Tag Archives: Brian Wilson

A Few Interviews of Interest

Here’s a little something that just sort of popped up out of the blue the other day when I routinely searched for some Spector-related stuff online.

Music journalist Steve Escobar has a website where he has published a few of his interview with musicians – and lo-and-behold; if you’re a fan of Spector as well as the 60s LA recording scene, there are a few interviews on there that would be of interest.

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Off you go; Brian, Glen, Hal, Jackie, Johhny, and Nancy are all ready to tell you a bit about their musical adventures…

Brian Wilson (proving once again he’s not the most talkative interview subject!)

http://www.steve-escobar.com/?p=20

Glen Campbell

http://www.steve-escobar.com/?p=208

Hal Blaine

http://www.steve-escobar.com/?p=13

Jackie de Shannon

http://www.steve-escobar.com/?p=85

Johnny Rivers

http://www.steve-escobar.com/?p=73

Nancy Sinatra

http://www.steve-escobar.com/?p=76

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Review: The New High

Brent Cash – ‘The New High’

***** (5 stars out of 6)

Some weeks ago I received an advance copy of the upcoming third album by US singer/songwriter Brent Cash. Set for release in late January, Cash has once again recorded a batch of elegant songs with a delivery and production value that should appeal to Cue Castanets readers.

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Front cover for ‘The New High’ by Brent Cash
I had the pleasure of interviewing Brent in 2015 and if you haven’t read that blog post I’ll advise you to do so to get a better understanding of his music and where he’s coming from aesthetically.

https://cuecastanets.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/brent-cash-interview/

Honestly, listening to Brent’s crystal clear, relaxed vocals and intricate arrangements is akin to, say, discovering some sort of overlooked A&M Records soft pop LP. The tunes are sophisticated, elegant, groovy – defiantly soft. Yep, it’s really that good and since Brent serves as a one-man Wrecking Crew, laying down backing tracks with all sorts of quirky little details, his albums are like time capsules of all that was good within the more sophisticated pop of the 60s and 70s.

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How Will I Know If I’m Awake (2008) – Brent’s debut album
The right way to listen to Brent’s music would be to cruise down highway 101 in an open sports van, the sun reflecting in your shades and a beautiful blonde by your side. Instead, it’s December and a cold and rainy one at that where I live. Despite the grey surroundings I’ve tried my best to envision the breezy, sun-kissed landscapes that Brent’s music compliments while reviewing his latest effort.

Where the first two albums, ‘How Will I Know If I’m Awake’ (2008) and ‘How Strange It Seems’ (2011), were text book examples of well-produced harmony pop and soft pop that would make Bacharach toast with his dry martini, ‘The New High’ sees Brent expanding his sound.

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“Check this out Angie. Here’s a groovy new platter by a fine gentleman named Brent!”
I really love the dreamy soft pop aesthetic on the covers of Brent’s first two albums and you could say that the change of direction is already visible on the cover of ‘The New High’. A skyscraper with glass and chrome that made me think “oh no, I hope Brent hasn’t gone all New Wave on us!

He hasn’t, luckily – the love of sophisticated piano-based pop is still at the heart of Brent’s music but he has expanded his palette somewhat with subtle nods towards the jangle sounds of folk-rock and Beatles-like songwriting.

Two things really stand out to me above all after repeated listening.

For one thing, Brent has probably never sung better on record. His voice may not be very unique but especially when he sings in his upper register his soft, pleasant tone really carries a lot of the magic on these songs. My favorite part of the album is the last one and a half minutes of ‘Dim Light’ where Brent goes into falsetto mode and sings skyhigh in an incredibly catchy and goose bumps-inducing section. Lesser songwriters would probably just take such a section and turn it into the basic hook in the chorus but Brent only introduces it at the last part of the song – to me, that’s always a sign of a superb songwriter at the top of his game, holding back a killer hook in order to unleash it late in a tag for maximum effect – the Beach Boys always excelled at that. There are a few other great examples of both tags and Brent’s smooth falsetto throughout ‘The New High.’

Secondly, the string arrangements on this album are incredibly effective and just ooze elegance – a testament to the care and length Brent and his string-playing friends have gone to to make each song gain as much from their playing as possible. Strings were also present on his other albums but I feel they’ve come more to the forefront here and all for the better of it. Listen to the strings in the latter part of title track ‘The New High’ – pure bliss!

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Brent Cash
Songs like ‘Dim Light’ and ‘All in the Summer’ show Brent’s evolvement as a songwriter and producer. The first one, with it’s strummed guitars, reminds me a little bit of Joni Mitchell’s more bouncy recordings while the latter has a bit of a John Lennon ‘Imagine’-vibe going on. Maybe it’s just me coming up with these reference points but if anything, such songs show that Brent tries to expand his sound. On other songs, such as ‘Every Inflection’ and ‘I’m Looking Up’, the latter one of my favorites, you hear a closer kinship to his first two albums.

Brent’s albums have always been growers for me, meaning that upon initial listening I’ve had a hard time distinguishing the tracks from each other only coming to single out songs after a few spins. The same can be said for this album.

I’m also of the opinion that the album loses a little bit of steam towards the end where a couple of slow and less orchestrated songs break the flow of the record. Songs like ‘The Dusk Song’ and ‘Fade / Return’ aren’t weak but they sort of make the album peter out rather than showcasing the variety of Brent’s songwriting on display during the first half of the tracklisting.

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‘How Strange It Seems’ (2011) – Brent’s second album so far
All in all, ‘The New High’ is a fine album that perfectly compliments Brent’s past releases– you’d be a fool to pass on these if you love melodic pop of the highest order that harken back to 60s and 70s LA or New York-based pop.

Odds & Ends – ‘This Could be the Night’

Here’s a confession… This dazzling Spector-produced one-off single by the Modern Folk Quartet is easily one of my all-time favorite Wall of Sound productions. So this latest installment of the odds & ends section can hardly be said to be unbiased. I just utterly cherish this song and for the life of me can’t fathom why the Tycoon of Teen decided to keep this bouncy pop gem under wraps for so long!

Allegedly, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was present when Spector and the Wrecking Crew laid down the backing track for this majestic tour-de-force and the song made a lasting impression on him. In interviews he has often singled it out as a favorite even going so far as to record his own cover version of it for a Harry Nilsson tribute album. Why, if he indeed was at the session, Hawthorne’s finest may very well be among the gazillion people heard emphasizing the backbeat with hand claps during the song’s middle section! I’ve always loved that part of the song in particular. It’s a classic goose bumps-type moment where it sounds as if Spector rounded up everyone in 60s LA to make them clap in unison at Gold Star.

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The MFQ with Spector during the 1965 session for ‘This Could be the Night’

As is so typical with the most extreme Spector productions, you almost forget who the artist is. Sure, the track credit says the Modern Folk Quartet alright, but since they didn’t write the song or can be clearly heard playing their instruments or singing the folksy harmonies on their more restrained 60s efforts this sonic assault has ‘Spector’ stamped all over it. At the risk of being engulfed by a swamp of swirling instruments Henry Diltz succeeds in cutting through the wall with a passionate lead vocal.

Kudos in particular to Harry Nilsson for supplying Spector with a song like this. The pair also worked on the stellar ‘Paradise’ and the interesting ‘Here I Sit’ by the Ronettes. It’s a shame their working relationship was so short-lived. Here’s a super piano version of the song by Nilsson pitched to the Monkees a few years after the MFQ recording:

Incredibly, despite the fact that the song was used for the intro credits scene to the iconic Big TNT show concert film, Spector defied logic by allowing ‘This Could be the Night’ to linger in the vaults for a decade. It finally saw the light of day in the mid-70s on one of the Rare Masters compilations along with other incredible could-have-been hits such as ‘Paradise’ or ‘I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine’ by the Ronettes.

Why Spector inexplicably decided not to release it we’ll never know. Maybe his notorious insecurities were in full force at a time that was clearly a transition period for him? The mid-60s certainly saw him experience with various adaptions of the Wall of Sound to match somewhat the popular genres of the day. If you listen to ‘This Could be the Night’ in that context you’ll probably pick up little details that, with the Wall of Sound still fully in place, reveals that Spector and his team had studied both folk-rock and the emerging sunshine pop sound.

The MFQ of course had close ties to the former, whereas the latter was about to really catch on nationwide, for instance by way of singles such as ‘Just my Style’ by Gary Lewis & the Playboys, ‘Happy Together’ by the Turtles or ‘The Rain, the Park and Other Things’ by the Cowsills. Obviously, those hits were way more simplistic production-wise and also emphasized harmonies much more than ‘This Could be the Night’ but I feel these songs share the same type of über-catchy, bounc and almost anthemic structure that defined a lot of the era’s harmony heavy and often Beach Boys-inspired LA pop.

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It’s interesting to ponder what direction Spector and the MFQ could have followed hot on the heels of an actual mid-60s release of the song. Would it have been a hit? Who knows? But if so, it certainly would have given Spector another try at consistent chart action at a time where his magic with the Righteous Brothers was about to wane due to personal differences.

It has always amazed me that a song this good hasn’t been covered more but there’s been a few, typically fairly faithfull to the original Spector production. Here’s a different approach by David Cassidy from 1975 where the song is slowed down considerably,… and what do you know? It works very well. It’s a shame Spector didn’t do the same during his infamous 70s sessions.

Finally, let’s conclude with a nice, if a bit shaky, version by the current MFQ line-up. Very nice in this stripped-down approach,…. Which only reinforces Spector’s own long-held opinion; that it always starts with the song. If the song is not strong enough, the Wall of Sound can only take it so far.

 

Review: I Am Brian Wilson

**** (4 stars out of 6)

In case you’re wondering what to put on your Christmas wish list, you could consider adding the two Beach Boys-related autobiographies that have come out; ’I am Brian Wilson’ by, you guessed it, Brian Wilson and ’Good Vibrations – my Life as a Beach Boy’ by Mike Love.

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‘Battle of the books!’ – Cousin Mike and Brother Brian compete at telling the story of the Beach Boys.
I’ve had both books for about a month but have so far only completed Brian’s book. I reckon I’ve read one third of Mike’s book as of writing this blog post.

I’m sure that both books would be of interest to most Spector fans seeing that there are many ties between the Beach Boys and Spector. Both competed for chart placings during the 60s, were based in LA and as such utilized the same Wrecking Crew musicians and recorded at Gold Star. (Though Western was Brian’s preferred studio.)

Famously, Brian Wilson only really found his feet as a producer in the modern sense of the word after hearing Spector’s initial Philles releases and picking up the inspiration. ‘Be my Baby’ remains Brian’s favorite song ever and listening to his early to mid-60s output, notably the productions he made on the side for Glen Campbell and Sharon Marie, it’s clear how much he enamored the wall of sound.

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A few collections have come out gathering the few outside productions Brian Wilson worked on during the 60s.
The releationship between Brian Wilson and Phil Spector was complex. Did they respect each other? Were they friends even? Or did they look at each other as foes, both wanting to outdo the other in the studio and get the next no. 1 on the charts? All of these probably applied in equal measure, really, and to this day Brian seems to have conflicting feelings about Spector. Here’s a revealing excerpt from his book where he talks about the voices he still hears in his head from time to time:

“I hear Phil Spector, who did all those great records in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. Phil’s voice is scary, always challenging me, always reminding me that he came first. “Wilson,” I hear him saying in my head, “you’re never going to top ‘You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling’ or ‘Be my Baby’, so don’t even try.” But maybe he wants me to try. Nothing is ever simple with him, not when he’s in my head. Simple isn’t what he’s about. People say that we named Pet Sounds partly as a tribute to him: check the initials. “

Phil Spector In The Studio
Brian Wilson at a Spector session in 1965 – others present are Mike Love from the Beach Boys, Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield and in the background with Shades, Jack ‘Specs’ Nitzsche.
Pet Sounds, 1966. Always near the top or indeed topping the lists for best ever album. As far as I’m concerned, by 1966 Brian Wilson had eclipsed Spector as the world’s most original producer.

‘I am Brian Wilson’ is an easygoing account of Brian’s incredible career told in a way that seems really true to the way Brian comes across most of the time. Quirky, childlike and aloof – and as such this book is a very welcome replacement for Brian’s notorious ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ 1991 autobiography. It has long been established that this book was written by hired writer Todd Gold without in-depth collaboration by Brian Wilson. The book also whitewashed Brian’s therapist Dr. Eugene Landy who at that point had all but brainwashed his client, keeping him under heavy and, according to some sources, damaging medication as well as isolating him from his family and former Beach Boys bandmates.

As much as I love the music of Phil Spector and associated acts, the Beach Boys remain my favorite act ever and through the years I have tracked down almost all books on the subject. I know all the stories, – I’ve read them all a gazillion times. And even though Brian’s book offers a few new and refreshing perspectives, I was a little disappointed after finishing reading it.

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Brian during the sessions for Pet Sounds.
For hardcore fans like myself ‘I am Brian Wilson’ is a nice read, though without much new information. For new fans, i.e. general music lovers who’d like to know more about the main Beach Boy, the book must seem pretty tame and only touching on the surface. A lot of the times, I thought the various highs and lows in the career of the Beach Boys was told in such a way as to imply that Brian and his people assume that only knowledgeable fans who know all the facts already will read along.

In the book, Brian sidesteps really giving his take on the inner dynamics of the group and his account of his years recording with his brothers, Mike Love, Al Jardine and Bruce Johnston therefore feels somewhat one-dimensional and sparse. You certainly don’t get a deep understanding of the personalities within the group. It’s as if Brian hasn’t felt the need to go into much detail on the matter – which is ok, I guess. For me this fact definately made the reading experience less exciting than it could have been.

Mike’s book seems to also be constructed a bit along these lines but so far I feel he reaches more out to the casual fan with more detailed descriptions and personal takes on why things happened like they did along the way.

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Don’t Worry Baby / I Get Around – how’s that for a killer single?
Anyways, all this shouldn’t keep you from seeking out both books if you’re as much into the Beach Boys as I am. The best book on the subject though remains Peter Ames Carlin’s ‘Catch a Wave – The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boys.’

Review: Turn Up the Radio

***** (5 stars out of 6.)

To tell the story about Phil Spector, his use of the Wrecking Crew and Gold Star studios is also to tell the story about the dawning of 60s Los Angeles as one of the world’s premier pop capitals.

This, and much, much more, is at the heart of a very entertaining book by music journalist Harvey Kubernik that I’ve just finished reading. I got ‘Turn Up the Radio – Rock, Pop and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972’ as a Christmas present but it’s only now, during the summer holiday, that I’ve taken the plunge and read this lengthy, coffee-table format book.

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Kubernik may be familiar to Cue Castanets readers in that he has often championed Phil Spector in his writing and also been within Spector’s actual inner circle. Allegedly, Kubernik was even featured on percussion on some of Spector’s late 70s sessions with Leonard Cohen, the Paley Brothers and the Ramones.

Before I proceed further, allow me to point readers towards a great four-part Kubernik article on Spector published by Goldmine Magazine. Believe me when I say it’s worth your time:

http://www.goldminemag.com/features/phil-spector-the-musical-legacy-part-one

http://www.goldminemag.com/article/phil-spector-the-musical-legacy-part-two

http://www.goldminemag.com/article/phil-spector-the-musical-legacy-part-three

http://www.goldminemag.com/article/phil-spector-the-musical-legacy-part-four

The Spector connection, though, is but only one strand in Kubernik’s interesting career; besides working as a music journalist since 1972, he’s produced records as well as dabbled in A&R for the West-coast division of MCA Records.

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Seeing that Kubernik grew up in LA and had his teenage years played out to the music by Spector and his contemporaries, it’s only natural for him to go back and try to explain the sort of cultural and audio revolution that happened in town during a timespan of little more than 15 years.

In doing this, the book serves as a very nice companion to Barney Hoskyns’ ‘Waiting for the Sun – Strange Days, Weird Scenes and the Sound of Los Angeles’ and Domenic Priore’s ‘Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock’n’Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood’ – both great books that contextualize Phil Spector and Philles Records as well as give readers a good, basic understanding of LA’s rise to pop prominence.

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Whereas Hoskyns and Priore both use the tried and tested chronological narrative written in their own words, Kubernik has chosen another path – that of oral history. Spread out throughout the nearly 300 pages is only a limited amount of writing by Kubernik himself. His own words either only serves to set the scene as each new chapter begins or shift the focus within a chapter.

Basically, the majority of the text is made up of quotes from people who were present themselves back in the day and whom Kubernik have interviewed over the years – some of the excerpts may also come from interviews conducted by other journalists. In any event, it makes a basic storyline which is well-known to anyone who’s read up on the recording history of Los Angeles come alive in an engaging and down-to-earth manner.

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60s session; Darlene Love, Phil Spector & Jack Nitszsche.

Reading the book, it’s as if all these icons, heroes and out-of-this-world characters parade into your living room and regale you with stories from a sizzling hot bed of recording creativity the likes the world will probably newer hear again. Everyone you can think of have a say throughout the book; Phil Spector, Jack Nitszche, Brian Wilson, LaLa Brooks, Sonny Bono, Russ Titelmann, Terry Melcher, Stan Ross, PF Sloan, Andrew Loog Oldham, Lester Sill, Carol Conners, Kim Fowley, Don Randi, Dan & David Kessel, Bones Howe, Jimmy Webb, Don Peake, Lou Adler etc. You get the drift – it’s very entertaining to hear all these talented people tell how they remember things happened,… or at least what they’d like us to think happened.

Phil Spector In The Studio
Brian Wilson at a Spector session in 1965 – others present are Mike Love from the Beach Boys, Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield and in the background with Shades, Jack ‘Specs’ Nitzsche.

As with every book that is based solely upon oral history, one must remain sceptic. No doubt some of the claims and stories should be taken with a grain of salt. Music lore is notorious for people trying to talk up their importance and it’s difficult to tell while reading when this occurs since conflicting accounts don’t pop up during the storyline. Kubernik could have played the devil’s advocate by questioning the validity of some of the statements but has chosen not to. It means that readers have to take everything at face value and take it from there.

Having said that, the only obvious, factual error I picked up while enjoying the book was this comment by Henry Dilz about the Modern Folk Quartet and Spector: “We later recorded ‘Night Time Girl’ with Phil at Gold Star, with Jack Nitszsche’s arrangement.” Nitszsche had the production credit on the single and I find it very hard to believe that Spector had anything to do with this recording. Dilz also couldn’t have mixed up the song with ‘This Could be the Night’ because he talks about the production of it just before ‘Night Time Girl.’ Strange indeed!

Besides all sorts of interesting stories, and just the sheer joy of reading personal thoughts by people you know from label credits, ‘Turn Up the Radio’ also stands out by virtue of lots and lots of interesting photographs.

There were many shots I hadn’t seen before and Spector’s productions are nicely covered with some cool images. The book is definitely eye candy for any serious lover of 60s pop and the smorgasbord of photos makes the book ideal for casual browsing, reading a little bit here, a little bit there. Hence, I guess, the choice of the coffee-table book format.

Nitzsche ad

My only gripe with the book is that the format makes it difficult to read lying down as I always do, – its size and weight makes that a bit trying. But that aside, I’d really recommend getting your hands on this fun and entertaining read. Preferably along with the aforementioned books by Hoskyns and Priore. Those three titles together will give you a much broader understanding of the LA pop landscape.

Malibooz – Call of the Wave (2002)

When Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound ruled the early to mid 60s airwaves there was another distinct musical path trodded out by a variety of acts; the path of vocal surf pop.

Today, only the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean are remembered by the general music-loving public but there was a plethora of releases by different acts from around the US that took the harmonies emenating from Los Angeles as a rallying cry for celebrating the sun, the sea and the mighty surf.

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Doesn’t get any better than PF Sloan’s and Steve Barri’s surfsploitation act the Fantastic Baggys.
Dive into releases by, say, Bruce & Terry, the Fantastic Baggys or Ronny & the Daytonas and you’ll find great songs and at times also productions that sort of veer off into pseudo Wall of Sound-territory. None did this more often of course than Brian Wilson whose studio creativity would in time surpass even that of Spector himself.

All this builds up to the introduction of the next entry in my long, on-going line of modern Spector soundalikes, because today’s entry is precisely the kind of weird amalgamation of surf and Wall of Sound that only seldomly occured in Spector’s golden period.

Fittingly, the song in question is from a band that grew out of this very scene. The Malibooz formed in 1964 in New York and took its cue from the sun-soaked sound of the Golden State, trying their best to spread the sunshine to the East Coast.

An EP and a single came out as early as 1965 and since then the band has been active, putting out albums and still performing to this day.

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2002 saw the release of ‘Beach Access’ with a nice and predictable selection of surf/summer/sun-themed tunes – but there was also a song that really stood out right away and immidiatedly caught my attention; the mighty ode to surf that is ‘Call of the Wave’ – as epic a surf-themed track you’ll here this side of Jack Nitszche’s ‘Lonely Surfer!’

I really, really dig this production by John Zambetti and Walter Egan who are the main-stays and creative force in the Malibooz. The lyrics are great in all their wide-eyed, heartfelt praise of the sea’s lure and the gradual build of the majestic backng track is majestic, – very much in line with the type of sound Bruce Springsteen nailed in his most Spectoresque songs during the 70s.

You’ll find much to like here – from the pounding drums over the blatant rip-off of the ‘Then He Kissed Me’ riff to the tinkling glockenspiel. Go ahead, dip your toes into ‘Call of the Wave.’

Review: Together

The Explorers Club – Together (2016)

*****½ (5½ stars out of 6)

Consider this; if you think about the phenomenal success the Beach Boys had in their hey-day – and the esteem in which Brian Wilson is still held by today’s musicians – the lack of modern bands playing original music easily recognizable as ‘Beach Boys-like’ is puzzling.

Whereas you still have a gazillion bands mining the Beatles-sound, it’s much rarer to find new and original releases mirroring the sunkissed harmonies and playful pop perfection of Hawthorne’s finest.

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Brian during the sessions for Pet Sounds.
Sure, there are tribute bands out there performing Beach Boys or Jan & Dean hits, but only a few bands seem to have truly based their very existence on the sort of golden 60s California sound the Beach Boys perfected; Britain’s Surfin’ Lungs have been at it for decades, Italy has the aptly named Sunny Boys, the Dukes of Surf out of Hawaii give Mike Love a run for his money and there’s my own band, Surf School Dropouts from Denmark.

All of these have come up with cool songs in a Beach Boys-vein but in my humble opinion none can touch the incredible enigma that is the Explorers Club.

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I first came across these guys in 2006 – or was it 2007? – when a few songs on their MySpace account got the attention of hardcore Beach Boys fans. To this day, ‘Don’t Forget the Sun’, which graced their 2008 debut album ‘Freedom Wind’, is one my all-time favorite songs. ‘Freedom Wind’ was a fantastic first offering from the talented band and the 2012 follow-up ‘Grand Hotel’ didn’t disappoint either.

What was so great about the second album was the fact that the band broadened their sound to also encompass the late 60s & early 70s soft pop sound that followed in the wake of the Beach Boys glory days – think the type of stuff A&M Records put out as an example. In time, the more diverse ‘Grand Hotel’, sound- and genre-wise at least, has become my favorite of the two albums. But both are must-hears for any connoisseur of great pop, Beach Boys fan or otherwise.

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And now,… finally!… we have a third Explorers Club album coming out! I’ve been looking so much forward to this release ever since I got a bit of background info on it from main songwriter and band leader Jason Brewer in an interview for Cue Castanets last year. You can read our discussions here:

https://cuecastanets.wordpress.com/2015/08/28/jason-brewer-interview/

So,… the album,.. how is it?

Well, for one thing, it’s clear that the current incarnation of the Explorers Club has returned somewhat to the familiar grounds of the debut album, their feet firmly planted in Brian Wilson’s sandbox, ready, willing and able to delight listeners with hooks and glorious harmonies.

The sounds contained within the album rarely veer off the path laid out by the Beach Boys, but not in a way that makes the songs come across as mere pastiches. I’ve always been extremely impressed by the way the band picks up on the best parts of the Beach Boys oeuvre and puts its own unique spin on it.

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It’s also clear that the band has been very hard at work recording these songs – lots of things going on in every song and neat little details popping up in the mix upon close listening.

And those harmonies,… stunning harmonies sounding so effortlessly and naturally yet undoubtedly must have required a lot of fiddling around to come up with the perfect vocal wrapping. I know – I’ve been there with the Dropouts! It’s an integral element for the song with the harmony arrangement somehow almost taking up as much time to come up with as the song itself! For this third album, the Explorers Club has concocted some stellar vocal arrangements that are guaranteed to bring a smile to everyone in love with vocal harmony.

Although the album works really well as a whole and the quality is top notch throughout, there are a few stand-out tracks I’d like to highlight in my review.

For starters, lead-off single ‘California’s Callin’ Ya’ is so Brian Wilsonesque it’s almost eerie. It has the same type of modern take on the doo wop sound as can be found on Brian’s ‘Soul Searching’ or ‘That’s Why God Made the Radio.’ Catchy with a capital C then; it’s no wonder this was singled out for a release on its own.

I’m also very fond of the extremely catchy ‘Once in a While’ which has a tag to die for. A tag, of course, was the Beach Boys’ own term for a type of ending that twisted the melody of the song in question a little bit, ensuring that the dying 10-30 seconds had a distinctly different feel than what had gone before,… and was all the more memorable for it. It’s something the Explorers Club has done to perfection on many of their past songs and it works great again here.

‘Perfect Day’ breezes by in less than two minutes but you’d be hard pressed to find a classier, more beautiful little number with close harmony all the way through as its backbone. Close your eyes, listen and dream away – this is timeless in much the same way as those iconic Four Freshman records, Brian Wilson wore out the grooves on in his room before changing the pop game.

Another gem is ‘Quietly’ which comes with yet another tag with tasty falsetto and some dreamy sections throughout the song where the drum fills give off a distinctive ‘Pet Sounds’-vibe. It’s difficult to point out a truly favorite track among all these songs, but this may be the one for me. Fantastic stuff!

If you’re a fan of the cosmic fart-synth sound of ’15 Big Ones / Love You’-era Beach Boys, you’re bound to love the pop grandeur that is ‘Don’t Waste Her Time’ which features longtime-Brian Wilson band member Darian Sahanaja joining the band on keys. This majestic song, which Jason Brewer co-wrote with the great Andy Paley, has come out earlier in a more classic 60s pop arrangement. I do prefer this earlier version, but the song is clearly too good to just gather dust as a single-only release so it makes sense that it’s on here – and it works very well in its updated setting.

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Jason Brewer of the Explorers Club.
If I should offer a bit of criticism, it would be that some of the songs at times reveal their inspiration a little too obviously; title-track ‘Together’ is clearly modeled after ‘Wild Honey’-era Beach Boys while ‘Be Around’ oozes ‘Friends’-vibes right down to its waltz-tempo. It doesn’t ruin my listening experience, but some may find that this sense of ‘what is it this song reminds me of…’ can be a bit overwhelming.

Also, parts of the production can at times sound a bit slick and polished compared to the previous two albums – ‘Gold Winds’ is a good case in point. But who am I or anyone else to judge that, really? I’m sure that the Explorers Club has succeeded in getting just the sound they set out to nail in the studio, – like it or not. Above all, this is clearly a labor of love.

A fantastic release then and one that doesn’t let down. Any fan of good pop music should really check this out.

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The current Explorers Club in the studio.
Please, support the band so that we can begin to look forward to a fourth record from them. Hopefully sooner than later! We need someone to fly the flag for classic 60s pop and timeless harmony in the music world today.

Besides buying the album at the usual outlets, you can order it directly from the band here:

www.timetogettogether.com

A Tease for a New Release

A little more than a week ago I was in London to see Brian Wilson and his band perform the iconic Pet Sounds album from start to finish at the Palladium Theatre. Allegedly, this will be the last European tour by the former Beach Boys leader.

As always, the Brian Wilson band, made up of stellar musicians as it is, really did the music justice and the venue was beyond beautiful. But truth be told, I found Brian Wilson’s performance quite depressing. He’s in his early 70s now and it shows by way of his voice and (lack of) energy and enthusiasm on stage.

bria

I truly love the man and his music and have seen him live several times but based on the concert in London now may be a good time to call it a day. I hope Brian withdraws from the road with grace at some point instead of touring endlessly from now on, coming closer to a Chuck Berry-type situation. On the other hand, other fans have praised the same show I saw online so what do I know? It will be interesting to see how Brian goes about his career in the future.

Even though what should have been the highlight on my trip turned into a bit of a dissapointment, the trip was memorable for another reason. I got to meet up with two of the finest Spector experts out there; Phil Chapman, whose late 60s Spector fan club I have previously written about, and Mick Patrick whose work on compilations by Ace Records should be mandatory listening material for every Cue Castanets reader.

It was very interesting to finally meet up with these two knowledgeable gentlemen and talk about all things Spector over pasta at an Italian restaurant. Always intriguing to compare notes on favorite Spector productions, muse about what may or may not be collecting dust within the Spector tape vault and talk about Spector sound-alikes. What can I say? It was a great evening!

Mick was kind enough to bring along two recent vinyl releases from Ace Records for me and while typing this blog post I’m listening to the Knickerbockers’ carbon-copy Righteous Brothers version of ‘Wishful Thinking’ off the Phil’s Spectre vinyl edition. I wrote about this release a few months ago and as of writing it’s just about to hit the streets.

phil's spectre

In short; this is an extract from Mick’s pioneering trilogy of Phil’s Spectre compilations that came out during the 00s, chock-full of bombastic Wall of Sound imitations. As such, if you have the CDs you’ll know each song on here but obviously, it’s very satisfying to hear them via the format they were recorded for back in the day.

Typically for Ace, the packaging is superb with extensive inner sleeve liner notes, cool photos and label scans and a nice cover with a red/yellow colour coordination that harkens back to the first Phil’s Spectre release. As if that wasn’t enough, the vinyl itself comes in beautiful orange – I’m guessing later print runs will just be regular vinyl.

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I was quick to let Mick know how much his compilations, especially the Phil’s Spectre series, have meant to me through the years – almost as much as Spector’s own body of work. I’ve always been intrigued by soundalike discs and the study of what makes a planned soundalike production fall into place and sound convincing. So the mere concept of Phil’s Spectre has always been dear to me.

When I got heavily into Spector’s music at the very start of the 00s I craved for more Wall of Sound once I had traced down every production with a Spector production credit. Therefore, the trio of Phil’s Spectre discs was a god send for me and kept my flame burning during the following years.

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The three volumes in the Phil’s Spectre series.

Since the release of the third installment in the series I’ve crossed my fingers that Ace would give Mick the go ahead for a 4th volume. And without making any promises, Mick indicated that there have been talks about re-activating the series once again. Let’s hope this will happen because there are many, many fantastic sound-alikes out there just begging for being lovingly compiled on a Phil’s Spectre disc.

Something that could be very interesting – even though it will probably never happen – would be for the series to go past the 60s and venture into other decades. Heck, you could easily make a killer Phil’s Spectre disc only made up of 70s Spector sound-alikes. The 70s was ripe with adulation for the Wall of Sound which I’ve previously written about here:

https://cuecastanets.wordpress.com/2015/08/02/that-70s-wall-of-sound/

Another idea could be for a disc comprising modern sound-alikes of which there are many great examples; you can check my personal picks here from my ongoing series of modern Spector sound-alikes:

https://cuecastanets.wordpress.com/category/modern-spector-soundalikes/

But in all honesty, the 60s of course was the decade where the most convincing, authentic Spectoresque sounds where put to vinyl so you won’t hear me complaining if a possible continuation of the series will have its focus stricktly on that decade. I just hope that some day, in the not too distant future, I will study liner notes on a new Phil’s Spectre compilation while wonderful monophonic masterpieces blast from the speakers.

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Lovely sounds on this disc. Just look at Brian’s face for proof. He’s on the cover of another recent Ace vinyl edition of the label’s Here Today comp that collects interesting covers of Brian Wilson songs.

 

Noreen Corcoran has just purred ‘Why Can’t a Boy and Girl Just Stay in Love’ as the last track on side 2 of Phil’s Spectre – the vinyl edition. Excuse me while I get up and drop the needle on side 1 once Again…

Down at TJs

One of the more puzzling Spector productions is the as yet unreleased ‘Down a TJs’ sung by none other than Spector himself.

Recorded in the mid-60s as the theme song for a proposed music TV show, a pilot episode exists starring the Dave Clark 5 as the featured band and Spector as a co-host.

Even though the youtube video dates the show at 1966, there’s been an auction online for a contract between Spector and ABC that lists the show’s recording datee as July 13 1965. The contract was signed by Spector in 1966, so whether he recorded the theme song in ’65 or ’66 is anyone’s guess.

contract

How all this came to be, I don’t know,… but the project along with Spector’s theme song for the ‘I Love Lucy’ show as well as his involvement with ‘the Big TNT Show’ underlines how he was obviously looking to branch out during the mid 60s.

Spector’s limited voice and the typical over-the-top Wall of Sound backing is an odd coupling. It’s a shame he didn’t get, say, Darlene Love to belt this one out as the song is pretty good and the production both intense and imaginative.

I recently listened to this rare track for the first time in ages and realized that there was something vaguely familiar about  a harpsichord figure that pops up throughout the song. It starts off the actual song so you can hear it at 00:00 to 00:15 here:

And then it hit me – that part reminds me of the eerie ‘Bicycle Rider’ motif Brian Wilson concocted for the 66-67 aborted Smile project. The tempo is slower but I definately hear some distinct similarities. Compare the first 15 seconds of the ‘Down at TJ’s’ video with this slower Beach Boys recording:

Probably pure co-incidence but hey, you never know?

What if Brian heard this recent recording or saw the pilot episode and felt inspired? The Beach Boys whiz kid had certainly done it before, – ‘Be my Baby’ / ‘Don’t Worry Baby’, anyone? Since both genius producers utilized the Wrecking Crew both recordings probably even feature some of the same musicians. Just saying,… stranger things have happened.

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Brian in the studio working on Smile.

No matter what, ‘Down at TJ’s’ is easily overlooked so it’s nice to dust this rarity off and feature it in its own blog post. I wonder why this one was left off the Back to Mono box, along with the Spector-sung ‘Lucy in London’ theme, when other rarities from this time was included? Maybe Spector himself knew he was no Bill Medley or Bobby Sheen and just decided to lay low vocal-wise?

Splitsville – The Popular (2001)

I can’t believe I haven’t posted this one yet in my ongoing feature on modern Spector soundalikes. It’s one of the earliest modern faux Spector records to catch my ear as a fresh-faced Spector fan and send me off tracking down similar recent songs with a bombastic production.

US garage / power pop trio Splitsville was formed in the mid-90s and I discovered them by way of their great and highly melodic ‘Pet Soul’ album from 2001. As a major Beach Boys fan and fan of the fab four (come on,who isn’t?) I knew I had to check out an album with a title lampooning ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Rubber Soul’, two of the great pop platters ever made.

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‘Pet Soul’ is indeed a delicious offering of pop perfection and although the emphasis is heavy on the Brian Wilson and Lennon/McCartney side of things, other sounds and influences pop up here and there. The driving ‘The Popular’ is no doubt envisioned by the band as the album’s Spector tribute – there’s just no way these guys didn’t have the Wall of Sound in mind with this soung’s pounding crescendo two-thirds in.

In fact, I was so mesmerized by this song that I once e-mailed the group’s manager suggesting that he and the band should contact Ronnie Spector so she could be offered the song. This was around the time when she was working on ‘Last of the Rock Stars’ and I still feel that this great track with her vocal could have been a highlight of the album. The Splitsville manager replied that it was a great idea but they probably never followed up on it.

Never mind, the Splitsville version is fine as it is and would be sure to be included on my playlist of favorite modern Spector soundalikes any time.