Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry worked right down the hall from Carol King and Gerry Goffin at the Brill Building, 1619 Broadway on the corner of 49th Street. The two married couples were friends and rivals, both spewing out hits, well, for everyone. Prior to the advent of bands who wrote their own material, these four wrote so many great songs for so many artists in the early 1960s, that the release of Sweet Things From The Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry Songbook (Ace Records) is the third such volume and the surface of their ubiquity has hardly been scratched.
These 24 tracks are like a time capsule back when the artists may have supplied the vocals but the true creativity lay within the arrangers, composers and producers who told the singers what to sing, when to sing and how to sing. The producer on a lot of these tracks was a young genius named Phil Spector who put his name on many songs like “Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Hearts” by Bob B Soxx & The Blue Jeans just to earn some extra publishing money. (Darlene Love was finally admitted to the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame in 2011 for singing all those uncredited leads.)
The Crystals, The Dixie Cups, The Jelly Beans, The Raindrops, The Shangri-Las (“Leader Of The Pack”), The Butterflys, Leslie Gore, Reparata & The Delrons, The Ronettes and Dusty Springfield all benefitted greatly from the pen of these two, who wrote intelligently and profoundly about first love, forbidden love and love-torn-asunder. They became Phil Spector’s go-to team and the hits kept comin’. (Jeff Barry also wrote “Sugar Sugar” for The Archies with Andy Kim but at least it’s the Wilson Pickett version here.)
The Charlie Wheeler Trio’s self-released Rewind is a change-up for the Pennsylvania jam band. Gone is the standard blues-rock format in exchange for a more free-flowing fountain of rock ‘n’ roll ideas akin to, say, Gov’t Mule or The Black Crowes. Production is at a minimum and the focus is on composition, vocals and the unerring interaction between singer/songwriter Wheeler, bassist Dave Fink and drummer Rad Akers. Hey, I’m starting to find some good rock ‘n’ roll again after almost giving up!
Ken Will Morton has been rockin’ in the free world from his Athens, Georgia, base since 2003 but the mystery is why more people haven’t been paying attention. All’s Fair In Love & War (ra-ra a-vis records) is his seventh solidly consistent album (just like his first six). The 19 new songs come from a deep dark place of blackness: the dissolution of a relationship which found Morton living alone in a mobile home, which he made into an ad-hoc studio (with help from an engineer friend). He plays every instrument (guitar, bass, harmonica, toy xylophone, $20 garage-sale keyboard) over drum tracks he took off the Internet. No Pro Tools. No Auto-Tune. Just a broken heart, three chords and the ugly truth. He’s always been a clever lyricist. The only difference is that now that he’s been “Blindsided,” he’s “Down The Drain” and “Hitting Ditches.” It ends with “Hard Feelings.” Through the pain, though, some joy erupts like “Long Gone Daddy.” With a little luck, this guy should be John Hiatt.
Leonard Cohen’s leftovers are better than anyone else’s main course. That’s why Can’t Forget: A Souvenir Of The Grand Tour (Columbia/Legacy) is such a find. Cohen, who did not live up to his promise to start smoking again once he hit 80, has been on a roll. This is his third CD since last year’s Popular Problems. Old songs get new arrangements. New songs are a revelation (“Got A Little Secret” and “Never Gave Nobody Trouble”). Soundchecks have become Cohen’s laboratory. That’s why he can redo his ode to lust (“Light As The Breeze”) into something new and vital (I still say Billy Joel’s cover of this song is the best Cohen cover of them all). “Joan Of Arc” (1971) is now a duet with Sharon Robinson. He even makes the Quebecois love song “La Manic” hip. Best of all, though, “Choices” is a too-cool cover of the alcoholic lament of George Jones. He’s got balls to cover one of the finest voices of the 20th century but Cohen’s frog-croak here is apt.