Bobby Gentry ‘Southern Gothic’ – Humphead
Not always given credit for her formidable influence in Country music, Bobby Gentry was the first female artist in the mid 60’s to write and produce much of her own material. Reported to have been writing songs before her teenage years, Gentry studied philosophy at U.C.L.A. California prior to transferring to study music at The Los Angeles Conservatory of Music in 1964 at the age of 20.
She signed to Capital Records Nashville in 1967 and recorded her debut single the bluesy Mississippi Delta. However it was the B side to that single Ode To Billie Joe that launched Gentry’s career practically overnight and eventually sold over three million copies, establishing her as a favourite both on country music radio and in the pop music stations. It actually knocked The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love off the Number 1 spot in the American charts. The song’s tale of Billy Joe Mc Allister’s suicide and the dark secret shared by him and his lover sounds as fresh and vital today as it did in 1967 and resulted in Gentry winning three Grammy Awards including Best New Artist and Best Female Vocalist.
In an attempt to capitalise on the success of the single Capital recorded the album of the same title in 1967. The following year saw the release of Local Gentry and The Delta Sweete to disappointing sales. A duo album with Glen Campbell was also released that year and entered to Top 20 album Charts after the somewhat disappointing earlier solo albums.
Touch ‘Em With Love, released in 1969 owed more to Memphis than Nashville with its R 'n' B feel and included a Number 1 single in the UK with the Bacharach/David composition I’ll Never Fall In Love Again. The UK success earned Gentry a BBC television variety show before returning to perform at Los Vegas headlining a nightclub revue.
Three further albums were released by Capital, Fancy in 1970, Patchwork and Sittin’ Pretty/Tobacco Road in 1971 after which Gentry concentrated on her Los Vegas career.
Southern Gothic is a comprehensive musical overview of Gentry’s career and its fifty tracks capture many of her inspirational songs such as Ode To Bobby Joe, Okolona River Bottom Band, Mississippi Delta, I Saw An Angel Die, Courtyard and Morning Glory. Also included are some less appealing cover versions including The Beatle’s Here, There and Everywhere and Fool on The Hill and a cheesy cover of Scarborough Fair as a duo with Glen Campbell.
A compilation, at least, of Bobby Gentry’s work is an essential requirement for anyone with an interest in country music of the 60’s and this package is as good a place as any to start.
Chris Laterzo ‘West Coast Sound’ – Yampa
On first play you could be forgiven for assuming you had just listened to a ‘lost’ Neil Young album, probably recorded in the late 70’s,possibly between Comes A Time and Rust Never Sleeps. Whether it’s the driving west coast sound of the title track, the sleepy acoustic Something Blue, the pedal steel and harmonica drenched Echo Park or the tongue in cheek Subaru, there is so much to enjoy on this album.
The album features Laterzo on vocal, guitars and harmonica, Dan Wistrom and Bret Jensen on guitars, Jeff LeGore on bass, Ron Pak on drums and Rami Jaffee on organ with the tracks recorded in a number of studios in California.
West Coast Sound is the fifth album recorded by the Los Angeles resident. A recording artist since 1997, his debut album, American River, was produced by Danny Weston Jnr., who also added drums to the recording. Since then he recorded a further three albums prior to this release including the self-produced and engineered Driftwood in 2004
"Hey Honey let’s sing our son Yellow Submarine and that tune by Neil Young for sweet cowboy dreams"- Laterzo sings in Echo Park. So with the questionable quality of Neil Young’s recent recordings it’s interesting that Laterzo, in a similar vein to artists such as Israel Nash and Rich Hopkins, continue to record albums of a quality that you’d love Young current output to equal.
A relentless touring artist, both solo and with his band The Buffalo Robe to support his career, Laterzo has recorded for me, one of the most satisfying alternative country albums of 2015.
Scott Krokoff ‘Realizations & Declarations Volume 2’ – Self Release
Scott Krokoff previously played in a New York 90’s band Equinox which basically consisted of Krokoff and college friends. They recorded four albums before disbanding. Krokoff proceeded to pursue a solo career and recorded his debut album A Better Life released in 2007. This collection of songs Realizations & Declarations is a project featuring two EP’s released as Volume 1 & 2.
Realizations & Declarations Volume 1, released in 2012, featured four tracks and was followed earlier this year by Volume 2 which includes six new songs and a reworking of Sparrows, a song which appeared on his debut album.
Similar in style to his debut Volume 2, emphasises Krokoff’s ability to write radio friendly and well crafted songs probably best categorised in the power pop genre. Indeed opening tracks The Right Place and Because of You bring to mind the work of Fountains of Wayne with satisfying jangly guitar riffs dominating.
The recording was produced by Bob Stander who also played bass and features an impressive list of musicians including former Wings drummer Steve Holly, who has also worked with Dar Williams. Paul Errico, who plays keyboards and accordion, has worked with Steve Forbert. While Shawn Murray and Mark Newman, both members of the late Willy DeVille’s band, both contribute on drums and dobro.
All in all an impressive set of songs, catchy, immediate and very listenable by an artist quite capable of writing quality pop music. However, the seperate releases left the writer wondering whether the release of both EP’s as a full album might have had a greater impact.
The Midnight Union Band ‘Of Life and Lesser Evils’ – Self Release
The Midnight Union Band have earned a reputation as one of the hardest working and promising live Irish roots bands in recent years. Visitors to The annual Kilkenny Roots Festival in recent years would be familiar with them and their music. There they played to packed venues, their performances, with more than a nod to The Band and Little Feat, are lively, soulful and showcase their combined musical skills.
Would it be possible to translate their live performances to the studio? The answer is a resounding yes based on their debut album Old Life and Lesser Evils. The band consists of vocalist, acoustic guitar and harmonica player Shane Joyce, Peter Flynn on various keyboards, Brian Mc Grath on bass, Cian Doolan on electric guitar and mandolin and drummer John Wallace.
From the opening track Your Leader to the magnificent seven minute closing track and album highlight But I Am The Night The Midnight Union band manage to recreate the sound so uplifting in their live shows. The album contains an additional ten tracks are, other standouts being the funky Stormy Thoughts, People Like You which are given a fuller sound in the studio with the addition of trumpet played by Aidan Kelly and Law Ain’t Justice expanded by some delightful pedal steel.
A more than satisfying debut album and a further indication of the wealth of talented young Irish acts with the potential to make a significant breakthrough in the music industry.