Archive for the ‘ska’ Category

Hundred Word Reviews for August 2014, Part 2

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Today’s set of five 100-word capsule reviews looks at recently-reissued, previously-unreleased, and/or compilation albums.


How to Stuff a Wild Bikini: Original Stereo Soundtrack
What we have here, in my estimation, is a fascinating and extremely well-written essay that happens to include a CD. How to Stuff a Wild Bikini is not anyone’s idea of great cinema, but the 1965 American International Pictures release has its period charms. This record – originally released on The Kingsmen‘s Wand label – is the only soundtrack LP from the string of Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello vehicles. Tom Pickles‘ liner notes put the soundtrack into perspective and context, explaining the musical contributions of The Kingsmen, Lu Ann Sims, Harvey Lembeck(!) and Mickey Rooney(!!). Skip the film, dig the soundtrack.


Spanky and Our Gang – The Complete Mercury Singles
Often thought of in the same category as The Mama’s and The Papa’s, this group, fronted by vocalist Elaine “Spanky” McFarlane, had deeper roots in a sort of Tin Pan Alley style. This collection presents 21 songs in their original punchier-than-stereo monaural mixes. The group’s hit “Sunday Will Never Be the Same” – a tune that rivals any single of the era for its transcendent mix of melodrama and shimmering vocal arrangement – is here, but many of the other tunes are nearly as good. Of special note is the group’s cover of The Beatles‘ “And Your Bird Can Sing.”


Billy Thermal – Billy Thermal
This band, led by Billy Steinberg, cut an LP in 1980 full of uptempo, nominally new-wave tunes. For various reasons, the disc went unreleased at the time, but the tapes served their purposes as songwriter’s demos: Steinberg’s “How Do I Make You” would be a hit for Pat Benatar Linda Ronstadt, and brought the man’s talents to the attention of The Bangles, Cyndi Lauper, Whitney Houston, Madonna, etc., all of whom would score hits with his songs. This collection includes bonus tracks, but the whole package – now rescued from obscurity by Omnivore Recordings – can be thought of as a bonus.


Stick Against Stone – Live: The Oregon Bootleg Tapes
At first hearing, this Pittsburgh group sounds like they’re from a provincial city (perhaps Leeds?) in working class, Thatcher-era England. Truth is, the era is the only detail that’s correct: this 1985 live set – long thought lost but recently discovered – sounds like a cross between Gang of Four, the two-tone ska movement, and Living Colour. Any written description of their complex sound will fall short, but I hear angular funk with plenty of assured polyrhythmic percussion, rubbery bass, and saxophone backing the Lene Lovich-sounding vocals of Sari Morninghawk. A modified lineup of the band (SASO) still performs today.


Buddy Rich – The Solos
The idea of a compilation of live concert drum solos might strike some as a surefire way to a headache, or at least folly. But when the drummer in question is the legendary Buddy Rich, the idea makes some kind of sense. Endlessly inventive and always swinging, the man with a bad haircut and a worse temper may have been sixty years old when these tapes were made, but what you’ll hear sounds like a man half his age. Power, finesse and humor can all be found in Rich’s solos. Background music for a cocktail party? Perhaps not. Essential? Indeed.

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45rpm Roundup

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

The 45rpm vinyl format isn’t dead. In fact, I see more of those little seven-inchers in my mailbox these days than I did even a couple of years ago. Here I take a look at four recent submissions. None is at all musically like the others, and seven out of the eight songs are highly recommended.

D A W N S – “So Help Me God” b/w “Camouflage”
Reading about this one, I was expecting some sort of Americana-oriented sounds. In fact the press sheet sent along with the disc (actually a 33rpm record) notes that the “touring band is an eclectic six-piece outfit with upright bass, cello, lap steel, bow saw and percussion…” But that’s not the vibe they conjure on ”So Help Me God.” They stomp through the song, sounding like a more melody-oriented Arcade Fire with better songwriting and a singer whose voice doesn’t grate on me. The flip, “Camouflage,” does present a slightly more acoustic-flavored approach; the haunted and breathy vocals, shimmering guitars and sparse, echoey production recall Big Star‘s Third. How can that not be great? And the direction the tune takes in its final minute is an unexpected treat. Plenty of shade and light on this record; if it’s a teaser to a forthcoming long-player, I’m all ears. White vinyl.

Rick Berlin w/the Nickel & Dime Band – Always On Insane (“Summer Roof” b/w “I’m Jes’ Sayin’”)
Ska in 2012? Well, okay. Sounding like some bizarre cross between Warren Zevon and Mental As Anything, “Summer Roof” features peppy horns and a fun, shouted chorus. But the song detours into a lovely midsection that’s as far from bluebeat as one can get – it’s singer/songwriter-ish, even – before launching back into an exuberant yakety-sax solo. Loads of fun, this one. The flip “I’m Jes’ Sayin’” has a relaxed, jazzy vibe with some soulful vocals backed by some lovely, creamy oohs. As the song unfolds, it’s reminiscent of Pete Yorn‘s work circa Nightcrawler. This song could easily be the work of a different band, but since it’s not, I’m left to think that Berlin has an impressively wide stylistic palette.

Smash Fashion – “Blame It On the Brandy” b/w “Marionette”
Calling to mind the fun, sleazy and swaggering era that brought us Sweet, Alice Cooper and Suzi Quatro, “Blame it On the Brandy” makes no concessions to modernity: it’s timeless in its approach. Handclaps, a straightforward earworm riff (albeit one that owes more than a little to “Bony Maronie”) and plenty of power chords all come together to remind you that – Gary Glitter be damned – glam rock was a helluva lot of mindless fun. Some dual lead guitar work on the outro is a not-so-subtle hat-tip to Thin Lizzy. The flip, “Marionette” is every bit as good, sounding as it does like a lost prime-era Elton John track without the piano. Some Queen-like guitar heroics are icing on this glammy cake. Woo-hoo indeed. Full album, please…stat.

Dr. Manhattan – “Hot Sauce” b/w Dormlife – “Weak Sauce”
A lo-fi vibe and a slightly dorky campfire feel provide the basis for Dr. Manhattan’s song that seems to be mostly about smokin’ that shit. With a musical approach that’s a little bit like Violent Femmes, it’s fun in a rickety-jalopy sort of way. I can’t help picturing these guys in vests and fedoras, smirking their way through this barrelhouse romp, but it’s fun enough for what it is, in a modest sort of way. The flip from Dormlife is much stronger: it features tight’n'lovely vocal harmonies, a jittery stop/start melody, taut drum work, some aggressive acoustic guitar strumming and bursts of rubbery bass. Hard to pin down stylistically, it’s a sort of tuneful rethink of Red Hot Chili Peppers. Or something. Something good. Verdict: the “hot” song is relatively weak while the “weak” one is tasty stuff indeed. Clear red vinyl.

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