Saturday, January 30, 2010

There'll Always Be A New Dawn

When singer-songwriter Dawn Landes drops by the Beat Kitchen on Chicago’s north side for a show on February 9th, she’ll be promoting her newly released CD, Sweet Heart Rodeo. When I reviewed her last effort, Fireproof, for the Illinois Entertainer in 2008, I didn’t think of Landes as a Country & Western artist. It was hard to pin a label on her eclectic music, and I doubt Sweet Heart Rodeo adheres to any one genre, despite the similarity of its name to a well known C&W record by The Byrds.

In my review of Fireproof, I noted that her poetic observations were set to consistently engaging techno-oriented and acoustic arrangements. The layered vocals and electronic quirks reflected her background as a professional recording engineer.

But I didn’t go into as much detail about the fascinating story behind her song “Bodyguard” as I would have liked. According to the press release, Landes wrote “Bodyguard” within minutes of having discovered that her New York apartment had been broken into. Among the missing items was a laptop commuter that held two years worth of work that was meant to become her next album. Rather than trying to recreate the stolen music, Landes simply started from scratch on another CD. “Bodyguard” was a catchy techno rock tune filled with arresting metaphors about the emotional trauma of being robbed. The best line went, “They stole the subjects of your paintings, but left the canvas on the frame.”

Fireproof showcased Dawn Landes’ penchant of oddball instrumentation and imaginative lyrics, and it’s a safe bet that Sweet Heart Rodeo carries on that tradition. It should be highly entertaining to experience her work in a live setting. Admission is $10.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

CD Review: Simon and Garfunkel - Live 1969

Note: This review has previously appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

As Simon and Garfunkel begin playing “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” there’s no burst of recognition applause from the audience at Carnegie Hall. That’s because Live 1969 was recorded during a national tour that took place months before the album Bridge Over Troubled Water hit the record stores. Finally available decades after its originally intended release, Live 1969 provides an entertaining and historically interesting study of one of America’s best known folk rock acts.

The CD starts quietly with “Homeward Bound” and ends with the introspective “Kathy’s Song.” Back then, as the CD’s liner notes explain, Simon and Garfunkel opened and closed their shows as a duo; playing with the support of a full band in between. “Mrs. Robinson” is given a rollicking performance at a concert in Carbondale, Illinois. “At The Zoo” offers timeless political satire with lyrics like, “Orangutans are skeptical of changes in their cages.” In addition to favorites like “I Am A Rock” and “Sounds Of Silence,” Live 69 includes lesser known album tracks like “Song For The Asking” and a cover of the Everly Brothers’ “That Silver-Haired Daddy Of Mine.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

CD Review: The Bee Gees - Odessa

The Bee Gees are still in the midst of celebrating their 50th Anniversary even though some online bios show them forming as early as 1958. Remember, the Gibbs were mere tykes when they started. Surviving members Barry and Robin have written the liner notes for Mythology The 50th Anniversary Collection, which will be released in March. The four-disc boxed set includes a 60-page book. In the meantime, here’s a review of the deluxe version of Odessa I did for the Illinois Entertainer last year.

Long before they helped make disco a worldwide phenomenon with their Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, the Bee Gees were the original practitioners of baroque pop. Built on fragile but irresistible melodies, lush harmonies, and often accompanied by an orchestra, their music showcased the three Gibb brothers’ passion for innovation. The Bee Gees’ most ambitious effort, Odessa was originally released as a two record set in 1969, when drummer Colin Petersen was considered part of the band, along with Maurice, Barry, and Robin. The new deluxe version three disc box set sports the original red velvet cover and adds 22 bonus tracks.

Although it wasn’t a true concept album in terms of having a continuing story line, Odessa fits well along side The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Who’s Tommy. There’s that sense of melancholy that haunted much of the band’s work, and it settles in on the opening track, “Odessa.” Backed by a full orchestra, a marooned sailor longs for the woman he loves and imagines her being wooed by another man. “Lamplight,” “Sound Of Love,” and the single “First Of May” are gorgeous ballads brimming with heartache and a sense of loss.

Typically, a guy in a Bee Gees song not only loses the girl, he suffers worldwide rejection and isolation. “Never Say Never Again,” an artful blend of strings and acoustic guitar, includes the line, “You said goodbye, I declared war on Spain.” The bitterness expressed in “I Laugh In Your Face” is even more bizarre: “I pull out your plug so you’re small./You slide down the drain on the steps of St. Peter’s.”

The extended playing time on Odessa enabled the Bee Gees to tap into their lighter side, as well as explore different musical genres. “Marley Purt Drive,” a whimsical tale of an orphanage, uses an Americana instrumentation that would have fit right in on The Band’s Music From Big Pink. “Give Your Best” is another toe-tapping Country & Western number, while “Whisper Whisper” deliriously combines lilting strings and energetic rock behind bawdy lyrics about sex and drugs. “Seven Seas Symphony” and “With All Nations (International Anthem)” are instrumentals that are given full orchestral arrangements by Bill Shepherd and qualify as bona fide classical music. “Melody Fair,” “Black Diamond,” and “Suddenly” are catchy pop songs, as is the acoustic guitar-driven “You’ll Never See My Face Again,” which adds a darker element that predates R.E.M. The Bee Gees might be the only band that would concoct a tribute to the inventor of electric light bulbs, but the ornate “Edison” actually works.

The Odessa deluxe edition offers an additional CD of demos that give a behind the scenes look at the songwriting process. “Edison,” for example, started out as “Barbara Came To Stay,” and there are alternate takes for just about every song from the original release. The different arrangements of “Melody Fair” and “Black Diamond” in particular, stand on their own as great pop songs. This enhanced version may come with boatload of goodies, but the music itself proves this was a master work from the Bee Gees.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Here Come The Super Rats!

Photo from The Hot Rats Facebook page.

Flavorpill, the online magazine that describes itself as “Your Culture Guide,” heralded the arrival of The Hots Rats in its January 19th Daily Dose e-mail. The duo is a side project comprised of vocalist-guitarist Gaz Coombes and drummer-vocalist Danny Goffey of Supergrass, whose last CD was the highly energetic and enjoyable Diamond Hoo Ha. The Hot Rats take their name from a 1969 Frank Zappa solo album, which is kind of weird because Supergrass and Zappa have little in common stylistically other than a desire to create funny songs.

The Hot Rats’ approach on their recently released, full-length debut Turn Ons is similar to the way Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs cover some of their favorite bands on Under The Covers Volumes 1 and 2. Coombes and Goffey play stripped down, guitar-based versions of songs by Gang Of Four, The Kinks, The Doors, and Velvet Underground, although they do add horns to Roxy Music’s “Love Is The Drug.” There’s a faithful take on Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” but The Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” gets a vintage rock arrangement reminiscent of The Who. Coombes sings like Robert Smith of The Cure on “The Lovecats,” but the tribal drum beat is pure Iggy Pop. The Hot Rats also recorded a very fun video of The Beatles’ “Drive My Car” for YouTube. So far, the only live gigs scheduled are in London and Paris.

I wasn’t even aware of The Hot Rats before being tipped off by Flavorpill, but apparently, they’re already making a name for themselves. The duo has over 2,000 fans on Facebook.

Monday, January 25, 2010

CD Review: BLACK WHALES - Origins

This review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

The sparse production on Origins, the seven song debut EP from Seattle’s Black Whales creates the feel of catching a live performance of a cutting edge band in a local club. Lead singer-guitarist Alex Robert’s vocals are a haunting echo amidst chiming guitars and rhythmic drumming as they drift across the room. The inventive arrangements, infectious melodies, and cryptic lyrics bring to mind early R.E.M.

The mid-tempo “Young Blood” conveys a youthful, restless spirit, and on “Running In Place,” which has more of a dance club beat, Robert demands, “Give me something to believe in, or I’m gone.” “The Boxer” isn’t the Simon & Garfunkel song, but exudes a similar sense of alienation along with a guitar riff borrowed from Nils Lofgrens’s “Keith Don’t Go.” Black Whales occasionally tap into Country & Western, particularly on the catchy “Roll With The Punches,” and slow things down on the hypnotic title track.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hollies Album Tracks - The Defense Rocks Part 2

Further proof that The Hollies were more than just a hit singles band.

“I’ve Been Wrong Before” Guitarist-vocalist Terry Sylvester recently noted on his website that he would like The Everly Brothers to induct The Hollies into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame at the ceremony on March 15th. The Everly Brothers were among the very first acts to be honored. As a member of The Hollies from 1968 to 1981, Sylvester is keenly aware of the band’s deep-rooted admiration for Phil and Don.

Back in 1966, when The Hollies were at the peak of their popularity, they were invited to serve as the backing band on the Everly Brothers album, Two Yanks In England. Eight of the twelve tracks were original Hollies compositions that had been previously released on the band’s albums or as the B-sides of 45s. “I’ve Been Wrong,” an energetic tale of a jilted lover from the Hear! Here! LP, had a fetching melody, sophisticated vocal arrangement, and a jagged guitar sound that evoked a live performance. On Two Yanks, The Everly Brothers put their own stamp on this classic pop song, thanks to those legendary harmony vocals. Working on Two Yanks In London must have been particularly thrilling for vocalist Allan Clarke and vocalist-guitarist Graham Nash, who prior to forming The Hollies, had performed as an Everly Brothers inspired duo called The Two Teens.

“Suspicious Look In Your Eyes” The Hollies released an entire album of Bob Dylan covers in 1968, but like The Beatles, their music reflected his influence earlier than that. The best example is “Suspicious Look In Your Eyes,” which appeared on the Stop Stop Stop album. The mid-tempo arrangement features the band’s familiar chiming guitars and almost choir boy harmonies, but what stands out most is Allan Clarke’s distinctively Dylanesque delivery. “You’ve no control of what you’re saying,” Clarke sneers, “No faith in the things that I do.” Later, he complains, “You’re changing all your thoughts on me, you’ve no right to put me down this way.”

Released as For Certain Because - - - in the U.K., Stop Stop Stop just might be The Hollies’ finest moment. It shows Clarke, Nash, and guitarist Tony Hicks growing leaps and bounds as songwriters, and while not as adventurous or psychedelic as Evolution or Dear Eloise/King Midas In Reverse, which followed directly afterward, it’s a fine example of original British Invasion pop.

“Won’t We Feel Good That Morning” Romany, released in 1972, probably sounds less like The Hollies than any of their other albums. With Nash long gone and Clarke temporarily off pursuing a solo career, the band called upon Swedish native Mikael Rikfors to take over the lead vocalist chores. He didn’t sound anything like Clarke, and Romany had more hard rock and introspective ballads than fans were used to hearing. Some of the tracks now sound hopelessly locked in the 1970s, but there is some good music here, particularly “Won’t We Feel Good That Morning.” Rikfors’ deep, rough lead singing, combined with higher harmonies from Hicks and Sylvester, created a vocal sound similar to the one Cheap Trick would implement a few years later. Energetic guitars spark an arrangement that melds pop and hard rock as Rikfors belts out, “I’ve took a long, hard drag of miserable life, you see/Nothing means much to me.”

The Hollies would dabble in hard rock for about as long as they kept Rikfors in the fold, which is to say not for very long at all. But when they did crank up the energy, they did it surprisingly well.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Vintage Publication Spotlight - Number Three

Cover illustration by John Youssi

Back in 1974, The Concert Book was a monthly publication put out by Jam Productions that cast a spotlight on major artists coming to the Chicago area, and it covered the local club scene as well. This is Volume One, Number Three, and as far as I can tell, there were no issues published after it.

The Year Of The Comeback cover story raises the issue of whether Bob Dylan, who had just released Blood On The Tracks; Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young; George Harrison; David Bowie; and Eric Clapton still had the chops to put on a good a good rock and roll show. Imagine if someone had told the writers that most of these acts would be actively recording or touring in 2010. There’s also something called a Discopective on Led Zeppelin, and profiles on Jethro Tull and Roxy Music. The back cover is a full page ad for rock station WDHF, and there’s a stark, B&W half page ad inside the magazine touting WXRT’s 6pm to 5am hours.

Some of the movie ads include Emmanuelle, The Stepford Wives, Murder On The Orient Express, Stardust, Tommy, Shampoo, and The Godfather Part II. The center spread calendar lists shows by Peter Frampton and Gentle Giant together at the Auditorium; Rod Stewart at the Amphitheatre; Jethro Tull at the Stadium; Robin Trower and Steel-Eye Span in a double at the Auditorium; and Aerosmith at the Aragon. The Different Circle, a chain of jeans stores; Rolling Stone, which used to be one of several record stores downtown (they still have a location on Irving Park); Swollen Head Records & Tapes in La Grange; and Billy K’s Hair Again all had ads in this issue.

In those days, as a resident of the southwest side, I would have been most interested in the ad for the Harlow’s rock club. This was a classy place to see the best bands on the club scene, such as the hard-rocking Beowulf The Great; and Brother Bait, an outfit from Atlanta Georgia that played note perfect renditions of songs by Yes, Steely Dan, ELP, and Jethro Tull. The ad noted that its birthday party for namesake Jean Harlow would be a black tie only affair, and they weren’t kidding. My friends and I were also known to cruise the Rush Street area, where we could have checked out some first class live entertainment from Pez Band; City Boys; or Kracker at the “world famous” Rush Up rock club.

At only 30 pages, the short-lived The Concert Book was relatively slim, but the writing and cool graphics made it worth picking up.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Viva La Evolution!

Photo from The Neverly Brothers website.

There’s a lot of technology available to teachers these days, but The Neverly Brothers pretty much only needed a small drum kit, an acoustic guitar, and a stand-up bass fiddle for a lesson in rock music history at the Schaumburg Prairie Center For The Arts on Saturday, January 16th. The three musicians made good on a promise to whisk the audience off on a trip to cities like Memphis, Liverpool, and Lubbock, Texas during the formative years of 1955 to 1964. The Neverly Brothers’ show, dubbed A Rock N’ Roll Evolution, was divided into two parts; the first half covered pioneers like Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly, while the second concentrated on the British Invasion.

Guitarist-vocalist Kevin Giragosian provided a brief description of each artist before joining drummer-vocalist Kegham Giragosian and bass fiddle player-vocalist Craig Gigstad for a spirited performance of one of the artist’s songs. Given the set up, there wasn’t a lot of variety in the band’s approach, but the Giragosian brothers and Gigstad kept things buzzing via their highly polished musicianship and singing. The band members take turns on lead vocals, and combine for some beautiful harmonies, particularly on a pair of songs by The Everly Brothers. Charisma plays a major role in The Neverly Brothers’ appeal, with Gigstad in particular charming the audience with his Elvis and Big Bopper impersonations. A big guy who resembles comedian Drew Carey, Gigstad hoisted his massive bass fiddle in the air as easily as if it were a mandolin, and also straddled it like he was riding a Harley, all the while plucking away on the strings.

When it comes to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, The Neverly Brothers aren’t interested in playing “She Loves You” or “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” They’d rather underscore how these bands were influenced by American R&B and Country and Western music by presenting The Beatles doing Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox” and The Stones doing Bobby and Shirley Womack’s “It’s All Over Now.” The Neverly Brothers also showed how The Dave Clark Five, The Searchers, The Hollies, and Manfred Mann scored hits by covering material that had previously been released in The States. Kevin Giragosian closed the two-hour show by celebrating the famous guitar riff from The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” The bit reminded me of when I saw Ray Davies at Taste Of Chicago a few years back and how the entire audience jumped up in unison at the first few notes of that song.

The Neverly Brothers switch out songs on a regular basis, but they’ve basically been doing the same show for a few years now. It would be fun to see them expand the history lesson to cover the rock-a-billy revival of the early 1980s and bands like The Stray Cats, The Hellbillys, The Polecats, and another trio from Chicago, The Elvis Brothers. Regardless of whether or not The Neverly Brothers change their format, they can always be counted on for a highly entertaining and energetic performance.

POSTSCRIPT: The Neverly Brothers played The Bobby Fuller Four’s “I Fought The Law” as their encore, which brings to mind a story I’ve told at least a hundred times, but never in print. Several years ago, when that song first came out, my younger brother swore that Bobby Fuller was singing, “Hot dogs for lunch and they’re small ones.” To this day, I still have to laugh whenever I hear “I Fought The Law.”

Friday, January 15, 2010

Demo-Listen Derby

Photo from the Hollus MySpace page.

Here are a few of the more interesting local bands I came across in 2009. Note: These reviews originally appeared in the Around Hear column of the Illinois Entertainer.

Hollus vocalist Jamison Acker describes the band’s goal for its latest release Joker And The Queen as “to make timeless tunes that sounded good in our living rooms,” which translates into evoking Led Zeppelin III and Rod Stewart’s work with The Faces. Acker’s rough vocals and Michael Lux-Saur’s guitars guarantee success, particularly on the acoustic-based “Horseman” and the hard rock stomp of “Fever Song.” There are few slow moments. but overall, this is a solid collection of classic rock.

Section Gang dives into the murky waters of 1980s underground pop on its debut EP, Greater Than Civil. The blend of acoustic and chiming electric guitars recalls R.E.M. while lead singer Kilton Hopkins channels Morrissey with his haunted vocals. The melancholy lyrics are awkward at times, particularly on “Peter Poe,” but on “Patient Pending” and “On The Phone” Section Gang propels its angst via energetic arrangements.

Nathan Xander opts for a vintage folk approach on his latest CD, Fear, building songs on acoustic guitar, harmonica, and his expressive vocals. There’s a touch of Dylan throughout the CD, particularly when Xander spins clever lyrics on “True Love Never Did Run Smooth” and “Martyr’s Song.” “The Alchemist” and “Dark Horses” prove he can also succeed in a more hard rock mode.

Josh and the Empty Pockets pretty much stick to playing fun rock 'n roll on Under The Bed, starting with vocalist/guitarist Josh Solomon's spirited scat singing on the opening number, "Meaningless Words." "Freedom To Be" is a sarcastic take on politics while "Monsters" glances back at childhood memories via a Country & Western arrangement. Solomon also offers the homespun romantic ballads, "Beautiful To Me" and "You're The One."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Here Comes The Mirror Man

I’ve posted some new information about upcoming performances in the Elevated Observations column, but otherwise, today’s post is all about me.

My wife Pam and I are creating a series of short videos called Manchester Gallery. The title venue is really my slightly-larger-than-a-closet media room, where I keep an extensive, and in some cases, unusual collection of rock and roll memorabilia. Posters, 45’s and LPs, autographed tour books, guitar picks, magazines, trading cards, bubblegum wrappers, etc. Nothing that’s worth much money, but the idea of Manchester Gallery is to present each item in an interesting, and hopefully, amusing manner. In the videos, I take on the persona of Terrence, the Gallery’s snobbish curator, who insists that every one of the artifacts he’s presenting is priceless.

Our first Manchester Gallery is about a Graham Nash puppet I had custom made by an artist who does soft sculptures. Terrence offers an entirely fictional account of its origins. The video can be seen on Part Two of the January 10th installment of Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff, an offbeat Internet show Pam and I have been enjoying for some time now.

Host Jeff Kelley assembles an assortment of clips from commercials, TV shows, and hilariously bad B-movies, that along with his own clever observations, explore a particular theme. A regular segment called On The Road With Willy depicts the affable Willy on his way to the latest gig by his favorite local rock band, Goin’ South. The January 10th Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff focused on the United States Navy with a zany outtake from the McHale’s Navy TV series, Popeye and Donald Duck cartoons, an official U.S. Navy newsreel, and clips from Abbott & Costello In The Navy and Hellcats Of The Navy with Ronald Reagan.

Kelley just kicked off his second season of Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff, and in addition to a snazzy new set designed with help from commercial artist Dave Metzger and moving from a weekly to bi-weekly format, he wants to include more original material. That’s where Pam and I came in. Our second Manchester Gallery, which casts a spotlight on my various action figures, is slated for the January 24th edition, and we’re planning on doing more. Kelley is open to suggestions. Anyone interested in participating in Sunday Morning Coffee With Jeff can contact Kelley at his website.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Birthday Party

Photo from Rich Cotovsky's Facebook page.

Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party is an ambiguous tale of an ominous pair of men who arrive at a boarding house with the intent of forcing a reluctant Stanley Webber to celebrate his birthday. I saw the play in a Jeff-nominated production years ago at the Mary-Arrchie Theatre on Chicago’s north side, with Rich Cotovsky in the role of Stanley. There’s a birthday party coming to the Mary-Arrchie tonight, although not The Birthday Party. And instead of being ambiguous or ominous, this is a festive gathering to honor Cotovsky, who helped found the theatre group almost 25 years ago.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Cotovsky by any means. I once wrote a profile of him for the Illinois Entertainer, and I’ve covered Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Sins, the Mary-Arrchie’s rollicking, three-day annual festival, for I.E. as well as Streetwise, a local publication created to help the homeless. As a member of Famous In The Future, which is the only group other than the Mary-Arrchie itself to have performed at every one of The Abbies, I’ve come to respect Cotovsky’s talent, wild sense of humor, and passion for the Chicago theatrical community.

Back in 1989, when the first Abbie Hoffman Fest was held, Famous In The Future had just lost its mother hen, Lake Sirmon, leaving Frank Carr and myself to keep things going. I saw an ad in the theatre listings of The Chicago Reader seeking participants for a festival that would commemorate the 20th anniversary of Woodstock, and thought it would be a good fit for our group. When we showed up for our tech run at the Mary-Arrchie, it was clear Cotovsky wasn’t impressed with our amateurish approach. He had good reason to boot us from the festival, but that probably would have run counter to his vision of creating a bonding experience among Chicago’s multitude of performing artists. So he let us do The Abbie, where our revue of original comedy sketches drew a polite response, although not much laughter. Over the years, we would hone our talents, and eventually have some very successful shows at The Abbie. For that, we owe Rich a great deal of gratitude, and I suspect many other groups could tell the same story.

Of course, there’s more to Rich Cotovsky than taking pity on struggling theatre groups. Over the years, he has helped the Mary-Arrchie earn a reputation for cutting edge, critically acclaimed productions like Tracers, Cowboy Mouth/4-H Club, Buried Child, Mojo, and its most recent offering, the Jeff-recommended How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found.

So here’s a toast to Rich Cotovsky and a wish for another successful season in 2010. Happy Birthday!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hope Of Deliverance - Benefit Taps Into The Spirit Of The Beatles

Photo from Liverpool Legends website.

Anyone who has seen The Battle of the Beatle Bands Contest at a Fest For Beatles Fans can attest that some of the most popular contestants are the groups made up of kids. The four young lads of Stockwood won the contest on a couple occasions, not only because of their age, but because they were really good. Stockwood now performs as a Beatles tribute band on a regular basis.

Hope Fuller is the 12-year old younger sister of Stockwood member J.D. Fuller (he plays Paul) and she’s a budding musician/actress in her own right. She plays saxophone in the school band, has performed in school plays, and is a huge fan of Taylor Swift. Unfortunately, Hope was diagnosed earlier this year with Stage 4 Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, which is an aggressive brain tumor. She’s a fighter who has gone through chemotherapy, but she and her family need emotional and financial support.

We Will Always Have Hope, a benefit for Hope Fuller, will take place on January 16th at The Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin. The Center is located at 45 Symphony Way. Tickets are $45 for the main floor, and $40 for the balcony. The concert starts at 7:00PM, and doors will open at 5:30PM.

The event has landed an impressive headliner in Liverpool Legends. Regarded as one of the best Beatles tribute bands, they are managed by George Harrison’s sister Louise. Their busy, nationwide schedule includes regular gigs in Branson, Missouri, and it’s always a treat when they come back to their home state of Illinois. Louise Harrison is also slated to make an appearance at We Will Always Have Hope.

Street Corner Blue, a veteran R&B band that’s known for its eclectic selection of cover material, will serve as the opening act. The six-piece band is currently working on its third CD. This Is This, a local trio that performs melodic, highly polished original rock music (see profile under Elevated Observations), will perform in the lobby, starting at 5:45PM. I can’t tell for sure from searching the web if or when Stockwood will be playing at this benefit.

100% of the proceeds will go to the Hope Fuller Medical Fund. There will also be a silent auction to raise money. Donations can be mailed to the Fuller Medical Fund at Golden Eagle Community Bank, P.O. Box 1930, Woodstock, IL 60098. I’m guessing Hope wouldn’t mind receiving some encouraging greeting cards as well.

Thanks to Terri Hemmert, who mentioned this event on her WXRT Breakfast With The Beatles radio show on Sunday, January, 10th.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Hollies Album Tracks - The Defense Rocks

The induction of The Hollies into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has caused some critics to question whether there was enough depth behind the band’s string of Top 40 hits to merit this honor. First of all, The Hollies placed more singles on the charts in England than any artist other than The Beatles, and notched a fair amount in America as well. Second, a number of outstanding tracks can be found on The Hollies’ albums.

I’ve been making mixed tapes (now CDs) since 1980, and have always preferred album tracks by The Hollies to their hits. Certainly, I would choose “Tell Me To My Face” or “Confessions Of A Mind” over “Jennifer Eccles” or “Sorry Suzanne.”

So, between now and March, when The Hollies will be inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, I’ll be spotlighting some of the better deep tracks they’ve recorded over the years.

“Put Yourself In My Place” - Like The Zombies, The Hollies recorded a rollicking version of Curtis Mayfield’s “You Must Believe Me” around 1965. It’s on their American release Hear! Here! and segues perfectly into an original Hollies composition. Written under the band’s collective pseudonym L. Ransford, “Put Yourself In My Place” sounds like it was deliberately created to complement both the sentiment and arrangement of Mayfield’s song. Both tunes deal with the way a lack of trust can bring chaos to a relationship, and both feature the band’s already legendary harmonies. Another highlight is an energetic instrumental passage built around the guitar, harmonica, and bass. It’s impressive that even at this early stage of their career, The Hollies were not only able to perform classic American R&B music, but also drew inspiration from it as songwriters.

“Tell Me To My Face” - By late 1966, The Hollies were up to their love beads in the creative revolution The Beatles and The Beach Boys had brought to pop music. Produced by Ron Richards, the Stop Stop Stop album featured full orchestra arrangements and innovative recording techniques. It would become the first in a trio of masterpieces by The Hollies. “Tell Me To My Face” is pure Graham Nash even if the song does kick off with drummer Bobby Elliott’s playful rim shots. Nash’s sophisticated lyrics flow effortlessly along the exotic melody as he confronts a friend or lover who's been bad-mouthing him to other acquaintances. “Tell Me To My Face” sports a Latin rhythm that evokes images of a couple dancing the tango. One of Nash’s best compositions, it was covered by the single-named Keith (of “98.6” fame) in the mid-1960s, as well as by Dan Fogleberg & Tim Weisberg on their Twin Sons Of Different Mothers album in 1978.

“Confessions Of A Mind” - One of the most ambitious efforts from the post Graham Nash era Hollies, this five-minute-plus epic on the 1970 Moving Finger LP was penned by guitarist Tony Hicks. A tale of a guy who ponders cheating on his girlfriend while she’s away, it’s also a showcase for Hicks’s underrated talent as he shifts from intricate Spanish guitar strumming to unbridled rock ‘n’ roll jamming. The harder-edged portions (as opposed to the classical passages) are a precursor of the grittier approach The Hollies would later take on “Long Cool Woman” and on most of the Distant Light album. Ron Richards, as usual, provides impeccable production values while lead vocalist Allan Clarke successfully navigates the song’s numerous tempo changes.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Slug It Out

45 record portrait of The Slugs as young men.

The Slugs have been involved with the Chicago music scene in one form or another for over two decades now. Like Frosty the Snowman, group members singer-guitarist Dag Juhlin, bassist-vocalist Greg Juhlin, and drummer Mike Halston sometimes go away for awhile, or appear in the form of another band like Poi Dog Pondering or The Goldstars, but as sure as Chicago turns cold in January, The Slugs have come back to us. There won’t be a parade downtown, but the band will be part of Pravda Records’ 25th Anniversary Bash at The Abbey Pub on Chicago’s northwest side on January 22nd.

The Slugs hadn’t signed on with Pravda yet when they released the 45 “Walking In Circles” b/w “Give Me A Sunday” on Susstones Records in 1986. The A side, with Dag Juhlin’s ringing guitar and rough hewn vocals, was similar to “Do Anything You Wanna Do” by Eddie & The Hot Rods, while the mid-tempo B side sounded like Elvis Costello.

The band’s full length debut, Non-Stop Holiday, released two years later on Pravda, was filled with high-energy power pop/punk gems like “Beat City,” “Big Red Naked Guitar,” and “Romeo Sings A Song.” The Slugs took some time to create a follow-up with Fort Fun in 1992, and it would be another eight years before the CD Junior came out. The Slugs dedicated Junior to Phil Bonnet, who had passed away shortly after co-producing the CD with them.

In my Illinois Entertainer review in 2000, I noted that Junior showcased Dag Juhlin’s continued growth as a songwriter. “Margaret” mixed acoustic and electric guitars in an energetic country-flavored arrangement while the even more adventurous “Little Rusty” incorporated wicked slide guitar into a hard-edged satire of a media-hyped rock star. “Slide” and “Neverland” found The Slugs in more familiar territory, cranking out high velocity pop songs with great melodies.

The Slugs promised on a recent promo video on Facebook that they would play all their fans’ favorites at the Pravda Anniversary Show at The Abbey. And you can’t complain about The Service, another veteran punk/power pop band who’ll be helping Pravda celebrate its anniversary. The Service’s keyboards player Kenn Goodman should be particularly happy to participate since he’s the label’s founder. Roots rock band Boom Hank, whose CDs include their debut Nuisance and the more recently released and oddly named Ishly Ghost Fly Your E & Y, will no doubt add to a rollicking night of fun.

Finally, congratulations to Pravda Records for its continued dedication to promoting indie rock talent. For 25 years, it’s given us not only The Slugs, The Service, and Boom Hank, but also artists like The Goldstars, New Duncan Imperials, Young Fresh Fellows, Susan Voelz, The Sleepers, The Farmers, and Cheer Accident.

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