Album Reviews: The Bangles' Early Years, Robert Rex Waller Jr., and The Kingbees

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The Bangles, Ladies and Gentlemen…the Bangles! The Bangles achieved their greatest success with well-hooked, sparkling pop creations like “Eternal Flame,” “If She Knew What She Wants,” and Prince’s “Manic Monday.” In their formative days, though, they veered more toward punk and harder-edged rock. That’s what they mostly deliver on this odds-and-ends collection of 16 remastered early-1980s tracks, which feature the group’s original lineup. (Michael Steele, who replaced the band’s first bassist, shows up on a couple of live numbers.).

The program, which should interest any serious fan, incorporates three recordings from the days when the band called themselves “The Bangs”; all five tracks from their eponymous minor-label debut EP, which was produced by Craig Leon (Blondie, the Cars); their first single; and some live material, including covers of the Turtles’ “Outside Chance,” Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “Steppin’ Out,” and Love’s “7&7 Is.” (The Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs, a devotee of that latter group, would go on to record a terrific cover of their classic “Alone Again Or” with Matthew Sweet.)

Anyone listening to this tightly constructed music, which is enlivened by harmony vocals and bursting with energy, would probably not be surprised to learn that the Bangles went on to score multiple Top 10 hits. Indeed, the best of this package—including “Tell Me” and “The Real World”—sounds every bit as good as much of the better-known work that followed.

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Robert Rex Waller, Jr., Fancy Free. Waller has spent the last 16 years fronting the California alt-country band I See Hawks in L.A. Though the group is known largely for his songs, this first solo outing finds Waller delivering nothing but well-chosen covers, including imaginatively arranged readings of Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me,” the Doors’ “The Crystal Ship,” the Hollies’ “The Air I Breathe,” Neil Young’s “Albuquerque,” and the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset.” As the artist notes on his website, “For me, this album is about singing.” That’s just fine, because Waller, whose vocals are redolent of the late Waylon Jennings, has a deep, rich baritone that commands attention. His CD, which features excellent guitar, piano, and fiddle accompaniment, suggests that we’ll be hearing more from him.

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The Kingbees, The Big Rock. This newly reissued second album from the Kingbees first appeared 35 years ago, and the group’s influences go back even further. The record has its roots in early rock ’n’ roll and rockabilly, albeit with a dash of 80s punk attitude thrown into the mix. The band broke up after The Big Rock’s release, a victim, perhaps, of bad timing, as their heyday slightly predated a rockabilly revival. But their music—which eschews studio gimmickry and features ringing guitars and infectious call-and-response vocals—holds up. There are lots of strong originals here, plus a sweet cover of Buddy Holly’s “Wishin’” and a version of Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Rockin’ My Life Away” that could give the Killer a run for his money. Four post-breakup bonus tracks find group leader Jamie James still in fine form with a new rhythm section.

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Jeff Burger (, a longtime magazine editor, has written about music, politics, and popular culture for more than 75 periodicals. His books include Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters, Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches…

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