SO GLAD: Formed from the remnants of several established groups, the members of the BrillianTears have joined forces to produce Club Of Broken Hearts; an all new album of Doo Wop originals (and a few well chosen covers) that is destined to become an instant classic within the genre. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell has the story below (Click on above image to enlarge).


The BrillianTears (Teensville)

The concept of a super group is nothing new with the ranks of vocal harmony outfits. More than a century ago, the American Quartet (which was comprised of four enormously successful solo artists: Steve Porter, William F. Hooley, John Bieling and the legendary William Thomas “Billy” Murray) joined forces with counter-tenor and Jersey City native Herman “Will Oakland” Hinrichs to form the highly influential Heidelberg Quintet. The ad hoc supergroup recorded more than two dozen essential vocal group harmony classics between 1912 and 1914, including Under The Love Tree, I Want To Love You While The Music’s Playing and Waiting For The Robert E. Lee. That their entire catalog remains in print well into the twenty-first century is a most fitting testimony to their ongoing impact.

Within the post-Doo Wop era, a number of like minded projects have surfaced upon occasion. Highlights include the 1965 collaboration between the Belmonts and the Angels, Out In The Sun as the Beach Nuts (Bang 504). Or the pooling of talents between various alumni of the Association, the Diamonds and the Four Preps to become an all star version of the latter group in the closing years of the twentieth century.

With an impeccable reputation as the head of one of the world’s premier reissue families of labels, the New South Wales-based Teensville/Rare Rockin’ Records president, Ash Wells has in recent years diversified his portfolio by including duly inspired recordings from relatively up and coming artists. To that effect, the label’s 2011 summit meeting between Susanna Pichin and the Roomates, 16 Reasons And More on Rare Rockin’ Records has been one of the most acclaimed new releases of the current decade.

This latest effort in that respect, Club Of Broken Hearts finds members of several established Doo Wop groups pooling their resources to produce an eighteen-track collection of primarily original material. The BrillianTears are comprised of the Crystalairs’ Ralf zur Linde and Frank Buttgereit, the Earth Angels’ Jordi Majo, the Jive-O-Matics’ Anja Bien, and Steve Webb of the aforementioned Roomates. The ambitious quintet is joined on two tracks by several members of the Inteli-Gents.  Their work has received enthusiastic endorsements from such masters of the genre as Randy and the Rainbows’ front man, Dominic “Randy” Safuto, the Passions’ Jimmy Gallagher and the Skyliners’ Wally Lester.

To their considerable credit (and in keeping in line with the various reissue projects released to date by their label), the BrillianTears have refreshingly sidestepped the most obvious standards of the genre. Indeed, this collection features only a minimum of cover versions, including the Colts’ Samuel “Buck” Ram-penned Adorable (Vita 45-V-112), the Essex’s Go For Yourself (a rare Roulette era track that subsequently saw release on the Girls Will Be Girls, Volume One compilation CD on West Side Records, in which Bien more than does the Essex’s Anita Humes justice), the Tokens’ transitional (between RCA Victor and B.T. Puppy) return to form, Please Write (Laurie L3180) and the beloved 1965 Bob Knight Four demo, Ding Dong Bell. Each is rendered with the passion of the original, complete with a stamp of originality that does nothing to detract from its respective inherent aesthetic merit.

But it is the BrillianTears’ original material (much of which comes from the pen of Frank Buttgereit) that showcases the group at its most productive and likewise underscores how their mission statement is borne out in their name. The BrillianTears’ self-penned material succeeds primarily in that it generally is not built upon a strong story line (as were such definitive standards of the genre as the Rays / Diamonds’ monster classic, Daddy Cool, the Cadets / Jayhawks’ Stranded In The Jungle and the Storey Sisters’ Bad Motorcycle) inasmuch as it is sublimely crafted to play upon the group members’ individual and collective vocal strengths.

This strategy proved to be particularly effective in emphasizing the attributes of both zur Linde and Majo. To wit, the Frankie Lymon-inspired high tenor of Majo is showcased to great effect in the two takes (one with strings) of Buttgereit’s exuberant and melismatic Angels Don’t Need Wings, as well as the smooth and lavish rapid fire execution of Moment Of Sadness.

In turn, zur Linde’s commanding, impassioned and classic delivery (which would have been right at home within the ranks of the Belmonts, the Duprees or the aforementioned Tokens) is sublimely evidenced in the high drama ballad, See The Moonlight and the Echoes-inspired pathos of Tracy. And although the one-two punch of the monosyllabic bass montage in the first few bars of the opening title track momentarily suggests otherwise, Majo as lead quickly regroups, with the quintet at large immediately following suit by proving themselves to be supremely adept as both arrangers and interpreters.

“(The BrillianTears) are basically a super group”, said Wells, concurring with the Heidelberg Quintet analogy.

“Some of the best voices in Europe have come together.

Indeed they have. And in the process, the BrillianTears have created an instant classic; one that will stand as a hallmark of the genre. To be certain, Club Of Broken Hearts is one of the best new releases of the year to date.

The Cherry Drops (MuSick Recordings)

One attribute that is unique amongst the various generations of garage rock exponents is the fact that many of the current, fifth generation practitioners have no first hand experience of the work of their first generation inspirations. As such, the impact of the first generation garage rockers’ respective legacies on them is based solely on their rich bodies of work, rather than any personal participation on the part of the fifth generation observers.

With no preset expectations in that respect to impact their perspective, these artists then persevere with an art for art’s sake perspective. That of course means that anything goes, including the assimilation of seemingly incongruous sub-genres into a single piece of original work. It is a practice that gives many a purist fits, to be certain. But it is nonetheless a great opportunity to further the creative process.

The Southern California-based Cherry Drops are one such band of fifth generation garage rockers, whose original material not only draws from the best of garage rock, but from surf, easy listening, glam rock and punk/new wave, as well. Led by their ambitious front man, Vern Shank and Joshua Cobb, the Cherry Drops herein make their recording debut with a collection of originals and duly inspired covers that suggest great promise for the movement at large.

In terms of the former, the Cherry Drops assert themselves most decisively by taking on one of first generation garage rock’s definitive masterpieces, the Syndicate Of Sound’s 1966 monster classic, Little Girl (Bell 640). Not only do the Cherry Drops nail all of its most endearing attributes (including the Larry Ray/Jim Sawyers unique guitar fills and John Duckworth’s masterful percussion turnaround during the instrumental break), but their addition of sympathetic vocal harmonies at key points underscores how well the band understands the subtle nuances of the material. That they then turn their attention in terms of outside material to faithful renditions of the likes of the Raspberries’ I Wanna Be With You (Capitol 3473) and the Sweet’s Wig-Wam Bam (Bell 45,408) merely underscores the advantages of being unencumbered with cultural periphery.

But it is with their original material that the Cherry Drops ultimately soar. To wit, the opener, Pop, Pop (’Til You Drop) belies the cliché overtures of the title with a second generation garage rock and surf rock take on a playful and universal theme. In turn, the decidedly second generation garage rock inspired Outta Sight draws from the party atmosphere of Dean Martin’s Let The Good Times In (Reprise 0538), tempered with a mix of early Imperial-era Johnny Rivers, the Plimsouls and Elvis Costello And The Attractions’ Pump It Up (Radar ADA10).

Conversely, the drama-heavy Love Is A Groovy Thing states its case with the subtle invocation of minors, as well as a judicious helping of horns, echo and reverb. Likewise, the sublime Melvin’s On The Make takes its cue from Marvin Gaye’s Can I Get A Witness (Tamla 54087) and filters it through a variation of the adult child dichotomy that continues to work so well for Relient K and the Barenaked Ladies.

All of which makes for a very diverse and entertaining mix. While a title such as Everything’s Groovy may suggest a limiting adherence to period peripherals, the results nonetheless speak for themselves and in fact reiterate the validity of their mission statement. To be certain, the results are as satisfying as the closer (Cherry, Lemon And Marmalade Pie) would suggest

The Jay Willie Blues Band (Zoho)

With the release of their New York Minute CD for Zoho Records in early 2013 (which was their second outing overall), the Connecticut-based Jay Willie Blues Band delivered what Blitz Magazine then referred to as part of a, “marked upswing in worthwhile new releases by blues bands”.

Happily, the Jay Willie Blues Band (Jay Willie - guitar/vocals, Bob Callahan - guitar/vocals, Steve Clarke - bass, Bobby T. Torello - drums) have taken their collective mission statement a step further with their latest Zoho release. While remaining faithful to their basic blues template (with a particular nod to the late Johnny Winter), Rumblin’ And Slidin’ has sweetened the mix to a degree with the inclusion of several diverse covers from related genres.

To wit, Rumblin’ And Slidin’ opens with the band’s fairly straight ahead cover of Link Wray and the Wray Men’s 1958 instrumental monster classic, Rumble (Cadence 1347). Interestingly enough, the revisionist history minded and generally well intended Brownsville Station had also attempted their own version of Rumble on their somewhat ironically titled early 1970 debut album, No B.S. (Palladium P1004).

But as a disconcerting concession to the times, the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based trio seemingly felt the need to justify their penchant for the pioneers of rock and roll (the No B.S. album also included most welcome renditions of classics by Boyd Bennett and His Rockets, Bobby Day and others) by somewhat smugly proclaiming a need to bring Wray’s venerable standard into the prevalent cynical musical atmosphere of the day by way of pyrotechnical grandstanding (a regrettable gesture that was rendered all the more redundant by the fact that Wray was long considered one of rock and roll’s premier guitarists). Thankfully, Willie and his colleagues are not encumbered by such periphery. Herein, they instead have brought their own assertive and uncompromising musical personalities to Wray’s basic timeless template, with positive results.

From there, Willie and his band relied on originals to carry them through the bulk of the sessions. Each of the band members contributed accordingly, with diverse and satisfying results. To that effect, Willie’s Dirty and Caballo provide a healthy balance between the straight ahead yet low down atmosphere of the former and the despondency (with default emphasis on instrumental dexterity) of the latter.

In turn, Callahan’s ballad, Come Back orchestrates a brief respite from the overall one-two punch, while his wry attempt at swamp rock, The Leetch successfully turns up the tempo but not the volume; a noble gesture which is not always a given within the genre. In the interim, Torello’s Rotten Person endeavors to maintain perspective with the self-proclaimed bravado that was indigenous to the repertoire of many a post-Brownsville Station band.

As noted, the cover material herein suggests a relatively healthier diversity. To wit, the prerequisite deferences to the catalogs of McKinley “Muddy Waters” Morganfield (Key To The Highway) and Alfonso “Sonny” Thompson (I’m Tore Down) are augmented by refreshing looks at Edgar Winter’s White Trash’s Fly Away (from Epic E30512), Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth (Atco 45-6459) through the eyes of the Staples Singers’ vaunted, Larry Williams-produced rendition (Epic 5-10220), and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s early 1967 signature instrumental single, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy (Capitol 5798), by way of the Spring 1967 Larry Williams and Johnny Watson (Okeh 4-7274) and Buckinghams (Columbia 4-44182) vocal reinterpretations. Each remains relatively faithful to the original, with Willie and his colleagues judiciously asserting their respective stamps of originality as deemed necessary for the occasion.

As before, Willie opted to provide the majority of the sleeve notes for this project. Therein, he noted that, in view of the accolades afforded 2013’s New York Minute, the challenge before the band was, “what would we do for an encore”. Suffice to say that all concerned rose to the occasion accordingly and have delivered a third release that should indeed cause many a Rumble of affirmation amongst both long term devotees and recent converts to their cause

Jesse Winchester (Appleseed)

Rare is the artist with an extensive repertoire whose catalog contains an example of absolute, utter perfection. Even rarer still is the artist whose catalog contains more than one representation of that level of triumph.

One such artist was the first generation garage rock great and country rock pioneer, Michael Martin Murphey. As the Lewis half (alongside the legendary Boomer "Clarke" Castleman) of the Lewis And Clarke Expedition, Murphey in 1967 was a part of the sublime and absolutely essential Colgems label single, I Feel Good (I Feel Bad). Featuring some of the most impeccable vocal harmonies ever committed to record and a relentless, upbeat optimism found only in the best of efforts, I Feel Good (I Feel Bad) remains a high watermark of both country rock and first generation garage rock.

As such, Murphey could well have rested on his laurels, even when beginning his long and prolific solo career in the 1970s. However, in October 1987, Murphey again took to the studio to record a solo outing for Warner Brothers that not only stands as one of the finest moments of country music's last collective gasp of consequence (that is, the New Traditionalist movement of the late 1980s - early 1990s), but one whose deceptively subtle and sublime groove (not unlike that found in George Hamilton IV's vaunted 1963 Abilene single for RCA Victor) is most assuredly deserving of the absolute, utter perfection distinction.

That 1987 track is Murphey's I'm Gonna Miss You, Girl single (Warner Brothers 28168-A), which was composed by the beloved and enormously respected singer/songwriter and Bossier City, Louisiana native, James Ridout "Jesse" Winchester. No slouch in the studio himself, Winchester (who has recorded prolifically since 1970) recently returned to the studio to complete an all new CD for Appleseed Records, A Reasonable Amount Of Trouble.

True to form, Winchester herein excels in every respect. Produced by Mac McAnally (who also serves as lead guitarist for this project), A Reasonable Amount Of Trouble is a most fitting testimony to Winchester’s unwavering commitment to his muse. A remarkably gifted lyricist, Winchester excels in that respect with such characteristically diverse (and occasionally humorous) fare as Neither Here Nor There, She Makes It Easy Now, A Little Louisiana, Don’t Be Shy, and the reassuring (and characteristically tongue in cheek) Don’t Forget To Boogie. He further drives the latter point home in Ghosts, in which he takes himself to task over the all too familiar challenges of standing one’s ground aesthetically.

To that effect, Winchester has long been an ardent champion of pure rock and roll. Herein, he reiterates the point with faithful and reverent takes on the Del-Vikings’ Whispering Bells and the Clovers / Bobby Vee classic ballad, Devil Or Angel. He drives the point home with a remake of the Cascades’ 1963 signature track, Rhythm Of The Rain.

“I'm honored and flattered to learn that on his last CD, he did a cover of my song, Rhythm Of The Rain", said Cascades co-founder, front man and Rhythm Of The Rain composer, John Claude Gummoe.

“A singer / songwriter whose work was loved and recorded by many.

In the months since the tragic January 2014 passing of label front runner and beloved musical pioneer, Pete Seeger, Appleseed Records busied itself with several ambitious new releases, including a live CD by veteran vocalist Johnny Clegg and an all new collection by folk rock pioneer, Tom Rush. Sadly, A Reasonable Amount Of Trouble will also be Jesse Winchester’s last release, as he succumbed to bladder cancer on 11 April. Recorded primarily while he was in remission from the disease, the album maintains an undercurrent of urgency throughout, tempered by the realization on Winchester’s part that it could well be his swan song. Tragically, it was, making this collection’s most moving closing benediction, the Gospel ballad, Just So Much all the more pertinent.

“R.I.P. Jesse and thank you”, said Gummoe. Indeed, he will most assuredly be missed