NOTE: This page will be devoted to the solo works of Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz, both of whom, in my humble opinion, took far too long to release solo albums after their stint with The Monkees. While it's true that Micky released some singles (which went nowhere) and Peter reportedly sank into drugs and other addictive behaviors, the great talents of both of these men were shamefully ignored by their peers. Micky has one of the best pop voices in the business, while Peter's multi-instrumental prowess and folk/psychedelia songwriting talents should have been explored to a far greater degree than what was offered them. It's a shame, but what has been released is very good stuff.
Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz
Peter Tork: Stranger Things Have Happened Beachwood Recordings BR2522 [CD]; Released November 20, 1995
REVIEW: Peter Tork's first solo album is a showcase for his fascination with modern technology, and quirky, sideways songwriting. The first cut, which is the title track of the album, is laden with sythesizers and drum machines, the second song, the upbeat rocker "Get What You Pay For" is much the same, with Peter intoning the old saw and claiming in the liner notes that the song pinpoints "current angst-ridden zeitgeist". What's strongly apparent so far is that Peter's voice is indeed a fairly weak instrument, as Mike Nesmith always claimed; his pitch is suspect throughout, and his singing always has an aura of fragility to it which doesn't seem well suited to belting out new-wave pop-rockers. Oh, well - at least he seems to be having fun, as on the previously mentioned song where he gets to growl out phrases like he's the second coming of John Lennon's primal scream therapy. The next number, "Sea Change" is more organic, with ocean sounds being accompanied by rootsy electric guitar before churning into a mid-tempo swing-rocker about the power of love to change human nature. A stripped-down cover of The Monkees' "Take A Giant Step" is next, with distracting background vocals taking the song down a notch or two. "Milkshake" is next, with hysterical lyrics detailing the life of a musician on the road - one of the stronger songs on the album, and one which Peter has featured live several times. Another fan favorite and perennial live number "MGB-GT" is another strong composition - a retro novelty swing number tied with lyrics that seem to be stream-of-consciousness; I can easily imagine this song showing up on one of the Monkees albums, it's that good. "Miracle" is an overwrought mess - an atonal new-wave rocker that is woefully short on hooks but long on power chords and a forgettable guitar solo. Peter's brother Nick wrote "Pirates" which is a catchy swing number with lots of echo on Pete's easy vocal. "Gettin' In" which showed up on The Monkees Pool It! album, shows up here in another incarnation, which amps up the studio effects and is an interesting cut in its unusual chords and structure. "Tender Is" belies its title with a straightforward, piano-driven track, but Peter's timid voice occasionally gets swamped by the track and the overpowering backing vocals, which were created on a computer. The album closes out with my favorite track, the cheery folk music of "Higher And Higher" - honestly, if I could've had my choice, I would've rather Peter record an entire album of songs like this one, rather than dip his toes into 80s synth-wave, but this album has enough good, interesting tracks on it to garner a recommendation.
Peter Tork & James Lee Stanley: Two Man Band Beachwood Recordings BR24242 [CD]; Released December 17, 1996
REVIEW: This collaboration between Peter and James Lee Stanley is an intriguing notion, with the two guitarists/singers/songwriters each offering instrumental and vocal support on each other's compositions, creating an intimate, coffee-house experience that veers between gentle blues and folk-tinged compositions. The tension between the two artists helps lift such lovely songs as Stanley's lovely, lilting "Everyday" and infuse light humor into Nick Thorkelson's "Pirates". Unfortunately, if you're looking for new Peter Tork songs, you're out of luck, since the two Tork songs here are both taken from his earlier album - but here you'll find the songs stripped down to their essential voice/guitar components, which changes their flavor dramatically from their appearance on Stranger Things Have Happened. And the two artists' styles compliment each other nicely, with Stanley's earthier, more introspective lyrics bouncing nicely against Peter's more whimsical scribblings. Unfortunately for this recording, it sounds as if little time was tinkering with the vocals, with many instances of off-pitch singing, or rough harmonies marring the songs (especially noticeable on "Everyday", "Milkshake" and "Everybody Knows") - it sounds like the songs were laid down live, with no time spent on fixing little problems; the album sounds too much like rough demos, which may be all the rage among rock purists, but to these ears, it sounds sloppy and careless, such as the wonderfully chunky chords on "Miracle" which is hampered by Peter's weak, almost timid vocals. Best moments - the ticking thrum of Stanley's "Two Wrongs", Peter's flighty, fun "Pirates", and the gentle summer afternoon mood found on "All I Ever Wanted". As far as the final tag which covers The Monkees' "Pleasant Valley Sunday" - it's taken at a soporific tempo which is somewhat redeemed by the dreamy harmonies on the chorus. I like this album; I just wish that more time had been spent on the production and vocals.
Peter Tork & James Lee Stanley: Once Again Beachwood Recordings, Inc. BR24272 [CD]; Released March 6, 2001
REVIEW: I wasn't that impressed by these two artists last collaboration, so I wasn't much looking forward to round two, and my fears were pretty much realized with Once Again, a somewhat sloppy and unmemorable exercise in slap-dash recording. The CD itself is a cheap affair, with a cover that looks like a high-school student ran it though a quick image processing program, and no notes or lyrics in the single sheet insert. The first cut is one of only three Tork songs here, "Easy Rider" is a boom-chuck street blues swayer, with nice descending harmonies and laid-back vocals. The second track, featuring James Lee Stanley is a punchy, stripped down folk-rocker, and if it's not terribly memorable, it's an easy listen. Peter's next time up at bat is with "Another Side To This Life", a dull, repetitive cliche which tries to achieve a kind of world-weary wisdom, but just sounds tired. Things pick up with the richocheting melody and bitten-off lyrics on "Dirty Job" - so far the best track on the album. Peter returns with the 3/4-time "Little Girl" - not a strong song from Peter, but wistful and gentle, with a rather strange minor-key change at the end of the chorus. James Lee Stanley returns with a straight ahead cover of Paul Simon's "One Trick Pony" and the next number - the fine, chiming "Some Say" and Peter and James join in two part hamony in the old-timer's lament "Easy Rockin'". Peter's last solo composition on the album is also his best: "Hi Babe" is a lovely, sweet invitation, which unfortunately is given a slim production; this song (and this entire album) could've used much more production, and much less of the "demo" quality which most of the songs embrace. James Lee's final song is the trippy "Stolen Season" which sounds a little like a Seals & Crofts outtake, and again would've greatly benefitted by a fuller production. The final song on the album is a cover of The Monkees hit (is there some unwritten law that all Monkees solo albums must contain at least one Monkees cover?) "Daydream Believer". As interesting as it is to hear Peter sing it (and he does a credible, if low-wattage job) It won't make you forget the original. 'Nuff said.
Shoe Suede Blues: Live in L.A. ...Kinda, Santra Monica Actually Shoe Suede Blues/Groove House DOC 21328-1/01 [CD]; Released 2000
REVIEW: It's hard to tell whether this was a better live performance that what we have, since this is neither a professionally recorded show, nor a soundboard capture, but an audience tape which the band decided was good enough to release as their first CD. Overall, it sounds like a laid back, fairly ragged house band which still hasn't jelled, but for Monkees fans, it may be enough that Peter is prominent throughout, singing lead on the first three songs and showing up on lead again on four other tracks, easily making him the most prominent member of Shoe Suede Blues. The songs are also fairly undistinguished, but then, I'm not a fan of the blues, and with such a limited exposure, most of the songs tend to sound the same to my ears. But "Cross-cut Saw" stands out as a slinky, percussive track, (even though the instrumental jam goes on far too long), the band goofs off between songs, with an operatic howl and indistinguishable chatter muddying the water between several tracks. "Stagolee" is the first number to sound truly bluesy to my ears, with Tadg Galleran possessing a far more vital blues instrument than Peter with his comparitively thin voice. The slow burn of "Tough Enough" digs even deeper into the blues groove, but is too lethargic for my tastes; Peter takes over a rambunctious take on "Shake Rattle And Roll" - but again his voice doesn't sound authoritative enough for this classic barn-burner. "Black Drawers" is a growling stomper in the best dirty blues tradition, again with Tadg on lead vocal; Peter sings "Young Blood" competently, with a grooving arrangement sweeping the band along, and he also takes the final two numbers, "Blue Suede Shoes" (a pale copy of Elvis's steaming original), and manages to get a little "Mojo" conjured on the final track. Overall, this is a messy disc, with not enough fidelity or performing high-points to recommend to any but the most fervent Peter fan.
Shoe Suede Blues: Saved By The Blues Beachwood Records BR 62431-2 [CD]; Released June 3, 2003
REVIEW: Peter's new band, Shoe Suede Blues, has been like a breath of fresh air for Peter, who after too many bloodless collaborations with James Lee Stanley, seems to have found a shoe that fits with Richard Michaels, Michael Sunday and John Palmer as they rip through twelve up-tempo slices of American R&B. Just listen to the first number "Saved By The Blues" which immediately injects some blood into Peter's fine vocal performance. Michael Sunday takes the vocals on the next track, giving "Cab Driver" a sleek, bluesy reading with his charismatic, whisky-tinged voice. "Help Me" is low-down, twelve-bar blues with a harmonica winding in and out of Peter's deep vocal. Michael Sunday again takes over the reigns for a blood-and-guts reading of Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog"; Peter tackles "Route 66" with glee, although his limits as a blues singer are apparent here. The blues-in-the-night reading of "Kiss And Tell" is perfect, giving a slow-burn to this classic torch number. "Dress Sexy For Me" is easily the hottest number Peter's ever written, a dirty blues grinder that seems out of character for Peter's naturally intellectual gifts, but which he seems completely at ease singing. The highway rhythms of "Treat Her Right" is even better, with Peter silkily singing the winding, propulsive number. "Big Boss Man" is Michael Sunday's chance to shine on a Detroit rocker which sounds like a lost Motown stomper, and the album then takes a refreshing turn with the dixieland jazz of "Slender, Tender and Tall" with showcases Peter's still-intact whimsy in his singing. "Wine-Texas BBQ" is harder to classify, as the vocal bounces between Peter & Michael in this fun Tex-Mex boogie-woogie. The final track, "Come on in My Kitchen" features Peter in a sloppy, hard blues number which seems to have been captured live, and is OK, but certainly doesn't have the sense of fun or rhythm which permeates the rest of the album. Peter's best album, both as a showcase for his voice and his impressive instrumental prowess.
Micky Dolenz Puts You To Sleep Kid Rhino R2 70413 [CD]; Released October 22, 1991
REVIEW: Micky Dolenz's first solo album (ever!) is a far cry from the rave-ups he used to do during his Monkees heyday. In fact, this may be the first time we get to hear Micky's softer side, with nostalgic piano tinklings opening the first two songs, the gentle "Pillow Time" and lovely four-part hamonies blessing "Dream A Little Dream" - it sounds like a quiet 1930's rhapsody, with Micky proving again what a great pop voice he has; not only does he sing the songs, he acts each one, giving expression and nuance to the lyric. The next song, "Beautiful Boy" by John Lennon is given a similar piano/vocal treament, and is saved by Micky's expressive singing, since the song itself is rather pedantic and repetitive. Paul McCartney's "Blackbird" is better, with plucked guitar and almost whispered vocals carrying the sweet melody. "Lullaby To Tim" is another great choice for this album, with it's dream-laden imagery and simple, childlike sentiment perfectly captured by Micky and solo guitar; it also has sweet two-part harmonies on the chorus which is reminiscent of his duets with his sister Coco. A second Beatles song shows up in "The Fool On The Hill" which is a nice rendition, but doesn't seem to really be a children's song, but with subtle accordian and classical guitar, it feels right at home here. The third and final Beatles song present (a little heavy on the Fab Four side aren't we?) is the completely appropriate "Good Night" which has sweet, music-box like accompianment and a tender vocal by Micky. Paul Simon's "St. Judy's Comet" is given a faithful reading, with light bossa-nova rhythms hypnotically weaving their way through the song. Harry Nilsson's immediately identifiable writing style comes through on the drowsy "The Moonbeam Song", which sounds a bit too sleepy for my tastes - or perhaps druggy is a better word. One of Nilsson's best songs follows: the immortal "Remember" but Micky's version transforms the song from the wistful moan Harry Nilsson made it, into a gentle plea, almost a request, which changes the intent of the lyric - it's interesting, but Harry's version is definitive. Neil Young's "Sugar Mountain" is next with a light folksy flavor, and the album closes with a cover of the Monkees "Porpoise Song" which he sings as a duet, and is an effective re-thinking of the original psychedelia as it intones 'goodnight... goodnight... goodnight'. A wonderful lullabye album which made me ache for more solo works from Micky. The original album came in a fold-out box that contained full lyrics, and is now woefully out-of-print.
Micky Dolenz: Broadway Micky
Kid Rhino R2 71676 [CD];
Released April 5, 1994
REVIEW: The original Ritalin child, Micky Dolenz, gets a chance to go Broadway on this extraordinarily clever, if somewhat over-the-top foray into showtunes. This CD is misleading in a way, of the twelve songs, only five are actual 'Broadway' songs, the remaining seven coming from motion pictures - but aside from that, this is a well-produced, varied, and occasionally frantic collection which shows off Micky's incredible talents. Starting off with a rattling version of Mary Poppins' "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" Micky dives right in, transforming his voice into anything he imagines at the moment, and the song ends with Micky flaming out on the lyric in hysterical fashion. Next comes the cool tropical reimagining of Dr. Dolittle's "Talk To The Animals" that is really groovy, but I'm not sure that Micky needed to adopt a cheesy south-of-the-border accent to accompany the song. Next comes the hit ballad from "An American Tale" which shows Micky chewing the lyric perhaps a bit too much; I would have loved to have Micky tackle this song when he was younger - as he's gotten older he seems to 'emote' more, rather than just singing it straight. But it's still a nice version, soft and gentle. Next comes a lovely scatting version of "Put On A Happy Face" which Micky speak-sings much of, but the arrangement is top-notch, a sort of smoky jazz combo, with Micky right at home. The sound gets much dirtier with a growled-out "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile" transforming this song into a street-blues churner - it's a real showcase for Micky's versatility, and one of the best songs on the album. The second ballad on the album "Never Ending Story" finds Micky again underplaying the vocal while milking every syllable out of the lyrics, turning what was a typical pop song into an overwrought lullabye. "My Favorite Things" is arranged into a surprisingly-successful French cabaret song, and "Ease On Down The Road" is a trumpet-stacked Stax Soul stomper, which unfortunately changes the catchy chorus into a dreary intonation; a more faithful cover of this would have been more satisfying. The King And I's "I Whistle A Happy Tune" is converted into a goofy Appalachian twanger, and "Chim Chim Cher-ee" is a straightforward cover, which doesn't add anything to the original, and Harry Nilsson's "Me And My Arrow" (from his concept album and one-time Davy/Micky theater vehicle The Point) makes a surprise appearance, but it unfortunately doesn't hold a candle to the original version. The album's closing track, "When You Wish Upon A Star" contains the rarely-heard opening verse and is a wonderful benediction to this varied and interesting album.
Paradise MusicWerks [MP3 DOWNLOAD];
Released May 9, 2006
REVIEW: Artists from the golden age of rock and pop have long had a tradition of re-recording their early hits in order to generate some income for themselves, since early contracts often cut out the original artists' being recompensed after the intial hit had made the charts. This has resulted in a sludge heap of deceptive releases which claim that "the original artists" are singing the hit songs, but fails to mention that these are NOT the original hits, but latter-day copies, with the artists often decades older, and the remakes are often pale ghosts of the originals. The Monkees themselves are not immune to this trend, and this four-song EP, released as a digital download album is similarly deceptive, labelling these hit songs from the Sixties are "remasters" when they are in fact, recent re-recordings. That said, these particular re-recordings aren't bad - Micky's voice has always been an amazingly flexible instrument, and he remains in excellent voice for these songs, and if he tries very hard to sound like his original 20-year-old self, he doesn't embarrass himself. But it's apparent that the producers and Micky ARE attempting to mimic the original recordings as closely as possible. The arrangments, vocal inflections, and tempos are all carbon-copies of the Colgems originals, and rather than reimagining these songs, or even giving them new life, it's obvious that Micky has recorded these tracks in order to "fool" the listener into thinking they are the originals, and for that, I'm going to slap him down a star or two. Artistic integrity has never been a claim that critics have been willing to apply to the Monkees, but after all the trouble they went through to gain it, I expect better from the band members than this.
King For A Day
Red General Catalog [CD];
Released August 31, 2010
REVIEW: One of the most heartbreaking realities of the dissolution of the Monkees was the criminal neglect of Micky Dolenz breaking out as a solo artist. Due in great part to the public's antipathy towards the pre-fabricated nature of the Monkees, and the somewhat laughable way in which they puttered out, Micky, who possessed one of the purest pop voices in the business, was left to creatively meander about until the Monkees resurgence in the mid-eighties. But even since then, he hasn't taken many pains with his musical career - until now, that is. A near-perfect pairing of his talents with those of songwriter Carole King, along with frequent Brian Wilson protege Jeff Foskett acting as producer, King For A Day is Micky's best solo album. King's writing, often paired with that of her partner Gerry Goffen, penned some of the most memorable pop songs of the Sixties, including several hits for the Monkees, and Dolenz slips into her songs with all the ease of old friends meeting again, and picking up right where they left off. Despite being a "cover" album, these songs all sound fresh with Micky's still-potent voice interpreting them. I was honestly worried about Micky's performance on this disc - in live performances, his voice has often crossed the line into Vegas-style mannerisms, but he sounds reigned in here, still mature, but more focused and intense than I've heard him in a long time. And I can't say enough about producer/arranger Jeff Foskett's contributions, which are all lush, intelligent, and organic to these songs. There are a couple of wonderful friends along for the ride too, with sister Coco joining Micky on "Crying In The Rain" showing off their tight sibling harmonies, and Bill Medley joins on for a thunderous remake of "Just Once In My Life" with Micky taking the high harmonies. A mighty album from this mighty talent, and one I wish had been realized forty years ago.
Robo Records RRMD001[CD];
Released October 2, 2012
REVIEW: I was a little trepidatious about hearing Micky's new recording, coming so soon after the death of Davy, and just two years after Micky's amazing King For A Day album, easily the best solo outing of his spotty solo career. Part of my concern was the absence of Jeffrey Foskett, who was in many ways the architect of that album; would David Harris, who took over the reigns of this new project, be able to retain the fine, organic feel which Micky had captured previously? I needn't have worried - using Micky's interesting song choices, Harris contributes varied arrangements, taking these mostly recognizable tunes, and reshaping them into fascinating, layered gems. Of particular interest is Micky's multiple-overdubbed harmonies on the acapella "Do Not Ask For Love" which is simply stunning. Although the album was recorded before Davy's death, there is a melancholy air that permeates the album, with just enough of Micky's wiry sense of fun to keep things from getting too desperate. In addition, Beatle-esque touches are scattered throughout, with tastes of Sgt. Pepper and Revolver showing both Micky's and David's lingering debt to the Fab Four. Remember didn't strike me as much as King For A Day did, however - with the presence of so many familiar covers (including four Monkees re-hashes) and a sexed-up version of The Archies "Sugar Sugar" (in which Micky emphasizes the innuendos like hammer-blows), I found this to be somewhat lesser of an album, although still mightily impressive. What would I like to see from Micky in the near future? Well, ideally, an album of original songs written for him by the likes of Carole King, Neil Diamond, and other stalwarts, or, based on the somewhat-out-of-place countrified re-twanging of "I'm A Believer" maybe an album entitled: Dolenz Sings Nesmith?
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