This is one hell of an underrated album of totally unknown pop songs.
I really couldn't believe it when I heard it. Let's start with the first track which after the opening, delivers an absolute smash, an uppercut to the solar plexus, "Don't ever let go:"
I mean that is just pure pop gold. Golden baby, golden. And danceable, to boot. As Christopher Walken said, I 'put on my pants one leg at a time just like you, but when they're on, I make hit records!' That 'hey there' hook should have made it-- could have made it-- a top 10 hit on AM radio.
Listen to another stunning track, which recalls Bacharach at his best seventies schmaltzy timeless beauty:
How I pray these tracks could be popular one day...
Of course, whether or not you enjoy this record depends entirely on whether you have a taste for this kind of seventies pop music. At the least one has to admit they were hugely talented musicians. And it turns out they made another record, and it's called 'The Other Side...' Moreover, bandmember Randy Wills now owns and runs a recording studio in Topeka called 'Exceptions Studio' -- here is their website. The search is back on for more...
And let's close out with the ending number, the Banjo Man, a name I was dreading to hear, but listen to what they do with this one:
What do you think of that F minor 9 Harpsichord chord that interjects itself in there after the chorus? It really takes it away from the "Old Man River" musical number / Jimmy Webb vibe that starts it out, adding a kind of sparkly color. Gorgeous stuff.
Gotta love the louche prohibition-era cover photo too. Incidentally, the names of the artists are Craig Senne, Randy Wills, and Steve Greene. As you may have guessed from the title they play all the instruments and created all the wonderful arrangements.
This one should really pass the test of time-- it's a keeper.
And what about those sepia-toned pictures, do they take you right back to childhood the way they do to me:
I love it-- do kids still play on railroad tracks today? I think not...
could it be the long-lost Debbie Miller, from Karlos Steinblast's I Need A Woman?
Listening to this album repeatedly, I am struck by how well-crafted all these songs were, as I said above, standing comparison with Bacharach's hits quite favourably. Notice the early year of the release (Randy informed me of this), which makes sense since this was the time when there was a taste for strings-filled pop mixed with funky moves. Speaking of strings-filled, when I first heard this I assumed they had an orchestral backing-- looking inside the gatefold with its magical photos you will see the performers added all those layers of instrumentation themselves with keyboards, etc., and you gotta hand it to them, it was done highly tastefully and in such a subtle manner that you can hardly believe these are 'fake' instruments. Pay attention to the keyboards on the opener for the second side (especially the fuzzy funky arpeggios added to the second stanza) and the highly progressive play at the end:
Btw notice that songwriting is handled by the duo of Randy Wills and Craig Senne, who are both equally accomplished. (The latter wrote the above Banjo Man song.) We know Randy runs a recording studio in Topeka, what happened to Craig I wonder? Do they still perform or communicate?
It almost seems like it would make the perfect musical if you take the record as a story from beginning to end:
Let's start with a young hip record collector entering a used record store in Kansas, spinning this, touching and examining the gatefold, the pictures, hearing all the songs, shocked at their quality, he then tracks down the artists locally, hears their whole life story-- perhaps get a trio of highly talented youths, high school friends (Many Times) then throw in a love story (When She Smiles), a band trying to make it big with huge loads of skill and passion (Don't ever let go), working at day jobs, playing and rehearsing, going through tragedy or adversity (Drinkin his time), eventually perhaps all getting married years later and having a young daughter (I just don't know how to love you) who needs extra care (that old movie about the jazz trumpeter whose kid gets polio and has to give up performing to care for her comes to mind-- what was it called? five red pennies or something?) for example, she is diagnosed with childhood leukemia (hope no one remembers Erich Segal!) and almost dies, he has to give up the dream of stardom, slowly over the years (Banjo Man)... until-- flash forward again to the young listener, who finds out thankfully the daughter is alive and well, a beautiful young adult (potential romance hinted at), it's just the dream that has died. Last scene: the daughter playing the piano, perhaps performing with her father, hinting that she will carry on his dream. It's a kind of "Mamma Mia" (the musical) meets the Commitments story I suppose. (It's been done before, I realize.) Add in some atmosphere about the spirit of the early seventies: the longing for a new world, for utopia, the spirit of peace, the desire to make things better (It's not as bad as it seems), the backdrop of the war in Vietnam (as in the movie made from the musical Hair) the hope and naivete that permeates every word they sing here... That incredible, beautiful, sixties-seventies spirit, now lost in cynicism, which I've mentioned so many times before. Of course you can close out the show with the made-for-musical Banjo Man track as their goodbye and their hope for a better world, and have the TV reporting on some depressing story, such as Iraq/Syria in the background, they start up with the chorus, cue to the TV playing the harpsichord instrumental bit, as everyone watches, go back to the singers returning to the chorus, keep cutting to the TV doing the instr. bits, as if responding... Hey-- if someone actually comes up with the script, please give me credit for the idea! You saw it first here on www.progressreview.blogspot.com :-)
So, similar to my past discoveries in my blogging days: the amazingly talented songwriter J. F. Murphy, the one-record-wonder Ilian, crazy guy turned preacher Karlos Steinblast, the gorgeous Finnish Joni Mitchell Carita Holmstrom, and of course the wonderful multi-instrumentalist Kurt Memo, let's spread the word and give these guys the respect they really deserve, today. Anyone who wishes, who enjoys it, should propagate this album on other blogs, other media (I'm thinking youtube or facebook here, which I don't frequent).
And finally I'm going to take the liberty of closing out by quoting Randy with whom I corresponded for permission:
"The song 'I just don't know' was definitely a tribute to the style of Burt Bacharach and his Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid soundtrack ... we appreciated too many different styles of music so we just put them all out there... We were put down for that… And we were loved for it... I'm glad you appreciated it. At least we knew how to write melodies , unlike 99% of what you hear today!"