The Critters


Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1 (1964-1967)

- Don Ciccone (RIP 2016) -- vocals, rhythm guitar

- Chris Darway (aka Chet Bolins) -- vocals, keyboards, autoharp

- Jack Decker -- drums, percussion

- Kenny Gorka (RIP 2015) -- bass, backing vocals

- Bob Podstawski -- sax, backing vocals

- Jim Ryan -- vocals, guitar

 

  line up 2 (1967-68)

- Chris Darway (aka Chet Bolins) -- vocals, keyboards, autoharp

- Jack Decker -- drums, percussion

- Kenny Gorka (RIP 2015) -- bass, backing vocals

- Jim Ryan -- vocals, guitar

 

  line up 3 (1969)

NEW - Paul Glanz -- keyboards (replaced Chris Darway)

- Kenny Gorka (RIP 2015) -- bass, backing vocals

NEW - Jeff Pelosi -- drums, percussion (replaced Jack Decker)

- Jim Ryan -- vocals, guitar, keyboards

 

  line up 3 (2007-2013)

- Don Ciccone (RIP 2016) -- vocals, rhythm guitar

NEW - Milt Koster --

NEW - Albert Miller --

NEW - Lenny Rocco --

 

 

 

 

- Frankie Carr's All Natural Band (Bobby Spinella)

- The Chet Bolins Band (Chris Darway)

- Fire (Paul Glanz)

- The Four More (Jack Decker)

The Four Seasons (Don Ciccone)

- The Hit Men (Don Ciccone and Jim Ryan)

- Ivory (Paul Glanz and Jim Ryan)

- Johnny's Dance Band (Chris Darway)

- Steeplechase (Bobby Spinella)

- Wondergap (Jim Ryan)

 

 

 


 

Genre: pop

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  Touch n' Go with The Critters

Company: Project 3

Catalog: PR 4001 SD
Year:
 1968

Country/State: Plainfield, New Jersey

Grade (cover/record): VG+/ VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5932

Price: $50.00

 

By the time 1968's "Touch 'n Go with The Critters" was released, the band had undergone yet another personnel shift.  This time around original bassist player Kenny Gorka and vocalist/lead guitarist Jim Ryan were backed by new drummer Jeff Pelosi and keyboardist Bobby Spinella.  The album also found the band on a new label.  Seemingly an odd match, Enoch Light's Project 3 was best known for their catalog of jazz and easy-listening acts. Musically the album reflected a continuation of their sunshine-pop sound, but there were also some major changes.  Whereas the debut album saw them very much dependent on producer Artie Ripp, Project 3 gave the band considerably more independence and artistic latitude. True, the album included three covers that were produced by the band's management team of Charles Koppelman and Don Rubin.  The other nine compositions were band originals produced by Jim Ryan.  Ryan wrote seven of the songs with 'Good Morning Sunshine' and 'Sweet Breezes' leftovers from previous keyboard player Chris Darway. A label having that degree of faith in a band was rare in 1968.  For goodness sakes, even big-league acts like Cream and The Beatles had an outside producer.  

 

Musically the album sounds like a band being torn by management demands for commercial material and their own desire to move beyond top-40 fodder.  The end result is somewhat schizophrenic, but never less than entertaining. The three covers were clearly intended as an "insurance policy" aimed at commercial potential.  While there was nothing wrong covering Tim Hardin and The Lovin' Spoonful, those highly polished performances just didn't show much heart.  Far better were the Jim Ryan originals.  On tracks like 'Because You Came To See Me Today' and 'Margie Girl' Ryan and company were clearly trying to find a sweet spot between commercial and more contemporary sounds. The balancing act didn't always work out.  'Let's Love' was a bland, forgettable ballad.  Still, there were far more successes than failures.  'Awake In A Dream' and 'Good Morning Sunshine' underscored a nice Beach Boys influence, while 'Margie' and 'Forget It' showcased a tougher rock orientation.  Nah, they weren't trying to sound like Deep Purple, but Ryan new how to play lead guitar.  All told, this was 100 times better than the debut.

 

"Touch 'n Go with The Critters" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Touch 'N Go (Gary Bonner - Alan Gordon) - 2:20 rating: *** stars

Powered by a nifty Kenny Gorka bass line the title track was a catchy, but disposable slice of top-40 pop.  Ryan's sincere, yearning delivery has always reminded me a bit of Davy Jones' work with the Monkees.   Easy to see this one sending the band's tween fan base running into record stores to buy the 45:

 

 

 

 

- 1968's 'Touch 'N Go' b/w 'Younger Generation' (Project Three catalog number PR45-1332 A/B)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.) Reason To Believe (Tim Hardin) - 2:00 rating: ** stars

The Tim Hardin original is still one of the best things he ever wrote and recorded. The Critters' cover didn't really mess with the melody, but smothered it with strings and horns, all but drowning Ryan's vocals.
3.) Because You Came To See Me Today (Jim Ryan) - 2:18
rating: **** stars

The first original number, 'Because You Came To See Me Today' retained a commercial feel, but in his role as producer, found Ryan adding some more contemporary edges, including what sounded like fuzz guitar, sitar, harpsichord and Pelosi's frenetic drumming.  Nah, they hadn't turned into The Jefferson Airplane, but it was a totally hip and enjoyable performance. 
4.) Younger Generation (John Sebastian) -  2:00
rating: *** stars

Powered by John Sebastian's earnest vocals, The Lovin' Spoonful's sparse, folksy original remains the classic version. Remaining true to the melody The Critters' arrangement upped the song's "pop" quotient and once again slapped on some heavy orchestration.

5.) A Moment Of Being With You (Jim Ryan) -  2:42  rating: **** stars

Wow!  The breezy ballad 'A Moment Of Being With You' started out as a standard slice of '60s sunshine-pop, but about thirty second in when the song hit the group harmonies ...  simply glorious.  Imagine The Free Design ditching their jazzy inclinations.  It's one of the best things they ever recorded.  The track was tapped as the album's second single:

 

 

 

 

- 1968's 'A Moment of Being with You' b/w 'Good Morning Sunshine' (Project 3 catalog number PR 45-1326 A/B)

 

 

 

 

 

6.) Let's Love (Jim Ryan) - 2:49 rating: *** stars

The ballad 'Let's Love' was certainly pretty with Ryan's falsetto and the chorus reminding me of something out of The Beach Boys catalog.  Unfortunately, the song was just too MOR for their own good.

 

(side 2)
1.)
Awake In A Dream (Jim Ryan) -  2:21 rating: **** stars

Excuse, me did I put on the right album?  I just heard screaming fuzz guitar?   Yeah, 'Awake In A Dream' opened up with some Ryan fuzz guitar before shifting into prime Beach Boys territory.  The intertwined group harmonies were awesome.

2.) Margie Girl (Jim Ryan) -  2:28  rating: **** stars

Unlike anything else on the album, forgoing all orchestration 'Margie Girl' found the band taking a stab at a heavier singer-songwriter vibe.  Imagine late-inning Dion.  The trademarked harmonies were still there, but keyboardist Bobby Spinella got a shot at the spotlight and the song ended on a cool, jazzy fadeout.

3.) Cool Sunday Morning (Jim Ryan) - 4:30  rating: **** stars

Opening with a jazzy acapella arrangement, you couldn't be blamed for mistaking 'Cool Sunday Morning' for a Free Design effort.  Given The Free Design were also signed to Project 3, perhaps that shouldn't have come as a surprise. I'm a big Free Design fan so I quite liked this one.
4.) Good Morning Sunshine (Chris Darway) - 1:55 
rating: **** stars

'Good Morning Sunshine' was the first of two tracks written by former keyboardist Chris Darway.  A bouncy pop tune, the Beach Boys harmonies coupled with a bubblegum pop melody wouldn't have sounded out of place on an Archies album.  Always loved drummer Pelosi's performance on this one. 

5.) Sweet Breezes (Chris Darway) - 2:00  rating: **** stars

Complete with what sounded like electric sitar, melodic bass line, and Pelosi's pounding drums, Darway's 'Sweet Breezes' was their most obvious effort tapping into lite-psych.  Another album highlight.

6.) Forget It (Jim Ryan) -  2:02  rating: **** stars

Opening up with a great Gorka bass line and showcasing a BS&T-styled horn arrangement 'Forget It' showed they could play in The Rascal's blue-eyed soul swimming pool.  Spinella's electric organ solo provided the highlight. 

 

 

 

 


Genre: pop

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Critters

Company: Project 3

Catalog: PR 4002 SD
Year:
 1969

Country/State: New Jersey

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5932

Price: $40.00

 

As you can tell by my other reviews, I've always been a big sunshine pop fan, including The Critters' earlier catalog.

 

By the time 1969's "Critters" was released, the band had undergone yet another personnel shift.  This time around original members Kenny Gorka and Jim Ryan were backed by Paul Glanz on keyboards and new drummer Jeff Pelosi.  Probably not a big surprise, musically the album marked a departure from the band's earlier sunshine-pop outings.  Ryan was again responsible for writing the majority of material (Thor Jensen co-writing much of the album).  There was also one group composition - the jazzy instrumental 'Harold'.   Interestingly, this time out Ryan and company seemed determined to shake their commercial image.  Mind you, material like '' and '' was still quite radio-friendly, but wasn't nearly as blatantly pop-oriented as their earlier releases.  You weren't going to mistake them for King Crimson, but they weren't exactly a disposable bubblegum outfit.  Naturally that left the band in a tenuous marketing position.  Long time pop fans had either moved on, or were simply turned off by the changes, whereas the band's existing image meant progressive and rock fans weren't going to give them the time of day.  Summary: A mildly entertaining late inning-release.  I'd suggest you check out their earlier work before investing in this one.

 

For what it was worth, the back panel track listing was wrong.  The proper song order is shown below.

 

"Critters" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) She Said She Loved Him  (Jim Ryan) - 3:45  rating: ** stars

The album opened up with one of the set's weaker tunes -  'She Said She Loved Him'.  A weird, strained tune that bounced between lysergic-tinged ballad, carnival busker soundtrack, pompous progressive moves, and vaudeville, this one was literally non-stop irritating.   Simply a horrible way to start the album. 

2.) Colleen (Jim Ryan) - 2:31  rating: ** stars

Kicked along by a fantastic Gorka bass pattern and some great Ryan jangle guitar, 'Colleen' sounded like something ripped from a 1966 album.  Hard to adequately describe, but the song had that distinctive mid-1960s aura that I find mesmerizing.  Way cool.   

3.) The Teddy Bear Affair (Jim Ryan - Thor Jensen) - 2:56 rating: **** stars

Any song that opens up with fuzz guitar is likely to get a nod from me and that's the case with 'The Teddy Bear Affair'.  Yeah, the song structure was a bit busy, but the chorus was hyper commercial and Ryan's fuzz guitar lead was amazing.  

4.) I Want To Just Sit Right Here and Look At You (Jim Ryan) - 2:36  rating: ** stars

In spite of the clunky title, 'I Want To Just Sit Right Here and Look At You' was the first side's most conventional and commercial track.  That made it kind of dull, though that didn't stop the label from tapping it as a single.     

 

- 1969's 'I Just Want To Sit Right Here And Look At You' b/w 'She Said She Loved Him' (Project 3 catalog number 1363)

5.) Wooden Soldiers (Jim Ryan - Thor Jensen) - 6:21  rating: ** stars

You have to remember this album was released in 1969 when virtually everyone was trying to make some sort of social or political statement.  As such, witness 'Wooden Soldiers', why should these guys have been any different?   And like most of the competition this one hasn't aged all that way.  I will say that the martial mid-section segment was actually kind of funny.   

 

(side 2)
1.) Avon Iris (Jim Ryan - Thor Jensen) - 3:06
rating: *** stars

Side two found the band trying to underscore their 'heavy' credentials.  I've certainly heard worse, but the keyboard propelled number came off as strained and forced, though the jam section picked up a bit of speed.  Not a lot of fun on this one.     

2.) Maiden of the Sea (Jim Ryan - Thor Jensen) - 3:45  rating: ** stars

One of those hyper-sensitive ballads, 'Maiden of the Sea' was apparently intended as a 'big' statement.  It wasn't.  The musical track was kind of interesting, but nothing to make a real impact on your life.    

3.) King Street Flying Circus (Jim Ryan) - 4:46 rating: *** stars

'King Street Flying Circus' found the band stepping back to mid-1960s styled pop-psych.  It already sounded dated, but it was a fun kind of throwback.   Nice extended, freak-out fuzz solo from Ryan.    

4.) Whistling & Rhyme (Jim Ryan - Thor Jensen) - 3:32 rating: *** stars

Neither Ryan's vocal, nor the lyric did all that much for me, but kicked along by strumming ukuleles, 'Whistling & Rhyme' was one of the most psychedelic pieces on the album.    

5.) Harold (instrumental) (Paul Glanz - Kenny Gorka - Jeff Pelosi - Jim Ryan) - 2:31

 rating: *** stars

Unlike anything else on the album, the group-penned instrumental 'Harold' featured a likeable stab at adult contemporary jazz.  Yeah, I know the genre didn't really exist in 1969, but so what.  Relaxing and totally MOR ...  

 

And that spelled the end of The Critters.

 

  • Ciccone became a member of The Four Seasons and enjoyed success as a songwriter.  He passed away in 2016.

 

  • Darway front Johnny's Dance Band for several years and then went into academics with a position on the staff of Princeton University.

 

  • Gorka went into management, eventually becoming the manager of New York's The Bitter End.  He died in 2015.

 

  • Ryan stayed active in music, supporting Carly Simon for years and becoming an in-demand sessions player.  He has a web presence at: About Rampage Music New York

 

 

 

 

 

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