Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Posies - Failure

First, a Happy Birthday wish to David Bash, founder of International Pop Overthrow. Here’s a review of an album I’m willing to bet Mr. Bash has in his collection.

Several years ago while I was interviewing the local power pop trio 92 Degrees for the Illinois Entertainer, vocalist-guitarist Steve Steffens told me about a great album he had been listening to by a new band called The Posies. He let me borrow his copy of Failure, and I’ve bought every Posies release ever since. It’s reassuring to hear how fresh and vital Failure stills sounds on the new reissue from Omnivore Recordings. It’s bound to strike a similar chord with other Posies fans, and if given a chance, could attract new followers.

The Posies have grown more eclectic over the years, particularly on their 2010 reunion Blood/Candy. On this flawless debut, Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, working in a makeshift studio in Auer’s home, concentrated on creating gorgeous melodies spiked with articulate but cynical observations on romantic relationships. The deceptively light “Like Me Too” includes this lyrical salvo: “You call me immature because I’m too sensitive to your insensitivity/I have the audacity to ask you to talk to me/The stones I throw shatter your sea of tranquility/You’re about as human than the Statue Of Liberty.” Elsewhere, “I May Hate You Sometimes” and “Under Easy” also have their share of putdowns. “Blind Eyes Open,” a tribute to the healing power of love, is one of the few upbeat tracks here.

Still, every song qualifies as irresistible power pop. In the early days of The Posies, some rock critics compared the harmonies of Auer and Stringfellow to The Hollies. That holds true for Failure, especially on “Paint Me” and “Compliment.” On the other hand, “At Least For Now” and the sharply drawn lyrics throughout evoke newer cutting edge bands like The Replacements and R.E.M.

The reissued Failure comes on green vinyl, with a free download card for the original 12 songs, plus 8 bonus tracks. The acoustic demos of “Paint Me” and “Like Me Too” underscore the impressive ways Auer and Stringfellow were able to weave their vocals together.

Also: 92 Degrees still perform catchy pop songs on the Chicago club scene.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Vintage Publication Spotlight - Hit Week

One of the many advantages of attending Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago over the years has been browsing through its marketplace of vendors. Finding Beatles memorabilia is a cinch; just walk up to any table and make a choice. Navigating through this amazing variety of rock and roll-related merchandise becomes more of a challenge if you’re on a quest for souvenirs from other 1960s artists. Here’s a February, 1967 newspaper called Hit Week from Amsterdam that I bought despite not being able to look inside and the fact that it’s not in English. It was only $5.00, and considering the year and the “Strawberry Fields” era Beatles photo on front page, it looked promising.

Hit Week appeared to have provided its readers with a mix of news about Dutch bands, as well as the big stars from England and America. I’m not sure what the headline, “Is Bob Dylan GEK geworden?” means but the article—by a writer based in New York—was probably worth checking out. There are also pieces about The Rolling Stones topping The Netherlands chart with “Let’s Spend The Night Together” and The Four Tops visiting Manchester, England. The Top 20 British and U.S. Singles are also listed.

A column called AU gave a rundown on new single releases, such as “On A Carousel” by The Hollies; “Kind Of A Drag” by The Buckinghams; “There’s A Kind Of Hush” by Herman’s Hermits; and “Hurtin’ Is Lovin” by Billy Fury. Aside from the front page, the issue was in black and white, with eye-catching photos, fonts, and art. All in all, it was definitely the $5.00 to add this to my collection.


Friday, August 29, 2014


As reported by The Second Disc website earlier this week, The Hollies will release a new compilation titled 50 at Fifty on the Parlophone label in England on September 22nd and in the United States on October 21st. The 3-CD box set will cover the band’s entire history from 1963 up to the present. The current Hollies lineup, which includes original guitarist-harmony vocalist Tony Hicks and original drummer Bobby Elliott, have released two CDs with all new material in the past decade, and some of those songs will be included on 50 at Fifty.

I couldn’t find any mention on The Second Disc or The Hollies’ official website as to whether the box set will come with any kind of special booklet or liner notes. But there will be a brand new song co-written by Elliott and vocalist Peter Howarth called “Skylarks.”

“It’s over fifty years since I first wrote a Hollies song,” Elliott states in the press release, explaining that he co-wrote the B-Side of “Just One Look” with Hicks. “‘Skylarks’ takes us in a new direction—nothing new for The Hollies. It’s back to our inventive roots in many ways.”

A new song that sounds like vintage Hollies would be very interesting indeed. Also, it would be nice to see a Hollies 50 At Fifty t-shirt.

Ellis Clark And The Big Parade and The Bad Examples will share a double bill tonight at Mayne Stage  on the city’s north side. See yesterday’s post for a full preview. 

Tributosaurus will become Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young tonight at the Taste Of Polonia festival at the Copernicus Center in Jefferson Park. I saw this same show last year at Taste Of Polonia and these guys definitely know their CSN and Y. Other bands performing there over the weekend include the hard rock cover band JakTripper, American English, Steely Dan tribute act Reely Dan, and Elvis impersonator Rick Saucedo.

People of Fringe-ish descent will also be partying in Jefferson Park this weekend, as The Fifth Annual Chicago Fringe Festival takes places around the neighborhood. There’s a nice write-up by Kerry Cardoz about the event in this week’s edition of The Reader.

Baby, you can drive my car. Harper College in Palatine will be the scene of The British Car Festival  next Sunday, September 7th. Over 500 vehicles of UK origin will be on display and there will be food vendors in case anyone starts feeling peckish. Admission to this British Car Union sponsored event is free, but attendees are encouraged to make a donation to Shelter, Inc, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping provide housing for abused and neglected kids.

Rick Hromadka, singer-guitarist for the band Maple Mars and the duo Ruby Free (with his wife, singer Lisa Cavaliere), has just finished his first solo effort and is asking for funding via a funny video on the IndieGoGo site. When I last looked, he had exceeded his funding goal by over $400 with 10 hours left to go. 

Reggies on State Street in Chicago will be celebrating its 7th Anniversary with a pair of shows on Monday, September 8th. Ken Mode, The Atlas Moth and three other acts will be performing in the Rock Club section; and Mr. Blotto, former BoDeans member Sammy Llanas, Handler, and The Whateverly Bros will be in the Music Joint section. An admission price of $7 covers both shows.

The Muffs will be ringing in the new year with songs from their latest release Whoop De Doo at Reggies on December 31st.

Chicago coed band Magatha Trysty will be performing a bunch of new songs at The House Of Blues next Thursday, September 4th. Singer-guitarist Christopher David told me in an earlier email that the band’s new effort will surprise fans, but in a good way.

The Zombies recently wrapped up a tour of America, but according to a recent Facebook post from lead vocalist Colin Blunstone, they’ll come back over the pond on September 22nd to perform with The Animals at the British Invasion! benefit for The Health Alliance For Austin Musicians. Non-Brits Alejandro Escovedo, Christopher Cross, and other performers are also on the bill. Prior to that, The Zombies will be part of The Day The Music Died concert in Rotterdam in Holland.

Channel 7 is a magic number. As recently reported in the Chicago free paper Redeye, the ABC television network will air a special tribute to the musical lessons of Schoolhouse Rock on September 7th. The ABCs Of Schoolhouse Rock will count down the favorite educational songs and cast a spotlight at the people behind the scenes. Schoolhouse Rock has also been adapted as a musical that ran successfully in Chicago and other areas. There’s a rendition of “Three Is A Magic Number” by Jeff Tweedy on the digital-only Live From The Old Town School 50th anniversary compilation.

Fans of ZZ Top and Jeff Beck were disappointed when the double bill featuring those two acts at Ravinia and other upcoming dates was canceled due to ZZ Top bassist Rusty Hill injuring his hip in a fall. I’m not sure why Jeff Beck couldn’t have still gone on, but at least his fans got some good news in a recent article by Randy Lewis in the Chicago Tribune. The legendary guitarist said he’d like to put together a 50-year career retrospective show sometime in 2015. He’s also considering a new live CD, an autobiography, and a documentary. Meanwhile, EXPO ‘76, one of Chicago’s better (and more humorous) cover bands, has made a tongue-in-cheek offer to fill in for ZZ Top so the tour can still continue.

This Sunday night, Club Foot, at 1824 W. Augusta, is having a Manchester VS Liverpool musical evening presented by Daniel and Lauree. I’m assuming those two individuals are DJs but I could be wrong. Anyway, it sounds like fun.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Big And Bad Night With Ellis And Ralph

Two long-time masters of the Chicago indie rock scene will share a double bill tomorrow night at Mayne Stage on the city’s north side. Ellis Clark will be working with a new set of musicians he has dubbed The Big Parade (not to be confused with the indie rock trio Big Paraid), and Ralph Covert will be fronting The Bad Examples, the power pop group he founded in 1987. Both artists are prolific and eclectic songwriters who have a wealth of material to draw from for their shows.

Ellis Clark And The Big Parade will perform a pair of sets; the first will be at 8:00 PM on the Mayne Stage and feature original material, and the second will consist of cover tunes and take place at 10:00 PM in The Mayne Stage’s Act One Pub. Clark will likely be playing songs from his 2013 LP Number One release. In my BHT review, I noted that Clark was still intent on exploring new territory, and I had praise for the soulful “I Cant Lose,” the techno-oriented “Glass Half Full,” and the acoustic “Life Hasn’t Killed You Yet.” As for the covers set, Clark seems to fancy a wide range of music, so it should include some intriguing choices. He’ll have t-shirts, vinyl LPs, CDs, and posters for sale.

Covert once again showcased his ability to craft clever lyrics about relationships on The Bad Examples’ 2011 comeback CD Smash Record. A strong sense of melody, along with his vocal style is often reminiscent of Squeeze. In my BHT review of Smash Record, I trotted out my Squeeze comparison for the melodic “Pictures Of A Masquerade” and “Jayne Left Behind,” while also praising the harder-hitting “Big E Chord” and “Devil Is In The Details.”

Tickets for the Ellis Clark And The Big Parade/The Bad Examples show are $15.00.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Psycho Sisters - Up On The Chair, Beatrice

This debut effort from The Psycho Sisters has been a long time coming, considering vocalist-acoustic guitarist Susan Cowsill and vocalist-guitarist Vicki Peterson first started performing under that name in 1992. They had come from well-known bands—The Cowsills and The Bangles—and both went on to perform with the star-studded alt rock/Americana band The Continental Drifters. Apparently, with Peterson being back with The Bangles for almost 15 years now and Cowsill actively pursuing a solo career, there hasn’t been a lot of time for Psycho Sisters projects. But they’ve done one now, and its a gem. Backed by six musicians, including John Cowsill on drums and current Bangles bassist Derrick Anderson, The Psycho Sisters tap into Country and Western, pop, rock, and honky-tonk blues on Up On The Chair, Beatrice.

Cowsill and Peterson use playful vocals to underscore the offbeat humor of the Judi Pulver/Waddy Wachtell tune “Heather Says,” and create gorgeous harmonies on all 10 tracks. Their energetic cover of dB’s member and fellow Continental Drifter Peter Holsapple’s “What Do You Want From Me” would fit perfectly on a Bangles album, while their own composition “Timberline” and Peterson’s “This Painting” have more of a rhythm and blues feel. Cowsill and Peterson co-wrote the satirical “Gone Fishin’” and “Fun To Lie,” a more rock-oriented tune that evokes Bonnie Raitt.

Peterson co-wrote “Never Never Boys,” a toe-tapping tale of a woman who always seems to get involved with immature guys, with Bob Cowsill. Surprisingly, the two hardest hitting tracks, Peterson’s “Numb” and “Wish You,” have string accompaniment, courtesy of cellist Jack Craft and violinist Sam Craft. The Psycho Sisters’ good-time take on Harry Nilsson’s “Cuddly Toy” is similar to The Monkees’ earlier version, and closes this entertaining debut with a touch of vaudeville. 


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Various Artists - 7 And 7 Is

Fruits De Mer, the UK-based vinyl-only label, consistently finds inventive ways to package music from its roster of prog and psychedelic artists. A prime example is the recently released 7 And 7 Is box set, which has seven 45 RPM singles on what the press release describes as “a subtle mix of red, white and blue” vinyl. Each record in this limited-edition collection features a current band covering two songs by an American group from the 1960s (or on one of the singles, two current bands covering two ’60s bands). As with previous Fruits de Mer efforts of this kind, the music covered here is far afield from the Top Forty hits of the day. 

The Higher State brings a distinct garage rock sound to “Wait For My Love” and “You Don’t Know,” which were originally recorded by 13th Floor Elevators, while The Bevis Frond takes a hard-edged swing at “Night Sounds” by Clear Light. King Penguin crafts an exotic ambience on its cover of The Byrds’ “5D (Fifth Dimension),” and Black Tempest eases into a faithful take on Spirit’s “Nature’s Way” after a few moments of distorted voices and sound effects. Sendelica opens “Hard Coming,” originally done by United States Of America, with over a minute of Jimi Hendrix style guitar heroics, and The Seventh Ring Of Saturn likewise unleashes some wailing guitar on The Grateful Dead’s “Cream Puff War.”

The Chemistry Set’s “A House Is Not A Motel” is the second take I’ve come across of this gem from Love in the past few months. (The Red Plastic Buddha covered it on their Songs For Mara CD.) The Chemistry Set also succeeds with Love’s politically infused “Live And Let Live” and even throws in a bit of The Electric Prunes’ “Get Me To The World On Time” toward the end. All in all, another adventurous release from Fruits de Mer.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Adventures In A Mind-Blowing Marketplace

Paws Through Time And Space/The TARDIS Cat art from the Jenny Parks Illustration website.

Wizard World Chicago Comic Con drew an enormous crowd to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont this past weekend. While most of the attendees no doubt came from the surrounding area, it was more fun imagining that at least some of them dropped in from other galaxies or dimensions. Quite a few guys came dressed as The Doctor from Doctor Who, and the definite article himself was there in the form of actor Matt Smith. Karen Gillan, who portrayed The Doctor’s companion Amy Pond (and is in the blockbuster Guardians Of The Galaxy) was also on hand, along with John Barrowman, another Doctor Who alum.

Other celebrity guests included Patrick Stewart, Stan Lee, James Marsters, William Shatner, Katie Cassidy, Levar Burton, Elvira, and several other TV and film stars. A good percentage of the previously mentioned enormous crowd was waiting anxiously for Smith Saturday afternoon as he arrived for his Autograph Op session, so my wife and I were only able to catch a quick glimpse of him. The best way to guarantee getting a close-up look at one of the better-known stars is to pay the extra bucks for one of the Autograph or Photo Ops.

In addition to grabbing a few moments with a favorite celebrity, Wizard World Chicago Comic Con offered two large rooms filled with vendors. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of comic books for sale, but there were also t-shirts, action figures, posters, masks, costumes, books, and the Micro Drone 2.0. People in costumes wandered throughout both rooms and there were at least two large-scale creatures in the main lobby. All were more than willing to pose for pictures. We took photos of a Weeping Angel holding a Wizard World shopping bag, Wonder Woman, Batman, Batgirl, and a life-size TARDIS.

The talent varied throughout the long rows of seated artists and writers that comprised Artists Alley, but once again there was no shortage of clever and imaginative creations. Jenny Parks’ illustrations are   funny mash-ups of realistic cats faces and pop culture heroes from Star Trek, Doctor Who, Batman, Harry Potter, and other films and TV shows. Corbyn S. Kern’s impressive gallery includes portraits of the actors who have played The Doctor, as well as montages of them with their various companions. Kevin McPartlin AKA Mr. Antihero, creates comic book and graphic novel stencils; Onrie Kompan and his staff have published a series of elaborately illustrated graphic novels based on the true life Korean naval commander Yi Soon Shin; and Brian Liss renders film and TV art via eye-popping colors.

Other notable artists at Wizard World Chicago Comic Con included Kevin West, Katrina Catizone, Brian Long, Matt Leese, and Mike Mahle.

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