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Matthew Sweet, Braam Brothers & The Laurie Berkner Band

Matthew Sweet

Catspaw (Omnivore)

After 1997’s Blue Sky On Mars, Matthew Sweet just kinda fell off my radar. Although I enjoyed the covers records he did with Susanna Hoffs, I lost touch with his solo work. After hearing rave reviews from friends regarding Catspaw, I thought it might be time to get reacquainted.

Sweet’s voice is in remarkable shape, belying the fact that his ground-breaking Girlfriend Lp is 30 years old. Here, Sweet is stripped back to that era, with in-your-face dry production, framing that evergreen voice. That isn’t the sole reminder of his biggest past success. The songs are really, seriously good.

The opener, Blown Away, is a chugging White Album rocker that blisters with rough guitar and McCartney-inspired bass, both played by Sweet. Opting to cover lead parts himself, Sweet succeeds in pulling off what amounts to an amalgam of all the guitarists who’ve been his sidemen over the years. Challenge The Gods and Stars Explode both get the blood pumping with similar aplomb, chorus hooks and those trademark, double-tracked Sweet harmony vocals.

Catspaw is a strong outing that surprisingly improves with each successive listen. Highly recommended.

Braam Brothers

Landscapes

https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/braambrothers/landscapes

For me, one of the joys of listening to and appreciating new music, is that you often get so much more than you originally anticipated. Such is the case with the latest by The Braam Brothers, Landscape.

The brothers were kind enough to send me a vinyl review copy, which is almost unheard of these days. Unpacking the Lp and peeling off the cellophane, I could already feel the anticipation growing. Coupled with a really nicely-designed cover, I hoped that the music inside would be equally as appealing. It would not disappoint.

As I went through the first listen, my mind seriously began to wander. Not because the songs or performances were lacking or uninteresting, but because the overall vibe of the production took me back to a very specific place and time. 

In the early 90’s, my best friend lived in a loft in Chicago, with two of his fellow Second City performers. It was everything you’d imagine, from a manikin serving as a coatrack, to a beat-up motorcycle permanently installed in the freight elevator. My friend’s roommates were obsessed with R.E.M., and their first record seemed to be playing in that place, 24 hours a day. It almost had the feel of being on the set of a hip indie film, or stage production. For me, it was always a cool hang, whether we were scarfing down pizza as we took in an old  monster movie, or making fun of the Johns nervously trying to pick up the girls that were always, literally, walking the streets below.

The Braam Brothers took me back there, to a place and time that I rarely ever think about these days. Those dusty memories were there in my head alright, though months, even years, go by without their remembrance. I can’t promise a similar experience for you, but I can promise that, at the very least, you’ll get to hear some top-notch music.

My picks to click on this are the stirring title track, and the haunting I Want Your Love, both of which will make this Lp a contender for any year-end best list. These are honest tunes, played with no filter, by real musicians.

The Laurie Berkner Band

Let’s Go!

https://www.amazon.com/Lets-Go-Laurie-Berkner-Band

Laurie Berkner has covered in the upper echelon of family music for years now. Her songs are always crisp, smart and tuneful, a trend that continues with her latest, Let’s Go!

The title track is a nifty bit of pop set to the hand-jive rhythm, which lists everything that needs to be accomplished before we leave the house. If you’ve got one of those kids that drags his or her feet getting ready for an outing, this one’s for you!

Got a kid that resists wearing a mask during these unique times? The Superhero Mask Song is here to save the day! Without fear or condescension, Berkner explains how every kid can contribute to making their world a better place. This is good, positive stuff! My fave of the set is When It’s Cold, a winter song about keeping warm that’s as fun as it is funky.

Taking in this release just on the strength of how it sounds, it’s expertly produced and lively. The musicianship is top-notch, too. Berkner’s also got a ringer in the  band’s line-up, with Brady Rymer on bass guitar. Top-notch.

By Dan Pavelich

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Boppin'

Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert): THE BANGLES, “7 And 7 Is”

Didn’t Hear THAT Coming! (Unexpected Covers In Concert) discusses songs I was surprised to hear covered in a live show by an act I’d gone to see.
Cover songs can add zip and spark to a rock ‘n’ roll group’s live repertoire. In their earliest gigs, most groups start out playing covers, and integrate more of their own original material into their sets as they play more dates, develop more of an identity, and attract more fans with an interest beyond just hearing bar-band interpretations of songs associated with other acts. It’s a basic long-term strategy for groups hoping to get noticed, to get somewhere; there’s a reason The Rolling Stones cut back on Chuck Berry songs and started writing their own material.

Still, a well-placed cover tune can enhance a live set, while the wrong choice can result in irritating a fan who doesn’t want to hear a fave rave act pandering to a lower common denominator. Whether it works or falls flat, the unexpected cover prompts us to say, “Wow–didn’t hear THAT coming!”


THE BANGLES: 7 And 7 Is [Love]

The hit 1980s group The Bangles. The broad Nuggets niche of 1960s garage, punk, and psychedelia. Never the twain shall meet.

Those of us with even a perfunctory knowledge of pop history know the above statement is nonsense. The Bangles drew significant and obvious inspiration from the sounds of the ‘60s, notably from The Beatles and from the decade’s Laurel Canyon axis of SoCal pop music, from The Byrds to Buffalo Springfield to The Mamas and the Papas. The Bangles were originally part of L.A.’s Paisley Underground, one of many Los Angeles acts in the early ‘80s professing and practicing a devout, pervasive connection to a vibrant rock ‘n’ roll scene that came nearly two decades before them. Maybe much of the general public couldn’t automatically draw a line from ‘60s touchstones like Pandora’s Box or Riot On The Sunset Strip to this distaff Fab Four mugging through “Walk Like An Egyptian” on MTV. Fine. But you and me? We know better. The Bangles had more in common with The Standells and The Electric Prunes than with virtually any of their Reagan era Top 40 contemporaries.

The Bangles’ eponymous 1982 EP included four originals, plus one cover, “How Is The Air Up There?,” a ’60s obscurity originally done by The Changin’ Times in ’65, and later recorded by The La De Das, for whom it was a hit in their native New Zealand in 1966. The Bangles at that time were guitarists Vicki Peterson and Susanna Hoffs, bassist Annette Zalinskas, and drummer Debbi Peterson, Vicki’s sister. The Bangles wore their ’60s loyalties like a badge of honor.

The EP was my introduction to The Bangles. I don’t recall if I read about them in the rock press or heard them on Buffalo’s WBNY-FM before I bought the record, but I was an instant fan. I remained a fan as Zalinskas moved on, as Michael Steele replaced her on the four-string, and as the group signed with Columbia Records for their first full-length album, 1984’s All Over The Place.

My God, I loved All Over The Place. The original songs were fantastic, the two covers (of The Merry-Go-Round‘s “Live” and Katrina and the Waves‘ “Going Down To Liverpool) were sufficiently obscure that I thought they were both originals, and the album will always be among my all-time favorites. The group’s tour in support of The Continental brought them to Buffalo for a show at left-of-the-dial nightclub All Over The Place, and I can testify that The Bangles were a solid live act. I don’t remember a lot of specifics, but I know I enjoyed it, and I know they covered Mose Allison‘s “I’m Not Talking,” with Michael Steele taking the lead vocal. I knew the song from The Yardbirds, and I guess that would qualify as an unexpected cover in concert.

But it wasn’t as unexpected as hearing The Bangles cover “7 And 7 Is,” a song written by Arthur Lee and originally recorded in 1966 by Lee’s band Love.

I had discovered the music of Arthur Lee‘s group Love in the early ’80s. I’d read about them somewhere, and snagged a used copy of their eponymous debut album literally off the floor at Brockport’s Main Street Records around, I dunno, ’82 or so. I picked up a greatest-hits set called Love Revisited after moving to Buffalo, and became enthralled by this furious, fascinating proto-punk tune called “7 And 7 Is.” 

If I don’t start cryin’ it’s because that I have got no eyes
My father’s in the fireplace and my dog lies hypnotized
Through a crack of light I was unable to find my way
Trapped inside a night
But I’m a day and I go
Oop-ip-ip, oop-ip-ip
YEAH!

Yeah, I had no idea what the hell it was about, and I woulda sworn that list bit above was an eloquent Batman-inspired Boom-biff-biff, Boom-biff-biff YEAH! rather than some [chuckle] non-sensical “oop-ip-ip” jazz. Obviously. But it didn’t matter what the words were or what the song meant. It was a freakin’ force of nature, it demanded high volume, and I played that damned track with manic devotion. I wasn’t using the phrase yet in the ’80s, but damn, this was clearly The Greatest Record Ever Made.


And now, live in 1985, The Bangles were performing on stage, right before my eyes. My jaw dropped. My fist raised itself without needing me to will it so. The Bangles. Love. “7 And 7 Is.” It was unexpected. And it was awesome!

Looking back, it shouldn’t have been all that unexpected. I knew of The Bangles’ roots in ’60s nuggets, and I wasn’t exactly shocked that they chose to cover Love. It was still a surprise, a pleasant surprise. That night, The Bangles said their version of “7 And 7 Is” would be on their next album. I regret that did not come to pass.

The Bangles’ commercial status took a dramatic upturn with their second album, 1986’s Different Light. The album’s first single “Manic Monday,” written by Prince (under the pseudonym “Christopher,” I guess because “Bernard Webb” was already spoken for), became the group’s first hit, a # 2 smash. Different Light is a very good record, but it seemed slicker and less exuberant than All Over The Place. It was an ’80s album. All Over The Place had felt timeless. Nonetheless, I cheered as this band I loved invaded the pop charts and Top 40 radio. Their success was deserved.

When The Bangles’ Different Light tour brought them back to Buffalo again, their higher profile had allowed them to graduate to a larger venue, The Rooftop in South Buffalo. Alas, I got my wires crossed about when The Bangles were scheduled to go on, and they had finished more than half of their set before I strolled in. Damn it.

The 2014 archival CD collection Ladies And Gentlemen…The Bangles! preserves concrete evidence that The Bangles covered “7 And 7 Is” in live shows, proof positive in the form of a 1984 live recording of Love via The Bangles. While most folks recall The Bangles as frothy ’80s video divas, I remember them as music fans made good, playing songs they loved in whatever venue was available. Their 1987 cover of Simon and Garfunkel‘s “Hazy Shade Of Winter” was a bigger hit than the original. Even on New Year’s Eve of 2000, when The Bangles appeared on Dick Clark‘s New Year’s Eve TV bash, they still surprised by pulling out a cover of The Velvet Underground‘s “I’m Waiting For The Man.” The Bangles were nobody’s empty-calorie cupcakes.

The Ramones also covered “7 And 7 Is,” on their 1993 all-covers album Acid Eaters. When I interviewed The Ramones for Goldmine in 1994, I mentioned to C. J. Ramone that I’d seen The Bangles cover the song live in 1985, and that they’d intended to record it. He was surprised. “That’s wild!,” he said, clearly impressed with the notion that The Bangles did a song as cool as “7 And 7 Is.”

They did indeed, C. J. And yeah, it was unexpected, but it shouldn’t have been. The Bangles loved the ’60s. The Bangles loved Love. 

Oop-ip-ip, oop-ip-ip, YEAH!

WHEN DIDN’T HEAR THAT COMING! RETURNS: The Dark Return Of LET’S ACTIVE

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The Bangles / Hazy Shade Of Winter