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(Grimble Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 7/13/2011)
It has often been asked, "Will there ever be another Beatles?" In terms of record sales, a lot a pop groups have since sold many more recordings than the Beatles did in their heyday. But in terms of their profound influence on the music scene, and the way they were such a world-wide phenomenon, I think the answer if definitely no. It was "probably no" 20 years ago, and now it's "definitely no," just because there are so many artist and groups, so many media outlets, so many ways of listening to music especially with the Internet allowing one to wrap oneself in a one particular genre or fad of the day. Back in the days of the Beatles, old-timers may remember, there were many fewer media outlets, and far fewer recording releases. So most people tended to hear the same records wherever one went.
And while no rock group today will ever have the lasting impact of the Beatles, the passage of time seems not to have diminished the influence of the Fab Four. Each successive generation of emerging bands has had its share of groups who look to the Beatles as their major influence, sometimes more subtly, and sometimes worn on their musical sleeves.
This week we have one of those unabashed Beatles acolyte bands who do a really good job of conjuring the Fab Four in sound and spirit, but create music that is very much their own. They are the Red Button, and their new, second CD is called As Far As Yesterday Goes.
The Red Button is a the creation of a pair of Los Angeles-based musicians, Seth Swirsky and Mike Ruekberg, who play the great majority of the instrumentation on the CD, and who have mastered the way John Lennon and Paul McCartney's vocals blended. They use authentically period instruments such as a 12-string electric guitar and a variety of vintage keyboards from a Wurlitzer electric piano to a Mellotron. But they let the songs drive the sound, rather than being slavishly retro. Their 2007 debut CD, She's About to Cross My Mind, got a lot of critical praise, and was one we featured quite a bit on Mixed Bag when it came out.
The members of The Red Button have interesting backgrounds. Seth Swirsky has released two solo albums, in addition to the first Red Button CD four years ago. He's also an author of three books on baseball, and, showing his Beatles influence, is working on a documentary called Beatles Stories, a series of people's recollections on the influence of the Beatles. He has also written songs for pop artists including Taylor Dayne, Rufus Wainwright and Al Green.
Mike Ruekberg is a native of the Minnesota Twin Cities, where he was a member of the group Rex Daisy, and wrote the music for a cult film called "Dummy." Swirsky and Ruekberg met in 2005, and quickly hit it off, sharing an appreciation for Beatles-era pop, which became apparent on their debut album, which won a nice endorsement from Norman "Hurricane" Smith who engineered some Beatles albums.
Now the duo are back with more of their very nicely executed music with lots of melodic hooks, strong vocal harmonies and some of the subtle compositional quirks that long-time Beatles fans will recognize. The group's lyrics are also very much of the period, with the great majority of them about girlfriends, and most of them referring to the female character as "girl." One can also hear the influence of the Byrds, with the frequent use of the Byrds' trademark 12-string electric guitar, and some Beach boys style harmonies.
While Swirsky and Ruekberg play the great majority of the instruments, Like their last CD, there are added guests with a couple of guest bass players sitting, a drummer who turns up on three tracks, along with some strings. The production style does recall the Beatles, as well, but the group does go off in a different direction on a couple of songs. Nevertheless, there are a few tracks where a Beatles fan can identify specific songs by the Fab Four that served as inspiration.
Like a mid 1960s pop album, the songs are all quite short, none over four minutes, but there's a dozen of them.
The CD opens with one of its stronger tracks, Caught in the Middle. The vocal harmony style definitely recalls early period Beatles, but the song is very much The Red Buttons' own. <<>>
The title track is one of the slower songs on this mostly upbeat album. As Far As Yesterday Goes, is one of those song about an affair coming asunder. The sound is full of vintage instruments. <<>>
Another appealing track is Picture, whose happy-go-lucky sounding beat recalls the Beatles Getting Better from Sgt. Peppers, though it's hardly a rip-off. <<>>
With lyrics very much in the 1960s is the song Girl, Don't. It's clever but perhaps a bit too derivative. <<>>
The Red Button does occasionally move out from under the shadow of the Lads from Liverpool. You Do Something to Me is another easy-going song with more acoustic instrumentation than some of the others. <<>>
Another of the band's more original songs is Sandreen which is chock full of clever and eclectic musical ideas. <<>>
Also steering somewhat away from the Beatles sound is She Grows Where She's Planted. The lyrics are again old-fashioned representing the 1960s pop-song view of girlfriends. But musically, it's very appealing. <<>>
The CD ends with Running Away, which takes on more of a folky sound. Again, it's a nicely crafted song. <<>>
As Far as Yesterday Goes the new second album from the The Red Button, the partnership of Seth Swirsky and Mike Ruekberg, is one of the finer 1960s pop revival CDs to come along recently, in a period where there are some particularly good ones in the genre, such as Rogue Valley and the Autumn Defense, all of whom are by relatively younger musicians who really capture the musical ethos of the Beatles. The Red Button manage to get all the details right, the vocal harmonies, the vintage instrumentation, the harmonically interesting compositions, and lyrics than harken back to an era when the terminology men used about their romantic interests was very different. These guys really get it right, but still show enough originality and eclecticism that they don't come across as simply a Beatles tribute band.
Our grade for audio quality is close to an "A." The Beatles recordings were always known for their high sonic standards, even in a day when that was very tough given the technology. The Red Button also continues that direction, and does not try to dumb down sonically, as so many retro bands have done. The dynamic range is not bad for this kind of recording. It's not too badly compressed.
There will never be another musical phenomenon like the Beatles, but if you are like me in always being fond of their sound and innovations, there are quite a few groups keeping the tradition alive with new music. The Red Button is about as good as you can get.
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