Thursday, December 13, 2018

Sugaray Rayford: “Somebody Save Me” (2019) CD Review

As certain people become more irritating and horrible, with their racism and their dishonesty and their devotion to the NRA and their complete lack of driving skills, the rest of us turn more and more to music for a taste of humanity. Somebody Save Me, the new album from singer Sugaray Rayford, delivers some really good soul and blues sounds, with a voice that is earnest and human. The material is original, though not written by Rayford. All the songs on this disc were written by Eric Corne, who also produced the album and plays guitar, harmonica and percussion on it. Corne is also founder and president of Forty Below Records, the label that is releasing this album. Also joining Sugaray Rayford on this release are Sasha Smith on keys, Rick Holmstrom on guitar, Eamon Ryland on guitar, Taras Prodaniuk on bass, Matt Tecu on drums, Mark Pender on trumpet, Ron Dziubla on saxophone, and Richard A. Rosenberg on trombone. There are also several guests playing on various tracks.

The disc kicks off with “The Revelator.” This song is bluesy, it is funky, it has soul, and it is seriously cool. There is a strong, prominent bass line to latch onto, to get you moving. I also dig those backing vocals. Eric Corne, Brittany Gael Vaughn, Brittney S. Wheeler, Gabriel M. Newman, J. Blake White and Terika Jefferson provide those backing vocals. And then the horns come in, taking the tune to another level of cool. Ah, this is just what I need. And if all that isn’t enough, this tune also features violin and cello. “No, I ain’t your preacher/No, I ain’t your preacher.” That’s followed by “Time To Get Movin’,” a bluesy rock song with a good groove. Here Sugaray Rayford addresses some of the troubles we’re facing, both from without and within, such as the hatred and social division. “Everything’s not black and white, there are different shades of grey/We need to come together now before it’s all too late/It’s time to get movin’/You’ve got to get behind the wheel.” Rayford belts out the lyrics, and man, he isn’t messing around. He means every word here; his is a voice of honesty and power. There is some great stuff on harmonica too. “It’s about to get real.”

The horns play a delicious role in “You And I,” giving the tune a classic vibe. “When we’re apart, it’s an awful crime.” Oh yes, that’s how I feel about being away from my girlfriend. This one too has a nice groove, and I enjoy what Sasha Smith is doing on organ. Carol Hatchett and Roberta Freeman provide backing vocals on this one. “Everywhere all the people are fighting/I just think of you, and I feel all right/You and I/Hand in hand, and side by side.” Yes, that’s what it’s about. That’s what makes it all right. And in “I’d Kill For You, Honey,” he sings “I’d even kill for you, honey/Baby, would you really do the same for me?” Good question, because if you would, I have a list of people prepared. Now, this is going to involve a trip to Washington, D.C.  I like the rough and wild vocal delivery, and the overall raw vibe of this track. Plus, it contains some more good work on harmonica.

“Sometimes You Get The Bear (And Sometimes The Bear Gets You)” has more of a fun groove. Yeah, I dig that kind of classic rhythm. Then suddenly, like halfway through, the groove changes, with the horns almost giving us a big band feel, while the guitar over it delivers some fantastic blues. It’s a cool section, an unexpected and delightful digression, functioning as a bridge between this world and the next. When the song returns to its original vibe, the next line is “Made it to heaven by the skin of my teeth.” That’s followed by “Somebody Save Me,” the album’s title track, which has a whole lot of soul. This is a wonderful tune, with a passionate vocal performance. “Somebody save me/I can’t make it on my own.” Eric Gorfain plays violin, and Richard Dodd plays cell on this one. It is one of my personal favorites. The CD concludes with “Dark Night Of The Soul,” which has a good blues groove. David Ralicke plays saxophone on this one. “How come you always take more than your share/Best beware, dark night is coming for you.”

CD Track List
  1. The Revelator
  2. Time To Get Movin’
  3. You And I
  4. My Cards Are On The Table
  5. I’d Kill For You, Honey
  6. Angels And Devils
  7. Sometimes You Get The Bear (And Sometimes The Bear Gets You)
  8. Somebody Save Me
  9. Is It Just Me
  10. Dark Night Of The Soul
Somebody Save Me is scheduled to be released on March 1, 2019 on Forty Below Records.

Balsam Range: “Aeonic” (2019) CD Review

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but there is something about bluegrass that works so well to raise our spirits. With its natural sounds, generally talented players and good blending of voices, bluegrass at the very least puts us at ease, and often gets us smiling and dancing. Aeonic, the new release from Balsam Range, does both, and it features some excellent vocal work. The band is made up of Tim Surrett on bass, dobro and vocals; Buddy Melton on fiddle and vocals; Caleb Smith guitar and vocals, Marc Pruett on banjo, and Darren Nicholson on mandolin and vocals. These guys have been putting out good music for more than a decade now, and this new release has some excellent tracks. And yes, the band explains the album’s title in the liner notes.

The CD gets off to a great start with “The Girl Who Invented The Wheel,” an energetic tune that should bring a smile to your face. There is a lot of great playing on this track. “A real fast song with a lonesome feel/’Cause there goes the girl who invented the wheel.” There is something about that banjo that makes me remember how good life can be. We could all use a reminder like that, eh? That’s followed by “Tumbleweed Town,” a pretty song written by Milan Miller and Beth Husband. The lines that stood out for me the first time I listened to it are: “Searching for a sign of the man I hope to be/Now the dreams I didn’t find are another casualty.”

Rambling is a one of those topics that finds its way into a lot of bluegrass tunes, and on this disc Balsam Range gives us “The Rambler,” a slower, mellower, sweeter tune that features some wonderful vocal work. And check out these lines: “You’re making twenty, you’re saving ten/’Til you get that ache again/To spend whatever you have to spend/To take away your blues/Thirty days is awful long/When the road you’re riding on/Makes you weak instead of strong.” This song is gorgeous and moving, and is one I like more and more each time I hear it. “You’ve seen too much, and not as much as you thought you’d see.” They then pick up the pace with “Get Me Gone,” a fun, lively, joyous song. “Get me gone like a shooting star/Just as fast, and just as far.” I love it, and I certainly appreciate these lyrics. I have a feeling we’ll be singing them a lot, as they express a desire that many of us have these days.

“Let My Life Be A Light” is another jubilant number, a bit of bluegrass gospel. It has a positive attitude that I would love to adopt. “Help me do some good deed while I live/Let my life be a light/Shining out through the night/May I help struggling ones to the fold/Spreading cheer everywhere/To the sad and the lone/Let my life be a light to some soul.” Even though the religious aspect of the lines doesn’t speak to me, I do appreciate the idea of being an example and trying to help one’s fellow man. Plus, I love that mandolin. There is also some really nice work on guitar. Another of the disc’s highlights is “Graveyard Blues.” This is a seriously cool number, bluegrass blues, with a strong vocal performance. They follow that with a thoughtful, gentle cover of Paul Thorn’s “Angel Too Soon.” The album then concludes with a Beatles cover, “If I Needed Someone.” It is a lively, fast-paced rendition. This is what it’s all about, and is exactly what I want from a bluegrass album, including excellent vocals and some good jamming.

CD Track List
  1. The Girl Who Invented The Wheel
  2. Tumbleweed Town
  3. The Rambler
  4. Get Me Gone
  5. Hobo Blues
  6. Help Me To Hold On
  7. Let My Life Be A Light
  8. My Cross To Bear
  9. Graveyard Blues
  10. Angel Too Soon
  11. If I Needed Someone 
Aeonic is scheduled to be released on January 4, 2019 through Mountain Home Music Company.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Tom Petty And Me: My Rock ‘n’ Roll Adventures With Tom Petty (2018) Book Review

In 2017, a friend asked me if he should buy me a ticket to see Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers at the Hollywood Bowl. I wanted to go, especially as I had somehow never seen Tom Petty in concert, but I had to fly to Boston the next morning and figured I’d be too rushed and too tired. “Let’s see him the next time he plays,” I said. And I didn’t go. That show, of course, turned out to be Tom Petty’s final performance. I’m still sad that I missed it. One person who did not miss that concert was Jon Scott, a man who was instrumental in launching Tom Petty’s career. In fact, Tom Petty even dedicated a song to him that night. He writes about that show, and about his long career promoting Petty’s music, in his new book, Tom Petty And Me: My Rock ‘n’ Roll Adventures With Tom Petty.

Author Jon Scott is a fellow music lover, and his passion for music – especially, but not limited to, Tom Petty’s music – is clear on every page. Interestingly, his story begins with him losing his job. He was fired from MCA, then soon hired by Charlie Minor at ABC Records. Oh, if only everyone’s firing could be so advantageous. It was at his new job that he first encountered the music of Tom Petty (well, except for the Mudcrutch single he’d heard earlier), and the strange anecdote of finding that unlabeled record in his office closet rings true. Those of us who love music have all experienced this from time to time, upon discovering some new musician or band – that tremendous, world-opening joy, followed by an intense desire to share the music with everyone we know. (Hell, that’s the precise reason I started this blog.) And reading this book, I was getting those same chills that I had when I first heard Petty (or, for that matter, some of the other music groups who had that effect on me, such as The Peak Show and Josh Lederman Y Los Diablos). Jon Scott’s passion for the music will likely bring up that excitement for anyone who reads the book. And it is a good thing for all of us who enjoy Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers that he had that passion, for the label was planning on dropping the band before he begged for the chance to promote them.

The book has plenty of great anecdotes, such as his rather surprising first meeting with Tom Petty backstage at the Whisky A Go Go. And there are notes from the road, with Jon Scott offering a different perspective on touring than what is usually written in rock and roll tales. I love the story about getting to their show in Boston, where they opened for J. Geils Band. I was also kind of fascinated by the dynamic among artist, manager and promoter. And there is some interesting material about how decisions are made regarding radio playlists and so on. Jon Scott writes: “This was the beginning of media mergers and the use of data to make creative decisions. Media ownership groups bought up FM stations around the country and were just starting to hire professional radio consultants, who did extensive music research and then told station management what songs the listeners wanted to hear” (p. 44). I was lucky, for when I was a radio DJ, I worked at KWVA and could basically play whatever I wanted. Later in the book, Jon Scott talks about his work at KCSN, and that section certainly took me back to my time at KWVA.

But perhaps the most interesting material is on the different ways Jon Scott promoted Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers. Promotions such as the “radio station frequency tour” and the private listening party of Southern Accents at Tom Petty’s house are wild. And I love the New Year’s Eve party idea. The book contains several photographs, including a copy of the 1977 letter sent to radio stations programmers with a live version of “Breakdown.” The book basically goes in chronological order, and so at the end there is a chapter about that final concert, a concert I should have attended, the concert where Tom Petty dedicated “I Won’t Back Down” to the book’s author.

Tom Petty And Me: My Rock ‘n’ Roll Adventures With Tom Petty was published in 2018 through CB Publishing, a division of Chickasaw Buddy, Inc. It includes a foreword by John Mellencamp.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Charlie Faye & The Fayettes: “The Whole Shebang” (2019) CD Review

If you are looking for some music to wash away the taste of the nation’s current troubles, an excellent choice is The Whole Shebang, the new release from Charlie Faye & The Fayettes. This girl group rode a train straight out of the early 1960s, hardly making any stops between then and now (perhaps just one in the mid-1970s), seemingly with the sole intention of making us all happy. They released their self-titled debut in 2016, and it was a delight. When I saw them perform in August, they played several new songs, songs the audience immediately embraced, songs which have now found their way onto their new album. Backing them on this release are Eric Holden on bass, synths, organ, baritone guitar, glockenspiel, percussion, vibraphone, and mellotron (Holden also produced the album); Pete Thomas on drums and percussion; Marcus Watkins on guitar; and Chris Joyner on keys. There are also several guest musicians on certain tracks. Though they may sound like classic pop songs, all the songs on this album are originals, written or co-written by Charlie Faye.

They get things off to a wonderful start with “1-2-3-4,” a ridiculously fun and adorable pop song. This is one I saw them perform at The Federal Bar in August, and loved immediately. It has an appealing innocence. Bill Barrett adds some really nice work on harmonica. That’s followed by “I Don’t Need No Baby,” which begins with a familiar drum beat, then goes in a great direction. The vocals and the attitude behind them are sweet, yet strong. “I know that look there in your eyes/I’ve seen it more than once on other guys/Before you say a word, let me get in a few/It’s best you knew/I don’t want, I don’t need no baby.” They played this one in August when I saw them in concert. Then “The Cream Rises To The Top” is a seriously cool song, with an oddly haunting vibe to its delicious pop sound. I dig that percussion, helping to make this one of my favorites. It was written by Charlie Faye and Eric Holden.

“The Whole Shebang,” the album’s title track, is one of the its most fun numbers. It has a cheerful, playful sound, one I can’t imagine anyone not falling for. “Never lined up all the pieces right, or had all the puzzle parts/But now that I’ve met you, I can believe in the real thing/Because to me, to me, baby, you’re the whole shebang.” “The Whole Shebang” was written by Charlie Faye and Bill DeMain. That’s followed by “Stone Cold Fox.” Just the phrase “stone cold fox” is kind of adorable at this point, and takes us to a different time. This one is rock and roll with a country flavor. “But when it comes to rockin’ no one else compares.” Bill Kirchen joins the group on guitar for this one, which is seriously cool. Then “Night People” has more of a late 1970s vibe, with a distinct disco feel in the music, and also in the lyrics. “Night people are my kind of people/Meeting up at all the coolest clubs/Night people are a different kind of people/Dancing to the music that they love.” Steve Herrman is on trumpet, Kristen Weber is on violin, and Austin Hoke is on cello, with the string arrangement by Jim Hoke.

My absolute favorite track on this release is “Baby We’ll Be OK.” I love this one, in part because of the message of the song, in part because the vocals have the sweetest possible sound. Their voices are just absolutely wonderful, as they tell us that we’ll be okay. And I believe them. The first line is “There’s something wrong with the world today,” a statement I don’t think anyone could possibly argue with. But the next line, in response, is “Baby, we’ll be okay.” And I love these lines: “Sometimes I just need to hear those words/I know that reality is absurd/But I can’t fall asleep ‘til you say/Baby, we’ll be okay.”  This is the perfect song for our time, wrapped in the sounds of another time, and is a song I know I’ll be turning to often. It was written by Charlie Faye and Bill DeMain. That’s followed by “Tonight’s The Night,” which has a classic vibe. It’s hard to believe this is a new song, particularly when listening to that first section. It kicks in to become a fun, rocking tune, a song that has a delightful innocence, one that reminds me of Happy Days.

“That’s What New Love Is For” has one of the album’s best vocal performances. “You don’t need to make me sigh/Or look up when I walk by/You say love grows every day/But the passion fades away/That’s what new love is for.” “Riding High” is another cheerful song of love. The world is a good place, isn’t it? It certainly seems so while I listen to this song. The album then concludes with “You Gotta Give It Up (Party Song),” a great rock and roll number with a strong beat. This is the song they opened with the last time I saw them in concert. It was a great opener, and it’s a great closer here, another of the disc’s highlights. “We’ve got to wake up/Yeah, we’ve got to get wise/We’ve got to speak up/We’ve got to organize.”

CD Track List
  1. 1-2-3-4
  2. I Don’t Need No Baby
  3. The Cream Rises To The Top
  4. The Whole Shebang
  5. Stone Cold Fox
  6. Night People
  7. Baby We’ll Be OK
  8. Tonight’s The Night
  9. That’s What New Love Is For
  10. Say Those Words
  11. Riding High
  12. You Gotta Give It Up (Party Song)
The Whole Shebang is scheduled to be released on February 8, 2019.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Steven Graves: “How Long” (2018) CD Review

Steven Graves’ new album, How Long, is a great mix of rock, country and soul, featuring original material. With one exception, all the songs on this release were written or co-written by Steven Graves. His band includes David Mendoza on bass and backing vocals, Robert Melendez on bass and backing vocals, Travis Cruse on guitar, James Mikey Day on keys, Bryant Mills on drums, and Jim Greiner on percussion, along with a whole lot of other folks on various instruments on different tracks.

The album kicks off with its title track, “How Long.” It has a fun vibe right from the start, with something of a 1960s pop flavor to that opening. It then develops into a good, easygoing rock tune with country elements. I appreciate these lines: “Mother Nature, she sure is on the run/She’s trying to make it through the damage that we’ve done.” That damage seems more extensive every day. The sooner the current administration is buried, the sooner we can get back on track with regards to the environment. “How Long” is followed by “Good Day.” This one has a bit of a funky edge to the groove, which I dig. And then check out those great backing vocals, which rise up with a glorious gospel sound, adding more than a dash of soul to the song. Veronica McWoodson and Kellie McCoy Anderson sing on this track. I also really like that lead on organ halfway through. “It’s a good day,” indeed!

“Let It Reign” also has a strong soul vibe and a positive message. “No need for anger, restitution or blame/The color don’t matter, we’re all the same.” Yeah, it might seem a simple idea, but these days it is needed. Seriously, what went wrong with this country? I know we’re all looking forward to the day when Donald Trump is behind bars. But that will be just the beginning of our work. There is a lot of healing to be done. I am hopeful that it can be done. Then we get into reggae territory with “People Rise Up.” Reggae is known for delivering positive vibes and empowering messages, and so it is fitting that we turn to that kind of music in these days of intense division and hatred. “Take back our hearts/Take back our minds/When we all unite/Power we will find/Let the people rise up/Let the darkness go away.” Plus, this track features a horn section, which I love. Armen Boyd is on sax, Becky Dees Boyd is on trombone, and Robin Anderson is on trumpet. “All of the people choose love over fear/Let the sun shine again/Let the water flow so clear.”

Last year, Steven Graves released an album titled Captain Soul. On that album, there was no title track. Now on his new album Steven Graves gives a song titled “Captain Soul,” a warm, easygoing tune that offers this advice: “Follow the stars until your dreams come true.” This song has perhaps a nod to the Grateful Dead in the line “So many roads we go down, down, down.” This track also features a really good instrumental section. Luca Fredericksen is on keys, and Jim Coulson is on drums. And speaking of the Dead, the album’s sole cover is a nice rendition of “Sugaree” that has a happy, soul feel, and features some nice work on keys. And I love those backing vocals, reminding me more of the Jerry Garcia Band sound than that of the Dead. Veronica McWoodson, Kellie McCoy Anderson and Keith Greeninger sing on this one. And, hey, there is another Grateful Dead connection here: Dennis McNally is part of Steven Graves’ publicity team.

One of my personal favorite tracks on this disc is “Fool For You,” a beautiful country love song with pedal steel (that’s BJ Cole on pedal steel). The song is presented as a duet with Sasha Dobson, and is moving and wonderful. It’s a song I’ve already listened to many times, and expect to listen to a lot more. “If you love me forever/Darling, I’ll love you so true/Nobody knows me better/Baby, I’m a fool for you.” This one was written by Steven Graves and Keith Greeninger. BJ Cole returns on pedal steel for the disc’s final track, “Fly To The Stars,” a beautiful, uplifting country song. This one was written by Steven Graves and Rob Owen. “Take my hand and take my heart/I’m giving it all away so we can fly to the stars.”

CD Track List
  1. How Long
  2. Good Day
  3. Forces Of Love
  4. Let It Reign
  5. People Rise Up
  6. Captain Soul
  7. Fool For You
  8. Weary Man
  9. Sugaree
  10. Set Me Free
  11. Stand For The People
  12. Fly To The Stars
How Long was released on October 10, 2018.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Simone Kopmajer: “Spotlight On Jazz” (2018) CD Review

Vocalist Simone Kopmajer, born in Austria, has been putting out albums for fifteen years, not only recording and performing beloved standards, but also her own material. Her new release, Spotlight On Jazz, is a mix of standards and originals, her voice friendly and beautiful as she delivers some gentle, soothing, romantic yet fun jazz. Joining her on this album are Terry Myers on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Paul Urbanek on piano, Martin Spitzer on guitar, Karl Sayer on bass, and Reinhardt Winkler on drums.

Simone Kopmajer opens the album with an original composition, “Spotlights,” which she co-wrote with Karolin Tuerk. This song has a delightful, bright vibe, which is interesting since she sings “It’s all right, it won’t be long/Time will bring a happier song.” After all, it feels that this is the very song she is promising. This is a song offering some comfort, even joy, and it’s a great start to the disc. It’s followed by a cover of “Pennies From Heaven,” a song written by Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke, and made famous by folks like Bing Crosby and Billie Holiday. Simone’s voice is warm and welcoming, as if ushering us into a more perfect world. I’m also quite fond of Karl Sayer’s work on bass here. Then “You Don’t Call Me” is an original song written by Paul Urbanek and Karolin Tuerk. It has a lonely late-night vibe at times, fitting lines like “Silence creeping/Through the sheets I sleep in/And I know that I’m missing you.”

“Mighty Tender Love” is a fun number written by Simon Kopmajer, with a more upbeat groove. Something about this one makes me feel really good. Perhaps it’s because it makes me think of my girlfriend. “But I can’t believe that you’re the one I get to kiss/Oh, lucky me, I’ve found you.” And I love the instrumental section with the horn taking over, followed by a really nice lead on guitar. This is a song that reminds us of how good life can be, and lord knows we need as many of those as we can get these days. That’s followed by another song that was recorded by Bing Crosby, “Poinciana.” Simone Kopmajer’s rendition has a sweeter vibe, which I love. I really appreciate these late-night jazz gems, maybe because the world seems more peaceful at night, when we’re left to our own thoughts, and our responsibilities are few. The politicians are asleep, and so can do no more harm, at least not until morning. Don’t we just want to dwell within the span of a song like this one? The warmth and beauty of her voice seem to cradle us and say “Everything is okay.” And I love that lead on saxophone. Simone then turns more playful with “Dig That Riff.” I particularly enjoy Paul Urbanek’s work on piano on this track. There is a nice flow to that lead, as well as to Martin Spitzer’s lead on guitar. This one was written by Paul Urbanek and Karolin Tuerk. Simone sings, “Hey, it’s crazy/The music hasn’t started yet.” No? This disc includes a second version of this song, a remix with a funkier groove.

“Remember Jeannie” is an original composition about the television series I Dream Of Jeannie, perhaps an odd subject for a song, certainly an unexpected one. There is something sweet and adorable about this track, and it features some good work on piano, as well as some fun stuff on drums. “Out of a colored cloud of smoke/Appeared a genie, oh so cute/Who couldn’t wait to kiss her master/And make his wish come true.” This one was written by Simon Kopmajer and Karolin Tuerk. Perhaps the most adorable vocal performance of the whole album is that on “Exactly Like You.” It begins with her vocals accompanied only by percussion, a nice touch, and then even includes a bit of scat. I also love the clarinet. This is such an enjoyable song. It was written by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, and has been recorded by a large number of artists over the years, including Louis Armstrong and (yes) Bing Crosby. That’s followed by an original number, “A Gift From Buddy,” written by Terry Myers and Simone Kopmajer. This one has a delicious, late-night, intimate vibe that draws you in. A gorgeous, romantic song that features a gentle lead on sax. This song is in no rush, but rather feels like a nice long embrace. “Then you were walking by/Like an angel to the melody/Lights shining down upon your face.” “We’re Goin’ In” is the final original song of this release, written by Terry Myers and Simone Kopmajer. It’s a fun tune with a good, cheerful groove. Ah yes, things are just beginning to move, and optimism is high. And I love Martin Spitzer’s work on guitar. “You know we can’t be so dull/We’ve got a cooler full.”

CD Track List
  1. Spotlights
  2. Pennies From Heaven
  3. You Don’t Call Me
  4. Mighty Tender Love
  5. Poinciana
  6. Dig That Riff
  7. Remember Jeannie
  8. Struttin’ With Some Barbecue
  9. Exactly Like You
  10. A Gift From Buddy
  11. Stompin’ At The Savoy
  12. We’re Goin’ In
  13. Mood Indigo
  14. Dig That Riff (Remix)
Spotlight On Jazz was released on November 9, 2018 on Lucky Mojo Records.

3x4: The Bangles, The Three O’ Clock, The Dream Syndicate, The Rain Parade (2018/2019) CD Review

I’ve been lucky to experience some seriously special music scenes a couple of times in my life – first that of the excellent folk artists in Boston in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and then the amazing bands that played at the Peak Show Compound here in L.A. in 2002-2004. There was something magical about these scenes, where the bands were all fans of each other’s work. There was a wonderful camaraderie with other fans too, because the band members would be in the audiences with them for the other bands’ shows. The artists were there to cheer each other on. Such was clearly the case with the groups collectively known as the Paisley Underground, a term apparently coined by Michael Quercio of The Three O’ Clock. Back in the early 1980s in Los Angeles, several groups shared a passion for a certain type of music, a brand of pop with psychedelic elements, a bit of punk, great work on guitar, and strong vocals. Four of the keys bands from that scene reunited for a special concert at the end of 2013 – The Bangles, The Dream Syndicate, The Three O’ Clock and Rain Parade. Now those same bands have gotten together for an interesting and wonderful album, 3x4: The Bangles, The Three O’ Clock, The Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade, in which each band covers a song from each of the other bands. It’s a really cool and unusual idea for an album. Clearly these guys are still cheering each other on, still digging each other’s music. This disc’s liner notes include thoughts and memories from several band members, with The Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn acknowledging “I think we were all intense music fans who also happened to be musicians.”

The disc opens with The Three O’ Clock covering The Bangles’ “Getting Out Of Hand.” Actually, they were still The Bangs when this song was recorded (you can hear it on Ladies And Gentlemen…The Bangles!). Anyway, this music is just so much fun, and it’s even more of a treat getting to hear this after just enjoying the compilation from Permanent Green Light, the band that came about after The Three O’ Clock disbanded. That’s followed by The Bangles covering The Dream Syndicate’s “That’s What You Always Say,” a song featured on their excellent album The Days Of Wine And Roses. From the time The Bangles began, different members sang lead on different songs, before the music industry decided that Susanna Hoffs was the voice of the band. And on this disc, they keep that dynamic, which is wonderful. By the way, this album features the group’s original lineup, including bass player Annette Zilinskas. Her bass features prominently in this great cover of “That’s What You Always Say.” The Dream Syndicate covers Rain Parade’s “You Are My Friend,” a song with something of a sweet and moving sound. “So sad this had to end/But broken things don’t mend/They lie where they fall.” That’s followed by Rain Parade covering The Three O’ Clock’s “As Real As Real,” a song from that band’s Baroque Hoedown EP. This is one of my favorite tracks, beautiful and compelling, with an otherworldly, enchanting sound. I love that guitar.

The Three O’ Clock then delivers an excellent rendition of The Dream Syndicate’s “Tell Me When It’s Over,” another song from The Days Of Wine And Roses. The band gives it more of a psychedelic sound than the original, and of course the vocals have less of a Lou Reed sound. Interestingly, that’s followed by another song from that same album, “When You Smile,” here performed by Rain Parade, who gives it a dreamy opening. Then it kicks in with a glorious force. “It seems like the end of the world/When you smile.” This is such a good song, and Rain Parade delivers a seriously cool rendition, with some delicious psychedelic guitar. And the jam at the end is both gritty and trippy. Then The Bangles give us a wonderful rendition of Rain Parade’s “Talking In My Sleep,” the lead track from that band’s Emergency Third Rail Power Trip LP. I love those sweet vocals over that psychedelic base. There is also a bit of a folk sound at the heart of this track. This is another of the disc’s highlights. That’s followed by The Dream Syndicate covering The Bangles’ “Hero Takes A Fall,” an interesting choice, for rumor has it that the song is about Steve Wynn. The Dream Syndicate bursts right into the song, this version featuring a lot of great guitar. Interestingly, Vicki Peterson sings backup on this track, like a guest on her own song, which is cool. I also dig the bass.

The Bangles cover The Three O’ Clock’s “Jet Fighter,” a song from Sixteen Tambourines. The way it suddenly bursts in with that beat reminds me of their cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade Of Winter.” This is such a catchy song. It’s followed by Rain Parade covering The Bangles’ “The Real World” (here listed as “Real World”), the lead track from the band’s self-titled 1982 EP. There is something pretty about this track. “This is the real world/And I believe our love is real/The only thing I’m counting on.” “What She’s Done To Your Mind” is a delightful pop number with a strong 1960s vibe, originally done by Rain Parade and here covered by The Three O’ Clock. Susanna Hoffs joins them on backing vocals on this track. The disc then concludes with The Dream Syndicate covering “She Turns To Flowers,” by The Three O’ Clock (actually, at that point the band was still The Salvation Army). It begins like a punk song, with that beat, and is certainly the most rockin’ track on the disc, a great wild energetic tune to wrap up this remarkable release.

CD Track List
  1. Getting Out Of Hand
  2. That’s What You Always Say
  3. You Are My Friend
  4. As Real As Real
  5. Tell Me When It’s Over
  6. When You Smile
  7. Talking In My Sleep
  8. Hero Takes A Fall
  9. Jet Fighter
  10. Real World
  11. What She’s Done To Your Mind
  12. She Turns To Flowers
3x4: The Bangles, The Three O’ Clock, The Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade is scheduled to be released on CD on January 11, 2019 through Yep Roc Records. It was first released as a limited edition on both vinyl and CD on November 23, 2018 as part of Black Friday Record Store Day.