You Used To Live Here By Kelley Mickwee

August 31, 2014


Kelley Mickwee, Jamie Wilson, Savannah Welch, and Liz Foster came together in January of 2009 for a one time performance at a tribute concert for Savannah’s father, Kevin. The concert appearance led to the birth of the Trishas. Known for their America music and beautiful harmonies, the Trishas formed one of the more talented and interesting Americana bands of the past five years. Now on hiatus, Kelley Mickwee has struck out on her own and will soon issue the seven track album You Used To Live Her.

She has wisely decided to accentuate her strengths with her first solo release. She recorded the album in Memphis, which is a place that fits her style and approach to music. She has surrounded herself with a tight band consisting of keyboardist/guitarist/husband Tim Regan, pedal steel player Eric Lewis, drummer Paul Taylor, and bassist Mark Edgar Stuart.

She was a principal songwriter on the Trishas 2012 album High, Wide And Handsome. She continues to produce good songs by co-writing five of the seven tracks. The biggest change is the vocals. Her voice has moved in a soulful and even gospel direction at times, which brings a new dynamic to her music and creates a wonderful fusion with her Americana and country roots.

“River Girl” is taken from the Aretha Franklin style of music. It would have also fit on Dusty Springfield’s classic Dusty In Memphis. The lyrics form a connection to the city of her birth but the vocal is of the gospel telling story style.

She used her time with the Trishas as a jumping off place for a diverse group of performances. “Beautiful Accidents” is a beautiful ballad that meanders along, while “Hotel Jackson” is filled with sexual innuendos that country music loves so much. The two cover songs, John Fulbright’s “Blameless” and Eliza Gilkyson’s “Dark Side Of Town” return her to her story-telling roots.

You Used To Live Here is an auspicious debut album from Kelley Mickwee. She has taken her time in the Trishas and not only learned from it but expanded upon it as well. A solid album from an artist who will hopefully continue to develop.



Up On The Chair Beatrice by The Psycho Sisters

August 31, 2014


Who would’ve thought that Barbara Cowsill’s little girl would grow up to become a Psycho Sister. But so it is for Susan Cowsill of the famous pop singing family of the 1960’s.

Vicki Peterson, a founding and current member of the Bangles, and Susan Cowsill have been friends, bandmates, and session singers for over 20 years. They were both members of the Continental Drifters and have toured extensively as a duo under the name Psycho Sisters. What they have not found time to do is enter a recording studio together; until now. Twenty-Two years in the making, Up On The Chair Beatrice will be released August 5th.

They took a unique approach with their new album. While they wrote or co-wrote seven of the ten tracks, none are brand new compositions. Instead they reached back into the early 1990’s for their material. This means that the release has a retro feel to many of the tracks. The songs have been honed by years of being performed live and now they form the foundation for their album.

The album travels in a number of musical directions and lacks a cohesive feel, but on the other hand, it is always interesting. “Never Never Boys” is a jangling pop piece that would fit nicely onto a Bangles album. “Numb” has strings but at heart is a crunching rock song. “This Painting” and “Gone Fishin’” have are Americana style and tone, which gives them a laid back rootsy feel. “Heather Says” is a song Cowsill sang as a teenager and her voice reverts back to that time.

At the heart of the album is their ability to combine their voices into wonderful harmonies. Their voices blend together so seamlessly that at times it is difficult to tell them apart.

The Psycho Sisters have produced an album that should resonate with their fan base and maybe earn them some new ones as well. An interesting album from two veterans of the American pop scene.



Walk Like A Man By The Four Seasons

August 29, 2014


When “Walk like a Man” began its three-week run at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart, March 2, 1963, it was their third number one song within a six month period. “Sherry” (5 weeks), “Big Girls Don’t Cry” (5 weeks), and “Walk like a Man” (3 weeks) topped the charts for a total of 13 weeks, making the Four Seasons the most successful American group of 1962-1963.During the first half of the Beatles era, they were one of very few American artists to consistently enjoy commercial success.

All three of their number one hits were similar in style and sound. Nick Massi’s bass vocal provided the foundation for the harmonies and Frankie Valli’s falsetto sang the lead. It was early 1960s slick uptempo pop at its best. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honored it as one of The 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.

It was quite a recording session that yielded the hit. The building caught fire while the group was recording. Producer Bob Crewe heard the fire alarms and ultimately the fire trucks, but kept the machines rolling until they were forced to evacuate. Crewe kept the tape safe.

All was not well between the Four Seasons and their label. Vee Jay had been founded in 1953 and was primarily known as the home for such rhythm & blues artists as Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler, The Dells, Gladys Knight and The Pips, Dee Clark, and the Staple Singers. They began litigation to break their contract over royalty issues. They held back future hits “Dawn (Go Away)” and “Rag Doll” until they signed with Philips. It was not a good couple of years for Vee Jay as The Beatles also opted out of their contact with the label.

The Four Seasons would continue to be a hit-making machine for Phillips during the rest of the decade and then resurrect themselves during the 1970s disco era. Frankie Valli continues to tour with a version of the Four Seasons.

The group was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and remains one of the most successful in American music history. Fifty one years ago they were sitting on top of the music world.

Hey Paula By Paul And Paula

August 29, 2014


Ray Hildebrand was attending Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, on a basketball scholarship. He lived in a boarding house and, as luck would have it, the owner had a niece named Jill Jackson. Jill and Ray began singing together and performed a song he had written on a local radio station during a benefit for The American Cancer Society.

The reaction to the song was positive and they were advised to bring it to the attention of Major Bill Smith, who had produced Bruce Channel’s number one hit, “Hey Baby.” They waited all day in his recording studio and, when someone didn’t show for their session, they recorded “Hey Paula” in two takes. Smith released the song on his own LeCam label. When it became a local hit in the Atlanta area, he sold the rights to Phillips who changed Jill and Ray to Paul and Paula.

“Hey Paula” first reached the Billboard Hot 100 December 29, 1962, and on February 9, 1063, reached the number one position where it remained for three weeks. It sold over two million copies and also topped the Rhythm & Blues Chart.

It was one of those simple songs that inhabited AM radio play lists during the early 1960s pre-Beatles era. It had simple words and a simple melody that just stayed with you. It is a song that represents the time period well.

The career of Paul and Paula only lasted close to three years. Ray became disenchanted with the music business and quit in the middle of a Dick Clark Caravan of Stars tour. Oddly, Dick Clark stepped in and sang with Paula to complete the tour.

Every once in a while Ray has agreed to perform with Paula, but for all intents and purposes the career of Paul and Paula was over. What they left behind was one of the signature hits of the early 1960s that topped the music world 51 years ago.

Jersey Boys Soundtrack With The Four Seasons

August 27, 2014


Who could have guessed that the story and music of the Four Seasons would become the basis for one of the most popular and commercially successful Broadway Plays of the last quarter century. The play and lead actor John Lloyd Young both won 2006 Tony Awards. The original Broadway cast album won a Grammy Award in 2007.

Time has passed and Jersey Boys has been released as a major film. Many critics have not been kind to the movie and it has only been marginally successful.  The music from the film has not been released as a traditional soundtrack. While music from the film is present; there is also an abundance of tracks by The Four Seasons themselves and a few from the Broadway musical.

Sometimes you just have to leave well enough alone. They should have gone with a straight soundtrack of the film. The music of the Four Seasons is some of the best pop of its era but is readily available in any number of compilations. Here, it tends to detract from the overall flow of the music from the film.

The saving grace is the voice of John Lloyd Young and the music itself. Young played the role of Frankie Valli on stage and in the film and his voice is very close to a young Valli. While he able to present the essence of the songs; he does so in a very modern way, which gives them energy and snap. His performances on such Four Seasons classics as “Sherry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Working My Way Back To You,” “Big Man In Town,” and “Dawn (Go Away)” transport the listener back to a different era.

When you get to songs like “Beggin,’” “C’mon Marianne,” “A Sunday Kind Of Love,”  and “Who Loves You,” the voices of Young and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons have been spliced together. The music is fine but it is still an odd combination. This oddity is very apparent with the film ending “Sherry” and “December, 1963 (Oh What A Night),” which is sung by just the four actors playing the Seasons.

The album ends with three tracks by the Four Seasons. “Sherry,” “Dawn (Go Away),” and “Rag Doll” are always welcome but one can help to think they were included to fill out the album.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the music contained on Jersey Boys;  the problem is with the concept of the album. For a more cohesive approach to the music from the play and the band; there is the cast album and the numerous compilations.

Walk Right In by The Rooftop Singers

August 27, 2014


Eric Darling (1933-2008) was a folk musician in his teens when he haunted the Greenwich Village clubs of New York City. By the age of 18 he had become adept on both the guitar and banjo. During his early 20s he formed the Tune Tellers and then the folk trio The Tarriers, who placed two singles on the Billboard Hot 100. His life changed during 1958 when Pete Seeger left The Weavers and he was picked to replace him. He spent over four years as a member of the legendary folk group before going solo.

This brings us to then-79-year-old Gus Cannon. During 1930 he had written a blues song called “Walk Right In” and recorded it with his backing band, the Jugstompers.  It came to the attention of Darling, but he wanted to record it with a trio. He recruited guitarist Bill Svanoe and big band jazz Singer Lynne Taylor, who had performed with Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. And so the Rooftop Singers were born.

His attraction to “Walk Right In” evolved into the highlight of his career. He and Svanoe both played 12-string guitars on the track and the trio’s harmonies were impeccable as they moved the old blues tune over to an up-tempo folk classic.

The single sold over one million copies and on January 26, 1963 reached the number one position on the Billboard Hot 100 where it remained for two weeks. It also topped the Easy Listening (now Adult Contemporary) chart for five weeks. It even charted on the Country chart, which was a good fit, and on the R&B chart, which was a real stretch.

The Rooftop Singers remained together until 1967 with middling success. While they had two more singles reach the Hot 100, Darling always maintained that the group was assembled for one specific song and nothing else they released really measured up to “Walk Right In.” Darling and Svanoe continued to perform as a duo into the early 1970s but ultimately went their separate ways.

The Rooftop Singers may not have changed the course of American music but 51 years ago they topped the United States music world.

Go Away Little Girl by Steve Lawrence

August 27, 2014


The early 1960s were a very different music era as it was caught between the second half of the 1950s, when Elvis Presley and the other founders of rock and roll brought an excitement to the American music scene, and The Beatles era of the mid-to-late 1960s that changed American music and culture. As such, all manner and styles of music became hits. Songs such as “Sheila” by Tommy Roe, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, ” by Neil Sedaka, “The Stripper” by David Rose, “Sherry” by The Four Seasons, “Stranger On The Shore” by Mr. Acker Bilk, and dozens of other very different and sometimes forgettable songs topped the charts. This brings us to Steve Lawrence.

He was born Sidney Liebowitz in 1935. He had his first hit single during 1952 with “Poinciana” for King Records. During the mid-1950s he was a regular on Steve Allen’s Tonight Show. He was drafted in 1958 and served as the vocalist for the United States Army Band. While he was in the service he kept releasing records. Enter Gerry Goffin and Carole King.

The songwriting team had a very successful 1963 as a dozen of their songs reached the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. While Steve Lawrence is a name that may not usually be associated with Goffin and King, he recorded four of their compositions, which became hits during 1963. “Poor Little Rich Girl,” ”Walking Proud,” and “I Want to Stay Here,” a duet with his wife Eydie Gorme, all became hits but it was the fourth Goffin/King song that became the highlight of his career.

“Go Away Little Girl” was a somewhat unusual song in that it was not about perusing the girl but asking the girl to go away so the guy wouldn’t be tempted. It was a light and breezy pop song and topped the Billboard Easy Listening chart for six weeks. It also became a radio pop staple and  reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Singles Chart January 12, 1963, where it remained for two weeks. It was the only number one of his career.

The career of Steve Lawrence now extends back over 60 years, but 51 years ago, he ruled the music world.

I’m Coming Home By Robert Gordon

August 23, 2014


Robert Gordon has been playing his brand of rockabilly for close to four decades. He is a throwback who models his music after such rock and roll icons as Gene Vincent, Jack Scott, Billy Lee Riley, and Eddie Cochran.

Gordon’s last album, It’s Now Or Never, was an Elvis Presley tribute album, with long time musical cohort Chris Spedding. It was brilliant in places but overall had an uneven quality due primarily to some of the song choices.  His new release, I’m Coming Home, does not suffer from that problem as he has selected 12 old rock and blues tracks and transformed them into modern day classics.

His basic backing band of guitarist Quinten Jones, bassist Rob Stoner, and drummer Dave Ferrara is a tight and energetic unit. Marshall Crenshaw lends a hand on several tracks, which brings an extra layer of sound to his music. Through it all, his booming baritone dominates the album. It is a voice made for rockabilly and has lost none of its tone and clarity with the passing of time.

Dorsey Burnette’s “It’s Late,”  Dale Hawkins “Heaven,”  Merle Kilgore’s “Little Pig,” and the old “Little Richard tune “Lucille” are given scintillating performances as he and his band rev up their engines. “Under Your Spell Again” and “Mountain Of Love” continue the forceful attack but a pedal steel guitar and fiddle plus a slower tempo move the tracks in a country direction.

The heart of the album is two old Johnny Horton tunes. The title track is a straight ahead rocker, while “Honky Tonk Man” has a precision that changes the tempo of the album’s flow.

Robert Gordon has been a road warrior for decades who has never given in to the musical trends of the day. I’m Coming Home presents the heart and soul of his music and shows that rockabilly is still alive and well.


Still On The Levee by Chris Smither

August 23, 2014


Chris Smither is a bluesman, philosopher, poet, and folksinger who was a part of the burgeoning folk revival movement of the mid- 1960’s. His career has now reached the 50 year mark and to celebrate he has revisited and reimagined 25 of his best known and favorite songs. The result is the two-CD, 25 track release titled Still On The Levee: A 50th Year Retrospective. Also included is a booklet, which contains a short biography and the lyrics to the 25 songs.

Smith is a throwback to another era as his style models bluesmen like Mississippi John Hurt and Lightnin’ Hopkins. On the other hand, his lyrics are eternal as he is able to put his stories, philosophy, and feelings into words. While not a household name, he has managed to carve out a career based on brilliant lyrics that touch the soul.

The concept of the album is to re-record a number of his songs. Whether you are familiar with the original recordings or not; it is a nice journey through the last 50 years of not only his career but of blues/folk music. His tenor voice has gained a gentle patina with the passage of time, which gives a plaintive quality to much of his material.

The star of the collection is “Leave The Light On” as the song closes both discs. The first take is upbeat, while the second slows the tempo as Smither delivers a poignant duet with Kate Lorenz. It is a prime example of how his songs can be transformed.

From his first composition “Devil Get Your Man;” his songs meander from the philosophical, to the thoughtful, to the painful, to the psychological, to just a plain good old story. “Love You Like A Man,” “Can’t Take These Blues,” “Small Revelations,” “Train Home,” “Song For Susan,” and more take the listener on a reflective journey through his life and music.

Now about to enter the 70th year of life, Chris Smither has released an album of soulful songs cloaked in a blues style that has its roots in the Southern Delta. It is music worth exploring.



Telstar By The Tornadoes

August 22, 2014


The United States launched the world’s first active, direct-relay communications satellite on July 10, 1962. Telstar 1 was designed to relay television signals between the United States and Europe.

Meanwhile back in the U.K., drummer Clem Cattini, lead guitarist Alan Caddy, keyboardist Roger Lavern, rhythm guitarist George Bellamy, and bassist Heinz Burt were serving as the backing band for British artist Billy Fury under the name of The Tornados.

Enter writer/producer Joe Meek. He had used Telstar as the idea for an instrumental song he had written. He decided to use The Tornados to record that song.

I don’t know if “Telstar” was considered the first space record but it had a sound that made you envision communications from outer space. It was the keyboards that provided the otherworldly imagery as they just hummed and buzzed throughout the song. It was an immediate hit in the United States as the song topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on December 22, 1962, and remained there for three weeks. It was a bigger hit in their home country as it was the U.K.’s number one single for five weeks.

Acker Bilk’s single “Stranger on the Shore” was the first British single to reach number one in the U.S. when it topped the charts earlier in the year, but The Tornados were the first British group to reach number one. The Beatles would become the second.

The Tornados would never duplicate the success of their biggest hit. They had one more minor hit in the U.S. the next year, but by 1965 all the original members had departed. By 1967 the band was history. The original members reunited once during 1975 to record an updated version of their biggest hit but without commercial success.

Today, “Telstar” is a quaint and somewhat antiquated reminder of the simple music of the early 1960s, pre-Beatles era. In its day, however, “Telstar” blasted off on a journey to the top of the charts.