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Pete Ham — Gwent Gardens
(Y&T Records, 1972/2024, CD / DL)

Various Artists — Shine On - A Tribute to Pete Ham
(Y&T Records, 2023, 2CD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2024-05-02

Gwent Gardens Cover artShine On - A Tribute to Pete Ham Cover art

The 1975 death of Pete Ham represents a monumental loss of talent and potential, not to mention life itself. As one of the primary songwriters for the band Badfinger, he was responsible for some of the most memorable songs of the first half of the 70s, though that band’s unfortunate career history stands as one of the greatest tragedies in rock. Here we have two different collections that serve to illustrate just how good a songwriter Ham was. Gwent Gardens presents 18 tracks that he recorded at home, some of which became Badfinger songs (or The Iveys in his pre-Badfinger days). These are bare-bones performances, with Ham’s voice accompanied by guitar or piano, sometimes with added bass, percussion, or backing vocals. As non-professional recordings dating from as early as 1966, the initial fidelity was surely less than stellar, so much credit is due to Dan Matovina for restoration. Matovina produced three other releases of Ham demos before his death in 2023, bringing the total of Pete Ham songs to well over a hundred, many of which had never made their way to public release before. And the thing is, most of the songs are really good. Even in these minimal renditions, they’re full of catchy melodies and good lyrics, leading a listener to all sorts of what-if speculation. The recording quality varies somewhat from track to track, but is perfectly listenable.

Shine On is a tribute album featuring 34 contemporary artists doing their own versions of Ham’s songs. Some of the participants are fairly well known, like Shelby Lynne, Mary Lou Lord, Melanie, and Wreckless Eric, but most are unknown to me or just names I’ve seen but not heard. The project was produced by a record label called Y&T Music, and several of the artists have other releases on the label. Badfinger only had a handful of hits in the 70s, but their album tracks were uniformly good, and we get a lot of them here. There are so many great tracks that it’s almost pointless to call out any individual ones, but it would also be pointless to write a review without doing so. Mary Lee Kortes kicks things off with a rocking version of “No More”; The Speaker Wars provide two different versions of “No Matter What”: the “World Version” with sitar, tabla, and Bengali singer Susmita Data, and the “Americana Version” with band member Jon Christopher Davis (no relation that I know of) singing; Shelby Lynne’s shimmering reading of “Day after Day” is a delight; Nelson Bragg’s Mellotron and recorder heavy version of “Carry On Till Tomorrow”; and “Crimson Ship” by Life Boat is a nifty psychedelic throwback (Life Boat seems to be an ad-hoc band consisting of Fernando Perdomo, who appears on ten of the album’s tracks, and drummer / singer Nick Bertling). There’s a decent variety in styles across the interpretations, and on the whole it’s a worthy tribute. Anyone who listens to this should absolutely check out the original versions, and if it raises awareness about Badfinger, all the better.

Filed under: Archives, 2024 releases, 1972 recordings, 2023 releases

Related artist(s): Fernando Perdomo, Wreckless Eric (Goulden) / The Len Bright Combo, Badfinger, Pete Ham, Jim Camacho


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