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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Naked Friends

Spark & Shine

cabinessenceThe Portland, Ore.-based power pop quintet finally releases its sophomore effort, six years after “Comes Back to You” and four years after the stopgap “Ghost Sessions” EP.

Things got a little slow after 2006 because the band members were “all living in different towns and some of us got married and started making babies,” bassist Tim Coulter told Good New Music.

“We’d play a handful of shows a year, writing, rehearsing and recording whenever possible,” Coulter said. “Usually that meant holing up in (fellow member and multi-instrumentalist) Dave (Pulliam)’s house for several days at a time on a long weekend, doing a mini-tour of the Northwest and then going dark for another couple of months.”

The take-it-slow approach paid off. On “Naked Friends,” the group engages in genre-bending calisthenics on such songs as “Thought/Start,” which features funky wah-wah guitar combined with folksy dobro (or maybe it’s lap steel).

Some Beatles-out-West imagery is conjured up on “Pray.” Harry Nilsson (circa “Think About Your Troubles” and “Gotta Get Up”) is resurrected on “Grace” and “Get Down” (respectively). And it’s not hard to imagine The Band performing “Should’ve Known,” a song Rick Danko would have had no problem wrapping his vocal chords around.

Pedal steel and organ are used liberally throughout, the once-prominent Beach Boys influence apparent only on the first of two instrumentals (“Instrumental No. 2”) and in various harmony vocals.

In the end, the gang rides off into the sunset (or in this case, outer space) with “Ruby’s Moon Elevator,” a spaghetti western instrumental with an oh-so-subtle sci-fi theme.gnm_end_bug

1. Thought/Start
2. Blown A Test
3. How I Learned
4. Instrumental No. 2
5. Thumbs
6. Pray
7. The Poet
8. Grace
9. Get Down
10. Should’ve Known
11. Consider The Source
12. Ruby’s Moon Elevator

Total time: 42:42

External links
artist’s website
iTunes Store

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Chris Bell

I Am the Cosmos (deluxe edition)

Rhino Handmade

bellMemphis native Bell was a part-time engineer and session guitarist at that city’s now-famed Ardent Studios, spawning ground of Big Star, the quintessential power-pop group he started with former Box Tops singer Alex Chilton and some other high school buddies.

The commercial failure of Big Star’s first album (1972’s “#1 Record”) and a falling out with Chilton led Bell — who had poured himself body and soul into the LP — to leave his own group, after which the rest of the members threw in the towel as well. Nonetheless, when the others reunited the following year, he contributed to a few songs on their sophomore release even as his battles with depression continued.

For the next couple of years, Bell booked sessions in Memphis and France with an eye toward a solo album, and many of the tracks were mixed in London by Geoff Emerick of Beatles fame. But in spite of growing interest in Big Star abroad, a label deal never materialized and he quietly shelved the project at the end of 1975.

Three years later in 1978, just as he was attempting to revive the music career he had all but abandoned, 28-year-old Bell crashed his sports car into a tree and died instantly.

His “lost album” wasn’t released until 1992 by Ryko. Since Ryko is now owned by Rhino parent Warner, Rhino Handmade has seized the opportunity to create a limited-edition expanded reissue, with a second disc of alternate versions and mixes as well as pre-Big Star material, a couple of collaborations and a solo guitar instrumental.

Among the highlights of the bonus material:

1) The original version of the title track, Bell’s crowning achievement, before it was sped up for the single that became the only solo material released before his death.

2) An alternate version of “Speed of Sound,” sans fingernail marimbas and with an electric guitar solo instead of a Moog solo.

3) An alternate mix of “Fight at the Table,” minus Jim Dickinson’s funky Jew’s-harp-style synthesizer.

All the hubbub is well-deserved: The posthumous album shows that Bell’s hand in Big Star’s sound was just as heavy as the more-celebrated Chilton’s, if not more. On “I Am the Cosmos,” his melancholy strumming and bittersweet vocals on ballads complement the unbridled riffing and urgent wailing on rockers, much the same as on “#1 Record.”

Most impressive is how the intensity of the dark and often spiritual subject matter, driven by the artist’s grappling with personal demons, takes the music beyond mere distillation of Beatles-Byrds-Kinks influences. Bell’s emotions ran deep and may have been his undoing, but along the way he made some incredible music.gnm_end_bug

Disc One
1. I Am The Cosmos
2. Better Save Yourself
3. Speed Of Sound
4. Get Away
5. You And Your Sister
6. I Got Kinda Lost
7. Look Up
8. Make A Scene
9. There Was A Light
10. I Don’t Know
11. Fight At The Table
12. Though I Know She Lies

Disc Two
1. Looking Forward* – Icewater
2. Sunshine* – Icewater
3. My Life Is Right – Rock City
4. I Don’t Know (alternate version)*
5. You And Your Sister (alternate version)*
6. I Am The Cosmos (extended alternate version)*
7. Speed Of Sound (alternate version)*
8. Fight At The Table (alternate mix)*
9. Make A Scene (alternate mix)*
10. Better Save Yourself (alternate mix)*
11. Get Away (alternate version)*
12. You And Your Sister (acoustic version)
13. Stay With Me* (with Keith Sykes)
14. In My Darkest Hour* (with Nancy Bryan)
15. Clacton Rag (instrumental)*

*previously unissued

Total time: 1:40:13

External links
label’s “I Am the Cosmos” page

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John Fogerty/The Blue Ridge Rangers

Rides Again

Fortunate Son/Verve Forecast

fogertyOn “Rides Again,” John Fogerty revisits the concept of his 1973 country covers LP, “The Blue Ridge Rangers” — this time minus the one-man band and with his name attached.

Opting to play acoustic guitar almost exclusively, he defers lead electric duties to the amazing Buddy Miller. The rest of the new Blue Ridge Rangers are Greg Leisz (steel guitar, mandolin, dobro, lap steel), Jason Mowery (dobro, mandolin, fiddle), Jay Bellarose (drums) and Dennis Crouch (bass). “Garden Party” and “When Will I Be Loved” have a different rhythm section (bassist Chris Chaney and drummer Kenny Aronoff), as well as a third guitarist (Hunter Perrin).

Whereas the first album contained classic and obscure country/folk/gospel tunes, “Rides Again” expands the range to include country-leaning songs by rock and pop artists.

An example is Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party,” easily the best track here. Nelson once covered “Almost Saturday Night,” and Fogerty’s reciprocation is made even sweeter by vocal assists from Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmit, since it was Nelson who helped paved the way for the Eagles’ country-rock success.

Other rock and pop covers include Delaney & Bonnie’s “Never Ending Song of Love”; the Everly Brothers’ “When Will I Be Loved” (with Bruce Springsteen); “Moody River,” the Gary Bruce (aka Chase Webster) song that Pat Boone rode to No. 1 in 1961; and the disc’s second-best number, John Denver’s “Back Home Again” — a rendition so fine it carries the listener like a flying cloud.

Country-standard highlights include the Kendalls’ 1977 No. 1 hit, “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away”; and “Fallin’ Fallin’ Fallin’,” a Bud Deckelman hillbilly love song that Ray Price did well by.gnm_end_bug

1. Paradise
2. Never Ending Song Of Love
3. Garden Party
4. I Don’t Care (Just As Long As You Love Me)
5. Back Home Again
6. I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me)
7. Change In The Weather
8. Moody River
9. Heaven’s Just A Sin Away
10. Fallin’ Fallin’ Fallin’
11. Haunted House
12. When Will I Be Loved

Total time: 39:46

External links
artist’s website
iTunes Store

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The Explorers Club

Freedom Wind

Dead Oceans

OK, so it came out six months ago. But this secret needs to be let out of the bag: These Beach (Boy) combers from the coastal town of Charleston, S.C., are happening! Forget what the label’s press release says about traces of ELO, Apples in Stereo, McCartney, etc. The Explorers Club draws comparisons to those bands because those bands were influenced by the Beach Boys!

And sure, this debut album is like cut-and-paste (and slice, dice and chop, not to mention blend and puree) from the BB’s mid-60s output, but any serious fan will notice it also pulls from the band’s ’70s, Carl Wilson-led output for Warner Bros. Case in point: “Honey I Don’t Know Why,” an excellent reworking of “You Need a Mess of Help to Stand Alone” from 1972’s “Carl and the Passions: So Tough.”

Different people will hear different things on different songs, but “Don’t Forget the Sun” undeniably sounds like “Don’t Worry Baby,” “(I Wish They All Could Be) California Girls” and “Little Saint Nick.” Who would’ve thought those three songs could be rolled into one like that? 

What about “Lost My Head”? Well, all right, maybe there is an oh-so-subtle touch of that robot vocal from Jeff Lynne’s “Mr. Blue Sky” applied to this gentle melding of “Cabin Essence” with just about all the other songs on “SMiLE.”

“Do You Love Me,” using the rhythm from “Do It Again” as bedrock, seemingly employs every trick Brian Wilson learned from Phil Spector, down to the sleigh bells and glockenspiel. And “Summer Air” sounds vaguely like both instrumentals on “Pet Sounds” — only, instead of a lead vibraphone or electric guitar, there’s some kind of wonderfully weird organ-theremin interplay.

What, no bass harmonica? You bet there is, just not until “In the Country,” where it’s featured alongside more “SMiLE”-ing banjo plus eloquent, sublime, practically unnoticeable pedal steel and farfisa organ. The train-whistle vocal effect near the beginning is like eating dessert before dinner — mighty tasty!

Get the idea yet? It’s Beach Boys to infinity, and beyond. The Explorers Club must have been eating, sleeping and breathing Wilson Bros. when creating this mind-blowing distillation of all the best bits. They hit the nail on the head, though, by skipping the early surf stuff and throwing in some of their own left-field moves.gnm_end_bug

1. Forever
2. Honey I Don’t Know Why
3. Don’t Forget The Sun
4. Lost My Head
5. Do You Love Me?
6. Summer Air
7. If You Go
8. In The Country
9. Safe Distance
10. Hold Me Tight
11. Last Kiss
12. Freedom Wind

Total time: 34:36

External links
artist’s website
iTunes Store

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