Tag Archives: Todd Rundgren

Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #5

You have to have brass balls to release a double album in an era when the record industry is imploding upon itself. But psych-garage popsters The Grip Weeds decided to go all in with Strange Change Machine, and from the critical and popular response, it’s clear that they made the right decision.

Blessed with multiple singers and songwriters, the Grip Weeds have enjoyed a long career at the forefront of the modern pop movement. The sound from brothers Kurt and Rick Reil (on drums and guitar) with bassist Kristen Pinell and guitarist Michael Kelly is exponential thanks to all of the band members being multi-instrumentalists, but I must single out Kurt’s powerhouse drumming – he should be mentioned alongside Clem Burke and other greats. Many bands are just individuals orbiting each other; The Grip Weeds are truly a four-headed organism.

Based upon the title alone it should come as no surprise that several of the tracks on Strange Change Machine will teleport you to groovier times. “Coming and Going” and “Twister” are Sgt. Pepper-ish while “Don’t You Believe It” and “Truth Is Hard To Take” deserve to be pumping full blast out of jukeboxes and radios. “Close To The Sun” (my favorite) features harmonies that lift you up within the song, while “Be Here Now” is delicate and mesmerizingly melodic.

Although this is not a derivative effort, an artist whose name did pop into my head was Todd Rundgren, mostly for the overall feel and the complexity of the arrangements (“Speed Of Life” and the title track could be slid into a Utopia mix with good results). Ironically the album includes a straight-ahead cover of “Hello It’s Me”, which although well performed seemed an odd choice for mid-album placement. It broke the mood for me; perhaps it would have been better as a hidden bonus track?

Video: “Speed Of Life

I was fortunate enough to see them play two months ago at Pat DiNizio’s annual Halloween Bash; their set was heavily laced with the new cuts. I am pleased to report that these songs are just as dynamic in a live setting, reinforcing my decision that this is one of the best albums of the year and probably their most consistent effort. At twenty-four tracks long it’s not perfect, but the hits vastly outweigh the misses. And for great music contained on one album, the ranking should answer your question.

The album is deep, and repeated listenings only bring out more nuances. This is also one of the best engineered and produced albums I have heard in a long time – the clarity and presence is in audio Technicolor on everything from a car stereo to a full system. I recommend setting aside 80 minutes with a good pair of headphones for maximum bliss…and then repeat as necessary.

Listen to clips on Amazon

The Grip Weeds on MySpace

Outstanding in their field.

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Under The Radar – The Third Men

With so many albums out there, we rely on the “sounds like” marketing approach, whether we’re reviewers trying to describe a band’s sound or the band itself trying to attract attention. Tell me you sound like Shannon Hoon singing Styx songs to a marimba beat and I’m moving along faster than a booster rocket. Drop names like Cheap Trick, Big Star and Todd Rundgren and I’m going to stop by and give your disc a listen.

Granted, I know that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to have the songwriting chops that Todd has, the mercurial vocals of Robin Zander or the soulful essence of Alex Chilton and company. I get that. But I’m figuring that if these are the sounds that influence you, some of that is going to bleed through into your music. And what you do with that osmosis is what counts.

It was just such a list of influences that led me to The Third Men, a Nebraska band that plays “hook laden songs at high volume” and were raised on raised on “equal parts 70s FM radio and 80s underground psychedelia“. Most bands with multiple vocalists and songwriters is going to have a diverse sound, especially when those members are veterans of other bands. I’m not familiar with Sons Of…, which featured Mike Tulis and Matt Rutledge, but I was a big fan of Patrick White‘s former groups The Dangtrippers and The Bent Scepters. Dana Rouch and Mike Loftus complete the versatile quintet.

The songs on Boost range from crunchy powerpop to garage bubblegum, flooded with ringing guitars and a snappy backbeat with a flood of keyboard sounds that color the songs vividly. But there’s energy here – lots of Elvis Costello-ish Farfisa moments, many dBs and Lets Active sounding songs with clever arrangements. “The Hangover” mixes Big Star chord progressions with drum fills from The Book Of Ringo; “G.A.S.” is reminiscent of the early Beach Boys/Jan and Dean singles. I also heard some Byrds and Jayhawks moments sprinkled in, and even a KISS/REO Speedwagon moment that caught me off guard.

Drawbacks? Occasionally nasal or reedy vocals; none of the singers is particularly strong but the harmonies are solid. Another is the thin production; given the material I imagine this would be a whole different record if it was punched up a bit more. But within the bouncy music are occasionally dark and humorous lyrics, and while there aren’t any instant classics on Boost, most the songs are head-bobbingly appealing.

For me, a pleasant surprise and a band I’ll keep my eye (and ear) on. If any of those musical references above tickle your fancy, give this one a proper spin or two and let it grow on you.

Listen to clips from Boost at CDBaby

The Third Men website

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New Album! Oranjuly

Oranjuly is the name for the one-man whirlwind named Brian King, whose obvious love of The Beach Boys, Jellyfish and other harmony-intensive pop bands bleeds through his music. Not certain if the choice of name combines his favorite fruit with his favorite month, but the band name isn’t important – the music under the banner is. And that’s what I’m touting tonight.

You want me to drop more names? Various songs recall Todd Rundgren, Badfinger, Weezer, Van Duren, Big Star and fill-in-your-pop-hero here. And of course, those Beach Boys. Listen to the keyboards and bass line of the opening track and tell me you don’t think of both “Good Vibrations” and “Wouldn’t It be Nice”, even though his track “Her Camera” sounds like neither. And when those a capella harmony vocals come in on the bridge? Holy crap.

My two favorite songs are the delicate “At Any Time” (think Bleu or Mike Viola) and the bouncy “I Could Break Your Heart” – especially that irresistable chorus couplet. But it’s deeper than earworm hooks; even with the pop-single lengths of three minutes plus, King flashes some instrumental chops, too. “Mrs. G” wraps up the coda with rollicking piano and tasty guitar leads, but even a stripped down song like “South Carolina” floats its hook over acoustic guitar and piano…and bass/drum support right out of the McCartney/Starr playbook.

I remember when a solo album meant just that – a talented performer was playing all the instruments and singing all the parts. King is very impressive here, filling the voids with strings and keyboards and horns and absolutely nailing the vocals. Very, very strong album – I’ll certainly remember this at year-end time. 

Check out the Oranjuly website.

Buy the album from Not Lame.

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T.G.I.F. – The 13th??

Uh oh…

Thank God It’s Friday The Thirteenth? Sure! Here at the Prescription, we make our own luck. It’s still a Friday, damn it, and even if it’s not a particularly good one, at least you woke up this morning, which is something to always be thankful for. If your life is perfect, kudos to you. If your life sucks, well, there’s room for improvement and that’s always something worth shooting for.

So good luck or bad, here are Ten Thirteeny Things for you to enjoy today. (And yes, I just made up the word thirteeny.)

01) Social Distortion: “Bad Luck

02) Beck, Bogert and Appice: “Black Cat Moan

03) Fleetwood Mac: “I’m So Afraid

04) Steely Dan: “Black Friday

05) Big Star: “Thirteen

06) Albert King: “Born Under A Bad Sign

07) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: “You Got Lucky

08) Stevie Wonder: “Superstition

09) The Kinks: “Phobia

10) Todd Rundgren: “Lucky Guy

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Mixtape: I’ll Be You

 

Back when I had that kind of time, I participated in a monthly tape swap, and for a time I had to dub these puppies in real speed. When we finally got to the CD stage and I could burn a disc at 2x I thought I was in heaven. What used to be a serious committment – the group was usually 35-40 people, so imagine the time and money involved – now can be done dirt cheap and at lightning speed. (I still participate in one of these groups twelve years running, although we’re down to one or two trades a year.) 

I used to make the cassette art by hand; sometimes a drawing and other times a cut-and-paste job, then type and shrink the set list to fit on the inside flap and print them off on colored paper…cut them along the outline…fold and insert into the J-Card slot on every one. Like I said, I had that kind of time. If I find the original art for this one I’ll upload it someday, but I remember it was a variation on a Powerpoint silhouette image of a man holding a mirror. 

I love tribute records, so this mixtape (from March 1997) was a tribute to tributes. It’s a great set and these covers are well worth seeking out. Now I have to find the actual tape, because just reading these names has me jazzed. 

And I still miss Material Issue.

  

you be me for awhile and….I’LL BE YOU

SIDE ONE
Dance Dance Dance Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom (Handsome Dick and a couple of Dictators) pay homage to Brian Wilson
Pictures Of Lily The ‘oo, done with great passion by that great sideman Ian McLagan and the Bump Band
She’s Got Everything The Droogs, Aussies yet, service Mr.Davies’ classic well. Can’t believe there aren’t more great Kinks covers.
Time Has Come Today Willy (Mink) DeVille from last years fab “Loup Garou” record. This Chambers Brothers song still rules!
Pictures Of Matchstick Men Status Quo song covered by the pre-Cracker Lowery in the late, great Camper Van Beethoven. Respectful yet cool!
Charlot Choogle Would have picked a better T-Rex cover if I could have but Sky Blue nailed the Bolanisms better than anyone else did.
Sweet Hitchhiker The fabulous DM3 (wow, I’ve already been to Australia twice in seven songs!) absolutely rip this one up! Go Don!
Mr. Spaceman Miracle Legion from another spotty tribute disc. For all you who remember the Byrds as electric Dylan, try this instead.
I Can’t Let Go Still the best tribute disc ever made, eggBert’s “Sing Hollies In Reverse” featured wall to wall greatness like this Continental Drifters cut.
My Minds Eye Ah, the Small Faces. Northern Uproar did yeoman service on last year’s tribute. A must-have for all true pop fans!
S-L-U-T The Woods, America’s Rockpile, nail this Todd tune. I will not rest until the name Jack Cornell is known far and wide.
Handyman True Story: Frank thought they were cutting “Candyman” for a Sammy Davis tribute. Nah…he loves Otis Blackwell too!
Sweets For My Sweet Doc Pomus gets the Brian Wilson post-sandbox/Landry treatment. And Mike Love is an asshole.
Love Is All Around Christine Ohlman is recording again! If you remember Big Sound Records or Dusty Springfield, Trogg out with this!
And Your Bird Can Sing Weller and company grew tired of “The Jam is just aping The Who” rumors. So they aped the Beatles instead.
SIDE TWO
I’m Not In Love Chrissie and the Pretenders snapped out two covers for movies/TV – this 10cc track and “Angel In The Morning”
Town Without Pity Gene Pitney covered by Steppenwolf’s John Kay on heroin. Naah..it’s the wonderful Thin White Rope from “Spoor”
Daydream Believer The Monkees tribute is way cool, including this John Stewart song ably harmonized by Man Size Job? Who? Me neither.
Run To Me If there were any doubts that Material Issue could do it all, this will silence them. Haunting BeeGeeutiful song. RIP Jim.
Hard Luck Woman The Kiss tribute is pretty funny, and I gotta admit that when I realized this was THE Garth Brooks I almost had a seizure.
It’s The Little Things And you thought Sonny Bono couldn’t write hooks. He did work with Spector, y’know, so bow down for The Skeletons.
Listen To Her Heart Tom Petty as seen through the eyes of Truck Stop Love, produced at Ardent by some guy named Jody Stephens.
Don’t Want To Say Goodbye Last year the Raspberries tribute came out, chock full of great versions, few better than this homage by The Flashcubes.
Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, … Wow that’s a long title! Believe it or not, this is The Records from a free EP that came with the first run of their LP.
Build Me Up Buttercup David Johansen, post-Dolls and pre-Buster P. David always kicked ass live and paid props to great 60’s soul music.
When Something Is Wrong With My Baby Wow – Sam and Dave voiced by the immortal Herman Brood, who truly is a rock and roll junkie. Live track.
Back Of A Car When you hear this song now you wonder how Big Star wasn’t huge then. This is The Loud Family – same comment.
Earn Enough For Us Freedy Johnston does XTC (who appeared on their own tribute record in disguise!). Love the pedal steel!
No Matter What Closing the set with a song by “the next Beatles” (Badfinger) done by “the next Beatles” (The Knack). Oasis my ass.

As always, play loud, play often.

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Blast From The Past: The Vandalias

Pulled out this old powerpop chestnut and blasted it.

Unfortunately the band went the way of most of the powerpop bands that stormed the 90’s revival – nowhere. A brief flash, some great songs and a lot of memories for record geeks like me who treasure such things. It didn’t mean they weren’t great – they were – but as usual, without radio airplay or any muscular marketing scheme, it was rain through your fingertips.

Big Deal Records was the shit in those days; a roster to die for and a release every month or two by great artists like Splitsville, Cockeyed Ghost, Michael Shelley and The Wondermints. And the series of great Yellow Pills collections…what a time that was! Unfortunately the label didn’t last, either…and sadly, whomever co-opted the label name is doing something completely different these days.

Buzzbomb. Is there a better word to capture the essence of powerpop? Here’s my original review from TransAction

Man, these cartoon characters can rock! Incredible pop rock that hearkens back to Badfinger, Big Star and every “ooh-aah”band that took the lead from the Beatles and moved on. “Down”, “No OneTold Him” and “the faux live “Funk Monkey Baby” rip it up with Cheap Trick energy and harmonies straight out of…The Mamas & Papas?

You bet! Rock ballads too; “Say I’m Sorry” will melt the crustiest of hard hearts. Eleven great songs in thirty five minutes that will make you wonder why someone so talented shields himself behind the front of the “Vandalia brothers”. I won’t expose him directly, but if you want to pay this pop wizard some props, buy Mach V, the previous CD, and dismantle the packaging.

It’s now a decade later, so I’ll save you the treasure hunt. The Todd Rundgren-esque popster was Dan Sarka.

The Vandalias on MySpace

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R.I.P. Tommy Hoehn

This is turning into a depressing weekend.

I was so startled by the loss of Pete Quaife yesterday that I didn’t even realize it was Friday and therefore time for my weekly TGIF feature. By the time it dawned on me, I didn’t really care to go back and rectify the oversight; I spent a few hours last night reading tributes and thoughts from other Kinks fans who were also saddened by his passing.

Now just a day later, more bad news. Memphis takes another kick in the nuts with the loss of Tommy Hoehn who died late Thursday night. You might not recognize his name right off the bat, but he was an integral part of the powerpop scene in Memphis and a contemporary of Big Star and other Ardent Studios artists who were plowing a different field than corporate radio in the 1970s.

Memphis is still reeling from the loss of Alex Chilton in March; now this. Besides the obvious thoughts and prayers to friends and family, my heart goes out to John Fry, Jody Stephens, Van Duren and other musicians and associates who knew and worked with Tommy for so many years.

Back in the day, it was Creem Magazine that first tipped me to Big Star and I wanted to gobble up as much of that type of music as I could find. During that expedition I discovered Losing You To Sleep, Tommy’s second album. It was on London Records and sure, with his beard and opened white shirt, he looked more like J. D. Souther or Andrew Gold than your typical powerpopper. But “Hey Polarity” and the title song knocked me out, and another track (“She Might Look My Way”) was a Chilton co-write. 

Hoehn had his hand in the jelly jar for Sister Lovers and also did some work with The Scruffs, but he slid to the melodic Paul McCartney and Emitt Rhodes side of the fence more than he did the crunchy sound of The Raspberries or Badfinger. Reportedly his musical hero was Todd Rundgren, but listening to his beautiful melodies and delicate style, you realize that his doppelgänger might have been his friend from Big Star,  Chris Bell.

Coincidentally, another album I picked up at that time was Are You Serious by Van Duren; Van would later record with Tommy as the Hoehn-Duren Band during the powerpop rebirth of the 90s,  releasing Hailstone Holiday and Blue OrangeNothing disappears on the Internet, so I can give you this link from an eleven year old blog post that sums up how they got back together after years apart. (Van has a new album out, but more about that very soon.)

The anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death is sucking all the oxygen out of the atmosphere this weekend and no doubt both Quaife and Hoehn are getting lost in the shuffle. Maybe that’s par for the course, since both were underrated and undervalued in the commercial scheme of things. But for those of us who get it, these are sad and painful goodbyes to people who have contributed far more to the music of our lives than Jacko ever could.

R.I.P., Tommy. Ironically, we’re losing you to sleep.

Scott Homewood’s 2007 essay on Tommy from Lost In The Grooves

Amy Nyman’s 2007 blog post about that Memphis scene.

Ardent Studios

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