Canadian singer-songwriter Tess Parks has recently released a fabulous album titled Blood Hot, which has come out on 359 Records (the new label from Creation Records founder Alan McGee). Tess is a Toronto native who spent some time in London and then relocated to Canada and formed a cracking band that not only understands the vibe of her songs but adds a very creative and unique way of presenting them.
Tess' songs are rooted in simplicity in a way that brings to mind not only folk music (she is on record as being a massive fan of Dylan and Elliott Smith), but also adds a droning, hypnotic psychedelic element that is uber appealing in a Velvet Underground/ Brian Jonestown Massacre/ Mazzy Star kind of way. Modern psychedelic folk rock? YES, please!
Unfortunately, the album isn't available on vinyl, but there's a fantastic limited edition 45 that IS (get it here).
'Someday' is so catchy it just gets rooted deep into the brain and I certainly don't want it to leave; it's the kind of song that can stay in your head all day and not be annoying- in fact, it just makes me wanna hear it again and again.
The flip side, 'Let's Sing This Song', (which isn't on the album) is just as great, and turns up the hypnotic factor with some fantastic slow motion guitar bends and super sensual vocals.
What makes it all even more fantastic is that Tess is only 23 years old- just when it's easy to feel jaded that the younger folks aren't 'getting it', along comes a talent that *does*. I for one can't wait to see what the future holds for this artist. Stellar stuff!
There's not a whole lot of songs that focus on New Year's celebrations besides the perennial what-are-the-words-no-one-knows-the-words Auld Lang Syne.
Young Randy Newman penned this charming ode back before he began own solo career, and the song certainly lends a positive feeling for a new year or, simply, a new beginning.
While 'Happy New Year' is the side of honor considering the date, it's the flip side that REALLY cooks, and has a quite remarkable sotry as well.
The "Beverley" here in question at the time was Beverley Kutner. A few short years later, she married legendary (and superb) British folkie John Martyn where the two recorded some lovely music together.
HOWEVER, just a few short years earlier (1966), we find 19 year old Beverley backed in the studio by Jimmy Page (laying down some of his finest ever guitar workings, with a chunking riff that's virtually the blueprint for "Communication Breakdown") as well as John Paul Jones (making this one of the earliest sessions that these two played on which is heavily proto-Zeppelin-esque). This was also the debut release from Deram records, the highly influential London beat/psychedelic/ progressive label.
This record is hypnotic; the lulling piano (played by Nicky Hopkins) juxtaposed with the heavy guitar, Beverley's confident, swaggering vocal and the always fantastic British drumming.
Considering the love, praise and status that The Zombies swan song LP Odessey And Oraclehas (deservedly) received in the last 30 or so years, it's kinda difficult to fathom the fact that the album was a commercial failure upon its early 1968 release, and it wasn't until the spring of 1969 that the single drawn from it, 'Time Of The Season" became a massive hit.
In the interim, vocalist Colin Blunstone left the music business entirely and began working in the insurance industry. To think that this man, who was gifted with one of the greatest voices in the history of pop music, could have stopped singing at such a young age is an awful thought! However, right around the same time that "Time Of The Season" was released as a 45, producer Mike Hurst coaxed Colin into the studio to record again, a collaboration that yielded three singles released in 1969. For their first collaboration together, Hurst chose to re-record The Zombies first hit, 'She's Not There', in a radical new arrangement that matched fuzz guitar, heavy orchestration, moody stop-start sections and of course Colin's incredible vocals. The frantic string arrangement at the coda is especially surprising, and this excellent record became a minor British hit single. The orchestrated, folky flip side, "World Of Glass" (an excellent compositon by producer Mike Hurst) is practically a dry run for Colin's first three brilliant solo albums, which he (wisely) decided to return to using his real name for.
It's unclear why the name Neil MacArthur was chosen, but anyone who heard "Neil's" distinctive vocals here could deny that it was in fact Colin Blunstone, a point driven home by the fact that his photo was used in promotional ads for the records.
The songs of Harry Nilsson became favorites of those in the know during the late '60's, and the gorgeous ballad "Without Her" was a perfect choice for Neil/ Colin's vocal styling, and Hurst once again provided a dense, complex orchestration for the backing track. Sadly, this record did not repeat the modest success of the Neil macArthur "debut". I apologize about the groove damage on my copy (I need to upgrade); however, all of the Neil MacArthur singles are collected on a CD from Big Beat called Into The Afterlife.
The final Neil MacArthur single is the lovely 'Twelve Twenty Nine"; while it may cross over into schmaltzy pop to some ears, the heartfelt vocals from Mr MacArthur are mighty fine to my ears. MOR or not, if the chord change at the climax of the chorus (first heard at :42) doesn't melt your heart, I feel bad for you!
By 1970, Colin reunited with Zombies bassist Chris White (now acting as producer), and in 1971 his solo LP debut One Yearwas released. Back to being Colin Blunstone forever more, Neil MacArthur was now a faded memory.
With jangling guitars, playful tambourines and lush harmomies in tow, folk rock sounds find favor year round, but the folk-rock vibe sounds especially splendid as the world wakes up from hibernation and all is in bloom again.
These four sides are unrelated other than in their overall vibe; after recent tragic events I just wanna focus on the GOOD things in life, and this music has an exceptional healing power.
If it was just for one song ("Needles & Pins") that is one of THE definitive folk rock statements, Jackie DeShannon would be a legend. The immense talents of this woman have ricocheted throughout a jaw dropping array of styles and she posseses the type of songwriting skills that are unparalleled. As The Byrds were first getting their act together and morphing from acoustic folkies into a self contained, electric band, they had an early champion in Jackie DeShannon, who enlisted the group to back her on this gorgeous track. No, it's not about the type of grass that folkies and folk rockers were so enamored of, but of the innocence of young love. David Crosby showcases his unique harmonies here, and already by 1965 the folk rock mold had gelled into a loping, swaying groove dotted with melodies and harmonies
seemingly coming from everywhere. Allegedly, Jimmy Page wrote "Tangerine' about his love affair with DeShannon, and the two songs certainly make an appealing pair of bookends (Robert Plant was heard introducing 'Tangerine' in concert as being about 'love at its most innocent stages").
The folk rock scene of the British Isles was dominated by brilliant music from Fairport Convention and The Pentangle, and dozens of other groups added the English pastoral experience and ancient melodies set to a rocking beat in their wake. Forever More were one of the groups who bridged the gap between folk rock and prog rock in the late 60's, and "beautiful Afternoon' from their 1970 debut is as fine of a late period folk rock track as one can find.
The San Francisco bay was a hotbed of folk rock, and (Autumn records recording artists) The Beau Brummels (in my opinion) stand side by side with The Byrds as the ultimate American folk rock groups, although limiting either group to such a label is unfair. With coffee house scenes dominating south in San Jose, north east in Berkeley, in the city of San Francisco itself and everywhere in between, the bay area folk scene begat practically every member of The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe & The Fish (and so many more) these countercultural types were tuning in, plugging in, and dropping out of the coffee houses, turning the volume up loud and rocking the walls of the old ballrooms. Formed on the peninsula just south of San Francisco, The Vejtables took a strong British Invasion influence and turned on to a folk rock sound before many of their local contemporaries in 1964. While they are perhaps best remembered for their (excellent) minor hit 'I Still Love You', I find this b-side to be perhaps their defining, jangly folk rock moment.
While Tim Buckley's debut Lp from '66 can be criticized as being the sound of a young artist grasping for his own sound (most of the ongs were written by Buckley and collaborator/ friend Larry Beckett while they were still high school students), there are several lovely moments, including "Song Of The Magician" which is one of his greatest tracks. 'Grief In My Soul' is unlike ANY other track in Buckley's astounding catalog, and it flat out cooks! The performance is a very appealing blues-folk-rock workout highlighted by Buckley's incredible vocals and some superb group musicianship. Van Dyke Parks never hit the piano harder, and Mothers Of Invention drummer Billy Mundi shows off his Zappa-driven percision behind the kit.
Alright, folks- I'm back with a handful of more intriguing covers tunes. This install focuses on the lighter side of beat and folk rock.
First off, we have Blackpool, UK's Rockin' Vickers- a band made infamous for dressing up as priests (vicars) and also including none other than Hawkwind/ Motorhead 's Lemmy Kilmister (Ian Willis) on guitar. The group were no different musically than the dozens of other beat groups recording in the UK during the mid-60s. The a-side of their final single was this cool version of the Ray Davies/ Kinks klassic which was also kovered by Herman's Hermits and made into a big international hit. The Vickers version is far superior in my opinion, as it maintains the English whimsy but adds some grit.
Hailing from Detroit suburb Oak Park, MI, The Shy Guys waxed a great version of the Gene Clark/ Byrds classic "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better" in 1967, putting an emphasis on the folk side of folk rock, with predominant acoustic guitar replacing the jingle jangle twelve string electric. The group had an excellent drums who really hits it hard, and the group contributes some excellent backing vocals, and they cap the song off nicely with a coda of their own making. The lead singer is no Gene Clark, but he does a very passable job nonetheless.
I would have reckoned that Los Angeles' "E" Types learned the Lennon/ McCartney composition from Cilla Black's recording. Not so, apparently: one of the members of The 'E" Types posted the song on his youtube page and mentioned that a member of the group read music well, spotted the Lennon-McCartney song in sheet music form and arranged a very nice version of it from there in 1966. This was several years before anyone outside of the Beatles inner circle had heard the Beatles own recording, from their ill-fated Decca Records audtion (January 1, 1962). Not only in their name, the group certainly wore their anglophilia in their sound as well, as this recording could easily pass for a British export.
I'm a massive fan of Simon & Garfunkel, and feel that the group simply does not get enough mention when the massive artists of the '60's get discussed. One of the most interesting songs in the S&G stable is "Cloudy", a gorgeous, melancholy song dripping with Paul Simon's songwriting skills. The Guild Late Gauge (itself a perfect name for a sunshine pop ensemble, is a reference to Guild guitar strings) is a mysterious group that was known to feature Paul Simon's brother Eddie. This seems to be their only release; a pity, as they have a really great sound here. This was probably recorded in 1967.
Finally, and most obscure of all, is this Tim Buckley cover from the unknown ensemble (probably a studio group) called Common Market. This probably rates as the first ever Tim Buckley cover (1967) and the arrangement is excellent, and showcases the budding songwriting talent of Buckley in an almost baroque style. Elektra was also banking on this to be a hit single from the writer himself, as they also released Buckley's version as a single in 1966; the song is also found on his first album.
While the majority of the San Francisco scene wallowed in long jams that took liberties with tuning, timing and musical structure (and I *like* a lot of those bands, so no insult intended), groups from the bay area suburbs (especially the south bay/ San Jose area, including the Chocolate Watch Band) were far more polished than their urban contemporaries. The Stained Glass formed in the wake of the Beatles, and boasted incredibly polished vocal harmonies, and a songwriter of great potential in bassist Jim McPherson. The rest of the group was guitarist Roger Hedge, guitarist Bob Rominger, and drummer Dennis Carrasco. "A Scene In Between" could have easily stepped off of the Beatles Revolver LP, as its full of trippy sound effects layered on top of a catchy song. Sadly, RCA dropped the band after this release (although the group continued on, minus Roger Hedge, for two LP's of country-rock until breaking up at the turn of the decade).
Rolling back to 1966; after experiencing heavy local success, talent scouts from RCA scooped up the group and released their debut single, a cover of The Beatles "If I Needed Someone". While it's a good cover, the flip side shows off the groups' strengths far better, in a original composition from Jim McPherson. This slice of moody folk rock is sophisticated and haunting.
For their next release,
Jim McPherson's songwriting is once again showcased on 'My Buddy Sin"; a track which is a highlight of the San Francisco Nuggets box set. Upping the temp but losing none of the moody nature, the group shows that they had the potential to be a MAJOR act, yet for all of their talent they fell through the cracks. Perhaps the music was too dark and uncommercial...
For their third RCA release, the label took no chances and enlisted Brill Building duo Mann/ Weil to provide the VERY catchy "We Got A Long Way To Go". Although the song is far more commercial than their previous offerings, the sound of the record is still unmistably Stained Glass. The record proved to be a MASSIVE local hit in San Jose, but it never took off nationally. The group had one final shot with the masterpiece ("A Scene In Between") and then their Beatle-esque roots were shed. Sadly, Jim McPherson died in 1985, although he had massive success as co-writer (with quicksilver's David Frieberg) of "Jane", a massive hit for Jefferson Starship.