The Shirelles (1972) S/T (LP) RCA Victor (LSP-4698)

The Shirelles
Shirelles

RCA Victor (LSP-4698)
1972
*** noteworthy

The Shirelles played a huge part in creating the girl group genre and bringing black music to white audiences, but by the time the Beatles covered two of their songs, audiences are opting for new acts. Still, the Shirelles kept at it, releasing singles and albums into the 70s, as this 1972 album shows (which reportedly is better their previous RCA album from 1971).

Their classic songs from the late 50s and early 60s were as much R&B and doo-wop as pop, so it shouldn’t be surprising that this outfit were able to update their sound and fit in with the soul music of the early 70s. This set features Shirley and Micki (who were both there from the beginning) and focuses on soul numbers from 1971.

Not surprisingly, they start the set with a then-recent Carole King number, “Brother, Brother” (not surprising because their relationship with King goes back to the beginning). This version seems to be a mix of King’s 1971 version and The Isley Brother’s version from 1972. Shirelles’ version was also released as a single, with “Sunday Dreaming” as the B-side–the second cut on this album. The first side also includes “It’s Going to Take Some Time” (another number from Carole King’s 1971 Music album) with a solid reading of Bill Withers’ 1971 “Ain’t No Sunshine” and the Bee Gees’ 1971 “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. Al Green’s 1972 version of the Bee Gees’ song might have inspired the version on this album, especially considering this is followed by an Al Green number to conclude the first side.  (Of course, it’s that the Isley Brothers and/or Al Green were inspired by the versions on this album.)

When you cover classics by the great soul singers (Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” Joe Simon’s 1971 Gamble/Huff-penned “Drowning in the Sea of Love, Mary Clayton’s 1971 Carole King-penned “Walk On In” and Marvin Gaye’s 1971 “Mercy Mercy/Inner City Blues/What’s Going On” the listener can’t help from recalling the sharp bite of the originals, but if one lets go of all that and enjoys all these girls had offer, this offers plenty to enjoy. The band is uncredited but backs them up well, sounding like different line ups were perhaps used on different cuts, some arrangements by bassist David Van De Pitte (who arranged many Motown classics, including the What’s Going On sessions for Marvin Gaye), others by Wade Marcus (who was just beginning to make a name for himself in the worlds of jazz and soul), the set produced by Randy Irwin.

— winch (author of

 

 

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David Amram (1979) No More Walls (LP) Flying Fish (GRO-752)

David Amram

No More Walls

1979

Flying Fish GRO-752

**** recommended
With all that was going on in 1979, the music scene was also plagued with stagnation. Disco music was transforming into hip-hop and electronic music but few were taking notice because disco sucked. Punk had reminded the world that rock doesn’t always need to progress: it can go back to its roots to refuel the fury but few cared because while disco sucked, punk swallowed. The underground scene had been slowly growing for years and soon a diverse independent music scene would emerge but it would be a long time before most took notice because in the 1970s the major labels had perhaps more control of the industry than ever before.


The executives had sorted through the countless bands and perhaps during a year or so in the 1970s, positive (and of course negative) repercussions existed. But by 1979, it was clear that the major labels were completely clueless and the music scene was suffering.


Of course a few minor labels had somehow managed to survive, perhaps because they focused on music that was so unhip that the major labels didn’t care. These labels posed no threat. Flying Fish was one of those independent labels and while they focused on folk music, they were also giving home to artists such as Amram. This was one of many Amram released on Flying Fish, and certainly one of his most interesting. And enjoyable.  While the liner notes only mention that Amram created these compositions from 1959 to 1971, they don’t mention that this is likely a reissue of the second half of a double album released on RCA Red Seal in 1971.  (Flying Fish were perhaps keen enough to recognize that the second two sides of the original release deserved to be revisited without the classical content of the first two sides.)


The title likely refers to the breaking down of walls between genres of music. Influences appear to be plentiful: Latin-American, African, and Near-Eastern music; folk musicians such as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan; and some of the more innovative jazz musicians of the previous decades, especially those who incorporated world influences–from Yusef Lateef in the 50s to the ECM artists of the 70s. Mostly laid-back as a hammock swaying in an ocean breeze, this also has plenty of depth. Recommended listen.

— winch (author of…

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Blind Date (1979) S/T (LP)Windsong (BXL 1–3403)

Blind Date

Blind Date

1979

Windsong Records (BXL 1–3403)

Produced by Jeff Glixman

*** noteworthy
Sole album by this mystery group, power pop on John Denver’s Windsong label with Arnie Badd, Brad Billion, Dane Bramage, and Pinky Chablis. While they don’t sound like Cheap Trick, it’s sort of the same idea, power pop with focus on pounding drums and electric guitar (and of course vocals, harmony and melody), lots of content about love but also the violent crime of “Trouble Maker.”  This is power pop but not the soft-rock or candy-coated bubblegummy brand, somewhere between the Raspberries and Thin Lizzy, the Babys and Van Halen.

Both sides end with hard-rock content, the instrumental “Twin Engines” closing the first side, the 5+ minute “Midnight Imagination,” ending the proceedings. This closer brings the Beach Boys influence into power ballad mode, bridging 60s’ pop and 70s’ excess to the power ballads of the 80s, the straight-forward aspects of 70s glam and the excesses of the glam of the 80s. Mostly it’s the Beach Boys channeled through 70s hard rock.


While this is varied set, it’s fairly entertaining through both sides and even the filler falls into the background without becoming annoying. This group never comes close to the best of the power poppers, but they’re also obviously a few notches above the bland new wavers from this era. It’s pure juvenile fun, all songs written and arranged by Blind Date.

— winch

author of

 

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Jamul (1970) S/T (LP) Lizard (A20101)

Jamul

Jamul

1970

Lizard (A20101)

Produced by Richard Podolor

**** recommended

This sole album by this obscure outfit jumps from the gate with a heavy hard-rock version of “Tobacco Road,” focusing on power and loud guitars, a bit more earthy and bluesy but coming from the sounds we’d heard with bands such as Blue Cheer, Grand Funk, and MC5. The second cut turns Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” into a chugging blues rocker with a CCR influence showing, and on the third number, the Steppenwolf comparisons come across clear as a howl.

The fourth cut reveals that this set is going to have something else in common with Steppenwolf albums, inconsistency, with this song slowing down and following the era’s trend to move to the country.


While the side is moderately enjoyable throughout, sometimes showing a raunchy side that foreshadows Black Oak Arkansas, each song seems to get less powerful than the previous. The cut that closes the side, a cover of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” gave them a chance to remedy the decline, but the restrained quality that runs through the song is disappointing, especially after the beginning of the side showed what could have been with the end.


The flip side starts off sounding as if it might pull out the slack, but again starts to drag a bit, the songs helping to reveal a variety of likely influences: Mountain, The Grateful Dead, the Band, Terry Reid, and the Stones. Fortunately, the set ends strong as it began with the double-barrel blasts of two originals: the harmonica-blowing Bo Diddley-ish “Ramblin’ Man” and the tempestuous burning acid of “Valley Thunder.” Cuts such as these make this set a near classic.

— winch

 

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Kathi McDonald (1974) Insane Asylum (LP) Capitol ST-11224

Kathi McDonald

Insane Asylum

1974

Capitol ST-11224

produced by David Briggs

Arranged by Pete Sears

**** recommended

While many white female singers surfaced in the wake of Janis Joplin, this blue-eyed soul singer and blues belter was obviously a cut above much of the competition.

Coming from the far Northwest, McDonald made her way south as a youngster, performing in Seattle when she was 12 and eventually migrating to Frisco in her late teens (Seida). She became an Ikette in the late 1960s, and offered her vocals on Big Brother and the Holding Company’s final offerings and on the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street. She eventually recorded this solo album in 1974.


The set is produced by David Briggs and features a line up of American guitarists, Neil Schon, Ronnie Montrose, Nils Lofgren, and Jim Cipollina. While McDonald remains in the spotlight, these guitarists (and other musicians) play a big part of the recordings, especially as the set progresses into side two. A highlight includes Cipollina offering his trademark guitar sound to Eddie Cochran’s “Somethin’ Else.”


The first side will likely grab you, and the flipside will likely not let go, side one concluding with likely the first time Neil Young’s “Down to the Wire” had seen the light of day, the set concluding with the Willie Dixon-penned title track where Kathi shares the lead vocals with an uncredited Sly Stone (Gonzales).  While this can’t match the power of the 1968 original by Koko Taylor (with Willie Dixon himself sharing the vocals), it’s as good a cover of this song you’re likely to find.  It’s a fine conclusion to a solid album.


Perhaps because this focused on songs from years and decades of the past in an era when rock and roll was supposed to be progressive to be relevant, this album didn’t sell well,  It likely also didn’t help that Kathi not only focused on covers but also a rock sound in sharp contrast to the singer-songwriter folk rock so popular with white female singers in the post-60s early 70s.

 

After the lack of sales of this album, McDonald wouldn’t offer a follow-up until two decades later, but the quality of this album, along with her appearance on nearly 150 other albums (Seida) should be enough to provide her with a chapter in the history of singers from the Northwest.

 

— winch

Sources:

Gonzales, Michael A. Pitchfork. “The Pitch: Sly’s Stone-Cold Genius in 10 Best Late, Great Songs.” http://pitchfork.com/thepitch/1447-slys-stone-cold-genius-in-10-late-great-songs/

Seida, Linda. All Music. “Artists: Kathi McDonald.” http://www.allmusic.com/artist/kathi-mcdonald-mn0000365553/biography
http://kathimcdonald.com/discography/

Cam Newton (1979) Welcome Aliens: Party Music for the First Authenticated Landing (LP) Inner City IC 1070 

Cam Newton

Welcome Aliens: Party Music for the First Authenticated Landing

Inner City IC 1070 (1980)

Recorded April 1979 in Eugene, Oregon
produced by Campbell Newton, David Leslie, Mark Isham, and Pat O’Hearn

*** noteworthy

This starts off with a mildly unique take on jazz fusion, but gets more inventive and enjoyable as the side progresses and Cam’s guitar playing takes the spotlight.

Side two has a somewhat similar progression, starts off with relatively straightforward jazz before moving into the folk/jazz sound we’d heard on the second half of the first side. Cam sounds like he was influenced by many of the masters of the guitar who had blended jazz and folk in the late 1960s and 1970s, Jansch, Abercrombie, Coryell, Kottke, Fahey, and Towner (many who like Newton had connections with the Pacific Northwest), as well as some who had passed the baton on to those folks, but Newton offers a style with its own feel. He seems primarily inspired by the emotions inside and the world around him, from responses to current events such as the Jonestown genocide and especially from the elemental forces of nature.

While some might enjoy the entire set, most will likely enjoy the highlights. At its best this is hypnotic and lyrical, both enjoyable and interesting. (Just don’t let the title mislead you into thinking this is space-age party music.)

— winch

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The Jitters (1979) S/T (LP)

The Jitters

The Jitters

Nervine Music

recorded October 15 – 25, 1979. Released circa 1980.

*** noteworthy


Sole album by the Jitters (not to be confused with other bands with the same name), lead by P.K. Dwyer and sounding like a Northwest backyard band influenced by hillbilly and perhaps Velvet Underground, old-time rock ‘n roll and Jonathan Richman, Neil Young and Los Angeles, old-time music and Ray Davies, NRBQ and all the obscure mid-70s bands that centered around CBGBs.


While most Seattle outfits from this era seemed attached to hard rock or new wave, these folks seem to be having fun and doing their own thing.


With the hillbilly and quirky elements, it’s easy to hear how this band foreshadowed all the alt-country and cowpunk that surfaced in the wake of this album.


This ain’t an essential outing, but it’s fairly enjoyable from go to whoa, and it certainly offers some pretty great moments.  It’s certainly a worthwhile listen for fans of songwriter P.K. Dwyer or for fans of obscure Northwest bands.

— winch (author of )

 

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