So here's a little known, but mildly enjoyable early-1970s Canadian pop set that you can still find for a reasonable price ... what's not to like about that?
Led by former Landslide Mushroom (don't you love the name), vocalist Phyllis Brown, Rain hailed from Kitchner, Ontario Featuring keyboardist Charley Hall, singer Ron Hiller, lead guitarist Bill McLaughlin, and drummer Chris Woroch the band signed to Greg Hambleton's newly formed Axe Records. Axe had a distribution agreement with London which led to the release of their 1971 debut single:
- 'Out of My Mind' b/w 'You're the One' (London catalog number 17410).
With the single going top-40 in Canada, Axe rushed the band into the studio to record a supporting album. Produced by Hambleton, 1972's cleverly-titled "The Rain Album" included a collection of professional, if seldom inspired pop-rock material. Brown handled most of the vocals and displayed a nice voice, though some of the appeal wore off whenever she tried to push her voice. Hiller was featured on 'I'll Write You a Letter'. Similarly, the rest of the band were quite competent, showing occasional flashes of real talent; particularly Hall's tasteful keyboards and McLaughlin's lead guitar (check out his solo on the atypical rocker 'Got To Get Away'). That said, as a band they didn't seem to have a great deal of personality, or chemistry going for them. That may have been one of the factors in Brown's subsequent decision to go solo.
- Yeah, 'Out of My Mind' was a top-40 Canadian hit, but to my ears it was kind of a tuneless mess with Brown breathlessly screeching her way through the song. She clearly had a nice voice, but it wasn't very apparent on this one. rating: ** stars
- Written by future Major Hoople's Boarding House front man David Lodge, 'Let the Love Begin' was a far better song. Kicked along by Hall's keyboards, this one had a breezier sound that showcased Brown's blue-eyed soul moves against a nice Stax-ish feel - kind of like a poppier, Canadian Dusty Springfield. rating: *** stars
- Hall's organ opened the song with what sounded like a funeral dirge and their cover of Carole King's 'Child of Mine' never recovered ... sounding like it was being performed at half speed, this one just went on and on and on ... rating: ** stars
- With 'Got To Get Away' they decided to get heavy ... and much to my surprise they actually pulled it off. Surrounded by a straightforward rock arrangement Brown's voice proved surprisingly well suited to the genre. Great Hiller bass line with McLaughlin turning in a fantastic fuzz guitar lead. Easily the album's stand out performance. rating: **** stars
- Penned by Brown, the ballad 'Reason for Living' came off as something The Carpenters might have recorded. Pretty, but inconsequential. rating: ** stars
- Side two simultaneously showcased the band's strengths and weaknesses; namely a nice rocker that suffered from Brown's strained and shrill vocals. rating: ** stars
- Probably the worst song on the album, 'Here with You' was a hideous touchy-feely ballad that even The Carpenters would have rejected. rating: ** stars
- The lone song to feature Hiller on lead vocals, ' (Hiller was featured on 'I'll Write You a Letter')' was a nice slice of power-pop. Definitely one of the album's better tracks with a catchy hook. rating: *** stars
- 'Sad Colours Blues' found the band taking a so-so stab at the blues. Competent, but nothing more, the highlight came in the form of McLaughli's tasty lead guitar. This one probably sounded better in a club after you had a couple of beers. rating: ** stars
- I'd rate 'I Don't Want To Leave You' their best pop song since it boasted a radio friendly melody and showcased one of Brown's best performances. On this one she sounded competent without pushing into shrill territory. Would've made a nice single. rating: *** stars
So, I'd sum it up by saying pleasant pop, but non-essential for most folks.
The band hit the Canadian club circuit releasing two follow-up non-LP 45s:
That was followed by:
- 1972's 'Stop Me From Believing' b/w 'Caught Right in the Middle of It' (AXE catalog number AXE-1)
- 1972's 'Find Your Love' b/w'\ 'I Don't Want to Leave You' (Axe catalog number AXE-5)
Neither did much commercially, and the band quickly underwent a string of personnel changes. As mentioned, in late 1972 Brown left for a solo career. She was quickly followed by Hiller and McLaughlin who were replaced by lead guitarist Bernie LaBarge and vocalist Brian LeBlanc. The revamped line up made it back into the studio for one final non-LP single before calling it quits:
- 1972's 'Make Me' b/w 'Catwalk' (Axe catalog AXE-9)
For anyone interested, looking far younger than seems fair, Brown has a small website at:
Late inning guitarist LaBarge also has a web presence at:
http://www.bernielabarge.com/ From RYM (rdten1)