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Album Review

MICHAEL FENNELLY
Gone Retro.....

Seldom do I come across an album of music which satisfies the freak and the casual listener, so when Michael Fennelly's Love Can Change Everything (Demos 1967-1972 came through the door, I didn't expect much beyond the standard reissue of tracks from the sixties and early seventies buried for a reason. Retro compilations are notorious for containing music only for “completists” (as so many writers label them), people so deeply immersed in an artist's work or a period of music that they collect even the dregs. Most sweeten the pot with a hit or two and maybe some B-sides, but when all is said and done, much of it was left on the cutting room floor for a reason.

Recently, though, the handful of labels specializing in reissues have taken to if not letting the artists compile their music, allowing people who know the music intimately put albums together. The result? Compilations both historically and musically viable, meaning if you like the music (and you should, in the case of Fennelly), you're more than likely going to love the history.

If you have never heard of Michael Fennelly, I suggest a short tutorial from the Wiki guys, a short but sweet explanation of his timeline. If you have never heard Fennelly, well, perhaps you have and don't realize it. Fennelly was one of seven artists who formed The Millennium, a band in the late sixties who, in retrospect, have become somewhat of a musical legend. There is more than a little of the Pop infusion which made The Left Banke and The Merry-Go-Round successes, melody and harmony and a step into a little folk/psych keeping things light and airy and oh, so pretty.

When it came time to exit The Millennium, Fennelly seamlessly slid into Crabby Appleton and immediately scored with Go Back, a tune which made it all the way to #36 on the Billboard charts but which got airplay in my home state of Oregon way beyond that. Not only was I surprised that it topped out at #36 in Billboard Nation, I was a bit miffed. According to radio here, Go Back was Top Ten, easily. I never gave a shit about Billboard, anyway.

While Go Back gave Crabby air beneath their wings, there was no real followup (at least, as far as radio was concerned), more than likely due to AM radio's fall into the grasp of the devil (that would be Drake-Chenault, sports fans, which single-handedly disarmed radio by instituting the Top Forty format and turning it into the pariah of real music lovers everywhere). Fennelly would go on, but that pretty much covers the years covered in Love Can Change Everything, an album strictly dedicated to that period.

So what do you get, you ask? Outtakes from The Millennium? Crabby Appleton's cutting room floor leftovers?

Not at all. What you get is a collection of Fennelly-penned demos which, while recorded during the lives of those two bands, are pure Fennelly. True, many of the tracks utilize members of those two bands and probably more than one was recorded in hopes of being included in band releases, but none are, in essence, completed. Not in terms of release by those musical entities. And yet they are.

I find myself shaking my head over the quality of these recordings, which have spent decades in solitary confinement waiting just for this moment. Songs excluded from The Millennium recordings only due to the number of songs available (there were many songwriters, and damn good ones, in that venerable band). Songs which might have made the cut for either of the Crabby Appleton albums had it not been for the progress of the band and their music. Just because a song gets left behind does not mean it is unworthy. Sometimes there is just not enough space. This album proves it in spades. The more I hear this, the more I love it. Period.

Fennelly made comment about this album, hinting that he would have done this differently has he been given the chance. Well, to be more exact, he said:

I did go back and forth with Sundazed over the content initially, primarily because I have archived tapes spanning 20 years, but they were interested in my 1960s and early 1970s material (which is historically interesting to Millennium fans and Crabby Appleton fans, but not inclusive of what I consider all my best work). Had it been left up to me, I'd have chosen the 20 best songs/recordings I have that no one's ever heard. But I do appreciate that Sundazed has a loyal customer base who are enamored with the era of sunshine and psychedelia, so I deferred to their judgment. My music grew progressively harder-edged, as time went by, so continuity was a concern, as well. I'm happy with the 24 songs that comprise this package, but look forward to an opportunity to issue the stuff I did in the 1980s, at some point.

Doug Rhodes played keyboards for the Music Machine, and bass, keyboards and even tuba for the Millennium. Ron Edgar played drums for both groups. Keith Olsen played bass for the Music Machine and then became Curt Boettcher's production partner for the Millennium and other projects. Keith's contributions to the sound of the Millennium's recordings may be the most under-appreciated element of all. He was the mad recording genius who enabled Curt's mad genius to manifest itself on tape. (linking two 8-track machines together to record 16-track or being asked to find a way to 'make this sound like a jet taking off' - Keith was/is an amazing talent).”

While I could get behind the project Fennelly mentions here, I am not unhappy at all that Sundazed stood their ground. The songs on Love Can Change Everything deserve to see the light of day and in exactly this form. Fennelly put this package together with a lot of love and care and it shows, from choice of songs to presentation (the package is exceptional and contains liner notes essential to understand the two bands and the times) to attention to sound.

Now, about that other project, Fennelly? Set up a crowdsourcing page. We're ready.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.


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