Grammy Award-winning gospel and CCM singer Israel Houghton and his group New Breed deliver the second installment in their Alive series of concert albums with Covered: Alive in Asia. Recorded during an extensive 2014 tour of Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, and other Asian nations, Israel & New Breed offer up a passionate, high-energy worship spectacle that features guests like BJ Putnam, Tye Tribbett, and Yolanda Adams. The album arrives ten years after the group's acclaimed Alive in South Africa concert album.
After having a big hit record with Shannon, Lifesong/A&M gave Henry Gross an elaborate packaging with a slick cardboard inner sleeve to house the album, lyric sheet/facial photo inside, and a risqué LP cover featuring a naked woman under a sheet while Henry Gross gets his guitar and leaves her...for the stage.
The dorky John Denver-style image on his 1972 self-titled ABC release for Jimmy Miller Productions had a more humble and earthly feel but, despite the self-indulgence obvious just four years later, there is some strong pop here, showing the former Sha-Na-Na guitarist to be one of the best products from the stable of producers Cashman and West. That duo provide some backing vocals, but only put their production skills on an interesting cover of the Beatles' "Help." The rest of the project is on Gross' watch, and though there are deficiencies on side one, the album closes with a strong selection of summery numbers that are well-written and played. The title track begins the festivities with some fake applause and a riff borrowing from Loggins & Messina's 1972 hit "Your Mama Don't Dance." He doesn't borrow from Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina on "Painting My Love Song," though: he outright steals from their "Thinking of You" hit from 1973. The Bellamy Brothers' early-1976 record "Let Your Love Flow" gets nicked for both "Painting My Love Song" and "Come Along," while Carole King's "Sweet Seasons" also seems to slip in and out of the melody and sound. Side one really needed a cover song like "Help" to keep whatever listeners who loved "Shannon" tuned in.
Perhaps the philosophy expressed in that tune was in the back of his mind while trying to capitalize on his radio success. Gross does an admirable and slick job of crafting a more coherent and practical set of sounds on side two while mixing strong elements of a band he opened for, the Beach Boys, throughout. His voice, despite being quirky, is warm in that John Denver kind of way, and "What a Sound" certainly gives Brian Wilson his due. For those who felt the Beach Boys beautiful voices sometimes overshadowed and overpowered the pretty music, Gross emphasizes the band and lets the barbershop quartet blend in, pianos, drums, and guitars getting their place up in the mix. The harpsichord-type sounds envelope "I Can't Believe," while the singer nicely quiets down on "Hideaway" and "If We Tie Our Ships Together," though "Showboat" goes back to side one's blatant imitation of other artists, this time honoring or victimizing Seals & Crofts. Maybe that's something Henry Gross learned in Sha-Na-Na, but what eludes Show Me to the Stage is a powerful hit single, so you'll find no sequel to "Shannon" here.
Light years removed from the expansive psychedelia of his work with the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Shaun Harris' lone solo LP remains a compelling curio of the singer/songwriter boom of the early '70s -- while its lush country-pop sensibility sits squarely in the mainstream, the record's melodies and arrangements are atypically complex and its lyrics are profoundly introspective, exploring themes of melancholy, self-doubt, and even suicide with uncommon candor. Recorded with members of L.A.'s famed studio team the Wrecking Crew and featuring string arrangements by the artist's father, the esteemed symphonic composer Roy Harris, Shaun Harris captures the fear and resignation of an artist in the twilight of his career -- "Nothing to write that hasn't been written/What's the real point of livin'?" Harris asks in the record's emotional centerpiece, "Today's the Day," his most direct confrontation of the despair that spreads like cancer across otherwise slick, sun-kissed productions like "Empty Without You" and "I'll Cry Out." Harris revels in such contradictions, capturing with nuance and insight the sunset of West Coast pop's seemingly endless summer.