Thursday, May 27, 2010

Forgotten Music Thursday: Ben Vaughn - Rambler 65 (1997)

New Jersey's Ben Vaughn is a well known rocker and respected producer in the music industry. He has recorded several albums of his own and has produced discs for Ween, Los Straitjackets, and Alex Chilton, among others. He has also written music for That 70s Show and Third Rock From The Sun. Currently he also has a weekly, one hour, syndicated radio show, The Many Moods Of Ben Vaughn.

Mostly forgotten today is Vaughn's eighth CD, released in 1997, Rambler 65. It has one of the more bizarre behind-the-scenes stories in music. The CD's title refers to the fact that except for some dubbed in sitar on "Levitation" he played every instrument himself in the back of his car, a 1965 Rambler American. (Imagine the site of someone playing a sitar in the back of a mid-sized sedan). Within the limitations of his "studio" Vaughn produced some mighty fine old time rock 'n roll on his eight track tape recorder. He played electric guitar, bass, keyboards and, believe it or not, a snare drum and cymbal to go along with his drum machine and rhythm box. He even lists "one quart of Quaker State oil" in his credits.

Despite the novelty of its concept the music on this disc is no joke. The opening track, "7 Days Without Love" is a dead ringer for Nick Lowe and most of the rest of the songs are cut from the same fabric. The tunes are mostly upbeat. The best tracks are "Levitation," "Boomerang," "Perpetual Motion Machine, "Rock Is Dead," and "Heavy Machinery." It's a party record, there is nothing deep, and you'll want to listen to it while cruising around in your Rambler, Edsel, DeSoto, Hudson, or Gremlin. The songs are not upscale enough for a Delorean and that's meant as a compliment.

Vaughn also includes some short instrumentals from the soundtrack to the video, Rambler 65, and closes the album out with an old radio commercial for the car complete with live DJ patter.

Not recommended for prog-rockers.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Research Turtles - Research Turtles (2009)

Research Turtles debut CD
was released in August 2009
The young quartet from Lake Charles, LA, who call themselves Research Turtles, has put the "power" back in power pop. Their ear shattering guitar riffs and instrumental breaks remind listeners of Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, and everybody else who ever turned the volume on their amps up to ten. The guitar assaults are mostly offset with melodic versus and choruses that scream The Beatles and Cheap Trick. The high voltage instrumental introduction to The Raspberries oldie "Go All The Way" that segues into Eric Carmen's joyously upbeat vocal is a perfect example of the Turtles' sound.

Lyrically, the guys mostly sing about girls and relationships. They're not depressing like Kurt Cobain or political like Joe Strummer. They just like reckless, take-no-prisoners rock 'n roll.

The CD's opening track, "Let's Get Carried Away" has some serious riffage and is ready made for modern rock radio. "Tomorrow" and "Into A Hole" could be from The Beatles' Revolver album. "Kiss Her Goodbye" is a power ballad that lacks the pretentiousness and false emotion most of their ilk possess and it would be wise not to imbibe Red Bull while listening to the speedy "Mission," because all by itself, the song is enough to get your adrenalin flowing. The nameless, hidden, acoustic track at the end of the disc is pleasant too and indicates that, as the band matures, they may want to add some other styles into their mix.

The group's odd name comes from a Bill Murray line in Wes Anderson's film, The Life Aquatic: "They made soup out of my research turtles."

These newcomers include brothers Jud and Joe Norman on bass and guitar respectively. The lineup is rounded out by Logan Fontenot on guitar and Blake Thibodeaux on drums. The brothers handle all vocal duties. Jud Norman wrote all of the music.

This CD is a very fine beginning to what could be a nice career. You can download the entire album at their website.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Bucket List: Blood, Sweat & Tears - Blood, Sweat & Tears (1968)

It's been quite awhile since Bloggerhythms talked about a popular classic rock album so it's time to discuss a record that, upon its release, significantly influenced what I'm still listening to today. It's not my favorite horn band record from that era but it's the one that ignited my love of brass and reeds in rock music. The LP is the eponymous, second album by Blood, Sweat & Tears (BS&T). From there it was an easy transition to Chicago, Chase, Ides of March, and BS&T's artistically superior debut album, Child Is Father To The Man.

Before Blood, Sweat & Tears became a big hit bands with self-contained, complete horn sections played only a minor roll in rock. For instance, James Brown's band always had horns but Brown was the main man. Everyone else was there to make him look good. BS&T was the first time an album with a horn section as its featured attraction had gone big time on top 40 radio and spawned a slew of hit singles.

With the demise of Al Kooper's original BS&T (an event that saw the star leaving the building along with future jazz great Randy Brecker and a couple of other members) the jazz-rock outfit could have easily called it quits. Instead they carried on with some fresh blood under the same name and replaced Kooper's vocals with the very soulful David Clayton-Thomas. While he could sing rings around Kooper the founder's composing, arranging, and artistic talents could never be replaced. The band truly lost an American music original when he left as BS&T became a more commercial venture.

Nevertheless, Blood, Sweat & Tears is a fine record. After opening with an adaption of avant-garde composer Erik Satie's "Trois Gymnopedies" the band follows it with a jazz arrangement of Traffic's "Smiling Phases" topped off with a great piano solo from Fred Lipsius. Next is guitarist Steve Katz's ballad, "Sometimes In Winter," a song he wrote and sang lead on instead of Clayton-Thomas. Dick Halligan added a nice flute solo. Next is the harder rocking "More and More." Their version of Laura Nyro's "And When I Die," with Katz on harmonica, was a hit single. Side one closes with another jazz piece, Billie Holiday's "God Bless The Child."

Side two opened with longer, LP only versions of their hits, Spinning Wheel" and "You've Made Me So Very Happy," before ten minutes of jazz improvisation morphs into "Blues, Part 2" featuring very earthy vocals from their lead singer. The piece segues into and closes the side with a reprise of Satie's classical theme that opened the album.

Welding jazz and rock was a novel idea in 1968, and while BS&T's popularity would quickly fade away, their early success helped launch the career of Chicago Transit Authority who would go on to bigger and better things in the not too distant future. BS&T was produced by the talented James William Guercio who, not coincidentally, also produced Chicago.

Overall, this is an essential album of classic rock.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dada - Puzzle (1992)

Any CD cover showing a troll doll getting crushed in a vice grip is OK by me and when the music that comes with it is also entertaining we all get a nice bonus. Such is the case with 1992's Puzzle, the debut CD from Dada.

The trio, Michael Gurley on guitar and vocals, Joie Calio, bass and vocals, and Phil Levitt on drums made music that didn't completely fall victim to the angry young man disease most of the grungers and alt-rockers were afflicted with in the early 90s. While it is not completely devoid of sex, alienation, and rebelliousness, Dada has a lot more to offer us and that is why Puzzle was a hit with me. The band plays loud, punchy rock with hooks, melody, harmonies, and imaginative lyrics.

Even though they don't jam incessantly Gurley has proven himself to be a very fine rock guitarist. His style mimics many older ax wielders of the 70s. Weaving around the catchy verses of "Dorina," and on top of Calio's very strong bass lines, Gurley plays four brief but tasty solos that always stay fresh due to their brevity, his originality, and the fact that the trio makes the song, not their egos or guitar hero pyrotechnics, the most important part of their music.

On the humorous "Dizz Knee Land" (#5 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart), before Gurley takes off with another great solo, the band managed to poke fun of those well known Disney World commercials while at the same time showing their disdain for authority. They sing:

"I just ran away from home, now I'm going to dizz knee land
I just crashed my car again, now I'm going to dizz knee land
I just robbed a grocery store, I'm going to dizz knee land
I just flipped off President George, I'm going to dizz knee land."

Other top tracks include, "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow," "Surround," "Posters," and "Mary Sunshine Rain." The latter's lyrics make you feel like its 1967 which is just what it's title suggests.

The original trio is still together, still recording, and still touring after some time off early last decade, but nothing they've released has made the impact of this first CD that went to #2 on Billboard's Heatseekers Chart.

You can find out more on their website where you can listen to a full concert, including "Dizz Knee Land" and "Dorina," via streaming audio.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Craig Lincoln - Cats & Dogs (2010)

Singing, acoustic guitar soloists normally aren't my thing. I'm more of a rocker at heart. I like the sound of a full band and it takes a lot for a singer with nothing more than his unamplified ax to grab my attention. Fortunately for Craig Lincoln, Cats & Dogs, his brand new CD, is one that stands out among the coffee house crowd.

First, a little biography. Lincoln began playing guitar at age thirteen and, as this disc shows, he became quite a master at it. He recently teamed up with another singer-songwriter, Sabrina Schneppat, and they just released their debut CD together as a duo. Long ago, Lincoln became one of the first multi-taskers. While studying his instrument he also worked hard enough to win an Olympic bronze medal in men's springboard diving for the United States at the Munich Summer games in 1972. He's quite a talented guy.

There are several reasons Cats & Dogs should interest you. Lincoln's musicianship shines through on every song but it does not overwhelm his smooth, melodic vocals.  Of course, as is always the case with folk music, none of that would matter without a batch of songs that mean something and Lincoln's most certainly do. The title track uses our beloved pets as a metaphor for human relationships. "Religious Experience," the only live track, is about making love so fine it actually becomes the name of the song. It's a hoot without being totally sacrilegious. "My Father's Son" could be a welcome replacement for Dan Fogelberg's overused and abused "Leader Of The Band."

The best songs are the two acoustic blues numbers, "Just Like Stevie Ray" and "Little White Lies." The latter may be the only song to fit the word "verisimilitude" into its lyrics. Lincoln adds a little blues harmonica to both tunes for some added color. He hints that a whole album of earthier, blues oriented material would be welcome and that maybe, just maybe, he'd like to pickup a Stratocaster, form a power trio, and do some shredding.

This is a nice debut from an already fully developed talent.

You can find out more at Sabrina and Craig's website and at Lincoln's own site that you can find here.