The Soft Boys • I Wanna Destroy You (40th Anniversary Double 45) [2×7″]

Forty years ago hardly anyone knew who THE SOFT BOYS were. These days there are plenty of people, highly schooled on obscure rock bands, who know that the band was a late ’70s British “punk” group fronted by Robyn Hitchcock, who later went on in the ’80s to front a group called The Egyptians and then out on his own to continued relative success as a relatively eccentric singer/ songwriter. I Wanna Destroy You is a 40th Anniversary double 45 package of The Soft Boys’ two 1980 singles, whose A-sides – “I Wanna Destroy You” and “Kingdom of Love” – were two of the best tracks on their Underwater Moonlight album, and whose B-sides weren’t part of that album. Now you can get a real handy 2×7″ set that replicates those two singles as one of this year’s Record Store Day releases.*

“I Wanna Destroy You,” of late, has become a bit of a political song thanks to it being used as a theme for those wanting to sack certain US presidents (including our current leader, He Who Shall Not Be Named, But It Rhymes With DUMP). This hard-rockin’, Byrds-meets-punk tune still thrills me, some 35+ years after I first heard it. B-side “I’m an Old Pervert (Disco)” is a slightly different take or recording of a tune that appeared as just “Old Pervert” on the aforementioned LP. Not a bad song but definitely a flip side. Meanwhile, Near The Soft Boys was a 3-track 7″ EP that contained not only the A-side/LP track “Kingdom of Love,” but a strange little ditty called (natch!) “Strange,” and a real hot cover of a never-officially-released Pink Floyd tune, penned by the strange Syd Barrett, called “Vegetable Man.” What made this cover tune so great were these two factors: 1) Only the most hardcore of Floyd fans knew about it, as it had only been available on pretty bad sounding bootlegs, and 2) The Soft Boys’ version really fleshed out the song with a complete arrangement including harmonies and the lot. When I first got a hold of this single (a battered copy, I might add), I assumed it was a Soft Boys tune, despite the writer credit inside – I was still a novice Pink Floydian at that point. This version is so good, it’s a wonder that Syd’s band never finished it and put it out as a single. Well, I mean, the chances of a song called “Vegetable Man” becoming a hit might have been slim and none, then and now, but you get what I’m saying.

Anyway, this I Wanna Destroy You double-7″ is available at independent record stores this Saturday, 8/29/2020, and after that, wherever you can find a copy in-store or online. Though the five songs are now readily available on CD, this is a nice package that also includes a digital download card in case you wanna add them to your iTunes library – which you will, unless you’re some kinda vegetable man… or woman. – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (YepRoc YEP2693, 2020)

* Record Store Day 2020 has been split into three dates, the first being 8/29/2020 with the next two to follow in September and October, thanks to this year’s coronavirus pandemic.

Tagged ,

Roy Wood & Wizzard • Main Street [CD]

As far as eccentric British musicians go, there may be none as gone as ROY WOOD. You wanna talk about a guy with a vision? How about a guy with all kindsa visions? He was a founding member of the great Birmingham ’60s beat band, The Move, co-founder of Electric Light Orchestra with Jeff Lynne, and the prime mover of WIZZARD. That “group” – which sometimes seemed like Wood playing all the instruments himself – was responsible for a number of UK hits in the ’70s, though sadly only their “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” is the only single of theirs that ever came close to charting here in the States. By the time Wood got to recording what came to be known as Main Street, the man was (in his own words) “trying to grow up… [it was] probably a last minute attempt to retain some sort of sanity.” Well, I guess you could call it that – if you’re Roy Wood!

What we have here is a reissue of an album that went unreleased upon its completion in 1976. A lone single (“Indiana Rainbow”) was issued in the UK as “from the forthcoming album, Wizzo” that was unable to gain any chart attention and so the album went unissued until 1999. This time, Esoteric Recordings has added a bonus track and tweaked the artwork (though they didn’t improve on Edsel’s design from ’99). This is a weird album. It’s full of a lot of the dense power pop arrangements that Wood is known for, but then, on top of that, there’s all of this jazzy stuff thrown in. Sometimes it’s fusion courtesy of his lead guitar, sometimes it’s pseudo swing and even some faintly calypso-sounding instrumentation. It’s got subtle nods to even the gnarliest Move stuff (“Brontosaurus” and “Curly,” particularly), as well as other supremely rockin’ bits (like the bonus track, “Human Cannonball”) that’ll draw you in, and even some progressive rock for variety. I mean, if ever there was an album that benefited and/or suffered from including everything but the kitchen sink, this is it.

I honestly don’t know what to think of Main Street… Is it an album that’ll grow on me and become a regular part of my rotation? I don’t expect it to – it’s just too out there. But – and this is a big but – if you’re a Roy Wood fan and you missed this one the first time it came out, you will obviously be drawn to this, practically the (il)logical conclusion to where Roy was heading with Wizzard all along. After it’s all said and done, you may just utter (like I did more than once), “Well, that is a weird album.” – Marsh Gooch

2.5/5 (Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2730, 2020)

Tagged , ,

Paul McCartney • Flaming Pie [3LP, 2CD]

PAUL McCARTNEY’s Archive Series is now ten years old. In 2010 he started releasing deluxe packages of his non-Beatles work with perhaps his greatest post-Fabs album, Band on the Run. Here we are in 2020 and Macca’s reissued Flaming Pie, the 1997 solo outing that was hailed as his best since 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt, which was hailed as his best since… probably Band on the Run. At the time of Flaming Pie’s release we were all glad that he’d put out something that surpassed his previous studio album, 1992’s so-so On the Ground, which wasn’t bad but not nearly as good as the aforementioned Flowers. As his Archive Series has matured, so has the way McCartney and his business associates have packaged the man’s legacy.

This time, the various formats of the campaign include the customary, flagship “deluxe” box set (usually a number of CDs, a DVD or two, and a handful of books, posters and other memorabilia recreations) – in this case, 5 CDs, 2 DVDs, some books and other stuff – followed by a 3LP box set (consisting of the original album spread across two records and a third LP with various demos), a standard 2LP release (just the album tracks), and a 2CD set featuring the original album on disc one and a generously populated (21 tracks) disc of demos, etc.* Because Flaming Pie came out in the mid ’90s and vinyl hadn’t yet begun its comeback, the 14-track, 54-minute album was primarily a CD release, though it came out in limited quantities in the UK and USA on single-record vinyl that was both rare and not of a very high-fidelity nature. (The more time per side of vinyl, the lesser the quality of the audio.) This time it was decided to spread it out over two records – a wise choice – and the half-speed mastering job is amazingly good. The 3LP box set features this 2LP album (in a gatefold cover) along with a single bonus LP (in a standard record cover, and pressed in standard fashion) both housed in a slipcase complete with Japanese-style “OBI” strip. The slipcase’s cover is very minimalist and is quite tasteful, allowing the actual album’s cover to carry the release’s identity as it originally had (albeit with the title written in bright red rather than black, as it is/was on the current 2LP/initial 1LP release). An almost-dozen tracks make up that bonus LP, being “home recordings” and demos of eleven of the album’s 14 tracks. They make up a nice “alt” version of the album.

If you go for the 2CD reissue of Flaming Pie, you’ll get a high-value set with 21 bonus tracks (comprising disc two) that’ll be great for your ears and your wallet. The tracks on the 3LP bonus record are all there, as are more slices of alternative Pie and some of the B-sides that were originally released with the album’s singles (“Young Boy,” “Beautiful Night” and “The World Tonight”). Being that this is a digitally mastered set, you might expect it to sound a little less warm compared to the vinyl and it probably does; I have always had a hard time A/B’ing formats due to having to switch back and forth between them and trying to compensate for the typical difference in volume between CD and vinyl. I think both the 3LP and 2CD sets sound surprisingly good and they both make me want to really savor Flaming Pie today the way I never really did back in ’97. Wanna get into the deluxe edition?

Well, I haven’t yet sprung for that. As it currently costs beyond $200, it’s outside of my budget for now. What I can tell you is that it is clearly a gluttonous serving of Flaming Pie, with: an oven-full (two CDs) of the aforementioned demos and home recordings; a CD with an item called “The Ballad of the Skeletons” featuring McCartney with Allen Ginsburg, Lenny Kaye and Philip Glass (what a trio!) and a more-or-less complete episode of Oobu Joobu (a syndicated radio series McCartney hosted in the ’90s); a CD with a tour of, and samples of the instruments Paul keeps at his Hog Hill Mill recording studio (including the mellotron The Beatles made massive use of back in the day); and two DVDs with a documentary of the making of the album (called In the World Tonight), videos for the album’s singles, a few EPKs (electronic press kits) and even an interview with David Frost. AND a bunch of bespoke books and other ingredients to pad out the box and the price of it. Phew! Sure, 200-ish bucks might not seem so much for all of this, but keep in mind: like most baked items, it’s highly unlikely you’ll want to enjoy all of this more than once, so you gotta really consider what kind of monetary outlay you’re willing to make for such a rare, probably-to-be-enjoyed-once treat.

And THAT’s where that * asterisk way up above in paragraph two comes in! Because: There is an even grander version of Flaming Pie available, the Collector’s Edition. Limited to 3,000 units worldwide, it contains everything in the Deluxe Edition plus the 3LP vinyl set, half a dozen art prints featuring the album cover and other Linda McCartney photos, a Flaming Pie plectrum (what we guitarists in the USA call a pick), even more printed ephemera, and the ability to download the album at 24-bit/96kHz HD resolution. (And probably some other stuff that I was unable to make out from the various editions’ ingredients lists!) This all comes in a box that is “.6 of a metre long by about half of a meter wide” (according to Paul Sinclair in his unboxing video over at my favorite music site, SuperDeluxeEdition) – don’t ask me what it weighs ’cause, not only can I definitely not afford this version, but there’s no weight info anywhere on the web that I can find! Apparently, though, this one’s gonna set you back a good $400+ (not including a highly likely hefty shipping price). If you’re salivating heavily right now, here’s some comfort for ya: it’s probably already sold out by now so if you didn’t already know about it and order it you’re not gonna get a taste of this one any time soon.

Did you wanna hear about the music? Well, as mentioned way back at the start of this review, Flaming Pie was a critically acclaimed release that many considered to be a collection of classic McCartney styles. From the rocking songs like the title track, “The World Tonight” and “Young Boy,” to the bluesy “Used to Be Bad” that he wrote and played with Steve Miller, to the poppy, slightly melancholy sounding “The Song We Were Singing,” and a number of other flavors that you expect from Paul, this one’s got songs to recommend to just about every kind of Macca fan. But, unlike on many of his other releases, nearly all of these songs sound like McCartney in top form. None of it sounds phoned in. So, musically, it’s definitely worth looking into, either for the first time or once again. Now, naturally, I have some minor issues with the release, but this time – you lucky devils! – there’s nothing worth bothering to bitch about. And that means you can go enjoy yourself some Flaming Pie without having to think about me while doing so. That’s my gift to you. Go ahead – have a slice. – Marsh Gooch

4.75/5 (Capitol/MPL/UMe [various catalog numbers], 2020)

Tagged

Joe Jackson • Body and Soul [SACD/CD]

Another hybrid SACD/CD release from Intervention Records is JOE JACKSON’s Body and Soul. The 1984 album was the followup to his acclaimed Night and Day album (which featured the hit “Steppin’ Out”) and had his next – and bigger – hit, “You Can’t Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)”. This was another digital recording, too, this time recorded at a Masonic Lodge in NYC. Sometimes these early digital recordings can sound great, and other times time isn’t too kind to them. This one is a happy occasion for lovers of Body and Soul, as Intervention’s SACD/CD hybrid presentation treats the outing with respect and glorious results.

Jackson had shunned his angry New Waver persona by the time he got together again with old friends David Kershenbaum (co-producer) and bassist Graham Maby, as well as new colleagues Vinnie Zummo (guitar), Ed Roynesdal (keys/violin) Gary Burke (drums), singers Ellen Foley and Elaine Caswell, and horn players Tony Aiello and Michael Morreale. The material was of a more jazz bent, with more swing than Joe’s typical thing (not counting the full-on jump jazz homage, Jumpin’ Jive) and yet still coming from a pop place. There were no growly “I’m the Man” type rockers this time out, Joe moving into the more mature and thoughtful territory of songs like “Not Here, Not Now” and the aforementioned “You Can’t Get What You Want.” I can’t say it’s all good, though, as I find “Go For It” to be quite tedious (unless he’s being super sarcastic?!) and a few others to be mediocre for the man. Still, there’s also “Be My Number Two” (second best song on the album?) to round out the good ones.

Body and Soul is a full sounding recording, and the new SACD brings out all of the body and soul in Joe Jackson’s musical arrangements. Certainly the production can be credited for that, but also the new mastering by Kevin Gray, whom I have celebrated here before (see my review of the Flying Burrito Bros.), really shines. Intervention has a number of Joe Jackson’s releases in their catalog, either as SACD/CD discs or as beautifully rendered vinyl reissues (including Look Sharp!, I’m the Man and Night and Day) and they’re all worth the money. So if it’s high fidelity sound you want, and you know that’s what you want, you can now get it. Get it? – Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Intervention IR-SCD4, 2020)

Tagged

The Sensible Gray Cells • So Long (7″)

Being a huge fan of The Damned and its longtime guitarist Captain Sensible, I was pretty excited to see that the man’s originally one-off side project, THE SENSIBLE GRAY CELLS, was making a new record. “So Long” (b/w “What’s the Point of Andrew?”) is the lead single from the upcoming longplayer (called Get Back Into the World on the back of this single), and it’s a respectable 45.

The group, made up of Sensible, ex-/current-Damned bassplayer Paul Gray and Marty Parrott on drums, put out an album in 2013 called A Postcard from Britain (with a different drummer, Ant Thickett), and it was pretty good. Not great – in fact, I really wanted it to be much better. I wanted it to rock with punk exuberance like the best of The Damned, and to have the sense of humor and fun that the best of Captain Sensible’s solo records had. It was marginally close, but no cigar. This new single, a teaser for another LP, is again, pretty good. Not great – it does showcase the Captain’s standard political stance, which I generally agree with, but it just feels not quite finished. The song itself is a rockin’ number with a serviceable arrangement, but the lead vocal seems buried a bit and lacking what I’d call doneness (not sure it’s a word, but it is a button on my microwave oven). It’s lacking that exuberance and in-your-face delivery that makes a great single.

As this is a 7″ and I am likely to be reviewing its attendant LP, I’m keeping this short. “So Long” is enjoyable but I’d be inclined to play it a lot more if they give it a better mix for the album. I am asking, Sensible Gray Cells, for a better mix. As John Lennon (who was great, both dead and alive) once sang, “Don’t let me down!” – Marsh Gooch

2.5/5 (Damaged Goods DAMGOOD538 [UK], 2020)

Tagged , ,

Emma Swift • Blonde on the Tracks [LP, CD]

Bob Dylan’s one of those songwriters who is much better writing songs than he is recording and performing them. That’s, at least, what many of us feel at this point in time – early in the 21st century when the man’s voice is not only no longer what it used to be but even harder to take now than it was in the ’60s when he first came on the scene. Between then and now he’s been many things, including a Nobel Prize winner, and he’s had his songs covered by more artists than probably anyone besides The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. EMMA SWIFT’s new album, Blonde on the Tracks, is packed with five per side (or a flat out ten on compact disc) and how you’ll feel about her album may largely be determined by what you think of Dylan’s writing.

That being said, Emma Swift has assembled a batch of Bob’s tunes that aren’t gonna ring a bell with your typical, mainstream music fan who is just familiar with the hits or best-known of the man’s canon. I certainly don’t consider myself one of those, yet I was only familiar with a few of these songs prior to hearing them here. I like what Emma & Co. have done with them and that’s partially because I like her singing and partially because of the fact that this selection’s not already worn out in my mind. And that might be the clincher. Even newer songs like “I Contain Multitudes” – which came out only a few months ago as a download (and is on Dylan’s brand new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways) – sound like classic Bob among the older ones here, such as “Queen Jane Approximately” or “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” (from 1966’s Blonde on Blonde) thanks to them all being part of one current collection. The arrangements are somewhere between The Byrds’ jingle-jangle mornin’s and today’s indie sound, by way of players like Pat Sansone (who also produced) of Wilco and Emma’s beau, Robyn Hitchcock, who lend a solid backing to the proceedings. I must say that said proceedings are definitely on the medium tempo, low key side of town, which is not my usual choice of neighborhood. But for one of those times when you’re not up to rockin’ out and would rather just chill, you may hope to bypass Bob’s own versions and find this Blonde on the Tracks instead. – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Tiny Ghost TG-03, 2020) available via emmaswift.bandcamp.com

The Flying Burrito Bros. • The Gilded Palace of Sin, Burrito Deluxe [CD/SACD]

We’re so ahead of our time here at NuDisc that we’re finally reviewing our first SACDs in the year 2020. The pair in question are by that legendary country rock group, THE FLYING BURRITO BROS. The Gilded Palace of Sin and Burrito Deluxe are the sole two albums the original group released (in 1969 and 1970), so it being the 50th year since the latter’s initial release, Intervention Records has put them out on SACD. These Super Audio Compact Discs are actually hybrid CD/SACDs and are mastered “direct to DSD from analog tapes,” and in the case of Burrito Deluxe at least, from the 1/2″ safety copy of the stereo master tape. (SACD discs have a higher resolution than regular CDs so they theoretically will have more information and therefore better sound; these releases are hybrid discs and will play in regular CD players, but you’ll need an SACD player to access that layer and the superior audio it contains.) That alone isn’t a guarantee that the audio will be top notch, but there are a few other factors working in these reissues’ favor.

First off, Intervention Records, in its short time in the marketplace, has made a name for itself as a label that strives for (and typically succeeds at) producing damn good reissues. I’ve already got a few of their vinyl releases (The Gilded Palace of Sin and three releases by Joe Jackson) and they’re quite good. Second, both of these were mastered by Kevin Gray at CoHEARent Audio – this guy is really good at what he does! In fact, when I see his name in the credits it’s practically an instant purchase. Whether he’s at the helm of a punk rock remaster (The Damned’s Damned Damned Damned, for instance [not an Intervention release]) or country rock classics like these, this man’s golden ears can be counted on for flawless framing of the music in question. These two SACDs are the first I’ve heard with Gray’s remastering credit, though he also did Intervention’s all analog reissues of the Flying Burrito Bros., and I can vouch for the sound quality of the one Burritos/Intervention record I do have.

In the case of these two delicious Burritos, both the debut and Deluxe sound superior to any other versions I’ve heard. (And that includes original US vinyl of both, a European CD featuring both albums on one disc and two different compilations with most of the material from both.) I am officially going on record with this: the SACD of Gilded Palace sounds better than Intervention’s own vinyl pressing (which sounds fantastic). Yes, folks, Analog Vinyl Guy is voting for the digital disc. I know the album well enough to say I can hear more distinction between, say, Sneeky Pete’s pedal steel guitar and Gram Parsons’ keyboards with the SACD – it’s not that they sound separated, but that they don’t sound like one big “thing”. Does that make sense? Perhaps an analogy would help: imagine a burrito where you can make out the difference between the tortilla and each of the separate fillings and one that tastes like a single overall taste. Not only that, but Chris Ethridge’s bass and the (various players’) drums have more punch without sounding like someone re-EQ’d the record. In all manners, Intervention’s remastered SACD/CDs of The Gilded Palace of Sin and Burrito Deluxe really sound like the best possible version of themselves that you could wish for outside of owning the actual master tapes yourself. – Marsh Gooch

5/5, 4/5 (Intervention IR-SCD3 & IR-SCD8, 2017 & 2020)

Tagged ,

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. – Marsh Gooch

* 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)

Tagged

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. – Marsh Gooch

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.

Tagged ,

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). – Marsh Gooch

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

Tagged
%d bloggers like this: