DOIN' ALRIGHT: The venerable Victoria band, the TOL-PUDDLE MARTYRS endured no small amount of pandemic-related challenges in logistics to get the word out with their ambitious latest album, Under A Cloud. Editor / Publisher Michael McDowell has the story below (Click on above image to enlarge).


Frijid Pink (Dynasty)

One of the key components of great songwriting is a strong verse, chorus and bridge template.

Of course that template is not a one size fits all component. Indeed, some classics have managed to make their mark with one or more of those three ingredients missing. Among the more celebrated examples would be Johnny Cash's I Walk The Line (no bridge, save for a brief instrumental interlude at the key change) and the Beach Boys' You're Welcome (chorus only). 

In turn, there are some artists who have stated their respective cases by employing a mixed media approach in their work. In the process, the songwriting is augmented by other elements that serve to round out the presentation. 

Among the first to take that quantum leap was experimental filmmaker and Christchurch native, Leonard Charles Huia "Len" Lye. Lye's film shorts of the 1930s would draw from such established sources as Red Nichols' version of Don Azpiazu's The Peanut Vendor and Django Reinhart and Stephane Grappelli's The Lambeth Walk to provide accompaniment for his groundbreaking visual improvisations.

Then there were those who would dispense with structure altogether. Most notable among them was the Coventry, Warwickshire techno pioneer Delia Ann Derbyshire. Her otherworldly electronic sound bytes (often created from scratch in the BBC studios)  led to her involvement in that capacity with the network's Doctor Who television series in 1963. Monkees lead guitarist Michael Nesmith took a similar step with his "book with a soundtrack" album, The Prison in the late 1970s. And beloved saxophonist and composer John Coltrane achieved extraordinarily lofty aesthetic audio goals with his intricately crafted masterpieces for Atlantic and Impulse. 

Most recently, the Catholic Girls have enjoyed renewed acclaim with the release of their 2CD anthology, Rock And Roll School For Girls. Much of the material therein reflects the band's mission statement of completing the presentation by diverting the focus from verse, chorus and bridge and instead juxtaposing sound and vision (be it through video or the live concert setting) to produce their desired results.

It is that latter approach that has likewise characterized much of the work of the veteran suburban Detroit band, Frijid Pink over the years. Their acclaimed 1968 - 1971 releases for Parrot Records (including Lost SonGod Gave Me You and the utterly stupendous Tell Me Why) most assuredly delivered the verse, chorus and bridge with a decisive one-two punch. But by the time the band signed with MGM's affiliate Lion label in 1972, there were signs in place that their new material (such as Earth Omen and Rainbow Rider) began to give precedence to sound over structure. As such, that phase of their work was best appreciated in a live setting. 

With drummer Rick Stevers as the lone active member from the band's earlier incarnation as the Detroit Vibrations (whose 1967 I'm The Man / She's A Winner single for Detroit Sound is most assuredly on par with the label's other releases by the Little Sisters and first generation garage rock greats, the Wanted), Frijid Pink has nonetheless managed to sustain their revised mission statement well into the twenty-first century. Their Made In Detroit and On The Edge albums for Dynasty Records carried on the approach developed during their affiliation with Lion. In the process, both projects were celebrated by Blitz Magazine as being among the Best Album Releases of the decade of the 2010s. 

Interestingly enough, with Hot Pink, it appears as though Frijid Pink has nonetheless begun to come full circle.

In part a showcase for the band's forthcoming full length album, this four track CD demonstrates a marked and encouraging return to form in terms of the foundational template. Recorded in the closing weeks of 2020, Hot Pink is in some respects a healthy bit of introspection in preparation for the next step.

To that effect, Till The End Of The Night tells the tale of the veteran road warrior in a manner not unlike that articulated under similar circumstances by the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top. However, Frijid Pink does so with a much more significant degree of accessibility, as well as with that most crucial element of universal appeal.

In turn, In Your Arms Tonight brings the bombast / sense of urgency hybrid back to life. While that particular attribute of the genre was nearly neutered through overkill a half century ago via such bands as Uriah Heep and Wishbone Ash, its relative lack of presence in the ensuing years enabled its return here to generate a subtle yet sustainable reaction of both familiarity and gratification. 

Understandably self-assured by their successful execution of that unlikely methodology of returning to form, Frijid Pink takes it a step further with Sing by drawing from one of the genre's most divisive elements during its heyday and unabashedly embracing it here. To be certain, the half-speed execution of numbers for which the basic uptempo boogie chart would have sufficed was a practice that was frequently invoked by detractors of the genre, who (among other things) cited it as anathema to the essence of rock and roll itself. 

It is to Frijid Pink's considerable credit that in Sing, they were able to not only meet that challenge head on (complete with a solid, high drama bridge), but assuage any such concerns in the process. Happily, the band drives the point home sublimely with the all purpose and all encompassing On My Way.

On Hot Pink, Rick Stevers is joined by guitarists Ricky Houke and Rick Zeithaml, keyboard and harmonica man Chuck Mangus and bassist Brent Austin. This line up of Frijid Pink has persevered longer than did any other incarnation of the band, suggesting (among other things) that they are most assuredly on the right track. And if Hot Pink is any indication, their future is one that (in the words of a key cut from their earlier Earth Omen album) will see them continue to fulfill and expand upon their Eternal Dream.

Brian Gari (Original Cast)

It's easy to see why the late Howard Greenfield needed a collaborator like Neil Sedaka. 

When your field of expertise is exclusively music or exclusively lyrics, obviously your work is not going to reach fruition without a competent collaborator who is well versed in the other field. As such, Greenfield's lyrics and Sedaka's melodies were able to complement one another impeccably on a long term basis. This was also the case for such venerable partnerships as Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman, as well as composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Lorenz Hart. 

All of which makes the project at hand all the more captivating. New York City native Brian Gari has long excelled in both disciplines. The grandson of the supremely gifted and multi-faceted showman, Eddie Cantor (who, along with Al Jolson, Sammy Davis Junior and Jimmy Durante developed the concept of the consummate entertainer), Gari ultimately honed an expertise in both disciplines via his contributions as composer and lyricist for the acclaimed 1987 Broadway musical, Late Nite Comic

Being a self-contained creative force, Gari has not been forced to rely on the level of discernment of a collaborator to anticipate his vision and augment that vision accordingly. As a result (as also reflected in his superb Names, Volume One release), there is almost a sheltered quality to his work that has curiously been (to invoke Nick Lowe) "nutted by reality" along the way. The world at large through the idyllic optimism of Buddy Clark and the sadder but wiser reflections of Dory Previn, as it were.

Between the two attributes, it is the lyrical content that primarily drives this latest release. To wit, the album's opener, Tim finds Gari professing solidarity with one of the most disenfranchised of demographics, the record collector. Therein, Tim lives out his dreams via the music of the Beach Boys (collecting rare pressings of their vast catalog in the process), only to opt to remain in his dream world when the Beach Boys themselves come calling to bring him on board as a member of their team. 

In fact, it is the record collector and the entertainment industry professional overall with whom the richly diverse themes expressed in this collection will most likely resonate the strongest. To wit, Nat salutes Gari's much missed promo man, whose level of expertise in that most challenging of support positions (despite the Rolling Stones' ultimately naive dismissal of their efforts in 1965's The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man) endears his memory to Gari in much the same way that such game changers in the field as Alan Freed, Howard Bedno and Gary Stewart are still remembered with tremendous fondness by those whose lives they impacted. It is to Gari's considerable credit as a lyricist that the central character of this particular piece also inadvertently brings to mind the enduring contributions of the legendary Nat "King" Cole as both an artist and self-promoter.

Happily, the less industry-savvy will still find much that is relatable in this magnificent collection. To wit, Sandra heeds the warning of caution issued by Bobby Bland in Yield Not To Temptation and David Houston in Almost Persuaded. Conversely, Kristen highlights the blessings of the father / daughter experience in ways only hinted at in similar endeavors by others. Gari comes full circle in that respect with Brigid (I Know I Frighten You), with the coy possible misspelling of the title character's name putting a most diplomatic spin on a most delicate situation.

As a reaffirmation of his commitment to diversity of genre, Gari has included as a bonus track here a 1969 recording of his magnificent, Kenny Rankin-inspired There's A Cinder In Cindy's Eye. The highly discerning record collector demographic is also given full default compensation in that respect with Clara's Record Store, a caricature based inadvertently on such real life legends as the late Emma Grubb of Garden City, Michigan's much missed Foxhole Record Shop.

As was the case within its Volume One predecessor, such often invoked names as Kristen, Elizabeth, Dustin and Diane are also given a new level of permanence in Names, Volume Two through like minded salutes as those afforded the aforementioned subjects. And while the absence of dynamic tension borne of the collaborative spirit of Greenfield and Sedaka, Sussman and Manilow, and Rodgers and Hart may by definition not directly factor herein, in a sense, Gari's Buddy Clark-like relentless optimism in terms of melody and his Dory Previn-ish sense of melancholy in his lyrical reflections allow for a singularity of purpose that paints an even more cohesive musical portrait. To be certain, Names, Volume Two takes the answer to the venerable question, "What's in a name?" to a whole new level.

Savoy Brown (Quarto Valley)

Sometimes there are advantages to being the last man standing.

As the lone active survivor from the band's heyday with the Parrot label, Savoy Brown co-founder and guitarist / lead vocalist Kim Simmonds has taken decisive steps to avoid the redundancy that is seemingly inevitable when working within the confines of a genre with built in limitations. Simmonds' success in that respect is made all the more remarkable by the fact that this second outing by the band for Quarto Valley Records is their forty-first album overall.

Part of what has kept the band's mission statement vital for more than a half century is the emphasis on songwriting. While many of the blues rock's sub genre's current pretenders to the throne have drawn from the lowest common denominator attributes of the pioneers of the movement and filtered those inspirations through the most bloated early 1970s mainstream rock, Savoy Brown has astutely noted that the built in limitations of such an approach almost invariably lead to self parody.

As former Herman's Hermits bassist and lead vocalist Karl Green has also done in his most recent outings with the like minded Karl Green Band, Simmonds has found that subtle vocal execution in the low register is the most fitting for the material at hand. The understated approach works particularly well on such inspired fare as the swamp rock-ish River On The Rise, the ominous Borrowed Time, the boogie-friendly Jaguar Car, the slide meets basic 4/4 rock of Rocking In Louisiana, and the relative bombast of Soho Girl.

As has been the case since 2009, Simmonds is joined in this latest endeavor by bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Garnet Grimm. Sadly, project engineer Ben Elliott passed away not long after sessions were completed at his New Jersey-based Showplace Studios. Savoy Brown has dedicated Ain't Done Yet to his memory. To be certain, it is an album that, in the words of one of the key tracks from the band's 2003 Strange Dreams album for the Blind Pig label, manages to Keep On Rollin'.

The Tol-Puddle Martyrs (Secret Deals)

If vocalist, composer, multi-instrumentalist, producer, label president and Foursquare denomination pastor Jeremy Morris is the rightful holder of the Hardest Working Man In Show Business title once held by the late James Brown, then Tol-Puddle Martyrs founder and principal visionary, Peter Rechter certainly qualifies as being the most persistent among the prolific. 

Since first making his mark with Claudette Jones as front man of Peter And The Silhouettes in 1966, Rechter has been one of first generation garage rock's most productive visionaries. By 1967, he was fronting the Tol-Puddle Martyrs, whose Time Will Come for the Spiral label remains one of the genre's most inspirational singles.  

By the 1970s, Rechter was persevering as front man of the Secrets. But while the band enjoyed enduring acclaim at home in Victoria, he ultimately reverted to the Tol-Puddle Martyrs name in the twenty-first centuryThe change was inevitable in part because of the abiding enthusiasm among the genre's hardcore faithful, as well as to avoid confusion with the still occasionally active Secrets who recorded the John Madara-produced The Boy Next Door single for Philips in 1963.

Since reclaiming their rightful place among still active first generation garage rock greats, the Tol-Puddle Martyrs have released nearly a dozen albums of primarily original material. Each of those albums were hailed accordingly in Blitz Magazine upon their release. 

All of which makes the project at hand a bit of an anomaly, through no fault of their own. 

Since the onset of the so-called pandemic in the early weeks of 2020, life within the music industry was abruptly derailed. Live concerts were limited to online performances, with ensembles often forced to do their best to adhere to the basics of meter and tempo while endeavoring to keep pace with their colleagues in a Zoom chat setting. 

In turn, the fire that destroyed one of the world's two lone active materials plants in early 2020 made the release of new music even more challenging for artists who included the vinyl option among their formats of choice. But even the ongoing availability of CDs was ultimately of minimal consolation when the artists themselves (a number of whom were veteran artists that were once signed to major labels, and who more often than not had limited experience in overseeing and / or expediting the fundamentals of press, publicity, A&R, accounting and other such essentials as efficiently as did their former labels) faced such pandemic-related developments as curtailments in the retail sector, increasingly limited shipping options and the like.

Sadly, the Tol-Puddle Martyrs were not exempt from such challenges. Fellow first generation garage rock great Marty Rhone was among the first to voice concerns about those issues just weeks into the pandemic. Rhone, the one time front man of the Soul Agents, was stranded in Southern California for a season during a promotional tour as a result. He learned of the shipping and communication issues the hard way, when postal correspondence between Southern California and Rhone's current home base of New South Wales began to suffer delays in expediency,.

In turn, while following through with due diligence in the wake of this release, Rechter soon discovered that the reliability that he and his fellow artists had come to depend upon in terms of the delivery process was now one of the victims of the pandemic. In general, what once took days to arrive soon turned into weeks and sometimes months, with the occasional package not reaching its destination at all.

But Rechter has not survived for fifty-five years in the industry by taking a passive role in such matters. True to form, with the release of the somewhat ironically titled Under A Cloud at stake, Rechter took a hands on approach to ensure that the word got out there, even if multiple mailings, correspondences, etc. were needed.

In the case of Under A Cloud, that extra effort was most assuredly worth it. A bit of a departure stylistically from their previous releases, Under A Cloud grabs the long time aficionado from the onset, with the relatively bombastic guitar attack of the opener, Don't Rock The Boat. And while the bridge subtly alludes to such genre staples as Max Frost And The Troopers' The Shape Of Things To Come, this is ultimately not a mere variation on a familiar theme.

The magnificent Forgotten Years follows suit, embellished with a string section that brings out the piece's inherent Baroque template without putting it in lockstep with first generation garage rock's frequent attempts to mesh the best of both of those worlds. The Tol-Puddle Martyrs take it a step further with the addition of woodwinds in the R&B-tinged Doin' Alright, as well as the full out lavish orchestration of Only Mozart and Tea And Sympathy.

Rechter's vocals and keyboards are supplemented by guitarist / bassist Graham McCoy, who has worked with Rechter since the days of the Secrets. True to form, Rechter and McCoy take the struggles of the everyman approach to their lyrics, which arguably remains the most effective approach in these polarized times, As before, drummer Chris Crook rounds out the line up.

Happily, in light of the various pandemic related challenges, the Tol-Puddle Martyrs have put a familiar yet effective back up plan into place, in the form of a You Tube channel.

"All of the songs from Under A Cloud are presented, with all of the lyrics", said Rechter.

Even so, with the majority of the logistical issues now hopefully in the past, it would be incumbent upon the faithful to offer tangible support to this venerable band by adding the now readily available CD release of this and their previous releases into their archives. In the words of one of the tracks from the Tol-Puddle Martyrs' acclaimed 2007 Psych-Out USA album, it is indeed The Better Cause.