Friday, June 29, 2018

Review: Vinyl Reissue of Matthew Sweet's '100% Fun'


Even though he made the albums that defined him during the CD age, Matthew Sweet still went the analog route in the studio. While this may not have been the most practical form of music making in the nineties, it is very faithful to the vintage vibe that Sweet’s best music radiates. 

Girlfriend, the first of Sweet’s classic triad, still tends to get most of the love, but in my estimation, the two albums that followed deserve equal plaudits: the gnarly Altered Beast and 100% Fun, which sits in the zone between Girlfriend’s pristine jingle-jangle and Altered Beast’s mid-fi roar. More concise than either, 100% Fun arrived the latest but it may ultimately prove to be the best entry point into Matthew Sweet fandom. So it makes some sense that 100% Fun is the first entry in Intervention Records’ reissue campaign that will see all three of Sweet’s essentials reissued on vinyl in audiophile quality and with bonus tracks. 

So along with the fundamental joy of hearing great songs such as the head banging “Sick of Myself”, the sadly sunny “We’re the Same”, the Revolver homage “Lost My Mind”, “Get Older”, “Walk Out”, and the rest, there’s the exceptional audio quality that brings out every nuance of the album’s warm, grungy timbers without any surplus, unintended grit. On their website, Intervention Records boldly declares that even attempting to compare their 100% analog edition of 100% Fun to the brittle, two-dimensional CD from 1995 amounts to “a total farce,” and it ain’t no idle boast.

The seven bonus tracks are included on their own LP as a sort of 12-inch E.P., but Intervention makes the most of the format by having the disc spin at an audiophile-friendly 45 rpms. The songs are good, though only the B-sides “Never Said Goodbye” and “You” are excellent enough to have been contenders for the main attraction. It would have been nice if there had been some annotation indicating the sources of these bonus tracks… I had to perform a bit of internet research to find out which ones were B-sides and which ones were outtakes. Hardcore completists may also lament the absence of a couple of demos that were included on the “We’re the Same” single but are missing here. Still those quibbles are totally minor when the sound, packaging, and music are so unquestionably fab. Keep it up with Altered Beast and Girlfriend, Intervention, and you may have the reissue campaign of the year.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Review: Expanded Editions of 3 Procol Harum Albums


Procol Harum through Home constitutes one of the finest four-album runs in Rock—reasonably in the same league as Rubber Soul through “The White Album” (damn you, Yellow Submarine!) and Aftermath through Beggars Banquet (no, that is not a massive typo). 1971’s Broken Barricades broke that spell with indifferent songwriting and some of Keith Reid’s worst lyrics (“Luskus Delph” may set the record for ugliest lyrics matched with prettiest tune), and from there, Procol Harum’s output was pretty hit or miss.

Interestingly, Esoteric Record’s latest wave of expanded Procol reissues focuses only on the hits—at least as far as the seventies are concerned. Grand Hotel and Exotic Birds and Fruit are by far the band’s best two post-Home albums, the former displaying the group at their appropriately grandest and the latter at their most soulful. While neither hits the heights of those first four albums, songs such as “As Strong As Samson”, “The Idol”, “For Licorice John”, and “Grand Hotel” can stand side by side with “A Whiter Shade of Pale” or “A Salty Dog”. 

Perhaps in an effort to bury a low point among two high ones, 1991’s The Prodigal Stranger is also tossed into the latest campaign. From that first super-gated drum fill, you’ll suss that this is not the Procol Harum you’re looking for. The soulless soul choirs and synthetic production that was already dated in the year we were all smelling Teen Spirit has not deepened with age, and the BIG pop choruses are no better. This one is only for those who are terminally addicted to Gary Brooker’s voice, which remains in gorgeous form.

Since I only received MP3s for review purposes, I cannot give a full assessment of the sound, but after running them through Audacity, I can report that the files are brickwalled, though Exotic Birds and Fruit is not as extreme as Repertoire’s edition from 2000.

There’s a lot of variation in terms of the bonus tracks. Grand Hotel receives five while The Prodigal Stranger gets only three. Exotic Birds and Fruit, however, swells to three discs, making it the most appealing collection in terms of the quality of the original album and its supplements. Aside from the good B-side “Drunk Again” and an off-putting remix of “As Strong as Samson” that lowers the key for no sensible reason, the triple-disc Exotic Birds includes very professional live sets recorded for the BBC’s In Concert series and Texas Radio. As well as pricking up your ears for versions of such peak-period classics as “Homburg”, “Whaling Stories”, Long Gone Geek”, “Cerdes”, and “Mabel”, be sure to listen for the weird yelping of some goofball in the audience at the BBC show.

Grand Hotel’s more austere selection of bonuses includes a version of the title track without its signature sumptuous strings and alternate versions of “Bringing Home the Bacon”, “Toujours L’amour”, “Fires (Which Burn Brightly)”, and “Robert’s Box”, none of which are radically different from the familiar recordings. The rougher sound of the two demos appended to The Prodigal Stranger should provide a respite from the main attraction’s slickness, but weak songwriting, poorly recorded drums, and overuse of synthesizers remain issues. A live version of “Holding On” recorded for German radio in 2003 is probably the best thing on the entire disc by default, though we can finally hear the mileage on Brooker’s pipes and the song still stinks... but let’s not end on a sour note when the other two albums are so terrific, Grand Hotel and Exotic Birds and Fruit remain essential albums by one of British Rock’s most essential groups.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Review: 'Retro Fan' Magazine


The very idea of starting a magazine so deep into the digital age is totally retro, so it is appropriate that you can read TwoMorrow Publishing’s Retro Fan without the aid of any electronic device. Reading the quarterly magazine on a kindle would spoil the feeling, and this thing is all about the feeling. Maximum nostalgia is editor Michael Eury’s (author of the excellent Hero A-Go-Go) battle cry as he loads his pages with stories of the TV shows, comics, and toys that defined our mid-twentieth-century childhoods. Think of it as Dynamite for the adults who read Dynamite when they were kids. 

Issue #1 includes Eury’s interview with Lou “The Incredible Hulk” Ferrigno transcribed from a Comic Con appearance, and another with Betty Lynn of The Andy Griffith Show, as well as deep looks at Filmation’s Star Trek cartoon, Mego’s line of Stretch Armstrong rip-offs, and The Phantom. These pieces are all collected in a colorful, glossy package intended to stimulate the nostalgia glands, yet there is also intelligence behind these looks at the trivialities of our youth. Eury’s pieces exude a palpable yearning for a less troubled time in our lives without pretending that the era surrounding our childhoods didn’t have its own troubling baggage (though, as a rebuke to one of that era’s biggest problems, it would have been nice to have some female voices on Retro Fan’s currently all-male writing staff).

Some of the articles are a bit rambling (Ernesto Farenio’s memoire “I Met the Wolf Man”), but even when these pieces are not supremely informative, they always stoke that nostalgic feeling. I never watched The Andy Griffith Show, so I personally wasn’t riveted by the series of pieces on that series, but anyone who spent their childhood whistling down at the waterhole surely will. I never was a fan of The Phantom either, but Martin Pasko’s piece on the pioneer superhero who just can’t seem to endure was fascinating in that it filled valuable details into the more general topic of superhero history. And with a cover depicting Elvira, the Groovie Goolies, and Ben Cooper Halloween costumes, the upcoming autumn issue of Retro Fan looks like a can’t-miss item.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Review: 'Female Trouble' Blu-ray

Dawn Davenport is a thief and a shit kicker and she wants to be famous, and that is exactly what she does in John Waters’s way out Female Trouble. Well, his third feature film is way out by most standards, though compared to Pink Flamingos and its relentless freak parade of atrocities, Waters’ follow-up film is almost quaint. 

In lieu of Flamingos’ genuinely shocking scenes of tuneful sphincters, flaccid blowjobs, chicken murder, and shit eating, Female Trouble has something closer to an actual story as Divine’s Davenport goes through the paces of a twisted Douglas Sirk picture. She’s a juvenile delinquent who runs away from home when she doesn’t get the cha-cha heels she demands for X-mas (who wouldn’t?), gets raped (by a male character also played by Divine, which may defuse the horror of mining rape for laughs for some viewers), gets pregnant, raises a nasty daughter she can’t even control by whipping her with a car aerial, finds stardom as a murderous performance artist, takes a bath in a crib full of fish, and gets the chair. 

With so much to sink his (he always identified as male) teeth into, Divine gives his greatest performance, though Mink Stole as Dawn’s bratty daughter Taffy comes close to stealing the show…as was her tendency. Female Trouble feels a bit overlong and a bit flimsy in comparison to the more audacious pictures that bookend it, but since it is not as polarizing as Pink Flamingoes or as bizarre or Divine-devoid as Desperate Living (my personal favorite of Waters’s early films), it is probably the best entry point for potential new fans before they move onto the director’s hardier and better stuff.


Last year, Multiple Maniacs was the Criterion Collection’s first entry in the John Waters collection, and it’s good to see that the best home video company out there is continuing its relationship with the guy a lot of cineastes consider to be one of the worst filmmakers of all time (he’s not; he’s just the filthiest). Criterion treats this trash like its Citizen Kane, cleaning up the image beautifully—the colors in the X-mas tantrum scene are spectacularly saturated—and piling on the supplements. Waters’s feature commentary has been ported over from the DVD edition, but there are also over two hours of extra goodies, including Dennis Lim’s new interview with Waters, Waters’s charming new interview with the actress who played Taffy as a little girl, and vintage interviews with Mary Vivian Pearce (who seemed somewhat bitter about her director’s demanding methods), casting director Pat Moran, and clothing and makeup master Van Smith. Additional bonuses include 15 minutes of outtakes (mostly musical montages) and 11 minutes of on-set footage with Waters’s commentary (mostly identifying the people in each shot) from the main feature and 17 minutes of Female Trouble-centric interviews and outtakes from Jeffrey Schwarz’s excellent documentary I Am Divine. However, the most substantial supplement is a vintage and very funny 32 minute roundtable discussion featuring Waters, Divine, Stole, and David Lochary.  

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Review: Vinyl Reissue of The Action's 'Rolled Gold'



Do your best to wrap your brain around The Action’s lack of widespread success. Reg King was possibly the UK’s finest smooth soul singer, several members of the band were capable of writing great songs, and they had George Martin in their corner. Perhaps The Action’s early singles were too reliant on previously recorded material and they adapted too late to the age of composing bands. There were certainly management issues. Whatever the case was, The Action made some of the best Mod-infused soul records of the mid-sixties, and when they started producing their own material, there were on the path to creating one of the best albums of 1967: the year that gets my vote for pop’s best one. 

Alas, the band’s shaky foundations crumbled before The Action could finish the LP they intended to call Rolled Gold. George Martin’s interest was never particularly keen and he decided to end his relationship with the band… though he first managed a characteristically grand production for “In My Dream”, the one song that progressed beyond the demo stage. Reg King left, and the remnants reformed as Mighty Baby. The Rolled Gold recordings were shelved for nearly 30 years until Dig the Fuzz Records put them out as Brain (The Lost Recordings 1967/68) in 1995. This selection of tough, intelligent psych pop—too serious to compare to The Who Sell Out (as has often been done), too controlled to be compared to Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake (ditto)—reverted to its intended title in 1997 and Reaction gave it wider release in 2002. Rolled Gold is now getting another go via Spain’s Guerssen with its first vinyl release since ’97. 

Once again, there’s a new cover with a mood-appropriate photo of the band in deep thought and neat gilt lettering, and once again, the music is fresh, powerful, beautiful, and forever provoking frustration that it wasn’t released in 1967. Though one wonders what other feats of magic George Martin might have performed with the other tracks, and the demo-nature of the recordings has always left the sound a touch on the harsh side, there are actually quite a few production strokes beyond the usual austerity of demo-making, such as the flute on “Climbing up the Wall” and the magnificent “Love Is All” and the horse hooves effects at the beginning of “Little Boy”. Bass is very fat on Guerssen’s vinyl, providing a decent counterpoint to the harsher high-end elements. An extensive article originally published in Shindig! last year is included in a large, illustrated insert as a nice supplement with this new LP, and as far as the legendary unfinished albums are concerned, Rolled Gold is still second only to The Beach Boys’ legendary SMiLE in my book. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

My Story "Denise Bryson" is on Welcome to Twin Peaks.com

To promote Mark Frost's book Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, the Welcome to Twin Peaks web site called for fans to submit their own dossier entries on Twin Peaks characters whom Frost did not chronicle in his book. Frost himself was the fan-fiction contest's judge. So I whipped up a story about FBI Agent Denise Bryson. Frost didn't pick my story (you can read Matt Latterell's winning entry here), but it is currently posted on Welcome to Twin Peaks as part of the site's ongoing Fan Dossier series, which features one of the non-winning entries every Friday. Last Friday's entry was my own "Denise Bryson", which you can read here. Thanks to Pieter Dom for posting it, hosting this series, and creating the damn fine banner above!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Super Deluxe 'White Album' Is Coming According to McCartney

When an anniversary edition of Yellow Submarine was announced for this year, I expressed my hope that it wouldn't come instead of a commemoration of The Beatles (aka "The White Album") in the vein of last year's Sgt. Pepper's box set. According to Paul McCartney in an interview with DIY Magazine, my concerned were unfounded because there will be a Super Deluxe Edition of The Beatles' gloriously messy double album to mark its 50th anniversary this year. Of the set, Macca said, "It’s all in place, I’ve just got a couple of essays [to approve]. It’s all lined up and it’s really good." He mentions demos and a remaster and how "fucking good" John was. Read his comments in that DIY interview here.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Review: 'Bang: The Bert Berns Story'


Bert Berns is not unusual in the pop world because he was a great songwriter who wrote tons of hits; there were quite a few of them. He’s also not unusual because he was a businessman who fancied himself a tough guy; there were lots of those too. Berns is unique because of how completely he played both roles, writing and/or producing some of pop and soul’s A-list classics—“Twist and Shout”, “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”, “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Tell Him”, “Piece of My Heart”, “I Want Candy”, “Cry to Me”, and too many more—and doing gangster-type stuff with gangster-type guys all in the name of “business.” I wouldn’t blame you for scoffing at the unsavory stuff he was involved in (why is dangling someone out of a window always the go-to business method for music business bullies?), but you cannot minimize the body of work, and that is what makes Bang: The Bert Berns Story an important documentary. Because as well known as Berns’s songs are, he is not a household name, and a Rock & Roll education is incomplete without being able to identify the guy who was largely responsible for so much incredible music. 

With the passage of years, many of the artists in his circle seem to have let bygones be bygones and have no compunction about paying their respects. Watching the film, I was floored by how complimentary the eternally surly Van Morrison was when the notoriously protective artist discussed the guy who’d released Morrison’s first album and packaged it in legendarily tasteless fashion all without the artist’s knowledge (Neil Diamond, who had a friend attacked and a gig ruined with a stink bomb both at Berns’s behest, is probably justifiably still sore, hence his lack of participation).

The good and the bad get full airing in Bang, but there is no judgmental point of view in the filmmaking, which is probably all for the best considering that Berns’s son Brett is the filmmaker and the movie could have just as easily become some sort of straight-up hagiography. Yet, that neutrality also makes a fairly exciting story feel a bit rote. Steven Van Zant’s narration brings some much-needed personality to the picture, and I defy you not to feel as though you’re hanging out in the back room of the Badda Bing while Silvio Dante regales you with tales of his old crew. And though the film is overly reliant on the standard Rock-doc talking heads, the talking heads in question—Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Solomon Burke, Ellie Greenwich, Ben E. King, Mike Stoller, Andrew Loog Oldham, Van Morrison—are pretty damn impressive.

The 64 minutes of bonus interviews on the DVD edition of Bang: The Bert Berns Story don’t necessarily provide revelations that the feature skips (though it might have if Van Morrison had a slot among the extras), but they flesh out the story a bit with more memories of the man, the music, and the sketchy company he kept.



Thursday, June 14, 2018

Review: ''Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story Soundtrack'



Like Steven Van Zandt, Steve Stevens, Lenny Kaye, Robin, and Kato, Mick Ronson was the rare sideman who managed a degree of fame in his own right. Yet most people do not realize the extent of the guitarist’s influence on David Bowie or Ronson’s own talent. He was the ordinary bloke from Hull to Bowie’s Starman from Mars and Bowie’s main man behind the curtain. Mick Ronson wasn’t just the definitive glam guitarist; he was a multi-instrumentalist, producer, and an arranger who actually knew how to write an orchestral score (listen to “Life on Mars?” and succumb to the awe). Without Ronson, the first major phase of David Bowie’s career would have been utterly different, and most likely, not nearly as spectacular.

These are the things we learn in Jon Brewer’s 2017 documentary Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, and they are somewhat reinforced in the film’s soundtrack now receiving a vinyl and CD release via Universal Music (I received the vinyl edition for review purposes). Ronson’s work was so varied that a 14-track record couldn’t capture it in any complete way. His instrumental, arranging, and production work with Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, The Rich Kids, and Morrissey are not represented, but fortunately, rights were cleared for a dose of classic Bowie (“Moonage Daydream”, “Cracked Actor”, “Time”), Ian Hunter (“Once Bitten, Twice Shy”), Elton John (an early, epic version of “Madman Across the Water” that isn’t used in the film even though it’s a veritable Ronson demo reel), and Michael Chapman (“Soulful Lady”, another cinematic no-show).

Most importantly, there are four representatives of Ronson’s solo career, though they are limited to the material intended to be included on a third album that didn’t materialize until 1999 and the final album he recorded, 1994’s Heaven and Hull. Thus, the representation of his work continues to be lopsided on this soundtrack, and Joe Elliott’s version of “This Is For You”, a rambling bit of improvised piano from Mike Garson, and even Ronson’s own cover of “Like a Rolling Stone” are not especially essential… though that last one may miss the mark simply because a song so associated with its creator doesn’t cover well (no offense, Jimi). “Midnight Love” from Heaven and Hull may be significant because Ronson handles all of its instruments himself, but the song is muzak. Nevertheless, there is an inarguably healthy clutch of essential music on Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, and you can’t go wrong with the Elton/Bowie/Hunter-dominated first disc.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Review: 3 Liz Phair Albums on Vinyl


Liz Phair’s career arc is among the oddest and most notorious in pop, and UMe’s new vinyl reissues puts the spotlight back on that arc even though her defining album in not among the trio (Exile in Guyville is a Matador property and was recently the centerpiece of a massive 25th Anniversary box set by that label).

While Whip Smart does not have the reputation of Exile in Guyville, it is very nearly as wonderful, catching Phair still riding the peak on which she started her career. Brad Wood’s production is a bit cleaner than it had been on Exile, but Phair’s songs are still fabulously eccentric, personal, amusing, emotionally gripping, and frank… though all that “potty mouth” business that was such a publicity hook 25 years ago feels neither shocking nor nearly as interesting as the other aspects of Phair’s artistry anymore.

The title track of Whip Smart gets my vote for the best pop song about being a parent ever written, and that theme joins Phair’s usual musings about sex and relationships in full force on Whitechocolatespaceegg. However, few critics had been paying attention to how much Phair was also musically yearning for fame beyond the pages of CMJ (as far back as Exile’s “Help Me Mary” she’d been threatening to weave her disgust into fame), and that obsession flowers on Whitechocolatespaceegg both lyrically (see the admittedly ironic “Shitloads of Money”) and practically (see “Polyester Bride”, Phair’s first number to get airplay off the indie stations). Perhaps not coincidentally, that was also the least interesting track on Whitechocolatespaceegg, which still delivered much unique Phair oddness with slanted tracks such as “Ride”, “Headache”, and “Baby Got Going”. However, my pick for the album’s best track, the beautiful “What Makes You Happy”, shows that Phair could adapt her style for the Top 40 pop stations. Why it wasn’t pulled for a single is beyond me.

Perhaps Liz Phair had other ideas about what makes a hit, because her eponymous fourth album is both dogged about getting one (the hit factory known as the Matrix produced four tracks) and totally unlike any of her previous albums. And that’s the main issue with Liz Phair: it is neither terrible nor embarrassing; it simply sounds like any pop singer could have made it. But we aren’t fans of just any pop singer; we are Liz Phair fans, and her presence is barely a phantom on the album she named after herself. Songs about underwear or scientifically dubious properties of semen are more like the work of a lesser artist aping Phair than that of the real deal. Granted, “Why Can’t I” did the commercial trick better than anything else, nabbing Phair her one and only entry in the Top Forty of Billboard’s Hot 100, but even she seems to realize that her true legacy lies in her first album.

Still, we shouldn’t forget how fab Whip Smart and Whitechocolatespaceegg continue to be, and UMe’s vinyl reissues provide fine reminders of that (ever the odd-woman-out, Liz Phair is not a reissue but a vinyl debut). There is no suggestion either in UMe’s press release or on the album sleeves that any remastering has taken place, and played against the original CDs, they sound identical to me. Considering the infuriating 21st Century trend to brickwall everything, that is great news.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Review: Vinyl Edition of 'Johnny “Guitar” Watson'


The artists of the fifties weren’t necessarily known for their eclecticism, but Johnny “Guitar” Watson was a true exception. Toying with pure blues, soul, pop standards, jazz, and Rock & Roll, Watson bucked limitations at the very start of his career. As a singer, he could grit it up like Stax’s nastiest renegades or spread on the sweet butter like Tamla’s smoothest stars. Even the specificity of his nickname couldn’t keep him from having his way with keyboards, percussion, and the saxophone.  As the decades progressed, he always moved with the times, scoring hits in the funk era with stuff like “Superman Lover” and “A Real Mother for Ya” and convincingly laying claim to the invention of rap. Hell, you could even argue that his “Posin’” pioneered voguing when Madonna was barely toilet trained.

A dozen of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s early sides are represented on an eponymous 1963 compilation for King Records. While blues dominates, the tracks play with the form enough so that you never feel like you’re hearing the same thing twice. I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard a pretty string arrangement sweeten hard blues as successfully as one does on “Cuttin’ In”. When Watson strays from the blues form, as when he dives into the Great American Songbook and swims up with “Embraceable You”, he kicks up enough vocal debris that it doesn’t sound out of place among its bluesier company. Modern Harmonic Records’ new vinyl edition of Johnny “Guitar” Watson is warmly and richly mastered from the original tapes through an all analog process onto orange vinyl.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Review: 'The Shadows of Knight Alive in ’65!'


Illinois’ Shadows of Knight are notable as the band that turned Van Morrison’s garage anthem “Gloria” into a hit, but they also worked their grungy magic on such less well-known items as Bo Diddley’s “Oh Yeah” (which earned a coveted spot on Lenny Kaye’s original Nuggets comp), The Wheels’ “Bad Little Woman”, and “I’ll Make You Mine”, a nasty item co-written by Carole Bayer Sager that the Knights apparently got their mitts on before anyone else. While these numbers weren’t the hits that “Gloria” was, they remain the most enduring Shadows of Knight remnants because they don’t invite much comparison with more famous renditions (though they are all viciously executed enough that they might not pale in comparison under any circumstances).

The set that Shadows of Knight played at Chicago’s the Cellar in the summer of ’65 featured no such obscurities. Instead they ravaged their way through The Kinks’ two biggest hits to date, perennials such as “Rawhide”, “Memphis”, and “Louie Louie”, and a load of R&R and blues standards best known by the Stones (as well as Jagger and Richards’s own “Heart of Stone”). The Shadows’ covers were spirited, fierce, and never superior to the more famous versions. Consequently, The Shadows of Knight Alive in ’65! is a fine but fairly inessential document of a bar band at work in the mid-sixties.

Most impressive is the quality of the recording considering that it was caught on a reel-to-reel that rhythm guitarist Norm Gotsch perched on the side of the stage. As mastered by Bob Irwin for Beat Rocket/Sundazed Music, Alive in ’65 sounds especially powerful. The sleeve notes are quality too with extensive recollections from Gotsch.

Review: 'Gathered from Coincidence: The British Folk Pop Sound of 1965-1966'


In 1963, The Beatles revolutionized pop with a distinctly English ear for melody and harmony and an uncompromised big beat yanked from the yanks. That same year Dylan rearranged the face of folk with a ragged edge that brought the sanitized harmonies of The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, & Mary to Earth and a surreal ways with words that kicked it back into the cosmos. As dissimilar as their styles were at the time, there was already some cross-pollination between folk and pop happening. As early as 1962, Dylan rocked up his hootenanny with the obscure “Mixed-Up Confusion”, and The Beatles’ debut single, “Love Me Do” was more folk than pop with its turgid beat, absence of electric six-strings, and wheezy harmonica. Once Dylan and The Beatles became aware of each other, such heavy petting was over and the marriage was officially consummated as Dylan’s influence loomed all over “I’ll Be Back” and much of Beatles for Sale and The Beatles’ beat inspired Dylan to plug in… though his stripped down, thumping sound was always more Stones than Beatles. It took The Byrds to pointedly fuse Dylan’s far-out poetry and The Beatles’ clean jingle-jangle, officially putting a face on the new folk-rock genre.

Between Mersey Beat-dominated ’64 and psychedelic ’67, folk-rock was the dominant pop style for young, white artists. Even such hardened souls as the Stones, Kinks, and Pretty Things got sucked into it. Appropriately, Grapefruit Records’ new triple-disc collection Gathered from Coincidence: The British Folk Pop Sound of 1965-1966 limits its scope to those two years, and while its reasonable to wonder if its location and period limitations result in a limited listening experience, they don’t.

Instead of just spotlighting songs that reflect The Byrds’ 12-string shimmer, Gathered from Coincidence presents a variety of sounds that fall within its narrow premise. There is electric jangle (Peter and Gordon’s “Morning’s Calling”, The Silkie’s “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”, The Hollies’ “Very Last Day”) but also solo acoustic pieces (Donovan’s “Catch the Wind”), full-band acoustic rambles (The Kinks’ “Wait Til the Summer Comes Along”), heavy-beat rock (The Pretty Things’ “London Town”, Manfred Mann’s “If You Gotta Go, Go Now”), shades of distinctly British baroque pop (Marianne Faithfull’s “Come and Stay with Me”), bubblegum folk (Twinkle’s “Golden Lights”, Heinz’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”), elaborate productions that fly in the face of folk’s dogged simplicity (Murray Head’s “The Bells of Rhymney”, Justin Hayward’s “Day Must Come”), and some of the turgid, old-fashioned stuff that Rock & Roll mostly swept away (Ian Campbell Folk Group’s “The Times They Are-A Changin’”, First Gear’s “Gotta Make the Future Bright”).

As you probably sussed from the artist and song names, Gathered from Coincidence contains some big groups and a lot of Dylan covers. It also has some varying perspectives, as parodies such as Alan Klein’s “Age of Corruption” and Micha’s “Protest Singer” protest the protest singers, though neither are particularly listenable (however, John Cassidie’s “Talkin’ Denmark Street” is the uncanniest Dylan send up I’ve ever heard). Fortunately, such bum tracks are pretty rare and Gathered from Coincidence ends up a mostly consistent and varied collection of songs from the beginning of pop’s most fruitful period.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Review: Vinyl Reissue of Little Willie John's 'Fever'


Little Willie John had a voice that betrayed his years. He was only 19 when he cut the first version of the deathless “Fever”, but his delivery already seemed as richly aged as a snifter of 40-year old cognac. It was just as smooth too without a sprinkle of the grit less naturally skilled singers force to put miles on the odometer. It didn’t matter if he was  smoldering his way through “Fever”, aching out the smoky “Suffering with the Blues”, belting blues on the hit “All Around the World”, and bouncing joyful noise off his sister Mable on the goofy B-side “Dinner Date”. I’d be shocked if Sam Cooke didn’t spend the morning before he recorded Night Beat spinning his Little Willie John records over and over.

Originally released in 1956, John’s first LP Fever collected most of his early A sides for King Records into a consistently strong package. Modern Harmonic Records has now reissued Fever on white vinyl. The analog process results in sound that is clear, powerful, and organic complementing the clarity, power, and naturalness of the man’s voice luxuriously.
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