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Lee Michaels: Dinosaurs Still Rule!

Doug Collette By

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Even if you came of age in the Seventies, you may still need to refresh your memory about how Lee Michaels made a name for himself. The memory lapse may very well be due to the fact that, as Michaels appeared in performance, it was (and still is) altogether startling to see him playing (usually a Hammond organ) with just one other musician, most conspicuously the drummer simply known as Frosty (who subsequently went on to be come a staple in the Austin Texas music scene under his real name Barry Smith). Renewed interest in the man's output apart from his best known material has compelled the Manifesto label to release Michaels' first two albums for Columbia Records, in addition to the seven (!?) for A&M where he garnered a hit with "Do You Know What I Mean" off his album 5th (A&M, 1971), and covered outside material ranging from that of Marvin Gaye ("Can I Get A Witness") to Moby Grape ("Murder In My Heart for the Judge"). Like those previously-reissued titles, Nice Day For Something and Tailface are designed to remind listeners of this music's durability.

Lee Michaels
Nice Day for Something
Manifesto Records
2018

As much as hearing Lee Michaels hearkens to a bygone era, listening to albums like Nice Day for Something is not merely an exercise in nostalgia (despite the fact this record features Keith Knudsen on drums-he would go on to join the Doobie Brothers). And though Michaels emphasizes ultra-lean arrangements here, his innate feel for blues, soul and r&b stands him in good stead, especially as it's further exemplified by the gospel overtones of his piano playing on a cut like "So Hard." The gate-fold design for these packages lends itself to the picturesque cover photo here, as well as the seaside panorama on the inside and the back, but the absence of unreleased material nags (though the running time here is over the forty minute mark) as does the lack of additional contextual material: such resources, even just a web-link, would complement how listenable, not to mention how markedly different from its counterpart, this record really is.

Lee Michaels
Tailface
Manifesto Records
2018

There is no question that, in purely economic terms, it's better to spend on remastering of music like that which comprises Tailface than on inserts such as booklets that cost money to produce (besides those ancillary expenses for the photos and written essays to fill them). Yet in availing himself of the expert technical services of Bill Inglot and Dave Schultz, the producer of this release and its companion piece, Dan Perloff, did right by Lee Michaels: the stereo separation in evidence on a track like "Politician" places a listener at the feet of the band (here including bassist "Rank" Frank Smith). As such, anyone who dotes on heavy riffing, whether with guitar or organ, will revel in the (unfortunately brief) thirty minutes of music on offer. Michaels and company never become heavy-handed, no matter how slowly they stomp, while the leader invariably caterwauls along and croons with no little soul on "Drink the Water."

Tracks and Personnel

Nice Day for Something

Tracks: Your Breath is Bleeding; Same Old Song; So Hard; High Wind; Olson Arrives at Two Fifty-Five; The Other Day (The Other Way); Rock & Roll Community; Bell; Went Saw Momma; Nothing Matters (But It Doesn't Matter).

Personnel: Lee Michaels: guitar, keyboards, vocals; Keith Knudsen: drums.

Tailface

Tracks: Met a Toucan; Politician; Slow Dancin' Rotunda; Roochie Toochie Loochie; Drink the Water; Lovely Lisa; Garbage Gourmet.

Personnel: Lee Michaels: guitar, keyboards, vocals; Frank Smith: bass; Bartholomew Eugene Smith-Frost: drums.

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