WHERE CIRCLES END: While veteran first generation garage rockers the Doughboys have seemingly renewed their original mission statement with their RAM label Running For Covers, band drummer and co-founder Richard X. Heyman has opted to confound expectations with his latest Turn-Up solo endeavor, Pop Circles. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell has the story on both new releases below (Click on above image to enlarge).


Bob Corritore And Friends
(SWMAF / Vizztone)

"Contrary to the ever-present swarm of roots can be steeped in blues traditions and still draw blood today".

Journalist Jon Young made that poignant observation in praise of vocalist/guitarist Sue Foley on the cover of her Big City Blues album in 1995. Nearly a quarter-century after the fact, Young's words ring true more than ever.

Since that time, those blues aspirants have (perhaps inadvertently) continued to foster the same aesthetic setbacks as that which has befallen country music since its last gasp of consequence, the so-called New Traditionalist movement ran its course in the early 1990s. Interestingly enough, both camps professed the inspiration of the pioneers of their respective movements. Yet their efforts often drew more from the tedious and elitist pomp of early 1970s mainstream rock.

In the case of the blues, the roots pretenders of which Young spoke seem to still be commanding the bulk of attention within the genre today. Granted, much of it is by default, given the alarming attrition rare among  pioneers of the movement. Nonetheless, the rigid twelve-bar template tempered by lyrics that are rife with cliche remains the order of the day.

That is not to say that there are not those within its ranks who take umbrage with both those developments and the observers' assessment thereof. And in the case of harmonica master Bob Corritore, discernment above the norm in such matters has prompted him to take decisive and corrective action. The result is the magnificent thirteen track collection at hand.

Enlisting the services of a litany of like minded colleagues such as Sugar Ray Rayford, Junior Watson, Willie Buck and Alabama Mike as guest vocalists (along with a wealth of associates in other musical roles), Corritore charged each to bring the genre full circle back to the impassioned musical force that it was under the stewardship of its vaunted founders. 

Much of the material here represents some of the genre at large's more familiar yet revered fare, including Slim Harpo's Shake Your Hips, Hank Ballard And The Midnighters' The Twist, Junior Parker's Stand By Me and Eddy Bell And His Bel-Aires' Few More Days. But in each of these and other instances, Corritore and his colleagues rose to the occasion and did their best to deliver with the passion of those who inspired them. 

To that effect, Sugar Ray Rayford closes out the proceedings in true fire and brimstone fashion with his world class rendition of Keep The Lord On With You. Indeed, given the return to form atmosphere present throughout these proceedings, Do The Hip-Shake Baby! may well be the result of answered prayer.

Dana Countryman (Sterling Swan)

"Keep on putting one foot down in front of the other".

So sang vocalist, composer and former Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Michael Barry "Mike" Reid in his November 1990 signature single, Walk On Faith from his Turning For Home album. And while Reid's observation was largely intended for matters of a more universal concern, his analogy could readily also apply to more specific issues.

With Cabaret Of Love, the Everett, Washington-based vocalist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Dana Countryman herein invokes a sparrow in flight approach to Reid's maxim. As is often the case with post-second generation artists who draw the bulk of their inspiration from their vaunted first generation heroes, there has been a tendency among many of them to continue to bow the knee to those inspirations without taking the baton and running their own race accordingly. 

Curiously drawn more to the post-Woodstock backlash that gave a whole new generation of verse, chorus and bridge-template friendly artists the upper hand in those latter stages of the so-called AM/FM wars, Countryman in his past few releases has meshed that approach with his latent (albeit consistent and considerable) respect for the work of such absolute masters as the Beach Boys and Four Seasons. In the process, he has created a solid body of original material that, while both engaging and inspirational, has heretofore nonetheless maintained a subtle undercurrent of abiding respect that seems to have caused him to hesitate to take center stage.

But the reality is that any artist with proven and consistent capabilities can only maintain a rookie perspective for so long. Eventually, the so-called rookie will have amassed enough of a repertoire to stand confidently alongside of those who have inspired them. 

With Cabaret Of Love, Countryman seems to be taking decisive steps to do just that. While there are indeed some formidable examples of the ongoing inspiration of others (witness his stunning Four Freshmen salute, The Night I Fell In Love With You, as well as his Beach Boys Love You-era Summer Sand), Countryman lets his cabaret instincts take flight in the Starbuck/Sanford Townsend Band-flavored Why Girl, balanced brilliantly by the Champaign-like That's Why I Love Her

And while the smooth jazz underpinnings of the album's opener and title track may briefly invoke David Sanborn reservations (albeit sans over-production), Countryman is nonetheless well versed enough in the Michael Holliday school of masterful understatement to sustain his momentum throughout the proceedings. Those who persevere are rewarded in the finale with a lighthearted voice mail snippet from Countryman and his wife / occasional collaborator, Tricia. 

While maintaining a healthy respect for the pioneering visionaries remains a prerequisite for any musician intent on making inroads, thankfully Countryman has taken the necessary steps to solidify his own mark in the process. Although not egocentrically driven in that pursuit, it might nonetheless well be possible that Countryman may live up to his own I'll Be Shining Above You in due course.

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.

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)

When a given band or solo artist has more than a half century's worth of work to their credit, a bit of thinking outside of the box is not only to be expected, but encouraged, as well.

In the case of the Victoria-based Tol-Puddle Martyrs, that body of work had its beginnings with Peter And The Silhouettes, whose Claudette Jones single remains a hallmark of first generation garage rock. After changing their name to the Tol-Puddle Martyrs, the band signed with the Spiral label in 1967 and released one of the genre's definitive masterpieces, Time Will Come.

The following year, the band joined forces with the prolific Festival label and issued their second single, Love Your Life. Ambitious as those releases were, they were not sufficient to sustain the band's momentum at the time. The group soon after embarked upon a protracted sabbatical, with founder and front man Peter Rechter going on to considerable acclaim at home some years later as head of the highly charismatic Secrets.

However, the recurring return to active status by the beloved Cleveland, Ohio vocal group the Secrets (who recorded four singles for Philips in 1963 - 1964), combined with the ongoing interest in first generation garage rock by many an aspiring musician inspired Rechter to embark upon a second phase of the Tol-Puddle Martyrs' legacy. To date, the band has released more than a half dozen albums of new material in the current century. 

All of which could in part be inspiring the crossroads at which the band finds itself with its latest release, Another Earth.

When the Tol-Puddle Martyrs first embarked upon its protracted sabbatical a half century ago, it was said (and rightfully so) that their small but highly impacting legacy would be difficult to surpass. And when the band began their second phase in the previous decade, Rechter and guitarist/long time collaborator Graham McCoy endeavored to champion the first generation garage rock with which they are inexorably linked.

But as an avid musicologist and student of the art, Rechter has never been content to settle comfortably into any given niche. As such, Another Earth makes a decided break from the psych leanings that have characterized much of their repertoire to date in favor of straight-ahead (and occasionally R&B-tinged) rock. 

Lyrically, there is a recurring science fiction theme, as the title would suggest. But musically, Another Earth runs the gamut of genres that continue to inspire, from the Chicago-like horn charts of Nobody I Know and the relentlessly optimistic uptempo score on Paying It Back With Interest to the symphonic Make Our Way (complete with provincial social commentary) and the dramatic It's Only Love.

For the hardcore among their legions of devotees, the Tol-Puddle Martys reassure all concerned that the basic foundations of their original mission statement remain intact, underscored by the over the top psych romp, Do You Read Me? But for those who read a bit more between the lines, Another Earth is a fitting testimony to the advantages of staying ahead of the curve and confounding expectations. Job well done.