Friday, April 26, 2019

Robin Lane & The Chartbusters: “Many Years Ago: The Complete Robin Lane & The Chartbusters Collection” (2019) CD Review

Maybe I’m a bit biased, since I am from Massachusetts, but a whole lot of excellent music has come out of Boston over the years. In the late 1970s, when Robin Lane moved from Los Angeles to Boston, her style changed, as she turned to rock music that featured some punk and new wave influences, and The Chartbusters were formed. They were together only six years or so, but during that time released a couple of albums and a couple of EPs. Now Many Years Ago: The Complete Robin Lane & The Chartbusters Collection brings all those recordings together, plus a lot of previously unreleased tracks. The music is driven by guitars, giving it a no-nonsense rock feel. In addition to Robin Lane on lead vocals and guitar, the band included Leroy Radcliffe on guitar and backing vocals, and Asa Brebner on guitar and backing vocals (both of them had played with Jonathan Richman And The Modern Lovers), along with Tim Jackson on drums and backing vocals, and Scott Baerenwald on bass and backing vocals. This three-disc set contains nearly four hours of music, as well as fairly extensive liner notes by Brett Milano, and several photos. It is a lot of fun revisiting these songs.

Disc One

The first disc contains the band’s two LPs – their self-titled 1980 debut and 1981’s Imitation Life. The debut album opens with “When Things Go Wrong,” a song that immediately took me back to my childhood. This song was wildly popular in Massachusetts, and for good reason. And it totally holds up. That’s followed by “It’ll Only Hurt A Little While,” the guitar having a strong and cool 1960s flavor. The band’s sound on this first LP certainly was informed by some 1960s influences. This song is one of the album’s highlights, and in addition to the wonderful guitar work, I love the way Robin Lane delivers the title line, sort of dragging it out a bit. “Don’t Cry” is another I remember hearing on the radio during my childhood, and it has some pep. Then “Without You” is a solid rock song with a great driving beat, more good work on guitar, and an edge. “Why Do You Tell Me Lies” is another one that takes me to my childhood. This was the sound of Massachusetts in the very early 1980s, and I still love it. What a cool song! That’s followed by “I Don’t Want To Know,” a totally enjoyable rock song. “Be Mine Tonight” has a something of a punk feel and an energetic, powerful vocal performance. “I see something in you/Don’t you want to be mine tonight/I could love you/I think that I already do.” There is a somewhat softer, prettier sound to “Kathy Lee,” with a 1960s folk-rock feel to the guitar.

Imitation Life opens with “Send Me An Angel” and right away, you can hear a difference in the band’s sound, which is a bit harder and doesn’t have as much of that 1960s thing. “What The People Are Doing” has a darker vibe, and a cool unusual vocal approach that I like. “Baby, I’ve been feeling strange/Upside down, but you’re not to blame/In a room where shadows grow/Time fades away.” Then the title track, “Imitation Life,” comes at you at a quick pace and rocks with a certain punk energy. “I don’t want to live an imitation life,” Robin sings, and from what we can hear it seems she is in no danger of doing that.  This is one of my favorite tracks. Robin Lane then changes gears with “Say Goodbye,” a mellower tune. Then the band delivers more of that great punk energy with “No Control,” yet another highlight and probably my favorite song from Imitation Life. I totally dig this one. There is something playful about it, particularly in some of the lyrics and their delivery, and it is a lot of fun. There is even a brief drum solo near the end. Another of the LP’s most enjoyable tracks is “Pretty Mala,” a fun rock and roll tune. That’s followed by “Idiot,” which has a catchy groove and more of a pop vibe. Of all the tracks on Imitation Life, this is the one that retains some of that 1960s influence. That LP then concludes with “For You,” a slower, passionate love song. “For you, I would do anything right/I would do anything wrong.”

Disc Two

The second disc contains the Heart Connection EP, as well as a whole lot of previously unreleased material. It begins with Heart Connection, which came out in 1984 and has more of that 1980s sound in part because of the addition of keyboards to the band. Gone are any remaining 1960s vibes, and largely gone is the punk feel. But the songs are still enjoyable, with a different sort of charm. The EP opens with “Hard Cover,” which is a fun, lively tune, and one I like more each time I listen to this disc. That’s followed by “Believe In You,” which has a strong 1980s pop sound. “Shot In The Dark” has even more of that 1980s sound. But I’m digging it, though when I listen to it on headphones, what sounds like a drum machine version of the kick drum is really distracting. The EP concludes with “True Confessions.” Of all four songs on the EP, this is the one that rocks the most, opening with a strong, fast beat. And in the middle, there is a cool section that begins with drums and bass. Yet this track is still clearly a song of the mid-1980s.

Those four tracks are followed by several other tracks from those same sessions, songs that were left unreleased until now. The first of these is “Lookin’ So Hard,” a decent pop song. That’s followed by “The Irish Song,” which has a somewhat mellower, prettier sound, but with a strong, passionate vocal performance. I am rather fond of this one. “Look The Other Way” also has a strong, emotional center, with a somewhat darker, heavier feel and an excellent vocal performance. How was this track left unreleased until now? “When every line that you’ve drawn has been crossed.” The sound of “Take Back The Night” is certainly a product of 1984, but the lyrics transcend that time. “Young girl walks down the streets alone/She’s taking a chance on her way back home/Over her shoulder, someone moves in/She’s another victim of this world we’re in.” This song isn’t just about violence against woman, but the elderly as well. That’s followed by another strong track, “Words Of Love,” its beat drawing me in from the start. This is the last of the tracks from those sessions.

The Heart Connection sessions were the last of Robin Lane & The Chartbusters (until they reunited in 2001), and this second disc goes from the end back to the beginning, with the three tracks that made up the band’s 1979 Deli Platters single. This includes the original versions of “When Things Go Wrong” and “Why Do You Tell Lies,” both of which would end up on the band’s self-titled debut LP, as well as a song called “The Letter.” That’s followed by some early demos which were previously unreleased. “I Found Out” is a cool rock song with some good work on drums, a demo from 1979. “Loneliness in the heart, it’s keeping us paralyzed/Nobody reaching out to one another anymore/Everybody waiting to die.” The next track, “Rose For Sharon,” will immediately strike you as different from everything else on these discs so far. It has more of a country pop sound, and begins with just vocals and drums. This is a demo from before the days of The Chartbusters. It’s kind of goofy, but interesting in tracking Robin Lane’s progression. “Never Enough” is another pre-Chartbusters demo, and also has something of a country sound, but to my ears is a better song. That’s followed by another demo, but one from much later. “The Longest Thinnest Thread” is from 1990, and is kind of a pretty song, more in the folk realm, a return to her earliest days in the music industry. “This vast distance between us/Can’t be closed by telephone/Your absence has left a hole inside of me/And I can’t bear to view myself/When you’re who I want to see.” The second disc then concludes with “Little Bird,” a track from the 2003 reunion album, Piece Of Mind. This song is more in line with those demos than with the band’s 1980s releases, and has a sweet, beautiful sound.

Disc Three

The third disc contains recordings of live performances, starting with the tracks from 5 Live, the band’s 1980 EP. This EP opens with “When Things Go Wrong,” which Robin Lane dedicates to everyone in the audience. The EP, by the way, was recorded at The Orpheum Theatre in Boston. “When Things Go Wrong” is followed by “Lost My Mind,” a fun, completely enjoyable song with some catchy guitar work, another highlight of this collection. Then “When You Compromise” is a bright rock song. Listening to this, I wish I had seen this band in concert. Seems like their shows would have been a good time. At the beginning of “8.3,” Robin Lane says, “Everybody’s been talking lately about a big earthquake that’s coming.” She then warns that the 8.3 quake is going to come to the east coast too, “So you’d better watch out.” This is probably the coolest track from the live EP, with a thumping punk power. The EP concludes with a wild, rocking cover of Johnny Kidd’s “Shakin’ All Over.”

The rest of the third disc is made up of previously unreleased live tracks from the years 1979-1981. Most  are from 1979, recorded at Normandy Sound. Before “Caught In The Act,” they are introduced to what sounds like an small, intimate crowd. The band delivers for them an excellent set of rock tunes, including a few that didn’t make it onto a studio release such as “Are You A Hero Now” and “Psychotic Disorders” (“Maybe you think that I’m real pretty/But don’t get too close, because I’ll just treat you shitty/Psychotic disorders”). There are also some tunes that wouldn’t be on a studio album until that 2003 release, Piece Of Mind, such as “Somebody Else,” “Talk To You” (one of my favorites), “Last One To Know” and “In My World.” They also give seriously good renditions of “Many Years Ago” and “I Don’t Want To Know,” the latter dedicated to Sid Vicious, who died that year. There is also a cover of Del Shannon’s “Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow The Sun).” Those tracks are followed by a couple recorded at The Paradise Rock Club in 1980 – “Little Eyes” and “Waitin’ In Line.” Then “What The People Are Doing” and “Send Me An Angel” are from a 1981 performance at RCA Studios. This collection wraps up with a couple of songs recorded at Jonathan Swift’s in 1980 – “Way Over There” and “Violent Love.” The sound isn’t quite as good on these last couple of tracks, but the performances are good. I particularly like the band’s rendition of Willie Dixon’s “Violent Love,” which has a delicious, raw drive.

CD Track List

Disc One
  1. When Things Go Wrong
  2. It’ll Only Hurt A Little While
  3. Don’t Cry
  4. Without You
  5. Why Do You Tell Me Lies
  6. I Don’t Want To Know
  7. Many Years Ago
  8. Waitin’ In Line
  9. Be Mine Tonight
  10. Kathy Lee
  11. Don’t Wait Till Tomorrow
  12. Send Me An Angel
  13. What The People Are Doing
  14. Imitation Life
  15. Say Goodbye
  16. No Control
  17. Rather Be Blind
  18. Solid Rock
  19. Pretty Mala
  20. Idiot
  21. For You
Disc Two
  1. Hard Cover
  2. Believe In You
  3. Shot In The Dark
  4. True Confessions
  5. Lookin’ So Hard
  6. The Irish Song
  7. Holy Man
  8. Look The Other Way
  9. Save Your Tears
  10. Take Back The Night
  11. Words Of Love
  12. When Things Go Wrong
  13. Why Do You Tell Lies
  14. The Letter
  15. I Found Out
  16. Rose For Sharon
  17. Never Enough
  18. The Longest Thinnest Thread
  19. Little Bird
Disc Three
  1. When Things Go Wrong
  2. Lost My Mind
  3. When You Compromise
  4. 8.3
  5. Shakin’ All Over
  6. Caught In The Act
  7. Somebody Else
  8. Many Years Ago
  9. Talk To You
  10. Are You A Hero Now
  11. Last One To Know
  12. In My World
  13. Rather Be Blind
  14. I Don’t Want To Know
  15. Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow The Sun)
  16. Psychotic Disorders
  17. Little Eyes
  18. Waitin’ In Line
  19. What The People Are Doing
  20. Send Me An Angel
  21. Way Over There
  22. Violent Love
Many Years Ago: The Complete Robin Lane & The Chartbusters Collection was released on March 1, 2019.

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