J.D Souther

You might not know J.D Souther. Of all the the classic 1970’s singer songwriter crowd (dubbed the Canyon Crowd by Barney Hoskins in his stellar book; Hotel California: Singer-songwriters and Cocaine Cowboys in the LA Canyons) his is most pivotal story, but also the one that got away.

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In my travels around the musical blogsphere, I’ve discovered and consumed many new artists, discovered coutnless hours of amazing music and found some new treasured favourites. The work of Oliver Nelson is one of those treasured finds.

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Haven’t posted one of these in a while, so thought I’d get back on the bus so to speak. The next forgotten genius is one who truly has been left on the shelf. Unlike say Mark Eric or Hopkirk & Lee, the music of Lewis Taylor was released commercially (via Island Records and then his own label Slow Reality) but consistently bombed, yet as the years go by, in classic ‘lost albums’ traditions has picked up a hyper dedicated fervent following. I am one such follower.

Spreading the word of Lewis Taylor is akin to being one of the beardy ones disciples, I was one of those converts, the album was given to me during a particularly trying time a few years ago and the quality and density of the music that Taylor made left me speechless and became a soothing balm in time of trouble. There are a number of reasons why you can keep coming back to his music though.  The quality of the musicianship means songs reveal themselves at different times, you can go from disregarding one song as filler one week to just a few listens later finding something new in the structure or a new layer of the song that totally flips your perception. One though has always stood out – Lucky is the opening track and sets the mood of the album perfectly, As an instrumentalist, Taylor was without compare, the little guitar runs are sublime, floating in and out of foreboding orchestra swirls, the lyrics (always one of Taylor’s most underrated skills in my opinion) are defeated, a pleading, urging last throw of the relationship dice, it’s classic soul territory but glazed over with the harmonies and psych guitar makes it a totally unique proposition and sets the narrative of the album up perfectly. Each song reveals itself in a individual way the nihilism of  Bittersweet, the upbeat revenge of Whoever and ending in an amazing acapella redemption song (Spirit)

Taylor carried on making albums, the standout being Stoned Part I (2002) which includes the fantastically groovy Lovelight, he then really just slipped from view, I saw him for the first (and last) time live at the Jazz Cafe in 2006 and he did not disappoint. His complete catalog is now available on ITunes, and i urge everyone to take a look and dip your toe, you won’t be disappointed.

Coda; This is a pretty good post from the Guardian last years on Lewis’ eccentricities…

Last FM page here as well.

From Later With Jools Holland 1996

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Next up is the magic of Mark Eric. I got this album last year, available through Rev-Ola records (where i would also recommend the loveliness of Eternity’s Children, and Bergen White in particular)

So In 1968/69, while most students were either rioting in the streets, turning on and dropping out, or going underground, a foggy haze of singer songwriters and superstar troubadours were ‘getting back to the country’ Roootsiness was the new name of the game, orchestras, session musicians and teenage symphonies to god out: Earnestness; in.

Now while that made superstars of CSNY, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and the rest of the canyon crowd, the old Hollywood hitmakers of Phil Spector, The Beach Boys (Brian Wilson was hiding in a bed by now), Curt Boecther, Gary Usher and many more found themselves on the wrong side of hip. So probably not the best time to make an album so dumbfoundly entrenched in the L.A of three years previous. But that’s what Mark Eric set out to do. A bronzed, blonde haried Surfer dude, he was actually a TV actor, magazine model and the like who had most recently starred in the Partridge Family. He obviously fancied himself as a musician (and had had one of his songs covered by the Animals) so in he went to the studio, songs in hand and crafted A Midsummers Day Dream, for me the album ends up documenting the last gasp of good vibration, surfin’ that lovin’ feelin’ California.

Because it was made so late in the day, the album has a wistfulness for the an L.A that the Eagles more successfully captured a decade later. (After The Thrill Has Gone could be it’s countryfied sister) It is unashamedly uses the old school vibes of the wrecking crew, and the wall of sound. It’s clean, it’s clear and the harmonies leap out at you throughout. But the last song is the true hum-dinger. ‘Where Do The Girls Of Summer Go’.

The Earl Palmer like drums keep the song rooted in deep harmonies, and the vibraphone over the top of the song gives it a Pet Sounds feel. Of course, the strings and horns are absoultely bang on, following the melody perfectly. His voice does struggle to meet the highest of the high notes, but every oooh and aaah harmony is perfeclty placed. But the lyrics are the killer, evoking love lost in simple terms (boy girl etc…) but putting it in context, and digging a little deeper, this becomes one the last great pean to mid 60’s California.  It also helps this album was never commercially released, only adding to it’s time capsule nature. No one really heard from Mark Eric again (although he did play a gig in LA a few years ago) But wherever he ended up and whatever he did, he created an album and song, that should sit right up there with the best the City Of Angels has to offer

Mark Eric – Where Do The Girls Of Summer Go

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I found this four track wonder one magical day in  Sister Ray on Berwick Street all the way back in 1997. More commonly known as the fag end of Britpop. While other bands lurched to cocaine induced meltdowns and hubristic, bombastic albums of varying quality (sound familiar 2007/2008?) – !Free Arthur Lee! lasts a mere 2.02  – and is one of the most striking songs you’ll ever hear.  The title is no misprint – this feels like it could have been a long lost studio cut off Da Capo – and as the (sadly departed) Arthur Lee was in jail at the time for discharging a loaded gun, it comes across as the sweetest, saddest and most beautiful protest song ever. Big bass starts it, a tight little snare roll keeps the song building, the vocals hit the big time when the first harmonies roll ever so softly in. As the beautiful String Quartet crank into high gear on the chorus, the song takes a bittersweet turn, the lyrics defeated, and the love lost, and then it’s over, the quartet fading off into the distance.

What makes this Beneath the Apple Tree more remarkable (and frustrating) is the fact that these guys were NEVER heard from again. No gigs, no follow ups, no news, NOTHING.  Just a piss poor website and an email. (and this) I’m torn between solving this mystery, and just letting it be.

Beneath the Apple Tree is one of the true lost albums of any decade. It introduced me to the world of Love, led me to the magic of the Millenium, and countless other bands whose heart was made of harmonies and sunshine. It sounds as striking today as it did the first time I heard it, and remains my most treasured piece of music.

Hopkirk & Lee – !Free Arthur Lee!

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