Thursday

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



I MUST MOVE: Veteran rockers the Zombies (above) have confounded expectations with their latest The End Records CD, Still Got That Hunger. 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)

SOUTHERN DRAWL -
Alabama (BMG/Cracker Barrel)

During their highly productive affiliation with RCA Victor, there was a long running and amusing observation that made its way through music industry circles. It suggested that whenever an awards ceremony was imminent, that Alabama was certain to emerge with the majority of the accolades.

Indeed, such an assumption was not without merit. For throughout the era that immediately preceded music in general’s last collective gasp of consequence (that is, the so-called New Traditionalist movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s, in which country music determinedly and most rewardingly championed a return to basics), the Fort Payne-based Alabama released a superb string of inventive, original, inspiring and diverse singles. The ambitious quartet was omnipresent throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s with such triumphs as Forty Hour Week, Roll On Eighteen Wheeler, I Wanna Come Over, Tennessee River, Mountain Music, and If You’re Gonna Play In Texas (You’ve Gotta Have A Fiddle In The Band). Their momentum continued unabated well into the New Traditionalist era, as evidenced by Jukebox In My Mind, Tar Top, Song Of The South, Down Home, I’m In A Hurry (And Don’t Know Why) and Pass It On Down.

After trying their hand at some well acclaimed Christian rock, Alabama embarked upon a sabbatical between 2006 and 2011. In 2010, lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Randy Owen underwent a battle with prostate cancer, although he has thankfully since recovered. However, the group did emerge upon occasion during that sabbatical for occasional guest appearances on other artists’ sessions. The highly anticipated Southern Drawl marks their first straight ahead country release since January 2001’s When It All Goes South.

Curiously, Southern Drawl continues a pattern established by the band of utilizing session musicians on their studio work, rather than handling the instrumental responsibilities themselves. Rhythm guitarist Owen and his cousins Jeff Cook (lead guitar, keyboards, fiddle) and Teddy Gentry (bass) are all accomplished musicians, as their numerous live releases for RCA Victor more than underscore. Yet almost from the onset, the band has elected to focus primarily upon vocal responsibilities in the studio.

Not surprisingly, Alabama has also returned to the studio without long time drummer Mark Herndon, with whom the band had experienced artistic differences prior to their sabbatical. On drums for this collection is Greg Morrow, who more than rises to the occasion on this ambitious project.

“Ambitious” in that whereas previous Alabama releases were often of a topical nature, much of the original material herein is comparatively more assertive, as if such proclamations were no longer guaranteed a universal consensus amongst observers. The title track reiterates as much, with the “no brag, just fact” persona indigenous to much of Trace Adkins’ and Montgomery Gentry’s best work. The group follows suit with a second self-defense proclamation in Hillbilly Wins The Lotto Money, which manages to sidestep the dreaded “perpetual victim” perspective by way of a slightly tongue in cheek delivery.

Much of the remainder of Southern Drawl spotlights Alabama in bravado mode. Doing so works especially well in such true to form cuts as American Farmer, This Ain’t Just A Song, No Bad Days, Footstompin’ Music (a Randy and Heath Owen composition, not to be confused with the 1972 Grand Funk Railroad single of the same name) and I Wanna Be There.

The group has even followed the lead of many of their vaunted colleagues (including Connie Smith, Dolly Parton, the Zac Brown Band and Hank Williams Junior) in partnering with the Cracker Barrel label. The recording affiliate of the much loved restaurant and general store chain of the same name, Cracker Barrel Records almost invariably includes bonus tracks with its releases. Southern Drawl is no exception, with the excellent Backwoods Boogie and I’ve Got Some Lovin’ serving that purpose here.

In fact, it is I’ve Got Some Lovin’ that is indicative of the real key to Alabama’s long term mass appeal. For all of their successes with topical material, the group’s real strength is in their ability to articulate the most vulnerable aspects of romance in a manner that resonates universally. They more than proved their mettle in that respect in 1982 with the sublime Close Enough For Perfect, and their momentum continues unabated here via As Long As There’s Love and the somewhat unnerving Wasn’t Through Lovin’ You Yet.

And while it is unlikely that the aforementioned industry joke with regards to the band’s predilection for plaudits would apply in a musical movement that presently remains in a protracted aesthetic slump (albeit with occasional signs of imminent recovery), suffice to say that Southern Drawl will both placate the faithful and keep Alabama’s artistic integrity intact. Close Enough For Perfect indeed
.


50TH ANNIVERSARY -
Davie Allan And The Arrows (Curb)

KING OF THE FUZZ GUITAR -
Davie Allan And The Arrows (Steady Boy)

 As various still active veteran artists come to terms with the reality of the do it yourself (DIY) process, many now have a new found appreciation for the work that was previously done on their behalf by the major labels with whom they were once affiliated.

While the subject of label and artist relations continues to be a subject of considerable debate, there can be no doubt that the process of recording, producing and releasing a new album involves an enormous amount of effort, for which many a veteran artist (whose input under the previous arrangement was more often than not limited to artistic input) remains ill prepared.

To his considerable credit, Arrows co-founder, lead guitarist and principal visionary Davie Allan has taken advantage of the best of both worlds by concurrently completing two new albums, with one released through the conventional means, and the other an ad hoc DIY project of sorts.

With respect to the former approach, Allan has once again teamed up with former California Lieutenant Governor Mike Curb, with whom the Arrows collaborated during the band’s tenure with the Tower label. Curb has long presided over his hugely successful Curb label, which has overseen the release of new and archival material of such pioneering greats as Jack Scott, Hank Williams Junior, Hank Williams III, Roger Miller, Andy Williams, the Righteous Brothers and Merle Haggard. Curb has also kept very much in the spotlight with recent releases by Natalie Grant, Lee Brice and Rodney Atkins.

With 50th Anniversary, Curb has pretty much given Allan the prerequisite artistic license to follow his artist muse, which he has done with his trademark penchant for perfection. In celebration of that career landmark, Allan has revisited such early career triumphs as his 1965 cover of the Shadows/Jorgen Ingmann staple, Apache, as well as his 1967 remake of Preston Epps’ Bongo Rock as Bongo Party, plus such sympathetic tracks as Left Turn On Arrow Only, Baja Wave and a salute to the often covered 1960 World Pacific label Moon Dawg single by the Gamblers.

As an artist with a vast and impeccable catalog, Allan is nonetheless aware of his relatively modest experience with respect to the production process. As such, for the DIY project, he has enlisted the services of others whose relative expertise in such matters have both freed him from such distractions while nonetheless assuring him of sufficient follow through procedure.

To that effect, the twelve track King Of The Fuzz Guitar has been leased to Freddie Krc’s Austin, Texas-based Steady Boy Records for release. A highly prolific veteran musician whose credits include live dates with such giants as the Charlatans and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Krc is well equipped to oversee both new and archival project by a variety of artists.

Allan astutely brought the project full circle by calling upon former Blitz Magazine art director Dennis Loren to design the album’s highly stylized cover. Having served in that capacity with Blitz from 1976-1980, Loren has since gone on to oversee the creation of artwork, posters and the like for such acclaimed artists as Brian Wilson, the Flamin’ Groovies and the Jagged Edge.

For his part, Allan once again drew from a rich talent pool of collaborators and brought forth a collection of primarily original material (augmented by an encore appearance of Apache, as well as a spirited run through of Ray Anthony’s Peter Gunn, which at midpoint takes a quick romp through Lawrence Welk’s relentlessly upbeat Baby Elephant Walk). Producing and arranging here as he did with the Curb collection, Allan herein brought to the table a healthy variety of hard edged inspirations, highlighted by the menacing Quiver, the guitar/percussion workout Axecidental, a further look at Theme From The Unknown and a rare (and most compelling) vocal, Angel With A Devil’s Heart, composed in tandem with Arrows veteran Drew Bennett. Fittingly, the album closes with another vocal, Evil Did Too, which made its initial appearance as a B-side on a 1973 MGM label Davie Allan solo single.

While navigating the various behind the scenes minutiae may remain a learning process for even the most seasoned artist, the Southern California-based Allan has proven to be a most capable student in that respect. In turn, he continues to create at optimum level, inspiring colleague and aspirant alike with some of the most compelling instrumental workouts ever committed to record. And with this pair of releases, Davie Allan and his Arrows have once again proven that they, to invoke the title of a 1968 motion picture soundtrack in which they were involved, remain an integral part of The Golden Breed.

 
FREE MUSIC -
Artpeace (Wild Serape)

On the surface, Artpeace sounds as if they have learned their lessons well.

With a light and versatile touch, the ambitious California duo (Taura Stinson and Chrissy Depauw) treads gingerly through a variety of styles that suggest a familiarity with the basics, tempered with a thirst for knowledge. The latter is even borne out through the occasional references to the Buggles, Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald, Funkadelic and others who are slightly out of their presumed sphere of influence.

However, closer investigation reveals that their reality is a far more complex one. A veteran songwriter whose compositions have been recorded by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Earth, Wind and Fire and her long-time collaborator, Raphael Saddiq (who makes a guest appearance in this collection on Heaven Down Here), Stinson reached out through Craigslist in search of someone to fulfill what she termed her “serape dreams”. Depauw (a singer/songwriter who was long a fixture on the Santa Monica Promenade, as was the late bluesman Ted Hawkins more than thirty years ago) answered the call and a partnership was formed.

The result is a richly diverse offering of thirteen originals, in which the savvy duo convincingly conveys a healthy, wide eyed optimism that belies their collective experiences in the trenches. Their publicist suggests a degree of like mindedness with the work of Kate Bush, Jesse Ware and others of similar intent. Indeed, those elements are present to a degree. But throughout the proceedings, evidence of solidarity in mission statement with others (however unintentional) also surfaces upon occasion, including Justin Jude (Hi :) ), Chase The Moon-era E-Types (That’s Life), the Forster Sisters (Son Of A Gun) and Tranquility (Electric Footprint).

If any element of naïveté persists, it is found in the opening track, Airplay. Therein, Stinson and Depauw pay bittersweet homage to the mainstream approach of artist exposure (a point driven home in the video with clips of Depauw in action on the Santa Monica Promenade in full Electric Youth-era Debbie Gibson regalia). While deferring to such methodology still serves a purpose with respect to the roads that Stinson has traveled as a songwriter, the challenges indigenous to that system made it fall out of favor more than four decades ago amongst those determined to chart their own course without compromise.

Yet the fact that their work is being championed here suggests that Artpeace has already reached that fork in the road and has proceeded accordingly. Given that this debut outing succeeds on so many levels, it seems inevitable that the footprint Stinson and Depauw will make will be much more than electric.


LIFE IS A BOWL OF CHERRY DROPS -
The Cherry Drops (MuSick)

Rare is the artist that is the complete package. Given the logistics involved in the production and release of a given album (including concept, songwriting, musicianship, arrangements, production, publicity and distribution), it is almost invariably incumbent upon such an artist to assemble a team that is capable of assisting them in seeing such minutiae through to completion.

However, in the case of the Southern California-based Cherry Drops, front man and principal visionary Vern Shank is the team, for the most part. As before, Shank (in tandem with collaborator Joshua Cobb) not only oversaw the creation and realization of the concept behind this latest release, but composed most of the material, produced it and handled the majority of the instrumental responsibilities. 

The resultant Life Is A Bowl Of Cherry Drops is far and away one of the most accomplished and original such projects to stem from the glut of present day aspirants who draw their inspiration from the first generation garage rock masters. For while the band’s inspirations are in evidence throughout the proceedings, the results are anything but derivative or patronizing.

To wit, the album opens with the aptly named acapella exercise, Bliss. Obviously inspired by the like minded Our Prayer from the Beach Boys’ 1969 20/20 album, the sentiment sets the stage for answered prayer in the form of such harmony rich garage rock romps as We’re So High and Far Out.

Those inspirations are all over the musical map throughout the remainder of the proceedings, from the curious hybrid of Clint Eastwood’s masterful 1963 interpretation of George Olsen and his Orchestra’s 1933 Last Roundup and Lorne Greene’s 1964 Ringo single that is Bullet Time (complete with a clever lyrical allusion to Matthew 20:16) to the ambitious variation on Pink Floyd’s Astronomy Domine that comprises the unlikely I Need You, I Love You.

But as the Beach Boys astutely observed in May 1972, You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone. And while Shank and Cobb could most assuredly rest on their laurels with the results as depicted above, they nonetheless astutely called upon friends in the most high places to provide additional input, guidance and musical support.

First among them is former Standells bassist Tony Valentino, who appears in that capacity on I Believe, I Believe. Shank and Cobb have also provided an ideal setting for the great Steve Boone, bassist for the still very much active Lovin’ Spoonful. Boone is very much in his element on the sublime Sweet Lovin’, which would have been right at home near the mid-point of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s 1966 Hums Of The Lovin’ Spoonful album for Kama Sutra.

The Woggles’ Mighty Manfred also contributes backing vocals and tambourine to an impeccable and spirited run through of the Count Five’s 1966 signature Double Shot Records single, Psychotic Reaction. The Cherry Drops themselves round out the overt inspirations with a superb take on Everything’s Alright, which was originally done in 1969 by the Ron Dante-led vocal supergroup, the Archies on their essential third album, Jingle Jangle.

To their considerable credit, the Cherry Drops saw the project through to fruition by re-enlisting the services of Valentino and Boone, along with Buckinghams co-founder Dennis Tufano for the album’s first video project. Therein, the three pioneers of first generation garage rock set the stage as announcer and co-hosts of the fictional In The Groove television series, with the Cherry Drops performing Far Out as their musical guests.

Indeed, such attention to detail at this juncture is nearly unprecedented and most inspiring. And while Vern Shank defers respectfully to both the Lovin’ Spoonful and the Standells in the video clip, an ever more telling component of their mission statement is subtly revealed in the album’s relatively low key closer, Dream California. Therein, he tells the tale of a weary folk musician who bears the burden of sustaining the Southern California spirit despite languishing in the desolate, outer reaches of the North American continent. Shank beckons the protagonist, “Don’t waste the days...you’ve gotta take a chance”. To be certain, the Cherry Drops took that chance, and the genre as a whole is immeasurably better for it.




DANCING WITH THE MOMENT -
Danny Faragher (Blue Print Souind)

In the sleeve notes of this highly anticipated collection, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Danny Owen Faragher name checks a variety of individuals that have fueled his creative muse. Among them are poets Geoffrey Chaucer, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost and John Keats, as well as composers Hank Williams, Willie Dixon, Brian Wilson and Miles Davis.

With the exception of Davis, all concerned are primarily known as extraordinarily gifted wordsmiths. It is within that circle of inspiration in which Faragher has traveled since his days as co-founder of first generation garage rock greats, the Peppermint Trolley Company.

After performing for a season as the Mark V, the ambitious, Redlands, California-based Peppermint Trolley Company made their mark in the autumn of 1966 with a unique arrangement of the late P.F. Sloan’s high drama masterpiece, Lollipop Train as a one-off single for Barry DeVorzon and Billy Sherman’s Valiant label (a song which was also recorded with sublime results by the great Barry McGuire for Dunhill). By 1968, the band had signed with Dot’s subsidiary Acta label, which was also the recording home of the Other Half, the American Breed and Blondell Breed and the Imports. While at Acta, they released a superb self-titled album, and at mid-year enjoyed their biggest success with the acclaimed Baby You Come Rollin’ Across My Mind single. The band successfully sustained their momentum at Acta for three additional singles, The Last Thing On My Mind, New York City and Trust.

After enjoying acclaimed guest appearances on such television programs as Mannix, The Beverly Hillbillies, Upbeat and Paul Revere and the Raiders’ Happening ’68 show, the Peppermint Trolley Company left Acta in 1969, with the label folding soon after their departure. The band continued for a season under the name Bones, and finally entered into a protracted sabbatical.

A 2009 reissue of the Peppermint Trolley Company’s Acta album (with a generous helping of bonus tracks) on Steve Stanley’s prolific Now Sounds label generated considerable renewed interest in the band. The group even reunited on 11 October 2008 to perform at guitarist Greg Tornquist’s wedding. But sadly, the 2014 passing of band co-founder Patrick McClure (who was replaced by Tornquist when he left the group in 1967) again derailed their momentum.

Nonetheless, Faragher opted to persevere, with this resultant offering of thirteen originals more than living up to the diversity of his various inspirations. Appropriately titled Dancing With The Moment,  the various selections herein are all over the musical map, from the introspective folk rock of  Song In The Night (which is not unlike some of the most recent offerings by Orange County singer/songwriter John Zipperer) to the glorious testimony to the hard bop espoused by the aforementioned Miles Davis (as well as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and others) in Due South On The Blue Line.

Vocal group harmony that takes its cue from such landmark classics as the Nutmegs’ A Story Untold gets its due in Fountain Of Love, while the reflective balladry of Barry Manilow is feted in the like minded Open The Door. In turn, Slo Mo Struttin’ offers a lighthearted take on the ramblings of such genre standard bearers as the Fabulous Counts, the Nite Liters and the Ohio Players, before the gorgeous Pacific Blue celebrates a return to form with the same benefit of hindsight that graced like minded recent offerings by the Bamboo Trading Company, complete with a passing (albeit curious) reference to the Coasters.

In Dancing With The Moment, Faragher has proven himself to be a detail oriented disciple of his inspirations, and in turn has celebrated genre diversity in a manner that relatively few others have done credibly. Apparently (in the words of one of this album’s standout tracks), A Dry Spell Ends and the return to form of a remarkably gifted pioneer has begun.

 

EMOTIONAL FEEDBACK-
Simon Felton (Pink Hedgehog)

If nothing else, Simon Felton is a realist.

The bassist, Garfield’s Birthday co-founder, Pink Hedgehog Records CEO and Dorchester, Dorset native recently emerged from a protracted sabbatical, in which he reassessed priorities in the wake of his decision to restructure operations of the Portland, Dorset-based label.

Coming to terms at last with the changes in the industry that directly impacted his mission statement, Felton has not only brought Pink Hedgehog (which is also the recording home of the acclaimed singer/songwriter Peter Lacey) back to active status, but he has also returned to form as a musician with a pair of releases that succinctly represent both facets of his artistic muse.

In late 2014, Felton released the latest installment in the ongoing saga of Garfield’s Birthday, the band that he co-founded in 1995. You Are Here basically serves as Felton’s ongoing vision of the band’s original mission statement, with a celebratory atmosphere that finds solidarity with the works of Harpers Bizarre, the Love Generation and Twinn Connexion.

Conversely, Emotional Feedback is far more introspective. Therein, Felton takes the same road traveled by Portland, Oregon singer/songwriter Justin Jude in 2012 in his landmark and diversionary 5 Kinds Of Rain album. Felton does so with the likes of Two Fine Lovers/A Warning, Clouds and Coffee And Lies (not to mention the curious If I Were A Single Girl again, which was composed by Felton’s former Garfield’s Birthday colleague, James Laming) taking the basic dreamscape template to new levels of high drama. A remarkable gift, and one rarely seen since the late, great Michael Holliday honed it to perfection more than a half century ago.

Felton summarized his approach thusly:

“Recorded at home on Portland, using Garage Band and Pro Tools. Performed and sung by Simon using real and unreal instruments.

In other words, when basic survival is at stake, protocol and convention often go out the window and are even occasionally seen for the albatrosses that they can be. With commendable discernment, Felton has taken that ambitious step. As a result, not only does a most respectable independent label continue to flourish, but so does the multi-faceted career of a true visionary, who is not at all hesitant to pursue risk. A Safe Bet indeed.


LIFE'S A GIFT -
Groovy Uncle (Trouserphonic)
 
Distance, why do you separate us?”

So sang Spanky And Our Gang in their landmark B-side, Distance for Mercury Records in 1967. Indeed, in the context in which they were singing throughout that particular track (referring therein to relationships that are hindered by geographical separation), Distance resonated with many who found themselves mired in such circumstances.

But with respect to the fourth and fifth generation bands that derive much of their inspiration from the work of the first generation garage rock pioneers, distance in terms of chronology has proven to be an asset, rather than a liability. For while many who immediately followed in their wake were encumbered in their endeavors in no small part as a result of self-imposed adherence to such periphery as geography and chronology, the majority of the fourth and fifth generation aspirants have no such first hand experience. As such, they appreciate the art for art’s sake and draw from it accordingly.

For Chatham, Kent’s Groovy Uncle, that has meant four albums rich in inspiration, highly focused in terms of mission statement and eloquent beyond the norm in execution (aided and abetted in no small part via an early hearty endorsement from no less than E-Types co-founder and front man, Robert Wence). True to form, with this, their fifth release, Groovy Uncle has again confounded expectations by dismissing genre myopia out of hand and unconditionally embracing that which enriches their vision.

With Suzi Chunk once again on board as vocalist, Groovy Uncle herein offers twelve new compositions by band leader and multi-instrumentalist Glenn Prangnell. Recorded at Rochester, Kent’s Ranscombe Studios and produced by Jim Riley (keyboards/harmonica), the aptly titled Life’s A Gift is a celebration from start to finish.

Beginning with the Northern Soul-inspired Your Tiny Mind (which evokes interchangeably the Tams’ Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy and the Temptations’ My Baby, and is ironically in reasonable solidarity musically with the August 2009 Your Tiny Mind single by Southend duo Relation), Groovy Uncle are quickly all over the musical map. To wit, My Destination meshes the vivid imagery of The Story Of Simon Simopath-era Nirvana with the Montanas’ That’s When Happiness Began. Nonetheless, such garage rock purist-pleasing pursuits are the exception rather than the norm here.

Groovy Uncle finds themselves at their most psychedelic in the title track, underscored by the lavish arrangement and such astute lyrical references as, “I can hear the alchemy of early morning rain, and something tells me nature never lies”. But in the very next track, My Precious Time, the band is already revisiting the dreamscape template that served them so well in previous releases, enriched by both a strong bridge and an arrangement that opted for the unlikely 6/8 time signature. Groovy Uncle returns to that perspective again in Back To Me, in a manner that has rarely been executed with both finesse and authority (with rare exceptions including the Style Council’s 1984 monster classic, My Ever Changing Moods).

Then there is Married To The Captain Of The Team, an upbeat tale of intrigue that brings to mind the Who’s It’s Not True. It is possibly not coincidental that the like minded You Fell For It takes its cue from the catalog of Larry’s Rebels, first generation garage rock greats who likewise tried their hand (with considerable success) at It’s Not True. That the Tartanic/Scaffold hybrid This I Can’t Get Away With, and the George Formby meets the Happenings Tea And Cake bring the proceedings to a conclusion is further testimony to the band’s resolve to both confound expectations and (hopefully) in turn inspire their diverse demographic (at least the portion that does have a direct connection with their inspirations) to think outside of their self-imposed boxes. 




STREETS OF MUMBAI - 
Long Tall Deb With Colin John
(Vizztone)
 
It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt.

In recent years, there has been a considerable resurgence in interest in the blues amongst various musical aspirants. Many have committed their fascination with the genre to vinyl and CD, albeit with often predictable results.

More often than not, the project at hand is rife with ambition and technical proficiency. Yet such attributes are often swept aside by a general lack of vision that gives way to slavish imitation, with the results varying little from the conventional twelve-bar template that has long given the genre’s detractors fuel for their dissension.

Thankfully, Deborah “Long Tall Deb” Landolt (whose previous Vizztone release, Raise Your Hands was somewhat of a precursor of things to come) has taken into consideration that potential dichotomy and has responded accordingly. Streets Of Mumbai (inspired by her recent live performances in Maharashtra) draws from only the most rudimentary elements of that basic template and is embellished with a health variety of inspirations.

To wit, the title track reflects a most inspiring flirtation with psychedelia, with subtle touches that would be right at home on a Uni Records-era Strawberry Alarm Clock album. In turn, Jailhouse makes a slight left turn into Wheels Of Fire-era Cream territory, offset succinctly by Landolt’s fine vocal balance between the pomp of Etta James and the relative finesse of Linda Jones.

Hole In My Heart is the only track featured here that draws from that aforementioned template. However, it is enhanced most inspiringly by Colin John’s guitar work and Nate Hollman’s keyboard flourishes, which combine to give the track more of a Big Brother And The Holding Company / Spencer Davis Group feel.

Landolt rounds out the proceedings with the brilliant Shine That Song Like Gold, an unabashed tribute to the great Robert Johnson (complete with numerous lyrical references to Johnson’s work). Not just an insurance policy for the purist perspective, but an acknowledgment of the inspiration, with a determination to follow suit not through slavish imitation, but by utilizing her God given abilities to cast her own shadow. And in that respect, Landolt has most assuredly created (in the words of one of her earlier triumphs) Diamonds On The Desert Floor.



SUSIE BLUE AND THE LONESOME FELLAS - 
Solitaire Miles (Seraphic)

A true artist never lets such periphery as genre myopia circumvent their creative process. However, it sometimes takes a concerted effort on their part to convince their faithful to follow suit.

To wit, pioneering folk and country rock greats, the Byrds readily cited the impact of such diverse inspirations as Bobby Darin and John Coltrane in their own work. In turn, Coltrane and such fellow visionaries as Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk often included a wide variety of standards in their numerous studio sessions. And in his six decade recording career, veteran vocalist Pat Boone has made it a point to record in virtually every musical setting imaginable, from rock and roll and rhythm and blues to Gospel, jazz, country and western, heavy metal and folk.

Chicago, Illinois-based vocalist Solitaire Miles has apparently encountered a bit of resistance within her own circle of observers in light of this most recent project. Long established as a world class interpreter of material by such stalwarts of jazz as Billie Holiday and Mildred Bailey, Miles herein has taken the not so giant step of embracing Western Swing, tempered slightly by the occasional deference to classic middle of the road.

Indeed, such a step is logical, if not inevitable. The best loved pioneers of Western Swing, such as James Robert “Bob” Wills, Donnell Clyde “Spade” Cooley, Milton Brown and his Brownies and Sollie “Tex” Williams had much in common in both ability and execution with their jazz counterparts, with all concerned making a concerted effort on a consistent basis to keep the often incongruous components of heart and technique front and center in their respective mission statements.

As such, it is no surprise that Miles’ initial venture into her Susie Blue And The Lonesome Fellas persona finds her both completely at ease with and in complete command of the genre. Herein, she successfully delivers faithful yet personable takes on Cooley’s Crazy Cause I Love You (which in and of itself owes much to the often covered Wills/Cooley classic, Miss Molly) and You Can’t Break My Heart, as well as Wills’ I Hear You Talkin’ and Hang Your Head In Shame.

Floyd Tillman’s Columbia label single, I Gotta Have My Baby Back (which was subsequently covered by label mate Ray Price) follows suit here in its trademark dichotomy of misery rendered genially, as does the great Cindy Walker’s Me And The Man In The Moon. And to further emphasize the attributes of diversity, Miles takes on both the dreamscape prototype of Les Paul and Mary Ford’s I’m A Fool To Care (later reinterpreted by Joseph “Joe Barry” Barrios) and the high drama of Vaughn Monroe’s Ghost Riders In The Sky (albeit via the like minded interpretation of Katherine LaVerne “Kay Starr” Starks) with equally successful results.

With most capable support from such sympathetic musicians as Patricia Barber sidemen Neal Alger (guitar) and Larry Kohut (bass), as well as Jump ’N The Saddle slide guitarist T.C. Furlong, Miles has herein taken a most necessary and welcome step of bridge building. Given its relatively short span, it will hopefully be a brief matter of time before the last of the holdouts follow the lead of the like minded Patti Page (not to mention the Flamingos) and Cross Over The Bridge.


TOMORROW THEN -
Mod Hippie (Karma Frog)

As music inspired by the pioneers of first generation garage rock begins to make its latest impact on the artists involved, it becomes increasingly incumbent upon those so moved to respond in kind with well written and executed original material.

Unlike such second generation aspirants as the Chesterfield Kings and the Unclaimed (who had the luxury of padding their recorded legacies and live sets with dutifully executed covers of the more obscure items from their personal record archives), the sycophantic approach is no longer a viable option for their fourth and fifth generation counterparts. As many of those once impossibly rare first generation singles are now routinely available via a wealth of CD reissues, rescuing a given inspired track from relative obscurity is not necessarily considered a prerequisite by those within their discerning target demographic.

The Southern California-based Mod Hippie understands this seeming dichotomy, and has come to terms with it accordingly. Inspired by the so-called mod and hippie movements yet a slave to neither, the band (who nonetheless readily admit to the inspiration of the Seeds, Pink Floyd, Robin Hitchcock and Black Flag) draws the most logical conclusion with the album’s title itself, which suggests their resolve to make their own mark and press ahead, rather than remaining in perpetual debt (and, as such, secondary status) to those who inspired them.

Mod Hippie includes within its ranks such seasoned industry veterans as keyboardsman Adam Marsland. A highly prolific and remarkably gifted solo artist whose collaborators have included the great Evie Sands, Marsland has also made considerable inroads as a composer and producer. To that effect, he served in the latter capacity for a solo project by Beach Boys guitarist David Marks.

The band also features lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Doug McGuire, as well as guitarists Mike Schnee and Connor Claxton, all of whom contribute the majority of the original material. Those originals cover a wide spectrum of variations on their chosen theme, from the Quicksilver Messenger Service-like arrangement that graces My Far Out Town to the reflective, dreamscape atmosphere of All Of The Time. The album concludes with the fascinating Shimmering Sound, which features Theremin accompaniment by Wedge/Brian Wilson veteran Probyn Gregory.

The lone outside contribution comes from the Hombres, whose 1967 signature single, Let It All Hang Out is afforded a decidedly different treatment here. While remaining respectful to the Hombres’ decidedly unique vision, Mod Hippie executes the track in straight 4/4 time, with emphasis shifted from keyboards to guitar. Combined with the curious “tin roof” echo effect that characterized many of the classic San Francisco bands, the Hombres’ Verve Forecast label classic finds itself in even greater alignment herein with that which was suggested by its lyrical mission statement.

Buoyed by the response to this debut effort, Mod Hippie enthusiastically began work on their second album in early November.

“With the amazing D.J. Bonebrake on sitting in on drums for these sessions”, said McGuire, in reference to the acclaimed percussionist of the Eyes and X.

Inspirations notwithstanding, Mod Hippie has opted to not take The Easy Way Out. In the process, they have found their Reality Place and raised the bar with their Shimmering Sound.

I MEAN BUSINESS -
Lara Price (Greaseland)
 
Amongst musicians, musicologists and record collectors, Northern Soul remains one of the most respected and impacting genres in all of music.

When all of the prerequisite elements are in place, Northern Soul is about as good as it gets. Some of the best releases of that ilk include Tony and Tyrone’s Turn It On, the Knight Brothers’ Temptation ’Bout To Get Me, Tim’s My Side Of The Track, Linda Carr’s Baby Are You Puttin’ Me On, J.J. Jackson’s But It’s Alright, the Precisions’ If This Is Love, and the Detroit Emeralds’ Take Me The Way I Am.

Irrespective of such impeccable examples as those, there is a relatively unspoken perspective that persists amongst even Northern Soul’s most ardent devotees. While such releases speak well for the genre, they are nonetheless in the minority. For much of  Northern Soul’s output suffered from subpar songwriting, which even the best of vocalists, producers and musicians were not able to redeem with their generally above average skills. In other words, even the best improvisationalists cannot bring out the best in material that lacks in one or more components of the tried and true verse, chorus and bridge template.

The Bay Area-based vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lara Price has been very much aware of that dichotomy since the release of her acclaimed Faces Of The Blues album in 2002. A devout student of Northern Soul who first studied piano at the age of six in 1981 under Elektra recording artist Howard Jones, Price responded accordingly by drawing from both personal experience and the works of such like minded veterans of the idiom as Candi Staton and Ann Peebles, whose material (Staton’s Get It When I Want It and Peebles’ Slipped Tripped And Fell In Love) is more than done justice here.

In terms of originals, Price has literally turned up the volume and lived up to the title on this, her sixth album. With familiar yet strong story lines and commanding delivery, Price runs the gamut of emotions, from the flippant Crazy Lucy (whose protagonist is a counterpart of sorts to the late Jim Croce’s Willie “Slim” McCoy of You Don’t Mess Around With Jim fame) to the curious re-write of Roy Orbison’s Blue Bayou that is Cryin’ Over You.

The more reflective originals also get their due in this magnificent collection, including Moon In The Mirror, Happy Blue Year, Time and the unnervingly familiar Love Lost. All of which of course provide a healthy balance amongst the shouters, highlighted by Pack It Up, the seemingly Lloyd Price-inspired One Year At A Time and the title track.

With production by Kid Andersen (who also contributes on guitar, in tandem with Mike Schermer), I Mean Business is an album that more than lives up to its title. Had Price been recording and composing material during the early days of Northern Soul, there is little doubt that the percentage of the aforementioned sub par material within the genre would have dropped significantly.

 

FULL CIRCLE - John Zipperer
(John Zipperer)


Once in a while, a musician comes along for whom every facet of their artistic vision appears to fall into place with seeming effortlessness, including production, repertoire, arrangement, and execution.

Such an artist is the Los Angeles-based John Zipperer, whose mission statement is most assuredly not merely a byproduct of happenstance. Once an actor (The Agency; Maximum Bob) and  stuntman, Zipperer’s choice of career underwent a paradigm shift after having been hit by a passing oil truck on the 285 Freeway in Atlanta, Georgia while changing a tire.

Upon his recuperation, Zipperer relocated to Southern California and gradually reinvented himself as a world class singer, songwriter and charismatic exponent of original material. His highly engaging repertoire obviously draws its creative muse from such like minded greats as late Decca period Rick Nelson, Van Dyke Parks, Eddy Raven, post-RCA Victor Michael Nesmith and Jimmy Buffett. That he defers to such inspiration by depicting himself on the cover in trademark country rock apparel with head bowed and obscured in deference is indicative of the high level of discernment at which he operates.

The resultant Nick Kirgo-produced  Full Circle is the sum total of the aforementioned elements, and then some. Interestingly enough, Zipperer’s voice resonates with a slight hint of timidity and/or understatement borne of circumstance, which nonetheless works to his considerable advantage. To wit, the Jimmy Buffett-flavored opening track, Sailing Away paints a rich and vivid musical portrait for which a bombastic vocal delivery would only serve to obscure the message. It is an invitation to the so-called good life for which Buffett has long been the default champion with respect to America’s east coast. Suffice to say that Sailing Away qualifies its creator for similar accolades regarding the west coast.

The title track follows suit; eliciting a groove not unlike that found in Eddy Raven’s Bayou Boys (Universal UVL-66016). It is as much a testament to resolutions found along Zipperer’s journey as Raven’s track was with regards to his own circumstances. Yet seemingly in the name of diversity, Zipperer abruptly shifts gears to a perspective of endless optimism in Like Being With You; finding the inevitable duality of purpose between Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues (Columbia 4-43242) and Mel McDaniel’s Stand Up (Capitol B-5513) in the process.

From there, Zipperer is pretty much all over the musical map, and the album is all the better for it. Buoyed by some of the most engaging acoustic guitar work in recent memory, Going Downtown takes the basic blues template of such masters of the idiom as Charly Patton and Ishmon Bracey, with Zipperer’s understated vocal again providing an ideal vehicle for the setting. Zipperer brings the approach home with the 6/8 synthesis of the Renaissance minstrel and the American Civil War balladeer in The Ballad Of Micah McDowde, which sets the stage for a rousing finish via the likes of the relentlessly upbeat (combining the flippant persona of Peter Alsop and the like minded optimism of folk rock-era Chubby Checker, by way of the Kingston Trio's Banua) Sing With Me, as well as the acoustic folk/jazz romp Here By Me, the subtle bravado of Cool Breeze, the redemption of the hippie folk ethic in Know Who You Love and the anthemic, Pete Seeger-like, Gospel tinged album closer, To The River.

To his considerable credit, Zipperer includes only one example of cover material in this collection. And while Van Morrison’s mid-1967 Brown Eyed Girl (Bang B-545) might qualify as the one distraction in the massive and otherwise impeccable catalog of the late, great Bert Berns (who produced the Morrison cut and released it on his own Bang label) by virtue of its massive overexposure in the ensuing years since its release, Zipperer herein more than proves his mettle as an artist of considerable discernment by reinventing the track as an acoustic ballad. In the process, he gives it a new life of its own, as did the Wanted in March 1967 with their definitive rendition of Wilson Pickett’s duly overexposed In The Midnight Hour (Detroit Sound 223).

And while the notion of Full Circle may seem a bit premature for an artist at this stage of their career, Zipperer has nonetheless underscored the validity of the point by drawing from his rich repertoire of personal experience and musical inspiration to produce one of the most engaging and essential releases of recent months. A solid contender for best album of the year.


STILL GOT THAT HUNGER -
The Zombies (The End)

In the mid-1980s, Blitz Magazine visited the backstage area after a show at the Hollywood Palace in Hollywood, California. While there, a spirited dialogue about music ensued with guitar virtuoso, Love Sculpture-cofounder, visionary solo artist and Cardiff, Wales native David William “Dave” Edmunds.

Inevitably, the conversation turned to Edmunds’ controversial April 1983 Information album for Columbia Records. Since its release, there had been considerable dialogue amongst Edmunds’ legions of followers about how that album, with its curious embracing within the title track of state of the art production technology, belied the artist’s formidable legacy as an outspoken advocate for the fundamentals.

Interestingly enough, Edmunds did not share their perspective.

“Where is it written that every record I make has to sound exactly like the last one?”, he retorted.

And while some might rightly contend that his 2015 RPM label instrumental album, Rags And Classics (which features ambitious covers of standards by the Beach Boys, Mason Williams, Booker T. And The M.G.s, Merle Travis and others) does exactly that, Edmunds may have inadvertently had a point. For while change for change’s sake is not necessarily an accurate barometer by which to measure aesthetic merit, it is nonetheless the mark of true artists that they do not rest on their laurels (no matter how impressive those laurels may be), but instead continue to challenge themselves to greater artistic heights with each new release.

In the case of the beloved veteran Saint Albans, Hertfordshire band, the Zombies, Still Got That Hunger will quite likely elicit howls of indignation from some among the purists who continue to hold the band’s April 1968 Odessey And Oracle album for Date Records up as the masterpiece that it is (and understandably so). Yet it is those same observers who will often opt to not take into consideration the band’s most worthwhile recent work.

Interestingly enough, the band itself played into that perspective to a degree in early 2015, when they briefly reunited with original bassist Christopher Taylor “Chris” White and drummer Hugh Grundy for a tour in which they performed Odessey And Oracle in its entirety. Even so, such genre myopia on the part of those observers is most assuredly their loss.

Indeed, the Chris Potter-produced Still Got That Hunger not only confounds expectations, but more than lives up to its title. Therein, the Zombies (Colin Edward Michael Blunstone - lead vocals, Rodney Terence “Rod” Argent - keyboards, Tom Tooney - guitar, James Walter “Jim” Rodford - bass, Steve Rodford - drums) deliver nine new originals (and one most impressive remake) that at once underscores their commitment to fulfill their considerable artistic muse, while concurrently producing richly constructed and sublimely executed new material that at once reassures and challenges both artist and listener.

Appropriately enough, Still Got That Hunger opens with Rod Argent’s Moving On, an ambitious blues rocker. Therein, Colin Blunstone affirms the album’s title and mission statement as he sings, “I won’t cry for the past, for I’ve re-found my freedom at last”; driving the point home with a decidedly determined proclamation of, “I’m Moving On to my dreams of tomorrow”.

Argent’s Chasing The Past more than underscores the point, opening as it does with his classically-tinged keyboard variation on the band’s classic 1964 Parrot label single, I Remember When I Loved Her (which ironically was covered in 1998 by fellow first generation garage rock visionaries the E-Types on their landmark Chase The Moon album, which also featured a verbal endorsement of the band from the late Zombies guitarist, Paul Ashley Warren Atkinson). From there, Blunstone and Argent maintain an undercurrent of that Parrot era template for emphasis as they most decisively conclude, “There is not another place that I would rather be than here, no case for Chasing The Past.

That said, the band firmly and most convincingly gets down to business with the Gospel/blues-tinged Edge Of The Rainbow, which features some of Blunstone’s most captivating vocal gymnastics to date. That connection is reaffirmed in New York, which recalls the band’s Christmas Day 1964 stop at the Brooklyn Fox, as well as their ongoing affinity for the work of such artists as Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, Aretha Franklin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Miles Davis and Ray Charles.

Yet this is not to suggest that the band has disavowed their vast and vaunted legacy. To wit, the remake of their 1965 Parrot label single, I Want You Back Again maintains all of the elements of minor chord high drama that characterized that most crucial phase of their work. The remake adds a lengthy John Coltrane/Dave Brubeck-like workout between Argent and new lead guitarist Tom Toomey, who brings an element of Pat Metheny bravado into the proceedings. To his considerable credit, Toomey (who succeeded Keith Airey in that capacity) astutely keeps the pomp in check, while nonetheless providing pertinent fills that flush out the arrangements quite well.

And We Were Young Again sustains the momentum of that Parrot-era high drama, which was perhaps best evidenced on what is arguably the band’s finest moment, their March 1965 She’s Coming Home/I Must Move single (Parrot PAR 9747). But throughout the remaining four tracks (Maybe Tomorrow, Now I Know I’ll Never Get Over You, Little One and Beyond The Borderline), the band dispenses with any such attempts to placate either camp and simply delivers with the passion, intelligence and dexterity that has characterized their entire recorded legacy.

To his considerable credit, bassist Jim Rodford has also taken on a larger role in the proceedings. As the cousin of Rod Argent, Rodford was originally recruited by Argent to become a part of the band upon their formation in 1961. However, Rodford at the time was committed to his role in the Bluetones. He subsequently enjoyed considerable acclaim as a member of the Swingin’ Blue Jeans, and was an integral part of the Kinks during the band’s tenure with the Arista label. And while he did record briefly with the band in 1968 for ill fated sessions that were intended as a follow up to Odessey And Oracle, Rodford’s legacy came full circle when he at last came on board with the Zombies in 2004.

In turn, the Zombies themselves have come full circle with Still Got That Hunger. The album not only holds its own against the relatively recent Breathe Out, Breathe In and As Far As I Can See, as well as the career-defining Begin Here and Odessey And Oracle, but it affirms beyond question that the Zombies remain among the most impacting musical exponents of all time. As if to answer their February 1966 single, Is This The Dream?, most assuredly that dream has herein been fulfilled.