Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Friday, November 13, 2020
I first encountered the Red Birds when I came across their colorful picture sleeve 45 of “Kami Fusen” (Paper Balloon) in their native land at a flea market surrounding the Tō-ji temple in Kyoto. Although they appear on the vibrant cover of this 1973 release like the ultimate Japanese sunshine pop band, the song starts as a slow burner before turning an unforeseen corner of chugging guitar chords before their co-ed harmonies interlock and lift the song to the stratosphere. Akai Tori (the Red Birds) were pretty prolific in their short span that ran from 1969 to 1974. Of their 10 albums released in five years, Inori (Prayer) surfaced to be the most intriguing in spots, yet bewildering as a whole. In general, it’s not dependent on MOR covers of boring Western hits (e.g.”You’ve Got a Friend,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water”) or the more cloy trappings of early ‘70s soft rock that time stamp their other albums. The album starts especially strong with the versatile group quickly establishing a countervailing direction from their previous efforts. “The World of Nothingness-Birth” could be best described as an approximation of taiko in space before segueing into the curvilinear lushness of “Awakening.” which sounds like Cold and Bouncy-era High Llamas warmed by “Sun Goddess” from Ramsey Lewis. Elsewhere, “Malibu” casts the vibe of prime Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66. “Niji Otaou” ("Sing a Rainbow") features Junko Yamamoto's pleasant female vocals which are reminiscent of those later heard on the Pen Friend Club albums. Despite the enchantment found in some of these individual songs, the album frequently goes off the tracks with missteps like the old-timey silliness of “Rakuda-chan.” In other moments, its momentum is thwarted by plodding and scorched out filler material like “Hoshi” and ”Ishi." “Kioku.” ("Memory") reprises the space-age waterbed sound of “Awakening” as a male voice recites a monologue that contains some sort of The World Without Us contemplative message by way of Rod McKuen. The lofty a cappella choral title track of “Inori” ("Prayer") fittingly concludes this stylistically incongruent album. This Handel composition is once again as unanticipated as all the preceding songs that are only held together by some loose conceptional ecological theme.
Friday, October 30, 2020
“Spaghetti Alla Milanese'' with its insistent beat merges the record back on the imaginary musical Autobahn only to be sidetracked to regions ruled by the bombo. “Preludio Balsamico Y Chacona'' sounds closer to Brazilian Tropicália in that it's an aural equivalent of a Henri Rousseau painting than the unclassifiable Iberian sounds which predominate the record. The title track “Batiscafo” is dazzling Celtic disco reminiscence of the High Llamas. It would come as no surprise if Sean O'Hagan of the High Llamas has an original issue of "Batiscafo" in his extensive record collection.
Ambitious & Adventurous
Sunday, September 13, 2020
It was one of those musical moments where everything coalesced to make the world whole again. It was a time when a song presented a moment of balance and an overall sense of tranquility-exactly when it was needed.
At first and from a distance, I thought I was hearing Astrud Gilberto’s cover of “Never My Love” from her 1968 Windy album. To my surprise, it was Isobel Campbell’s interpretation of the Association’s 1967 hit record. I then recalled that Scottish singer-songwriter Isobel Campbell was slated to release an album here in upended 2020. Further investigation revealed that her 5th solo album actually arrived way back in January and this cover was culled from Voices in the Sky, a bonus EP comprised mostly of covers. Surprisingly, “Never My Love” was never a hit in the UK and for some reason the Association’s layered harmonic sound never caught on in the UK like the Beach Boys. It could be postulated that Campbell’s move from Scotland to Los Angeles might have spurred this cover of a cover. Besides being tailor made for Campbell, the relatively lengthy glockenspiel solo on the outro makes her rendition truly distinctive.
Even though it has been 14 years, you can depend on Campbell to deliver the finest in spare, hushed and understated 21-century sounds in the tradition of Marianne Faithfull and Claudine Longet recordings from the ‘60s. On one level, these are the unintentional sounds of a spring & summer that never happened-bypassing a cruel Southern California bummer that has seen a historic mission torched on the forefront and a city surrounded by raging wildfires.
Chris Szczech, the Los Angeles-based recording engineer and mixer at Sonora Recorders, supplies the studio, frame & canvas for Campbell to layer her trademark sound. The lite psychedelia of “Rainbow” leans in the adventurous direction of Rita Lee while incorporating a gamelan which makes this song stand out. Overall, she delivers a smooth, breezy and atmospheric listen, however a deeper immersion will reveal some of the factors which have truly knocked the world out of balance. For instance, the loping “Heart of it All” seemingly captures the spirit of the open country in the chorus, but the verses disclose the obvious incompatibility of our ways with all the surrounding beauty. “Hey World” reminds me of “Hey, Love” by the Coronados and the shuffling eclecticism of Jonathan Richman before the backing gospel chorus kicks in. “There is No Other” is both a paean to the city and a sonic document of her physical and stylistic transition from UK pastoral folk to amorphous Californian adult contemporary. Her attempts to reconcile the contrasting forces of dark and light elevate her music to merely being shelved as Whole Foods background sound. Los Angeles is imbued in the grooves with lyrical indentations which act as an assessment of city far from the optimism seen and heard in Jackie DeShannon's LA. Still, Campbell does taps right into its atmosphere of all things under the sun that make it unlike any place in the world.
Despite her noble attempts to raise needed awareness of the escalating numbers of those experiencing homelessness, “Boulevard” stretches on too long like one of those drab moments of late ‘90s R.E.M. album filler. In these lackluster moments, she could use a touch of the fluidity heard on albums like Kadhja Bonet’s 2018 album Childqueen. Still it’s good to hear these beguiling, relatively sparsely adorned, and smooth songs that generally succeed. Like those two albums from Those Pretty Wrongs, this album is also instilled with the hope, promise and costs of the golden dream. During this summer of reckoning and wreckage “There is No Other” is a transitional release, while “Never My Love” is a transcendent moment finding a way towards a better world.
Saturday, August 01, 2020
In the grand tradition of the Japanese preserving and celebrating aspects of vanished Americana, the Hot Shots formed in 1995. They were first embraced by the West Coast swing music scene which was still reelin’ in 1997 when the Hot Shots were ascending their first American stages in California. After a few singles and the departure of co-founder Rockin' Enocky, they returned to the U.S. in late 1998 to record this debut album at Ecco-Fonic Studio in Los Angeles with Deke Dickerson. Released in 1999, “Wise Up, Watch Out” presents a sound that smartly avoids the trampled road of over-the-top rockabilly and ventures out to the rural routes of country-tinged rock ‘n’roll, honky tonk, rhythm & blues along with some Latin flair. The one and only Chie Kodama sets the tone on her acoustic guitar and her vocals makes each song shine brightly, while joyfully expressing her innate love and conviction for this music. “Pretend” co-written by Chie along with bass player Hiroshi Shishikura gets things rolling in a refreshing manner with a slightly bucking rhythm and twangy fills provided by Yuichiro Matsushita. “Tell Me Baby” is an understated lovely ‘50s pop number composed by Chie and capped off by her declarations of “I Wanna Know Right Now/”I Wanna Know Right Now” in sincere Joey Ramone style. Hank Cochran’s “A Little Bitty Tear” is delivered by way of Wanda Jackson with some impressive fretwork replacing the orchestrated strings originally applied by Capitol Records to Jackson’s single. The upbeat “A New Idea On Love” is such an obscure cover that the only background information I could find was that it was probably written by Mickey Baker of the renowned and much sampled ‘50s duo Mickey and Sylvia. Clinching the matter, is detecting a “Love is Strange” guitar quote in proceedings. Furthermore, its intertwined co-ed vocals shoots this one across the starlit Western skies like one of those dashing and delightful Judy & the Loadies songs. The album closes with “Guitar Battle” where Deke Dickerson and Yuichiro Matsushita trade off runs and riffs in classic Merle Travis & Joe Maphis fashion. Deke Dickerson plays a fitting and supporting role as producer, along with providing some backing vocals and accompaniment which brings forth further dimensions to the overall sound and presentation. You couldn’t ask for a better start for a combo that thankfully is still actively performing, recording and releasing records that are each distinctive in their own vintage sounding way, while overall expanding and expressing the vast possibilities of heydays to come.
Sunday, July 19, 2020
|2013 L to R: Daniel Hortter, Danny Gorman (drums, the Palace Guard), Michael Rummans (bass, the Sloths), Dave Provost (guitar, Droogs, the Textones, Davie Allan & the Arrows)|
|Daniel Hortter in 2019 wearing the yellow blazer for the first time in 50 years.|
Danny Gorman on drums.