Oh, those sly rascals! Between October 2020 and April 2021, The Armoires released eight excellent singles under different pseudonyms. The reason the Burbank, California band staged such an exercise was to venture beyond their comfort zone and indulge in sonic promiscuity without apology.
All those songs have now been compiled onto a collection appropriately titled Incognito. While the core members of The Armoires are Big Stir founders Rex Broome on vocals and guitar and Christina Bulbenko on vocals and keyboards – along with bassist and vocalist Clifford Ulrich, violist Larysa Bulbenko and drummer John Borack – an assortment of loyal label mates also submit their talents to select cuts.
Strands of paisley pop elegance tangles and wrangles with classical interludes on a swell cover of John Cale’sParis 1919, where Bagfoot Run wheels in as a bluegrass-battered number, and the world-weary Homebound is a standard country ballad. Then there’s Awkward City Limits, which totters back and forth between tense moodiness, sweeping viola fills and thrashing rock rhythms.
Governed by grandiose and gloss, Ohma, Bring Your Light Into This Place mixes elements of church revival bliss with Broadway flash into a powerhouse production of dramatic dictation, mountain-sized melodies and goose-pimple inducing harmonies. A sashaying beat and clawing hooks brand the garage rocking Walking Distance, and a rendition of Christie’sYellow River remains relatively true to the original bubble-gummy swamp rock version.
A dash of Brit pop, a touch of grunge and a splattering of wiggy psychedelic effects penetrate I Say We Take Off And Nuke The Site From Orbit, a copy of XTC’sSenses Working Overtime throbs and bobs with animated new wave perspectives, and Magento Moon keys in as an absolutely gorgeous slice of art pop.
Modeled on the mercurial vision of The White Album and The Turtles Present The Battle Of The Bands, The Armoires move from one style to another with natural instinct. A fun and spontaneous feel fuels Incognito, letting you know a great time was had, cooking up these splendid songs. Slip on those headphones and enjoy!
For the past couple of decades, Anton Barbeau has been churning out one prized project after another. Originally based in Sacramento, California – and currently residing in Berlin, Germany – the prolific singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has recently returned to the fore with Kenny Vs. Thrust, an album featuring tunes with his American band Kenny – along with material from his European group Thrust.
Occupying a realm reeling with psychedelic perspectives, Anton creates wiggy and wondrous dialogues that collect comparisions to the likes of early Pink Floyd, The Idle Race, XTC, Plasticland and Robyn Hitchcock. Delivering his musings in an affected British accent, Anton certainly has a knack for bringing his surrealistic insights to life and luring listeners into the scenarios.
Equipped with spacey patterns and unconventional melodies, “Beautiful Bacon Dream” and “Haunted In Fenland” are all but a couple of choice cuts heard on Kenny Vs. Thrust, as well as the aptly titled “Jingle Jangle,” which snaps, crackles and sparkles with Byrds-buttered guitars in a garage band styled manner.
Steeled with skittish rhythms and a cracked edge, “Clean Clothes In A Dirty Bag” nails hooky new wave expressions to a lysergic-lubricated vision, and “Land Of Economy” is underlined by thumping percussion and nagging time shifts. A choppy reggae beat, trailed by a touch of tie-dyed electronica, is applied to “Tidy Up Yourself” and “Back To Balmain” bristles and buzzes with trippy synthesizer swirls.
Playful yet progressive, Kenny Vs. Thrust efficiently combines acid-damaged whimsy with freewheeling performances designed to keep audiences stimulated and alert. Those claiming appreciation for eccentric – and eclectic – sounds and stories are sure to dig this album.
Launched in 2018, Big Stir Records has deservedly gleaned the reputation as one of the finest labels on the planet. Not only is the Burbank, California-based imprint committed to releasing the highest quality of music possible, but such standards apply to their presentation, as eye-pleasing graphics are a staple of their wares.
Comprised of 23 tracks, Big Stir Singles: The Sixth Wave is the latest installment of the banner’s various artists series. As if these hooky songs aren’t enough to score piles of points, the collection proposes a doubly worthy purpose, with 25% of the profits going to the Sweet Relief’s Musician Assistance Fund.
The humorously-christened Librarians With Hickeys introduce the set with the star-spangled ripples of Until There Was You, followed by The Popdudes’Ridin’ In My Car that posts as the perfect summer song, bolstered by an upbeat tenor that ably crosses a crisp country folk rock pitch with a sunny Beach Boys‘ vibe. The Popdudes further check in with a version of Daytime Nighttime Suffering that is as honestly as terrific – if not better – than the original recording by Paul McCartney and Wings.
From Jim Basnight, there’s the gritty Rolling Stones swagger of Big Bang and a cracking cover of This Is Where I Belong that would certainly make The Kinks beam with pride. Blooming with emotion and a sleek orchestral feel, the haunting tremors of Home by Joe Normal & The Anytown’rs dials in as another pick to click on the collection, where Paula Carino’sDoor illuminates with a measured moodiness destined to send shivers down the spine.
The Well Wishers step in with the bracing garage pop bite of We Grow Up, Trip Wire’sKatie Says favors a jangling country pop rock pose, assisted by cool breaks and a tugging melody, and Dolph Chaney’s infectious Automatic Caution Door imparts a tasty art rock ambience. The Corner Laughers contribute a pair of super catchy efforts to the program, including the compelling Queen Of The Meadow and The Accepted Time, which chimes to the tune of a smart melody and a gripping arrangement.
Brimming with volume and might, No, from The Walker Brigade is destined to rattle windows far and wide, while a couple of XTC songs are rendered in splendid fashion by Glowbox with Earn Enough For Us and Tom Curless and the 46%’sI’m The Man Who Murdered Love. Last but by no means least, Spygenius turns in an impressive Ian Hunter/Mott the Hoople impersonation on Heaven Is Blue, which does indeed incorporate shades of heavenly blues into the glammy mix.
Every song on Big Stir Singles: The Sixth Wave is utterly fantastic; reinforcing the label’s dedication to the best and the brightest indie pop rock musicians of today.
10 Songs is a weekly list of ten songs that happen to be on my mind at the moment. Given my intention to usually write these on Mondays, the lists are often dominated by songs played on the previous night’s edition of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. The idea was inspired by Don Valentine of the essential blog I Don’t Hear A Single.
The Beatles / No Reply
I wrote a piece some time back asking the rhetorical question “Is Beatles VI Really My All-Time Favorite Album?” And it is, especially if we could combine it as a two-in-one with its predecessor Beatles ’65, creating a compilation of two American record company cash-grabs. Beatles ’65 and Beatles VI were Capitol Records hatchet jobs, scarfing up tracks from the British Beatles For Sale along with scattered single sides, mods, rockers, and mockers. But they were glorious hatchet jobs, and they were how I (like most Americans at the time) came to know and cherish this material. Pretty much everything The Beatles released from 1964 through 1966 forms my collective touchstone of what pop music can be. That is not likely to change, ever. And I was introduced to all of it via Capitol’s Philistine patchworks.
From Beatles ’65, or from Beatles For Sale if you must, “No Reply” is staggering, just irresistible in its majesty and mastery of pop form. It’s one of my 25 favorite Beatles tracks, and its middle eight may be the single best bridge ever accomplished by anyone. Its main competition for that title is also by The Beatles: “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” from Beatles VI (or from Beatles For Sale, if you must). I will never tire of hearing this stuff. Even sitting here just thinking about this music, with the stereo off, makes me smile. I saw the light. I saw that light a long, long time ago. It shines for me still.
Culture Club / Church Of The Poison Mind
Culture Club may seem one of the odder entries in my concert-goin’ ticket-stub gallery, but my then-fiancee Brenda and I did indeed see Boy George and his cohorts in 1984 at the Aud in Buffalo. My most distinctive memory of the show is the young girls going batty over the members of the group, as one such female fan squealed with delight, Oh my God, she touched him…! I thought that sequence of events was amusing, but not in a condescending or (worse) hipper-than-thou way; I was in favor of pop mania, from The Beatles to, I dunno, Duran Duran, so I approved of such teen idolatry.
Why were we there? Why not? We couldn’t afford to go to many concerts, but this must have come along at the right moment, we liked Culture Club’s radio hits, so yeah, why the hell not? Maybe I wouldn’t have gone for it just on the basis of “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” or “Time (Clock Of The Heart),” or even “Karma Chameleon.” “Church Of The Poison Mind” was a different story.
“Church Of The Poison Mind” was one of my favorite songs on the radio in ’83. I’m not sure if I heard it first on the AM Top 40 station 14 Rock or on the engagingly eclectic WUWU-FM, but I found the song pleasingly reminiscent of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and I adored it.
Dirty Looks / Let Go
Statement of intent. This Staten Island trio’s eponymous debut LP was released on the Stiff America label in 1980, and “Let Go” was an immediate fave rave on 97 Power Rock, a Sunday night alternative-rock showcase aired on Buffalo’s 97 Rock FM. Hmmm. A Sunday night rock ‘n’ roll radio show? I may have made note of that particular notion for possible future use. “Let Go” is a perfect post-punk radio pop song, fueled by new wave rock energy, rooted in catchy 1960s radio fare, and dead certain that The Ramones, The Who, Joe Jackson, and Paul Revere and the Raiders are Heaven-sent inspirations. It’s not easy to write a song about rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not. Too many attempts at rock anthems feel forced, or overly earnest, pompous, clueless, heavy-handed, and…blechh. With “Let Go,” Dirty Looks pull it off with style, and they make it seem like a cinch. Don’t you know that rock ‘n’ roll is still the best drug? The drumming is hyperactive, the bass pushy (in a good way), the guitar simple and authoritative, the vocals and harmonies steadfast, reflecting the confidence of a group secure in the knowledge that it has God on its side. All you gotta do, let go, let go, let GO! GO! GO! GO! Belief is infectious. And godDAMN, this sounds so exhilarating on the radio. It always has.
The Grip Weeds / For Pete’s Sake (Stay At Home)
The Grip Weeds are a great, great band. They’re a superb live band, they make fantastic records, they’re a bunch of nice folks, and we like ’em a lot. They’ve allowed us to use two of their tracks on TIRnRR compilation albums, and this is part of what I wrote about them when their “Strange Bird” appeared on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4:
...The chronology of my rapid and total indoctrination into the blissful Grip of Weedsmania blurs. I may have become more interested via the group’s connection with The Rooks, another of the great pop bands of the ’90s. Rooks guitarist Kristin Pinell was (and is) also in The Grip Weeds. Kristin’s husband Kurt Reil was (and is) the drummer and lead singer for The Grip Weeds, and he played with The Rooks, too. I don’t know whether or not guitarist Rick Reil also served any Rooks time, but either way: The Grip Weeds seemed like a band I oughtta know.
And getting to know The Grip Weeds was its own sweet reward… …The Grips Weeds are a treasure. They kick ass live, too; Dana and I had a chance to see ’em in Rochester on the How I Won The War tour (with special guest Ray Paul), and The Grip Weeds deliver, man. If you’ve never heard them, we firmly recommend you gather everything they’ve ever released directly from the band, and beg their forgiveness for taking so long to get hip. But it’s okay. Music has no expiration date. I discovered Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly in the early ’70s, and that music was as fresh to me then (and now) as it woulda been if I’d been spinning 45s in the fabulous ’50s. We always say: right now is the best time ever to be a rockin’ pop fan, because you have everything that came before, everything in the moment, and everything yet to come. Turn it up. That’s what it’s there for.
And right now–in this generation, in this loving time–The Grip Weeds have a brand new cover of The Monkees‘ shoulda-been-a-hit “For Pete’s Sake,” the song that used to close second-season episodes of The Monkees’ television series. We used The Grip Weeds’ version to open this week’s radio show. With its title altered slightly to “For Pete’s Sake (Stay At Home!)” for our quarantined times, there’s a fab YouTube video of the song, and the track may or may not find its way into the next Grip Weeds album. This is something we all need.
Mandy Moore / I Could Break Your Heart Any Day Of The Week
I don’t remember who it was that hipped me to “I Could Break Your Heart Any Day Of The Week,” an absolutely ace 2009 single by Mandy Moore. I may have read about it on a blog, but wherever I discovered it, I loved it at once.
Prior to that single, I didn’t know all that much about Moore. Other than her capable covers of some XTC and Joan Armatrading material (from her 2003 all-covers album Coverage, which John Borack had recommended), I don’t remember hearing any of Moore’s earlier records. I must have heard her on Radio Disney when my daughter was young, but I have no recollection of that. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of her movies; I do remember seeing her brief guest tenure on the TV sitcom Scrubs. I’ve never seen This Is Us or A Walk To Remember. I know who Mandy Moore is, but my awareness of her work doesn’t even rise to the level of perfunctory.
But this song, man. This song…!
“I Could Break Your Heart Any Day Of The Week” was co-written by Moore with Mike Viola of The Candy Butchers (and the voice of The Wonders‘ “That Thing You Do!”). It’s from her album Amanda Leigh, and while I’ve owned the digital single for more than a decade, I’ve just picked up a copy of the CD. It’s time I learned more about Mandy Moore. But meanwhile: this song, man. Any day of the week.
The Mynah Birds / It’s My Time
The Mynah Birds‘ story is one of pop music’s most intriguing almost/what-ifs. The group included both Rick James and Neil Young, and they were set to release a single of “It’s My Time”/”Go On And Cry” on Motown in 1966. We can debate genre labels, but I think The Mynah Birds would have been Motown’s first rock group. Instead, the single’s release was cancelled when James was arrested for being AWOL from the Navy. The Mynah Birds ended, Young and fellow group member Bruce Palmer wound up joining Buffalo Springfield, and Rick James went on to craft ’70s and ’80s punk funk of his own after leaving the hoosegow.
What might have been? “It’s My Time” is a strong pop single, and while there’s no guarantee it would have been a hit even if it had been released, one wonders how things could have played out differently. The handful of Mynah Birds tracks that surfaced decades after the fact are intriguing, and I wish we could have been enjoying those tracks, along with more that were never made, over all these years that have passed. I wouldn’t want to sacrifice Buffalo Springfield. But The Mynah Birds coulda been something.
The Partridge Family / I Woke Up In Love This Morning
I don’t care.
I don’t care that this is supposed to be teenybopper pop music, created as a TV sitcom soundtrack, marketed to a puppy-eyed Teen Beat demographic of adolescent girls staring with undefined intent at their David Cassidy pinup. I don’t care if it was created in a boardroom, a stockholders’ meeting, a business planning session, or on the island of Dr. Moreau. I don’t care if anyone thinks it’s uncool, because anyone who does think that way is wrong, period. This record rocks. That’s all I care about.
Like The Monkees before them, the music of The Partridge Family didn’t have to be good; it just had to be commercial. The fictional Partridges didn’t reach the effervescent zenith of the less-fictional Monkees, nor of the Partridges’ real-life inspiration The Cowsills, but their machinery was likewise well-constructed, and with Cassidy’s accomplished lead vocals backed by the studio magic of The Wrecking Crew, The Partridge Family were occasionally able to transcend their test-tube genesis. Unlike The Monkees or The Cowsills, The Partridge Family never existed. But their records did. Some of those records were actually pretty damned good, with debut LP tracks “Somebody Wants To Love You” and “Singing My Song” particularly worthy of a fresh and appreciative listen.
“I Woke Up In Love This Morning” is the truest gem. Drummer Hal Blaine is just a monster on this track, and David Cassidy once again proves he was so much more than just a face, with a voice so perfectly suited to deliver on the promise of pop music. The little girls understood. Maybe we should pay attention, too.
Prince / I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man
We’d been playing Prince‘s “When Doves Cry” on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio a bit throughout the first few months of 2016, and I betcha it would have made our year-end countdown even if Prince had remained one of our greatest living rock stars into 2017. His death in April sealed the case for that year’s ongoing infamy, prompting me to post, “2016 is fired.”
“I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” was never a song I thought much about before–if I were going to play Prince, I’d be more likely to go with “When Doves Cry” or “When You Were Mine”–but a request for the song from TIRnRR listener Joel Tinnel prompted us to play it on the show the week after Prince died. And it just clicked with me, suddenly but unerringly. I’ve been playing it ever since.
Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton / Hound Dog
From this song’s chapter in my book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1):
Where and when did rock ‘n’ roll start? There are a few key records that one could name as possibilities for the first rock ‘n’ roll record. “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brentson and his Delta Cats (1951, and really Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm) is the closest we have to a consensus choice, though some would point to “The Fat Man” by Fats Domino (1950). I would at least add Amos Milburn‘s “Down The Road Apiece” (1947) to the discussion, and no less an authority than Lenny and Squiggy (on TV’s Laverne And Shirley) spoke on behalf of “Call The Police,” a 1941 single Nat King Cole made with The King Cole Trio. There are other progenitors and trailblazers from across the heady mingling of jump blues, R & B, country, and swing that birthed this bastard child we call rock ‘n’ roll. What was the daddy of them all? Not even a blood test is going to make that determination… …Most of us know “Hound Dog” best from Elvis Presley‘s incredible 1956 hit rendition. But as much of a legitimate threat as King Elvis I represented to the straight-laced status quo in the ’50s, his version of “Hound Dog” is an agreeably goofy novelty tune, patterned after a sanitized 1955 cover by Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys rather than Big Mama Thornton‘s rude and salacious kiss-off. Elvis’ version is still great–it’s freakin’ Elvis in his prime, for cryin’ out loud–but not even the King could touch the sheer orneriness of Thornton kicking that ol’ hound dog out the door….
Among songs closely associated with Elvis, there aren’t very many that I would concede the heresy that someone else did it better than the King did. Wanda Jackson‘s “Let’s Have A Party” may be one exception. Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” definitely is another.
The Tweakers / Super Secret Bonus Track
I would like to tell you all about this track: its mysterious origin, the players hidden in the shadows, the mythic circumstances that sparked its creation. But I can’t. It’s not just a secret; it’s a super secret, just like its title insists. Rumor has it that the song was written and originally recorded by a left-handed bass player from England–Sir Prize, or Sir Plus, something along those lines–and that eventual TIRnRR singin’ star Rich Firestone is connected to it in some way. It’s currently only available on the digital download version of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 3. I can say no more. Shhhh. It’s a secret.
Arriving on the scene in the late seventies, XTC proved to be a bit too quirky and clever for the general public. Yet the British band gained favor with the critics, developed a loyal fan base and have been cited as a prime influence by many musicians.
For those not acquainted with the genius of XTC, the band really can’t be categorized. Mainly inspired by the holy trinity of sixties pop, psychedelia and art rock, the band also regularly dipped dashes of punk and new wave into the bin for modernized measures. Courageously experimental, XTC still managed to flaunt a distinctive sound that allowed instant recognition. Novel songwriting and arranging skills, compounded by a natural and nervous energy, granted the band’s material with an equal balance of sophistication and primal instincts.
A double CD set, consisting of 32 tracks, Garden Of Earthly Delights features a smartly-selected cast of musicians from the indie community who are not only avid admirers of XTC, but render the band’s compositions with knowledge and respect. Not your average tribute album, Garden Of Earthly Delights avoids simply going through the motions as the artists telegraph their own personalities into the songs.
Considering the volume of songs, there is obviously a lot to digest here. But because each entry is so catchy and the sequencing is astutely-organized, Garden Of Earthly Delights reins in as an easy and enjoyable listen.
Attempting to pick the best of the bunch is impossible, but for starters, there’s Coke Belda and El Inquito Rogue’s take on the bippity boppity “Standing In For Joe,” and the comparably sunny spunk of “Everything’ll Be Alright” from The Corner Laughters. Chris Price lends a gentle acoustic touch to “The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead” and Bebopolula’s “Vanishing Girl” retains the same Monkees-meets-Turtles flower power pop flourishes of the original recording, which XTC actually released under the pseudonym of Dukes of Stratospheare.
Gretchen Wheel’s emotive version of “The Last Balloon” is positively dazzling, while Randy Sky’s “Books Are Burning” carries a haunting feel, and Chris Church’s “Stupidily Happy” rings and rocks to a cool beat. Pete Donnelly turns in a terrific treatment of the robotic romp of “This Is Pop,” where The Kickstand Band’s “Life Begins At The Hop” wiggles with nifty squiggles.
Bottled tight with harmony and color, Garden Of Earthly Delights – An XTC Celebration stresses the inventive spirit of the band in full force. Wall-to-wall with credible covers, created with love and reverence, this collection effectively salutes XTC’s flair for mixing ambition with a fun factor. An exciting audio adventure is guaranteed!
This week, I’m taking another look at reviews I wrote of various Adam Schlesinger projects, when my Quick Spins column ran in The Kenosha News. Adam’s recent passing due to the pandemic has really impacted me, so I’d really like to be a part of people discovering what made him such a special guy.
A new Monkees‘ album couldn’t have come along at a better time. Knee-deep in political bile, social media aggression and civil rights unrest, planet Earth seems to be devolving into negativity at an alarming rate. What better antidote than Peter, Davy, Micky and Mike? Here they come, walkin’ down the street…
Good Times! is lovingly produced by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne. Schlesinger, who wrote the theme song for Tom Hanks’sThat Thing You Do!, unabashedly takes The Monkees back to their 1960’s heyday. While their previous reunion albums, Pool It! and Justus, were uneven attempts at being contemporary, Good Times! is all about taking it back to the beginning.
“You Bring The Summer,” written XTC’s Andy Partridge, and “She Makes Me Laugh,” by Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, are perfect vehicles for Micky Dolenz’s apparently ageless voice. Mike Nesmith, he of the wool hat, shines on the pretty Western ballad, “Me & Magdelena.”
Though Davy Jones has passed on, his original 1967 vocals for the Neil Diamond-penned “Love To Love” fly in to keep things groovy. I’m so glad they found a way to make him a part of this, as he spent so many decades keeping the band’s legacy alive in concert. Peter Tork, though never recognized as a great vocalist, leaves not a dry eye in the house with his beautiful version of Goffin/King’s “Wasn’t Born To Follow.”
Good Times! is pure joy from start to finish, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It will make you want to roll down your car windows and put off running errands, in favor of a drive to the beach and an ice cream cone. It will lift your spirits, as it fills your mind with wonderful memories of good times and summers passed. If you’re lucky enough, CD-DVD-Games Warehouse might even have a Monkees’ coloring book for you when stop in to get your copy. What more could you ask for? Enjoy!