Category Archives: Reviews

Two new Alex Chilton compilations show depth of artist (review)

Alex Chilton – Songs From Robin Hood Lane (Bar None)
Alex Chilton – From Memphis to New Orleans (Bar None)

A pair of new compilations focus on the multi-faceted career of this power pop legend

Mention Alex Chilton’s name and you usually think of his brilliantly melodic, yet criminally under-appreciated work with his band Big Star, or the sugary-sweet, blue-eyed soul of the Box Tops. Yet, if you look at his entire oeuvre, you’ll find a far more stylistically-diverse artist than he’s given credit for. There were times when Chilton seemed far more intent on shocking an audience than creating lasting music. He would often embrace his past, then disown it, sometimes in the same breath. Two new compilations from Bar None Records attempt to add some clarity to the twists and turns in Chilton’s long career. From Memphis to New Orleans chronicles his post-Seventies solo career, while Songs From Robin Hood Lane compiles the best of Chilton mining the jazz standards of his youth.

Songs From Robin Hood Lane seems light years away from Big Star, but this is what the young Chilton cut his teeth on.

Three tracks come from a one-off collaboration assembled by bassist Ron Miller, featuring multiple vocalists, called Medium Cool. The project released one album called Imagination, which served as a tribute to jazz trumpeter and crooner Chet Baker, who was enjoying a resurgence in popularity in 1991 (Chilton had often cited him as a big influence). The trio of songs Chilton recorded for the album: “That Old Feeling,” “Like Someone in Love,” and “Look For the Silver Lining,” definitely channel the late jazz legend in the cool, somewhat detached vocal delivery. All three tracks are augmented by excellent sax from Robert Arron. These are fairly hard to find, so it’s nice to have them available again.

A couple of years later, Miller reconvened the same backing band for a proposed full album of jazz standards featuring Chilton. The four songs from those sessions are all previously unreleased, but arguably are some of his finest performances of this genre. “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” (the Ray Charles’ song, not Gerry & the Pacemakers) is sweetened with a fantastic flute solo (also done by the multi-talented Arron), while “There Will Never Be Another You,” “Time After Time,” and “Save Your Love For Me” feature fine sax breaks. Chilton seems fully engaged here, his singing is passionate and soulful.

The remaining cuts come from a 1993 album called Clichés, which show a completely different side – Chilton alone, just vocals and guitar. This is some pretty heady material to tackle solo, yet he’s up to the challenge. Jazz chords adorn the extended opening to “Let’s Get Lost,” then he fluidly tackles “All of You.” He even whistles on the album’s closer, “What Was.”

From Memphis To New Orleans sums up Chilton’s mid-Eighties’ work, after returning home from a sabbatical in the Crescent City. He had left town after the noisy, unhinged Like Flies on Sherbet. The first four tracks come from 1985’s Feudalist Tart EP, and find him refocused. A pair of R&B covers track his journey – “B-A-B-Y” comes originally from Memphis native Carla Thomas, while “Thank You John,” now a Carolina Beach Music standard, was recorded by New Orleans’ own Willie Tee. Both these tracks are driven by a great horn section and fat bass.

“Lost My Job” was a biting Chilton original about his trials in cajun country, which features great harmonica and slide guitar, while “Paradise” sounds like a 1950’s country classic, but is actually another Chilton original.

“No Sex” is a blunt account of single life in the post-AIDS environment of 1986, featuring a honking sax, while “Underclass” is a self-deprecating slice of jump blues, featuring more great slide guitar.

There are no two songs that better sum up Chilton’s herky jerky career than the stripper anthem “Take it Off,” followed by the Skeeter Davis’ b-side “Let Me Get Close to You.” These both come from 1987’s High Priest, but damn – where the hell is he really going here? “Dalai Lama” is kind of The Hollywood Argyles’ “Alley Oop” turned inside out, while “Make a Little Love” is a somewhat goofy cover of an obscure song by Jimmy Holiday.

From the 1989 Blacklist EP comes a faithful cover of Ronny & the Daytonas’ “Little GTO,” including the falsetto vocals, and, perhaps the best song on the entire set, “Guantanamerika,” which somehow name checks crop dusters and Tammy Faye Baker over one of the most melodic instrumentals he’s done in years. As an added bonus, Chilton does a respectful take on Charlie Rich’s Sun records’ nugget, “Lonely Weekends.”

Too often Alex Chilton’s solo output is summed up as “difficult” or “unfocused,” and while there was some of both of those elements at times, there’s still plenty of fantastic material to enjoy. From Memphis to New Orleans does a great job of grabbing the best of post-Big Star Alex Chilton, with plenty of surprises along the way. –Tony Peters

First-ever Linda Ronstadt live album is fantastic

Linda Ronstadt – Live in Hollywood (Rhino)

Finally, evidence that she could bring it in concert

Linda Ronstadt is one of the most important female rock vocalists of all time. Yet, she often gets overlooked, because she abandoned the genre decades ago and never looked back. Scarce video footage and bootleg audio are all that remain as evidence of her onstage brilliance. To remedy this comes Live in Hollywood, the first-ever concert album from Ronstadt in her prime.

Recorded for an HBO Special back in 1980, the album grabs a dozen of the concert’s greatest moments, and the song selection is bulletproof. At the time of the performance, she was riding high off her Platinum-selling Mad Love album, which yielded three Top 40 singles (all of which are here).

Ronstadt had a gift for taking classic songs and giving them a boost. She opens with a rocked-up take on the Hollies’ “I Can’t Let Go,” before giving a grittier, slower performance of Buddy Holly’s “It’s So Easy.” Things start to heat up with a passionate run through of Doris Troy’s “Just One Look.”

Anyone doubting her abilities should put on this live take of Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou.” The sparse arrangement gives her plenty of room to work, while her vocals are a hybrid of country and soul. She even shifts to Spanish for the final verse.

Another one of Ronstadt’s many gifts was her ability to choose off-the-beaten-path material. She holds her own with Little Feat’s original of “Willing,” while her voice is stunning on JD Souther’s “Faithless Love.” She’s both vulnerable and strong, while Peter Asher sings backup vocals. It is absolutely gorgeous with banjo and pedal steel.

Little Anthony & the Imperials’ “Hurts So Bad” has a lot more muscle than the studio rendition – the drums are louder, Ronstadt sounds more pissed off and the guitar is bordering on flying off the rails. She switches the gender for Warren Zevon’s “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” yet never loses any of the edge. Very few artists could’ve pulled this one off without sounding cartoonish.

Another real surprise is an extended rendition of “You’re No Good.” Keep in mind that, by this point, she had been singing this one for over five years – yet, she’s razor-sharp with the performance, spitting out the lyrics, while the guitar-playing equals her fury. “How Do I Make You,” her attempt at punk, also comes off ferocious. These aren’t watered-down performances for TV or some pretty girl miming the camera – this is pure rock n’ roll.

She does a spine-tingling take on the Eagles’ “Desperado,” listen to where she takes it near the end. It’s fitting, since she helped start that legendary band.

The audio quality is top-notch, giving plenty of room for Ronstadt’s voice to cut through. Producer John Boylan writes the liner notes, and we find out how lucky we are to have this recording at all (the master tapes were feared lost for years).

Live in Hollywood reminds everyone just how great Linda Ronstadt was. –Tony Peters

Waiting: The Van Duren Story (review)

Original Documentary Soundtrack – Waiting: The Van Duren Story (Omnivore Recordings)

Van Duren came out of the same fertile Memphis music scene as cult heroes Big Star, and shared their gift of melody. In fact, Duren played with some of the members in post-Big Star bands. While Alex Chilton & Co. had their story told in the excellent documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me (which featured interviews from Duren), Van Duren himself is the subject of a brand-new film called Waiting: The Van Duren Story, which will be made available later in the year. In the meantime, Omnivore Recordings has assembled a dozen of the under-appreciated artist’s finest moments on this new soundtrack.

The roots of this documentary can be traced to two Australian filmmakers, Wade Jackson and Greg Carey, who basically stumbled across Duren’s music through social media. After becoming enamored with several of his songs, they wanted to explore why he wasn’t a household name.

“Grow Yourself Up” is a fantastic rocker that melds the melodicism of Todd Rundgren with the sophistication of Steely Dan. Yet, there’s a raw aspect that neither of the aforementioned artists ever achieved. There’s also some great guitar playing here (the song basically ends in a flurry of guitar echoes). The next track, “Chemical Fire,” features a funky bassline and strange, echoed vocals.

While the Big Star comparisons will obviously be there, I think Duren actually excelled in areas that Chilton’s band did not. For one, Van Duren is a fantastic rock vocalist – his growling at the 2:30 mark in “Chemical Fire” is fantastic. Yet, he is capable of great depth too, as on the gorgeous ballad, “Waiting,” where his voice soars like Emitt Rhodes (and dig that groovy, somewhat dated keyboard solo!).

The disc also includes a few in-studio performances recorded for a radio station. These tracks have a living room immediacy to them, but arguably Duren is even better here – his voice reminds me of the gruffness of John Lennon during the Let it Be sessions, especially on “Yellow Light.”

“Tennessee I’m Trying” has a country feel to it in its jangle delivery, featuring the great lyric: “And it won’t help if the home station won’t play it /never thought I’d have to change their mind.” There’s echoes of Eric Carmen on the tender ballad, “Positive (Wedding Song),” both in the chord progression and the singing.

But the surprises don’t stop there. Duren recorded tracks with Big Star’s drummer, Jody Stephens, and “Andy, Please” is as melodic as anything Stephens’ prior band recorded. Add in a great guitar solo at the end, and you wonder why this has remained in the archives so long?

Van Duren also covers fellow Big Star alumn Chris Bell’s “Make a Scene,” giving it a funkier groove, and again featuring a phenomenal lead vocal – especially when he shouts “I turned on the radio!”

The production level gets more slick on “Just You To Tell Me” but it still retains Duren’s keen melodic sense. The set ends off with a pair of songs from his band Good Question. These have typical Eighties’ production, yet are insanely catchy.

Above all, the music on Waiting: The Van Duren Story needs to be heard – it’s that good. Coupled with the unbelievable backstory, which we’ll get from the documentary, this should be Van Duren’s year. —Tony Peters

Weezer – The Teal Album (review)

Weezer – The Teal Album

Weezer – Weezer (The Teal Album) (Crush Music/Atlantic) review

★☆☆☆☆

Is their covers album good fun…or a cash grab?

After being pestered by fans, Weezer released their rendition of Toto’s “Africa” in 2018, and surprisingly, things exploded all over social media. Suddenly, the band was back en vogue – and why not? Their last platinum album was 2005’s Make Believe. To capitalize on that wave of popularity, the group shocked their faithful by dropping an entire album of like-minded covers on January 23, known as “The Teal Album.”

Here’s the thing – their cover of “Africa” was a joke, right? Instead of sounding like Weezer, it’s Weezer trying to sound like Toto, which is fine for one song. But, an entire album of this? Hmmm… that’s what’s wrong here.

So, they do Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” But, it’s so damned close to the original (including the keyboard and chugging beat), that if you were not really paying attention, you might not know the difference. This is the case for just about everything here.

The track listing is incredibly deliberate too – it’s stuff all the kids know, because they’ve been fodder for memes, but the versions are lifeless. There’s zero passion here, it’s just tepid readings of things like a-ha’s “Take on Me” and Eurhythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” The worst part is – they don’t even sound like they’re having fun.

ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” is possibly the worst of the entire record – I want to jump through the speakers and kick their ass. Why? Because, if you cranked up the guitars and made it an actual Weezer version of this song, and then actually sang it like you enjoyed it, it would probably work. Instead, this tossed-off performance just sounds like bad karaoke.

The only exception here is their take on TLC’s “No Scrubs” – it’s the only one that really crosses successfully into the absurd, and that’s what makes it work. But, “Billie Jean”? Puleeeeze.

The album ends with a banal run-through of the shop-worn “Stand By Me” – it will have you begging for Biz Markie or Sam Kinison to take over.

I know, it’s supposed to be a joke. But, it’s not funny. The band doesn’t sound like they’re laughing. Instead, Weezer put together a compilation of over-baked, super-obvious cover songs that are more akin to what they’ve become as a band over the last several albums – too slick and not spontaneous.

Recording a covers album usually means you’ve run out of ideas. But, through the years, there’s been a surprising number of good ones – from the obvious, like David Bowie’s Pin Ups and John Lennon’s Rock n’ Roll, to more obscure ones, like Marc Cohn’s Listening Booth: 1970, or even Mandy Moore’s Coverage. These albums work for different reasons – Cohn’s is great because it’s music filtered through his distinctive voice and acoustic guitar, while Moore’s is a hoot because it’s a teen idol covering a music geek’s playlist, and having a blast doing it.

Weezer’s album is none of the above. They’ve certainly succeeded in one way – it’s assured that, just like most of the current pop music, The Teal Album will quickly be forgotten. —Tony Peters

3×4 – The Bangles, The Three O’Clock, The Dream Syndicate & Rain Parade (review)

3 x 4 – The Bangles, The Three O’Clock, The Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade (Yep Roc)

★★★★☆

A love letter to the Paisley Underground

3 x 4 is a celebration of four bands and the scene they came from. The Bangles, The Three O’Clock, The Dream Syndicate and Rain Parade were all grouped together in the “Paisley Underground” of Southern California during the early 1980’s. The Bangles had the most success, but great things were written about all four bands. Now, they’ve decided to celebrate with a unique offering: a new album featuring all four bands – all covering each others’ material: three songs, four groups (hence the title).

The Paisley Underground was less a genre and more an aesthetic, shared by all of the groups, who all worshipped the music of the mid to late Sixties – at a time when it wasn’t cool to do so. Keep in mind, this was when both Disco and Punk were both winding down and New Wave was taking off.

Even though all four bands recorded their songs at different studios, there’s a cohesion here. It certainly helps that members of the Bangles lend their background harmonies throughout most of the tracks, but there’s something even deeper. Perhaps it’s shared experience, or friendship – but it comes through in the music.

The thing is, most of the songs will probably be unfamiliar to you. Yet, it doesn’t really matter – it still stands up. Take The Three O’Clock’s version of the Bangles’ “Getting Out of Hand” (back when they were known only as The Bangs). With insistent beat and pulsing organ, this could be a cover of a great lost Nuggets track. The Bangles give The Dream Syndicate’s noise-rock classic “That’s What You Always Say” a little more jangle, while still adding some of the feedback that was on the original (and a nice touch with the acapella ending).

The Rain Parade take The Three O’Clock’s “As Real As Real” and give it a dreamy quality, while The Three O’Clock replace the chaos of The Dream Syndicate’s “Tell Me When It’s Over” and add chiming guitars and psychedelic overtones.

Probably the most ironic song here is The Dream Syndicate doing “Hero Takes a Fall” – the song was actually about leader Steve Wynn, who admits in the liner notes to being that guy. As an added element of forgiveness, Vicki Peterson of the Bangles provides signature harmonies on the track.

The album closes with The Dream Syndicate’s cover of “She Turns to Flowers,” arguably the very first Paisley Underground song (from a pre-Three O’Clock band, The Salvation Army).

Even though the artists are 35 years removed from the scene, they still all manage to channel that joyful energy that made them pick up their instruments in the first place. The great thing about this record is that everyone gets to be who they are and cover their favorite songs, but in their own way. There’s certainly plenty of jangle to go around.

There’s a great booklet that features quotes from all the bands, shedding light on the history of the scene and how all the bands relate to each other. However, this is above all a great collection of songs that holds together cohesively, even though it’s played by four different bands. Some of the aggression and low fi elements of the original versions are replaced with better playing and better production on these newer ones, which is certainly not a bad thing.

It’s amazing that these four bands are still around over three decades later. 3 x 4 is a testament to longevity and a lasting musical friendship. —Tony Peters

From the grave – John Denver warns us

John Denver may be trying to warn us. Yes, one of the biggest-selling artists of the 1970’s, who’s been dead now for 21 years, may be sending us a message – and we should pay attention. Music history depends on it.

I have two teenage boys, so I’m perhaps a little more hip to youth culture than most (but still hopelessly out of step). It’s my eldest, now eighteen, who brought this to my attention.

Over the last year or so, Denver’s ubiquitous 1971 hit “Take Me Home Country Roads” has become part of youth culture, joining a small list of older songs like “Africa,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It’s been the subject of countless memes and videos, and was also featured in the recent Fallout ’76 video game.

An entire new generation of young people have come to know this folk-rock classic. But, here’s the issue: they’re listening to the WRONG version.

A quick search of the song on Spotify reveals something shocking: The most-listened to version of the song (128 million and counting) is a RE-RECORDING, featuring a much-older Denver, not at the peak of his talent.

This version comes from The John Denver Collection Volume One, a budget compilation from Laserlight Records, – you know, the CDs you often see at truck stops mixed in with the $1 DVDs.

The actual, 1971 hit version has less than 1/4th the plays (a mere 36 million).

Well, who cares – I mean it’s just John Denver, right? But, it could happen to any artist. What if a lousy version of an Elvis song or a Beatles’ recording becomes all the rage?

Spotify has long stayed out of curating their music, allowing what’s actually being played to come up first. But, in a situation like this, it might be good for someone to step in.

The re-recording of “Country Roads” is inferior in every way – the musicianship is bland, and Denver’s voice is ragged and lacks the soaring quality that made him a worldwide superstar. I’d bet that Denver’s estate probably isn’t getting any of the royalties from this version either (it’s usually these type of recordings that exploit artists just looking to make some extra money late in their careers).

Thankfully, a similar search on Youtube reveals the original recording coming up first, at 188 million views.

Not sure how this happened on Spotify, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on. –Tony Peters

Paul Kelly – Nature (review)

Paul Kelly – Nature (Cooking Vinyl)

There is simply no one like Paul Kelly.  The Australian singer/songwriter has been creating music for over 40 years now, yet unlike most of his contemporaries – he’s showing no signs of slowing down.  You cannot name another artist that has been both this consistent and yet continues to break new ground. His latest album, Nature, is another in a long line of triumphs.

Back in 2016, Kelly released Seven Sonnets & a Song, where he put music to several works by William Shakespeare.  This opened up a whole new approach to songwriting, which he again used for the closing track to last year’s Life is Fine (adding music to a poem by Langston Hughes).  Now for Nature, his 24th album, the majority of the album is comprised of poems, either from legendary poets, or Kelly himself. Continue reading Paul Kelly – Nature (review)

Lee Michaels – Manifesto Reissues


Lee Michaels – Nice Day For Something (Manifesto)


Lee Michaels – Tailface (Manifesto)

The Seventies were the height of the “album artist” – where a musician could build a following through touring and FM underground radio support, and consistently issue albums that would hit the charts, even though they rarely got played on Top 40.

Lee Michaels was one such artist, who released seven albums for A&M Records from 1968-1973, with five of them landing on Billboard’s LP chart.  Yet, all we remember him for now is “Do You Know What I Mean,” an organ-led slice of blue-eyed soul that hit #6 in 1971.  Manifesto Records brought all of those albums back in print in 2016, along with a fantastic overview called Heighty Hi/The Best of (which we reviewed here).

Michaels’ signed with Columbia Records in 1973 and issued a pair of albums over the next two years: Nice Day For Something and Tailface.  Manifesto has just issued these albums in remastered form, with original album packaging.  Both records are making their digital debut. Continue reading Lee Michaels – Manifesto Reissues

McGuire Sisters – Seasons Greetings From the McGuire Sisters

Seasons Greetings From the McGuire Sisters

If you enjoy tight, three-part harmony, Season’s Greetings From the McGuire Sisters is a breath of fresh air for your holiday music listening. Originally released in 1958, Real Gone Music has rescued this seasonal obscurity, making it available digitally for the very first time.

The McGuire Sisters – Phyllis, Dottie and Christine, were one of the biggest vocal groups of the 1950’s. They hailed from Miamisburg, Ohio, and originally got their start like a lot of sibling groups – singing in church. After getting a lucky break on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts Show, the trio were signed to Decca Records and began charting hit singles like “Sincerely” and “Sugartime” (both #1’s). They were frequent stars on both radio and television.

The McGuires took what similar combos like the Andrews Sisters did and improved upon it, adding flair and personality to the super tight harmonies – giving them an infectious quality that was all their own. Also overlooked were the girls’ versatility, tackling current pop, but easily at home with hymns, ballads and turn-of-the-century classic fare as well.

All of this is on full display on Seasons Greetings – from the McGuires’ bouncy treatment of “Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town,” things quickly move to the luscious, harmony-laden ballad “Give Me Your Heart For Christmas.” What sets this album apart from typical holiday fare is the fact that most of these songs are unfamiliar – from the spiritual-based “He” to the heartfelt “The Littlest Angel,” and the playful “I’d Like to Trim a Tree With You.” This is not the tired stuff you’ve been hearing on the radio since Thanksgiving.

“Christmas Alphabet” was a single that came out back in 1954, and it still holds up pretty well. Things get goofy for “The Cactus Christmas Tree,” which features the sisters doing various farm animal noises – it’s a real hoot. Thankfully, that’s followed by the gorgeous, string-laden “If You Believe.” The girls show off their gospel roots with “He’s Got Time” before ending on a positive note with the charming “Happy New Year.”

In addition to the original, 12-song LP, they’ve included three additional tracks – the fun “Be a Santa,” the warm “Peace” and a three-part treatment of “Ave Maria.”

Tom Pickles does a great job of summarizing the McGuires’ history, before, during and after the release of this record in his extensive liner notes.

There’s an undeniable, wide-eyed innocence to these recordings. And, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Gorgeous harmonies in a variety of styles – Season’s Greetings From the McGuire Sisters is as inviting as a plate of holiday cookies, fresh from the oven. —Tony Peters

Ynana Rose – Tea Leaf Confessions (review)

Ynana Rose – Tea Leaf Confessions (Ynana Rose Music)

Music for those of us who have lived and are still around to tell about it

California native Ynana Rose wrote her first song at the age of 37.  She’s used that wisdom of the years to her advantage in crafting her new album, Tea Leaf Confessions.  Rose possesses a husky voice that’s unique, yet inviting.  And, she’s surrounded herself with some of the finest musicians of her region.  The result is an album full of surprises.

The disc opens with “Stardust Firefly,” a rumination on aging, which features mandolin and an aching dobro.  The soulful “Hard Work of Love” is an honest look at a successful relationship, with the truthful words “I don’t need a symphony / just the right note will do.”

Another example of wisdom paving the way is “Thin White Line,” where a mother leaves at an early age.  Instead of holding on to the hurt, the daughter learns forgiveness, singing “the world will let you down / but as long as it’s spinning ‘round / you can choose which way to turn.”   Continue reading Ynana Rose – Tea Leaf Confessions (review)