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Too Blessed to Be Stressed
Too Blessed to Be Stressed
Price: $10.99
29 used & new from $7.88

4.0 out of 5 stars +1/2 - Optimistic album of soul and funk, September 17, 2014
Mississippi singer-songwriter Paul Thorn returns with his first album of originals in four years. His previous album, What the Hell is Goin' On?, was stocked with cover songs that essayed Thorn's finely selected influences and showed off his talent for interpretation. Returning to his own pen, Thorn's taken a broader tack in his songwriting. Where his earlier albums tended to autobiography, his latest collection makes a purposeful reach for more universal and upbeat themes. There's personal inspiration in each of these songs, but rather than telling the story of a specific situation, Thorn's dug to each story's roots to express thoughts and feelings that resound easily with each listener's own life.

These songs show Thorn to be an optimist, rather than a Pollyanna. His protagonists look to the sunny side, but they see storms and expect a cloud break rather than an endless stretch of clear weather. He anticipates the healing cures for loneliness rather than cataloging its pains, and he's a clear-eyed romantic who sheds no tears with his goodbyes. As the album's title states, Thorn is "Too Blessed to Be Stressed," and he advises that you "Don't Let Nobody Rob You of Your Joy." That latter message neatly extends into a self-directed resolution as the moral lapse of "I Backslide on Friday" is redeemed by Saturday's reprieve and Sunday's repentance.

The optimism fades into the exasperation of "Mediocrity's King," as Thorn laments the commonness of superstores and oppositional politics, and in its unstated subtext, an apathetic electorate whose dreams of progress have turned into a voracious appetite for cheap prices and mindless entertainment. Thorn's gruff, blue-soul vocals are weary but hopeful, and the album's potpourri of soul, funk, gospel, country and rock recalls the hey-day of Memphis and Muscle Shoals, without ever imitating either one. The road-hewn band finds many deep grooves, and Thorn sings with a smile that shines on you with an optimistic glow. [©2014 Hyperbolium]


How to Stuff a Wild Bikini: Original Stereo Soundtrack
How to Stuff a Wild Bikini: Original Stereo Soundtrack
Price: $13.45
31 used & new from $8.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Charming soundtrack to AIP's sixth beach party film, September 12, 2014
Although pop music was a key element of American International's beach party films, it was surprisingly elusive on record. Perhaps the value of cross-marketing hadn't yet fully developed by the mid-60s, as the music from these films was only spottily released as singles and album tracks, often in studio versions that differed from those featured in the film. In fact, this cast album for [[ASINB0007R4T0I How to Stuff a Wild Bikini]] is the only original soundtrack recording released in conjunction with any of the seven AIP beach party films, but it's an excellent example of the musical variety offered by the films.

By the time this sixth entry in the series was cast, singer-actor Frankie Avalon's busy schedule had moved him into a supporting role, where he was not featured as a vocalist. Annette Funicello was still starring, and got two superb songs from the pens of Guy Hemric and Jerry Styner. Sung in her trademarked double-vocals, "Better Be Ready" has a sweet bubblegum melody and superb guitar hook, and "The Perfect Boy" includes clever rhymes that are memorably fractured by the background singers. The album's ballad, "If It's Gonna Happen," is sung by one-time Arthur Godfrey show regular Lu Ann Simms, but this solo version differs from the four-part vocal heard in the film. The version heard here was also released as a single, backed with a solo recording of this film's group-sung "After the Party."

The bulk of the soundtrack is taken up by group and novelty numbers that gave the film a lot of its flavor. Harvey Lembeck lays on a broad Brooklyn accent for his turn as Eric von Zipper singing "Follow Your Leader" and the ironic "The Boy Next Door," and guest stars Mickey Rooney and Brian Donlevy each get campy Broadway-styled songs. Co-star John Ashley, who'd recorded rockabilly in the '50s, leads the cast on the title theme, the country-rocker "That's What I Call a Healthy Girl" and the closing "After the Party." The latter is particularly effective in communicating the film's idealized summer beach mood. The Kingsmen close out the album with an original garage-rock tune, "Give Her Lovin'," and a drums-and-organ take on the title theme.

The album runs a scant 24 minutes, but it's 24 minutes of musical bliss for fans of the beach party films. The vinyl has long since become a collectors' item, and the rare stereo release - as reproduced here from the master tapes - was hard to find even at the time of its original release. Real Gone's reissue includes the original cover art and a 12-page booklet that features detailed liner notes by Tom Pickles and several full-panel photos. It's a shame that the film version of "If It's Gonna Happen" wasn't available as a bonus track, but for those who maintain a soft spot for beach party films and their kitschy soundtracks, this is a truly welcome reissue. [©2014 Hyperbolium]


Billy Thermal
Billy Thermal
Price: $16.98
34 used & new from $5.75

4.0 out of 5 stars A hit songwriter's long-lost New Wave beginnings, September 10, 2014
This review is from: Billy Thermal (Audio CD)
If you read album credits, you might recognize this little-known band's main man, Billy Steinberg, from the hit singles he's written for everyone from Linda Ronstadt to Demi Lovato. But before penning "How Do I Make You," "Eternal Flame," "True Colors," "I'll Stand By You," "I Touch Myself," and "Like a Virgin," Steinberg started a band, and named it after himself and the town in which his father owned a vineyard. Signed by producer Richard Perry to his new Planet Records label, Steinberg and his guitarist, Craig Hull, produced an album of original material that, save for "I'm Gonna Follow You" (which turned up on the Sharp Cuts compilation) failed to gain Perry's attention. Released from their contract, an EP's worth of tracks (1, 2, 6, 8 and 10) gained indie release in 1982, but the rest was left in the vault.

But even stuck in a vault, the material yielded results, as three of the album's songs and one unreleased demo were picked up by other artists. Ronstadt took "How Do I Make You" to #10 in 1980, Pat Benetar recorded "I'm Gonna Follow You" and "Precious Time," and Rick Nelson waxed a version of "Don't Look at Me" for his last album. The seeds of Steinberg's songwriting success were sewn, but like a lot of songwriters, his dream of making it as a performer was not realized. The album was sharply written, played and produced and today offers itself as a bridge between the power-pop of the Raspberries and Rubinoos and the punchy new wave of the Cars. It's an album you might have found in a cut-out bin and proselytized relentlessly to your friends - Robin Lane & The Chartbusters, anyone? - and it's an album you'd have wished was on CD. And now, finally, it is, and spiced with bonus demos.

This is also an album that should have launched "How Do I Make You" and "I'll Tell You My Dreams" on MTV. Perhaps Planet was too busy with Sue Saad and the Next to push another rock band, or maybe the combination of angular new wave, pop harmonies, punk rock attitude and a few progressive changes wasn't simple enough to market. It's hard to imagine this barrel full of hooks, terrific guitar sounds, punchy drumming and adenoidal vocals wouldn't have found a place alongside the Vapors, Oingo Boingo and XTC. Omnivore's reissue includes a 16-page booklet that features liner notes by Billy Steinberg, lyrics and a few period photos. After a few spins you'll swear Billy Thermal was one of the bands that hooked you into saying "let's just wait for one more video." [©2014 Hyperbolium]


You Used to Live Here
You Used to Live Here
Price: $15.97
2 used & new from $7.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars +1/2 - Trishas vocalist soaks her Texas twang in the Memphis River, September 4, 2014
This review is from: You Used to Live Here (Audio CD)
It takes literally two seconds to feel the Aretha-in-Muscle-Shoals vibe of this disc's opener, "River Girl." The electric piano clues you in and the guitar nails it. And if you somehow still didn't get it, the organ's answer to the piano and the deep soul of the vocal leave no doubt that Kelley Mickwee has returned home to her native South. After five years in Austin as a member of the Trishas, Mickwee's reconnected with the musical sounds of her youth, and the results are every bit as good as you might imagine. In fact, it's startling how much this doesn't sound like Texas music. The bass has a relaxed groove, the guitar tone is thick, and the drums linger even when they lope into a shuffle. The music hangs in the air like humidity and clings to the spiritual qualities of Mickwee's singing.

Mickwee's return to the River City has stirred both musical and life roots, and her songs explore both the overall feel and specific memories of Memphis living. The opener is a declaration of faith that's echoed by the homesick longing of the follow-up, "Take Me Home." Co-writer Kevin Welch adds a tremendous guitar solo to the former, and the latter is given some country flavor by Eric Lewis' pedal steel. Mickwee's passion runs deep, brooding in "You Don't Live Here," beseeching in John Fullbright's "Blameless," and prowling in the sultry "Hotel Jackson." She sings full-throated, like Linda Ronstadt in her Capitol years, and her Austin/Memphis connection provides a double shot of soul. 4-1/2 stars, if allowed fractional ratings. [©2014 Hyperbolium]


Up On The Chair, Beatrice
Up On The Chair, Beatrice
Price: $13.34
22 used & new from $7.02

4.0 out of 5 stars An unexpected communiqué from the mid-90s, September 3, 2014
Susan Cowsill (of the Cowsills) and Vicki Peterson (of the Bangles) wrote and toured together in the mid-90s as the Psycho Sisters, but when Peterson returned to performing with the Bangles, and Cowsill launched a solo career, they left behind only a rare single of "Timberline" (b/w "This Painting"), concert memories, and performances backing Steve Wynn and Giant Sand. Two decades later the pair found coincidental breaks in their schedules and wound the clock back to 1992 with this debut album composed of seven originals written during the years of their initial collaboration, a trio of cover, and a CD booklet illustrated with period photos.

Not surprisingly, the album plays like a long-delayed communiqué from the '90s. Peterson's superb co-write with her future brother-in-law, Bob Cowsill, "Never, Never Boys," could have been one of the better pages of the Bangles' songbook. Peterson's electric guitar and the vocal arrangement reach back to the Bangles' folkier, pre-stardom sound, and the lost-boys theme snapshots a time before Peterson and Cowsill's marriages. The opening cover "Heather Says" reaches back even further to the Cowsills' last album, 1971's On My Side. Written by Waddy Wachtel, the song's story of a grade-school bully lends the adult voices a tone of youthful confusion, and the Cowsills' original harmonies provide baroque inspiration for this duet.

Cowsill and Peterson were in their mid-30s at the start of the Psycho Sisters, and their songwriting highlights a period of transition from carefree youth to more responsible adulthood. Their thirst for boys turned into a yearning for men, and unsettled relationships turned from fun to unfulfilling. The songs are stocked with problematic couplings, but their breakups are less about wounds than growth. A take on Peter Holsapple's "What Do You Want From Me" kisses off and moves on, and Harry Nilsson's "Cuddly Toy," whose cheery tone (and oh-so-dreamy singer) probably trumped its snarky lyrics in the ears of a teenage Susan Cowsill, gains new meaning when sung by women.

One's twenties often reveal the certainty of your teenage years to have been laughable. You realize that you only thought you knew everything in your teens, but now, in your twenties, you really do. Your thirties repeat the cycle, but with a hint of doubt that hasn't yet blossomed into full introspection; if your twenties reveal the truth of your teens, what do your thirties reveal of your twenties? These songs reflect the growing shades of grey brought about by age, and sung by their authors in their fifties, these songs gain both a nostalgic tint and extra decades of emotional patina. It's a rarity to hear artists reflect upon their earlier reflections, and a treat to find Cowsill and Peterson still singing in artistic harmony. [©2014 Hyperbolium]


Play the Swamp Pop Classics, Vol. 1
Play the Swamp Pop Classics, Vol. 1
Price: $3.96

4.0 out of 5 stars Hot covers of four swamp-pop favorites, September 2, 2014
Founding members from two of Louisiana's freshest bands of the past decade - the Red Stick Ramblers and the Pine Leaf Boys - have joined together to produce this four-song salute to swamp pop. Swamp pop is a label given to the late-50s amalgam of southern R&B, soul, doo-wop, country, Cajun and zydeco influences heard in chart hits like Jimmy Clanton's "Just a Dream," Phil Phillips' "Sea of Love" Grace and Dale's "I'm Leaving It Up To You,' and most famous of all (due to Bill Haley's rock 'n' roll cover), Bobby Charles' classic "Later Alligator."

The EP opens with a Cajun-influenced arrangement of "Let the Good Times Roll," that combines accordion, horns and second-line drumming with electric guitar and bass that lean to Chicago R&B. Bobby Charles' "Grow Too Old" brings the R&B focus back to New Orleans, and Jerry LaCroix's "Lonely Room" echoes the '50s vocal thread that runs through many swamp pop originals. The closing "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" is a horns-and-organ soul instrumental juiced with a hot tempo, Blake Miller's accordion, and a sizzling sax solo from the band's newest addition, Chris Miller.

This is available on vinyl from the band's website, or as a digital download from retail; either way, it's sure to heat up your dance party. [©2014 Hyperbolium]


Raven Hotel
Raven Hotel
Price: $16.77
28 used & new from $4.94

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Texas singer-songwriter is a poet and storyteller, August 19, 2014
This review is from: Raven Hotel (Audio CD)
Matt Harlan is a singer-songwriter whose original folk tunes are leavened with country twang and dusted with Texas soul. He's tramped the blue highways of the U.S. and Europe (and written this album's "Raven Hotel" about the ravages of touring), played intimate stages, house concerts and festivals, was lauded as last year's Texas Music Award singer-songwriter of the year, and was featured alongside Guy Clark and Lyle Lovett in the documentary For the Sake of the Song. After a sophomore effort recorded with a Danish backing band, he's returned to Texas to lay down a dozen new originals with help from Bukka Allen, Mickey Raphael and other area luminaries.

Harlan's both a storyteller and a poet, illustrating his stories with memorable similes, and realizing his images with narrative detail. His lyrics of hard times take on the weary tone of Chris Knight, but unlike Knight's often unrelenting bleakness, Harlan's troubles are redeemed by dreams of forgiveness and the possibility of progress. The wounds of "We Never Met" are addressed with a fatalism that points forward, and the haggard trucker's regrets in the superbly drawn "Second Gear" are grounded in hard-worn pride. Social commentary and glances towards the exit are juxtaposed in "Rock & Roll," with an electric backing and matter-of-fact vocal that echoes Dire Straits.

Harlan turns to jazz with "Burgandy and Blue," and to blues with "Slow Moving Train"; the latter features Mickey Raphael's unmistakable harmonica and a duet vocal from Harlan's wife, Rachel Jones. Jones brings a delicate, whisper-edged lead vocal to the free-spirited "Riding with the Wind." The album closes with its most overt declarations of hope and dreams in "The Optimist" and "Rearview Display," though as is Harlan's way, his protagonists are clear-eyed as they contemplate the burdens of both limitations and freedom. This is a deeply written collection, sung with a storyteller's magnetism and a poet's magic. [©2014 Hyperbolium]


Chapter Two
Chapter Two
Price: $5.94

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strong country duets from Nashville husband and wife, July 27, 2014
This review is from: Chapter Two (MP3 Music)
The empathy shared by great duet singers can take your breath away. The ways in which a duo's voices complement, compete and provoke one another, the weaving of a harmony line above, below and around a melody, and the connection of two voices as they race around banked curves make listeners eavesdroppers as much audience. The Nashville-based Carolina Story, Ben and Emily Roberts, is just such a pair, a married couple whose duets bring mind the the Everly Brothers, Richard & Mimi Farina, and the more recent twang of Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs.

The opening pair of tracks from this six-song EP sets the bar high. The first finds the duo rolling along to acoustic guitar, banjo, steel and a light beat as they celebrate the forging of their professional and matrimonial relationships in the crucible of a tour. The follow-on "Crash and Burn" is touched with blues, Dan Dugmore's hard-twanging steel and a vocal that careens into a yodel. As memorable as are their duets, their solo turns on "When I Was Just a Boy" and "The Stranger," show off lyrical voices steeped heavily in emotional reflection.

The set rolls to a close with the irrepressible duets "I Won't Let You Down" and "I'm Gonna Love You Forever." The former would have fit nicely into the 1990s era that found Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patty Loveless and Martina McBride breaking through to radio; the latter is an upbeat love song whose thesis is as direct as the song's title. Paired with last year's Chapter One, these six new tracks extend a partnership whose personal dimensions continue to pay off in artistic wealth. [©2014 Hyperbolium]


Audio With A G: Sounds of A Jersey Boy, The Music of Bob Gaudio (2CD)
Audio With A G: Sounds of A Jersey Boy, The Music of Bob Gaudio (2CD)
Price: $16.28
34 used & new from $11.39

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The man who wrote the Four Seasons to the top of the charts, July 19, 2014
Although Frankie Valli stood out front of the Four Seasons, and his name was prefixed to the group's starting in 1970, the act's commercial success was equally dependent on their long-time songwriter and keyboardist, Bob Gaudio. Gaudio not only played and sang with the group, but he penned the bulk of their biggest hits, including chart-toppers, "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," "Rag Doll," the group's mid-70s comebacks, "Who Loves You" and "December 1963 (Oh What a Night)," and Frankie Valli's solo hit "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." Incredibly, that's just a few of his accomplishments, as he wrote many more singles, B-sides and album tracks for the Four Seasons, and scored hits with several other acts.

Rhino's two-disc set collects thirty-six tracks that sample Gaudio's songwriting, including material from the Four Seasons, Jerry Butler, Chuck Jackson, Cher, Nancy Wilson, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Lene Lovich, Ruthie Henshall, the Royal Teens, Bay City Rollers, Tremeloes, Walker Brothers and Temptations. The Four Seasons material features hits and album tracks, including a pair from the group's Gaudio-Jake Holmes penned 1969 concept album, The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. Perhaps more interesting to Four Seasons fans will be songs Gaudio wrote for or turned into hits for other acts.

The Royal Teens' "Short Shorts" opens the set, as it did Gaudio's hit-making career. The single rose to #3 in 1958 and Gaudio dropped out of high school to tour, meeting Frankie Valli along the way. Gaudio and Valli joined forces in 1960 to form the Four Seasons with Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi, but it took another two years for them to hit with "Sherry." Gaudio wrote many of his hits with producer Bob Crewe, and several of the Four Seasons' songs became hits for other acts. Included in this set are the Tremeloes' "Silence is Golden," which had been the B-side of the Four Seasons' "Rag Doll," and the Walker Brothers' "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore," which had been released in a slower arrangement as a Frankie Valli solo single.

The many covers of Frankie Valli's 1967 hit "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" are represented here by a smokey, soul-jazz version by Nancy Wilson that cracked the charts in 1969 and a 1982 disco remake by Boys Town Gang. The Four Seasons 1975 UK hit, "The Night," is included in both its original version and a non-charting single by Lene Lovich. Reaching farther out are songs that Gaudio wrote for Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone and Diana Ross. Sinatra's tracks are drawn from Watertown, a concept album written by Gaudio and Jake Holmes that married the singer's ability to sound forlorn with the songwriters' pop craft. Ross' tracks date from 1973's underappreciated Last Time I Saw Him, recorded during a period in which the Four Seasons were signed to Motown.

Gaudio's songwriting moved with the times, gaining social consciousness in the mid-60s, striking a deeper personal resonance with Jake Holmes at decade's end, resuscitating the Four Seasons chart fortunes in 1975 with "Who Loves You" and "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)," and surviving then-modern productions for The Temptations and Roberta Flack. He became a successful record producer and writer for soundtracks and musical theater. His stage work is represented here by two songs from the original London cast recording of Peggy Sue Got Married, and three (including "Sherry") from the original cast recording of Jersey Boys. The latter is a project that began with Gaudio's idea of a showcase for the Four Seasons' material, and blossomed into national and international productions and, in parallel with this set (and two others) a feature film.

Compilation producer Charles Alexander has drawn from both mono (tracks 1, 7, 8, 11) and stereo masters, giving listeners a chance to hear two of the Four Seasons biggest hits in the punchy single mixes that dominated AM radio. These two discs (clocking in at just under two hours) cover the commercial highlights of Gaudio's career as a hit-making songwriter. There's more of his craft to be found in the Four Seasons' albums, Frankie Valli's solo releases, and his productions for Eric Carmen, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand and others. The inclusion of the Four Seasons' hits is essential to telling his story, but also likely to duplicate the holdings of this set's primary buyers; then again, with songs this good, who's going to complain? [©2014 Hyperbolium]


r.i.p.
r.i.p.
Price: $14.30
28 used & new from $8.54

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars +1/2 - Previously unreleased final album sees the light of day, July 12, 2014
This review is from: r.i.p. (Audio CD)
One might say that this final, previously unreleased Zombies album is something of a Frankenstein's monster. Constructed after the band's dissolution in 1968, the six previously unreleased Zombies tracks and six new tracks recorded by a prototype of Argent were meant to satiate an American market that had been late to discover "Time of the Season." But the album's pre-release singles ("Imagine the Swan" and "If it Don't Work Out") failed to ignite any commercial interest, and the album was shelved by the American label that had requested it in the first place. The tracks dribbled out on singles, compilations (most notably the double-LP Time of the Zombies and Ace Record's omnibus Zombie Heaven box set) and bootlegs, but an official issue of the original running order from the original master takes had evaded fans until now.

The album, as the last-remaining-Zombies-standing Rod Argent and Chris White conceived it, was neatly split in two: side one was written by Argent and White, and performed by Argent, White, Russ Ballard, Jim Rodford and Bob Henrit, in a line-up soon to be known as Argent; side two was assembled from previously unreleased tracks that had been recorded years earlier by the original group, and brushed up by Argent and White (notably with backing vocals and orchestral touches) for the album. There's a musical seam between the two sides, but the new recordings aren't a complete departure. In fact, they sound like what they actually were: a follow-on to the progressive end-times of the original line-up's Odyssey and Oracle, heavily influenced by the band's keyboardist.

Listeners familiar with the Zombies' hits will immediately resonate with Colin Blunstone's lead vocals and the group's harmonies on side two. These earlier songs also have beat and baroque pop touches that are closely associated with the Zombies original sound. Argent and White's material on side two, sung by Argent, including an organ jam, "Conversation Off Floral Street" (a track that was apparently mislabeled with "of" on the singles of the time), and slinky piano-led "I Could Spend the Day" that speak to the jazz inflections of "Time of the Season." Both album sides have material that is as good as anything the Zombie released during their hit-making tenure, including the singles "Imagine the Swan" and "If It Don't Work Out," featured here in both stereo album and mono single mixes.

Zombies fans probably have most or all of this material on compilations and box sets, but it's still worth hearing the original stereo mixes, in the original sequence, from the album's master tape. The mono single mix of "Don't Cry For Me" (the flipside of "If it Don't Work Out") is offered here for the first time in a digital format, and the mono mix of "Smokey Day" makes its first-ever appearance. Despite the album's cobbled-together origin, this is a volume that belongs on the shelf right next to Begin Here, The Zombies and Odyssey and Oracle, extending the criminally under-rewarded brilliance of the Zombies. [©2014 Hyperbolium]


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