The pickings (both literally and figuratively) for fans of Ohio, proto-power pop legends, The Raspberries were remarkably slim after the quartet disbanded in 1975. Sure, there were the four legendary albums to fall back on - Fresh, Raspberries, Side 3, and Starting Over, but there were next to no buds remaining on the tree. In fact, no non-LP b-sides, outtakes, expanded reissues or the like were to be had, and most fans (even the die-hard variety) haven't even encountered demo or alternate renditions of the bevy of the band more well known staples, such as "Let's Go All the Way," "I Wanna Be With You," and "Overnight Sensation." The only compensation for dedicated Raspberries devotees jonesing for a few more morsels came in the guise of frontman Eric Carmen's solo records, and a handful of spinoff bands like Tattoo and the often rewarding Fotomaker, involving guitarist Wally Bryson. At best, the Raspberries would reunite in the twenty-first century, and grow a pair of live reunion albums (including the recent Pop Art, which documented a stunning 2004 performance at the House of Blues in Cleveland). And ironically, the only way forward for ears hung up on the 'berries is in fact...backwards?
The core lineup of the Raspberries, Eric Carmen, Dave Smalley, Jim Bonfanti, and Bryson, didn't materialize out of thin air when they congealed in the early-to mid seventies. All of them, minus Carmen spent some time in the regionally successful, Mentor, OH-based The Choir - at one time or another anyway. Four singles were minted between 1966-70, including the minor classic "It's Cold Outside," which has been covered ubiquitously ever since. Bearing a considerable Brit Invasion bent, the Choir didn't exactly bear the status of innovators, but with a sharp, albeit slyly rough-around-the-edges acumen they were a poplar live draw. Before shutting the lights off for good in 1969, a final clutch of recordings were committed to tape, much of it seeing the light of day for the first time on Artifact - The Unreleased Album.
One facet to bear in mind regarding the Choir is that they underwent about seven different lineups and permutations during their tenure, and in fact, the version of the group you'll hear on Artifact contains only one fellow who crossed over into the Raspberries, drummer Jim Bonfanti. This poses the question, just how much significance will this album hold to even to the most dedicated of the Rasp's fanboys?
Well, it's not a Raspberries album, nor does it logically predict what Eric Carmen and Co. would unfurl on those aforementioned and coveted four albums. This leads us to judge Artifact almost wholly on it's own merits. There are few overarching generalities to make about this record, save for the competence and execution of it's architects. It's more of a matter of what appeals to you at the moment. The sprite "Anyway I Can" bears a distinct Left Banke lilt, and is probably the only song in the bunch that possesses any inspirational antecedents to the more renown spinoff band in question. Shades of the fab four abound...but so do Traffic, on organ-laced cuts "If These Are Men" and "Boris' Lament." I could probably have done without the long-winded instrumental "For Eric," but elsewhere The Choir redeem themselves on the driving "David Watts," which would have probably slotted in nicely on an early Who or Kinks affair. In the grand scheme of things Artifact is less about lineage and considerably more about the era it emanates from, and thankfully, it's not a record merely geared to folks who couldn't get enough of a sugar fix from those handful of Raspberries disks. By the way, Artifact was preceded by another posthumous Choir compendium, Choir Practice on Sundazed in 1994, rounding up some of the band's earlier single sides and then some.
Artifact is available now from Omnivore, or iTunes and Amazon.
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