I can remember there being great excitement when both CBS and Island released ‘samplers’ in the 1960s: specifically ‘The Rock Machine Turns You On’ (oh how dated that sounds) and ‘You Can All Join In’, in 1968/1969, I think, and for 13/6d each. They were followed by ‘Rock Machine I Love You’ (oh how etc.) and ‘Nice Enough To Eat’. It gave sixteen-year-olds their first access to such diverse musicians as Leonard Cohen and Taj Mahal and Spirit (the CBS one) and John Martyn, Nirvana (the UK lot) and Jethro Tull (the Island one). They were owned by almost everyone I knew (as was Atlantic’s ‘This Is Soul’). After that there were occasional excursions by a variety of record labels, none quite matching the CBS and Island offerings.
But nowadays you can, if you subscribe to Mojo, Uncut and Word, you are guaranteed three CDs a month, and the chance to sample about 45 songs. It’s true that some are themed specials, and that some are giving you out-of-copyright gems, but you still have access to what is new. I seem to have boxfuls of the free CDs (I resolutely threw almost all the magazines out when I moved, having spotted that, on eBay, there were several hopeless attempts to get shot of similar collections; or else I gave them away to a chirpy eleven-year-old, whose parents are probably still in shock). The difference is that the new samplers are often chock-full of tracks which have you reaching for the Skip button when you run them through the car stereo. Only once, or maybe twice, have these freebies led me to make a purchase. The doubtful one is the singer-songwriter Laura Veirs, much featured on samplers: I have a feeling that I had already committed myself before the samplers started to try to persuade me. The one I certainly did succumb to was Mary Lou Lord. Her version of ‘Thunder Road’ on an Uncut tribute to Springsteen, several years ago, led me straight off to buy her City Sounds, a great covers album recorded in a subway with just a guitar. However, a Word sample track last month has left me completely smitten, and the musicians are called The Postmarks. They’ve made three albums (one only available as downloads in this country, anyway), and they consist of three individuals who are patently drenched in 1960s sound. The star turns are their use of orchestration, and the voice of their singer, who is a she, but is called Tim Yehezkely. Yehezkely is from Tel Aviv originally, but the Postmarks are Florida-based. The only comparable outfit I can think of are The Wondermints, who have really spent more time supporting Brian Wilson, and reconstructing The Beach Boys sound with greater skill than the Beach Boys ever managed (if you see what I mean).
The song on the Word sampler was the first on the Postmarks’ third album, and called ‘No-one Said This Would Be Easy’ (no relation to the Sheryl Crow song of the same name). It begins with an orchestral flourish worthy of a Dusty Springfield or Walker Brothers record, before Yehezkely’s voice cuts in, sounding like a Caravelle or even Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las: but defiantly modern at the same time. The album from which it is stripped is called ‘Memoirs At The End Of The World’, and there’s a YouTube image of the album, with the song in question underneath. For ageing romantics like me, the good news is that the rest of the album is equally attractive. There is no shortage of current harmony-inspired artists, and it could certainly be said that Glasgow’s Cosmic Rough Riders (another favourite, but who have gone quiet on the recording front for four years) have also been as inspiring. But the production values here are perhaps bolder. They bring back memories of a better decade. They deserve a huge audience, and, if radio-play were fair, they would be adopted by most of my generation, those of us still left standing. At last, something to write a fan letter about.