This month FYI reviews a few recent releases that have come across our desk
The Cherry Bluestorms — Bad Penny Opera (Roundhouse)
Thirteen tracks, opening with the killer instrumental “Bad Penny Opera,” sort of a cross between Deodato, Spencer Davis, and the Who’s Tommy, Ken Russell edition. Garage/Psyche fans will love it — I can see this one going over big in certain dance clubs. The Cherry Bluestorms are Deborah Gee and Glen Laughlin (ex-the Dickies, the Furys) with five friends contributing horns, drums, strings, and organ. Both Gee and Laughlin sing lead, each with very distinct voices, well matched in their harmonies. The album paints a wide stylistic brush, from folk duo material (“By Your Leave”) to organ-tinged jangle pop (“A True Love Wears a Thorny Crown”) to epic mellotron-backed ballad (“Sunday Driving South”). The album’s single is easily “As Above So Below,” which is all chiming 12-string lead hooks and sinewy, melodic vocals. A master class in production touches, note how the simple addition of tambourine at 1:10 lifts an already driving song up a notch. The album also includes a nicely arranged, horn-driven version of Donovan’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” but the Cherry Bluestorms excellent originals are what you’ll be returning to.
Wookie Garcia — Songs from Ray’s Garage (self released)
Simply awesome. If you’re a fan of modern country, jangle pop, Byrdsy folk, Americana, or classic songwriting, this disc is going to make you very happy. Seriously, take a listen to “Walk in Time” and tell me Gene Clark’s ghost isn’t dancing in those chord changes? As I hear it the single here is “What Gives,” with a great title hook that’s custom made for stadium shout-a-longs and a climbing melody in the chorus that’s a serious earworm. The album also featuresÂ rock-oriented material such as the closing song, “A Walk in the Desert,” which is more in a 10CC/McCartney, so the band has range. The whole thing sounds great as well.Â Produced by Patrick Espinosa with John Hendrickson and Kyle Ince.
Patrick Yandall — Soul GrindÂ (Innervision Records)
Acclaimed guitarist Patrick Yandall’s fifteenth album finds the guitarist’s tasteful, instrumental smooth jazz sound firmly in place, with terrific fretwork and arrangements. The album is a one-man show with Yandall taking care of business, from six string prowess to programmed drums to production. The album’s clear single here is the title track, but the version of Steely Dan’s “Josie” is also superb. Soul Grind also includes covers of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” and Larry Carlton’s “Room 335,” but his originals stand up well against the remakes. Yandall is likely one of the most heard guitarists on the planet, with tunes in such films as the recent Fruitvale Station, but his biggest audience rarely knows it’s him — Yandall’s music is often used as the soundtrack to the weather channel.
Various Artists — My Hometown: A Tribute to NJ (FDR Records)
What a great idea! An album featuring current New Jersey artists performing past hits from the area’s artists of yesteryear. Even better, funds raised from this project go to help the state’s hurricane victims. The artists covered across 18 songs range from the obvious (Bruce Springsteen, twice ) to the less so (The Shirelles), with a decent mix of hits and deep cuts covered. High point on the disc is easily the Grip Weeds take on the Knickerbockers Beatle-esque hit “Lies.” It’s a smoother production than the original, but has an incredible energy, jet propelled by some terrific bass playing — great harmonies as well. AnotherÂ fun track is the Bastards of Melody’s version of Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party.” Here recast in classic powerpop mode, with a male lead voice, it works. My other favorite is the Successful Failures cover of Fountains of Wayne “I’ve Got a Flair.” They don’t stray far from the original songs template, adding a touch of grit/passion and turning in a great version. Excellent drum sound on that one as well. Other artists covered include the Rascals, Patti Smith, the Smithereens, and Yo La Tengo.