Insects in amber

With radio stations in major markets turning away from current pop (due to audience shrinkage) and oldies stations dominating the non-country, non-talk broadcast spectrum, the time seems ripe for an unapologetically retro band: Enter the Cheeksters.

Except that a retro genre is nothing new for Mark and Shannon Hines Casson, who’ve been playing British-invasion pop together for 13 years since gypsy luck brought the Brit and the Tennessean together in Amsterdam or London (the story varies).

There was more than music in the meeting, and before long the married couple was touring the U.S., flogging their original tunes and making records. Somewhere along the way, late at night, after a gig, they became the Cheeksters.

Where did the name come from? Shannon says, “I don’t know, really. It just came up and it stuck. Years later, we hated it for a while and wanted to change it — but by then we realized that’s what we were. Now we’re comfortable with it again.”

They settled in Nashville, recorded four albums and became a regular headline act in Music City.

Four years ago, the couple relocated to Asheville and stepped back from touring to have a baby, but today they are ready to release their fifth album and hit the road again.

The new collection, unsubtly dubbed 1965, is cut from the same cloth as pre-Magical Mystery Tour Beatles — with just a few hints of the changes that erupted later in that decade. Mark’s vocals evoke more than a hint of John Lennon, and his lyrics run to the pre-politicized innocence of that time. It’s all about love, and the music. And more love.

The only song on 1965 not written by Mark is “This Will Be Our Year,” originally released in 1967 on the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle, and written by that group’s bass player, Chris White.

Another cut from that album is probably the Zombies’ best known song, “Time of the Season” — and parts of the Cheeksters’ style on the current release will feel familiar to golden-oldie listeners familiar with “Season”‘s organ riffs and pacing. Others will recognize the first cut, “The Neighbourhood Kids,” from Ananda Hair Studio’s ad campaign over the past year.

However, the instrumental repertoire of the Cassons and Brent Little, who joined the band in 1995, runs well beyond that of most of the early-’60s rockers (at least as exhibited at the time), and the inclusion of mandolin and banjo seems to reflect Shannon’s musical roots. Little gets credits for producing, engineering and mixing in addition to his vocals and musicianship — and all due credit for hailing from Fargo, North Dakota.

How many sitar players do you think there are in Fargo, anyway?

For their upcoming CD-release party at the Grey Eagle, the trio has enlisted Tyler Ramsey on keyboards and Brian Landrum on drums for what bodes to be the most authentic-sounding Brit-invasion performance in Asheville since the Spongetones’ show at the same venue in February.

Late start notwithstanding, it may indeed be the Cheeksters’ year.

About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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