GROOVES & CUTS –May 2022 – By John Apice
Dory Previn – Movie Lyricist / Solo Confessional Singer
Once married to pianist/composer Andre Previn the NJ-born Dorothy Langdon (1925-2012) became Dory Previn & penned lyrics for many famous 60s movies. An intriguing singer-songwriter whose career is somewhat a footnote today when she became an intense confessional solo recording artist.
The duo was nominated for Academy Awards for their songs sung by Judy Garland (“Faraway Part of Town,”) from “Pepe.” Five songs from “The Valley of the Dolls” (performed by Dionne Warwick). “Come Saturday Morning,” from “The Sterile Cuckoo,” is probably Dory’s most recognizable song — a pop hit for The Sandpipers (1969).
Andre had an affair with actress Mia Farrow. This led to Dory’s nervous breakdown which led Dory to go out on her own. She became an intense confessional artist with a lyrical style that was revealing. Having experienced many abusive encounters her lyrics were naked in her songs & filled with irony, sexuality, religion, abuse & psychology. Far beyond the Laurel Canyon songwriters. Her songs were not too thinly disguised & Dory mined a songwriting field few dared explore.
She was as creative & clever as Joni Mitchell though Joni may have sung better. Leonard Cohen had more romance in his songs. Laura Nyro was more soulful. Dory’s sincerity & angst was genuine.
She wasn’t a hippie artist though she had that look. Born in 1925 (only 5 years younger than my own mother), Dory’s solo career began around the same time as Brill Building songwriter Carole King.
Dory’s tuneful & wonderful “Lemon Haired Ladies” has been covered by several modern-day artists. “A Stone for Bessie Smith,” retold the true tale of Janis Joplin’s purchase of a headstone for the late blues great Bessie Smith who had none. Few singers wrote with a poison pen as Dory. This was Americana.
Dory’s career spanned 4 major labels. Strange album titles such as “The Leprechauns Are Upon Me” (Verve – 1958) with Kenny Burrell reissued in 1983). Her solo career gained steam with Mediarts (1970) & produced by Nik Venet. “On My Way To Where” featured “Mr. Whisper” (psychosis) & “Beware of Young Girls,” a scathing attack on Mia Farrow that warned married women about young girls. “With My Daddy In The Attic,” a chilling incest-based track presumedly based in truth. Not for the faint-hearted. More successful — “Mythical Kings & Iguanas,” in 1971.
Then UA picked up her option for “Reflections In a Mud Puddle.” Voted one of the best LPs of 1972 by Newsweek. Another 1972 set about tinsel town’s misfits “Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign.” A title that reflected the fate of an aspiring actress who committed suicide when she jumped from the big H in the Hollywood sign.
Songs about the latent savagery of humanity (“Doppelganger”), emotionally frail people (“Lady With the Braid” & addressing feminism “Brando.”). Her last LP for UA was the double “Live at Carnegie Hall” (1973).
Dory then went to Warners for “Dory” (1974) which included Elvis Presley’s drummer Ron Tutt. “We Are All Children of Coincidence & Harpo Marx” (1976) featured more top players & name musicians. Then no more Dory solo LPs until she issued an all-digital royalty-free download of an ecological composition. The long “Planet Blue” (2002). But that would be the last.
She ceased operations. She released books, won a 1984 Emmy Award for a TV soundtrack & many of her LPs were reissued on CD. She was “rediscovered” by an eclectic group of young people & artists. The lack of recordings may have been due to her failing eyesight. Dory Previn died at 86 at her MA farm, still married to her younger actor-husband Joby Baker (who appeared with Elvis in “Girl Happy” & a TV comedy “Good Morning World” – 1967).
The Americana Dory Previn acutely invented for herself was personal, filled with sharp stabs at real people, situations that produced great songwriting. So far, Dory has been the only one to traverse that deeply. RIP. B&W photo: Larry C. Morris/The New York Times. http://doryprevin.online.fr/
Ken Yates – Cerulean
Coming June 3 is the clean pop-oriented tunes of Ken Yates. Nothing’s explored heavily & Ken adheres to basic melodies & guitar chords & makes it interesting. Tales are woven into a showcase with pleasant if not melancholy-type voicing. “Honest Light,” a first single moves along at a moderate pace. Hopefully, a journey through an entire LP will widen Ken’s scope. Yates genuinely shows poetic moments; however, Americana doesn’t rely on lots of effects & embellishments. I believe if the songs have substance electronics, drones, special effects, techno-wizardry is not necessarily needed.
Fortunately, Ken doesn’t dwell on this too & shouldn’t. These quirks tend to have a short shelf life. Sadness, grief & darkness are all good inspirational topics for deep songs, but you can’t rely on that for an entire LP. People won’t stay with you.
“The Big One,” features folk great Kathleen Edwards. Good endorsement. The 11-cut CD could’ve used better artwork because the music deserves it. Color photo – Jen Squires. CD @ http://www.kenyates.com/
The One Eighties – “Dead Star Light”
Another June 3rd debut single is “Dead Star Light,” from an interesting LP that’s still in the oven. The One Eighties’ music is subtle & haunting & the vocals are enchanting.
Autumn Brand, Daniel Cook along with drummer Fred Eltringham & bassist Mark Hill combine traditional roots playing & succeed. A sample offers a hint as to their musical aim for the forthcoming collection & where they expect to take their new music.
Available/learn more @ https://www.theoneeighties.com/
The Redhill Valleys – Travel Well
Ontario’s 4-piece Redhill Valleys is available June 3rd as Disc One of Travel Well (Independent). It’s 6 impressive vocal songs in the country-roots tradition produced by Tim Allard (lead vocals/guitar) & Carl Jennings. All showcased in a hybrid reminiscent of the work of the late Gram Parsons, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Pure Prairie League, Quicksilver Messenger Service & bands such as that.
Lead vocalist Tim has clarity with a country-honey vocal style. Along with Allard, Chelsea McWilliams (bass/vocals), Danielle Beaudin (guitar/vocals) & Matt Soliveri (drums/vocals).
The female voice on “Anymore” is absolutely wonderful, very attractive warm vocalizing style. Some tunes are sung in duet & the contrasting vocals are excellently rendered. “Travel Well,” follows in a Tom Petty-via-alt-country route. Lots of bright spots along the way. The B&W video also was photographed quite well. https://www.theredhillvalleys.com/
Corner House – How Beautiful It’s Been
On the surface, the Celtic/bluegrass-folk of Corner House displays exceptional playing. Their debut (Independent) came on May 27. It spotlights Berklee-trained musicians who know their instruments but haven’t entirely captured the essence of the genres played.
Technically, all are proficient. No qualms. Soulfully, spots show where the brush didn’t paint. It lacks the genuine mountain supplement, the authenticity factor, by no fault of its own. The energy level & enthusiasm is present – but not sufficient enough to want to stomp your feet & pass a jug.
Tunes get off to slow starts. Bluegrass is a driven genre as laid down by its innovator Bill Monroe. So is the Celtic path with its traditions weaved through Scottish folklore/melodies (Clannad).
“Young Brother” is a genuinely good ballad. The effort is a bit lifeless. The accomplished musicians have yet to explore the application of a solid arrangement — lyrics, vocal tonality, phrasing & intonation that make up the genre’s musical sustenance. This is a result of trained, excellent musicians who try a hand at traditional music usually performed by those who simply are native to it. Corner House plays the right notes but hasn’t lived the song’s purpose.
Itzhak Perlman is a world-class violin player but in a bluegrass band, you’d need Richard Greene.
Corner House has all the potential — they are indeed competent. The skill & determination to do excellent work are evident. It’s the soul of the music that needs to take shape. That’s to be acquired. They grasp it at times, instinctively, but then fall a tad short.
I like their effort; their instrumentals are superior & they play better than I do. But I understand what having soul is. Percy Sledge had it. Michael Bolton never did.
“Two Rights Make a Chicken,” — not necessarily a Celtic or Bluegrass type title the performance is impressive. Their love of the music allows brilliance to illuminate their effort. The vocals need a more time-honored tonality rather than modern-day balladry angst. “South of the City,” with its upright jazz-oriented bass — isn’t their forte. But…
Corner House is worth a listen – even a cake has to rise in the oven before serving. https://www.cornerhouseband.com/
Kamara Thomas – Tularosa: An American Dreamtime
May 13th saw the release of a compelling collection that encompasses an area of New Mexico. A decades-long land dispute between Apache, Comanches, Mexican farmers, Texas ranchers, eastern railroad capitalists & ultimately the US government. A motley crew.
The song cycle by old West obsessive Kamara Thomas (producer/acoustic/electric guitars) is ambitious. She delves into the American myth & landscape with an abundance of creativity.
North Carolina’s Kamara has a voice that closely resembles the emotional power of Native American folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie (“Darling Don’t Cry,” & “The Priests of the Golden Bull”) — whose songs gave people shivers.
Ms. Thomas also shapes each piece with a mix of drama but never leaves out the emotional granules, boundaries of nature & ancient-American song lines that still blow in the sand & dust of the frontier. Quite an undertaking. The intensity of the performance comes from the excellent musicianship. A banquet of sound that begins with a folk song based in part in the tradition of Ralph Stanley on “Oh Gallows“ with all its bright crevices in a dark melodic shadow & with a chilling female backup.
The 11-cut CD also has “Rolling Away” which is quite good. Available @ Bandcamp + http://kamarathomas.com/tularosastorywork
Chris Nurthen (aka SweetNur)
Originally from Philadelphia, the Memphis-based Chris Nurthen (aka SweetNur) put out 2 strong independent singles recently. “Misunderstood” (May 19) & “Bay Dale,” (May 27).
What’s instantly recognizable is Chris’ powerful tone & phrasing. He accentuates quite well. He has touches of Dave Matthews & David Gray. “Misunderstood, “ boasts a blistering lead guitar solo at its conclusion. Oh, yeah.
Though Chris isn’t quite Springsteen, Petty, or Dylan yet, the evidence suggests he has potential. It all comes down to whether he has the gasoline (rather, the songs…the material, the originality to sustain the allure that allows that audience attraction).
Chris has a mature, strong voice. He does need to find his own songwriting niche. Springsteen focused on the factory worker & life at the Jersey shore. Mellencamp the rural farm laborers & small-town folks. John Prine had humor embedded in serious subjects like Vietnam vets & old folks. Tom Waits started as a Beat then followed in the carnival dark underbelly of Brecht-Weill’s avant-garde cabaret. Leonard Cohen chose the Euro-romantics. This is what Mr. Nurthen needs to find. For himself.
B&W photo by ALN Images. https://sweetnurmusic.com/
All Get Out – Kodak
This edgy-sounding band conglomerate of All Get Out with its good melodies/vocals drift out of South Carolina. All dipped generously in a harder music sauce (source – plays on words).
The 10-cut Kodak (Equal Vision/Rude/Bad Timing Records-Drops June 3rd) is their 2nd recorded well with crisp drums on “AA Almanac.” Then, on to “Whatever,” — a steady tune that has guitar swirls in its simplicity. Add a little raunch & aggression layered liberally within the shell of tight rhythms & musical detours – nice showcase.
Other bands play it straight with easy chord progressions with no decorations — All Get Out add decorations. Therein lies the difference. The Kinks, The Dictators, The Knack & The Jam have been here before. But All Get Out has no sugar to sweeten it up, no mustard to make it tangy. They have a solid approach to their taste.
Their “Room To Talk,” is supercharged. Falls just short of punk. If you’re a little older but remember the 70s – this won’t be nostalgic, it doesn’t sound retro. It will, however, help you remember those 70s as if they never went away.
It won’t cause any measurable tremors on the musical landscape, but it will be like kite flying on a high hill — with thunder & lightning flashing all around. Available @ https://allgetout.bandcamp.com/ + http://www.allgetoutmusic.com/
Jadea Kelly – Roses
Released in March Canadian folk late comer Jadea Kelly’s 4th LP doesn’t follow a typical folk route as a traditionalist. Ms. Kelly’s producers use a pinch too much vocal manipulation. Yet, beneath it Kelly does have a genuinely good God-given voice. She should go au-natural – vocally.
It isn’t that I opposed the vocal studio tweaks, but so many artists do it. Too many. It’s not always to the song’s benefit. Ms. Kelly has lovely pipes. “Temporary Farewell,” skims the surface of country on her 13-cut Roses (Independent). It’s pleasant, catchy & radio-friendly. However,…
“Stupid Goddam Face,” falls into a PJ Harvey-Tori Amos mode that may lose the “country” audience. Worth the gamble?
I’m all about the song. Not effects. The only effect is what the human voice does. Ms. Kelly returns fortunately with “Roses,” — far, far better. Powerful, emotional & well-written. Bravo.
The recording as a whole may be a hard sell since Jadea excels with her country-lite stylings & occasional Lucinda Williams furnishings (“Pitch Black”). But dabbles too much in areas that are unrelated to these genres.
“Across the Stairs,” – too much dreamy instrumentation. Ms. Kelly’s exquisite vocal among the pedal steel guitar & percussion is ideal. Maybe Jadea will find her niche. Country? “Room For Me,” is delightful & wonderful. “Running To You,” not so much. Too ethereal. Two entirely different audiences.
Lots to enjoy — but sift through the crackers to find the cookies. Jadea’s anchored in country basted in electronica cum folk & though she has challenging aspects it’s hard to determine what she’s trying to creatively form.
It happened to Lyle Lovett, Phranc & Webb Wilder too. She is ambitious though. https://www.darthjadea.com/
Jeremy & the Harlequins – ABRA CaDaBRA
On first listen I thought — a lost Graham Parker LP. But it isn’t. 13 good songs led off by “It Won’t Be Love,” — an instantly enjoyable tune with commercial cred. Nothing to tax the brain. In the old days, it would be jukebox perfect.
Is it set in retro concrete? Yeah, a little. But these guys don’t come across as pompous, oldie-driven. They seem to have a genuine tight grip on what made light pop-rock songs of the early 60s so expressive, simple & likable.
On ”One Shot (of Rock n’ Roll),” had the sax pumped it up just a bit louder it could’ve been a Bruce Springsteen leftover. There are also hints of the early Southside Johnny in the arrangement. Produced by the band with lots of NYC sweetness to fortify its melodic sincerity – this is a lost genre of rock. Songs performed with “Fun” as an added musician.
They’re too slick to be a garage band yet they have the spirit. There isn’t a poor cut to spin on this 52-minute ABRA CaDaBRA (Dropped May20-Pasadena Records).
The band – Jeremy Fury (vocals/piano/theremin), Craig Bon (guitar), Steve Fury (drums), Geoff Bennington (guitar), Nathan Cogan Post (bass/piano/organ/Farfisa/mellotron), Ben Jaffe (tenor sax) & Steve Garcia (trumpet).
They perform near-classic doo-wop, with dashes of falsetto, arranged with precision & lifted by the excellence of their musicianship. Some are novelty-oriented but never silly or camp. They have loaded melodies & a lyrical proficiency. No confection — just delicious. Impressive CD packaging. Wow, some are getting better. Photo courtesy of band website. Available @ http://www.jeremyandtheharlequins.com/
Elliot C. Way – “Bleed”
The full All I Know LP (Drops Sept. 8-North Country Collective) & this preview “Bleed,” (Releases May 26). It’s a peek at the smooth, smoky vocals of Elliot C. Way who has a distinctive voice. If he stays the course & the material reflects & works with his fine storytelling delivery Way (vocals/guitar) stands a good chance of sharing space beside names such as the late John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, Otis Gibbs & Jon Dee Graham. The man projects a genuine arresting voice with honesty & experience.
Players — Matt Kelly (keys/pedal steel), Erik P.H. Nielsen (bass), Leon Powers (drums), John Sponarksi (guitar) & Kendel Carson (fiddle/BG vocals).
Many musicians have played with singer-songwriter Bob Sumner (founder – Vancouver’s new record label North Country Collective). Color image courtesy – Elliot C. Way’s Spotify. Available @ https://www.northcountrycollective.ca/news
Cody Brooks – First World Problems
Not exactly traditional Americana-Roots but energetic & expressive is Nashville native Cody Brooks entertaining foray. He doesn’t have that baritone rich range of Nick Cave, but he does have an exceptional theatrical vocal on “Scream.”
I didn’t pass up on Brooks since he successfully mixes unorthodox forms in his showcase. The gutbucket blues, Gypsy-jazz, the gnarly guitars, narrative beat noir dialogues & percussive rants (“First World Problems”) — all work to a degree in their ability to display entirely different, creative & dark pieces with allure. If a listener has patience.
The 10-cut, 39-minute First World Problems (Drops June 3-Pasadena Records) possesses several ounces of Captain Beefheart’s patented grinding gears vocal inflection without the lunacy (“Real Man”). The musicianship can be quirky but has an excitable Tom Waits oeuvre. Propulsive with an urgency that will tingle the pores & curl the fuzz in navels.
Oh, there’s a place for a guy like Cody Brooks. Despite the direction not being entirely new Cody does add his own foundation to a genre with its own subtle aggrieved textures. This is a mix of Tom Waits & Chuck E. Weiss with the mixing, stirring & shaking being done by Cody Brooks. Each of Cody’s tunes carries its own creativity despite obvious influences.
Produced by Ken Coomer & recorded in Nashville the charm established in these exceptionally crafted bits of hellfire; psychosis & kitsch — all have a value-added. It’s smartly conceived. While not challenging, it’s all listenable.
The adrenaline workout of “Shake It,” with its Tito & Tarantula Tex-Mex guitar from hell. This is a beauty. I already played it 3 times. Sometimes it gets weird, but I’d rather listen to this than John Legend.
Great CD package, too. Like the old days when record jackets were as good as the music. Available @ https://www.codybrooks.rocks/
CD & Digital Links can be bought at the artists’ respective websites.