Evergreen Volume 2 by The Stone Poneys

February 17, 2010

The Stone Poneys released their second studio album only six months after their first, yet it was a far different work. While their self-titled debut had rendered folk in the Peter, Paul and Mary tradition, Evergreen, Volume 2 was folk rock that served as a preview of many of Linda Ronstadt’s early solo releases. Also gone, for the most part, were the shared harmonies. Ronstadt’s voice was featured as her talent and vocal prowess made her the focal point of the group.

The album also produced their only hit song. “Different Drum,” written by Monkees member Mike Nesmith, reached number 13 on the American pop charts in November of 1967, becoming a signature performance for Ronstadt. It also signaled the beginning of the end for the band as it proved she had evolved beyond the confines of the group process. Dealing with the eternal conflict of lovers as one wants to settle down while the other (in this case, the narrator) wants freedom, the song remains late sixties pop/rock at its best.

“Back On The Street Again” is another smooth vocal performance by Ronstadt. The Sunshine Company would give the song a similar arrangement and take it into the American top forty.

Also worth mentioning is the two-part title song. “Evergreen Part One” features the group harmonies that dominated their first album. “Evergreen Part Two” is an instrumental—including the sitar work of Kenny Edwards—which is best described as psychedelic and fitting well within the music of the late sixties.

There are several other highlights. “December Dream” includes strings, harpsichord and Ronstadt crooning over the top. “Toys In Time” and “Autumn Afternoon” were written by group members Bob Kimmel and Ken Edwards but, again, sung by Ronstadt.

Evergreen Vol. 2 is Linda Ronstadt’s coming-out party with her voice, as a formidable instrument, taking center stage for the first time. The Stone Poneys would quickly disintegrate as she would soon embark on one of the most successful careers in pop music history.

The Stone Poneys by The Stone Poneys

February 17, 2010

Linda Ronstadt met and performed with Bob Kimmel while in high school and after a semester of college moved to Los Angeles to form a band with him. Lead guitarist Kenny Edwards quickly joined and after playing the local club circuit, they adopted the name The Stone Poneys. They were quickly signed to the Capitol label and released their self titled debut album in January of 1967.

At this point they were basically a folk group and their initial album reflected that style. While Ronstadt would quickly become the focal point of the band, this album is a group affair. Kimmel and Edwards wrote seven of the ten tracks and the vocals are shared with a great deal of harmonizing.

The album was a commercial failure upon its release, but in 1975 it was reissued after Ronstadt became a star and would reach the lower regions of The American pop charts. Its lasting impact remains in the fact that it was the debut of one of the most popular female pop/rock artists in American music history.

“Meredith” shows what a competent folk group they actually were as they employ Peter, Paul and Mary type harmonies. Fred Neil’s classic folk tune “Just A Little Bit Of Rain” is presented in a traditional manner as their clear harmonies again dominate the track.

Ronstadt steps forward on a number of tracks and it is quickly apparent she has a voice that is extraordinary. “All The Beautiful Things” may be a short song, but it shows that she has a voice which can soar to places that few female vocalists can visit. Her performance on “Train And The River” makes you want to hear more which in many ways would become the impetus for her solo career and the resultant death of The Stone Poneys. “Wild Loving” and “Orion” also contain hints of the solo greatness which would soon follow.

Looking back over the 43 years since its release, it pales next to her solo work and even when comparing it to The Stone Poneys second album. Still it is an interesting indoctrination into the career of Linda Ronstadt and remains a pleasant, if nonessential, slice of mid-sixties folk music.

A Hard Days Night/I Should Have Known Better 45 by The Beatles

February 15, 2010

By the time “A Hard Days Night/I Should Have Known Better” reached the number one position on The American Charts during July of 1964 The Beatles were stars. They would place thirty different singles on the American charts during 1964 alone and six would reach the number one position.

The Beatles decided to make a movie and A HARD DAYS NIGHT was released to critical acclaim and commercial success. It was satire as it followed the group during a frantic two day period of their lives.

The soundtrack would be released in late June and would quickly sell four million copies in The United States alone.

“A Hard Days Night” would have a cold beginning and then go right into the melody. It was an all out rocker for The Beatles. The flip side, “I Should Have Known Better,” has grown on me over the years. It would become a moderate hit on its own and reach number 53 on the charts. It is a nice uptempo pop/rock number.

“A Hard Days Night/I Should Have Known Better” continued The Beatles trend of releasing strong two sided singles. It remains an essential release in the vast and impressive Beatles catalogue.

Best Regards and Less Of The Same by Suzi Ragsdale

February 13, 2010

The apple may not fall far from the tree but once in awhile it rolls a bit.

Suzi Ragsdale is the product of a musical family. Her father is Harold Ray Ragsdale—better known as Ray Stevens—who is best remembered for his comedy and tongue-in-cheek songs. Such hits as “Ahab The Arab,” “Harry The Hairy Ape,” “Guitarzan,” “I Need Your Help Barry Manilow,” and “The Streak” all graced the American pop charts. In addition, who can forget his chicken clucking hit, “In The Mood,” which reached the top forty in 1979?

Every once in awhile he would release a serious song, though, like “Everything Is Beautiful,” which topped the U.S. pop charts for two weeks in April of 1970. The children’s chorus at the beginning of that song featured the debut of his daughter, Suzi.

Suzi Ragsdale is now over three decades into her career. While she has not been prolific in the studio herself, she has appeared on over fifty albums as a back-up singer. Releases by Pam Tillis, Randy Travis, Tom Paxton, Ian Tyson, Guy Clark, Hank Williams Jr. and many more have used her vocal skills.

She has now released a double CD, entitled Best Regards & Less Of The Same. Each disc contains only six tracks and could have easily been combined onto one disc. On the other hand, the music of each is unique and so maybe splitting them was best.

Best Regards is the stronger of the two discs. Suzi penned all of its songs, proving herself a songwriter of note. Her skill as a lyricist is top notch and the words fit the song structures well. Her vocals have a bluesy feel as well as excellent tone and clarity. “Wake Up” and “Two On A Tightrope” are both catchy pop/blues tunes. Also, the acoustic-driven “Chorus Girl” paints wonderful lyrical pictures.

Less Of The Same gathers together some of her older compositions. The songs are a more eclectic group and lack the cohesiveness of the other set. The opener, “Full Light,” is the only song which she did not write yet it’s this disc’s best track. It is a catchy country song with some superior mandolin playing. “My One And Only Valentine” and “Pay Attention” are about love and loss.

Suzi Ragsdale has issued a fine album overall, which not only highlights her vocal skills but also her ability to combine those vocals with a variety of instruments to create a memorable and creative sound. Hopefully she will spend more time in the studio on her own as this release provides an excellent example of her skills.

The Best Of Arlo Guthrie by Arlo Guthrie

February 13, 2010

Every now and then I reach into the old music collection and grab something off the shelf which I have not visited in awhile. A couple of days ago this lead me to Arlo Guthrie who was a constant musical companion during my late teenage years.

The son of American folk music legend Woody Guthrie, Arlo is now over 25 albums into his own career which stretches back over four decades. While he has remained active both in the studio and in concert halls, he has faded into the background and much of his material is unknown to the present generation of music fans.

During the late sixties, though, he was an important link in the group of folk artists who were active in the anti-Vietnam War protest movement. He performed at Woodstock and remains a part of that generation’s legacy. He has held true to his ideals and continues to stay active for a variety of social causes.

The Best Of Arlo Guthrie was released in 1977 and is an excellent presentation of his best material from the most commercially successful period of his career.

If you want to understand the music of Arlo Guthrie and get a good picture of the sixties protest movement, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” is the place to start. It clocks in at over eighteen minutes and is presented as a talking-blues folk tune. Guthrie incorporates his own experiences with his local draft board which still resonate and amuse today. If you don’t know about the Group W bench you have missed a slice of the sixties. It may not be a song you will want to play over and over again but it remains his best-known song and is essential listening for anyone even mildly interested in folk music.

“Coming Into Los Angeles” was performed at Woodstock and perfectly fit the gathered hippie generation at that event. His simple and breezy interpretation of Steve Goodman’s “City Of New Orleans” became his only top twenty hit. “Motorcycle Song” is another amusing and in many ways nonsensical song which combines his views about pickles with his love of motorcycles.

The first decade of his career produced a number of strong tracks and I lament the fact that tunes such as “Washington County” and “Hobo’s Lament” were not included but what is here is universally excellent.

Arlo Guthrie is now an elder statesman of the American folk movement. The Best Of Arlo Guthrie is not only a nice introduction to his music but also to an important period of American history.

Anthology by The Swingin’ Medallions

February 13, 2010

The Swingin’ Medallions are a band from my youth who amazingly are still out on the road today. They are known as “The Party Band Of The South” and in September of 2009 performed on stage with Bruce Springsteen in Greenville, South Carolina.

They were formed in the early sixties and produced their only two hit songs in 1966. They are known for their beach music or frat rock sound and continue to play the dance and party circuit in their native south.

The original band was a large aggregation as it was comprised of two drummers, bass, keyboards, guitar, and a four piece brass section. A number of their songs used multiple voices rather than just one voice as the lead. They opened for such acts as The Dave Clark Five, Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, The Temptations, Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye, and more.

Anthology remains their most definitive release as it gathers just about all of their mid-sixties material onto one CD.

“Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love)” was their biggest hit, cracking the American top twenty in 1966. It is an organ driven, up-tempo tune that makes you want to smile and get up out of your seat and dance. Bruce Springsteen called it, “the greatest fraternity rock song of all time.” “She Drives Me Out Of My Mind” is very similar in structure to their first hit and was their only other track to chart in The United States. “Hey Hey Baby” should have been a hit. It is a nice brass driven song that is perfect for a sunny day at the beach.

Many of the other songs are a hit or miss affair. They were and are a party band and as such played a number of hits of the day. Their versions of such well known songs as “Hang On Sloopy,” “Louie Louie,” and “Wooly Bully” pale next to the originals. The best of the lot is a smooth, brass laden “I’m Gonna Make Her Mine” and their cover of “Barefootin’” which just percolates along with some excellent sax work.

The final three tracks are taken from a live concert in South Bend, Indiana circa 1978. The sound has evolved a great deal from their mid-sixties days. “Willie Don’t Play That Saxophone” is bar band music at its best. “Shaggin’ In The Moonlight” contains some nice harmonies. “The Boys Are Back In Town” is presented as a jump/swing piece with the brass driving the song along.

The Swingin’ Medallions are emblematic of many bands who just keep on doing what they enjoy. They are an ultimate party band. The music may not be essential, but it is energetic and is guaranteed to make you smile and hopefully dance along.

We Are The World 45 by USA For Africa

February 12, 2010

In 1985 a group of artists gathered together to record “We Are The World” which was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. All proceeds went to charity.

There were 46 artists involved and the soloists in order were Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, James Ingram, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson, Al Jarreau, Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Loggins, Steve Perry, Daryl Hall, Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper, Kim Carnes, Bob Dylan, and Ray Charles.

The song would prove to be a good idea and would spawn other types of charitable releases. It would also prove to be a huge hit as it would spend four weeks atop the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop charts. It would sell four million copies in The United States.