BY FRED MILLS
We power pop acolytes can be a long-suffering bunch. Many is the time when our heroes have seemed on the cusp of breaking big, only to be shoved aside by a more mainstream-stroking bandwagon-hopper or, worse, discovering that their supporters at the label were gone (or, even worse, the label itself had shuttered). This tends to leave us, the lonely fans, casting our hosannas year after year to the utter indifference of friends, family, foils and foes. Still, we persist, viewing our unconditional love as a noble cause. Once in awhile a true fan actually puts his money where his mouth is and finances an actual project.
Under consideration today: a pair of Dwight Twilley Band related releases. First, no less than the third installment in the Phil Seymour Archive Series, issued by Airline Records (which doesn’t seem to have, uh, a website; it’s distributed by Ingroove). Vols. 1 and 2 were released by quirky reissue specialist Fuel 2000 and offered up, respectively, an expanded version of the late Seymour’s superb 1980 eponymous debut (recorded shortly after the original Twilley Band had split), and its somewhat less inspired—though still quite enjoyable—followup, 1982’s 2. This time around we get a 2CD set with pair of live concerts from L.A. in 1979 and 1980.
The ’79 performance of Seymour and The Feel at the Hong Kong Café is high on energy but suffers from just average sonic quality, a kind of flat soundboard feel, something that actually won’t bother Seymour collectors since medium fidelity tapes swapped rabidly over the years have already primed the ears to settle for what we can get. Two obvious highlights are “Looking For the Magic,” from the classic Twilley-Seymour partnership that won us over in the first place all those years ago, and a cover of the Supremes’ “Can’t Hurry Love.” Indeed, the set is heavy on covers, including tunes from Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, Bobby Fuller and Nick Lowe; as such, it suggests that Seymour, along with his band at the time, The Feel, was still working out his identity as a bandleader. The ’80 show is much better, from the setlist to the sound (it was originally recorded at Gazzari’s for an FM broadcast) to the musicians backing up Seymour. Gone is the hastily-assembled The Feel, and taking their place is a far more accomplished ensemble that includes the mighty Bill Pitcock IV, from the Twilley band, natch, on lead guitar. The set is accordingly frontloaded with Twilley/Seymour-centric material, notably Twilley’s luscious “Then We Go Up,” Seymour’s surprise hit single “Precious to Me” and a “Peter Gunne”-like thumper penned by Pitcock titled “Don’t Blow Your Life Away.” Among the covers are Lieber & Stoller, Bobby Fuller (again) and go-to power pop femme Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go’s.
By this point Seymour has become a more confident frontman, partly due no doubt to having more seasoned players surrounding him and partly because with the success of “Precious to Me” he was staking his own turf rather than being simply “the other guy” onstage with Twilley. At times you can hear him taking on a bit of a McCartney persona, animated and clearly enjoying himself. (For proof see the live video of “Precious to Me,” above, although not that is not from the Gazzari’s show.) Sadly, Seymour’s record label would fold shortly after the release of the second album, effectively squelching whatever momentum he had, and although he continued to work for another decade (notably as a member of the Textones, with Carla Olson), he tragically passed away from cancer in 1993.
As sweet as it is to have previously unreleased Seymour in the record bins, most of us know that you ain’t been properly memorialized until a tribute album is recorded. Enter the power pop fanatics of Australia’s Zero Hour who’ve assembled a host of international indieites to redo some 23 tracks hailing from the Sincerely and Twilley Don’t Mind era, the two albums that the Twilley-Seymour team cut in ’76 and ’77. And while we all know that tribs are inherently compromised—yours truly has gone on record as saying they’re mostly a waste of time, and I still believe that—when it’s your personal fave getting the proverbial musical hat-tip, it’s easy to be generous if the performances are solid.
For the most part, Twilley Won’t Mind is exactly that. With 23 tunes, it’s inevitable that some of ‘em are gonna fall flat; several tracks are overly earnest, overtly schmaltzy, or just plain poorly recorded. But with such killer readings as Honeychain’s sleek, sexy and seamless “I’m On Fire,” Donovan’s Brain’s unbelievably accurate (right down to the backwards guitar), 12-string powered “Sincerely,” Michael Carpenter’s rousing handclapathon “Here She Comes” and the Slapbacks’ urgently buoyant “Looking For the Magic” it’s easy not only to be generous, but seduced. The musicians on the album have clearly studied and loved those two albums and their creators over the years, and the inspiration comes through in their recreations.
Writes journalist/archivist John M. Borack in his liner notes, “The Dwight Twilley Band [was] a true collaborative effort. No power pop duo could match the chemistry created when Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour played and sang together. Sincerely could have been subtitled ‘The Beatles Meet Elvis and the Byrds in Tulsa… a record for the ages. [And] Twilley Don’t Mind is nearly as perfect as the debut. Enjoy these covers, then go back and listen to the originals, too. You won’t have to look hard to find the magic.”
It’s perhaps significant that Borack and Bobby Sutliff from the Windbreakers perform on two of the tracks I’ve singled out above. Knowing both men’s deep, abiding love for power pop, I feel confident in saying that as long as they and their compatriots are around, the early Twilley Band’s estimable legacy will be in good hands. A hearty salute all around, gentlemen.
DOWNLOAD: Phil Seymour In Concert!: “Looking For the Magic,” “Then We Go Up,” “Precious to Me”; Twilley Won’t Mind: the tracks mentioned above, plus “That I Remember” (Lannie Flowers), “Rock and Roll 47” (The Mold Monkies), “Chance to Get Away” (The Bottle Kids), “I Don’t Know My Name” (Spike Priggen)