Monday, September 18, 2017

CD Review: Bash & Pop’s Friday Night Is Killing Me (2017)

Bash & Pop’s Friday Night Is Killing Me
Widely considered one of the greatest outfits in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, the Replacements enjoy a cult following far above and beyond the band’s meager commercial accomplishments. Part of their hallowed status among fans is due to the band’s unpredictable live concerts where the ‘Mats could be the best band in rock on any given night…or possibly the worst. Either way, the band’s ramshackle performances were never dull and were always entertaining. Considering the enduring nature of the band’s classic recordings like Let It Be and Pleased To Meet Me, the Replacements have earned their place on the Mount Olympus of rock ‘n’ roll.

When internal tensions broke up the Replacements in 1991, bassist Tommy Stinson – an integral part of the band’s honest, anarchic sound – wanted to continue playing in a group. Switching to guitar, he convinced Replacements’ drummer Steve Foley to join the new band, along with his brother Kevin Foley on bass, and he brought in guitarist Steve Brantseg to form the outfit known as Bash & Pop. The foursome subsequently recorded Friday Night Is Killing Me with producer Don Smith, the 1993 album including guest appearances by Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Wire Train’s Jeff Trott. The album received modest critical acclaim for its energetic, guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll but went nowhere fast, and Stinson soon wandered off to eventually join Guns N’ Roses.

Bash & Pop’s Friday Night Is Killing Me

Although Friday Night Is Killing Me paled in comparison to the Replacements’ best work, the album has grown in stature in the nearly quarter-century since its release, no mean feat as the CD has been out-of-print for 20 years. Nothing more was heard from Bash & Pop until earlier this year, when Stinson hooked up with friends like Steve Selvidge of the Hold Steady and Luther Dickson of the North Mississippi Allstars to record Anything Could Happen, the first Bash & Pop album since 1993. With renewed interest in the band growing, Omnivore Recordings has reissued Friday Night Is Killing Me as a deluxe two-disc set featuring the original album mastered by current B&P bassist Justin Perkins as well as an eighteen-track bonus disc featuring rare singles, home demos, and B-sides, most of which are previously-unreleased.   

The original tracks on Friday Night Is Killing Me offer no-frills, guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll. Album opener “Never Aim To Please,” for instance, twangs ‘n’ bangs like the Georgia Satellites on dexies, with a BIG drum sound, scorching fretwork, and a melody you could hang your coat on. The mid-tempo “Loose Ends” is similarly rootsy, Stinson’s drawled vocals matched by Steve Foley’s measured timekeeping, a throbbing bass line, and scraps of twinkling guitar. “One More Time” bursts out of the gate like a champion race horse before teetering off the track, Foley’s can-slamming providing the only anchor to the musical chaos.

Fast & Hard

The punkish fervor of “Fast & Hard” is perhaps the closest that Stinson comes here to replicating the inexplicable chemistry of his former band, the song displaying reckless energy and great musical dynamics while the album’s title track is a grandiloquent almost-ballad with tortured vocals and lush instrumentation. The bonus disc provided with the Friday Night Is Killing Me reissue is a roller-coaster jaunt through the Bash & Pop archives, a mish-mash of demos and rarities that is uneven by nature. The home demo of “Hang Ups” is delightfully raw and more ramshackle than the final version while the rowdy “Situation” reminds of Rod Stewart & the Faces and should probably have made the cut on the original album tracklist.

Ditto for “Harboring A Fugitive,” a feedback-laden slab o’ punky power-pop with ringing guitars and enchanting instrumental drone; tailor-made for ‘90s era rock radio it could have cut through the grunge onslaught on the FM band. The band’s contribution to Kevin Smith’s 1994 cinematic debut Clerks, “Making Me Sick,” is chunky and discordant enough that it should have leapt off the soundtrack and grabbed the audience by the ears. Of the alternative versions, none really stand out as superior to the final line-up, tho’ the charming “Tiny Pieces” comes close with Stinson doing his best Westerberg vocals. The unreleased instrumental cover of Terry Reid’s “Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Piece” is a fine, high-octane showcase for Stinson’s underrated six-string skills (and another track that should have made the album).      

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

For long-suffering Bash & Pop fans, Omnivore’s reissue of Friday Night Is Killing Me provides just the right amount of a good thing, offering the true believer a wealth of engaging bonus tracks that shed a light on the band’s in-studio creative process. The original eleven-song album stands proudly enough on its own as one of the long-lost semi-classic recordings of rock ‘n’ roll but was overshadowed (and out-sold) at the time by grunge-y outfits like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and Pearl Jam. Whether with the Replacements or fronting Bash & Pop, though, Tommy Stinson a considerable talent as well as a talented songwriter and bandleader; Friday Night Is Killing Me the moment he stepped out of the shadows of his notorious band and began to make a name for himself. Grade: B (Omnivore Recordings, released September 8, 2017)

Buy the CD from Bash & Pop’s Friday Night Is Killing Me

Sunday, September 17, 2017

CD Preview: The Pretty Things’ Greatest Hits

The Pretty Things’ Greatest Hits
The Pretty Things are undeniably one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll outfits of the 1960s and ‘70s…though they weren’t always considered so. After scoring hits out of the box with timeless tracks like “Roslyn” and “Don’t Bring Me Down,” the PTs suffered through an extended streak that saw a largely indifferent response from the record-buying public after the mid-‘60s. But as the band evolved beyond its early British R&B roots into a psychedelic and subsequent hard rock sound, the Pretty Things released great albums like S.F. Sorrow (1968), Silk Torpedo (1974), and Savage Eye (1976) before breaking up in the late ‘70s.

The original PTs – singer Phil May and guitarist Dick Taylor – put the band back together in the early ‘80s and have been plugging away in the trenches more or less ever since (with a few hiatuses here and there). The latter-day band has released a few gems as well, including 2007’s Balboa Island and 2015’s critically-acclaimed The Sweet Pretty Things (Are In Bed Now, of Course…). The year 2015 also saw the release of Bouquets From A Cloudy Sky, a career-spanning box set honoring the band that influenced artists as diverse as David Bowie, the Clash, and the Libertines, among many others.

On October 13th, 2017 Madfish Records will release the Pretty Things’ Greatest Hits, a two-disc collection of (their hyperbole, not mine) “25 of the very best tracks from the dirtiest, loudest, most controversial and influential band the world has seen.” The first disc includes the band’s initial 1960s-era U.K. chart hits “Roslyn,” “Don’t Bring Me Down,” “Honey, I Need,” “Cry To Me,” and “Midnight to Six Man” as well as latter tracks like “S.F. Sorrow Is Born,” “Defecting Grey,” and “L.S.D.” It looks like Greatest Hits only covers the period of the band’s first four album releases (1965-1968) and eschews any of their fine ‘70s work (a second volume, maybe?) but it does include a 2016 recording of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” which was originally offered to the band to record but they passed on it.

The Pretty Things’ Greatest Hits also includes a bonus CD of an exclusive recorded performance of the band’s self-titled 1965 album form the legendary 100 Club in London. The album will be available in CD, vinyl, and digital download formats and includes comments on individual tracks from May and Taylor as well as liner notes from longtime band manager Mark St. John.

Buy the CD from The Pretty Things’ Greatest Hits

Friday, September 15, 2017

Hüsker Dü’s Grant Hart, R.I.P.

Hüsker Dü (Grant Hart, center)
Grant Hart – singer and drummer for the influential, almighty punk rock onslaught that was Hüsker Dü – passed away at the University of Minnesota Medical Center of complications from liver cancer and hepatitis. Hart was only 56 years old.

Hüsker Dü was formed in 1979 in St. Paul, Minnesota by singer/guitarist Bob Mould, bassist Greg Norton, and Hart. Initially known as a hardcore punk band, Hüsker Dü’s music eventually evolved into a more melodic yet aggressive sound that was fast and loud but offered intelligent, erudite lyrics courtesy of Mould and Hart. The band signed with Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn’s SST Records, releasing three groundbreaking albums for the label, including the classic 1984 double-LP set Zen Arcade and its follow-up, 1985’s New Day Rising.

Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade
Signing with Warner Brothers Records, the band released a pair of critically-acclaimed studio albums before the band’s break-up in 1987. Hüsker Dü would later become known as one of the most influential bands to emerge from the punk underground of the ‘80s, inspiring artists like Metallica, the Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nirvana, among many others.

Hart launched a lengthy solo career with his 1989 SST Records album Intolerance; Hart’s 2013 album The Argument was his most recent release. In between solo albums, Hart also fronted the critically-acclaimed band Nova Mob, releasing two albums, the best of which is 1991’s The Last Days of Pompeii.

Hart’s death at a too-young age comes just as interest in Hüsker Dü is growing due to the forthcoming release of the three-disc Savage Young Dü box set by The Numero Group. A lot of other folks have waxed eloquently on Hart’s death, so here are a couple of links to stuff you should read if you’re a Grant Hart and/or Hüsker Dü fan:

Fred Mills in Blurt online
Chris Willman in Variety online
Stephen Thomas Erlewine in City Pages
Rob Sheffield in Rolling Stone online

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Go Johnny Go! with Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran & Ritchie Valens

Go Johnny Go! DVD
Rock ‘n’ roll was still in its infancy as an art form in the late ‘50s, which led to the creation of a number of films (the predominant form of pop culture at the time) targeting the red-hot teenage market. Although today we look back in embarrassment at a lot of these movies, they helped create a youthful rock ‘n’ roll demographic that would carry the music better than five decades until the present day.

Directed by Paul Landres – who made movies like Destiny and Johnny Rocco and directed episodes of Maverick, Flipper, and other TV shows – Go Johnny Go! was released in 1959 and starred celebrity DJ Alan Freed, rocker Chuck Berry, and singers Johnny Clanton and Sandy Stewart as the romantic couple at the heart of the film. Clanton was a respected talent, part of the New Orleans music scene, working with legends like Dr. John (nee Mac Rebennack) and Allen Toussaint. Clanton’s best-known hit was 1958’s “Just A Dream,” the singer placing seven singles in the Top 40 during the 1950s and early ‘60s.

On October 17th, 2017 VCI Entertainment – the oldest surviving home video company in the USA – will reissue Go Johnny Go! on DVD, to be distributed by our friends at MVD Entertainment Group. Previously released under titles like Johnny Melody, The Swinging Story, and The Swinging Story of Johnny Melody, the film has become a cult favorite for its engaging story and rockin’ soundtrack. The film offers the only cinematic appearance of singer Ritchie Valens before his untimely death, and features Eddie Cochran’s third and final appearance on film.

Featuring a based-in-reality story of DJ Freed searching for the next rock star, the soundtrack to the 75-minute film features performances by Clanton, co-star Chuck Berry, and such luminaries as Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, Jackie Wilson, Harvey Fuqua, the Cadillacs, the Flamingos, and others. Go Johnny Go! is an interesting and entertaining artifact of the early rock ‘n’ roll era.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Grapefruit Records’ Looking At the Pictures In the Sky celebrates 1968!

Grapefruit Records' Looking At the Pictures In the Sky
Everybody is just so jazzed up because this year is the 50th anniversary of 1967, the vaunted “summer of love.” Well, kiddies, the year is officially 75% over and done with and while that still leaves roughly three months to celebrate the hedonistic excesses of ’67, a new year is right around the corner. The good folks at U.K. archival specialists Grapefruit Records must agree, ‘cause they already have their eyes on the semicentennial of 1968...

On September 29th, 2017 here in the USA, Grapefruit will release Looking At the Pictures In the Sky, a three-disc anthology of British psychedelic rock that features 77 tracks and rocks an almost four-hour running time. The set is packaged in a cool clambox and includes a 44-page booklet brimming over with biographical information and rare photographs of the artists featured. Best of all, the set is budget-priced – selling on for $19.99 as of this writing – a bargain considering the tonnage of music included.

And just what, exactly, will you hear on Looking At the Pictures In the Sky? Well, among the 77 tracks here, you’ll find a number of the ‘usual suspects’ like the Move (“Omnibus”), the Crazy World of Arthur Brown (“Spontaneous Apple Creation”), the Pretty Things (“Talking About the Good Times”), and Procol Harum (“In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence”) offering lesser-known, lysergic-drenched tunes released in 1968.

The set also includes songs from a number of cult bands whose early singles demand platinum-prices from collectors, bands like the Fire (“Father’s Name Is Dad”), Tuesday’s Children (“She”), the Spectrum (“Music Soothes the Savage Breast”), the Alan Bown (“For Your Thoughts”), Andy Ellison (“Cornflake Zoo”), Blonde On Blonde (“Country Life”), and Skip Bifferty (“Round and Round”).

Grapefruit Records’ Looking At the Pictures In the Sky
Grapefruit Records has also dug up some truly hard-to-find, bona fide psych-rock classics for Looking At the Pictures In the Sky, rare 45s by bands like Fleur de Lys, the Barrier, the Factory, the Glass Menagerie, Rupert’s People, and Mike Stuart Span that are virtually unknown outside of the rabid psych collectors’ community. Throw in a handful of singles by unlikely candidates like the Spencer Davis Group (“Time Seller”), Status Quo (“Technicolor Dreams”), Graham Gouldman (“Upstairs Downstairs”), and the Marmalade (“Mr. Lion”) as well as the rarity “Aeroplane,” the flip-side of the debut single by Jethro Tull (credited incorrectly to ‘Jethro Toe’) and what you have is a mind-blowing collection of cult classics, obscure B-sides, and unreleased treasures of British psychedelia circa ’68!

Looking At the Pictures In the Sky is a sequel, of sorts, to Grapefruit’s critically-acclaimed 2016 box set I’m A Freak, Baby: A Journey Through the British Heavy Psych and Hard Rock Underground Scene 1968-72 (check out the Rev’s review). The label’s efforts in preserving this creative era of rock ‘n’ roll history is a godsend for those of us who can’t spend $1,000 on a rare single. Check out the full tracklist of Looking At the Pictures In the Sky on the Grapefruit Records website and use the link below to order your copy from…your ears will thank me later.

Buy the box set from Various Artists - Looking At the Pictures In the Sky 

Friday, September 8, 2017

CD Review: Flamin' Groovies' Fantastic Plastic (2017)

Flamin' Groovies' Fantastic Plastic
Who would have thought that, after 38 years, the Flamin’ Groovies would see a reunion of original band member Cyril Jordan and longtime singer/guitarist Chris Wilson to write and record a new album? Well, fellow travelers, the word is true and Fantastic Plastic is the result of this holy matrimony of teenage kicks and cheap thrills. The first Groovies’ flapjack since 1979’s criminally-underrated Jumpin’ In The Night, the new platter was produced by Jordan and guitarist Joel Jaffe and features ten red-hot new tunes penned by the team of Jordan and Wilson as well as a pair of too-cool-for-school covers in NRBQ’s “I Want You Bad” and the Beau Brummels’ “Don’t Talk To Strangers.”

The Flamin’ Groovies were formed in San Francisco in1965 by guitarist Jordan and singer/guitarist Roy Loney. The independent release of a seven-song 10” EP called Sneakers led to a CBS Records contract, the label releasing the Groovies’ 1969 debut LP Supersnazz. The band’s fast-burning, high-octane blend of ‘50s-inspired and ‘60s-wired power-pop, punk, and garage-rock was easily a decade or three ahead of its time, and CBS dropped the Groovies after poor sales. This forced the band to play major label bingo over the next few years, timeless albums like1970’s Flamingo and 1971’s Teenage Head released by Kama Sutra, later albums released by Sire Records. Loney jumped ship in the mid-‘70s, replaced by Wilson for 1976’s classic Shake Some Action album. The band broke up in 1980 after releasing a couple more rockin’ records that were ignored by a music-buying hoi polloi mesmerized by Top 40 hit radio.

Flamin’ Groovies’ Fantastic Plastic

In spite of their tragic obscurity during the rough ‘n’ tumble decade of the ‘70s, the Groovies’ handful of albums have since become considered important signposts along the pop/rock highway, influencing artists like NRBQ, the dB’s, and the Plimsouls, among many, many others. Listening to Fantastic Plastic, I’m not going to tell you that it’s a “return to form” or that it “sounds as good as the old stuff,” although the long-admirable musical chemistry between Jordan and Wilson couldn’t be re-created in a laboratory with any currently-known scientific equipment. I will tell you, however, that Fantastic Plastic rocks from stem to stern, a dozen sizzling tracks to bend your brain and cause rhythmic spasms in your metatarsus.

Forty minutes of musical bliss rolls out slowly with “What The Hell’s Goin’ On,” a low-slung raunch ‘n’ roll groove asking a question for the ages with a grinding rhythm, greasy fretwork, and drawled vocals that sound drenched in 90-proof whiskey. The whirling energy of “End of the World” harkens back to the band’s psychedelic SF roots, with an understated riff sounding like Blue Oyster Cult on a peyote bender while melodic crescendos of sound wash over your ears. The Groovies’ hit full stride with “Don’t Talk To Strangers,” an obscure Beau Brummels single they give a full 1965 makeover, the band capturing the original’s throwback vibe with Byrdsian jangle and shards of hallucinogenic-drenched guitar.

Just Like A Hurricane

The band original “Let Me Rock” is equally invigorating, solid rhythm guitar and explosive percussion creating a cacophonic backdrop for Wilson’s soulful vocals and the band’s backing harmonies. Squealing guitar licks and dense production create an exhilarating listening experience while the “save our music” lyrics are delightfully retro. The Groovies’ influence on their contemporaries NRBQ flows both ways, and the band’s cover of the Q’s “I Want You Bad” is every bit as heartbreakingly yearning as the original. With a wall of sound blanketing the performance, ‘60s-styled guitars break free to create a vibe while the wistful vox are spot on. The rockabilly-fueled “Crazy Macy” is the unusual misstep here, the crack in the windshield that you’ll stare at for hours, wondering when it’s going to break loose.

Although a technically perfect pastiche of rockabilly sound with manic guitars and machine-gun rhythms, “Crazy Macy” falls short of the high standard set by the other material on Fantastic Plastic. Much better is the British Invasion-tinged “Just Like A Hurricane,” a roller-coaster ride of echoed vocals and claustrophobic rhythms with piercing git licks (anybody else here remember Speedy Keen?). The shimmering instrumental “I’d Rather Spend My Time With You” features noted producer and rock ‘n’ roll archivist Alec Palao on bass and Tubes/Todd Rundgren drummer Prairie Prince for a surf-rock inspired rave-up that reminds of Dick Dale’s classic romps. Fantastic Plastic closes with “Cryin’ Shame,” the Byrds/Roger McGuinn-styled guitar intro evolving into a lovely mid-tempo rocker with gang harmonies and sparkling fretwork balanced atop a steady rhythmic framework.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

There’s some mad genius level insanity going on in the grooves of Fantastic Plastic, the Flamin’ Groovies delivering a much better album than one would expect after nearly four decades of creative separation for songwriters Cyril Jordan and Chris Wilson. It’s like they dug a beloved old hot rod out of the garage from behind the stacks of old newspapers and worn-out tires and found that, with a little polish and some fresh gas, the monster cranks right up like it’s 1980 all over again.

The Flamin’ Groovies’ first album of the 21st century is by no means a classic on the level of Shake Some Action, but it ain’t chopped liver, either. The Groovies shake off the ring rust to deliver one of the most consistent – and consistently entertaining – recordings of a career that now spans seven decades. Fantastic Plastic promises old school rock ‘n’ roll in a manner unlike just about any other band spinning its wheels these days, the Flamin’ Groovies proudly carrying the torch for an era that refuses to die. Grade: B+ (Sonic Kicks Records, released September 22, 2017)

Buy the CD from Flamin’ Groovies’ Fantastic Plastic

Soulsville U.S.A. A Celebration of Stax

Soulsville U.S.A. A Celebration of Stax
As we’ve written about over the last couple of months, 2017 is the 60th anniversary of the legendary Memphis-based label Stax Records. As part of the year-long celebration of all things Stax-related, the good folks at Concord Music Group and Rhino Entertainment have been collaborating on some essential soul releases, but probably none as cool as this one...

On September 22nd, 2017 the two labels will add points to their cosmic karma with the release of Soulsville U.S.A.: A Celebration of Stax. A three-CD collection featuring a liver-quivering 60 tracks in total, the set spans the early 1960s through the mid-‘70s and features music from such soul legends as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T & the M.G.’s, Carla Thomas, the Dramatics, William Bell, the Staple Singers, and Sam & Dave, among many others. The collection also includes new liner notes by journalist Jeff Slate.

An update, of sorts, to the best-selling Stax 50: A 50th Anniversary Celebration box set that has sold better than 100,000 copies since its 2007 release, Soulsville U.S.A.: A Celebration of Stax ups the ante by including rare tracks by lesser-known (tho’ no less talented) Stax label artists like Mable John, Little Milton, and the Soul Children alongside hits from folks like Rufus Thomas (“Walking the Dog”), Eddie Floyd (“Knock On Wood”), Jean Knight (“Mr. Big Stuff”), and Shirley Brown (“Woman To Woman”) as well as the aforementioned label stars. Check out the complete track listing for Soulsville U.S.A.: A Celebration of Stax below and you’ll agree that this is some of the best soul music every made!

Disc 1
1. The Veltones - Fool In Love
2. Carla Thomas - Gee Whiz
3. The Mar-Keys - Last Night
4. William Bell - You Don't Miss Your Water
5. Booker T. & the MG's - Green Onions
6. Rufus Thomas - Walking The Dog
7. Wendy Rene - After Laughter (Comes Tears)
8. Otis Redding - I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)
9. The Astors - Candy
10. Sam & Dave - You Don't Know Like I Know
11. The Mad Lads - Don't Have To Shop Around
12. Carla Thomas - Let Me Be Good To You
13. Mable John - Your Good Thing (Is About To End)
14. Eddie Floyd - Knock On Wood
15. Sam & Dave - Hold On! I'm Comin'
16. Otis Redding - Try A Little Tenderness
17. Carla Thomas - B-A-B-Y
18. Booker T. & the MG's - Hip Hug-Her
19. The Bar-Kays - Soul Finger
20. Otis & Carla - Tramp

Disc 2
1. Albert King - Born Under A Bad Sign
2. Sam & Dave - Soul Man
3. Otis Redding - (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay
4. Eddie Floyd - Big Bird
5. Ollie & The Nightingales - I Got A Sure Thing
6. Booker T. & the MG's - Soul Limbo
7. Linda Lyndell - What A Man
8. Judy Clay & William Bell - Private Number
9. Eddie Floyd - I've Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)
10. The Staple Singers - The Weight
11. Johnnie Taylor - Who's Making Love
12. Carla Thomas - I Like What You're Doing (To Me)
13. William Bell - I Forgot To Be Your Love)
14. Booker T. & the MG's - Time Is Tight
15. Rufus Thomas - Do The Funky Chicken
16. The Emotions - So I Can Love You
17. Isaac Hayes - Walk On By
18. Johnnie Taylor & Carla Thomas - Just Keep On Loving Me
19. The Staple Singers - Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom)
20. Rufus Thomas - (Do The) Push And Pull (Part. 1)

Disc 3
1. Jean Knight - Mr. Big Stuff
2. Johnnie Taylor - Jody's Got Your Girl And Gone
3. Isaac Hayes - Never Can Say Goodbye
4. The Dramatics - Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get
5. The Staple Singers - Respect Yourself
6. Isaac Hayes - Theme From Shaft
7. The Bar-Kays - Son Of Shaft
8. Little Milton - That's What Love Will Make You Do
9. The Soul Children - Hearsay
10. The Dramatics - In The Rain
11. Isaac Hayes - Do Your Thing
12. Frederick Knight - I've Been Lonely For So Long
13. The Staple Singers - I'll Take You There
14. Mel & Tim - Starting All Over Again
15. Temprees - Dedicated To The One I Love
16. The Dramatics - Hey You! Get Off My Mountain
17. Johnnie Taylor - Cheaper To Keep Her
18. The Staple Singers - If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)
19. The Soul Children - I'll Be The Other Woman
20. Shirley Brown - Woman To Woman

Also on That Devil
Sam & Dave - Stax Classics CD review
Carla Thomas - Stax Classics CD review
Otis Redding - Live At the Whiskey A Go Go CD review 

Buy the box set from Soulsville U.S.A.: A Celebration of Stax

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Numero Group’s Hüsker Dü box set

Hüsker Dü

Archival experts The Numero Group have announced the label’s long-rumored and much anticipated Hüsker Dü box set. Scheduled for early November release, Savage Young Dü is a three-CD or four-LP set packaged in either tip-on jackets or die-cut sleeves and boxed in a linen-finished slipcase and including a 108pp or 144pp hardcover book with 40 previously unpublished photographs, a flyerography, a sessionography by Paul Hilcoff, and a 12,000 word essay by writer Erin Osmon.

The Numero Group’s Hüsker Dü box set
Savage Young Dü features 69 songs, 47 of them previously unreleased, all of them remastered from the original analog tapes and including Everything Falls Apart, the band’s first studio album, and an alternative version of their live debut, Land Speed Record. Savage Young Dü is priced at $40 plus shipping for the three-CD version and $50 plus shipping for the CD box including a limited-edition 7” EP titled Extra Circus that is only available for mail order customers. Featuring five previously-unreleased songs from the January 1983 Metal Circus sessions, Extra Circus is packaged in a full-color sleeve designed by band member Grant Hart. The four-LP vinyl version of the box set has already sold out but, as of this writing, the four-LP box with the 7” EP is still available and priced at $95 plus shipping from the label.

Hüsker Dü was formed in 1979 in St. Paul, Minnesota by singer/guitarist Bob Mould, bassist Greg Norton, and drummer/singer Grant Hart. Initially known as a hardcore punk band, Hüsker Dü’s music eventually evolved into a more melodic yet aggressive sound that was fast and loud but offered intelligent, erudite lyrics courtesy of Mould and Hart. The band signed with Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn’s SST Records, releasing three groundbreaking albums for the label, including the classic 1984 double-LP set Zen Arcade. Subsequently signing with Warner Brothers Records, the band released a pair of critically-acclaimed studio albums in 1985 and 1986 before the band’s break-up; a live album featuring 1987 band performances was later released in 1994.

Hüsker Dü would become one of the most influential bands to emerge from the punk underground of the ‘80s, inspiring bands like Metallica, the Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nirvana, among many others. Savage Young Dü offers an in-depth look into the band’s early, formative years, collecting original soundboard tapes, demos, and session masters recorded by Hüsker Dü between 1979 and 1983. Reasonably-priced even by the exaggerated standards of archive box sets, and a must-have for any Hüsker Dü fan’s collection, Savage Young Dü is available from The Numero Group website – get ‘em before they go!

Monday, September 4, 2017

CD Review: Jesse Ed Davis's Red Dirt Boogie - The Atco Recordings 1970-1972 (2017)

Jesse Ed Davis's Red Dirt Boogie
Jesse Ed Davis was an extraordinarily-talented guitarist who parlayed his skills into a career as an in-demand session player and touring musician. Originally part of country legend Conway Twitty’s band, Davis switched gears when he became an integral part of root ‘n’ blues legend Taj Mahal’s band, playing on Mahal’s first three albums. Introduced to session work by Leon Russell in the late ‘60s, Davis would lend his talents to recordings by John Lee Hooker, Willie Nelson, Gene Clark (The Byrds), and many others.

Lesser-known – and tragically so – was Davis’s short-lived career as a solo artist. Launching his solo career with a self-titled release on the Atlantic Records subsidiary Atco, the guitarist’s debut featured high-profile musical guests like Leon Russell, Eric Clapton, Gram Parsons, and Alan White (Yes). Two subsequent critically-acclaimed albums would quickly follow, 1972’s Ululu (also released by Atco Records) and 1973’s Keep Me Comin’ (recorded for CBS). None of his albums sold too well in spite of their inspired blend of rock, blues, jazz, and country sounds and Davis’s incredible guitarplay. Davis would retreat back into session work, performing on albums like Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies’ Man and John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges as well as on albums by artists like Harry Nilsson, George Harrison, Donovan, and Tracy Nelson (Mother Earth).

Jesse Ed Davis’s Red Dirt Boogie

Real Gone Music’s Red Dirt Boogie: The Atco Recordings 1970-1972 offers every song from Davis’s two Atco albums, seventeen tunes in all, with the exception of his take on the traditional country jaunt “Oh, Susannah.” In its place, the label added a pair of studio outtakes in the form of the previously-unreleased basic track for “Rock N Roll Gypsies” and an unreleased instrumental, “Kiowa Teepee (Washita Love Child).” As the disc is squeezed for space at roughly 75 minutes, I personally might have dropped the former track and kept the latter and run both of Davis’s Atco albums in full in their original sequencing. For whatever reason, producers Gordon Anderson, Pat Thomas, and Mike Thomas chose to shake things up, and songs from both albums are intertwined, eliminating any sense of artistic evolution.

These minor cavils aside, Red Dirt Boogie is an impressive collection overall, offering stellar musicianship and an inspired mix of original songs, traditional material, and well-chosen covers. Davis was the consummate root ‘n’ blues artist, equally conversant in several musical styles and their history, and his knowledge and skills show in the grooves. While “Every Night Is Saturday Night” is a lyrical trifle, an up-tempo party song with blasts of manic horns and a foot-shuffling rhythm, it does display some fierce guitar licks. “Washita Love Child” is much better, combining Davis’s Kiowa-Comanche Indian heritage with Okie soul and a gospel fervor with low-slung vocals, a driving rhythm, angelic backing vocals, and what sounds like a guitar battle between Davis and guest Eric Clapton.

Rock N Roll Gypsies

Davis’s original “Reno Street Incident” displays the guitarist’s not-inconsiderable skills as a songwriter, the lyrics showing a fine eye for detail, Davis’s laid-back, nuanced vocals telling a sordid tale while the band rambles on, the languid vibe punctured time-to-time by Davis’s razor-sharp fretwork. A version of George Harrison’s “Sue Me, Sue You Blues” was released before Harrison would record the song, Davis backed by a band that included Dr. John on keyboards and Stax Records legend Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass. Davis’s take on the song is more honky-tonk flavored than George’s, with twangy instrumentation and stinging guitarplay. A cover of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” strikes a low-down soulful groove that offers, perhaps, one of Davis’s best vocal performances, backed by gorgeous backing harmonies.

The title track from his sophomore album, Davis’s “Ululu” opens with shimmering guitar lines and ethereal vox before settling into a mid-tempo hippie ballad with a hearty bass line and Jim Keltner’s strong tho’ subtle percussion. A cover of Leon Russell’s “Alcatraz” offers a funky rhythmic backdrop for Davis’s passionate vocals, which are almost smothered by the mix, while a cover of Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever” twangs-and-bangs with the best of them, Davis’s vocals more spoken than song, and accompanied by shards of nicely manic guitar.

“Golden Sun Goddess,” from Davis’s debut, is a delightfully wan slab of shiny cosmic pop with otherworldly harmonies, a subtle underlying bass line (Billy Rich?), and elegant guitar. The mid-tempo “Rock N Roll Gypsies” is a vintage sing-a-long with gang vocals, fiery guitar licks, and heavy drumbeats (Chuck Blackwell?) while “Kiowa Teepee (Washita Love Child)” is a tribute to Davis’s Native American ancestry, beginning with an Indian chant and rhythms before bursting into an infectious instrumental jam based on the melody of “Washita Love Child.” It’s a stunning performance and a great way to close out Red Dirt Boogie.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Tragically, by the end of the ‘70s, Davis’s personal demons would catch up with him and the guitarist spent much of the decade of the ‘80s battling addiction to drugs and alcohol before his death by overdose at the too-young age of 43 years old. Davis had resurfaced during the mid-‘80s, playing with Native American poet and activist John Trudell as part of the Graffiti Band, but his meager back catalog of solo work has gone in-and-out-of-print frequently through the years and has been hard to find by any measure.

Real Gone’s Red Dirt Boogie collection does a fine job of rescuing this underrated talent from obscurity, preserving Davis’s solo work and placing it in context with informative liner notes by noted writer and producer Pat Thomas. Davis wasn’t the most accomplished singer, his voice sounding like a cross between Leon Russell and Randy Newman – except grittier – but he did a fine job in conveying heart and soul in his material. While he also wasn’t the most gifted songwriter, Davis’s lyrics nevertheless told heartfelt stories forged from his personal experience. Where Jesse Ed really shined was with his phenomenal six-string skills, which provided energy and life to every performance. Davis is an artist worth rediscovery, Red Dirt Boogie an invaluable collection of ‘70s-era roots ‘n’ blues music. Grade: B (Real Gone Music, released June 9, 2017)

Buy the CD from Jesse Ed Davis’s Red Dirt Boogie: The Atco Recordings 1970-1972