Reviews — The Coasters, The Smithereens and more!

The Smithereens
Green Thoughts
American Beat (24342
Grade: ****

Many power pop pundits consider the Smithereens’ 1986 debut Especially For You to be the band’s finest hour, while others swear by 1989’s 11.

There is certainly enough sonic evidence to back up both claims (“Behind the Wall of Sleep” vs. “A Girl Like You,” “Strangers When We Meet” vs. “Maria Elena” — tough to choose), but 1988’s  Green Thoughts is a solid, consistent effort that tends to be unfairly overlooked when discussing the ‘Reens’ oeuvre. 

Twenty years after its original release, American Beat has reissued the long-out-of-print album, albeit with no bonus tracks. Still, it’s a more-than-worthwhile platter that plays up the Jersey boys’ strengths: muscular, crunchy guitar pop fortified by the ace songwriting of Pat DiNizio, the stinging lead guitar of Jim Babjak and Dennis Diken’s creatively straightforward drumming.

Three of the tunes on GT placed on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart (the leadoff cut, “Only A Memory,” hit the top spot while “House We Used to Live In” and “Drown in My Own Tears” made it to #14 and #34, respectively), but it’s the deeper cuts that still resonate loudest today. The slightly sinister lyrics of the addictive “Deep Black” belie the acoustic-based instrumentation on the verses, with Diken spicing things up with some slick drum fills; “Elaine” is a hook-filled, Beatle-ish charmer, filled with ringing guitars and an irresistible melody; and the damn-near perfect “If the Sun Doesn’t Shine” successfully marries Beach Boys harmonies to another winning DiNizio melody.

The torchy “Especially For You,” the breezy folk-rock of “Something New” and the stomping, riff-heavy “The World We Know” (featuring the late Del Shannon on backing vocals) also aid in making Green Thoughts one of the Smithereens’ most enduring records.

— John M. Borack


Tommy Bolin
The Ultimate: Redux
Friday Music (FRM 3065) 3 CDs
Grade: ****

TommyBolinPlays3.jpgTommy Bolin, The Ultimate: Redux is a terrific overview of a singular talent who left us too soon. Guitarist Tommy Bolin is probably best known for his stints with the James Gang and Deep Purple, but some of his tastiest work exists outside those bands, whether as a solo artist or playing in the remarkable jazz/rock/fusion setting of Energy. Redux brings the best of Bolin’s “other” recordings including demos, outtakes, and alternate and live versions of 31 tunes.

Bolin’s most popular vocal songs — “Teaser,” “Dreamer,” “Savannah Woman” and “Wild Dogs” — are all included here in alternate versions as well as guitar burners “Stratus,” “Post Toastee” and “Homeward Strut.” The gentle acoustic demo of “Teaser,” which opens the set, is far removed from the funk-rock beast it would become, but the unadorned recording can stand on its own.

On Disc 2, we get to hear the electric version of “Teaser” played live for the first time by the Tommy Bolin Band. It’s cool to hear the evolution of the song from demo to the stage. Digging deeper into the collection, we are treated to five tracks by Energy, a glorious rock/soul/fusion act that recorded material for an album in 1972 but failed to find a label. To those unfamiliar with the band and Bolin’s work with it, these sessions will be revelatory. Bolin’s guitar playing on “Hard Chargin’ Woman” blew Friday Music’s Joe Reagoso away and had the engineer playing the track to his guitar playing buddies during the re-mastering process. Though the recording isn’t the best — the vocals are largely buried in the mix — Bolin’s Echoplex-heavy solo is stunning. “Red Skies” is another phenomenal track, with explosive guitar playing. “Miss Christmas” is a beautifully soulful track featuring the earthy vocals of Jeff Cook.

So the set goes, from tender to tough. This is far from an odds-and-sods collection of throwaways for Bolin completists only. It’s curious to think a set of outtakes, demos and alternate takes can serve as a definitive or ultimate collection of an artist, but this comes very close and undoubtedly confirms Bolin’s place among the guitar greats. Friday Music and the Tommy Bolin Archives got it right.

— Todd Whitesel


Rhino Records (R2 302460)
Grade: *****

GenesisBand-01-01.jpgBy the early 1980s, Genesis had become a commercial juggernaut — something incomprehensible to longtime fans who once upon a time took great pleasure watching lead vocalist Peter Gabriel parade around stage dressed as a flower while singing about supper. But, as much as critics defiled the band’s ’80s output, Genesis remained unlikely rock stars and a progressive trio at heart, as demonstrated on the band’s final four studio albums that comprise 1983-1998.

This handsome second of three career-spanning box sets contains a whopping 10 discs, including CD/DVD versions of Genesis (1983), Invisible Touch (1986), We Can’t Dance (1992) and …Calling All Stations… (1997) with loud new stereo and 5.1 DTS Surround Sound mixes, period documentaries, live footage, music videos and insightful band interviews filmed in 2007, plus a CD and DVD of rarities and a hardcover book featuring reflections from Genesis video guru Jim Yukich.

Band members shared songwriting credits on all tracks during this period while pioneering the use of electronic percussion in mainstream music. The albums contain signature elements of the band’s post-Gabriel sound: unlikely hits (“Mama,” about a hooker; “No Son of Mine,” which explored domestic abuse; and the politically incorrect ditty “Illegal Alien”); intricate yet accessible epics (“Home By the Sea,” “Domino,” “Driving the Last Spike”); and even a dynamic instrumental (“The Brazilian”).

When vocalist/drummer Phil Collins left Genesis in 1996, bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford and keyboardist Tony Banks gave the band one more shot with Scottish vocalist Ray Wilson, who was plucked from the obscure band Stiltskin and sounded like a flatter Peter Gabriel. The result was …Calling All Stations…, which flopped. Heard a decade later, however, it’s clear that Genesis was still channeling its roots, only along darker and less commercial sonic corridors. “Congo” sounds like classic Collins-era Genesis, for example, and the rest of the album is not too far removed from other material on 1983-1998.

The music videos here are available on “The Video Show” DVD, but lengthy interviews with Banks, Collins, Rutherford and Wilson reveal juicy details behind each of the releases. Their thoughtful comments, along with all the additional goodies, make 1983-1998 an essential chronicle of the band’s most successful period.

— Michael Popke


The Coasters
There’s a Riot Goin’ On
Atco/Rhino Handmade (RHM2 7740)
Grade: ****

TheCoasters3.jpgIf you still have your copy of Rhino’s 50 Coastin’ Classics, you may not need this four-CD, limited-edition box. Then again, most Coasters fans tend to be somewhat fanatical, and the 117 extra tracks (including 12 that are heretofore unissued) will help fill out the collection of anyone who doesn’t have the original LPs stashed away.

This new box is missing “Down Home Girl” and “D.W. Washburn” from Coastin’ Classics but makes up for it with 35 other tracks from the group’s prime, including the entire program of The Coasters’ One by One, their 1960 album of jazz and pop standards that gave each member a turn in the solo vocal spotlight. The liner notes by James Ritz give a quick overview of the band’s history but are not as comprehensive as the job Randy Poe and Robert Palmer did on Coastin’ Classics. Still, you can always find all the arcane information you want on the Web these days.

What’s important is the music, and There’s a Riot delivers on that score. In addition to the not-quite hits of the post Leiber/Stoller years — “The P.T.A.,” “Bad Detective,” “Speedo’s Back in Town” and “She’s a Yum Yum” — there’s a full disc of rarities and alternate takes. Half have already been reissued on other collections, but there are a few worthy additions. “Crocodile” is a rough mix of a Leiber/Stoller session that includes a few seconds of studio patter between producers and the group. It uses the “Yakety Yak” rhythm to deliver a putdown of an insincere gal who’s “just a Crock – O – Dial.” Great lyrics and an unpolished group vocal make this one a lost gem. (There’s also another looser version with a longer sax solo.)

New alternate takes on “Yakety Yak” (two of ’em, one with the vocals slightly out of synch), “Three Cool Cats,” “When She Wants Good Lovin’,” “The Shadow Knows,” “Ridin’ Hood” and “Charlie Brown” include studio patter, but don’t differ considerably from the more familiar versions, except for the haphazard mixes.

There’s a slower version of “I’m a Hog For You” that lacks the slinky sexuality of the single and a “Yeah Yeah” version that includes shouted yeah yeahs, but again, it doesn’t crackle like the original and lacks the chiming guitar hook. The box is neatly packaged with cover art that mimics the Atco album art of the ’50s, while each CD looks like a miniature single sporting the familiar white and yellow Atco logo.

— J. Poet

Click here to check out the latest price guides from Goldmine

Leave a Reply