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Vinyl Cave: Catch and release with The Supremes, REO Speedwagon, Giants, Nazareth, Butts Band, Pat Boone, Syl Sylvain

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Here's another batch of albums that looked interesting for one reason or another, but didn't quite catch my fancy enough to actually let them be filed into the stacks of wax that make up the Vinyl Cave. It will be obvious why I picked some of them up in the first place ... but maybe not so obvious for others.

The Supremes: Mary, Scherrie & Susaye (Motown, 1976)
Or Wilson, Payne and Greene, though one wouldn't know that from reading the cover. The three members of this final Supremes lineup aren't named in full anywhere in the credits, though returning production team Holland-Dozier-Holland is prominently displayed in bold print. This obscure album was the last for the long-running trio, after years of fluctuating lineups following the ouster of Florence Ballard and departure of Diana Ross for a solo career. Being 1976, it's essentially straight disco. These are all new songs written by combinations of the Holland brothers and others, and the result was a mostly generic-sounding way for a once-great group to say goodbye. Oh, Motown, how lost you were in the mid-'70s. Mary, Scherrie & Susaye, their debut album and the Christmas album were the only Supremes discs not to make the charts.

REO Speedwagon: This Time We Mean It (Epic, 1975)
A mid-'70s outing by the long-running Champaign, Illinois, band, this album features a singer I'd never heard in my occasional encounters with REO's back catalog: Mike Murphy. I never knew that Kevin Cronin had jumped ship for a time after joining the band for their second album, but apparently there's a couple albums featuring Murphy. Singers aside, this is largely pretty tepid proto-Yacht Rock, as if the group was making an early effort at the poppier direction that would make them superstars a few years later during Cronin's second stint with the band. The cover art is really nice, though, and the '70s clothes on the back cover are really ... something.

Giants: Thanks for the Music (Casablanca, 1976)
This album looked promising; the group includes Beau Brummels songwriter Ron Elliott, who also wrote a good chunk of the songs here and plays rhythm guitar. Digging deeper into the credits, drummer Bruce Gary would go on to be a member of The Knack, and guest players include Dr. John and Steve Cropper. The good news is some of Elliott's songs sound like his earlier work. The bad news is they're voiced by a singer interpreting them in an overheated blues-rock mode, and the music to accompany them is slick '70s radio rock. It's worth checking out for Elliott completists, but many of those folks will likely be disappointed. That being said, the only really bad thing here is the singer, so '70s rock fans may be more pleased by Thanks for the Music than I was.

Nazareth: 2XS (A&M, 1982)
Oh wow. See, this album is what I expected Nazareth to sound like before I'd actually heard their '70s records: kind of cheesy and generic. I was extremely wrong about their early albums, which are really above average classic rock, each putting a bit different spin on it than the others. 2XS, however, is somewhat of a painful listen. There's boomy '80s production. There are cheesy '80s synths and keyboards, courtesy of former Spirit member John Locke. It's still the original four band members, plus Locke and a second guitar player. The album does close with a trio of songs that show some of the band's old spark and unique sensibility, albeit still draped in unfortunate keys -- "Preservation" could be an out-take from the showbiz song cycle Close Enough for Rock 'n Roll, "Take the Rap" is an agreeable AC/Dcish rocker and "Mexico" could be one of their early period folk-rockers. I have to give the band credit for trying to update their sound for the times -- heck, they're still at it to this day -- but overall this album makes me hesitant to check out Nazareth's other post-'70s releases.

Butts Band: Butts Band (Blue Thumb, 1973)
Say what you will about the antics and personality of Jim Morrison, he was the spark that made The Doors work. At least that's the conclusion I've come to after hearing various post-Doors albums by the remaining members, including several of Ray Manzarek's solo albums and this disc, the debut by a group including members Robby Krieger and John Densmore. There's nothing particularly wrong with this album; it's competent '70s album-oriented rock material, and Krieger's fluid guitar style is intact. But mere competence is a comedown after the highs (and, even the occasional lows) of The Doors. I've had and traded this disc in the past, and hearing it again cemented my original impression from years ago.

Pat Boone: Departure (Tetragrammaton, 1969)
You know how sometimes you pick up an album at a rummage sale that you really probably shouldn't? This is one of those times. Ol' Pat's attempt to upgrade his sound for 1969 includes atrocities like his take on Tim Buckley's "Song of the Siren" (!) and songs by John Stewart, Fred Neil and Tetragrammaton labelmate Biff Rose. There are no specific credits, but according to the Both Sides Now label discography, it was produced by Lovin' Spoonful members Jerry Yester and Zal Yanovsky. And, to be honest, calling it an atrocity really isn't fair to anyone. Like his metal album from a few years back, Boone deserves credit for trying something different. Judging by the thanks list there's some heavy players on this album: Ry Cooder, Larry Beckett, Phil Ochs (!?!), Judy Henske, Jack and Gracia Nitzsche, Larry Knechtel, Plas Johnson and many more. If this was sung by an unknown rather than featuring Boone's stiff vocalizing, it would likely be considered a "lost folk-psych classic" in record collector circles. And, I have to admit, Boone's take on Rose's "Molly" could pass for a David Ackles outtake.

Syl Sylvain and the Teardrops: Syl Sylvain and the Teardrops (RCA Victor, 1981)
New York Dolls fans beware. While this is not Buster Poindexter uncomfortable, it's not the sort of trashy rock and roll that Dolls fans are likely to appreciate. Instead, it's a somewhat awkward mixing of '50s style sax rockers and '80s new wave pop, with some occasional vague ska thrown in. The bass/guitar/drums trio pictured on the cover portending some stripped-down rock is a bit misleading, as there are quite a few extra players including lots of cheesy keyboardery. Things are better on side two, as it stops genre-hopping quite so much and includes "Formidable," a worthy co-write with former Dolls-mate David Johansen/Poindexter.

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