33 1/3: The Notorious Byrd Brothers by Ric Menck (Continuum Books)

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I’ve been particularly looking forward to reading this long-promised contribution to the series of little books about great albums. I adore the record—in fact, it was on my own shortlist of potential subjects, usurped when series editor David Barker encouraged me to poke a nose out of the comfortable sixties psych basement and write about Neutral Milk Hotel instead. If you’ve read more than a couple of 33 1/3 books, you know that they’re all very different, with each writer taking their own path to revealing the mysteries of their chosen favorite LP. As a working musician who once had his creative heart broken when a band on the way up suddenly crashed and burned, Velvet Crush drummer Menck has a rare capacity to recognize the emotional state likely effecting the individual Byrds in the years leading up to Notorious, arguably their best album, and also the most volatile. Coop-flown Byrd Gene Clark was hanging around the studio again, David Crosby left the band before it was completed, and increasingly inadequate drummer Michael Clarke was subject to terrible verbal abuse during the sessions (a brutal excerpt is on the CD reissue). The first half of the book is a mini-Byrds bio, so by the time the members are reaching around producer Gary Usher to rip each others’ bangs off, the reader has an intimate understanding of the tensions in the room, and can marvel all the more at the sonic beauties unfurled in so toxic an environment. The second half of the book is a track-by-track accounting of the album (and related outtakes), with all the geeky session notes a geeky fan could want. But with the biographical material and Menck’s interesting perspective, this one would be enjoyable for Byrds fans or neophytes alike. And drummers will especially appreciate Menck’s observations on this oft neglected part of the rock and roll sound.

In one Stec, we can Usher in a new Millenium

Not too long ago, maybe a few months ago, I stumbled upon a record reissue label called Sonic Past(www.sonicpastmusic.com) which is quickly releasing some of the most incredible vintage pop and rock music.

I first noticed the label while perusing the Brian Wilson section of my local record hut. There sat a CD entitled “Smile For Me” which is a symphonic tribute to Brian Wilson which was produced, arranged and conducted by noted producer Gary Usher. While you may or may not know the name, Usher has been involved with many ’60’s pop hits and had done a lot of work with the Beach Boys when they were scoring hits right and left.

Interested in everything Wilson, I immediately picked it up and when I got home, put it in the CD player immediately. What I encountered next was a glorious tribute to Brian Wilson’s genius featuring many of the same musicians Wilson himself had used when creating the Beach Boys’ most glorious recordings. Since it was recorded in 1970 and not released until 2004, the musicians were still at the peak of their powers and the presence of Wilson himself (though not on the recording) and his spirit is very palpable.

This is but one of the great Sonci Past reissues I’ve been grooving to lately. It seems label head Joey Stec (who some may remember as guitarist for the Millenium) has somehow got a hold of a ton (and I mean lots) of classic ’60’s pop and other cool recordings you just won’t find anywhere else.

Besides the Brain Wilson symphonic tribute are tons of unreleased tracks by Millenium members Sandy Salisbury (vocalist for the band), Lee Mallory, Joey Stec and even full albums of unreleased stuff from the Millenium. Familiar musicians like Randy Meisner from the Eagles and Millenium producer/solo artist Curt Boettcher also have several of their early tracks reissued in album form on this label. There is even a CD from Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora before he joined Bon Jovi and Davey Johnstone’s (from the original Elton John Band in the ’70’s) only solo CD.

In other words, Sonic Past has somehow opened a vault somewhere which has enabled them to present some great pop albums, including tracks of which many have never seen the light of day.
The ones I have been grooving to the most have featured the Millenium and its’ members. For those unfamiliar, the Millenium were a soft pop group who unfortunately did not catch on with the legions of rock fans caught up in the noisier sounds of acid-rock. Now, that is a much more simplified description than the band deserves as the band had some of the best production, arranging, orchestration and songwriting elements as any band at that time but you will have to hear them and decide for that for yourself. Sadly, the band disintegrated after their first CD Begin but, thanks to Sonic Past’s reissues, many heretofore unreleased and unknown tracks have been unearthed and released which have greatly embellished the band’s reputation as being one of the greatest.

Soon, I will review these CD’s one by one on this blog and give you the lowdown on some of the leading lights of this ear including Boettcher, Salisbury and Joey Stec. In the meantime, feel free to check out this label and get immersed in these rich, plush orchestrated pop sounds from the past. If you like bands like Sagittarius (who also were helmed by Boettcher) and The Association you will flip over the Millenium and many of the other great releases on this label. Please go to Sonic Past’s site and check them out.

The Music Nerd Knows…..