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LITTLE RIVER BAND
A "DIAMANTINA COCKTAIL" AND THE RIVER FLOWS FAST
by Dusti Rhodes
At the midway point of their current international tour, the Little River Band is, once again, enjoying an admirable degree of success, with healthy record sales, sell-out live appearances, and considerable media attention bolstering the firm base set by the band's initial appearance on the American rock circuit last year.
For new LRB initiates, a brief history is in order. The Little River Band is the first cousin of an early 70s Australian group called Mississippi; a band that achieved considerable status in its home country, with several industry awards and top-ten hits to its credit. Mississippi later moved on to England, and the band's subsequent demise in the fiercely competitive circuit there left guitarist/vocalist Graham Goble, guitarist/vocalist Beeb Birtles (also formerly a top-ten Oz-band Zoot), and drummer Derek Pellicci, bummed, broke and ready to head back home, but not ready to give up. The answer, they concurred, was to find a good, strong front-man for the band, pull the pieces back together, and try it again. Fellow Aussie Glenn Shorrock was in London at the time, feeling nearly as exasperated with the 12-piece sympho-rock outfit he'd joined after a very successful career in Australia fronting the Twilights and Axiom, both top Oz-rock groups of their day. Knowing Glenn's abilities as a writer, vocalist, and central figure of note, Goble, Birtles and Pellicci called on him to take up the new project under the guidance of manager Glen Wheatley, a former musician himself, whom they'd also hooked up with in London. The band's first album was in the works shortly thereafter, with guitarist Rick Formosa an bassist Roger McLachlan, who've since been replaced by David Briggs and George McArdle.
The debut album met with considerable acclaim in Australia, including an award as "Album of the Year", bestowed by the Australian Record Industry Association. The self-titled album was later released in the states, where the opening track, "It's A Long Way There", moved steadily up the charts to become a national hit; and Little River Band's first American tour, in support of the album and single, brought pleasantly surprised fans to their feet in packed halls throughout the country.
But the second time around is naturally harder and more demanding than the first -- the band is no longer the "new kids in town", so the element of sheer curiosity is diminished greatly; there are greater expectations and heavier demands, more to live up to and outdo than on the initial outing. With the release of their second American album, and with their second national tour nearly completed, the answer to "Can they do it again?" is a resounding "Yes!"
Diamantina Cocktail is the name of the latest LRB vinyl document; a title borrowed from an old Australian rum concoction: "A blast of Bundaberg rum, one surely whipped emu's egg, a dollop of condensed milk; pour over bald ice, garnish with a gum leaf, and goodnight, Gungadin." Or, translated musically: a blast of original compositions from LRB's three writers, one surely-proven producer (John Boylan), a dollop of spine-tingling harmonies, pour over tight musicianship, garnish with tasty string and horn arrangements, and hello, Hit-dom.
The album opens with its most accessible and commercially viable track, "Help Is On Its Way", written by lead vocalist Glenn Shorrock, and heading up the singles charts at a steady pace. There are also several tunes from LRB's "After Hours" Australian releases: "Days on the Road" (written by Graham Goble), and "Another Runway". Both lament the strain of touring and traveling around in the scuffling days; the latter featuring Beeb Birtles on lead vocals in a wistful, pensive reflection also penned by Beeb. Other Birtles tunes are, "Take Me Home", a bouncy, rocking tribute to home, a la last year's "I'll always Call Your Name", "Broke Again", the universally identifiable, bluesy ode to poverty; "Every Day Of My Life", an optimistic pop-rocker; and "Happy Anniversary", the quasi-funk tribute to a lost love that is probably one of the weakest cuts on the album -- that one and Shorrock's "Home On Monday" are a bit too cabaret for my tastes, but well-executed, nonetheless. (I will ignore the fact that these two tunes account for fully half of the new material on the album, and hope that they are not an indication of future direction.) Graham Goble's "Inner Light" is the sleeper track of the album, and with its sparse, driving bass line and blues/funk feel is an effective departure from the ballads and soft rockers that comprise most of the lp.
As evidenced by the wide variety of styles inherent to the Little River Band sound, having three writers offers a distinct advantage to attracting a sizeable following. Each writer is distinctly individual in style without straying too far from the consistency and commercial limits set by the band's gentle-rock sound, which displays nuances of various influences: Graham Goble is into writers like David Gates, Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell; guitarist Django Rheinhardt, and Larry Carlton, and shares a passion for jazz with bassist Geroge McArdle. Drummer Derek Pellicci also shares in the admiration for jazz artists, and recently got himself a Moog drum kit, the latest rave among top drummers like Cozy Powell, Steve Gadd of Tom Scott's band and John Hartman of the Doobies.
But recording is not their forte, according to Glenn Shorrock, who contends that Little River Band is essentially a live band: "We make good records, but basically we're better live musicians. Recording has always presented us with a problem -- eight weeks in the studio without people to feed off of drives me up the wall. Rock and roll has always been spontaneous and vibey -- restrictions on the band, like being in a studio environment, are a little hard to wear, especially with our more structured tunes.
"We'd like to release a live album. We tape every concert and listen to it; and though we feel comfortable enough with them now, we feel maybe we should wait until after the next studio album to release a live album here."
LRB's recent Greek Theatre gig, as opening act for Foreigner, was marked by crystal-clear sound, impeccable pacing, a good balance of old and new material, tight execution, the band's trademark harmonies in top form, and a vitality that had been missing during their last L.A. appearance in May. Although there is still a gap to be filled between musicianship and showmanship (the latter displaying increasing command and consistency in their live appearances, and drawing more enthusiastic response each time.
As we go to press, LRB are having a well-deserved ten-day break from their hectic touring schedule, and using the time to tape demos of song ideas that have been born during the course of their three-month American tour. Later in the month, the band will cross the pond for their before heading back to australia, via Japan -- where they'll do a short tour to introduce themselves to the country. Glenn Shorrock, the eternal comic, quips: "I can't wait to hear the Japanese disc jockeys introduce the 'Rittle Liver Band'".