Following the reunited Bongos’ explosive performance at the closing night at Maxwell’s, the iconic Hoboken, NJ rock club they helped bring international prominence, the band are announcing that they’ll continue to perform selected shows together into 2014. They will be celebrating the release of never-before-issued Bongos album, Phantom Train October 1 on the newly revived JEM Recordings imprint. Recorded in 1986, Phantom Train was revisted and remixed by Bongos front man, Richard Barone, earlier this Summer.
In the fall of 1985 The Bongos had just completed a 300-show tour following their RCA full length debut Beat Hotel. With barely a break in between, the group was invited by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell to record some new tunes, with an eye to bringing the group to his label. Frontman Richard Barone had been writing songs in the back of the Bongos’ tour bus, sometimes collaborating with guitarist James Mastro. The new tunes streamlined the group’s sound, explored some electronic textures, while emphasizing Frank Giannini’s formidable drumming and Rob Norris’ stately, anchoring baselines. Sessions began in New York City with co-producer/engineer E.T. Thorngren, and quickly moved to famed Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas.
Simultaneously a return to their initial rawness while using every state of the art recording technique with minimal overdubbing, the results were some of the most compelling pop statements the group was to make. However, while creativity flourished, so did the excesses of the touring lifestyle. While much of the album was completed at Compass Point, the album remained unfinished when the group returned home. Touring continued in the U.S. for the next several months, but it was clear the band was ready to pursue individual interests, and the sessions tapes were put on the shelf.
The Bongos had initially formed at the cusp of the 80’s and released their debut album, Drums Along the Hudson, in 1982 on JEM Records’ PVC label, instantly won favor on both sides of the Atlantic for its unusual combination of tribal rhythms, Beatlesque chord changes, and Sex Pistols overdrive. Stateside, along with comrades R.E.M. and a handful of others, the Bongos helped to create an exploding college radio market and amassed a fierce cult following. RCA Records took notice and signed the group and released their Numbers With Wings EP. Fueled by the MTV’s support of the “Numbers With Wings” video and dance-floor success of “Barbarella,” the group had quickly made the leap from regional band to international act. The release of the follow-up, Beat Hotel, along with relentless touring, raised the Bongos’ profile even further. However, after the sessions at Compass Point, the group quietly split in ’87, soon after Barone released his first solo album, cool blue halo on JEM’s Passport imprint, recorded live at New York’s legendary Bottom Line with an all-acoustic line up (cool blue halo will be re-issued by Jem in October along with the 25th Anniversary Concert 2CD/DVD set).With Barone on tour as a solo artist supporting cool blue halo’s release, Phantom Train languished in the vaults, until now.