Thursday

THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME (NEW RELEASES) By Michael McDowell


I'LL BE GOOD FOR YOU: In one of the most ambitious collaborations in recent months, vocalist and composer Dana Countryman has joined forces with Ash Wells' vaunted Teensville label to produce Girlville!, a collection of new Countryman originals inspired by the pioneers of the vocal harmony genre, and featuring guest vocals by such notables as Tricia Countryman, Molly Felder, Andrea Perry, Kelly Harland and the great Lisa Mychols . Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell has the story below (Click on above image to enlarge).

CDs AND VINYL - NEW RELEASES
(REVIEWS ARE POSTED IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER BY ARTIST)


GIRLVILLE! -
Dana Countryman (Teensville)


Sometimes there is much to be said in favor of the team approach in recording.

To wit, for an artist such as Doris Day to enter a studio with the intention of covering all of the bases in the recording process would be an exercise in futility. Doris Day was extraordinarily blessed as a vocalist with few peers. And when her considerable vocal acumen was combined with the efforts of the best composers, musicians, arrangers and producers, the results were invariably nothing short of spectacular.

When it was announced that veteran composer and vocalist Dana Countryman would be signing on with Ash Wells' Sydney, New South Wales-based Teensville label, there were concerns about the feasibility of such a venture. Countryman has an established track record as a producer of first rate original material that curiously reflects the inspiration of what he envisions as the highlights of an era that was nonetheless largely responsible for one of the most insufferable aesthetic slumps in music history, the early 1970s.

Conversely, Teensville head Ash Wells' has long been held in high esteem as perhaps the most astute among visionaries whose mission statement focuses primarily on the reissue of rare, obscure and often heretofore unreleased material from rock and roll's glorious formative period. Teensville and its affiliate Rare Rockin' Records label specialize in the continued availability of treasured sides by such beloved artists as Dore Alpert, Kenny Karen, Dwayne Hickman, Ritchie Adams, Jimmy Boyd, Ron Dante, the Duprees, Susan Wayne and others of similar intent. To date, Wells' labels have produced several dozen collections featuring such material, as well as acclaimed single artist anthologies by Paul Petersen, Lesley Gore and others.

To be certain, both Countryman and Wells have repeatedly exercised creative autonomy in their respective endeavors. As such, given that one another's territory had heretofore been out of their individual comfort zones, it stood to reason that the team approach would be the most feasible solution to any such collaborative proposal.

The resultant Girlville! collection bears out this hypothesis in abundance. On his earlier outings for his own Everett, Washington-based Sterling Swan label, Countryman repeatedly made his case for the inspiration of the cream of the singer/songwriter contingent that continued to make an impact despite the overall protracted aesthetic slump in progress at the time. On his most recent such venture, Pop3! Welcome To My Time Warp, Countryman stated his case by repeatedly focusing on the upbeat and enduring elements, producing such memorable tracks as the low key Run Back Into My Arms, the Spiral Starecase-inspired Can't Get You Out Of My Mind and the Gospel/bubblegum hybrid Nice Shot (Straight To The Heart) in the process.

But with Wells' occasional forays into the release of new material, he has invariably held his artists to a given standard in terms of genre and inspiration. Thankfully, Countryman was able to rise to the occasion accordingly with this nineteen track collection. Enlisting the services of such guest vocalists as Andrea Perry, Kathy Hettel, Tricia Countryman, Molly Felder, Kelly Harland and the great Lisa Mychols, Countryman and his colleagues delivered a collection that is both uncompromising and inspiring, if not unwaveringly true to form from a purist perspective.

To that effect, Kathy Hettel evokes the inspiration of the mission statements of such vaunted labels as Chancellor and Cameo/Parkway in the endearing Twist Party At Granny's House. In turn, Tricia Countryman delivers most movingly in I'll Be Good For You; a successor of sorts to the sublime proclamations made by the Chordettes in their True Love Goes On And On single for Archie Bleyer's Cadence label.

"I wrote I'll Be Good For You because I wanted to write a ballad in an almost church like style", said Countryman.

"I felt that the album needed something sweet, simple and quiet to close with".

But "quiet" certainly does not describe the album's inspired closer, at least not in terms of the backstory.

Co-authored by Dana Countryman and executed masterfully by Tricia Countryman, Girlville! wraps with Johnny Still Loves Me; an answer song of sorts to the Colpix label Johnny Angel and Johnny Loves Me singles by the legendary Shelley Fabares. Most disconcertingly, Fabares declined Countryman's offer to provide the lead vocals for this most endearing track.

"Shelley, I'm sorry you wouldn't sing this song for this album", said Countryman in the sleeve notes.

"At least we tried!"

But if Shelley Fabares remains reluctant to build upon her impeccable recorded legacy (which also includes memorable sides for the Dunhill, Vee Jay and RCA Victor labels), Countryman was nonetheless blessed with the participation of one of the genre's most capable current exponents, the Long Beach, California-based Lisa Mychols. With numerous duly-inspired releases to her credit, Mychols approaches her art with a mastery rarely seen among latter generation aspirants. The fruits of their collective labors were borne out superbly in I've Run All Out Of Tears (To Cry Over You), as well as the genre-meshing Proud To Be His Girlfriend.

To be certain, in I've Run All Out Of Tears (To Cry Over You), Mychols demonstrates a mastery of the genre that isn't always evident in like minded endeavors by other artists. Therein, she takes ownership of the arrangement and executes with authority, rather than gingerly studying it from an outsider's perspective. Given that Mychols (who is an extraordinarily gifted and prolific songwriter) did not compose this track, and in light of the fact that the genre is relatively new territory for Countryman, it stood to reason that there may have been challenges for her in that respect. Nonetheless, that was not the case.

"I never even suspected this genre as new territory for Dana", said Mychols.

"Sounds like he's been writing like this for years! Yay Dana!

"One thing I've noticed in the past year of recording songs written by men is that the lows go pretty low and the highs go pretty high! But I love a good musical challenge! So I guess it's for the love of the song and the music that makes for success".

Mychols in turn made a remarkably smooth transition into the interpreter role.

"As for the story line, I felt the story line of the song and the melody worked really beautifully together", she said.

"This helped me to actually re-tell the story in my own voice and inflection. And what an experience it was! Yep, I had my own past of raw emotions surface a bit now and then in this one!"

Conversely, Proud To Be His Girlfriend seemed to present a dichotomy of sorts, with Countryman's familiar frame of references being taken to task by the decidedly different parameters indigenous to the project at hand. In such endeavors, one side or the other frequently suffers. Indeed, there seemed to be an undercurrent of such tensions in the basic template of the track itself. Yet Mychols once again rose to the occasion and brought two disparate camps together with minimal friction and maximum deference to the insights of the composer. 

"Such an innocent puppy dog track", she said.

"The tensions? That's all Dana!"

Happily, whatever dynamic tensions are extant throughout the project ultimately contribute to its charisma. And with Girlville!, both Countryman and Wells have bridged any such perceived gap decisively. And in the words of one of this collection's standout tracks, that's a Pretty Good Sign
.

FRONT STREET REBELS -
The Doughboys (RAM)

In this largely do it yourself age in the world of music, the practice of multi-tasking has almost become a necessity among veteran musicians. Many are expected not only to record and tour prolifically, but to oversee the recording and release process through from start to finish (a responsibility previously assumed by the artist's record label). 

However, the still very much active and prolific first generation garage rock pioneers, the Doughboys have taken multitasking to a whole new level. To that effect, lead guitarist Gar Francis (who replaced the late Willy Kirchofer upon the latter's untimely passing in 2005) also oversees releases on the Bongo Boy label with business partner Monique Grimme. Bongo Boy's roster includes releases by the renowned composer and vocalist Deborah Henriksson, as well as a wealth of ambitious genre specific Various Artists collections (highlighted by the ongoing Gnarly Wave surf music series). 

In turn, Doughboys front man Myke Scavone (an alumnus of the Epic label band, Ram Jam) is also a current member of founder and drummer James Stanley "Jim" McCarty's ever changing line up of the Yardbirds. The band continues to record and tour prolifically, with McCarty as the lone active original member.

And then there is drummer Richard X. Heyman, who pursued a successful career as a solo artist during the Doughboys' protracted sabbatical after the release of their two singles for Larry Uttal's Bell Records in the late 1960s and their permanent reformation in 2000. Heyman's most recent solo release, Incognito spotlights the multi-instrumentalist maintaining the constant with strong and accessible original material that stays fairly true to the Doughboys' original mission statement.

As for the Doughboys themselves, Front Street Rebels finds them immersing themselves increasingly in the harder edged rock that has become their trademark since the release of their Is It Now? album in the previous decade. While the mid-tempo The Queen Of Bizarre may be the track most endearing to the long term aficionados who still base their expectations on that brief affiliation with Bell nearly a half century ago, the remainder of the original material herein downplays any such aspirations in favor of a more straight ahead rock approach that thankfully both stops short of generic arena rock and takes into account the more heavy handed aspects of second generation garage rock without the lack of focus that was often its downfall.

To wit, Ready Or Not employs a straight ahead 4/4 march tempo, pleasantly diverting at midpoint with an acoustic interlude that adds a touch of subtle humanity to the otherwise hardcore approach. Likewise, The Atomic Wavelength Transference Device draws more from the second generation precepts that have long seemed to be their real strengths; taking elements from Pere Ubu, the Human Switchboard and the Twinkeyz and transposing them into a more cohesive setting. The likes of the stagger tempo Manic Reaction and the Last-inspired guitar attack of History also do much to underscore the band's diverse approach without vacillating too far away from the basic template.

Bearing in mind their longevity, it is indeed remarkable that the Doughboys individually and collectively have sustained their momentum on such an impacting level. To be certain, just as the album's opener calls upon the observer to Sink Or Swim, with Front Street Rebels, the Doughboys have thankfully pursued and excelled at the latter option.

WAY TO SURVIVE -
Jack Scott (Bluelight)

Upon occasion, a new album of considerable aesthetic merit comes along that, for whatever reason, had managed to escape due recognition throughout the first few months of its release. Nonetheless, because of its abundance of attributes, it still warrants the accolades generally afforded a brand new release. This indeed is one such occasion.

As one of rock and roll’s absolute masters, vocalist, composer, guitarist, visionary and Windsor, Ontario native Giovanni Domenico “Jack Scott” Scafone has since 1957 amassed an extraordinary legacy with an impeccable catalog that includes numerous landmark releases for such labels as ABC Paramount, Carlton, Top Rank, Capitol, Groove, RCA Victor, Dot, Jade and Underground.

A rock and roll visionary of the highest order with few peers, Scott firmly established himself in 1957 with a pair of original singles for ABC Paramount, Baby She’s Gone and the utterly stupendous Two Timin’ Woman (which arguably remains his finest moment). He simultaneously took the power ballad to new heights with the latter release’s flip side, I Need Your Love, which featured world class vocal support from the Chantones. Scott built upon that component of his legacy with such stunning outings as 1959’s larger than life My True Love (for Carlton) and 1960’s What In The World’s Come Over You and Burning Bridges the following year (both for Top Rank).

Concurrently, Scott recorded a number of singles and albums that remain among rock and roll’s defining moments, including Greaseball (later re-recorded as Leroy), Goodbye Baby, The Way I Walk and the impassioned Gospel rocker, Save My Soul. His albums for Carlton and Top Rank also remain among the finest in all of rock and roll, highlighted by his What Am I Living For LP for Carlton and his Gospel and Hank Williams tribute collections for Top Rank.

Following productive (albeit relatively brief) affiliations with Capitol and Groove, Scott signed with Dot Records. Although his earlier releases almost invariably featured his trademark rich and powerful baritone, while on Dot, he largely opted for his mid-range, which proved to be more effective for his relatively more country themed releases for the label.

Interestingly enough, while seemingly content to explore the higher ranges of his remarkable vocal register in the studio at that point, Scott opted for the most part to return to his signature baritone in live performance. This was evidenced in both the live Four Rock ’N Roll Legends album released on Harvest Records in 1978 (in which Scott joined forces with fellow pioneers Buddy Knox, Warren Smith and Charlie Feathers), as well as his 1983 Jack Scott Live At The Edge album for the Don Mills, Ontario-based Underground label.

And in live performance, Scott’s powerhouse baritone remains undiminished both in impact and range to the present day. At one such outing before an audience of more than a thousand fans in Warren, Michigan in August 2016, Scott and his highly capable backing band turned in a most compelling set that included fresh as the first time takes of the aforementioned Two Timin’ Woman, Greaseball and What In The World’s Come Over You, as well as such catalog essentials as Bella and I Never Felt Like This.

But it was his reference to his new album at about the midpoint of the set that raised anticipatory levels even higher. That album is the subject at hand; the all new, aptly titled Way To Survive.

Recorded in Finland between 2013 and 2015 with a most capable quintet that understands, adapts to and underscores Scott’s vision as well as the Wondermints have set such a precedent with the mission statement of Brian Wilson, Way To Survive finds Scott primarily reinterpreting a rich variety of country classics that are as much of an ideal fit for his highly unique approach as they were to the repertoires of those who originally recorded them.

They include such country rock hallmarks as Clyde Julian “Red” Foley’s Tennessee Saturday Night and the legendary Hank Williams’ Honky Tonk Blues (in which Scott substitutes Williams’ reference to his father’s agricultural holdings with a nod to Hazel Park, Michigan; the Detroit suburb which Scott and his family relocated to from Windsor, Ontario in 1946), as well as the great Don Gibson’s Gary Paxton-penned 1972 Hickory label single, Woman (Sensuous Woman), John Anderson’s I Just Came Home To Count The Memories, William Neal “T.G. Sheppard” Browder’s acclaimed 1979 release, I’ll Be Coming Back For More, Marty Robbins’ 1965 Gordon Lightfoot-penned high drama Columbia single, Ribbon Of Darkness and Jimmy Dickens’ upbeat and lyrically astute Hillbilly Fever.

Scott herein also pays tribute to a pair of fellow rock and roll visionaries with a faithful take on the late Ralph Stuart Emanuel “Ral” Donner’s You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Until You Lose It and a curious (and much more subdued) rearrangement of Elvis Presley’s Trouble (complete with Link Wray-inspired guitar from Timo Kamarainen). A supremely gifted composer, Scott in turn has offered for this collection both a remake of his self-penned Groove label rocker, Wiggle On Out, as well as the perfect for the occasion Live Love And Like It.

All of which makes the focus upon the title track somewhat of an anomaly. Previously recorded by the late Ray Price on Columbia, Way To Survive by virtue of its title alone would suggest an ideal capsule summary of Scott’s vision for the project at large.

However, Price’s classic (however unintentionally) confounds expectations in that its basic lyrical premise differs markedly from that espoused by Scott himself from the onset. A tale of love beset by tragedy, Way To Survive suggests that the protagonist is able to persevere only by relying on memories of and artifacts salvaged from better circumstances. And while Scott’s convincing rendition is a fitting testimony to his interpretive skills, the fragile persona depicted therein belies his long standing reputation as a commanding, unerring musical visionary with a larger vision underscored by the Gospel.

 
Then again, it is a true artist who consistently thinks outside of the box and confounds expectations. And with Way To Survive, Jack Scott has done just that. In the process, he has added another milestone to his vast and vaunted legacy. We remain immeasurably blessed as a result.