Monday, June 30, 2014

Hey Joe - The Leaves

Hey Joe
The Leaves
Mira LP 3005

The debut album by the Leaves is one of the better garage band albums of the mid-1960s.  I first encountered the group on the "Nuggets" compilation which featured their only hit single, "Hey Joe."  There are many covers of this classic song, but the Leaves' recording is my favorite of the fast versions of the song.  With its crisp drumming, driving bass riff and ringing guitars it is a model of folk-rock power and it boasts an exciting instrumental break as well.  John Beck delivers a passionate, urgent vocal that pushes the song to its limit.  It is easily the best song on the album but there are enough other quality songs on the album to make it well worth seeking out.  My favorite song after the title cut is "Dr. Stone" which was written by Beck and the band's bassist Jim Pons.  Beck's wailing harmonica and the Bo Diddley style riff give the song a rhythm and blues feel that is combined with the song's folk-rock structure and jangly guitar to create a stimulating hybrid.  "Too Many People" is another excellent song and was the band's first single in 1965.  It is a garage rocker penned by Pons and the Leaves' original lead guitarist Bill Rinehart.  It rocks hard and features rebellious lyrics that give it plenty of bite.  "Just a Memory" was written by Rinehart's replacement lead guitarist Bobby Arlin and it has a nice Merseybeat sound to it.  Arlin's "War of Distortion" is an odd little tune that sounds like a novelty song aside from blasts of fuzz guitar which help keep it in the garage genre.  "Back on the Avenue" is a group composed instrumental that is punchy and energetic and features some fiery guitar work from Arlin and more wailing harmonica from Beck.  The covers on the record are all decent but with one exception not particularly interesting.  The exception is the group's version of "Girl From the East" by Bobby Jameson which he recorded on the cult album "Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest" which was released under the pseudonym, Chris Lucey.  The song is a lovely folk-rock song featuring a slight raga tinge with a nice harmony vocal from the band on the chorus.  It is one my favorite tracks on the album.  There were practically as many covers of Allen Toussaint's "Get Out of My Life, Woman" as there were of "Hey Joe" back in the 1960s.  The Leaves' version is lackluster but listenable thanks to some stinging guitar runs.  They do a folk-rock version of "He Was a Friend of Mine" taken at a faster tempo than the Byrds' version on "Turn! Turn! Turn!" and it is also thankfully free of the Kennedy references that the Byrds imposed on the song.  The Leaves' performance of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart's "Words" lacks the drama and propulsion of the Monkees' superior version but is otherwise very similar.  "Good Bye, My Lover" is based on the Searchers' version of the song and it is even credited to Searchers Mike Pender and John McNally on the label however it was actually written by Lamar Simington, Leroy Swearingen and Robert Mosley with Mosley issuing a single of the song in 1963 done in a rhythm and blues style arrangement.  The Leaves' version is not as good as either of those versions but is still enjoyable thanks to a solid vocal from Beck.  The band's cover of "Tobacco Road" is uninspired, arguably the weakest track on the album.  Despite the handful of duds, I find this album consistently appealing.  The songwriting is well above average by garage band standards and the covers are tastefully chosen.  The record shows a lot of promise that alas went unfulfilled.  The band's follow-up album on Capitol was disappointing and they broke up after it.  The Leaves demonstrate the richness of the music of the mid-1960s.  Even a relatively minor group like this was capable of making excellent music that still engages me nearly 50 years after it was recorded.  Recommended to fans of the first album by Love.   

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