"Think About It"
THE BEL AIRS
THE DOMINO KINGS
"Some Kind of Sign"
"Walk Through Walls"
In 1966, you could hear the country comedy of Roger Miller, the swamp blues of Slim Harpo, the surf guitar of the Marketts and the blue-eyed soul of Mitch Ryder on Top 40 AM radio, and a local band was expected to play them all. That odd combination of tongue-in-cheek humor, heart-on-a-sleeve romantic pleas, stomping grooves and simple-but-hypnotic riffs, all recorded in low-budget sessions that allowed the basics but no extra clutter, marked the perfection of pop music as far as Lou Whitney and D. Clinton Thompson are concerned. The two men, co-leaders of the Morells and the Skeletons, are trying to revive that sound as "The Big Noise From Springfield." Missouri, that is.
Whitney runs the Studio, Springfield's top recording facility, and he has produced or co-produced new albums by the Morells, the Bel Airs, the Domino Kings and Brian Capps, and the four acts are on a package tour of the country. Though each disc is a bit different, they are united by that common Springfield sound.
Like their northeast counterparts, NRBQ, the Morells specialize in digging out weird, wonderful, forgotten songs from the past and in writing new songs that sound like they could have been one-hit-wonders in 1966. Their new album, "Think About It," includes neglected gems from Duane Eddy, Big Joe Turner, the Delmore Brothers, Paul Revere & the Raiders and the Monkees, as well as four new songs by Thompson that might easily have been recorded by those acts. It works only because the Morells deliver these numbers without a hint of strain or camp; it's as if they've been loving and playing such songs all their lives. Which they have.
The Missouri blues trio the Bel Airs are best known for backing up legends Earl King and Johnnie Johnson and for three previous albums. But on "Got Love," Whitney distills their already-lean sound to an austere blues minimalism. Songs by King, Harpo, Willie Dixon, Elmore James, Doctor Ross and the Tams are boiled down to their bones: a dance beat, a guitar riff and a plea without subterfuge.
Whitney has produced all four albums by the Domino Kings, including the new "Some Kind of Sign." Steve Newman, the leader of the Springfield alt-country quartet, continues to improve as a songwriter, and he wrote or co-wrote nine of the new disc's 11 songs. He's at his best when he puts aside his would-be serious songs and adopts the irreverent humor of his mentor, especially on such classic pun numbers as "Pain in My Past" and "Lying Next to Me."
Brian Capps, the former bassist for the Domino Kings, makes his solo debut with "Walk Through Walls." Backed by the Morells, Capps sings seven originals, two songs by country legend Merle Travis and one by Rodney Crowell. Like Newman, Capps shines when his bar-band take on traditional country leans toward comedy, as on "True Liar."
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Monday at Iota and Tuesday at the Funk Box in Baltimore.