Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Sundowners - Captain Nemo (1968)

While pop/rockers the Sundowners never scored a hit during their career in the mid-'60s, for such a little-known band they managed to cast a long shadow, touring with some of the biggest acts of the day and appearing on television and in major motion pictures. Formed in Lake George, NY in 1959, the original lineup of the Sundowners consisted of Eddie Brick on lead vocals, Dominick DeMieri on lead guitar and vocals, Eddie Placidi on guitar and vocals, Bobby Dick on bass and vocals, and Kim Capli on drums. In 1965, after earning a loyal local following, the group cut a single for the Coed Records label, "Leave Me Never" backed with a cover of Chuck Berry's "Around and Around." In 1966, the Sundowners moved to Los Angeles in hopes of shifting their career into high gear, and cut a second single for Filmways Records featuring two original songs, "Ring out Wild Bells" b/w "When the Sun Goes Down." In 1967, the Sundowners were playing an engagement at the famed Sunset Strip club Ciro's when Michael Nesmith of the Monkees saw the band perform; impressed, he invited them to join the group's summer concert tour as their opening act, and they also backed the Monkees for a show-closing medley of rock oldies. (The tour's openers also included Jimi Hendrix and Ike & Tina Turner, putting the Sundowners in excellent company.) In 1967, they were signed to Decca Records, and released the Beatlesque single "Always You" b/w "Dear Undecided"; the A-side was written by Tony Asher and Roger Nichols, and the sessions were produced by studio legend Bones Howe. In 1968, the band released their only LP, Captain Nemo, which was produced by guitarist DeMieri. While the album would become a cult favorite with fans of sunshine pop and light psychedelia, it didn't sell well, and the group fared better as actors in the year of its release. In February, the Sundowners guest starred as "The Raspberry Wristwatch" on "A Very Warm Reception," an episode of the espionage drama It Takes a Thief, while in September they appeared as "Sonny and the Sundowners" (with Paul Petersen playing their lead singer) on the "Song of Bertrille" episode of the comedy The Flying Nun. the Sundowners can also be seen and heard briefly in the movie Don't Make Waves, which starred Tony Curtis, Claudia Cardinale and Sharon Tate.

The Sundowners' sole album suffers from the problems afflicting many similarly obscure late-'60s pop/rock LPs on major labels. One, the group can't really decide what they want to be, which though leading to some admirable versatility, also ensures a sort of anonymity. Two, there aren't any really good songs, though one or two come close. It might be backhanded praise, but as those sort of records go, this is considerably above the average; the production's very good and full, the singing and harmonies are decent and committed, and The Sundowners play pretty well. Still, they almost sound like different groups from track to track, or at the very least like they're not quite sure whether to be all-out commercial, or try and slip some hipness in on the side. There are some engaging near-Association-strength vocal harmonies and bouncy melodies that put them close to the sunshine pop camp at times, yet at other times they skirt mushy easy listening rock. "Dear Undecided," clearly the best track, is like a fusion of the Hollies and (if this isn't a contradiction in terms) Herman's Hermits at their toughest, and the one you're most likely to have heard before, since they played it onscreen in an episode of the popular late-'60s TV show It Takes a Thief. Other passages indicate they might have been serious Byrds and Who fans -- "Ring Out Wild Bells" has heavy traces of both groups -- yet they don't pursue those inclinations as all-out as they could have, to their detriment. Then there's a mediocre soul-rock instrumental, slightly psychedelic pop/rock (the title cut), and forced blue-eyed soul. It's not that bad on the whole, but certainly not all it could have been.
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