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Lovin' Spoonful - Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful (2003) Retail CD
The Lovin' Spoonful's third "regular" LP (not counting a quickly recorded soundtrack for Woody Allen's "What's Up, Tiger Lily") was released in 1966 around Thanksgiving Day.
At the time, the band had begun to leave New York behind to move to the sunnier West. As guitarist Zal Yanovsky said: "'we were the least in the East and the most on the Coast."
For a New York band, The Lovin' Spoonful sure began to sound like a West Coast act by increasing their use of the folk-rock style and by using more vocal harmonies than before. Besides, they also peppered their songs with themes about peace, lovemore… and beautiful girls.
This album was their first to include material totally written or co-written by John Sebastian.
It entered the US Pop Album charts soon after its release and peaked at #14 during a 26-week stay.
The album included two massive hits released in the preceding months.
The first one was the unforgettable urban-pop anthem "Summer in the City" which, on the strength of its driving rhythm, clever words and infectious melody, topped the US singles charts during the summer of 1966. The music exploded from the speakers like no previous (or subsequent) Spoonful tune. The production of this track was very elaborate and innovative compared to their previous productions (with street sounds, heavy reverb and sound effects... included in the mix.) Veteran arranger/musician Artie Schroek played the electric piano parts.
The very melodic, gentle pop folk of "Rain on the Roof" followed and reached # 8 in November 1966, displaying a mesmerizing interplay between Zal's twelve-string and John 's newly discovered old Irish harp.
Two other singles were culled from the LP. The country-tinged "Nashville Cats" was a tribute to that city's formidable country musicians. It brought the band its seventh top ten singles in 15 months and reached the #8 spot in the USA. John Sebastian is faintly heard on steel guitar. Flatt and Scruggs covered the song and had a small country hit with their version.
"Full Measure", the B-side from the "Nashville Cats" single, written by Steve Boone and sung by Joe Butler, became a minor hit single as well (#87). It is a very nice track.
Despite the presence of these four hit singles on the album, the rest of the material does not pale by comparison.
Bobby Darin had some commercial success with its cover of the groovy album opener "Lovin' You" (#32 pop in early 1967.) This definitely blues based song was recorded in Los Angeles.
The second track, "Bes' Friends" has a marked old-timey sound achieved by John's use of a harmonium, by Steve's stand-up bass playing and the use of a vintage trap set. Its wry lyrics address Joe Butler and his very agitated love life at the time. Henry Diltz, their usual photographer, plays the clarinet on this track.
"Voodoo in my Basement", sung by Zal Yanovsky, is an electric blues-based tune involving an experiment with percussions (i.e. wood blocks, bass marimba, log drum and steel drums). Great stuff.
"Darlin' Companion" is a good time, country tinged song where Zal plays the kind of groove that Luther Perkins favoured (he was Johnny Cash's late guitarist). Johnny Cash actually covered the tune and included his version on his best selling "San Quentin" LP (a #1 hit on both Pop and Country LP charts.) The group really enjoyed country music and was perfectly at ease playing it.
Solely credited to John Sebastian, "Henry Thomas" sees the group performing a very good jug band song (in the mould of, say, "Gus Cannon's Stompers".) However, to put the record straight, it must be said that "Henry Thomas" actually featured a melody "borrowed" from... the real Henry Thomas' 1927 recording of a square dance titled" The Fox and the Hounds." (The band had already covered the proto-bluesman's "Fishin' Blues" on their first LP.)
On the album under review, the "quills" [or pan pipes] sounds featured on Thomas' version 78-rpm are by Henry Diltz (clarinet), by Zal Yanovsky (slide whistle) and by John Sebastian (on ocarina.). It is also the sole song of the LP featuring the virtuoso harmonica of John Sebastian. Prime stuff.
My favourite selection is "Coconut Grove", a joint Sebastian/Yanovsky collaboration. The tune alludes to a village outside Miami where bohemians retreated during the cold season.
Although the tune featured as an instrumental on the Woody Allen's soundtrack (as "Lookin'To Spy", the aural landscape is much enhanced here, by John's autoharp playing and Zal's masterful manipulation of his volume control.
Finally, there's also the hard rocking "Eyes", featuring Steve Boone's fuzz bass, pounding drums and the lead guitar let loose. The tune is a caustically autobiographical one. It features tons of reverb and ends seemingly with chaos (most noticeable on headphones.)
For quite a long time, while I kept on upgrading my stereo rig, I used to always ask myself how this LP sounded so good, standing comparisons, in my opinion, with the Beatles' recordings of the time. All became clear when I learned, a while ago, that Roy Hallee did the original engineering and was fond of all the experiments the Spoonful went for.
Besides, this is the first time that the CD sound of this album has been properly remastered (courtesy of the redoubtable Bob Irwin and James Pieruzzi at Sundazed Studios.)
What becomes readily apparent, when listening to this album as a whole, is the diversity of the styles used on the album. Although some people have criticized a "lack of unity" of the album as a whole, I find this very diversity a strikingly decisive reason to explain the album's artistic success.
This diversity was intentional and originates from the different strands of rock, folk, country, blues and old-timey sounds and from the styles applied to each tune. Still, Sebastian's voice and the pervasive "good time feel" of the songs are definitely unifying factors.
Although I usually derive little pleasure from "bonus tracks", I find that the six ones included here are interesting. I particularly dig the demo version of "Darlin' Companion" and the three instrumental takes which enable to hear more of the group's working process.
On the back cover of the CD, R.E.M.'s Peter Buck says this album is the "best, most consistent record by America's most underrated band." I cannot say it better, Pete.
|1||Sittin' Here Lovin' You|
|3||Voodoo In My Basement|
|7||Rain On The Roof|
|11||Summer In The City|
|13||Rain On The Roof|
|16||Voodoo In My Basement|
- Lovin' Spoonful - Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful (2003) Retail CD
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- 01/01/08 by Sarge!
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