Gun and Changes), the set lists are nonetheless rife with established Jimi Hendrix Experience classics (Fire, Purple Haze, Stone Free, Hey Joe, Foxey Lady and Voodoo Child), as well as such live favorites as Isabella, Hear My Train A Comin' and Earth Blues, plus a few well chosen covers (Howard Tate's Stop, Jimmy Hughes' Steal Away, and the Jordan Christopher And The Wild Ones / Troggs first generation garage rock standard, Wild Thing). 

Despite the overwhelming success of these live performances, their partnership proved to be short lived. Hendrix, Cox and Miles opted to go their separate ways in January 1970, weeks prior to the release of the Capitol album.

Thankfully, for this highly anticipated deluxe set, all of the stops have been pulled out accordingly. Eddie Kramer is once again on board as co-producer (along with Janie Hendrix and John McDermott), with Bernie Grundman serving as engineer. In turn, the package includes rare photographs, along with insights from Cox and an engaging essay by renowned journalist and filmmaker Nelson George. Cox was also a part of the October 2019 Experience Hendrix Tour, which featured beloved veteran guitarist Buddy Guy and others. To assuage both camps, Songs For Groovy Children is concurrently being released in an eight LP vinyl format.

While some may lament the protracted delay in its coming, to be certain, Songs For Groovy Children is yet another revelation in one of the most prolific and enduring legacies in all of music. In the words of the opening track of Disc One, that is indeed the Power Of Soul.

Ian And Sylvia (Stony Plain)

In recent months, the catalogs of a number of veteran and legendary artists have been exponentially blessed by the discovery and release of heretofore unissued material that had been recorded decades (and in a couple of cases, more than a half century) ago. Their ranks include such storied and enormously impacting artists as the John Coltrane Quartet, Jim Reeves and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Joining that elite group via an accidental discovery is the extraordinarily gifted composer and vocalist duo, Victoria, British Columbia's Ian Tyson and Chatham, Ontario's Sylvia Tyson. Best known for a series of acclaimed releases on Vanguard and MGM (the latter affiliation which produced the 1967 monster classic, Lovin' Sound), Ian And Sylvia's catalog boasted a wealth of original material that saw even greater acclaim via cover versions, including Bruce And Terry's Four Strong Winds (also recorded by Bobby Bare) and Sylvia Tyson's utterly stupendous You Were On My Mind, which was the recipient of stellar interpretations by We Five and the late Crispian Saint Peters.

While recently in the attic of her home, Sylvia Tyson came across a box of quarter-inch tapes containing the material that comprises this most welcome two-CD collection. Recorded before a live audience in the early 1970s, The Lost Tapes is in terms of mission statement somewhat akin to the Let's Go album by Winnipeg, Manitoba's Guess Who, which was recorded before a live television audience and was comprised largely of the band's ad hoc interpretations of standards by the Bob Seger System, the Association, the Zombies, Evie Sands and others.

In the case of the Ian And Sylvia project, the basic mission statement is similar, in that the material stems from a wide variety of sources, augmented by the occasional original. Highlights include impassioned renditions of the Carter Family's Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Conway Twitty And Loretta Lynn's After The Fire Is Gone, Lucille Starr's The French Song, the Clancy Brothers' Little Beggarman, the Springfields' Silver Threads And Golden Needles, Buck Owens' Crying Time (a duet between Sylvia Tyson and the aforementioned Lucille Starr), Mel And Tim's Starting All Over Again, Robert Johnson's Come On In My Kitchen, Tommy McLain's Sweet Dreams, Rick Nelson's How Long, Jimmie Rodgers' Jimmie's Texas Blues, and Guy Mitchell's Heartaches By The Number, as well as their own Darcy Farrow and Four Strong Winds.

Although Ian Tyson has endured major health concerns in recent years (including cardiac surgery in 2015), he continues to perform live upon occasion. As such, in the words of a memorable cut from their 1966 Play One More album for Vanguard, Gifts Are For Giving. And this gift is a most welcome one.

Jeremy Morris (JAM)

The execution of proper stewardship over a broad and diverse catalog can be a daunting task for an artist who has been blessed with creative autonomy and oversight. 

But in the case of Jeremy Morris, such challenges are all in a day's work. For decades, Morris has routinely and unwaveringly balanced such substantial responsibilities as label president, recording artist, session musician, producer, senior pastor and family man. 

The most recent proof lies in JAM Records' CD reissue of the Portage, Michigan-based Morris' long unavailable Emerald Vision album. Recorded in 1978, Emerald Vision has long been hailed by Morris' devotees as a touchstone in his vast catalog, which to date includes several dozen albums (both in the solo and ensemble setting) that regularly fluctuate between Gospel, garage rock, psych and progressive rock.

Emerald Vision is one of Morris' early forays into the Gospel / psych hybrid that has since become his trademark. Reaching out to multiple factions at once via strong original material that meets the often demanding standards of the genre's purist factions, Morris herein (and going forward) takes it to the next level by introducing the audience to a higher plane of understanding. He does so initially by presenting the Gospel in fundamental and universal terms. In the process, questions are answered, doubts are dispelled and a lot of engaging music is showcased and celebrated as a result.

With respect to the latter attribute, Emerald Vision particularly makes its mark through such mid-tempo reflective, acoustic based numbers as Stranger To Yourself, as well as such all out celebratory excursions as Out Of The Darkness and Eternal Delight. The CD reissue includes three heretofore unreleased tracks not found on the original vinyl release.

"Don't you dare wait", Morris cautions in Stranger To Yourself. Indeed, the immediacy and the appeal of the message at hand is one that, as Morris astutely pointed out midway through the proceedings, will ultimately lead to Happy Times.

The Rolling Stones (ABKCO)

Over the past couple of years, there has been an even greater whirlwind of activity in the Rolling Stones' camp than usual.

Most notable among those developments was of course the cardiac surgery that sidelined band co-founder and front man Michael Philip "Mick" Jagger from the road for a brief season. Thankfully Jagger bounced back with a vengeance in short order.

During that brief layoff from their relentless touring itinerary, the Rolling Stones and their labels busied themselves with various reissue projects. Among the most ambitious of them was the March 2019 thirtieth anniversary reissue of Talk Is Cheap, the debut solo album by lead guitarist Keith Richards.

Concurrently, ABKCO Records (which presently oversees the band's vast and crucial output for the London label) took rightful advantage of the time frame and commemorated the half century anniversaries of two of the Rolling Stones' most enduring milestones accordingly. Both the late 1968 Beggar's Banquet album and the band's concurrent television special, The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus had seen reissue previously. But for their respective fiftieth anniversary editions, the label opted to pull out all of the stops and give each landmark as fitting and comprehensive of a retrospective as possible.

By definition, that move proved to be one of limited options with respect to the Jimmy Miller-produced Beggar's Banquet. Aside from the basic original album (newly remastered by Bob Ludwig), the commemorative reissue also included reproductions of import picture sleeves, as well as the alternate album cover (originally issued in the UK on Decca) and a rare interview with Jagger (plus a mono mix of Sympathy For The Devil).

Thankfully, in terms of bonus material, The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus fared slightly better. Originally broadcast in December 1968, at roughly the same time that the Monkees were making like minded quantum leaps with their acclaimed motion picture Head and NBC television special 33-1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee, the Rolling Stones' project was likewise an all star affair that included guest appearances by the Who, Jethro Tull, Marianne Faithfull, Taj Mahal, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

For its four-disc commemorative edition, ABKCO included both DVD and Blu-ray versions of the production. Bonus material included a 48 page book of essays and rare photographs, a 28 song audio soundtrack, and commentary by Jagger, Richard, Ono, Faithfull, Mahal, the Who's Pete Townshend, Cream's Eric Clapton and retired Rolling Stones bassist William George "Bill Wyman" Perks.

All of which makes the project at hand all that much more of a triumph.

In comparison to Beggar's Banquet and The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus, the fiftieth anniversary edition of Let It Bleed is a veritable treasure trove of bonus material. Release in the full vinyl LP box configuration in terms of packaging, this studio swan song for London Records features not only an eighty page hardcover book with previously unseen photographs by Ethan Russell and an insightful essay by David Fricke, but 180 gram vinyl editions of both the stereo and mono versions of the album, hybrid CDs of the stereo and mono mixes, a trio of replicas of signed lithographs, a full color reproduction of a 1969 poster of the album, and a seven inch reissue of the mid-1969 Honky Tonk Women / You Can't Always Get What You Want 45, complete with picture sleeve.

Musically speaking, the upgrades are most assuredly warranted. Let It Bleed was a transitional album in several respects. In addition to it being the Rolling Stones' final studio album for London Records in the U.S. (although the superb live album, Get Yer Ya Yas Out for the label would follow in 1970), it was also the first album to include the work of new rhythm guitarist Mick Taylor. Moreover, it includes the long version of the aforementioned landmark track, You Can't Always Get What You Want with the soaring acapella chorus intro, which was omitted from the 45.

Though not to the degree that Beggar's Banquet did, Let It Bleed did include its fair share of blues material, from Midnight Rambler to their faithful cover of Robert Johnson's Love In Vain. In turn, the quasi-bluegrass treatment of Honky Tonk Women as Country Honk superbly showcased the band's ongoing fascination with country, while Gimme Shelter reiterated their mastery of high drama. A high watermark of the band's overall recorded canon, with remastering for this commemorative edition once again provided by Bob Ludwig.

All of which gives pause for concern with regards to their momentum in this respect.

If the pattern continues, the next albums in line for half century commemoration are the aforementioned Get Yer Ya Yas Out and the 1971 Sticky Fingers, their first album for their own Rolling Stones label. However, both of those albums have already been recipients of the deluxe repackaging treatment in recent years, with available source material reportedly having been nearly exhausted in both cases for each project.

Nonetheless, all may not be lost.

It was in the early 1970s that the Rolling Stones became the beneficiaries of sorts of a form of adoration that was not sanctioned across the board, in the form of "extracurricular" album releases. During the first half of that decade, the Rolling Stones witnessed the release of a number of unauthorized live recordings of various sonic quality in the vinyl album configuration, none of which were readily available through mainstream channels.

However, in the late 1970s, one enterprising label took the unprecedented step of releasing a previously unavailable live concert by pioneering duo Jan And Dean in vinyl LP form. Upon learning of the project, Jan And Dean's Dean Torrance (who at that time also enjoyed a lucrative second career as CEO of Kittyhawk Graphics) contacted the label and ultimately ended up designing the front cover.

In turn, although albums such as Stoned Concerts and Get Yer Leeds Lungs Out have enjoyed much acclaim among the band's hardcore devotees over the past several decades, those albums and others of similar intent have yet to see official release. If indeed higher quality source tapes of these projects are extant, then first time legitimate availability of these projects would most assuredly not only be welcome, but a logical follow up to the ABKCO package at hand.

Meanwhile, to be certain, for a band that once professed to have No Expectations, as the 50th Anniversary Limited Deluxe Edition of Let It Bleed (scheduled for 15 November release) most definitely underscores, the Rolling Stones have definitely exceeded those expectations for more than a half century.

Various Artists (Teensville)

In terms of the overall world of music, a solid case could be made for the single most important figure throughout the early to mid-1960s being the late and beloved visionary, Bertrand Russell "Bert" Berns. Co-founder of the prolific Bang label, Berns soared far above the herd as a producer, composer and arranger, with countless classic recordings to his credit in those capacities.

Berns himself recorded sporadically; occasionally under such assumed names as Russell Byrd. However, Berns' formidable legacy primarily rests on his numerous behind the scenes accomplishments.

As far as figures who were at center stage throughout that most crucial period is concerned, the jury remains out, so to speak. Many a solo artist and ensemble contributed significantly to music's growth and development at that time, making such a distinction a subjective one, at best.

With this just released thirty-five track Various Artists collection, Ash Wells' New South Wales-based Teensville label makes a solid case for front runner status in that respect for composer, vocalist and Minnesota native Robert Thomas "Bobby Vee" Velline. To be certain, in the wake of his initial success for Soma Records with his ambitious Suzie Baby single in 1959, Vee was a regular presence throughout the next decade, with such landmark singles as Someday (When I'm Gone From You), Stayin' In, I'll Make You Mine, Yesterday And You, Look At Me Girl and Santa Cruz (all for Liberty Records) to his credit.

While Vee on the surface may not seem to be a first draft choice for such a lofty distinction, bear in mind that the artists represented on The Night Has A Thousand Soundalikes include some of the era's most beloved, impacting and enduring figures in their own right. And while the results may be the product of their own artistic vision as well as the inspiration of their vaunted colleague, the standards remain unwaveringly high throughout the proceedings.

Individual artists herein vary from the unlikely to the obvious. Regarding the former, veteran vocalist and composer Jimmy Clanton was by 1964 well established with a wealth of acclaimed singles and albums for Ace Records. But by 1964, Clanton had signed with Mercury's affiliate Philips label, where he turned in a career highlight later that year with his monster classic A Million Drums single. I'll Step Aside (included here) was his first outing for Philips, though.

As a vehicle for artist and label reaching a mutual understanding, I'll Step Aside was a slightly out of character venture. Nonetheless, with its frantic tempo and Broadway-like atmosphere, while not exactly in sync in terms of vision with Vee's contemporary output (with the possible exception of his aforementioned Yesterday And You single), I'll Step Aside demonstrates that both Clanton and Vee were both interested in and adept at expanding their respective mission statements beyond expectations.

Conversely, unity of purpose makes Jerry Fuller's 1961 Shy Away single for Challenge an obvious fit for this collection. No stranger to thinking outside of the box (Fuller was a member of the supergroup the Fleas, which also included the Champs' Dave Burgess, guitar virtuoso Glen Campbell and rock and roll giant Rick Nelson), Shy Away proved Fuller to be as adept at the high drama atmosphere indigenous to Vee's concurrent work as was Vee himself.

In fact, The Night Has A Thousand Soundalikes in part reiterates just how significant of an impact Vee's outings for Liberty had on the most capable of colleagues. They include the great Kenny Lynch, whose 1964 My Own Two Feet single for Imperial remains a touchstone of that critical era. Lynch weighs in here with the mid-tempo Don't Ask Me To Stop Loving You, underscoring his solidarity with Vee via subtle yet effective double-tracked vocals.

In turn, it is another Kenny, the still very much active and great as ever Kenny Karen (under the pseudonym Marc Thatcher) who incorporates all of the most familiar attributes of a Vee recording into A Girl Needs To Love  And Be Loved, highlighted by vocals that kick into sublime harmony as the bridge turns a corner. Del-Vikings alumnus Gus Backus follows suit via breaking precedent with his own impressive legacy by plunging head first into the high drama approach in Turn Around. And fresh off a most impressive run for Big Top, Shell and Dual (and still several years away from reinventing himself in 1968 as Robert John with If You Don't Want My Love), Bobby Pedrick meshed a bit of Bobby Vee and Jimmy Clanton with an engaging MOR backdrop on his 1962 Dining And Dancing for the newly re-Christened Duel label.

And the cavalcade of greats does not end there. Harry "Cliff Richard" Webb turned in a great low key delivery against a Dion DiMucci-flavored backdrop in Just Another Guy. The highly diverse and prolific Brian Hyland reversed that approach with a full blown DiMucci-styled execution over sympathetic strings in I Should Be Getting Better. The much missed Vic Dana (whose early retirement from music some years ago remains a subject of no small amount of consternation among his diehard legion of devotees) combined the best of both approaches with his exuberant I Wanna Be There, as did long time Reprise solo artist and Bread co-founder Jimmy Griffin with What Kind Of Girl Are You and My Baby Made Me Cry. Buddy Greco also took a break herein from his regular musical adventures to prove his mastery of the form at hand with Miss Kiss And Run. And of course long time Vee collaborators, the Crickets (with whom Vee recorded an acclaimed album for Liberty) demonstrated their support with their own Liberty outing, Playboy. Like minded tracks from Bobby Vinton, Russ Sainty, Mark Wynter, Joe Melson, Bobby Darin, Brad Newman, Alan Vallone and Michael Landon also highlight the set.

But perhaps the most welcome additions to this essential collection are the five classic tracks by beloved composer and vocalist, Willy "Tobin Matthews" Henson. Matthews was a consistent presence throughout the era via well received singles for Chief, USA, Columbia and Warner Brothers, underscored exponentially by unwavering support from suburban Detroit powerhouse AM radio outlet, WJBK. While the focus of this collection is of course Bobby Vee, the inclusion of five top drawer Matthews sides (highlighted by his utterly stupendous 1963 Warner Brothers single, Don't Make Faces) make this an essential acquisition for that reason alone.

Most fittingly, Vee closes out the proceedings with a double-tracked vocal version of The Opposite. Sadly, Vee succumbed to a protracted battle against Alzheimer's Disease in October 2016 at age 73. Whether or not he would have envisioned his own impact to be as all encompassing as this collection suggests is uncertain. But as the results irrefutably underscore, in the words of one of Vee's own triumphs for Liberty, his legacy is one that proves taking what he once termed My Golden Chance can reap exponential artistic dividends.

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.



FREE: Despite being separated by continents, vocalist and composer Rob Martinez (above) and long time collaborator and Karma Frog label head Adam Marsland managed to turn in one of the most engaging new releases in recent months with Maybe Miss America, Martinez's third outing for the ambitious Southern California label.  Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell takes a closer look at their collaborative efforts below (Click on above image to enlarge).


Jon Batiste (Verve)

It takes a village.

In recent years, that phrase has often been invoked to highlight a variety of socio-political concerns that are most assuredly outside of the subject at hand.

But in terms of music, the Village (that is, Greenwich Village) has served as a geographical touchstone of sorts for a number of musical landmarks. Such iconic visionaries as John Coltrane and Herbie Mann both recorded live albums at Village locales, each of which contributed substantially to their respective formidable legacies. 

Recorded live at the Village Vanguard (a staple of the Greenwich Village music and arts community since 1935), Chronology Of A Dream is multi-instrumentalist Jon Batiste's latest bid for co-keeper of the flame. A fixture on late night television for the past several years, Batiste has taken a decisively cerebral approach to his own work.

For example, Batiste aligns himself herein in spots with the mission statements of such pioneers as Lou Donaldson and Horace Silver. To that effect, Soulful takes the basic template of the latter's Song For My Father and gradually crescendos into the proceedings with a combination of deference and assurance that does the concept justice. 

Likewise, Higher drifts in and out of the otherworldly atmosphere that frequently graced the recordings of Bill Evans and Vince Guaraldi. In true Village tradition, the audience voices its decisive approval during Batiste's sympathetic keyboard solos. 

Conversely, the rollicking Kenner draws from such boogie piano masters as Zez Confrey, Fats Waller and Leroy Carr, in particular professing solidarity with Carr's 1930 Vocalion label Papa's On The Housetop collaboration with Scrapper Blackwell. That euphoric momentum is sustained effectively (albeit in a decisively different vein) with the set closer, Ordr.

Most assuredly, Greenwich Village and its celebrated musical outlets have long been a key factor in realizing the dreams of those who made their mark in a substantial way. For Jon Batiste, Chronology Of A Dream  concurrently represents a decisive step towards making that dream a reality.

The Doughboys (RAM)

In today's polarized society, finding common ground can ultimately prove to be beneficial.

While the Doughboys themselves may not necessarily be a cut and dry example of the modern day overall socio/political dichotomy, theirs is nonetheless a mission statement which in recent years has exhibited subtle signs of fragmentation. As one of the few still active pioneers of first generation garage rock, the venerable quartet has seen its share of differences of vision in its collective mission statement. 

To wit, drummer Richard X. Heyman has recorded concurrently and prolifically as a solo artist. Although his most recent release, Pop Circles (for his own Turn-Up label) does not follow as closely the purist perspective evidenced in his previous albums, among his colleagues, Heyman has nonetheless remained the most steadfast in his resolve to maintain the vision initially set by the band via the release of their pair of classic 1967 singles for Larry Uttal's Bell Records. 

Conversely, during the Doughboys' protracted hiatus, co-founder Myke Scavone persevered for a season with Epic Records veterans Ram Jam. That band's signature single, a most hard hitting interpretation of Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter's Black Betty, showcases a penchant for the amped up basics hybrid that has carried over into much of the Doughboys' most recent work. In turn, lead guitarist Gar Francis (who succeeded Doughboys co-founder Willy Kirchofer in that capacity upon the latter's passing in 2005) has demonstrated a considerable passion for a like minded overall approach in his own prolific body of solo and extracurricular ventures.

On the surface, such deviations from the straight and narrow may not seem to be of much concern or consequence. Even so, among the most dedicated of artists, the splitting of lesser hairs has been known to facilitate even greater reaction in some musical circles. As such, it was inevitable that a band whose members were astute and discerning enough to have persevered off and on for more than a half century would be able to recognize and address such matters before they became of greater concern.

While perhaps not as esoteric as hoped for among the band's most discerning devotees, the resultant Running For Covers nonetheless irrefutably demonstrates that the basic tenets of the Doughboys' original mission statement is more than sufficient to both sustain them and to endure any subsequent collaborations that might give precedence to individual vision. To that effect, given that their founding principles were driven by their allegiance to first generation garage rock, the choice of Question Mark And The Mysterians' 1966 signature Pa Go Go and Cameo Records single, 96 Tears may appear to be a curious one. 

Curious in that Question Mark And The Mysterians remain active to the present day, and likewise have dozens of singles and albums to their own credit. And while the much loved Saginaw/Bay City area quintet's overall repertoire remains ripe for cover, any such attempts by definition will omit a crucial component of its basic template without the prominent keyboards that characterizes the bulk of their repertoire, especially its most obvious example. And as a basic guitar, bass and drums outfit, the Doughboys at best in this specific instance can only offer an earnest tribute. To their considerable credit, they did just that. 

Most encouragingly, the remainder of the material herein fares somewhat better in that respect. To wit, while the one/two punch of beloved virtuoso guitarist Derek "Lek" Leckenby on Herman's Hermits' original My Reservation's Been Confirmed serves as a prototype of sorts of the Doughboys' own contemporary work, herein Gar Francis remains comparatively subdued in that respect, with much of the slack taken up by Scavone's harmonica fills. Likewise, their interpretation of the Joseph "Joe South" Souter-penned Yo Yo owes more to the approach of such second generation garage rock aspirants as the Unclaimed or the Lyres than it does to the Billy Joe Royal original.

With any such expectations duly downplayed  as a result, the Doughboys are then free to throw caution to the wind and simply celebrate a cadre of songs that speak to them for reasons that are subject to no further degree of scrutiny over and above their personal preferences. The beneficiaries of such artistic license are spirited renditions of the Band's The Shape I'm In (which interestingly enough was also a staple of the aforementioned Herman's Hermits' live set throughout much of the 1970s), David Essex's Rock On, Lambert, Hendricks And Ross' sublime Moanin' and  Neil Diamond's Bang Records-era staple, Solitary Man. The Doughboys even made a most hearting reaffirmation of solidarity with largely faithful recreations of their own Bell Records singles, Rhoda Mendelbaum and Everybody Knows My Name

How the Doughboys will take this renewing of their vows into their future work remains to be seen. But as any band that has opted to Play With Fire (as they have herein with their upbeat take on the Rolling Stones' 1965 cut of the same name) is fully aware, it can indeed be a refiner's fire for the most resilient.


Richard X. Heyman (Turn-Up)

Sometimes a circle contains only 180 degrees.

As his long time bandmates in the Doughboys take a brief hiatus from their seemingly fragmented mission statement to reaffirm their original vision as still active veterans of first generation garage rock via their Running For Covers album for RAM Records, drummer Richard X. Heyman has opted to confound expectations by going in a different direction with Pop Circles, his latest in a long string of acclaimed solo releases.

Heyman has long been the most inclined towards the purist perspective among the Doughboys, who have persevered off and on for more than a half century with three-quarters of their original line up intact. Nonetheless, Heyman herein seems more inclined towards the softer and more introspective, like minded approach of the equally prolific, Washington-based composer and vocalist Dana Countryman.

While Countryman draws the bulk of his inspiration from the occasional gems that surfaced during the overall protracted aesthetic musical slump in which the musical mainstream found itself for much of the early 1970s, Heyman herein astutely keeps such touchstones at bay in order to better showcase his diverse compositional skills. The results are at once both familiar and refreshingly novel, as evidenced in the classic singer/songwriter template of As Love Would Have It, the otherworldly high drama of Marlena, the quasi-country vibe of In A Sunlit Room, the latently first generation rock-flavored Upside And Down, and the somewhat telling mid-tempo Everything Must Go.

To at least endeavor to remain true to form (and perhaps peripherally placate the most discerning amongst his faithful in the process), Heyman closed out the proceedings with five tracks collectively known as Richie's Three-Chord Garage. While not exactly purist in the most sublime first generation garage rock sense, Until Now, Long Way Down, Land, Route 22 and Until The Clock Strikes Doom do at least suggest a profession of solidarity with the Doughboys' subtle variations on their basic mission statement found in much of their recent work. And that, in keeping with Heyman's own astute observation in the final moments of the twelve basic tracks that comprise the heart of this album, is Where Circles End.

Rob Martinez
(Karma Frog)

What were once vices are now habits.

When Frank Sinatra began work in the early 1990s on the two multi-artist collections that eventually became his Duets albums for Capitol, he endured a surprising amount of negative feedback from faithful followers and purist musicologists alike for not being present in the studio at the same time with some of his collaborators. "Mechanical" to "phoned-in parts" were some of the observations offered by the dissenters.

Despite those professed concerns, Sinatra's Duets projects did not suffer aesthetically in the process. Ultimately, they became the swan song for one of the most storied careers in music history.

Nearly thirty years after the fact, such liberties in the studio are now commonplace. Among the most recent to soar in that respect is front line composer and vocalist Rob Martinez with his third Karma Frog label release, Maybe Miss America.

In Martinez's case, the studio concerns developed more out of necessity than by design. On this latest project (recorded between August 2017 and January 2019), Martinez is joined by Karma Frog head and five tool player, Adam Marsland. Currently enjoying an extraordinary career renaissance in part via the runaway success of his internet series, Adam Walks Around (now in its third season), Marsland as such presently divides his time between the Philippines, Cambodia and Southern California.

And if absence (in the studio or otherwise) makes the heart grow fonder, it is readily apparent in both Marsland and Martinez's cases here. Both shine with a renewed sense of purpose in their respective roles. As multi-instrumentalist (contributing, among other things, backing vocals, keyboards, bass, drums and harmonica) and producer, Marsland draws from his lengthy expertise (having worked with such giants as Evie Sands, Dragster Barbie bassist Teresa Cowles and Beach Boys guitarist David Marks, to name but a few) to contribute on the spot commanding adaptability to the not so subtle nuances of Martinez's increasingly diverse and engaging compositions. Most fittingly, the legendary Earle Mankey once again oversaw the mastering here.

"A lot of what makes (Rob's) stuff great are the bass lines", said Marsland.

"I play bass on his records. But they're generally his lines from the demos".

As for the music itself, various inspirations avail themselves throughout the proceedings. From the sublime Sunflower-era Beach Boys harmonic bliss in the bridge of Summer Of Love and the timely Left Banke-like high drama lavishness of Genevieve Chasteau to the first generation garage rock / Fixx hybrid evidenced in Wrong From Right and the Paul McCartney / Jason Mraz interplay of And I Always Will, Martinez once again demonstrates a remarkable flair for making the familiar fresh and taking it to the next level.

"I laid down most of the tracks in the ten days before I left the United States", said Marsland.

"I spent the next two years making sense of it! It's bigger, lusher and a little weirder".

And in the process, all the more sublime. For those who still wonder if technology and heart make strange bedfellows, Maybe Miss America should dispel any such concerns in short order.

Ola Onabule
(Rugged Ram)

"I'm gonna stand on my own two feet".

So sang beloved composer, vocalist and Stepney, East London native Kenny Lynch in his monster classic 1964 H.M.V. label single of the same name. Lynch's release was a landmark prototype among a series of like minded singles to follow, including the Impressions' We're Rolling On and Les McCann and Eddie Harris' Compared To What, among others.

A half century later (and buoyed by the benefit of added perspective), Islington, London's Ola Onabule takes the recurring mission statement a step further with his most recent release, Point Less. From the double entendre implications of the title through the richly varied musical tapestry evidenced in the fourteen selections therein, Onabule champions the not so paradoxical approach of driving the point home through seeming detachment.

Detachment in that by emphasizing a rich tapestry of musical styles (evidenced most strikingly in the jazz / vocal harmony interplay of And Yet), Onabule draws the listener in through compelling performance; drawing immediate attention away from the subject matter in the process. By the time the listener is able to pause and reflect, the first impression made by his delivery supersedes any potential misgivings and / or dissent with respect to content.

To be certain, if there were any such reservations, they would be borne not out of any lack of credence from the subject matter at hand (which ranges from suggestions of hypocrisy in the title track to a successive decline in optimism, as showcased in Conceive It), but in the potential for impasse suggested by the artist's unwaveringly upbeat and technically savvy delivery. 

To wit, long time Count Basie Orchestra vocalist Joe Williams was occasionally taken to task for his signature track, Every Day I Have The Blues, in that his relentlessly optimistic execution of the piece belied its relatively somber subject matter. In turn, Onabule's seeming prioritization of technique and demeanor could suggest to some that the subject matter at hand is of secondary importance.

But while lyrical content is not a one size fits all default in terms of music appreciation, in Onabule's case, the potential impasse is easily resolved by revisiting the proceeds in greater detail after an initial listen. To be certain, Onabule even provides pertinent points of entry to that effect along the way, typified by the Johnny Mathis-like overtones of the opening bars of the otherwise thought provoking Ballad Of The Star Crossed.

In other words, Point Less is an album for thinking people, who appreciate a nod to the familiar that nonetheless consistently challenges the listener to take the appropriate (and inevitable) steps to the next level. And in that respect, Onabule is anything but pointless.

The Tol-Puddle Martyrs (Secret Deals)

It is most heartening to see veteran artists be even more prolific in the studio in the present day than they may have been at the onset of their careers.

To that effect, first generation garage rock greats the Electric Prunes released more new material in the twenty-first century than they did for Reprise Records in the late 1960s. Composer, vocalist, producer and multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Morris likewise continues to produce one or more albums per year, which he has been doing for more than four decades.

One of the more unlikely success stories in that respect are the pioneering Victoria-based garage rockers, the Tol-Puddle Martyrs. Formed by vocalist, keyboardsman and composer Peter Rechter after a successful run fronting Peter And The Silhouettes, the Tol-Puddle Martyrs released the instant classic single, Time Will Come in 1967. Rechter went on to form the Secrets, who released a number of acclaimed records, and are not to be confused with the Secrets who recorded a quartet of sublime singles for Philips in 1963-1964.

Since the onset of the twenty-first century, the Tol-Puddle Martyrs (with Rechter currently joined by long time collaborator Graham McCoy on guitar and drummer Chris Cook) have released several world class albums that more than maintain and enhance the band's original mission statement. To that effect, the band's 2007 Psych Out USA and 2009 A Celebrated Man each earned top honors from Blitz Magazine upon their release.

For their latest effort, the band has taken a decisive leap forward lyrically. Unlike previous efforts, which for the most part (though not unwaveringly) encouraged through motivational and inspirational themes, Brain Fade at times tackles the inevitable issues that all face in life commensurate with longevity.

To that effect, the curiously Starbuck / Sanford Townsend Band - like title track speaks of "No change. Nothing has been gained....Don't let your world be shattered" as a defense of sorts against the complacency that besets many in life. In turn, The Fall cautions of "Greed and shame, evil ways where dead men pay" and "Don't you know that you're crossing the line" in a way that resonates at all stages of life. 

To underscore the point, Paralyzed articulates the consequences of ill informed decisions with a latter day variation on the basic Kinks' All Day And All Of The Night template, while Get Over It matter of factly sidesteps the victim perspective with the sometimes difficult to accept "Don't feed the're not insane" mandate.

To be certain, Rechter speaks from the inevitable experience borne of longevity in these circumstances. In the process, that longevity has also increasingly sharpened and refined his acumen as an arranger, with Brain Fade showcasing a much fuller bodied sound than that found in most trio settings. Once again, the Tol-Puddle Martyrs have risen to the occasion, and delivered most competently. And in the celebratory fashion that closes out the proceedings, Two Coffees represents the savoring of yet another victory.