Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Cryan' Shames - A Scratch In The Sky (1967 us, fabulous folk colorful psychedelia, 2002 remaster and expanded)

Every now and then something unexpected hits you in a way that leaves a deep and  lasting impression. For me, one of those occasions came with Chicago garage band The Cryan’ Shames’ recording of the old Drifters hit “Up On the Roof,” off their incomprehensibly under-appreciated psychedelic classic A Scratch In the Sky. Granted, “Up On the Roof” itself has been overplayed to the point of nausea since it first made the scene back in 1963, but the Shames take the old Tin Pan Alley standard and turn it into a soaring, tightly woven piece of teenage magic that does not waste a second out of its three minutes and twenty four seconds. It’s the sound of youthful rebellion and romantic angst woven into a thing of panoramic beauty.

As a matter of fact, I reckon that the record that this song is buried in is itself well-defined by the above platitudes. A Scratch In the Sky is one of those rare records laid down at the height of the sixties which manage to pull in the best qualities of the band’s many influences and turn back out something wholly unto its own. The cosmic harmonies of the Beach Boys, the jangling spirit of The Byrds, the rollicking pop of The Beatles; these are all commonly borrowed sounds, but rarely ones so expertly disassembled and recast as we hear on this record. Though this collection of songs remains well-polished through studio-craft and the musicians’ own abilities, it retains a freshness and noncommercial edge that makes it both an accessible and adventurous listen.

The second track, “Sailing Ship,” is a good example of what I mean by all this. There are all sorts of influences detectable here, but nothing absolute. I never fail to be impressed by the thundering drums, jagged guitar chords and droning bagpipes here, all of which make the song sound strangely ahead of its time, or at least out of its own time. In true Sgt. Pepper fashion, the band clearly strove to make each song stand out as a distinct work of art, rather than sounding like something they had simply worked up on the road. The arrangements are ornate and layered with lysergic sounds and tape tricks, and besides the previously mentioned bagpipes the band manages to bring in accordion, harpsichord, tamboura, french horn, and…french lyrics (on “In the Cafe,” of course). If there’s any song reminiscent of the band’s work on their previous record, Sugar and Spice it’s the hard grooving “Mr. Unreliable,” which retains a lot of the garage band attitude and sweet harmonic edge that painted earlier jewels like “Ben Franklin’s Almanac”.

I’m rather blown away to find that the 2002 Sundazed reissue of this record has already dipped back out of print, leaving it perhaps the hardest of the Shames discs to track down. Should the following tracks catch you like they caught me, however, you shouldn’t have to fork over too much for a vinyl copy. It seems strange that so many new reissues end up becoming more obscure and desirable than vintage releases of the same recordings, but I suppose that’s the way it goes.
by Nik Rayne
1. A Carol For Lorelei - 4:05
2. The Sailing Ship - 3:36
3. In The Cafe - 3:12
4. Mr. Unreliable - 2:52
5. The Town I'd Like To Go Back To - 4:30
6. Up On The Roof (Gerry Goffin, Carole King) - 3:23
7. It Could Be We're In Love - 2:35
8. Sunshine Psalm - 2:17
9. Was Lonely When - 4:03
10.Cobblestone Road - 2:51
11.Dennis Dupree From Danville (Jeffrey Bryan - R. Holder) - 3:12
12.It Could Be We're In Love (Single Version) - 2:34
13.It Was Lonely When (Single Version) - 3:27
14.Young Birds Fly (William Oliver Swofford) - 2:25
15.Sunshine Psalm (Single Version) - 2:09  
16.Up On The Roof (Single Version) (Gerry Goffin, Carole King) - 3:28
17.The Sailing Ship (Single Version) - 2:55
18.The Warm (Jim Fairs) - 4:18
All songs by Jim Fairs, Lenny Kerley unless as else stated.

The Cryan' Shames
*Tom Doody «Toad» - Lead Vocals, Autoharp, Bells
*Jim Pilster «J. C. Hooke» - Tambourine
*Dennis Conroy - Drums
*Jim Fairs - Bagpipes, Bass, Flute, Guitar, Mandolin, Vocals
*Isaac Guillory - Accordion, Bass, Cello, Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
*Lenny Kerley - Bass, Guitar, Tambora, Vocals

1966  The Cryan' Shames - Sugar And Spice (Sundazed remaster)

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The Cryan' Shames - Sugar And Spice (1966 us, delicate sunny beat psych, 2002 remaster)

The Cryan' Shames actually were a big deal in Chicago in the mid- and late '60s, when a bunch of their singles hit the local Top Ten; some of them were small national hits as well. The biggest of these was "Sugar and Spice," a cover of a Searchers song that made the Top 50 in 1966 and was later featured in Lenny Kaye's renowned Nuggets anthology of '60s garage bands. In their original incarnation, the Shames leaned toward the pop end of garage. 

Borrowing heavily from the Beatles, the Byrds, and the Yardbirds, guitarist James Fairs wrote a clutch of energetic guitar pop/rockers with sparkling harmonies. After 1966, the group pursued an increasingly mainstream pop direction featuring saccharine arrangements and material. In this respect they uncannily mirrored the devolution of local rivals the New Colony Six, who also shifted from tough pop/rock to MOR in their bid for national success. But the Shames' appeal endures, partly through the efforts of reissue/archival labels such as Sundazed Records, which have kept their music available into the 21st century, and some of the original members, who have kept the band alive as a performing outfit from the 1980s onward.

They actually started out in Hinsdale, IL, as the Prowlers, a trio formed by Gerry Stone (rhythm guitar), Tom "Toad" Doody (vocals), and Dave Purple (bass, keyboards), who added guitarist James Fairs and drummer Dennis Conroy, both late of a local band from Downers Grove called the Roosters. The quintet became the Travelers, specializing in R&B and rock & roll covers, though Fairs was starting to write originals as far back as 1964. They became a sextet with the addition of Jim Pilster, a one-handed tambourine player whose artificial extremity got him dubbed "J.C. Hooke." 

Included in their ranks were four singers who were capable of handling lead vocals as well as harmonies, and as they already had their rock & roll and R&B sound down, they emerged as a heavyweight outfit on the local band scene, equally adept at covering the Beatles, the Byrds, or the Rolling Stones, among others. Additionally, as they discovered, Pilster's presence lent them some novelty/publicity value as "the guys with the hook," an attribute that would also benefit the Barbarians around the same time, who sported a member with a replacement appendage. According to biographer Clark Besch, they were making upwards of $180 a gig (albeit split six ways) in 1966, a good fee for a group that had never recorded. They also attracted the attention of manager Bob Monaco, who was associated with the local Destination Records label, and hoped to rectify that gap in their biography in short order.

Their new name was imposed upon them when they were notified that another band had a prior claim on "the Travelers" -- as they told Besch, the situation was described by one of the affected parties as "a cryin' shame," and that became their new name. The group and Monaco intended to make their recording debut with George Harrison's "If I Needed Someone" -- a new Beatles song not yet available in the U.S. -- but were thwarted, as the Beatles' publisher wouldn't allow the release. Instead, they grabbed up another, older British Invasion-spawned original, "Sugar and Spice," written by producer/composer Tony Hatch (under the pseudonym "Fred Nightingale") for his client group the Searchers. The number had been in the repertory of another local band, the Riddles, and they got their version out through MG Productions on a tiny local label. 

The resulting single, which included a proto-psychedelic Fairs original called "Ben Franklin's Almanac," became a Top Five hit locally in Chicago, and attracted the attention of Columbia Records, which bought up their contract and put the record out nationally. It easily made the Top 50 and Columbia wanted more -- the band duly obliged with "I Wanna Meet You," another Fairs original, which only made the Top Ten locally and number 65 nationally. Columbia was still interested in an album, however, and the group delivered the 12-song Sugar & Spice long-player. It was a fairly good record of its kind, mixing covers and Fairs' originals and, as it was done on a tight budget -- basically Columbia accepted the record as delivered, according to Pilster in an essay by Besch -- it also included all four single sides, plus their proposed debut of "If I Needed Someone." Although the album barely cracked the Top 200 nationally, the single and the long-player between them helped raise the band's fees more than fivefold in just a matter of weeks. 
by Bruce Eder
1. Sugar And Spice (Fred Nightingale) - 2:27
2. We Could Be Happy (Jim Fairs) - 2:34
3. Heat Wave (Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, Eddie Holland) - 2:07  
4. We'll Meet Again (Hughie Charles, Ross Parker) - 2:05  
5. Ben Franklin's Almanac (Jim Fairs) - 1:57
6. She Don't Care About Time (G. Clark) - 2:23
7. Hey Joe (Where You Gonna Go) (B. Roberts) - 2:40  
8. If I Needed Someone (George Harrison) - 2:17
9. July (Jim Fairs) - 1:34
10.I Wanna Meet You (Jim Fairs) - 2:05
11.We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil) - 3:38  
12.You're Gonna Lose That Girl (J. Lennon, P. McCartney) - 2:13
13.Mr. Unreliable (Single Version) (L. Kerley) - 2:23
14.Georgia (Jim Fairs) - 2:15
15.It Don't Matter To Me (D. Gates) - 2:54
16.Bits And Pieces (Version One) (L. Kerley) - 2:29
17.The Road (L. Kerley) - 2:18

The Cryan' Shames
*Tom Doody - Vocals
*Jim Pilster - Tambourine
*Dennis Conroy - Drums
*Jerry Stone - Guitar
*Jim Fairs - Guitar
*Dave Purple - Bass, Organ, Harpiscord

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