Sunday, June 14, 2020

Kat's Korner: Hamilton Leithauser and Ronnie Spector and that album we never actually got to hear

Kat: The best thing that may have ever happened to Brian Wilson artistically was that he destroyed "Fire" and abandoned what would have been the Beach Boys' SMILE album.  The plans for the album coincided with getting Derek Taylor as a publicist and Derek's hyping Brian as a genius.  That could be seen as what led to Brian's tensions and eventual issues that kept him in and out of music for years.  SMILE never came out but was hailed as incredible art.  The album no one ever heard.

Think about that.

I do when I listen to Hamilton Leithauser's THE LOVES OF YOUR LIFE released last April.  This is only his second solo album (he is part of the group WALKMAN and also did an album with Rostam).  This go round, he offers eleven tracks. 

It's a sonically gorgeous album.  These are landscapes, mountains and valleys for the ears.  It's ambitious and the sort of sound we'd like to believe SMILE might have offered.  The vocal arrangements are more ambitious than anything the Beach Boys ever achieved and probably harken more to the jazz of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross and the work John Phillips did with the Mamas and the Papas (which sometimes echoed Lambert, Hendricks and Ross and was one of the reasons Annie Ross was a fan of the group -- that and her enjoyment of Michelle Phillips' vocals).  

Just ride the sonic wave that is "Til Your Ship Comes In."

Lyrically, it reminds me at times of Aimee Mann's finest album THE FORGOTTEN ARM.  And maybe it would remind me of that more often if the music and arrangements didn't pull me out of serious thought and float me across a mood, let me tread water in an emotion.

That's what I feel like I'm doing anyway when I listen to "Don't Check The Score," the song above.  

This is a wonderful album.  I was intending to review it back in May.  

Before you complain that it's a month later, grasp that the next album I'm going to note came out in 2016.  In fairness to me and my lazy ass, on this one, I just heard it this weekend.

And it also makes me think of SMILE.  Ronnie Spector's ENGLISH HEART is a great album by one of rock's pioneers.  Ronnie was the lead singer of The Ronettes.  The group had multiple hits including "Be My Baby," "Walking In The Rain," "The Best Part Of Breaking Up," "Do I Love You" and "Baby, I Love You."  They sang back up for Jimi Hendrix  ("Earth Blues").  They partied with the Beatles. George Harrison wrote songs for her.  The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards gave the speech at The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame when the Ronettes were finally inducted into the Hall.  Ronnie's influenced Billy Joel, Amy Winehouse, John Lennon, Joey Ramone, Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny, Susanna Hoffs and, yes, Brian Wilson.

Ronnie didn't have a music press cult around her.  Tom Wolfe wrote no paean to her.  Noting her success, Ronnie wrote (in her autobiography BE MY BABY) about ''street kids" relating to her.  That's what she had, the people, not the intelligentsia.

And the people are who's kept Ronnie's career alive.  We love that one of a kind voice.  She pioneered rock singing as she climbed the Wall of Sound.  Cher, who sang back up on every one of the Ronettes' singles, is the only other artist who can make that claim.

With 2016's ENGLISH HEART, Ronnie explored the sixties with eleven strong tracks -- including "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying."

All eleven tracks are covers, classic songs from the sixties.  The Fortune's "You've Got Your Troubles, I've Got Mine" shows up.  It's a solid song but would have been nice to have heard it paired as a medley with "But You're Mine."  Should have been paired with Sonny and Cher's "But Your Mine."  As Charlie Greene told ROLLING STONE years ago:

I'm not a musicologist. I can only tell you about coming back from London on the plane and Cher's singing, "You Got Your Troubles, I Got Mine."  You know, that Fortunes' song? And an hour later in New York, Sonny writes "But You're Mine." Hah, he phones up Jerry Wexler, you know, and he says, "I got a hit! I got a hit!" And Jerry says, let's hear it man. So he plays it, and Jerry says, ‘OK, what's the joke? Lemme hear the hit'."

Other than that?  Ronnie adds some nice drama and tension to the opening of the Bee Gees' "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart." She does a strong cover of Sandie Shaw's sixties hit "Girl Don't Come."  She finds a way into "Oh Me Oh My (I'm A Fool For You Baby)" that doesn't rely on aping Aretha's version.  Here she is covering Andrew Loog Oldham and Keith Richards' "I'd Much Rather Be With The Girls."

Song after song, Ronnie makes each track her own and delivers solid rock and roll.

If it weren't for the album that never was (SMILE), that's all we'd expect from Brian Wilson and maybe he'd be more comfortable in the studio as a result?  He could shoot for something smooth like "Kokomo" and not try to top "I Get Around."

SMILE, the talk of it, elevated Brian.  It also imprisoned him.  

All these years later, Ronnie's still rocking and doing a solid job of it.  Hamilton's turning out his own version of SMILE and, honestly, it seems more like something Jay Phillips would deliver -- the character based on Brian that Matt Dillon plays in Allison Anders' musical classic GRACE OF MY HEART.  The album listeners never got to hear continues to impact how we judge music.