Grooves & Cuts July 2022 – By John Apice
GROOVES & CUTS – When Is a Band No Longer What It Was…
There are miraculously many decades-old rock bands that still prowl the stages & studios.
But when is a band really just a parody, a tribute band, or no longer the real thing? Years ago, several bands were involved in lawsuits as they splintered & became several alternate versions.
An English group that began in 1966 & had more fame in Europe than America still performs & records – but there are now two. Since 2 of its original members passed away Barclay James Harvest — a marvelous progressive rock band (20 studio LPs) & regarded as the poor man’s Moody Blues. Their song “Hymn” is stunning.
But since 1998 there’s a John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest & though he was the lead vocalist/guitarist since the band’s inception & primary songwriter you’d think he was the real one.
But 2 members of the original band made up Les Holroyd’s Barclay James Harvest (since 2002). Les was the original bass/keyboards player (along with drummer Mel Pritchard who passed away in 2004). Which is the real band? It’s been debatable even among BJH devoted fans.
The Rolling Stones have been sarcastically regarded as a tribute band now. But that’s not entirely accurate. So long as lead singer Mick Jagger & guitar-wiz Keith Richards are front & center, write the songs, expel supernatural energy. The thrust of the image & sound is just those two. The Rolling Stones are still the Rolling Stones. Except…
That 70+ men shouldn’t be singing about sweet little 16’s. It’s perverse. It doesn’t matter that Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor, or the late Charlie Watts are no longer with the Stones (though Charlie, unlike the others was a far more pivotal member, an original member. But like The Who’s Keith Moon’s passing it wasn’t enough to kiss the Rolling Stones goodbye). So, The Stones still have a beating heart & they’re not on life support.
The same can be said for The Who. The voices, lead guitar & songwriting are intact. Roger Daltrey & Pete Townshend are the driving forces. John Entwistle was important & so was Keith Moon. But the roles they played could be replaced & have been. Their absence didn’t play a role in the tenor of the band’s sound. Some would argue the Moon inclusion but hey, they did survive with new drummers — didn’t they?
But when Procol Harum lead singer Gary Brooker passed in February 2022 – that was the end.
Brooker’s voice was the character & signature sound. Now it’s gone. Maybe if Matthew Fisher (original organist & secondary lead vocalist) had stayed on he could’ve picked up the slack. But in recent years when he was with Procol his stature was nearly nonexistent.
The Doors were essentially gone once Jim Morrison passed. The mystique was gone. The subsequent albums without Morrison were made up of songs Jim rejected. His words, his entire performance & oeuvre were the group’s signature. The group lasted for a few embarrassing LPs but without Jim, it was obvious the magic, the alchemy was no more.
Then there’s Steppenwolf, no John Kay as lead vocalist they wouldn’t exist. Blood, Sweat & Tears hardly survived once lead vocalist David Clayton-Thomas departed. They were anemic. Jethro Tull without Ian Anderson wouldn’t exist whatsoever. We all know what transpired after Roger Waters left Pink Floyd. They limped on for a while but Waters & Gilmour did better as solo artists.
It’s obvious that except for some orphan songs the individual Beatles weren’t as strong solo. Paul McCartney’s work with Wings had good material but nothing as impactful (meaningful) as what he did with The Beatles. It started strong with “Maybe I’m Amazed,” completely solo — but as time went by the tunes got diluted & lyrically he became cliched. Paul had been to the mountain & now it was whatever he could pick up going downhill. Perhaps reasons why The Beatles rejected some of these songs.
John Lennon had some good moments with LPs like Imagine, but as time passed none of his LPs until Double Fantasy, came close. They were uneven, less interesting & uninspired.
Ringo was entertaining. Brought lots of personality but may have never made it solo if he wasn’t first — a Beatle. George Harrison’s early contributions were lame until “Something,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” & though he maintained a more serious curve to his music he too succumbed to songs of little merit as a solo artist. His peak was “All Things Must Pass,” & the concert for Bangladesh – which was just a live LP. Of course, “When We Was Fab,” & “Got My Mind Set On You,” were beautiful stabs at Beatle-inspired music. It worked. His second peak was the Traveling Wilburys where he really proved his songwriting worth apart from The Beatles. “Handle With Care,” would have been a great late career Beatles song. But his last LP had little to offer.
The Dave Clark 5 would not exist if not for the masterful lead vocals of Mike Smith. The Kinks would not exist without the ingenious songs of Ray Davies. And the biggest glaring blemish — the Jefferson Airplane & Jefferson Starship. What was that when Grace Slick departed?
Certain individuals have a signature sound & style. There are groups that perform today with no original members. Climax Blues Band, the Jefferson Airplane/Starship. Though they have David Freiberg (He’s not an original having joined in 1972 & never a key figure).
Kanter, Slick, Balin, Jorma & Casady — not there. Not the Airplane or Starship. Go see Hot Tuna instead.
Some individuals will always be a band’s legacy. Without them, it’s just a tribute band. Some are excellent but the hocus pocus or abracadabra won’t produce any rabbits.
Taylor Alexander – Hymns For a Hollow Earth
A beautiful introduction to Nashville-based Taylor Alexander comes on “The Earth Is Hollow,” an intense beautifully written & performed song. Serious stuff. Taylor’s voice has that deep resonance of sincerity & precision.
Produced by Brendan St. Gelais the 10-track sophomore LP Hymns for a Hollow Earth (LP drops Aug. 19-Hail Mary Records) finds Alexander not adhering to any one style or genre. Struggling to find meaning in life the single “Unmarked Graves,” is another vocally well-recorded cut that has a soothing ambiance to the timbre in Taylor’s voice.
There are many good tunes in this collection. “Fences,” tackles heavy-duty subjects about growing up, aging & thinking about what’s been achieved & not. A light touch of country music permeates the performance but is never high wrought to make it too commercially sweet.
Not all the songs are as intense as the first few, but each has its own charm – even the slower ones. “Nothing Makes Me Happy Anymore,” is a surprise since it starts out rather lackadaisical & then it picks up & becomes words everyone can relate to. Excellent song. It reminds me of Paul Hyde’s great tune “I Miss My Mind the Most.” These 2 songs would be great mates. B&W photo by Joshua Black Wilkins. CD @ http://www.iamtayloralexander.com/
Mark MacKay – Summer Slow Down
California-native & now Nashville guitar slinger Mark MacKay extolls the Laurel Canyon-Bakersfield CA music. But while the performance is admirable there’s a lack of originality, not that it’s necessary all the time. Much of what MacKay does could be considered formula – but he does successfully put his own touches on styles already established. There’s redeeming value here, but this single seems to satisfy thirst but not hunger. For now.
It would be wiser to create an LP that says something about who you are. It would be worth an effort because as a singer & performer MacKay has the goods. No doubt. He is worthy. Captivating an audience is a well-earned position but Justin Bieber does that too & he’s no Elvis, Tom Jones, or even Garth Brooks.
MacKay has country-rock & roll cred that works & he’s an accomplished musician. However, sloshing around in a pond of music that is cultivated in musical excesses such as west coast rock, Laurel Canyon inspired it can come dangerously close to formulaic. MacKay has the talent to be a little more challenging than just rehashing what’s been done before ala Jackson Browne & The Eagles.
A signature sound is needed to enrapture new listeners, not just the satisfaction of having recorded & performed well. It’s not easy to achieve the success of a rusty truck like Willie Nelson or the polished excellence of a Roy Orbison. Other than that, you’ll be a cookie-cutter performer & MacKay needs to steer clear of that.
I think MacKay is more than that. He needs to get edgier. Find songs that are soaked in personality & not what is sugary. MacKay has the right attitude now he needs altitude. A new approach to landing. “Summer Slow Down,” (Single July 15) is a good song. It’s basically in a discounted Beach Boys tradition (remember The Sunrays’ “I Live For the Sun”)? Same deal. It’s not country. Pop music overrides the rootsier elements. If that’s the intention — fine. MacKay sings reliably good, his band is tight & arrangements sparkle. But this isn’t real Country. This is an orange drink it’s not orange juice.
Nonetheless, the song works commercially & would be high octane in the mainstream radio flow. I just think MacKay is destined for loftier peaks. He needs to sharpen his pen & find a deeper niche. Artists like Willie, Tom Waits, Randy Newman, Johnny Cash, Townes van Zandt, Dylan & Leonard Cohen – are all known for their style as much as their songs. There are some interesting pieces here that are liable, but would it sustain a career? Or just satisfy the audience in attendance on any given day between beer & wine? Photo courtesy of Mark’s Facebook. CD @ http://www.markmackayofficial.net/
John McDonough – We’ll Answer The Call – EP
A 4-track EP released June 17, 2022, has interesting music. The title track is intriguing though somewhat cliched his pure Jim Lampos-oriented vocals (“All Saints Day, Paris”) are quite a vehicle & expressive.
“We’ll Answer the Call,” are words that have been used through the years by folkies endlessly. I guess no one has ever answered the call yet. Vocally, Chicago-based acoustic guitarist John McDonough has a full-throated approach & his band is tight. Each instrument’s layered nicely to give the average song its vitamins. The song is performed with gusto & has rhythmic punch with decorous guitar lines followed closely by piano. Despite my criticism, it’s a listenable song since it’s played with significance. Sign of a pro.
Overall, the cuts have elements that make them worthy. “Among the Stars,” has nice guitar picking but it’s another cliché title that’s well-sung. The seriousness of John’s composing is evident but not his title originality. His carefully chosen lyrics add to the drama which is good. Grace & power is what he offers despite the plain titles.
“Shooting Star,” “Love You Just For You,” – simplicity rules. The compositions are solid in a folky manner. Maybe John’s enunciation is what will tweak some ears since he pronounces every word perfectly instead of “sing” & manipulate the words to musical notes. It’s not a bad trait but there’s a difference between speaking & singing. “Shooting Star,” has piano throughout stroked pleasantly & the songs have good arrangements. He just has to “get into” them deeper as Jim Lampos does.
A little more upbeat & friendly is “Love You Just For You,” — more mainstream in nature. John’s raw voice is fine. However, his vocals deserve lyrics & storytelling that relate more to a radiant soulful/urban landscape. An obligatory listen to Chuck E Weiss would be the ticket. If John’s firmly rooted in more homespun music then he just needs to add a little more vinegar to the recipe. His songs do not feature nuclear-powered guitar solos, barrel-house stomping pianos or snappy drum fills – so he must rely on his skills as a singer to tell stories that will prevent people from getting up to go to the restroom. Color image from John’s website. The CD @ https://johnmcdonoughlive.com/home
The East Pointers – Stronger Than You Know (Single)
While not entirely my cup of tea the single is a strong tune. Very little Americana-roots music tradition “Stronger Than You Know,” is dug up from the soil of American pop music & little else. It starts out good with the acoustic guitar & catchy piano line but soon devolves into dance music. The soul is diluted by the electronics & way too much falsetto. The song itself isn’t bad despite the thin vocals when they accelerate. There’s a lot of sincerity in the performance. I’ve been in this business for decades there’s nothing folk music about this once they kick into high gear.
The only redeeming value in this performance by The East Pointers (formed in 2014) is their contemporary mainstream message which gives this song its lift & to younger listeners it may be the hook to get them to listen.
Folk music doesn’t have overwhelming straight beats with electronica sprinkled in. It’s far more traditional acoustic music with storytelling rather than repetitive actions on clichéd words. However, (a big however), the men do try to get a message across & that can effectively be folk enough at times.
Their musicianship/lyrics sparkle on “I Saw Your Ghost” which may or may not be on the EP is a better example of their effective diversity. Great song.
The group had 3 studio LPs & set for release this fall is a 6-song EP (Nettwerk) with this single available now — full EP title to be announced. From what I heard it’s appealing to the juvenile ear more than an aficionado & that may be worth something. It’s an independent Canadian release. What’s good about the song is its positive message. Despite all the bad things going on — storms, politics, wars, gasoline, food prices — you’re stronger than you know. Good message. Coming from a youthful voice I won’t slight it. It’s a good honest effort.
Songs born out of the pandemic are fine, but that has a short shelf life. It will date the material & the bio. With too much of that, an artist can be relegated to a novelty band status eventually. Lost on new ears. Not many have high regard for the hippie anthems of the 60s today. It was another time a different priority.
The late Koady Chaisson (d. January 2022) played banjo/tenor guitar/bass synth with this unit originally. It’s not clear whether Koady contributed to these songs at this time.
The band is Cousin Tim Chaisson (vocals/fiddle/percussion), Jake Charron (guitar/keys), Colin MacDonald & award-winning producer Derek Hoffman. All do a fine job sculpting the new material. They do look the part of a folk trio – hopefully, they won’t embellish their music with lots of synth swirls because purists will be quick to grimace & fall away.
Awards aside – they don’t impress me & awards mean little to my assessments. They have to. Elvis won Grammys for what? Gospel music. Give me a break. Jethro Tull got one for heavy metal music. Really? See what I mean? And many people who have won many, many awards have disappeared promptly. Chris Cross? 5-Grammy Awards. Who?
Photo courtesy of Luke Eastmure. CD @ Bandcamp & https://www.eastpointers.ca/info
Kenny Roby – Self-Titled
This self-titled LP by Kenny Roby (songwriter/front man for alt-country band 6-String Drag) includes the single “New Day,” written in 2004 & recorded for the first time in 2006. This new version now features guests Amy Helm (vocals on 2 tracks) — daughter of The Band’s late drummer Levon Helm. The Lovin’ Spoonful legend John Sebastian joins on harmonica on 3 tracks.
Joining Roby are Daniel Littleton (acoustic & electric guitars/12-string electric guitar/piano/mellotron/electric piano/shruti box), Jeff Hill (bass/bowed bass/cello), Tony Leone (drums). Additional musicians – Dori Freeman (vocals 2 tracks), Brian Mitchell (accordion) & Amy Laber (autoharp).
While the songs won’t shake you up many have a quality that makes you feel good just listening. The way we listened to many Band songs & Lovin’ Spoonful songs a hundred years ago.
Kenny Roby’s been around the barn a few times – he’s not a greenhorn or singer out of the gate for the first time. With this collection, he celebrates second chances & does an admirable job.
The self-titled 12-cut was written & recorded in Woodstock, NY (Drops Aug. 5-RPF-Royal Potato) & is a well-recorded document lyrically & melodically. Roby’s vocals are warm like the folk vocals of troubadours from yesteryear – Sebastian, a tint of Fred Neil, far more resonant than Phil Ochs, but all in the vehicle of expression that was tread by David Blue, Eric Anderson, Townes van Zandt without being too chiseled on the ears as Bob Dylan, or Dave Van Ronk.
Roby’s vocals aren’t as pop-oriented as Roger McGuinn (The Byrds) & have the perfect rawness that he’d likely follow with time into the corridors that Jon Dee Graham, Buddy Miller & Chuck E Weiss occupy.
“Leave It Behind,” is nothing short of simplicity that’s absolutely delightful. No politics, no psycho-dramas, just an upbeat optimistic tune sung with that Lovin’ Spoonful/Fifth Avenue Band/Geoff & Maria Muldaur/Norman Greenbaum/Ron Nagel honesty — so prevalent in the songwriting of the late 60s early 70s. A simplicity that’s hard to teach a musician. The CD includes a beautiful, stitched lyric insert & the CD art is a plain handsome earthy artwork with pastel colors – reflecting wonderfully the music enclosed.
Kenny Roby — a good listen will be had by all.
B&W photo courtesy of Amy Laber. CD @ https://royalpotatofamily.com/product/kenny-roby/ & https://kennyroby.net/
CD & Digital Links can be bought at the artists’ respective websites.
Grooves & Cuts July 2022