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)

Monday, November 01, 2021

Interview with Neu Sierra

While she has previously worked with the likes of Mike Stern,  Nouvelle Vague and Violent Femmes frontman Gordon Gano and was also half of The Bowdashes with Linn Holm, Neu Sierra marks Nana Nørgaard's debut solo project.  In between editing a new video she took a little time to answer some of my questions about the new EP, playing the autoharp and more.  

Prior to releasing Sulphur and Molasses you worked with a variety of big name musicians and also released an EP and album with Linn Holm as The Bowdashes. Can you give me a little background on yourself?  Also, what motivated you to do your own thing as Neu Sierra?  

I was born and raised in Copenhagen, where I live today. Since I was 18 I’ve played in different bands, performing all over Copenhagen especially at Christiania venues. Together with Linn, who I later played with in The Bowdashes, I went to Paris to work with Marc Collin of the Nouvelle Vague. We slept in the office of his record label, woke up when the label staff met in the morning and after a tiny espresso we went down to the studio in the basement to work. 

Back in Copenhagen I’ve joined different constellations - even jazz from time to time, and last year I released my debut single as Neu Sierra.

With everything else in life, I’ve acted very much alone. I’ve never been part of a big crew of friends, and I have no siblings. Doing my own thing is natural for me, but I’ve had fun and learned a lot working with Linn as The Bowdashes. I’ve always known that some day I would release something ‘as myself’, and the right time is apparently now.

You play the autoharp, which is definitely not something usually seen in a “rock” band, but I love the dynamic it gives your sound.  Can you tell me a little about what motivated you to think they would work together?

The autoharp itself has a big range sound wise - from fragile to grand, delicate to massive, and when I plug in my pedals, the spectrum widens. I like that you can express a lot with very little, which I guess is the deal with any instrument - the autoharp just seems to suit my temper pretty well. Sometimes I cut my fingers on the strings, or my warm fingers slide on a chord - then I’m suddenly not in charge of the harp anymore, and the sound coming from it is an awful surprise. But that’s also the fun of it. I guess I like the unpredictable.. 

Did the pandemic have any effect on the recording process for the EP?

Not really. My drummer had to record at home - but that worked so well, we continued working like that and I just got the most amazing drums sent from him.

Your music has a very dreamy, yet dark, cinematic quality to it, like something out of a David Lynch movie. Have you had any interest from anyone to use your music in movies or TV shows?

I get that a lot, which I take as a huge compliment! So thank you. The music hasn’t been featured in anything yet, but..

When you are writing songs is there a different mindset that you have when it’s for Neu Sierra as opposed to a different project like The Bowdashes?

Though I’ve always written ‘personal’ songs that spring from me, Neu Sierra is my very own, and I can do and say and sing whatever I want. I have the last word which feels very natural and a bit frightening at the same time, and at times I miss Linn (The Bowdashes) to just make a bloody decision, when I find it difficult.

I don’t work with rules or concepts - It’s all about the feelings, and it’s important to me that the music supports the lyrics and the other way around. If, let’s say a guitar plays something just to fill in, but really has no justification to the song, I won’t use it. 

I read that you get compared to Nick Cave and Nico alot.  Every time I listened to the EP there were moments where it reminded me of something, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it.  Then I realized it was Johnette Napolitano, who was the vocalist for Concrete Blonde.  I think to me there is a vocal similarity between the two of you as well as a bit of the darkness to the music, although theirs had a little less noise and a little more pop. Have you heard that comparison before?

No, I have never heard that one, but I think it’s very funny and interesting to be compared to other artists. Of course I know and admire Nick Cave, but I don’t know his music well enough to really hear the similarities. On the other hand I do understand the Nico reference. 

You’ve released some interesting videos for some of the tracks on the EP.  Were you involved with the concepts for those?

Very much yes. I made them myself. 

You recently had a baby and I noticed in alot of the press photos and of course on the album cover you are proudly showing your pregnant stomach.  I love that you didn’t hide that and was curious if there was a conscious decision made to showcase your pregnancy with this EP?

Not at all. I’m very bad at preparing, and the pregnancy was a surprise. A wonderful one, but it just happened to be at a moment, where I was busy doing everything for the first time as Neu Sierra. It wasn’t really possible to hide the pregnancy, and why should I? There’s always the chance a booker skips your name on the list, thinking it’s a risk booking a pregnant woman. I think playing concerts while pregnant is great - I’m not the biggest person, but with a big baby bump you can really claim your space on stage. And with the extra weight I felt pretty grounded too. Sure, I could get nauseous or dizzy, but that also happens after drinking too much wine or a long drive - and none of that would stop me from going on stage. I could have chosen just to use photos of my face, but this was how I looked at that specific moment in time. I think that’s worth immortalizing.

I saw a live video for the song “In My Garden”, which I really liked.  Do you think we will be hearing a studio version of that?

Yes, I believe so..

Not a question, but I also wanted to commend you on the band you have playing in the live videos I saw on YouTube. They were fantastic.

Thank you. I will let them know! I’m very excited about them too, and I feel very lucky to have them with me.

Now that the pandemic is hopefully slowing down what plans do you have for the near future?

Besides breastfeeding and changing diapers I have some concerts coming up in the new year and I’m going to release new music..

(Neu Sierra - Facebook / Neu Sierra - Bandcamp)