Category Archives: Reviews

Artful Dodger – The Complete Columbia Recordings

Unsung heroes of power pop

It’s baffling how some bands make it, and some don’t. Artful Dodger is one of rock’s biggest head-scratchers. They had a treasure trove of radio-ready songs, a killer frontman, a producer with a proven track record, and the backing of a major label. Despite all this going for them, the band never had a hit single or even an entry on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart. Real Gone Music has just collected the first three albums of this under-appreciated group on a two-CD set, Artful Dodger – The Complete Columbia Recordings.

If the band had only recorded one song, they’d still be remembered for “Wayside.” This jangly masterpiece with a harmony-laden chorus led off their debut album, which was helmed by Jack Douglas. He’d already had success with Aerosmith, and would go on to produce Cheap Trick and John Lennon, and it’s his clever use of layered guitars and vocals that really elevates these sessions.

Their entire debut album is very good, including the darker “It’s Over,” which was a showcase for vocalist Billy Paliselli – he’s a lot closer to Steve Marriott than Eric Carmen. “You Know It’s Alright” is powered by a nice guitar riff and hook in the chorus (which reminds me of more modern bands like Sloan). “Follow Me” was another excellent rocker, while “Silver and Gold” was a gorgeous ballad that should’ve been a hit, and was so intricate, that it almost sounds like ELO. Continue reading Artful Dodger – The Complete Columbia Recordings

Brenton Wood – The Very Best of

A full disc of classic 60’s soul

California soul singer Brenton Wood had a smash hit in 1967 with “Gimme Little Sign.” As a new collection from Bicycle Music, The Very Best of, shows, there was a lot more to this artist than that one song.

What distinguishes Wood from other R&B vocalists of the day is his smooth, relaxed delivery and great falsetto. Both are on fine display throughout this new collection. His other well-known track is “The Oogum Boogum Song,” which frequently shows up on soul and Beach music anthologies, despite barely cracking the Top 40.

The biggest thing we take away from this new set is that Wood was an underrated ballad singer. Take, for instance, “I Like the Way You Love Me,” which is absolutely gorgeous. His double-tracked vocal and falsetto, along with the slow tempo makes this one of those “shoulda been” hits. Also very strong is “Me and You,” which recalls fifties doowop, complete with a spoken middle and Wood’s soaring voice. Continue reading Brenton Wood – The Very Best of

Colin Hay releases fantastic new album, Fierce Mercy

It’s seems silly to have to mention Men at Work every time you talk about Colin Hay. I mean, the Australian singer/songwriter has released a string of fantastic solo albums full of diverse colors and incredible depth. Yet, nothing Hay has done has even come close to the dizzying heights of his former band, who were the darlings of early MTV and sold 6 million copies of their debut, Business as Usual, in the United States alone.

If you haven’t been following Hay’s career, you’re in for a real treat. His latest album, Fierce Mercy, is an excellent place to get re-acquainted with this criminally-underrated artist.

Much of his 13th solo outing centers on love and loss. He still possesses that signature, soaring voice. Although it’s weathered a bit, he actually uses it to his advantage on “A Thousand Million Reasons”; his slightly gruff delivery is in contrast to the gentle, piano-led melody. Hay’s albums have always leaned toward acoustic instrumentation, but on Fierce Mercy, there’s an added element of Americana – the accordion on the aforementioned “A Thousand Million Reasons,” or the pedal steel of “Blue Bay Moon.”

While most of the tracks have an understated quality, Hay shows that he can still write a good rocker in the opening “Come Tumblin’ Down.” “Secret Love” is an interesting tune – the arrangement recalls the production of Phil Spector on songs like “Be My Baby,” along with baritone guitar, which sounds like Duane Eddy. The track builds to this string-laden finale with Hay’s voice cutting through.

Age plays a role in “I’m Gonna Get You Stoned,” where he discovers that the girl in question was “born today in the year of ’97,” while she asks about what it was like “back in my day.”

Several songs deal with loss. “Two Friends” talks of a pair of acquaintances that Hay lost a week apart, as he sings “carry on, my brothers.” Then, there’s the poignant “She Was the Love of Mine,” a delicately, loving tribute to the passing of Hay’s mother.

Sure, there’s nothing here that rivals the pop effervescence of “Down Under” or “Who Can It Be Now,” but that’s no longer Hay’s aim. Where Fierce Mercy succeeds is in its warmth and humanity – these songs are relatable, especially to those who have experienced heartbreaking loss. Yet, despite some of the bleak subject matter, Hay’s voice is ever-reassuring – like a ray of sunshine peeking through the clouds.  –Tony Peters

Harry Belafonte – When Colors Come Together

Harry Belafonte – When Colors Come Together: The Legacy of Harry Belafonte (RCA/Legacy) review

Now, more than ever, his music and message need to be heard

There is truly only one Harry Belafonte.

Singer, actor, political activist; he is a towering figure whose message of equality for all seems more relevant now in these turbulent times than ever before. Legacy Recordings is celebrating the singular artist’s 90th birthday with a brand-new collection called When Colors Come Together: The Legacy of Harry Belafonte (to be released February 24th).

Few young people could pick Belafonte’s music out by name. Yet, the refrain “Day-O” from his “Banana Boat Song” is one of the most-recognizable pieces in the history of recorded music, getting played at sporting and entertainment events worldwide; very few nonagenarians can say they’ve recorded such timeless music. Yet, equally important is Belafonte’s tireless activism for racial harmony. This hope for a peaceful world is reflected in the accompanying booklet, which features quotes from the legendary singer, alongside interviews with children of all races, augmented by images of ways all races can co-exist peacefully. Continue reading Harry Belafonte – When Colors Come Together

Dennis Coffey – Hot Coffey in the D (review)

Dennis Coffey – Hot Coffey in the D: Burnin’ at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge (Resonance Records) review

A never-before heard jazz/funk club offering from one of Motown’s unsung heroes

Dennis Coffey’s list of credits is enough to make your head spin.  He’s responsible for helping Motown Records take a huge leap forward with his innovative guitar playing on singles like “Psychedelic Shack” from the Temptations and “War” from Edwin Starr.  He also helped discover Rodriguez, the enigmatic singer that was profiled in the recent documentary, Searching For Sugarman.  But this live recording predates all of that, finding Coffey flanked by Lyman Woodard on Hammond B3 organ and Melvin Davis on drums; both were also veterans of the Motown stable of session musicians.

The set begins with the band original, “Fuzz,” an extended jam which showcases Coffey’s  melodic, yet trailblazing style.  This particular track is more rock than anything else here (and the closest to his big solo instrumental hit, “Scorpio,” which he had in 1971).  He always sounds like he’s about to lift off into the stratosphere, but then brings things back down just in time.

Continue reading Dennis Coffey – Hot Coffey in the D (review)

Buck Owens – The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966 (review)

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos – The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966 (Omnivore Recordings) review

All of Owens’ trailblazing singles compiled

Buck Owens helped rewrite the rules of country music, wrestling away the monopoly that Nashville had on the genre and setting up camp in Bakersfield, California. Owens redefined what a country record could be – stripping away the studio polish and putting his signature Telecaster guitar upfront. Omnivore Recordings has just issued The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966, collecting every A and B side he recorded during that span.

This phenomenal, two-disc set marks the first time the original 45 rpm single versions have been available digitally. Owens purposely mixed his singles with an abundance of high end. This served two purposes: one, his Telecaster was even more prominent, and two, he made sure that his records sounded like nothing else on the radio.

Continue reading Buck Owens – The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966 (review)

Hayley Reardon – Good (review)

Hayley Reardon – Good (Hayley Reardon) review

Good is her best yet

It’s been an amazing journey for Hayley Reardon. She got an early start, writing her first song at eleven, so she’s already been releasing music and playing out live for years. Reardon has never been scared of baring her soul, even if some of her teenage drama now seems a little trivial. Now, she’s attending college and has recently issued her new album, Good.

Right off, there’s a more relaxed feel to these tracks – she’s certainly been here before. Yet, there’s also a hint of weariness, as if the realities of adulthood have hit her in unexpected ways. This is especially apparent in songs like “Would You Wait,” where she confesses “I don’t need to be different / I just need to be ok.” She’s enamored with a boy in “Good,” yet she reveals later in the song that she still digs him “even if you don’t love me.”

This album sounds like growth and not a reinvention, and part of that can be attributed to producer Lorne Entress, who was brought back to once again elevate these songs to acoustic soundscapes. Take the sparse, spine-tingling “Ghost,” led by Reardon’s simple guitar line. Entress adds tremelo guitar, piano and sound effects, yet leaves the track sparse, allowing the track to really breathe, as she reveals “I am not lonely / I just miss the old me.”

One of the best tracks is “Paper Mache’,” which is propelled by gentle funky percussion. Her voice has grown richer, and deepened a little. We get a break from mid tempo with the bouncy “The High Road” and it’s some of her best wordplay to date.

Reardon has been heavily involved in talking with students all over the country, as she was one herself. It’s interesting to hear her look at things from a more grown up perspective now, as on the poignant “Fourth Grade,” where she interacts with a little girl who wants to be all grown up – it could easily be her talking to her younger self.

The album ends with just Reardon and her guitar with “Work More.”

Hayley Reardon originally got noticed because she was so young. Now that that’s no longer a thing, it’s time to take her more seriously as an artist. Good is a big leap forward, and it shows that she isn’t done growing as a songwriter.  –Tony Peters

Alex Clare – Tail of Lions (review)

Alex Clare – Tail of Lions (ETC Recordings) review

His third album was recorded on a boat!

It can be hard to find inspiration when we’re constantly bombarded by technology. Alex Clare discovered the perfect solution: laying tracks down for his new record on a boat, with bassist Chris Hargreaves. The resulting long-player, Tail of Lions, finds the British singer maturing as a songwriter, while keeping in tact his signature sound that catapulted him to worldwide acclaim in 2011 with the double platinum smash, “Too Close.”

He tackles a wide array of topics on his third album – from the difficulties of mental illness, with the pulsating “Basic,” to the struggles of daily life, on the excellent, hard funk of “Surviving Ain’t Living,” which features a nice guitar solo at the end.

Clare, who is married, with two small children, addresses the difficulties of keeping a relationship together in the leadoff single, “Tell Me What You Need.” The song starts with heavy percussion before giving way to a synth-laden chorus.

Clare converted to Orthodox Judaism over the last few years and the title of the disc, Tail of Lions, references an old Jewish saying that “it’s better to be the tail of a lion, than the head of a fox.” Several songs, like “Get Real,” and “Gotta Get Up,” deal with the tension between his faith and the pulls of the real world. A pleasant surprise is the all-voices, no instruments ending on the midtempo “Tired From the Fire.”

The disc ends with the contemplative “You’ll Be Fine.” After he questions “what are you hiding from” and “what are you fighting for,” he reassures that “you’ll be fine,” repeating over and over, a mantra as the disc closes.

Clare had a contentious relationship with his previous record label (Island), who never truly supported his second album (the more earthy Three Hearts). It’s a shame too – Clare is a fine vocalist and melodic songwriter, and if you strip away the electronics, as in this “Stripped Version” of “Tell Me What You Need,” it still stands on its own:

Handling topics of spirituality and mature relationships may seem like heady material, yet Alex Clare’s gravelly, yet soaring vocals pull you in, making Tail of Lions more than a typical pop record. It’s one that reveals more, each time you play it. –Tony Peters

Rayburn – The Living End (review)

Rayburn – The Living End (Excited States Entertainment) review

Get ready to reconnect with the loud function on your volume knob

There was a time when rock music was fun, when people weren’t ashamed of being good musicians, and when people weren’t afraid to write catchy songs.  Rayburn recalls the best of those times with the release of their new album, The Living End.

The disc begins with “At the Gate,” a hybrid of Led Zeppelin and Kansas with a harmony-infused chorus.  “Malachi” is a furious rocker with a killer repetitive riff and an explosive chorus.  The combination of heavy guitar and organ recall what we loved about bands like Deep Purple.

The moody “Jealous Mistress” has a psychedelic feel, while the bluesy “Deep in Blue” has a Tin Pan Alley vibe.   “Almost Home” is the album’s real surprise, a radio-ready smash, if only there was good rock radio around to play it.

“Madness” starts quiet but builds to a big ending, complete with strings. The funky “I Still Believe” features a great guitar solo at the end that recalls Steve Howe’s finest moments with Yes. The disc ends with the yearning “Journey” and then the short, acoustic “Not Going Back.”

Vocalist Danny Archer has a clear voice, capable of a lot of different emotions, yet throughout he only gives the songs what they need, never over-singing (a common problem in this genre).

The Rayburn guys are basically old-school Prog Rockers (one peek at their album cover and you get that).  But, unlike so many of their contemporaries, the band understands the art of writing good melodies, and it’s that emphasis, instead of showing off, that really elevates these tracks.

Melodic hooks, excellent playing, and some nods to the past – The Living End is hopefully not the last time we hear from Rayburn.  —Tony Peters

Tony Hadley – The Christmas Album (review)

Tony Hadley – The Christmas Album (Omnivore Recordings / Universal Music Group) review

The voice of Spandau Ballet turns in a holiday album that sparkles with the wonder of the season

Spandau Ballet were a much bigger deal in their native England, but they did manage one monster Eighties’ smash in the US with “True” in 1983.  Tony Hadley, the band’s vocalist, has just released his first seasonal offering titled The Christmas Album, and it’s a surprisingly solid listen.   What elevates things is his uncanny choices, which keep things interesting.

The album opens with “Shake Up Christmas,” a song originally performed by Train, but here, Hadley actually improves on their version by imparting a sincerity that’s missing in the original.  Hadley keeps the gentle funk but honestly, he’s got a better voice than Pat Monahan, so it’s overall a success.  He adds a Celtic feel to Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas,” and invites fellow Eighties’ star Kim Wilde for a smooth rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  Wilde’s sultry delivery suggest that perhaps she should do a Christmas album too?

Not sure I’ve ever heard someone do a cover of Springsteen’s version of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” but Hadley pulls it off, even adding a sax solo.  With “Fairytale of New York,” originally done by the Pogues and Kirsty McCall, he removes some of the desperation of the original, with help from Italian pop sensation Nini Zilli.  Then, Hadley digs deep into the holiday vaults for tracks like “Lonely This Christmas,” originally done in 1974 by the English glam band Mud, and “Driving Home This Christmas,” a Chris Rea song that captures the anticipation of traveling long distances to see loved ones.

Hadley acknowledges in his liner notes that the holiday season isn’t always a joyous time for everyone – and by including songs like “I Don’t Want to Spend Another Christmas Without You,” and the aforementioned “Lonely This Christmas,” he captures some of the pain and sadness that also accompanies the holidays.

If there’s one minor quibble, it’s that the disc runs a little too long.  18 tracks is a lot to take in, and there’s so many great performances here, there’s really no need for too-obvious choices like “Jingle Bells.”

A modern Christmas album from a legendary voice. –Tony Peters