Monday, February 20, 2017

Purple Wizard: all the hits back in print!

When I think about all of the great music that made the mid-2000s so memorable for me, Purple Wizard is one of the first names that comes to mind. It's almost criminal how forgotten this band seems to be just a decade later. I'm optimistic that that will change thanks to Girlsville's release of Cream of the Crop - a 28-track collection of singles, album cuts, unreleased songs, and radio sessions from this late, great New York City band.

Formed from the ashes of The Prissteens by Lori Lindsay and Leslie Day, Purple Wizard released three singles and an LP between 2004 and 2007. Purple Wizard was essentially the realization of a musical vision that Lori Lindsay had had since she and Leslie Day began playing together: less "rock" and more along the lines of a female Everly Brothers. Also on board were Dave Lindsay, Jon Chalmers, and Bill Peitsch (RIP). What I admired about this band from the start (along with those amazing harmonies!) was that it was never reluctant to record other people's songs. Inspired by the British Invasion, Stax soul, girl groups, and '60s pop in general, the band went right to the source and covered songs it loved from arguably the greatest era of music ever. In my mind, one of the things that made that period so special was that artists could be identified with and admired for performing songs they didn't write (seriously: who wants to live in a world without Dusty Springfield's "I Only Wanna Be With You" or Aretha Franklin's "Respect"?). The magic of Purple Wizard was in selecting wonderful and often lesser-known songs from the '60s and performing them to absolute perfection.

Cream of the Crop includes all three of the band's singles in their entirety, and hearing them again reminds me why rave reviews of Purple Wizard 45s were once annual events in my life. It's a pleasure to again enjoy the band's knockout renditions of the Hollies' 1965 album cut "I've Been Wrong" (famously covered by The Buckinghams and Everly Brothers), Cheryll & Pam's 1963 Stax single "That's My Guy", The Strangeloves' "I Want Candy" B-side "It's About My Baby", and the Everly Brothers' 1966 A-side "The Power of Love". Beyond the 7" tracks, covers of the likes of Carla Thomas, Chris Montez, The Hollies, Lee Rogers, and the almighty Beatles are absolutely stunning. And originals like "Stalker" and "Scrapin", featuring Peitsch on lead vocals, are so on-point that I still can't believe they're not long-lost recordings from the heyday of rhythm & blues!

Once again, Girlsville has given us an essential and lovingly-assembled compilation featuring a great overlooked band. Longtime fans will be psyched to get their mitts on the radio sessions and unreleased tracks. Meanwhile, this is the perfect introduction to Purple Wizard - with the songs from the singles playing a starring role. Kudos to Courtney for securing all of this material and to Patrick Haight for the impeccable mastering. If you loved last year's Demos & Rarities collection from The Prissteens, think of Cream of the Crop as the next chapter. I consider The Prissteens and Purple Wizard to be equally great bands, but it was the latter group that really showed the world what a fantastic singer Lori Linsday is. Purple Wizard was a band inspired by timeless music that sought to create timeless music. They were as good as it got when it came to garage rock in the mid-2000s. Get Cream of the Crop now on cassette or digital LP from Girlsville's Bandcamp!


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