Ned Doheny

Separate Oceans

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A fixture within the slick soft rock scene of Southern California in the '70s, Ned Doheny never had hits under his own name, but he was well-liked and well-connected, enough so that he was the first musician signed to David Geffen's Asylum label in 1973. That album didn't climb far up the charts, and neither did the pair that followed -- 1976's Hard Candy and 1979's Prone. He stopped recording after that, resurfacing in the new millennium with a couple of collections recorded for a Japanese label, but Numero Group's 2014 compilation Separate Oceans is the first serious attempt to reckon with his odd catalog. Consisting nearly equally of album tracks from his three '70s LPs and demos, usually of songs that wound up making the cut anyway, Separate Oceans excises much of the excess that bogged down his studio efforts. Much of those extraneous sounds emanate from Laurel Canyon -- what's left behind are Doheny's connections to the CSN&Y folk-rock cabal -- as Numero has chosen to emphasize his soul leanings, both in his harmonies and rhythms. He's not as natural as Boz Scaggs, the Californian soulman who epitomized the leisure suits and expensive studios of the '70s, but by cherry-picking album tracks and demos, Doheny sounds richer and deeper than he did on LP, a sly charisma as palpable in the studio as it is on the scratchy demos. He's still not much of a soul singer -- he's polite and deferential, suiting his setting if not his intent -- but even on his demos he's surrounded by expert session men who give this a clean sense of funk and he has the enthusiasm to play along. Certainly, he's a creature of lavish Los Angeles, a musician who whiled away his hours in pricey studios, but that's where Numero's decision to include demos is a masterstroke. These rough run-throughs give Doheny a grit missing on his master recordings while evoking the flip side of the Me Decade; beneath all that gloss there were hard-working musicians and here it's possible to hear them working hard. Doheny remains a bit of a misfit -- the '70s were the only decade that produced such a thing as a wealthy insider who could conceivably be called a cult act -- but Separate Oceans does a terrific job of capturing all his compelling idiosyncrasies, suggesting that he was an outsider who was working on the inside...a nifty trick considering his status as an insider means he never quite existed on the fringe.

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