Other than one-off performances in 1977 and 1989, Mary Weiss has been out of the spotlight since her last appearance with the Shangri-Las in 1968. Thirty years later she’s back, accompanied by The Reigning Sound. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a Shangri-La fronting a garage band: the earthy New York growl and street-tough attitude are not much changed from those classic Red Bird singles while the backing of the Reigning Sound is sympathetically 60s-tinged without sounding any way forced or retro. Released on Brooklyn’s Norton Records, the record delivers the thrill of hearing new songs from a Shangri-La with the comforting familiarity of that girl-group-garage-rock’n’roll sound.
‘Heaven Only Knows’ – the only original that they revisit - reminds the listener of the tunes of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, the sound of heartbroken teen America that characterised the best Shangri-Las sides. There are echoes of that sound on ‘Don’t Come Back’ - “My best friend said that you’re a jerk/ I just want to make it work” - but the Ramones-like backing makes you aware that you’re in New York but it’s a long way from 1964. The other songs are either melodramatic tearjerkers or pop with a sharpened stiletto. Greg Cartwright of the Reigning Sound wrote nine of the 14 tracks and shares songwriting duties with the Real Kids, whose ‘Tell Me What You Want Me To Do’ is classic sneering New York garage rock. Only ‘Cry About The Radio’ doesn’t work, the grumpy tones of “kids don’t know shit/ they wanna hit/ I don’t write hits” being the only misfire on the album. Credit to the musicians who accompany Mary perfectly, especially Dave Amels who adds piano, organ, harmonium, celeste - in fact a whole gospelly colour scheme - to most of the tracks.
Reading the excellent Norton Records site, you’re struck by the fact that everyone involved is doing this for the right reasons: Mary Weiss, having been prevented from recording for years by contractual obligations, has rediscovered her voice while label and musicians both are fans of the Shangri-Las, whose iconic status seems to grow as the decades recede. It’s a record of pure, primal pleasure and Big Apple cool, keeping the faith of 30 years.