Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Top 15 or so of 2015

01. Harsh Mistress-S/T
02. Western Plaza-S/T
03. The Pen Friend Club-Spirit of the Pen Friend Club
04. The Butterscotch Cathedral-S/T
05. Susan James-Sea Glass
06. Glenn Mercer-Incidental Hum
07. The Mantles-All Odds End
08. Sir Lord Von Raven-Age of Machines
09. Yo La Tengo-Stuff Like That There
10. Miriam-Down Today
11. GospelbeacH-Surf Line
12. Chuck Perrin-The Yearn
13. Boss Fink-R.P.M.
14. Ultimate Painting-Green Lanes
15. Christina Quesada-You Are the One

Collections & Compilations

01.The Kitchen Cinq-When the Rainbow Disappears-1965-68
02. Martians, Demons And Fools Like Me-The MCI Records Story 1954-61

Live Recordings
01. The Britemores-WFMU Sessions
02. Ely Parker and the CIAs-1993 South Bend, IN

In Memory: Lesley Gore, P.F. Sloan

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Ronnie Spector's Best Christmas Ever

Every year around this time, I go on the search to find “original” holiday music to complement the tried, true and tired sounds of the season.  If I can unbox at least one new-to-me classic from an album, it brings surprise and delight.  For 2015, Ronnie Spector’s “Light One Candle” is the shining song of this season found on her 2010 EP Best Christmas Ever.  The piano-driven verses convey the power of resilience in the face of adversity, the tick-tock childlike mantra chorus breaks through the dark fear like a night light for a child, while the bridges echo the lovely melody of the Byrds & Turtles’ “You Showed Me.” This song, written by Linda Sobo, crosses over to recognize the universal symbols of illumination encompassing Chanukah’s menorah, Christmas’ Advent candles, Diwali's lamps and the lights glowing all around.  Knowing Ronnie’s background story of surviving her years with Phil Spector makes the song all the more incandescent.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Chuck Perrin-The Yearn

When we last left off with his 2009 release "Down 2 Bone, Chuck Perrin's constantly shifting musical direction, along with the course of the country/world overflowing with looming uncertainty, could only be conjectured.  With "Down 2 Bone," Perrin employed his past musical styles ('60s folk) and ('70s country) in order address the upheaval of an overdrawn country in search of purpose.  The first three songs of his latest excursion "The Yearn," signal that we remain in rough waters and still searching through the wreckage as people and a society.  Between the tangles of Larry Mitchell's outsized blues guitar, "It's an Asshole World" reflects the grind that we all know too well along with the attendant hostile forces that threaten and attack from any angle.  Initially, "Blood" came across as reheated Cormac McCarthy. Later, I read that the song was not dark matter fiction, but a reminder about the 2011 tragedy that happened 80 miles away in a Tucson Safeway parking lot.... and goes on and on with the latest campus shooting in Flagstaff or the one in Santa Barbara we kinda forgot about.  The song rides out on "20 Feet from Stardom" gospel backing vocals that could have been supported Linda ("What a Man") Lyndell.  The Tropicalia Cubist "Living the Life" continues the cacophonous, agitated and protracted vibe that courses through a frequently confrontational country that has pretty much an abundance of everything, but understanding. These opening songs are not simple-minded knee jerk indictments against predictable forces and atmospheric turbulence, but a harder look on how we treat others. 

In spite of it all, Perrin maintains his indefatigable hope and declares in "Touchstones." that he's ready to scamper up metaphoric mountains like Gary Synder and Kerouac in The Dharma Bums. The song sent me back to a Firestone Car Care in 1996 Rochester Hills when I heard "Don't Worry Baby" by the Beach Boys reflecting off the large plate glass window which opened up to the vibrant colors of main street. In that moment, Cap’n Bri’n steered away all doubt like his music so frequently does. In "Touchstones," Perrin channels the 1972 Brian who would listen incessantly to Randy Newman's "Sail Away" album.  The lyrics presents the fulcrum mantra where the wishful yearning "Feel like everything’s gonna be all right" tips overs to actuality  “Everything is all right."  The song bubbles upon a passage of Rob Whitlock's Hammond B3 to a place tinged with jukebox colors.

"Hiding in Plain Sight" brings back the sultry R&B we last softly heard on the heartfelt ":44 of Love." I could hear this duet with Steph Johnson playing in the Kohl's dressing rooms when buying a pair of Seals and Crofts pants...I meant Croft & Barrow trousers for work.  Seriously, this would not feel out of place piped in at a moonlight madness sale or on one of the many permutations of adult contemporary radio. Moreover, this number hints that all of life does not need to be analyzed or documented, life just needs to be life.

Encapsulating one of Perrin's ongoing themes, "Wasting Time" challenges us to stop going through the motions and squandering resources before the stretching out into a zen-dom chorus whipped into alignment by the tightrope bass and overlaid Doobie Brothers guitar decals. Perrin's forthright voice, finding the rhythm in and out of the routine, evokes the enduring hope for something better while echoing the "What's Going On" ecological consciousness advocated by Marvin Gaye and Pope Francis. Without a trace of weary resignation, Perrin conveys that life is about transformation and not haplessly flailing around proclaiming how we think it should be:   

the old ways no longer function/ 
we must explore some different paths/ 
poke around maybe take some chances/
what’s going on is not where it’s at

"Let This Be the Moment Now"
"Peace," spreads out with its sunrise flutes and enters the mystical realms once frequently visited with his sister Mary in his late '60s work cherished around the world. This musical era of the Perrins is slated to be re-released in the form of a lavish and extensive box set in Korea by Beatball Records that has been years in the making.  In summer of 2015, Spain's Mapache Records presented the "first ever vinyl reissue" of their 1968 debut album "Brother & Sister." Between guitars, bongos, the aforementioned flutes and a Thom Bell-like production, Perrin returns to his familiar folk leitmotiv of seeking the essence and appreciating radiance of life despite the trials and tribulations.  "Still Shaking My Head" is all about poetic execution and delivery.  This is where a freewheelin' '60s folk hootenanny meets the best barbed moments of a '90s poetry slam. Like the sloped and skittering topography of Perrin's Southern California, the song is slightly askew, but infinitely compelling. Here Perrin presents a coiled world that you don't want venture out in, however, moving forward is the only way to defeat the destabilizing influences.  Riding atop Dennis Caplinger's banjo, the song opens up like funny car and punches out a searing couplet of tragicomedy relief before spinning out of the measures to the sound of skronking and skidding sax.

If others in his generation are coasting it on out, he is headed in the other direction, wherever that may lead with a flipped odometer. "I am approaching 70 and still creating music with the same ferocity I did when I was 18." asserts Perrin on his web site.

Perrin rides this momentum, both self-created and reflected back by the San Diego jazz community he has helped foster at the jazz performance space dizzy's which is as much a state of mind as a location. From a showroom of a jet ski rentals operation by day, Perrin offers all-ages access, free parking and most of all--a heightened awareness.

"Dark on You Now"
In the succinct and impressionistic "Sorrow Comes," Perrin renders a sketch that refuses to stay content in representational musically holding patterns.   He acknowledges grief and sorrow like Poe's Raven, but then ascends the cello strings of the (beginner's) mind to Thoreauian "castles in the air" and the layered lights of the universe. The closer "Unplug" brings us crashing back to the digital dominant society we find ourselves in. Perrin, taking an existentialist perspective, questions if all this split attention will add up to anything enduring along with considering the long term effects on our senses, soul and, zap and stay somewhat tuned. 

"Both Sides Now"
Regardless of whatever may transpire, Perrin will continue nobly tilting at windmills, exploring conditions and acting as a catalyst for "better world" change through his songcraft and commitment to musical community. The Yearn presents his latest flourishing music sweeping in from different directions and making the necessary transformations before proceeding courageously outwards into the dimensions between dark and light.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Waylon Jennings-Love of the Common People

After overpowering a woodsy Beatles song (You've Got To Hide Your Love Away from their Help album),Waylon quickly follows up with the title song where it all comes together for him.  With Love of the Common People, his resonant baritone and larger than life persona perfectly match its ascending arrangement and overt theme of social justice --presaging Elvis Presley’s In the Ghetto by two long trying years in America.  This pivotal song reached #3 on the 1967 country charts and was said to have gone all the way to #1 in Navajo country.  On a popular culture level, Waylon would later go on receive more exposure and notoriety with his ‘70s “outlaw” work, his big screen appearance in the Sesame Street movie Follow that Bird and his "Theme from The Dukes of Hazzard (Good Ol' Boys)" which played in millions of living rooms each Friday night in the early ‘80s.  However, on this relatively unheralded album centered on its aforementioned title song, Waylon is able to lovingly stir individual listeners while also raising their consciousness to the plight of others. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

New Directions of The Afro Blues Quintet Plus One by The Afro Blues Quintet Plus One

Don’t let the strange cover art or the unwieldy band name deter you from considering this instrumental soul, Latin jazz, and easy listening musical treasure from 1966.  Despite the band name, there is only a trace amount of blues in this act.  A prominent pop sensibility, propelled by the polyrhythmic percussion interwoven between the melody carrying vibes and flutes, illuminates this remastered long player. The pick hit is the buoyant “Mystic Mambo” which was also issued as a truncated single. This Los Angeles-based combo frequently played the famous Sunset Strip circuit and you can hear their musical cross-pollination as a refracted influence on the pop rock groups of that seminal area and era-namely the Doors and Love.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Western Plaza-Case of the Missing Guitarist

Being misleadingly described as “Party Garage Pop” in some quarters leads one to anticipate them slanting towards a deliberately shoddy and offhand sound that is all the rage with the cassette kids. Meanwhile, the band’s name conjures up everything from what used to be a telegram company (Western Union) to glowing “Stop & Shop” romantic notions evoked by the Modern Lovers in their declaration of “Roadrunner.” On another level, the band’s moniker reminds one of being young, with junior high friends and drinking Dr. Pepper in a strip mall at sunny noon without any acknowledged demands, responsibilities or expectations—even if all a mirage and never actual experience. Fittingly, “Thrift Store Girl” was chosen to be their first SoundCloud single. Vacuous, formulaic and shopworn were the initial "Apples to Apples" words when approaching a song entitled "Thrift Store Girl” in a power-pop, punk-pop or even a K Records context. Even when I was single, thrift tours or one-off detours took more gas and time than it was really worth, regardless of finding Sunshine Company long players for a buck or a Hawaiian-styled shirt with Century 21 logos emblazoned all over it. Still eternally swayed by the Ramones and Jonathan Richman, who both refined music and lyrics down to an enduring and elegant minimalism just when it needed it, gave me the impetus to proceed. Holding out hope against triteness, SoundCloud’s arrow revealed the sound of something significant sounding, quixotic and imbued with perfect pop sensibilities. The poetry-in-motion lyrics of an idealized girl and queen of cast-off treasure cascaded over an infectious song of all what life can be with or without all the entanglements and fault lines.

New Wave Vernacular 
With the band not taking the now standard Bandcamp route, some digital back roads needed to be explored. Amarillo’s Panhandle PBS featured some some high production footage of the band in their “Yellow City Sound” studio and provided the much needed visual. Their stampeding and taunt "Tornado Dream" presented a "wiry" guitarist gliding across the sound stage with a Yuna Kim-like focus, while looking like one of the students in “Dead Poets Society" in a snappy Western shirt. "Tornado Dream" revealed an alloyed band with the guitars clashing, converging and intertwined like Big Country or Chisel while the overall song is a catchy as a 20/20 single. This small sampling revealed something was happening here in the musicianship, lyrics and overall sound that was more than a sum of the parts. 

Next, I tried to connect the geographic dots, while subscribing to the isolation theory of bands developing distinctive sounds away from the Lite-Bright cities. Amarillo, Texas was not some a place that I thought about on a yearly basis beyond knowing that it was somewhere out in the Country of Texas west of Austin, Houston, Dallas or San Antone. Wikipedia revealed Terry “Suspicion" Strafford and Jimmy "Sugar Shack" Gilmer were from Amarillo, while Buddy Holly's Lubbock is 120 miles to the south.  A sidetrack to the the Light in the Attic Records website reminded me that the Kitchen Cinq were kicking around Amarillo before connecting with Lee Hazlewood and recording an outstanding album in Los Angeles overflowing in reverb.  I then followed the map and saw that Amarillo was affixed to Route 66 and clasped in with old Southwestern favorites like Albuquerque and Flagstaff.

Case of the Missing Guitarist 
Later, I watched a YouTube video of the band playing live in Austin at Weinermania 2015 as part of SXSW, but the supporting guitars behind talented lead singer Michael Blackwell took on overt and unsubtle ex-metalhead tinge. I learned that the missing undercurrent of sound was the aforementioned slight country gentleman Hayden Pedigo, an acclaimed and accomplished guitarist on his own right. This Texas Monthly featured musician makes records that take an entirely different direction from Western Plaza, but are mightily impressive even if I'm not one in position to assess John Fahey-inspired American Primitive work. The sound of his debut "Seven Years Late" record is evocative of the lunar land between names on a Texas road map and could have been used on the “Boyhood” soundtrack--if the film continued through all of Mason’s college years. In Paste Magazine, Hayden states he admires the multi-leveled production work of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson and would like to take Western Plaza in that direction. The impressive arrangement of Western Plaza's “When It’s Over” already leans that way in the how it turns, shifts tiers and expands out in such a pleasing way.

For the Record 
Western Plaza has a head turning "where did that come from" sound despite being seemingly isolated in the ol' Republic of Texas. An expanded perspective reveals their distinctive regionalism while being connected to overall continuity of Route 66. Their debut album (somewhere between an EP and a LP) presents of an emerging band who have forged their own present pop sound while being in alignment with the long, glorious and always running American line led by Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys and late-'70s Power Pop. Along the way, they tunnel into the stomp 'n' snarl of 1966 Five Americans garage rock and span out to swirling psych pop of Strawberry Alarm Clock before arriving at the station of Hoodoo Gurus. Western Plaza is an apt name of a rock & roll band on the Southwest horizon who have a sound that is placing them on the map.