Monthly Archives: June 2020

The Turtles • Original Album Reissues [2LP]

Manifesto Records, in conjunction with FloEdCo, have reissued THE TURTLES’ original albums from the ’60s and these are some real spiffy releases. All six of the band’s studio albums from 1965’s It Ain’t Me Babe up through Wooden Head (1970) are now available as 2LP sets that not only replicate the original artwork (although in gatefold form), but in the case of the first three albums give you both the mono and stereo mixes. (The final three albums feature the original stereo mix [they weren’t released in mono] on the first record and a second disc of bonus material.)

It Ain’t Me Babe and its 1966 followup, You Baby/Let Me Be, are quite similar to each other in terms of material and sound. From the the first, there’s obviously the single “It Ain’t Me Babe,” the Bob Dylan song that made for The Turtles’ first hit 45, as well as its followup, “Grim Reaper of Love,” an excellent song that at the time barely made the Top 100 (coming in at 81). From the band’s 1966 followup album were the singles that made up its title, “You Baby” (#20) and “Let Me Be” (#29), and the barely noticeable “Can I Get to Know You Better” (a sad #89). Another great pop tune – albeit with a morbid title – “Pall Bearing, Ball Bearing World” features on side two.Album three is where The Turtles really took off. Happy Together, though still similar to the previous pair of albums, was bolstered by two of their biggest singles. “Happy Together” really needs no introduction, it being a pure pop single that few people are strangers to even today. Penned by the team of Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon, who also wrote followup “She’d Rather Be With Me,” it’s got the quintessential Turtles tone that was somewhere between The Beach Boys, The Byrds and The Monkees. Twangy rhythm guitars? Yep. Tight harmonies? Yep. Bit of a sense of humor? Yep.

Next came The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, a 1968 concept album (for real) in which the band took on the personae of a host of different “bands” in conjunction with the various sounds on the vinyl. These bands all had different names, though they are all our beloved Turtles. Big hit “Elenore” is “by” Howie, Mark, Johny, Jim & Al, while “You Showed Me” (penned by Byrds Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark) is “by” Nature’s Children. There’s also Chief Kamanawanalea and his Royal Macadamia Nuts doing their theme song, “I’m Chief Kamanawanalea (We’re the Royal Macadamia Nuts)”, as well as a number of other winners like the instrumental “Buzz Saw” “by” The Fabulous Dawgs and the Harry Nilsson/Chip Douglas title tune as attributed to The U.S. Teens Featuring Raoul.1969’s Turtle Soup was a real good album with a real odd choice of producer: The Kinks’ Ray Davies. Not really known as a producer (or even as the lead singer/songwriter for his own band here in the States), Davies nonetheless helped The Turtles come out with an album made up of all their own tunes, including the minor hit single “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain.” The album was their last all-new studio album, as Wooden Head from 1970 was made up of various Turtles tracks that hadn’t appeared on any of their previous longplayers. That being said, there are some classics here, including the band’s take on “We’ll Meet Again” and some tracks penned by band members Howard Kaylan and Al Nichol.

All of these albums were reissued on CD a couple of years ago (with the same track listings), and in the UK as 1LP vinyl (as part of a Record Store Day box set and later separately). My favorites here are Happy Together and The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, but all of them have great songs and sound real nice. As for the mono/stereo pairings, I don’t find much of a difference between the different mixes (though they are, in fact, distinct from each other*). I guess picking up these 2LP sets will be down to how big of a Turtles lover you are and whether you’ve already got any of the recent reissues. At least you can get them separately and fill in the cracks of your Turtles shell as necessary.

* Up through the late Sixties most albums were released in both mono and stereo, and frequently these were distinct mixes. However, some mono albums later in the decade were really “fold down” stereo mixes – that is, the two channels of the stereo mix summed together into one channel.

3/5 (Manifesto MFO 48041, 48042, 48043, 48044, 48045, 48046, 2020)

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Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks • Orange Crate Art [CD, LP]

Twenty five years ago BRIAN WILSON and VAN DYKE PARKS created Orange Crate Art, what we in the rock critic world would call a “sweeping” “song cycle” about the beauty and majesty of the state of California. This month the album is reissued as a very lush sounding 2CD set and for the first time on vinyl (on 2 LPs), and it sounds real pretty.

Those of you who’ve read even a few of my reviews know my typical MO and tone is often a little “humorous,” “sarcastic” and/or “what-have-you,” so you’d be excused for thinking that my use of the phrase “real pretty” might be meant to induce snickers or other similar results in the reader. In fact I’m being straight up with you. Not only is Orange Crate Art real pretty, the CD sounds amazing. (I can’t speak for the vinyl but I can guess it’s at least as good in analog as it is digitally.) I have it on good authority* that this version of the album was mastered for better dynamic range and with more respect to the music than the original, which, let’s face it, was put out in 1994 when neither Brian Wilson or Van Dyke Parks were probably a high priority with their record label. Omnivore is much more concerned about sound quality than Warner Bros. was at that time.

Orange Crate Art has a lush soundscape thanks to Van Dyke Parks’ beautiful melodies and arrangements, and – the reason for this pairing of pop titans – Brian Wilson’s vocals. They’re not all Brian, but much of it is, including the lead vocals and the main backing vox. Along with a stellar team of vocalists, Wilson and Parks have put together an album that is super pleasant right out of the gate and welcomes repeated listenings. Musically, it’s like a cross between The Beach Boys and the Gershwins. Lyrically, Parks’ lyrics bounce back ’n’ forth between cute, clever and corny, and that sometimes became a slight impediment to my enjoyment. But as stated above, I can be a bit curmudgeonly so it’s not surprising that something like that might bug me.

But basically, if you dug Parks’ pairing with Wilson’s Beach Boys and Smiley Smile/Smile, or the absolutely brilliant “Sail On, Sailor” (from the Boys’ 1973 Holland album), you will get a kick out of Orange Crate Art. Recorded in the mid ’90s when Brian’s voice was still what we think of as Brian’s voice, it is a thoroughly relaxing and smile-inducing album.

Format notes: Orange Crate Art is available as 2CD set that includes an entire second disc of the instrumental versions of the songs, a 2LP black vinyl set that splits the album up to four sides (preserving the ability to get as much info into the grooves as possible), and a super limited orange vinyl 2LP set that sold out almost immediately on Omnivore’s web site.

3.5/5 (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-373, 2020)

* Mark Smotroff’s post on AudiophileReview.com is highly recommended for both a thorough review of the album and info about the mastering of this release.

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Neil Young • Homegrown [LP, CD]

“Homegrown is alright by me, homegrown is the way it should be…” If you remember this lil’ refrain then it’s safe to say you’ve been listening to NEIL YOUNG for a long time – or at least since 1977’s American Stars ’N’ Bars, the album it was first heard on. Now it’s featured on Homegrown, Neil’s “new” album that was originally recorded in the mid ’70s and was finally set for release in April 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic pushed Record Store Day back. It’s out now and like many of Young’s latest releases, there’s a bit of a back story.

Shelved in 1975 once he decided a lot of the subject matter was just a bit too personal, Homegrown is the latest in Neil’s Archive series of releases and it’s another good album from a man with way more music in him than we’ll probably ever know. If there’s any doubt about the vulnerability that may be on display, the opening track “Separate Ways” tells you that Neil had a lot on his young mind in late ’74 when these recordings commenced and from there the openness doesn’t let up much. “Try” definitely keeps it going, as does the now familiar “Love Is a Rose” (made a hit by Linda Ronstadt not long after this recording was made) and “Mexico,” which isn’t so much about that country as it is about the peace it would bring to the man’s mind. (Neil also visits “Kansas” and “Florida” – more about that state later.) In all, the album is mostly a low key affair that was absolutely worthy of release.

Primarily recorded in December 1974 (plus or minus six months), Homegrown would have followed On the Beach but was cut from the same cloth as ’72’s Harvest – and featured many of the same players. There’s just not a lot of the rock that Beach had, save for “Vacancy” on side two. A good half of the songs on the album, like the title track, “Love Is a Rose” and “Little Wing” eventually made their way to release on later albums (more about the songs’ destinations here), but these are the original recordings and they make up a pretty cohesive album. Are there tracks on here that we could have lived without? Well, yeah! It’s Neil. I’d be pretty safe in saying “Florida,” with its stoned narrative and wine glass rubbing, could’ve been relegated to a rarities record of some sort. Yet that’s about the only one out of a dozen songs here that misses the mark so it’s good that Neil decided to finally put out Homegrown intact. I mean, at this point, he’s released so much great material that in years to come it’ll be pretty hard to separate the stems ’n’ seeds from his bountiful harvest. (Sorry, couldn’t help it.) Of course, Young releases so many albums these days – of both new material and old – that it’d be easy for the good ones to get lost among them all, but it would be just as easy for the not-so-good ones to get lost, too, so you really gotta check them all out, decide for yourself, and I don’t know, maybe use a post-it note to indicate to yourself which ones you’d want to hear again. I bet this one would be in that category.

Homegrown is available on CD and vinyl, with independent record stores receiving the vinyl that comes with a print of the cover art (which is limited).

3/5 (for Neil) (Reprise 093624898689, 2020)

 

 

 

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The No Ones • The Great Lost No Ones Album [CD, LP]

I bet when you’re Peter Buck you don’t have to care too much about getting publicity on your new album. I mean, he was the guitarist in R.E.M. He knows his album’s gonna reach the people, one way or another. So it’s the reviewer’s job to know that it’s already come out and get on top of things. And, for Scott McCaughey, regardless of whether you’re known as the guy who started Young Fresh Fellows or The Minus Five, or that you were a sideman for R.E.M. and a member of Robyn Hitchcock‘s Venus 3, the word that you’ve started yet another band – called THE NO ONES – with the guy from R.E.M. will get around. Even during a worldwide coronavirus shut down (Volume 3, anyone?). So here we are: it’s already June 2020 and I’m just now getting around to reviewing The Great Lost No Ones Album, which was released in March. Had you heard about it? I had, but I clearly neglected my rock critic duties (hey, I don’t exactly get paid for this!) by waiting so long to tell you what I think about it. It’s almost as if I was trying to do my part, not review it, and let the album completely live up to its name.

The No Ones first got together as early as 2017 and are Buck, McCaughey (as in, the real McCaughey), Frode Strømstad and Arne Kjelsrud Mathisen, and they’ve recorded a powerful pure pop elpee that hearkens back to the days of old when practically all it took to put out a rock album was two guitars, bass, drums and some meaty-ass hooks. The Great Lost No Ones Album has all of that, plus the support of a mighty indie label and a captive (read: largely still home-based) audience. McCaughey’s the lead singer and as you’d expect if you’ve followed him for the last 30+ years, he has a great voice for this kind of music. What might make or break this great No Ones album for you is the degree to which it sounds like an R.E.M. record. (It doesn’t sound like R.E.M.) Those finding this album due to Buck’s membership in that band should consider that he was also a member of The Minus Five and this album is much closer to that vibe. For those of us who have tuned in to McCaughey’s projects since he fronted Seattle’s legendary (Young Fresh) Fellows, this may be the best record since Topsy Turvy. (My review on that classic ’80s indie album is right here.) I really like the single “Straight Into the Bridge” and “Dream Something Else” – the guitars on these songs are rippin’ (not sure who’s playing which parts) and sure to invite repeated listening sessions, whether in your car, your music room or your very own underground lair. Other songs do something similar, like “Sweet Home Mississippi,” “Clementine” or “Gone.” Really, you couldn’t ask for a much more engaging record to get into these days.

The Great Lost No Ones Album is available on both CD and LP, and vinyl lovers will thrill to the killer colored vinyl that’s available on initial orders. Not only is it a real beautiful yellow and purple 12″, but it features unique artwork and comes with a bonus 7″ (same colors in reverse) featuring two songs not on the album (or the CD). That vinyl version may or may not be available at this point – after all, I’m two months behind in reviewing this baby! – so I’d get on over to YepRoc’s web site pronto. I can’t tell you what those bonus tracks sound like (my order hasn’t arrived yet) but I wouldn’t worry. I’m sure they’ll be worthy of extra time on your turntable.

3.5/5 (YepRoc YEP-2718, 2020)

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