Monthly Archives: July 2016

ANNA TIVEL – Heroes Waking Up

Album: Heroes Waking Up

Artist: Anna Tivel

Label: Fluff & Gravy

Release Date: May 20, 2016

Anna Tivel 5-20

The Upshot: Hushed, pensive, and dimly lit deliberation.


You’d probably not want to play Anna Tivel’s music if you’re hoping to shift your party into overdrive. Her laconic vocals and weary demeanor simply aren’t the right elements that will steer people to the dance floor, much less elevate or intoxicate the mood. Still, if it’s a morning after libation one’s looking for, Tivel’s the perfect remedy, a calming if somewhat sobering encounter that sets a mellow mood despite uncertain circumstances.

That tepid tone is consistent throughout, all hushed, pensive, and dimly lit deliberation, as fragile as a newborn who’s getting its first glimpse outside the womb. Nevertheless, there’s an undeniable beauty flowing from these tender trappings, with songs such as “The Lines and the Tide,” “Dial Tone” and “Slow Motion” creating a kind of otherworldly ambiance all their own. So while tracks like “Lillian & Martha” and the ironically dubbed “Reverie” barely rise above a whisper, the effect is so entrancing, the listener probably won’t mind the need to lean in to listen.

Given its fading half-light, Heroes Waking Up doesn’t exactly give credence to its name, but even its elusive charms seem inspired all the same.

DOWNLOAD: “The Lines and the Tide,” “Dial Tone,” “Slow Motion”

THE ROBERT BENSICK BAND – French Pictures in London

Album: French Pictures in London

Artist: Robert Bensick Band

Label: Smog Veil

Release Date: June 24, 2016


The Upshot: Clevo proto-punk loony taps the Ubu axis for archival offering. On Smog Veil, natch. Every shout it out loud: O-HI-O!


An odd mix of proto-punk, cabaret theatrics and Lou Reed-style street poetry, the Robert Bensick Band’s French Pictures in London could only have come from the ‘70s. The Cleveland composer’s song cycle was, in fact, recorded in 1975, though unreleased until now. Backed by various Cleveland luminaries, including Pere Ubu’s Tom Herman and Scott Krauss, Bensick waxes jazzy (the title track), folky (“Sweet Priscilla”), introspective (“Silly Man”), sardonic (“In’s Been Changed to Out”), brash (“Payphone Meter Lover”), groovy (“After the Ball”), batshit insane (“Doll”) and so artsy-fartsy it hurts (“Muse”).

Visiting every musical locale he deems interesting at the moment, the songwriter almost comes off as more of a stand-up comic in the Lenny Bruce mold than a singer, his snappy, rambling delivery light on melody and heavy on personality. With almost half the tracks coming in at less than two minutes, Bensick’s eccentricities never linger long enough to become annoying. Not an everyday listen, perhaps, but still a historical curio worth rescuing.

DOWNLOAD: “Sweet Priscilla,” “French Pictures in London,” “Dolls”

The Rave-Ups 7/7/16, Los Angeles

Dates: July 7, 2016

Location: El Cid, Los Angeles

Jimmer Podrasky

Six Paperback Books and a Dying Tree: One of the Blurt braintrust’s all-time fave twang/pop merchants mounts an unlikely reunion show at L.A.’s El Cid venue, on the heels of their recent (and Blurt-approved) Town + Country reissue. Above: frontman Jimmer Podrasky.


Country and punk formed an unlikely alliance beneath the sun and smog of late-‘70s Los Angeles, years after Gram Parsons made a fiery exit from this mortal coil in Joshua Tree. It was around that time that the Pittsburgh-bred Rave-Ups heeded the call to motor West.  As ambitious and promising as they were, the band never scaled the same heights as fellow cowpunk cowpokes X, the Gun Club or the Blasters. It was John Hughes and Molly Ringwald who gave the Rave-Ups a shot at musical immortality not once (Sixteen Candles), but twice (Pretty in Pink).

As so often happens with such beloved pop-culture apogees, the mystic chords of memory they strike engender pathos: Pretty in Pink marked the last installment of the Ringwald/Hughes dynasty; cast member Alexa Kenin (“I hope they shrivel up and fall off!”) passed away shortly after filming concluded; and the songs the Rave-Ups performed in one of the club scenes were conspicuously absent from its official soundtrack.  A shame, too, as they were among the best tracks associated with the movie. Their 1985 full-length Town  + Country faded into out-of-print oblivion, and the Rave-ups, poor little critters on the road, drifted away like Mojave tumbleweed.

Terry Wilson

Tommy Blatnik


Like Pretty in Pink, Town + Country recently marked its 30th anniversary, and Omnivore Recordings commemorated the occasion with one of this year’s most welcomed reissues. Podrasky (top of page), bassist Tommy Blatnik (above, 2nd photo), guitarist Terry Wilson (1st photo), and drummer Tim Jimenez celebrated its resurrection at El Cid, which, in the Prohibition era, was a speakeasy known as the Jail Café complete with waiters clad in prison stripes. Have twangy guitars, will travel: The group’s show was an exercise in raucous, sweat-soaked fun, and they were perfectly thrilled to be playing together again. “Positively Lost Me” and “Rave-Up/Shut-Up” sounded as vibrant as ever, as did “Train to Nowhere,” “Please Take Her (She’s Mine)” and “Mickey of Alphabet City,” nascent versions of which appear among the revamped Town + Country’s many bonus cuts.

As Podrasky reminisces in the liner notes, “Town + Country was the beginning of a lifelong journey for me—the start of a trip that still hasn’t ended.” As the Rave-Ups asserted so many years ago, it’s not where you’re at, but where you will be.




Album: Stowaways

Artist: Paul Mark & the Van Dorens

Label: Radiation

Release Date: March 25, 2016

Paul Mark 10-2

The Upshot: The crooner creates his own sardonic cabaret on his tenth album.


Rock & roll is king, but there’s always room in the corner of the bar for the cynical, saloon-bred piano tickler. Drawing equally from Tom Waits, Noel Coward and Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, New York crooner Paul Mark creates his own sardonic cabaret on Stowaways, his tenth album.

With the Van Dorens apparently the name he gives his fingers and limbs (or maybe the string players that pop up on several tracks), Mark puts the emphasis on his jazz noir keyboard work and barfly philosopher’s voice. With a Cole Porteresque mix of jaunty melody and sharp satire, Mark essays sleazy character portraits (“Reputation Tango,” “Interesting Times”), undercuts overt romanticism (“Once Upon a Weekend,” with guest singer Tess Primack, “Stow Away”) and indulges in sneering social commentary (“How Do the Blind Become So Famous?”). He also pays tribute to a key influence by covering Brecht/Weill’s “The Ballad of Mack the Knife,” putting enough of a distinctive spin on this well-worn standard to distinguish it from the other five million covers littering the musical landscape.

If you have a fantasy of walking into a bar with a piano player in the corner, ignoring him at first until his songs start creeping into your consciousness and you find yourself paying more attention to him than drinks and conversation, Mark is that fantasy come to life.

DOWNLOAD: “How Do the Blind Become So Famous?,” “Stow Away,” “Reputation Tango”


BARI WATTS – There Was a Time

Album: There Was A Time

Artist: Bari Watts

Label: Dark Skies

Release Date: November 27, 2015

Bari Watts 11-27

The Upshot: Outskirts of Infinity axe man Bari Watts channels Marc Bolan for lovingly rendered tribute.


Bari Watts, in this writer’s opinion the second coming of Jimi Hendrix, is a brilliant guitarist that has spent time playing with the Bevis Frond and his own band The Outskirts of Infinity. So it was with great curiosity that I sat down with Bari’s latest album entitled There Was a Time. This time ditching the Hendrixian sonic assault, he instead has turned in a toned down but seriously fascinating exploration of the world of Marc Bolan, roping in the Frond’s Nick Saloman and Adrian Shaw for the ride.

The T. Rex maestro is one of Bari Watts’ musical heroes. “Crystal Pagoda” is very much influenced by T. Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer,” with beautiful guitar flourishes and has that orchestral grandness imbued with stabs of glam backing vocals. “Fly with The Silver Swan” feels like Bolan is playing right there in the room with Bari. It has that cool toe tapping vibe that made T. Rex so cool. The song, with its high pitched backing vocals, chugging rhythm and hand claps, is so true to Bolan you forget this is Watts. In fact, this is what’s great about the entire record; once you get over the fact that this is not going to be a psychedelic freak out, you can’t help but be blown away by Bari’s loving attention to detail.

The album feels like we’ve stumbled upon a long lost Bolan record, it’s simply that good. Watts states in the liner notes, “Tyrannosaurus Rex was beautifully unique and no matter how much the music press at the time would try and push them into the same box as Donovan, Incredible String Band and various other folk whimsy, there really was no comparison.” You’ll realize this once you listen to this record.

 DOWNLOAD: “Antediluvian Hop” “Fly with the Silver Swan” “Motorcycle Ram” “Crystal Pagoda”

Ed. note: while we don’t typically publish album reviews a half-year after release, we thought (a) why not, given our recent feature on vintage Bevis Frond; and (b) it’s the fucking Outskirts of Infinity dude! You got a problem with that?




Album: Nos Da Comrade

Artist: Peter Bruntnell

Label: Domestico

Release Date: May 20, 2016

Bruntness 5-20

The Upshot: Bruntnell hits his mark assuredly and effectively, making Nos Da Comrade among his best albums yet.



Peter Bruntnell not only lays claim to an impressive series of albums, but also to the rare ability to avoid repeating himself, making s each new effort a memorable encounter in and of itself. His latest effort, Nos Da Comrade, is another outstanding candidate for universal appeal, one just waiting for an American label to take notice. Sadly, that can’t be banked on, even though he’s an earnest folk rocker with a solid sixties sensibility. As a steadfast troubadour with a singular perspective, he stakes a claim on romanticised imagery and executes his arrangements with a nary a false move to be found.  Regardless, he’s able to draw attention to the most infinite detail with a remarkable poetic flair. “Dance of the Dead” is a case in point, its psychedelic suggestion tempered by gothic impressionism.


“Midsummer rain black cavalcade

The green sun is gone as quickly as age

Time is a furrow shaped by the plough

The moon is a shadow in the lane by the house.”


It’s poetic, yes. But pervasive as well.


The melodies meanwhile underscore those vivid impressions, coupling a demonstrative delivery with robust choruses and a decided forward thrust (as in the case of album opener “Mr. Sunshine,” the soaring, spiralling rocker “Where the Snakes Hang Out,” and the upbeat and insistent “Rainstars,” “Peak Operational Condition” and “Fishing the Flood Plain”) or through a rare moment of respite (as articulated by the winsome and reflective “End of the World” and the dreamy, cascading “Long Way From Home”). Either way, Bruntnell hits his mark assuredly and effectively, making Nos Da Comrade among his best albums yet. And considering the high bar he’s set so far, that’s saying a lot.

DOWNLOAD: “Rainstars,” “Peak Operational Condition,” “Fishing the Flood Plain”


Album: Live Vegas '72

Artist: Kenny Rogers & the First Edition

Label: Maplewood

Release Date: April 08, 2016

Kenny Rogers

The Upshot: A time capsule and a curio boasting guilty pleasures along with some flashes of inspired rock ‘n’ roll. (Consumer note: cassette via the mighty Burger Records label.)


I know, I know—you’re saying to yourself, “He’s joking about a Kenny Rogers review, right?” Ah, grasshopper, ye of little faith in Dr. Mills’ musical taste. Long before 1980’s “The Gambler” and Rogers’ transformation into a country music hitmaker, he was cutting his teeth in folk-rock groups the New Christy Minstrels and, after that, the First Edition. Admittedly, his trajectory was unapologetically commercial even in those early days, and with the latter notching hits on both the pop and country charts and soon expanding its name as Kenny Rogers & the First Edition, a solo career was inevitable. Still, during the First Edition’s 1967-76 run there were sufficient flashes of psychedelia and rock to make the band far more than just a mere occasional guilty pleasure—check their 1968 hit single “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” for proof.

That druggy, woozy slab of psych, along with a handful of other bonafide rockers, anchor this archival release (on vinyl, incidentally, per the Maplewood label’s imperative), culled from a three-day stand at the Las Vegas Hilton in the summer of ’72. Rogers, along with vocal foils Mary Arnold and Terry Williams, emerge as instinctive crowd pleasers on the order of a classic soul outfit, exuding charisma by the boatload on uptempo numbers like the boisterous “Take This Hammer,” the twangy, rockabilly-flavored “Reuben James,” and concert-opener “King of Rock & Roll” which, though somewhat schlocky (it borrows, improbably enough, from Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love”  even as it reworks Long John Baldry’s hit from a year earlier, “Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie-Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll”), does indeed kick things off with an anthemic verve.

Covers abound here: Arnold gets a nice showcase with a gospel-soul “Crazy Love”; “Me and Bobby McGee,” though less engaging, isn’t an unwelcome entry in the setlist; and the “Paul Simon Medley” is worth hearing just for the group’s somewhat skewed sense of interpretation. Hey, it’s a Vegas audience they’re pandering to! Plus, there’s also their take on Mel Tillis’ rootsy “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” which in ’69 had firmly cemented the group’s star status and laid the groundwork for the aforementioned name change. Oddly, the ’71 smash “Something’s Burning” is not here, but “Just Dropped In…” is, in all its throbbing, distorted-guitar, vocal-flexing glory, and it almost sounds as good live as it was in its original 45 version (which, fun fact, had Glen Campbell playing the backwards guitar bit).

Live Vegas ’72 is a time capsule, certainly, one with only medium-fidelity sound quality and a certain curiosity factor dominating the overall listenability. But hardcore fans will love it, and it’s got sufficient archival uniqueness to qualify it as a reasonable window into the titular year. There was a lot happening in the music world at the time, and by my way of thinking, any insights into same are worthwhile.

DOWNLOAD: “Condition” (aka “Just Dropped In…”), “Take This Hammer,” “King of Rock & Roll”


BOB WOODRUFF – The Year We Tried to Kill the Pain

Album: The Year We Tried to Kill the Pain

Artist: Bob Woodruff

Label: Steel Derrick Music

Release Date: February 26, 2016

Bob Woodruff

The Upshot: More R&B, roots and Americana than the country-focused sound that marked his earlier stuff two decades ago.


It’s been about two decades since Bob Woodruff last put out any new music in the U.S. and judging by his latest, he’s ready to be taken seriously. The Year We Tried to Kill the Pain, despite housing 13 tracks, is still a pretty lean effort, with every lyric and every instrument serving a purpose with little filler.

Woodruff has stepped away from the more country-focused sound that defined his first two albums and brings in hints of R&B, Roots and Americana. The album start off slow with the tepid “I Didn’t Know” but quickly finds it’s footing with the powerful “I’m the Train” followed by the title track.

What unfolds is a collection of songs that are as beautiful as they are emotionally raw. Among the highlights is an achingly melancholy cover of The Supremes’ go-to song, “Stop in the Name of Love” – an inspired choice that manages to completely reinterpret the song.

From his very first record on, critics were drawing comparisons to folks like Springsteen and Steve Earle and those associations are even more obvious now than when first brought up. Twenty years is a long time to be away, but Woodruff clearly made the most of it.

DOWNLOAD: “I’m the Train,” “The Year We Tried to Kill the Pain” and “Stop in the Name of Love”


THE MONKEES – Good Times

Album: Good Times!

Artist: Monkees

Label: Rhino

Release Date: May 27, 2016


The Upshot: Return to the planet of the Monkees!


I guess that I liked the Monkees about as much as most people did. I didn’t have all of their albums, but their best songs do have that certain ‘something’ that can pull you in and be infectious. Their song catalog range covered a wide swath, from the rather silly, to the catchiest pop gems. It didn’t hurt that they had a solid, recognizable sound, were very personable guys, and god, their music was just fun! Best of all, their new release, Good Times, will make you a believer again.

The remaining trio have emerged from their black box for a half-century celebration of those good times by following their here-to successful formula of churning out juicy, banana flavored bubblegum pop. Defying all expectations, this thing rocks, and, a closer examination of all involved personnel, reveals critical songwriting input from the usual suspects that penned many of their original hits back in the day.

I must plead guilty to having a bit of a sweet tooth for ‘60’s bubblegum, but most exposure was from AM radio or juke boxes, not ownership. I mean, after all, it was for teeny-boppers, shrieking  16-year old girls. The same ones that ruined live Beatles concerts. The airwaves then were awash with label-produced ‘hits’

by bands with goofy names like The Rock and Roll Dubble Bubble Trading Card Company of Philadelphia, The Kasenets -Katz Singing Orchestral Circus, The 1910 Fruit Gum Company, The Archies, plus, real bands like The Ohio Express, Tommy James and The Shondells, and Paul Revere and the Raiders.

The Monkees were supposed to be a product, TV stars, based on the popularity of the Fab Four in A Hard Day’s Night and Help, with songwriting assist of hit-makers from the Brill Building and others. You know, a manufactured image with no philosophies. It may be lost to time exactly which wag tagged them with the moniker, the Pre-Fab 4, but it has stuck with them over the decades.


Regular contributors to the Monkees’ catalog were writers like Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Neil Diamond, and the man with a head full of catchy tunes, songwriter supreme, Jeff Barry, (wrote or co-wrote, “Sugar Sugar,” “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” Hanky Panky,” “Chapel of Love,” and “Leader of the Pack.”) Of the 13 songs on Good Times, there’s one by each of them, plus Harry Nilsson (the title song, with the late Nilsson on vocal and piano), then, one by Nesmith, Tork and Dolenz, and five by the rest of the crew that helped make the whole project gel. Davy Jones makes a rare appearance with lead vocals on the Neal Diamond number, “Love To Love,” a sweet bit o’ honey that I’m delighted that they took the time to resurrect from Jones’ old vocals in a can somewhere since 1969.

Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schesinger had a major hand in the creation of Good Times. He not only produced and co-engineered it, but played on most of the songs, composed “Our Own World,” and contributed to Dolenz’ ”I Was There (And I’m Told I Had A Good Time.”)  Dolenz, having done superb lead-vocal duties on about half the tunes, and back-up on several more, skipped drum duties throughout, and utilized a few other drummers. Tork plays guitar, organ or banjo on 4 numbers, and da Nez plays guitar on four numbers. And, here’s where it gets interesting, 25 other players were involved on various songs on assorted instruments. Bobby Hart himself leant his vocals to his Boyce/Hart tune, “Whatever’s Right.”

Fresh-blood contributors included XTC’s Andy Partridge, Weezer Rivers Cuomo, Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller, and Ben Gifford of Death Cab For Cutie, all contributing very strong songs. Monkees fans all, they knew exactly what to do to inject the primate into the pop.

Being a summer release, the sun really shines down on tunes like “Good Times,” with it’s go-go beat, “She Makes Me Laugh,” “Our Own World,” “Gotta Give It Time,’ and come on get happy with “You Bring the Summer.” The King/Goffin penned “Wasn’t Born To Follow,” with Tork singing, is a little underwhelming compared to the Byrds’ soaring version. However, his personal addition, “Little Girl” is pleasant, endearing and a sweet indulgence. The wistful memoir, “Me & Magdalena” is perfectly tailored for Nesmith to cover, accompanied by Dolenz’ harmonies. Nez’ own contribution, “I Know What I Know” is a plaintive and low-key composition, mostly piano with melancholy string accompaniment. Dolenz’ clever, hand-clapping number rounds out all of the good times, with “I Was There (And I’m told I Had A Good Time,)” because, as you know, if you can remember the ‘60’s, you weren’t really there. Perhaps the most outstanding song is the Gallagher/ Weller psych-folk-pop number, “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster,” which will leave you feelin’ groovy. Btw, there are a couple of other exclusive songs from the sessions that you can download.

I would easily rate this project an instant classic, and it would take some kind of cynical, red-assed baboon to dis this album. I fully expect it end up on many Top 10 lists at the end of the year. Welcome back to the Monkee house.

DOWNLOAD: ““Birth Of An Accidental Hipster,” “Love To Love,”  “You Bring The Summer,” “ and

“She Makes Me Laugh.“

THE RAVE-UPS – Town + Country

Album: Town + Country

Artist: Rave-Ups

Label: Omnivore

Release Date: July 08, 2016

Rave Up 7-8

The Upshot: Expanded reissue of ‘80s twangsters reaffirms the roots-pop record’s original brilliance.


Where were you in ’85? It’s a rhetorical question, because a good chunk of the potential audience for this key roots-rock/power pop archival title wasn’t necessarily even born yet. Spiritually, though, Town + Country should be on every true rock and Americana fan’s must-own list. The band was called the Rave-Ups, and if the term “late, great” ever had application… Those who were, in fact, on the scene at the time probably remember ‘em, whether from the classic teen flick Pretty In Pink and the band’s prominently-featured “Positively Lost Me” song, or any one of their three albums, all of which made inroads at college radio. The aforementioned T&C, at the time a vinyl-or-cassette item, now more than doubles its original Epic Records’ 10-song tracklisting to become yet another home run from the archival savants at Omnivore.

Of the album proper, there’s the twitchycatchycool “Positively Lost Me,” a kiss-off to some harlot who did frontman Jimmer Podrasky wrong. (“You lost a lot when you lost me,” he sneers, albeit not without some obvious regret lining his words.) “Class Tramp” is another earthy classic, equal parts Springsteen, Vincent, and Eddy in its twangy swagger. There’s also the luminous “Radio,” with its moonlit vibe and Mark Knopfler-esque guitar lines (not to mention Sneaky Pete pedal still licks). And the thrumming update of Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” simply belongs on any anthology of “Songs Bob Taught Us” intent.

A handful of choice covers dot the bonus material, including a fascinating version of “If I Had a Hammer” that somehow manages to “La Bamba”-cize the Pete Seeger folk classic, and a ragged-but-right (and booze-powered) live take of Merle Travis classic “Nine Pound Hammer.” The aforementioned “Positively Lost Me” also returns for a live curtain call, handily proving its anthemic mettle regardless of the context. And my personal candidate for “track that should’ve been on the original album” is “The Rumor,” which not only recalls, again, vintage Springsteen (specifically, “She’s the One”), and proves what an instinctive pop balladeer Podrasky was as a young man. Bottom line: There’s not a throwaway track among these 11 unearthed tracks.

Town + Country was followed by The Book of Your Regrets and Chance, each outstanding. Still, back in the day, the Rave-Ups suffered the fate of many cult bands who, despite immense potential and the college radio support, never quite got the correct marketing push from their label. In the case of the Rave-Ups, Epic simply wasn’t sure what to do with this proto-Americana, part-powerpop, pre-No Depression combo, and following a decade-long run in the ‘80s the band broke up, leaving behind the aforementioned albums. Podrasky resurfaced years later, with 2014’s outstanding The Would-Be Plans solo album. Both yours truly and senior editor/blogger Michael Toland were spotted in the office corridors swooning over the record, with me commenting, in his subsequent review, “In a very real sense, The Would-Be Plans picks up where the Rave-Ups left off.”

Podrasky is reportedly prepping a fresh solo rec, and his old band has also been doing a handful of reunion gigs to mark the reissue. Hell yeah, we’re loyal to these folks. For this writer in particular, they made my ‘80s years just a little bit brighter. We lost a lot when we lost them… and now we have ‘em back. Life is good.

DOWNLOAD: “Positively Lost Me,” “Radio,” “The Rumor,” “Please Take Her (She’s Mine)”