Between 1966 and 1968, The Pozo Seco Singers released three albums on Columbia Records, notching up Top 40 hits “I Can Make It with You” and “Look What You’ve Done.” The first two albums, Time (1966) and I Can Make It with You (1967) were released on CD by the Collectors’ Choice Music label; now, Real Gone Music has picked up the torch with a newly-expanded reissue of 1968’s Shades of Time (RGM-0112). For this album, the group name was shortened just to Pozo Seco, and the trio of Don Williams, Susan Taylor (a.k.a. Taylor Pie) and Ron Shaw was reduced to a duo with the departure of Shaw (who had replaced founding member Lofton Kline).
Shades of Time, which made little impression on the charts, reveals a group that might have been too folk for the commercial crowd but too commercial for the folk crowd. Yet Real Gone’s reissue, which doubles the album’s length with a full eleven bonus tracks, is worth a look. Was the group hampered by its unusual name? (“Pozo Seco” was derived from an oil field term used to describe an unsuccessful drill, or a “dry hole.”) The cover artwork for the LP likely didn’t help, either. With two small children cloaked in shadow, entering the woods, it’s far spookier than the light sounds contained within the LP’s grooves. (In stark contrast, the back cover artwork showed a happy, smiling Williams and Taylor.) And though Taylor and Williams were both songwriters, none of their own songs made the LP.
Shades of Time was Pozo Seco’s first collaboration with producer Elliot Mazer, though three tracks remained from sessions with producer Bob Johnston and group member Ron Shaw. Mazer brought a Canadian quartet called The Paupers to support Williams and Taylor, and they lent Shades of Time a “band” feeling, largely devoid of string or horn sweetening. Like Pozo Seco, The Paupers were managed by Albert Grossman (Bob Dylan, The Band) and they proved a good match for Williams and Taylor.
After the jump, there’s more on Pozo Seco, plus reviews of new reissues from Kenny O’Dell and country-rock trio Borderline!
The album kicks off on a high note with Paul MacNeil’s “Good Morning Today,” emphasizing Williams and Taylor’s tight, sunshine pop-esque harmonies. Think a more pop-oriented Ian and Sylvia, and you’ll get the idea. Soon, though, “cover” recordings of familiar songs dominate the LP, including two songs from Columbia labelmate Bob Dylan. Country air permeates “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” on which future country music superstar Williams offers a spoken-sung lead. Revisiting this track, Williams’ future career path seems all but assured. Equally good is Pozo Seco’s “Spanish Harlem Incident,” certainly a less-recorded item in the Dylan ouevre. Williams is resonant on a solid “Green, Green Grass of Home” (likely on listeners’ minds from Tom Jones’ 1966 hit version), and his twangy, subtle take on Sonny Bono’s “You Better Sit Down Kids” avoids overwrought territory.
Taylor takes lead on a laconic “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” certainly a landmark folk-rock song in the Beatles’ original recording and a song also with marked Dylan influence. A sultry, slowed-down reinvention of The Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love,” with Taylor on lead and Williams on harmony, is one of the most interesting items on Shades of Time. For its lovely, wistful sound, however, the album lacks a standout moment. The eleven bonus tracks on Real Gone’s reissue are all singles that Columbia and Pozo Seco hoped would fill that gap. (These eleven sides represent the As and Bs of six singles, missing just the A-side of Columbia 4-44690, which reprised Shades of Time’s opening track, “Good Morning Today.”)
Wes Farrell and Bob Johnston’s “Excuse Me, Dear Martha” caused dissension within the ranks as Williams and Taylor (rightly) felt it wasn’t in their style, with its big Hal Blaine-ish drums and edgier guitar sound. Equally oddly, its B-side, “I Believed It All,” was written by Al Ham and the Bergmans for the film Harlow. Taylor does well on the lead vocal, but the song’s spoken-word interlude and string accompaniment made it even less Pozo Seco-like than the Farrell/Johnston song. Don gets a chance to do the monologue thing, too, on “It’s All Right,” from the team of Mac Gayden and Jerry Tuttle. Better is the lively rendition of Doug Kershaw’s “Louisiana Man” and the songs written by Williams and Taylor themselves: Williams’ “Tomorrow Proper” (sweetened by baroque strings) and “Leavin’,” and Taylor’s “Remember Susie (Loved Me So),” “Creole Woman,” and “Till You Hear Your Mama Call.”
Every track on Shades of Time has been beautifully remastered by Vic Anesini, with the album in stereo and the singles mostly in mono. Reissue producer Tom Pickles has supplied a lengthy, and informative, six-page essay. Is it too much to hope for expanded editions of Pozo Seco’s first two albums (originally issued on CD as a two-fer)?
Kenny O’Dell grew up outside of Bakersfield, California and its fertile music scene, and found his greatest successes penning songs for Charlie Rich (the Grammy-winning chart-topper “Behind Closed Doors”), The Judds (“Mama, He’s Crazy”) and Loretta Lynn (“Trouble in Paradise”). But before O’Dell was on the country side of town, he released an all-but-unknown album in 1968 that captured the post-Summer of Love ethos. Beautiful People, first issued on the Vegas label, has just been expanded and remastered by Real Gone in an edition (RGM-0115) also including seven single sides from the Vegas and White Whale catalogues.
Beautiful People consisted primarily of O’Dell’s original demos, including that of the title track. With its “La-la-la” chorus reminiscent of Joe Raposo’s later “Sing,” “Beautiful People” is a bright, irresistible slab of sunny AM pop. It peaked at No. 38 in 1967 but was outdone by Bobby Vee’s competing version of O’Dell’s tune. But the No. 37 (!) success of Vee’s recording augured for O’Dell’s later success as a songwriter for other artists. The groovy, happy vibe continued on such tracks as “Sunshine Dreamin’” (credited to Kenny Walker) and “Flower Girl,” the latter of which grafts folk-rock guitars onto a chiming, Eastern-inspired arrangement. In addition to “Beautiful People,” another recognizable O’Dell tune is “Next Plane to London,” a hit for The Rose Garden. That group hewed closely to O’Dell’s original here. The Rose Garden also recorded another track here, O’Dell’s “If My World Falls Through.” It’s a wistful little song with boisterous, Mamas and the Papas-esque background vocals. A real gem is “Take Another Look,” a catchy, upbeat pop confection that should have been picked up by Gary Lewis and the Playboys or even Bobby Vee. There’s a light, country-rock air to “You’ll Break Me Yet,” as O’Dell clearly wasn’t limiting himself to one pop style.
Though the few cover recordings on Beautiful People are unremarkable, O’Dell showed good taste in choosing repertoire from his fellow songwriters. Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman” is delivered in straightforward fashion, though O’Dell’s pinched, reedy voice lacks the gravity of Diamond’s. A take on Mike Nesmith’s “Different Drum” adds strong harmonies, and an echo-y version of The Bee Gees’ “Massachusetts” is suitably dramatic.
The singles are as strong as the material on the album proper. “Springfield Plane” (“gonna carry me back to LA/Pretty woman, I’m a-comin’/And I’m gonna do my best to stay!”) has a fully-realized arrangement with horns, flutes and jaunty ba-ba-ba backing vocals. “Happy with You” compares favorably to a Jimmy Webb/Al DeLory-style arrangement and one can hear a bit of Johnny Rivers in O’Dell’s delivery, although the song itself is less sophisticated: “Happy with you because you’re groovy/Satisfied too because you move me/Happy with you when you’re making me smile, making me glad, making me cry, making me mad.” The string-laden “No Obligations,” the A-side of Kenny’s lone White Whale single, uncannily recalls the sweet sound of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s early hits. Did the young O’Dell have an identity crisis? Its B-side, “Groovy Relationship,” is much brassier, with its “Hooked on a Feeling”-esque sitar sound.
Beautiful People is a beautiful snapshot of the groovy, lighter side of the 1960s and also an illuminating look at the early career of a deservedly well-regarded songwriter. For this splendid reissue produced by Gordon Anderson, Ed Osborne has offered new liner notes drawing on an interview with O’Dell, and Steve Massie has remastered.
It’s hardly a surprise that Borderline’s 1973 album Sweet Dreams and Quiet Desires, recorded at Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York, has a rootsy Americana vibe. It’s a big surprise, though, that the album and its follow-up all but disappeared in the ensuing years, a situation now remedied by Real Gone’s two-fer of Sweet Dreams and The Second Album (RGM-0120). Borderline, a trio consisting of Jim Rooney and brothers Jon and David Gershen, enlisted some impressive help for its debut album. Ben Keith, fresh off work on Neil Young’s Harvest, brought his pedal steel. Billy Mundi, late of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, joined in on drums, and Will Lee played bass. David Sanborn contributed alto saxophone, John Simon tickled the ivories, and two members of The Band moonlighted: pianist Richard Manuel as “Dick Handle,” and organist Garth Hudson as “Campo Malaqua.”
Sweet Dreams isn’t quite country, it isn’t quite rock, it isn’t quite folk, it isn’t quite folk-rock or country-rock, either. Its best moments do recall some of the other great musical troubadours of the era, but Borderline’s blend of three talented singer-songwriters made sure the group’s sound was distinctive. “Don’t Know Where I’m Going” has an “Up on a Cripple Creek”/Band-esque vibe, though not solely because of Richard Manuel’s own contribution on piano! And Harvest-era Neil Young is recalled on “Please Help Me Forget,” while “Dragonfly” just might have carved out its own niche as country-jazz thanks to David Sanborn’s wailing sax. (Both Hudson and Manuel sat it on “Dragonfly,” too.) “As Long As It’s You and Me” begins in that haunting Band bag, but it soon veers off in unusual directions with tough electric guitar and a reappearance of Sanborn’s sax. The group’s timeless sound makes for an album that still sounds vibrant today. Though electric guitar (usually courtesy Jon Gershen) appears on a number of tracks in addition to “As Long As It’s You and Me,” the album’s sound is primarily acoustic and frequently laid-back. Ben Keith’s dobro and pedal steel lend the most impressive accents. Vocals are rough-hewn and occasionally ragged, but always in service of the song. Fiddle shows up on numerous cuts, including the sing-along traditionals “Handsome Molly” and “Clinch Mountain.” There are occasional, nasal Dylan-esque vocals, but it might have been impossible to avoid his influence, especially in Woodstock. The success of Sweet Dreams, released on the Avalanche label, might have been hampered by the lack of any clear-cut radio-friendly single. So it was back to the drawing board, and to Connecticut’s CRS Studios, for a second album.
The simply-titled The Second Album was delivered to United Artists Records for a 1974 release, but a change in management left the LP on the shelf and Borderline in the lurch. It finally was issued in 2001 on a remixed Japanese CD mastered from an acetate; Real Gone’s reissue marks its first appearance from the original master tapes as well as its first appearance in its original mix. Keith, Sanborn and Lee all returned for the second outing, lending the album a strong sense of continuation from the first. The group’s steadfast songcraft remained consistent as well.
The change of scenery, though, seemingly inspired the Borderline boys to craft a leaner, down-‘n-dirtier, funkier collection. There are still strong elements of country, but Second Album is often more of its time as a seventies pop-rock excursion. David Gershen also stepped up his songwriting to pen six of the album’s ten songs. When Ben Keith’s pedal steel shows up on the opening salvo of David’s “Sonny Boy,” it’s joined by a horn section including The Brecker Brothers. All players are in service to a grittier groove. Jon’s “No Uncertain Terms” is anchored by Stan Free’s piano and Sanborn’s saxophones, but it’s one of the strongest ballads on either LP. There’s a successful balance of the fuller band arrangements with more stripped-down material including the languid instrumental showcase “Ben’s Turn” for David Gershen, Ben Keith, Will Lee, Amos Garrett (electric guitar) and Chris Parker (drums). Jim Rooney is responsible for “Only the Best,” a country weeper that will transport you to a smoke-filled barroom. The song features just the three band members, harmonizing and accompanying themselves on acoustic guitars. The only crime is that its solo-trio format, with no additional instrumentation, wasn’t revisited elsewhere on the album.
Producer Gordon Anderson’s reissue is a top-notch package, remastered by Kevin Bartley at Capitol Studios with liner notes from Richie Unterberger. After The Second Album was shelved, the members of Borderline drifted apart, but this reissue allows a fleeting glimpse to be savored of what might have been.
You can order any of the above-reviewed albums by clicking on the cover artwork of each!