Thursday

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



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).

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

CLUB OF BROKEN HEARTS -
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.

 EVERYTHING'S GROOVY -
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
.

POP! THE INCREDIBLE, FANTASTIC RETRO
POP WORLD OF DANA COUNTRYMAN -
Dana Countryman (Sterling Swan)

Among the artists who champion particular genres and/or eras of music, there are those who become so enamored with a specific niche that they tended to lose perspective.

Perhaps the most blatant in that respect were the second and third generation garage rockers. Some of its aspirants were so intent upon slavish imitation of their first generation garage rock inspirations that they selectively drew from those inspirations, cafeteria style. In the process, they almost invariably painted a musical portrait that was factually and historically inaccurate, and ultimately did little to further their own cause.

All of which makes the work of singer, songwriter and Mount Vernon, Washington native Dana Countryman a welcome and inspiring reality check. A long time student and colleague of the Paris, France-based electronic music pioneer, Jean-Jacques Perrey (with whom he recorded such wonderfully screwy, Juan Garcia Esquivel / Dick Hyman-inspired originals as Atomic Twist and Pizzicato Sambo), Countryman is a remarkably gifted musicologist and tunesmith. His latest CD, Pop! The Incredible, Fantastic Retro Pop World Of Dana Countryman is an uplifting celebration of the musical diversity that prevailed throughout the era in which first generation garage rock developed; an attribute that somehow escaped many of the aforementioned second and third generation garage rock hopefuls.

To wit, the opener, Every Night is a high drama, lavishly orchestrated and sublimely executed upbeat exercise in optimism that seemingly draws heavily from the like minded material of the highly prolific vocalist, producer, arranger, composer (whose work was covered by such greats as Diane Renay, Dee Dee Sharp, Frank Sinatra, the Four Seasons and Shirley Matthews), and Hazelton, Pennsylvania native, Ed Rambeau. A solid contender (alongside the highly versatile Reverend Jeremy Morris) for successor to the late James Brown’s title of The Hardest Working Man In Show Business, Rambeau (who has also amassed an impressive track record as an author and photo journalist) established a firm foundation with his early work for the Swan, Dyno-Voice and Bell labels, and has since gone on to produce more than two dozen albums’ worth of first rate, duly inspired material. Herein, Countryman follows suit with well crafted and similarly arranged originals; a template that serves him quite well throughout the seventeen tracks in this collection, while providing a healthy supplement to his earlier work (which included the MOR-friendly In Harmony album with his wife, Tricia).

This is not to say that Countryman’s repertoire is solely in solidarity with Rambeau’s work. Within the first bars of track two, Here Come Those Butterflies Again, the inspiration of Birmingham, West Midlands native and one time Rockin’ Berries rhythm guitarist Geoffrey “Jefferson” Turton’s late 1969 solo hit, Baby Take Me In Your Arms (Janus J-106) will become readily apparent. And once again, Countryman has drawn from a most worthwhile source and in turn produced a fresh and invigorating perspective on it.

Much of the remainder of Pop! The Incredible, Fantastic Retro Pop World Of Dana Countryman is, by design, a continued exercise in diversity. From the curious 1910 Fruitgum Company / Jimmy Clanton / Joey Powers mix of Peanut Buttery Gumdrop Girl to the post-Smile Beach Boys via Peter Lacey multi-generational approach of Tricia’s Song (which owes at least a passing nod to Disney Girls), he remains uniformly excellent. Even as he makes (by his own admission) a concerted effort to shift gears in the second half of the proceedings, there is (at best) only a minimum loss of momentum by his taking various cues from such singer/songwriter movement stalwarts as Eric Carmen, the Carpenters and Dan Hill (and I’ll Never Be The Same even takes its cue from Gino Vanelli’s I Just Wanna Stop). Thankfully not content to turn out mere revisionist history, Countryman instead approaches his work with a fierce determination to draw from each inspiration and generate optimum results.

In each case, Countryman approaches the fundamentals of the piece at hand with an authority that speaks well for his capabilities as a musicologist and music journalist; simultaneously making as strong of a case against genre myopia that can be made. In his own words, his efforts have not produced Just Another Love Song, but a worthwhile collection that will endure For Now And Forever.


ELECTRIC LOVE -
Jack deKeyzer (Blue Star)

To be certain, an artist trying to make their niche in the blues has their work cut out for them. The field is crowded with aspirants, many of whom continue to churn out well intended, yet ultimately pedestrian retreads of the same twelve-bar motif that gives its detractors fuel for their fire.

However, the Toronto, Ontario-based Jack deKeyzer is a perfect example of an artist who has defied those odds and flourished in the process. Like Canned Heat and Jimi Hendrix before him, deKeyzer has drawn from the precedent set by the founding fathers of the genre and created a blues-based original repertoire that is at once fresh and inspiring. In the process, he has earned multiple Juno and Maple awards, and has firmly established himself as a commanding presence in live performance.

deKeyzer's most recent Blue Star Records release, Electric Love is among his most ambitious work to date. Fellow Toronto area-based solo artist and long time Blitz contributor, John Mars has worked frequently with deKeyzer, and offered the following observations about the circumstances that led to this recording:

“When you are looking at the notes on the musicians on Electric Love: David McMorrow (keyboards) from Toronto played with Jack back in the early ’90s. Al (Duffy) on bass has been with Jack for more than ten years. Even longer than Cory Shvetz, who played bass guitar with Jack for about eight.

“Rick (Donaldson) on drums is from Chicago, and definitely a good new addition to the group.  Former Stompin’ Tom Connors drummer Danny Lockwood will be missed. But Rick is easily right on the same level. Danny left Jack because Danny (Hamilton) does not wish to tour at this point.  Perhaps Stompin’ Tom’s frantic road warrior antics wore him out!

John Mars also offered the following observations on the album itself:

“On Good Thing (track two), Jack reveals his love for the sound of two words that he got so much into while singing the backing vocal on my own (Ain’t That) A Good Thing, which he and I wrote for my Whasup? album.  In recent years, Jack has often remarked to me how much he loves that earlier album of mine, on which he worked so hard.  Of course my own idea to use those two words came from someone else, too: (former Paul Revere and the Raiders front man, Mark) Lindsay.

“On track three, Rock Me Like This, we hear at least one Rolling Stones reference in terms of a very fat (Keith Richards)-like bar chord. Obviously, this song is a current “live” hit!

“Track four, To The Beauty Of You: Again the Whasup? album thing comes into play. The guitar trickles remind me of his work on our co-written song, Danielle, as well as his excellent guitar work on our own arrangement of Joe Tex’s I’ll Never Do You Wrong. Also, this melodious number strongly reminds me of his 1990-1991 and 1995 video hit, Nothin’ In The World, which had backing vocals by Jim and Greg of Blue Rodeo. It was from his Warner album, Hard Workin’ Man, produced by Stacey Heydon.

To Be With You (track five). To Be With You in Electric Ladyland?

My Love Has Gone (track seven) is a mysterious minor key blues in the way that Black Night was/is.

“In track eight, The Groove Doctor, a tiny influence from a local anti-hero shows up in the ghost of Rick James in Earthquake Woman, as it has shown up before in Jack’s music. And of course, more significantly the influence of the music of James Brown is there; as it always is, whenever Jack funks it all up! 

“I think that it was a good move to revisit Party on track eleven with the new line-up. This was originally a track on Jack’s incredible 1999 long player, Down In The Groove. This rockin’ Jack opus is another concert favorite.

“The acoustic Electric Love at the end of the disc reminds me of Jo-Ann Kelly doing Robert Johnson’s guitar thing, although, I am pretty sure that Jack has yet to hear the cool vibe of her 1968 solo album on Epic. DeK and I tend to know each other’s record collections! I should play my copy for him sometime.  Of course J deK is a huge Johnson fan. I’m hearing a certain pop potential here with this track. Although on this particular album, this version of the song was obviously just intended as a coda to the album, this combination of folk-blues/pop is something that may yet parlay into a hit for Jack deKeyser in the future.

“I hope you enjoy Jack’s album as much as I did!”

In light of the evidence at hand, compounded by Mars’ observations, it’s fair to say that doing so would be (in deKeyzer’s words) a Natural Ball
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