Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Beach Boys Friends Who Make Music: Michael Clark Produces the Fun Girls Album by Peter Reum

Imagine a cd where the vocal harmonies are heavenly, the production is clean and complements the singing, and the songs are FUN to listen to, and you have the Fun Girls album entitled Seduced. This album has grown on me immensely, and if you have an hour to give a cd to simply put a spring in your walk and a big smile on your face, this is the album to get. Michael Clark, the producer has previously been nominated for a Grammy, and his work has been steadfast and true for many years. The performers known as The Fun Girls are veteran vocal performers who all have been singing for at least ten to twenty years. Becky Kevoian, Teresa Giles Kelly, and Cozette Myers are all residents of the Midwestern United States, and which coincidentally, is where my family also originates.

If you have read my previous review of the Bamboo Trading Company album, you will be interested to know that this album is fun, joyous, and drips with pheromones. These singers know how to infuse their vocals with attractiveness as only women singers of the highest order can accomplish. The selection of songs begins with the title track, Seduced, which offers a pre-rock and roll, almost Forties vocal jazz sound. The keyboards are exquisite, as is the tuba, which kills. Bobby Troup, author of Their Hearts Were Full of Spring, a Beach Boys chestnut, had a huge multi-artist hit with Route 66, and the gals' vocals here are edgy and swing to the max. Again, the keyboards shine, as does Vince Gill's guitar solo on the bridge. The brass is up front, and the whole tune is a tour de force.

The ambiance shifts to a stunning vocal acapella version of Brian Wilson's signature tune, In My Room. The womens' version is simply elegant. The vocal arrangement by Greg Gilpin is memorable and gorgeous. My World Is Over, a ballad with a bluesy lyric and torchsong feel is a tune I could hear Brian Wilson producing in a similar manner. Each vocalist contributes a soulful, heartfelt vibe that tells you they mean what they sing. The next tune, Men, is the rocker of this part of the album. Michael Clark's guitar and a mean Hammond B3 played by Troye Kinnett shine on this track. Chris Pyle's timekeeping on drums is steadfast. Wayfaring Stranger begins with a beautiful prelude composed by Michael Clark, and this traditional song is an album standout. The mandolin here is played by the incomparable Sam Bush, and shines. The womens' vocals are as one, and offer a contrast to the dramatic track itself, which reflects both country and jazz together. This track is one of the most musically ambitious on the album, and succeeds admirably.

Paul McCartney's Baby's Request follows, and is arranged in a Forties Jazz feel, which swings easily and brings back Rex Martin on Tuba in a central role as both bass player and soloist. The late Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman are present here songwise, represented by their classic I Can't Get Used To Losing You. The track has a nice and tasteful use of synth on it, arranged by Gary Mielke. I Can Hear Music follows, recalling Carl Wilson and The Beach Boys version of the song, yet also hinting of Ronnie Spector as well. The producers choose to hold the acapella singing which was on the bridge of The Beach Boys version, to the tag of the arrangement here. It is stunning on headphones and has to be heard to be appreciated.

Lesley Gore's contribution to Sixties Music is often overlooked, and her version of You Don't Own Me is often cited as an early anthem of the modern women's movement. Here the Fun Girls turn dead serious and sing like they mean it. It is a great version. Holland-Dozier-Holland's You Keep Me Hangin' On is rendered profoundly country in a version that is both imaginatively produced and arranged, yet retains the soulful vocals of the original Supremes version.Sam Bush shines here again on mandolin, and is supported perfectly by Jeff Guernsey on fiddle and Scott Vestal  on 5 String Banjo. Michael Clark flat picks his butt off on guitar.

Speaking of butts, Butt Dialed is a tale of cheating that chronicles the thoughts of a woman (women?) done wrong. The brass arrangement here is especially tasty, with trombones by Peter Brockman standing out. To speak of this tune any further would be to spoil the flavor of the tune. It is an album standout. Executive Producer Bob Kevoian and Whitney Grayson are the writers here. Ohio's own Roy Rogers is recalled in the finale, as a lovely version of Happy Trails is the stated end of the album, with an impromptu version of You Are My Sunshine being done by family members concluding the album.

If you love the music of the vocal jazz era, with healthy helpings of humor, good vocal vibes, country feels, and standout production, arrangements, and musicianship, this is the album for you. My apologies to Michael Clark, who sent me this cd, for being so overdue with this review. This cd is available at ITunes. The Fungirls are at thefungirls.com.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Peter Lacey's Last Leaf by Peter Reum

When Peter sends me an album, it is at once a joy and a challenge.....his albums are consistently a pleasure to hear. Upon repeated listens his albums reveal a depth that descends directly from the English Folk-Rock countryside artists of the Seventies and yet, they show a profound respect for Peter's listeners. Peter's songs allow his listeners to interpret his music in a manner that brings emotional attachment, personalizing, and interpretation. This album is quite unique in Peter's work, and is reminiscent of Brian Wilson's Smile's Second Movement or the suite of Brian's tunes that conclude the Surfs Up album.

The work Peter has put together here forms a song cycle about the seasons, yet also reflects many of the feelings a person feels going through the human experience of grief. Peter shared with me that his parents both passed away over the past year or so, and the realization that we are alone without our parents in this world is a profound life change that every human must experience. Peter asks you, the listener, to join him on this journey. The album's opening song,  Country Mile, is the invitation.

The Woodwind, the second song, is both a reflection and a request for Music to lift the composer out of his deep grief into a  better state of being. Anyone who has experienced a deep state of grief will recognize immediately that we begin to put our lives back together by turning to the aspects of life that bring joy. For Peter, Music has served this need, and he again turns to music to lift him up. Sunrise Rise, the album's third song, alludes to the changing of the seasons, asking life to return to balance after a long cold winter of grief.

Right As Rain is a tune that reflects the innocence of Spring gently removing the winter of discontent, with the return of life, reminding the listener of newness of life, and also the generations that succeed the generations that have passed. The interrelationship of lives gone and lives coming is one of the joyful mysteries of life itself... The Tree of Life.....our lives, so fragile, so fleeting, so precious. Harvest Moon is a reflection on death, the fact that the scythe eventually falls for all of us, making room for new life. Suffice to say that we all live our lives our own way, and the fact that we must die makes us aware of the sweetness of Life, however brief it may be.

Seven Hills to Hangleton is a pretty instrumental, serving the function of a palette cleanser, a way of giving the listener a brief respite before Last Leaf's song cycle resumes. It is a perfect tune for this purpose. The album's next song, Fisherman, alludes to the realization some people have in the winter of their life, having realized that they walked unconscious through their days, unaware of their own soul, their lot at the end of their days being a life walked through in a clueless manner.

The Gatekeeper, the next song, speaks of an Outlander, a person who is out of place, out of time itself. The song is reminiscent of the writings of C.S. Lewis, especially his work concerning Narnia. The waltz tempo is deceiving, as the song is a powerful reflection on consciousness, especially self-consciousness. In my field of Rehabilitation Psychology, we refer to gatekeepers as the people who determine whether healing is probable or even possible. There is a tendency for those people, those gatekeepers, to lose their compassion and treat people as a file, not a person. They have heard it all before. The next tune, Swallow begins vigorously, as life does.....children have so much energy. It then grows quiet and moves into a rhythm that is warm and mellow, as middle life can be. This chrysalis we call Life is warm and brief, in the sense of our tempestuous Universe. A narrator shares a fable of a sparrow enjoying a brief time of warmth, Life, then reentering the tempest outside Life.

They say no one has true faith until they are on their deathbed. When a relative passes after suffering at the end of Life, due to regret or illness, how are we, the survivors and caregivers to feel? When my own mother passed at 92 of Alzheimer's Disease, I felt relief, survivor's guilt, angry, desolate, forsaken. On my last visit to her she thought she was 17 years old, and asked me if I wanted to date her. The smile on her face belied the emptiness in her eyes. She wasn't there.....Peter's own feelings turn up in the next two songs, He Is Sleeping and Boy In the Rings of a Tree. Poignantly, he reflects on his father's suffering, then comforts himself by saying his father is sleeping. Peter then places his own life in perspective by thinking of his father as a permanent part of the Tree of Life... broken branches, emotional isolation, the physicality of aloneness. A rose plucked dies immediately, but brings sweet fragrance and memories to those around it. Memories, dried flowers in a book, pictures....capturing a time long ago, in Life.

This is Peter's best work to date. Born of pain, it brings great beauty to those who will take the time to listen.

The album may be found at Amazon Digital Download and through pinkhedgehog.com

Text copyright 2014 by Peter Reum-All Rights Reserved

Monday, March 17, 2014

Brian Wilson and Others-The Big Beat 1963 by Peter Reum

Brian Wilson and Other Artists-The Big Beat 1963 by Peter Reum

This compendium of Brian Wilson and Beach Boys related tracks was a welcome archival release for those of us who love to hear the nearly lost and obscure music Brian Wilson/Beach Boys related music that emanates from the Universal/Capitol Vault. Like other companies, Universal has to deal with European Copyright Laws which deem that any music not published or released within fifty years becomes public domain. The initial release that sparked record companies scrambling to compile and release tracks that are "aging out" of the fifty year window was a fantastic but very limited Bob Dylan compilation that was released in 2012.

Suffice to say that collectors of obscure music often play a vital role in these types of projects. With the cooperation of The Honeys, Lee Dempsey, Daniel Rutherford, and other parties in the Brian Wilson/Beach Boys world, several of the tracks in this compilation are available for the first time commercially. Some of these selections have circulated in the shadow world of hard core Beach Boys and Brian Wilson collecting for decades, but for the collector who came to that world lately, The Big Beat 1963 is a potential revelation. This compilation includes several very rare reference acetates, which often were used by Brian or The Beach Boys to listen to and critique their own studio work on a home stereo or record player. In some cases, Brian's early production work outside of the Beach Boys was his ticket to subsequent experimentation that he did with Beach Boys records. It is clear from the earliest period of his work that Brian had aspirations to write and produce other artists, as these early recordings demonstrate. Research is showing that Brian recorded the Rachel and the Revolvers and Bob and Sheri singles before he received deserved credit for producing The Beach Boys. 

Brian  appears to have set up a separate publishing company aside from Sea of Tunes, New Executive Publishing, even at this early period of his songwriting. Add to this his compositions for Jan and Dean records and The Muscle Beach Party soundtrack, and his intentions are very clear. Brian did not want to be limited to giving all of his compositions to Sea of Tunes Publishing, and the quality of his outside productions grew progressively more sophisticated, paralleling his Beach Boys productions. There is some speculation in collecting circles that Murry Wilson paid disc jockeys NOT to play Brian's outside productions, and to play Beach Boys records instead. Due to Murry's untimely passing, we will never know the veracity of such speculation.

Brian's Demos and Productions for Bob Norberg and Vicki Kocher

The Big Beat 1963 begins with a Bob and Sheri tune credited to Brian Wilson as composer entitled The Big Beat. The players are not identified, but the tightness of the arrangement suggests an early Wrecking Crew recording. Musically, the tune evolved into Do You Remember on 1964's All Summer Long album. The background  vocals are by Brian and Bob Norberg, with the presence of a tack piano foreshadowing future Brian and Beach Boys recordings. which owe a debt to this pioneering Brian outside production. Ride Away is another Brian composition which is credited as being performed by Bob and Sheri. The tune bears a remarkable resemblance to Surfers Holiday. It is quite possible that Ride Away preceded Surfer's Holiday,  but the trading of male and female vocals in the tune is very similar to Annette and Frankie in the Muscle Beach Party soundtrack. As has often been said of Brian, he never lets a good melody go to waste. Thanks to some ground breaking research by Lee Dempsey, we now know that Brian reworked The Surfer Moon into The Summer Moon.  Either Bob Norberg or Brian may be heard doubling Vicki's vocal in the background.Vicki Kocher is not the Sheri of Bob and Sheri. That singer was Cheryl Pomeroy.

Brian's Beach Boys Related Demo Work

Mother May I has some chord similarities to Our Car Club, but the vocal almost sounds like a novelty record. 1963 certainly had its share of novelty hits, but Mother May I has what is a fairly straight ahead track and set of lyrics  One can only wonder what the motivation for the cartoon like lead vocal might have been. It sits with some of Brian's Seventies work from the "write a song, get a hamburger days" as one of his most unusual compositions and productions. Perhaps it was intended to be a track like Cassius Love vs. Sonny Wilson on a future album. Its closest cousin in the Sixties is perhaps I'm Bugged At My Old Man. Brian's demo for I Do sparkles with the effects of the Gold Star echo chamber. It is a Spector type of production, with Brian's growing mastery of the Wall  of Sound in evidence. The tune was cut in a very brief time with preciously few minutes of studio session time remaining. Rabbit's Foot was probably intended to be a Honeys single, but an overworked Brian Wilson chose to take the basic track, which is cited by Brian Wilson collaborator Andy Paley as musically radical and innovative for its time, and reworked the tune into what we now know as Our Car ClubSide Two (Instrumental) to this listener's ears sounds like an alternative approach to Little Deuce Coupe. That would make sense in that it's working title of Side Two (Instrumental) would make it the tune that eventually became Little Deuce Coupe, the actual "B" side of the Surfer Girl single, Capitol 5009. The demo for Ballad of Old Betsy is an unanticipated jewel that makes this collection worthwhile by itself. Brian's vocal may be heard faintly in the background at times.

Brian's Demos For Artists Other Than The Beach Boys or Honeys

Brian's Gonna Hustle You demo has been in the hands of hard core Brian/Beach Boys collectors for 30+ years. For the uninitiated, this tune evolved into Jan and Dean's The New Girl In School, and came to Jan Berry simultaneously with Surf City, Brian's first chart topping composition. Brian's vocal is great, and he also sings the preponderance of the backing vocals with an unidentified backing vocalist in more of a baritone range which could be either Jan Berry or Mike Love, most likely the former. First Rock and Roll Dance is a Brian Wilson composition which owes a great deal to the bizarre "B" sides on the flip side of  Phillies Records singles. The record is unusual, with the late"Shutdown Steve" Douglas contributing sax and what sounds like Glen Campbell playing an almost "acid rock era" guitar. It is intriguing to speculate which single might have had this tune as a "B" side, but with Brian's predilection for double sided Beach Boys singles, it was undoubtedly intended for a Brian produced single destined to be outside of The Beach Boys, although whose record it was intended for is unknown. My Bobby Left Me is another example of Wall of Sound style production. The track was another Gold Star recording. The intended artist for the tune is unknown. Given the style of production and Brian's recordings with Sharon Marie, an educated guess would point toward her being the performer. If It Can't Be You is a demo Brian and Gary Usher cut with the intention of going for a more country and pop music oriented sound, in a very similar manner to Sacramento and That's Just the Way I Feel. It was one of the earlier tunes cut  written and cut by Brian with Gary, and would fit into a genre in 1962 filled by artists like The Everly Brothers and Gene Pitney. Thank Him is a demo that sounds like a Brian Wilson/Gary Usher tune from late 1962 or early 1963. The tune bears no similarity to any Brian melody I have heard. Given its title, it was probably written for a female artist.

Ginger Blake Recalls The Honeys Work Presented On The Big Beat 1963

You Brought It All On is my all time favorite Honeys track, and features a beautiful Ginger Blake lead vocal on the verses that rides an incredibly catchy melody featuring The Wrecking Crew. The tune was resurrected at my suggestion for the 1980 Ecstasy album by The Honeys. Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford contributes the cool sounding lead vocal on the chorus. "Shutdown Steve" Douglas contributes the sax solo on the bridge. Ginger Blake of The Honeys shares her memories: "You Brought It All On Yourself was a great grooving track recorded at Goldstar Recording Studio with the famous Wrecking Crew musicians. As you know, Brian loved R & B and the Wall of Sound. He merged the two and came up with this fantastic track. Actually The Honeys sing the track in three part harmony as well as in unison. I do tend to be a little bit louder though when there is a driving R & B track to sing to. Marilyn does the counter parts, she has such a sweet voice."

Funny Boy is a catchy Honeys track with a great Ginger Blake lead vocal in the "tough girl" mode of Rhythm and Blues and Rock records of 1963.  The song is closely related to Hide Go Seek, the "B" side of the second released single, Pray For Surf. Ginger, in a 1978 interview with me, disclosed that "We (The Honeys) were casting a wide net with the goal of landing a hit single and finding a niche we could use to build upon for future success." In this case, Ginger said: "We were going for a sound similar to the Shangri-Las" (of  Leader of the Pack fame). For this article, Ginger added a few more details for me: "Now, Funny Boy was an incredible Honeys song and I do sing the lead vocal . Diane and Marilyn love when I " let loose" and I loved doing it for them and for Brian. We would have loved to really polish it up and finish it and put it out but unfortunately it just didn't happen with Capitol Records."

 The Honeys are billed as the artist for Marie, but the track is an obvious Brian Wilson experiment with the sound that Dion DiMucci was getting at the time. Dion's sound was almost immediately identifiable in 1963, and The Beach Boys did The Wanderer live in their late 1963 live repertoire. Dennis's vocal spotlight became a vehicle for letting the young girls of the audience to vent their attraction to him. The Honeys are very obvious on the backing vocals here, and perhaps this was a Brian Wilson solo idea that never got off the ground. It has that "stroll" feel to it that propelled Little Deuce Coupe to the upper reaches of the 1963 Billboard Charts. Ginger Blake: "Brian loved The Honeys Sound so much he always created a background part for himself to sing. We affectionately called him " The 4th Honey."

Make the Night Just a Little Longer is a 1963 Honeys recording that NikVenet produced. Ginger Blake sings the lead with backgrounds by all three Honeys. The strings are mixed highly and prominently in the mix available here. The song is reasonably commercial, but Capitol did not choose to release it. Make the Night Last a Little Longer is the Carole King tune cut by The Cookies originally. A Honeys album was in the works in 1963, but was eventually nixed by Capitol, according to Nik Venet. The album would have been co-produced by him and Brian, Venet said. In addition to the three early Honeys singles on Capitol, the album probably would have included three songs recorded in late 1963 and never released -- "You Brought It All On," a Brian Wilson composition copyrighted January 13, 1964; and "In the Still of the Night" and "Make the Night (Just a Little Longer)." Group member Ginger Blake said "You Brought It All On" was a Brian production and the other two were Venet productions. (Correspondence from Lee Dempsey, 2014)

The Big Beat 1963 closes with several Honeys acetates that I had in my old Collection that were part of a Honeys Fan Album that I assembled in 1978.  Apparently Daniel Rutherford also was able to use copies of them belonging to his wife Marilyn, which he made available for this compilation.  Concerning these demos, Ginger Blake states: "Diane and I wrote a lot of unreleased music as well as with Marilyn. The demos were made for us to sing and to send out to various artists. They are pretty rough. I played piano on most of them." Once You've Got Him is a demo that Ginger Blake and Diane Rovell of The Honeys wrote. Of this recording Ginger Blake shares that " One song in particular, Once You Got Him, was written with Hayley Mills ( British pop singer and actress then ) in mind. If you listen closely you'll hear us sing it with a British Accent." Of  For Always and Ever, Ginger recalls "For Always And Ever was a perfect Honeys song too. It was recorded as a demo for The Paris Sisters" Of the two country demos, Darlin' I'm Not Steppin' Out On You and When I Think About You, Ginger recalls that they were intended for the burgeoning country music market and that "We recorded both of those country demos with a full combo. Jerry Cole played guitar on the country demos." Little Dirt Bike was a cute demo in the spirit of the motocross craze that was exploding across the nation in 1963.

There is the hope that Universal/Capitol will do this type of archival release for each year of the 50+ years of The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson's recording history. If done, it will be an invaluable resource for historians interested in their work.

Copyright 2014 by Peter Reum-All Rights Reserved