Liz Damon's Orient Express / Liz Damon

Liz Damon's Orient Express

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"1900 Yesterday" is as classic a slice of middle-of-the-road/adult contemporary music as you'll find, and the hit single is up there with Ray Conniff's Top Ten 1966 hit, "Somewhere My Love" ("Lara's Theme" from the film Dr. Zhivago is a superb example of the genre). Indeed, Liz Damon's group of three frontwomen and six male musicians sounds as enamored of Ray Conniff and his sound as Ric Ocasek and the Cars were of the Velvet Underground. The Cashman & West song "But for Love" is brilliant, more edge than you might find on an album by the Lettermen, while "You Make Me Feel Like Someone" could have fallen off the first Ronettes album, no joke. Ben Wood's liner notes say this is the band's album debut, and yes, they are lined up in some Holiday Inn-type venue on the back, empty tables and chairs, some people crowded up front -- it's bar band schmaltz, with something here nonetheless. Producer George J.D. Chun put together some sterling work at Annex Studio in Los Angeles and Commercial Recording in the group's hometown of Honolulu. "Bring Me Sunshine" hails back to Connie Francis' early-'60s pop. Keep in mind that this is only four years after Conniff's smash and about seven years since the lengthy reign of Queen Connie. The record is absolutely delightful if you consider the strange combination of genres -- girl group meets middle-of-the-road. The sounds are not strange bedfellows, it's just that for the time this was the antithesis of hip, though that hit single keeps coming back -- as wonderful a tune as the Five Stairsteps' "O-o-h Child," albeit lighter, much lighter.

And yes, the Beatles covers are pure Lettermen; "Something" features the gals backing up the guys with Supremes-type chirps, as does "Let It Be," but it is more palatable than an album like Hugo Montenegro's Dawn of Dylan. Cutting "Let It Be" and "Something" may have been the popular thing at the time; decades later that certain collectibility garnered by Beatles covers puts this album into another league. The guitar solo to "Something" is pretty interesting, as the bar band emerges from the slick adult contemporary sound for a moment, and it is very cool. It's interesting to note that a latter-day version of H.P. Lovecraft known simply as Lovecraft had the same Holiday Inn look, but that band issued a Latin rock sound instead of this frothy stuff. "You're Falling in Love" is a good little tune for Damon's voice, and had she a Phil Spector or a John Farrar to bring her to the heights reached by Olivia Newton-John and Ronnie Spector, she could have held a chanteuse crown for a while. "Everything Is Beautiful" has the band playing the intro that Ray Stevens' choir worked on for his 1970 hit; it's the guys back in front for this and, with no musicians getting credit (only their faces on the back cover and in the gatefold), it's a wonder they didn't just push Damon instead of nameless people taking time up on a record that featured her image front and center. A marketing blunder from the label that brought the world all those Turtles hits, but a fun disc regardless, and a timeless hit single in "1900 Yesterday" worth hearing again and again.

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