Australia’s Hoodoo Gurus have spent the last 40 years blending Troggs’-inspired garage rock with Beatles’ soaked melodies done with a New York Dolls’ sneer. The band were darlings of college radio during the eighties, and even scored a #1 Modern Rock hit with “Come Anytime.,” in 1989.
During the pandemic, the guys found themselves on a creative streak and the result is their 10th-long player, Chariot of the Gods, and it’s some of the best work they’ve ever done.
We chat with frontman, Dave Faulkner, about why there was such a large gap between recording albums, how a drunken night inspired one of the new songs, and the difficulty in scheduling a tour during the pandemic.
Bobby Cole – A Point of View (Omnivore Recordings)
Frank Sinatra once called him his favorite “saloon singer.”
Bobby Cole never became a household name. Yet, the singer, pianist and songwriter caught the attention of not only The Chairman of the Board, but also Ms. Judy Garland, who tapped Cole to arrange her short-lived TV show, and then some live performances.
A Point of View is an obscure album from mid-sixties, finally getting a proper release from the fine folks at Omnivore. And, it’s an amazing collection of supper-club style music that’s sure to delight any fan of the genre. Even more impressive is that everything here was written by Cole himself.
His original compositions definitely reflect his experiences. The album opens with the frenetic “Status Quo,” as he sings “On through the night / through the smoke and the noise / keeping the pace / while we’re losing our poise” – it’s obvious he’s seen this dance between men and women from years of playing in clubs.
You can see why Sinatra liked Cole so much, he’s got a swagger to him that especially is apparent in the spoken rap that begins “Lover Boy.” Cole has a magnetic voice, his raspy tenor draws you into his compositions. Yet, there are times when he almost sounds like his voice is going, it’s so gravely.
There’s diversity here too. He sings of adultery in a sultry way in “The Name of the Game is Trouble,” then inserts some jazz changes into the wisdom of “You Can’t Build a Life on a Look.” He goes tender for “But It’s Spring,” then increases the temperature again with “Heat,” where he’s helped on vocals by Kathy Kelly. Once again, the mood softens with “You Could Hear a Pin Drop,” then goes Bossa Nova with “Change of Scene.”
Perhaps the best track of the bunch is “No Difference at All.” It’s the ultimate kiss off to a former lover. “She’s like pink champagne / and you’re like beer / you’re like scratchy old corduroy / she’s cashmere.”
The 12 songs that originally appeared on the album are augmented by 13 additional tracks. Randy Poe’s liner notes say that they’re not sure if these are outtakes from this album, or perhaps songs attempted for a followup. Of the bonus material, the cascading “Never Ask the Hour,” the sad, “How the Lonely Spend Their Time,” and the straight-forward, “I Never Saw the Shadows,” stand out from the rest.
I think the best thing about A Point of View from the Bobby Cole is that it sounds fresh. Let’s be honest, we don’t get many new entries into the “supper club” genre these days. I would call this a fine discovery. —Tony Peters
King, Sun, Motown & Stax – all independent record companies that helped shape the course of popular music. Another such label, 415 Records, emerged in the late Seventies out of San Francisco. Originally, the company just covered the burgeoning punk movement that was happening there, but eventually they expanded, releasing an album by psychedelic pioneer Roky Erickson, then landing videos on MTV with Romeo Void, Translator and the Red Rockers.
All of this is documented in Disturbing the Peace – 415 Records and the Rise of New Wave written by Bill Kopp from HoZac Books. Kopp is a lifelong collector, musician and journalist who’s first book was called Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to the Dark Side of the Moon.
We chat about how he tracked down almost 100 interviews for the book, how he obtained much of the photos, band posters, etc, that help flesh out the story, and the relationship 415 had with Columbia Records that had mixed results at best.
Utopia is one of the most-underrated bands in history. Sure, the group provided a vehicle for whatever Todd Rundgren’s fancy was at the time. But, the truth is, Utopia had great songs – a LOT of them. The band had a knack for writing radio-friendly tracks that, unfortunately only occasionally got played on the radio.
Three of the four original members reunited (sans their keyboardist) for a tour in 2018. Honestly, that show was a letdown, largely because Rundgren chose to devote the first half of the concert to the early (and frankly, not as good) Prog-rock era of the band.
Now, here comes Kasim Sulton’s Utopia. A show that was originally slated two years ago, but had to be postponed because of the pandemic.
Unlike the reunion from four years ago, this show delivered.
The bassist, flanked by guitar, keyboards and drums, ran through a thrilling set of songs that touched on every album from the band’s career. Opening with the Beatle-esque “I Just Want to Touch You,” the melodic “Call it What You Want,” the even-more-appropriate-now anthem “Swing to the Right,” the rockin’ “Princess of the Universe,” (which the drummer sang), and the slightly funky “Fix Your Gaze.” One of Sulton’s best Utopia songs, “Libertine,” just flat-out rocked.
“Lysistrata,” and it’s chorus of “won’t go to war / no more” is about as relevant as you can get in these times. The band did tackle a few proggy numbers, like “The Road to Utopia,” and “Caravan,” giving everyone a chance to stretch out a little. But, it never seemed to drag. Sulton made sure to throw in some deep cuts as well. “I’m in Love with a Thinker,” “Hoi Poloi,” and “The Up” were all welcome surprises.
The encore consisted of “Set Me Free,” the band’s lone top 40 hit, and ended with a song of unity, “One World,” where members of the audience were invited onstage to sing along.
Sulton was in fine voice throughout, frequently joking with the small, but enthusiastic crowd, while the band made sure they were faithful to the original recordings (I love to sing a long to guitar solos :).
I was commenting to another fan as we were leaving that there was a whole lot more great songs that could’ve been played. I guess, that’s for next time, right Kasim? —Tony Peters
This album will make you believe in rock n’ roll again.
Despite having a knack for writing infectious songs, Australia’s Hoodoo Gurus have managed to fly under the radar for over 40 years. The band is back with their first new album in eleven years called Chariot of the Gods, and it contains some of the best music of their entire career.
The Hoodoo Gurus’ gift has always been their ability to straddle Troggs-inspired, garage rock, with Beatle-soaked melodic hooks, delivered with a New York Dolls’ sneer. All of this is on display on this extremely solid album.
The record starts with “Early Opener” – it’s a throwback to the way their debut album began; the sound of a bar, people talking. But, this time, we hear the strains of an acoustic version of “Come Anytime,” one of the Gurus’ most-recognizable songs.
This gives way to the primitive stomper, “World of Pain.” A whole lot of people turned to the bottle for solace during the pandemic. It’s heavy on the bass, as leader Dave Faulkner admits “it’s just the same damn things again.”
“Get Outta Dodge” features some killer slashing chords, and a great, sing a long chorus. The lyrics certainly are appropriate for our divisive climate – “people here are blinded by hate / they won’t meet you in the middle / and we found out a little too late.”
The midtempo rocker,“Was I Supposed to Care,” borrows the main riff from Aerosmith’s “Dream On.”
The amazing thing is vocalist Dave Falkner still sounds great after all these years.
The high-energy rocker, “Hangin with the Girls,” deals with gender stereotypes, while “My Imaginary Friend” features a Byrds-esque 12 string guitar.
“Equinox,” with guitarist Brad Shepherd on vocals, has a Sunshine Pop feel, while “Hang Out to Dry” is a punk rockin’ good time.
The lead single is a fabulous melodic rocker, “Carry On.” A great positive song for this troubled times.
The lone cover on the album doesn’t sound out of place at all. “I Wanna Be Your Man” is an early Beatles’ track that was also the Stones’ debut single. Seriously, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think the Gurus wrote it.
Few bands last 40 years. Of those, not many are making great music anymore. The Hoodoo Gurus have somehow managed to weather the years and still sound as fresh as they did on their debut album. Chariot of the Gods is a welcome return and a damn good rock n’ roll record. –Tony Peters
Left Banke – Strangers on a Train (Omnivore Recordings)
A great “lost” baroque pop album…complete with bonus tracks
The Left Banke brought a new level of sophistication to AM radio in the mid-Sixties with singles like “Walk Away Renee” and “Pretty Ballerina,” mixing melodic hooks with grandiose elements of classical music. Eventually, this style would be dubbed “baroque pop.” Unfortunately, the band’s time was brief, managing just two studio albums and a handful of singles before crushing under the weight of expectations.
Omnivore Recordings has just issued Strangers on a Train, featuring tracks from, not one, but two attempts at a Left Banke reunion, and the results stand up to anything the band did previously.
The first ten tracks come from 1978, when three of the four original Banke members (Steve Martin Caro, George Cameron, and Tom Finn) reconvened without primary songwriter Michael Brown. “Strangers on a Train” starts out subdued, and piano-led during the verses, before giving way to a rockin’ chorus. The only thing that dates it is the synthesizers near the middle of the song. But, there’s fantastic harmonies here that just pull you in.
Brown wrote most of their original material, but the remaining members show that they can capture the spirit without him. “Heartbreaker” is another strong track with an excellent chorus and great guitar solo – it comes off sounding like latter-day Badfinger.
Throughout, the real standout is Caro – he’s in fantastic voice, showing he can really shout, like on “Yesterday’s Love.” I dig the echoed effects and the tight harmonies on the chorus of “Hold on Tight, and “Lorraine” is an excellent ballad that stands next to their best work.
“And One Day” features a sophisticated chord structure and strings, while both “You Say” and “Queen of Paradise” add a gentle funk element that sounds like late-Seventies’ Boz Scaggs.
Originally recorded in 1978, these tracks weren’t actually released until 1986, on small labels in both the US and UK. Honestly, I’m not sure why it took eight years – these are really good songs.
The final six tracks come from another reunion, circa 2001-2. This time, Brown has returned as songwriter. These recordings bear a stronger, classical feel, but once again, Caro is still in fine voice. Let’s be clear, most of these seem unfinished – more like demos, and most lack drums.
“Airborne” features pounding piano and string accents, but Caro’s vocals are kind of buried in the mix, while “Buddy Steve (Long Lost Friend)” is the most-realized track here, featuring drums. But, when Caro goes into the falsetto part, his voice cracks (again, I doubt these were originally planned for release). The best cut here is “Until the End,” a grandiose, gorgeous ballad, with great strings.
Sadly, all the founding members of the Left Banke have passed away. Strangers on a Train is a welcome extra chapter to the brief, but colorful career of one of rock’s most under-appreciated bands. —Tony Peters
Matt North spent his 20’s living and working in LA, writing screenplays, starring opposite James Woods in 2000’s Dirty Pictures, and was a guest on Curb Your Enthusiasm. He also became a in-demand session drummer, working with Maria McKee, Peter Case, Blondie Chaplin of the Beach Boys, and others. Eventually, North relocated to Nashville and began working on his own songs.
We first talked back in 2017 for his debut solo record, Above Ground Fools. Now comes Bullies in the Backyard, again recorded in his home studio with help from some of his Nashville friends.
The album was recorded during a seven-year court battle with his local school system in Nashville over the treatment of his son, who has special needs. North seems to get inspiration for his songs from just about anywhere – from hiding things on the “Top of the Fridge,” to lamenting the high cost of sporting events in “Burial Grounds.” He also tells us how the pandemic actually helped him record his new album.
Marshall Crenshaw’s 40 plus-year career has included ten studio albums, a US top 40 hit in 1982 with “Someday, Someway,” some collaborations, and some movie appearances.
Crenshaw recently regained the rights to several albums he released originally on the Razor & Tie label. We talked to him in 2020 for the first in that series, Miracle of Science.
Now comes the reissue of #447. The eleven-song album is arguably one of his most adventurous, and is augmented by two newly-recorded tracks, issued on his own Shiny Tone label.
He talks about his struggles with major labels and how being on a smaller one gave him the freedom to do the things he really wanted to do. He also gives us a preview of Deluxe Editions of his first two albums, coming later in the fall.
Martha & the Muffins – Marthology: In and Outtakes (Popguru)
Very good compilation of odds and ends from an under-appreciated band
This Canadian group had one monster hit, “Echo Beach,” in 1980, hitting Top Ten in both their native country and the UK. Problem is, they may have been a little too ahead of their time for the States, where they remain cult favorites at best.
Marthology is a collection of unfinished demos, b-sides and remixes, covering 35 years of material, yet it all holds together surprisingly well. While many members have come and gone over the years, the duo of Martha Johnson and Mark Gane have been the constants.
The set starts with “On a Silent Summer Evening,” which reworks parts of their signature, “Echo Beach,” into a pulsing, dance track.
Some songs definitely sound older – “Don’t Monkey With My Love” was a demo the pair cut in the mid-Eighties, and it has a pop sheen, indicative of that era, while the bouncy “Do You Ever Wonder” sounds like the 80’s, but was recorded in 1999.
One of the real treats is “Big Day,” a hard rocker that previously only showed up as a b-side. Here, Martha has great harmonies and the catchy, “365, 12, 52” chorus is catchy as hell.
“Act Like a Woman” is another standout. The song originally appeared on a Martha Johnson solo record in a sparse arrangement. Here, retitled, reworked into a stomping punk number, it’s a vast improvement.
The set also features “Echo Beach (30th anniversary version),” a more recent reinterpretation of their hit. This new take is slower, somber, and full of regret. It also puts more emphasis on the lyrics, which sort of speed by in the 1980 original.
Martha & the Muffins may not be a household name, but Marthology proves they deserve a closer look. —Tony Peters
Chicago duo returns with a badly-needed set of rockers
Urge Overkill created one of the finest rock albums of the Nineties with Saturation. That 1993 record was full of loud guitars and melodic hooks, coming out at the height of grunge. The band opened for both Nirvana and Pearl Jam, before notching a surprise hit the next year in their cover of Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” from the Pulp Fiction movie and soundtrack.
There was just no way to follow up that one-two punch, so 1995’s Exit the Dragon was kind of a letdown, and the band broke up. Reforming in 2011, they delivered Rock n’ Roll Submarine (which we reviewed here). Now, the pair of Nash Kato and King Roeser is back eleven years later, with Oui.
Oui is unabashedly ROCK. From the album title, that recalls a now-defunct men’s magazine, to the guitar-heavy music within, everything here is gleefully out of step.
In the pole position on the record is their surprise cover of Wham’s “Freedom.” Kind of shocked they placed it first, but also – it’s so different, slashing guitars, muscled drums, I honestly didn’t recognize the song at first. Kato spits out the abbreviated lyrics and there’s a fantastic guitar solo in the middle.
After that bit of initial euphoria, things get decidedly darker with “Necessary Evil.” Roeser admits “you want someone to fill your glass all night” and “it’s killing me to pass on by.” Yet the twin guitar interlude makes even this bitter pill easier to consume.
The pounding “Follow My Shadow,” which features both Kato and Roeser on vocals, could’ve fit perfectly on Saturation. “How Sweet the Light” opens with a Who-inspired thunder before things get more contemplative and Kato confesses “I’m walking away from my suicide” and “I almost crossed over.”
No song here better captures the current mood quite like “Forgiven.” Over a driving blues riff, Roeser sings:
“I wanna be among the living”
“I don’t wanna hear your opinion”
“I wanna be…forgiven”
The thing that really stands out here is how solid of an album Oui really is. Past Urge records always had at least one song where the band got silly or experimental. Here, it’s surprisingly focused. Whether it’s the midtempo “Totem Poll” or the brooding “Litany,” it all fits.
“I Can’t Stay Glad @ U” features another Who reference – Kato uses the “shake you” / “wake you” rhyme, which recalls “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” But the acoustic guitar-led jangling makes it another of the memorable tracks on the album.
All killer, no filler. Is rock still alive? Urge Overkill says an emphatic “Oui.” —Tony Peters