Monday, October 29, 2012

My Trekie side comes out "The Touch of Leonard Nimoy"

C'mon, you know you want to have at least one Leonard Nimoy album in your collection ...  Think of how impressed your friends would be - vinyl and Star Trek cache too boot ...   You'll be a hero in your social circle !!! 

1969's Charles R. Greane produced "The Touch of Leonard Nimoy" was Nimoy's fourth studio set and is considered by many fans to be his artistic and creative zenith. The irony here is that most Nimoy fans are going to be Trekies, yet this was the first album where with the exception of the track 'Contact' Nimoy largely ignored his Star Trek roots (he didn't even sport the Vulcan ears on the back cover photo).   I have no idea if he really thought he could make it as a musician, or perhaps this was one of those contractual obligation albums, but Nimoy and company played it pretty straight ahead this time. Musically most of the album had kind of late-'60s  singer-songwriter/folkie vibe ('I Search for Tomorrow'), with Nimoy's vocals surrounded by tasteful and mostly subdued arrangements.  So it would be very easy to dump all over this album and while it isn't anything awe inspiring, in the realm of celebrity albums, this one wasn't half bad.  Nimoy already had an advantage over most celebrities, given he could actually carry a tune (as a comparison baseline, think along the lines of Tele Savalas, or William Shatner) and he seemed to have good taste when it came to covering outside material - Barry Mann, The Blue Things Val Stoecklein, and Randy Newman.  Add to that, producer Greane and arranger George Tipton actually seemed to have personal interests in the project, avoiding the usual boilerplate production-line approach, instead showing considerable care across these eleven tracks - check out the nice arrangement of Randy Newman's ' I Think It's Gonna Rain Today'.    

- A pretty folk-tinged ballad, 'I Search for Tomorrow' served to showcase Nimoy's decent voice.  Yeah, he didn't have a great deal of range, or inflection, but give the man a break in that he really could carry a tune.  rating: *** stars
- Built on what sounded like a traditional folk melody, 'Maiden Wine' was one of four Nimoy originals and is the one Trekies are most familiar with.  Nimoy actually performed a stripped down version of the song in a Star Trek episode - the third season's "Plato's Stepchildren".  To my ears it sounded like one of those songs you were first to sing in elementary school, which probably explains why I'm not a big fan.    Anyhow, if you haven't heard/seen it, YouTube has a number of clips of the original Start Trek performance:  rating: ** stars
- Penned by The Blue Things Val Stoeckein, 'Now's the Time' found Nimoy doing his best Dylan impression.   Since he was channeling Dylan, it really didn't matter that the vocal was gruff and only marginally in tune.   rating: *** stars
- 'Cycles' was another folkish tune that didn't require a lot of vocal dynamics from Nimoy.  Pretty tune so, you could kind of overlook the vocals.   rating: ** tunes
- I'm sure some folks will think I'm being a dick, but with a straight face I can say I actually liked his cover of Randy Newman's ' I Think It's Gonna Rain Today'.   I don't know how many folks have ever heard the Newman original (found on 1971's "Randy Newman"), but in terms of being listenable, Nimoy's orchestrated cover was certainly no worse than the Newman original - his voice certainly wasn't any worse than Newman's.   (If you want to hear really stunning versions of the song, I'd suggest looking for the versions done by Peter Gabriel (the track's dark soul actually sounds like a Gabriel composition), Nina Simone, or Dusty Springfield.   rating: *** stars
- 'I Just Can't Help Believin'' wasn't any worse than a Jimmy Webb song - in fact the song's MOR pop flavor sounded very similar to the kind of stuff Webb was writing for Glen Campbell.  As for Nimoy, his easy-going delivery gave the song a surprisingl low-key charm.  rating: *** stars
- Nimoy's speak-talk version of Eden Ahbez's 'Nature Boy' was entertaining, though it won't make you forget the original.  Wonder how he came across this obscurity ...   rating: ** stars- One of two tracks co-written with arranger George Tipton, 'Contract' was the one track that connected with his Star Trek history - in this case a 'Major Tom' piece of sci-fi.  Kind of spooky ...      rating: *** stars
- Another Nimoy-Tipton collaboration, 'The Man I Would Like To Be' was another slice of MOR-pop with Nimoy finding a comfortable groove that he didn't stray from.  This one could've been released as a single.   rating: *** stars
- Complete with heavy orchestration and shrieking background singers, to my ears 'A Trip To Nowhere' sounded like a Jacques Brel tune.  That wasn't meant as a compliment.   rating: ** stars- Another Nimoy original, 'Piece of Hope' was clearly a '60s time-piece ...  peace, love, and happiness to all ...  interestingly you could also see the song as having an activist political stance.  rating: *** stars 

Nah, you won't play this very often, but so what ...   how many LPs do you play on a regular basis ?

"The Touch of Leonard Nimoy" track listing:
(side 1)
1.) I Search for Tomorrow  (Paul Evans - Paul Parnes) - 2:25
2.) Maiden Wine   (Leonard Nimoy) - 1:40
3.) Now's the Time   (Val Stoecklein) - 2:38
4.) Cycles    (Gayle Caldwell) - 2:52
5.) I Think It's Gonna Rain Today   (Randy Newman) - 3:05   

(side 2)
1.) I Just Can't Help Believin'    (Barry Mann - Cynthia Weil) - 2:34
2.) Nature Boy   (Eden Ahbez) - 2:15
3.) Contract   (Leonard Nimoy - George Tipton) - 2:13
4.) The Man I Would Like To Be   (Leonard Nimoy - George Tipton) - 2:35
5.) A Trip To Nowhere   (Cymbal - Costa) - 2:14
6.) Piece of Hope   (Leonard Nimoy) - 2:24

Saturday, October 27, 2012

What would you have done?

Yesterday evening I stopped at my local grocery store to get a takeout pizza for the family.  The fact it was Friday coupled with the fact Hurricane Sandy was starting to threaten the East Coast ensured that the store was a mob scene.  I literally ended up parking in the lot next door to the store.  Anyhow as I was walking to the store I noticed an older lady pushing a stroller amidst the traffic.  It was already dusk and she seemed sort of out of place, let alone in danger of being run over by the increasingly panicky shoppers who were determined to grab that last bottle of water and loaf of bread before the Hurricane struck (a full three days off in the future).  As I walked bythe woman she turned to me and asked if I had any spare change.  I was surprised for a couple of reasons. 1.)  I know poverty is found everywhere, including my part of Northern Virginia, but I'd never had it face me in the parking lot of a Harris Teeter.  2.) I'm no expert, but the woman had to be in her early 60s.  The child in her pram couldn't have been over two, but there's no way the lady could have been that child's mother - she had to be the grandmother, or someone watching the child.  3.) The woman was well dressed; easily mistaken for a suburban commuter.

I pulled out my wallet, but like a lot of folks, I pretty much buy everything on a credit card.  I literally didn't have a dollar.  I felt ashamed when I turned back to her and said I didn't have anything.  And then I remembers that I had a bunch of change in my car.  I ran back to the Jeep and grabbed about $5 worth of change and thrust it into the lady's hands.  I was still trying to figure out what I could do.  I told her I was going into the store and asked if there was anything I could get for her, or the child.  Her response was that she wanted get dinner at Wendys.  I asked her again if there was anything I could get her in the grocery store.  She said no and in an instance was gone.  

A day later I'm still pondering what I could/should have done ...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The late Joe South

I meant to write something in my blog when I saw Joe South had passed on last month.   Probably the most fitting thing I could do would be to review one of his album ...  Ironically I'd purchased this one a week before he died.

With Joe South having scored a string of late-1969s and early-1970s radio hits, it was only natural that record labels would jump at the opportunity to latch on to his sudden popularity.  MGM's Mine subsidiary was one of the labels willing to cash-in on South, releasing 1971's "The Joe South Story".  As far as I can tell, the majority of these ten tracks were early-to-mid-1960s numbers performed by South and the Believers.  The limited liner notes were of little help, but the track listing seemingly included a smattering of previously released singles ('Masquerade' and 'Deep Inside Me'), and unreleased tracks.  Showcasing a mixture of South originals and a couple of covers, most of the songs had a dated '60s feel that may limit their appeal to some folks, but at least to my ears, quite a few of these were enjoyable, with 'Deep Inside Me' serving as a nice taste of the sound that would turn South (at least briefly) into a major star.  

- Built on a catchy fuzz guitar riff, 'So Fine' wasn't the most sophisticated song you've every heard (about 90% of the lyric was the title repeated time after time), but it had one of those incideous melodies that drilled its way into your head and simply wouldn't leave.   rating: *** stars
- 'Silly Little Girl ' was even more commercial (in a1965 sense of the word). An up tempo pop-rocker, it had another catchy riff that you were liable to find yourself humming when least expected.  It would have made a great television commercial soundtrack.   rating: *** stars
- Judging by the sound, I'm guessing ' Will the Real You Pease Stand Up' was an early-'60s track.  The song sounded like it was trying to set some sort of land speed record with South literally flying through the track.  Not sure what the story was with the background singers - they sounded like they'd just taken whippet hits.  rating: *** stars
- A pretty, Roy Orbison-styled ballad, I know that 'Masquerade' was released as a 1962 UK single ('Masquerade' b/w 'I'm Sorry for You I'm Sorry for You' (Oriole catalog number CB 1752).  With a distinctive Mexican flavor, the song's highlights came in the form of the killer acoustic guitars.   rating: *** stars
- Released on the small Apt label, 'Deep Inside Me' was a 1965 US single ('Deep Inside Me' b/w 'I Gotta To Be Somebody' (Apt catalog number 25083).   Starting out as a bland ballad, the track actually got better when the title track chorus kicked in.  Musically this one was a nice precursor to the updated sound that would earn South major sales in a couple of years.  Always loved the funky percussion sounds on this one.   rating: *** stars
- The first outright disappointment, 'I Gotta Be Somebody' was a touch too sentimental for my tastes ...  coupled with the fact it didn't have much in the way of a melody .  rating: ** stars
- Released in 1961, South's cover of Bobby Edwards 'You're the Reason' provided him with his first radio success (# 16 country and # 87 pop).  The vocal sounds nothing like South's subsequent work - hard to believe it's the same guy.   The 'smoke cigarettes, drink coffee too' lyric makes me laugh every time I hear it.   rating: ** stars
- It was easy to see why ' I'm Sorry For You' had been relegated to the flip side of 1962's 'Masquerade'.  Very white-bread, MOR tune.   rating: ** stars- 'Hiding Place' was another tune with a mid-60s flavor, but had a couple of interesting things going for it - a tasty fuzz guitar solo and some super strange background percussion ...    rating: *** stars
- My pick for standout performance, 'Let the Party Roll On' had a wonderful Motown-inspired feel.  With a great, dance ready melody and beat, the only problem with this one was that it faded out way too early.  Should have been South's first massive hit.   rating: **** stars 

Certainly a niche release, but anyone who appreciates the late Joe South (he died of a heart attack in September 2012), will be interested in hearing these performances.  

For hardcore fans, the Jay Boy label released the album in the UK with the same track listing, but different cover art (Jay Boy catalog number JSX2006).  

"The Joe South Story" track listing:

(side 1) 
1.) So Fine   (J. Gribble) 
2.) Silly Little Girl   (Joe South) -  
3.) Will the Real You Pease Stand Up   (Joe South) -  
4.) Masquerade   (Joe South) -  
5.) Deep Inside Me   (Joe South) -    

(side 2)
1.) I Gotta Be Somebody   (Joe South) -
1.) I Gotta Be Somebody   (Joe South) - 

2.) You're the Reason   (Bobby Edwards) - 
3.) I'm Sorry For You   (Joe South) - 
4.) Hiding Place   (Joe South) - 
5.) Let the Party Roll On   (Joe South) -

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My favorite Bob Seger LP - "Mongrel"

Seriously - today (I'm writing this in June, 2012), Bob Seger stands as one of rock's forgotten heroes.  That sad situation reflects a combination of Seger's own choices and the public's ever changing tastes.  Truly a disturbing state of affairs ... 

Having previously broken up the Bob Seger System and briefly enrolled in college, 1971 saw Seger reactivate his band (with new keyboardist Don Watson) and go back into the studio.  Co-produced by Seger and Punch Andrews, "Mongrel" may be Seger's creative highpoint.  Backed by a killer trio in the form of bassist Dan Honaker, drummer Pep Perrine, and keyboardist Dan Watson , the overall sound was a tad raw and under-produced, but song-for-song this was a stunning collection.  With Seger sounding a bit upset throughout a big part of the set (check out 'Leanin On My Dream'), the album was also noteworthy in that tracks like 'Song To  Rufus' and 'Mongrel' saw Seger showcasing his largely overlooked chops as a lead guitarist.   Folks either don't know, or forget how good the man was on guitar.   

- Kicked along by Watson's stabbing keyboards and Seger's squalling lead guitar,  'Song To  Rufus' roared out of the starting gate with a slice of blues-rock that would have made The Allman Brothers envious.  Yeah, it lacked the commercial sheen that made Seger a superstar in the mid-1970s, but boy did it rock ...  rating: **** stars
- Yeah, his vocal sounded a bit strained, but 'Evil Edna' found Seger adding a Southern soul element into his repertoire.  Always the treated guitar solo on this one.  Anyone know what the effect was ?   rating: **** stars
- Another blues-tinged rocker, to my ears 'Highway Child' was a precursor of the sound that made him a superstar.  The song was raw, but compared to most of the album, had a full and polished sound.  With lyrics that were surprisingly introspective, this was one of the album highlights.   rating: **** stars
- I'm obviously not the first person to highlight the fact, but the mid-tempo 'Big River' could have easily been mistaken as a dry run for 'Night Moves'.   Admittedly, toning the backing singers down a notch wouldn't have hurt the song, but anyone who loves 'Night Moves' will appreciate this one as well.  Kudos to Dan Honaker for the killer bass line.    rating: **** stars
- Kicked along by some of the meanest sounding lead guitar you've ever heard, the title track rocked with more energy that a coal power plant.  Seriously, Seger and company literally tore the stuffing out of this song.   rating: **** stars
- 'Lucifier' maintained the same level of furiosity, but added a pounding melody with a distinctive commercial sheen to the results.  This was the kind of rock song every pop band dreamed of recording and the kind of pop song ever rock band wished they could write.  Easy to see why Capitol tapped it as a single.    rating: **** stars
- Perhaps inspired by his brief return to college, side two's 'Teachin Blues' was the album's first disappointment.  A molten blues-rocker, Seger and company sounded like they were simply going through the motions on this one.     rating: *** stars
- Amazing that in the early-70s people wrote songs with social and political relevance ...  Perhaps not the most subtle lyrics you've ever heard, but coupled with a killer rock tune, it was still enjoyable.   rating: *** stars
- In contrast to the original song, 'Mongrel Too' was redone as an acoustic blues number.  Nothing particularly wrong with this one, but with the exception of Watson's harpsichord and the unexpected Gospel chorus, there wasn't anything that made it stand out.   rating: ** stars
- Sounding as if it had been recorded live, Seger's cover of 'River Deep - Mountain High' took awhile to grow on me.  Part of the problem probably has to do with the fact I've never been a big fan of the original song, so this muscular cover was starting at a disadvantage.  Once again Seger sounded kind of shrieky and out of breath on this one, but the song got better as it went along; particularly the extended instrumental segment that closed it out.  rating: ** stars 

Released as a single, 'Lucifer' b/w 'Big River' (Capitol catalog number 2748) hit # 84 on the charts. 

Probably not the place for a new, or casual fan to start, but for folks who grew up with the hits, this one should come as a major revelation.  While Seger's 1970s catalog sold far better, "Mongrel" proved a modest seller, hitting # 171 on the US charts.     

  "Mongrel" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Song To  Rufus   (Bob Seger) -  
2.) Evil Edna   (Bob Seger) - 
3.) Highway Child   (Bob Seger) - 
4.) Big River   (Bob Seger) - 
5.) Mongrel   (Bob Seger) - 
6.) Lucifer   (Bob Seger) -    

(side 2)
1.) Teachin Blues   (Bob Seger) - 

2.) Leanin On My Dream   (Bob Seger) - 
3.) Mongrel Too   (Bob Seger) - 
4.) River Deep - Mountain High

Monday, October 22, 2012

Classic Kansas City soul - "Smoke "Risin'"

Having been repeatedly disappointed, over the years I've become extremely skeptical of records that are hyped by dealers.  I'm glad to tell you that this soul rarity is one of the isolated exceptions to the rule.  If anything, it may actually even be better than the hype would have you believe. 

The Kansas city-based Smoke showcased the talents of Larry Brown, brothers Arthur and Ernest Malone, and  Melvin Manning.  Signed by the small Kansas city-based J-Bridge label, the group made their recording debut with a 1975 single:


 - 'I'm So Lonely' b/w 'Have I Really Lost You' (J. Bridge catalog number T.C. 7542A)  

A nice old school ballad, the song generated considerable regional attention, but failed to break nationally.  Still, that was enough for J. Bridge management to finance an album.  Produced by Les Matthews and Elmer Overton (the latter was also responsible for writing nine of the album's ten tracks), 1976's "Risin'" managed to combine small label rawness with a surprisingly accomplished big label sound (the latter helped by an impressive cast of Chicago sessions players).  Musically nothing here was particularly original; the group offering up a mixture of conventional mid-1970s soul ballads ('Don’t Take Your Love (Away From Me' and 'Make Believe') and more up tempo numbers ('Have I Really Lost You' and 'I Can Feel Your Love (Coming Down On Me)').  As alluded to in the liner notes, if you enjoyed The O'Jays and The Spinners, then this was going to be right up your alley.  That said, the performances were uniformly impressive.  I wish I knew more about the four members - I can't even tell you who handled the leads so you'll have to take my word for it when I tell you the overall results were simply fantastic.  With all four apparently getting a shot at the spotlight, each brought a unique sound to the proceedings.  With the possible exception of the closing ballad  'Make Believe' there wasn't a disappointment on the album.   

- Opening up with some tasty Stevie Wonder-styled Moog and a cool skitterish guitar riff,  'I Can Feel Your Love (Coming Down On Me)' was a pounding soul number.  R.J. Jenkins fawning liner notes compared these guys to The O'Jays, Spinners, and Temptations and I've got to tell you those outfits seldom recorded anything with as much energy as this track.  Only complaint - the song faded out too early.   rating: **** stars
- 'I’m So Glad You Came Along' found the group working in a more contemporary soul group genre.  A breezy, up tempo number, this one served to showcase the group's impeccable harmony vocals.  Would have made a perfect top-40 single ...   rating: **** stars
- Complete with rainstorm sound effects, an old-school ballad like 'Rainy Night (Puts You In the Mood for Love)' normally would have struck me overly cheesy.  Mind you it was cheesy (the harp arrangement makes me laugh every time I hear it), but these guys managed to pull it off with such earnestness you simply had to surrender to the performance.   Again, my only complaint was the song was too short.   It almost sounded like they'd edited out a segment of the song.  rating: *** stars 
- Pulling a page out of Holland-Dozier-Holland's catalog, 'Cream Of The Crop' was a soul song that had a catchy pop edge to it.  If you liked General Johnson and The Chairmen of the Board, then this was something that would appeal to your ears.   Great lead vocal.  rating: **** stars
- Released as their debut single, 'I’m So Lonely' showcased the band against a slow grind, bluesy background.  While it was hardly the album's most original effort, it was easily one of the  best vocals.  Again, I don't know which member handled the lead vocal, but the result was a hard driving, Gospel-tinged delivery that would have made Teddy Pendergrass envious.  Unlike the single which clocked in at about three minutes, the album version stretched out over eight minutes - not a second of it wasted.  rating: ***** stars
- Side two opened up with another up tempo number.  With lead vocal duties split between two members,, the first segment was actually a bit clunky, but the song found its groove when the second singer kicked in (whoever it was had a bit of Stevie Wonder in his performance).  After the slow start, 'Have I Really Lost You' turned into one of my favorite performances.   rating: **** stars
- Yeah, the falsetto was a bit sharp, but 'Now You’re Gone'  was another catchy up temp number with one of those melodies you couldn't get out of your head.   rating: *** stars
- Hard to imagine someone didn't tap 'You Will Always Be A Part Of Me' as a single.  With a silky smooth lead vocal, this one was easily as good as anything those other better known soul entities were releasing (I suspect The Spinners would have killed for a chance to record it), and it had a great guitar riff too boot.   rating: **** stars  
- Simply said, heartbreak seldom sounded as good as on 'Don’t Take Your Love (Away From Me)' ...  Whoever the lead was sure hit some high notes on this one drawing comparisons to Russell Thompkins, Jr. and The Stylistics.   rating: **** stars  
- The only song not written by Elmer Overton, 'Make Believe' was a pretty, but somewhat anonymous ballad.  Perhaps because it was the final track, the only thing that really stuck in my mind on this one was the weird keyboard sound - it almost sounded like an electronic pipe organ ...     rating: ** stars  

Simply one of the best soul albums I've heard in the last couple of years.  

"Risin'" track listing:

(side 1) 1.) I Can Feel Your Love (Coming Down On Me)   (Elmer Overton) - 3.17

2.) I’m So Glad You Came Along   (Elmer Overton) - 2.55

3.) Rainy Night (Puts You In the Mood for Love)   (Elmer Overton) - 3.13
4.) Cream Of The Crop   (Elmer Overton) - 2.23
5.) I’m So Lonely   (Elmer Overton) - 8.21   

(side 2)

1.) Have I Really Lost You   (Elmer Overton) - 2.51

2.) Now You’re Gone   (Elmer Overton) - 2.23
3.) You Will Always Be A Part Of Me    (Elmer Overton)- 3.14
4.) Don’t Take Your Love (Away From Me)   (Elmer Overton)- 4.23
5.) Make Believe   (Eugene Smiley) - 3.49    

Got this Smoke-related email: 

I was checking out your website and noticed you had rated my Dad, Ernest Malone and the group he belonged to called SMOKE. I notice you weren't sure who sang some of the leads on the album. My father was the lead singer on "I'm So Lonely" and "Make Believe". He currently lives in New Haven, CT and performs for local clubs. Thank you so much for your kind remarks on his band. Erika Malone, October, 2011

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I'm a decade late to the party, but here's a great Toytown release: Angel Pavement "Maybe Tomorrow"

I'm constantly amazed at the amount of quality music that gets shelved, at the same time mindless commercial product gets dumped on the market.  York's Angel Pavement stands as a perfect example of the phenomenon, though in this case the band actually did garner some recognition - admittedly some three decades after they broke up. 

Angel Pavement publicity shot 

Formed in York, the band came  together in late 1967 featuring lead guitarist Clive 'Alfie' Shepherd, vocalist Dave Smith and rhythm guitarist Paul Smith from the soul oriented Wesley Hardin's Shotgun Package and drummer Mike Candler and bassist Graham Harris from The Roll Machine.  Named after a 1930 J.B. Priestley novel, Angel Pavement attracted some local attention with their blend of pop covers and original material.  The band recorded some local demos, but their big break came when they caught the attention of former Smoke member Geoff Gill who had recently shifted his attention to production work.  Working for Monty Babson's newly established Morgan Studios,  Gill invited the band to London and recorded a series of demos with the group.  In the meantime Angels Pavement hit the London club circuit where they caught the attention of a Mexican hotel chain owner who offered them a chance to work in Mexico.  The band jumped at the opportunity, spending the first half of 1969 in Mexico. Plans to tour the US were shelved when the band couldn't get working visas due in part to Candler's age (he was only 17 at the time).   Returning to the UK, guitarist Smith quit and was eventually replaced by former Roll Machine guitarist John Cartwright.  The band also resumed working with producer Gill, recording material during off-hours for a planned album - tentatively entitled "Socialising with Angel Pavement".   In the meantime Fontana Records signed the band  releasing a pair of instantly obscure singles: 

- 1969's 'Baby You've Gotta Stay' b/w 'Green Mello Hill' (Fontana catalog number TF 1059
- 1970's  'Tell Me What I've Got to Do' b/w 'When Will I See June Again' (Fontana catalog number TF 1072) 

And then the wheels came off the truck. Morgan Studios went belly-up and issues with management, combined with changing popular musical tastes left the band's pop-psych repertoire seemingly out of date to Fontana management which dropped the group from its recording contract and shelved all of their previously recorded material where it sat until 2003 and Tenth Planet's release of "Angel Pavement".   About all I can say is it's unfortunate it took four decades for these guys to get their collective moments in the sun.  While I can see why their sound may have already sounded a bit dated in 1969, the fact of the matter is that most of these 15 tracks were quite impressive, bringing together a nice mixture of pop and psych influences ... its  a classic set of toytown psych.  Smith certainly had a nice enough voice; particularly when he avoided using his falsetto (I'd suggest staying away from the ballad 'Little Old Man') and Shepherd and Cartwright were seemingly talented guitarists, providing nice acoustic touches to tracks like 'Time Is Upon Us' and 'Napoleon'.  That said, much of the band's charm reflected producer Gill's studio handling and occasional songwriting contributions. 

- Opening up with a somewhat tortured arrangement, it took a little while for 'The Man In The Shop On The Corner' to kick into gear, but when it is, the band's pop-psych charms were on full display - jangle guitar, sweet power-pop harmonies, and classic '60s social commentary.  The Mexican-flavored horns only added to the song's glistening charm.   rating: **** stars
- There's a Badfinger website out there that explains how these guys stumbled across this  Iveys'  song -  drummer Candler's sister bought a copy of The Iveys album and supposedly suggested  'Maybe Tomorrow' would be a good song for the band to cover.  They worked up an arrangement and producer Gill concurred with the decision to record the song.  In fact it was originally scheduled to be their third single after plans to release 'I'm Moving On' fell apart over disagreements on how to mix the track.  Curiously, the opening sounded like it had been stripped off of the Terry Kath introduction to Chicago's "25 of 6 To 4", but then the band's trademarked harmonies kicked in and the song returned to the original melody line.  Personally I like the Iveys original better, but only by a slim margin.   rating: **** stars
- A pretty enough ballad with some gorgeous acoustic guitar work, the problem with 'Time Is Upon Us' was that it simply never kicked into gear.  Every time I hear the song I keep expecting a hook to kick in ...    rating: *** stars
- Opening up with some weird studio effects, 'Green Mello Hill' captured the band at their most psychedelic.  The song had a distinct pop flavor, but  given the speed-of-sound delivery and the frenetic horn arrangement, you got the impression they may have been zonked on amphetamines when recording the track.   rating: **** stars
- The first disappointment, 'Little Old Man' was a painful ballad.  Vocalist Paul Smith sounded very uncomfortable croaking along in a fractured falsetto, while the song itself suffered from some hideously fey lyrics, a lousy melody, and needless instrumentation.  It also seemed to go on and on and on ...   Yech.   rating: ** stars
- Originally the 'B' side on their second 45, 'When Will I See June Again' was a harpsichord-powered mid-tempo rocker.  Maybe due to the harpsichord instrumentation the song's always reminded me a bit of The Left Banke.  The harpsichord, combined with Candler's powerhouse drumming, and the band's tight harmony vocals gave the song a wonderful power-pop flavor.  Very nice.  rating: **** stars
- Co-written by drummer Candler and band manager Mal Spence, the ballad 'Genevieve' was one of the album's most straightforward commercial efforts.  Simply gorgeous and would have sounded great on top-40 radio (even in 1972).    rating: **** stars
- The band were known for including West Coast psych band covers by acts like The Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, Love, and Moby Grape in their live performances here and they turned in a credible version of Spirit's 'Water Woman'.   In fact, I think you could make the argument their version was even catchier than the somewhat chaotic Spirit original.  Love the counter harmonies that show up about half way through the tune (guess that's what you call them).    rating: *** stars
- 'Napoleon' opened up with some nifty jangle guitar, Graham Harris' understated bass, and punchy Cartwright trumpet.  Musically this one's always reminded me of something Davy Jones and the Monkees might have recorded when they were starting to spread their artistic wings.  Catchy, but with a distinctive psych edge to it ...     rating:  **** stars
- Intended as the title track for their planned album, 'Socialising' (their spelling), started out as a pretty, measured ballad and gradually picked up speed and energy.    rating:  *** stars
- Penned by former Roll Machine front man Cliff Wade, 'Jennifer' was clearly written with commercial aspirations.  Imagine a good Graham Nash-era Hollies tune and you'd have a feel for what this one sounded like.  Classic mid-1960s English pop, that just happened to be released in 1970.   rating: **** stars-
 Penned by producer Gill, 'Carrie' was an equally catchy slice of top-40 pop and like 'Jennifer' sounded a bit dated, though it was still thoroughly enjoyable.   rating: **** stars
- The bouncy, hyper speed ' I'm A Dreamer' sounded like something they'd written early in their career - almost beat band-ish, though the ending was a bit too cute for my taste.     rating: *** stars
- Opening with a Baroque flavor, 'Baby You've Gotta Stay' then exploded into a roaring slice of toytown pop.  Great song which would have been even better if they'd stripped aware some of the orchestration.     rating: *** stars
- Completely different from anything else in their repertoire, 'I'm Moving On' had a cool country-rock flavor that scores of pub rockers would mimic in coming years.   With one of the album's prettiest melodies and some great B.J. Cole pedal steel guitar this was planned as their third single, but arguments between Shepherd and produce Gill saw the project shelved.  Shame since this could have been their breakout single.   rating: **** stars  

"Angel Pavement" track listing:
(side 1)
1. The Man In The Shop On The Corner   (Alfie Shepherd) - 
2. Maybe Tomorrow   (Tom Evans) - 
3. Time Is Upon Us   (Alfie Shepherd) -
4. Green Mello Hill   (Danny Beckerman) - 
5. Little Old Man   (Alfie Shepherd) - 
6. When Will I See June Again   (Alfie Shepherd) - 
7. Genevieve  (Mike Candler - Mal Spence) - 

(side 2)
1.) Water Woman   (Jay Ferguson) -
2.) Napoleon   (Alfie Shepherd) -
3.) Socialising   (Alfie Shepherd) -
4.) Jennifer   (Cliff Wade) -
5.) Carrie   (Geoff Gill) -
6.) I'm A Dreamer   (Alfie Shepherd) -
7.) Baby You've Gotta Stay   (Danny Beckerman) -
8.) I'm Moving On   (Alfie Shepherd) -

Released in 2005 by the Wooden Hill label, the CD release (catalog number WHCD014), has different artwork and includes an additional eight tracks, including five early demos the band recorded. 

1.) Tell Me What I've Got To Do  (Danny Beckerman - Geoff Gill) - 
2.) Phantasmagonia   (Malcolm Spence) - 
3.) Rooftop Memories   (David Smith) -
4.) Tootsy Wootsy Feelgood   (Graham Harris) - 
5.) Flying On the Ground Is Wrong   (Neil Young) - 
6.) Five Sisters   (Alfie Shepherd) - 
7.) Desperate Dan   (Alfie Shepherd) - 
8.) I'm Moving On    (Alfie Shepherd) -   

Also worth mentioning, in 1969 front man Shepherd recorded a solo effort that was also shelved for some four decades - "The Wind and the Willows" (Wooden Hill catalog number WHCD023).

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Space Band - suprisingly good, if overlooked Maryland LP

Can't say I know a great deal about Space Band.  Hailing from the Baltimore suburb of Cockeysville, Brian Harrison and Terry Kempler were apparently the band's creative mainstays.  Luckily, in 2000  the pair reissued  "Space Band"  and included some biographical notes on the band.  I'm guessing the pair won't mind it if I copy their comments: 

"Brian Harrison and I had been playing guitars and writing songs together for about ten years. In the fall of 1983, we recorded some demos at Basement Floor Studios in Baltimore, Maryland. Tim Miskimon, the owner of the studio, helped out by playing keyboards, bass, and adding some vocals to our songs. Tim's brother, Mark, played the drums and also contributed on some vocals. Brian and I were so pleased with the results that we wound up cutting the whole Space Band album at Basement Floor Studios. The album was released in the spring of 1984 and garnished great local reviews as well as international distribution. We've received fan mail from all over the U.S. as well as Germany, England, Italy, Russia and Japan."  

Produced by Kempler and Tim Miskimon, the few abbreviated reviews of 1984's "Space Band"  have described the album as being progressive.  While there are a couple of progressive touches here and there (an occasional synthesizer shows up), to my ears these guys were more of a hard rock outfit than anything ...  While it may not have been the most original album I've heard, there was a surprising amount of diversity here, including conventional AOR ('Love Is All Around'), top-40 pop ('(She's A) True Blue American Groupie') and even a slice of pre-grunge frustration  ('Tie You Away').  Even though it was recorded with relatively little capital over an eight month period, the album sound surprisingly accomplished for a small label, vanity effort.  Not perfect, but there are a couple of real gems on this one. - With screeching, buzz-saw lead guitars and screeching vocals,  'Love Is All Around' sounded like a typical slice of '80s AOR   Other than the cheesy synthesizer solo, there was nothing particularly original on this one.   rating: ** stars
- Starting out as a showcase for the pair's guitar pyrotechnics, 'High Speed Collision' then morphed into something that recalled an early Blue Oyster Cult number - complete with automotive sound effects, the results were slightly ominous, but still commercial.     rating: *** stars
- Clocking in at 27 seconds, 'Circio's Revenge' was nothing more than a sound collage that seemingly capturing post 'High Speed Collision' accident sound effects.   rating: ** stars
- Hum, hard to know what to make of 'Tie You Away'.  They were either trying out their best Root Boy Slim impersonations, or somehow anticipated the coming rise of grunge ...   Raw enough to clean up your acne.   I'm thinking this might have been one fo the tracks that  Tim Miskimon handled vocals on.   rating: *** stars
- I'm not sure who handled the lead vocals, but 'Eclectic Time' was a barebones rocker that (courtesy of those growling vocals), sounded a bit like early Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits.  Bet this one would have sounded great in a bar.   rating: *** stars
- Probably side one's most commercial number, '(She's A) True Blue American Groupie' had a rollicking bar-band melody and a classic rock and roll title.  That title ensured the song would never get commercial airplay, but the song would have sounded great on top-40 radio.    rating: *** stars
- 'Splitting Atoms for You' started sound two with what sounded like an old Atari game running amuck.  Apparently trotting out their best David Byrne and Talking Heads impression,  the pinball sound effects were kind of neat (guess I'm showing off my age here).   Very new wave-ish.   rating: *** stars
- Probably my favorite song, if you've ever wondered what a mash-up of David Byrne and Mark Knopfler would sound like (you probably haven't), then the sci-fi oriented 'Star Flight' would be right up your aural alley.     rating: *** stars- Sporting the album's best lead guitar work, 'Burn Out On Re-Entry' was a nifty blues-rocker and one of the album's most commercial offerings.   rating: *** stars
- Opening up with a pretty acapella vocal section (I'm guessing it was Harrison's wife Barbara), ' I See Lives' was the album's prettiest number.  Yeah, the lyrics were a bit too new-age-ish, but I guess they weren't any worse than some of Pink Floyd's work ...  that comment actually made for interesting comparison since this track had the same cold, but beautiful aura that you found on Floyd's best work.  Always loved the cheesy synthesizer on this one.  Nice way to close out the album.      rating: **** stars 

In case anyone's interested, Brian Harrison and his wife Martha were responsible for the interesting cover art. 

"Space Band" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Love Is All Around   (Brian Harrison - Terry Kempler) - 2:52
2.) High Speed Collision   (Brian Harrison - Terry Kempler) - 3:37
3.) Circio's Revenge   (Brian Harrison - Terry Kempler) - 0:27
4.) Tie You Away   (Brian Harrison - Terry Kempler) - 5:08
5.) Eclectic Time   (Brian Harrison - Terry Kempler) - 3:47
6.) (She's A) True Blue American Groupie   (Brian Harrison - Terry Kempler) - 4:41  

(side 2)
1.) Splitting Atoms for You   (Brian Harrison - Terry Kempler) - 4:16

2.) Star Flight   (Brian Harrison - Terry Kempler) - 2:58
3.) Burn Out On Re-Entry   (Brian Harrison - Terry Kempler) - 5:39
4.) I See Lives   (Brian Harrison - Terry Kempler) - 5:38 

If you don't want to spend the money on an original copy, you can

New Inspiration's last LP - 1972's "New Inspiration"

Released in 1971, the cleverly-titled "New Inspiration" marked the band's fifth and final album (I'm still looking for copies of 1968's "Vol 3" and 1970's "Rainbow").   Once again produced by longstanding manager Jack Verdonick, the album was somewhat of an odd effort given it featured a mixture of five previously released tunes ('Rainbow' had  been released as a single and was the title of their fourth album) and seven newer tracks.  In contrast to their earlier pop-oriented catalog, numbers like the instrumental ' Ode To Linda', 'From Chicago To L.A.' and 'Hustler'  found the band going in a heavier rock direction.  Clearly reflecting the influences of keyboardist Marc Maleyster and guitarist Gus Roan (both had been members of Waterloo), you weren't going to mistake these guys for Deep Purple or Uriah Heep, but the revamped, tougher sound wasn't half bad and should have given their Belgian and UK contemporaries a run for the commercial marketplace. Well produced and full of energetic performances, it made for a nice way to end the band's recording career..  

Yeah even though Guido Wolfaert had a heavily accented voice, I've always liked his delivery and it seldom sounded as pretty as on the big, church-flavored  ballad ' Come Let's Sing Us Hallelujah'.  The track sounded a bit too much like a Hollies number for its own good, but it was still hummable and quite commercial and was released as the album's second single.   rating: *** stars
- The title of their previous album, ' Rainbow' sounded a bit like a Shocking Blues number (obvious without Mariska Veres' sexy vocals).  With a slightly acid tinged melody, this one had a distinctive mid-60s flavor.   Quite enjoyable, if the na-na-na chorus quickly wore out its welcome.   rating: *** stars
- Buoyed by some interesting, Focus-styled keyboards, the instrumental ' Intro for Linda' was really good, though far too short.   rating: **** stars
- Also an instrumental, ' Ode To Linda' continued to spotlight keyboards, but this time around the song  exhibited a breezy, almost Santana-styled feel.  Very unexpected and very funky (well at least as funky as a group of Belgians can get).   rating: **** stars
- Penned by manager/producer Jacques Velt, ' Judy Please' was one of the album's most straightforward commercial efforts (perhaps explaining why it was released as a single).  Kicked along by pounding piano and some stinging Eddy Vanderlinden slide guitar, the track had a bouncy, top-40ish feel.  It would have been even better without the acidic female backing vocals.   rating: *** stars
- Well, the female backing singers were back for ' Bottle of Whiskey' but this one had such a strong Western-tinged melody (I'm talking cowboys and Indians Western),  that it didn't matter.  Easily one of the best songs they ever recorded.  It was also released as the album's third single.   rating: **** stars
- Showcasing more of Vanderlinden's excellent slide guitar, 'Song for Everybody' started out sounded like the band was dipping their collective toes in hard rock, but then morphed into a socially conscious slice of pop (and yes the shrill female backing singers had an even bigger role this one, repeating the title what sounded like hundreds of times).    rating: ** stars
-The epic instrumental  'Intro from Chicago' found the band trying on a harder blues-rock vibe that sounded a bit like Focus on a good day.  Nice, but way too brief.    rating: *** stars
- Even better, 'From Chicago To L.A. 'sounded like something that Crosby and Nash might have recorded in the early-'70s (the chorus would have sounded perfect on one the Crosby & Nash LPs).  Full of  fuzz guitar and frenetic drums, the song may have had some bizarre lyrics (blame it on the English translation), but this one was a keeper and deserves to go on some sort of hard rock compilation album.   rating: **** stars
- Sporting what was probably the album's best melody, the organ and guitar-powered 'When You're Gone' could have been mistaken for a really good Spooky Tooth track.  Complete with glorious harmony vocals, it's one of my all-time favorite New Inspiration performances.   rating: ***** stars
- Guitarist Vanderlinden's only contribution to the album was also one of the standout  performances.  Kicked along by some barrelhouse piano, a galloping blues-rock melody, and one of the 'dirtiest' guitar solos you've ever heard, this was great stuff.    rating: **** stars
- 'Die In Ordinary Way' (I think it was actually entitled 'Die In An Ordinary Way'), continued the Spooky Tooth styled blues-rock formula with even better results.  Quality driving '70s blues-rock that would have made far better known bands envious of Gus Roan's songwriting skills.    rating: **** stars   

As mentioned, the album was tapped for a number of singles: 

- 1971's 'Song for Everybody' b/w 'Do You Know What I Mean' (Decca catalog number 105 26.305)
- 1971's 'Judy Please' b/w 'Lonesome Me' (Decca catalog number 105 26.275)
- 1972's 'Come Let's Sing Hallelujah' b/w 'From Chicago To L.A.' (Pink Elephant catalog number PE 22.621)
- 1972's 'Bottle of Whiskey' b/w 'Something's Burning' (Pink Elephant catalog number PE 22)

The best of the three New Inspiration albums I've heard and would have been even stronger had they cut back on the female backing singers.    

"New Inspiration" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) Come Let's Sing Us Hallelujah   (Jacques Velt - Gus Roan - Guido Wolfaert) - 
2.) Rainbow   (Jacques Velt)
3.) Intro for Linda (instrumental)  (Marc Maleyster)
4.) Ode To Linda (instrumental)  (Marc Maleyster)
5.) Judy Please   (Jacques Velt)
6.) Bottle of Whiskey    (Jacques Velt - Gus Roan - Guido Wolfaert) - 

(side 2)
1.) Song for Everybody   (Gus Roan - Jacques Velt) - 
2.) Intro from Chicago (instrumental)  (Marc Maleyster)
3.) From Chicago To L.A.   (Jacques Velt - Gun Roan) -
4.) When You're Gone   (Gus Roan) -
5.) Hustler   (Eddy Vanderlinden)
6.) Die In Ordinary Way   (Gus Roan) -