Red Radio Flyer
This is one of the best independent albums I've heard this year.
Mix up the slow, brooding twang of Chris Isaak, the charisma of Live, the early rootsy twang of the BoDeans and the classic '50s falsettos of Roy Orbison, and you get a hint of the heart-stopping brew that Red Radio Flyer concocts.
This is lose-your-head in the sound stuff, with a charismatic vocalist in Janardana Ryan providing a riveting focal point, and guitarist Paul Carbonara (who also tours with Blondie), drummer Tommy Allen (who has toured with Paul Young) and bassist Mike Jones providing a whip-crack, sharp instrumental and harmony vocal backup.
From self-deprecating '50's rock raves "I've Got a Way (of making things worse)," to self-celebratory nose-thumbing "San Antonio (Gettin' Somewhere)," this disc runs the emotional gamut, but never grows stale, dull or maudlin. Red Radio Flyer takes Americana folk rock with a retro edge and kicks it up a notch.
It may not be a Top 40 hit producer (though it should be), but this disc will definitely be showing up on my Best of the Year list. This is the kind of songwriting that made yesteryear's hits ... and should be making this year's. Look for it.
New on the Shelves
Sony's Legacy label is unearthing, remastering and reissuing a handful of R&B classics from its Columbia and Epic vaults this month.
The Chambers Brothers started as a gospel act, but will forever be remembered for their 11-minute psychedelic expansion of the Rolling Stones-ish "Time Has Come Today." That song and cover songs like "People Get Ready, "In the Midnight Hour" and "What the World Needs Now Is Love" were all on their first hit Columbia album, The Time Has Come. Legacy has reissued this 1967 album on CD, along with four bonus tracks (one of which is the single version of "Time Has Come Today."
The late Major Lance had a string of nearly a dozen Motown-style R&B hits in the mid- '60s, nearly all of them written by Curtis Mayfield, who during the same period was writing an amazing string of singles for The Impressions.
The Very Best of Major Lance includes 11 of Lance's 12 career Top 100 hit singles (along with a handful of other tracks from his output on the Okeh label), through the Epic/Legacy labels. I didn't recognize a single one of these songs (showing my age... or lack thereof) but I kept thinking of other period songs like Martha and the Vandellas' "Heatwave" and The Impressions' "People Get Ready" as I listened to these upbeat, horn-punctuated songs. Among the charters are "The Monkey Time," "Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um," Hey Little Girl," "The Matador" and "Girls."
Another late '60s act getting the "remember this? "treatment by Legacy is Blood, Sweat & Tears. The band struck it big in 1969 with "You've Made Me So Very Happy" and "Spinning Wheel," both from their self-titled, second album Blood, Sweat & Tears. Now Legacy has reissued that album with two bonus tracks (live recordings of two songs from the studio album, "Smiling Phases" and "More and More"). Also back on the shelves is the band's 1968 debut disc, Child Is Father to the Man.
Also on the reissue stands, but from a far more recent time, comes Brian Wilson's self-titled solo debut CD. Released in 1988 on Warner Bros.' Sire label, the disc brought back the heavily reverbed, surf oooh-ahhh backgrounds, but didn't exactly recapture Wilson's days of chart-stomping success with the Beach Boys. But for fans, it was both a controversial (given that Wilson's therapist served as executive producer) and a welcome end to years of creative silence from the songwriting genius behind the "surf" sound craze of the mid-'60s.
Rhino has now reissued this "mature" work of the singer-songwriter, along with more bonus tracks than there were original tracks on the disc. Following the album's original 11 songs are 14 bonus tracks, among them a handful of the original demo takes for the album, some previously unreleased songs and three interview segments of Wilson talking about the songs from the album.
File this in the "huh?" rack: Alphaville, the German synth-pop act that scored two hits in 1984-1985 with "Forever Young" and "Big in Japan," has released, after 15 years of near obscurity on these shores, a comeback "Live" album, thanks to the past four years of incessant touring.
Stark Naked and Absolutely Live includes both of those '80s hit songs along with 10 others. But when your stage act is a drum machine and programmed synthesizers, and your following less than overwhelming, one has to question the point or demand of a live album.
For Navigator Records, owned by Alphaville singer Marian Gold, this is apparently a way to reunite the band with some fans before they release a new studio album later this year. Appropriately, the upcoming new studio disc is called United.