BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
"This Time Around"
(Island Def Jam)
Anyone here heard Mitch Ryder?
OK, let me rephrase: has anyone under 40 heard Mitch
He and his quintet, the Detroit Wheels, did for soul
music in the '60s what Elvis did for rock 'n' roll in the
'50s: introduced it to a white audience. Ryder, the Spencer
Davis Group, the Animals — these groups comprised the bridge
from the underlying groove of Temptations and Four Tops
hits to the soul influences that showed up at the turn of
the '70s in groups ranging from Joe Cocker, Traffic
(featuring Steve Winwood, the engine in the Spencer Davis
Group), all the way to Springsteen.
Ryder, in particular, was an indispensable shaman. With
his frayed, dizzying wail, Ryder led the Wheels'
piston-pumping backbeat through a string of tightly wound
hits in '66 and '67 — "Jenny Take a Ride," "Sock It to Me,
Baby," "Devil With the Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly" --
all of which evoked the pioneers of soul before him while
laying down his own tread on the music. Without Ryder's
shot of energy, it's questionable whether fellow Detroit
rockers like Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, the MC5 and even the
Stooges would have had enough gunpowder to explode out of
The Hanson brothers know a lot about Ryder.
They covered a few of his hits in concert and on the
resulting live album largely because they were raised on
that music. Living abroad and being home-schooled here in
Tulsa throughout their youth (which ain't over yet), they
enjoyed a unique isolation with those old rock and soul
collections and fed on that same high energy — so much so
that when they themselves finally emerged into the musical
world, their own unique gifts transmitted the same power.
On the trio's eagerly anticipated follow-up to its
multi-platinum debut, they finally seize that opportunity,
like Ryder, to divine the hidden glories of American soul
music to a new generation — a new, white, affluent
generation — as well as to define their own sights,
synergies and sound.
In summary, it RRRocks.
"This Time Around" could have been a wreck. Early reports
were not good — initial sessions with former Cars frontman
and producer extraordinaire Ric Ocasek had been scrapped
for murky reasons (translation: the record label didn't
hear another "MMMBop"), and Hanson had been shoved back into
the studio with Stephen Lironi, the producer of Hanson's
smash debut, "Middle of Nowhere." The debut was certainly a
good record, but had Hanson merely retreaded it for the
follow-up, they'd be destroyed. Too many eyes were on them,
too many ears — too many expectations for a great leap
What a leap they've made. Lironi's presence on "This Time
Around" can be heard in the pitiful scratching sounds that
dumb down otherwise solid tracks like "If Only," but the new
record is clearly a committed assertion by three willful
youngsters determined to avoid being written off amid the
boy-band craze they helped to create. There's still not
another "MMMBop" here. One wonders how much they had to fight
the corporate money-changers to take the steps evident here
— the unabashed soul, the high-octane rock 'n' roll — and
whether the marketing department at Island Def Jam is
stymied as to how they'll push the record.
They certainly can't be worried about the record's
potential. "This Time Around" could play on virtually any
radio station — that is, within any confining format. Send
"Dying to Be Alive" to a classic R&B station. Drop "Save Me"
among the silly modern rock balladry of Kid Rock and Third
Eye Blind, or at least send it to adult contemporary. Make
sure to twist the arm of mainstream rock moguls so they
play "This Time Around." Heck, they don't even have to
back-announce it — run it up against a Black Crowes song and
your average KMOD listener probably wouldn't even blink.
The worry is whether or not those other radio stations will
deign to give Hanson a chance this time around. After all,
Hanson's a kiddie band, right? They're like the Backstreet
Boys, they don't belong at the table with the adults.
That attitude is pretty prevalent (especially among the
audience this record could hit the hardest — people my age,
on either side of 30), and "This Time Around" likely will be
a slow burn compared to "Middle of Nowhere." There's plenty
of fuel for the fire, though. The tunefulness and the hooks
they mastered the first time around are still here, but the
tunes are more complex, the hooks more skillfully cast. The
title-track single tip-toes out of the gate with a soft
piano introduction, but by the chorus it's chugging with a
300-horsepower riff and see-sawing between the contrary
powers of Journey and Stevie Wonder. "Dying to Be Alive"
draws heavily on the boys' soul influences and features a
small gospel choir led by Rose Stone (of Sly and the Family
Stone). On "In the City," Hanson dances on the edge of
accessibility, bleeding off the sunshine from the
arrangement and singing a pretty desperate plea to an
adulterous partner. "You Never Know" opens the record as if
the boys have gone to War, brightening a heavy groove and
singing, perhaps portentously, "You never know, baby / You
never know, baby / You judge the song by a lie that was
Or he could be singing "soul." As with all great soul
singers, it's hard to discern the words accurately. Taylor,
the middle Hanson boy and its forthright lead vocalist, is
certainly a great soul singer, possibly one day to be
hailed among the best of Generation Y (though Macy Gray is
going to give him one hell of a fight for that title). His
voice is immensely powerful and dynamic — if that come-back
line "Do you know why I died?" at the end of the title track
doesn't stop your heart, double-check that you're still
actually alive — and when, as he grows older, it becomes a
partner to his passions, he might rewrite the story of
Jericho. It's a SOULFUL voice, too, full of chewy
inflections and gritty, guttural wails. It seems to come
from an unspoken inner drive, a burgeoning catharsis, more
than a heady desire to convey a literate message.
Granted, soul music is virtually dead today — replaced by
slick, machine-driven R&B, which has nothing whatsoever to
do with the rhythm and blues that created the acronym in
the first place — but Taylor's pipes and his brothers'
developing rhythmic chops on this CD could be cracking open
the coffin. (And to the credit of Isaac's and Zac's
instrumental talents, this album's guest players like Jonny
Lang and Blues Traveler's John Popper wholeheartedly fail
to steal the show.) Ryder & Co. translated the music across
lines of color; Hanson could transfer the music across
lines of age and experience. Either way, "This Time Around"
is one teeth-rattling, high-energy rock fest.
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.