Thursday, April 13, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter E, Part 6)

I have pushed the Elvis Brothers on you before, with little success, but I'm going to try again. They're worth it. I have a soft spot for the power-pop trio because they got together while surrounded by the same central Illinois fields where I grew up. Corn, beans and pumpkins do well there, but creativity isn't something that's easily cultivated in those parts, I can tell you.

Although not nearly as popular, I always felt like the Elvis Brothers were our Cheap Trick. Rick, Robin and the boys hailed from Rockford, a gritty town in the northwest corner of the state. Those of us in the center of the state always had a chip on our shoulder when it came to anything north of Interstate 80. So, it stood to reason Cheap Trick would be the bigger deal. Even the band's label signings had similar parallels. Cheap Trick were on the mighty Epic, and the Elvis Brothers were on the smaller sister label Portrait. Cheap Trick had a few years on the Elvis Brothers, but the sound of the Elvis Brothers' first album, 'Movin' Up' from 1983, was similar to Cheap Trick's first couple of albums. That was before Rick's guitar got louder and Robin's hair got bigger. Rolling Stone's review of 'Movin' Up' described the band better than I ever could: "Take Rockpile's loose-as-a-goose barroom stomp-downs, add Cheap Trick's Midwestern hard-pop sensibility and cartoon-character posturing, throw in Squeeze's knack for the modern hook and the Stray Cats' rockabilly-trio configuration, and you'll have some idea of where the Elvis Brothers are coming from."

"It's So Hard"
"Hidden in a Heartbeat"

In 1985, the Elvis Brothers released 'Adventure Time.' To these ears, the songwriting didn't stray too much from the first album, but the sound and their look did. Adrian Belew produced it, and he made everything sound slicker. Everything about 'Adventure Time' seemed, well, of its time, while 'Movin' Up' seemed timeless. Just compare the album covers above and the clothing they are wearing to see my point. If you look closer at the copies of my albums, you'll see that 'Movin' Up' is pretty worn out, while 'Adventure Time' looks brand new. I'm not going to be too hard on the album though. There are some keepers here, but the label chose all the wrong songs for singles and stacked all the best songs on the second half of the album. I think the toned-down "Crosswinds" is about as close as the band got to capturing the magic of the early days on 'Adventure Time.' "Count to Three" may have been a bit out of the band's comfort zone, but I can appreciate an effort that was described at All Music Guide as being "Holland-Dozier-Holland as reinterpreted by the Raspberries."

"Crosswinds"
"Count to Three'

When Portrait folded in 1986, the Elvis Brothers did as well. In 1992, out of nowhere, the trio returned for one more album on indie label Recession. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. 'Now Hear This' may very well be the best of the three albums. I'm not sure many heard it, but I remain hopeful it will be discovered and appreciated someday. That one is on CD, and we will listen to it another day.

9 comments:

FurryBootsCityBoy said...

Fascinating post on a band I'd never heard of. Thank you.

charity chic said...

The Elvis Brothers has me thinking that it may be time for me to give The Cash Brothers a spin!

JTFL said...

Elvis Brothers. Must have been a regional act -- never even heard of them! Pretty catchy.

Brian said...

Thanks, FBCB. Well worth checking out further. Not sure if any of their records are still in print, however, but the label that did their third album had reissued the first two albums on CD back in the '90s.

CC, Never need an excuse to pull out the Cash Brothers.

JTFL, Seemed big to me at the time, but they were more a Midwestern thing. Should have been bigger!

Rol said...

Like the sound of those guys but a quick search seems to indicate the albums are going for a pretty penny and they don't appear to be available digitally. (In this day and age, I'm amazed that everything isn't available digitally, and constantly surprised by the stuff that isn't!)

Brian said...

Sorry to hear that, Rol. Drop me a note if you want more. I'll be happy to oblige.

McPop said...

Hi Brian,
Long time no see. I have both Elvis Brothers LPs you speak of and agree with your assessment. I definitely come back to Movin' Up more often than Adventure Time.

I also have the 'Now Dig This' CD and remember enjoying it quite a bit although haven't heard it in a while. Think I'll pull it out for a spin in the car.

Thanks for the inspiration and as usual your blog rocks! Sorry it's been a while since I've commented.

Matt

Brian said...

Always nice to hear from you, McPop. When you have some time, drop me a line and let me know what has your ear. You're always spinning something good. Now Hear This is a really good time. Pure pop. The rockabilly influences of the first album were long gone by the third album. If you only have a few minutes, go straight to Ruthy Ann. Perfection.

Brian said...

Strangelove too, come to think of it.