Thursday, January 11, 2018

It Came from the Bargain Basement - featuring, Tommy James and the Shondells, Blues Image and It's a Beautiful Day

Today's installment of this randomly occurring column digs into the bargain basement at Record City in Las Vegas.  I was in Sin City visiting family over the Christmas holiday, like I do every year, and this year decided to pass on my normal visit to Zia Records and take in a new place.  On the far side of the strip, in a non-descript section of town, in a non-descript building, Record City proved to be a very cool vinyl haunt with a friendly staff and a wide and varied selection of vinyl. There also was a large CD section and vinyl 7" section that I didn't have time to delve into.  I didn't find anything in the true $1 bin, although there were some good finds, I had them already.  But in the back was an area of "just better than $1" bins.  I think they were 3 for $10, but decrease as you bought more to maybe ending up at 10 for $20.

The regular bins also provided some cool surprises, a European live Led Zeppelin BBC album from 1969, the RSD live Chelsea album, the compilation of first ever Talking Heads demos, and The Warriors soundtrack.  Cool finds.

But today is about the bargain bins.  All of these albums were unknown by me, although I knew of the artists, but that's half the fun of dumpster diving.  Taking a chance and seeing what you get.  Dropping that needle down, listening, and deciding if it's a keep or a tosser.

Here's what I pulled out :

Tommy James and the Shondells - Travelin'

While not heralded as one of his classic works, and lacking any of his biggest hits (Crimson and Clover, Draggin' the Line, Mony Mony, I Think We're Alone Now) Travelin' is laden with the same hit-making sensibility and psychedelic, neo-bubblegum flavors that made Tommy James and the Shondells one of the biggest hit-making machines and radio-dominant forces of the 70's.  "Candy Maker" is a damn fine, down-tuned heavy psych pop number that shows how Tommy James could stretch well beyond the bubblegum label he got stuck with.  "Red Rover" is a tasty slice of psychedelic pop ear candy with an infectious chorus and charm.  "She" is a classic sounding Tommy James ballad, reminiscent of "I Think We're Alone Now" showcasing James's more AM pop sensibilities, laden with strings and a gentle falsetto vocal.  "Talkin' & Signifyin'" even finds James stretching out into some fuzzed out jamming leading into the direction that his solo career would follow.  The title track, "Travelin'" is a serious psychedelic pop exercise with a galloping riff more in line with Iron Butterfly, than what you'd expect from Mr Bubblegum, while "Gotta Get Back To You" is a psych blues blitz that is simply perfect, and show that the band we're actually much more than the hits suggested with a serious rock n roll heart.

Tommy James and the Shondells would break up after this album, leading to Tommy's solo work and some of the Shondells forming their own country-rock unit, Hog Heaven.  As a swan song, Travelin' showcases much of the fine craftsmanship and chops that held strong throughout the band's career.  Not a classic, but tasty nonetheless.  Definitely worth finding in a bargain bin near you.

Verdict: Keeper

Blues Image - Open

Best known for their massive hit single "Ride Captain Ride" Blues Image are actually much more than just that one song.  Mixing a kinda-Latin vibe underneath their tones of blues and psychedelia, highlighted by a two-drummer line-up including Joe Lala and the steaming guitar work of Michael Pinera (soon to be of Iron Butterfly fame) Blue Image were a powerful, heavy blues outfit, that certainly deserved more attention than their sole hit single brings them.  "Love is the Answer" is about as heavy of a blues, pseudo-Jimi Hendrix song as ever produced by the British Blues Invasion of the time.  Plus, it simply takes off on the back of the polyrhythmic percussion.  Same could be said with the heavy fuzz tones of "Pay My Dues."  "Running the Water" brings in some lazy psychedelia and early Buffalo Springfield tones while "Clean Love" spans across 7 minutes of mutated acid blues.  Then there is there cover of "La Bamba", slowed down, bluesed out, and brought firmly into the psychedelic Summer of Love.  And of course, don't forget the highlight, "Ride Captain Ride" which really is one of the definitive psych pop songs of the early 70's. 

While not as searingly latin as Santana, or as heavily creative in the blues as Cream, Blues Image is still a great find.  Definite keeper and worth checking out for fans of early British blues, early psych pop or good 70's tunes in general.

Verdict: Keeper

It's a Beautiful Day - . . . Today

Coming from the same San Francisco Psychedelic scene that fostered Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Quicksilver Messenger Service, It's a Beautiful Day explored a litany of musical tones during their career.  Starting out as a moderately heavy psych unit, dominated by the masterful violin work of David LaFlamme, they moved into more pastoral prog for their second album, Marrying Maiden.  By their third album LaFlamme was gone and the band became a revolving network of local musicians.  For this, their fourth album, they're barely recognizable as the band that started.  Bud Cockrell and Fred Webb joined and became the main songwriters and focus of the band, along with original member, the beautifully voiced Pattie Santos.  As such "Today" gets overlooked in their cannon of work in favor of their earlier albums.

But that sells "Today" short.  Sure, it's not nearly psych like the old days, it's not pastoral, it's really not even country-tinged, but what it is is a tasty album of mostly mid-tempo rock, with some harder and softer edges.  In truth, the album is best seen as a transitional album from the violin-psych of the 60's version (there is still some gorgeous violin work here courtesy of Greg Bloch) and the hit making soft rock machine that would be Bud Cockrell's next project, Pablo Cruise.  Yes, it may be hard to envision that, but it's really not much of a stretch. Pablo Cruise were always extremely talented musicians and songwriters, and even if much of their music landed in soft yacht rock territory, their craft is definite.  And they weren't afraid to rock out from time to time.  "Today" with songs like "Mississippi Delta" and Bud's raspy vocals (also heard on Pablo Cruise) aren't that far from what Pablo would become, but more drawn out and jammy and souldful.  "Ain't Loving You Baby" is a nice, slightly heavier blues-inflected, country-tinged slice of psych/prog with a damn catchy melody, and some fiery male/female vocals  a la Jefferson Airplane.  "Down on the Bayou" gives a nod to the swamp rock of  CCR, with a distinctive It's a Beautiful Day flair.  "Child" is simply gorgeous.

Definitely not an album to pass up if you can find it cheap.

Verdict: Keeper

So, overall, three keepers pulled from the bargain bin.  That's a good day.


1 comment:

Sadness said...

Great finds. Ripple!

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