Thursday

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


I WROTE THE BOOK: The Greg Kihn Band has turned in one of their most ambitious and engaging releases to date with their all new Riot Media release, Rekihndled. 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)


GIRLVILLE! -
Dana Countryman (Teensville)


Sometimes there is much to be said in favor of the team approach in recording.

To wit, for an artist such as Doris Day to enter a studio with the intention of covering all of the bases in the recording process would be an exercise in futility. Doris Day was extraordinarily blessed as a vocalist with few peers. And when her considerable vocal acumen was combined with the efforts of the best composers, musicians, arrangers and producers, the results were invariably nothing short of spectacular.

When it was announced that veteran composer and vocalist Dana Countryman would be signing on with Ash Wells' Sydney, New South Wales-based Teensville label, there were concerns about the feasibility of such a venture. Countryman has an established track record as a producer of first rate original material that curiously reflects the inspiration of what he envisions as the highlights of an era that was nonetheless largely responsible for one of the most insufferable aesthetic slumps in music history, the early 1970s.

Conversely, Teensville head Ash Wells' has long been held in high esteem as perhaps the most astute among visionaries whose mission statement focuses primarily on the reissue of rare, obscure and often heretofore unreleased material from rock and roll's glorious formative period. Teensville and its affiliate Rare Rockin' Records label specialize in the continued availability of treasured sides by such beloved artists as Dore Alpert, Kenny Karen, Dwayne Hickman, Ritchie Adams, Jimmy Boyd, Ron Dante, the Duprees, Susan Wayne and others of similar intent. To date, Wells' labels have produced several dozen collections featuring such material, as well as acclaimed single artist anthologies by Paul Petersen, Lesley Gore and others.

To be certain, both Countryman and Wells have repeatedly exercised creative autonomy in their respective endeavors. As such, given that one another's territory had heretofore been out of their individual comfort zones, it stood to reason that the team approach would be the most feasible solution to any such collaborative proposal.

The resultant Girlville! collection bears out this hypothesis in abundance. On his earlier outings for his own Everett, Washington-based Sterling Swan label, Countryman repeatedly made his case for the inspiration of the cream of the singer/songwriter contingent that continued to make an impact despite the overall protracted aesthetic slump in progress at the time. On his most recent such venture, Pop3! Welcome To My Time Warp, Countryman stated his case by repeatedly focusing on the upbeat and enduring elements, producing such memorable tracks as the low key Run Back Into My Arms, the Spiral Starecase-inspired Can't Get You Out Of My Mind and the Gospel/bubblegum hybrid Nice Shot (Straight To The Heart) in the process.

But with Wells' occasional forays into the release of new material, he has invariably held his artists to a given standard in terms of genre and inspiration. Thankfully, Countryman was able to rise to the occasion accordingly with this nineteen track collection. Enlisting the services of such guest vocalists as Andrea Perry, Kathy Hettel, Tricia Countryman, Molly Felder, Kelly Harland and the great Lisa Mychols, Countryman and his colleagues delivered a collection that is both uncompromising and inspiring, if not unwaveringly true to form from a purist perspective.

To that effect, Kathy Hettel evokes the inspiration of the mission statements of such vaunted labels as Chancellor and Cameo/Parkway in the endearing Twist Party At Granny's House. In turn, Tricia Countryman delivers most movingly in I'll Be Good For You; a successor of sorts to the sublime proclamations made by the Chordettes in their True Love Goes On And On single for Archie Bleyer's Cadence label.

"I wrote I'll Be Good For You because I wanted to write a ballad in an almost church like style", said Countryman.

"I felt that the album needed something sweet, simple and quiet to close with".

But "quiet" certainly does not describe the album's inspired closer, at least not in terms of the backstory.

Co-authored by Dana Countryman and executed masterfully by Tricia Countryman, Girlville! wraps with Johnny Still Loves Me; an answer song of sorts to the Colpix label Johnny Angel and Johnny Loves Me singles by the legendary Shelley Fabares. Most disconcertingly, Fabares declined Countryman's offer to provide the lead vocals for this most endearing track.

"Shelley, I'm sorry you wouldn't sing this song for this album", said Countryman in the sleeve notes.

"At least we tried!"

But if Shelley Fabares remains reluctant to build upon her impeccable recorded legacy (which also includes memorable sides for the Dunhill, Vee Jay and RCA Victor labels), Countryman was nonetheless blessed with the participation of one of the genre's most capable current exponents, the Long Beach, California-based Lisa Mychols. With numerous duly-inspired releases to her credit, Mychols approaches her art with a mastery rarely seen among latter generation aspirants. The fruits of their collective labors were borne out superbly in I've Run All Out Of Tears (To Cry Over You), as well as the genre-meshing Proud To Be His Girlfriend.

To be certain, in I've Run All Out Of Tears (To Cry Over You), Mychols demonstrates a mastery of the genre that isn't always evident in like minded endeavors by other artists. Therein, she takes ownership of the arrangement and executes with authority, rather than gingerly studying it from an outsider's perspective. Given that Mychols (who is an extraordinarily gifted and prolific songwriter) did not compose this track, and in light of the fact that the genre is relatively new territory for Countryman, it stood to reason that there may have been challenges for her in that respect. Nonetheless, that was not the case.

"I never even suspected this genre as new territory for Dana", said Mychols.

"Sounds like he's been writing like this for years! Yay Dana!

"One thing I've noticed in the past year of recording songs written by men is that the lows go pretty low and the highs go pretty high! But I love a good musical challenge! So I guess it's for the love of the song and the music that makes for success".

Mychols in turn made a remarkably smooth transition into the interpreter role.

"As for the story line, I felt the story line of the song and the melody worked really beautifully together", she said.

"This helped me to actually re-tell the story in my own voice and inflection. And what an experience it was! Yep, I had my own past of raw emotions surface a bit now and then in this one!"

Conversely, Proud To Be His Girlfriend seemed to present a dichotomy of sorts, with Countryman's familiar frame of references being taken to task by the decidedly different parameters indigenous to the project at hand. In such endeavors, one side or the other frequently suffers. Indeed, there seemed to be an undercurrent of such tensions in the basic template of the track itself. Yet Mychols once again rose to the occasion and brought two disparate camps together with minimal friction and maximum deference to the insights of the composer. 

"Such an innocent puppy dog track", she said.

"The tensions? That's all Dana!"

Happily, whatever dynamic tensions are extant throughout the project ultimately contribute to its charisma. And with Girlville!, both Countryman and Wells have bridged any such perceived gap decisively. And in the words of one of this collection's standout tracks, that's a Pretty Good Sign
.

FRONT STREET REBELS -
The Doughboys (RAM)


In this largely do it yourself age in the world of music, the practice of multi-tasking has almost become a necessity among veteran musicians. Many are expected not only to record and tour prolifically, but to oversee the recording and release process through from start to finish (a responsibility previously assumed by the artist's record label). 


However, the still very much active and prolific first generation garage rock pioneers, the Doughboys have taken multitasking to a whole new level. To that effect, lead guitarist Gar Francis (who replaced the late Willy Kirchofer upon the latter's untimely passing in 2005) also oversees releases on the Bongo Boy label with business partner Monique Grimme. Bongo Boy's roster includes releases by the renowned composer and vocalist Deborah Henriksson, as well as a wealth of ambitious genre specific Various Artists collections (highlighted by the ongoing Gnarly Wave surf music series). 

In turn, Doughboys front man Myke Scavone (an alumnus of the Epic label band, Ram Jam) is also a current member of founder and drummer James Stanley "Jim" McCarty's ever changing line up of the Yardbirds. The band continues to record and tour prolifically, with McCarty as the lone active original member.

And then there is drummer Richard X. Heyman, who pursued a successful career as a solo artist during the Doughboys' protracted sabbatical after the release of their two singles for Larry Uttal's Bell Records in the late 1960s and their permanent reformation in 2000. Heyman's most recent solo release, Incognito spotlights the multi-instrumentalist maintaining the constant with strong and accessible original material that stays fairly true to the Doughboys' original mission statement.

As for the Doughboys themselves, Front Street Rebels finds them immersing themselves increasingly in the harder edged rock that has become their trademark since the release of their Is It Now? album in the previous decade. While the mid-tempo The Queen Of Bizarre may be the track most endearing to the long term aficionados who still base their expectations on that brief affiliation with Bell nearly a half century ago, the remainder of the original material herein downplays any such aspirations in favor of a more straight ahead rock approach that thankfully both stops short of generic arena rock and takes into account the more heavy handed aspects of second generation garage rock without the lack of focus that was often its downfall.

To wit, Ready Or Not employs a straight ahead 4/4 march tempo, pleasantly diverting at midpoint with an acoustic interlude that adds a touch of subtle humanity to the otherwise hardcore approach. Likewise, The Atomic Wavelength Transference Device draws more from the second generation precepts that have long seemed to be their real strengths; taking elements from Pere Ubu, the Human Switchboard and the Twinkeyz and transposing them into a more cohesive setting. The likes of the stagger tempo Manic Reaction and the Last-inspired guitar attack of History also do much to underscore the band's diverse approach without vacillating too far away from the basic template.


Bearing in mind their longevity, it is indeed remarkable that the Doughboys individually and collectively have sustained their momentum on such an impacting level. To be certain, just as the album's opener calls upon the observer to Sink Or Swim, with Front Street Rebels, the Doughboys have thankfully pursued and excelled at the latter option.

REKIHNDLED -
The Greg Kihn Band (Riot Media)

It is always most gratifying when veteran artists continue to outdo themselves with each successive release.

Such is the case with renowned vocalist, composer and Baltimore, Maryland native Gregory Stanley "Greg" Kihn. An integral part of the artist roster of the vaunted Beserkley label in the 1970s (which also launched the careers of the Rubinoos, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers and Earthquake), Kihn has continued to record and tour prolifically in the ensuing years. To date, he has more than fifteen albums to his credit, and has also authored several novels. 

But with Rekihndled, Kihn has more than lived up to the plays on words that have often defined his album titles. Buoyed by a sympathetic and savvy line up that currently includes Robert Berry on keyboards and Kihn's son, Ry Kihn on lead guitar, Rekihndled is as much of a solid, articulate and cohesive chronicle of life and art at his particular stage of life as was the Monkees' landmark 1996 Justus album and the Beach Boys' like minded late 1970s - early 1980s releases. 

To wit, the album's hard rocking opener, The Life I Got matter of factly incorporates a universal metaphor into a mid-term report card of sorts. The territory and approach is familiar, yet executed with a first time freshness. Likewise, the tongue in cheek Big Pink Flamingos invokes Kihn's long standing penchant for word play, underscoring the point with a template inspired by Golden Earring's signature Radar Love single and reaffirming solidarity with the everyman by deftly name checking everything from Judy Jetson to (indirectly) Carl Perkins and mobile home parks. 

In turn, the Nick Lowe-flavored (a la Heart Of The City) Cassandra does much for the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" perspective. Furthermore, Good To Be Me defers to the mainstream overview extant during his initial heyday to simply affirm his artistic resolve.

Lest the faithful fear compromise, the no nonsense The Brain Police and Trained Monkey decisively reassure that Kihn's core mission statement continues unabated. And with Rekihndled, Greg Kihn and his band most encouragingly not only affirm and celebrate a mission statement that is still in peak form, but they also take decisive steps to assure all concerned that, from his perspective, It's Never Too Late.