I first heard The Crushing Violets after encountering a link to their single, "Sugar Cookie Sunday," which is a musical confection that more than delivers what its name promises. So of course I was pleased when Antanina Brooks, lead singer, shared with me an advance copy of their EP, A Dream Without Color, since released on January 8, 2021. This family band from Long Island can be proud of packing some of the tastiest music you'd ever want to hear in 21 minutes of tight, melodic pop rock.
The first thing you notice when you hear The Crushing Violets is Antanina's voice -- a slightly husky, rich alto that to me suggests a bit of Chrissie Hynde and a bit more of Patti Smith but that is distinctly her own. It's warm but not really sweet and gives everything she sings a pleasant edge. I was also pleased by the attention to detail the band applies to their somewhat retro sound. As soon as I heard the organ kick in on "Sugar Cookie Sunday" I knew I was going to like their sound. Credit the band and co-producer Mick Hargreaves with knowing how to acknowledge your influences while still creating an original sound.
A Dream Without Color delivers on the promise of "Sugar Cookie..." and takes it in multiple pleasing directions. The variety of styles and sounds is enjoyable, and no song is longer than it needs to be, although I have to say when "Spirit Box" finishes up in a spare 2 minutes and 13 seconds, I was thinking that I wanted to hear more of BP Brooks heavy guitar and the locked in drum/bass sound they bring to that number.
For me, the emotional highlight of the album is "3 Days", which really showcases the strength of Antanina's vocals. When she belts "3 Days, no pain", you believe this is a woman who knows what pain is about. It's a remarkable song and deserves lots of ears. The song also features some fine guitar work from BP and a guitar/organ break that wouldn't have been out of place on a Deep Purple or Allman Brothers record. The ballad "Day After You" is another highlight for me -- BP's lead vocal blends beautifully with Antanina's harmonies, a combination I'd love to hear more of.
The excellent song writing by husband and wife Antanina and BP Brooks, joined in a couple of cases by their bass-playing son Conner, doesn't lag through the six originals, and Eric Tonyes provides solid support on the sticks. The final song, a cover of the Mindbenders "Groovy Kind of Love," both nods to their pop influences as well as giving them the opportunity to make it their own, with Antanina's distinctive vocal and a little wah pedal; a solid conclusion to a thoroughly enjoyable album. You can hear it all the usual places -- but why not pop over to their Bandcamp site and give them a few coins to show some love?
Album review by Eric Sandberg — McCartney 3
People who have known me for long time know that I can be somewhat jaded and sarcastic at times. I've done my best to rein this in over the past few years [I think it's called growing up]. One subject that has often been a target of my jade tipped spear is what I call the Paul McCartney "Bubble of Adulation."
This bubble is, of course, made up of his most rabid fans and God bless 'em, they're entitled. But the bubble is also carefully cultivated by McCartney's own press machine, with it's syrupy praise of 'ol Macca's every bowel movement. Take these excerpts from liner notes to the single of 1989's "Put It There."
It was the Parisians who started it — back in October of '89.
At first you thought "What the hell are THEY doing" as down in the floor of the Palais Omnisports, Berey, the girls were grabbing partners and bopping to "Put It There."
This was a new one on a bunch of us.
Up until Paris, The European fans had kind of swayed their heads
and tapped their feet a bit.
But not danced.
So they're thinking, these French, you're thinking,
they're thinking it's a disco song. But it ain't, is it?
Maybe it is: they thought so in Madrid and Milan and Rome.
They danced to it there, too...
...Anyway, I've seen the song bopped to now. I've seen it choke Paul on stage as he remembers his dear old dad. I've seen grown men in
Chicago clasp their young sons to them to them as Paul sings it, rocking them tenderly. It's a dance song.
It's a love song. For young boppers. For fathers.
And for sons. And It'll get you. In the end.
Glomp! Don't get me wrong, "Put It There" is a nice little ditty, but when he played it at the Sports arena in Los Angeles, I was escorting my young son to the bathroom.
The promotion barrage that accompanied the release of Paul's last studio album Egypt Station conjured the idea that Paul could pop up anywhere at any time, like The Virgin Mary in a corn field. From playing his crummy new songs in front of a group of unsuspecting pensioners lunching in a Liverpool pub, to riding up and down the elevator at 30 Rock with Jimmy Fallon, capturing ten floors of dropped jaws and shrieks every time the doors slid open, Paul was just like us — you might even run into him browsing for boxer shorts at Target.
Egypt Station was bad. You know it and I know it. We tried to like it. We tried to believe Paul had succeeded in being modern and cool. We even sucked it up and gave it one more listen in anticipation of McCartney 3, but we couldn't make it all the way through it again, could we?
And now, after a particularly shitty year comes to a close, we find out that the amazing Paul has been busy during his "rockdown." While I was playing Klondike on my phone and re-bagging my Hellboy comics, Paul wrote, played, recorded and produced an entire new album of songs, all by his lonesome. What's even more astounding is that he did it all left-handed.
So the Macca media sycophancy machine has revved up once more, this time flooding social media with interviews, appearances, videos and people tweeting their excitement and praise. I will now add my voice. I've listened to McCartney 3 half a dozen times so far and I appreciate it more with each listen.
It is the work of a master craftsman who, through the relative adversity of forced isolation has managed to reestablish a narrow thread of communication with his muse to create music worthy of his reputation.
McCartney 3 opens with a pounding five minute instrumental workout "Long Tailed Winter Bird" which could have gone on for another five minutes as far as I'm concerned. The first single "Find My Way" chugs along nicely with McCartney double tracking his fine wine low and falsetto voices to great effect.
The acoustic reflection of "Pretty Boys" and the piano driven advice column "Woman and Wives" leads us to a new addition to Paul's oeuvre of character songs, the rocking "Lavatory Lil." The album's centerpiece is the nearly 8 1/2 minute "Deep Deep Feeling" which has a way of percolating while also being laconic in that Bryan Ferry sort of way.
Side Two opens with "Slidin'' a balls out rocker in the tradition of Wings, while the acoustic "The Kiss of Venus" would have fit nicely on the White Album. "Seize The Day" is a full-on production of piano and overdubbed guitars that sounds [dare I say it] suspiciously like Revolver era Beatles.
The grooving "Deep Down" is maybe the one throw away track on the album. Not bad considering that McCartney 2 was almost all throwaway songs. Oddly, "Deep Down" sounds like almost every song on the last three Waterboys albums.
The final track "Winter Bird/When Winter Comes" begins with the acoustic riff from the opening instrumental and is one of the finest ballads Paul has ever conjured. Fittingly, it would sound right at home on the first McCartney album.
It becomes clear after a few listens that sides one and two mirror each other stylistically, working forward and then backward, like a musical version of Tenet. I haven't enjoyed a Paul McCartney album this much since Driving Rain, which I believe to contain, until now, his last great spark of unforced creativity.
My good friend Manny once told me "You should stop ragging on Paul McCartney and just enjoy him, because he's gonna be gone one day." Manny is right. I no longer have a problem with Paul McCartney's adulation bubble, I've let it go. I'll be spending a lot of time with McCartney 3 as well as Macca's back catalog during the upcoming holiday break.
I draw the line at collecting all the different colored covers, though.
Paul McCartney — McCartney 3
1. Long Tailed Winter Bird
2. Find My Way
3. Pretty Boys
4. Women And Wives
5. Lavatory Lil
6. Deep Deep Feeling
2. The Kiss of Venus
3. Seize The Day
4. Deep Down
5. Winter Bird/When Winter Comes
By Eric Sandberg
2020 has sucked jingle balls. We've had covid Easter, covid Mother's & Father's Days, covid graduations, covid Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, christenings and confirmations. Most people by now have had their covid birthday. We just staggered through covid Thanksgiving and now we are closing out this annus horibilus with covid Christmas [and Hanukkah, not to mention kovid Kwanza).
Henning Ohlenbusch "Coming Home Alone On Christmas Eve"
Sublime Massachusetts based indie singer/songwriter Henning Ohlenbusch's bittersweet letter to a loved one who couldn't be there. Warning: A banjo is involved.
Phoebe Bridgers "If We Make It Through December"
Bridgers cannily utilizes this Merle Haggard classic to acknowledge what so many folks are going through this year. Subtle but powerful. The EP includes a lovely version of "Silent Night" purposely marred by audio of a newscaster reading the news of the day. Not quite as subtle here.
Liv Greene feat. Jobi Riccio "I Guess There's Always Next Year"
The immensely talented Liv Greene wrote this song from the point of view of someone who thought this would be her year but, sadly, has thrown in the towel. Achingly beautiful and available to purchase on Bandcamp. Well, what are you waiting for?
Kimberley Rew & Lee Cave-Berry "All I Want Is You For Christmas"
It's not all doom and gloom on the 2020 Christmas song front. Kimberley Rew [Katrina & The Waves/The Soft Boys] and his lady wife, bassist Lee Cave-Berry, have been cooped up together in Cambridge for the better part of the year. They have each other this Christmas and this wonderful, cheerful and catchy slice of rock and roll captures their undaunted spirits nicely. The video features drawings by Rew.
Available on CD & download on the Big Stir Singles compilation
or as part of a digital EP
Todd Rundgren "Flappie"
Leave it to our weird Uncle Todd to resurrect a forty-two year old Dutch Christmas novelty song written by a comedian named Youp van 't Hek. Christmas is here and a young boy can't find his pet rabbit Flappie. Never fear, Flappie does turn up...at dinner time.
Daveed Diggs "Puppy For Hanukkah"
Alas, my search for 2020 Hanukkah songs yielded just one result. It speaks for itself, really.
Blue Öyster Cult co-founder Albert Bouchard moved on to an inspiring second act as a teacher after his arena rock days. Now he has retooled his musical magnum opus with Re Imaginos
Interview and overview by Eric Sandberg
The history of Imaginos is lengthy and twisty, both as a narrative concept and a recording project. Lyrically, Imaginos was the brainchild of the late poet and manager/co-producer of Blue Öyster Cult, Sandy Pearlman. Listeners got their first inklings of the myth as early as the band's debut album with "Before The Kiss, A Redcap," which introduces the character of Susie, the arcane "Workshop Of The Telescopes" and the album's final track "Redeemed."
These lyrics came from a lyric folder sitting in the band's communal home which also included material from Richard Meltzer, Dave Roter, Helen Wheels and Patti Smith. More Pearlman lyrics surfaced on their follow up Tyranny And Mutation and by BÖC's third album Secret Treaties the as yet unnamed mythos took center stage with the songs "Astronomy," "ME 262" and even the Patti Smith penned lyric for their first single "Career Of Evil" which fit the narrative nicely.
The idea that these songs formed a larger tapestry was hinted at by a footnote, presumably from some massive historical tome, that appears on the album's inner sleeve.
"Rossignol's curious, albeit simply titled book, the Origins of a World War, spoke in terms of secret treaties, drawn up between the Ambassadors from Plutonia and Desdinova the foreign minister. These treaties founded a secret science from the stars. Astronomy, the career of evil."
Band members Albert Bouchard, his brother Joe, Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser and Eric Bloom all had a hand in setting these lyrics to some intense music. By their breakthrough fourth album only one Pearlman lyric made the cut with "E.T.I (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)" and this intriguing mythos went on the back burner in the quest for another hit to match the massive success of Dharma's "Don't Fear The Reaper."
BÖC L to R: Allen Lanier, Eric Bloom, Albert Bouchard, Joe Bouchard, Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser
After a few more albums with different producers, and varying degrees of success, the band was at a crossroads. Buck Dharma, who is not a prolific songwriter, but has a radio friendly voice and a knack for writing hooks, wanted to persevere in pursuit of the next big one, while Albert Bouchard, the band's most credited composer, wanted to return to Blue Öyster Cult's roots by reviving Pearlman's myth for which there were many more unused lyrics set to paper.
This and other disagreements, now long forgiven and forgotten, led to Albert Bouchard's exit from the band. With Pearlman's guidance and encouragement Bouchard began composing and recording Imaginos, the first of three correspondent albums meant to launch his solo career.
As Imaginos [featuring an array of talented musicians and singers including Aldo Nova, Jack Rigg, Joe Satriani, Robbie Krieger, Kenny Aaronson and many others] was just about complete, irony stepped in. Blue Öyster Cult owed Columbia Records one more album, but with Albert gone, followed one album later by Joe Bouchard and Allen Lanier, the band didn't have any songs. The outside writers employed for much of their prior album Club Ninja didn't have a feel for the band's mystique, which had now largely evaporated anyway. Pearlman, managing both Blue Öyster Cult and Albert Bouchard, saw a solution.
After all of the hard work put in by Albert along with his project director and co-arranger Tom Morrongiello, Pearlman convinced Albert to allow a truncated version of the album to become what, for a time, would be the final "Blue Öyster Cult" album.
To make it kosher, Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma's voices replaced the original singers on a few songs. All the founding members of Blue Öyster Cult are afforded front and center credit for the album but this information is dubious. The guitars are definitely not Buck Dharma and there are at least three other unfamiliar voices singing lead. Joe Bouchard says he played some keyboards on the project but doesn't believe any of his work appears on the final album, though Albert is sure he hears Joe singing backup on a couple of tracks.
It is by far the band's heaviest effort. Albert's familiar compositional style, and Pearlman's brooding, mysterious lyrics give the album a strong air of Cult-ness going some ways toward restoring the band's original mystique. The question remains — why did Albert agree to this? The answer is simple and a tale as old as the music business.
"Sandy lied to me!"
Albert tells me over Zoom from his Airstream trailer outside his home somewhere in New York State. "He told me that part of the deal was that I was back in the band." As Blue Öyster Cult prepared to embark on a European tour Albert called Buck Dharma to hash out some details only to discover that Buck had no idea about what Pearlman had promised Albert. For years after that Blue Öyster Cult was a sore subject. He moved on, forming The Brain Surgeons and largely ignoring his musical past.
"We only played our new material on stage and didn't play any Blue Öyster Cult stuff."
Albert also decided to return to college and finish the degree he had abandoned to become a professional musician. He worked as a teacher's aid at Reynold's West Side High School in Manhattan, a unique learning environment for students who have trouble fitting in at their previous schools. As he continued his own education, Albert became a full-fledged music teacher, eventually working his way up to Vice Principal.
"I got the Vice Principal job because I was the only person in the school everybody liked." Albert earned his Masters Degree and even filled in as acting Principal of the school for a time.
"I had just completed a $20,000 Principal licensing program when the new Principal informed me that she wanted to bring her friend over from another school, that had shut down, to be the Vice Principal. I was mad about spending the money on the principal's licence but I realized quickly that it was actually great to be the full time music teacher."
As a teacher, Albert inspired countless students while mostly funding the school's music program out of his own pocket. He retired from teaching in 2016. That same year he was honored at the White House as one of the "Great Educators" by the National Association of Music Educators.
"I got to meet President Obama at the White House and even performed on Fox News with some of my more talented students."
One of Albert's "more talented" students, guitarist RJ Ronquilo, has gone on to have quite the career — boasting 100,000 subscribers on his YouTube page and playing with Santana, Judith Hill [The Blossoms, 20 Feet From Stardom] and the band Chelsea Smiles with Danzig's Karl Rosqvist.
The teacher watches one of his students perform.
Albert led a dual life throughout this period, continuing to record and perform with The Brain Surgeons, The Bouchard Brothers, Blue Coupe [featuring Joe Bouchard, Alice Cooper's Dennis Dunaway and Albert on drums], and also writing and recording his first proper solo album, Incantations in 2014.
"It's a challenge being in a band with a big star," Albert says of Blue Coupe with only a slightly detectable amount of cheek. "Dennis is always in demand and running off on world tours with Alice, but we're just now signing a new record deal."
A year after retiring from teaching, Albert released his second solo album Surrealist, but something else had been brewing over the years. Albert's relationship with Buck Dharma ["Don"] and Eric Bloom, the two remaining founding members of Blue Öyster Cult, had tentatively begun to thaw.
"I started going to their shows whenever they played around New York. After a while I said to Don, 'I'm here, you guys leave a pass for me, the audience knows I'm here, maybe you should acknowledge that.' At first Don would tell me, 'we're not quite ready for that yet."
Relations continued to improve until the seemingly impossible happened in 2012. To celebrate Blue Öyster Cult's 40th anniversary, The band released a CD box set containing their entire Columbia catalog, remastered. The release was kicked off with a one off live concert reuniting all five original members on stage for the first time since since the Cultösaurus Erectus tour of 1980-81.
Sadly, ultra cool founding keyboardist/guitarist Alan Lanier, who was rarely seen without a cigarette dangling from his lower lip, passed away ten months later. At the urging of Albert, the band and invited friends staged a tribute show for Allen in 2016 where they performed all of the songs Lanier wrote for the band.
"I was the one who kept telling them that we had to do this before too much time had passed," Albert says.
The renewed relationship between Albert and his old band continued to blossom as, later that year, Blue Öyster Cult performed a 40th anniversary live television broadcast of their breakthrough album Agents of Fortune accompanied by a mini-tour that hit New York, Los Angeles, London and Dublin. Albert had written and sung a significant chunk of the album so he was invited to guest on vocals and guitar on his songs and, of course, he couldn't resist playing a mean cowbell on "Don't Fear The Reaper." Albert also participated in a taped interview along with Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom which can be seen on the subsequent Blu-ray release of the show.
Albert even makes a cameo appearance on the lead track from BÖC's first new studio album since 2001 The Symbol Remains [released last week]. Albert sings backing vocals, and can be seen hammering on a cowbell in the video for "That Was Me." All of this goodwill led Albert to start reconsidering the Imaginos material.
"I started pulling those songs out one by one and working up fresh arrangements for them. My approach has been to recapture the vibe of Love's Forever Changes, an album no one gets tired of hearing. The songs are anchored by me playing a Taylor 8-string baritone acoustic that my brother Jim [folk musician Jim Bouchard] introduced me to. The album's got piano, trumpet [played by Joe Bouchard with a tone worthy of Herb Alpert] and violin but also has a healthy dose of electric guitar on the solos."
The exceptionally tasty electric guitar work comes courtesy of old friends Ross "The Boss" Friedman [founding guitarist of the Dictators and Manowar], Jack Rigg and others.
The resulting album Re Imaginos is quieter than the original album but no less powerful than its predecessor. The baritone guitar gives the basic tracks plenty of heft and the arrangements are rich and satisfying. Albert Bouchard has crafted an album worthy of it's inspiration Forever Changes. He's never had a top 40 voice, but his singing was an integral part of many great Blue Öyster Cult songs and his voice has only deepened and taken on more character with age. Albert's confidence and expressiveness as a singer gets stronger as each song unfurls.
Albert alters the original running order of the album and adds three songs "The Girl That Love Made Blind," "Gil Blanco County," which dates back to BÖC precursor Stalk-Forrest Group's unreleased Elektra Records album, and the first video "Black Telescope," a percolating rework of "Workshop of the Telescopes" from the first BÖC album. All three of these new additions are highlights among an album of highlights. The gorgeous "The Girl That Love Made Blind" also doubles as a fresh new Christmas song you can listen to during the holidays in place of "Wonderful Christmastime."
Albert also put a lot of thought into his new version of the title track which he admits was the weakest song on the original Imaginos album. "I think this new version works much better." This writer agrees.
Artful DIY video for Black Telescope, lead track from Re Imaginos
So what is Imaginos all about? I really have no idea. The songs that have surfaced thus far allude to an epic saga that spans continents, eternity, the stars, the sea, dreams and the power of imagination. Lengthy speculative treatises have been written about Imaginos by fans with too much time on their hands but Albert summed it up for me with one sentence.
"There's this black mirror discovered by the Spaniards, whose power exerts an influence on world events throughout the centuries."
I for one don't need to understand the whole story. The combination of compelling music and evocative poetry serves to fuel my own imagination quite nicely. Albert explains that he would like to be able to complete the original proposed trilogy of albums.
"The title of part two is Bombs Over Germany and part three is The Mutant Reformation. "Redeemed" will be the final song of the trilogy. It really all depends on how well this first album does."
Albert guest performing on stage with Blue Öyster Cult. Photo by R.J. Carroll
As a side note, they say never meet your heroes, because they'll disappointment you. My interview with Albert Bouchard was the first I've done on Zoom where I was virtually face to face with one of my heroes. Albert Bouchard is the warmest, most honest, humble, intelligent, thoughtful and friendliest rock star I've ever spoken with. he gave me nearly three times the usual allotted time for an interview and even whipped out a badly out of tune guitar to show me how to play one of his solo songs that I was interested in learning. Even though I was probably a gushing fanboy at times he made me feel like an old friend. This quality is clearly part of what made him such an excellent teacher.
Re Imaginos is released November 6, 2020 see pre-order information below.
1) I Am the One You Warned Me Of
2) Del Rio's Song
3) In the Presence of Another World
4) The Siege and Investiture of Baron Von Frankenstein's Castle at Weisseria
5) The Girl That Love Made Blind
8) Gil Blanco County
9) Blue Öyster Cult
10) Black Telescope
11) Magna of Illusion
12) Les Invisibles
Complete your October, 2020 Blue Öyster Cult hat trick with these other fine new releases
Album review by Eric Sandberg
Eliza Jaye's powerful, expressive voice cannot be ignored. Her tremendous ear and sense of melody cannot be ignored. Her mastery of multiple stringed instruments and lyrical beauty cannot be ignored. Her voice rivals, and even surpasses Adele's in range and versatility and if she had been plucked from obscurity by some Svengali producer and ground through the major label A&R machine she would doubtless be a superstar.
But then, we wouldn't have an album like Middle Child, a record I would snatch up [along with my dog and cat] if my house were on fire. The Australian native spent years driving up, down and all around the UK in her tour van/recording studio, thrilling audiences with live performances while writing and recording songs on the fly.
Her self-released first album The Seed was appeared in 2013. The album wears its Chrissie Hynde influences on its sleeve but also contains hints of what was to come on Middle Child with the song "Marmalade" [see video below]
Middle Child starts off with two tracks that serve as a nod to her punky power pop past and show off the strength and quality of her voice. After this solid albeit perfunctory start, the album, without signalling, makes a sharp left turn into ethereal genius boulevard. By the time you've heard "Tenderness," "Deja Vu," "My Sunrise" and "Tigers" you'll be going "Wait...whut!?"
Jaye was a child prodigy, learning classical violin without sheet music, mastering everything swiftly by ear. On Middle Child she is her own session musician, playing guitar and violin. The song "Tenderness," built around a beautiful melody played on harp by Elin Lloyd and accompanied by a theremin, is mesmerizing, while the soft, crashing waves of "Deja Vu" would give David Lynch a full on chubby.
"My Sunrise" brings a more sophisticated guitar sound and recalls the late Jeff Buckley with it's sweeping arrangement and powerful vocals. Whoever is in charge of the 007 franchise needs to create a villain called Le Tigre and make a movie so "Tigers" can be the theme song. Sadly, there are currently no videos available to post featuring samples from the new album but below is a clip of Eliza performing "Crimson Lipstick" from her first album.
There is not a bad song on Middle Child. They're all great and encompass many different styles but the album retains a cohesiveness of vision that makes it a spellbinding listen. My greatest fear is that very few will get to hear it.
Tragically, Eliza Jaye is no longer with us. She succumbed to cancer this past February and isn't here to see the release of this wonderful musical statement. My only hope is that, like the aforementioned Jeff Buckley, she will become a posthumous legend. Buy this album. "Take The Time" to listen to it. See purchase and streaming information below.
Eliza Jaye Middle Child
1. Sugar Cane
2. Run Like The Nile
4. Déjà Vu
5. My Sunrise
8. I Do
10. This Desert
11. Take The Time
Preorder the CD released September 18, 2020
Pre-save on Spotify, Apple Music or download on iTunes
Album review by Eric Sandberg
Birds. I have an aversion to them. Not quite ophidiophobia — I enjoy the sounds they make — but something about beaks, talons, feathers, nests and eggs gives me the heebie jeebies. Worse than birds is people who act like birds. Whether they've been hypnotized at a magic show, they're Matthew Modine, Mark Fidrych, or they're just nuts — they scare me [there is no word for this particular fear...I tried looking it up].
I recently received an email with a link to a video featuring a man with wild white hair sitting in a giant bird's nest while musicians ply their trade wearing elaborate, realistic, bird heads. My pulse quickened but was soon flowing in time with the compelling beat. I couldn't get the tune "Manbird" out of my head until a couple of days later when a beautifully packaged double CD of the same name arrived in my mailbox including a fold out poster filled with photos, lyrics and track information. Yes, a double CD of new music to be released in the midst of a global pandemic that won't go away. Crazy, right? Actually, it's the opposite. It's just what we need right now. I currently have twenty-five different melodies constantly jostling for the pole position in my brain's music center.
The "Manbird" video was designed, created and shot by Julia VBH and Anton Barbeau at the farm during lockdown
Manbird is completely immersive and beautiful. It's not a sprawling collection of songs, it's a laser-focused chef-d'oeuvre of songwriting, concept, melody, arranging and performance that causes one to ponder how someone who has released over thirty albums over his career can still connect with such a vibrant muse.
The album is threaded with references to birds, beaks, nests and flying, inter-wreathed with images of traveling through airports, odd characters, childhood memories and dreams. It's not so much a concept album, but a very personal collection of songs employing this imagery to reflect a boy, and then a man, who is ever looking to get home.
"One funny thing, concept-album-wise, is that while all the birds and flight and airplane/airport images can be seen metaphorically, Manbird is also quite grounded in literalism." Barbeau tells me from his family farm in Northern California.
"The birds mentioned, and in some cases included, on the album are real. The blackbird singing at the top of "Coming Home" is the very one I hear when my 4:00 AM Berlin taxi comes to take me to the airport. The mockingbird is up high every morning on the power tower outside the window on the farm. So, yeah... I'm providing details from my real, daily life as well as dipping into childhood memories. I still have the "tight black jeans" from "Across The Drama Pond." They don't fit me anymore, but I still have 'em!"
"Across The Drama Pond" channels Scary Monsters era Bowie with its quirky arrangement, vocal mannerisms and lyrics that describe the adoption of different personas in order to jibe with the singers' various surroundings. The lovely and poppy "Memory Tone" describes how a sound can evoke memories and intense emotions while demonstrating Barbeau's skill as a singer. Like many brilliant musicians, Anton Barbeau does not possess a platinum selling voice — I'm tempted to describe it as Michael Stipe with a bad cold — but it suits his material and he wields it with deceptively great skill.
Considering the length of the album and the avian and aviation themes, I asked Barbeau if the album was the fevered product of an unexpected lengthy isolation.
'[Actually] the last touches to Manbird were applied towards the end of 2019, so it's definitely a pre-pandemic release. Manbird has been my primary focus since early 2018, I think. The Kenny vs Thrust album, released in January on Big Stir, took far less concentration to make. While Manbird is a double album of all new material, Kenny vs Thrust is a mix of old songs and 'that'll do' new songs, recorded in a burst of fun with my respective UK and US bands. Both albums turned out well, but Manbird was made with far more Intention."
Barbeau has been living in Germany for nearly ten years. He returned to California to renew his passport in March, just as the Coronavirus pandemic began to not 'just disappear.'
"I'm on a farm in California now. Given that Manbird is all about travel and searching for home, it's weirdly fitting that I've been grounded since March. This is the longest time I've spent in one place in years!"
The album mixes a variety of musical styles, from pop, rock. punk ["Featherweight] and psychedelia ["Underneath The Mushroom Tree]. The sheer quality and construction of every song will keep your fingers away from the skip button. The tense and epic "Coming Home" recalls Pink Floyd's The Wall, while "Birds Of North America" has a Donovan/Porpoise Song vibe.
I would love to write a treatise on every wonderful song on this album, discussing the vivid, resonant, lyrics, melodic figuration and lush, inventive, arrangements, but we try to keep things relatively brief here at Knock and Knowall. The music is layered with acoustic and electric guitar and a seemingly endless palette of retro and modern keyboard sounds, but it is the masterful urgency of Michael Urbano's drums that ensures it all works.
If you've been listening to Anton Barbeau for years and think he's fabulous, you are in for a treat because, with Manbird, he has upped his already considerable game exponentially.
If you've dallied with Barbeau's music in the past but have drifted away, it's time to "Come Home." Now.
If you're asking "Who the F*ck is Anton Barbeau!?" you need to find out and you need to start with Manbird. I personally guarantee that this album will improve your mental outlook well into Joe Biden's presidency.
Manbird takes flight [ugh! Sorry!] September 18. Details below.
Become an Anton Barbeau patron
Album review by Eric Sandberg
I really don't know how to break this to you but, to this day, there are people walking the Earth who still "don't get" Bob Dylan. "Eww, that nasally voice! The songs go on forever! I don't understand what he's on about!"
Yes, it's an illness that has so far eluded Science. Over the decades there have been many attempts at developing a serum to cure this affliction. Duane Eddy, Hugo Montenegro, Yes's Steve Howe [who named his son Dylan] and, most recently, Bryan Ferry have all tried to eradicate this scourge with only middling efficacy.
Yet, even as Dylan, himself, potentially strengthened the virus this year by releasing a twenty minute raspy word drone as a single, a crack team of Nashville scientists have been working in secret on what I predict will be the magic bullet for combating Dylan Aversion Syndrome [DAS].
I first met Emma Swift while perusing the merch table at a hip music show. Ms. Swift was pursuing this honest work while completing her PhD in Dylanology at The University of Melbourne. She was disarmingly nice and friendly, as i bought a t-shirt from her, for someone so stunningly beautiful. It was one of those Hollywood film moments when I later saw her take the stage with an English eccentric and sing with a voice so pure, ethereal and strong that it breathed new life into that bloke's most beloved songs.
I would meet Emma Swift several more times over the next couple of years, each time asking her "When is YOUR dissertation coming out? As it happens Dr. Swift has spent the better part of this ruinous year sequestered in Nashville, Tennessee working with a crack team of aural immunologists; Doctor's Sansone, Serrano, Estes and Radford [ably assisted by visiting Cambridge researcher Dr. Sticky], developing the most promising treatment for DAS in decades.
Blonde On The Tracks is a rehabilitation regimen in eight steps that is at once palliative and aggressive as it fully eradicates Dylan dismissiveness from curmudgeonly test subjects who were on their intellectual death beds. The musical arrangements and playing are a perfect modern analog to the sublime retro sound of Dylan's own current band and provide a suitable backdrop for Swift's arresting voice and spot on phrasings.
The song selection here is key. Swift has chosen songs for their strong melodies rather than their relative fame. In so doing, DAS sufferers find themselves asking "Dylan wrote that? Really? Hmmm." After roping the patient in with the gorgeous "Queen Jane Approximately" Dr. Swift revives a 60s tradition with a hot take on Dylan's current single "I Contain Multitudes." It's Bob's best song in decades and Swift's cover is now the definitive version in my opinion.
Doctor Swift is an outspoken leader in the movement to recognize musicologists that happen to be female as full-fledged members of the greater science and not just a sub-category. If you put her on a list, there better be men on that list, too.
Swift stays true to this worthy idea by including songs that are traditionally sung from a male point of view and pulls it off with authority on songs like "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" [my personal favorite], "The Man In Me," and "You're A Big Girl Now."
If you have a friend, loved one or family member who is stricken with Dylan Aversion Syndrome, take heart. Dr. Emma Swift and her team are here to help. One warning: This treatment is ineffective when delivered in streaming form. Any streaming versions you come across are the work of Russian bots and are to be avoided. Downloads from Bandcamp.com are marginally effective but for a complete DAS cleansing, it is best to order a CD and even better to opt for the vinyl treatment. Colored vinyl will also cure ingrown toenails.
Get your prescription below:
1.Queen Jane Approximately 04:36
2.I Contain Multitudes 05:07 video
3.One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later) 06:19
4.Simple Twist of Fate 04:20
5.Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands 11:57
6.The Man In Me 03:26
7.Going Going Gone 03:30
8.You're A Big Girl Now 05:28
Follow Emma Swift on Patreon for only $5 a month!
Interview and overview by Eric Sandberg
Yes, Blue Öyster Cult are still a band. They've recently had a spate of new releases, including live albums, reissues of out of print post-heyday studio albums and a promised album of all new material in the pipeline.
Lead guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser and nominal lead singer/Master of Ceremonies Eric Bloom remain as founding, and arguably the two most recognizeable, members of Blue Öyster Cult. Roeser wrote and sang the band's two biggest hits "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" and "Burnin' For You" [lyrics for the latter were penned by frequent collaborator, Richard Meltzer] while Bloom's swagger and vocal power dominated the arenas the band frequently sold out during the 70s and 80s.
Current marketing blurbs refer to the pair as "the band's core duo," and as glad as I am that they are still at it, I do take exception to this. If ever a rock band was the sum of its five equal parts, that band was Blue Öyster Cult. Saturday Night Live fans who show up to BÖC gigs at county fairs, with their cowbells and drumsticks may not know the difference, but fans who cut their teeth on Tyranny and Mutation, Secret Treaties and On Your Feet Or On Your Knees, remember the breadth of talent that permeated the original lineup.
Blue Öyster Cult Clockwise from top left: Joe Bouchard, Albert Bouchard, Allen Lanier, Buck Dharma, Eric Bloom,
First among equals was the band's rhythm section of Joe Bouchard and his brother Albert who, utilizing lyrics written themselves or provided by a host of writers like Sandy Pearlman, John Shirley, Dave Roter, Punk Goddesses Helen Wheels and Patti Smith [Yes, that Patti Smith] and the aforementioned Richard Meltzer, composed great swaths of the music that appeared on the records.
Together or separately Albert and Joe are responsible for classics like "Hot Rails To Hell," "The Red and the Black," "Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll," "Career of Evil," "Astronomy," "Dominance and Submission," "7 Screaming Dizbusters," "Wings Wetted Down," "The Revenge of Vera Gemini," "Joan Crawford Has Risen From the Grave," "Fallen Angel" and many, many more.
When the latter day BÖC performed the platinum album Agents of Fortune for a TV broadcast a few years ago they invited Albert and Joe back to participate because they were responsible for so much of what was on the album. Joe, who wrote and sang "Morning Final" for Agents, demurred, though Albert came along and sang three songs including the album's closer "Debbie Denise." As Joe explains:
"I did not want to just sing my song and not play on any other songs in the set. I told them Richie Castellano could sing "Morning Final" and he sang it well. Had I known they were also going to take the Agents of Fortune show to LA, London or Ireland, I would have said 'Sure, I'll sing one song."
The enigmatic LP jacket for Blue Öyster Cult's platinum selling Agents of Fortune
Though Eric Bloom was the band's most accomplished singer, the members of BÖC often sang their own songs on the albums while their live sets tilted in favor of titles that featured Bloom's prodigious pipes and natural charisma. But thanks to the extensive songwriting talent within the band, along with the community lyrics folder, BÖC albums were deep affairs that commanded repeated full listens of both sides of the platter. Subsequent efforts by Roeser and Bloom are solid but lack the depth and mystique of the earlier albums.
Now for the good news — Joe and Albert Bouchard have signed a new management deal with Deko Entertainment for a potential host of new releases starting off with Joe's new solo album Strange Legends, to be followed in the Fall by Albert's new reimagining of the BÖC album Imaginos.
"It all started when I got an email from out of the blue from a guy out in California [Jeff Keller, Deko Entertainment] who is a big BÖC fan and he says 'I want to manage you and I want to manage your brother. I looked him up and found out he manages the Appice Brothers. Now, Carmine and Vinnie, they don't just do the Appice Brothers, they each have many projects of their own. Albert and I have a similar situation where we have the Bouchard Brothers, but we also have other bands and solo projects we're always working on.
He pitched us the idea of starting our own label. I thought, 'we're in the middle of a pandemic, we're [the country] in a terrible financial situation — what is this guy thinking? How is this going to happen?" Then he goes out and finds us a deal! Unbelievable! Deko has a relationship with A.D.A. which is part of Warner Brothers so our distribution is going to be part of the Warner Brothers machine worldwide."
Albert and Joe Bouchard
The debut release of the Bouchard's new imprint Rockheart Records will be a new studio album by Joe, Strange Legends. The album, like much of the previous releases from Joe and Albert, has that unmistakable air of Cult-ness about it.
Track one "The African Queen" immediately transports you back to BÖC's black and white period and keeps you there with tracks like "Forget About Love," "She's A Legend," "Hit and Run," "Once Upon A Time At the Border" and "Bottom For the Bottomless" which even sports a tasty Buck Dharma style guitar solo.
"With every solo album I put out, people say 'boy, that sounds a lot like Blue Oyster Cult!' I say, I didn't consciously try to sound that way, It's just what I do!
Following Strange Legends on Rockheart Records this fall will be Albert Bouchard's new approach to the loosely linked series of Sandy Pearlman lyrics, the "random access myth" collectively known as the Imaginos Legend. Albert originally began this project as a solo album after leaving Blue Öyster Cult only to volunteer the nearly completed album to his former band to meet the band's contract obligations with Columbia Records.
"It's a little bit of a different take on it this time" Joe explains. "Albert started it as an acoustic project but he's been building it up. He's dug up some additional lyrical material from Sandy Pearlman. His inspiration for the vibe he wants for it is Love's Forever Changes. I actually have played a couple of trumpet solos on it — I've been very into brass lately. Albert is actually envisioning a trilogy of albums for the Imaginos saga so this album coming up will be volume one.
Albert's also still got the early mixes of the original Imaginos album when it was still his solo project...I can't give away too much. I've probably given away too much already!"
There is a general feeling among fans of Blue Öyster Cult that having a big hit altered the band's musical trajectory. While it is a given that having a hit will result in pressure from the record label to have another hit, anyone who listened to both sides of Agents of Fortune had already noticed a significant shift in their sound and approach to songwriting.
"Because we had the live album out the previous year, it gave us more time to work on the material for Agents of Fortune. By this time we all had our own home studios for creating demos. We did a lot of preparation and we all came to the studio with finished songs. It worked out. It's a solid album with a lot of variety. We never really wanted to just stick with one thing, like AC-DC. That's what makes Blue Oyster the Cult."
Agents of Fortune also contained the first two writing contributions from keyboardist/guitarist Allen Lanier in "True Confessions" and "Tenderloin."
"Allen Lanier's songs were very strong. We didn't play them live because he wasn't a very powerful singer but, after he passed away, we played a reunion show — the whole first set was Alan's songs and the people loved it. It blew me away how well Alan's songs worked live when they were properly rehearsed. There's much we owe Allen. He was a big part of the personality of the band. I miss him a lot."
Blue Öyster Cult performing their legendary, showstopping 5 Guitars routine
I asked Bouchard how five talented songwriters were able to come to such a successful consensus about what songs to put on the albums, how they should be arranged and what songs to play live.
"I felt like I was the peacemaker. They probably don't think so, but I was usually the guy that came up with the compromise solution. When one guy had a hard opinion and another guy had the opposite opinion, I'd say 'Hey, wait a minute. There's a third way to think about this. It worked for a long time, I think. We came up with some good records that are still talked about and admired."
As for the live sets, they tended to favor heavy songs with imagery touching on biker gangs, air war and science fiction.
"Those kind of themes are strong when you want to play hard rock in big arenas."
Finally, I asked Joe Bouchard what else we can expect to see from Rockheart records in the coming years.
"We've got some great live material from our Bouchard Brothers Songs and Stories shows so we're looking at getting that out along with some new studio material." The Bouchard Brothers is just me, Albert and my partner Joan [Levy Hepburn] on the guitar. Albert and I concentrate on what we do best, which is the rhythm section and Joan provides the leads. We have a lot of fun with it. And do Albert and I have stories!" Sometimes Albert tells stories I haven't even heard yet."
The Bouchard Brothers featuring Joan Levy Hepburn
As for the possibility of reissuing some of the harder to find items from Joe and Albert's respective catalogs...
"That was discussed when we did our deal. Albert and I own it all so, when the timing is right, there will probably be a compilation of material from our respective catalogs."
Strange Legends is due to be released July 31 and is available at the links below.
Joe Bouchard on Spotify
Sunshine Walkers: The Best of Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry
Interview and overview by Eric Sandberg
Kimberley Rew is not a well known commodity in this vast world of ours. He's even less well known than...say...Robyn Hitchcock, who is also not particularly famous either...in the great scheme of things.
But, if I were to hum 'Doot-doot-doot da doot-doot da dotta-dotta, doot-doot-doot da doot-doot da dotta dotta...' to anyone, from my niece to my great aunt, they will all say "I know that song!"
Rew not only played guitar on that song, he wrote it, along with "Going Down To Liverpool," a hit for The Bangles and "Love Shine a Light," which was the last song to claim the Eurovision prize for England in 1997. Rew penned Celine Dion's hit song "That's Just the Woman In Me" along with a score of other lesser known rock and pop gems that are no less delightful.
Before any of that happened, Kimberley Rew was very well known to me and a few of my friends as the angular and frenetic lead guitarist for The Soft Boys, an out of time, neo-psychedelic Cambridge, UK collective led by the aforementioned Robyn Hitchcock in the late 70s.
Rew's guitar pyrotechnics are best showcased on the Soft Boys' debut LP A Can of Bees. His playing was reined in just a bit for the somewhat 'poppier' songs Hitchcock penned for their seminal follow up/swan song Underwater Moonlight, a discipline that would serve him well when he formed Katrina and the Waves and set out to conquer pop music.
The Soft Boys L to R: Kimberley Rew, Robyn Hitchcock (obviously), Matthew Seligman, Morris Windsor
Lee Cave-Berry is a figure lurking behind and astride the scenes during this entire period.
"We met, actually, ages and ages ago in 1977. The band my boyfriend and I were in had supported The Waves and we supported The Soft Boys on their first gig after Kimberley joined. It's, by the way, the only gig I've ever played where I was spat at," Cave-Berry tells me on the phone from their lock down sanctuary in Cambridge.
Rew adds, "The Waves were an early version of Katrina and the Waves, before I joined The Soft Boys." Tracks by the pre-Katrina Waves, along with a couple of early Rew penned songs recorded by The Soft Boys can be found on The Bible of Bop compilation. The previously unreleased, Rew composed song "Stomping All Over the World" [Included on Sunshine Walkers] is so catchy it deserves to be in its own sandwich commercial.
"Kimberley and I knew each other for a long time, but we were both going out with other people and were both concentrating on our own bands. We were in the friend box for along time, but then some things happened that took us out of the friend box about twenty years after we first met."
Lee Cave-Berry's contributions on Kimberley's early solo albums were modest at first — some backing vocals here and a bass part there — but things eventually developed into a full-fledged musical partnership sharing the billing on subsequent gigs and album releases.
This is all culminating in a new chapter for the pair as they have signed a deal with Ball In The Jack Records and are kicking things off with a summing up of the story so far. Sunshine Walkers: The Best of Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry is packed with twentyone tracks culled from Rew solo albums, Kim & Lee full collaborations and a couple of tracks from Lee Cave-Berry's outstanding solo album Spring Forward.
"We've never done any kind of promotion for any of our records really," says Cave-Berry. "We decided to do some promotion for our next record and the team at Ball In The Jack said we should put together this compilation first. We got suggestions from friends on what to include and chose others ourselves. We had a lot of fun doing it."
The album is a delight. Pure bop for wow people. It's full of rock, pop and a healthy dose of English whimsy as heard and seen in the video below for "Bloody Old England" which features a series of drawings by Rew who, by the way, also has a degree in Archeology from Cambridge University [bloody polymath!]. It is a welcome boon to fans that may have been asleep for the past two decades and missed the original albums which are becoming hard to find collector's items these days.
"The Dog Song" pokes some healthy fun at religion, while the bouncy, child friendly, ear worms "The End of the Rainbow" and "Purple Pajamas" will have you humming all day. There are some beautiful love ballads like "Happy Anniversary" and, especially, "The Safest Place," a song that will doubtless be used for a poignant scene in a movie one day. The lengthy set is punctuated with driving rockers like [literally] "English Road," "My Baby Does Her Hairdo Long," the whimsical "Backing Singer Blues" and a funky, wah-wah inflected Curtis Mayfield tribute "Flower Super Power," which includes a guitar solo that sends a wink Robin Trower's way.
If I have managed to make you at all curious about Kim & Lee's music, Sunshine Walkers is the perfect place to start your education.
Of course, I couldn't let Kimberley go without grilling him a little bit about The Soft Boys, particularly their surprising reunion in 2002, which included a new studio album, an EP and a lengthy world tour. I was curious whether he was all in or took some cajoling to participate.
"I was very OK with it. This was twenty years after the original split of The Soft Boys and I'm very glad I had all those experiences in those twenty years. It gave me some perspective, as they say in Spinal Tap. The timing was actually quite fortunate as Katrina and the Waves had just split up. Robyn, his [then] wife Michele, Lee, Alex [Cooper, Katrina and the Waves drummer] and his wife and I were all at the Three Kings in Clerkenwell in 1999 and Robyn sort of implied that perhaps it was time for a reunion.
Alex and I had just put a song up for the Eurovision song contest. The news came through that our song had been knocked out of competition, which was kind of a relief, actually. It meant that I wouldn't have entered into a reunion with divided loyalties as it were."
Lee Cave-Berry recalls, "I remember that tour fondly. I saw a lot of that tour. I remember Kimberley saying 'I can't believe I've found a girl that actually enjoys sound checks'!"
Kimberley Rew, if he had not found his voice as a remarkable and prolific songwriter, would doubtless have become a top flight session guitarist. Rew's rhythm chops are unrivaled. He keeps time like an organic steam hammer. He hits the strings harder than anybody I've ever heard play but is always in complete command. I asked him how he developed his aggressively competent style.
"I'm not a confident person — I'm not outgoing. I'm not a bandleader or a front man or a lead singer type. I guess that all gets transferred to the guitar. That's kind of my strong suit. There is a certain amount of will power I use to keep the song moving forward."
Since this lock down began, Kim and I have been performing live on Facebook Wednesday nights. We're able to play together because we live together, just guitar and bass. In our earlier Wednesday internet sessions the sound of my hand hitting the strings was the loudest thing in the room. It was drowning out the amplification and louder than our vocals. We had to get microphones."
The Soft Boys "Insanely Jealous" is a great example of the 6-string mischief of Kimberley Rew
Throughout our interview it is apparent how much in love the pair are, even after months spent together cooped up in their house to avoid contracting the Covid-19 virus which sadly took the life of Rew's former Soft Boys band mate Matthew Seligman at far too young an age.
Kimberley Rew is very humble about his abilities and his accomplishments and Lee Cave-Berry, no slouch herself in the talent department, is his biggest cheerleader. When Rew tells me "I don't improvise very much..." Cave-Berry immediately chimes in "He can improvise, he just chooses not to very often!" When I compliment Cave-Berry on the remarkable breadth of songs on her solo album she coyly states that she isn't currently writing much new material for a follow up because "It's a bit difficult when you have a songwriting icon the house. Everything ends up chucked in the bin!" Rew sheepishly interjects "Steady on, old girl!"
Rew and his former band Katrina and the Waves were recently honored by Eurovision when the global pandemic forced cancellation of the 2020 contest in its normal format. A replacement television show was devised and renamed Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light, and featured all of this year's contestants performing Rew's prize winning song "Love Shine a Light."
Rew and Cave-Berry, despite the current state of the world, seem energized and ready to carry on. They have three more videos ready for release to help promote Sunshine Walkers and "Our bid for world domination, will continue with a couple more albums of new material, Rew says"
Sunshine Walkers: The Best of Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry is released worldwide on July 17, 2020 and will be available as a download and a CD. See links below.
01 The Dog Song
02 It Makes Me Happy
03 Bloody Old England
04 Backing Singer Blues
05 The End Of Our Rainbow
06 English Road
07 The Safest Place
08 All I Want Is You For Christmas
09 Yours Truly
10 Hey War Pig
11 Some Days You Eat The Bear
12 Purple Pyjamas
13 Stomping All Over The World
14 Happy Anniversary
15 Flat Cat
16 My Baby Does Her Hairdo Long
17 Flower Superpower
18 I Want You
19 Restless Ocean
20 She’s Still Got It
21 Simple Pleasures
Album review by Eric Sandberg
I recently reviewed a tribute album called Garden of Earthly Delights, a sprawling two-disc collection of XTC covers. All told, if you include the bonus digital selections, there are forty nine tracks by forty nine different artists, virtually none of whom had managed to come to my attention previously.
That this collection was uniformly excellent throughout is a tribute to Futureman Records and the project's coordinator Keith Klingensmith. More importantly it is an indication that there is a mind bogglingly large assortment of skilled musicians, artists and producers roaming this planet albeit with very small audiences.
As a music fanatic with a strong natural instinct to explore and support aspiring musicians, this put me in a quandary. I wanted to check out many of these artists' own music but, where to start? even as a latecomer to Spotify, the prospect was daunting.
To start, I chose the most memorable name from the album's roster, Coke Belda, who did a delightful, spritely version of Colin Moulding's "Standing In For Joe." Of course, I read the name as kōk , like that soft drink that tastes like battery acid, but it is, in fact pronounced like croquet without the 'r.' The first thing I learned about Coke Belda from his Facebook page is that he is from Pittsburgh (via Valencia, Spain), a city where I spent my deformative years and holds a special place in my heart.
Digression: As a teenager in Pittsburgh, music was the single most important thing in my life (at least until I got a girlfriend). As a budding record collector and guitar player, my two most frequented establishments were Jim's Records and Pittsburgh Guitars. These sanctuaries were operated by surrogate uncles (older brothers?) Jim Spitznagel and Carl Grefenstette respectively and were frequented by a host of characters — older guys who were part of the local music community.
I wasn't old enough to go to the clubs where they played, but I was a fan of The Flashcats (Carl's band), Eddie & The Otters (Jim's band), The Hank Band (fronted by the quixotic Hank Lawhead III) and The Hornets (which combined various members of the above named bands, anticipating Asia by several years).
The industrious Grefenstette formed his own record label Bogus Records with Lee Walker and set about recording and compiling tracks for a record called Made In Pittsburgh Vol. 1. For me, it was very exciting to know people who were on a record, even if they made it and put it out themselves. The album had a little of everything from the paisley rock of Eddie & The Otters and The Hank Band to the country rock leanings of Gravel (fronted by Bob Corbin and Dave Hanner who went on to gain international acclaim as songwriters) to the arena rock aspirations of Empire.
Bogus Records would issue two more volumes, with Vol. 3 highlighting Pittsburgh's burgeoning New Wave scene. All three albums sound really good and are a treasured part of Pittsburgh history, but are not likely to be confused with a Steely Dan record production-wise.
Of course, all these people had day jobs (in my capacity as a buyer for a Los Angeles based record and video chain in the early 90s I crossed paths with Hank Lawhead III who was a representative for a potential vendor), but put countless hours into their passion for music.
It wasn't as easy back then. Putting together a recording studio was an almost prohibitive expense. This brings us back to Coke Belda and so many artists like him here in 2020.
Just as I was investigating him, Belda announced the release of Coke Belda 4. I ordered a CD copy from Kool Kat Music and received it in the mail almost as quickly as if I had just bought the download. The album, recorded at Coke Belda Studios, which is likely a computer in his basement, sounds like it could have been recorded at Air Studios or Abbey Road. Belda wrote all the songs and performs nearly all the instruments and vocals himself in a melodic power pop tour de force.
Belda doesn't wear his influences on his sleeve, they're tattooed on his bicep, and he's not shy about it. The first track "Thank You, Paul" announces itself with Revolver style guitars and name checks a litany of relatively obscure McCartney songs. The Beatles influence can be heard throughout. "Believe" is a pop shuffle updating of the riff from "Blackbird," while Andy Partridge's own Beatles influence filters through on "Harlan, Kentucky," and John Lennon's ghost informs "6X8 Basement" and "Watching You." You'll also detect snatches of Squeeze and other new wavy styles in some of the arrangements.
Repeated listening, however, reveals Belda's own voice and sensibilities as a songwriter and performer. Listen to the album again and again (and believe me, you will be compelled to) and your admiration for Belda's talent will grow. Like all great pop music, it's infectious. This album has big time international appeal and deserves to be heard by a wide audience. And to think it was it was made in Pittsburgh by a guy with a day job.
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.