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Album Review

THE TONIKS
Rise and Shine

You can change that ago-old mantra of retail (location, location, location) and adapt it to music, thanks to The Toniks. In this case, it will read arrangement, arrangement, arrangement because the band's new album, Rise and Shine, proves what I have known most of my musical life: that arrangements in many cases can make a good album better and a better album great.

Arrangements used to be a bigger thing in the olden days. Arrangers got paid big bucks (well, better than just musician's wages) to lay out songs in their best forms. Bandleaders such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington and even Glenn Miller hired and nurtured their favorites, as did Arthur Fiedler, who made an excellent living off of the pop/classical arrangements of Leroy Anderson. Ever hear of Billy Strayhorn? If you've heard the Duke, you have more than likely heard his arranging expertise. Neal Hefti and Frank Foster? Basie. Some of the biggest names in music were arrangers as well as musicians--- Andre Previn, Johnny Mandel, Ennio Morricone, Roger Kellaway and Robert Russell Bennett, to name only a few. Bennett, by the way, was the arranger (and conductor) for one of my all-time favorite albums, Victory At Sea, a soundtrack for a TV series about the battle on the high seas during WWII. Without Bennett, I understand, the music would have been musical vignettes rather the sweeping and full orchestral pieces they were.

In the rock era, arranging duties have largely fallen to either the band/artist or the producer. Mostly, it has become a matter of ear rather than a creative process. It is sad, really, to see the music simplified to that point, but when you are dealing with maybe five players (plus occasional guests), perhaps it is not needed. Unless those players play in a band like The Toniks.

I knew these guys were class right off the bat when the first track on the MP3 player, Figure It Out, dragged me back to the late sixties pop reminiscent of October Country and The Blades of Grass and a handful of other groups who had that pop sensibility you only get from the recording studio, grand piano and strings and vocal harmonies stacked to the ceiling, reaching cinematic heights attained through a melding of sounds. Now, they have these amazing instruments which can emulate the massive sound of the orchestra and chorus called synthesizers. If you would have told me back then.....

Figure It Out is only the beginning here, sports fans. They have ten more beauties before this edition of the band's ongoing life continues. In total, eleven songs you need to hear and, if you are anything like me, immerse yourself in while awaiting the band's next effort which will be way too long in coming. Eleven songs which take you through Pop music's vaults like you won't believe. Like Simple Things, which is an arrangement masterpiece, the voices creating a choir effect I've only heard recently from the most excellent Soundcarriers, a band I cannot seem to get enough of, either. Wonderful Then utilizes faux strings to the max, the pop vocals rising on the chorus and the strings supporting the verse, an excellent one-two punch. Scapegoat steps into Research Turtles territory, rhythm guitar crunching out the beat with slightly Brit-Pop-sounding vocals--- very catchy. Rise and Shine strikes a 60's note of a different kind, light sunshine pop leaning more toward The Cowsills and maybe early Osmonds and very well done, indeed. Track after track, The Toniks nail pop down and give it a good thrashing. The final word? Rise and Shine should be in every pop-rocker's rock library, no exceptions.

I wish I could tell you that I found these guys on my own but that would be lying. One Bobby Gottesman brought them to my attention (he runs a site called I Can't Believe My Earz), hailing The Toniks' pop sensibilities as if they were the second coming of The Beatles. I hear things like that from people all the time, but Bobby is no PR man. Well, he doesn't do it for a living, anyway. Bobby is a music fan of huge proportions--- I mean, he loves it as much as do I--- so when he grabs onto something and does not let go, I pay attention. In the case of The Toniks, I am glad I did. I might have missed these guys altogether without Bobby's help. Check out his pages. He has more where this came from.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.


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