Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Dynamics--- with Jimmy Hanna: 1960-1965

Of course, not all of the tracks on this excellent two-CD compilation are with Jimmy Hanna, but that makes no never mind. Truth is, The Dynamics were a force in the Pacific Northwest not unlike Paul Revere & The Raiders and The Wailers. All three were on the scene early, repertoires top heavy with instrumentals, and all three had a tremendous impact on NW bands in the mid- to late-60s--- bands like Don & the GoodtimesThe SonicsThe Kingsmen, and The Viceroys, among others. Indeed, there was hardly a band in the region that wasn't forced to hand up something from each band's playlist--- most notably J.A.J. (The Dynamics via Dave Lewis), Night Train (The Raiders via Jimmy Forrest and others--- here is an interesting story about how it came to be), and Tall Cool One (The Wailers). Those were incestuous days of sock hops and teen dances and those teens could be brutal regarding the favorites of the moment.

Thus it is that The Dynamics latched on to whichever song caught their fancy and made it their own. Pop, jazz, soul, R&B--- no genre was beyond their reach, though they leaned a bit more toward R&B than most other NW bands. Let us just say that for their time, their roots were a bit deeper than most and more varied.

Looking back, they were a band constantly in motion, players changing on the edge of a solid core. Those players gained an enormous amount of respect from other musicians if no one else and included names like Jeff Afdem, who later morphed the Dynamics into The Springfield Rifle and had a couple of monster NW hits. Like brother Terry Afdem and Larry Coryell andMarcus Doubleday and Harry Wilson and Pete Borg and Gary Snyder and Ron Woods and, of course, Jimmy Hanna--- all musicians of note and some of notoriety. All keys to the band and the music.

There is no need to go into the history here. Neal Skok does that in detail, and very nicely indeed, in a beautiful 16-page insert booklet covering the various phases of the band. It is a history little known outside Seattle's city limits, oddly enough. The band was legend beyond those limits, imposed largely due to the limitations of travel (most were in school during the band's run), and yet cast its influence wide. In those days, musicians haunted record stores and when any band from the Northwest released a single, they knew about it and many times learned it for the next gig. Like I said, those were incestuous days.

As for myself, I did not have the luck to see The Dynamics live. They were legend in the Oregon, possibly as much because they seldom if ever played that far south. I knew the music, but my real education came later in the form of Tom and Ellen Ogilvy who ran Seafair-Bolo, the band's label. It was the very late seventies or even very early eighties and I was putting together a display of information about vintage NW rock in a record store at which I worked when a short and round man wearing a yachtsman's cap stopped by. He asked if I was the guy putting together the display and I said I was. He said, with a smile as wide as his face and with hand outstretched, “I'm Tom Ogilvy and I don't know if you know me, but I ran Bolo Records.” With one handshake, we became immediate friends, or so it seemed.

Soon, I was invited to his home to look over memorabilia and to meet the other half of the operation, his lovely wife, Ellen. The two were genuine and warm and were soon telling me stories--- vignettes from the movie that was their life, for many of the stories read more like a creation of a screenwriter than reality. Mr. Ogilvy told of Big Jay McNeely and Guitar Shorty and Bumps Blackwell, and Mrs. Ogilvy described Larry Coryell falling asleep in their basement, guitar across his lap and amp still on, having played himself to sleep. She giggled with delight when she mentioned how Coryell gave her the nickname of “Dragon Lady,” for Coryell was close to her heart, as were all of the members of The Dynamics. Afterwards, every time we met, I encouraged her to repeat that story just to see her face light up with what I can only describe as pure joy. Indeed, the names of the individual Dynamics fell from her lips often, not for name-dropping's sake, but for her genuine concern for their well-being, past and present.

They gave me records. In spite of my protests, they went through boxes of records which they kept in the basement, pulling out one of everything they could find and handing them to me as if it were nothing, though we all knew better. They knew I was as happy to receive them as they were to give them and I relive those moments on a regular basis and with sadness because it does not seem fair to the world that two such wonderful people are no longer with us.

That was my introduction to the Ogilvys and to The Dynamics. Recently, when Neal Skok mentioned that Seafair-Bolo, still in existence, had released a two-CD package, I was curious to say the least. He arranged for a copy to be mailed to me and when it arrived, I confess to being a bit leery. I mean, taking music from the past, especially from the vaults of a label like Seafair-Bolo, can turn ugly. My concern was whether they messed with the recordings, took something out or added something in the transition to digital. I've seen it happen too many times before to place trust in anyone's hands when it comes to music, especially vintage music like this.

I shouldn't have worried. The small group of people who are involved with the company now (including the Ogilvy's son, James--- ahem, that would be Jimmy Hanna to you) have the same concerns as myself. I think the term is kid gloves. Yes. They handled this project with kid gloves.

Not having heard the original tapes, I cannot attest to what they did, but what they did not do was mess with what ended up on the 45s. I pulled a handful of the old 45s out and compared a few tracks, vinyl against digital, and they are as true as they can be. I mean, if you want to float back to the early sixties to, say, the basement of Joe Boles' house, if that is where some of these were recorded, you can. The sound is basic and clean and I swear to God it feels like you're there. This is in-your-face stuff, raw only in the sense that it is live. And you get the full range of The Dynamics, beginning to end--- the basic four man group which gave us classics like J.A.J. and early originals like Wild Girl to the expanded band with Jimmy Hanna on vocals. You get the 45s as they were recorded and pressed, yes, but you get more. You get twelve previously unreleased tracks from the vaults--- unreleased not because they were not up to snuff but because those were the days of the 45 and sometimes tracks just fell through the cracks.

My favorites? J.A.J., of course, because it was the one track by The Dynamics which received blanket airplay all over the Northwest, and Candido, because I always had a thing for Dave Lewis who was as close to a regional star as you could get in those days without busting out nationally. Trick Bag because unlike the many songs everybody played, only a few bands used it and, man, you could dance to it, like all those kids on Bandstand used to say. I Pity the Fool because it is a good version of a great song, and Busybody because there was this side of The Dynamics which leaned more toward soul than their contemporaries and which I loved. Let us just say that it separated them from the mold.

Seriously, if you know The Dynamics or if you are a collector of the vintage sounds, you should at least check it out. These guys were among the best of the early NW bands and, what the hell? It'll only take a few moments of your time. I mean, the people who knew the music are getting fewer by the day. Reliving the music certainly won't kill them and might just spark a few brain cells back to life. I mean, those were good days. And that is still good music.

Ken Stringfellow--- Danzig in the Moonlight

The first time I saw Ken Stringfellow was on a Sunday morning photo shoot for The Posies' first press kit. The last time I heard from him, before this album at least, was when he contacted anybody and everybody about an album he had just produced for Aussie Hannah Gillespie (All the Dirt) for which I will be eternally grateful (the album is magnificent). Between those two times? Not much. Oh, I went down to their album release party for Dear 23, but that was to meet with old friend Gary Gersh who had been instrumental in signing the band to Geffen. I didn't see the band.

So I guess you could say that I knew Ken and didn't. I loved The Posies' early self-produced album which later showed up on PopLlama, liked Dear 23 and tolerated Frosting On the Beater, which had some pretty decent tracks, but completely lost track of the band from that point on. A handful of years ago, I picked up the trail again thanks to good friend Howie Wahlen who had been a huge fan from the beginning (and up to the present) and had helped the band during the early years. And I'm finding out now that it is a trail well worth following, backwards and forwards.

Both Stringfellow and fellow Posie Jon Auer have put out a library of music since those days, some as The Posies, some as members of a re-formed Big Star. Add to those the myriad of projects in which they each inserted a finger and trailing backwards becomes a monumental journey. I gladly accept Danzig in the Moonlight as the first stop.

Stringfellow worked on this (off and on, obviously) for eight years. Scoff if you want, but I hear a good eight years' work here. Eight years' hard work. Writing and separating and refining. Writing and adjusting and feathering. Re-writing and honing and and critiquing. Eight years! I hear every year!

Stringfellow includes fourteen tracks here, but you know he wrote way more than fourteen. There have to be riffs and themes and whole songs laying bloodied on the cutting room floor. Riffs and themes and songs that may show up in later Stringfellow projects but which I would give my left nut to hear right now. Stringfellow is a craftsman when it comes to writing. Occasionally, he is a true artist. Mostly what you get with Danzig is art.

Songs like History Buff, a slow rock ballad which builds to anthemic heights. By the time it gets to the harmonies, it becomes more than it is. I am always amazed when that happens--- when the song takes over the process. There are shades of Space Opera's Singers and Sailors which makes it more than just rock, and if you know the reverence I hold for Space Opera, you would understand what I am saying. Songs like 4 am Birds- The End of the Night, a densely layered, jazzy reach back to Strawberry Alarm Clock and Space Opera (and what a combination it is!). Songs like Drop Your Pride, dramatic and theatrical and powerful enough to have been included (in my mind) on another favorite album--- The Green PajamasDeath By Misadventure (another album you should be checking out, if you haven't already). And the eighties-sounding (for some reason, my ears are screaming SqueezeShittalkers, as intense and dense as it gets, my friends. Listen to the music. Hear the words.

That's only four of the fourteen and I'm not even sure if they are the best. They are, though, the ones which caught my ear right off and will inevitably drag me through many many listens until, I am sure, the music will become part of my DNA.

Be forewarned, though. This is not an album for the initiate. This is intense, complicated and creative music which is well deserving of Linus's Several Hearings Award, an award given to only the best and only to albums which guarantee absolute enjoyment over many listens. You won't get this album right off--- at least, not how really good it is. There is just too much--- too many layers and too much to really hear, at first.

God, but I dearly love albums like this. I hear good albums all the time and some of them are way better than good, but few have the density which allows you to peel back a different layer each time. It is an adventure.

Top Ten for 2012? Easily, though I have to say that 2012 is turning out to be an amazingly productive year for topnotch music. Stringfellow did it right off, though, jumping in with both feet and implanting themes and songs in my head which refuse to leave. Right now, I'm looping You're a Sign and am taken by the flowing orchestral feel of the chorus. Next, who knows? Like I said, Danzig in the Moonlight is an adventure and when you listen--- I mean, really listen--- you have no choice but to go along. And it's worth it. Every time.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Michael Fennelly--- Gone Retro...

Seldom do I come across an album of music which satisfies the freak and the casual listener, so when Michael Fennelly's Love Can Change Everything (Demos 1967-1972 came through the door, I didn't expect much beyond the standard reissue of tracks from the sixties and early seventies buried for a reason. Retro compilations are notorious for containing music only for “completists” (as so many writers label them), people so deeply immersed in an artist's work or a period of music that they collect even the dregs. Most sweeten the pot with a hit or two and maybe some B-sides, but when all is said and done, much of it was left on the cutting room floor for a reason.

Recently, though, the handful of labels specializing in reissues have taken to if not letting the artists compile their music, allowing people who know the music intimately put albums together. The result? Compilations both historically and musically viable, meaning if you like the music (and you should, in the case of Fennelly), you're more than likely going to love the history.

If you have never heard of Michael Fennelly, I suggest a short tutorial from the Wiki guys, a short but sweet explanation of his timeline. If you have never heard Fennelly, well, perhaps you have and don't realize it. Fennelly was one of seven artists who formed The Millennium, a band in the late sixties who, in retrospect, have become somewhat of a musical legend. There is more than a little of the Pop infusion which made The Left Banke and The Merry-Go-Round successes, melody and harmony and a step into a little folk/psych keeping things light and airy and oh, so pretty.

When it came time to exit The Millennium, Fennelly seamlessly slid into Crabby Appleton and immediately scored with Go Back, a tune which made it all the way to #36 on the Billboard charts but which got airplay in my home state of Oregon way beyond that. Not only was I surprised that it topped out at #36 in Billboard Nation, I was a bit miffed. According to radio here, Go Back was Top Ten, easily. I never gave a shit about Billboard, anyway.

While Go Back gave Crabby air beneath their wings, there was no real followup (at least, as far as radio was concerned), more than likely due to AM radio's fall into the grasp of the devil (that would be Drake-Chenault, sports fans, which single-handedly disarmed radio by instituting the Top Forty format and turning it into the pariah of real music lovers everywhere). Fennelly would go on, but that pretty much covers the years covered in Love Can Change Everything, an album strictly dedicated to that period.

So what do you get, you ask? Outtakes from The MillenniumCrabby Appleton's cutting room floor leftovers?

Not at all. What you get is a collection of Fennelly-penned demos which, while recorded during the lives of those two bands, are pure Fennelly. True, many of the tracks utilize members of those two bands and probably more than one was recorded in hopes of being included in band releases, but none are, in essence, completed. Not in terms of release by those musical entities. And yet they are.

I find myself shaking my head over the quality of these recordings, which have spent decades in solitary confinement waiting just for this moment. Songs excluded from The Millennium recordings only due to the number of songs available (there were many songwriters, and damn good ones, in that venerable band). Songs which might have made the cut for either of the Crabby Appleton albums had it not been for the progress of the band and their music. Just because a song gets left behind does not mean it is unworthy. Sometimes there is just not enough space. This album proves it in spades. The more I hear this, the more I love it. Period.

Fennelly made comment about this album, hinting that he would have done this differently has he been given the chance. Well, to be more exact, he said:

“I did go back and forth with Sundazed over the content initially, primarily because I have archived tapes spanning 20 years, but they were interested in my 1960s and early 1970s material (which is historically interesting to Millennium fans and Crabby Appleton fans, but not inclusive of what I consider all my best work). Had it been left up to me, I'd have chosen the 20 best songs/recordings I have that no one's ever heard. But I do appreciate that Sundazed has a loyal customer base who are enamored with the era of sunshine and psychedelia, so I deferred to their judgment. My music grew progressively harder-edged, as time went by, so continuity was a concern, as well. I'm happy with the 24 songs that comprise this package, but look forward to an opportunity to issue the stuff I did in the 1980s, at some point.

Doug Rhodes played keyboards for the Music Machine, and bass, keyboards and even tuba for the MillenniumRon Edgarplayed drums for both groups. Keith Olsen played bass for the Music Machine and then became Curt Boettcher's production partner for the Millennium and other projects. Keith's contributions to the sound of the Millennium's recordings may be the most under-appreciated element of all. He was the mad recording genius who enabled Curt's mad genius to manifest itself on tape. (linking two 8-track machines together to record 16-track or being asked to find a way to 'make this sound like a jet taking off' - Keith was/is an amazing talent).”

While I could get behind the project Fennelly mentions here, I am not unhappy at all that Sundazed stood their ground. The songs on Love Can Change Everything deserve to see the light of day and in exactly this form. Fennelly put this package together with a lot of love and care and it shows, from choice of songs to presentation (the package is exceptional and contains liner notes essential to understand the two bands and the times) to attention to sound.

Now, about that other project, Fennelly? Set up a crowdsourcing page. We're ready.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Eric Corne--- Kid Dynamite & The Common Man

Eric Corne may not be Kid Dynamite, but he sure as hell sounds like he is. He approached me a few months ago about listening to his album and I almost turned him down. I might have if I'd realized that Kid Dynamite & The Common Man had been released in 2008. I mean, I'm having trouble keeping up with the new releases (the real truth is, I'm not, there are that many) and don't relish stepping into the past unless there's a damn good reason. Well, Corne handed me a damn good reason.

What the hell happened in 2008 that made an album this good disappear? I hear really good albums which are and have been overlooked all the time, but Kid Dynamite is a step above. A big step. Not only are the songs solid (and I mean solid), the musicianship is as good as I've heard recently (and it should be, considering the names playing on the session). Add topnotch production and this should have been a hit--- even in a world in which the closest you can come is Lady Gaga or that Bieber kid.

I can give you ten reasons you should buy this album--- each an Eric Corne original. You want my advice, start with Kid Dynamite/Rancho Mirage, a two-parter which rocks and then, well, rocks. Kid Dynamite has just enough of that Black Crowes/Stones sound to please the palate and when the band slips into the instrumental Rancho Mirage, it's a time funnel of sound--- a modern version of Neil Young & Crazy Horse during the Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere eraI have yet to hear it enough to see if it will stand the test of time, but it put a barbed hook into me that I can't shake. I'm not sure if it is the Crazy Horse guitar sound which I love and hear all too little or if it is because it is the perfect tail on the perfect dog, but I dig it.

People are always saying that there isn't anything new in music anymore and I hear that, but only to a degree. Every time something really new comes along, those people would more than likely hate it anyway. No, Corne doesn't break new ground, but he doesn't break new ground in a way that impresses the hell out of me. The odd semi-Buddy Holly/fifties sounding I Know a Girl, for instance, with its over the top pedal steel and perfecto fifties style background vocals. The reggae-rooted Nobody Plays Here Anymore, the guitar deeply reverbed and echoed to just the right degree.

I suppose I could go on, but there is no substitute for hearing it. Corne has put the entire album on Bandcamp for your listening pleasure and you can stream all of the tracks at your leisure. If you prefer, try his MySpace page or just log on to his very own web page. Bandcamp allows digital downloads in a variety of formats, but if you prefer physical product, just head to CD Baby. See? I'm making it easy for you.

Look. I'm doing you a favor here. Do yourself a favor and check it out. What can you lose? A few minutes of your time? You guys spend too much time on Facebook and Twitter as it is. You say you like music? Put your ears where your mouth is. Eric Corne deserves that much. So do you.

Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst--- Topanga Ranch Motel

Angst ain't the half of it. These cowboys are dipped in everything from cowpies to cowabunga and have a country edge, but they don't stop there. Toss in a bit of Foghat, Motown (that's right--- Motown!), San Francisco (the early 70s, which you can credit to violinist-with-angst Ross Levinson) and a whole lot of South cushioned (thankfully) by the less-than-Van-Zant voice of Casper (in this case, less really is more and haven't we all heard enough of those lame Southern Rock clones anyway?). But let us be honest here, the South is not the key anyway. It is the mix.

That mix is intriguing, Through With You feeding on Motown and modern rock, the melody line following Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water and The Temptations' My Girl in short bursts. They sound nothing like either, so that may be a stretch, but the lines are there. It is straight up rock, no chaser, and when the violin and lead guitar duel, you get a small taste of what San Francisco gave us during those heady days of the late 60s and early 70s.

For sure there is cowboy in Cowboy Angst and they step in it on Takes Me Back, one of those modern country tracks that Nashville is pretending is country though it is really rock. The band makes the difference here, weaving their way around Casper's voice just enough to make a point but not get in the way. They do it again on I Want To Know, substituting a slowed down Foghat rhythm guitar and violin lead on the break. Maybe nothing groundbreaking, but impressive nonetheless.

No doubt, these guys can crank it out or lay it back. They crank it on Down Home Girl, the heavy and chunky rhythm guitar riffs reminiscent of early ZZ Top on the rock side and the heavier side of The Charlie Daniels Band on the country. Topped off by Levinson's violin lead and Glen Lynskey's brassy lead guitar, it choogles its way through four minutes that you wish was ten at a minimum, but that is part of what makes you like these guys--- they don't overdo. There is taste and balance throughout and, man, it would be so easy to let Lynskey and Levinson take over because they are solid players, but the whole band is solid and the good ones know how to balance.

I'm doing you a favor here. The video above is short and a bit rough, but it gives you an idea of what these guys can do. Take a listen to the ripping guitar of Glen Lynskey and, though a bit in the background, Levinson's impressive violin. The rhythm is solid, the playing is solid and Steven Casper holds his own as a frontman. It gives me just enough to regret my not having been there.

But I'm not worried. Casper and Angst are ready to make their move, I think, and opportunities to see them will mushroom. I think. Well, I hope. Maybe. Hmmmm... I think I'm beginning to see where all that angst is coming from. Maybe we should all just start checking the local venues to see if they are playing anywhere near. Just in case. Or buy the EP. Either/or. Or both.

The DJ Bonebrake Trio--- The Other Outside

Holy Harry Partch, Batman! This ain't DJ Bonebrake! At least not the DJ Bonebrake who pounded out the rhythm for X and The Knitters. Hell, he ain't even playing drums! What the hell is that he's playing?

Well, that would be vibraphones, Robin, an instrument seldom used in disco, so you are probably sadly unaware, but DJ isn't. He steps out from behind the set now and again and makes actual music these days with a handful of groups like the Bonebrake Syncopators and Orchestra Superstring, but none as out there as the Trio. Knee-deep in jazz and tripping around the edges of the Twilight Zone, Bonebrake and partners in crime Paul Eckman (upright bass) and Danny Frankel (the guy whose name comes up when people ask, if DJ's not playing drums, who is?) have come up with an intriguing mix of--- and please understand that I am not lessoned in jazz--- themes and variations with elements of sci-fi and (I kid you not) Harry Partch, who evidently heard music in his head which could only be played on instruments he created.

Not that the Trio are that far out there. It is music and, at times, some pretty damn fine music, like when they lay down the Martin Denny-like Bernstein 007, a tune just this side of Quiet Village or the exotic flavors of Tango. This stuff my mother, who absolutely hated jazz, would have loved. Then again, these are the tamest of the tunes offered here. Waltz and its theme are a bit closer to modern classical in jazz format, repeating but not really building and yet... There is something definitely going on and it is very pleasing to the ear, but...

There are a lot of but's on this album, but (I included that one for effect) they are good but's. Bonebrake seems to enjoy dancing on the edge, his vibraphone a reverbed step toward the aforementioned sci-fi, especially on Orpheus and Abstract, at moments perfect soundtrack music for giant beetles and overgrown ants and even the slime of The Blob. Close your eyes and you can see Mickey Rooney growing while the room shrinks or the swamp folks sitting around the glass jar, not the girls head in the swamp water. If you have never heard Harry Partch and wondered, Orpheus and Abstract will give you an idea.

The Bonebrake Trio are bare-butt and recorded live--- vibraphone (and marimba on one track), bass and drums, which helps build the aura. No voice. No knobs and chambers outside of the resonators standard on the instrument. They don't need them. These guys step into their own world when they play--- at least, when they recorded this they did--- and gadgets would be downright superfluous.

One wonders where they will go next. I see a future for them in films. There is something downright eerie you can do with a vibraphone when you do it right and in a lot of thrillers, noise just gets in the way. Building tension through music and effects. Hollywood, you want to cut back? There's only three of these guys and they know what they're doing. Might even be an Oscar in it for you....