Sunday, January 09, 2022

The Electric Prunes - Then Came The Dawn : The Complete Recordings 1966-1969

While the six CD box set Then Came The Dawn : The Complete Recordings 1966-1969 only covers a very short period of time it’s a fascinating look at The Electric Prunes, who over the course of just over two and a half years from late 1966 to mid 1969 managed to churn out five albums, while also going through some twists and turns stylewise and changing members quite a few times with the lineup on the fifth release ending up with no members from their debut (several original members band reunite in 1999 and released several more records, but this box set covers that initial time).  In addition containing all five albums (the first three in both mono and stereo versions) there’s also a live show from 1967, some early demos and a disc containing 19 tracks consisting of 45 Mixes, Rare Tracks and Extended Versions.

The Electric Prunes got their start as The Sanctions, who after recording twelve covers on an acetate, added a keyboard player and recorded 4 more demos under the name Jim and the Lords.  The band was working under that name when Barbara Harris saw them rehearsing in bassist Mark Tulin’s garage and got them a gig playing at Annette Tucker’s husband’s birthday and connected them with Dave Hassinger who worked at RCA studios.  He wanted to produce them but didn’t like the name, so they changed it to The Electric Prunes.  This brings us to disc one, which contains their eponymous debut release in both mono and stereo.  To the band’s dismay they ended up having very little to do with the songwriting on this release with Hassinger bringing in the aforementioned Annette Tucker to co-write eight of the twelve songs (six with Nancie Mantz and two with Jill Jones).  He also asked them to write in a variety of styles since the band was trying to find their sound, resulting in the album being a bit all over the place stylewise.  Having said that there is still plenty here to make this a very worthwhile release.   Kicking the disc off is “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night”, a brilliant psychedelic garage rocker with stellar guitar work that became the band’s biggest hit and signature song.  There are a few other really strong tracks that stick to the garage rock vibe in "Bangles", which meshes it with some Beatles-like passages and "Are You Lovin' Me More (But Enjoying It Less)" with it’s really cool organ work.  Some of the other highlights are "Train For Tomorrow", which starts off as an infectious psychedelic tinged folk tune then halfway through evolves into a jazzy instrumental, the gypsy rock flavor of "Sold To The Highest Bidder" and the freakbeat sounding "Get Me To The World On Time".  They delve a little into R&B influenced rock on "Luvin'" with it’s early Stones vibe and the raucous "Try Me On For Size".  Unfortunately, with the exception of "Onie", a decent ballad, the remaining cuts are all over the place, from the nursery rhyme like "The King Is In The Counting House" and "About A Quarter To Nine", which sounds like a standard from the 30’s to "Tunerville Trolley" whose sound defies explanation, are really all over the place and not that good.  Although a little scattered  this is still a very worthy debut.  

For the follow-up release Underground, found on disc two (again in both mono and stereo versions), producer Hassinger wasn’t as involved with the production, and due to this, the band ended up contributing songwriting for seven of the twelve songs (Tucker and Mantz still contributed three) resulting in a more cohesive sound.  Opening the disc is the hypnotic, twisting and turning psychedelic rock of "The Great Banana Hoax", that in my opinion is every bit as good as “I Had Too Much…”.  The psychedelic rock continues, although in a bit more subdued manor, with "Children Of Rain" and "Wind-Up Toys".  Next up is "Antique Doll", an intriguing track with a really cool creepy vibe to it.  The band veer off into some country rock on "It's Not Fair", a tune that is catchy enough but tends to be a little cheesy.  They get back on track with the moody, acid rock of "I Happen To Love You", written by none other than the legendary Goffin and King, but follow it with another misstep in the novelty sounding "Dr. Do-Good".   From here on the rest of the album contains some really outstanding tracks from the slow and slinky "I", which musically sounds like The Doors at times and "Hideaway", a psychedelic rocker with a bit of a Middle Eastern vibe thanks to the sitar sounding guitar work, to the gorgeous "Big City", that’s a change of pace with a very strong Beach Boys feel, and the sunshine pop of "Capt. Glory". Closing things out is the straight-ahead no frills garage rock of "Long Day's Flight".  Ironically, while Underground was probably the truest representation of what The Electric Prunes were really about, that was all about to change drastically with the next album.

Due to the fact that Underground wasn’t exactly a commercial success, the band’s manager and producer Hassinger, whose company actually owned the rights to the band name, decided along with the label that the next album would be written and arranged by the classically trained musician David Axelrod.  They wanted a religious-based rock-opera concept album that would take their psychedelic rock and merge it with religious and classical elements and be sung in Greek and Latin.  When the band got together to record the album they saw that they couldn’t handle Axelrod’s arrangements to his standards.  While most of the band did perform on all the tracks, the album was largely recorded by studio musicians comprised of the Canadian group the Collectors with engineer Richie Polodor on guitar.  Comprised of just six songs and only running a little over twenty-six minutes, the resulting album Mass In F Minor (the last in the box to be presented in both mono and stereo) was definitely a different direction for the band and is almost better appreciated as one long piece as opposed to different songs. For the most part they have an undercurrent of psychedelic rock running through them, often with long instrumental passage that are then topped off with a string section and vocal chants.   They do stick pretty close to this formula throughout but do mix in a bit of an R&B groove to "Benedictus", while "Agnus Dei" has a bit more of a jazz side to it.  While there had already been numerous member changes at the time Mass In F Minor was released, by mid 1968, a few months after it’s release, the remaining members of the band had all left (interestingly, during the tour that finished right before the last members left, Kenny Loggins was playing guitar with the band). 

Since Hassinger owned the name he once again recruited David Axelrod to write and arrange Release Of An Oath (found on the first half of disc four) and since no members were left he recruited members of the band Climax and some members of the legendary Wrecking Crew to record it.  This time around Axelrod created an orchestral rock concept album based on the Jewish prayer Kol Nidre.  Gone are the chants, replaced by choral vocals and while there are some glimmers of psychedelic rock on a few of the songs, overall there is more emphasis on the string sections. Having said that there are a few songs that are good for what they are, but not really as The Electric Prunes.  "Holy Are You" is the best example of a track where the pieces of the puzzle actually work, especially in the instrumental sections where the guitars, string sections and drums really mesh together perfectly.  Also of note is the jazzy drumming of the legendary Earl Palmer, who really shines on "General Confessional" and "The Adoration", the last of which is another solid track with some really nice, subdued organ work fleshing out the sound. 

As if the story so far hasn’t been strange enough, the band’s fifth album Just Good Old Rock and Roll (found on the second half of disc four) has the band listed on the front cover as “the new improved Electric Prunes” and with the exception of Dick Whetstone, lead vocalist on Release Of An Oath, contains no prior member of the band.  In another twist, this is also the first album almost entirely written and performed by the band, with only one song not at least co-written by a band member.  At this point the orchestration, string sections, chants and choral vocals are gone and for a large part the psychedelic rock is gone having now been replaced by straight-ahead funk and blues rock.  Definitely the weakest album of the bunch with a lot of pretty generic tracks, it’s not without a handful of really strong tracks most notable being "Thorjon", a hard rocking tune full of fuzzed out psychedelic guitars that is worthy of the Electric Prunes name.  A few of the other standouts include "Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers", a catchy tune with a nice funk groove and some really tasty organ and the straight-ahead rocker "Giant Sunhorse". 

On disc five you will find a collection of single mixes, rare tracks and extended versions.  Kicking things of is their first single (released before their debut album) “Ain’t It Hard”, a catchy British Beat track with a bit of psychedelia mixed in, that was originally recorded by Gypsy Trips, and its flipside “Little Olive”, which is a reworking of a song they originally recorded as Jim and the Lords.  Next up is the single version of “I Had Too Much To Dream..” and it’s flipside “Luvin’” and the first of 8 tracks here found in their single version along with an extended version of “Long Day’s Flight (‘Til Tomorrow)”.  There are quite a few notable non-album tracks found on here as well.  The gritty “I’ve Got A Way Of My Own” and “World Of Darkness” are a couple of outtakes from their debut album that were released as a Record Store Day single in 2016.  Released after Mass In F Minor to hopefully get them back on track, “Everybody Knows (You’re Not In Love)” the next non-album single here unfortunately didn’t do that, but it’s an outstanding pop song written and recorded by the band after being asked by Hassinger ‘Why can’t you just do a toe tappable song like the Turtles “Happy Together”?’ and the flipside is a feedback-drenched, snarling garage rocker “You’ve Never Had It Better”.  Recorded for the movie The Name Of The Game Is Kill, “Shadows” is an ominous sounding garage rocker that initially had a very limited single release.  The last two songs are from another non-album single in the form of the bluesy rocker “Hey Mr President” and the laid-back psychedelia of “Flowing Smoothly”, and are the only representation of the final version of the band on this disc.  Both of these tracks are better than about anything on Just Good Old Rock and Roll and showed promise for what should have been.  Closing out the disc it a radio spot the band did for the Vox Wah Wah Pedal. 

Disc number six starts off with Stockholm 67, an eight track live album that was recorded by the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation on December 14, 1967 and was initially released in 1997.  Over the course of forty-five minutes they tear through an aggressive set of raw garage rock consisting of six originals and covers of “I Got My Mojo Working” and “Smokestack Lightning”.  With extended solos full of ripping fuzz guitar solos and a killer bottom end that shows the band in their element this set shows just how good they really were.  This is The Electric Prunes at their finest and it’s a shame they were never given control in the studio so we could really see what they were capable of.  Closing out disc six and the box set are the Jim and The Lords Demo Recordings, four tracks recorded in 1965 before the name change, that take us almost back to the beginning.  Consisting of pretty straightforward garage rock covers of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Leaves plus a version of the original “Li’l Olive” that was later included as the flipside of their debut single, there’s not much indication of where the band was headed, but they are nice additions to the package.  Completing this well put together box is an outstanding thirty-six page booklet full of pics and a very detailed essay of the crazy story behind the band.  

(Grapefruit Records)

Warzaw - Black Magic Satellite

Following hot on the heels of their outstanding debut album, which was released at the beginning of 2021, Norway’s Warzaw is back with their follow-up Black Magic Satellite.  Once again they’ve done a fantastic job of churning out eleven cuts of gritty 80’s-styled metal overflowing with crunchy guitar riffs, a bit of glam and punk, and tons of hooks.  The band sets the pace right out the gate with the double shot, high energy blasts of “Santa Mira” and “Fierce Attitude” and with the exception of a few tracks, maintain that vibe with “Lightning From The Clear Sky”, “Circular Talk”, “Altar of Pleasure” and the epic six minute closing cut “Sabres Of Flesh and Blood” among the highlights.  They do switch things up a little on a couple tracks, with “Shot of Poison”, a slower track that has a Dio vibe and my favorite “Where The Bodies Are Buried”, which has a bit of a groove to it.  The musicianship here is top-notch from start to finish, with some very impressive guitar work throughout, and sounds like the work of seasoned veterans.  A highly recommended release. 

Monday, December 13, 2021

Phillip Goodhand-Tait - Gone Are The Songs Of Yesterday

After spending some time in the 60‘s as a member of The Stormsville Shakers (later known as Circus for a short while) and also writing several songs for the band Love Affair, including “Gone Are The Songs Of Yesterday”, the flipside to their number one song “Everlasting Love”, Phillip Goodhand-Tait signed on with DJM Records, a label that released his first four albums, that along with numerous bonus tracks pulled from 7“ singles and the soundtrack to the film Univeral Soldier, make up the four cd box set Gone Are The Songs Of Yesterday.  While this box only covers those first four solo releases, it should also be noted that Goodhand-Tait has had an illustrious career that has found his songs being recorded by the likes of Gene Pitney and Roger Daltrey and he has also produced a diverse array of artists including  Magnum, Venom, Climax Blues Band, The Lords Of The New Church and Kid Creole And The Coconuts.

First up is his debut solo release Rehearsal.  As I made my way through this really enjoyable set of songs highlighted by Goodhand-Tait’s rich, soulful vocals, elements of artists like Randy Newman, Joe Cocker and a little Harry Nilsson frequently came to mind.   While there is a definite cohesiveness to the album there is also a sense of diversity.  Alongside tunes like the the soulful “Lean On Me”, which has a bit of a Cocker sound and “One Road” and “Run See The Sun”, a couple of beautiful ballads with outstanding string arrangements, there is the country blues flavored “Children Of The Last War” with it’s driving honky tonk piano and fiddle, “Climb Aboard My Bus”, which has a really cool jazzy intro before heading into a Randy Newman-esque sound complete with horns, and the banjo and horns of the jazzy “(Heaven Help) Belinda”. The aformentioned string arrangements are also of note as they are the work Robert Kirby, who was the musical director and arranger on the album and also contributed string arrangements for the likes of Elton John and Nick Drake amongst others.  Other highlights include the piano driven “Tramp", the fun, bouncy upbeat “One I Thought” and the stunning laid-back “Jeannie”.  Closing out the first disc are seven inch bonus tracks “Only Too Pleased To Help” and “Love Has Got Hold Of Me”, a couple of pretty straightforward, radio friendly tunes, the latter of which he wrote for the band Love Affair, but he ended up recording himself when vocalist Steve Ellis left that band before it could be recorded (he has noted that he ended up recording it exactly as they were supposed to).

Goodhand-Tait has said that when he was recording Rehearsal that he had no experience singing and playing piano at the same time and that when he went in to record the follow up I Think I’ll Write A Song he had mastered that by keeping the piano playing simple.  He had also now been performing live with his band and changed his songwriting to take into account the immense talent of guitarist Andy Lattimer, who later went on to cofound the band Camel.  This change in direction was also further enhanced with the production of Rodger Bain, who was known for producing heavier bands like Budgie and Black Sabbath.  The results of all these changes are an album that is overall much heavier with alot of emphasis on Lattimer’s guitar work and none of the string arrangements that were all over the debut.  Without a doubt the standout tracks are “Silverwing”, a killer song with an epic classic rock ballad sound, powerful emotive vocals and beautiful guitar-work, “Medicine Man”, a straight-ahead barnstormer of a rock tune reminiscent of The Faces with some great Jerry Lee Lewis styled piano and “In The Old Country”, with it’s laid-back, bluesy country groove not so unlike The Band.  Other highlights include the title track, “Who Laid Your Living Down”, “Oh Rosanna”, a bluesy tune with some great honky tonk piano work, and “Cold Night”, a slow, stripped down bluesy song with harmonica courtesy Ian Duck from the band Hookfoot (Duck also contributed harmonica to a couple cuts on the album Tumbleweed Connection from Elton John, Goodhand-Tait’s labelmate at DJM).  Rounding out disc two are six bonus tracks.  Most notable of these are three songs from the previously unissued soundtrack for the 1971 George Lazenby film Universal Soldier - the rollicking “Oh Ryker”, the funk-tinged, blues rocker “Motorways and Parking Boys” and the instrumental version of the Rehearsal track “Cold Night”.  

With his third album, Songfall, the heavier sounding band from the previous album was gone and he shifted towards a more intimate sound once again.  This is evident immediately with the opening ballad “Moon”, a really nice laid-back track comprised primarily of gentle piano, acoustic guitar and vocals.  Almost everything here is very stripped down allowing his vocals and piano to really shine.  The absolute standout is “Leon”, a gorgeous, very heartfelt song about meeting up with an old friend only to have him die not long after the meeting.  Some of the other highlights include "Not Really Here Right Now", "New Moon Tonight", which has a bit of a rock undercurrent and "When That Day Comes", which has some really nice piano work.  There are also a few interesting cuts that move in a bit of a different direction once again with the laid-back island groove of "Blue Day", the folk country sound of "Country Green Ahead" and the really interesting protest song "Processed", complete with steel drums and tuba (per Phillip this is probably his only protest song).  He also delves into a couple of covers with slower reinterpretations of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” and The Every Brothers’ “When Will I Be Loved”.  Also of note on Songfall are guest appearances from Rick wakeman, Davey Johnstone and Ray Cooper. Disc three is rounded out by the bonus track “City Streets”.

Rounding out the box set is Phillip’s eponymous fourth album and last for DJM Records.  Because of the success of labelmate Elton John, the recording budget this time around was much bigger with the album being recorded in 24 track and production being handled by Robin Geoffrey Cable.  While at their core most of the songs aren’t that different from alot of his previous work, the production here takes them to a different level along with the string arrangements like he used on his debut.  This is most evident on "Reach Out For Each Other", a gorgeous song with a Phil Spector like production utilizing the strings and multiple layered pianos to full effect, and "You Are", which has a bit of a psychedelic vibe to it.  As always, there are also a few tracks that set themselves apart from the rest of the album.  There’s the quirky country of "One More Rodeo", with accordion leading the way along with some horns, and "Emile", a reggae tune recorded with a reggae band that is definitely a new direction for him, and the hypnotic jazzy blues groove of "Sugar Train".  He also takes a step back into the past with the 50‘s doo wop of "Teenage Canteen" and the 60‘s sounds of "Forever Kind Of Love", a song he says is a nod to Love Affair’s “Everlasting Love”.  Rounding out disc four and the box set are three more bonus tracks with the highlight being the soulful “Almost Killed A Man”.  Also included is a nice 20 page CD booklet with notes from Phillip on the albums and his career at this time, but unfortunately without alot of details on the contributors to the albums.  This is an outstanding collection that I would highly recommend.  

(Lemon Recordings)

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Interview with Asteroid Blues

After forming in late 2019, but then having to deal with the inevitable delays of covid, Sydney, Australia's Asteroid Blues have finally released their eponymous debut EP.  I recently had the chance to do an email interview with guitarist Keegan where we discussed the band and their new EP, the impact of covid, what's on the horizon for the band and more. 

Can you give me a bit of a band history?

Tristan and I had a rippa night and woke up the next morning and just thought it would be fun to start a band, so we wrote a status asking if anyone wanted to join a band and sure enough we got some hands. We picked up lemon on bass and Corey on vox. We all grew up around the same parts so we were all already mates or mates of mates. We all just clicked and got along. Ewan on drums joined a bit later down the track, he fit in well and here we are. It’s definitely more than just a band these days, we’ve had the ups and downs but at the end of the day we are good bunch of pals that enjoy what we do and power on through.

“Blackstar” is a great psychedelic rocker, but then it also shifts into some reggae influenced passages here and there.  How did that come about? 

Thanks man! "Blackstar" was actually the first tune we completed as a band!  I think when we wrote it we weren’t too sure what sound we were headed for, so we kind of just did whatever the hell came to us. We all came from different music backgrounds at the time and I guess we were still looking for a foundation or common ground. Could say there’s a lot of different influences inside "Blackstar." Turned out pre sweet but 

I love the slow build of “Hallucination Bay”.  It starts off with a simple acoustic guitar and vocal and then builds and builds, but also kind of ebbs and flows at the same time.  Can you tell me a little about that song? 

The acoustic intro idea came to us whilst in the process of recording the ep. the bloke that recorded us Isaac Lewis suggested the idea and we all jumped on board. 

The foundation of the song came from our ex drummer Dylan Watson, absolutely talented man on all instruments. At the time we were all dwelling deeper into the sound we wanted to create. And when we heard the jazz and groove influence it has we knuckled down, still incorporating the heavy hitter sections we all loved.

Most of your songs have alot of dynamics with the tempo shifting at some point.  Is that something you consciously try to do or does it just happen? 

Absolutely not something we do consciously! We didn’t even realize until we tried playing the songs to a click. All the fellas are super passionate, and really feel and anticipate what's coming next, so I think we all just feel when something needs to slow down or speed up and do exactly that. We are all definitely conscious of it now and considered keeping things the same tempo when recording. but thought, hey screw it this is how we play it, and it just feels right. 

Were you able to work together to record the EP or was it done with you working remotely? 

We were lucky enough to be able to record it all together. Was the first time we went through the recording process together so we are very lucky to have been able to experience it together!

Alot of your songs have some sections that sound like they would really enable you to expand on them when you play them live.  Has that been the case?

It’s something we’ve always considered. For a lot of us Asteroid Blues has been our first band, and the first time we’ve played in front of people, performed in general, so I think we’ve never gone for it just because we are just focusing on perfecting the songs live as they are. But these days we have all grown as musicians and performers so I dare say some live improv is on the way.

The band has been together for a few years, so it’s taken some time for this debut EP to be released.  I heard the new song “Fools Company” through a stream on Orbital Radio there in Sydney.  Do you have alot more songs ready and if so do you think we will be hearing them sooner than later?

Oh man, we’ve got a couple of songs up our sleeves that we are super keen to get out. Everyone’s knuckled down and worked hard on their instruments since the EP, and the chemistry is peaking now. We are super proud of the songs we’ve previously written, so we are gonna push to release new music as soon as we can! 

Has covid had a lot of impact on the band?

Yeah, it definitely kicked us in the knee, it’s half the reason we sat on the first EP songs for so long. I’m pretty sure the first wave hit after like our third gig together. We were all loving life and working hard and then bam, as soon as the ball got rolling it got stopped by that damn covid-19 

You recently had an album release show.  What other plans do you have for promoting the new EP? 

Hopefully just more gigs dude! We are super keen to get rolling and play as many as we can!

Are any of you involved in any other bands or musical projects? 

Nah man, we are all super open minded, and very versatile with our music taste and have tried other things here and there. but AB through and through baby

Anything else you would like to share with readers?

Hope everyone out there is kicking ass, and being great. If you are down with it, Expect more from us soon! Have a good one.

(Asteroid Blues - Facebook)

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Howard Jones - at the BBC

I’ll be the first to admit that when I read about a five CD box set of BBC Sessions and live concert performance broadcasts from Howard Jones, all recorded between 1983 and 1987, I was a bit skeptical.  While I always enjoyed his hit singles and I’m pretty sure I have a few albums amongst my collection, I was never a die hard fan and five CD's from a five year span seemed like alot.  Having said that I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable this box set is, not to mention I didn’t realize how many of his songs are so ingrained in my brain after all these years.  

Starting things off are a couple of sessions from The Kid Jensen Show On BBC Radio 1 from March and May 1983.  It should be noted that this was before music was so accessible through the internet, and the BBC was very vital to artists being heard and discovered in the UK.  At the time of this first show, his debut album Human’s Lib was over a year away from being released, so this was the first time many people had heard him.  While the March appearance was a live performance in the studio, for the show in May they played Howard’s “White Tape" demo cassette.  Most of these don’t differ too drastically from their later versions, but they are a a fascinating look at the inception of many of these songs. Most notable is the version of “What Is Love” (titled “Love” at this time) as it is much slower than the album version from the next year.  Interestingly a couple of the songs on these first two sessions, “What Can I Say” and “Don’t Put These Curses On Me”, never showed up as an album track before finally making their appearance on his 2003 Best Of album.  Closing out disc one is a performance on the Janice Long Show on BBC Radio One in January 1995 focusing on tracks from his sophomore release Dream Into Action.  

Another performance on the Janice Long Show opens disc 2.  While as a whole the majority of songs throughout this box have really stood up very well over the years, a few of the songs on this set like “The Balance Of Love” and “Don’t Want To Fight Anymore” sound a bit dated today, but they are definitely the exception to the rule.  Also of note is the closing track from this performance, which is a great cover of Donald Fagen’s “I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World)”.  Closing out the second disc is the first of three concert performances that were recorded for the In Concert Radio Programme on BBC Radio One.  Recorded in October of 1983, a few months before his debut was released, the six song set is a fantastic, high energy performance where you can literally hear the enthusiasm of the young performer as well as the crowd, and is the must hear performance in this box set.  

The next two discs contain the other In Concert performances, the first from May 1984 and the second from April 1985.  Even though you can hear his performances getting more and more professional and a little of that energy found on the first set is gone, these shows are still outstanding.  While the first show, with the exception of a couple tracks, are from his debut album, almost half of the second show highlights songs from his second album Dream After Dream, which was still a few months away from being released when the show was recorded, so you can really hear him trying things out with these songs in a live setting.  

The final disc here contains all the songs from The Oxford Road Show, a performance that was simulcast live on BBC TV and Radio in March of 1985.  Several of these recordings were released as B-sides, but this is the first time that they have all been released, including four songs that were not broadcast during the simulcast and have never been released before now.  This show does a great job of highlighting Jones’ career up to this point with a set full of hits from the two albums he had released and shows just how tight the band’s performances were.  

Complemented with a sixteen page booklet highlighted by a conversation with Jones about these shows and this time in his career, at the BBC is an outstanding box set that makes for a really enjoyable listen and even though many of the songs show up multiple times it never gets repetitive.  

(Cherry Red Records)

Sunday, November 14, 2021

White Plains - The Collection  

I have to admit that when I first got this box set from White Plains I had no idea who they were, but about halfway through disc one “My Baby Loves Lovin’”, a song that hit number 13 on the US charts in 1970, came on and I realized that I had definitely heard them before. They never managed to hit the upper charts in the US again (“Lovin’ You Baby” made it to 82 and they did have five top 25 songs in the UK), which is unfortunate because over the course of two albums and numerous singles they released some outstanding music that bridges the gap between lush, orchestrated 60‘s pop and early 70‘s AM pop and contains some stellar vocal harmonies.  The band actually evolved from the psychedelic pop band The Flowerpot Men who were know for the song “Let’s Go To San Francisco” and whose last three songs initially recorded as The Flowerpot Men instead ended up being the first three recorded as White Plains.  A large majority of the songs by the band were written and produced by Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook, neither of whom were members of the band, while the actual members of the band were a bit of a revolving door that almost needs a flowchart to follow who was in the band and when (the CD booklet does a good job of detailing all of this, although after all this time even the members have a hard time remembering who was in the band when).  

On disc one you will find the band’s eponymous debut CD (which was retitled My Baby Love’s Lovin’ in the US) along with two bonus tracks that were originally released as singles.  An interesting fact about this album is that due to the ever-changing band lineup there were no band photos or member credits anywhere on the sleeve, with the only credits being the recording engineers and producers.  In addition to “My Baby Love’s Lovin’” (a very catchy tune, but to me one that doesn’t really truly represent their sound), some of the highlights include “Today I Killed A Man I Didn’t Know”, “I’ve Got You On My Mind”, “You’ve Got Your Troubles”, “Young Birds Fly”, “Sunny Honey Girl”, an upbeat pop tune that was later a hit for Cliff Richard and sounds a little like The Archies and “Miss Her Mississippi”, an outstanding cut that shows a more soulful side to their sound. 

Even though many tracks from their second release, When You Are A King, have shown up on various compilations, disc two marks the first time the complete album has shown up on CD.  Opening the album is the title track, an absolute stunning song with a beautiful arrangement and melody that’s fleshed out with concertina and in my mind should be the one they are best known for. Among the other highlights here are “Lovin’ You Baby”, “Home Loving Man” (previously a hit for Andy Williams), “Every Little Move She Makes”, “Noises (In My Head)” and “I’ll Go Blind”, which has a bit of a Bowie vibe to it.  Disc two also contains nine bonus tracks, again all originally released on singles.  A few of these really stand out including “I Can’t Stop”, a very Crosby, Stills and Nash sounding tune (“Look To See” also sound like CSN, but borders on being a clone), “Dad You Saved The World” and “Beachcomber”, a really interesting cut that is a bit moodier than most of their other songs and has a really nice rolling organ running through it.  

The final disc in the box is comprised of eleven tracks that are all rarities and are much sought by collectors.  First up are four songs by Crucible, which formed when the solo projects of two former members merged (both projects also had contributions from other former members).  An album was recorded, and while it ended up getting shelved these four tracks were used on the soundtrack for the 1972 documentary film Extremes.  These songs are more guitar driven rock bearing no resemblance to White Plains with the Beatles-esque “Box Man” and “Elvish Queen”, a folky acoustic song with a bit of a prog vibe well worth a listen.  The next four tracks are from Zenith, a band formed by three members who continued to work together after the band came to an end in 1974, and would easily fit in on a White Plains album, although none of them really stand out that much.  Lastly are three tracks from two former members once again released under the White Plains name in 1978.  Strangely, two of these (“Dance With You” and “I Wanna Fall In Love With You”) have a 50‘s doo wop vibe to them, while “Plains” is a soft rock instrumental.  Completing the package is the aforementioned 28 page booklet that in addition to detailing the various band lineups includes plenty of pics of the band and memorabilia.   The Collection is an outstanding, very in-depth and well put together look into the diverse career of this band.

(7T's Records)

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Interview with Wednesday's Child

Wednesday's Child, the London based duo comprised of Emily Roberts and Georgia Williams, recently released their debut EP, a unique amalgamation of everything from psychedelia and punk to 60's girl groups, jazz and much, much more.  I recently did an email interview with them covering their backgrounds, the EP, their upcoming live debut and a variety of other topics.  

Can you give me a bit of a background on the two of you and tell me how Wednesday’s Child came together? 

We both grew up in pretty rural places and then moved to London separately in our late teens; Emily to study jazz guitar, Georgia to study acting. During lockdown, we began collaborating by sending song ideas back and forth and getting to know each other. By the time we got to playing and recording in-person, we already had a lot of material ready to go. Both of us had Wednesdays free to meet up, and things just grew from there...

How does your songwriting usually work?

It’s different every time. Sometimes one of us has a song already written which we then bring to the band and rework together to make it sound ‘Wednesday’. Other times we start from scratch with a lyric idea or guitar riff.  There’s not been any kind of songwriting structure we go by, which is probably why the songs are more like collages than ABC. We follow our guts and enjoy mashing two opposing sounds or ideas together. If it feels good, we keep it!

Can you tell me about the recording process for the EP (since it was during the pandemic were you working together in the same room or separate)?

We wrote and recorded the early stages of "Begin Again" and "That Thing We Had" separately during the pandemic and had to send ideas and feedback over email and video call! We didn’t really have the budget to go into any studios, so we recorded almost everything in our own bedrooms. Both of these factors in combination have given the EP a very DIY and personal feel.

“Begin Again” is an outstanding song.  It’s swirling and hypnotic, yet a bit distorted and haunting, then there are the tempo shifts, jazz flourishes and the interesting noises going on in the background.  Can you tell me a little about that song?

Thank you, we’re glad it communicates all of that! "Begin Again" started with some twisted lyrics and punchy chords which Georgia wrote over the Christmas period. Emily created a hybrid of jazz, psychedelic effects and James Blake-inspired production, and we drew on nonsense poetry for some of the lyrics. All of the writing and production was done ourselves, and it became the second song we recorded together. Because this process was so insular, we were able to be as expressive and experimental as we wanted without any outside noise. It is exactly how we wanted to open our debut EP.

“Nearby Nowhere” is probably the most mainstream song on the EP with a bit of a 60‘s sound that really sets it apart.  What was your inspiration for that cut?

We were very much inspired by The Ronettes and Rubber Soul-era Beatles. Georgia was awake one night in January and feeling quite stuck, so she started to write "Nearby Nowhere" as a way to move forward and feel more hopeful. We then worked on the song at the start of the summer (it was the last song we recorded for the EP) and came up with the main hook to tie everything together. Emily took inspiration from Queen when writing some of the guitar parts as she was previously in a Queen tribute band. We enjoy mixing influences from different decades and then creating something fresh. 

I love the feel of the song “Puppeteer”.  It has a bit of a circus/carnival vibe.  What can you tell me about that one?

Emily and Georgia’s passion for musical theatre comes into play in this track where theatrical and spoken elements are in place. It’s very playful in terms of the production and all of the crazy instruments we have in there - there’s banjo, accordion, the lot! The speed change at the end was initially a mistake, but we ended up keeping it because we like how it falls apart unexpectedly.

“Gabriel and the Window” is a beautiful song and is much simpler and more straightforward than the other cuts.  Is that what you were striving for with that song?

It definitely was, but ironically this song took the longest to finish. The chorus for "Gabriel and the Window" was one of the first pieces Georgia ever wrote on the guitar, and it was for her brother who was going through a blue time. Then, jumping forward to Wednesday’s Child, we created three different versions, each with their own vibe. The first was jazzy, the second a bit more upbeat and electronic. We eventually settled on this much more intimate sound which builds into a fuller, visceral experience. It felt like the right way to tell this story, and also give a bit of softness at the end of the EP. Linking back to the song’s rooting in family, we included audio clips from Georgia’s home videos.

I mentioned the sounds going on under “Begin Again”, but there are other little things like that throughout the EP.  Could you elaborate on some of the things we are hearing?

We wanted to recognize ourselves in our music and not try to sound like someone else. As we started recording, there would be happy accidents like catching one of us giggling or improvising and it just fit as a texture in the song. We also needed to get inventive - sometimes we knew exactly what we wanted but just couldn’t find anything that sounded like it. We used pens instead of picks to play guitar, cracked knuckles for percussion, and used bird wings as beats. It helped make the EP completely our own.

You recently released a video for “Begin Again”.  Can you tell me a little about the video?

We always knew that our music had a visual extension (Georgia is a filmmaker, Emily is an artist) and there’s a storyline all the way through the EP if you’re listening for it. We wrote, directed, produced and edited the video ourselves, and ran a 50/50 female/male ratio on the project. Both of us separately came up with a similar initial concept for this music video which was the mundane morphing into the insane! It showed how much we are on the same page when we came together to share video ideas and we had almost the same outline.

Since you started collaborating during the pandemic have you had the chance to play live?

Our first gig is on Sunday 7th November at Paper Dress Vintage in Hackney, and this will be the first time playing live as Wednesday’s Child. We’re really looking forward to translating the EP’s energy to an onstage setting. 

I read you will be playing some new songs at your album release show.  I know the EP just came out, but can we expect more music sooner than later?

Definitely – we are ready for more! 

You have some other musicians also playing on the EP.  Is it just the two of you live or do you have other musicians playing with you?

We will be playing as a five piece band to achieve the fullness of the EP. We also have two support acts which we are looking forward to.

Do either of you have any other musical projects?

Wednesday’s Child is both of our main creative musical outlets currently, but Emily is also a session guitarist so has experience playing in other people’s various projects and in the theatre. Georgia is also currently developing the musical feature film AVA which draws from golden age Hollywood; specifically, swing music and tap dance.

What are your plans for the band in 2022?

More releases, more gigs, festivals!

Is there anything else you want to share with readers?

Follow us on social media to keep up with any announcements and new releases:

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Vandenberg - The Complete Atco Recordings 

Vandenberg came to life in 1981 from the ashes of guitarist Adrian Vandenberg’s previous band Teaser.  They had released one album, but then after completely revamping the band’s lineup with all new members and getting a label deal they decided to change the band’s name to Vandenberg.  Over the next six years the band released three albums before vocalist Bert Heerik left the band and Vandenberg joined Whitesnake thus ending the band (Adrian did release a new album under the band name in 2020 with him being the only original member).  The four-disc box set The Complete Atco Recordings 1982-2004 collects together these original albums with a fourth disc of rarities and live tracks.

Even though it contains the biggest hit of their career in the hypnotic ballad “Burning Heart" (a song that hit 39 on the US charts) I feel their eponymous debut (disc one) is greatly underappreciated as it showcases an outstanding collection of bluesy hard rock highlighting Vandenberg’s virtuosity on guitar.  Standouts here include opener “Your Love Is In Vain” with it’s bluesy swagger and groove, “Back On My Feet”, “Wait”, a great rocker that also got some radio play and opens with an killer Spanish Guitar solo with some Eddie Van Halen flair, and the adrenaline fueled rockers “Ready For You” and “Out In The Streets”.  

For their second album, Heading For A Storm, the band shifted a bit away from the bluesy hard rock sound and moved towards a bit more of a melodic 80‘s metal sound with the keys alot more present here than on the debut.  Having said that there is plenty of great guitar work and some definite highlights including the power ballad “Different Worlds”,  “Time Will Tell” and a couple of really strong straight ahead rockers “This Is War” and “Waiting For The Light” (this one definitely highlights the guitar work with a nice acoustic opening a some great shredding solos).  Overall this is a bit of a step down and a bit disappointing after such a great debut, but still worth the listen.

On Alibi, their final album of this era, the band pretty much went full force into melodic 80‘s metal.  While there are a handful of good straight-ahead rockers like “Voodoo”, “Dressed To Kill” and “Fighting Against The World”, they all sound a bit dated today.  Even the power ballads on this album, “Once In A Lifetime” and “How Long”, are a bit too much like all the other cliched, hair metal power ballads of that era. Having said all that the album does close out strongly with “Kamikaze”, an excellent instrumental that really allows everyone to shine.  

The final disc of the box is a collection of rarities and live cuts.  First up are seven demos, five from the first two albums and two for tracks that were never released.  The demos of the album cuts are rawer and dirtier and the lack of studio polish give them a sound even heavier than the final versions (take a listen to “Ready For You” or “Out In The Streets”). As for the demos that never made it to an album as a finished track, both are good enough that they would have fit in perfectly on any album, but “Help Me Thru The Night” is especially strong, an absolutely beautiful power ballad that evolves into a rocker at the end with some outstanding guitar work that sounds great as a stripped down demo and makes you wonder why it was never finished and released. Next up are a couple songs in edited versions and a “special mix” of “Once In A Lifetime” along with six live cuts that show just how solid they were as a live act. Closing out the disc is the unplugged version of “Burning Heart”, a beautifully done version with some really nice string arrangements that was recorded in 2004 for a compilation disc. Completing the package is a booklet containing an interview with Vandenberg detailing the band's career. 

(HNE Recordings)

Super Ghost - Left For Dust

Throughout the six cuts on Left For Dust, the Australian duo Super Ghost pull together elements of surf rock, spaghetti western, indie rock and a little punk resulting in an impressive debut EP.  Opener “Lullaby” pulls you in immediately with a wave of surf guitar, then draws back a little with a hypnotic swirling instrumental section before kicking things into gear with an uptempo indie rock sound with plenty of surf guitar flourishes throughout.  “Graceless” brilliantly meshes a dark and moody spaghetti western vibe (complete with horns) with a bit of rock resulting in a song that would make Ennio Morricone proud.  While some surf elements are still present on the next track “Preserved”, they change things up a little here with more of a math rock groove.  Next up are “Haze”, a straight ahead rock tune with some stellar guitar work and vocals, that does a great job of meshing a rootsier sound with a blast of punk energy and “Vertex”, a really infectious tune with a bit of a bounce and lots of great, somewhat jazzy guitar work.  The final track, “Waiting List” opens with a slow, throbbing bass leading into a dark, somewhat tension filled tune showcasing their excellent, at times intertwining vocals and more great guitar work and does a great job of bringing the EP to a climactic end.

(Super Ghost - Bandcamp)