Through the decades I found LPs, songs & artists that were largely ignored. Slipped between the cracks, lost to history, tax-write off, relegated to the $1.99 bin of the sliding pond record biz. Many good artists suffer a lack of promotion/distribution, or a record company gone belly up. Some artists are successful — but not always in the USA.
So, with 5-star reviews & millions in sales overseas the USA yawns. Greek rocker & former Aphrodite’s Child singer with Vangelis — Demis Roussos is one (“When I’m a Kid”). He never charted in America despite a long career & 60 million in sales. He sold out the Beacon in NYC in the 70s by word of mouth. He did score with a fiery disco rocker with Mercury/Phillips release of “I Just Live,” — a masterful jam with harmonica, thumping bass lines & a super tight performance band.
Indiana’s quirky superb Dirk Hamilton (ABC Records & Elektra artist) was popular — in Italy. (“The Ballad of Dicky Pherd” from Alias & brass-heavy rocker “Mouthful of Suck” from 1978’s Meet Me at the Crux. The LA Times said Dirk’s “one of rock’s best-kept secrets.”
Philly’s late Robert Hazard (an RCA new wave artist) developed into a first-rate Americana performer prior to passing. (“Troubadour” was 1 of 3 fine roots LPs) Hazard wrote Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
I Still Believe in You/Live:
Paul Hyde, the Payolas (“Hastings Street”) lead vocalist did little business in the US. The sad & infectiously melodic “I Miss My Mind the Most,” is from a solo LP.
Then, like Hazard, new wave band Code Blue (Warner Bros) formed by San Francisco native Dean Chamberlain (lead guitar/vocals) issued 2 LPs with the exceptional “Face to Face,” & “Good Times.” 15-years later (2011) Dean returned as The Honorable DHC. An independent 5-cut EP Welcome to Wonder Valley included “I Never Picked Cotton” & showcased tasty guitar picking. Willie Nelson take note. Maybe Dean will continue.
Face to Face:
I Never Picked Cotton –
The distinctive Pierce Turner’s beautiful & lyrical “Wicklow Hills” was followed by many solo LPs on major labels. Hardly a voice on the radio it has been on HBO. Avant-garde composer Phillip Glass produced one LP & Pierce was part of a duo with Larry Kirwan (Black 47).
Deep voiced British singer & former Blessing vocalist William Topley’s 1991’s “Delta Rain” (a superb duet with the remarkable Rebecca Price) was signed to major labels. His LPs are consistent, dynamic records & he toured with Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler.
SPILLED MERCURY: Released Oct 16th was an Australian pop-oriented country LP with Farfisa organ on the first cut. Angus Gill & Seasons of Change features members of Paul Kelly’s band. One duet with alt-country singer Steve Earle (the engaging “The New Old Me”). Gill has a formidable vocal & on the jangly “Coming of Age,” “Daylight Robbery” & “Skin Story,” quite fluent. The 11-cut LP — 3 Minute Movie (Rivershack) is a musical sugar fix.
Performing since 1993 the reliable Susan Werner’s new 10-cut, 14th LP — Flyover Country (Sept 27) provides a dose of traditional country, bluegrass & good songwriting. All radio-friendly expressive tunes.
Feminist folk ensemble Ruby Mack’s Devil Told Me (Independent) has sparkling vocals. Emma Ayres (vocals/guitar), Abbie Duquette (bass/uke), Zoe Young (guitar/vocals) & Abs Kahler (fiddle). With hints of Indigo Girls, they also have a generous sprinkle of The Roches, & the McGarrigle Sisters. The good folk singing has generous amounts of energy. But the traditional quality is genuine. “Machine Man,” & “Red Rocking Chair,” particularly good.
Oct 23rd saw the release of the Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors LP Live at the Tennessee Theater, (Thirty Tigers). “You Want What You Can’t Have,” & “Bittersweet,” — beautifully crafted & mindful of Spirit of the West, Lindisfarne, Horslips, Great Big Sea, BoDeans & Oyster Band. Sound like those bands? You must be good. Drew & his band are quite good.
The digital-only Ric Robertson’s Strange World (Free Dirt) is a 4-cut (Sept. 25). Not quite Americana with its funky salt, but it has a grain of soul. I think it has too many electronic effects that diminish the attraction of the luxuriant showcase. At least the drums are not mechanical. Ric manages (“Got Soul” & “Louisiana Love Thing”) to inject a Dr. John groove. PR refers to this as swampy, Cajun & zydeco oriented. Not to purists, it isn’t. Ric tries to introduce electronica to a folk idiom & though he comes close there’s just too many elements spoiling the brew. Keep trying. “Louisiana” is best with its Randy Newman type-piano.
More folky is SF’s Pete Kronowitt. Plenty of Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs, Eric Andersen styles. Released Sept. 25th his 11-cut 5th LP Do Something Now, (Independent) is political, playful & in varied traditional manners. Mostly spare, the melodies are strong. “We’re All Gonna Die,” is a Townes van Zandt nod. “Big Ole Stick of Wood,” is notable. It lacks a little character. It’s what set people like Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie & Joan Baez apart from the glut of 60s folk singers. PK has the goods he needs some character, persona to coincide with his songs. Ramblin Jack Elliott, Townes, Dave van Ronk, Hamilton Camp, Dylan & Tom Waits had this.
Out Aug. 28th Karen Jonas’ The Southwest Sky & Other Dreams, (Independent) has 10-country cuts that fall between Patsy Cline & Loretta Lynn with a dash of Fiona Apple. The reality that many dreams go unfulfilled is explored. “The Last Cowboy (at the Bowling Alley),” is cool. But the band needs to be punchier, exuberant & dirty-it-up some because Karen’s songs demand that kind of validation. They play by recipe & it becomes medicinal. “Don’t Blink Honey,” is excellent & mindful of Janis Ian with Karen’s breathy sincere vocal. An expressive route.
LPs can be purchased at the artists’’ respective websites.