For every band, artist, or group that enjoys a successful career in music, there are literally dozens of others who fail to achieve that goal. Many of those fail not because of lack of talent, but because, as most music professionals will tell you, hits and success often have as much to do with luck and timing as they do with talent and ability.
Most music fans can think of one or two bands or artists that should have enjoyed more widespread success, but for whatever reason, did not. Here are five artists and bands that you may not have heard of, but who are definitely worth hearing.
Danielle Brisebois – If you’re old enough to remember “All In The Family” or it’s spin-off “Archie Bunker’s Place,” you might remember the child actress playing Archie’s niece, Stephanie. That child actress was Danielle Brisebois, who had a variety of stage and screen roles before turning her attention to music.
Even if you’ve never heard of Brisebois, you probably have heard her music. Her songs have been recorded by Kelly Clarkson, Halestorm, Natasha Bedingfield, and Kylie Minogue, among others. She co-wrote Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” and “Pocketful of Sunshine” and was nominated for an Oscar in 2015 for the song “Lost Stars” from the film “Begin Again.”
Brisebois has released only three albums (one of which is mostly a compilation of the other two), but if you like upbeat, melodic, somewhat quirky pop-rock, both 1994’s Arrive All Over You and 1999’s Portable Life are well worth checking out.
These days she’s busy raising the two-year-old twin daughters she has with her husband, producer/songwriter and guitar player Nick Lashley. She currently does not maintain an official website.
Cock Robin – This duo, consisting of singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Peter Kingsbery and singer and keyboardist Anna LaCazio, came together in San Francisco in the early ’80s. They have enjoyed chart-topping success in nearly every major country in the world except the United States. Here in the States, Cock Robin cracked the Top-40 only once, with the 1985 single, “When Your Heart Is Weak.”
At its best, Cock Robin’s melodic music has a dreamy, almost ethereal quality. Fans of Coldplay’s first album might find draw similar pleasure from Cock Robin’s 1985 eponymous debut. After that debut, the duo released two more albums in the ’80s, and then disbanded in 1991. After 15 years, Kingsbery and LaCazio reunited in 2006 for a new album, “I Don’t Want To Save The World.” A live album followed in 2009, and another studio album, “Songs from a Bell Tower” was released a year later.
According to the French magazine Topo, Anna LaCazio left Cock Robin in May 2015. Kingsbery had relocated to France and LaCazio preferred to remain in the United States and be close to her family. On Cock Robin’s French website, Kingsbery announced that Coralie Vuillemin had been chosen as the new female voice in the group. A release date for Cock Robin’s new album, “Chinese Driver” was announced as March 11, 2016. Cock Robin’s site can be found here.
Donnie Iris – A native of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, Iris is often mistakenly considered a “one-hit wonder” by casual fans. His best known song, “Love Is Like A Rock” was his only Top-10 hit, but “Ah! Leah!,” “My Girl,” “Do You Compute?” and “Injured in the Game of Love” were also Top-40 rock hits. In 1970, as a member of the Jaggerz, Iris earned a gold record for writing and singing the No. 1 song “The Rapper.”
In or around 1978, Donnie was invited to join the group Wild Cherry. The group had already enjoyed its biggest hit, “Play That Funky Music,” and Iris would remain with the band for one album (“Only The Wild Survive”). More important, in Wild Cherry Iris met keyboardist and producer Mark Avsec, his future collaborator and partner.
At their best, Iris and his band, the Cruisers, combine the best elements of power-pop and arena rock – think Cheap Trick meets the Raspberries. As producer, Avsec fashioned a unique sound for the group, complementing Iris’s powerful vocals with power chords, heavy synth lines, and stacked backing vocals.
Iris, who turns 73 on February 28, has never stopped making music. He still performs an occasional show with the Cruisers in the greater Pittsburgh area. His most recent albums include the 2006 release, “Elwood City” and the 2010 Christmas album, “Ah! Leluiah!.” Here’s his official site.
Machan – Machan Taylor has been singing professionally since she was 17. Over the years she has performed live or in the studio with a wide variety of jazz, rock, and pop artists, including Hiroshima, Sting, Pat Benatar, Pink Floyd, Gov’t Mule, Aretha Franklin and Leonard Cohen, to name a few.
If you like breezy pop-jazz with a Brazilian vibe, both Machan’s 2004 self-titled debut and 2007’s “Motion of Love” should hit the mark. Both are as tasty and refreshing as an ice cold tropical drink on a hot summer day.
Smartly produced, arranged, and performed, both albums feature mostly original songs showcasing Machan’s silky vocals matched with exotic rhythms and warm melodies. On “Machan,” she worked with several notable musicians and producers, including Grammy Award winner Rick DePofi, renowned jazz bassist Brian Bromberg, and her husband, Danny Louis, keyboardist for Gov’t Mule. “Motion of Love” featured collaborations with John Medeski, John Scofield, Randy Brecker, and Danny Louis.
More recently, Machan’s compositions with keyboardist and producer Steve Gaboury have been featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and in films like “American Beauty” and “Boyhood.” She served as vocal coach for the films “Higher Ground” (2010) and “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding” (2011).
In 2013, Machan completed her undergraduate degree in Contemporary Vocal Performance at the State University of New York/Empire State College. She’s currently pursuing her master’s degree in Theory and Composition-Songwriting/Film Composing. She works as an adjunct instructor at NYU’s Clive Davis School of Recorded Music. Check out Machan’s site here.
The Dan Reed Network – Over the course of only three albums released from 1988 to 1991, the Dan Reed Network, aka DRN, developed a strong worldwide cult following that continues to today. The multi-racial band took a rock-centered approach, but combined heavy elements of soul, funk, and R&B into its sound.
The group sounded even better live than in the studio, as evidenced by its 1997 “Live At Last” CD and DVD. The group disbanded in the mid-90s, and singer-songwriter Dan Reed took a twelve-year hiatus from music. In 2007 he started writing again. Since then, he has released four solo albums, including his latest, 2015’s “Transmission.”
In 2013, the Dan Reed Network regrouped for a reunion tour. Four tracks that were recorded live on that tour appeared on 2014’s two-disc compilation, “Anthology.” Today, Reed performs regularly throughout Europe and the United States, either with his solo band or DRN. He’s currently working with the other members of DRN on new material for a possible album to be released later in 2016. For the latest updates, visit Reed’s official website.
What under-appreciated artists or bands would you add to this list? Share your thoughts with Examiner readers by posting your comments below.