Written by 4:56 am Audiophile Music

Pre-Eric Carmen: The Choir’s Unreleased Artifact Album Reviewed on CD and Tidal

Mark Smotroff goes ’round the Raspberry bush…

Pop legend Eric Carmen’s quote at the end of the press release for the previously unreleased new album by The Choir pretty much sums up the importance of this album in his personal muscal history.

AR-TheChoirArtifactCover225.jpg“I went to see The Choir when I was 16, and immediately wanted to join their band. They were a great group that had many lives and many members. This album was made by one of the last and final versions of the band. This recently discovered recording is sure to rekindle fond memories for the many fans of The Choir, including myself. Give it a spin, and enjoy a special piece of Cleveland rock history.”

Much of the core band from The Choir, of course, eventually connected with charismatic singer-songwriter Eric Carmen and hit it big as The Raspberries. They were a group which helped to fill the early 1970’s void for melodic powerful rock ‘n roll in the near-vacuum left after The Beatles split up. The Raspberries, Emitt Rhodes, Badfinger and Big Star brought that sound into the new decade while the individual Beatle members themselves tried to forge new sounds all their own (Wings, Plastic Ono Band, etc.)

Just out from Omnivore Recordings, this new album from The Choir — a band which opened for The Who and The Yardbirds, and has ties which lead to none other than Joe Walsh and The James Gang — is a wonderful snapshot of great group which never fully got its due. Called Artifact: The Unreleased Album, this CD is a must hear for fans of The Raspberries as well as British invasion-inspired power pop, from The Who and The Kinks to Big Star, The Posies and Guided By Voices.

AR-ChoirWithCarmen225.jpgSo how is this new Choir album? Most of it is really good proto power pop — much of it great actually! It is so good that it does make one wonder why it was never released back in the day…

The lead track “Anyway I Can” sounds like a should-a-been hit single, with a great hook in the classic late ’60s pop rock mode. It’s a gem of a tune which would have fit in neatly on A.M. radio of the late 1960s alongside tracks by The Buckinghams, The Who, The Archies, The Move, The Lemon Pipers, Strawberry Alarm Clock and The Beatles themselves.

 “Ladybug” sounds like what might happen if Marc Bolan (T-Rex) was in The Dukes of Stratosphear (XTC’s psychedelic alter ego band) paying tribute to The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour recordings. “I Can’t Stay In Your Life Anymore” feels like a lost Nazz track, with a melody Todd Rundgren might have fancied.  They also kick out a killer cover of The Kinks’ “David Watts” – this many years before The Jam (who covered it) even existed.

“Have I No Other Love To Offer” feels like what might have happened if Robin Gibb fronted Broken Barricades-era Procol Harum (with some neat Robin Trower-inspired guitar soloing). It’s a cool concept, actually…

AR-ChoirFamilyTree225.jpgSound on the Artifact: The Unreleased Album is excellent for a release of this type: these are genuinely high fidelity, proper studio recordings and generally well recorded and composed.  So, don’t worry about hearing lo fi demos and such on this release.  This is a gem saved from the archives, for sure.Only one song from the album is up on Tidal (the aforementioned “Anyway I Can”) but there you can also find the essential early single by The Choir — called “Its Cold Outside,” the hit which brought the band to national attention in the first place.

This is good stuff and if you like American power pop and want to connect some dots tracing not only Eric Carmen’s roots but also the remarkably rich musical legacy emanating out of Ohio. The Choir’s  Artifact: The Unreleased Album is essential. It makes great bands like Guided By Voices (GBV) seem less of an anomaly in Ohio rock ‘n roll history. There was no doubt a hearty precedent of pop greatness before GBV and The Choir — and The Raspberries — are proof.

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