Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Country Wine - The Raiders

Country Wine
The Raiders
Columbia KC 31106

This album marks the end of Paul Revere and the Raiders' long ride with Columbia Records aside from a few more unsuccessful singles.  It is also essentially the end of the group as a relevant band.  Mark Lindsay would never make another album with the group, although Paul Revere would hire a new bunch of Raiders and continue as an oldies act for decades to come, kind of a sad end to one of the best commercial American bands of its era.  I wish I could report that the band's final album was a worthy finish to a fine career, but alas it is nothing of the sort.  It is not terrible, just ordinary and dull, easily the worst of their Columbia albums.  Even the cover art is boring (although Mark's moustache on the front cover is kind of funny.)  Side one (entitled "upside") is the only part of this record that I listen to much.  The album begins with "Country Wine" which was a flop single.  The song was written by Edmund Villareal and Wanda Watkins who were in the 1960s group The Joint Effort who released a great psych-pop single "The Third Eye."  "Country Wine" sounds nothing like that song, it is very commercial pop bordering on bubblegum, you could imagine the Grassroots doing the song.  It is catchy and fun but as lightweight as a feather.   Mark Lindsay's "Powder Blue Mercedes Queen" was the other flop single off the album.  It is heavier, driven by a big rocking riff.  It sounds like a lighter version of Mountain.  It could be an ode to a hot car or a groupie, it works either way.  Bob Siller's "Hungry For Some Lovin'" features a notable resemblance to the band's classic single "Hungry" from their glory days which may be what attracted Lindsay to the song.  It is a hooky rocker punched up with some brass, it reminds me of the Guess Who.  John D'Andrea and John Porter wrote "Baby Make Up Your Mind."  D'Andrea was the group's musical arranger and he's given the song an elaborate arrangement with prominent brass.  It is more catchy commercial pop, very enjoyable if you are into that sort of thing.  Lindsay and bassist Keith Allison wrote "Take A Stand" which is my favorite song on the album, really the only song on the album that lives up to the standards of their classic work.  It is in the heavy, hard rock style the band began to explore in the latter part of their career with a nice growling, get-down vocal from Lindsay.  It features a modest political theme urging the listeners to get involved and stand up for what they believe in.  The song provides some hope that the Raiders still have something to offer, but side two (aptly entitled "downside") proves otherwise.  It opens with "Where Are Your Children."  It is a sappy song criticizing neglectful parents, it reminds me of Lindsay's solo work.  The sappiness continues with Scott English and Larry Weiss' "Ballad of the Unloved."  They also wrote the American Breed's "Bend Me Shape Me" but the song is more like another song English co-wrote, Barry Manilow's "Mandy."  That is not a compliment.  It gets worse with Alan O'Day's "American Family."  It veers pretty close to easy listening in style with banal lyrics about domestic turmoil and staying together despite it all.  John D'Andrea arranges up a storm so the song sounds kind of pretty but I still hate it.  Things improve with Allison and Lindsay's "Golden Girls Sometimes."  It is still kind of sappy but at least it is about a woman rather than some pretentious statement about loneliness or the decline of the American family.  Also it features a return to rock (albeit soft rock) it even has some cowbell.  The album ends with Lindsay's "Farewell to a Golden Girl" which is a lot like his 1966 song "Melody for an Unknown Girl," an instrumental with some recitation only instead of a sax the melody is played on what I think is a glockenspiel or something like that.  It is definitely different and sounds lovely but it makes for a lackluster finish to the album as it just sort of peters out, kind of like the Raiders' career I suppose.  So one side is pretty good and one side is pretty bad which basically adds up to zero.  It is a depressing finish to a band that made a lot of terrific music.  I like side one enough to feel okay about having the record, but I'm a big fan.  I imagine most non-fans will feel differently.   Recommended to Paul Revere and the Raiders completists.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Colours of the Dawn - The Johnstons

Colours of the Dawn
The Johnstons 
Vanguard VSD 6572

I bought this about a year ago in a Pasadena record store.  This is the 1971 American release of the 1970 British album on Transatlantic Records that features a different cover, a different running order and one less song than the Vanguard version.  This was their fifth album overall and their second American release.  This group's career trajectory is emblematic of the weirdness of the 1960s.  They were originally a family group performing traditional Irish folk music that gradually moved into contemporary folk and pop music ultimately recording a song supporting Angela Davis, the lead track on this album -- talk about your long, strange trips!  Along the way the band shed Johnstons until Adrienne Johnston was the only Johnston left and acquired new members  Mick Moloney and Paul Brady.  Perhaps the key figure in this album is the producer Chris McCloud, who was Adrienne's husband and who wrote or co-wrote several songs on the album including "Angela Davis."  McCloud was an American who took over the management of the group and supposedly exploited them to achieve his own financial and artistic ambitions.  He was reportedly a rather nefarious, almost sinister figure who has even been accused of being responsible for his wife's premature death in 1981.  He has been blamed for Moloney's departure from the band after this album and Brady has subsequently made disparaging remarks about him as well.  The album opens with "Angela Davis" which is a heavy handed protest song.  In his liner notes McCloud connects the song to the Irish tradition of rebellion songs, but I suspect it has more to do with McCloud seeking publicity and perhaps a connection to the radical left in the United States.  The group's vocal is very stirring though and they sing it like they mean it.  Gordon Lightfoot's "If I Could" is more satisfying to me with some enjoyable guitar picking in the solos and a wistful vocal from Moloney.  McCloud and Brady's "I'll Be Gone In the Morning" sounds very West Coast folk-rock, Brady's lead vocal and Johnston's harmony vocal reminds me a bit of the latter day Youngbloods or Moby Grape and the rich instrumental backing of the song is exactly why folk-rock was invented, it adds intensity and propulsion to the song.  The group's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy" is faithful to the original with a lovely, muted vocal from Johnston and a dense acoustic guitar sound in the backing track. The side ends with "Aiseiri" which was not on the English version of this album.  It is another protest song co-written by Johnston, McCloud and Moloney.  The title is an Irish word meaning something like to rise again as in revival or resurrection.  McCloud says it meants "uprising" as in "a day of reckoning for The Man" and the lyrics address international revolution from Chile to Rome to Chicago with lots of pointed digs at American imperialism and the Presidency, McCloud has a pretty big axe to grind.  Although the lyrics are overtly polemical, there is some poetic imagery and Moloney's vocal is so passionate that I find the song quite powerful especially since it is coupled to an anthemic, traditional style tune.  It is one of the best songs on the record for me.  Side two opens with McCloud and Brady's "Colours of the Dawn" which is an anti-war song.  Like most of McCloud's lyrics, the song is melodramatic and heavy-handed.  It sounds like a traditional song though, particularly in Moloney's mandolin lines.  Peggy Seeger's "Hello Friend" deals with racism and labor struggles.  It is the folkiest song on the record, with its multi-part vocal harmonies it reminds me a bit of the Seekers.  Brady's "Brightness, She Came" is more in a contemporary vein.  Freed from McCloud's heaviness he delivers a jazzy, impressionistic song reminiscent of Nick Drake or Tim Buckley.  It is another one of my favorites.  Johnston sings lead on McCloud's "Crazy Anne" which is a gentle hippie anti-conformity and escapism type song.  In his notes McCloud suggests that the song is about Adrienne Johnston.  The side concludes with Ian Campbell's "The Old Man's Tale" which is another traditional sounding song which chronicles working class struggles against fascism and labor oppression through the 20th Century.  It is an impressive song with some wonderful guitar/mandolin interplay.  I'm a big believer in music that makes a statement and I value personal expression in pop music, but I have to admit that I'm not all that comfortable with the political perspective on this album.  It is not that I'm opposed to their viewpoint, it just seems forced and unnatural to me.  Part of it just may be me being weirded out by McCloud and what I've read about him which isn't really fair, but I think much of it is that I don't like getting preached to.  When Phil Ochs sings a protest song, I feel like he's communicating with me, but when the Johnstons sing "Angela Davis" I feel like I'm being lectured to.  Is this better than performing traditional songs like "The Lark in the Morning" like they did earlier in their career?  I don't know, you could probably make a case that both are equally lacking in authenticity.  I do know that this record sounds wonderful, chockful of excellent playing and singing.  If you dig Anglo-American folk rock you will probably find much to like here.  Recommended to people who think that Bob Dylan's "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" is a better song than his cover of "See That My Grave is Kept Clean." 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Present Tense - Shoes

Present Tense
Elektra 6E-244

I was shocked when I saw that Shoes had released a new album this year, "Ignition."  I had no idea they were still together.  They last released a new album in 1994, that is quite a gap.  It doesn't look there will be a vinyl version of "Ignition" so I won't be writing about it here but I'm impressed that they are still at it and I will be buying the CD at some point.  Anyway in honor of the band's return to action, I pulled out their second album, (not counting private pressings) "Present Tense."  I discovered the band many years after this record came out when I got into power pop in the 1980s.  All the songs are written by various combinations of guitarists Jeff Murphy and Gary Klebe and bassist John Murphy who have such homogenous styles and themes that it is tough for me to distinguish between their songs.  Nearly every song is an unhappy love song, most of which feature the singer ragging on his girlfriend.  A line from "Every Girl" sums up their basic theme, "every girl I've ever had, has treated me so wrong."  The most ambitious song, "Three Times," is a suite with each of the three songwriters contributing a separate section, the first section features a girl breaking up with the singer, in the second part the singer wants to break up and in the final section he wins the girl by dominating her.  That basically encompasses all of the band's themes on the record.  A steady stream of this stuff over the course of the album comes pretty close to misogyny, particularly on a song like "Cruel You" where the singer pulls a gun on his unfaithful girlfriend hoping she'll beg for her life whereas she remains unfazed because she has so little respect for him.  Maybe they've just had a lot of bad luck with the ladies, but I think they probably have issues.  I find their whining a bit wearying after awhile, it is a good thing that the music is a lot more upbeat than the lyrics.  "Tomorrow Night" opens the album in classic power pop style with propulsive drumming, jangly guitar lines alternating with power riffs and melodic vocals supported by harmony vocals.  It is my favorite song on the album, pure pop candy.  "Too Late" has more enticing vocal harmonies and a big hooky bass riff.  "Hangin' Around With You" has a chugging sound and punchy style suggestive of the Cars although the ebullient chorus is pure Shoes.  "In My Arms Again," "Somebody Has What I Had," "Now and Then," "I Don't Miss You," "Cruel You" and "I Don't Wanna Hear It" are riff driven rockers with strong beats and power pop amenities, right in my wheelhouse.  "Your Very Eyes," "Every Girl" and "Three Times are more subdued, with their jangly guitars and pretty vocals they sound a bit like Badfinger.  Musically this record is flawless, I enjoy every song and I love the band's sound.  I just wish they liked their girlfriends more.  Recommended to fans of the Knack.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Shame Shame - The Magic Lanterns

Shame Shame
The Magic Lanterns 
Atlantic SD 8217

I guess I would call this a mistake although I'm not sorry I have it.  I picked it up in a flea market years ago not knowing much about the group.  Kids nowadays have continuous access to the internet, but back in the dark ages we had to wing it.  I looked at this album in the bin without any way of checking it out.  I bought it because I dug the cover, the name of the band and the liner notes which said they were a British band from the late 1960s.  Weird as that may sound today, I bought a lot of records that way.  I actually enjoyed that more than hearing a preview and reading about a band on the net, the way I generally do now.  Records are too expensive to take risks anymore.  This was only a few bucks so I bought it, mostly because of the cover which bares a curious resemblance to the cover of the debut album by Stephen Stills' group Manassas who also recorded for Atlantic.  I expected a hip group playing hard rock like the Pretty Things or psych-influenced English rock akin to Kaleidoscope.  Instead I got this album of commercial pop with a slight soul influence, the British version of the Grassroots.  Actually I missed an obvious clue to the nature of this album in the credits, namely that none of the band wrote any of the songs.  How many good bands in 1969 were totally dependent on outside songwriters?  So I goofed.  I was disappointed at the time, but I like this record better now that I realize its limitations and have lower expectations for it.  The best song is the hit single "Shame Shame."  It is a catchy tune with a big beat and a weird guitar sound that sounds like a fake sitar and some punchy brass support.  It was arranged by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.  Jones also arranged the bubble-gummy "Give Me Love" and "Highway of Dreams."  I find his arrangements excessively fussy for such slight songs.  My other favorites on the album are the comparatively gritty ""Missing Out On You" and "Out In the Cold Again" which have a blue-eyed soul feeling suggestive of the Box Tops.  The other songs I like are "Impressions of Linda"  which is a nice bit of sunshine pop reminiscent of the Tokens, "Brunette Lady" which has a country flavor to it and Mann/Weil's "Feelings" which is sappy but pretty.  On the negative side "Never Gonna Trust My Heart Again," "Sarah Wear a Smile" and "Pussy Willow Dragon" are mundane mainstream pop that could have been done by Tom Jones or some cabaret singer.  "When the Music Stops" is corny Euro-pop that sounds like something more suitable for Sandie Shaw or Cilla Black.  I don't really need this record, I mostly keep it for "Shame Shame," but I have no plans to get rid of it.  It is just likeable enough that I enjoy it on the rare occasions that I take it for a spin but if I pay close attention to it I get bored.  If you have an appetite for mainstream pop you will probably find stuff you like on it.  Recommended for fans of Marmalade.