Miscellaneous Artist: Earl’s Closet: The Lost Archive of Earl McGrath, 1970-1980 Album Review

Earl’s Closet suggests that McGrath turned to country-rock made by either Hollywood cowboys or Texan weirdos, while finding sustenance in soft folk-rock and distillations of ’60s pop. other sounds have crossed his radar, notably soul and some harder rock ‘n’ roll, but the sun-bleached troubadours provide the backbone of Earl’s Closet, while Daryl Hall and John Oates serve as a fulcrum. McGrath, Hall and Oates’ first and greatest discovery was soon poached by Ertegun for Atlantic, a label that proved to be a creatively fruitful but commercially frustrating time for the duo. Veterans of the Philadelphia soul scene – they turned down an offer to become house songwriters for Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff at the Philadelphia International – they refashioned themselves into folk and couldn’t resist the urge to fit in more rock and pop elements, as evidenced by “Baby Come Closer”. and “Dry in the Sun,” two original Hall tracks that are surprisingly funky even when rooted in folk.

Such a casual scrambling of genres suggests the journey traced on Earl’s Closet. The first part of the trip centers on California, with Delbert McClinton and Terry Allen both writing accounts of how they moved from Texas to California (“Two More Bottles of Wine” and “Gonna California”, respectively) . McGrath signed McClinton and partner Glen Clark to Clean, where they would release two albums as Delbert & Glen, while Allen never really broke into the big leagues. Allen finally carved out a place for himself as a fried Southern underdog artist – his 1979 double album Lubbock (over everything) is an American classic and he will collaborate with David Byrne on 1986 Sounds of true stories– but not everyone has been so successful. Hagan couldn’t identify three of the performers here – the bittersweet winds of “Only Yourself to Lose” are attributed to the nonsensically nicknamed Kazoo Singers – while many other acts operated on the fringes of the mainstream: veterans of the years 60 struggling to find their way forward into a new decade. Andy Warhol’s sidekick Ultra Violet fades as dawn breaks on the languorous “How Do You Do (Children of the Most High),” old folk Paul Potash takes stock of the hippie hangover on “Holy Commotion”, and there’s room for not one but two members of the Detroit rebels, the Amboy Dukes, a group that also counted Ted Nugent among its members: Dave Gilbert is in Shadow, who delivers the rush the sweet pop of “Oh La La,” while Johnny Angel sounds like an endearing cut-price Rod to Stewart in “The Invisible Lady.”

Of course, there are sons of Hollywood in Earl’s Closet as well. Michael McCarty, the son-in-law of famed B-movie director Ed Wood, is represented by “Christopher,” a dense, crystallized power-pop track reminiscent of early Emitt Rhodes. (Aptly, McCarty spent time in Los Angeles pop group The Palace Guard after Rhodes left.) Mark Rodney, son of Red Rodney, jazz trumpeter in Charlie Parker’s quintet between 1949 and 1951, is here with “California,” whose slick groove is much funkier than the records the singer-songwriter cut with John Batdorf in the early ’70s. Batdorf & Rodney were kindred spirits with artists like Country, the first band McGrath signed with Clean, in that they were heavily influenced by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; “Killer,” Country’s contribution here, distills the essence of CSNY in a way reminiscent of American “A Horse With No Name.”


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