There has been a ton of vinyl making its way to me over the past year or so, so it's high time we clear the decks and talk about some rather delicious 45 RPM treats...
Cherry Bluestorms - "See No Evil" b/w "Dear Prudence" (Roundhouse Records)
"See No Evil" is a sleekly stylized rockin' little number from the Bluestorms that features Deborah Gee's sultry, powerful lead vocals. It begins with some late '60s-influenced keyboards and Mark White's heavy-on-the-toms drums, with the slightly restrained verses giving way to a chorus that's super memorable and filled with Glen Laughlin's fab guitars that jangle and bite. Cool stuff. The flip is a chill cover of the Beatles' tune that features some dual lead vocals from Gee and Laughlin. The record comes housed in a Hard Day's Night-inspired picture sleeve, and includes a download card. Grade: A-
True Stories - POP (Bickerton Records)
4-song EP from Bart Mendoza and his gang of San Diego-based popsters that plays up the jangle and Mendoza's Beatle and power pop influences while subtly adding some well-paced keyboards to the mix. Pretty much everything Mendoza's ever been involved with musically has been top-notch (The Shambles, Manual Scan), and these tunes are no exception. Of special note are the Teenage Fanclub-ish "You Still Take My Breath Away" (co-written with fellow pop guy Mark DeCerbo) and the Zombies-influenced "Bleeding." Grade: A-
The Shambles - Radio Daze: The Pyles Sessions (Bickerton Records)
And speaking of those Shambles, here's another 4-song EP, this time around featuring live-in-the-studio Shambles originals that were recorded for DJ Tim Pyles' radio program a decade ago in true Nick Lowe, bash 'em out fashion: set up, record and mix, all within an hour. As such, "More Than This," "Brilliant," "Clouds All Day" (which is particularly wonderful) and "(She's Used to Playing With) Fire" all bristle with energy and melodic sunshine. Special kudos to drummer Todd Woolsey, who gets his Keith Moon on quite nicely. Grade: A
Squire - "Eight Miles High" b/w "Rain" (HiLo Records)
Dubbed a "special project recording," '80s mod-pop heroes Squire pop up with two classic sixties covers with a twist: the recording attempts to recreate the original 1966 Byrds session, with all analog equipment used ("from microphone to vinyl"). As the sleeve notes, "the songs were recorded to eight track and mixed to three track, following authentic working practices, studio layout, instruments and equipment as existed at the time ." It's a cool idea and although Squire's versions won't make anyone forget the originals - but to be fair, how could they? - they're still quite good. Me, I'd love to hear a new LPs worth of originals from Anthony Meynell and Squire. Who's with me? Grade: B+
Flamin' Groovies - "Crazy Macy" b/w "Let Me Rock" (Burger Records)
God bless the Flamin' Groovies: 40 years after their musically fertile Sire Records period, Cyril Jordan, Chris Wilson and George Alexander, along with new drummer Victor Penalosa, are still at it, playing out quite often and now releasing this spirited single. "Crazy Macy" is a snappy, echo and reverb-drenched gas that rocks like hell, while the even more ferocious flip side could serve as the band's current statement of purpose. Love the totally '60s "sha la" backing vox, too. Grade: A
The Pengwins - Vol. 1, 2 and 3 (SpyderPop Records)
Here's a novel - and somewhat crazy - idea: release a series of sixteen (!) 45s by a regionally beloved '70s power pop act from Texas with their original, remastered tunes on one side and a newly-recorded number from the reformed band on the flip. Oh, and package each 45 in the series (which is up to three so far) in a deluxe box and include numerous goodies along with the record: a CD, band trading cards, a 45 record spindle, buttons, stickers, color photos of the band, a download card, copious liner notes, a magnet, a calendar, a guitar pick - hell, even a freaking guitar-shaped bottle opener. Who the hell does something like this, anyway?
Ladies and gentlemen, meet The Pengwins.
Perhaps best known today as the musical launching pad for power popster Lannie Flowers, the Pengwins were hot stuff back in the day. Not only do the archival recordings prove this, but the current incarnation of the band is pretty damned special as well. Vol. 1's "Life After High School" is one of those quintessential teen power pop anthems from 1978, while the new B-side, "Naive," slows things down and lyrically looks at life from an adult perspective. Flowers sings lead on both tracks, and co-wrote "Naive" - which sounds for all the world like the Carpenters' "Yesterday Once More" crossed with a late-period Beatles ballad - with drummer Danny Wilkerson.
Vol. 2 is a showcase for Pengwins bassist Delbert Raines, as he handles lead vocals and songwriting duties on both the new track and the vintage number. The oldie, "Look Around," is a marvelous amalgamation of Raines' influences that former Audities scribe Victor Erwin details in the liners: Ian Hunter, John Lennon, and Wally Bryson. The b-side was recorded at Abbey Road Studios and is total Beatles, a sweetly nostalgic, magical mystery tour through both early and late-period Fabness in a little over two-and-a-half minutes.
The latest release in the series to date, Vol. 3, finds Flowers back in the saddle as lead vocalist on his awesome 1977 power pop ditty, "What You Gonna Do?" and on the more recent track, a nicely done take of the Flamin' Groovies' "Shake Some Action" that is highlighted by some spiffy lead guitar work from Alan Petsche. (The CD contains a 1977-era bonus track, the splendid, harmony-filled "Suicide," which is not nearly as dreary as its title would suggest.)
My suggestion? If you're a power pop fan or a champion of melodic rock and roll in general, pick up all three of the Pengwins' boxes ASAP. You won't be sorry. Can't wait for numbers 4 through 16, guys. Grade: A
Coming soon: More vinyl reviews - LPs this time - as well as a look at some of the great releases on the Sugarbush Records label.