Saturday, December 24, 2016

Dave "Baby" Cortez with Lonnie Youngblood and his Bloodhounds

Cortez is most remembered for his 1959 hopped-up & whirling instrumental “The Happy Organ” which was first #1 hit record to feature the organ as lead instrument. While the Hammond B3 organ was already established in jazz and gospel at the time, it was rarely heard as a lead instrument in the world of instrumental pop.  Far from being a one-hit novelty musician, Cortez was active throughout the ‘60s, releasing albums for Roulette with his overall sound incorporating more soul, jazz and funk elements as the decade spun into the’ 70s.  Almost 40 years after his last solo album in 1972, this 2011 release brings Cortez back to musical life and is the next natural step in his sonic evolution which included session work stints with the Isley Brothers, the Moon People and the Harlem Underground Band. This landing features the yakety saxophone of Lonnie Youngblood, who is most renowned (outside of his gospel work) for playing on some pre-Experience Jimi Hendrix sides in 1966.  Mick Collins of the Gories and the Dirtbombs steers the production which sparks like a bumper car and satisfyingly bleeds into the red on several occasions.  After a couple of warm up runs across the keyboard, Cortez quickly gets back into the flow of things and wipes out any perfunctory notions of an old-timers game. Highlights include the subterranean cool and shimmering electric piano flashes on "Suki Bomb" and the low riding Whittier Boulevard triplets of "Let's Do a Slow Dance." The bubbling "Hot Cakes" is where things get fluid and stretch out with molten melodies dripping over the already stellar schematic established in the mid-fifties.  The disc reaches its crescendo with "Flame Gettin' Higher, Fire Gettin' Hot" that rages with riffs that seems to quote the Beastie Boys' "Remote Control." Regardless of any possible (re)creative borrowings, this stomper is a true revival in all senses of the word. "Midnight Sun" explores some Wes Montgomery/George Benson territory before crossing over the currents of Booker T./Odell Brown and out to the expanses of El Chicano.  After all this time, overdue credit goes out to Norton Records for their ardent efforts in bringing Dave Cortez back into the driver's seat, so he can take the lead once again.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Top Sounds of 2016

01. Yea-Ming and the Rumours-I Will Make You Mine
02. Freezing Hands-II
03. Sea Wren-S/T
04. Britemores-S/T
05. Those Pretty Wrongs
06. The Higher State-Volume 27
07. The Pen Friend Club-Season of
08. The Real Numbers-Wordless Wonder
09. Mystic Braves-Days of Yesteryear
10. The Fleshtones-The Band Drinks for Free

The Turtles-All The Singles

Various Artists

Last Of The Garage Punk Unknowns Volumes 7 & 8 (Heartbroken American Garage Jangle Misery 1965-1967)

Reissues & Represses
London Dri-Western Skies
The Turtles-Wooden Head

Monday, November 14, 2016

Bass & Word: Song of the Roots-Chuck Perrin & Bertram Turetzky

"In a higher manner the poet communicates the same pleasure.  By a few strokes he delineates, as on air, the sun, the mountain, the camp, the city, the hero, the maiden, not different from what we know them, but only lifted from the ground and afloat before the eye.  He unfixes the land and the sea, makes them revolve around the axis of his primary thought, and disposes them anew."
~ Emerson "Nature"

The overall impression of Chuck Perrin’s latest recorded endeavor Bass & Word quickly brings Kerouac’s spoken word recordings or the now classic Eden's Island by Eden Ahbez to mind, Perrin with Bertram Turetzky on contrabass combine forces to act as catalysts to the spontaneous life force springing from words, sounds and imagery. Employing the words of some of the masters (e.g., Neruda, Dylan) as source material, this is their valiant attempt to unlock the mind, soul and grapple with the ever-present, yet pushed-away questions of life and the eternal. Further examining its branches, Bass & Word reveals itself not merely an academic exercise or standing on the shoulders of giants away from the workaday world.  Perrin stands tall in his own right by threading in his original words which articulate life’s experiences in all its agony, glory and interstitial moments. 

Right from the start, Perrin jars listeners into consciousness with “Rough & Tumble.” This upending piece reminds me of surfing for the first time and being engulfed by a wave and dragged along the embedded stones of the shoreline. Within the unhinged “Jaberwocky” by Lewis Carroll, it's pleasing to hear Perrin voicing the musicality of the Tumtum Tree.  Unlike the Jojoba shrub, the Tumtum Tree revealed itself to be fictional upon lookup.  This is one of those better to be heard than read moments of poetry when spoken word can take flight vs. remaining flat on the page.  Perrin’s enunciation of this phrase rounds out the overall cacophony of this work stacked atop slanting percussion.  Poetry and music may allow us to delve into the sharp recesses of the mind, explore new realms and expand perceptions. However, all is illusory and transitory, as we frequently think we know where the performing artist is and going to, but it's the innate nature of the artist (and/or their image) to shape-shift and be on unexpected wavelengths. These notions have given rise to an entire cottage industry (running the spectrum from the remarkable Crawdaddy Magazine to the nadir of A.J. Weberman going through Dylan's trash) built on compartmentalizing and explaining seemingly elusive musicians (e.g., Lou Reed, Lennon, Zimmerman). With Dylan’s “All I Wanna Do,” Perrin inflects the work with the appropriate level of nasalness needed to express “That Wild Mercury Sound” which cannot be classified nor contained. 

Neruda’s “Ode to a Violin in California” unfurls and sprawls out like the desert or pavement atop the desert.  Even in translation, Neruda’s “green ink” comes off as accessible, generous and humane as evidenced in the rising and falling cadences of “Poem 53.” Perrin’s original “The Thrill” elucidates those given days or moments that are just “off” despite focused efforts to get back on track.  Parents and workers can readily relate to the phrase, “steady breaths have given way/ to habitual moans & puffs of frustration” due to all the frequent exigencies. In this instance, poetry may take shape atop fragments jotted on the backs of escalating summer electric bills. Upon initial listening, I was immediately convinced that “Chinaski” was a Bukowski original vs. Perrin’s own homage to ol' Hank.  With all of its seedy signifiers, it’s that evocative of the Black Sparrow bard.  In full autumn splendor, Bass & Word: Song of the Roots taps into poetry’s subterranean power to reconnect the wonder, while courageously opening up to reconsider the world above.
"Therefore we love the poet, the inventor, who in any form, whether in an ode or in an action or in looks and behavior, has yielded us a new thought.  He unlocks our chains and admits us to a new scene."~ Emerson "The Poet"

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Turtles-All The Singles

In a span of 5 years (1965-1970), the Turtles effortlessly straddled the styles of the times, from stellar folk-rock through timeless top 40 pop to an eclectic smatterings of styles simply because they could.  They were the recipients of vast piles of first-rate songs from the high tide of ‘60s songwriters (e.g., Dylan, P.F. Sloan, Gene Clark David Gates, Warren Zevon and Bonner & Gordon). Many of their shifts and swerves were illuminated with sunburst harmonies and requisite humor needed to stave off the chicanery of the music industry.  They were also versatile enough to be a singles machine almost ready made for AM radio and as an album group who would garner airplay on the FM stereo side with their more theatrical & experimental excursions. “All The Singles” presents both an introduction to the band –say a child hearing “Happy Together” for the first time or second time (as it frequently appears in commercials and movies) and as the current definitive overview of the band. For long-time Turtles listeners, what’s especially exciting are some the rarely heard B-sides and previously unissued recordings like the haunting and brittle “So Goes Love,” one of my favorite Gerry Goffin & Carole King compositions. It was not until seeing Flo (Mark Volman) & Eddie (Howard Kayland) live in 2011 at Wild Horse Pass Casino did I realize their enormous vast talents and what a hoot they are as a “musical comedic" duo.  Buoyed by its underlying classical elements, the night became transcendent when the entire audience sang along to “Happy Together” with unbridled joy. Like their namesake, they were not the sleekest band, but their playful and oblique ‘60s sounds have continued to convey levity, express elation and endure over the long haul.

Monday, October 03, 2016

The Banjo Story-Vol.I

While this has been reissued endlessly, repackaged under several different titles, cover variations, track configurations, this is where it all began in 1963. This Tabula rasa is comprised of some of the major five-stringers of the folk revival-era including two who would subsequently go on make huge waves on popular culture, Roger McGuinn with the Byrds and Mason Williams with “Classical Gas.” While I previously unfamiliar with some of individual names (Dick Weissmann and Art Podell), I knew of the popular folk groups they were involved with (respectively the Journeymen and the New Christy Minstrels).  I have since learned they are considered consummate players and are still active to this day.  With remarkable finesse, Dick Weissmann celebrates the Colorado Rocky Mountains on his textured “Trail Ridge Road.”  Meanwhile with “Ragaputa," Art Podell’s takes the standard ringing banjo sound on a journey of exploration when he enmeshes it with the droning latticework of raga--all in one jet age minute. Mason Williams’s “Banjo Hello” is suffused with classical flourishes that would later become his trademark sound. The ol' stirring Irish traditional “Rakes of Mallow” is prominently echoed in Eric Darling’s “Banjo Tune.” Dick Rosmini’s “Fast and Loose” is a highly-evolved breakdown that is so speedy that it blurs into drones at moments.  Lastly, Jim (Roger) McGuinn’s rustic “Ramblin’ On” might be the roots of the Byrds, but it actually sounds like Charlie Chin’s banjo work with Buffalo Springfield. The Banjo Story-Vol. I has been influential for over a half century as it encapsulates 12 distinctive approaches to the banjo, while expressing the resounding & ramblin' spirit of this transitional time.

Thursday, September 01, 2016


My 5-year old daughter became instantly intrigued by this album’s sound when I was playing this on the laptop the other night at home. She also took to the front cover art which looks tailor-made to attract any girl with its Pippi Longstocking-like figure floating atop the backdrop imagery of whimsical kawaii. Like so many Japanese acts, the influence of the Ramones plays an integral role. The main riff of the Ramones’ “Do you Remember Rock & Roll Radio?" is employed throughout the song "3 Code." While the Ramones (and Shonen Knife) inspire the rocking parts, there is a predominant pure pop orientation on the whole (somewhere in the vicinity of Peach Kelli Pop, Japanese TV theme songs and Herman’s Hermits). The melodies are fittingly catchy and unencumbered as the song titles (e.g.“Life,” “Pop World,” “Green Guitar”) while the Windex-clear production vividly reveals the springy guitar tones slicing through the Japanese and English lyrics sung in that endearing chirpiness. From the choppy Google “translation” of the Japanese characters found on the artist’s website, I was able to piece together that Berry previously played in two outstanding girl groups from Osaka (the Milkees, the Bunnies). Both of those bands were heavily influenced by American girl group Spector-pop like the Ronettes and the Crystals embellished with a dash of Motown and the vibrancy of the Go-Go's. All of these underlying currents, from both sides of the Pacific, lead us back to this magnetic album, attracting the ears of the young and the youthful alike.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Lesley Gore-Ever Since

Released over a decade ago, Ever Since was Lesley Gore’s first new album in 30 years and would ultimately be her last due to her passing in February 2015. 68-years young at the time, she was in the midst of writing her memoirs of her challenging, unconventional and valiant artistic life. While she was continually overshadowed by her contemporaries (Carly Simon, Carole King, Linda Ronstadt), and under-recognized by the mainstream critics due to timing of her hits and the seismic shifts in popular culture during the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, this American original did retain an international audience (especially in France, Germany & Japan) along with a devoted domestic cult following throughout her career.

With Ever Since, Gore rewarded listeners with 10 sophisticated jazz-tinged pop songs which emanated her conviction, textured wisdom and her vast resilience. The stirring centerpiece is a revised rendition of her signature song “You Don’t Own Me” that is not perfunctory, but interpreted from a different stage and station in life. Overall, the songs are contemporary and forward moving, but without the padding of guest appearances, rehashes of the Great American Songbook and/or glossy production which plague so many of these affairs. While her dynamic range evokes jazz vocalists from Pat Suzuki to Anita Baker, she’s ultimately true to her own distinctive voice and heart’s orientation. “Not The First” features an arrangement where the playful show tune verses expand out into a chorus of classic girl group proportions. The fitting swan song “We Went So High” closes out the album and a recording career with elevated elegance. Resolutely unconventional, yet non-abrasive, Gore was a strong-willed proto-feminist who continually overcame personal adversity and persevered in the push of popular culture. In the end, her indomitable spirit and timeless music came out ahead.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

BIGMAMA SHOCKIN' 3-I get tired of waiting… BUM'S MUSIC

Before the internet explosion, finding these Japanese releases were elusive searches like seeking rare shortwave signals bouncing off the earth's upper atmosphere in the middle of the night. While the treasure hunt with its magnetic poles of frustration and reward now mostly dropped from the process, listening and exploring the music itself can now take the lead.

With an album title that seems to be directly transferred off some night market t-shirt and an even wackier band name, their sound falls somewhere between The's and the Shonen Knife to cite some comparable Japanese trios with the widest name recognition here in North America. However, this Sendai band is on a wavelength that is closer to the rock 'n' roll frequencies of  THE PORTUGAL JAPAN, Supersnazz. KO and the Knockouts and why don't we throw in the Muffs while we are at it. I could see this being a SFTRI release, if the prolific record label was still in full operation and reviewed in Shredding Paper. It's refreshing to hear their straight ahead approach that is characterized by big hooks, serrated Voxx guitars, propulsive drumming (with the drummer on lead vocals- Karen Carpenter style) and berets.     

"Midnight Monster" would've probably been the band's first video and slotted last (1:55 am) if 120 Minutes was still around.  "Hate" actually skips along with a ska sound like "My Boy Lollipop" by Millie Small, and it's not until the kiss-off chorus that the folded up playground note reveals the h word before quickly doing an about face with a mention of love. With its sweet succinctness, the dashing "Highway" sounds like something from Momoko Yoshino's Sunnychar or Tiger Shovel Nose, while "Poker Face" delivers seemingly effortless roller coaster melodies over prominent girl-group backing vocals.  With their rhythm section motoring along like a dependable Honda engine, they pack more melodies in one song than many bands in their entire discography.

Starting with a "Black is Black" bass line copped from Los Bravos, "Look at Me" reveals their mod influence (early Who and Small Faces) they wear on the sleeves of their bar-stripe tees. This album features only one cover and they make the most of it covering the Zombies' "I'll Keep Trying" complete with a murky and whirling organ.  It should be interesting if they further explore this beat-pop direction as it could take them on a flight to international renown like Mama Guitar or the Pebbles. Regardless of future approaches, their debut transmits that unique Japanese knack for tapping into the essential elements of rock 'n' roll and making it all that more exciting.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sea Wren

Musician, producer, arranger Matt Rendon has been setting things in major motion down in panoramic Tucson.  Not only is he the prime mover behind some of the best releases of this decade (Crummy Desert Sound by the Resonars and The Butterscotch Cathedral), he's also been directly involved, in both playing and production capacities, with stellar debut albums from The Freezing hands, Harsh Mistress and now Sea Wren.  In theory, Sea Wren has the great notion of what perhaps the Resonars would sound like tinted with female vocals. In actuality, Sea Wren is their own distinct entity along with combining all the wonderful elements you have come to expect with a release from Matt's Midtown Island Studio. The songs are mid-fidelity pop gems that are more fizzy than fuzzy (like say the Burnt Palms) and shamble and bounce over an infusion of post-punk/new wave angular energy.

"Lena," one of those perfect international girls names, starts with lyrics of questioning while the brisk and breathtaking music is a declaration of desert clarity over deliberate coastal murkiness.  It ends up in the same neighborhood, as "Definitely Crescent Ridge"-the lead-off track from the Resonars' 1998 debut.
 "Lena" is also one of those songs that you will wake up with the chorus running through your head. "Birds of Slumber" winds up the Raspberries' "I Wanna Be With You" super-glued to a Guided by Voices-ish verse before fleeing the Ohio stickiness to explore now classic sunburst Resonars territory accompanied by percolating keys.  Along with dialing into the vibe of the the vastly unsung Sacramento band Baby Grand, "Wake Up Now" is overcoated with a "Lovelife" Lush or Primitives sparkle finish and propelled by rat-a-tat-tat drums. "Sarah's Cross" evokes the Zombies/Zumpano leaning up against Heavenly and Nosotrash with its pep, hooks galore, ringing guitars and bridge suspended by soaring harmonies.

Within the interchanging and intertwined guitars that clash and converge, "Riddle Lake" is an example or their pop-rock where the colossal and sprawling is contained within their overall concise and minimalist approach.  A Palomar/ Peach Kelli Pop-like chorus on "LA Stems" is supported by a Wendy & Bonnie layered arrangement where the Westward leading parallel and counterpart harmonies conjoin and blend to make for one of the highlights of this album. The song also reminded me of the seemingly long lost Japanese band kabochack.  Intended or not, "Helen Day," curves into the "Ventura Highway" with its reflected harmonies backlighting and glowing throughout the song that fills the space with possibilities. "The Latest Cage" is the song that immediately jumped out to me with its Lesley Gore-ish vocals gliding over Spector pop percussion and then proceeding in an unexpected direction with an ascent from River Deep to Mountain (Lemmon) High. 

Sea Wren brings the past and present together to create their own signature sound as well as sharing the compelling timeless pop sensibilities of the Midtown Island Sound.  With several exciting projects (Harsh Mistress II, The Freezing Hands II, new Resonars) said to be the works, I can only imagine what Matt and his overlapping circles of musicians have in store for the future on Tucson's wide-open horizon.  Without question, they will continue reaching for new heights "Under the Blazing Stars."

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Robert Drasnin - Voodoo

The late ‘50s/early ‘60s were the halcyon era of exotica recordings partly due to the ascendancy of high fidelity, the popularity of easy listening & jazz, requisite post-war Polynesian escapism along with the universal human search for the indigenous. While not one of the genre giants (Les Baxter, Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, and Yma Sumac) the adventurous sounds and intricate musicianship found on Robert Drasnin’s Voodoo has allowed his original compositions to endure and connect to ensuing generations. In its original vinyl incarnation, this is one of the most sought-after exotica albums due to the original minuscule print run and distant realms evoked within its grooves.  “Orinoco," flows and floats like lava over the continually shifting plates of pan–global percussion-sweeping the sound to overlooks of the vast Pacific. Interweaving harp, glockenspiel and wind chimes, “Enchantment” sways like a flourishing palm tree somewhere between the still spreading seafloor and the jet stream.  “Tambuku,” featuring a young John Williams on piano, takes on Far East motifs with an understated atmospheric approach free floating over a panorama of perpetual percussion. Voodoo frequently explores the rarefied space where exotica overlaps with Latin Jazz. Accordingly, it's the perfect soundtrack for an excursion to the famous Kon-Tiki in Tucson or on the back porch between drug store tiki torches and visions of Easter Island.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thee Midniters-In Thee Midnite Hour!!!!

From 1964-1969, Thee Midniters were on the vanguard in their native East Los Angeles and throughout the Southern California region. There was a time in 1964-65, when Whittier Blvd. slicing through East Los Angeles, prefigured the Sunset Strip--lined with live music venues, record stores and 5 major clothing stores selling mod threads and Beatles boots, which Thee Midniters perfectly encapsulated with their propulsive instrumental "Whittier Blvd."  With their versatility and proficiency, Thee Midniters could go from unhinged proto-punk to solid soul, like the top 40 boss radio of the time, which allowed the 7-member combo to crossover with almost any audience of youth and even win over Casey Kasem.  Stirring up Beatles-like bedlam, they were just as popular with the Anglo audiences in Montebello and at the Rose Bowl as they were in their home turf of unincorporated East L.A.or filling El Monte's American Legion Stadium. They could also be said to be the progenitors of El Chicano (headliners of the upcoming 2016 Chandler Jazz Festival) while paving the paths for later bands ranging from the Zeros through Los Lobos to Chicano Batman. This compilation album is a revved-up lowdown of their tough, taut and hard as concrete early album sides & singles which aligns them with the paint peelin’ contingent of bands then ruling the Pacific Northwest like the Kingsmen, the Wailers and the Sonics. Especially, revelatory are some of their Latin soul instrumentals like the searing "Dragon-Fly" which is both horn and guitar driven and sounds like a perfect convergence of a taunting marching band with the Yardbirds.   Be sure to check out Youtube for some of their later songs like the festive and determined “Chicano Power” and “Walk on By” where they stretch out to display that their tastes were truly catholic as they were informed and inspired as much from traditional Mexican corrido, bolero, rumba and Bronx boogalo as the British Invasion, Southern California surf, James Brown, and Burt Bacharach.  In Thee Midnight Hour!!!!, it’s time to listen to yesterday’s sounds advancing into today.