Sunday, February 28, 2016

Album Reviews # 57 The Cryan' Shames - A Scratch in the Sky

'A Scratch in the Sky' is one of those rare records laid down at the height of the sixties which manage to pull in the best qualities of the band's many influences and turn back out something wholly unto is own. The cosmic harmonies of the Beach Boys, the jangling spirit of The Byrds, the rollicking pop of The Beatles; these are all commonly borrowed sounds, but rarely ones so expertly disassembled and recast as we hear on this record. Though this collection of songs remain well-polished through studio-craft and the musicians own abilities, it retains a freshness, and noncommercial edge that makes it both an accessible and adventurous listen.' 

In the States in the mid-sixties it was perfectly normal to be able to make huge waves locally without registering so much as a blip in terms of national commercial or critical recognition. Such was the case with the Cryan' Shames, one of the biggest bands in Chicago for a couple of years while achieving only one Billboard Single hit in 1966, and that only getting as far as # 49, with Sugar and Spice, a cover of a Searchers tune.

Often with bands like this, the hit single is the one moment that's worthy of remembering but in the case of The Cryan' Shames the exact opposite is true. Their real legacy lies in their second album 1967's A Scratch in the Sky, which falls just slightly short of contemporary baroque/ chamber pop albums by The Zombies and The Left Banke (both of which have since since achieved classic status), but is nevertheless well worth tracking down for anybody interested in the period and genre.

While obviously deeply indebted to the great albums of the time (as mentioned in the quoted passage at the start of the post), most obviously The Beatles, Revolver and The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds, in addition to The Byrds, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Turtles and so on, what A Scratch in the Sky does achieve is in managing to convey the sheer contagious energy and joy of being a young adult at the time. While their first album, also called Sugar and Spice, is heavy reliant on covers, and for the most not particularly inspired ones, this time round the band's songwriting team Jim Fairs and Lenny Kerley take the reins themselves and all but two of the eleven tracks are their own compositions. and they're mostly very good ones.

Not particularly inventive lyrically, these songs aren't really particularly about anything, they generally echo the sentiments of their time, where the band's genuine talents lie are in terms of their tight playing and the creative ambition of their arrangements. These are highly evocative of 1967 a landmark year in rock history and its to the records enormous credit that it doesn't pale by comparison with everything that was coming out then.

It would make an interesting parlour game for pop fans of the period to play, 'guess that tune', and unzip where the band have lifted influences from while listening along to the record. Beach Boys, certainly for opener A Carol For Lorelei, Revolver for Mr.Reliable, Byrds for The Town I'd Like to Go Back To. Second side, back to Beach Boys. Cryan' Shames sound so much of their time it's quite uncanny. The production shows a primitive, but effective use of moving the effect, slightly unsubtle from one ear to the next.

When Side 1 kicks in to Side 2 and they do their version of The Drifter's Up on the Roof, you'll want to throw up your hands, kick off your shoes and just be glad to be alive. There's definitely something about that energy to this particular record. This is almost too well known to work in any other context but they re-craft it hugely into a white, youth pop experience of sheer bliss. It has a claim to be at the very least the equal of the original.

From there to the stars in my eyes, wholly Beach Boys driven It Could Be We're in Love. The Cryan' Shames, like so many of the second ranking artists of the period were utterly under the spell of the sounds around them but this takes nothing away from the achievement of this album. It's every inch a small gem.

Much in the same way as The Turtles, Turtle Soup, which I've posted about on here recently, A Scratch in the Sky, distills so much of the energy, joy and vigor of the time of its release, shakes it up and pumps it back out without claiming or aiming to innovate but at the same time achieving a small, but pretty perfect identity of its own.

The record itself gained local prominence without featuring on national charts and pretty soon afterwards the band disintegrated with the Vietnam draft plucking members and a poorly thought through attempt to rock out with their third album, Synthesis. The band have since reformed and still tour.This is their go to record. Full of the joys of spring!

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