Friday, January 31, 2014

Troyka: “Troyka” (1970/2014) CD Review

Until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t heard of Troyka. And I wasn’t sure what to expect when I popped in the CD of their 1970 self-titled album. What I heard was a strange and kind of fantastic album. It has elements of early hard rock, particularly in tracks like “Natural” and “Rolling Down The Back Road,” but also bits of folk and funk. Several of the tracks are instrumentals, and those are among my favorites.Yes, it's truly unlike any other album.

Troyka was a Canadian band, a rock trio composed of Mike Richards on lead vocals, drums and percussion; Robert Edwards on guitar, mandolin and vocals; and Ron Lukawitski on bass, bongos and vocals. The band’s name comes from the Russian word “troika” meaning “a group of three.”  The name of the band is featured in the title of four of the original album’s thirteen tracks.

The CD includes one bonus track, a previously unreleased tune. The liner notes for this CD release are adapted from an article by Doug Sheppard that originally appeared in an issue of Ugly Things in 2009.


The album opens with “Introduction,” sounding like a bizarre eastern European folk tune with (something like) monks chanting over it. This is short, just over thirty seconds. (There are three other tracks that are all around thirty seconds in length – “Troyka Lament,” “Troyka Solo” and “Troyka Finale.”) The CD then kicks in with “Natural,” a hard rock song. The vocals sound like low gruff growls, clearly not meant to be taken all that seriously. After all, it sounds like a creepy derelict luring a woman “down by the river” and promising her, “I’m going to make you a star.” If she believes him, she has no one to blame but herself for whatever happens next. The tempo picks up briefly, and then the song falls into chaos.


That’s followed by a pretty and interesting instrumental track titled “Early Morning.” There are different sections to this song, and it becomes truly delightful at a certain point. This is one of my favorite tracks.  “Early Morning” is followed by another instrumental track, “Life’s O.K.,” this one a fun and kind of funky rock number. It has some deliberately messy-sounding drumming that sort of throws you off. After that, it does get into an interesting jam, dominated by guitar.

“Rub-A-Dub-Dub Troyka In A Tub”

“Rub-A-Dub-Dub Troyka In A Tub” is absolutely absurd, and totally awesome. It begins as a fast-paced rock song. It’s when the vocals come in that the song really becomes interesting (and silly). I absolutely love this track, even before they begin singing the title line, “Rub-a-dub-dub, Troyka in a tub.” There aren’t a whole lot of lyrics to this one, but they sing lines like, “Go to hell, you’re a bunch of bloody fools” and “Don’t try to protect us from ourselves,” which I totally appreciate.

The gruff vocals return on “Rolling Down The Back Road,” a steady hard rock tune. This track doesn’t do much for me until the hard rock jam, which has a great energy. More fun is “Berry Picking,” with its cool, insistent rhythm and funky attitude. And then “Dear Margaret (Malgosia)” has a wonderful, sweet vibe to it.

“Beautiful Pink Eyes”

“Go East Young Man/Beautiful Pink Eyes” is another fun jam. It’s basically a rock instrumental, until the very end, when there is one line sung. Apparently the actual title is simply “Beautiful Pink Eyes,” but, according to the liner notes, the title of an unreleased song became attached to it when it was issued. Anyway, I totally dig this track. It has a cool short section with just bass and drums. And a moment after that brings strongly to mind some of the work of Phish (You’ll know it when you hear it).

Bonus Track

This CD contains one previously unreleased bonus track, “The Wedding Song,” an odd, at times haunting, at times celebratory, tune with a certain psychedelic vibe. Partway through, there is a change, featuring fast handclaps and a dark folksy eastern European feel.

CD Track List

  1. Introduction
  2. Natural
  3. Early Morning
  4. Life’s O.K.
  5. Burning Of The Witch
  6. Rub-A-Dub-Dub Troyka In A Tub
  7. Troyka Lament
  8. Troyka Solo
  9. Rolling Down The Back Road
  10. Berry Picking
  11. Dear Margaret (Malgosia)
  12. Go East Young Man/Beautiful Pink Eyes
  13. Troyka Finale
  14. The Wedding Song

Troyka is scheduled to be released on February 4, 2014 through Real Gone Music.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Mamas & The Papas: “A Gathering Of Flowers: The Anthology Of The Mamas & The Papas” (1970/2014) CD Review

A Gathering Of Flowers: The Anthology Of The Mamas & The Papas is a really unusual and interesting compilation, in that it contains snippets of interviews with John Phillips and Cass Elliot. It was originally released in 1970, less than two years after the band’s breakup, and is now finally seeing a CD release, thanks to Real Gone Music.

I like that this isn’t just a greatest hits compilation, but features more interesting material like “Once Was A Time I Thought,” “Dancing Bear” and “Did You Ever Want To Cry.” Of course, the big hits are included, like “Monday, Monday” and “California Dreamin.’” Most of my favorites are here, such as “Creeque Alley,” “Dedicated To The One I Love,” “I Call Your Name,” “Got A Feelin’” and “I Saw Her Again Last Night.” The only song I wish were included is “Dream A Little Dream Of Me.”

The album has been remastered for this CD release, by Mike Milchner at Sonic Vision. The liner notes include a piece by Andy Wickham from 1970, as well as some song lyrics. But you might have trouble reading them, for the print is incredibly small. Oddly, some of the lyrics included are to songs that aren’t actually on the album, such as “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon).” But there are plenty of photographs too, including some where Michelle Phillips looks absolutely adorable in a hooded fur jacket.

The CD opens with a bit of an interview with John Phillips about how the group got started. It’s pretty funny, particularly the bit about Mama Cass. And then it goes right into “Straight Shooter.” Many (but not all) of the tracks begin with snippets of interviews. At the beginning of “Monday, Monday,” Mama Cass talks about coming up with the name of the group.

The album includes their fun rendition of “Dancing In The Street.” Though they have beautiful voices, it’s the cool instrumental section that makes me love this version. It’s quite a bit different from what other groups do with this song. And I love how they get silly at the end of the tune. Their cover of “Do You Wanna Dance” is interesting. It’s slower than a lot of versions.

“Once Was A Time I Thought” begins with Mama Cass talking about John’s songwriting. This version includes a count-off at the beginning and some studio banter. (I think this version might also have been included on Creeque Alley: The History Of The Mamas And The Papas.) “Creeque Alley” begins with a snippet of an interview about producer Lou Adler. “Creeque Alley” was always one of my favorites. It’s so catchy, so fun, and of course it’s a personal tune for the group.

“Dancing Bear” begins with some studio banter, and ends with a bit of an interview in which John says he was never happy with the end of the song. “Dancing Bear” is a really unusual song that I like a lot. One of the best bits of studio banter is that at the beginning of “I Can’t Wait.” John demonstrates how a certain line should be sung, and that leads to some delightful silliness.

Some tracks include no interviews or studio banter, such as “Trip, Stumble And Fall,” “Dedicated To The One I Love,” “Free Advice,” “Got A Feelin’” and “No Salt On Her Tail.”

CD Track List

  1. Straight Shooter
  2. Monday, Monday
  3. Trip, Stumble And Fall
  4. Go Where You Wanna Go
  5. I Call Your Name
  6. Dancing In The Street
  7. Once Was A Time I Thought
  8. Creeque Alley
  9. Dancing Bear
  10. I Can’t Wait
  11. Dedicated To The One I Love
  12. Free Advice
  13. Do You Wanna Dance
  14. Spanish Harlem
  15. Got A Feelin’
  16. No Salt On Her Tail
  17. Words Of Love
  18. I Saw Her Again Last Night
  19. Did You Ever Want To Cry
  20. California Dreamin’

A Gathering Of Flowers: The Anthology Of The Mamas & The Papas is scheduled to be released on February 4, 2014 through Real Gone Music.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Johanna Warren: “Fates” (2013) CD Review

Recently I reviewed a CD of artists covering Harry Nilsson songs. Titled This Is The Town: A Tribute To Nilsson Volume 1, it has a lot of great tracks. One that stands out is Johanna Warren’s version of “Without Her,” mainly because of the beauty of her vocals.

So I was very excited to listen to Johanna Warren’s debut CD, Fates, which features all original songs. I knew her vocals were excellent, and it turns out her songwriting abilities are remarkable as well. The guitar lines seem basic at times, but a perfect base from which her vocals can build and soar. It is her vocal lines that are sometimes outside the norm and surprising. On top of that, there are some really good lyrics (One line that grabs me is “Regret is the past tense of fear” from “Past Tense”).  But it’s the overall feel and effect of the music that really delights and moves me.

Johanna provides the vocals, and also plays guitar, flute and clarinet on this album. She is joined by Bella Blasko on vocals and piano.

Fates opens with “Both Worlds,” a gorgeous song, with pretty work on acoustic guitar and with an unusual vocal line on top of that. Johanna must have amazing control of her breath. You’ll know what I mean when you hear this track. She sings, “Take my hand in your two hands;I’ve got no one/You’re the best of both worlds.” Though by the end, that has changed to “You’re the worst of both worlds.”

There is something timeless about “We Fell,” which I love. This too has a somewhat unusual vocal line, which is part of its undeniable charm. But I also really love the guitar part. Something about her music draws me in. This is music that is of its own world, a world you'll want to immerse yourselves in. “I’m waiting to make up for lost time/’Cause I’m awake for what feels like the very first time.”  And I love this line: “You fell into my life like a jet engine through a roof.”

In “My Storm,” Johanna Warren asks, “Are you my shelter, or are you my storm?” At one point she then repeats “I know you” several times. One thing that strikes me about her songs is that any line she repeats seems to be very carefully chosen. And the first “I know you” comes out of a line, and the last begins another line, which is a nice touch. I also like these lines: “You got away with it ‘til you got caught/It is what it is, but it’s not what you thought.” And by the way, I suppose the title of the song answers the question about whether the person is her shelter or her storm.

One of my favorites is “To The Bone,” which has a sweet folk sound right from the start, even before the vocals come in. But it is the lyrics which really make me love this track. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “True love never waits/For the opening of the gates/It rattles in its cage/Spills its blood over scribbled pages/And staining your sad prose/Spreads like a rose.” There is no title track on this CD, but this song is close, as the title is in these lines: “True love never waits/For a verdict from the Fates.”

“Woods” has a really pretty introduction that includes vocals but not lyrics. And then the lyrics begin: “Lost in the woods/With every step I took/I felt you there with me/I raised your kiss/To my thirsty lips/And laughed as it ran down my throat.” This one too has a timeless quality to it, almost to the point of magical. It almost seems weird listening to it on compact disc. This album should be released on vinyl, so we have that closer physical relationship with it and we can more easily imagine that the music is a hundred years old.

The guitar in “Have To Lose,” the CD’s concluding track, has an otherworldly quality to. I love that at moments Johanna’s vocals are earthy, after moments of ethereal beauty. There is something uplifting about this track, sounding like the folk song of angels. “Just don’t leave before you’ve said/Whatever you came to say/Because you’re never coming back home/Once you go away.” Beautiful.

CD Track List

  1. Both Worlds
  2. We Fell
  3. My Storm
  4. To The Bone
  5. Everyone I Know
  6. Your Glow
  7. Woods
  8. Past Tense
  9. Have To Lose

Fates was released on October 29, 2013.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Nudie: “Remember This” (2013) CD Review

Nudie’s first solo release, Remember This, is an album full of great country songs – some acoustic, some electric. Matt Putnam took on the name Nudie when he formed the band Nudie And The Turks in 2005. (By the way, that band also features Gordie MacKeeman, who recently released Pickin’ ‘N’ Clickin’). Nudie And The Turks released two CDs, and now Nudie has released his first solo effort. Some seriously good lyrics help make this one of the best country albums I’ve heard in the last several years. These are songs of cheating and lost loves and yearnings and regrets and promises. Yet this record is no downer. It’s actually a lot of fun.

Remember This opens with a wonderful acoustic folk-country tune titled “If A Heart Could Tell.” There is a sweet sadness in Nudie’s vocal delivery. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “’Cause if we merely played it safe/We could tell it what to do/Then a heart would be a stone/There’d be no more me and you/I guess it’s lucky for me that a heart can’t tell.” There is something so delightful in this song. Part of it is the presence of Molly Rankin on backing vocals.

“If A Heart Could Tell” is followed by an electric country rock tune, “Sex Kisses.” It has a good beat and kind of a fun vibe. “I’m using her, she’s using me, and everybody knows it/She tells me she loves me when I know she doesn’t mean it/Our union was a simple case of lust and convenience.”

“Remember This,” the album’s title track, is an interesting love song. It begins at the best moment in the relationship, with the narrator looking forward to when things won’t be as good and asking her to remember this moment. “Remember me – I’ll never be this good again.” It is an interesting perspective, because of course the overall viewpoint is one that is able to look back at this moment of looking forward. Then the song moves forward to when things aren’t that good, with these lines: “I lost my way/That day that I begged you to stay/And you did too/You said I do/And walked right down the aisle in an attempt to make believe that it was true.” Excellent, right? Of course, the vibe is one of sadness and acceptance. It’s a seriously good song.

“My Sweet Ache” has more of a pop vibe, and I dig the keys on that track. And then “You Try To Be Right” has a more typical country feel. It’s about a cheating woman, with lines like, “I get scared, I get nervous when you call me the wrong name/I quickly realize the name is the same/As the one that you cried out in our bed last night/I hope that I’m wrong/I got a feeling I’m right.” I love this line: “But if the money ran out, I feel that so would you.”

Nudie begins “Fiona” by singing the title character’s name a cappella. There is such a great yearning in the tone of this one, a longing in his voice. “Fiona, you’ve got a right to be mad/I gave a bit of my time/And you gave me all that you had/I spend most nights walking these streets all alone/Repeating things I wish I’d said.” He expresses hopes and promises toward the end, but also admits, “But things that I say and the things that I do are never quite one and the same.” So he’s resigned to this longing, making this song absolutely gorgeous, sad, and wonderful. What began with him repeating her name ends with him saying “It still hurts when I hear your name.” Could it be he likes punishing himself? I completely love this song. It is my favorite on this CD, and one of my favorite songs of the last couple of years.

Another of my favorites is “Pawn Shop,” which begins with the line, “This guitar, it sounds a little bit better every time it comes back from the pawn shop on Church Street.” I like the subtle humor of this one, heard in lines like, “When I am a little bit light/And I want to get tight/The woman I’m spending my nights with informs me/She wants to go away/Someday.” It also has a sweet tone, and features some nice work on guitar. It ends with a little joke about another item of his that is also at the pawn shop.

Remember This concludes with “I Miss The Love (But I Never Miss You).” This tune has a catchy, fun vibe. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I walked away from you/You were bringing me down, making me blue/You want to know what I’ve been thinking?/I’m going to give you a clue/Sometimes I miss the love, but I never miss you.” Pretty great, right? It’s a strong track to end the album. I totally dig it.

CD Track List

  1. If A Heart Could Tell
  2. Sex Kisses
  3. Remember This
  4. My Sweet Ache
  5. You Try To Be Right
  6. Fiona
  7. Walking The Streets
  8. Why Do We Keeping Hanging On?
  9. Pawn Shop
  10. The Pain In You
  11. I’m Tired Of Living With No Fun
  12. I Miss The Love (But I Never Miss You)

Remember This was released on December 10, 2013.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Camper Van Beethoven: “Key Lime Pie” (2014 re-issue) CD Review

Omnivore Recordings is reissuing a couple of excellent Camper Van Beethoven albums, including Key Lime Pie, the band’s final album before their 1990 breakup. This one has a more serious feel than previous releases. But while it might not be as playful as earlier Camper Van Beethoven albums, it’s just as good (if not better). There are a lot of excellent songs on this album, including “The Light From A Cake” and “All Her Favorite Fruit.” There is one cover on the original album, that being Status Quo’s “Pictures Of Matchstick Men,” which ended up being a hit for Camper Van Beethoven.

This special re-issue contains 78 minutes of music, with nearly a half hour of bonus material. As with the re-issue of Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, several of the bonus tracks are live tracks, previously unreleased. Also, there are new liner notes and several photos.

Key Lime Pie opens with the appropriately titled “Opening Theme,” a cool instrumental track with an old-time European feel to it that I love. The tune is dominated by violin. It’s gorgeous.

“Jack Ruby”

Things kick into gear with “Jack Ruby,” giving an interesting description of the man who shot the man who supposedly shot JFK (“His glasses are folded in his vest/And he seems like the kind of man that beats his horses/Or the dancers who work in a bar”). It has kind of an angry sound, which is perfect for its theme. The song has an unrelenting rhythm and drive, as it tells its tale. “Avert your eyes with shame/Let us stand and speak of the weather/And pretend that nothing ever happened on that day/Grant us the luxury, ‘cause all our heroes are bastards.”


“Sweethearts” has a more relaxed, laid-back, sweeter country feel. But the song has a strangely dark vibe due to its lyrics, as the man in the story goes off to war. “He left his baby at the dance hall/While the band plays on, some sweet song.”  And then: “They bear the names of our sweethearts/And the captain smiles as we crash.” At the end we go inside the viewpoint of that bastard Ronald Reagan. (Whenever I’m upset, I just remind myself that at least Ronald Reagan is still dead.) “Buildings collapse in slow motion/And trains collide/Everything is fine/Everything is fine/Everything is fine.” Pretty awesome, eh?

“When I Win The Lottery”

“When I Win The Lottery” is one of my favorites. It has an interesting, somewhat angry perspective, heard in David’s vocal delivery. It’s interesting because usually when folks think of winning the lottery, it’s a very positive, happy fantasy. But this narrator has other things in mind. “When I win the lottery/Gonna buy all the girls on my block/A color TV and a bottle of French perfume/When I win the lottery/Gonna donate half my money to the city/So they have to name a street or a school or a park after me.”  But these are the lines that make me really love this tune: “When the end comes to this old world/The righteous will cry and the rest will curl up/And God won’t take the time to sort your ashes from mine/Because we zig and zag between good and bad/Stumble and fall on right and wrong.” This song also has an unusual ending.

Another of my favorites is “The Light From A Cake,” with its beautiful, strange vibe. I love the violin. “June” is also wonderful. I love the chaotic instrumental section that ends the song.

“All Her Favorite Fruit”

“All Her Favorite Fruit” is an unusual and completely wonderful love song. It begins, “I drive alone, home from work/And I always think of her/Late at night I call her/But I never say a word/And I can see her squeeze the phone between her chin and shoulder/And I can almost smell her breath faint with a sweet scent of decay.”  I love the way David adds power to his vocals on “And I’d like to take her there, rather than this train.” It’s an excellent and surprisingly moving song.

“Pictures Of Matchstick Men”

The original album’s sole cover is a really good rendition of “Pictures Of Matchstick Men.” It lacks that psychedelic vibe of the original, and is more of a straight rock song – except, of course, for the wonderful presence of violin. “Your face just won’t leave me alone.”

The original album concludes with “Come On Darkness,” another favorite of mine. It ends with the plea, “Come on, darkness,” and then the drumbeat (reminding me of the way The Kinks ended “Strangers”).

Bonus Tracks

This special re-issue of Key Lime Pie features nine bonus tracks. The first, “Closing Theme,” is a very cool instrumental which apparently was originally scheduled to close the album (thus the title). But the album was too long, and the song wouldn’t fit. It was released on the EP Pictures Of Matchstick Men and, as “Guitar Hero,” on a giveaway. This song is included on the new vinyl release. Also included is a different version of “(I Was Born In A) Laundromat,” which was released as a promotional single.

The rest of the bonus tracks were previously unreleased, and include a demo of “Country 2,” a nice instrumental track.

The last six tracks are live recordings, the first four from a show at the Universal Amphitheater on October 10, 1989. Two of those are originals – “Good Guys And Bad Guys” and the ever-popular “Take The Skinheads Bowling.” The other two are covers of “Wasted” (a Black Flag song that Camper Van Beethoven included on their first album) and “Before I Met You” (which has been recorded by many artists, including Dolly Parton). “Wasted” is excellent, with a lot of great energy. And this rendition of “Before I Met You” is absolutely beautiful, and is the track most firmly in the country realm of all the songs on this CD.

The final two bonus tracks were recorded live on Soho National Sessions in 1990. The first, “L’aguardiente,” is an excellent instrumental, and is one of my favorite tracks on the CD, going in interesting directions. The second is a good acoustic version of “(I Don’t Wanna Go To The) Lincoln Shrine,” leading to a bit of “Oh Yoko!” at the end.

CD Track List

  1. Opening Theme
  2. Jack Ruby
  3. Sweethearts
  4. When I Win The Lottery
  5. (I Was Born In A) Laundromat
  6. Borderline
  7. The Light From A Cake
  8. June
  9. All Her Favorite Fruit
  10. Interlude
  11. Flowers
  12. The Humid Press Of Days
  13. Pictures Of Matchstick Men
  14. Come On Darkness
  15. Closing Theme (AKA Guitar Hero)
  16. (I Was Born In A) Laundromat (edit)
  17. Country 2
  18. Good Guys & Bad Guys (live)
  19. Wasted (live)
  20. Take The Skinheads Bowling (live)
  21. Before I Met You (live)
  22. I’aguardiente
  23. (I Don’t Wanna Go To The) Lincoln Shrine

This special re-issue of Key Lime Pie is scheduled to be released on February 11, 2014 through Omnivore Recordings. Also scheduled for release on that day is the re-issue of Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, which also has several bonus tracks. Both albums will also be available on vinyl. (Originally these were scheduled for a February 4th release.)