Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Beckies - The Beckies

The Beckies
The Beckies
Sire SASD-7519

This is the last album by the great Michael Brown, the creative force behind the Left Banke, Montage and Stories.  The record doesn't feature much of the chamber pop of the Left Banke, instead it is largely power pop, arguably the hardest rocking record that Brown ever made.  The group formed in 1974 after Brown left Stories and hooked up with three musicians from the Kansas City music scene, Scott Trusty, Mayo James McAllister and Gary Hodgden (the latter two were in Chesmann Square, a band that was huge in Kansas City but never broke nationally.)  Hodgden and Brown wrote all the songs on the album and Hodgden and Trusty handled the lead vocals.  They both have high, sensitive voices that remind me of Steve Martin's vocals for the Left Banke although neither are as good as Martin.  It opens with "Right By My Side (Etude)" which like all the songs on the record is a love song.  It features a driving beat, sparkling harmony vocals from Tommy Finn (ex-Left Banke bassist), pounding piano riffs from Brown and lots of ringing guitar lines, pure power pop bliss.  One of my favorite cuts.  "River Bayou" is a lot more delicate, driven by Brown's piano, strings and Hodgden's quavery vocal.  It sounds more like the baroque pop that Brown did with the Left Banke.  "Midnight and You" is a rocker sung by Trusty who is a more forceful singer than Hodgden.  Some nice stinging guitar lines on this song but the vocal harmonies and jangly rhythm guitar keep it in the power pop camp.  "Fran" returns to the sound of "River Bayou" - strings and piano.  It's a lovely song.  "Other Side Of Town" continues the slow/fast dynamic of the album mixing rollicking verses with a smooth harmonic chorus.  The song features prominent percussion and strings for a very rich sound.  "Song Called Love" is another rocker with Brown's energetic piano licks duelling with the guitar riffs and a soaring vocal from Trusty giving the song extra oomph.  It is another one of my favorites.  Side two begins with Brown pounding his piano on "Can't Be Alone" before being joined by the band for another fast paced song.  Hodgden's vocal sounds strained, he can't match the frenetic pace of the song.  "River Song" keeps up the fast pace and features some of Brown's most exciting piano playing.  "On The Morning That She Came" returns to chamber pop for a tale of a lost love.  It manages to be moving and emotional without being sappy, which has always been one of Brown's gifts as a songwriter.  "One of These Days" reminds me of Badfinger with its dense sound of shimmering harmonies, jangly guitars mixed with slide guitar licks, strings and cascading piano lines and a structure alternating sensitive verses with a hard-riffing chorus.  Hodgden's vocal even sounds a bit like Pete Ham.  It is archetypal power pop and another one of my faves.  "Run Jenny Run" is a rousing rocker that gives the album a strong finish.  This is such a good record, but it made little impact in its time.  When I think back to all the crappy music that was on the radio back in 1976, this record is infinitely superior to 99% percent of that stuff.  Michael Brown is truly one of the great lost talents of rock and roll.  He deserved a better career but I'm grateful for the few records that he left us - there is not a bad one in the bunch.  Recommended for fans of Big Star.

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