The 1960s were a golden era for pop vocal groups, with acts like the Four Seasons, the Association, and the Mamas and Papas riding the charts. All those outfits still garner attention but the Vogues… not so much, probably because they scored fewer major hits. Among the ones they had, however, were two of the genre’s best from that era, both of which made it to No. 4 on Billboard’s chart in 1965: “You’re the One,” an upbeat love song that British singer Petula Clark co-authored, and “Five O’clock World,” whose lyrics recall those of the Crystals’ 1962 classic, “Uptown” (not to mention Bruce Springsteen’s later “Out in the Street”).
Those numbers are among the highlights on At Co & Ce – The Complete Singles & More, a 23-track anthology that features both sides of all eight 45s the Vogues recorded for the Pittsburgh-based Co & Ce label between 1965 and 1967, plus seven tunes from a long-out-of-print best-of CD. Label founder Nick Cenci, whose artist roster also included such hitmakers as Tommy James and the Shondells and Lou Christie, had a hand in producing some of these tracks, including the two aforementioned hits.
There are a few clunkers on At Co & Ce, such as a Bo Diddley–styled inanity called “Humpty Dumpty,” but the lion’s share of this material is impressive. “True Lovers,” for example, is a likable doo-wop-influenced number that’s redolent of fifties acts like the Flamingos and the Skyliners while a version of P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri’s “You Baby” rivals the hit rendition by the Turtles. You’ll also hear some impressive vocalizing on “Autumn,” another Sloan/Barri creation, and “Bonnie’s Part of Town,” which was co-authored by “Five O’clock World” composer Allen Reynolds and offers a lyric reminiscent of the Four Seasons’ “Rag Doll” and Johnny Rivers’s “Poor Side of Town.”
After leaving Co & Ce, the Vogues signed with Reprise, tilted more toward the easy listening genre, and scored two additional Top 10 hits, “Turn Around, Look at Me” and “My Special Angel.” It’s probably not worth waiting for a career-spanning, multi-label anthology, though, because the Vogues’ catchiest and most memorable creations are all right here.
Cowboy Dave, Venture South. This is the first full-length release from Nebraska native Cowboy Dave Wilson, a singer, songwriter, and guitarist who bills his music as “high-elevation honky-tonk” and features backing from pedal steel, drums, fiddle, and upright bass. Wilson cites Western swing as well as Bakersfield Sound artists like Merle Haggard and Buck Owens among his influences, and Venture South’s 10 self-penned numbers (two with co-writers) reflect those leanings. Some of the best of them – such as the catchy ballads “Sandhill Girl” and the trumpet-spiced “Guts and a Horse” – also bring to mind early country rockers like New Riders of the Purple Sage and Commander Cody.
Julie Christensen, The Price We Pay for Love. When last heard from, on 2022’s 11 from Kevin, Julie Christensen was applying her considerable vocal talents to an album’s worth of material from Nashville’s Kevin Gordon. On this 10-track latest CD, she casts a wider net, covering material from songwriters like Joni Mitchell (“Hejira”), Jimmy Webb (“The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”), Joe Zawinul (“A Remark You Made”), and Steve Winwood (“On My Way Home”). Over the years, Christensen has dabbled in everything from punk and pop to folk and country but The Price We Pay for Love is at heart a jazz album. Her exquisite vocals reveal the moody essence of each song and the bass playing and string arrangements of longtime collaborator Terry Lee Burns are a perfect fit.
Fruit Bats, A River Running to Your Heart. Every track shines on this 10th studio album from Fruit Bats, an indie-rock outfit that has been releasing records since 1997. Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist Eric D. Johnson – the group’s singer, songwriter, and only permanent member – has concocted a set that manages to be both experimental and extremely accessible. This is dreamy, well-hooked, frequently exuberant, and consistently radio-friendly pop rock, with provocative and poetic lyrics that capture moments and feelings. Johnson winningly produced the set, which features synthesizers, acoustic and electric guitars, pedal steel, keyboards, and more. It’s the kind of album you’ll want to play again as soon as the last track ends.
Adam Klein, Holidays in United States. “Four dead in Ohio,” sings Georgia-based Adam Klein in the dirge-like “Ohio: Revisited,” one of two songs on this sociopolitical eight-song collection to reference Neil Young’s song about the killing and wounding of students by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in 1970; the other is “I-20,” a dialogue between a father and his daughter on the way to a demonstration against racial injustice, which updates Young’s opening line by replacing Nixon’s name with Trump’s. That latter track seems overproduced, with Klein’s vocals nearly buried at times under prominently mixed backup singers and instrumentation. But there’s plenty of evidence here that Klein can deliver the goods, such as on the folky, affecting “Old Gold.” Kudos to Klein for delivering an album that thoughtfully tackles topics too few contemporary artists are addressing.
Arkansauce, OK to Wonder. You can hear the influence of progenitors like Bill Monroe in this fifth album from Arkansauce, but this is not your grandfather’s bluegrass ensemble. Like such acts as Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, this quartet (bass, mandolin, guitar, and banjo) embraces modern pop and rock influences. The group – whose moniker nods to its home state – features complex arrangements, lilting melodies, and amiable vocal work from all its members, who take turns singing lead on uptempo standouts like “First Night of the Tour,” “How Time Flies,” and “Up on the Shelf.”
Charlie Parker, Afro Cuban Bop: The Long Lost Bird Live Recordings. The great jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker shares the stage with such other luminaries as Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, Art Blakey, and Stan Kenton on this collection of live recordings from venues that include New York’s Carnegie Hall and Birdland. As the title suggests, the 18-track, 68-minute set focuses on Afro-Cuban music. The material, some of which has previously appeared on various LPs, dates from 1945 to 1954 but the excellent audio quality belies its age. If you wanted to explain to someone why Parker is considered a legend, you could do worse than to hand over a copy of this album.
Jeff Burger’s website, byjeffburger.com, contains five decades’ worth of music reviews, interviews, and commentary. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.