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Vinyl Cave: Down in L.A. by Brewer & Shipley

Brewer & Shipley blasted into the national consciousness in early 1971 with the still well-remembered, zeitgeist-capturing Top 10 rural rock hit "One Toke Over the Line." Since rural rock was much more of an album thing than a singles machine, the Kansas City-based duo consisting of Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley disappeared from the view of pop chart listeners just as quickly as they appeared, with only two more down-chart placings on Billboard's Hot 100 over the next year. But, as is the case with many acts relegated to "one-hit wonder" status, there's a lot more to the story. Heck, the duo released seven major label albums, and performs to this day after an '80s reunion concert brought them back together!

Their website includes some excellent bio material, which recounts that Brewer and Shipley both are native Midwesterners who got their start as solo acts on the folk circuit in the early '60s. Via circuitous routes -- including a Columbia recording contact for Brewer as part of Mastin & Brewer -- both separately migrated to the Los Angeles rock scene and ended up living around the corner from each other. Jobs as staff songwriters for A&M Records’ publishing arm shortly led to a record contract with the label, which was really working to ramp up its presence in the rock scene over the course of 1966-68. It would take a few years before A&M started selling many rock records, and there are many worthwhile lost discs on the label. One of them is Brewer & Shipley's debut LP, Down in L.A..

The album is somewhat of an orphan in Brewer & Shipley's catalog. It was their only LP for A&M, as shortly after recording it they bailed on the West Coast and moved to Kansas City, Missouri. That's probably at least part of why the disc is so hard to find today; at the time of the album's release in late 1968, the label was on the verge of finding its sea legs in promoting rock music and probably didn't bother with much promotion once the duo decamped.

Down in L.A. is also musically different than what followed after their move back to the Midwest; rather than the country-flavored rock that emerged on their Kama Sutra debut Weeds, it is, well, an L.A. folk-rock record, of the type that emerged as the genre was transitioning to the singer-songwriter era. There's fuzztone guitar solos, some electric piano and organ, vocals through a Leslie, strings and horns, etc. It's very produced, but carefully; the '60s psych era touches on the arrangements never overwhelm the duo's concise songwriting.

Brewer and Shipley handle all acoustic guitars and vocals, and though the musical setting may be different than what came later, their unique harmony blend was right there from the start. For credit watchers, the supporting cast reads like an excerpt of who's who in top West Coast studio and production cats: Hal Blaine, Jim Gordon, Jim Messina, Joe Osborn, Mike Melvoin, Jerry Riopelle, Nick DeCaro, Allen Stanton and others. Perhaps more importantly, though, the duo wrote the entire record, avoiding the cover songs that blur the focus of follow-up Weeds.

Down in L.A. doesn't turn up often in the used bins, but is well worth snagging for '60s pop fans. Now, the album may finally find its audience: It was reissued on CD in 2012 by the '60s aficionados at the Now Sounds label. (A&M SP-4164, 1968)

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