Dr. Dog

The Psychedelic Swamp


DrDogDr. Dog has pulled a hallucinogenic surf-country-rock-pop rabbit out of their hat with “The Psychedelic Swamp,” a hi-fi reimagining of the Philadelphia band’s 2001 low-fi debut.

The not-so-nutshell backstory, from a 2010 Detroit Metro Times interview with member Scott McMicken:

“Dr. Dog didn’t make ‘The Psychedelic Swamp.’ It was sent to us by a character named Phrases, who … escaped Earth and … all his woes to go to the psychedelic swamp as a means of release. …

“Then he gets there and at first he’s really excited and … amazed at the lack of logic and … order to the universe. … Shortly thereafter (he) realizes that the same issues … persist. …

“He starts to get desperate … but at the same time (realizes) he’s … losing perspective on how to communicate with his former self and … former world. … So the record becomes … more and more incoherent. … He has this strong message that he really wants to spread to people, so he chooses Dr. Dog to be the band to … translate this mess into an American pop context.”

The never-officially-released original “Swamp” of 15 years ago has been distilled from its rumored 35 tracks (a 28-song version exists deep in the Internet) to 13 tracks, with just enough psychedelia intact — “Swampadelic Pop,” for example, features keyboard solos that inspire thoughts of a surreal “Palisades Park” or “Crocodile Rock.”

“Golden Hind” hands over the vocal reins to former member Doug O’Donnell, on a tune that sounds eerily like Johnny Cash hanging ten on a Southern California beach.

But the centerpiece is “Bring My Baby Back,” a lost-love ballad juxtaposing good ol’ piano and organ with synthesizer and processed drums.

Other highlights include the incorporation of synthesized whistling into “Holes in My Back,” the Neil Young and Crazy Horse-style feedback on “Engineer Says” and the Ray Davies/Marc Bolan vibrato vocals that propel “Good Grief.”

Peppered throughout the album are reasonable facsimiles of various vintage video-game sound effects. A few spoken-word interludes by Phrases, à la Frank Zappa’s Central Scrutinizer narrator from “Joe Garage,” tie together some of the tracks.

It all adds up to an enjoyable listening experience that’s at once offbeat and mainstream — psychedelic music for the masses!gnm_end_bug

1. Golden Hind
2. Dead Record Player
3. Swampadelic Pop
4. Bring My Baby Back
5. Holes In My Back
6. Fire On My Back
7. Swamp Descent
8. Engineer Says
9. In Love
10. (swamp inflammation)
11. Badvertise
12. Good Grief
13. Swamp Is On

Total time: 39:02

External links
artist’s website
iTunes Store

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Pacific Surf Line

Alive Naturalsound

gospelbeachPicture a warehouse full of mellow West Coast country-rock LPs from the 1970s. Imagine all those records being loaded into a gigantic “Star Trek”-style transporter and beamed to Alive Naturalsound Records in Burbank — where a malfunction causes them to rematerialize as a single platter called “Pacific Surf Line,” by a new group called GospelbeacH.

In a way, albums by the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Monkees, Rick Nelson, Poco, Pure Prairie League, America, Loggins and Messina, Firefall and others did mutate into this new and wonderfully anachronistic release.

GospelbeacH is a retro supergroup made up of singer Brent Rademaker and drummer Tom Sanford (both of Beachwood Sparks); guitarists Jason Soda and Neal Casal (Everest/Watson Twins and Ryan Adams/Chris Robinson Brotherhood, respectively); and bass player Kip Boardman (Watson Twins/Ramsay Midwood).

Whereas Rademaker’s old group was more of a psychedelic country-rock band, GospelbeacH favors the straightforward variety while occasionally drifting into easy-listening/pop territory — such as on “Your Freedom,” with its twin flute-guitar lines recalling works by Jesse Colin Young and the aforementioned Loggins and Messina and Firefall.

The most overtly country-rock numbers are found in the opening one-two punch of “California Steamer” and “Sunshine Skyway,” especially the latter with its pedal steel guitar à la Rusty Young.

Other songs — such as “Come Down,” “Southern Girl” and “Alone” — illustrate the “beach” in GospelbeacH via guest harmony vocals by Nelson Bragg of Brian Wilson’s band.

No matter how it’s sliced, “Pacific Surf Line” will put a “Have a nice day” face on even the most jaded listener.gnm_end_bug

1. California Steamer
2. Sunshine Skyway
3. Your Freedom
4. Mick Jones
5. Come Down
6. Southern Girl
7. Out of My Mind (On Cope And Reed)
8. Alone
9. Damsel In Distress

Total time: 40:30

External links
artist’s website
iTunes Store

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Leon Russell

Life Journey


russellAfter Leon Russell’s successful 2010 duet album with Elton John (“The Union”), big labels were suddenly knocking again on the Oklahoma-born singer/songwriter/pianist’s door. But they wanted him to do something he’d never done: use a producer.

So Russell recruited Tommy LiPuma, one-time principal at Blue Thumb Records, the late 1960s/early ’70s album-oriented independent rock ‘n’ roll label whose roster included Captain Beefheart, Albert Collins, Earl Hooker, Dave Mason, Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks and the Crusaders. The two had never worked together, but LiPuma had produced George Benson’s 1976 cover of Russell’s “This Masquerade” (No. 3, Billboard R&B singles; No. 6, adult contemporary;  No. 10, Hot 100).

LiPuma granted Russell carte blanche to play whatever he liked. As the album progressed, Russell realized it was shaping up as standards he’d either done in session or solo work, or had always wanted to do — “a record of my musical journey through this life,” as he relates in the liner notes.

Rod Stewart’s “Great American Songbook” it ain’t. From the down-to-earth reading of Robert Johnson’s “Come on in My Kitchen” (featuring former band member Chris Simmons’ rollicking slide-guitar work) to the simmered-in-strings slow blues/jazz of “The Masquerade Is Over,” Russell is clearly having a ball jumping from genre to genre.

A pair of unexpected tunes turn out to be worthy: Paul Anka’s “I Really Miss You,” first heard as an Anka-Russell collaboration on Anka’s 2013 “Duets,” here featuring pedal-steel player extraordinaire Greg Leisz; and Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” one of three tunes with L.A.’s Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.

Only two songs are Russell compositions: “Big Lips” and “Down in Dixieland,” earlier versions of which are found on his 2008 “In Your Dreams.”

Especially noteworthy:

• “Georgia on My Mind,” a reciprocation of Ray Charles’ cover of Russell’s “A Song for You.”

• “Fever,” tweaked into a jump-gospel version and again featuring Simmons’ exquisite slide.

• “That Lucky Old Sun,”  a prior rendition of which appeared on Russell’s 2002 “Moonlight & Love Songs,” but here showcasing the heavenly sound of pedal steel (Leisz) and Hammond B3 organ (sideman supreme Larry Goldings) in tandem.gnm_end_bug

1. Come On In My Kitchen
2. Big Lips
3. Georgia On My Mind
4. That Lucky Old Sun
5. Fever
6. Think Of Me
7. I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good
8. The Masquerade Is Over
9. I Really Miss You
10. New York State Of Mind
11. Fool’s Paradise
12. Down In Dixieland

Total time: 47:34

External links
artist’s website
iTunes Store

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Beachwood Sparks

The Tarnished Gold

Sub Pop

Nearly a decade after their breakup, Beachwood Sparks return with their third full-length studio album.

The dreamy pedal steel guitar is intact, albeit not played by Farmer Dave Scher but by Dan Horne (Mezzanine Owls, The Street & Babe Shadow), who filled in for the unavailable Scher when the group reformed for Sub Pop’s 20th-anniversary concert in 2008 (Scher instead plays keyboards and guitar). Also supporting the “classic” quartet in the studio are Ben Knight (The Tyde) on guitar and returning 2001 tour guitarist Neal Casal (a solid solo artist in his own right).

It’s as if time stood still while the band was on hiatus. “Gold” picks up exactly where “Once We Were Trees” left off — except there are way more guitars (electric and acoustic, including the occasional banjo, mandolin or lap steel), and everyone brings experience from their interim side projects: Scher and original drummer Jimi Hey’s All Night Radio; bassist Brent Rademaker’s Frausdots; and guitarist Chris Gunst’s Mystic Chords of Memory.

With three singers, BWS has never been wanting for Byrdsian harmonies; in fact, they’re even more pronounced this go-around, especially on numbers such as the proclamatory “Forget the Song,” the collectively autobiographical “Sparks Fly Again” and the cross-faded one-two punch (if such a thing is possible for a laid-back, Cosmic American outfit) of “The Orange Grass Special” and “Goodbye.”

Other notables include the “this one’s for you, Gram Parsons” title track; “Water From the Well,” which really does go down like a long, cold drink of subterranean H20 on a hot summer day; and the jingly-jangly “Earl Jean.”

1. Forget The Song
2. Sparks Fly Again
3. Mollusk
4.Tarnished Gold
5. Water From The Well
6. Talk About Lonesome
7. Leave That Light On
8. Nature’s Light
9. No Queremos Oro
10. Earl Jean
11. Alone Together
12. The Orange Grass Special
13. Goodbye

Total time: 43:48

External links
artist’s website
iTunes Store

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The Blue Shadows

On the Floor of Heaven


blueDiscovering the Blue Shadows is like stumbling upon buried treasure. How could it be that a roots-rock band this good put out two fantastic albums, in 1993 and 1995, and failed to show up on most people’s radar?

A couple of possible reasons: 1) Columbia/Sony saw fit only to release them in Canada, even though its co-leader had been a member of the family band that served as the blueprint for the Partridge Family; 2) the label did so because it just wasn’t a good time for harmony singer-songwriters influenced by late-’50s/early-60s country, rock and pop artists such as the Louvin Brothers, Everly Brothers, Beatles, Byrds and Rockpile.

When Billy “Bud” Cowsill died in Calgary, Alberta, about 10 years after the Blue Shadows’ second and final album, one of his last wishes was for a reissue of the band’s debut, “On the Floor of Heaven.” This deluxe edition contains a bonus CD of outtakes and rarities, among them songs originally recorded by George Jones, Merle Haggard and Joni Mitchell.

These guys took their craft seriously. Every song is the real thing, not recycled riffs. Some credit the boundless creative energy to a pairing of opposites: Cowsill and Jeffrey Hatcher, one of the quartet’s three Canadians. But another factor in their excellence undoubtedly was Cowsill’s post-adolescent odyssey, including studying production in LA with Harry Nilsson; turning down an offer from the Beach Boys to replace Brian Wilson on tour; playing with J.J. Cale in Tulsa; and hanging with Joe Ely in Lubbock.gnm_end_bug

Disc 1
1. Coming On Strong
2. The Fool Is The Last One To Know
3. If I Were You
4. Think On It
5. Deliver Me
6. A Thousand Times
7. If It Ain’t Rockin’
8. On The Floor Of Heaven
9. When Will This Heartache End
10. The Embers
11. I Believe
12. Is Anybody Here
Disc 2
1. A Little Bit Lonesome, A Little Bit Blue
2. Give Give Givin’
3. A Paper ‘N A Promise
4. And The Curtains Close
5. Heart of a Lion, Soul of a Dove
6. Wonder ‘Bout Me
7. Learn To Forget
8. If We Make It Through December
9. Raised On Robbery
10. Soldier Of Love
11. What The Hell I Got
12. Hell Stays Open All Night Long

Total time: 1:21:52

External links
Bumstead’s ‘Heaven’ site
iTunes Store

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