Tag Archives: TransAction

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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Under The Radar: Rainer Ptacek

I can’t say that my friend Bill ever dragged me to a concert, since I trust his musical ear so much I get excited about anyone he insists that I witness. But let’s just say that on this particular Saturday afternoon fifteen years or more ago, I was ambivalent but willing. The artist’s name conjured up jazz or perhaps obtuse folk, and that wasn’t what I was hungry for that day. But it was Bill…so I saddled up without a second thought.

I don’t remember the event itself, but there was some sort of afternoon festival going on in Syracuse where Rainer Ptacek was playing, and I remember being equally bewildered by the booking as I was spellbound by his talent. I got a closer look that night when he played in a tiny club and blew my mind a second time. And after that my immediate mission was to get my hands on anything and everything he had released.

It was as much how he played the blues as what he played – a unique finger-picking, pawing slide attack that wrung tears out of the steel guitar. But the man was quiet and humble, almost deflecting the enthusiastic reception back into the crowd…as if it was all part of the gift that they should take away with them rather than an accolade that he earned and deserved.

Sadly, he was soon diagnosed with a cancerous tumor, and like most musicians, had no health insurance. It came as a surprise to his friends who rallied around him and arranged benefit shos and projects. One result was a tribute album called The Inner Flame, which he participated on alongside several stellar artists. Only a few months later, Rainer passed away.

Here are my words from the magazine TransAction in 1997…

Rainer Ptacek is arguably an acquired taste, but it’s obvious that the music community valued his keen insight and marvelous introspective vision. Master of the steel guitar and dobro, his records with Das Combo are thrilling, and as a live performer he was both generous and unique. Sadly, Rainer could not overcome brain cancer and has left us, but this tribute (recorded before his recent death to help raise funds for his battle) is a great document.

You would expect heartfelt versions from people like Vic Chestnutt and Victoria Williams, two fellow musicians who know about physical suffering, but the surprise of the disc has to be Lemonhead Evan Dando’s “Rudy With A Flashlight”, which might just be the best thing he has ever done. Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris and Rainer’s partner Howe Gelb are among the cross section of first rate contributors.

I don’t know what made me think of this today, but once I did I knew I had to share it. Odds are you haven’t heard the man, and I hope you’ll at least be ambivalent but willing to give him a try.

Rainer Ptacek MySpace site

The Inner Flame available at Amazon

Live album from Rainer

Rainer on Jools Holland performing “Life is Fine”.

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Blast From The Past – The Raves

Really, really fab!

Your collection, if like mine, contains several hidden gems that even you forget about over time. But when you stumble across them years later, you immediately know why you were hooked in the first place. With so many bands springing up in the post-Beatle era and beyond, how could you know about them all? Some incredibly talented ones never got too far outside of their zip code for one reason or another, but we all know there are diamonds in that rough…

One such band was The Raves, from Atlanta. Years after its release. their album Past Perfect Tense is still a sixteen-track breath of fresh air. Here’s what I wrote for TransAction a dozen years ago…

My God, two of them even *look* like John and Paul! This collection of Beatle-esque pop from the 1980s proves that along with The Flashcubes and The Toms there were many other great bands that didn’t get their due. Chuck, John and Jim Yoakum handled the guitar-bass-drums axis while Ken Kennedy added some flash lead guitar. Although the production immediately screams “local band”, the songs don’t – they’re pure New Wave pop.

 “Any Way You Can”, “Every Little Bit Hurts” and “Make Up Your Mind” are just three of the sixteen tracks that you can play in tandem with bands like Artful Dodger, The Jags and The Sinceros. “Tonight It’s Going To Be Great” is The Records via Buddy Holly and you’ll like the Elvis Costello nod on the intro to “Chastity”. Four guys weaned on classic pop rock who decided to make some of their own.

Go ahead – drop a few more names. The Rubinoos. Dwight Twilley. Sloan. Everly Brothers. Name any melodic or powerpop band you want…if you like them, you’ll like this. I have no idea what happened to the band after this – a very common tale – although Chuck did work with the late Graham Chapman of Monty Python.

But do try and track down this hard to find little gem – you will be richly rewarded.

The Raves at AllMusic.com

A couple of YouTube videos courtesy The Yoakum Channel.

An old interview at Bubblegum The Punk

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