The Arbors

Symphonies for Susan

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Formed in Ann Arbor, MI in 1961 by two sets of brothers, Fred and Ed Farran and Scott and Tom Herrick, the Arbors took a glee club, Four Freshman approach into pop music, but by the end of the decade they had blossomed into an intriguing, sophisticated, and softly psychedelic pop outfit and had put out at least one minor masterpiece, 1969's clumsily named The Arbors Featuring I Can't Quit Her/The Letter. Sounding a bit like a cross between a hip barbershop quartet and Simon & Garfunkel, complete with Baroque string arrangements, mind-bending vocal phasing, and radical re-imaginings of several pop hits, the album was certainly singular, and it suggested a bright creative future for the group. Unfortunately, with the exception of a single the following year in 1970, the Arbors chose to concentrate instead on a lucrative career singing jingles for various commercials for the next 35 years until the death of Ed Farran in 2005, after which the group called it quits. This 22-track selection from Revola Records includes the entirety of that breakthrough 1969 album along with key highlights from the Arbors' other two albums, and tosses in assorted related singles to present the best available look at this woefully forgotten band. There are several striking highlights here, including the group's version of the Box Tops' 1967 hit "The Letter," which is slowed down by half (and then slows down even more from there) and emerges as a fascinating reinterpretation of the song. The Arbors perform a similar bit of magic on a cover of the Doors' "Touch Me," stripping back Jim Morrison's original vocal bluster to make it over into a fragile, delicate, and extremely beautiful love song. Then there are a pair of inventive medleys, one which pairs two obvious Beatles songs (both written by Paul McCartney), "Good Day Sunshine" and "Got to Get You into My Life," and one which grafts the chorus from Simon & Garfunkel's "For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her" to Blood, Sweat & Tears' "I Can't Quit Her," creating, in effect, a whole new song, and a striking one at that. The group's final single, a gorgeous reading of Bobbie Gentry's "Okalona River Bottom Band," is also here, along with an utterly bizarre take on the garage band classic "Hey Joe" which, if not the definitive version of it, is certainly among the most memorable. And memorable is also the word for the Arbors' cover of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," a version that layers the epic original with all manner of new twists and turns, finally emerging as more quaint than effective, but no one could ever accuse the Arbors of taking the obvious route into the song, which by itself makes their version refreshing. The best of what the Arbors recorded in the late '60s raises soft pop to a near art, and if in the end the group's reach overextended its execution, it wasn't by much, and they remain a delightful guilty pleasure some forty years later.

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