Brownsville – Air Special

by admin  12th Mar 2019 Comments [0]

By Doug Sheppard

 

BROWNSVILLE – Air Special (Rock Candy) CD

Brownsville Station hit the big leagues with the success of “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room” (#3) and “Kings of the Party” (#31) in 1974, but by 1976, they were in a lull. With their recent Motor City Connection album failing to chart and a parting of ways with their label, Big Tree, the trio format (adopted after their second album) had seemingly run its course. They needed a lift and got in the form of a new label (Private Stock) and especially the addition of second guitarist Bruce Nazarian, a monster player who’d been on countless Detroit soul records.

Nazarian proved to be the perfect complement for fellow axe men Cub Koda and Michael Lutz (with whom Nazarian alternated on bass), invigorating the resulting Brownsville Station album with tons of slide guitar wizardry, blues boogie riffs befitting Koda’s formidable record collection and the loose vibe inherent on all Brownsville recordings. Famed producer Eddie Kramer knew how to get it all on tape, and the track lineup was their best yet, featuring a killer remake of “Lady (Put the Light on Me)” (a glam rock obscurity by Big John’s Rock ’n’ Roll Circus) and especially “Martian Boogie.”

Recorded live in one take, “Martian Boogie” was B-movie sci-fi, urban blues and riff rock fused into one rocket that the band was sure would take them back to the moon—if not the home planet of the song’s protagonist. Indeed, it spent seven weeks on the national chart and grabbed the top spot in a number of markets. But just as that rocket entered the top 60 at #59, it smashed headlong into an asteroid, exploded into 1,000 pieces, fell off the charts and left its creators stunned. Not long after, Private Stock folded. As Koda recalled in the liners to Rhino’s 1993 Brownsville compilation, “it took all the fight out of the band, just like air escaping from a punctured tire.”

Morale may have been down, but the chemistry was intact when they recorded their next album for Epic Records, 1978’s Air Special. Another hotshot producer, Tom Werman (of Cheap Trick and Ted Nugent fame, among others) was at the helm—giving the resulting album a big arena rock feel, with the drums of Henry “H-Bomb” Weck in particular booming in the mix (thankfully not ’80s-style). Much to their chagrin, the band were also forced to record Hello’s recent hit, “Love Stealer” (ironically, penned by Phil Wainman, also the coauthor of “Lady” from the previous album) as a gambit to get on AOR radio.

It failed, as did Air Special, but it wasn’t for lack of quality. “Taste of Your Love,” “Tears of a Fool” and “Never Say Die” are biting hard rockers—the latter taking on an ironic, almost eerie quality thanks to the state of the band, not to mention subtle synths. And befitting a band with so much contempt for the disco and AOR dominating the charts, Brownsville covers “Who Do You Love” Diddley-style, “Down the Road Apiece” and even a Benny Goodman instrumental, “Airmail Special”—rocked up like a ’70s Johnny & the Hurricanes. The swamp blues of “Cooda Crawlin’” follows the same thread, and if Air Special doesn’t quite have another “Martian Boogie” like its predecessor, it’s a solid, commendable effort. Predictably, however, it wasn’t what the record-buying public wanted to hear, and a 1979 breakup was inevitable. (Doug Sheppard)

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JOHNNY FARFISA – The Sky is Falling: The Best of Johnny Farfisa (Munster) LP

by admin  18th Apr 2018 Comments [0]

Hot on the heels of Matteo Bocci’s fine piece on Johnny Farfisa in UT#44 comes this stellar compilation of the musical exploits of one Andy Cahan a.k.a. Johnny Farfisa. Having previously been represented only by a Moxie EP from 1980, this collection rights many musical wrongs by making most of this material available to the public for the first time.

The first grouping of tracks by his outfit the Individuals is represented by not one but four fine versions of “She’s Gone Away,” all of which kick mightily. Set amidst a frantic pace, stop-start Farfisa breaks and screams that could only come from the most monstrous of burgeoning sex drives, this track is a primitive ride through all that is right and honest in the world.

The monstrous “The Sky is Falling” bears all the unmistakable earmarks of the East Coast sound and a strong nod the Rascals with its soulful delivery and knuckle-dusting backbeat. Apart from the fact that it rocks righteously, it has no problem with throwing in some unexpected breakdowns which I find irresistible.

The haunting “Monkey on My Back” is a gloomy cautionary tale that seems odd coming from kids of this age but it’s enthralling nonetheless as we follow the protagonist down the dark alleyways of addiction.

The pimply fun continues on into Andy’s next outfit from ‘68, the wonderfully named Euphorian Railway. There is a revamped version of “The Sky is Falling” which somehow manages to top the Individuals take by leaps and bounds, adding some much needed backups and an extremely busy bass line that propels this track somewhere else. “She Showed Me” and “I Thought I Knew You” echo the Youngbloods earlier material with the loose but propulsive groove, dual vocals and the underlying moody folkiness; the latter showcasing a staggering lead break. “On My Way to the Sun” sounds like a glorious mix of the Rascals and the Vagrants with a suitably trippy mid-section, while the astonishingly great “Nothing and No One” is a beautiful, faintly psychedelic number that just drips with emotion and contains a wonderfully bizarre tempo change.

Add to the mix a full color booklet/insert and liner notes by Mike Stax and you have one enticing proposition. (Eric Reidelberger)

Order here.


OISTER – 1973-74 (Hozac) 2-LP

by admin  23rd Aug 2017 Comments [0]

Heaven-sent for fans of classic ‘70s pop, this is the first ever release by the legendary Tulsa outfit comprising Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour who would soon thereafter become the great Dwight Twilley band. The Twilley band were a unique hybrid of harmonic Anglophile pop/rock and rockabilly who released two brilliant albums on Shelter—one very polished, one much earthier—before the two principals went solo. Oister was the same but different. The differences may come down to recording technique or simply the youth of our heroes.

There is a charming fragility and innocence here not found in the later Twilley or Seymour stuff. And a dreaminess: indeed much of this is the embodiment of the term ‘dream pop’ and should appeal to a whole host of people who find the concept of power pop anathema. And the current crop of Big Star fans. The lo-fi aspect will also appeal to fans of DIY. There’s a little bit of the baroque but for the most part it’s spirited, minimalist early Beatles/Hollies-style pop rock, with a rootsiness learned from early mentor and former Sun artist Ray Harris, and the frequent prominence of Twilley’s piano lets you know it’s the ‘70s. Most of the songs here were later rerecorded for official release, including the sublime “You Were So Warm,” but even a lot of the re-recordings have only appeared on Twilley rarities collections, and the versions are strikingly different. The material is uniformly strong; the never-before-released “Pop Bottle” is a stunner.

Thank god for the current power pop revival and Hozac for this release: hopefully it will lead to a wider appreciation of Dwight and Phil and all their recordings. Now can someone put it out on CD for me please? (David Laing)