Saturday, August 30, 2014

Best Album of Which you have Never Heard

Many rock albums have come and gone since the 1960s
but only one is the best of which you have never heard.
Photo credit: Will Folsom / Foter / CC BY
When Bill Haley and His Comets were rocking around the clock in the 1950s, nobody knew if the new music form was just a passing fad or a revolution of youth culture that would upend the popular tastes that had endured since the 1920s. Somewhere along the way, rock ’n’ roll got taken seriously. Singles were no longer the only game in town. Long-playing (LP) records that could accommodate more than 20 minutes of music per side allowed artists to take what had been just loose collections of songs and think of them as more of a continuing story arc. Fast-forward to the post-Sgt-Pepper’s 1960s: magazines like Rolling Stone have come along, rating rock albums on their artistic merits and not just their booty-shaking quotients. These ratings were often left open to the very subjective interpretation of the individual reviewer but at least there was some effort to legitimize the work of the rock community.

However, for all their good works, rock reviewers have let many albums slip through the crevices down the decades. Some would cite The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle, which contained the group’s posthumous hit “Time of the Season,” as the missing link of the British Invasion in 1968. Others might say that something harder edged such as Golden Earring’s 1973 album Moontan with FM favorite “Radar Love” deserves mention. And many hipster poseurs will pay homage to X with Exene Cervenka, John Doe, DJ Bonebrake and Billy Zoom but very few of them could be pressed to produce the title of any of their perfect post-punk-pop productions from the early 80s, with the possible probability of the critics’ pet Los Angeles.

Primal Dream from singer/songwriter/guitarist Richard
Barone in 1990 is the best album of which not many
people have ever heard. Photo credit:Derek Handova
We are worthy!
All these LPs would be worthy candidates for best album of which you have never heard. However, it would take a great epochal event of the early 1990s pop culture to seal the fate of that best album: Primal Dream from singer/songwriter/guitarist Richard Barone. Though not associated in any strong way with the musical excesses of the 1980s, Barone and Primal Dream were nonetheless collateral damage of the Grunge blowback affecting everything that preceded it. After Nirvana’s Nevermind, nothing would ever be the same again.

Primal Dream has everything a fantastic rock album needs: Top-notch songwriting, great guitar riffs, heartfelt vocals, sophisticated arrangements, intricate rhythms and not least of all attitude. “It was a coming of age album,” Richard Barone said in a recent interview regarding Primal Dream. “An album of discovery and rediscovery. It was an album about being a young dude at that moment in time (1989-1990) and what he was feeling. The world was basically his. He wanted answers to big questions, he wanted romance, he wanted freedom. And he was willing to break out of his comfort zone to get what he wanted.”

Barone, a former leading light of the now largely forgotten music scene in Hoboken, N.J., in the early 1980s, has always been well connected in the music business. And he has always shown his chops for bringing in the heavy hitters, for example enlisting the help of Fred Schneider from The B-52's for backing vocals on the “Mr. Used-to-be” track on Primal Dream. “I always enjoy working with Fred,” Barone says. “The Bongos (Barone’s 80s band) were special guests on the entire first B-52’s tour. “And we've collaborated many, many times since. I especially like Fred's version of Nilsson’s ‘Coconut’ that I produced for him in the 90s on the Nilsson tribute album.”

With  upheld guitar in hand, Richard Barone signaled his
intention to rock on 1990's
Primal Dream from the get-go.
Photo credit: Derek Handova
Let’s rock!
As fun and funky as “Mr. Used-to-be” is, Primal Dream is by far more about rocking out. “Primal Dream is most definitely a rock album, especially after the acoustic tones of its predecessor, cool blue halo,” Barone says. “The rhythm section on Primal was a total rock band—Jay Dee Daugherty (of Patti Smith Group), Ivan Julian, Thaddeus Castanis—augmented by the cool blue halo ensemble plus marimba and Mellotron (keyboards). It was a rather big band playing mostly live in the studio to create that sound. It rocked, but the melodies, harmonies and choruses were defiantly pop.”

Bodies of water
An overriding theme on Primal Dream is the idea water; specifically rivers. As I’ve written previously in review of Rainbow Warriors, water is a very powerful metaphor. In the context of Primal Dream, Barone intended to draw forth the idea of constant change. As quoted in Heraclitus, an early pre-Socratic philosopher, “No man ever steps into the same river twice.” And so Barone similarly viewed the presence of water in his songs “River to River” and “Native Tongue” on Primal. “The river themes were intentional. I had been spending time in Brazil, at the mouth of the Amazon River in Manaus,” Barone says. “The idea that the ‘black’ Rio Negro and the light-brown Rio Solimoes merge to form the mighty Amazon was nature at its most poetic to me.

“Coming back to New York, surrounded by the East River and the Hudson, I was again inspired. The symbolism and metaphorical potential of rivers and water is obviously inexhaustible! Constantly moving forces of nature. They barely stay the same for a moment. At the time I was writing this album, the notion of constant change was on my mind. Maybe I was just learning to go with the flow.”

Richard Barone usually prefers an acoustic guitar, but on 
1990's Primal Dream he revealed an underrated talent with
electric axes. Photo credit: wfuv / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
Overall, on Primal Dream, the songs have an ebullient, optimistic tone, almost celebratory vibe. And of course, Primal Dream is a great album title. “The two things at play on this album title were the idea of ‘prime,’ about being in the ‘prime’ of life, and, secondly, a concept I had read and heard about via Joseph Campbell, which is a theory that the human race has always had the same dreams: The situations and specifics, of course, change as we enter different, modern eras,” Barone says. “But even the earliest humans had dreams of the chase, the hunt, anxieties, aspirations, etc. The same kinds of dreams we have now. I felt the songs I was writing at the time were ‘primal’ in that sense. The symbols are eternal, even if the lives and music are ephemeral.”

The best attribute of Primal Dream is Barone’s approach. In contrast to a lot of 80s and 90s music trends, Barone charted his own course, neither overly bombastic nor exceedingly moody, eschewing musical categories all along the way. Of his approach, Barone says, “It’s simple. I’m guided by what I like, and by whom I want to work with, and never by market trends or doing ‘what I’m supposed to do.’ ” As it should be.

If you are up for a treat, I recommend Primal Dream in the original CD format. Fortunately, you never have to worry about it being out of stock. Amazon has it available for ordering on-demand with its AutoRip recording technology. Very cool! Even cool blue halo cool!

-Derek Handova
Appreciative Listener


  1. I was blown away by this album and wondered why it didn't have a higher profile. I think Derek is spot on with his analysis and admiration. My favorites are the heavy, quirky Roman Circus and I Only Took What I Needed, which did get airplay on KSAN in San Francisco.

    1. Thanks for your comment. "Roman Circus" definitely runs through your mind again and again when you hear it and is an excellent conclusion to the album.. And "I Only Took What I Needed" is another good track with its echoing guitar work and clever wordplay.

      Richard Barone is truly one of the, pardon the pun, unsung recording artists of the 80s and 90s. Very few musicians are as earnest, uncompromising and talented as he is. And he's just a regular guy, to boot. Check his Instagram feed to see what I mean If he can hang with Alice Cooper AND likes Frank Sinatra, he's good enough for anyone!

      His music wears even better today than when it came out such as on "Before You Were Born," which means a lot more now to a Gen X-er with a lot of perspective than when it was published.