Have An Indie Mom & Pop X-Mas
The best pop music today is being made by moms and pops and sons and daughters who do it for the love and not the money (though they would be thrilled if you bought their stuff)
Here are some of the best releases we've enjoyed during the latter half of 2022
Richard Öhrn *****
Sounds In English
Big Stir Records
Guitarist for Swedish indie rockers In Deed steps out on his own with a tour de force display of his prodigious talent, writing and performing this immensely pleasing collection of songs all by his lonesome. The opening track grabs you with Öhrn's trademark Burns 12-string sound, evoking The Byrds channeled through the Church, but each song heralds a different stylistic approach without sounding like a grab bag of thrown together tracks. We detect elements of The Beatles, Love, Lou Reed and even Kevin Ayers.
Some of the English-as-a-second-language titles bring a smile. How do you "Seal Your Move," with "The Coolest Manners" and what is a "5th Month Announcement?" I don't know, but they are some of the best sounds in English I've heard all year.
Robyn Hitchcock *****
Tiny Ghost Records
Hitchcock's 2017 eponymous "comeback" record reestablished the indie veteran as the grandfather of surrealistic psych pop with his idiosyncratic wordplay and a revitalized urgency in the music. For all it's hooks and charms this longtime fan found it to be a little too slick in the production department as if Hitchcock had put himself in the hands of a hotshot producer and surrendered something of himself in the process.
Ironically, for Shufflemania! Hitchcock put his latest batch of tunes into literally dozens of hands, of old friends and and younger musicians he's inspired, to flesh out the basic songs he recorded solo at his kitchen table and the result is that Hitchcock's brilliance shines through more brightly than it has in decades. Shufflemania! released on Tiny Ghost Records, a label run by Hitchcock's wife singer Emma Swift, will ultimately rank as one of Hitchcock's finest albums.
From the foot stomping joy of "The Shuffleman" to the rising and falling dynamics of "The Feathery Serpent God" and the breathtaking beauty of "The Man Who Loved The Rain," Shufflemania! is an experience that begs to be repeated time and again.
Henning Ohlenbusch *****
The Dream Is To Dream
Rub Wrongways Records
Henning's second solo album he's released since the last album by his band Gentle Hen is a song cycle of sorts that seems inspired by early Pink Floyd and Alan Parsons Project records. It even begins with a compelling instrumental track ["Approach The Moment"] setting the stage for eleven thoughtful ruminations on how our lives are in the thrall of the limits and limitlessness of our own imaginations. With every release Henning cements his standing as America's greatest unknown songsmith.
Maple Mars ****
Someone's Got To Listen
Big Stir Records
The First album in a decade from the much loved LA based power pop quartet led by songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Rick Hromadka [say that three times fast] is well worth the wait. Maple Mars delivers a more aggressive updated version of the 70s prog-inflected pop of Starcastle and Ambrosia underpinned by the spirit of Badfinger. Standout Tracks include the anthem "Goodbye California" [get your lighters out], "Useless Information" an indictment of the social media age, "Someone Take The Wheel" and the Brian Wilson-y "Crooked Smile."
Drones Of The Prophet ***
Gare Du Nord/Bandcamp
Anton Barbeau continues to astound me with his endless fount of creativity. Even as he intermittently teases us with updates about his forthcoming major release Morgenmusik he has dropped two more albums that seemingly come from nowhere. Stranger contains fourteen brand new highly twistedly entertaining songs that showcase his quirky wordsmithery and his utter mastery of electronics and engineering.
The title track would have sat well on his 2020 opus Manbird as Barbeau, who divides his time between Berlin Germany and his northern California ancestral home sometimes feels out of place when he's visiting the latter." "Ant Lion" percolates like Kraftwerk at their poppiest. "Stone Of Fire" brings the drama and "Quick To The Basement" wryly has us scurrying for cover because "Jesus comin'."
Drones of the Prophet was released in November on Bandcamp as a digital only instrumental album, the epicenter of which is the nearly 16 minute dirge "Gorge Drone." The album synthesizes [no pun intended] the works of the great German masters of the genre, including Tangerine Dream, the late Klause Schulze and the aforementioned Kraftwerk. "Berlin School of Doubt" is pure Tangerine Dream at their mesmerizing best, while the brief "Darker Gold Sequence" leads into the electronics as nature drone "Whimper Flutes of Tragic Beauty." Drones of the prophet is excellent headphone music for drifting off into an afternoon nap.
Various Artists *****
We All Shine On
Celebrating The Music of 1970
Though I'm not terribly fond of being an old fart, I am grateful that I grew up in the age of Top 40 Radio because it exposed me to so many genres of music during my formative years. You could hear the best of pop, soul, rock and r&b over the course of an afternoon before the playlist repeated. You could get freaked out by hearing "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone" immediately followed by "Seasons In The Sun."
Of course, by high school, the snotty FM rock stations were in ascendance and, suddenly, disco sucked and The Temptations and Parliament Funkadelic were "black music." On early to mid 70's AM Top 40 [13Q, Pittsburgh was my lifeline] it was all just music. All that mattered was that people were calling into request it and the National Record Mart was reporting lots of 45s being shifted.
SpyderPop Records is celebrating this last egalitarian era of music with a sprawling 22-track tribute to the year that ended the 60s and kicked the 70s off, featuring some of the finest indie artists making music today. Highlights include Bill Lloyd's reading of "Three Dog Night's "Mama Told Me Not To Come," Darian sing Mark Lindsay's "Arizona," The Legal Matters performing George Harrison's "What Is Life," Let's Active's Mitch Easter blowing our minds with "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time) and Lannie Flowers take on "Walk A Mile In My Shoes."
This list only scratches the surface of the many delights of this beautifully packed CD. It's a wonderful trip back to a better time. Let's hope SpyderPop does one of these for every year up to 1979.
We're already halfway into June and we've been listening to a lot of music. Time to catch up!
Andy Partridge ***
My Failed Songwriting Career Vol 2
I stumbled across this reasonably priced and adorably packaged CD/EP at Rhino Records in Claremont, CA. It's the second in a new series of archive releases for the former XTC songsmith and the title says it all. After the demise of XTC, Partridge put himself out there as a songwriter for hire. These volumes collect demos of songs written for other performers but were rejected. As far as I know, the only artist that used any of Partidge's songs on demand were The Monkees who recorded his "You Bring The Summer" for their 2016 album Good Times! and "Unwrap You At Christmas" for their swan song follow up Christmas Party two years later.
Mr. Partridge and friend
The four tracks include a request for something "a bit like Small Faces," ["Seesaw"] an attempt at a jazz pop standard ["Let's Make Everything Love" [I'm guessing Michael Buble' wasn't impressed], The Beatle-y "Come On Back" ["for a big name singer"] and "Love In The Future" ["worked up and shoved into the 'just in case somebody needs an odd piece of angular space jungle pop' box"]. Delightful, but for hard core fans only.
Big Stir Records
I am very grateful to Christina and Rex at Big Stir for sending out this record many weeks before its release was even announced. I needed the head start. My first exposure to this very English band led by Peter Watts was last year's Blow Their Covers which was all interesting cover songs and made our top ten list for 2021. I wondered how they would sound on an album of their own material.
The answer is, they sound amazing. This is an album that is densely arranged terrific pop, sporting wry wordplay ["I Dig Your New Robes, Pierre!"] and tight, locomotive, arrangements. Though I liked it immediately, there is so much packed into these songs it has taken me weeks of listening to really absorb them. I'm tempted to say that the best way to listen to Jobbernowl is one song at a time, each day. Trying to listen to the whole album in one sitting keeps you from focusing on the brilliance of each individual track. If you like The Beatles via Squeeze, XTC and E and the As, this album is highly recommended. bigstirrecords.com/spygenius
Florence + The Machine *****
To quote Alanis Morrisette, "Isn't it ironic" that that the release of Florence Welch's brilliant new opus is currently being overshadowed by the mind-boggling resurgence of one of her heroes and major inspirations, Kate Bush. Welch has faced comparisons to Bush throughout her career because, a) she's a female artist with an extremely powerful, multi-octave voice, and b) her music is highly original and her influences are not so obvious.
Welch's persona, especially on this new record, exudes 'Pre-Raphaelite witch,' with her flowing red hair and lacy gothic dresses. The lyrics on several songs as well as the lead single and video "King" portray her as some kind of regal vampire, while the lyrics for "Back In Town" suggest someone returning to an unhealthy relationship after trying to escape or, perhaps, to exact revenge?.
"Never really been alive before, I always lived in my head,
And sometimes it was easier, Hungover and half-dead,
I'm back in town, why don't we go out?
Let the rats spin around our feet
The full moon shines down on these dirty streets
Back in town, why don't we go out
To that ninth street diner?
And carry on slowly, torturing each other
'Cause it's always the same
I came for the pleasure, but I stayed for the pain."
The Inflorescence *****
Remember What I Look Like
Kill Rock Stars
From Florence to Inflorescence, the San Diego based pop punk outfit fronted by Tuesday Denekas [who just happens to be the daughter of Knock and Knowall favorite, Tamar Berk] with Charlee Berlin, Sasha A'Hearn and Milla Merlini, are ready to take on the world with their energetic debut album Remember What I Look Like from Kill Rock Stars.
As this sort of music is not generally in my bailiwick [though I very much like it] I turned to my daughter Kelly for her expertise. For her, the music evokes a resemblance to Bikini Kill, but closer to pop than punk. She likens their music to the "surf-rockish, punk rock indie sound a-la The Buttertones." For my part, I find the album to be melodic, musically and lyrically confident, with very strong performances from these four musicians who are still quite young. Tell your kids! https://theinflorescence.bandcamp.com/album/remember-what-i-look-like
Ann Wilson ***
Silver Lining Music
Venerable rock band Heart have been on a lengthy hiatus since an unfortunate backstage incident that created a rift between sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson. Though they have since reconciled, the worldwide pandemic has delayed plans for a new Heart record or tour [Bulletin: plans for a 50th anniversary tour have just been announced for 2023]. Both have worked on individual projects with Ann releasing two EPs and and an album of cover songs chosen to highlight her amazing voice. Unfortunately, her producer didn't quite know how best to make it all work, with almost embarrassing results.
With Fierce Bliss, Wilson co-produces with guitarist Tom Bukovac with far better results. The album is a mixture of originals and some well-chosen covers, including the Robin Trower classic "Bridge of Sighs" with Kenny Wayne Shepherd guesting on lead guitar and clearly relishing his task. Another highlight is Vince Gill in a duet with Wilson on Freddie Mercury's beautiful ballad "Love of My Life." Wilson's voice has mellowed with age but has lost none of its power.
The CD comes in a lavish hardboard digipak graced by a florid Roger Dean painting of a parrot surveying one of Dean's patented [unless you're James Cameron, apparently] alien landscapes.
The Fixx *****
Every Five Seconds
As an old guy, there is nothing I like better than when a veteran band decides to show all these young whippersnappers, with their seventeen songwriters and twenty four producers on one track, how it's properly done. The Fixx return with their 80s heyday lineup intact, displaying their unique songwriting chops, inspired, precision musicianship and the kind of swagger that can only be backed by true talent. Buy it!
The Black Heartthrobs *****
Back To Zero
Singer/songwriter/guitarist David Benitez was formerly the bass player for the punk band Osker who were signed to Epitaph Records. But, as a songwriter, David is a disciple of garage pop icons The Plimsouls and The Knack along with their respective songsmiths Peter Case and Berton Averre.
Hailing from Culver City, CA, The Back Heartthrobs don't really sound like either of those bands, though. It's difficult to pin down who they sound like as the most important lesson Benitez seems to have learned is to be yourself, be original and go where your muse takes you without hesitation. The songs range in style from driving venom laced garage rawk with way more street cred than Weezer, to lovely, jangly, indie power pop [a-la Nada Surf] featuring wry, observant lyrics.
Joe Bouchard ****
Rockheart Records/Deko Entertainmant
One of the strengths of the original Blue Öyster Cult was that all five members were great songwriters. While Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser was initially not very prolific, he had a knack for coming up with songs that got played on the radio. Many of the classic album tracks and concert favorites, though, were composed by either bassist Joe Bouchard and/or his brother Albert. This is why any new album released by either of the Bouchard brothers instantly evokes the memory of one of my favorite bands.
Bouchard's latest, American Rocker delivers those memories in spades and honestly provides me with more of those 'BÖC feels' than the most recent Cult album. His distinctive voice, reminiscent of Albert's but easily distinguishable, and his very recognizable, deceptively sophisticated compositional style are combined with lyrics worldly and otherworldly that echo BÖC's early days.
Bouchard plays all the instruments himself, including brass, but leaves the drumming to veteran Mickey Curry and brings in John Jorgenson to play some tasty Buck Dharma style lead guitar on "The Golden Age" a wistful look back at the good old arena days.
Chris Church *****
Prolific purveyor of pulchritudinous power pop, Chris Church makes his long overdue appearance on our humble website with his latest collection of lush, shimmering and melodic tunes. Church, along with label mate Dolph Chaney, are going a long way to help fill the void left by the late, great Tommy Keene. If I had one wish, though, I would hop into a TARDIS, sneak into every one of the mixing sessions for Church's past several albums and nudge the fader up on his lovely vocals, which tend to get drowned out by all the gorgeous guitars.
The Containers *****
The last album of this batch is not new. In fact it's quite old, dating back to both 1979, when it was recorded, to 2017, when it was finally released on vinyl. It is, however, new to me and it is an exciting discovery for a longtime fan of Robyn Hitchcock and his original band The Soft Boys.
There are a lot of names that show up in Robyn Hitchcock lore, such as Telephone Bill and the Operators, Dennis and the Experts, Airborne Alice, Mike Kemp, Mungo Carstairs, original Soft Boys Jim Melton and Alan "Wangbow" Davies, original Egyptian Roger Jackson and James A. ("The Great One") Smith. These names are legendary in certain circles, but they are mostly blokes you can find on Facebook, living their lives, free of the burdon of stardom. Cambridgeshire, UK, is certainly known for eccentric songwriters like Syd Barrett, Hitchcock and Kimberley Rew ["Walking On Sunshine", "Going Down To Liverpool", "Love Shine A Light"], but one such songwriter who never got his due is the aforementioned James A. Smith.
In 1979, Smith and his band The Containers featuring Stella Barker [who went on to fame with The Belle Stars] and Adrian 'Hots' Fisher, recorded an album's worth of Smith's quirky tunes at the legendary Spaceward studios [where The Soft Boys recorded and where a young singer/guitarist Gary Numan first stumbled upon a Minimoog] operated by producer/engineer Mike Kemp. The Containers were abetted in the studio on guitar and drums by Soft Boys Robyn Hitchcock and Morris Windsor.
The songs on the album are easily as unhinged and whimsical as the Soft Boys debut LP A Can of Bees, if not more so, with titles like "I Love To Eat On British Rail." "I couldn't afford to eat on British Rail so I wrote this instead," Smith writes in the liner notes. "Flight 11" was written from a place of "Jealousy. I couldn't afford to go on holiday, so I just imagined having one to make myself feel better." "Swallowed Too Much" is a hangover song while "Rita's Legs" actually scored Smith his first major romantic dalliance with the lovely Rita in question, followed by his first experience with heartbreak.
Just when you think you've heard it all...
We talk to the astonishingly talented independent artist and delve into her mysterious past!
Interview and overview by Eric Sandberg with Mike Berman
For lovers of popular music, Tamar Berk seems to have suddenly materialized out of the ether as a fully formed, brilliant, pop/rock songsmith, performer, arranger and producer. Her 'debut' solo album The Restless Dreams Of Youth was recorded and self-released in '20/'21, during the height of Covid and is an instant classic, garnering critical praise from her hometown of San Diego and all across the country. It was nominated for two San Diego Music Awards.
"I didn't even submit it," Berk tells us from her home in San Diego. "I didn't know about the awards, actually. A guy named Bart Mendoza called me. He's sort of a legend in San Diego. He's a guy that hears about things going on around town and he has a show called Music Scene SD and he compiles all sorts of tidbits for various local publications.
Someone had told him about my album and he called me up and had me on the show where I performed two songs. ("Shadow Clues" & "A New Case") It was Bart who said the album was worthy of consideration for the SDMAs and he submitted it to them. I didn't hear anything for a long time but one day I got an email from the committee that I had been nominated and I was also invited to perform at the awards ceremony. It was great!" I didn't win, which was kind of sad, but I wasn't expecting anything and I got to play on that huge stage, it was beautiful and I'm very thankful."
The album was released to all major streaming platforms and pressed on limited edition vinyl which sold out, prompting Berk recently to press another batch of vinyl as well as a run of CDs [ask your grandfather].
Berk's appearance on Music SceneSD starts at 12:00. She performs "Shadow Clues with her daughter, Tuesday.
All of this made it even more surprising that, by early 2022 Berk announced the impending release of a brand new album Start At The End heralded by the single and video of "Your Permission," a sophisticated Beatlesque slab of delicious pop paired with compelling visuals. Released on April 21, the new album is somehow even better than TRDOY.
"I was concerned about putting out a new album so soon and that it would stand up to the first one, which a lot of people really loved but, after my dad died last June I was lost, and working on this album was my way of working through my emotions."
We have, quite frankly run out of words to describe how great both Start At The End and The Restless Dreams of Youth actually are. Tamar Berk is a rock and roll superwoman who, by day, is a mild mannered 5th grade teacher. There is, however, a secret history of Tamar Berk, rock god, with clues dropped in interviews, internet searches and deep dives into online streaming platforms.
Cover of the 2001 Starball album Superfans
Though originally from Cleveland, Berk's music career began in earnest in Chicago where she fronted a power pop band called Starball [1996-2001] which showcased her embryonic yet already compelling songwriting prowess. There is a lot three chords and a smirk here but songs like "When The Time Comes" from 2001's I'm Not Home Leave A Message [Eventually released under Berk's own name] hint at what's to come.
Starball/Tamar Berk video for "When The Time Comes"
Footage can also be found of Berk fronting a punk/grunge band called Sweet Heat and she also played in a Faces cover band and fronted the electro punk band The Countdown. Eventually, Berk moved to Portland, Oregon where she, with her partner Steven Denekas, formed the conceptual band Paradise.
"Our idea was to create a band that was from the late 60s psychedelic era which would evolve into an early 70s progressive rock outfit." Over the course of three albums Paradise did just that, culminating in the sprawling, 2-LP progressive rock concept album Dawn of Paradise. The project was so ambitious, Berk and Denekas wanted recruit an experienced producer to helm the recording.
"Our drummer, Thom Sullivan, is a walking encyclopedia of rock. He said "what about Ron Nevison?" We didn't even know if he was still working" Nevison, famous for engineering Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti, The Who's Quadrophenia and Bad Company's first three albums, as well as for producing landmark albums by The Babys, UFO and Heart among many others, was not only still working, but lived in nearby Wood River. To their delight and amazement, Nevison agreed to produce the album.
Dawn of Paradise by Paradise LP cover. The album is available on Bandcamp at paradisetheband.bandcamp.com
"We really felt like we were rock stars! We were still an unsigned band but he took care of everything. He called the studios, he negotiated the prices, got all the gear, he booked everyone, he'd say 'be here, this time, bring this...' I thought, this must be what it was like back in the day! It was a fabulous experience and one of my fondest memories of making an album."
Dawn of Paradise is an enthralling trip through the world of progressive rock, incorporating a conceptual narrative as well as sending musical nods to prog stalwarts like Styx, Kansas and even Pink Floyd. In addition to providing lead vocals on many of the songs Berk's prowess on a multitude of keyboards is on full display.
Promotional video for Dawn of Paradise, produced and engineered by Ron Nevison
After the album's release, Paradise split up and in 2018 Berk and her family relocated to San Diego [I was tired of the rain!] and began teaching, her musical momentum seemingly in limbo, a pause that didn't last long largely due to Berk's irrepressible talent and drive.
"Well, we keep moving and we moved here to San Diego and, it's the same old story, every time we move, I get depressed because I have no band. I had been playing keyboards in other bands but I have all these thousands of songs I've written and I've been saying in my head 'one day I'm going to put a solo album out.
I got a phone call from someone who knew me from The Pynnacles, a band I previously played keyboards in, and asked me to sub on keyboards with a local band [Chloe Lou and the Liddels}. In doing so I got to be friends with the bass player and guitarist so I asked them if they would be interested in recording with me and working up some of these songs. They said "Sure!" and they helped me find a drummer. We got together not to play live, but to work on my songs in my practice space. It was such a blast and they were so talented. It was so much fun singing again and playing songs that were mine."
By the time Berk was ready to record the album, COVID came along which made recording the album a remote affair. Berk recorded most of the guitars, basses and keyboards herself with contributions from guitarist Chris Davies playing lead on several tracks and bassist Matt Thomson on two tracks. With this forced new way of recording parts via the internet Berk turned to her old Chicago cohort Drummer Matt Walker [Morrissey/Filter/Smashing Pumpkins/Garbage].
"I sent Matt song files with click tracks and we worked back and forth together developing the drums for each song. Once the real drums were there, I re-approached the arrangements, adding a guitar here and there and re-recorded some of my vocals. I just kept chipping away at all the songs and it all slowly came together."
Walker introduced Berk to Sean O'Keefe [best known for producing and mixing Fallout Boy's Take This To Your Grave] who mixed the record in Texas, where he was at the time."
The cover to Tamar Berk's "debut" solo album The Restless Dreams of Youth
This is where Tamar Berk has marshaled every skill she has learned over her music career. She is a master of not only songwriting, playing multiple instruments and singing, but she knows Pro Tools inside and out and has an uncanny knack for instrumental and vocal arrangements. She is also a crack, one-woman promotion team, conceptualizing, lensing and editing high quality videos for her songs. The way she utilizes these tools with social media, one could be forgiven for assuming she has an entire major label type team behind her.
"June Lake" The third video released from Start At The End
Yet, even with all the work and effort Tamar Berk puts into her career on top of what must be an exhausting full time job, it's the sheer excellence of her music that is getting her more attention every day. Knock and Knowall reviewed Start At The End at the beginning of April, posting some of Berk's videos along with the article, and the reader response was immediate and enthusiastic. Both Nationally syndicated cartoonist Wayno [Bizarro] and the brilliant musician and songwriter Peter Himmelman contacted us praising Berk, with Himmelman commenting, "Yeah, I hear what you're hearing. Tamar Berk is deserving of your effusive praise. Digging her music now."
Berk has already released three videos in support of the new album and has seen at least five different songs from the album added to radio playlists from San Diego all the way to London, UK. Yet, one song from the album that hasn't received as much attention is "No Chair" a dreamy waltz about a yearning to feel at home. We asked her about it.
"Part of that song comes from all the moves that I've made, literally, in my life. That feeling of 'I have literally nowhere to sit. If you don't have a chair, is this even a home? This was a theme I had in my mind, particularly when I moved from Portland here to San Diego.
It evolved into the feelings of change...endings and beginnings. It relates to the title of the record, Start At The End. It's a feeling of not knowing where your roots are. I was starting to feel at home in San Diego but since my dad died I haven't felt like I belong anywhere because I don't have that person in my life.
I'm so glad you like "No Chair." It might shock you to hear, but I almost did not put that song on the record. I had a lot of self-doubt about that song. I didn't think it was there yet."
The gorgeous "No Chair," a song that was nearly left off the album
In getting to know Tamar Berk over the past several weeks it has been fun to observe her humble reaction to all of the richly deserved praise she is receiving.
"I'm crying! I'm kvelling!" It's as if she doesn't fully grasp how good she is. Berk is a fascinating dichotomy of supreme confidence and nagging self doubt.
"That is me! Yes, you got it! You can ask anyone who has worked with me and at some point they've had to say 'Tamar, why are you crying, Tamar! This song sounds great! I don't even hear that click you're talking about.' There are a lot of voices that have helped me to calm down. Even my child, I can ask my kid, 'what if I put his here...MOM! I've already told you!' I might have a little of that obsessive/compulsiveness and it does mess with your confidence."
Tamar Berk and her band will be playing at the North Park Music Fest in San Diego on Saturday May 21st.
Tamar Berk *****
Start At The End https://tamarberk.bandcamp.com/
Album review by Eric Sandberg
In today's world, discovering new music that grabs hold of me like the first time I heard "Whole Lotta Love," "Are Friend's Electric" or (later on) "Talk About The Passion," is mainly a matter of happenstance. The radio is no help. The vaunted "Morning Becomes Eclectic" radio show on KCRW here in Los Angeles makes you slog through hours of acid beats before playing something of real interest.
Last year, I bought an album by an artist named Dolph Chaney, purely based on the cool retro album cover design. Dolph doesn't look like your average rock star, he looks like a cuddly teddy bear. As it turns out, the album made our top ten for 2021 with it's infectious, positive, power pop.
I followed Dolph on Facebook to keep up with his doings and one day he posted a video where he was exuberantly extolling the virtues of a San Diego based artist named Tamar Berk. In the video he performed a ferocious cover of her song "Heavy And Abusive" from her debut solo album The Restless Dreams Of Youth, released last year. I was intrigued so I searched the album out on Apple Music.
"Shadow Clues" From The Restless Dreams Of Youth
I'm going to roll out a cliche' here but the album absolutely blew me away. Berk's sheer songwriting confidence, coupled with her innate arranging skills and use of harmonies would be worthy of a major label push in a better, vanished, time. I don't really want to compare her to other artists because she has obviously consumed a cornucopia of influences and synthesized them into something truly her own. She mixes Indie Rock, Power Pop, Laurel Canyon style wistfulness as well as the kitchen sink into her oeuvre. Song's like "Outdated" and "Shadow Clues" are so good they had me checking to see if they were covers of hit songs by established artists but all songs are written, arranged, composed and performed by Tamar Berk.
"Skipping Cracks" from Tamar Berk's debut solo album The Restless Dreams Of Youth
The album is so good I wish I could summon a TARDIS to take me back to December and cram it into Knockandknowall's Top Ten of 2021. Berk's original vinyl pressing of the album had sold out but she recently went back to press with more vinyl and added CD copies, available through Bandcamp [see below]. No sooner than I acquired a CD copy of The Restless Dreams Of Youth and just let play in my car for a week, Berk announced the imminent release of her follow up
Start At The End.
Lead single "Your Permission" from the new album Start At The End
The album is slated for release on April 22, but I am currently holding a copy in my trembling hands because I immediately pre-ordered it and, by golly, she popped it right in the mail to me. No sophomore slump here. In fact, she ups the ante considerably. The opening piano chords of lead single "Your Permission" are like the bar coming down on your lap for a roller coaster ride of brilliant pop songs, from the second single "Tragic Endings" to the impassioned heartbreak of "Sweet Relief," the grand merry-go-round waltz of "No Chair," to the eastern North Carolina sound of "Dandelions In My Flower Bed," Start At The End has already secured a spot on Knockandknowall's 2022 Top Ten.
From a figurative roller coaster ride to a real one. The second single from the new album
You can order both of Tamar Berk's albums at tamarberk.bandcamp.com/ on LP, CD and Digital Download and we advise you to do so with alacrity.
In the normal course of events the music marketplace is flooded with new releases
around November and December while the first quarter of the subsequent year sees only a tiny slate of releases by lesser artists. Sniffley old Uncle Covid, however refuses to pass on and keeps tossing his three toed cane into the machinery at the pressing plants causing a delightful spillover of notable releases early in the new year. Let's take a look at just a few.
Reviews by Eric Sandberg
David Bowie ISO/Parlophone
Toy (Box Set) *****
Toy was intended as a record and release quickly project for Bowie, something like what Elvis Costello did years later with Momofuku. It found him in a reflective mood, reworking songs from the earliest parts of his career, when he was David Jones, along with a couple of new tunes. These reworked versions reveal how skilled a songwriter Bowie was, even in his early teens. Not quite as sophisticated as say, "Life On Mars," but worthy of their time.
Alas, by the end of the 90s Bowie was no longer the monstrous unit shifter of yore and his cash strapped record label balked at releasing the album. The glorious new song "Shadow Man" ended up on 2002's Heathen (The Rays) while the title track appeared on the late career 3-disc compilation Nothing Has Changed.
This release offers three discs; the original album as intended, a disc of outtakes including a version of "Liza Jane," not on the album, while the third contains stripped down acoustic performances of the songs. Though a person on my budget might have preferred a single disc release, I am grateful that they released a standalone version from the hopelessly expensive [for me] decade overview box sets, something they did not do for the intriguing rerecording of Bowie's late 80's let down of an album, ironically titled Never Let Me Down.
Flying Dream 1 *****
With every new release elbow seems to lose a little more of the gravitas they achieved during their Mercury Prize winning heyday. The Potter brothers create moody soundscapes and Guy Garvey sets words to them with his gorgeous, expressive voice. Except the words occasionally sound cringe-y [...and a very chatty monkey fast asleep behind me] and the soundscapes lack the dynamics and structure of their earlier albums.
Sadly, the best thing about the prospect of a new elbow album these days is Guy Garvey's hiatus from his Sunday BBC Six Music show to record it. His fill-in guy Cillian Murphy is the best music curator I've heard in my lifetime.
Danny Elfman Anti Records
Big Mess *****
The Celebrated Film Scorer and former Oingo Boingo frontman has released the most accurately titled album since Millie Jackson's Back To The Sh*t.
Elvis Costello & The Imposters Capitol
The Boy Named If *****
To be a loyal Elvis Costello fan over the decades involves a great deal of patience. Elvis sings opera, Elvis sings orchestrated pop, Elvis composes classical music and avant garde Euro pop...not all bad but a far cry from "Pump It Up." Canny Elvis knows he needs to give the people what they want now and then and on The Boy Named If he delivers. Thirteen urgent Costello rockers and ballads pinned down by one of the best drummers who ever lived in Pete Thomas, colored by the great Steve Naive and pumped up by longtime bassist Davey Faragher. With many of our old favorites departing Earth at a depressing clip, new albums from the still breathing greats are a much needed salve.
Tears For Fears Concord
The Tipping Point *****
Tears For Fears are one of the greatest bands to come out of the 80s because their music is timeless and is as fresh today as it was in its time. Their secret was that they were really making concise progressive rock initially disguised as synth pop. As Guitarist/singer Roland Orzabal emerged as the more talented and dominant songwriter, bassist/singer Curt Smith left the band in 1989.
After two fine albums by Orzabal under the name Tears For Fears, the pair patched up their differences and released Everybody Loves A Happy Ending to critical raves but poor sales. The album was perhaps a bit too English prog and whimsical for mainstream audiences. For the better part of seventeen years their manager convinced them that they did not need to make another album and could subsist on touring their substantial catalog of hits.
Ultimately, Roland and Curt fired their manager and set about writing and recording The Tipping point, partly as a way for Orzabal to process his grief over the passing of his longtime wife after years of being her main caregiver.
The Tipping Point is an elegant statement by Tears For Fears that they belong in the top tier of today's music acts. In Charlton Pettus they have chosen a producer with the skills to bring their sound into 2022 to the point that I actually heard a deep track from the album played on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic radio show just this morning. The opening track which is reminiscent of a late 70's Gilmour/Waters collaboration provides a fitting anthem for our current world with the plaintively sung line ...freedom is no small thing.
Lannie Flowers Big Stir
Flavor Of The Month *****
To quote legendary Spinal Tap manager Ian Faith, "Every song on this album is a hit!" How can I make this bold claim? Because they were all previously released as singles and they were all hits...in that Indie relative way. Imagine an album comprised of songs that were carefully crafted and recorded, one at a time, with the energy and care that only goes into a song that is going to stand alone as an artist' latest musical statement.
This may be a compilation of singles but it sounds like Revolver! From the Beatles via Oasis inflected "Lost In A Daydream" to the Attractions era, venom spitting, Elvis Costello of the title track, this album has fourteen A-sides of relentlessly pleasing power pop and, in it's gorgeous, high quality mini-LP CD package, it is a must-own.
Anton Barbeau Big Stir
Power Pop [3/25] *****
Him again? Look, folks, I don't know Anton Barbeau. I've never met him or seen a show and he's not paying me. I. Just Love. His. Music. He. Is. A. Genius. Yes, he's a bit weird and he may not be for everybody, but his penchant for melody, his batty, whimsical non sequiturs, paired with a dizzying array of retro keyboard sounds, hits the sweet spot for me. The ironically titled Power Pop is the latest in a series of psychedelic pop masterpieces Barbeau has released over the past several years.
Recorded during lockdown on a farm in central California, with the able assistance of his soon to be wife Julia Boorinakis Harper, the album's nineteen songs comprise a mixture of fully formed songs and brief instrumental/vocal links that create an ever accelerating flow down a Willy Wonka river of butterscotch pudding.
"American Road" relates his small town feeling of claustrophobia during Covid after years of living an urbane life in Berlin. "Hillbilly Village" continues this theme of Barbeau as a fish out of water in his own home town. The Pulsing "Free" has inspired me to hire a bodybuilder to follow me around with a boombox on his shoulder, blaring this song, to announce my arrival.
"Fretless Bronze" is a brief instrumental tribute to Soft Boys/Thomas Dolby/Thompson Twins bassist cum human rights lawyer Matthew Seligman who tragically succumbed to complications from Covid in 2020. "Running On The Edge" starts out as a fist pumping homage to Bon Jovi, or maybe Benny Mardones, before devolving into the greatest lyrical bait and switch since "The Lumberjack Song."
The album closes with three beautiful ballads "Whisper In The Wind," "Rain, Rain" [the first single], and "Valerie's Waiting." Power Pop is book ended by two lovely instrumental pieces that suggest Barbeau could have had a parallel career making instrumental albums for the Private Music label.
Compiled by Eric Sandberg with invaluable input from Mike Berman
2021 on the whole, has been a vast improvement over 2020. A real President, a vaccine, live concerts and sports fans back in the seats. There has also been a ton of great music. It's hard to pick ten, so we cheated a little.
#10: Bob Collum & The Welfare Mothers — This Heart Will Self-Destruct (Fretsore)
#9: I See Hawks In L.A. — On Our Way (self-release)
#8: Tie — Dolph Chaney — This Is Dolph Chaney (Big Stir)
Anton Barbeau — Oh Joys We Live For (Big Stir)
So what is a Dolph Chaney? for me, Dolph is the heir apparent to the late great indie power pop maven Tommy Keene. Chaney's thrilling, anthemic, melodies and introspective lyrics hit the sweet spot for me. Try not to leap out of your chair and play air guitar to "I Wanted You." You'll be pointing at your cat and mouthing the words, trust me.
#7: Tie — Richard Thompson — Bloody Noses/Serpents Tears (self-release)
Kate McDonell — Ballad of A Bad Girl (Dog Eared Discs)
#6: Spygenius — Blow Their Covers (Big Stir)
#5: When Rivers Meet — Saving Grace (self release)
#4: Big Stir Records/Spyderpop Records — 2021 Retrospective (Big Stir)
#3: Kimberley Rew & Lee Cave-Berry — Purple Kittens (self release)
#2: Guy Davis — Be Ready When I Call You (M.C. Records)
#1: Jackson Browne — Downhill From Everywhere (Inside Recordings)
Browne's first album of new music in seven years hearkens back to his earliest records. Working with a bevy of top notch musicians like David Hidalgo, Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher [from The Imposters], guitarists Val McCallum and Greg Leisz, who provides Browne's signature pedal steel flourishes that were originated by David Lindley. Jackson is older and wiser now — his voice, though slightly coarsened with age and five decades of live performance, is still easily recognizeable as he acknowledges his past mistakes before examining our current world as only he can.
"I'm way out over my due date, but I'm still lookin' for something, Jackson sings in the opening track. Nine sublime songs later, we'd say he found it.
Capsule reviews for people who love music but have short attention spans.
New releases from Anton Barbeau, Crowded House, Gary Louris, Gary Numan, I See Hawks In LA, Lannie Flowers and Wolfgang Van Halen.
We Talk To Kimberley Rew (Soft Boys, Katrina & The Waves) And Lee Cave-Berry About Their Smashing New Album Purple Kittens, Song By Song!
One recurring complaint that I see on social media, from [aging] friends and strangers alike, is that no one makes good music anymore. Today's music is often referred to as soulless, too technology driven, vacuous garbage, disposable and just plain annoying. The fact is, though, that there are gobs of people out there, making fantastic music, that thrills, touches, and takes you back to our youthful days of discovery. This music is no longer served up to us by deejays like Jim Ladd and Bob Coburn in the US, and Tony Blackburn and John Peel in the UK, we have to go looking for it.
Two people that are still making sensational music are Kimberley Rew, formerly the founder of and principle songwriter for Katrina and the Waves, as well as lead guitarist for the seminal post punk, neo-psychedelic band The Soft Boys, and his wife, bassist, nonpareil, and singer Lee Cave-Berry.
After taking a pause last year to look back on twenty plus years of wonderful music with Sunshine Walkers: The Best of Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry, Kim and Lee are ready to unleash the first of two new albums of original material, Purple Kittens.
Purple Kittens is an analog tour de force of songwriting and expert musicianship, delivered in numerous styles encompassing 50s, 60s and 70s rock and roll, folk and even jazz. Every song is an infectious ear worm that will compete for space in your cranium. When you get to the end, you'll play it again.
I recently spoke with Kim and Lee about each delightful song on the album and here its is, with links to some of the songs so you can sample for yourself how well these charming folks are clicking. We also manage to digress into Dylan at the end, so read on!
All photos courtesy of Lee Cave-Berry
Purple Kittens, Song By Song with Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry
Gear Note: On all tracks, Lee Cave-Berry plays the 1972 sunburst Fender Precision bass that Vince de la Cruz used on the Katrina and the Waves evergreen "Walking On Sunshine."
Gearheads, anoraks and trainspotters: a complete rundown of Kim & Lee's gear — guitars, amps, knob positions, pedals and studio craft, detailed by Kimberley Rew himself, follows this article, or you can link directly to it here.
1. Penny The Ragman (Rew)
Guitar used: 1985 Black Squier Telecaster fit with Texas Special pickups
Eric Sandberg: This song has a strong Kinks, Village Green vibe and the guitar solo at the end would make Dave Davies look up from his Twitter account.
Kimberley Rew: "It's interesting you mention that because Village Green is an album about characters and Penny is a real character. Penny The Ragman is my late my cousin. She lived in a village and was a ragman. A ragman is a person who looks after the uniforms for a team of Morris dancers, actually called a side of Morris dancers, a traditional dance we have here in England. There is no female equivalent for the term ragman that I've been able to find."
Lee Cave-Berry: "I had never heard of one before we went to her funeral, and I found it interesting to learn a little bit about our history."
KR: "It's kind of poignant. Sometimes you don't take much notice of people although they've been there all your life — she's about my age — and then they die and you go to their wake and talk to their friends and you realize how much they've done with their lives."
2. You Can Rely On Me (Rew, Cave-Berry)
Guitar used: Gibson 1968 Les Paul Gold Top
ES: This song just choogles and chugs and gets your blood going and your foot tapping.
KR: "In our old house in Cambridge I would kind of bash away on the top floor and the noise would filter down through the house — BeROW BAT BAT BeROW BAT BAT BeROW BAT BAT-BAT — for a long time, and this would be inflicted on Lee. Later, I'd come down the stairs and she'd say "All over the attic, there's a brand new rhythm!" [Lee, laughing in the background) so, there you go!"
LC: "I don't even remember that!"
KR: "I changed it to "All over the twenties it's a brand new rhythm because I wrote it in 2020." I thought it would be a good time for a new start for humanity."
LC: "Kim will give me a credit on a song when I throw a line at him, like the song "She's Still Got It."
KR: That was more of an even split. I was driving the car and shouted "She's still got it!" and Lee would sing..."
LC: "...and he still gets it!" [laughter]
ES: Like Paul would sing "It's getting better all the time," and John would chip in "It couldn't get much worse."
3. I Can Be Any Woman (Cave-Berry)
Guitars used: Kimberley — Guild acoustic F50 Ranjan Vesudevan — Gibson SG Custom
ES: This siren song has a sinewy, phrygian mode acoustic guitar groove and some extra sultry, 'come hither' singing by Lee.
LC: "The funny thing about this track is, I wrote it a long time ago, about twenty years, when we first got together, actually, and it just languished away there. I didn't think I could take it any further than the original demo I recorded. A couple of years ago I was sorting out my old demos and thought 'actually, that doesn't sound too bad.' I played it for Kimberley and he said " I like that one, let's put it on the next album."
When we took it into the studio, that's actually when it came along. You get three people playing it together and, suddenly, it's something else.After we recorded it, I realized that it must have come from that Star Trek episode "The Menagerie," with the green woman who kept changing herself into different types of women to find one that would please Captain Pike."
KR: "Ranjan Vasudevan played those swooping single string runs in the Carnatic scale."
4: Kingdom Of Love (Hitchcock)
Guitar used: 1985 Black Squier Telecaster fit with Texas Special pickups
ES: An excellent, pulsing, cover of the Soft Boys classic. Correct me if I'm wrong but, where Matthew Seligman [late Soft Boys bassist] seemed to bounce just slightly behind the beat on the original, it feels like Lee is slightly pushing the proceedings, lending a new sense of urgency to the song.
LC: "Matthew and I both had Andy Fraser as our hero [Free bassist] and I have, on occasion, been accused of being slightly behind the beat. It is, actually very unusual for me to be a pushy bass player. I have quite a lot of difficulty pushing. It is possible because we did that one with Liam [Liam Gray, the drummer on Purple Kittens]. Liam and I are completely on the same wavelength. I've not had another drummer that I am so completely at one with. I work very well with other drummers like Tony Hill and my mate Christine Kitching but, with Liam, it's like we share the same soul, and when we play together we just lock in.
"I Can Be Any Woman" came alive with Liam. He's just got that feel. You don't have to explain anything to him. If I'm pushing the beat slightly on "Kingdom Of Love" it's because I'm locked in with Liam."
KR: "This is the song we would do if it was Robyn's birthday or someone in the crowd was shouting for a Soft Boys song."
5. Too Much Love (Rew)
Guitar used: Guild acoustic F50
ES: This is a gorgeous, gentle, pop ballad with a simple and hopeful message.
LC: "I love that. We were on holiday in the Isle of Wight when he wrote that. He just had the chorus and I thought what a fantastic idea that is. The very first time he played that chorus, I melted. So beautiful...love it! It's very sweet...very loving...kind."
6. The Wrong Song (Rew)
Guitar used: 1985 Black Squier Telecaster fit with Texas Special pickups
ES: This track is the centerpiece of the album for me. It's funky, loaded with attitude, and features some old school jazz flute from Myke Clifford.
KR: "We are big fans of Myke Clifford. You know those Venn diagrams, with the intersecting circles? Kim and Lee are in one circle and Myke is in the other one. We don't have a big intersection but we like to intersect when we can. It was time for some jazzy flute, just to kind of float across that song. One of the big positive points about the Wednesday Session [A weekly live show/internet broadcast hosted by Johnny Wright] is we get the chance to rotate a few good people and we get to see what they can contribute to the right song."
LC: That's the great thing about the Wednesday Session. If you're a working musician, you don't get to see other musicians very often because you're too busy working yourself. We met Liam at a Wednesday Session, we met Ranjan at a Wednesday Session. The first time I saw Myke Clifford I thought 'what a useful bloke to have in a band!' He plays saxophone, flute, percussion, and he's a really great singer and front man."
ES: Lee, I particularly love your harmony vocals on this song. They've got this sneery twang to them that suits the attitude of the song perfectly.
LC: "It's such a feel thing, I probably didn't even know I was doing it. The song is quite jazzy for us, we don't usually play in that style, so you just go with it, don't you."
ES: In fact, this album features lot more of the two of you blending your voices together with a quite satisfying result.
KR: "That is what we're aiming for. We think we've got a sound and we haven't made the most of it. We like to do that when it's right for the song, you get those two voices fairly close together."
LC: "A couple of times, when we're in the studio, we've actually sung into the same microphone. When we sing together live, it is more obvious that our voices blend — the sound waves blend together. When you record vocals on a record, those sound waves aren't interacting in quite the same way as when we sing it live."
KR: "A lot of the records I like have more than one person singing into the same microphone. Any photos you see of the Beatles recording vocals, they're nearly always all around one microphone, or two on one and one on another. The Everly Brothers were always on one microphone. You've got to be pretty good to make that work. What we did on Purple Kittens is to have two microphones and sang together live, facing each other. That way we kind of got the best of both worlds because we could see each other and interact."
7. Unsatisfactory Cats (Cave-Berry)
Guitar used: 1985 Black Squier Telecaster fit with Texas Special pickups
ES: This charming bit of English whimsy is perfect change of gear after "The Wrong Song" has gotten everyone hot and bothered. The track sequencing is quite perfect really.
LC: "We've actually recorded enough tracks for two different albums. They were recorded at different times and two different places. We left it to our PR guy Joe Cushley to sort out what tracks would be on Purple Kittens and sequence them as well. He did a great job.
It was my grandma that used to complain about her cats being "unsatisfactory" because they didn't do the things that cats should do. We took two cats in that were behaving unsatisfactorily which led me to write the song. We ended up splitting the cats up and the one we still have has been quite satisfactory ever since."
8. Black Ribbon (Jonah Smith and Reuben Smith)
Guitar used: 1985 Black Squier Telecaster fit with Texas Special pickups
ES: This 50s style slab of rock and roll was not written by either of you but I can't seem to find out anything about the song or the writers on the internet. Where does it come from?
LC: "For about sixteen years Kim and I played in a band called Jack. It was a local covers band and we would play all around the Cambridge area with this lovely chap called Roger Smith. Roger ran the band and got all the gigs. He was genial and a good singer. He was just a lovely chap and I could talk to him for hours. Unfortunately, at the beginning of Covid, he got it and died from it. Covid changed my whole life because Roger died. Nothing will ever be the same.
"Black Ribbon" was actually written by Roger's six and eight year old grandsons. Roger's daughter-in-law recorded them singing it and I heard it and thought 'wow, what a great song!" It captures Roger completely — that is Roger. So we worked up a nice backing track for it and recorded it!" We're actually meeting with some people next week to get Jonah and Reuben set up with the PRS [Performing Rights Society].
KR: "We took the "Oh baby!" bit from "Chantilly Lace" which we used to perform with Jack."
9. Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream (Rew)
Guitar used: Gibson 1968 Les Paul Gold Top
ES: This track just seems to be using the idea of raspberry ripple ice cream as an excuse to blow the roof off with an instrumental.
KR: "That was the objective."
LC: [To Kimberley] "I think it was Tequila you were thinking of?"
KR: "Tequila" by the Champs and also "Mashed Potatoes" by James Brown and "Salt Peanuts" by Charlie Parker, where the lyrics are just occasionally someone yelling out the punchline of the song, which is something to eat...or drink — that was the pretext."
10. Growing Up Song (Rew)
Guitar used: Guild acoustic F50
ES: This lovely message to the next generation was written by Kim for Lee to sing. As the lead single and video for Purple Kittens it appears to be getting a lot airplay on various radio shows and has hit your highest position on the Heritage Chart to date.
LC: "It's been amazing to get onto the Heritage chart. When we did the last album [Sunshine Walkers: The Best of Kimberley Rew & Lee Cave-Berry] we got some promotion people in to help us. Lisa Davies, from our first promo team, led us to Mike Read who was quite interested in Kimberley. We asked him what song on the album would he pick for a single and he chose that one and he's been playing it three times a week on his program and it's got to thirteen on the chart.
It's been great for me as well, as a singer, because I'm a bass player who can sing rather than a singer. To see a song that I've sung on the chart next to people I grew up with like Suzi Quatro, The Sweet and Gary Numan — these are all people I really admired when I was younger — has been exciting for me."
11. Voyager (Rew)
Guitar used: 1985 Black Squier Telecaster fit with Texas Special pickups
ES: Voyager seems to be about the different ways we communicate as well as relishing the idea that Chuck Berry has made it to the rim of space and time.
KR: "I like the idea that Voyager has been traveling now for forty-four years and it's now the furthest man-made object from Earth and has reached beyond the edge of our galaxy, I think. It just shows how far away that is because it's taken this long to get there. I think there is a picture of the Sun from Voyager 1 that shows our sun as a tiny dot. It's kind of shocking."
12. Daytime Night Time (Rew)
Guitar used: Gibson 1968 Les Paul Gold Top
ES: This song sound like it's about being caught up in the daily grind, going from one day/night to the next, and you don't know what you're doing or why you're doing it.
LC: "It might just be about how fast life goes, particularly when you're older."
Note: After wrapping up our discussion of Purple Kittens, our conversation turned to our mutual friend Emma Swift's pending tour of Australia supporting her acclaimed Dylan covers album Blonde On The Tracks, and the fact that Bob is turning eighty this month.
LC: "I know it's sacrilege, but I'm not that much of a Bob Dylan fan. I mean, I love his songs but not when he's singing them." We saw him in London and he would only talk to his band, not the audience."
KR: "I think he does that defensively to avoid requests and people shouting rude things like Judas! at him. "It's quite sad, actually, Bob Dylan has had to act defensively for fifty-five years. He went electric when he was twenty-four. He was on an upward trajectory for twenty-four years and he's had to fight a sort of rear guard action against his own fans for fifty-five years. I thinks that's maybe a criticism of the audience."
LC: "I still feel a bit sorry for him coming to England with an electric guitar and getting booed."
KR: It's not one our prouder moments."
Purple Kittens is released worldwide on June 18 and can be ordered at the link below, or click on the purple kitty at the top of this article.
Kim & Lee perform live most Wednesdays at the Plough in Shepreth with Johnny Wright on the Wednesday Session aired live on Facebook starting at 8:30 PM (UK) 3:30 PM (EDT) and 12:30 PM (PDT)
Check out Kim & Lee's YouTube channel Crunching The Catalog, where they answer questions and play a different request from their deep catalog.
Kimberley Rew (Soft Boys, Katrina & The Waves) Gear Rundown!Guitars, Amps, Pedals, knob twiddles...It's All Here!
By Kimberley Rew (Edited by Eric Sandberg)
What gear did we use on Purple Kittens? To answer this I should go back a stage. In 2019 we recorded an album’s worth of songs at Remote Farm [outside Cambridge, UK], the old Katrina and the Waves studio, with sound man Steve Stewart.
Meanwhile the order came from on high that we should put out a compilation album, which became Sunshine Walkers- The Best of Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry. This meant that, with an album ‘in the can’, we recorded another album in 2020. It was now the pandemic, and Steve was self isolating, so we transferred to Bookmatch studio [also outside Cambridge, UK], with owner operator Tim Bond.
Lee and I had a growing feeling that the three instruments, guitar, bass and drums, should do more equal amounts of work to paint the sound picture, if you will, rather than guitar, plus overdubs, backed up by bass and drums.
Inevitably the Purple Kittens album ended up being, itself, a compilation of these two sessions, so it is [part one] of a mixture of songs from two different sessions, in two studios, each with a different sound man.
By the time we got to Bookmatch, the concept of guitar overdubs was fading out of our philosophy.This turned out to be a happy accident, as the studio is tiny, and there’s nowhere to put a guitar amp so that you could overdub while listening to the basic track and the overdub on the studio speakers as you play. You’d never hear it above the sound from your amp! Later on, on a session adding a guitar to Robyn Hitchcock recording, we solved this by using a speaker simulator. I’ve got four electric guitars and two acoustics, and I try not to leave any unplayed, which seems disrespectful to the guitars.
*A 1969 Gibson SG Special, my first decent guitar, so one I did much learning on, which means there are a few things I can play on it that I can’t play on any other guitar!
*A 1968 Gibson Les Paul gold top, which I bought in 1986 for £600.
*A beautiful 1980s white Fender Stratocaster, which I inherited from Katrina and the Waves. Lee replaced the pickups with Fender Custom Shop Texas Specials (she’s a whizz with the soldering iron!)
*A black Squier Telecaster, which I bought new in 2005. It also has Texas Specials, which means the pickups are worth more than the guitar. It's my ‘go anywhere’ guitar — you can play just about anything on it, with any combination of other musicians, tune it quickly, change strings quickly etc.
*A 1961 Gibson J45 which I bought in 1986 for £500. Useful for streaming sessions from the spare room, during lockdowns. It’s very quiet, and our voices are very quiet, so you can balance the sound into a single microphone.
*A Gibson Blues King- the ‘go anywhere’ acoustic- robust, positive sound, not too delicate.
Remote Farm studio also comes with a Guild acoustic- I think it's an F50? Early 1970s? You can get loads of bangs for your buck 'on tape’ with this one. It’s on "I Can Be Any Woman," "Too Much Love" and "Growing Up Song." On the last two tracks, the instrumental sections are double tracked.
I should also mention that throughout, Lee plays a 1972 sunburst Fender Precision bass. She usually prefers a medium scale bass, but this Precision, once again, seems to deliver more bangs per buck ‘onto tape’. You can also hear it on "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves.
I should also also mention pedals. I like echo on guitars. Live, it’s a safety net, too. You forget to switch the thing off, and it becomes a sort of reassuring halo round any sloppy bits of playing. I have a maroon Boss echo pedal — it sounds the least ‘digital’ of any I’ve tried. You have a sound, you turn on the echo, then you have a sound plus echo which adds up to the total amount of sound you had before. So the echo’s using up some of your basic sound.
In the studio, you can have the sound man add echo. Then you still have all of your basic sound, plus the echo, so I avoid using the echo pedal in the studio. Live, I find it easier to switch on a boost pedal, currently a black MXR with one knob, for a solo, than to turn up the volume knob on the guitar, then finish the solo, turn the guitar knob again, and start singing again! But this means you’re artificially boosting the sound going into the amp, and you don’t get that on the old records, which I like and try to emulate. So, again, I try to avoid the boost pedal in the studio.
Now turning to amps. When the Fender Blues Junior came out about twenty years ago, I bought a black one, and it was the first proper, decently made, amp I owned that wasn’t deafeningly loud. I used this until it became increasingly unreliable — a conundrum.
On the records I like, guitarists were using new gear, particularly amps, which were perceived as developing and improving all the time. Now things are moving much more slowly — there are no new sounds — and we are more conservative. So how long is your amp supposed to last? Probably not that long. Then you buy a new one, which I did, in tweed this time. But, because these things are mass produced now, it doesn’t sound the same.
When the Marshall Origin amps came out in I think 2018, I bought one. Again, it’s the first proper sounding Marshall which isn’t deafeningly loud. Live, it has that Marshall gift, if you can get it working to the right percentage of its power — filling the room with a single note. But even that’s getting hard to achieve these days of quiet gigs in pub gardens with neighbors twitching the their curtains, poised to complain.
So the earlier tracks from Remote Farm, "Kingdom of Love," "Wrong Song," "Unsatisfactory Cats" and "Daytime Night Time," have the old black Blues Junior, in the big room with the drums, and the later tracks, "Penny the Ragman," "You Can Rely On Me," "Black Ribbon," "Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream" and "Voyager" have the Marshall, set up in the very small store room, with the drums in the main, but still fairly small, room at Bookmatch, with probably some guitar spilling on the drums.
I should also mention that we started with a theory that, on a song where I do lead vocal and acoustic guitar, the best sound is to go for both at the same time. So "Too Much Love" has this, where the sounds of the lead vocal and acoustic guitar interact.
Here are the nine tracks with electric guitar, including the toggle settings and amps used:
Penny the Ragman — Telecaster/Marshall, middle position, turn up the knob for the solo.
You Can Rely On Me — Les Paul/Marshall, neck position. Clean sound thruout — you could mistake it for the Telecaster.
Kingdom of Love — Telecaster/Blues Junior, bridge position, turn up the knob for the solo.
Wrong Song — Stratocaster/Blues Junior, neck position — turn up the knob for the solo.It gets quite distorted in a classic Strat sort of a way.
Black Ribbon — Telecaster/Marshall, bridge position, turn up the knob for the solo- there are gaps before and after the solo which make it a bit easier to do this! I wanted this to sound like Johnny Kidd and the Pirates.
Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream — Les Paul/Marshall- bridge position, switch on the boost for the solo and leave it on! I wanted this to sound like Spoonful by Cream- of course it didn’t, but they’re both in E.
Voyager — Telecaster/Marshall- middle position, clean sound throughout.
Daytime Night Time — Les Paul/Blues Junior- bridge position. It’s got an overdubbed solo, also on the Les Paul. I wanted this to sound like Status Quo.
Finally, there’s an overdubbed electric guitar on I Can Be Any Woman. It’s played by Ranjan Vasudevan, on a Gibson SG Custom, mostly swooping runs on a single string, in what I believe is the Carnatic style, or scale.
Book Review By Eric Sandberg
From Aesop and Scheherazade to the Brothers Grimm, stories for children were meant to entertain as well as to educate young people about the dangers they might face out in the real world. Over the centuries these tales have been neutered and de-clawed as the world has ostensibly become more civilized, while parents' instincts to protect their children have adapted to content filtering.
As a youngster I eschewed books aimed at my ilk, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary and Scholastic fair, in favor of Marvel Comics, Doc Savage and Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks, and even Winston Graham's Poldark saga. I was never interested in the offerings at the book fair.
The phenomenally successful Harry Potter series began from a grim premise — a baby is scarred and orphaned by a murderous dark wizard and forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs by his disdainful relatives. These events are in the past and there is plenty of hi jinks to distract from them, but as the series continued and the protagonists grew older it became increasingly darker in tone, culminating in the murder of a student at the hands of a revitalized dark lord with the long suffering Harry ultimately exacting a lethal revenge.
It could be argued that the massive success of the Harry Potter franchise in books, films and on the stage, has opened the door for authors to challenge young readers with a bit more than a puppy who has temporarily wandered off, only to be found later in the shed.
Enter Fleur Hitchcock, who The Times has proclaimed to have "...cornered the market in hard-boiled crime novels for beginners." The prolific Hitchcock has ten novels under her belt for British publisher Nosy Crow [including four volumes of the Clifftoppers adventure series aimed at seven year olds, though their parents and grandparents also read them]. In her first published novel Dear Scarlett the title character must solve the mystery of her late father, a notorious jewel thief — or was he?
In the follow up Saving Sophia a frumpy girl gravitates to a mysterious new girl in her class who leads her to abandon her safe but lonely life and plunge headlong into a dangerous journey. With Murder In Midwinter Hitchcock really hits her stride, crafting a story of murder and international intrigue, all starting with a young student who inadvertently captures what might be a murder on her camera as she snaps crowd pictures through a bus window. Murder At Twilight involves the kidnapping of a young lord of the manor with the protagonist's mother held as the chief suspect.
"I was desperate to read this kind of thing when I was younger so I wrote it for myself," Fleur Hitchcock writes to me from her home near Bath, England. "I used to read lots of really inappropriate things because stuff just wasn't written for my age. Murder just wasn't thought to be an appropriate subject, certainly not in a contemporary setting."
I was walking my dog in the park recently and as my mind wandered I started to replay in my head an exciting scene from a movie I must have watched with my daughter. I could see in my mind's eye the daring escape from a second story hole in a brick wall and a chase through a marsh. I was racking my brain trying to recall the movie when I realized it wasn't from a movie at all, it was a scene from Hitchcock's most exciting and cinematic novel The Boy Who Flew.
Set in an alternate world, A young boy discovers the body of his mentor who has been murdered for his secrets. But Mr. Chen's secrets were also Athan's as together they were building a machine that could fly! Athan's mission is to prevent the killers from finding the flying machine and keep himself alive in the process.
Hitchcock was raised in a creative family. Her father Raymond was an acclaimed novelist and painter who is notorious for penning the surreal novel Percy, about England's first recipient of an...er...Percy transplant. The book was later adapted into a film starring Denholm Elliot and Elke Sommer and featured a soundtrack by The Kinks. Her sister Lal is a sculptor and a psychotherapist, while her brother Robyn is a musician and songwriter who often paints his own album covers and includes whimsical short stories in his liner notes.
"I have always written, ever since I was a child, but with more and more intensity and was actually finishing manuscripts by the time i joined an MA course at Bath Spa University. I looked for a program for adult writing but, to my surprise, found there was one specifically for writing for children. It paved the way for me to start writing seriously. I was alongside some really good writers so I had to be good myself. Two years later, I had an agent and my first book contract, but it wasn't plain sailing. I had an awful lot of rejections and had to write a second book. The first one died on it's feet. It actually didn't though — it was published ten years later as The Boy Who Flew."
In 2017 Hitchcock was awarded the Leeds Children's Book Award, followed by the Salford Book Award in 2018 and continues to be shortlisted for other prestigious awards including the Oxford.
Hitchcock's latest novel for young readers is Waiting For Murder and it is a tension building slow burn of a mystery which suddenly accelerates to a gushing [literally] and satisfying conclusion. As a reservoir in the English countryside recedes during a period of murderously hot weather, and archeologists dig for some historically significant bones, a sunken car gradually becomes exposed. Are there more recent bones in there? Only two young, fast, friends Dan and Florence see the clues that lead to stolen gold, a series of life threatening "accidents"...and murder.
The book recalls my long hot summers away from home for my family's seasonal business, quickly making friends with tourist kids passing through. No mysteries or murders, but lot's of reading. As much as I loved Doc Savage and Edgar Rice Burroughs I'm sure I would have enjoyed a few Hitchcock mysteries if they were available then, as much as I do now as an adult.
Fleur Hitchcock doesn't just write books, she promotes reading by touring area schools and giving readings. She actively promotes books by her peers in the thriving UK young reader genre through social media and is a prominent voice in the fight to keep libraries in the UK open and funded.
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.