Judy Collins is an American treasure. From her early Folk recordings – her debut album was released in 1961 – up through her brush with the Pop charts in the latter half of the ‘60s and into the ‘70s, she has possessed one of the most beautiful voices in Pop music. With hits like “Both Sides Now,” “Chelsea Morning” (both penned by Joni Mitchell) and Stephen Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns,” Collins has built up a catalog of remarkably timeless recordings that never seem to age – much like the singer herself. Her gentle, moving performances have inspired generations of performers spanning all genres. Whether she is performing a song she composed or interpreting someone else’s musical creation, the song becomes Judy and Judy becomes the song. And fifty-six years after she made her recorded debut, Judy’s voice sounds better than ever. If you have ever fallen under the spell of Judy Collins, I’m fairly certain you are still hypnotized by her talent.
Right Said Fred may be considered a ‘one hit wonder’ in the U.S., but I’m here to tell you that they are much more than that. Their worldwide hit “I’m Too Sexy” has become a slice of Pop Culture and is still used in advertisements, films and TV shows. The mere mention of the song title will inspire people to spontaneously sing a line or two out loud no matter who else is around. However, as I once wrote over at allmusic.com: “If you’ve never heard anything by Right Said Fred apart from ‘I’m Too Sexy,’ then you are missing out on one of the best dance-pop bands of this generation. To base your opinion of the band on that one song is like judging The Beatles‘ entire catalog on a song like ‘Yellow Submarine.’ Sure, it’s fun and catchy, but there is so much more to the band than that one piece of pop fluff.” In other words, if you haven’t heard anything else by RSF, then it is time to change that.
DAVE RAYBURN: The new album is titled WESLEY STACE’S JOHN WESLEY HARDING, and is your second record under your given name that you’ve reverted back to. I understand that, among several factors involved in choosing the title, there was a bit of a nod to Jeff Lynne in the mix. Can you elaborate?
WESLEY STACE: I can. My last album, SELF-TITLED, was the first released under my real name, Wesley Stace, but I felt the word didn’t quite get out, so I thought it was worth clarifying. Secondly, I happened to see the new version of ELO. For whatever legal reason, they are billed as “Jeff Lynne’s ELO”, presumably partly to differentiate it from any other rogue version of ELO. This reminded me that, though I had, in a sense, broken up John Wesley Harding, I didn’t want any interlopers touring under that name, playing my songs and pretending to be me, when I was elsewhere being me too, playing those same songs (better). With WESLEY STACE’S JOHN WESLEY HARDING, I am reminding you that this version of John Wesley Harding is the only version that counts. And finally, I wanted to differentiate myself, once and for all, from the Bob Dylan album of the same name. I have many times been mistaken for this album, due to a certain similarities between the name of this artifact, an LP from 1967 made of vinyl and cardboard, JOHN WESLEY HARDING, and my erstwhile performing name, John Wesley Harding. Obviously, it’s a ridiculous mistake, but still. So this isn’t Bob Dylan’s JOHN WESLEY HARDING; it’s Wesley Stace’s JOHN WESLEY HARDING.
So…. what do we have here?
A brand-skankin’-new album from The Beat? No, not Paul Collins and Co. – they are officially known as Paul Collins’ Beat. And no, not Dave Wakeling and Co. – we call them The English Beat over here. This album is actually by Wakeling’s former partner in crime Ranking Roger and his UK-based version of The Beat/English Beat. If you want to get technical about it, this album is by The Beat featuring Ranking Roger.
Are you thoroughly confused already? Sorry ‘bout that…
Back in the ‘glory days’ of Rock music – the ‘60s through the ‘80s – listeners were assaulted on Top 40 radio by ‘protest’ and ‘political’ music wrapped up in a good melody. From Bob Dylan to The Clash – just to name two of many – artists were inserting thought-provoking messages into those catchy tunes that you hummed throughout the day. Politics has weaved its way into lyrics for decades but when those artists became mainstream, their messages were embraced and understood by some while others remained blissfully unaware. And while politics has remained a hot topic in music ever since, there is very little that makes it into the Top 40 these days. But do people listen to radio anymore? Think about it – radio, the greatest platform for messages from the heart, has become a desolate desert of manufactured, mindless nonsense. Then again, people do like to feel safe and comfortable, so you can’t fault them for that…
An EXCLUSIVE interview with CHRIS COLLINGWOOD
When an artist attempts to alter their musical direction in even the slightest way, the final results are scrutinized by critics and hardcore fans alike. One of the few bands that were able to expand their artistic vision without losing their fan base was The Beatles. Since then, very few artists have been able to mature and grow without being lambasted on the internet by fans who felt betrayed by their beloved musical idols. Remember when Bob Dylan went electric in late 1965? One man yelled “Judas!” and the world spun off its axis. By the way, Dylan’s career recovered quite nicely, thank you! Even The Stranglers, one of the UK’s most popular Punk bands, was skewered once they became a bona-fide Pop/Rock outfit by the middle of the ‘80s. It would seem that their fan base wanted them to remain the scruffy, crabby crew they grew to loathe a decade before. So, what is an artist to do? Stay the same and lose fans because they don’t alter the formula, or alter the formula and lose fans because they didn’t stay the same? Chris Collingwood, he of Fountains Of Wayne (“Stacy’s Mom”) fame, has decided to do both – but with his new project, Look Park, he’s not in any danger of losing fans. At all.
Although it has been five years since Fountains Of Wayne released their last album, 2011’s SKY FULL OF HOLES, Collingwood has been working hard on mixing up his proven songwriting ‘formula’ and approaching the songs in new and more intimate ways. FOW bandmate Adam Schesinger has been busy with various projects, including the fab new Monkees album, but Chris has surprisingly kept a very low profile. One of the few times we’ve heard from him since 2011 was when he covered The Dream Academy’s “Life In A Northern Town” for the excellent ‘80s ‘tribute’ album HERE COMES THE REIGN AGAIN released in 2014. All the while, he has been working on new material and finally went into the studio with producer Mitchell Froom and recorded the most excellent LOOK PARK album. This ‘debut’ album is a collection of well-crafted songs that retain the melodic charm of FOW but takes Chris in new and exciting directions. One of producer Froom’s earliest claims to fame was his work with Crowded House, and Look Park travels a similar musical path as those albums from the Kiwi band led by Neil Finn. The album is filled with great melodic hooks, yes, but the album is warm and intimate. These are songs you fall in love with, and like true love, the album only gets better with time. The production is lush yet intimate and Collingwood approaches each track with a tenderness that was not as apparent as on his work with FOW. “Stars Of New York,” “Breezy,” “Minor Is The Lonely Key,” “You Can Come Round If You Want To,” and “Crash That Piano” are absolutely lovely without being maudlin or too mellow (not that either of those are bad things). Surprisingly, there is very little electric guitar on the album – acoustic guitar, piano and mellotron create an atmosphere that is inviting and melancholic. In essence, LOOK PARK is a beautiful piece of work. It is Pop and it is powerful – it’s just not Power Pop. Don’t fear, FOW fans, Chris has delivered the goods and they are glorious.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat to Chris Collingwood about the making of the LOOK PARK album and much more…
Swedish trio Peter Björn and John have created a musical universe that is constantly evolving. However, they’ve managed to retain their unique charm that made them press darlings a decade ago with “Young Folks”. What many didn’t realize is that that hit’s parent album, Writer’s Block, was the trio’s third in a career that has seen them stretch the boundaries of Pop music. While Top 40 radio’s Pop guidelines are pretty rigid, Peter Morén, Björn Yttling and John Eriksson treat them like elastic rubber bands, bending and twisting those guidelines into new and exciting aural avenues. They’ve even managed to carve out musical careers outside of PB&J while never lowering the quality control level on the albums they record together. And can you believe they even collaborated with Canadian hip hopster Drake a handful of years before he became a musical sensation?
Breakin’ Point, their first album in five years, finds PB&J offering up a collection of songs that are so instantly lovable that you’ll swear you’ve been in love with them for years. Every track on the album is a potential hit single – the melodies leap out and grab hold on the first spin. Their songwriting is based in classic ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s Pop/Rock, but the production, arrangements and inventiveness is thoroughly modern if not outright forward-thinking. They’ve sidestepped the experimental moodiness of some of their past albums and embraced their more playful side. This isn’t an album that tries to revisit their past glories – it creates new ones.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to track down band member Peter Morén, who kindly took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about Breakin’ Point, PB&J and more…
Does Led Zeppelin II
Available on CD and Vinyl LP
Train, the San Francisco-based Rock/Pop band led by Pat Monahan, will release Train Does Led Zeppelin II (via Crush Music/WEA) on June 3rd , 2016. On this release, Train performs the entirety of the 1969 sophomore album by Led Zeppelin, one of Rock’s greatest quartets. The Train album’s nine-song track list mirrors the original Zep release from first track to last.
This bold artistic move will present Train in a new musical light as well as introduce their audience to a classic album that wrote the blueprint for Blues-influenced Hard Rock.
- Whole Lotta Love
- What Is and What Should Never Be
- The Lemon Song
- Thank You
- Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)
- Ramble On
- Moby Dick
- Bring It On Home