Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Heaters - American Dream: The Portastudio Recirdings (2016, Omnivore) - A brief review

From the standpoint of major labels, say CBS, the trend du jour in the early '80s was relatively staid and formulaic, despite the burgeoning advances being carved out in the realm of new romantic pop.  So where did The Heaters slot into the era?  Well, they just so managed to nail down a deal for their second album, Energy Transfer, in 1980 with CBS (presently Sony).  Though they hardly bore a penchant for anything radical, the album found the Heaters nuclei of Mercy Bermudez, Melissa Connell, and sister Maggie Connell gracefully deviating between contemporary pop-rock and girl group panache, resulting in an inadvertent update from two decades prior.  Safe as milk for the Top-40 set, and a reasonable good bet for the suits, the Heaters failed to catch the public's attention in the era of Blondie, the Knack and the Cars.  Essentially, Energy Transfer failed to transfer into mega sales on accounting ledgers, quite simply because the Heaters opted to be themselves in an increasingly fickle and superficial world.

The Heaters disbanded shortly after Energy Transfer failed to catch fire, but it wasn't long before the trio regrouped, determined to outdo the results of those initial records - without the auspices of a cutthroat, corporate music industry.  Going DIY is fraught with obvious perils, however by the early-80s the trio didn't intend to work with big name production crews, nor did they have the immediate interest of smaller indie labels.  Still performing in clubs and honing an already solid reputation for soaring harmonies, the band was encouraged to continue recording.

With a staunch intention of not returning to the rigamarole of fancy recording studios and their attendant, expensive trappings, The Heaters did a 180 and opted for a TEAC Portastudio four-track recorder.  The fruit of their home grown studio endeavors is being made available for the first time on American Dream.  Not to be confused with another archival Heaters collection, The Great Lost Heaters Album, American Dream showcases the trio indulging in the girl group jones that was merely hinted at on Energy Transfer, and their 1978 studio debut.  Channeling their inner Ronnettes...and their inner Crystals...and perhaps inner Shangri-Las as well, The Heaters finesse and uncanny aptitude for the genre and sound they're reaching for is as sheik and convincing as any acolyte of the vintage aforementioned combos could hope for.  Sure, the four-track medium is what the Heaters employed in their post-major label iteration, but they were hardly defined or stymied by it.  In fact, melodious, retro-fitted beauties "Just Around the Corner," "I Want to Love Again," and the sensuous title track gracefully transcend any supposed lo-fi limitations.  The liner notes, penned by Bermudez and the Connell sisters outline in forensic, albeit engaging detail how these 1983 recordings were committed to tape.  American Dream is available later this week through Omnivore Records and Amazon.

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