Lisa B. Burns

Lisa Burns

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The problem with Lisa Burns' solo album on MCA is the same trouble that plagued her backing band here on its two albums on the same label: the guy who got them into the studio, producer Craig Leon. Leon is a talented guy, and his demos for Willie Alexander & the Boom Boom Band, along with his demos for DMZ, another Boston band, were superb. But given a budget and the big room of Suntreader Studio in Sharon, VT, and this album, with its neo-Phil Spector sound, just falls apart. What a shame. On paper, it's a great idea. The talent is here, somewhere in the grooves; it just is not as cohesive as Leon's own hit, the remake of Spirit in the Sky under the guise of Doctor & the Medics. "Slow Burn" would be great girl group pop except that David McLean's drums are too far up in the mix, the backing vocals are too far down, and the pretty frills just don't have the ooomph that Spector and his clones put into their radio-friendly productions. "In the Streets" is Annie Golden of the Shirts meets the Shangri-Las, with really great material and a performance that gets lost. Leon failed to properly record Willie Alexander's "You Looked So Pretty When," originally put to independent plastic by the late producer Stephen Lovelace. That tune, cut around the same time as these songs on the second Boom Boom album on MCA, probably during the same session, would have been perfect for Burns' more than adequate vocals. But Leon's underproduction does no justice to any of this pop; where Lovelace successfully merged Spector's sentiment with Sex Pistols-style rock & roll, Leon strips it all down. Oh, there's the "Be My Baby" drumbeat to open the DeShannon classic "When You Walk in the Room," and three Moon Martin covers, including "Love Gone Bad" (with its melody almost borrowed from Tommy James' "Tighter Tighter"), but hitting it out of the park is another issue. It is the Boom Booms backing up Burns here, with Billy Loosigian on guitar, Severin Grossman on bass, and the aforementioned David McLean on drums. Willie Alexander, the guy whose talent brought this crew together, is nowhere to be found on this record (he's also missing from the Velvet Underground's Squeeze album on Polygram, sad to say). It's been said that the band, and perhaps the producer, felt Alexander was too "far out" to be commercial. It is Alexander's eccentricities that garnered the attention in the first place; his compositions and incredible backing vocal work, along with his passion for Ronnie Spector's hits, could have contributed here. "Some Sing, Some Dance," a tune later recut by Ray Paul & Emmit Rhodes, misses the mark, and so does the exquisite "Victim of Romance," another Moon Martin tune that just sounds like the recording was rushed. The opening cover of the Box Tops' hit "Soul Deep" is an excellent choice, but sounds like it is lost in a vacuum. Willie Alexander & the Boom Boom Band had a three-album deal with Leon and MCA; infighting dissolved the group, and Leon went on to produce demos for the band without Alexander, and demos for Alexander without the band. The tragedy of the Lisa Burns album is that, had everyone been on the same page as a team, with Burns opening for Alexander and utilizing the same backing band, '70s and '80s rock could have been redefined. These are large talents who got lost in the mix, and the 20/20 vision of hindsight sheds light on the failure of this recording to bring these artists to the public. A real lesson in musical waste. "Tell Tale Heart," another co-write by the singer, should be done the right way by Ronnie Spector; it would be vindication for Burns and for the forgotten soldier responsible for these musicians to be able to record in the first place, William Spence Alexander. Good voice, great songs, wonderful musicianship, weak record. You figure it out.

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