Michael Toland wrote in High Bias / 2006-12-18 / 14:20:00

Alan Merrill - various works -

ALAN MERRILL

1) Merrill 1 (MEC)

2) At the Candy Shop (Geltoob)

3) THE ARROWS Walk Away Renee – Dreamin’ (Geltoob)

1) New York native Alan Merrill, former leader of Japan’s Vodka Collins and England’s Arrows, composer of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” takes a break from re-establishing his solo career to look back with a trio of releases. Merrill 1, originally released in 1971 in Japan, is an absolute delight, a beautifully crafted pop record in the vein of Paul McCartney, Todd Rundgren and Emitt Rhodes. The jaunty “Everyday All Night Stand,” contemplative “Know Yourself” and rocking “Knot Tier” boast irresistible hooks and memorable melodies and will bring a smile to the face of pop geeks everywhere. It’s hard to believe Merrill was only a teenager when he wrote and recorded these songs. This edition comes with some bonus tracks taken from demos and singles, including the lovely “Jacqueline,” the Rundgrenesque “Long Hard Road” and the dirt road rocking “The Drifter.”

2) At the Candy Shop is a collection of tunes recorded over the course of the 70s, 80s and 90s with musicians like guitarist/producer Jon Tiven, former Living Colour bassist Muzz Skillings, Stones bassist Bill Wyman and others. The songs here reflect Merrill’s deep love of R&B, with greasy rhythms, tasteful guitar work and Merrill’s husky vocals deftly riding the grooves. He’s stumbled doing blue-eyed soul before, but here he sounds more relaxed and confident doing R&B than I’ve ever heard him. “Brand New Man,” “Second Hand Paradise” and “Protection” (all later covered by Freddie Scott) cook, while “24-7 Man” (later a hit for Robert Cray) and “It’s Harder Now” (the title song from Solomon Burke’s comeback album from a few years back) hit as hard as good soul should. The hard rock nugget “Long Shot” sticks out like a sore thumb and the title song is a ridiculous celebration of a whorehouse, but three covers of the late, great Arthur Alexander make up for any lapses.

3) The Arrows disk consists of a brief four-song EP led off by faithful covers of the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee” and Johnny Burnette’s 50s hit “Dreamin’,” though it also contains yet another version of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” More interesting are the three demos recorded in New York, when the band was still called Streak and hadn’t yet emigrated to England. Recorded basically live, the three tunes give a good idea of the kind of tough rock & roll band the Arrows might have become without the influence of glam and producer Mickie Most. “Silver Stallion” and “The Stranger” would be welcome on any arena stage in the 70s, and “Feel So Good” marries balls to pop hooks in the manner of the best power pop.

Michael Toland / Dec. - 2006

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