The American Breed – The American Breed

ImageAlthough their album cover may be weird, The American Breed’s music is anything but weird. Their self-titled debut, released on Atca Records in 1967, is a dynamic collection of pop rock tunes awakened “with their own unique jazz-rock touch.” This album is loaded with radio-friendly hits reworked to fit the jazz-influenced style of The American Breed. Many of the songs contain heavy (but not overbearing) use of the trumpet to aid The American Breed’s jazz-infused rock ‘n’ roll sound. For example, the song “High Heel Sneakers” is a beautiful reworking of ultra-popular hit to include an underlying trumpet beat. Although some of their covers like “Knock on Wood” and “Lipstick Traces” are a little on the bland side, on many occasions The American Breed proves that they are master remasterers. Their version of Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” is a phenomenal transition from soul to rock ‘n’ roll. My favorite cover of the album has to be a reproduction of The Animals’s “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” The cover is true in all the right places with adding just a dash  of their own style here and there. While their debut album certainly showcases their ability to remaster those mid-60s hits, it also demonstrates their ability to produce their own songs. The American Breed bring their jazz-rock instrumentalism and their steady harmonies to “Same Old Thing,” a catchy, trumpet-heavy display of originality. The American Breed also add a 60s psychedelic aspect to their jazz-inspired rock with the song “Step Out of Your Mind.” It’s a perfectly poppy yet psychedelically symphonic tune that pleases and eases the mind; it is a very close second to my favorite original on the album: “Short Skirts.” Perhaps even more far out, “Short Skirts” relies on heavy distortion and a tremendous beat to blend jazz, rock, psychedelic and surf. This combo will have your brain teaming with delight at the essence of 60s underground music. All-in-all, this self-titled debut is quite a surprise. Yes it has its blemishes, but they’re not overwhelming and by no means numerous. Most of the songs are refreshing takes on old classics with a few original triumphs scattered in. For the fan of 60s jazz, rock and pop, this album may even be a dream come true. For a first album on a smaller label, I’d consider this a bigger success.  B+

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The Outsiders – Happening “Live!”

ImageHow about some “live” music? The Outsiders’ first and only “live” album (not counting the brief 30-year reunion), Happening “Live!” was released in 1967 by Capitol Records. I put “live” in quotes because this is on of those fake live albums that were popular with garage bands in the mid-60s (see The Standells review below). All of the songs are actually alternate studio takes of previously released material with fake crowd noises dubbed in. I’m not sure if anyone actually believed that this was really a live album even when it was first released, because the crowd noises are obviously unnatural and jarring. Actually, I’m really not sure what the point of releasing such an album is at all other than to make a few more bucks. This album’s intentional deceptiveness is perhaps my only complaint with it. Although the band would disband shortly after the album’s release, Happening “Live!” might be my favorite Outsiders’ album. In composition, it is like a greatest hits album without all of the cheesy greatest hits feel. Of course, the opening track is the band’s one and only major hit “Time Won’t Let Me.” This song is catchy and fun and can still be heard on most Oldies stations today. The albums also contains the follow-up minor hit, “Girl in Love.” This song is much slower, softer, and less catchy. It’s more like something that gets played at a high school dance rather than on the radio. It’s okay for what it is. The Outsiders also were well-known for covering Motown songs and soul music from the African American community. Their version of The Temptations “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” is excellent. I think I prefer it to the original; it’s actually pretty similar, but this version has an extra garage style kick. The band also covers Joe Tex’s “Show Me” and The Isley Brothers’ “Respectable.” “Show Me” is a good demonstration of The Outsiders’ guitar work. The Outsiders also show their love of soul by covering “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round” and James Brown’s “Good Lovin.'” “Good Lovin'” is an extremely good rendition. It carries all the power and soul that James Brown laid down and adds a sprinkling of raw rock. The Outsiders also cover some more mainstream 60s rock songs like The Beatles’ “Michelle,” The Animals’ “Help Me Girl,” and Cavaliere’s “Come On Up.” The stand out hit of the three is “Come On Up.” This song is faster and more powerful than anything else on the album. It is actually reminiscent of early punk rock bands like The Stooges. My personal favorite song of the album is the cover of Them’s “Gloria.” I’ve never heard a version of this song I didn’t like; however, this version has even stronger vocals than most. Overall this album is extremely solid. The musicianship and song choice is superb. The only drawbacks are its structural flaws. Like I stated before, I don’t like the fake live record format. In addition, I wish that The Outsiders would have included more original songs. I know that covering songs was extremely common in this era, but I feel like there could have been a better balance. Nonetheless, if your just looking to listen to  great music, this album has it.  B