I started this series to shine a light on some stellar records from the '90s, now that enough time has passed to get some perspective. These are in no order but eventually this will make a great list. Here are the next five in the series:
11. Amateur Lovers -- Virgin White Lies (1997)
What a pop gem! An impeccably produced record that should be heralded in the same retro-modern pantheon that Jellyfish, Weezer, Ben Folds Five and Fountains of Wayne live in and yet, you've probably never heard it, let alone heard of it. A shame. Released by Stone Gossard's sadly defunct indie label Loose Groove, Virgin White Lies features the excellent frontline of vocalist/keyboardist Sean Boots and guitarist/vocalist Scott Clampett crooning well-crafted songs with often whimsical topics- see "Rubik's Cube" or "Big Bang" -- but delivering a surprising depth of emotion dipped in teen angst. Using the awkwardness of adolescence as subject matter for crafting timeless pop/rock music? Never a bad idea. And amidst all the upbeat powerpop tunes floats an amazing ballad called "The Day You Went Down" that features some gorgeous harmonies and lends gravitas to the album. This is a great record on so many levels that its relative anonymity begs me to consider all the other lost art in the world. I don't think the band plays together anymore but I really wonder where their songwriting trajectory would have led had they been putting out records the last 15 years. Considering they reunited for a one-off show back in 2007, one can only hope for another show or album someday.
12. Dag -- Righteous (1994)
If you are a fan of funky music and you do not own this record, there is a deep hole in your collection. Dag's debut came out of North Carolina but it's soul had roots in Memphis and Alabama, even having Muscle Shoals drummer Roger Hawkins sitting in on the record. This kind of funk was sexy, groovy as hell and didn't really fit into the limited number of radio formats out there. But the band smoked. Bassist Bobby Patterson sings lead vocals, a mean task considering the deep groove and pocket of his bass lines. Kenny Soule's drums and drumming sound amazing and Dave Jervey's vintage keyboard playing adds great textures throughout. From "Sweet Little Lass" to the title song "Righteous," through the falsetto slowjam "You Can Lick It (If You Try)" and the horn-powered Earth, Wind and Fire-esque "Even So," there are flavors of tasty '70s funk refined like fine wine. Those of us who heard this record when it came out still consider it a total classic in our collection and one to highly recommend on many levels. As far as I know, Dag is sadly defunct. But Righteous will always live on!
Also check out: Apartment #635
13. Terrell -- On the Wings of Dirty Angels (1990)
Speaking of greasy funk that crawls under your skin, here is a record that occupies a very special spot in my collection. Lead singer and namesake Charlie Terrell has a voice that wraps around you with character, tone and Dylan-worthy lyrics. In the late '80s, he assembled a band in LA with his old Nashville pal Hawk and got signed to Giant Records by Irving Azoff. Their debut came out in August of 1990 and as is the case with some great records, it didn't really fit anywhere but in it's own universe. But it still holds up beautifully top to bottom, a rare record where every song has merit and depth, plus kick ass guitar playing and some really memorable lyrics, hooks and grooves. I like to think of it as an alternate-universe Appetite for Destruction. From the gutterfunk of "Down in the Fire" into the wild tales of "Georgia O'Keefe," the album careens along with Terrell firmly at the wheel, tripping through a galaxy of hookers, pimps and thieves like Bukowski crossed with a swaggering Mick Jagger. Softer moments like the chilling "Right Outside" broaden the moodswing of the album from creeping around to rocking out. So many of the lyrics are standouts: "She's a dame, she's a broad, she's a chick, she's a slag, she's me in drag... she is my purchase on eternity" from "Women" and "You've been shining your badge of perfection but I think that it's just my reflection that makes it dirty" from "Something to Prove" are two of my many favorites. This record is part blues, part funk, part soul and all rock and roll. But it's a record that will stick with you for the long haul, provided you can find it. As to the band, Hawk sadly passed away years ago and the band as it was doesn't exist anymore. Charlie went on to embed his songwriting into a great play/musical/rock opera called Taking the Jesus Pill, which played too briefly in LA, and he was last seen gigging around Austin, TX with The Murdered Johns. Terrell is a musician worth hearing and it's always a pleasure. One hopes he'll do a proper tour and find that his fans have never forgotten him.
Also check out: Angry Southern Gentlemen, Beautiful Side of Madness, Taking the Jesus Pill soundtrack at www.hopefulsinner.com
14. Ted Hawkins -- The Next Hundred Years (1994)
Like an older, gruffer Sam Cooke, the late Ted Hawkins had an ancient soul in his voice and he flew under the radar most of his life. For years, he could be seen regularly on Venice Beach with his guitar and milk crate, stopping and gathering passersby on the boardwalk as he sang his heart out. In 1986 he moved to the U.K. and had some decent success as an artist in Europe. However, by the early '90s he decided to move home and play the old boardwalk again. At some point Hawkins agreed to record an album for Geffen, which featured a stellar cast of sidemen like Jim Keltner and Billy Payne. Released in the Spring on 1994, The Next Hundred Years is a timeless classic that should have elevated Hawkins to a new level of audience appreciation with it's acoustic blend of soul, folk and country. Alas, Hawkins died of a stroke on January 1, 1995, cutting short what could have been a resurgent career. But the album lives on as testament to Hawkins' talent and the music never gets old. Whether applying his seasoned pipes to drinking songs like "There Stands the Glass" or love songs like "Groovy Little Things," Hawkins emotes each line with a world-weary rasp that bleeds emotion and experience. Every song on the ten-song album fits Hawkins like a glove, right up to the final cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Long as I Can See the Light." Though he died far too soon, The Next Hundred Years brings him to life every time you spin it. Considering the eternality of this music, the album could have easily been called The Next Thousand Years.
Also check out: Nowhere to Run, Songs from Venice Beach
15. Enuff Z'Nuff -- Strength (1991)
Those of you who remember Enuff Z'Nuff from their glammy MTV debut "Fly High Michelle" and figured they were a one-trick pony, you are sadly mistaken. The depth of their catalog is unknown to most outside their tight legion of fans and there is some real talent here (and a bit of a Beatles jones). On their second full-length album Strength, the band channels Elvis Costello more than glam rock, boasting a maturity that imbued the lyrics with some depth of emotion. Definitely not what the day-glo image of their debut was aiming towards. And of course, because they were tied in with the hair metal movement that was just about to die from Nirvana's Teen Spirit, the album didn't get its due. It's a shame because there are some cool songs on this record, from the Beatlesque title track "Strength" through the heartbreaker "Goodbye" there is a strong sense of melody and craft in the vocals, guitars and keyboards. The late guitarist Derek Frigo's shredding and drummer Vic Fox's drumming still felt metal but the songwriting brings out their better tendencies. And there is solid songwriting happening on this album. Standout songs like "Blue Island" and piano ballad "The Way Home/Coming Home" are better than the poppy single that Atlantic release, "Baby Loves You." But as the band was maturing, it was being chained to a genre that didn't define it, as it so happened to a few other great bands from that era. Since Strength, the band has released quite a few albums and collections and written some timeless tunes (check out "Innocence" from their third record). They still tour and don't really dig into this record beyond the radio single, though these songs would sound great in concert. Any chance you dudes will take requests?
Also check out: Enuff Z'Nuff, Animals with Human Intelligence at