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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Jean-Jacques Perrey and Dana Countryman

Destination Space


After a brief cinematic prologue, “Destination Space” blasts off with the title track — a “Hang ‘Em High”-esque theme with the most-natural-sounding guitar, bass and organ sounds ever to come out of a synthesizer. About a minute in, the truly synthetic sounds take over, but only for a while before backing out into Spaghetti-Western Land again.

This and Perrey’s other collaboration with Everett, Wash.-based synthesist Countryman seem to confirm the 80-year-old Frenchman’s return from retirement. But whereas 2006’s “The Happy Electropop Music Machine” stuck to Perrey’s signature cartoon-style Moog music, “Destination Space” overall is more serious and varied, with most of the songs split between science fiction, spy rock and romantic.

“The Spy From Outer Space” has a “Peter Gunn” rhythm and/or could have been inspired by the Jon and Vangelis tune “Friends of Mr. Cairo.” It also features exquisite Theremin work by by Kevin “Sukho” Lee of Seksu Roba.

“Café Brasilia” is a laid-back bossa nova. “The Mysterious Mr. Him” assumes a Hank Mancini persona, complete with real horns (The Atomic Big Band — actually four guys multitracking trumpets, trombones and saxes with some tasty flute soloing as well). Swing is revisited later, in a 1940s vein and without real horns, on “Little Brown Moog,” a pastiche of Glenn Miller hits.

The album’s unexpected delight is “Funky Little Spacegirl,” with its Frampton-like vocoder and electric sitar. And speaking of trippy vocals, the album rides off into space with “Beyond the Milky Way,” Perrey & Countryman’s first song with lyrics; with its 100 percent synthesized vocals, it really lives up to its “Carpenters meet ELO in outer space” billing.

All of the songs are Perrey-Countryman originals, with the exception of “Rhapsody,” a classical-sounding piece written by Countryman; “Pour L’amour de Toi,” a composition Perrey wrote 40 years ago with pianist Gil Sigrist that the two finally got to record together; and a cover of Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédie No. 1.”

1. Prologue
2. Destination Space
3. The Spy From Outer Space
4. Kittens On The Moon
5. Café Brasilia
6. The Mysterious Mr. Him
7. Funky Little Spacegirl
8. Rhapsody
9. The Girl From Berlin
10. Barn Dance On Saturn
11. Agent 29’s Escape
12. Venusian Love Duet
13. 18th Century Robot
14. Little Brown Moog
15. Calypso Electronica
16. Pour L’amour De Toi
17. Beyond The Milky Way
18. Gymnopédie No. 1

Total time: 1:02:14

External links
artist’s website
iTunes Store

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