Here are some quick takes on another batch of obscurities plucked from local bargain bins.
Aalon: Cream City
Here's a soul release from 1977 with Wisconsin connections. Aalon is named for singer, guitarist, and songwriter Aalon Butler, a Milwaukee native who spent a good chunk of the '70s in Eric Burdon's post-War band after moving to Los Angeles. The art direction and cover leads to thoughts that this could be a concept album about a mythologized Milwaukee, but that's not really the case. However, Cream City is definitely from that uncommon universe where a hard rock edge is married to modern R&B. Unfortunately, it wasn't a sound tailored for the height of the disco era, and Aalon would leave behind only this lone album before the group dissolved. Butler himself remains active in music in L.A. With some extra electronic touches -- and a more danceable sound -- Prince would ride a similar concept to superstardom only a few years later. Cream City is well worth picking up if you see one in the bins. (Arista, 1977)
The Hollywood Stars: The Hollywood Stars
Kim Fowley alert! I guess it's due to his involvement (well, and the glamour shots on the back cover) that this could be considered sort of a male counterpart to The Runaways ... young, pretty dudes playing rock. Also intriguing is the fact there are two drummers, and one of them disproves the notion these were a bunch of teenagers: Terry Rae is a recognizable name from stints in latter day versions of groups such as The Palace Guard, Flamin' Groovies, Blue Cheer, Strawberry Alarm Clock and others. To its detriment, the Hollywood Stars' music gets a bit more tarted-up musically than The Runaways ever were, though, with some strings, squiggly keyboards, and schlocky power ballads making an appearance. That being said, there's some worthwhile hard rock and glam-pop songs here. The band had a hand in writing everything (lead singer Mark Anthony gets a credit on all), though the two best songs include a Fowley credit. One of those, "All the Kids on the Street," makes this an essential pickup if you see it in a dollar bin. (Arista, 1977)
The Little Big Horns:My Cherie Amour
I picked up this one simply because it was on the relatively obscure Crazy Horse label, a short-lived Capitol subsidiary which put out some interesting rock/soul/country hybrid singles. If there's another LP on the label, I've never seen it. My Cherie Amour is exactly what it looks like -- sorta cheesy, soul-jazz instrumental takes on contemporary hits, circa 1969. It's not bad, and would be of heightened interest to some listeners due to the arranger credit: Charles Mangione, better known as "Feels So Good" Chuck. I have to admit, their attempt to soul-up "It Was a Very Good Year" is pretty intriguing. There's one Mangione original as well. (Crazy Horse, 1969)
The Great Metropolitan Steam Band: The Great Metropolitan Steam Band The Original Joplin Forte: Ain't Misbehavin'
This week we end with a couple of albums that on first glance look like potential psychedelic artifacts, but on closer inspection are a much different animal. The Great Metropolitan Steam Band appears to be a few years late on a couple musical fads, both for its freaky cover art and the old-timey risque jazz/blues music contained within. This is a faithful and well-executed example of the genre, though, despite using what sounds like an electric bass rather than a stand-up. Most of the leads are handled by a female singer somewhat reminiscent of a less soulful Tracy Nelson. There's not much info about this band to be found online, but what little can be tracked down indicates they were from the Boston area and one member was Eliot Kenin, who is credited as arranger for the LP. It's probably from late 1969, as the previous Decca catalog number shows up in Billboard Country LP charts that August. (Decca, 1969?)
The cover for this one looks even more psychedelic, but note that guy in the middle holding a banjo. At least this album identifies the musicians, which include latter-day Original Caste members Dennis Coats and Gary Carlson. Judging by a bit more searching, that pair is better remembered from the L.A. bluegrass scene for their work with the Original Joplin Forte, particularly Coats' banjo work. His original songs thankfully dominate the LP, and make it worth keeping -- much more than for covers of then-current hits like "Little Green Apples" and the requisite "Gentle on My Mind." One of only a handful LPs on the UNI subsidiary Shamley, I'd guess this is from 1968 or '69. (Shamley, ?)
The Great Metropolitan Steam Band: The Great Metropolitan Steam Band
The Original Joplin Forte: Ain't Misbehavin'