Chicago has a long history of producing great Beatle-esque bands, from Cheap Trick to Off Broadway, though in recent years, such combos have met with declining success. Donnie Vie, lead singer of the south side's Enuff Z'Nuff, released a great Beatles-derivative solo album, “Just Enough!” back in 2003 in Europe, but the disc never realized a presence in stores here, (it got a brief download-only release last year on Universal and is currently available to download at iTunes).
Two years ago, Chicago's The Redwalls turned up with their second album on Capitol Records with a sound that begged endless comparisons to the Fab Four. But the critical acclaim didn't translate to sales, and this month, the band will be releasing its third disc on Mad Dragon, an independent label run by students and faculty Drexel University (you can order a copy at www.awarestore.com). The band hoped with this release to achieve an album of vibrant immediacy by recording it fast and live, with minimal overdubs. While on songs like the opener “Hangman,” they do achieve a Vines-like crackle, the overall impact of the disc is lacking, largely because whoever mixed the disc stripped the songs of their mid-range. Everything sounds crunched to be high and trebly like an AM radio broadcast… which gets old after a few songs. In some ways it's like listening to an album being played in the other room… no matter how much the bass pounds, the band never quite seems here . The single “Summer Romance” captures a sweet sentiment and a chorus of high harmonies that wishes they were on a song from “Rubber Soul.” Unfortunately, while pieces of these songs are catchy, The Redwalls never manage to write a full song that hangs together tight enough to beg repeated play. For more information on the band, check their site at www.theredwalls.com.
* * * * *
Robbers on High Street are an indie band from New York who have also been making waves with a Beatle-esque sound, and their second album, Grand Animals is now available on New Line Records. Unlike The Redwalls, the Robbers use the studio to their best advantage, layering harmonies and piano parts and guitars to create a bright, warm-sounding disc that feels both modern and retro at the same time. The band recorded with Daniele Luppi (Danger Mouse, John Legend) and Jeff Lipton (Beach Boys) to produce a disc chock full of ‘60s and ‘70s reminiscient hooks and harmonies.
The opening track, “Across Your Knee” with its strummed guitar and high, lazy vocal sounds is reminiscient of Tal Bachman's hit “She's So High,” while the Lennon-esque vocals and skiffle guitar lines on “Crown Victoria” seem lifted from a Beatles album from about 1966.
While they both manage a good revisiting of Beatles-esque sounds, neither The Redwalls or Robbers on High Street manage to produce a song on their new releases that stick in the head after the album is done playing. The songs are great for background play, but you probably won't be hearing any top 40 hits coming from either camp in the near future. For information on them, check www.robbersonhighstreet.com.
* * * * *
Few bands have ever managed to write songs that come near the success of the Fab Four's catalogue. And the reason is not that the sound is hard to duplicate, it's that the Lennon-McCartney pen turned out some of the most impossibly catchy songs of the past century. You can hear that on Across the Universe, a soundtrack recording from the film of the same name, which offers 16 Beatles songs performed by the cast of the film. The movie follows the lives of star-crossed lovers Jude and Lucy against a backdrop of the ‘60s anti-war and counter culture movements, using lyrics from the Beatles catalogue as its inspiration.
Even with different arrangements, the simple allure of “All My Loving” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” remains unbeatable. T.V. Carpio handles the latter track as a plaintive, slowed-down ballad, but the song retains its power. Carol Woods brings out the gospel of “Let It Be” to good effect with a full choir, and Bono and Secret Machines team up to perform a surprisingly faithful cover of “I Am The Walrus.” Dana Fuchs brings a Joplin-esque energy to “Helter Skelter” while Jim Sturgess handles a handful of tracks with a pure, unaffected delivery, from “All My Loving” and “Something” to “Across the Universe.”
While purists will maintain that nobody can record a Beatles song that eclipses the original, this disc does yield some great performances of some great Beatles songs. It's an enjoyable listen to old favorites heard from a slightly different perspective.