Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The Boxing Lesson

I've got plenty of time for anything musical that comes out of Austin, Texas, mainly because I associate that hotbed of creativity, with the greatest rock album ever released (possibly) Yup, I'm talking about - 'The Psychedelic Sounds Of' 13th Floor Elevators

Austin's The Boxing Lesson have picked up the baton of psych-rock and are producing their own brand of post-rock that shimmys, and soars in epic dramatic spacey tracks but they also chug away like a garage band inspired by The Stooges at times.

The group started out as guitarist/vocalist Paul Waclawsky's baby, he released two E.P's in 2003/4, whilst residing in L.A. He made the move to Austin and teamed up with Jaylinn Davidson (keyboards) and Jake Mitchell (drums). Another mini album called 'Songs in the Key of C' followed in 2006. In 2007 they hooked up with Grammy-Nominated Producer Tim Gerron to craft current album "Wild Streaks & Windy Days" You get the feeling the wind has got into their sails now and they're set to head for clear blue waters, at a fair rate of knots.

Secret Machines, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind and Flaming Lips are some of the obvious reference points but I'm immediately drawn to a comparison with one of the music industries best kept secrets, The Porcupine Tree, who have been producing exquisite prog/post rock for two decades. It's a mystery why they aren't huge, the quality of their output is consistently astonishing and they have a feverishly loyal fan base. I can only hope our Boxers don't get sidelined in a similar fashion, by trend obsessed mainstream press, as the latest 'Wild Streaks' album has some sublime moments.

The twelve tracks have two distinct personalities, with the Windy Days title track, Hopscotch & Sodapop, Lower, Dark Side Of The Moog and for me the stand out song Muerta, falling into the dreamy, languid epic vibe. Then there's the grungier numbers, like Freedom, Hanging With The Wrong Crowd, Back From The Dead and Dance with Meow, which provide the collection with some oomph, balancing out the space cadet half. These two songwriting strains are well matched, serving up a well balanced contest, that goes the full distance.

Gigs coming up
All of these are slightly beyond Scratchy's air miles allowance, but if your in the neighbourhood, catch them on
17 Aug 2008 23:00 at Emo’s w/ A Place to Bury Strangers & Ume Austin, Texas
22 Aug 2008 20:00 at HYPERFEST 3 (Aug 21-23) Albuquerque, New Mexico
27 Aug 2008 23:00 at 101X Homegrown Live Austin, Texas
5 Sep 2008 23:30 at Beauty Bar w/ The Calm Blue Sea & The Story Of Austin, Texas
20 Sep 2008 19:00 at Pecan Street Festival Austin, Texas

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Wild Oates

What do you do when you come across an album cover featuring a trio; all wearing a 'Tommy Cooper' Fez, two of them wearing some sort of psycho ward hospital gown and one of them being vertically challenged? answer: you snap it up pronto, of course!

Wild Oates were a three piece comprising of...

Col Roberts on vocals/bass guitar/trumpet/ euphonium

Glen Forrest on vocals/guitar and banjo (wearing the shorts)

Big Mick on vocals/drums/percussion (I'll leave for you to work out which one he is in the photo)

I can't find any reference to this on t'interweb so it's beholden on me to give it a proper write it using as much information I can muster from the record itself. Wild Oates were sowing their seed in 1979 when they cut this keepsake at Box Studios, Heckmondwike in Yorkshire. The music is cabaret with a touch of the vaudeville's. I'm guessing that they covered the workingmens clubs and pubs of the North of England. I bet they were great entertainment and I can imagine them doing an audition in Peter Kay's 'Phoenix Nights' club. It's wonderful that private pressings like this, capture the spirit of a very important part of English social/musical history. The traditional cabaret scene is disappearing fast and needs documenting properly before all these clubs are closed down or converted into soulless chain pubs. Needless to say, the cover versions are massacres and the comedy songs aren't very funny, but somehow I doubt that mattered, on a boozy Friday night in a smoky club, as the glitter ball sparkled and you necked your eighth pint of frothy ale served in a proper glass. I shall treasure my copy, which is signed by two of the members (Col didn't deign to autograph this artifact) but will I listen to it again?, as Captain Oates sort of said "I am just going to put it outside, and may be some time" (before it gets played again)

Side 1

Old Bazaar In Cairo
Cowpunchers Gun
The Most Beautiful Girl In The World
Don't Cry For Me Argentina
Old Shep

Side 2

Down Our Street
Did You Ever
Little Green Apples
Folsom Prison Blues
Marsden Cuckoo
The Show Must Go On

Pub Quiz Time! What's the best ever Fez related song in rock? answer: The Fez by Steely Dan, Of course!

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Chicago X (Chicagothon Part 7)

This week, I have managed to track down another Chicago album, and so I serve it up for you in a post-dinner party style, like an After (Chicago) Eight mint. We are now into 1976 and the guys have eased off the throttle, indicating that they're moving into the middle of the road, aiming to do a steady 55 m.p.h, no matter who's honking up their rear bumper. It's also notable for missing the top slot in America, reaching number three, thus breaking Chicago's run of four number albums in a row.

The single album cover has a tasty chocolate bar theme to it, no expense has been spared in the packaging, with a lyric insert and a chocolate coloured inner sleeve, all contained within a lush gatefold design. The inside of said gatefold is taken up with a photo the the guys being chased by a Boss Hogg type of policeman; for crimes against music, no doubt! book'em officer!!

Side 1

Once or Twice (3:02)
It's going to take more plays than that for me to remember this track, an average bar room boogie.

You Are on My Mind (3:25)
James Pankow sings along to this reasonable little shimmy, that hints of Santana.

Skin Tight
It's aiming for funky, however it's more flunky.

If You Leave Me Now (3:59)
You'll recognise this one straight away, Peter Cetera's effort stands out in terms of musical style and execution, as a saccharine power ballad, that would become their signature trade mark. It wasn't originally going to be on the album until the insistence of the manager James William Guercio, who must have had dollar signs cher-chinging away, as this became a number one smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic. It's like marmite, you'll either love it or hate it..

Together Again (3:55)
Lee Loughnane writes and sings on what can only be described as a pleasant album filler. In these i-pod picky days of track skipping, as a mp3, it would never be listened to again.

Another Rainy Day in New York City (3:05)
A clunky steel band Calypso conjoined onto an A.O.R sound. If that's sounds horrible in the description, that's because it is.. a minor hit in the States.

Side 2

Mama Mama (3:33)
Cetera's just going through the motions here, the song barely registers in my ear lobes.

Robert Lamm recalls all the good times the band has had. This roll of nostalgia must have reminded them of when they used to let loose in the studio, making this the perkiest track so far.

Gently I'll Wake You (3:35)
Indeed, you'll need to because my eyelids are drooping here.

You Get It Up (3:36)
That 'wah wah' voice box effect is back on this party track.

Hope for Love (3:08)
Terry Kath wrote and sung this touching lament, to at least see out album number X in style, reminding us of what Chicago were capable of.

Conclusion: My 'CHICAGOTHON' has finished on a bit of a damp squib. The X album sounds like the result of a worn out band, who had lost direction. I don't like putting the boot in critically, but you can't help feel somewhat aggrieved that such a talented bunch of songwriters and musicians felt they could churn out a collection of 'treading water' songs. The slide towards Cetera's vision of the band was enforced by the overwhelming success of 'If You Leave Me Now' Two years later, this metamorphosis would be completed by two events, they fell out and split with long-time manager/producer James William Guercio, then tragically, core band member Terry Kath died, through a self inflicted gunshot wound, whilst cleaning his gun. The rest of the group rallied around on carried on to achieve huge commercial success, but the spirit of Chicago had irrevocably changed.

What have I learnt from this little challenge, apart from that it's quite hard to keep writing about a Seventies band who released prodigious amounts of similar sounding albums. Well, on a simplistic level, that 'The Chicago Transit Authority' is a must have record for any fan of that period of post sixties rock, where artists really pushed the music towards previously unexplored territories. The next half a dozen Chicago albums are worth a listen, if and when you spot them nestling in the vinyl crates. However, the major thing I've learnt, is not to prejudge whether or not to jump into a band's output purely on (sometimes unfair) reputation, but also that a bad rep is often justified. So, get your sticky mitts diving into those vinyl crates, but don't be surprised if you occasionally get fingers burnt!

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Chicago VII (Chicagothon Part 6)

Phew! we're on the home stretch now of 'CHICAGO WEEK' I must admit my enthusiasm for their brand of radio friendly jazz rock is starting to take a dive. However, let it not be said that Scratchy Buckles is a quitter, so let's get stuck into their next offering. We have another double album in a gatefold sleeve, with a carved wooden box effect on the cover design. The steam train from the previous album's inner sleeve appears, as well as some agricultural scenes and a big wheel. Are these views of the famous Chicago World Fair? Inside we have a photo of the guys in a rural setting, presumably taken on the studio ranch in Colorado. They're looking pretty chipper this time and so would you if you had knocked out a three number one albums in a row.

Chicago VII

Side 1

Prelude to Aire (2:47)
A jazzy instrumental opener, with it's tribal dance beat plus a floaty flute, this track puts me in mind of the voodoo scenes in the James Bond film Live And Let Die. Time to make a sharp exit with Solitaire.

Tery Kath's guitar wizardry has lots of room to breathe as he can really express himself on this chilled out workout. The influence of jazz really permeates the whole the this side, originally the whole focus of this album was going to express this side of Chicago's songwriting but Peter Cetera and James Wiliam Guercio (the producer/manager) were worried about the impact of going in this direction and so the album expanded to fit in some more commercial tracks.

Devil's Sweet
The third instrumental in a row showcasing Chicago's jazzier side. The whole of this side has Danny Seraphine on the writing credits, thus showing his interest in pushing the experimental face of the band.

Side 2

Italian From New York
If this was a bar, it would be in a basement down a dimly lit backstreet where all the hipsters, hucksters and hustlers congregate in the early hours.

Hanky Panky
The bar is filling up now, smoke hangs heavy in the air and the liqueur is taking effect.

Life Saver
The first piece of singing and Robert Lamm really gets the joint bouncing, with a catchy chorus and horns packing a punch.

Happy Man (3:16)
Those familiar treacly vocals from Peter Cetera kick in, to lift a pretty standard love song. Guercio was not content with just being the manager and producer, joins in on this one on his acoustic guitar.

Side 3

(I've Been) Searchin' So Long (4:28)
James Pankow throws us a curve ball on this ditty, as it begins as a soft ballad, then works up into a frenzied hard rocking climax, with Kath's guitar duelling with the horn section. A number nine hit in America and set to be a benchmark for that more familiar Chicago sound that gained heavy radio rotation.

Snappy title, snappy tune!

Song of the Evergreens
Lee Loughnane debuts on lead singing duties on this track, that could have done with some sprucing up, but it's a grower!

A forgettable effort, that perhaps should have been left in the studio, or as a 'b' side. This is the problem with releasing double albums, there's too much temptation to throw everything in but the kitchen sink. How many times have you sat listening to a bloated seventy minute collection that would make a more successful leaner single forty minute L.P

Side 4

Wishing You Were Here
Cetera roped in Al Jardine, Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson from The Beach Boys for some backing vocals, as you would expect with such quality, they add a touch of class to the mix. They scored a number 11 hit on the Billboard hot 100.

Call On Me
Some of the greatest songs are written on the back of a fag packet in fifteen minutes, however this one isn't one of them, it just sounds like it was knocked out at the end of a day of hard recording. The public still bought it though, making this rare Lee Loughname penned song, another top ten single.

Women Don't Want to Love Me
Lamm rolls out another Chicago trademarked funky standard.

Skinny Boy
A welcome guest appearance from The Pointer Sisters lifts the final track out of the ordinary, along with a chilled bass line perking up this section, which threatened to become a flaccid finale.

Conclusion: I think I finally get why Chicago's stock is so low, critically speaking, and thus why their albums still fill the bargain bins and charity crates, whilst their contemporaries like Foreigner, The Eagles and Steely Dan reputation have revived in recent years, with favourable critical reassessments. Firstly: they sold a bucketful of albums in the Seventies and Eighties, we have a collective amnesia about just how big a band these guys were, especially in America. Secondly: Chicago were two musical groups squeezed into one band. By this, I mean that they were on one hand, jazz rock pioneers, who pushed the boundaries with complex arrangements and free form melodies, this side was more prevalent in the earlier albums. The alter ego was the safer slicker A.O.R band who consistently delivered radio friendly hit after hit. In trying to satisfy both forces within the group , they ended up delivering to neither and thus never wholly gaining critical favour. They should have been two separate projects, each filling the respective briefs, without having to compromise the other's demands. This would have resulted in more honest albums, that retained more affection/favour in the pantheon of pop and rock music history.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Chicago VI (Chicagothon Part 5)

We move onto 1973 and Chicago, deliver another Billboard chart topping album, recorded at their manager's Caribou Ranch Studios in Colorado. They push the boat out on the cover design which has intricate bank note etching going on (ooh! feel the texture) plus a picture of the guys. It's a single album within a gatefold sleeve that has a sepia tinted photo of them standing in a field looking cold and slightly miffed at having to do a photo shoot. The inner sleeve continues the Victorian lithograph style, which is a nice touch, with a steam train image flip sided with a Rubenesque statue of liberty type of gal. Jazz percussionist Laudir DeOliveira was also roped in to deliver some ace conga action.

This was also the year when some of the band were cast in the cult movie 'Electra Glide In Blue' which was co-incidentally produced and directed by Chicago's long term manager James William Guercio, who strangely never made another feature film. This is an absolute classic of Seventies alt-Hollywood cinema, made in a period, when the creative forces were let off the leash for a few years, which led to a fascinating period in stateside cinema. The critics panned it at the Cannes Film Festival (but hey! what do critics/bloggers know anyway!) but it's reputation slowly but steadily grew on release. I remember seeing it late at night in the Film4 cult slot, presented the Alex Cox of Repoman fame and it blew me away.

Side 1

Critics' Choice (2.49)
I'll be the judge of that, this is a strange opening number being a thoughtful piano ballad sung by Robert Lamm. Pleasant but it doesn't grab me.

Just You 'n' Me
James Pankow delivers the first powerful piece of the album, written after having an argument with his future wife Karen. A real rattlesnake jive powers this one along deservedly reaching number four in America

' Dear
Terry Kath let's rip on slide guitar on this bluesy break written by Lamm.

A mellow track that doesn't really take off, Jenny's more of a wallflower than a belle of the ball.

What's This World Comin' To (5.00)
The funkiest and most energetic so far with funky horns and all three vocalists making their presence felt.

Side 2

Something in This City Changes People
The arrangement of the tracks on this album is a bit odd, as we lead in with another downbeat piano led tune.

Hollywood (3.54)
Funky tune, funky town!

In Terms of Two
Smooth ole Peter Cetera delivers a country tinged tune complete with harmonica, that's pretty darn catchy.

Digging those wah wah guitar effects! I can imagine Family Guy's Glen Quagmire spinning this little ditty, whilst in pursuit of getting some 'giggity giggity goo' action with his latest potential conquest. Let me slip into something more comfortable 'alll riight'

Feelin' Stronger Every Day (4:21)
Peter Cetera and James Pankow co-wrote the lead out the concluding track which eases us out with catchy number, that leaves us on a feel good high. It was the other hit single from the album getting to number ten on the U.S charts.

Conclusion: I've got mixed feeling about this one, the various music styles show a band at a crossroads. On the one hand it's easily digestible, due to the more straight forward style, but you can sense the clouds on the horizon as the songwriting panders more towards commercial airplay. They could have become a blues type band (Free) jazz rock group (Steely Dan) or even a country rock outfit (Gene Clark) instead, the soft rock genre was beginning to surface.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Chicago V (Chicagothon Part 4)

Eagle eyed readers might have noticed that I appear to have gone out of sequence and missed Chicago IV. There are two very good reasons for this, a: I don't own it and b: it's a live album of a series of shows recorded in April 1971 at Carnegie Hall, spread over no less than FOUR L.P's. Was there some sort of E.U style vinyl mountain going on at the time? Now, if I'm to survive this challenge, listening to Chicago doing extended improvisations before an audience of stoned freaks, is not going to serve me well. As well as one of the longest live albums ever pressed, it contains one of the biggest freebie posters to go along with it. An forest of trees must have been chopped to make way for this packaging.

Chicago V

The cover designers have returned to the wood grain effect with vengeance which gives the sleeve an unfortunate resemblance to the peeling pretend woody style wallpaper in Auntie Edna's parlour. A sticker on my copy promises a copy of that enormous 32" x 32" poster and a fabulous 11" x 92" 4-colour streamer of individual photos of the group. It fails to deliver on both counts.

Side 1
A Hit by Varese (4:56)
When a song is inspired by the avant-garde composer Edgar Varèse, you know it's going to be a bit of a free form jazz freak out with oodles of key changes and a chugging bass line.

All Is Well (3.51)
Indeed it is Mr Lamm, with this chilled out strum, best enjoyed whilst sitting in the garden, reading a book and supping some home made lemonade.

Now That You've Gone (5.05)
James Pankow is a bit bummed out on this paean to a lost love, fortunately for us, he's set the lament against a backdrop of throbbing bongos and general funky seventies cop show backing tunes a la Hawaii Five-O.

Dialogue (Part One) (2.56)
Terry Kath and Peter Cetera take on the role of world weary cynic and naive idealistic student, discussing the state of the nation. Remember, this is played out out against the backdrop of the war in Vietnam; it's political, certainly, but perhaps more so a comment on the individualistic philosophy, that was prevailing over the socially inclusive ideals of the flower generation.

Dialogue (Part Two)
The debate shifts up a gear into a rousing chorus of "We can make it happen, we can change the World now, we can save the children, we can make it better" it might look a bit cheesy, written out on e-paper, but Chicago were still wearing their radical ideals on their sleeve and doing it for the people; a rabble rousing finale to the first act.

Side 2
While the City Sleeps (3.55)
It's a moody opener, reminding us that the boogie man lurks within mankind.

Saturday in the Park (4.00)
"Can you dig it?" Yes, I sure can! why? because this is a cracking tune with a Billy Joel feel to the piano riff. The boys try to rally the troops again and get them off their arses and protesting against the shadowy forces of oppression.

State of the Union (6.15)
Rob Lamm's not a happy bunny, he's worked himself up into a lather on this one, he wants to "tear the system down" but hang on, don't pull the plug otherwise the ferocious jamming will stop, of course, it goes without saying, that it's hornier than a herd of rhinos.

Goodbye (6.04)
This is more of jazzy piece, that showcases some quality drumming from Danny Seraphine.

Alma Mater (4.00)
Terry Kath sings very effectively on a gentle piano led ballad which closes the deal in style.

Conclusion: this is more of a restrained offering which is easier to digest than previous efforts, however this nod towards commerciality, means that it misses some of the soaring heights of the free form freakouts that Chicago aspired to. Not so much of a 'High Five' as a 'Five have lashings of ginger beer'

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Chicago III (Chicagothon Part 3)

We've moved on to 1971 and quelle suprise! Chicago knock out another double album. Axel Rose should take a leaf out of Chicago's book and up his game to this kind of productivity with 'Chinese Democracy' The cover has a ragged stars'n'stripes backdrop theme and disappointingly they've scrimped on the gatefold with the two records fitting into just the one compartment.

Chicago III

Side 1
Sing a Mean Tune Kid (9:14)
A Robert Lamm tune that makes a big entrance with a big sound and even bigger guitar solos from Terry Kath, who works himself up into a frenzy, the whole number has a Santana funky vibe going on.

Loneliness Is Just a Word (2.36)
Another Lamm classic that sneaks along like a suave undercover detective, on a mission to deliver us some incriminating grooves.

What Else Can I Say (3.13)
Peter Cetera gets a look in here with an easy going country rock tune that makes me wanna drink some moonshine on the veranda whilst practicing my spit bucket gobbing technique.

I Don't Want Your Money (4:48)
This is a straight forward hard rocking boogie blues, that you would expect to be knocked out by the resident band, at a less salubrious drinking establishment in blue collar America. I'm thinking 'The Drunken Clam' here; "Turn da freakin sound up, yer hippie" c/o Peter Griffin

Side 2

Flight 602 (2:46)
As you would expect of a hard gigging band, the influence of all the mileage they're putting in starts to seep through to the songwriting at this stage, but singing a country ballard about Canada! c'mon, what's that about?

Motorboat to Mars (1:32)
The first serious faux pas on the album as Danny Seraphine is allowed loose with a drum solo.

Fortunately the funky balance is restored with the track released as a single, which was flipped with...

Free Country (5:49)
The travel blues continues here..

At the Sunrise
Lamm's obviously yearning to be back home with his lil' lady by now.

Happy 'Cause I'm Going Home (7.27)
We finish with a flute fiesta, it's buzzy, jazzy and beatniky.

Side 3
Mother (4.29)
A jaunty jazz tune with some heavy duty lyrics and a maudlin feel, It's like the seventies became the hangover of the previous decade's party.

Lowdown (3.35)
The rest this side is composed of a suite by Terry Kath, loosely themed under the title of 'An Hour In The Shower' It's very Beatlesque but not altogether successful. There are some nice sections but Chicago's 'achilles heel' of producing too much rambling and experimental tempo changes means it rarely rises above promising. Lowdown is the strongest part with some finger clicking beats.

A Hard Risin' Morning Without Breakfast (1.54)
It's the most important meal of the day, you know. Plenty of snap,crackle and pop in this little ditty.

Off to Work (0.48)
If only my commute was forty eight seconds long.

Fallin' Out (0.55)
I feel a verbal disciplinary from the manager coming on.

Dreamin' Home (0.51)
Damn, it's only mid morning, perhaps a gossip at the water cooler with Deirdre from accounts, might help to pass some time.

Morning Blues Again (1.08)
Arrgh, is it time get get up already? only another twenty seven years before my pension plan matures.

Side 4
When All the Laughter Dies in Sorrow (1:04)
Easy tiger! a spoken poem written by Kendrew Lascilles (actor/writer) reminds us that we're all insignificant specks on this earth and the human race is just a flash in the pan.. sheesh! bum me out why not Ken.

Canon (1.07)
The rest of this side is James Pankow's baby, a sorrowful brass lament begins his piece. It's all instrumental from now on, so no more lyrics to dampen my spirits.

Once Upon a Time ... (2.36)
This track is a chilled meandering flute led instrumental, that doesn't really know whether it's coming or going!

Progress? (2:34)
I guess the cacophony of horns represents chaotic city life, with traffic jam sounds dubbed in and a toilet flushing for good measure, does it mean we're all going down the pan?

The Approaching Storm
At last, the boys are back to serving up what they do best.. jazz funk rock with a side dish of groovy Hammond action.

Man Vs. Man: The End (1.32)
A dramatic conclusion with a couple of false endings to tease us, winds up the show.

Conclusion: experimental music can quickly turn into self indulgence unless there's discipline in the composition. Chicago III has some great periods of music, performed by talented musicians, but there isn't enough stand out tracks for me to make sitting through the rest worth while.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Chicago II (Chicagothon Part 2)

It's the dawn of a new decade and our windy city boys, meaning windy instruments rather than flatulence, are hot on the heels of their debut releasing another double extravaganza contained within a gatefold sleeve, plus the logo is bigger and actually legible this time around.

They have shortened their moniker though, as Chicago mayor Richard Daley took offence to the name of the city's public transit system being hijacked by hairy rock upstarts. Thus The Chicago Transit Authority was streamlined and the band had to call themselves just Chicago from here on.

Chicago II

Side 1
Moving In (4:06)
The opening salvo has our chaps in fine fettle with this track with a strong hook and a definite The Band like vibe in the singing department. The biting brass is back baby.

The Road (3:10)
A lighter, less blended vocal, together with a less memorable hook make this a bit filler.

Poem for the People (5:35)
The mood goes downbeat, with a piano led introspective ballad with lyrics that reflect on the state of the folks.

In the Country
Surprise surprise: more overbearing trombones, along with many key changes make for confusion it’s all over the place and I thought the country is supposed to be tranquil.

Side 2
Wake Up Sunshine (2:32)
An poppy upbeat sunshine tune that refreshes like standing under a sprinkler.

(Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon) this is in seven sections written by James Pankow
a. Make Me Smile (3:15)
The drums are let loose on this hit song. Terry Kaff's gravely singing reminds me of Joe Cocker fruit-looping it at Woodstock or Barry McGuire's voice on 'Eve of Destruction'

b. So Much to say, So Much to Give (1:12)
A change of pace.. there's everything but the kitchen sink in this segment.

c. Anxiety's Moment (1:00)
Let's slow this baby down to bridge the gap with a nervy minute.

d. West Virginia Fantasies (1:33)
instrumental Hammond action

e. Colour My World (3:00)
One of the others hits off the album, it goes all moody with some piano led flute action to soothe me, Terry Kaff sings as he yearns for his 'ole lady'

f. To Be Free (1:15)
Ooh, those heavy brass and drums are back, it's been a while..

g. Now More Than Ever (1:25)
Crosby Stills & Nash trademark vocals are plundered in the grand finale, I've noticed the drummer has got more leverage in this album and is making sure everybody can hear him.

Side 3
Fancy Colours (5:09)
I know why your seeing those fancy colours lads: lay off the doobies, Chiccy go samba! Perhaps the most fun song on this album.

25 or 6 to 4 (4:58)
This was the big pop hit and it sure does stand out. It’s a fresh and pacey song with an urgency in the tempo. You can feel the influence of the West Coast relocation working here. The title refers to the time in the early hours when the songwriter was penning the tune.

The eclectic influences of Terry Kaff shows up here with a mini-suite that has classical pretensions. The chamber music makes me feel like I'm in a costume drama dinner dance, competing for the attentions of Miss Buckleberry, the vicar's daughter, against the advances of slimy Mr Lucian Fothrington-Smythe.

A.M. Mourning (2:05) P.M. Mourning (1:58)
These middle sections transcend into incidental music, I'm falling asleep now.

Memories of Love (3:58)
We wind up with a 'Hamlet' moment with this mournful lullaby, that is genuinely beautiful.

Side 4
It Better End Soon
I know the feeling! It's Robert Lamm's turn to lay an epic on us, in four parts no less, angry young men laying out their ideals about the state of the nation.

1st Movement (2:33)
A pulsating horn riff underpins those sun drenched 'West Coast' harmonies.

2nd Movement
A pastoral flute Jethro Tull stylee that becomes more urgent with a chugging riff holding it together.

3rd Movement
Raff is singing an anti war rant, remember, the man may have the guns but the 'long hairs' have got the tunes.

4th Movement
Time to clear up with a bleeding horn solo, that’ll teach the fuzz. Well, there you go, more movements than from my bowels on the morning after a curry and lager night out..

Where Do We Go from Here?
Peter Cetera get a writing/singing credit at the final furlong and his commercial sensibilities are glimpsed in this downbeat country tinged tune.

To sum up, this is more focused and confident offering than the predecessor. As a collection, it knows when to let go and when to pull it back in whacking us with those tight acid-jazz-rock riffs that Chicago were famous for. It's an exhilarating ride save for occasional sequences that over reaches their ambition.

Monday, 21 July 2008

The Chicago Transit Authority (Chicagothon Part 1)

I had always passed over Chicago records before, due to their notorious reputation of producing sickly overblown wet AOR. However, in a magnanimous moment of open mindedness, I decided to procure a whopping six albums all in one go, shelling out three of my hard earned pounds for the lot. The portents were promising for a reappraisal, as they were released from 1969 through to 1974, thus missing out on Peter Cetera's blow dried songwriting from the Eighties. I have found from experience, as a general rule, the earlier the release in a band's career, the safer the bet. I am staring at serious slice of a band's output wandering where to start, well there's only one thing for it, review every glorious note, chronologically, day by day, track by track. This is going to turn into a CHICAGOTHON.. raising money for charideey! erm.. well, three pounds as already mentioned. I declare this week to be CHICAGO WEEK!

The Chicago Transit Authority 1969
Let's start with the cover, which has to be one of the worst in rock history, all black except for the logo in the middle that's to small to read. The same logo is on the back, covering the whole space, yet is still impossible to make out the words due to the graphic designer's insistence on using a vinyl wood grain fill effect. They had a bad day at the office, methinks! Inside, things improve as we are treated to pictures of the shaggy haired band members within a lovely gate fold sleeve (always a promising sign) The image of Andy Williams makes a welcome appearance on the inner sleeve covers.

The band were...
Daniel Seraphine on drums
James Pankow on trombone
Peter Cetera bass and lead vocals
Walter Parazaider woodwinds and vocals
Lee Loughnane trumpet and vocals
Terry Kath guitar and lead vocals

Side 1
Introduction (6.35)
We are straight into background music for an American 70's detective t.v programme. I’m thinking Columbo here, during a car chase scene. It’s funky, it’s fruity, it’s trombonetastic, it’s giving me the horn!

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? (4.33)
A piano lead in breaks into loungy effort, providing a jaunty feel good vibe, like driving in a Mustang down the freeway with the sun beating down, wind in your hair and not a car-jacker in sight.

( 7.58)
This is the big one, working up to some Crosby Stills & Nash blended vocals, then winding down with clacky percussion, that goes on just a bit too long, like the technique that Family Guy deliberately uses to make the gag scene painfully uncomfortable. Chicken Fight anyone?

Early impressions: their motto should be "Never knowingly underbrassed!"
'If you find another band who out trump us, we will give you double your trombone quota back!'

Side 2
Questions 67 and 68 (5.04)
More brassy loveliness from the first single.

Listen (3.22)
Woahh! here’s where our boys get seriously Starsky & Hutch funky, working up a good groove. There is a definite Cream influence as well.

Poem 58 (8.37)
This is the point where Terry Kaff lets loose with some guitar licks with interesting key changes and there’s a Frank Zappa vibe going on.

Side 3
Free Form Guitar (6.53)
It does what it says on the tin, indulge yourself Terry, Hendrix would approve.

South California Purples (6.10)
A Hammond heavy romp, that's slightly menacing, there's a hook line that I immediately recognise It’s like a pub quiz question, that’s on the tip of my tongue..

I’m A Man (7.40)
The only cover version on the album, of Spencer Davis Group's 1967 hit. The tightness of Steve Winwood’s songwriting reaps rewards, as their indulgent streak is kept in check. It's like a flabby stomach that’s been given a corset to hold it all in.

Side 4

Prologue, August 29, 1968 (0.57)
The Transit get political, with a clip of the crowd at the Democratic Convention. The sleeve notes explain that black militants exhort demonstrators: "God give us the blood to keep going" the march begins, police attempt to disperse marchers "The whole world’s watching" they chant. Stick it to the man!

Someday (4.13)
There’s high tempo guitar in the now familiar recipe of funk rock brass fusion.

Liberation (15.41)
Time for a freak out finale and true to form, the guys stretch it out for a mind blowing fifteen minutes of parping perfection. In the parlance of film making, nothing is left on the cutting room floor, the only four letter word that upsets these boys is EDIT.

One down, five to go: Overall, I would say this is a meaty effort, a brave experimental work, from a band finding their feet, some fat could have been chopped off the edges but you can’t argue with a band that gets your toes 'a' tapping with brass beats.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Coco Briaval Quartet

As he will readily admit, Scratchy don't do jazz. Over many years now some of the best players in Europe have tried to bend his avowedly discerning ear to the subtle delights swinging below the streets of Soho, but oh no, he ain't having any.

Which is a shame as there is little slicker, daddy-o, than busying yourself around the house to the hip sound of the Coco Briaval Quartet, here represented by their 1968 offering, Lazy Night In Paris. Twelve tracks of continental cool beaming at you from the right side of the left bank, if you catch my drift.

Cards on the table now; this ain't Coltrane. And it's true to say that Django has a lot to answer for when it comes to this sort of thing, but hey! Coco Briaval has a charm of his own. Gypsy guitar filtered through the cigarette scented confidence of a city about to convulse in paroxisms of social and intellectual revolt. And let's face it, from my corner of the boulevard, when it comes to the soundtrack for student insurrection, this sure beats Rage Against The Machine.

Briaval continues to play, as far as I can tell, and there is a typical example of his craft posted here:

Monday, 14 July 2008

Los Stop & Los 3 Sudamericanos

I've been meaning to display these doozies for some time now and it seems appropriate that this post should feature a couple of bands that sum up the spirit of the 'Scratchy Buckles' website ethos: groovy record covers, groovy bands and groovy music!

I was immediately taken with the cover photo of the Los Stop E.P. In the centre we have Christina looking cooler than Purdey from 'The Avengers' flanked on either side by Juan Comellas (organ), José María Serra (guitar), Fernando Cubedo (bass) and Andrés Gallego (drums) all resplendent in their co-ordinated stripey cricket blazers. The Stops come from Spain and started in 1966, they made a toe tapping mod beat for an all too brief period between 1967 and 1968, releasing six singles and a lone self titled album, as well as some E.P's. Christina belted out the songs with her powerful voice, in a Sandie Shaw style. She went on to release four singles in 1969, under the Cristina y Los Tops moniker.

The following information is dubiously translated from here

"Her artistic beginnings were with the group "Donald Duck" getting its first prize radio, Juan Alfonso, Rafa and Paco along with Cristina up this first group that won major successes.
In recording her first album with the company Belter decide to rename the group, born as The Stop, and thus continued its successes interpreting songs of Mina. The Five Latinos etc. The Stop suffered a series of updates concerning the group members when several of them are separated by Cristina and form their own group, but nonetheless Cristina continues with its success. The voice of Rita Pavone sister, Cristina, then sings the successes of both in Italian and in Spanish such as "you eat noi", music festival in San Remo. In 1967 she received the award from the Institute of Hispanic Culture with the song "The tourist 1,999,999" The Festival de Mallorca. "Health, Money and Love" was the song that finally launched to fame with "Cristina and Stop" among many more successes. Again the group melts, leaving Cristina and two components which will be named Cristina y los STOP, they are born with the hits "Hearts Content" "Que Viva Love" and "Viva Canto" Cristina was selected to represent Spain in the Eurovision Festival 1971, but in this case went Karina elected. "

Group melting stuff indeed!

My copies are stamped on the back with "Stradivarius (The shop?) Jose L Avellaneda Cardoso, Peregrina, 2 esq. a Malteses, in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria". If anyone is popping that way on their holidays, I would be delighted to find out what became of this establishment.

The sleeve designs on all of their back catalogue are top notch with just the right amount of swinging sixties 'Carnaby Street' influence, fused with a yeye euro chic. Here, we have Christina doing an Audrey Hepburn pose in the rose garden, and then on 'El Tourista' The Stops are reminding us of the era of sophisticated air travel, before it's inevitable decline, when the package holidays took hold and spawned Brits going abroad to the Costa's. awesome!!

Los 3 Sudamericanos were strangely enough a trio who formed in 1959 in Paraguay. The following information is dubiously translated from here

"Trio formed in 1959 by Mary Alma Vaesken, Casto Dario Martinez and Johnny Torales. The latter had been sent as a child by his family to Buenos Aires to pursue their studies. He began his musical career here and then returned to Asuncion. He recorded a pair of solo LPs, one with the orchestra Lucio Milena and another with the Orchestra novels, for stamp Guarani. He sang in Paraguayan Guarani themes and Castilian, and also English versions of themes popularized by Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.

Darius stood out as a child as an interpreter of harmonic and then turned on guitar. In 1956 and 1957 he joined the quintet in Asuncion The Harmony Club. The group had disbanded by opposition from parents of its members, and four of them returned to their studies. Darius, however, was decided by the music.

Mary Alma was a student teacher quinceañera, known Darius, who used to play piano and sing at family parties. It soon began a romance between Alma Mary and Johnny. All three recorded an acetate to give away to an uncle of Alma, Johnny took a copy to a radio and soon began to sound the themes in asunceñas stations. Even the trio had no name, and people started to know him as The Ghost Trio.

The name Los 3 Sudamericanos adopted it when they were summoned by Columbia Argentina in Buenos Aires to record an LP, The LP had great success in Argentina, while in Paraguay received some criticism that traditional topics Paraguayans were interpreted with modernized arrangements. They decided to settle in Argentina to continue recording. Before travelling Alma and Johnny had to marry because she was a minor"

A quick 'Sudamericano' seven inch sleeve style guide...

1965 and it's all 'Peter, Paul and Mary' 1967 and the times are a changin'

1969 Whoah! hello flower power.. 1971 soft focus frenzy!

1973 sleazy does it, guys! 1976 It's all gone 'Abigail's Party'... from 1969

Friday, 11 July 2008

Mouthful Of Bees

Us folks at 'Scratchy Towers' pride ourselves in the thought that we're early adopters who have our finger on the pulse of the happening scenes, smug in the knowledge that we're breaking hot new bands that are on the cusp of making waves. We're midwives of music, if you like, delivering zeitgeist choon babies that will be nestling on the bosom of popular acclaim in the near future.

With this in mind, I bring to your attention Minneapolis natives Mouthful Of Bees with their album, The End, released in err oh um...the start of 2007 d'oh! Well, never mind, we might have missed the boat with this fresh faced indie four piece, but I still think they are worthy of a belated tip of the hat.

The sibling duo of guitarist Chris and Katelyn Farstad on drum duties started the band in 2004 and were then joined by Micky Alfano and Mark Ritsema from Battle Royale (n.b. I implore anyone who hasn't seen original Japanese movie of this moniker to track it down pronto) Chris has a mournful voice, comparable to the masterful David Byrne of Talking Heads fame, which is used to great effect on their stand out track 'I Saw A Golden Light' This song has a off kilter drum lick that reminded me of the bass sound on 'Hang Me Up To Dry' from Cold War Kids from their 2006 album 'Robbers and Cowards' I was trying trying to think of a suitable adjective for this vibe and came up with 'antsy' By this, I mean a beat which makes you wriggle unconventionally, rather than a sound that ruins picnics. The other track that makes me wriggle is 'The Now' which has a more regular lick, that owes something to a twangy soundtrack of a classic kid's cartoon from the seventies a la Wacky Races.

I look forward to this antsyhill mob dropping da bulletproof bomb with some new material!

Time to stop now, this lingo is getting more embarrassing than a politician attempting to curry favour and a good photo opportunity at an inner city youth development project; William Hague and baseball caps anyone?!

Tony Fayne

One of the most interesting parts of being a vinyl junkie is that sometimes it throws up some fascinating references that have become a mere footnote in music and entertainment cultural history. I will use Tony Fayne as an example: he here is, looking rather dapper, on this 'British Institutions Explained' Philips E.P from 1961 (an album with the same title was also released) that was nestling in amongst a frankly shocking selection of singles at a chazzer. Not wishing to leave to shop empty handed, I took a punt on this and passed over my 20p to the nice lady behind the counter. When I got home and gave it a spin, I was pleasantly amused by his stand-up comedy routine on Garden Fetes, The Police and British Railways.. all of these subjects, held up pretty well, compared to their latter day equivalents. It goes to show that, nearly fifty years on, us Brits are still exasperated by and also affectionately mock these national institutions that rule our daily lives. It must be one of the glues that hold us together socially, a national characteristic, that runs through to our funny bones. This is a vein of humour that is deeper than all the rapid surface level changes that influence our fast changing society.

Mr Fayne was, judging by this recording, a good raconteur, with a heavy reliance on the power of puns and clever word play that the English language affords it's users. However, a little further research reveals that he was a veteran of the London Palladium scene, who had supported Judy Garland on her London debut. Initially, Fayne was part of a double act with a Philip Evans who wrote the material. They specialised in doing impressions, in synch, of BBC sporting commentaries and appeared on shows such as 'Variety Bandbox' and 'Calling All Forces' He went solo in 1958 and also had T.V appearances on 'Toast Of The Town' which later became 'The Ed Sullivan Show' to his credit but what intrigued me most was that he was the straight man, to the redoubtable Norman Wisdom, in a comedy partnership that lasted forty years.

Scratchy has now resolved to partake in his afternoon tea break beside the tiger rug from now on, whilst wearing a crushed purple velvet jacket and a bow tie, all in honour of that gentleman of timeless chuckles - Mr Tony Fayne.,,442585,00.html

Thursday, 10 July 2008

The School

The school holidays are nearly upon us and that can only mean one thing, an upsurge in those traditional cherubic activities during those blissful, homework free, six weeks; making dens, games of hide and seek, listening out for the chimes of the ice cream van, hanging out on street corners getting mullered on alcopops, watching the burnt out cars light up the sky at sundown and shanking each other for "disrespecting ma bro's"

So, with this in mind and to jolly up the mood again, I bring to your attention the Cardiff based six piece The School whose jingly-jangly Spectorish pop will put a smile on your face and erect a deckchair on the promenade beside your earside. The 'Let It Slip' E.P has a couple of sizzlers with the title track and 'I don't believe in Love' wafting over the patio all breathy, hand clappy and polka dotty. The two other tracks fall between the griddle and into the fire somewhat, but are still edible once you brush off the charcoally bits. 'Let It Slip' follows on from the first single 'All I Want To Do' which has a holding hands in the park vibe to it, though disconcertingly reminded me of Anita Dobson's 'Anyone Can Fall In Love' abomination at one point, but let's not hold that against it...

The School is reading the 'Jackie' problem page during lunch break, whilst munching on a bag full of fizz bombs and space dust, under the shady tree!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Cliff Barrows and Billy Graham

Back in the day, before we had the interweb and such like, one of the essentials of spreading the word would be to press up a slab of vinyl containing some preaching, hymns or happy clappy pop tunes, if they were trying to reach more of their flock. This has been a source of joy for me and fellow collectors of vinyl arcana, whilst sifting through boxes of car boot horrors, though not for the reasons originally intended.

Behold! Cliff as he leads a very fresh faced, the College Chorale from Van Nuys, California along with members of the church's high school young people from it's touring Jubilaires Choir, in a number of medleys praising the good lord with all the panache of a hip friendly uncle. My copy is a U.K pressing from 1966 under the Herald label and comes under the banner of Word Records, which proudly boasts of being based near Watford, however further investigation reveals that Word are originally based in Waco, Texas. Thankfully, for this nice bunch of teenagers, the F.B.I hadn't got it's cult busting tactics sorted back then, especially as those guitars are being held in a very offensive manner! On the back there are sleeve notes provided by the one and only Billy Graham, who was 'The Don' of evangelical preaching.

This leads me on nicely to "Man in the 5th Dimension" which is a bit of a classic among the record oddity scavenging community. It's the soundtrack to his landmark 28 minute film shown at the New York World Fair in 1964/5 telling the story of mankind from the beginning of time (disclaimer: the accuracy of this history of mankind cannot be verified and may go against scientifically accepted knowledge, if you know what I mean) His message of "Peace Through Understanding" was presented in the octagonal pavilion's 400 seat theatre. Near the building was a 100 foot high tower which was topped by a brilliant sunburst, which you can see clearly illustrated on the album cover. The entrance gallery had a transparent, multi-colored globe, six feet in diameter, which was marked to show the places the minister had carried his worldwide Crusade for Christ. What a show, what a showman!

Sadly this film has been lost in time, but fortunately we have the record, providing us with a fascinating glimpse of a pivotal moment in evangelical history and American culture at large.

“Man in the 5th Dimension” (1964, USA). Shot in 70mm Todd-AO, this short film starred Billy Graham talking about the world situation and how salvation could come about through the embrace of the Bible. Designed to be shown at Graham’s pavilion at the 1964 New York’s World Fair, it never played theatrically and has not been seen since.

taken from

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Rosie and the Goldbug

Rosie Vanier fronts this trio who describe themselves as 'Kate Bush on Crack' The Goldbug consist of Plums on drums and Pixie doing bass duties. Now I know what your thinking at this point: "KOOKY ALERT! taxi for Scratchy!!" but stay with me because beneath the black velvet grandma's attic shawl lies a catchy commercial Blondie new wave vibe which really demands attention especially with Rosie bellowing out hummable hooks with her exemplary voice. This bug has a polished shell and is pushing along a nugget not a lump of dung so watch where yer step on and shake those kongos along with Rosie and her stripey hosiery's.

They have a residency at London's 12 Bar on Denmark Street on Thursdays throughout July and are doing some festivals as well this summer.

A gold star for putting some proper effort into the promos and the website as well.