Soul Serenade: Little Anthony & The Imperials, “I’m On The Outside (Looking In)”

Way back in the early days of this column, in 2011 to be specific, I featured the Little Anthony & the Imperials hit “Hurt So Bad.” It seems like a long time ago now and there have been somewhere around 300 installments of this column since then, so I thought it would be a good time to feature another Little Anthony hit. This time it’s the record that launched a string of four straight Top 20 hits for the group. It was a run that made them stars.

They first got together in New York City in the 1950s. The group’s original lineup also included Clarence Collins, who founded the group, Ernest Wright, Nate Rogers and Tracey Lord. Collins had a group called the Chesters that included Rogers. It was that group that Gourdine, who had been in the DuPonts, joined. At the time Ronald Ross was in the group, but he was replaced by Ernest Wright.

End Records signed the Chesters in 1958 and changed their name to the Imperials. Their first single for the label was a smash. “Tears on My Pillow” sold over a million copies and reached #4 on the Pop chart and #2 on the R&B chart. A follow-up single, “Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko-Bop” did very well too, reaching #24 in 1960. But when further success proved elusive for the group, Gourdine decided to go it on his own.

Imperials came and went over the next few years and Gourdine eventually returned in 1963. At that point, the classic lineup of the group, Collins, Gourdine, Wright, and Sammy Strain, who had joined when Gourdine was pursuing his solo career, was in place. The quartet hooked up with an old friend, producer/songwriter Teddy Randazzo, signed with Don Costa Productions (DCP), and the hits began to come. The run began with “I’m on the Outside (Looking In)” which reached #15 on the Pop chart in 1964.

Little Anthony & the Imperials

Their biggest hit, “Goin’ Out of My Head” followed that same year, and reached #6. Then came “Hurt So Bad,” #10 in 1965, and “Take Me Back,” #16, also in 1965. Little Anthony & the Imperials were on top of the music world. While they never again achieved the level of chart success that had marked their four hit streak, singles like “Hurt,” “Better Use Your Head,” and “Out of Sight Out of Mind” did respectable business. During this time Little Anthony & the Imperials were fixtures on television, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, Shindig!, Hullabaloo, American Bandstand, Midnight Special, and the Tonight Show among other programs.

Eventually, the Imperials signed with United Artists Records and singles like “World of Darkness,” It’s Not The Same,” “If I Remember To Forget,” and “Yesterday Has Gone” appeared on the label’s Veep imprint. While most of the records made it to the charts, none had the kind of success that the group had enjoyed earlier. During this time they recorded the original version of “You Only Live Twice” for the James Bond film of the same name but the Nancy Sinatra version was the one included in the film, apparently due to the influence of her father.

In the 1970s, Little Anthony & the Imperials recorded for Janus Records (“Father, Father”), Avco Records (“La La La,” “I’m Falling in Love with You”) but had little chart success. Group members came and went. Gourdine tried the solo route again, this time with more success. Collins carried on with his own group of Imperials until he left in 1988.

The classic lineup of Collins, Wright, Strain, and Gourdine got together again for a Madison Square Garden concert in 1992. The reunion was successful enough to lead to a tour and an appearance on the 40th anniversary special for Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. There were more TV appearances in the ’90s and two new albums, one of which was their first live album. It was the first time that the lineup had recorded in 30 years.

They continued on into the new century until Strain retired in 2004. Collins finally called it a day in 2012 but he still retains the Imperials name. Gourdine continues to tour and published his autobiography, Little Anthony: My Journey, My Destiny, in 2014. As recently as 2015 Little Anthony & the Imperials were still touring with a lineup that includes Gourdine and Wright.

In 2009, Little Anthony & the Imperials were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Other honors include induction into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999, the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2007, and the Official Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2015.

POPDOSE EXCLUSIVE: Bruce Springsteen on ‘Springsteen On Broadway’

Popdose has obtained an exclusive first look at the program notes Bruce Springsteen has written for his debut theatrical performance, Springsteen On Broadway. The show opens this October in New York City. 

In 1979, a couple weeks after the end of the Darkness tour, Steve and I headed west in a 1959 Edsel Citation I had picked up for $400 from Ed “Tookie” Tannon, the benevolent dictator of Honest Ed’s Used Conveyances in Asbury Park.

We drove until we hit the desert and then we slowed down. This was the America of my deepest dreams–stark, beautiful, merciless. I still struggled with how I could bring that spirit to my music. I was worried that I had taken my songs and my band as far as they could go.

One night, the Citation sprung an oil leak. It was just after dinnertime, near Reno, and we pulled into the parking lot of a diner on what had to be this town’s Main Street. After downing about fifteen cheeseburgers and a Coke, we were about to share the Citation’s back seat for the night when I spotted a small poster on the diner door.

“Hey Steve,” I said. “Let’s check this out.”

We walked up the street and paid three bucks apiece to see the Reno Repertory Company’s spring production of Hello, Dolly.

That night changed me forever. Suddenly, I found a voice for the voiceless, a fuel to drive the engine of my musical ambitions. This tattered program from the night in question tells me Denise Delvecchio, a housewife and part-time Tupperware saleslady, portrayed Dolly Levi. If you’d told me she was played by Barbara Streisand herself, I would have believed you. She was sensational.

“Before the Parade Passes By,” “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” and of course, the legendary title number…this was true American music, full of hope, despair, and dare I say, razzmatazz.

I sat on the hood of that ‘59 Citation well into the cool Nevada night, and I wrote most of my next album.

That record–Bruce Boogaloos Down Broadway–sits in my vault alongside the hip-hop record, the country record, the gospel record, and the Tuvian throat singing album. (Actually, that last one provided the inspiration for many of the songs on Working on a Dream.) At the time, I asked my friend and mentor, Jon Landau, to guide me in the ways of American musical theater. Instead, he handed me a copy of Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The rest, as they say, is history.

But my mind never strays far from the magic of that one night in Reno (not the one I chronicled on Devils & Dust, the Hello, Dolly one). I can still smell the greasepaint, feel the moldy humidity of a theater that probably should have been torn down three decades prior, and hear the tinkling of an out-of-tune piano as Ms. Delvecchio seized the spotlight for her 11 o’clock number.

Somewhere in the darkness of an endless American night, I still hold out hope that Puerto Rican Jane, the Magic Rat, Wild Billy and the rest will hear the soft swell of a string section and break out into the music of tap and glitter, instead of that other crap I wrote.

Until then, we have tonight. In the words of the great Broadway maestro Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber…

“The Phantom of the Opera is there…Inside your mind…”

 

Bruce Springsteen

August 9, 2017

 

ALBUM REVIEW: HEIRS OF FORTUNE, “Circus Of Mirth”

Heirs Of Fortune isn’t a band per se (or so I gather); it’s a project overseen and directed by Terry Carolan, a mainstay of power pop mastery, especially in his native Tampa, Florida.  The idea of Heirs Of Fortune was a long-overdue collaboration between Mr. Carolan and friends that became a reality and a collection of carefully crafted pop standouts, including one (quite loved by me) special cover, which I’ll get to…  But nonetheless, Circus Of Mirth (a brilliant title) is just that – a joyful gathering of melody.

The slightly-crazed and whimsical “The Ringmaster”/”Invited” gets the proceedings underway (the production techniques here are stellar and brilliant, by the way) and quickly leads into “Aster Street Days”, which has that glorious mid-’70’s pop sound and feel.  Piano, explosive drums and harmonies rule and twin guitar harmonies are spot on (subtle and to the point).  The crisp and delicious acoustic guitar opening of “From Where I Am” is enough to induce a chill and is easily something I could imagine hearing on the radio in my childhood; “Crazy” is the standout, with its mid-’60’s vibe (listen for the 7ths on the chords) and great vocal harmonies; “Shine” has a manic/breakneck but uptempo feel and “Goodbye My Friend” is Badfinger-esque piece of sweet sadness – a moving tribute to a friend gone.  But for me, the kicker is a near-orchestral version of Chris Bell’s “I Am The Cosmos”.  I know people have done this song on many occasions, but Mr. Carolan gives a certain emotional punch that can’t be clearly defined and makes this an outstanding rendition.

This album is another of those fine examples of “how it’s done”.  Because it can be.  And clearly, Terry Carolan’s Heirs Of Fortune have done so on Circus Of Mirth.

RECOMMENDED

Circus Of Mirth is currently available

https://www.terrycarolan.com/circus-of-mirth

Is “Twin Peaks: The Return” Partly About White Middle-Class Economic Anxiety?

A sign of good film and TV productions are how well a writer and director is able to add layers of meaning to the main story. With “Twin Peak,” David Lynch and Mark Frost are very fond of layers, easter eggs, sleight of hand, and other techniques to muddy up the narrative waters so viewers come away with different interpretations of what they just saw on the screen.

Now that “Twin Peaks: The Return” is on the glide path to its conclusion, many of the diffuse threads are lining up in ways that are slowly revealing their mysterious beginnings. However, one thread that seems to have slipped past critics of the show is its narrative of middle and working class whites — and how the last 25 years have been quite vicious economically, politically, and even morally.

Two Worlds  

David Lynch’s work (mostly his film work) places a great deal of emphasis on duality. From the rot under the pristine town of Lumberton in “Blue Velvet,” to the dual lives depicted in “Lost Highway,” “Mulholland Drive” and “Inland Empire,” Lynch’s characters often have mirror opposites in literal form, and within their personalities in conflict with each other and the world (or worlds). “Twin Peaks” certainly does not shy away from duality in some of its characters (the most obvious in the first two seasons was the Laura/Maddy duality and Cooper and his doppelganger created in the Black Lodge). The dual nature of humanity leads to a world with either goodness or evil will dominate in the worlds Lynch creates. Either/or tends to be a starkly simplistic storytelling technique, but sometimes starkly simplistic is what’s needed when being too nuanced masks the importance of what an artist is trying to say about the world we live in.  

If one compares the first two seasons of “Twin Peaks” with “The Return” it’s clear that duality play out in terms of class, but also the plight of middle and working class whites.  Take, for example, the stylistic aesthetic in the first two seasons of “Twin Peaks.” The characters live in a small town near the Canadian border in Washington state, yet their sense of fashion, culture, and even coffee is not small town. Just looking at their early ‘90s attire, it’s clear that Lynch isn’t trying to depict small town life in the northwest. Rather, he’s playing with style in a postmodern way to set up a sense of irony about smashing up of urban and rural. Maybe it was Lynch’s PoMo sensibilities that often manifest themselves in his projects, but perhaps he was also reflecting the aspirational hopes of small town denizens who desire something more than flannel, Budweiser, and Marlboro reds. One of the most striking images in terms of style is  Laura Palmer’s funeral — where friends, neighbors and the FBI agent investigating her death show up to pay their respects in a lot of late 80s/early ‘90s dress. Where are these people buying their clothes? Oh yeah, Horne’s Department Store where Audrey Horne worked at the perfume counter, and an effete Dick Tremayne ran the men’s clothing department. But even Horne’s Department Store is anachronistic in many ways. Sure, most towns have places where one can purchase clothes, perfume, and jewelry, but they usually cater to the tastes of the customer base. Both Horne’s Department Store and The Great Northern Hotel (both owned by Ben Horne) seem out of place in a small, Northwestern rural logging town. But this is Lynch getting the audience to accept at face value that this quirky town of over five thousand residents (or is it 50,000?) — many of whom are working-class loggers, truckers, and mill workers — embrace current fashion with the same elan as the experimental dancers in Mawby’s bar were accepted by Pittsburgh steel workers in “Flashdance.”

White Economic Anxieties

But where do class and race fit in this artifice created by Lynch? Well, since we are taking things at face value, we know that the town of Twin Peaks reflects middle to upper middle-class culture of its white residents. These are people for whom the American Dream has come true (one “peak” of those two mountains). Except for characters like Leo Johnson, his wife Shelly (who live in the economic margins) and people like the Renaults and Hank Jennings, most of the other main characters have clean, comfortable homes that are reasonably secure. Laura, of course, is the exception. While we know that she leads a double life (Prom Queen and prostitute), Laura’s home life is such that it, like many of Lynch’s explorations of middle-class culture, exemplifies his exploration of duality. On the surface, Laura’s life with her father and mother seems right out of a 1950s stereotype of white middle-class stability. Her father Leland works as an attorney, her mother Sarah is a stay at home mom, but Laura’s parents reveal that they have dual lives, too. Within in the walls of this outwardly stable home is constant foreboding and tension. Evil always seems to reside just below the surface of things in “Twin Peaks” (The other “peak”), and as things play out, we are introduced to this kind of secret world that (except for a Native American sheriff deputy known as “Hawk” and Josie Packard — the Chinese wife of the mill owner who we are told died in a boating accident ) is only experienced by the white characters. And for most of the first two seasons of “Twin Peaks,” the mysteries of the town (propelled by Laura’s death in the first episode) are the focus of this dark soap opera. Lynch is highlighting both the romance and horror of this town, but the drama unfolds in a fairly stable economic environment where high fashion, gourmet coffee, and award winning pies are the spheres of the middle-class bubbles Lynch pops throughout the series.

The Cosmic Flashlight

With “Twin Peaks: The Return” it’s 25 years after the events of the first two seasons took place, and much has changed. If the town of Twin Peaks stands as a metaphor for white middle-class stability that provides a safety net for its residents (even those on the margins), it’s clear that Lynch is showing how that net has been shredded through wars, the consolidation of power and money by big business, a willing government who rewrites the rules that favor the wealthy — which leaves everyone else to fight over the scraps. The two characters who speak directly to this economic loss are Dr. Lawrence Jacoby and Janey-E Jones. Jacoby was a secondary character in the first two seasons of “Twin Peaks” but in “The Return” he has, ahem, returned as “Dr. Amp” who hosts an Internet streamed video show where, in a kind of Alex Jones/Info Wars way, he inveighs against pharmaceutical companies, the government, loss of liberty, and how we’re all getting screwed by these large forces who have broken their social contract with Americans. Oh, and he also sells gold painted shovels so people can “dig themselves out of the shit.” Jacoby’s rants are the ravings of angry and paranoid old man (much like what we hear on talk radio). However, as the series progresses, and scenes are punctuated with Dr. Amp’s tirades, it’s clear that Lynch is using Dr. Amp’s rantings to put a very fine point on the fact that Twin Peaks (and indeed the whole country) is being ruled by that other “peak” where evil takes many forms — including a type of capitalism that hollows out the economic bedrock of communities where the both young and old are left with little but low paying jobs, drug addiction, and no economic mobility.

This is made clear when Lynch locates a good deal of the action in Twin Peaks at the Double R Diner (which feels more working class than it did in the first two seasons), The “New” Fat Trout Trailer Park, The Bang Bang Club, and the sheriff’s office. At each location, it’s obvious the town of Twin Peaks is no longer the middle-class bubble it was 25 years ago. The high fashion clothes are gone, the wooded luxury of the Native American themed Great Northern Hotel is reduced mostly to Ben Horne’s office, and the sheriff’s department has a clear line of demarcation between good cops and bad cops. That sense of stability the town used to stand for tilts in the other direction. Violence against women in the form of domestic abuse (and violence in general) drives the story in episode 11 in a big way, but the entire series thus far has been showing the audience how the power of evil in its many forms is destroying white middle-class communities. That’s not to say that Lynch does not have non-white characters in the show. He does — but they are secondary and even tertiary characters whose role in the main storylines is minimal.

“We Are Living in a Dark, Dark Age”

Another place where Lynch locates the action is Las Vegas —  a city that was hit hard by the real estate bust that brought on The Great Recession. While there are the usual casino owners who also seem to be crime bosses as main characters, it’s the rows of mostly empty homes for sale in a newish suburban development that punctuates how lives were upended by an American Dream made possible by easy credit — given to people whose jobs didn’t pay all that well — and easy default. A subdivision known as Rancho Rosa (Pink Ranch) is outwardly supposed to be a place where a soft middle-class politeness can thrive. But inside one of the homes is a drug addicted mother who blurts out “One one nine” before consuming some kind of opiate that sends her into a stupor — as her young son looks on while sipping on a juice box or eating chips. Rancho Rosa is also the place where a “manufactured” Dale Cooper clone known as Dougie Jones is just finishing up having sex with a prostitute, and where gangs of car thieves and loan sharks look for easy prey and deadbeats like Jones who can’t pay their debts. Whatever seeds that were supposed to bloom into hundreds of middle class dreams at Rancho Rosa quickly grew into twisted weeds trapping residents in underwater loans, substance abuse, and a desert landscape as barren as the souls who reside there.

Dougie Jones’s wife Janey-E is keenly aware of how precarious things are for them. While Dougie does have a job, Janey-E knows that he’s a gambler, womanizer, and overall loser of a guy she has hitched her wagon to. Through a fantastical series of events, FBI agent Dale Cooper (who was stuck in what is known as the Black Lodge in another dimension) is returned to the world, but because duality pervades in the Lynchian universe, two Coopers cannot exist in the same dimension. There is an evil Coop (known as “Mr. C”) who swapped places with “Good Coop” at the end of season two. However, through a kind of insurance policy Mr. C created for himself in the form of Dougie Jones, when “Good Coop” re-enters our world, he takes the place of Dougie — but his mind is almost wiped clean. Cooper can walk and kind of talk, but his brain is a bit like swiss cheese in that he only has fragmented notions of his previous life. “Good Coop” sorts of sleepwalks through his new life as Janey-E’s husband — and father to Sonny Jim — but people seem to forgive or ignore the fact that there’s something seriously wrong with this guy. No matter where Dougie goes, his co-workers, boss, strangers, his wife, and son help him in matters large and small. On the one hand, it’s clear that Lynch created the Dougie/Cooper character for comedic effect. But read in another way, one has to wonder if Cooper weren’t middle aged white man in a suit with an office job, would a spouse, his co-workers and boss be so eager to help him if he had a darker skin tone, casual clothes, or was even another gender?

However, while Cooper’s skin tone and gender do give him a pass on things that would have gotten others institutionalized — or thrown in jail —  it’s Janey-E, who makes the class argument that times are indeed tough for those whom middle-class life can be wiped away through a job loss — or in Dougie’s case —  gambling debts.  At one point, Janey-E meets with Dougie’s debt collectors to settle things, but when she finds out the interest rate on the loan Dougie got to place bets on football games, she lay out her views on loan sharking in some very straight talk:

My husband has a job, he has a wife, he has a child. He does not make enough money to pay back fifty two thousand for anything. We are not wealthy people. We drive cheap, terrible cars. We are the 99 percenters, and we are shit on enough, and we are certainly not going to be shit on by the likes of you. So here’s what we’re going to. Without my knowledge my husband came to you for a loan of twenty thousand dollars…you were nice enough to give it to him… but he should have never been gambling like that.

I’m going to pay you back. Now at my bank where we make less than one percent interest on what little money we have, people would be turning cartwheels just to get twenty five percent on any loan. And that is what I’m generously going to give you right now.

Twenty five thousand dollars.  That is my first, last, and only offer. [she offers a stack of bills, but snatches them away a moment later]

What kind of world are we living in where people can behave like this…treat other people this way without any compassion, or feeling for their suffering. We are living in a dark, dark age, and you are part of the problem.

In one way or another Janey-E and Dr. Amp get to the heart of what’s ailing white middle-class society:  class warfare. Where the powerful prey on the powerless, where downward economic mobility crushes the American Dream, where the side effects of war like violent outbursts, emotional suffering, and substance abuse lead to a society that lacks compassion for others. And what was the genesis of this war? The nuclear bomb that exploded in New Mexico in 1945. Lynch places clues to it in the office of the character he plays in the series (Gordon Cole)  where images of a mushroom cloud, a picture of corn that’s scorched, and Franz Kafka take up wall space. In various guises, we see these images manifest themselves in literal ways (episode 8 in “The Return” took us deep into a mushroom cloud in a very Stanley Kubrick manner that was reminiscent of “2001: A Space Odyssey”). The scorched corn image connects with the pain and sorrow of the garmonbozia that the beings in the Black Lodge consume from those they inflict misery upon (and yes, it looks like cream corn, but it’s also has a kind of black ooze once consumed).  And Kafka? Well, the absurdities he created in his stories abound in Lynch’s work, but they also signal that, like Kafka, there are large powers that oppress people into surreal nightmares.     

One of those surreal nightmares is in a scene set in 1956 where a nameless teenage couple walks home in a very “Leave It To Beaver” fashion after a school dance.  The girl goes inside her home after getting a sweet, and somewhat innocent kiss by the boy, where she listens longingly to the radio in her bedroom. Evil arrives shortly after that in the form of beings known as a The Woodsmen. These beings come from another dimension through a portal created when the nuclear test in New Mexico occurred 11 years prior. One of the woodsmen — whose face appears scorched — takes over a local radio station where he utters a strange poem that lulls the residents listening to the radio into sleep. However, the woodsman’s poem also awakens a fly-like creature with amphibious legs from an egg shell that flies into the teenage girl’s room and crawls inside her mouth while she’s sleeping. Lynch also has another entity known only as The Experiment that made an appearance in episode two when it showed up in a glass box in New York City and ripped apart a young couple while they were in the middle of having sex, and then again in episode 8 where it vomits up eggs that contain the fly-like creatures and the spirit of Bob (an evil entity from the Black Lodge who possessed Laura Palmer’s father, causing him to repeatedly rape her for years). Given all that, Lynch is setting up an epic showdown between the forces of good and evil for the finale of “Twin Peaks.” However, evil, in the Lynchian world, takes many forms (as does good), and while many viewers of the show love to engage in a deep analysis of “Twin Peaks” and its breadcrumbs of mysteries, the evils of corporate capitalism also take many forms.

In episode 13, the smiling face of an evil form of capitalism manifests itself in Norma’s boyfriend, Walter. Though we don’t know the exact details, we do know that Norma has gone into partnership with a group of investors (with Walter as the lead investor) and opened a chain of Double R Diners– though they are known as “Norma’s Double R.” Walter mentions that while the other Double R Diners are making money, the one in Twin Peaks is losing money. The problem? Norma spends too much on pie ingredients.  When Norma complains that her pie recipes at the other Double R Diners aren’t as good, Walter tells her, in essence, that he had them cheap out on ingredients (i.e., “tweaked” Norma’s “formula”). Moreover, Walter suggests that Norma do the same for her pies “to ensure consistency and profitability.” She protests by saying that what makes her pies so good is that she only uses fresh, organic ingredients, but Walter has spreadsheets and “agreements” (i.e., contracts) to bend her artistry to the needs of the Board of Directors.

In a way, small scale capitalism is presented by Lynch as more authentic, quirky (see Nadine’s Run Silent, Run Drapes store), and a source of greater independence — though it can come at a cost. Case in point is Ed’s gas station. He’s been running his “Gas Farm” for a long time now, but it seems it’s a lonely venture where sometimes you sit by yourself and eat a cup of soup from the Double R while waiting for someone to roll in and buy gasoline. But that’s the dual nature of Lynch’s world. Lynch has often said the way he constructs his films allows for various interpretations. And while he certainly has things to say in his films and TV shows, it’s up to the viewer to derive meaning from them. Often when pressed to answer questions like “What does it all mean?” Lynch is evasive. He says the visual language he uses in his work (also known as “the language of film”) is gives viewers the opportunity to answer “What does it all mean” questions in their own way. Instead of translating the language of film into spoken language, he’d rather let the work speak for itself. Most artists are loath to explain their work. If they have to, it means that they’ve somewhat failed to present their work in a meaningful way. So while I think Lynch certainly has an ax to grind against the forces of corporate capitalism (he did, after all, work in the Hollywood system where every sort of weasel “producer” probably had “notes” for him to “tweak” his work to “ensure consistency and profitability”), the critique of that system — and linking it to evil — comes out in the most blunt ways throughout the series. The hammer Lynch is using in “Twin Peaks” is one that, like Dr. Amp’s gold shovels, is trying to illuminate the “shit” we’re all in — but Lynch also longs for a romanticized view of his 1950s upbringing. That longing has been a consistent theme in much of Lynch’s film and TV work, and if “Twin Peaks: The Return” is Lynch’s swan song, he seems to want to make clear that while he’s not against someone making a buck, they shouldn’t have to become evil to do it.  

ALBUM REVIEW: ANDY PRATT, “Horizon Disrupted”

Once again, the city of Chicago is on the radar with this debut release from singer-songwriter Andy Pratt.  This young talent mixes jazz, folk and some classical overtones in his very heady mix with his very cinematic lyrical stylings.  This is one of those rare albums that immediately enter your imagination upon first listen and for someone who is on his first release, it’s a very promising beginning.

Starting with the haunting and staggeringly lovely opening track, “Will You Be The One Tonight?”, I’m struck by the old-fashioned cafe jazz sound, the orchestration and the Sinatra/Como/Bennett type of arrangement – in many ways, this reminds me of the earliest experiments by The Style Council, which isn’t too far off the mark.  Add a very well-placed, simply twangy guitar solo and it’s magic.  The sweet guitar lullaby opening of “She’s Gotten In To My Dreams” offsets the rather humorous vocal delivery (shades of Jimmy Durante to these ears); the slow dance tempo of “Somewhere Down The Road” sends me (visually) to a smoky nightclub where people are swaying slowly as the musicians carry them from the bandstand.  The title track, “Horizon Disrupted” is exquisite with its stripped down performance (who doesn’t love brushed drums?) and “Through The Rain” closes this collection in a perfect manner – from quiet guitar and voice to full orchestra – another musical film – a rainy street at dusk comes to mind and a nod to Scott Walker.

This is beyond impressive; it’s one to savor and come back to time and again.  If this is any indication of what Andy Pratt can do, then I’m prepared to chomp at the bit for his next effort.  Full marks and a tip of the hat for doing something instantly classic.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Horizon Disrupted is currently available

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REVIEW: Dead Cross – S/T

Mike Patton has never fronted a band like this.

The Faith No More frontman, known by most of the populace alive in the 80s and 90s for a rap-rock song about masturbation (the epic “Epic”), has been at the helm of some pretty aggressive groups. His time in Fantomas and his EP providing vocals for The Dillinger Escape Plan should give him street cred in that regard. But Dead Cross is a different beast.

A punk outfit in a slightly more traditional sense than Fantomas (I use that phrase with hesitation), the quartet borrows from its forebears on its Ipecac debut – particularly guitarist Justin Pearson’s time in The Locust and drummer Dave Lombardo’s tenure with Slayer. But anyone expecting a mash-up of Plague Soundscapes by way of “Rain In Blood” will be disappointed. The LP slashes and burns, and leaves plenty of scorched Earth, but it is nowhere as bombastic or explosive as either of those bands. Instead, Patton and company (the band is filled out by Michael Crain of Retox on bass) stew a throttling mix of punk and hardcore, with the occasional diversion into more textured terrain (the catchy “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”).

Songs like “Grave Slave” are blistering stuff, thanks in part to Patton’s shrill caterwaul , but the band is at its best when Pearson, the real star here, lets loose and gets angular, as on the awesomely delicious hardcore blast “Idiopathic.” This being Patton, yes, yes, there’s plenty of crooning and multi-tracking to go with the wails, but his signature brand of high drama doesn’t distract from the vitriol.

Metalheads will fall in love with the crunchy thrash of “The Future Has Been Cancelled,” with Pearson’s awesome guitar breakdown at the 20-second mark and Patton’s occasionally breathless bark. And everyone will love the album-closing “Church of the Motherfuckers,” a throbbing dirge that’s thick with drama and features some of Patton’s best roars on the record. All in all, these guys have nailed down a hell of a debut. Get on the rails so it can run you over.

-30-

ALBUM REVIEW: KORBY LENKER, “Thousand Springs”

There’s quite a number of stories that go along with the songs behind Korby Lenker’s newest album, Thousand Springs, which is the seventh release from this East Nashville-based singer-songwriter.  This album was recorded in a number of different places and locations that were not recording studios – his guitar and vocals were done at the edge of the Snake River Canyon, a cabin north of Sun Valley and in his undertaker father’s mortuary, to name a few.  It’s a highly personal album and the warmth exuded through the songs and his vocal delivery shows this very clearly.

“Northern Lights” is a sweet, slow and very calm piece, steered by acoustic guitars and Mr. Lenker’s restrained, yet emotionally reaching voice; “Friend And A Friend” is a taut but upbeat shuffle including a very on-the-one duet vocal duet with Molly Tuttle, who co-wrote the song with Mr. Lenker; “Nothing Really Matters” moves at a very quick pace, considering the underplaying is a perfect contrast and contradiction – again, his voice is something of a marvel here, almost akin to a young Paul Simon and ripe with neat banjo and fiddle fills.  “Uh Oh” is also something of a mournful track, but has a certain uplift to it; “Love Is The Only Song” is a powerful piano driven piece, carried mainly by Mr. Lenker’s voice and piano but later filled in by cello and Angel Snow’s vocal harmony and “Mermaids” is as close to “pop” as you can get on this album and it’s a steady piece with harmonies, a subdued trumpet and a melody that makes you sway along.

Being that this is Korby Lenker’s seventh album, I can only hope that this is his lucky number because this is one of those albums that should not be missed.  It’s an album to enjoy on a summer night or to keep you feeling right when it’s cold.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Thousand Springs is available now

https://www.korbylenker.com/

Soul Serenade: Richard Berry And The Pharaohs, “Louie Louie”

If Richard Berry had only done that one thing in his life it would have been more than enough. What is that one thing? Well in 1955 Mr. Berry wrote a little song called “Louie Louie” and two years later he recorded it with his group, the Pharaohs. It was released by Flip Records as a B-side to Berry’s cover of “You Are My Sunshine.” It was a hit, albeit a minor one, regionally, selling 130,000 copies.

Obviously, Berry’s song has a history that has lived on far beyond that original recording. In fact, it lives on to this day. But let’s talk about the composer before we get back to the song. Berry was born near Monroe, Louisiana but brought up from the time he was a baby in Los Angeles. He badly injured a hip as a child and was on crutches until he was six. While at a summer camp for crippled children Berry took up his first instrument, the ukulele.

At Jefferson High School, Berry harmonized in the hallways along with many other students, and that led to him recording with a number of doo-wop groups including the Penguins, the Cadets, the Chimes, the Crowns, and several others. He eventually landed in the Flairs in 1953, and sang bass on their single, “She Wants to Rock,” which was produced by none other than Lieber and Stoller, and released on Modern Records.

It wasn’t much later when Lieber and Stoller were recording the Robins and needed a bass voice for their “Riot in Cell Block #9.” They remembered Berry, and although uncredited (because he was under contract with Modern), that’s Berry singing on the ominous introduction to the hit, which was released on Spark Records. That wasn’t the last hit that Berry, uncredited, sang on. That’s him on Etta James’ first hit “Wallflower (Dance With Me, Henry).” He sang with several other groups including the Arthur Lee Maye and the Crowns, and a group called the Dreamers, who eventually became the Blossoms.

Richard Berry

By 1954, Berry was done with the Flairs. He formed his own group which he called the Pharaohs. But in between the Flairs and the Pharaohs Berry worked with a group called Rick Rillera and the Rhythm Rockers. Inspired by the Latin rhythms of their song “El Loco Cha Cha,” and not a little bit by Chuck Berry’s “Havana Moon,” Berry began work on a new song. He wrote down the lyrics, inspired by Sinatra’s “One for My Baby” according to Berry, on a piece of toilet paper before a show one night.

It took six years, and the controversy of an FBI investigation into the song’s lyrics, until “Louie Louie” became a huge hit. Alas, it wasn’t Berry’s version that struck gold, but one by a group called the Kingsmen. Worse yet, Berry had sold the copyright back in 1959 for $750 because he needed the money to pay for his wedding. So although “Louie Louie” has been recorded over 1,000 times, Berry has seen very little of the money.

“Everybody sold their songs in those days,” Berry said in 1993. “I never was bitter with the record companies. They provided a vehicle for five young black dudes to make a record.”

Berry didn’t stop writing songs however and one of them, “Have Love, Will Travel,” became a regional hit for the Sonics and has inspired a number of cover versions including one by the Black Keys in 2003.

By the mid-1980s Berry was living on welfare in his mother’s house in Los Angeles. When a company called California Cooler wanted to use “Louie Louie” in a commercial and needed Berry’s approval to do so. The company located Berry and sent a lawyer to see him. The lawyer convinced Berry that he could win back the rights to the song that he had sold so long ago. Berry went to court and the settlement made Berry, at long last, a millionaire.

Berry continued to play shows into the ’90s, even reuniting with his Pharaohs in 1996 for a benefit concert in L.A. Unfortunately his health began to decline around that time and he passed away the following year at the age of 62.

“Louie Louie” is the most recorded song in rock history. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame called it one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, and the song entered the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. In addition to the countless honors and widespread recognition, Richard Berry’s birthday, April 11, is now celebrated as International Louie Louie Day.

Newport Folk 2017 – Setting the Standard for Festivals

The esteemed Newport Folk Festival was back this year with an impressive line-up of artists – from traditional folk genres to more modern interpretations. The three-day Festival was held in the Revolutionary-era seaside fort it has called home since the 1980’s, Fort Adams State Park in Newport, RI.

L.A. Salami (Photo: Nikki Vee)

And while the headline of the festival might be stories like the (surprise) appearance of Roger Waters sitting in on a John Prine set, or Nathaniel Rateliff filling the “unannounced” block, several of the “newer” artists left a significant impression with powerful performances. Approaching its 60th anniversary, the Festival is all about good vibes, which infected all present.

Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff (Photo: Nikki Vee)

Popdose was there all weekend – we bring you some highlights with photos from Nikki Vee and Ken Abrams. It’s physically impossible to get to every stage, so we couldn’t cover it all, but we did get around to hear most of it, and what we saw was impressive.

The celebrated festival founded by George Wein in the waterfront Rhode Island town is known for many things – Pete Seeger’s longtime stewardship, Dylan going electric in ’65, almost going belly-up a few years ago and then a renaissance more recently. The Festival now sells out in minutes, even before any artists are announced. In fact, in interviews, Festival Executive Producer Jay Sweet is semi-serious when he suggests he’d like to run a festival without any pre-announced acts on the schedule … we digress.

The three-day festival began on Friday July 28th, a day that highlighted Indie artists – many who were first timers at the Festival. We were especially impressed with sets from new bands including L.A. Salami and The Seratones, as well as returning veterans Fleet Foxes.

Rhiannon Giddens (Photo: Nikki Vee)

Saturday July 29th featured well know headliners like Wilco, the Avett Brothers and Drive-By Truckers. All played inspiring, well-received sets, but many other highlights, both Saturday and Sunday, were the collaborations between artists that happened at Newport.

Newport is a place to hear the best covers, some done as part of regular artist setlists, some thrown together at the last minute. Most come off sounding great, if occasionally rough around the edges. They included a set of Chuck Berry tunes in honor of the late guitar slinger. Standouts from that set included appearances by Kam Franklin and Jim James, as well as Nathanial Rateliff doing “You Can Never Tell” and Deer Tick’s Dennis Ryan version of “Run, Rudolph, Run.”

The “Grandma’s Hands Band” was a special set dedicated to the music of R&B/Soul genius Bill Withers. Anchored by Hiss Golden Messenger and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, several artists covered Withers classics along with less familiar tunes. Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff was strong on “Grandma’s Hands” and Drive-By Truckers Patterson Hood covered “I Can’t Right Left Handed,” a protest song from the Viet Nam era. Natalie Prass was superb on “Lovely Day,” as was Vernon on “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

Hiss Golden Messenger (Photo: Nikki Vee)

The “Speak Out” block on Sunday was especially memorable. The set consisted of artists collaborating on various protest songs. The music began with a brooding “Saints Go Marching In” followed by the National Anthem from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Louisiana singer Kyle Craft then totally aced David Bowie’s “Heroes,” providing a moment of major uplift for the crowd.

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco (photo: Ken Abrams)

Other highlights of the “Speak Out” set included Billy Bragg covering Anais Mitchell’s “Why We Build a Wall,” and Sharron Van Etten singing a somewhat obscure, but quite timely Sinead O’Conner classic “Black Boys on Mopeds.” Margo Price was excellent on “Working Class Hero” and Nathaniel Rateliffe rocked hard on Creedence’s “Fortunate One.” Overall, the set was a major Festival highlight.

The Festival finale on Sunday featured a brilliant set from John Prine and friends. He was joined by other artists including previously mentioned Jim James, Justin Vernon, Nathaniel Rateliff, and Margo Price on a delightful version of “In Spite of Ourselves.” His storytelling, full of quirky characters, life’s challenges and humorous moments, sent everyone home yearning for more. Once again, the Newport Folk Festival proved itself the standard upon which others should be measured.

Scroll down for more photos from the 2017 Newport Folk Festival.

 

Michael Kiwanuka (photo: Nikki Vee)
Mt. Joy (photo: Nikki Vee)
The Wild Reed (photo: Ken Abrams)

 

Big Thief (photo: Nikki Vee)
Hiss Golden Messenger (photo: Nikki Vee)
Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers (photo: Ken Abrams)

 

Preservation Hall Jazz Band (photo: Ken Abrams)
Suzanne Vega (photo: Nikki Vee)
Nathaniel Rateliff (photo: Ken Abrams)

ALBUM REVIEW: MARK BRYAN, “Songs Of The Fortnight”

This is just so, so good, I’m not sure how or where to begin.  I had the pleasure of working with Hootie & The Blowfish during my years at Atlantic Records and you couldn’t imagine a nicer group of musicians (as well as their management).  Confessedly, that was what made me a fan – aside from the fact that their third album, 1998’s Musical Chairs was a head-turner and knockout.  But here we are, 19 years later, and now founding guitarist Mark Bryan is stepping out with his third solo album, Songs Of The Fortnight.

The album’s lead-single, “Forgetting About Me” has a swirling keyboard that reminds me of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” (!) and is a driving, full-on pop masterpiece – catchy and memorable, with a propulsive bass line.  “Mybabyshe’salright” goes 100 m.p.h. and is a fantastic way to open up this album – and to make you sit up and take notice – and the harmonies are on-the-one; “A Song For Maryland” (quite apt as that’s where Mr. Bryan originally hails from) is a slower but no less poppier piece that has a yearning sense of nostalgia mixed with wry lyrics and “A Little Bit Of Everything” is a piano driven, jaunty piece that has a very ’70’s kind of arrangement.  “The Great Beyond” could be considered the “Americana”-oriented track with its acoustic guitars and violins and a slightly country-fied delivery; “Only Love Can Satisfy” can be looked as a nod to soul with a deliciously subtle organ undertone and very restrained drumming and “Sweet Love” is as radio friendly as any artist can pen, with a wonderfully balanced vocal duet between Mr. Bryan and singer Kathy Dempf.

Eleven enormously enjoyable songs that make you hum, hit repeat and after a while, sing along with.  Mark Bryan is a damned fine performer in his own right and this kind of album should not be overlooked – it’s as warm as a Charleston night and equally rich in color and melody.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Songs Of The Fortnight will be released on Friday, August 11th, 2017

https://www.markbryanmusic.com/