Tag Archives: Michigan

To the Moon and Back with Topher Mohr

3 Sep

topher mohr

It should come to no surprise that musician Topher Mohr grew up in Michigan. His eclectic music, which aptly pieces together elements from several genres suggests inspiration, and what better motivation than the elaborate music history of Detroit? While Mohr is impossible to pigeonhole, his music did spark a thought. If Michael Fitzpatrick (of Fitz and the Tantrums) is today’s modernizer of old-school Motown hits than Topher Mohr is reviving the old art of tender crooning. It seems like a lofty proclamation until I introduce you to:

His gentle voice is soothing but subtly strong and passionate. His vocal is saturated with emotion, and the soaked feeling is easily identifiable in his airy guitar plucking. While Mohr does not have the dark, coffee-roasted voice of the traditional old-school, five-pack-a-day crooner, he does, however, revive the old sound and modernize it. It’s exciting to listen to him make an old standard like “Fly Me to the Moon” ring with a contemporary flair.

Beyond his black-and-white performance of “Fly Me to the Moon,” Mohr released his new LP Phlotilla earlier this year. Prior to the LP release, he toured the world with his friend Mayer Hawthorne, another artist who features an eccentric style of music creation. Mohr’s album focuses on vintage pop, and “Ruthless” stays true to the genre.

The rhythm is similar to Fitz’ Motown-inspired hits, but Mohr combines the rhythm with a Maroon 5 meets the 1980s melody. This combined with Mohr’s versatile vocal creates an intriguing hit that even has room for a clean guitar solo! It’s a moving piece and one of the strongest on the new album.

Find out more about Mohr (yes, I went there) at his Website. You can also check out his Facebook and Twitter.

The Rationals Deserve Some of Your Respect

20 Jun

 In 2010, 60’s garage-rock band  The Rationals finally got some respect when they were voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends online Hall of Fame. Coincidentally, The Rationals’ cover of “Respect,” by Otis Redding is what initially launched them onto the charts for the only time in their six-year existence. But despite the lack of success, their brand of Beatles-influenced garage rock was certainly an influence for later Michigan musicians like The Stooges and MC5.

The Rationals were formed in 1964 and immediately found success in the local market. This prompted some attention by record companies, and the band was signed by A² records in 1965. In 1966, the band covered “Respect” which was picked up by Cameo and released to the country. It found the charts at #92 and earned them some notoriety. Unfortunately for the Rationals, the music didn’t latch on everywhere and the band remained a Michigan favorite but not a national success. After some more singles they fell victim to in-fighting and bad management and broke up in 1970.

It took until 2009 for a collection to be put together called Think Rational which featured a good sampling of the band’s work. And, proving that hindsight is always 20/20, the band was (and still is) heralded as a seminal garage rock act and a true unappreciated treasure. Better late than never I guess. It is well deserved. The music is fresh and lively. It is catchy and twangy, raw but organized, British-inspired but genuinely American branded. Lead Singer Scott Morgan, who is battling liver disease and currently awaiting a liver transplant, had a smooth and almost effortless voice. He also could blow the heck out of the harmonica. The band also featured Steve Correll on lead guitar and vocals, Bill Figg on drums, and Terry Trabandt on bass and vocals.

Here is a video of The Rationals performing “Respect.”  It is a tame cover, well constructed and a true head-bopper. I am a big fan of Scott Morgan’s voice. I also love the Brit-esque harmonies and the harmonica trill. When I listened to this cover I was a reminded of Bob Seger’s early work as a garage rock musician in Michigan with his band the Last Heard. Recorded around the same time as The Rationals’ “Respect” you can certainly spot several similarities (the song also shares a similar chorus with “Gloria” which was recorded by Van Morrison and Them two years earlier)

Listen to Seger’s “East Side Story”

Let me also show you the B-side of the “Respect” single that hit the charts. It is “Feelin’ Lost,” and pays even more tribute to the invasion sound that was pervasive in rock music at the time.

The song is short and repetitive. It features choral harmonies, a short recognizable riff, and a constant drum beat. These are all distinguishable factors of the British Invasion and Garage Rock. The band does it quite well though and it is a shame they did not hit more success. But, alas, we can enjoy it now!

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