Competition for attention as an artist is fierce. Artists send out promos, press kits and letters screaming about the significance of what lies in their (the critics) hands. Occasionally, one gets a laid-back cover letter politely requesting that you merely listen. What follows from that is what the sender is suggesting: no sales job is necessary here.
I listened because of that soft-sell approach. I am glad I did for this is an unassuming, pleasant pop recording, a recording that is equal parts Byrds, Monkees, Pezband and The Scruffs. And of course an equal part Bill Retoff.
Going with the bad news first, I had a problem with the sequencing (the song order) and the use of sampled drums. The first track opens with tape hiss, a problem that any experienced mastering engineer should have picked up. On the other hand, the sound overall gave the recording a demo vitality similar to the best tracks that appeared on the fantastic Yellow Pills series that came out in the ‘90s on Big Deal. It’s a matter of taste. I just would have liked to hear these songs tracked, mixed and mastered better. If that were the case, the songs would have had a better chance to rise to the top.
Now the Good News. The opening track “Reanimation” had a very nice dB’s, Amplifier-era sound. “Rain In Your Eyes” reminded me a bit of the band Fotomaker, a band comprised of Wally Bryson from Raspberries and members of The Rascals, the first pop supergroup that had a minor hit with the song “Where Have You Been All My Life.” “Loose Change” is a highlight. The song to me is classic mid-‘70s Memphis-style pop ala Big Star/The Scruffs. The highlight track is the psychedelic “Goddess Through An Empty Glass,” replete with a “Tomorrow Never Knows” feel characterized by its beat and backwards guitars. Although I liked Bill’s voice, I loved Dan McKenzie’s voice on this track and “Did She Lie to You.” Very high in a Steve Martin (The Left Banke) or Davy Jones (Monkees) way. Cool. “Did She…” has a real Gene Clark (Byrds) “She Has A Way” feel.
What do all these references mean. It’s 12-string electric, ‘60s- and ‘70s-influenced pop derived from all the greats, but not so derivative as to render it a cheap imitation. If that’s your thing, this is your thing.
Bill is described as one of the “good guys” in pop. That merely makes me more critical, because the last thing I want to be known for is being a suck up or a kiss ass. Is this a perfect recording—absolutely not. Is it a CD worth owning because of the quality songwriting and interesting arrangements: yes.
// Notes from the Road
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