Friday, January 17, 2014

Lee Michaels - Barrel (1970 us, fabulous funk rock with blues and psych shades)

Thumbing through dollar bins at record shops can be depressing, particularly when the pickings are slim. Plumbing the depths of milk crates jammed with forgotten vinyl, which no longer lie on shag carpets and basement floors, but in mounds that neglect their prior value, that reject what they once might have meant to someone, somewhere, upon their original release, is a real downer. Here lie bands without a myth, un-legendary singers, devalued albums that once topped the charts, last names written in faded Sharpie ink on moldy album covers. Indefinitely, these albums and their memories remain in $1.00 purgatory, doomed to a needle-less existence.

But one recent find dispelled the notion that happiness can’t be retrieved from the bottom of a barrel. Lee Michaels, a laidback rocker with soul from the West Coast, known for making his Hammond the core of his sound, released Barrel to little notice or airplay in 1970. (Michaels wouldn’t tap the mainstream until the following year with “Do You Know What I Mean?,” a corny-cool, organ-led tune which implores the listener for empathy over a girl who’s scrammed.)

And notice and sales really weren’t warranted. Among Barrel’s eleven tracks, only a few pass muster—Michaels’ cover of Moby Grape’s “Murder In My Heart (For The Judge),” “Mad Dog,” and “Didn’t Know What I Had” achieve brief moments of hallelujah-rock exaltation, thanks to Michaels’ skills as a keyboardist and rock vocalist with a gospel edge. The other songs, several of which attempt to address the war in Vietnam,” don’t do the trick, nor does the album’s weakling of a ballad, “Uummmm My Lady.”

Whereas the quality of the songs leaves something to be desired (Barrel was recorded at Michaels’ California ranch, which features prominently on the cover and jacket art), the spirit of the music-making doesn’t disappoint. Listening pleasure is drawn from the fact that Michaels, along with frequent drummer, Barry “Frosty” Smith, and guitarist Drake Levin of Paul Revere and the Raiders, don’t seem to be taking their jobs too seriously. 

The songs have a one-off feel, and the photo montage on the inside jacket is an awesome monument to stoner-slackerdom—one photo shows Lee feeding a pair of cheetahs on his back deck; another reveals a heavyset Frosty gesticulating, sporting spotted pajama pants. This makes the experience of Barrel not quite a joke, but it does give us license to laugh off its artistic flaws, and forget that overwhelming critical and commercial success are even legitimate criteria of how listening choices are made.  Barrel is not trying to be anything more than what it is, and this is a hallmark of all classic good-times music.

So if you find a copy of Barrel in a bin somewhere, don’t expect too much, but expect to be amused, bemused, and occasionally, moved. It might have meant something to some lost teenager from the ’70s before it wound up at the bottom of the heap.
by Meghan Roe
1. Mad Dog - 3:45
2. What Now America (Lee Michaels, Sheffield, Eddie Shuler) - 3:25
3. Uummmm My Lady - 3:00
4. Thumbs - 4:05
5. When Johnny Comes Marching Home - 2:02
6. Murder In My Heart (For The Judge) (Jerry Miller, Don Stevenson) - 3:36
7. Day Of Change - 3:33
8. Think I'll Cry - 2:43
9. Games (Bobby Womack) - 3:10
10.Didn't Know What I Had - 3:14
11.As Long As I Can - 1:28
All songs by Lee Michaels except where stated

*Frosty - Drums
*Drake Levin - Guitar
*Lee Michaels - Bass, Keyboards, Vocals

1969  Lee Michaels - Lee Michaels

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The Beau Brummels - Beau Brummels' 66 (1966 us, wonderful folk psych, japan edition)

While they only had two big hits, the Beau Brummels were one of the most important and underrated American groups of the 1960s. They were the first U.S. unit of any sort to successfully respond to the British Invasion. They were arguably the first folk-rock group, even predating the Byrds, and also anticipated some key elements of the San Francisco psychedelic sound with their soaring harmonies and exuberant melodies. Before they finally reached the end of the string, they were also among the first bands to record country-rock in the late '60s.

The key axis of the band was formed by guitarist/songwriter Ron Elliott, who penned most of the Brummels' moody and melodious material, and singer Sal Valentino, owner of one of the finest voices in mid-'60s rock. Spotted by local DJ Tom Donahue in a club in San Mateo (just south of San Francisco), the group was signed to Donahue's small San Francisco-based label, Autumn Records, in 1964. With Sly Stewart (later Sly Stone) in the producer's chair, they made the Top 20 right off the bat with "Laugh, Laugh." The melancholy, minor-key original sounded so much like the British bands inundating the airwaves that many listeners initially mistook the Brummels for an English act. The follow-up single, "Just a Little," was another excellent, melancholy number that became their biggest hit, making the Top Ten.

The Beau Brummels made a couple of fine albums in 1965, dominated by strong original material and featuring the band's ringing guitars and multi-part, mournful harmonies. The best of their early work is nearly as fine as the Byrds' first recordings, yet the band was losing ground commercially, partially because Autumn, being such a small label, lacked promotional muscle. "You Tell Me Why" was their only other Top 40 hit, though "Sad Little Girl" and the Byrds knock-off "Don't Talk to Strangers" were excellent singles. The band also shuffled personnel a few times, and Ron Elliott was unable to stay on the road because of diabetes. Autumn was sold in 1966 to Warners, who made the lunkheaded move of forcing the band to record an entire album of Top 40 covers -- ignoring the fact that original material was one of the Brummels' primary fortes. 
by Richie Unterberger
1. You've Got To Hide Your Love Away (Lennon, McCartney) - 3:39
2. Mr. Tambourine Man (Dylan) - 3:45                    
3. Louie Louie (R. Berry) - 2:06                            
4. Homeward Bound (P. Simon) - 2:40                        
5. These Boots Are Made For Walking (L Hazelwood) - 2:49      
6. Yesterday (Lennon, McCartney) - 2:34                              
7. Bang Bang (S. Bono) - 1:51                            
8. Hang On Sloopy (Russell, Farrell) - 2:48                        
9. Play With Fire (Jagger, Richards) - 2:53                        
10.Woman (B. Webb) - 1:58                                
11.Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter (T. Peacock) - 2:35
12.Monday Monday (J. Phillips) - 2:48
The Beau Brummels
*Ron Elliott - Guitar, Vocals
*Sal Valentino - Vocals
*Ron Meagher - Bass, Harmonica, Guitar, Vocals
*Declan Mulligan - Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals
*John Petersen - Drums, Vocals
*Don Irving - Guitar

Related Act
1970  Ron Elliott - The Candlestickmaker

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