MUSHROOM RECORDS RIDES AGAIN!!

The 70’s flow through my veins.  I became a teenager in 1971, so the music of that decade remains my most favorite- also the yardstick by which I judge most others.Growing up in Castlegar , BC and already obsessed with music, some of my favorite artists were Canadian.  Was there a unique sensibility in their music, something that spoke my own Canadian experience?  Can’t say, really- I just liked the tunes.Imagine my delight, then, on hearing that True North Records would re-issue a number of long out of print Canadian classics albums on CD for the first time, and servicing digital outlets as well.  I haven’t been this excited since hearing in 2011 that Black Sabbath were doing a studio album with Ozzy.At the dawn of the CD era circa 1990, a lot of albums were transferred to CD and rushed out with little regard for sound quality- a cheap cash grab.  When the discs to follow arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago I was stoked to find out that True North has treated these classics with the respect that they deserve.  I just got off the phone with Linus/ true North label chief Geoff Kulawick, who told me that Mushroom Records, in fact, never went out of business- but they did stop issuing music after a horrible experience with a shyster that tried to sieze control after Vice President Shelly Siegel passed away in ’79.Kulawick met with the label owner Wink Vogel (whose family if behind Benjamin Moore Paints) arranged to license the Mushroom catalogue, and set about getting the following albums back in music stores, where they belong.  I talked to him on the phone just yesterday, and hope to have our chat transcribed and up on Gonzo by sometime next week.  The artists were thrilled this music was being re-released and were very much involved in the process.  The five that follow are what just landed on my desk.MAMA LET HIM PLAY Doucette (Mushroom)  *****Originally released in 1977, this is Jerry Doucette’s debut album.  Mention this disc and virtually everyone you meet will be able to hum you a few bars of the title song.  In an in-studio interview in the early 90’s, Jerry told me “That song put my kids through college.”As I peeled the shrink wrap off to pop the CD into my computer, I could tell that this was no cash grab.  The CD booklet is filled with cool photos I’ve never seen before, with Doucette wielding a Les Paul- and here I thought he was a Strat guy.  So kudos on the top shelf packaging, much better that the CD of this album that was briefly issued in the 90’s.Throwing the CD on (in my computer and, later at home, on the stereo) was the real payoff.  The tracks have been meticulously transferred from analogue masters with frankly startling clarity, sounding as good or better that they did in ’77.  There’s even a bonus track here (as there are on all 5 of these albums), an instrumental called Cat Walk.  Imagine that- hearing music from those sessions 36 years after first hearing the album.  No contributions from Mr. Doucette on the liner notes, but he was consulted, gladly offering his input and suggestions, and signing off on the final results.COOL CUTS:  Mama Let Him Play, Keep On Running, CatwalkTHE DOUCE IS LOOSE Doucette (Mushroom)  ****This, the follow-up to Mama, was released 2 years later. It gets a little heavy on the keyboards in spots, so being a guitar guy I didn’t like it quite as much. And it was also two songs shorter than the debut.Douce was recorded and produced by John Ryan, mostly at Sound City in LA, the same studio immortalized in Dave Grohl’s documentary and subsequent hit soundtrack.  The exception is a live version of Further On Up The Road taped at Lou Blair’s Refinery in Calgary, a venue that I’m told no longer exists either.  As much as Mama is a pop album, Douce is a rocker and, like its predecessor, was one of those records you heard at every house party.The opening single, Run Buddy Run is autobiographical, telling the tale of Jerry and a friend, and their adventures up to just before he got signed to Mushroom, but being the sap that I am Father Dear Father, a bluesy ballad, ended up being my favorite.  A guy heading into his 20’s with romantic troubles on his mind?  Yeah, sure…Overall Douce has a meatier sound thanks to multi-layered guitars and the cannon-like sound of Duris Maxwell’s drums.  This was, however, the beginning of the end of Doucette as a band.  It was around this time that Mushroom Records’ owner, Shelly Siegel, passed away.  If I check my vinyl copy of this at home (I have 2, actually) I’m certain it’s dedicated to his memory.  The disintegration of Mushroom precipitated a litany of legal problems from which Doucette’s recording career would never recover.  Jerry would release 2 more studio albums; Coming Up Roses and, in the 90’s, Price of An Education– decent albums, but the world had moved on.As with the Mama reissue there are some great extra photos by Dee Lippingwell, and there are two bonus cuts here; the George Harrison-esque Follow Me.  All Around You, written by Doucette’s other guitarist Brent Shindel, is included too.COOL CUTS:  Father Dear Father, Run Buddy Run, Further On Up The Road DREAMS, DREAMS, DREAMS Chilliwack (Mushroom) *****+Sometimes a band will put out an album that is so good, so complete, it feels like a greatest hits set.  That happened for Led Zeppelin with IV, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young with Déjà Vu.  For Chilliwack, that time came with Dreams, Dreams, Dreams, in 1977. Like the 2 albums that follow, this also marks D, D, D’s first time on CD.If you remember the times, this was one of those records that absolutely everybody had. At just 8 tracks including a reprise of the monster hit Fly At Night, every song on this album was capable of being a hit, and at least 4 of them were. To this day, whenever Fly comes on the radio I’ll reach over and turn it up- California Girl too, for that matter.The re-packaging for this, as with the other 2 Chilliwack releases, is outstanding. Album artwork is very cool, with a gatefold that opens up to reveal some photos and additional art.  The booklet is excellent, with lyrics for each track and session notes, and a wonderfully informative essay by front man Bill Henderson (whom I’ll be interviewing in the first week of January for my radio show).  He gives us an inside view of the band at the time, going into detail on the inspiration and meaning behind a few of the songs.  It’s the kind of thing that pulls you even deeper into the music you already love and, as I’ve mentioned more than once in this column, that’s like catnip for me.  Music isn’t just about hearing a song, it’s about getting inside of it and having a look around.Chilliwack’s crisp sound, based around the acoustic guitar, almost shimmers on this re-release.  Every detail of each song is crystal clear, especially on the home stereo. Henderson’s effortless falsetto sets these songs apart from typical rock shouting, and who can’t relate to a song like Baby Blue, or the ‘let’s get going’ attitude that fuels Fly At Night?  Of that particular song Henderson notes in his liner essay that it “was a song about the experience of creating love with an audience and how it can lift you; how it can get everyone in the room flying.”I was 19 when Dreams, Dreams, Dreams first came out, and every time I put it on it feels as good as the first time- even for a elf-confessed music junkie like me, that’s rare.  Bonus tracks include the demo for Reach (previously unreleased, as far as I know) and the songwriting tape for Something Better,  a peak behind the wizard’s curtain at the creative process.  Yeah- gimme more of that!COOL CUTS:  Fly At Night, Baby Blue, Something BetterLIGHTS FROM THE VALLEY Chilliwack (Mushroom)  ****Released in 1979, this follow-up to triple D was less successful.  Some good tunes here, a more rockin’ album than its predecessor, and Arms of Mary is still heard on radio to this day- but years of the record/ tour/ record/ tour cycle of a working band had begun to take its toll, and stress fractures were beginning to show.Bill’s comments in the liner essay for Lights are telling;  “I listen to this record now and I like it.  It’s a nice record. But behind the scenes it wasn’t always so nice” he says. “This album was recorded twice- two different projects.  As I recall each took at least three or four months, maybe more.  Even the songs that were common to both records were recorded all over again for the second project.”With that in mind, it’s little wonder that Lights lacks the cohesiveness of Dreams, Dreams, Dreams. It kind of feels more like an average rock album, almost ordinary, but I imagine The Eagles had a similar problem around the same time- for them, anything they might release after an amazing record like Hotel California would suffer by comparison.  The Long Run is a good album that, unfortunately had to follow a great one, and that was Chilliwack’s situation time too.  Once you hit the top, there’s only one way to go.Bonus tracks here include Mary Lou And Me, a rough mix from the first attempt at the album that never made the final cut, and a home demo of Sometimes The Hardest Things To See.  Of these tunes Henderson says “Neither of these made it beyond the first project but when I hear them now I hear some good stuff.  Had they been properly produced, recorded and released, they could have done well, but at the time it didn’t feel that way.”Lights In The Valley is a good, solid Chilliwack record- just not a great one.COOL CUTS:  Arms Of Mary, How Can You Hide Your Love?, Mary Lou And Me BREAKDOWN IN PARADISE Chilliwack (Mushroom) ****By the time Chilliwack reached this point, it was a new band.  Bill Henderson and Brian “Too Loud” McLeod were the creative force, leading a new crew of musicians.  Little did they know it, but their record label was about to cease operations, stacking the deck against what may be one of Chilliwack’s most underappreciated records.As Henderson notes in the essay, “We were starting to grow into an interesting combination of heavy and quirky, dinosaur meets the art scene.” Communication Breakdown is the hit from the album but there are crunchy riff rockers on here too.  The presence of new bassist Ab Bryant (he played on the first Prism album too) is felt throughout, putting more of an emphasis on fat grooves than previous records. He would stay with the band for some time, forming the core of Chilliwack for several years to come along with Henderson and McLeod.The liner notes are, again, excellent, including Bill’s essay on this particular space in time, along with comments on a few of the songs, and comments on the demise of Mushroom.  “Mushroom went down because, sadly, Shelly Siegel, the vice-president and creative director, died very suddenly in January of 1979.  Shelly was the heart, the energy and the business expertise of Mushroom Records, and without him it could not function for very long.  Nevertheless, Breakdown In Paradise was released and, frankly, in spite of Communication Breakdown’s success at radio, given the record company’s condition, and the lack of promotion, the album didn’t really have a hope.”I must concur will Bill’s observation that “It’s wonderful that this CD release will give these recordings another chance to be heard.”  I haven’t listened to this album in maybe 20 years, and it’s sounding pretty good to me- even the bonus cut, The Rehearsal Tapes.COOL CUTS:  148 Heavy, Communication Breakdown, So Strong, Guilty

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The Rock Doctor is in the Cyber House to tell you how it is! (or at least my own opinion). Want a music review? email: rockdoc@gonzookanagan.com. \m/

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