Monophonics’ New EP Is A Surprisingly Enjoyable, Worthwhile Covers Collection

Courtesy: Transistor Sound

Covers records are a dime a dozen in this day and age.  As this critic has pointed out so many times before, covers records are more often than not among the most unnecessary releases that an act of any genre can produce.  That is because they are by and large, little more than contractually obligated space fillers.  In other words, nine times out of ten, they are little more than compilations that are thrown together for the purpose of fulfilling contractual obligations.  The end result is – again – more often than not a presentation that smacks of laziness and lack of concern for the overall product.  Of course even among those masses, every now and then a diamond in the rough will come along and reveal itself.  Enter Monophonics and its latest record, the six-song EP Mirrors.  The record’s title is fitting as it is a sharp reflection of a bygone era that was, honestly, among the music industry’s greatest.  The songs chosen to create that sharp reflection play directly into that reflection, and will be discussed shortly.  Their arrangements also play into that reflection and will be discussed a little later.  The record’s sequencing puts the finishing touch on that sharp image.  When it is set alongside the noted songs and their noted arrangements, the end result is a record that will appeal to music lovers across the board.  To that end, it proves overall to be one of this year’s top new EPs.

Monophonics’ latest record, the six-song EP Mirrors, is a rarity of a record for a covers collection.  That is because unlike so many covers compilations out there today, it is a work that actually comes across as something worth hearing rather than just another contractually obligated space filler that lacks any effort or heart.  In other words, it is a collection that deserves to be heart by music lovers throughout the musical universe.  This is proven in part through the songs that were chosen to make up the record’s body.  The songs in question come from the 1960s and ‘70s, which are among the music industry’s greatest eras, beginning with a cover of Seals & Croft’s 1972 hit ‘Summer Breeze.’  From there, the record moves into a powerful, soulful take on The Invincibles’ 1965 hit single ‘My Heart Cries.’  Originally the song was a b-side to the single ‘It’s That Love of Mine.’  The third of the record’s six entries is an updated, yet still impressive, take on ‘Beggin,’ from Frankie Vallie and the Four Tops.  The record’s fourth offering is a cover of ‘Lying’ and its fifth is an infectious, horn-driven take on The Nu People’s 1969 hit single ‘I’d Be Nowhere Today.’  The band closes out the record with a spot-on take of The Mamas and The Papas’ timeless single ‘California Dreamin’.  While most listeners are likely familiar with that song and likely ‘Summer Breeze,’ not as many people might be familiar with ‘My Heart Cries,’ ‘It’s That Love Of Mine,’ ‘Beggin’ or even ‘Lying.’  To that end, it’s clear here that Monophonics’ members put a lot of time and thought into choosing the songs for this record.  They clearly didn’t want to just go the route of covering a bunch of familiar tunes.  Instead they wanted to cover largely, songs that would opener listeners’ ears and in turn their musical horizons.  Kudos are in order for that effort.  What’s more, the songs aren’t just one format or another.  ‘Summer Breeze’ opens the record gently with its laid back composition, which will be discussed shortly.  From there, the EP moves more in the direction of R&B with ‘My Heart Cries’ – which is one of this critic’s favorite numbers from this EP – before moving more in a rock/soul hybrid sound in ‘Beggin.’  ‘Lying’ is a nice blues rock work that conjures thoughts of Jimi Hendrix (even though it obviously isn’t a Hendrix cover).  ‘I’d Be Nowhere Today’ is a nice soulful tune that sounds (thanks to its arrangement) like it came right out of the 1960s.  The band’s take on ‘California Dreamin’ is a nice bookend to the record, as it compliments the disc’s opener quite well with its own laid back instrumental, almost hip-hop infused arrangement.

Looking at everything noted here, the bigger picture of the songs’ importance to the EP is this:  For many Monophonics fans, these covers may well be their first introduction to the songs that formed so much of the foundation of today’s music industry.  It showed a great tribute to those songs and their creators to have these songs, which again are not all just the standard hits.  The fact that the band wanted to cover as much musical ground as possible here with six different formats shows that the band wanted to ensure listeners’ engagement and entertainment even more.  The band wanted to keep things interesting for listeners and for itself.  Keeping all of this in mind, the songs chosen for this record make clear that they were not just chosen by a toss of the coin.  There was a lot of time and thought put into their choice, thus making them key to the EP’s presentation.  The songs themselves are only part of what makes the record so enjoyable.  The songs’ arrangements are important to the record, too.

From start to finish, the arrangements presented in this record stay largely true to their source material.  Of course there is some variation here and there, but by and large the arrangements pay tribute to their source material.  That’s not to say that the variations are bad.  As a matter of fact, if one were to take the variations in the band’s take of ‘Summer Breeze’ and set them next to the original song, one would not be able to deny the positive impact of those variations.  Monophonics’ cover opens with a flowing vibraphone line versus the toy bells (or something similar) used in Seals & Croft’s original.  The update is actually a step up from the original.  The band’s bass-driven, hip-hop infused updated arrangement couples with the old school guitar sound to make the whole instrumental presentation wholly engaging. Much the same can be said of the band’s take of ‘My Heart Cries.’  Singer Tiffany Austin’s falsetto delivery is right up there with the falsetto in the original’s vocals.  On that same note, both deliveries conjure thoughts of Diana Ross, being so high, yet so controlled.  That is a strong, positive statement.  Between that, the subtlety of the bell ring, the guitar riff (even stylistically) and horns, its clear that the song stays true to its source material.  It just makes it even stronger than before.  It really is a powerful new arrangement that will entertain listeners across the board.  The band’s cover of ‘Beggin’ pays homage just as respectably as any of the other songs included in this record.  From the keyboards to the sound of the drums (not just the drum line, but the very sound of the drums) to the vocals and even the minute addition of the tambourine, so much can be said of what makes this song another strong entry from the band.  All things considered, the band’s efforts make the song sound like it came right from the 1960s and easily rivals its source material.  So again, kudos are in order for the band here.  Between the success of that cover, that of the other noted arrangements and those not noted, the whole of the record’s arrangements does just as much as the songs themselves to make this record a surprisingly worthwhile covers collection.  It still is not the last of the elements that makes the EP an enjoyable effort from Monophonics.  Its sequencing puts the final touch to its presentation.

The EP’s sequencing is important to note in examining the record’s whole because it clearly keeps the record’s energy stable from start to finish.  Things start off gently with the ‘Summer Breeze’ cover before getting really emotionally in-depth in ‘My Heart Cries.’  Even as powerful as the motion is in this song, the emotional energy still maintains the laid back vibe established in ‘Summer Breeze.’  That was very good thinking, especially considering how much the record’s energy picks up as it moves into the cover of ‘Beggin.’  That energy is pulled back only a little bit as the band makes its way through ‘Lying’ and into ‘I’d Be Nowhere Today.’  The band’s cover of ‘California Dreamin’ brings the record’s energy full circle, right back to that laid back vibe presented in ‘Summer Breeze.’  The use of the guitars and solid time keeping couples with the subtlety of the keyboard accompaniments to make this arrangement so powerful in its simplicity.  It’s a strong presentation, yet still somehow laid back even with its power, making for a nice, solid finish for the disc.  It’s one more example of the thought that was put into the record’s sequencing.  In essence, it really does bring everything full circle here.  Between the thought put into the EP’s sequencing, the effort put into paying homage to the songs’ source material and the thought put into the songs’ choices, the whole of these elements makes the record one of the most surprisingly worthwhile covers collections to come along in a very long time; a collection that is a wonderful reflection of the songs chosen and the era from which they came.

Monophonics’ recently released EP Mirrors is one of the most memorable and worthwhile covers collections to come along in a very long time.  It is a six-song, 24-minute record that is a wonderful reflection of the songs chosen for inclusion in the record and the era from which they rose.  That is evident in the very choice of songs.  At least two of the songs are relatively well-known, while the record’s other four compositions are nowhere near as well-known, nor their artists.  That serves as a great starting point for some enjoyable music history lessons.  The arrangements show just as much time and effort as they stay true to their source material while also stepping up those originals even more.  At the same time, the arrangements still manage to sound like they came right from the 1960s (and 70s, since one song rose from the 1970s).  The record’s sequencing ensures just as much as the song selection and arrangements, listener engagement throughout.  That is obvious in the stability of the songs’ energies.  Keeping in mind all of these noted elements, they come together to make Mirrors a wonderful reflection of Monophonics’ talents, the songs chosen for the record and the era from which they came.  It is available now.  More information on Mirrors is available online now along with all of the band’s latest news and more at:

 

 

 

Website: http://www.monophonics.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/monophonics

Twitter: http://twitter.com/monophonicsfunk

 

 

 

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The Midnight Special’s Re-Issues Will Have Audiences Singing, Dancing Well Past Midnight

Courtesy:  StarVista Entertainment/Time Life Entertainment/NBC

Courtesy: StarVista Entertainment/Time Life Entertainment/NBC

StarVista Entertainment and Time Life Entertainment have made quite the name for themselves over the course of recent years.  Releases of classic series such as The Carol Burnett Show, Mama’s Family, The Dean Martin Show, China Beach, and most recently The Wonder Years have taken a company that for years was the butt of many people’s jokes to a place in the upper echelons of home entertainment companies.  For years, Time Life was known mainly for the not-so-well-known products that it pushed through extended advertisements on television.  Now it has carved out even more of a comfortable place in that upper echelon with the release of The Midnight Special on DVD.  The classic late night live concert series was released in a number of formats last month, resurrecting one more important piece of television and music history.  The show’s six-disc collector’s edition is one of the best of the sets that any fan of classic television and music can add to their own home library.  That is because it is one of the best examples of what made this series so great during its nine-year run on NBC.  It presents ninety-six total performances from bands, artists and groups across the music industry’s spectrum.  The acts that make appearances throughout the set’s six discs are the center of this box set’s enjoyment and success.  Just as important to note is the quality of the footage.  More than four decades have passed since the Midnight Special first debuted in 1972.  In that time, the footage presented in these performances has stood the test of time quite well.  And last but not least worth noting in the set’s success is its companion booklet.  The booklet serves as an episode guide for viewers.  That is the central point of its importance.  It also features personal insight from the series’ creator Burt Sugarman. Sugarman’s retrospection on the series and its importance adds one more layer of appreciation for this series.  Together with the acts that appear on each set and the quality of the footage, all three factors together make The Midnight Train another wonderful release from Time  Life Entertainment and StarVista Entertainment.

The Midnight Special was one of the most famed and beloved series on television during its day.  Unlike so many other series of the time, acts that came on the series in its heydey actually sang instead of lip synching.  What’s more, unlike American Bandstand, The Midnight Special focused on more than just the big pop acts of its day.  The acts that came to perform on NBC’s live overnight concert series spanned the music world’s ranks.  That is the most important aspect of this recently released classic series.  The acts that performed on The Midnight Special included the likes of John Denver performing alongside Linda Rondstadt and Aerosmith performing alongside Barry White, The Stylistics, and ELO.  It also featured acts the likes of: B.B. King, Frankie Vallie, Sammy Hagar, The O’Jays, BeeGees, and so many other greats that are still remembered today.  Even the show’s host himself, radio host Wolfman Jack was a celebrity in his own right.  Even today, he and those acts noted here are just as beloved as they were decades ago.  In an era when so many musical acts are little more than flash-in-the-pan pop acts and rarely radio worthy rock bands, musicaians and audiences alike need to be reminded of what once made music great and could again–originality and real talent.  That in mind, it makes sense that the list of performers that came on The Midnight Special is the central point of this series’ success whether in its six-disc box set or its other formats.

The list of artists, bands, and groups that graced The Midnight Special’s stage during its nine-year run on NBC is the most important aspect of this series’ recent re-issue.  More than four decades have passed since it first debuted on NBC in 1972.  That makes for plenty of reason to be concerned about the quality of the show’s footage in its transfer from tape to disc.  Luckily for audiences of all ages, painstaking efforts were taken to present the performances as they appeared in their original broadcasts. Those efforts paid off in spades as both the audio and video of each performance have been well-balanced.  Any impurities in the quality of the footage whether in the audio or video are so minute that they are unnoticable.  The end result is a product that for the show’s original audiences will generate a much-welcomed sense of nostalgia.  Both for those same audiences and the show’s much younger audiences, it also serves to show just how far music has come (both in a good and bad way) and how far recording technology has come, too.  So in the end, the quality of the footage in these performances makes Time Life and StarVista’s new re-issue of The Midnight Special even more enjoyable for audiences of all ages.

The efforts taken to transfter The Midnight Special’s master tapes to disc have definitely not been for nothing.  The show looks and sounds just as good as it did in its original run all those years ago in its rencet re-issue.  The acts that appeared on the show (and that are featured on the new six-disc compilation) are just as important to the overall presentation.  Both aspects together more than make the series worth a watch or two in any of its three re-issue formats.  The last aspect of the series’ re-issue (at least in its six-disc compilation format) that makes it a success and so enjoyable is the set’s companion booklet.  The booklet serves primarily as an episode guide, pointing out disc-by-disc and episode-by-episode each artist, band, and group that appears.  That listing even includes the songs performed by said acts.  By itself, the episode listing more than helps the enjoyment of the series’ re-issue.  The added insight from series creator Burt Sugarman adds one more layer of enjoyment to the series’ various presentations.  In terms of the six-disc box set, Sugarman recalls how so few people had faith in the show and how great it felt to prove those naysayers wrong.  That insight along with other comments from Sugarman make for even more interest and enjoyment in watching the performances culled for the show’s different re-issues.  While being the last of the noteworthy factors that make The MIdnight Special so…well…special, it is hardly the least important of the factors that make the series’ sets such a joy.  This aspect, along with the quality production values and the performances culled for the releases, makes The Midnight Special a truly special experience for viewers of all ages.

The Midnight Special is available online now.  Its eleven-disc and sixteen disc sets can be ordered online direct from Time Life’s online store at http://timelife.com/products/the-midnight-special-collector-s-edition.  The six-disc collector’s edition can be ordered via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Midnight-Special-6DVD-Amaray/dp/B00L9OPJ5C/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1414009549&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Midnight+Special.  More information on this and other releases from Time Life Entertainment and StarVista Entertainment is available online at:

Website: http://www.timelife.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TimeLifeUS

Twitter: http://twitter.com/TimeLifeUS

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.