Free the Bees (EMI/Astralwerks)
In the grand tradition of UK vinyl punters through the ages, Paul Butler sings, mixes, and produces; Aaron Fletcher pens the lyrics and plays the other half of the instruments. The pair's 2002 debut, Sunshine Hit Me, ingested too much Haight-Ashbury, so now six Bees shake the Sixties from their honeycomb: Peter & Gordon, Wayne Fontana, the Moody Blues. The Association whispers opener "These Are the Ghosts," while follow-up "Wash in the Rain" soaks up a church-y mulch that's a dead ringer for Moby Grape. The harmonies are Small Faces, and Warren Hampshire's Hammond organ is crucial; the way its gas flames crackles under a stone perfect pub choir at the heart of "Horsemen." Apex by track five: "Chicken Payback," Southern Culture on the Skids goofing on Benny Hill. In fact, Free the Bees never recovers, and there's still seven tracks left. Instro chicken pluck, "The Russian," and too-long London soul plodder "I Love You" are the very next hurdle, after which nothing comes close to the starters, though plenty of interesting bits are strewn about; Butler's plaintive vocal on "The Start" and Jefferson Airplane boot-scooter "One Glass of Water." A bonus track and a remix of "Ghosts" try to compensate for the album's having come out last summer in the UK. The Bees knees nonetheless.
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