Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Critters - Anthology: The Complete Kapp Recordings 1965-1967 (1994)

Great summertime pop music. Incredibly catchy songs. I haven't listened to this collection in awhile, but a few years ago I used to listen to a lot. Definitely a product of it's time, but some of the absolute best guitar/folk/sunshine pop of its kind.

New Jersey's Critters have earned a reputation as a bubblegum pop group, but they really had a lot more going for them than that. For starters, founding members Jim Ryan and Don Ciccone were both gifted songwriters, singers, and arrangers, and if they had a sort of soft, sunshine approach to things, well, they did it as well as anyone. This anthology collects their Kapp recordings (which essentially means their one album for Kama Sutra and a handful of singles and B-sides) from 1965 to 1967, and it shows a versatile band that was much more than a sort of precursor to Bread. Their first single, a folk-rock cover of Jackie DeShannon's "Children and Flowers," leads things off here, and yes, it's sappy, but wonderfully so, and once you accept the lyrics, it emerges as a bit of a lost treasure. The next two tracks are also striking, the Beatlesque "He'll Make You Cry" and the equally impressive "Little Girl," both of which could have -- and should have -- been AM radio hits. "Mr. Dieingly Sad," a group original that out-associates the Association, is another highlight, and the set closes with a surprisingly bright, joyous, and breezy version of the Motown classic "Dancing in the Street." Leaving Kama Sutra at the end of 1967, the band recorded a second album on the Project 3 label before calling it quits. The Critters, like Chicago's Cryan' Shames, might have gone on to bigger and better things if the military draft, label snafus, and public perception hadn't short-circuited the creative life span of the group. As it is, they'll make you smile on a rainy day. There's something really valuable in that. - Steve Legget, AMG

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