Peter Lacey "Thru a Glass Brightly"-Pink Hedgehog Records -
While Peter Lacey’s first album, “BEAM!” was a great album, his second album “Thru A Glass Brightly” excels on a different level. Sure, there are those trademark Peter Lacey melodies and familiar, textured rhythms. The sometimes-oblique lyrics that give you a different meaning every time you hear the songs. But, TAGB presents a Peter Lacey that is more self-assured and the whole album resonates confidence. Peter’s voice seems more forward this time around. Very cool harmonies throughout that are slightly reminiscent of 10cc. Otherwise, Peter comes into his own on this album and his influences are less direct this time around. You can’t pick a song on this CD and say, “that has a McCartney sound…or that sounds like Brian Wilson influence”. Peter’s mastery of melody really shines on this album and becomes his own sound. “Inspiration” is the example of his seemingly effortless delivery of pure pop ecstasy.
And then there are the unexpected surprises on this album. “The Sparkle Room” starts with a grand piano, later breaking into psychedelia complete with backwards instruments! As with BEAM!, Peter explores the acappela song, but this time on “The Tower”, he takes an almost monk-like chant approach. Multi-instrumentalist Peter “paints” his sound masterpiece with carefully chosen, effective instruments. Throughout the album, the listener is taken on a journey with some instruments that are easily identified and some that make you wonder. The most startling song on the album is “Cloud Gathering”- an experimental, sound potpourri which starts with echo drenched harmonies. A music box slowly fades in; tones and rhythms enter and exit. I could devote a whole essay to this album, dissecting and analyzing it. But, the beauty of Peter’s music is that it really does give you something different each time you hear it.
Mr. Lacey has achieved what many fail on their sophomore album. Instead of a BEAM!, PART II, he has delivered a artistic PROGRESSION. Truly stunning!
To go to the Pink Hedgehog Records web site click here
Suicide Cat "Food For Thought"-Pink Hedgehog Records -
Don’t be confused by the name SUICIDE CAT. This is really the unplugged version of GARFIELDS BIRTHDAY! I just want to give credit where credit is due. With each release by the band, they up-the-ante on their quality of songs. This go around, they’ve been eating their songwriting Wheaties, because there isn’t a bad song on this album. Stripped to their unplugged presentation, the songs HAVE to be great with the (mostly) simple accompaniment of acoustic guitars and vocals. Especially if the whole album is ‘unplugged’, as in this case. Suicide Cat rises to the challenge, not only delivering excellent songs, but also adding flawless performance delivery. My only complaint would be the lack of a lyric sheet with the CD, as the British pronunciation is sometimes hard for us ‘yanks’ to understand.
Shimmering beauty in their simplicity, the songs are really enhanced by the growth of the bands vocal harmony ability. “Slumberland Blues” is simply spine tingling, and it made me hit ‘repeat’ several times on my CD player. “We Know Your Name” uses middle period, Beatle-esque harmony to great effect. The psychedelic “Pet Hens” is the only song that deviates from the basic approach, with its piano and distorted voice…but, it still works. “Song For Cigarette Smokers” has tongue in cheek lyrics such as, “I don’t like virtue and I don’t like apathy, baby take a ride with me”.
With an album like this, you can only wonder about the next Garfields Birthday album. My critique of their first album was that they needed more harmonies – and now they’ve got them in spades! I also said that the songs on the first album weren’t consistent – and now here’s a whole album of consistently good songs!
Have I mentioned that this album is on the Pink Hedgehog label? Well, for my money, its one of the rising stars of indie record labels. With a roster consisting of Garlfields Birthday, Cheese and Peter Lacey (just to name a few), you can’t loose!!! To go to the Pink Hedgehog Records web site click here
Moonbabies "We're Layabouts EP"-Duckweed Records -
Continuing where "June and Novas" left off, the record-aholic Moonbabies have released a mini-montage of their continuing psychedelic vision. The start off song on this EP is "We're Layabouts", the catchy & infectious pop song found on Moonbabies previous "June and Novas". We're Layabouts EP. It's a remix of the song with a cool surprise psychedelic ending. The instrumental, "Cherry Blossoms" mixes looped backward guitar with a trance-like drum pattern. "Blue" features those alluring Carina vocals to a sleepy, yet seductively beautiful melody. This song alone is worth getting the CD. The song segue's into another instrumental. "Olympian Heights", featuring surrealistic sound of images and color sounds, delving into Pink Floyd-style psychedelia. The EP ends with a spectacular version of "Happy When Smile", a song resurrected from their early cassette compilations. I hope Moonbabies continues the trend of re-recording their old classics, they are one of the few bands that can re-record their songs to even greater effect.
This is perfect to ward off those Moonbabies hunger pangs until their next aural painting is released!
To go to Duckweed Records web page for Moonbabies click here
13 Stories "Preview to a Pop Album" -Indie Release -
Note: This is a sampler of the upcoming full-length 13 Stories CD, due this fall.
YOU FUNK D'FY ME!!! I shouldn't have given this CD a rating, since it’s a preview to the upcoming 13 Stories CD. But I really liked it, hence the rating. On "Preview to a Pop Album", the band has trimmed down the best of last year's "Naked Picnic" CD and added two really kicking songs. The repeats are: "Lexi Sterling", "Temporary Tattoo" and "Playtown". The two new songs are actually the funkiest, and the band is really hitting its groove on these tunes. "After School Special" finds 13 Stories reaching an almost a Red Hot Chili Pepper's funk, and the style suits them! The gem on this disc is "Funk D'fy Me", guaranteed to warrant repeated plays! The song touches on some disco effects (really cool whistle!)
and displays some wicked guitar works.
This disc pretty much sums up the best of the band, and it really sets up the expectations for the next CD! 13 Stories perfectly captures the best of modern funk with enough originality to dismiss any "retro" label.
So, get Funk D'fied with the 'white chocolate funk' of 13 Stories!
YOU FUNK D'FY ME!!! I shouldn't have given this CD a rating, since it’s a preview to the upcoming 13 Stories CD. But I really liked it, hence the rating. On "Preview to a Pop Album", the band has trimmed down the best of last year's "Naked Picnic" CD and added two really kicking songs. The repeats are: "Lexi Sterling", "Temporary Tattoo" and "Playtown". The two new songs are actually the funkiest, and the band is really hitting its groove on these tunes. "After School Special" finds 13 Stories reaching an almost a Red Hot Chili Pepper's funk, and the style suits them! The gem on this disc is "Funk D'fy Me", guaranteed to warrant repeated plays! The song touches on some disco effects (really cool whistle!) and displays some wicked guitar works.
This disc pretty much sums up the best of the band, and it really sets up the expectations for the next CD! 13 Stories perfectly captures the best of modern funk with enough originality to dismiss any "retro" label. So, get Funk D'fied with the 'white chocolate funk' of 13 Stories!
Paul McCartney "Driving Rain"-Capitol Records -
I remember the promises of the '80s and '90s when it came to Paul McCartney albums. Aside from a few great songs per album, Paul seemed to be in a rut. The media machine always promised, "Paul’s next release will be a truly ROCK record". But, it never seemed to pan out...until NOW. Paul's choice of backing musicians really give DRIVING RAIN that "ROCK" feel which have been sorely missed for the last two decades. Plus the songs have an underlying personal theme to the lyrics, which give them more impact. This album is Paul's WHITE ALBUM, with a diversity and experimentation that isn't normally shown on a Paul McCartney album.
The opening track, "Lonely Road" sets the tone for this album. From the opening dark bass notes to the final feedback on this song, you immediately know that this isn't your average McCartney album. Macca hasn't rocked this hard in years! This song contains personal lyrics, which Paul has seldom shown as opposed to John Lennon, who had no trouble showing his feelings in lyrics. "From A Lover To a Friend" is a ballad that is reminiscent of middle-period Wings, but again with personal lyrics. Paul has no shortage of inspiration, with the loss of long-time wife Linda McCartney and his new love and fiancée, Heather Mills. In many ways, DRIVING RAIN is Paul's PRIMAL SCREAM album, where he confronts many of his thoughts in a musical way. The heavy, "She's Given Up Talking" follows with its distorted guitars, feedback and synth riffs, which recall "Band on the Run". The title track of the album, "Driving Rain" has to be my immediate favorite. It's a haunting, yet catchy melodic song. I must admit, when I heard the live version of this song a few months ago, I was NOT impressed. But Paul's studio approach turns what I thought was an average song into a song that permeates your consciousness. Even the bubblegum rock "counting" lyrics can't bring down this song. The soothing "I Do" reminds me of "Blackbird" with drums, piano and orchestration. It is a reflective song, with its "live is never easy" lyrics. Although the lyrics and the melody of "Tiny Bubble" is somewhat...plain, the song is made interesting by a driving organ and a guitar solo which sounds like it came straight off McCARTNEY [his first solo album]. A heartfelt ode to Heather, "It Must Have Been Magic" tells of their first meeting. This is the inspiration of a thousand rock 'n roll songs and Paul gives it that special signature "McCartney" sound. It is complete with a "Strawberry Fields" like fade-and reprise which works well, with an almost Keith Moon type drumming! The laid back, country blues of "Your Way" makes you think of Paul's 1974 Nashville recordings, especially with its pedal steel. You think that "Spinning On An Axis" is a typical McCartney ballad...until about 15 seconds into the song, where it breaks into a funky groove. This ain't yer typical McCartney song. "About You" is another hard-rocking raver, which shows that Sir Paul can indeed still rock! The guitars haven't been this hard edged and biting since...well, can't remember when. "Heather” follows [No, this isn't the 1968 White Album song called "Heather"], and at first you think that the song is one of those trademark instrumentals that Paul does so well like the "Rockestra" theme. But then the vocals come in two minutes into the song. This is classic McCartney with a new twist. Paul's fantastic blues-voice is showcased on "Back In The Sunshine Again". The biting guitars on this song give it an air of blues authenticity, which Paul hasn't always been able to convey. The touching, beautiful power-ballad, "Loving Flame" is another song for Heather. Its really cool to see Macca inspired by another love. "Riding Into Jaipur", with its Indian flavour helps give this album its diverse, WHITE ALBUM feel. The ten-minute-plus "Rinse The Raindrops Alright" is the final track. With its guitar-jam feeling, I can't wait to see this song live [keep your fingers crossed for a new Macca tour!].
DRIVING RAIN isn't as commercially accessible as Paul's mid-'70s albums, but we don't really need a re-hash of Wings anyway. It does show an artist who is willing to experiment, and after close to 40 years of recording that really says something!
ELO "Zoom"-Epic Records -
Sometimes you've just gotta be cruel to be kind. This CD is a piece of crap for two reasons. First, don't be fooled by the "ELO" tag to this CD, it is basically a Jeff Lynne solo album, nothing more! Sure, Jeff was the leader of the band during their glory years, but he is NOT ELO. I have a sneaking suspicion that they called this an "ELO" album because the sales of Jeff's first solo album were so pathetic. One glance at the liner notes will make this glaringly apparent as Mr. Lynne is credited with: lead vocals, backing vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, piano, keyboards, bass, drums, etc. He did have a little help from Ringo and George Harrison on a few tracks. Maybe it was a guilt-trip, since Mr. Lynne produced the THREETLES (a.k.a. the '90s version of the Beatles) on "Free as a Bird".
Second, for all those who remember the glory years of ELO, they were a superb SINGLES band. There is nothing on this album strong enough to be considered a single. After repeated listens, I couldn't remember one song! Plus, only a few songs really have that trademark ELO sound. Most sound like out-takes from George Harrison/Tom Petty/Ringo Starr solo albums. I guess that Mr. Lynne has produced so many other artists that he no longer knows how to produce himself (or ELO for that matter).
Please excuse me, I'm going to find my old vinyl copy of ELO's GREATEST HITS...
The Monkees "The Monkees Music Box"-Rhino Records -
It’s 2001 and the Monkees are back. Yet again. Between the endless cycles of reunion tours, reunion albums, reunion TV specials, and reunion feuds, it’s easy to overlook the fact that our aging pre-fab heroes were once, well, if not exactly vital, then definitely worthy of all the subsequent nostalgia-fueled hype heaped on them. And that nostalgia is why Rhino Records has placed so much attention to the band’s back catalogue in recent years, from reissuing all of the band’s original albums and TV epsodes to putting the 1968 cult masterpiece film Head and their long-lost 1969 TV special, 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee, back into circulation. Rhino’s latest endeavor, The Monkees Music Box, is more than simply an update of 1991’s Listen To The Band collection – it’s testimony to the Monkees’ oft-overlooked musical output and the talent within responsible for it.
Each of the four discs in Music Box can stand alone as remarkably cohesive albums in their own right, though none more than the first one. Disc One spans the sessions for their first two albums, recorded during the latter half of 1966. Created under the supervision of Don Kirschner, the material here is largely written by Brill Building songwriters and almost exclusively performed by studio musicians, with the Monkees themselves only contributing vocals and occasional rhythm guitar. That said, the 1966 material on display here is prime garage-pop delivered with heart and enthusiasm and hand-picked so as not to include some of their more dire early tracks (i.e. “The Day We Fall In Love”, “Laugh”). “Last Train To Clarkesville”, “I’m A Believer”, and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone) provided the hits from this phase, but the true gems include “Saturday’s Child,” Neil Diamond’s “(Look Out) Here Comes Tomorrow,” and the Mike Nesmith-penned “Papa Gene’s Blues” and “Mary, Mary”.
Disc Two documents the Monkees’ well-documented music revolt, where Nesmith threatened to quit unless the band was given musical control. Gone were Kirschner, Diamond, Boyce & Hart, and the studio-pros; instead, we’re presented with the Monkees themselves. Wielding their own instruments for the first time, the band is shamelessly amateurish but has more than enough enthusiasm to compensate for their shortcomings. From “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” and “All Of Your Toys” (presented here in stereo for the first time, collectors) through the Headquarters album, the first half of Disc Two is, as has been noted, testimony to the sheer joy of creating music.
The second half of Disc Two focuses on the Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones , which blended the D.I.Y. aspects of Headquartes with the studio professionalism of the 1966 output. The results include some of the most accomplished moments of the Monkees’ musical career, effortlessly genre-hopping from straight pop to psychedelia to country twang. “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, “Daydream Believer”, and “Love Is Only Sleeping” are three of the more popular examples, though “Goin’ Down”, “Daily Nightly”, and “What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ Round” are perhaps better examples of a band peaking in its power and creativity.
And on we go to 1968/69 with Disc Three and the first half of Disc Four, which covers The Birds, The Bees, And The Monkees, the Head soundtrack, and the post-Peter Tork albums Instant Replay and The Monkees Present. By now, the term “band” could no longer really apply to the Monkees – instead, all four members were essentially pursuing solo careers under the guise of the “Monkees” name. This meant more mainstream pop from Davy Jones, more acid-folk from Peter Tork, more demented blue-eyed soul from Micky Dolenz, and more country-rock from Mike Nesmith. All are original in their own way, though the styles are far to divergent to create a cohesive late ‘60s Monkees sound. That said, there’s no way one can leave out the Eastern-tinged “Can You Dig It?,” the majestic “Porpoise Song”, the bizarre “Auntie’s Municipal Court,”or the transcendent “Listen To The Band” off any list of their finest work.
And then, half way through Disc Four, the wheels fall off. 1970’s Changes (featuring only Dolenz and Jones) brings the limp schlock of “Oh My My” and “I Love You Better”. Then, after a couple of more pit-stops, it’s on to Reunion #1, the polished ‘80s gloss of “That Was Then, This Is Now,” and the astonishingly bad Pool It! Album – the one notable exception being 1987’s ridiculously catchy “Heart & Soul”. And just when you think it couldn’t get any worse? Enter the stupendously awful Justus, 1996’s entry notable for two reasons: the fact that Nesmith was finally back in the fold after almost thirty years and because nobody could have expected the results to be so shockingly bad. If you like your Monkees to sound like a watered-down hybrid of Jimmy Buffet and Nirvana . . . well, I’m hoping you’re not reading this review, because you frighten me.
But there’s no way the last 10 or so songs can ruin the 80-odd gems contained in The Monkees Music Box. In addition to making a great story, Micky, Davy, Peter, and Mike’s battle for creative independence left a body of work any artist would be proud of, and any anthology celebrating this legacy should be considered a must-have. You can watch all the crappy E! True Hollywood Stories, Behind The Musics, and shoddy made-for-TV movies you want, but unless you know the music, you’ll never really know the Monkees or what they stood for.
Tizzy "Scary In Adulthood"-Papercut Records -
Tizzy’s “Scary In Adulthood”, the first of the three releases reviewed here from Western Massachusetts’ ever-fertile Pioneer Valley, is a snappy cocktail of pop hooks, delicious harmonies, riff-o-rama guitars, and inventive drumming. Tizzy’s power-pop roots and fuzzed out mid-fi sound create a sound equally reminiscent of Pavement and American Thighs-era Veruca Salt. Jen Stavely shines on vocals, while Joel Boultinghouse’s guitar work and Stavely’s nimble bass nicely complement Teri Morris’ consistently inventive drumming. Their unique sound works best on the storming “Cut Down Fight” and “A Quarter & Counting”, the undeniably pretty “Green & White”, and the fuzzed-out chaos of “Snowman”. Too many nondescript mid-paced tracks tend to bog down the middle of “Scary”, though. That said, Tizzy displays plenty of talent and they’ve got their chops down cold – just a couple of more rockers and one or two fewer mid-tempo songs are all that’s keeping “Scary In Adulthood” from being a great little record.
Spacehog "The Hogyssey"-Artemis Records -
It’s 2001 – and what better way to commemorate it than with a concept album based on the seminal sci-fi flick? Be afraid. That’s right, it’s the year of The Hogyssey. Spacehog, the East Village via Leeds quartet, is back with this, um, ambitious third album. Best known for their one-off ’95 glam-steeped smash “In The Meantime”, Spacehog’s calling card has always been big guitars, big hooks, and the unique power-drawl of vocalist/bassist Royston Langdon (a.k.a. Mr. Liv Tyler). Their debut, Resident Alien, relied too heavily on that formula, with little things like melodies and dynamics taking a back seat to the Big Rock Anthem. 1998’s The Chinese Album, featuring the excellent single “Mungo City”, tried too hard to escape it and, as a result, sounded somewhat aimless. But with The Hogyssey, Spacehog has gelled into a formidable creative force.
“Jupiter’s Moon” kicks off the album with appropriate cosmic vibe before giving way to the storming “This Is America”, which distills two of Spacehog’s trademark qualities – wry wit and an unflagging belief in the Almighty Riff – into 4 minutes of pure power-pop bliss. “I Want To Live” recalls “In The Meantime” (no surprise it’s the album’s first single) and “Earthquake” is the best slice of metal since Redd Kross vanished from the face of the earth. “A Real Waste Of Food” and “Dancing On My Own” mine the same ‘70s psychedelic cave that Supergrass explored on their last album while “Perpetual Drag” shimmers and jangles like something off of Help!. “And It Is” is Stealer’s Wheel’s “Stuck In The Middle With You” exiled on Main St. whereas the title track - Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra done porn soundtrack-style - is both as enjoyable and as patently ridiculous as you’d expect – that is, very. Though it boggles the mind to see how “At Least I Got Laid” fits in with the whole 2001 concept (let’s hope it’s got nothing to do with that damn obelisk), it works, so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. “The Horror” provides a suitably epic finale to one very successful intergalactic transmission.
Don’t get me wrong – the oft-criticized Bowie/Ronson stamp is all over The Hogyssey. And though they’re not strictly retro (as their detractors would like you to believe), Spacehog won’t be redefining the boundaries of 21st Century rock anytime soon, either. But the fact that The Hogyssey sounds ultimately like, well, Spacehog is testament to the fact that this band has finally put all the pieces together and recorded one hell of an enjoyable album.
The Aloha Steamtrain "Now You Know The Aloha Steamtrain"-Strong Ave. Records -
Saving the best for last, we move on to The Aloha Steamtrain and their second album, aptly titled Now You Know The Aloha Steamtrain. The Steamtrain is one of the few bands that can wear their influences on their sleeve yet still sound completely original. Picture mid-period Beatles crossed with XTC with a heaping spoonful of Tom Jones and you’ve got a damn near perfect power pop concoction. Singer/guitarist Lord Russ lends his remarkable pipes to 14 diverse songs, ranging from the baroque to the bizarre. Backed up by Henning Ohlenbusch’s spry bass and excellent backing vocals (clearly the Mike Mills of the band), Joe Boyle’s guitar, and Brian Todd’s incomparable drumming (a hybrid of Keith Moon’s explosiveness and Charlie Watts’ sparseness, if that’s possible), the Aloha Steamtrain is as well-oiled of a machine as their name would suggest. Russ’ lyrics range from the absurd to the shameless to the whimsical, and the same description can be applied to the sound, which shifts gears just as easily from borderline baroque to almost-full-on rocking. Evaluating Now You Know on a song-by-song basis wouldn’t do it justice; it’s the variety that makes this album so damn engaging, but stand-outs include “Misty Paradise” and “Many a Wonderful Thing That Gets Me High”. The only thing lacking is that the power of their live show isn’t fully captured, though that may not actually be possible given Russ’s kinetic performances. All in all, though, it’s reaffirming to see that intelligent, stylish, perfectly executed pop is alive and well on albums like Now You Know The Aloha Steamtrain.
The Mitchells "Contraption"-Small Batch Records -
Up next are Valley stalwarts the Mitchells and their Contraption album, a pleasant if unremarkable collection of 11 songs steeped in the (what now I guess would be considered) “classic” ‘90s indie rock sensibiliy. Vocalist/guitarist Caleb Wetmore leads the band through a largely samey set of tunes – mid-paced, middling songs which lack sufficient melodies and dynamics to differentiate from track-to-track. That’s just a fancy way of saying that most of the songs sound the same. In fact, it’s not until the fifth song, the harried “Zinc Yellow”, that anything really jumps out at the listener. Wetmore and Kayvan Dorian’s wall of guitars on “Criswell” also engages the listener, but the song itself is too unmemorable to create much of an impression. Likewise, the “Train In Vain” drum intro to “Fighting for the good legos” leads into yet another forgettable, dreary track. Same with the guitar work on “Sounded like a 1-5-5” – a nice touch that can’t disguise the structure – or lack thereof – of the song underneath. My advice to the Mitchells? Write better songs and shake it up a bit, because Contraption is, in short, boring.
Beach Boys "Smile-the discREAT Records version"-discREAT Records -
This set is divided into two discs, “Smile” and “Dumb Angels”. “Smile” is basically the album cover tracks, minus all the extraneous extras. Aside from various tweakings to adjust the volumes to consistent levels (and a few small edits), the majority of these tracks (7 out of 12) are the GV BOX versions. “Child Is Father Of The Man” and “The Old Master Painter” are the oft used bootlegs. The version of “I’m In Great Shape” is from the recently released CD-ROM “Project SMiLE”, with an edited ending to get to get a smooth segue to the next song. “The Elements” is an edit constructed using “Barnyard” as the ‘earth’ element, a “Love to Say Da Da” out-take as the ‘air’ element, of course “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow” as the ‘fire’ element and finally the “Water Chant” as the ‘water’ element. I doubt the validity of this edit, but a debate on the Elements would open up a whole new can of worms (no pun intended). “Surf’s Up” is the old Ann Wallace mix, which uses Brian’s voice instead of Carl’s. I disagree with the structure of only two of these tracks, “I’m In Great Shape” and “The Elements”. But, then again, all SMiLE-philes have their own personal preference to what makes up these songs. Hell, even when I asked Brian Wilson point blank about “Shape” and “Air” he was evasive. However, even the inclusion of these debatable tracks does not diminish the validity of this CD. Narrowing SMiLE down to just the 12 album tracks really increases its playability, making it sound a little bit more like and ALBUM than an ‘album wannabee’.
The main problem that has faced SMiLE collections in the past is the “all this and the kitchen sink” syndrome. An example being the release of the horrible “Millenium SMiLE”, complete with 10 minute edits - trying to make the album one of those progressive rock records of the ‘70s. This quandry is solved by creating a second disc, “Dumb Angels”. Basically a rarities/bonus disc, it collects all the out-takes, unused fragments and questionable tracks. I’m glad that the tracks “Look”, “Holidays” and “Love to Say Da Da” have been relegated to the rarities disc. Trying to fit these songs into SMiLE is like fitting the old square peg into a hole.
Finally, the packaging is great with its full color cover, labels, etc. Especially for a non-commercial disc. Of course there is the debate over sound quality of CDR’s versus CD’s. Although this disc is a CDR, the sound quality sounds great to me, but then again I’m not as discriminating when it comes to sound quality. With it’s concise organization and presentation, I’d rate the “discREAT Records’ Smile” up there with some of the most important Smile boots (The Vigotone & GEMA Smile, plus the SOT Volumes 16 & 17). Sure, there are no new rare tracks or unreleased gems. A lot of the tracks have their origin from officially released material, such as the GOOD VIBRATIONS BOX SET. But, if you are interested in Smile and don’t wanna break the bank (or buy the whole GV BOX SET just for the Smile stuff), this is a good starting point.
Interested in getting a copy without paying those outrageous bootleg prices? I’m told you can get a copy of this disc for just the cost of the discs, printing and postage (I was not quoted an exact amount, I guess that depends on your location). Contact discREAT Records at discREATrecords@hotmail.com
The Beach Boys "Hawthorne, CA: Birthplace of a Musical Legacy"-Capitol Records -
Hawthorne, CA: Birthplace of a Musical Legacy is the latest offering from Capitol Records, which is currently in the midst of an extended Beach Boys renaissance that started with 1993’s Good Vibrations five-disc box set. Ostensibly a 40th anniversary tribute, Hawthorne, CA (named after the Wilson brothers’ hometown) is a Beach Boys Anthology of sorts, offering forth 57 tracks of unreleased songs, demos, live recordings, alternate takes, instrumental tracks, dialogue, and other Beach Boys audio ephemera.
And what a collection it is! Spanning from 1961 through the early-‘70s, Hawthorne, CA is an occasionally frustrating but always fascinating stroll through the vaults. Everything from the rehearsal for their very first single (“Surfin’”) through their mid-sixties heyday right up to the post-Smile maturation is covered here – it’s a document of how not only Brian Wilson matured over the years, but his bandmates and brothers as well. Highlights include a cappella versions of “Happy Birthday Four Freshmen,” “Can’t Wait Too Long,” and the astounding vocal work of “Kiss Me, Baby”, as well as the surprisingly rockin’ instrumental tracks of “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and “Fun, Fun, Fun”, two warhorses that benefit greatly from an fresh perspective.
Unlike most Beach Boys collections, Hawthorne, CA is more than just another testimony to the genius of Brother Brian. Each member is has their time in the spotlight – Al Jardine’s “Cottonfields” is a tasty slice of country rock, despite some cringe-inducing lyrics (“lickety-split”?!?); Dennis Wilson, the most musically underrated brother, is represented with a striking vocals-only “Forever” and his classy arrangement of the “Be With Me” backing track.; the recently deceased Carl Wilson shines on the unreleased “Lonely Days”, not to mention an early live rehearsal of “Good Vibrations” and a few truly poignant interview snippets; and the inimitable Mike Love even manages to not make too much of an ass of himself during his various excursions into commentary.
That said, any Beach Boys compilation will inevitably come back to Brian. And Hawthorne, CA is no exception. However, the approach taken here is what truly makes this compilation indispensable and even compensates for two versions of “Barbara Ann”. Welcome to the world of the Stereo Remix. Most of the Beach Boys’ output through the late ‘60s was mixed in mono, largely due to Brian’s Phil Spector infatuation as well as the fact that he’s deaf in one ear and, thus, unable to hear in stereo. Which is truly tragic, because the stereo remixes here (as well as on the Endless Harmony soundtrack and the epochal Pet Sounds Sessions box) are absolutely stunning. Brian’s arrangements are so complex, both instrumentally and vocally, that much of the detail and impact is lost in mono. Hearing the shimmering 12-string guitars of “Dance, Dance, Dance,” the swooning harmonies of “And Your Dreams Come True,” the stop-start audacity that is “The Little Girl I Once Knew,” and the anguished “Let The Wind Blow” in true stereo for the first time is revelatory. But the true gem on Hawthorne, itself alone worth the price of the album, is the stereo remix of “Heroes And Villains,” the intended centerpiece of the aborted Smile album (eventually released on its own as a single in July, 1967). As anti-climactic as the original record may have been, hearing the throbbing rhythms and barber-shop vocals in stereo is jaw-dropping and, what the hell, potentially even life-changing. Yes, it’s that good. This version should finally cement “Heroes And Villains’” place in the pantheon of the greatest rock n’ roll records ever made.
Anybody - from Beach Boys fans to aspiring record producers to casual fans of rock history to just those who can appreciate brilliantly written, produced, and performed music - should buy Hawthorne, CA: Birthplace of a Musical Legacy immediately. It’s an absolutely incredible document of unparalleled mucisianship and talent and testimony to the fact that there’s hell a lot more to the Beach Boys than surfing songs, striped shirts, and lawsuits.