Thursday

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



THINK AGAIN: Veteran five-tool player BRIAN GARI takes the cerebral approach towards the saga of the modern lover to the next level with his latest Original Cast label release, Expose Yourself. Editor / Publisher Michael McDowell celebrates Gari's many Thinking People moments in detail below (Click on above image to enlarge).


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


EXPOSE YOURSELF -
Brian Gari (Original Cast)


The overwhelming evidence suggests that record collectors and musicologists make better musicians.

From Jive Five front man Eugene Pitt, Kingston Trio mastermind Dave Guard, Canned Heat's Al Wilson, Bob Hite and Henry Vestine, Jefferson Airplane / Hot Tuna bassist Jack Casady, and Guess Who alumni Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman to Unrelated Segments co-founder Barry Van Englen, the Rearrangements' Pat "Pasadena" Supina and Jeff Shoemaker, and the Balancing Act / Thee Holy Brothers multi - instrumentalist Willie Aron, that aspect of their respective mission statements has enabled them to greatly enhance their creativity and productivity on stage and in the recording studio.
 
In the case, of veteran five tool player (vocalist, composer, multi-instrumentalist, arranger and producer) and New York City native Brian Gari, that particular attribute also comes with a peripheral set of perks that has served him extraordinarily well throughout a career that has spanned roughly a half century. The grandson of pioneering recording artist Isidore "Eddie Cantor" Iskovitz  (which in and of itself offered him many hands on crash courses on a doctorate level), Gari has also parlayed his considerable acumen as a journalist into the authorship of several acclaimed books on his extensive experience in the industry (Close Encounters Of The Celebrity Kind, We Bombed In New London and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Stress Test), in addition to working in various capacities with Teensville / Rare Rockin' Records CEO Ash Wells on a number of the label's acclaimed anthology albums.

Gari's own ventures into the recording studio began in earnest in the mid 1970s, via a series of singles for Vanguard Records. By 1988, the Original Cast label was serving as an outlet for his self-penned musicals, beginning with his late 1987 Late Nite Comic (with Julie Budd), and followed by 1991's A Hard Time To Be Single. 

Most recently, Gari's Names and Names, Volume Two albums have revealed an extraordinary gift for a turn of phrase. Therein, his penchant for the collective whimsy of such dreamscape visionaries as Harpers Bizarre and Samuel "Buddy Clark" Goldberg found a sympathetic outlet through Gari's Gilbert O-Sullivan flavored naivete borne of hard earned wisdom style of execution. 

Held accountable in that respect by such like minded colleagues as Peter Millrose (who provides much of the instrumental support here) and Dana Countryman, Gari has taken it a step further with Expose Yourself. While much of the engaging material in the Names series espoused a rose colored glasses perspective not unlike that perfected by the aforementioned Buddy Clark in his 1946 signature single, Linda, Gari herein takes a somewhat more cerebral approach, which the late Harry Chapin also took to the next level via attention to the details of realism in his modern lover with a flair for the timeless approach.

"(I'm) influenced by Rupert Holmes and Jimmy Webb (in that respect)", said Gari.

Taking its cue in part from Holmes' and Webb's flair for structural diversity, Expose Yourself opens with the bouncy Pronto From Toronto, in which distance and transportation factor into the story line in much the same way found in Chapin's 1972 signature single, Taxi. So much so that a bit of artistic license (the reference to Canada versus Ontario in the chorus) was invoked in order to sustain the momentum.

"(It's) a song about wanting my girlfriend to come back fast", said Gari.

"She was in Toronto, and the rhyme seemed cool".

From there, Expose Yourself glides with seeming effortlessness from one stand alone epic to another. From the brush with anguish articulated in Almost Lost You (highlighted by the recurring observation, "You can't calculate what loss will cost you") and the variation on the melancholy atmosphere of Debbie Gibson's Lost In Your Eyes found in Don't Send Me Home (underscored sublimely via a guest vocal from his wife, Jeanne) to the Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan resolve of No Longer The Ingenue (via Susan Hayward's Helen Lawson character in Jackie Susann's Valley Of The Dolls, punctuated succinctly with the judicious incorporation of the word "crap" in much the same fashion invoked by Reverend Brad Powell of Plymouth, Michigan's NorthRidge Church upon occasion to underscore the most salient points of a given observation) and the reality check of Isn't Anyone Free Anymore (and its classic everyman tag line, "Did God pull a fast one and make me the last one?"), Gari has once again proven himself to be a tunesmith with a most unique vision.

To be certain, just as Rupert Holmes invoked "what if" regrets in Terminal, and Jimmy Webb mourned the loss of opportunity in Richard Harris' game changing rendition of MacArthur Park as a springboard towards perseverance in the face of adversity, Brian Gari herein takes a modern romanticist approach to strengthen his resolve in the quest of relentless optimism. In his own words, it is a mission statement that, among other things, makes the observer Think Again.

UNDER YOUR SPELL -
Tito Jackson (Gulf Coast)

Upon occasion, first impressions are not permanent ones.

When the Gary, Indiana - based Jackson Five made their debut with Big Boy and We Don't Have To Be Over 21 for the Steeltown label in 1968, both singles set the stage for the unprecedented massive success the group would enjoy upon signing with Motown the following year. 

However, the long string of singles the group released for Motown and Epic somewhat belied the quintet's more adventurous nature, which surfaced upon occasion in their albums. To wit, their covers of Jackson Browne's Doctor My Eyes and the Theresa Lindsey / Funkadelic classic, I'll Bet You early on in their affiliation with Motown suggested a latent desire to push the envelope a bit. 

Happily, a half century after the fact, group co-founder Tito Jackson has gone full tilt in that respect with a solo album that is firmly grounded in the blues. Not the twelve bar basic template blues that has inspired countless knock off bands which still carry excess baggage that is grounded in early 1970s mainstream rock, but the rollicking kind of blues that lends itself toward a greater diversity and uniqueness of structure in terms of composition.

For Under Your Spell, Jackson enlisted the services of a variety of sympathetic colleagues, from brother Marlon Jackson, Stevie Wonder, George Benson and the O'Jays' Eddie Levert to alumni of B.B. Kng's band and the legendary songwriting team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. In turn, Jackson underscored his mission statement with a refreshing take on the often covered B.B. King standard, Rock Me Baby.

Not content to be a part of the long string of cookie cutter releases that have largely represented the genre in recent years, Jackson takes the basic twelve bar template a step further with a wide range of embellishments that are both telling and inspiring. To wit, the semi-autobiographical All In The Family Blues (composed by Gamble and Huff) finds Jackson and Levert drawing to a degree from personal experience to articulate Jackson's unique perspective on his own rich history; concurrently serving as a cautionary tale against paying forward certain lessons that were learned the hard way.

In turn, Jackson's original I Got Caught (Living In A Dream) draws from the tried and true semi-narrative approach that graced some of the most memorable offerings of everyone from the Chi-Lites to Barry White, while paying homage to Johnnie Taylor and Muddy Waters in the process. Likewise, Wheels Keep Turning is buoyed by a sympathetic horn section that meshes both the call and response and augmentation options in a manner that previously served such ambitious bands as the Fabulous Counts and Mandrill well. The title track ultimately drives the point home with a mid-tempo ensemble chart that supports Jackson's victory lap in terms of elevating the beleaguered genre to a new level.

Whether this represents an enduring change of direction or a long overdue bit of venting for Jackson remains to be seen. In either case, Under Your Spell is a most welcome bit of thinking outside of the box that brings the Jackson Five's 1971 proclamation of It's Great To Be Here full circle.

MY SHINING STAR; 
LIVE FOR TODAY -
Jeremy Morris (JAM)

Sometimes kicking against the goads can have a favorable outcome.

In the case of Saul Of Tarsus, kicking against the goads ultimately proved to be an exercise in futility (Acts 9: 4 - 6). Yet with a bit of reproof and correction by none other than Jesus while en route to Damascus, Saul Of Tarsus went on to become the Apostle Paul.

But with respect to Jeremy Morris, bucking trends as a recording artist continues to serve him well. 

In the wake of the resurgence of the vinyl format within the past few years, the physical format is once again gaining favor over downloads in terms of at least the connoisseur, if not the rank and file. Not that the online option has disappeared altogether. Far from it. But the increase in appreciation of the various attributes of vinyl have brought many back into the fold, serving to introduce and / or reintroduce both veteran artist and aspirant to a whole new audience in the process. 

However, that momentum was slowed in part by a Northern California fire in early 2020, which destroyed one of the two vinyl material plants that were still active. Its demise has left but one facility (which is based in Asia) to service every pressing plant in the world. 

As such, whereas it was once said that an artist of the caliber of the late Rick Nelson could be in the studio on Wednesday, at the pressing plant by Friday and on the air with his new single by Monday, present circumstances have given way to unprecedented wait times. To wit, veteran composer, vocalist, producer and arranger Deborah Ann "Debbie" Gibson has spent most of February and March in the studio completing her forthcoming Christmas album in order to meet the deadlines imposed by the pressing plant to guarantee availability before the Christmas season.

But in that respect, Morris has a distinct advantage. Arguably the successor to the late James Brown for the title of The Hardest Working Man In Show Business, the Portage, Michigan - based vocalist, composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist, label owner, session musician and Foursquare denomination Senior Pastor has over the decades established and refined a methodology that has enabled him to amass a most impressive catalog that numbers more than several dozen albums of unwavering high quality.

A key component of that mission statement has been prayer-based efficiency. In other words, the proper stewardship of the resources and talents with which he has been blessed. This includes not only having a state of the art studio at his disposal at all times, but not falling in lockstep with the prevailing train of thought whenever it is counter productive to that mission statement.

An avid musicologist and record collector, Morris' personal archives include copious amounts of vinyl by other artists. But in order to keep his own vision on track at the pace to which both he and his devoted audience are accustomed, Morris has astutely continued to direct his attention primarily towards the tried and true compact disc format for his own releases. 

By doing so, two of Morris' most recent releases were not only available in time for the most recent Christmas season, but they continue to generate interest within the new year. Aimed at his audience at large with an eye towards encouraging their own efforts to think outside of the box, Live For Today sports a bit more diversity of genre than have his earlier releases of similar intent. 

To that effect, Live For Today is bookended by two seemingly polar opposites in terms of train of thought. The title track opens the set with a lament for the human condition ("People who are older wish they could be young, and people who are younger wish they could be old. Isn't that a shame? Isn't that insane?") via emphasis on the shortcomings borne of a desires of the flesh perspective. Conversely, Morris concludes the proceedings with a nod to the expectations of the faithful in You Belong To Me via an abrupt transition into full blown psych mode (in the vein of the interlude found in the Buckinghams' 1967 Susan single) at the three minute mark. 

That the rank and file may well be unaware of the undercurrent of the Gospel therein is of course a byproduct of Morris' mission statement. And in tandem with his rare outside producer, Ken Stringfellow (who also contributes to the proceedings as a one man rhythm section), Morris keeps the dynamic tension at optimum level throughout the remaining ten tracks, from the relatively more melodic remake of All Because Of You and the instrumentally lavish Today Is The Day (which sports the now ironic line, "The war is won") to the up tempo All Is Forgiven (with again another classic line, "Why do we speak before we think?") and the hard rocking Time And Chance.

With My Shining Star, the Gospel theme returns to center stage. Like the late and much, much missed Carman Licciardello, Morris is one of the few who has directed his mission statement (at least in part) to the long underserved musicologist and record collector demographic, many of whom will appreciate the diversity of genre in this latest installment of that phase of Morris' recorded legacy. Back in the producer's chair himself and accompanied by full band (Matt Willsea and Stefan Johansson on guitars, with bassist Peter Morris and drummer Dave Dietrich), Morris opens with a sparsely arranged (and therefore more impacting in terms of lyrical content) You're Amazing. From there, lavish high drama takes the reins with the thought provoking Love Your Enemy (featuring the most compelling hybrid of psych and the somber since Morris' 2016 Hit You With A Flower album).

Throughout the remainder of the proceedings, Morris takes gradual steps from the basics (the title track) towards his long standing affinity for all things prog. The point is more than underscored via the finale (and the album's lone cover), a twenty-four minute romp through Norman Greenbaum's 1970 Reprise label monster classic, Spirit In The Sky.

While there are those who may question such reasonable yet rare thinking outside of the box overtures, the results speak for themselves with two of Jeremy Morris' most inspired releases in recent memory. In the words of one of the standout tracks from My Shining Star, Morris has taken decisive steps towards the implementation of an inspired New Perspective.

UNDER A CLOUD -
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.