Author Archives: Marsh Gooch

Bonnie Hayes with the Wild Combo • Good Clean Fun [LP]

The following review first appeared in my old music blog, Skratchdisc, some years ago. To preface this repost, BONNIE HAYES with the WILD COMBO’s Good Clean Fun has been reissued by Blixa Sounds in an expanded CD package with the original album, a 6-song EP, an early Hayes group’s single and some great new notes by Bonnie herself. The mastering job is nice ’n’ peppy, allowing this poppy early ’80s new wave classic to shine on into the 2020s. Here’s what I said a few years ago when I found a used copy in my local vinyl emporium.

Once again, on one of my weekly “just lookin’” ventures, I found a couple of great deals. The first one was a Mobile Fidelity half-speed master of a VERY PROMINENT ’70S ROCK ALBUM (name withheld to protect me from those who might make fun), which had a real used cover but the record was PERFECT. And it was only 99¢! The second was what this review’s about, Bonnie Hayes with the Wild Combo’s 1982 new wave gem, Good Clean Fun.

I first ran into this record during my rookie year as a college radio DJ at Seattle’s legendary KCMU. (It is now the world-renowned KEXP, but don’t get me started…!) My freshman year at the University of Washington, 1981/82 was a year that was beyond compare for yours truly. During the summer of ’81 a friend told me about this low-watt radio station where they played all kinds of “weird new wave”—this is where I first heard The B-52’s, XTC, Devo, you name it. I tuned in the station whenever it would come in (at that time it was only 10 watts), and upon my first week of school at the UW, I promptly went to the station to find out what it was all about. It was then that I learned that almost anyone could get a show, and met a slew of like minded students (like my buds Mike Fuller and Andy Taylor, for two) who enjoyed DJing and playing whatever records you wanted. I got my first show in November (a Friday night from 11 pm to 2 am), and eventually this puny little station became a major part of my life. I discovered more great music in the initial years of DJing there than I have in all the years since! Sometime in 1982 Slash Records, the Los Angeles-based punk rock label, put out Bonnie Hayes’s LP, and we played the hell out of it. Sure, some of the jocks thought it was pretty lightweight, and if you have no history with the girl groups of the ’60s, you might, too, but this record really was good clean fun. And this from the label that had already put out X’s first two albums, The Dream Syndicate and The Gun Club! Slash had punk cred like no one else.

Well, anyway, this is about as pure an ’80s new wave record as you can get, with percolating organs and crunchy guitars and a nice female voice singing of “Shelly’s Boyfriend,” “Girls Like Me,” and “Raylene.” And to think I went decades without this record, yesterday I found it in the 99¢ bin! Sleeve in good shape, record looked good. And like the record mentioned way above, it turned out to be in great shape. So, here’s to Bonnie Hayes and her Wild Combo allowing me to relive some memories nearly 30 years old. I’ll have to check out what she’s up to now... – Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Blixa Sounds ETA 859, 2020) (bonniehayes.com)

 

Tagged

Edgar Jones • The Way It Is: 25 Years of Solo Adventures [3CD]

You may not know who EDGAR JONES is. You may not know him by the most well-known of his pseudonyms, Edgar Summertyme, either. Hell, you might not even know him from his superb early ’90s UK garage trio, The Stairs. So three CDs of a guy you don’t even know might seem like way more than you’d want to sit through just to figure him out. But Jones – a multi-instrumentalist who tends to play bass guitar when playing for people like Paul Weller, Johnny Marr or The La’s – has so many sides to him that The Way It Is only begins to give you an accurate picture of this unique musician.

Starting back from where most of us know him, Jones/Summertyme was the bassist and lead singer of The Stairs, who came along from Liverpool about the same time as The La’s. Both bands were signed to a hip indie label called Go! Discs (that also featured Billy Bragg, The Housemartins and Paul Weller on its roster). The Stairs was a real compelling throwback to UK psychedelia, using fuzzed-out guitars, loud amps and amped up arrangements that gave songs like “Weed Bus” and “Right in the Back of Your Mind” just enough of a modern twist that the youngsters of the ’90s probably had no idea that Summertyme and his mates were both paying tribute to and parodying the great indie rock of 25 years earlier. Jones/Summertyme sang in a growlly, animated voice that sounded just exaggerated enough to keep some people from taking his band seriously. Yet, if you had a deep enough knowledge of Sixties rock (see how I patted myself on the back there?) you “got it,” and The Stairs’ supreme and supremely overlooked Mexican R’n’B was as overplayed as “that’s what she said.” (Forget about the fact that the UK version of that compact disc had four or five more songs on it than the US one.*)

After The Stairs wound down, Jones went on to dip his fingers into all kinds of different concoctions. Whether he was fronting a soul/R&B combo, another garage unit or a smooth pop group (even a jump blues thang!), he brought a distinct Edgar vibe to his music. The Way It Is tries to distill all of this into a three disc anthology that at once does a great job and at the same time comes up short. How? Well, this set features 70 tracks! It’s near impossible to digest it all in one go, especially when you consider there are so many genres of rock represented that you can’t possibly keep track of where it starts, where it gets to, and where it ends up. That being said, if you like The Stairs, there’s a fair bunch of tracks to keep you goin’, especially those by his groups The Big Kids, The Joneses and The Edgar Jones Free Peace Thing, which grabbed that ’60s garage thing and added some trippy soul a la “Grazing in the Grass” (either Hugh Masakela’s or Friends Of Distinction’s arrangements). Noel Gallagher liked them so much he had them open for Oasis on their 2009 European tour. The tracks that originally appeared under Jones’ own name are more soul- or pop-inspired and may not float your boat, but then again: You can put on The Way It Is, any disc you like, and it’ll feel like you stumbled upon some free-form radio station from another decade where the DJ’s really killin’ it. I mean, killin’ it! – Marsh Gooch

3.5/5 (Cherry Red CDTRED805, 2021)

(* Cherry Red put out a 3CD reissue a couple years ago that is essential for Stairs fans. How I didn’t get around to reviewing it, I still can’t recall…)

Tagged ,

Pop-O-Pies • The White EP – Deluxe Edition [CD]

These days you gotta expect that anything being shipped to you is gonna take extra time to show up. In fact, it might not make it to you at all. Such was the case for our review copy of POP-O-PIES’ very first reissue CD, a reissue of The White EP, the band’s debut recording from 1982. First released on San Francisco indie label 415 Records, the new reissue label Liberation Hall has taken the original 6-song vinyl and put it out on compact disc with an additional seven songs. The kindly promo people guaranteed NuDisc a copy when I sent a salivating email requesting one, promising a sure positive review because “I played the shit out of it on my college radio station,” and I meant that. Then it didn’t show up. I enquired. They sent another one. No show. (It was around the holidays…) I enquired again and THIS TIME, lo-and-behold, it did – along with another 415 reissue CD.

Well, it was pretty much worth the wait and heartache. Okay, there wasn’t really any heartache involved. You see, I still have my original vinyl copy – in fact, I celebrate the entire Pop-O-Pies catalog – and I pretty much know it by heart. I wish I could say that this CD is as absolutely effin’ awesome as I hoped it would be, but I can’t. BUT… it’s close! Pop-O-Pies was/is the brainchild of Joe (Callahan) Pop-O-Pie, a smart ass from the Bay Area who came up with the idea of taking the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’” and re-styling it as a hardcore punk song. The further gimmick was that that cover version would be the only song the Pop-O-Pies would play. Supposedly that was so, at least for awhile. But eventually Joe & Co. came up with some originals, including the slow, pseudo-’60s ballad “The Catholics Are Attacking,“ all about that church and its hypocrisy, and further punkers like “Anna Ripped Me Off” and “Timothy Leary Lives,” which I love for its “guitar solo” that is actually just someone (Joe?) singing “neer nuh neer nuh neer” as if he’s the guitar. Genius! My 19-year old brain couldn’t get enough of this thing when it first came out, and I played it so much on KCMU that I’m sure our station music director must have passed a note to me about maybe giving some other artists some attention. Anyway, 415 put out a 12″ EP of the band’s stuff (which featured TWO versions of “Truckin’,” including a rap version that is quite funny [still]). The band went on to do a few more foot-long EPs, though on other labels, and eventually they spun out as some of the members had also been playing with other bands that became much more popular (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle). And so the Pies were done.

I said earlier that this Pop-O-Pies CD was “pretty much worth the wait,” and that’s because it’s lacking the kind of bonus tracks and packaging that I’d expect after nearly 40 years! Yes, there are seven extra tracks here but four of them sound identical to tracks that appeared on the band’s sophomore release (Joe’s Second Record, 1984, which had only six songs). The others are pretty good, including “Slow & Ignorant” (recorded in ’93) and a trippy thing called “Lenny in Wonderland.” The final bonus, “A Political Song (The Hip Version),” is short and unremarkable. Packaging-wise, it’s your standard CD that comes in a jewel case with a typical insert, lacking lots of info (like: ARE those four songs from Joe’s Second Record actually the same recordings that are on Joe’s second record?), no unpublished photos, and a tag on the front cover noting “featuring members of” bands that takes up almost as much room as the Pop-O-Pies logo itself. I mean: Does the record label think they’ll move more of these CDs by touting other bands, when, let’s face it, your run-of-the-mill Cars or Tubes fan is probably not gonna take a chance on this release unless they already know what it is? I’d doubt it.

Yet: Pop-O-Pies finally makes it to the 21st Century! I feel tingly all over, like a tomato. – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (for the reissue), 5/5 (for the White EP itself) (Liberation Hall LIB-5027, 2021)

Tagged

Al Bloch • It Was All Once Bright Jewels, Protest Songs [CD, DD]

It’s kinda nice when you’re a rock critic and someone sends you an email, out of the blue, asking if they can send you so-and-so’s new release and you reply, “Yeah, sure,” and you hope it’s gonna be good but experience tells you that it probably won’t be and then it is. Good. At this point I should probably mention that it was Green Monkey Records who recently sent NuDisc.net an email asking if they could send us copies of AL BLOCH’s latest two releases, It Was All Once Bright Jewels and Protest Songs. (I should also note that yours truly was once in a band that released a CD on that label.*)

Okay then… So, Al Bloch is who? He’s a bass player and songwriter who was once in the ’90s L.A. band, Wool. He’s Kurt Bloch’s – of Fastbacks and Young Fresh Fellows, most notably – big brother, so he grew up in Seattle. He’s a funny guy who, when propositioned to write some songs again after a coupla decades not writing, took up the challenge and quickly wrote an album’s worth of stuff good enough to record and release. That album, last May’s It Was All Once Bright Jewels, is packed with smart-assed, pithy tunes like “Unemployment Office” and “Cahuenga Pass,” which I can relate to. (If you’ve ever lived in L.A. and had to cross over from Hollywood to “the Valley” then you’ll understand the reference and the dread of such an undertaking.) (Although, in my case, I lived in “the Valley” and usually went in the opposite direction; all the shows were in Hollywood. But then, of course, you did have to come back home [eventually] and so you’d have to leave Hollywood to go back to “the Valley.”) Bloch’s lyrics definitely look at things from a slightly bothered yet resigned viewpoint. I mean, we all have a friend or acquaintance whom “Stay Away from Steve” could be about. Or “Dude, What Were You Thinking?”, which is a funny one about a guy who doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone and ruins everything for everybody. These songs are set among pretty hooky, punk-rocky arrangements of guitar, bass and drums – my favorite! – provided by the Brothers Bloch and drummer Kevin Fitzgerald, and they’re quite catchy ’n’ fun to hear more than once.

The fun continues on Protest Songs, which came out a month or so ago, and is even better. It’s like, all that Al needed was a nudge to start writing again and then the floodgates burst open. Indeed, it is not an album of your typical protest songs – it’s more like the kind of protesting that he voices in the songs mentioned above. I mean, “Bass Solo” isn’t actually a bass solo (like you’d find on a live album, for instance) but a song bitching about how you go to a live show, hear a real crummy bassist playing on stage, then just silently think to yourself “Dear God/Satan/Deity-of-Your-Choice, PLEASE don’t let that guy take a solo!” “You Gotta Have a Plan” opens the CD with sage advice and it’s followed by the 1-2 punch of “Too Nervous” and the chuckler “One Chord Baby,” which includes the couplet: “Mary Lincoln used to say to Abraham/ You can’t save the world but this one chord can!” In fact, that song has a number of good lines in it – as do most of the songs here. (I don’t count the killer UFO cover “This Kid’s,” which earns Al bonus points for not doing the obvious “Doctor, Doctor” or “Rock Bottom”!)

Al Bloch’s not really what you would call a lead singer. He’s more of a guy who writes sharp, short ditties that probably wouldn’t be near as entertaining if someone else sang ’em. As for the production, well, these two albums were both produced by brother Kurt and sound nice ’n’ crisp, which is how scrappy little punk rock releases should sound. So, kudos to Green Monkey for lighting a fire under Al’s ass to get It Was All Once Bright Jewels and Protest Songs written and recorded, to Kurt for his crackling production (and his hotshot guitar playing), and to Al himself for figuring, “Why not?!” – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Green Monkey GM1068, GM1075, 2020)  * Look up Ladies & Gentlemen, Your King County Queens, Green Monkey GM1018, 2013)

Tagged

Jet • Get Born [2CD/DVD]

Well, that Australian band that made such a huge splash in the early ’00s has been born again. Yes, I’m speaking of JET. Their debut album, Get Born, has been reissued in a super deluxe set that gives you about as many versions of “Cold Hard Bitch” and “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” as you could possibly want. Cherry Red’s new 2CD/ 1DVD edition is packed with 35 audio tracks (and nine videos on the DVD) and a fairly informative booklet that make it, at this point, the definitive birth certificate of an album that was so good that there was just no way the young band could follow it up and better it.

Without regurgitating Jet’s pre-birth story, these Melbourne guys adopted their name in 2001 – after their favorite McCartney & Wings song (I like that!) – but sounded more like a Stones/ Who hybrid than a ’70s pop band. They took off with two guitars, bass and drums for an attack that was a definite throwback yet contained something that must have been lacking in popular music in the first decade of the 21st century. I can’t help but think that they were more appealing to dudes my age (I was in my late 30s then) than most people in their own age bracket, but it doesn’t matter much because their hard rockin’ sound grabbed you by the throat with its instant familiarity and freshness, regardless of yer age. Informed in equal amounts by both the classic rock of the late ’60s and the punk rock of the late ’70s, Get Born was a debut album as amazing as Nirvana’s Nevermind from a decade earlier (though that was, indeed, that band’s second record). A few of the songs appeared on Jet’s first release, a 4-song EP called Dirty Sweet, which, if I remember right, includes recordings that are downright soundalikes to the versions here. But since that record was never available here in the States, what we got on Get Born was thirteen dirty, sweet tracks that just burned with excitement. Not just the aforementioned “…Bitch” and “…Girl,” but also opener “Last Chance,” “Rollover DJ” and “Take It Or Leave It,”; slow burner ballads like “Look What You’ve Done” and closer “Timothy,” and all the rest. I really don’t think there’s a bad one in the bunch.

On these two CDs you get the album plus a handful of B-sides on disc one – of which, “Sgt. Major” is killer and the acoustic version of “…Girl” is awesome – and all kinds of different versions, B-sides and demos on disc two. That second CD contains just about every outtake, edit or live recording from the era that exists (though I know of a few things that aren’t here), and here’s where this collection is a bit much. I can’t imagine there are many who need to hear “…Bitch” in an album version, an edit, a second edit and a one-off live version, all in one go. Likewise, “…Girl” appears in album, acoustic, edit and live versions. That’s a whole lotta love for just two songs! YET… you DO get some real scorchin’ tracks like “Sweet Young Thing,” a totally different demo version of “Lazy Gun,” another great in “You Don’t Look the Same,” and a cover of “That’s Alright, Mama” that really buries Elvis’s version. Why the obscure tracks that have appeared on earlier reissues that aren’t here, aren’t here, is a mystery we may never know the answer to, though it’s probably due to some rights issues that are likely to be as boring as watching paint dry. And why do that when you can listen to Get Born? I mean, if you’re gonna do that, at least put on some Jet and watch that paint set!

Ranting and rhyming aside, the two CDs here – plus the region-free, NTSC DVD containing eight videos* – make this the essential edition of this Down Under band’s first and greatest triumph. – Marsh Gooch

3.75/5 (Cherry Red QCDTRED826, UK)   (*The video of “Look What You’ve Done” below is an alternate version to the one on the DVD)

Tagged

Richard Hell & The Voidoids • Destiny Street Complete [2CD/2LP]

Way back in 1982 I was a nineteen year old college student discovering punk and new wave via my college radio station, KCMU. Yes, MTV was a factor in my alt-rock education, but to a much lesser degree. At the University of Washington’s student-run 90.3 FM (atop the Communications Building in room 304), we had the run of all the records in its library. It had decades’ worth of rock ’n’ roll, but what I was most attracted to was the current records coming out that were in the station’s daily rotation. One of them was RICHARD HELL & THE VOIDOIDSDestiny Street, the 1982 sophomore release from the once member and co-founder of Television. On the covers of KCMU’s records were stickers for the DJs to scribble their comments, and if I remember right, more than one of the older jocks had written “not as good as Blank Generation” as their sentence-fragment review; naturally I had to dig that one up and decide for myself. Between the title track and “Love Comes in Spurts,” I think I did like Blank better. But Destiny Street wasn’t too shabby, either.

I tended to gravitate, at least early on, to songs with kooky titles, so things like “The Kid with the Replaceable Head” and “Lowest Common Dominator” were my initial faves. These were tunes propelled by twangy, angular/staccato guitars, a pretty funky bass and fairly straight ahead drums. I don’t remember if, at the time, I was bothered by Richard Hell’s out-of-tune, subtle caterwauling or not – I was probably too unschooled to notice it much and it likely was hidden by what I thought was just a highly unique vocal delivery. (It was years before I noticed, for instance, how flat my beloved Elvis Costello sings, so…) Anyway, the band’s semi-punk, semi-new wave sound was fairly new to me, and the couple of ’60s garage covers on the album weren’t in my radar yet (“I Gotta Move” and yes, even “I Can Only Give You Everything”), but the record was pretty dang cool regardless of what I did or didn’t know then.

Today, Richard Hell isn’t someone I’d choose all that often to listen to – I am a much bigger fan of Television – but I can appreciate various aspects of what he and his Voidoids put down. When you pick up this reissue of Destiny Street you’re gonna get FOUR different versions of the album. First, the original from ’82, then a 2009 version entitled Destiny Street Repaired that uses the original’s basic tracks but features re-recorded guitar solos and new lead vocals. Version three – Destiny Street Remixed – is a brand new mix of the original (from the 24-track tapes), and finally a selection of demos of most of the songs that were destined for Destiny Street. Why so many versions? I guess the answer to that would have to be, for lack of a better answer, why not?! I can think of a couple reasons, actually. Hell has apparently always disliked the way the original album turned out, so in 2009 he drafted Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot to add some guitar parts (original Voioids guitarists Robert Quine and Naux had passed away). That might have been the final version of the record, but then, just last year the original multitracks for 3/4 of the album turned up and so Richard, not satisfied with version two either, set about remixing the original tracks with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner. After listening to these three different versions three times I don’t find enough difference or improvement in the “repairs” or remixes to really warrant all this fuss. (I will say that Remixed seems to put Hell’s vocals more up front in the mix, which doesn’t exactly improve the album…)

BUT… I DO find that Destiny Street, regardless of which version I’m listening to, is a much better album than I remember and I’m really enjoying it. I like the Clash-style guitars in opener “The Kid with the Replaceable Head” (a la “Capitol Radio Two,” though those electrics are toned down enough in the later versions that you don’t quite notice the resemblance), I like “Ignore That Door” with its souped-up Steppenwolf vibe, and I like the title track and its spoken word narration.

So if Richard Hell wants to go to all this trouble after all these years to redo his band’s swan song release, and a reputable record label wants to put it out as a deluxe 2CD set (or just the Remixed portion as a single LP) AND it rekindles the Voidoids’ flame, I guess I can go along with it. I mean, you know when Hell and his honchos were running this concept up the flagpole they must have been considering what I, Marsh Gooch, would think about the enterprise. Psych. – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-410, 2021)

Tagged

The Gun Club • Miami [LP, CD]

THE GUN CLUB is primarily remembered for their incendiary debut album, Fire of Love, a psychobilly/roots rock/punk classic that introduced the world to vocalist Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Their sophomore release, Miami, came out in 1982 on Blondie’s Chris Stein’s Animal Records label and has just been reissued by Blixa Sounds.

Continuing in the same vein as their introductory platter, Miami was, in many ways, the quintessential ’80s American indie rock release. With Ward Dotson’s twangy rhythm guitar leading the unadorned but solid bass and drums of Rob Ritter and Terry Graham, The Gun Club’s sound was at the root of two then upcoming indie rock camps: the twangy Americana guitar rock of R.E.M., Guadalcanal Diary, et. al., and the cowpunk/voodoo vibe of The Cramps, Tex & The Horseheads and the like. Leader/singer Pierce – “Elvis, Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop all rolled up into one” (says Dotson in a recent interview) – was a big fan of the blues and other American music but wasn’t exactly the greatest candidate for carrying the torch. At least, on paper. But in the studio and on stage, he conjured his influences into a compelling, raw, unschooled vocal style that would make you forget, if indeed you knew, that he was really a “guy that lives with his mom in Reseda” (Dotson again).

That first album, Fire of Love, was one of Slash Records’ earliest releases (on their Ruby subsidiary) and was a good seller for the label. But it wasn’t long before Pierce had burned a lot of bridges, both personal and professional, with his difficult personality and questionable antics. By the time they recorded Miami they had signed to a new record label that was backed by a larger label (Animal was distributed by Chrysalis Records). Unlike the crisp, raw sound of their debut, this album – produced by Stein – has a slightly muffled sound that doesn’t jump out of the speakers quite the way Fire of Love did. Still, its songs flicker and burn in a similar fashion. “Devil in the Woods” and “John Hardy” stand out as tunes that could’ve been on the Slash release, while opener “Carry Home” and the cover of CCR’s “Run Through the Jungle” are less psycho and closer to that generic college radio sound that many of us still have stuck somewhere in our heads. Overall, though, in hindsight Miami is just a notch less-great than its classic predecessor.

Blixa Sounds’ 2CD and 2LP reissues include the original Miami on disc one and that album’s demos on disc two. (The compact disc version adds an additional handful of songs demoed for Miami but eventually released on The Gun Club’s next album, The Las Vegas Story.) The CD package contains interesting liner notes, skeletal credits and only a few small photos (there is no actual booklet included in the six-panel digipak; I’m not sure if you get more in the 2LP configuration), but the sound is punchy despite the subtle high end. Regardless, it’s great to have Miami restored to availability after so many years of obscurity. We may not have Jeffrey Lee Pierce around anymore, but his band/spawn continues on. – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Blixa Sounds ETA 843, 2020)

Tagged

Chris Hillman • Time Between: My Life As a Byrd, Burrito Brother, and Beyond [Book]

If ever there was a year for me to catch up on my rock musician biography reading, 2020 was it. And yet… I didn’t get to near as many bio books as I thought I might. I did happen to read CHRIS HILLMAN’s Time Between, though, and it was a worthwhile read at that.

Chris, you may or may not know, was a founding member and bass player for The Byrds (who shouldn’t need any introduction on this website). He left that seminal rock band to form another important group, the one that coined and embodied the concept of “cosmic American music,” The Flying Burrito Brothers (with the legendary Gram Parsons). After that Hillman moved on to numerous other groups, of both rock and country persuasions (his Desert Rose Band was super popular on the country charts in the ’80s). Time Between – named after one of his more popular Byrds songs – actually tells more of the time during. As you would likely hope, there is a good amount of Byrds and Burritos history here, with some light shed on some of those bands’ more lurid or difficult times (such as why David Crosby left The Byrds or his mercurial partner Parsons in the Burritos). Those with inquiring minds may want to go elsewhere to find the down ’n’ dirty details that Hillman leaves out; this Byrd doesn’t fly that way. Chris’s writing style is pretty plain (as befits a quiet bass player) so the excitement, for me, was in the anecdotes themselves – of which there are plenty, even for a relatively short biography. Another good thing: Hillman spends plenty of time on the obvious high points of his career, and the right amount of time on his youth, early groups, and the rest of his career post-Burritos. For these reasons, Time Between is a fun read but probably best suited for the Byrds or Bros. fan in your life. – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (BMG Books, 2020)

Tagged , ,

Jules Shear • Slower [CD, DD]

You may not know JULES SHEAR by name but there’s a good chance you know him by some of his songwriting credits. Despite having such a unique voice – and some pretty peculiar thoughts dressed up as lyrics – he’s penned hit songs for people like Cyndi Lauper, the Bangles and many others. Maybe he writes with specific people in mind? Or maybe they just pick the songs with more of a “universal” feel? Regardless, in the case of Slower, his latest solo album, the songs are definitely his to sing and the arrangements make that plain to hear.

I got into Shear in the late ’70s when he fronted the major-label-signed L.A. band Jules & The Polar Bears. Then as now, his voice was one that made you think you were listening to a boy singing a man’s lyrics. That new wave outfit surrounded his quirky (I hate that word but it’s the right one here) songs with equally off-kilter arrangements that were very much of the moment. From there Jules Shear went on to form a band called Reckless Sleepers and a solo career that went a long way to emphasizing his increasingly more mature lyrics. To tell the truth (something I usually try to do) I haven’t followed Shear’s career since the mid ’80s but was certainly aware of, for instance, Bangles’ version of “If She Knew What She Wants,” a song that signaled Jules’ new tools in the songwriting department. Circle around to today and Slower is a nice album to listen to. It’s certainly lighter than my usual fare but each listen brings out a new thought or twist-of-phrase, like the ones contained in the lyrics and title of “Between Hell and Hello” or “I used to think no one could catch me / But now I’m slower” from the title track. With arrangements veering between pop-lite and Sinatra-esque – courtesy mostly of piano by Pepe, with some additional help from bassist Sara Lee, (the) John Sebastian on guitar, autoharp and harmonica, and assorted others on the rest – Slower is Jules Shear at a much more mellow, measured gait.

If you’re hoping for the energy level that accompanied Jules and his Polar Bears, you may as well grab one of those records to put on. But if you’re cool with Shear’s cooler, calmer 21st Century vibe then Slower may just suit you fine. – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Funzalo FNZ1120, 2020)

Tagged

Little Richard • Southern Child, Omnivore Reissues [CD]

This Fall Omnivore Recordings undertook a five-prong LITTLE RICHARD reissue campaign that culminates in Southern Child, a not-released-at-the-time album receiving standalone LP reissue for Record Store Day’s Black Friday 2020 event. (A CD will follow.) That record and the other four were all recorded for Reprise and Warner Bros. Records between 1970 and 1986, but this 1972 album went unreleased until Rhino Handmade issued it as part of a multi-album retrospective in 2005. Southern Child, a funky little country album, was handed to the label and promptly shelved for The Second Coming, recorded at about the same time but very different from the shunned LP it was birthed with. Strangely, both albums have some real good material on them so it’s not clear why one was picked over the other, although maybe it was the former’s titillating cover, which was concocted and approved at the time (the album even had a catalog number and release date on the books) but wasn’t exactly commercial. But backing up a bit… 

Little Richard was signed to Reprise at the beginning of the ’70s and enlisted Bumps Blackwell and FAME Recording studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record The Rill Thing, which spawned a Top 40 single in “Freedom Blues,” but failed to do much more than that, despite critical acclaim. Album tracks included back-to-back covers of both The Beatles and Hank Williams as well as some funky R&B that showed Richard wasn’t sticking to the ’50s style rock ’n’ roll that he pioneered. Undaunted, in 1971 the true King released King of Rock and Roll, similar in vibe but with a more varied handful of covers (The Stones’ “Brown Sugar”, CCR, Hoyt Axton/Three Dog Night, Hank Williams again). Despite its absolutely awesome cover it failed to chart or sell much.

For 1972’s The Second Coming, Little Richard and Blackwell decided to record in L.A. at The Record Plant. The album has a very funky sound, sorta pre-disco in places with some great horn charts, clavinet and more. The musicians assembled represented both Richard’s past (Lee Allen, Earl Palmer) and L.A.’s present (Sneeky Pete Kleinow, Chuck Rainey). Alas, the album – bolstered here by bonus tracks including single edits – did just about nothing to boost our hero’s visibility and it wasn’t until 1986 that Little Richard came back to rock with Lifetime Friend (he had done one gospel-focused record in the meantime) for Warner Bros. (Reprise’s parent label). The album was a mix of rock ’n’ roll music and pseudo-spiritual lyrics – even some rap! – and had the original version of “Great Gosh A’Mighty,” co-written with Billy Preston and, when recut for the movie Down and Out in Beverly Hills, a near-Top 40 single. Most of the songs have a decidedly Eighties sound that is a bit off-putting today, sorta the way those ’70s records sounded dated to us in the Nineties (though they now sound pretty cool).

Omnivore’s seen to it to add plenty of bonus tracks to those four CDs, and for Southern Child’s CD issue they’ve provided some early takes of album track “In the Name” and an outtake of a little thing called “Sneak the Freak.” (The yellow vinyl Record Store Day version lacks these extras.) Whether you’re going to want these depends on a lot of things at this juncture in time, but I’d say big fans of Little Richard will find them pretty fun to put on for a change of pace from “Tutti Frutti” and the other classics we’re so used to hearing. Casual fans may not find these releases to be, ahem, the rill thing when it comes to Richard Penniman’s alter (or is that altar?) ego… – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Omnivore Recordings, 2020)

Tagged
%d bloggers like this: