Originally recorded in 1971 by California’s long-forgotten Betty, Handful is an interesting and frustrating album, but not because of any of the songs on it. The ten tracks are standard for the time period and show that the musicians were competent if not particularly imaginative songwriters. Opener “Boogie with You” has a distinct roadhouse feel reminiscent of the Doors or Canned Heat. Guitarists Mike McMahon and Anthon Davis lay down some funky guitar licks accented by Tom Jordan’s piano and an able rhythm section comprising Al Rodriguez on drums and Kerry Kanbara on bass. And the other nine songs on the album are variations on this theme.
“Blind with Shame” contains some poppy guitar hooks and a catchy chorus, and “Thank You” replaces the piano with an organ and blues riffs with Moby Grape-inspired metal chords. On “Lights Gonna Shine,” the band travels the farthest afield by trading out the shouted lyrics and boogie sensibility of the other tracks for a more folk-oriented point of view. The result, by far the most interesting track on the album, sounds like a great ending theme for Soylent Green or Logan’s Run. But Handful could have been recorded by any number of bands; blues roadhouse acts that were exceptional staked their claim to the music thirty years ago. Compared with more familiar records from the era, Handful isn’t that compelling.
But listening to the album does pique an interest in the band that put them together, and in that regard Shadoks Music misses out. There was a huge opportunity here to track down the members of the band for interviews and have them put Handful into both an artistic and a historic context. It’s nearly impossible not to wonder what became of Betty.
The real story with Handful is that thirty-five years ago a band scraped together enough money to press two hundred copies of an album to sell at shows. The intervening years are a black hole that Shadoks does nothing to fill in. In this case, music is subordinate to the unwritten history of band. Where Handful could have been a compelling remembrance of a group that once upon a time made a record, it is merely a reissue of somewhat forgettable songs.