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Dolenz Sings Nesmith—The E.P.

Dolenz Sings Nesmith—The E.P.

Review by Anthony Pomes

There are two types of people—Monkees fans, and the others who are wrong.At this point, entertainment streaming services have grown so large that there is no single show or movie or song around which any of us can still congregate. What does it even mean to top the charts these days?All of which leads back to the great music that came to define rock ’n roll radio back in the ’60s—much of it written by songwriters housed and backed by the Brill Building in New York City. And if you think about that pure pop moment in our shared past, you have no choice but to recognize how deeply The Monkees remain enmeshed in that history.History is on the minds of Monkees mavens these days, because we’re nearing the end of it. This past December saw the passing of Michael Nesmith, preceded in reverse order by Peter Tork and Davy Jones. That leaves only one member still on the stage—Micky Dolenz, a near lifelong Hollywood player and showbiz survivor whose identity as “The Voice of The Monkees” now stands undisputed. To his credit, Dolenz knows he was only a part of that group’s magic—something to which he now pays homage, as a recent string of announced concerts and the newly released four-song Dolenz Sings Nesmith, The “E.P.” (7A Records) already attest.It doesn’t matter if this collection—comprised of tracks left off last year’s same-name Dolenz Sings Nesmith—may now be out only because of Nesmith’s death. It also isn’t an issue if its added name of “E.P.” is meant only for those who recognize an “Extended Play” as longer than a 45 RPM single but shorter than an “LP” / Long Player.” What counts is what Dolenz does with these tunes from the paisley-tinged pen of his woolhat-wearing compadre—and what he does is wonderful.We start off with “Soul-Writer’s Birthday,” a song that Nesmith copyrighted back in 1967 but never recorded. The brisk arrangement on this track—by Papa Nez’s firstborn, Christian Nesmith—pairs the dominant-7th chord blasts of The Monkees’ “Salesman” with the organ blasts from the Davy Jones-sung “Star Collector,” both off the group’s fourth album in less than two years. Micky’s voice is strong as ever, with a bluesy snarl matched by some tasty slide guitar in the mid-section.Next up is a slow amble take on “Some of Shelly’s Blues,” one of Nesmith’s better break-up songs recorded by Linda Ronstadt and her Stone Poneys around the same time they had a chart-topping hit with Nesmith’s “Different Drum.” What makes this serviceable country-style number stand out is what Micky does to the lyric towards the end of the song—listen for yourself, and be pleasantly surprised by the little ray of light that Dolenz lets into the story.Before we talk about the third track, the fourth and final track here is a rough and rowdy roadhouse riff set to Nesmith’s far groovier version of his “Grand Ennui” first recorded and released in 1971 on his third solo album Nevada Fighter. The feel here is one best suited to a late night out with friends—an occasion far more dangerous during these COVID days than before.That leaves us with the third track, which is for this reviewer the best of the bunch. While it remains true that Dolenz’s voice most embodies the spirit of The Monkees, his performance on “The Crippled Lion” raises him to the rarefied air of interpretive singer on par with Sinatra.

This poignant track from Nesmith’s 1970 album Magnetic South deepens when one realizes that he wasn’t even 30 years old when he wrote and recorded it. The lyric refrain at the heart of the song (“But I am finally alone / And where my foot steps down is where it’s home”) expresses a sentiment that seems far beyond the years of its writer. Now in his ’70s and about to tour again with another group of shows, Dolenz captures the song’s essence with a blend of wisdom and lonesomeness that bespeaks his exceedingly fine evolution as one of our top balladeers.

Dolenz delivers here the best Broadway vocal performance of the year yet to be staged. With a little luck, though, perhaps that may be changed. In the meantime, be sure to take a seat in this tuneful vehicle along with Micky and Mike—with Monkees-era moonlight following along the way.

Music

G. H. Harding is a four decades insider to the entertainment world. He’s worked for record companies; movie companies; video-production He’s worked for record companies; movie companies; video-production companies and several cable outlets. His anonymity is essential in bringing an unbiased view to his writings on pop culture. He is based in NYC.

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