Medium Rare - Scott Morgan (Real O Mind)

mediumrareThe last non-sellout in a line of powerful, soulful, R&B-influenced rock singers from the '60s, Scott Morgan's had a lot of notoriety the last few years, since the world of Rockdom at large belatedly discovered the joys of Sonic's Rendezvous Band, the late-seventies Dee-troit "supergroup" that he fronted in tandem with (and later in opposition to) ex-MC5 guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith.

Had the recording of their April 1978 stand at the Second Chance in Ann Arbor (released 20 years later on Mack Aborn Rhythmic Arts as "Sweet Nothing") appeared when the band was still happenin', the whole history of Rawwwk as we know it might well have been changed. A dynamo of a band with great songs, two distinctive lead singers in Morgan and Smith, mighty guitar damage from Sonic (who had evolved so far as a player, singer, and writer since the Five's heyday that he almost seemed like a different musician), and the powerhouse engine room of Gary Rasmussen (ex-Up) on bass and Scott "Rock Action" Asheton (ex-Stooges) on drums, the Rendezvous seemed unstoppable on paper but had the great misfortune to be treading the boards at a time when disco and cover bands had usurped the place of passionate, fiery original rock'n'roll on the evening stage, and recognition outside their native Michigan eluded them (although their legend loomed large).

Much of Scott's recent, uh, high visibility has come as a result of his association (instigated by his ex-manager, Philadelphian Geoff Ginsberg) with Swedish rockarama juggernaut the Hellacopters. The 'copters wore their reverence for SRB on their sleeves, even covering the Rendezvous' one released recording "City Slang" on their "Payin' the Dues" album and Scott's "Heaven" on a six-song EP. Eventually, Scott journeyed from his home in Ann Arbor to Noo Yawk City to meet his Swedish acolytes, share a chunk of their stage, and record a couple of singles ("Downright Blue" b/w "Thanks for Nuthin'" and "Slow Down, Take A Look" b/w "16 With a Bullet") for Sub Pop.

That meeting led to the release of an album on the 'copters' then-current label, White Jazz, by the Hydromatics, an aggregation consisting of Scott, Hellacopter guitarist Nick Royale on drums (his original instrument from early Entombed days), and Dutch SRB fans Tony Slug (ex-Nitwitz, Loveslug) on guitar and Theo Brouwer (ex-Nitwitz) on bass. That album, "Parts Unknown," was a solid slab of Detroit Rock Action, including covers of four SRB toons as well as Scott's dynamite rendition of Sonic's opus "Baby Won't Ya" from the MC5's best/last album, "High Time." 

In mid-1999, Scott regrouped with the SRB riddim boyzzz (both of whom had worked with him off and on through the years as the Scott Morgan Band and Scots Pirates) with ex-Radio Birdman mastermind Deniz Tek (who had previously played with Scott and Brother Wayne Kramer on the 1995 Detroit roots-tribute "Dodge Main" for Alive) in the lead guitar slot to play a one-off gig at the Magic Stick in Detroit as the Rendezvous Band. The resultant recording was the premiere release on Ginsberg and Dave Champion's Real O Mind label and proof positive that the SRB vibe was still strong.

With all the attention on SRB, it's easy to forget that before that band's wayward trajectory, Scott had already experienced teenaged stardom as leader of the Rationals, Ann Arbor garage kings transformed (under the tutelage of their manager and A-Square Records honcho Jeep Holland) into blue-eyed soul brothers supreme, covering Otis Redding's "Respect" a full year before Aretha made it her own, cutting a string of strong singles for labels including A-Square, Cameo-Parkway, and Capitol, and a classic but damn-near-unobtainable album on Crewe. Their late-period signature tune "Guitar Army" provided the title for a book of Detroit poet/music critic/revolutionary shill/dope martyr John Sinclair's "street and prison writings," and became a Motor City anthem on a par with Bob Seger's "Heavy Music" and the Five's "Kick Out the Jams" its own self. And it's as a tonsil-tearing R&B belter and versatile songwriter that Scott, in this writer's opinion, really excels, but it's been hard to hear those sides of his work (his solo albums on Revenge and Schoolkids being rarer than hen's teeth these days). Until now.

In "Medium Rare," Geoff Ginsberg has assembled a tasty smorgasbord of Morgan rarities drawn from three full decades of magnificent obscurity. Chronologically, the train starts rolling in 1970, with the original Rationals' very last studio outing, a remarkably soulful take of the Walt Disney "Song of the South" chestnut "Zip-a-Dee-Doodah," with guitarist Steve Correll proving that there was more than one great singer in the band. Also included are three of the four studio tracks cut during a brief reformation in 1992 (with Scott handling lead guitar chores): a remake of their 1967 hit, Sam "The Man" Taylor's "Baby Hold On," a poppy, horn-driven cover of Major Lance's great dance smash "Monkey Time," and "Open the Door," which actually sounds like it could've been recorded by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes or one of those late '70s R&B-based outfits that were so popular in the wake of Broooce (and believe you me, pilgrim, it's only a manifestation of the vagaries of fate that Scott never achieved the success of Broooce Springstone, John Cougar Melonhead, et. al. - proof positive, if any more were needed, that there's "No Justice In Rock 'n' Roll"). There's so much joy in these grooves that I defy anyone with a heartbeat and a pulse who digs music to hear 'em without at least smiling or, more to the point, dancing.

Also well-represented are the '98-'99 studio efforts of Scott's "L.A. band," the Jones Bros. - Detroit natives John Burke (drums) and Jubei Hughes (bass), and Hendrixoid guitarist Manny Alvarez (former guitar tech for Beach Boy Carl Wilson!). The jewels in that particular crown as represented here are a spirited cover of Al Green's "Full of Fire," with Morgan at his fire-eating best, and the moody, Near Eastern-sounding "Pop Poppies," an ode to MTV which boasts a soaring, arcing solo from Alvarez. Also noteworthy are the funky rock workouts "Radio Hollywood" and "Free Rock," which wouldn't have sounded out of place on any of Wayne Kramer's Epitaph albums.

The remainder of "Medium Rare" is devoted to demo and "basement" sessions, but that's no reflection on the music's quality. "Cool Breeze" (in a more straight-ahead rockin' version - laced with blazing dual guitars - than the one that appeared on Scott's 1996 "Revolutionary Means" album) and the countryish "Satisfying Love" were cut in April 1978 (while the rest of Sonic's Rendezvous Band were touring Europe as Iggy Pop's backing band) with the "Brothers of the Road" band, including former SRB bassist Ron Cooke, keyboardist Harry Phillips (ex-Mitch Ryder's Detroit), and guitarist Steve Dansby.

From late '83, "Rhythm Communication" features the first edition of the Scott Morgan Band, with Scott Asheton providing "extra drums" while Scott's brother Johnny Morgan lays down the solid four-on-the floor, Ron Cooke again on bass, and Gary Rasmussen's sometime employer Mike Katon on guitar. The track starts out funky, then breaks down into an Allman Bros.-like jam (with Morgan and Katon both providing the sting on guitar) over a shuffle beat. From 1984, "She's Wild" has Scott backed by a stripped-down unit of his brother Johnny, Gary Rasmussen, and Katon. The album ends on a pensive note, with an acoustic bonus-track version of "Josie's Well" (originally heard on the "Rock Action" album) that features Gary Rasmussen on cello.

For new initiates, "Medium Rare" provides a worthy introduction to the depth and breadth of Scott Morgan's substantial talent. For long-time fans, it's absolutely essential. Hell, it's THE BEST MORGAN COLLECTION CURRENTLY AVAILABLE and the most joyously rocking - maybe even just the BEST - record I've heard so far this year. Now if I can just live long enough to experience a Scott Morgan LIVE set that incorporates some of these great jams (not to mention the Rationals' hits and some hotsoes off his early solo recs) in addition to the Rendezvous stuff... - Ken Shimamoto

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Geoff Ginsberg and Real O Mind Records had begun the process of better acquainting the world with the recorded works of the often underrated and under-appreciated former Rationals/Sonics Rendezvous and now Hydromatics guitarist / vocalist (and Detroit rock-n-roll elder statesman) Scott Morgan, with the "Take a Look" 7" single. This is continued to some degree in on the 14 tracks which make up "Medium Rare, 1970-2000" but also provides a wider view of this white/black soul rock-n-roller.

Opening the CD is the down and funky Al Green penned "Full of Fire" and some could easily mistake this for that stockstandard modern blues/funk by the likes of Kenny Wayne Shepherd, etc., but this track is saved with the rock-n-soul vocals from Morgan and the impressive lead guitar work, which crashes headlong into an abrupt end.

Another impressive track is "Rhythm Communication", which according to the meticulously prepared liner notes was recorded back in the early 80s and features an intro riff reminiscent of The Stooges 'We will Fall', followed by a "We gotta get outta this place" inspired bass guitar line and then combined with a funky backbeat, stylish female backing vocals and then breaks into some blues/funk boogie all with a very mainstream 80s-styled production sound.

Tracks four to six and track 10 are performed by The Rationals featuring Scott Morgan on vocals and lead guitar and provide some of the highlights of the CD.

"Hold on Baby" recalls the likes of Sam & Dave and Otis Redding, with fine lead vocals from Morgan, backing vocals from Steve Correll and Terry Trabandt (whom also contributes some solid but funky bass guitar), clever brass section arrangements and proves white guys can play soul/funk like the aforementioned legends of the genre.
"The Monkey Time" also features some top notch musicianship and another fine lead vocal on this amazing Curtis Mayfield-penned tune. Two marked departures follow with "Free Rock" (which features some heavy duty rhythm section work and scorching, seering lead guitar work) and "Pop Poppies" (which brings down the mood, volume and tempo with rhythm guitar work almost reminiscent of Radio Birdman's 'Man with Golden Helmet' and some spooky, garage/pyschedelia inspired lead guitar noodling).

Track 11 is "Cool Breeze" and might be known to fans of Sonics Rendezvous. This version wisely does not attempt to match the original's monstrous power, but still has appeal with some interesting use of harmonica. The final listed track "Satisfyin' Love" is probably the major surprise to fans of Scott Morgan through his time in Sonics Rendezvous - it's a Neil Young/Flying Burrito Brothers/Gram Parsons/Eagles- inspired easy-going country rock tune, complete with slick Fender Telecaster lead guitar work and Rolling Stones styled keyboards but still surprises with an almost folk rock inspired middle.

The final (unlisted) track 'Josie's Well' is a further excursion into acoustic music for Scott Morgan. As the song explores the topics of Scotland, whiskey and poetry and is performed with acoustic guitars
and cello.

Three of the tracks are recorded in the 1970s, two are recorded in the 1980s and the rest are recorded since the 90s, with "Satisfier" recorded in 2000. Eight of the 14 tracks are penned by Scott Morgan and demonstrate his abilities in writing an impressive variety of songs. The CD also features guest appearances from the likes of Robert Gillespie, Gary Rasmussen and Scott Asheton.

"Medium Rare, 1970-2000" provides an unique insight into the recorded music and songwriting of Scott Morgan and continually surprises with diversions into soul, funk, R 'n' B, heavy rock, country rock and folk. - Simon Li

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Scott Morgan's website

 

Tags: sonics rendezvous band, scott, morgan, rationals, hydromatics, medium, rare

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