Friday, July 3, 2020

Archive Review: Joe Louis Walker's Hornet's Nest (2014)

Joe Louis Walker's Hornet's Nest
With the vast majority of musicians, by the time they get a couple of decades under their belt and two dozen albums into a career – if they're talented, driven, and lucky enough to get that far – the artist begins to run out of gas, creatively, struggling to find their muse. As for blues guitarist Joe Louis Walker, not only is he finding new ways of expressing himself nearly 30 years after the release of his debut album, both lyrically and musically Hornet's Nest sounds like Walker has a full tank of gas and he's ready to roll!

Following up on his acclaimed 2012 album Hellfire, Walker returned to Nashville, the new blues Mecca, to once again record with talented producer, musician, and songwriter Tom Hambridge (Buddy Guy, James Cotton). Working with the same firecracker studio band that helped make Hellfire such an unqualified success – guitarist Rob McNelley, bassist Tommy MacDonald, and keyboardist Reese Wynans, with Hambridge on drums – Walker spanks the amps on a dozen rock-solid performances, including nine original songs that run the gamut from old-school blues to British blues-rock, and even a fine gospel moment.

Joe Louis Walker's Hornet's Nest


Much as he did with Hellfire, Walker cranks up the voltage from the first note, opening the album with the title track, as greasy and satisfying a slab o' blues back-bacon that will ever tickle your musical palate. Stinging fretwork and bombastic rhythms lay the foundation for a blistering performance. The song is, at its core, a fresh take on the old blues trope of love and jealously, only writ large with monster riffs and heavy instrumentation. Walker and his co-writers spin some clever metaphors within their lyrics, but what really makes it work are Walker's nasty vocals and nastier git-licks, as brutal an assault on the blues as you'll hear, full of spit and venom and raw emotion. It's a real kick-in-the-pants-seat of an album opener, so what's an artist to do for an encore?

How about "All I Wanted To Do," a complete change of direction stylistically and every bit as appealing to the ears as the title track. More pop-oriented in tone, Walker's brightly-hued vocals are no less imbued with emotion, the singer channeling heartbreak here rather than anger, his vox crossing Prince with Bobby "Blue" Bland to great effect, embellishing the lyrics with a melodic guitar solo full of tone and imagination that rides smoothly atop the rollicking brassy licks of the horn section. "As The Sun Goes Down" changes the mood once again; a more traditional, mid-tempo blues tune with a few swampy licks thrown in for good measure, Walker's tear-jerk vocals are enhanced by the crying notes he coaxes out of his instrument. Every bit of the song's power comes from the mournful fretwork, Walker wringing as much blood, sweat, and tears out of his stick as any great blues guitarist you'd care to name.

Ride On, Baby


Walker's ear for fresh music is simply invigorating, and he puts it to good use on a playful cover of Carl Perkins' "Don't Let Go." A Top 20 hit for the great Isaac Hayes back in 1980, Walker's version straddles the common ground between Perkins' rockabilly-tinged original and Hayes funkier R&B cover. The swinging rockabilly rhythm is evident here, and Walker's surprisingly spry vocals capture perfectly Perkins' swagger and charisma, but he dirties it up a bit with an undeniable R&B groove driven by Wynans' chiming keyboards and inspired backing vocals. Hambridge's "Ramblin' Soul" is an entirely different creature, a big-boned blues-rock monolith that wouldn't have sounded out of place on an old Savoy Brown album. Walker's razor-sharp guitar cuts a wide swath through the arrangement while the stomp 'n' stammer rhythms hit your ears like a mortar blast. The song jams on for nearly six minutes, guitars screaming and cymbals crashing in the creation of a musically cathartic moment.  

Following "Ramblin' Soul," Walker's take on the Rolling Stones "Ride On, Baby" is so doggone full of enchantment and wide-eyed innocence that it's just a pure joy to listen to over and over again. Digging the often-overlooked Jagger/Richards composition up from 1967's Flowers album, Walker dusts off the psychedelic-pop sheen yet still retains the song's mid-1960s baroque Stones sound. It's an uplifting moment devoid of guitar pyrotechnics and studio gimmickry, just a heck of a lot of fun to hear and, I presume, to have recorded in the first place, especially the cheeky Otis Day & the Knights outro.

Ditto for the raucous "Soul City, which evinces a stone cold Sly & the Family Stone vibe while name-checking various locales like Chicago, Detroit, and even Oslo, Norway, among others. The song is built on a descending bass riff like a vintage Sly Stone jam, with plenty of chaotic instrumentation and swirling guitars building a lively soul party. Hornet's Nest closes out with the gospel-tinged "Keep The Faith," Walker's reverent vocals displaying a different side to his talents, the singer sounding a lot like Bobby Womack in delivering an incredibly powerful yet nuanced performance that harkens back to his years with the Spiritual Corinthians Gospel Quartet during the 1980s. The song is an inspiring nod to the artist's faith as well as an elegant note to close the album out on.       

The Reverend's Bottom Line


Joe Louis Walker has been playing professionally since he was a teenager, nearly 50 years now, and he's literally shared a stage and rubbed shoulders with nearly every American and British blues musician of note, from John Lee Hooker and John Mayall to Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, and Michael Bloomfield. Few would blame Walker if he wanted to call in a few of his markers and coast on his accomplishments. Hornet's Nest shows that there's plenty of life left in the fiery bluesman yet, Walker not one to rest on his laurels when there's music to be made. Hornet's Nest is the guitarist's strongest, diverse, and most entertaining album to date and, after a couple dozen acclaimed previous efforts, that's no mere hyperbole... (Alligator Records, released February 23, 2014)

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Joe Louis Walker's Hornet's Nest


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

New Music Monthly: July 2020 releases

It's July and summer is in full-swing, and while many labels have pulled new LPs from their heavy-hitters until the fall, when things may have calmed down a bit, that doesn't mean that there isn't a bunch of groovy tunes coming our way this month. There are new albums from Americana legends Ray Wylie Hubbard (recorded with friends like Joe Walsh and Larkin Poe) and the Jayhawks, 1980s rock icons the Pretenders and the Psychedelic Furs; as well as prog-rock from Steve Howe, hip-hop from The Streets, and post-punk from Gang of Four, to name but a few. The archival releases are hopping, too, with R&B classics from James Booker and Irma Thomas, a long-overdue compilation album from Bill Kirchen, a long overdue reissue of the too-cool-for-school Flamin' Groovies album Now, and much more!
 
Release dates are probably gonna change and nobody tells me when they do. If you’re interesting in buying an album, just hit the ‘Buy!’ link to get it from Amazon.com...it’s just that damn easy! Your purchase puts valuable ‘store credit’ in the Reverend’s pocket that he’ll use to buy more music to write about in a never-ending loop of rock ‘n’ roll ecstasy! If you're boycotting Amazon and don't have an indie record store close by, may we suggest shopping with our friends at Grimey's Music in Nashville? They have a great selection of vinyl available by mail order, offer quick service, and if you don't see what you want on their website, check out their Discogs shop!

Grateful Dead's Workingman's Dead

JULY 10
The Beths - Jump Rope Gazers   BUY!
The Flamin' Groovies - Now   BUY!
Glass Animals - Dreamland   BUY!
Grateful Dead - Workingman's Dead: 50th Anniversary Edition [3-CD box]   BUY!
Ray Wylie Hubbard - Co-Starring   BUY!
The Jayhawks - XOXO   BUY!
The Streets - None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive   BUY!
Rufus Wainwright - Unfollow the Rules   BUY!

The Pretenders' Hate For Sale

JULY 17
Gang of Four - Anti Hero   BUY!
Laraaji - Sun Piano   BUY!
The Pretenders - Hate For Sale   BUY!
The Shaggs - Shaggs' Own Thing [vinyl reissue]   BUY!

Bill Kirchen's The Proper Years

JULY 24
Jon Hassell - Seeing Through Sound (Pentimento Volume Two)   BUY!
Bill Kirchen - The Proper Years [two-disc retrospective]   BUY!

James Booker's Classified

JULY 31
James Booker - Classified [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
The Coronas - True Love Waits   BUY!
Fontaines D.C. - A Hero's Death   BUY!
Steve Howe - Love Is   BUY!
The Psychedelic Furs - Made of Rain   BUY!
Irma Thomas - After the Rain [vinyl reissue]   BUY!

Flamin' Groovies' Now

Album of the Month: Hands down, I gotta go with the long-overdue CD reissue of the Flamin' Groovies' Now! The band's 1978 follow-up to the transcendent Shake Some Action, it found the Groovies hitting the reset button with new guitarist Mike Wilhelm (The Charlatans) on a set comprised largely of covers of songs from the Beatles, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Rolling Stones, and Cliff Richard. There are a few new original tunes by bandleader Cyril Jordan, but overall it felt like the band was trying to find its footing again after delivering a trio of classic rock 'n' roll discs in the early-to-mid-70s.

Still, Now has been out-of-print on CD for roughly 15 years, so it's good to get it back. Plus, next month our friends at MVD will be reissuing the Groovies' 1979 LP, Jumpin' In the Night. Now, if only some archival label would get around to reissuing those late '70s Roy Loney & the Phantom Strangers albums, all would be good with the world...


Friday, June 26, 2020

Archive Review: Amy Rigby’s Little Fugitive (2005)

Amy Rigby’s Little Fugitive
Thanks to Little Steven’s addition of “Dancing with Joey Ramone” to the playlist of his weekly Underground Garage syndicated radio program, Amy Rigby has probably received more airplay for her fifth album than she has for her first four combined. Van Zandt has always had a good ear for ‘the song,’ and his inclusion of Rigby’s catchy pop-rocker is as much for the song’s killer hook and clever wordplay as for its subject matter.

Amy Rigby’s Little Fugitive


Weaving song titles like “Be My Baby,” “Gloria” and “Needles & Pins” into her fantasy of dancing with the rock ‘n’ roll hall of famer, Rigby delivers her vocals with vintage girl-group glee, the song’s infectious melody standing up to repeated listens. I know, ‘cause I’ve spun the song several dozen times and haven’t gotten tired of the damn thing yet. In “Dancing with Joey Ramone,” Amy Rigby has written the perfect tribute to rabid record collector Ramone and I have no doubt that somewhere in rock ‘n’ roll heaven, my pal Joey is dancing along with Amy.

One would think that a song as inherently cool as “Dancing With Joey Ramone” would dominate an album, overshadowing the other material, but that just ain’t so here. Little Fugitive is a solid effort from a veteran performer, brimming over with great songs. Rigby writes songs like a Renaissance master, her musical palette swimming with shades of pop, rock, folk and even a touch of psychedelia. Rigby’s highly-personalized lyrics offer a mirror to her soul, and it seems that sometimes she even surprises herself with the resulting reflection. In the defiant “Rasputin,” Rigby takes stock of her life and compares her resilience to that of the infamous Russian mystic.

On “The Trouble with Jeanie,” she obviously wants to dismiss her husband’s ex-wife except for the fact that the woman is “so nice” that it’s hard to dislike her. “So You Know Now” is a direct throwback to ‘60s psych-pop, Rigby’s sultry vocals simply hypnotic above the swirling, chaotic instrumentation. “Needy Men” sounds like a movie moment, one of those Brill Building tunes with a bright sunny melody and deceptively cynical lyrics. Lenny Kaye’s excellent “The Things You Leave Behind” is provided a magical reading, Rigby’s charming vocals matched with a middle-aged weariness that jaded young artists, for all their alleged “worldliness,” have yet to discover.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Woven throughout Little Fugitive are the little insights that often escape lesser wordsmiths. Rigby’s talent is in taking the mundane realities of daily life and recognizing the humor, the sadness, the irony and the joy in each little moment. Paired with an unerring artistic sense that makes the best use of 50+ years of popular music as a foundation, Rigby delivers songs that are emotional, invigorating and intelligent in a way that is far too often missing from the radio these days.

In a perfect world, “Dancing With Joey Ramone” would be blaring from the airwaves of every pop-oriented radio station in America. As it is we’ll merely have to thank Steve Van Zandt for his recognition of excellence and be satisfied that, in this day and age, a talent the caliber of Amy Rigby can still find an appreciative and supportive ear now and then. (Signature Sounds, released August 23, 2005)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2005

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Amy Rigby’s Little Fugitive



Archive Review: Ray Wylie Hubbard's Crusades of the Restless Knights (1999)

Ray Wylie Hubbard's Crusades of the Restless Knights
There’s no room for grizzled old poets in Nashville, just pretty boys in tight jeans and cowboy hats, vacant stares not at all concealing blank slates. Ray Wylie Hubbard, on the other hand, looks like an old book; his face lined with experience, his songs vivid pages illustrated with great craftsmanship, tales sharing the beauty of life in all of its ups and downs. Crusades of the Restless Knights is the kind of album that only a survivor could make, somebody with a few miles under their belt, more than a few scars on both their bodies and their souls and the musical vocabulary to share it with the listener.

Ray Wylie Hubbard’s Crusades of the Restless Knights


A long-time fixture on a Texas music scene that includes fellow talents like Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, and the late Townes Van Zandt, Ray Wylie Hubbard is best known, perhaps, for his wild reckless ways and unshakeable status as one of the founders of the 1970s-era “Cosmic Cowboy” scene. In his heart, however, Hubbard is a folk singer and, at its root, Crusades of the Restless Knights is a spiritual journey both lyrically and musically. In songs peopled with angels and demons, saints and criminals, star-crossed lovers and broken heroes, Hubbard has created a not-so-gentile Faulkner South, weaving wonderful stories from the fabric of his experience and insightful observations.

Many of the tales on Crusades of the Restless Knights, songs like “This River Runs Red” concern themselves with the choices people make in this life, offering a world where you’re either saved or a sinner and there’s a fine line between the two. “There Are Some Ways” is as much about the pain of growing older as it is about the regrets of no longer being young. Hubbard is not an altogether somber wordsmith, however, as proven by the side-splitting, knee-slapping religious commentary of “Conversation With the Devil.” A classic talking blues with acoustic accompaniment that was inspired by an actual dream, the song cleverly tars abusive parents, right-wing Christians, and Nashville record execs with the brush of damnation. The song revisits the fiddle contest in Charlie Daniels’ classic “Devil Went Down To Georgia” before closing with the inspired lines “some get spiritual cause they see the light/and some cause they feel the heat.”

Aside from its underlying themes of hope and redemption, Crusades of the Restless Knights also honors those who have already gone to their judgement. “Airplane Fell Down In Dixie” pays homage to the fallen members of Southern rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd while “The Messenger,” from an earlier Hubbard album, is amended here as a tribute to fellow Texan Townes Van Zandt, with beautiful backing vocals from Patty Griffin. Echoing, perhaps, Hubbard’s own artistic redemption, “The Messenger” closes the album with the ultimate statement of hope: “I just want to see what’s next.”

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Filled with vivid imagery, masterfully painted characters and intelligent, literary lyrics, Crusades of the Restless Knights is everything a country album should be, Hubbard the kind of artist that Nashville labels should be signing. Too raw, too honest and too talented for “Music Row,” Hubbard remains a country outsider creating art that rises above commerce, music that looks to the future while paying heavy dues to the ghosts of the past. One of the year’s best efforts and a timeless collection of songs, I’d heartily recommend Crusades of the Restless Knights to any music lover who values craft and skill above style and trends. (Rounder Records, released July 20, 1999)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 1999

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Ray Wylie Hubbard’s Crusades of the Restless Knights

Friday, June 19, 2020

Archive Review: The Clash’s From Here To Eternity Live (1999)

The Clash's From Here To Eternity Live
They were called the only band that mattered, and for a short while that was true. The Clash came roaring out of England’s punk scene like a saber-rattling golem with a pint of ale and a union card. They were punk personified, spitting in the face of authority while not afraid to sharpen their lyrical edge on subjects like the British government, pop culture and consumerism in the USA, Nicaraguan freedom fighters or nuclear Armageddon. They were loud, obnoxious, political and self-righteous and they played gut-level rock n’ roll like nobody else before or since.

From Here To Eternity Live is a long overdue document of the Clash in their natural environment: onstage. Although this humble critic would have preferred a disc (or two) derived from a single show, the myriad performances captured by From Here To Eternity Live will have to suffice (alongside a couple of choice bootlegs, of course). Taken from eight shows that range chronologically from 1978 through 1982, with half from that 1982 tour, the sixteen songs on From Here To Eternity Live nonetheless manages to capture the fire and passion that the Clash brought to their live shows. The same power and honesty that made the Clash legends in their own time still earns the band fans better than a decade and a half after the band’s demise.

It would be hard to pin down which performances are the best here, since fans have been circulating tapes of many of these shows for years while many have also been available as bootlegs. I’m personally partial to the early version of the Clash with Topper Headon on drums, represented here by red-hot and electrifying renditions of “London’s Burning,” “I Fought the Law” and “Guns of Brixton” among other songs. Some of the tour of ‘82 stuff ain’t half-bad, though, with vintage ravers like “Clash City Rockers” and “Career Opportunities” or the band’s biggest hit “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” receiving appropriately rocking live renderings. Perhaps if From Here To Eternity Live sells in sufficient quantities, the folks at Epic/Sony will release some complete performances on disc for those of us who wouldn’t mind supplementing our bootleg vinyl/CD versions with legitimate releases.

From Here To Eternity Live includes a number of pictures of the band and several pages of quotes from fans and fellow rockers. The band’s legacy as a live band is best summed up here by a quote from a fan named Daniel who states “I am only 18. I have never seen the Clash but I would sell my grandmother to have seen them.” No better words could describe the only band that still matters…the Clash. (Epic Records, released October 26, 1999)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 1999

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: The Clash’s From Here To Eternity Live 

Archive Review: Meatloaf’s The Very Best of Meatloaf (1998)

Meatloaf’s The Very Best of Meatloaf
Okay, I’ll admit it – I’m a Meatloaf fan. Have been, ever since Bat Out of Hell pissed off my fellow critics so badly those two decades ago. Sure, Meatloaf’s best work, i.e. the Steinman-penned songs, is overblown, bombastic, and exaggerated. Then again, so is most rap music, but you don’t see the big-league rock crits waxing negative over N.W.A. or 2-Pac, do you?

When the ‘Loaf reunited with Steinman on Bat Out of Hell II a few years back, there had to be more than a few heart attacks at the Rolling Stone writer’s retirement home. Especially considering that the carbon-copy sequel CD hit it big, scored multi-plat and provided the erstwhile Mr. Aday with another 15 minutes of fame.

Meatloaf’s The Very Best of Meatloaf


“So,” ask fellow Meatloaf fans, “what’s the skinny on this new two-disc The Very Best of Meatloaf set?” Well, your humble Reverend always provides his readers with the straight 4-1-1 with every review. On this subject, I can honestly say that if you’re a true-blue, died-in-the-wool Meatloaf fan, then use the coin you’d spend on this turkey to dig up a copy of the 2-CD live set on Tommy Boy instead. Why? Because there’s nothing really new here to attract the marks, much less satisfy the hard-core faithful.

The Very Best of Meatloaf offers eighteen tunes, broken down as follows: there’s five cuts (out of seven) from the original Bat Out Of Hell, including the title track, the hit “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” and the still-hilarious “Paradise By the Dashboard Light.” There are four cuts from the Bat sequel, including “Life Is A Lemon And I Want My Money Back,” although the producers here have ignored the “Bat Out of Hell” remake from that MCA album. You’ve got a couple songs from the Dead Ringer LP, including the title track – a spirited duet with Cher – and you’ve got the obligatory “Midnight At the Lost And Found,” the title track from Meatloaf’s best non-Steinman work.

Continuing, there are a couple of songs from the misguided Welcome To the Neighborhood (we’re up to 14 now) and the rocking “Modern Girl” from Bad Attitude. There’s nothing from the limpid Blind Before I Stop, and they’ve ignored hot songs like “Razor’s Edge” from Midnight or “Wasted Youth” from Bat II. That leaves three songs that don’t come from a Meatloaf album, proper – two Andrew Lloyd Weber compositions with Steinman lyrics and “Is Nothing Scared,” easily the worst song Steinman has written in eons. All three tracks are real snoozefests, certainly not representing the “very best” of Meatloaf.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


The upshot here, true believers? If you have Bat Out of Hell and its sequel, then you already have half the songs available on this set (and a few more). There are no real rarities here, no creative programming – why nothing from any of Meatloaf’s hard-to-find import discs, or perhaps his inspired “Sweet Patootie” from the Rocky Horror soundtrack? If you just discovered Meatloaf with Bat II a couple of years back, then buy the original debut. If you have that and still want to know more about the ‘Loaf, then dig up copies of Midnight At the Lost And Found, Bad Attitude, and Dead Ringer, if only for the Cher duet. You can score all three for about twice the price of The Very Best of Meatloaf and end up with three times as much music, tunes that really represent the “very best” of this larger than life vocalist. (Epic Records/Cleveland International, released November 24th, 1998)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 1998

Buy the CD (or don’t) from Amazon.com: Meat Loaf’s The Very Best of Meatloaf




Friday, June 12, 2020

Book Review: Martin Popoff's Denim and Leather - Saxon's First Ten Years (2020)

Martin Popoff's Denim and Leather - Saxon's First Ten Years
One of the pioneering bands of the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal,” Barnsley’s favorite sons Saxon are still riding the rails 40+ years after forming way back in the pre-metal darkness that was 1977. Amazingly, rock ‘n’ roll lifer Peter “Biff” Byford still fronts the band, and he sings as great as ever, while guitar-slinger Paul Quinn has been along for the ride since day one. The band’s longtime rhythm section – bassist Nibbs Carter and drummer Nigel Glockler – can count their tenure with Saxon in decades rather than years.

It’s the rare band that can boast of keeping two founding members after four decades, much less enjoy the instrumental continuity found in Saxon. For many ‘legacy’ bands these days, it’s usually one old geezer who sniffed the original band’s debut album cover once upon a time, tag-teamed with some younger guy dredged up by management ‘cause he owns a denim jacket. Saxon’s story is fairly unique among hard rock/heavy metal bands and, with Denim and Leather: Saxon’s First Ten Years, writer and music historian Martin Popoff explores the band’s roots and the period of their greatest commercial success.

Martin Popoff's Denim and Leather - Saxon’s First Ten Years


Popoff is the preeminent authority on all things hard rock and heavy metal, the author of 85+ books (close to 100 by now, I bet…) including artist bios (Mötörhead, Max Webster, Riot, Dio, et al); sprawling, comprehensive multi-volume band histories (Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath); and many more. The former founding editor of Canada’s Brave Words, Bloody Knuckles music zine, Popoff is also a regular freelance contributor to music-related publications like Goldmine and Record Collector (U.K.), among many others. It’s my obligation to mention that Martin is also a friend and colleague, and one of the Rev’s fave rock scribes.

Saxon's Wheels of Steel
Following the same modus operandi that he has on previous band histories, Denim and Leather covers Saxon’s first decade, an album at a time, with Martin’s critical commentary on the band’s performances interwoven with comments by the band members, past and present, culled from dozens of interviews done by Popoff for each project. It’s an impressively efficient manner to cobble together a history of a band, building upon their own words, and Popoff compliments the album-by-album chapters with four-color inserts that include rare band photos, cover art from albums and picture sleeves from 45s, and hard-to-find band memorabilia.

Although enjoying nowhere near the success of contemporaries Iron Maiden, or even acolytes like Metallica, Saxon has sold more than 13 million records worldwide and their influence on metal giants like the aforementioned Metallica, as well as bands the caliber of Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, and Pantera, among others, is indisputable. Popoff begins Saxon’s story in the mid-70s with the band SOB (Son of A Bitch), which featured Saxon’s original line-up, the band subsequently changing its name to Saxon. Opening spots on tours with more established bands like Mötörhead followed and earned Saxon a deal with the French record label Carrere, whose U.K. operation was run by early Saxon supporter Freddy Cannon.

Saxon released its self-titled debut album in 1979 and while it earned a reasonable amount of critical attention, the band was still searching for its sound. Shedding the somewhat ‘proggy’ tendencies of their debut, Saxon struck gold with 1980’s classic Wheels of Steel LP, which would peak at #5 on the British albums chart and launch the band’s career in earnest. In The Collector’s Guide to Heavy Metal, Volume 2: The Eighties, Popoff praised the band’s working-class ethic, calling the album “a qualified classic,” considering it “one of really two or three NWOBHM building blocks.” Saxon followed up their breakthrough disc in late 1980 with Strong Arm of the Law, an album that many fans consider to be the band’s best.

Saxon’s Power & the Glory


Saxon's Power & the Glory
Expectations were high for Saxon’s fourth album and, for many fans, 1981’s Denim and Leather didn’t disappoint. Although critical reception for the album was mixed, it still peaked at #9 on the British charts and helped introduce the band to a legion of new fans in the U.S. It would also be the last album to feature original drummer Peter Gill, sidelined by a hand injury and replaced by Nigel Glockler, a veteran of British singer Toyah’s touring band. Glockler joined Saxon in time to record the live stopgap LP, The Eagle Has Landed, which was an unqualified success (peaking at #5 on the U.K. charts).

The band sojourned to Atlanta, Georgia to record Power & the Glory with American producer Jeff Glixman, who had worked with Kansas and Gary Moore, among others. Popoff praised the addition of Glockler to the band’s line-up, stating that the drummer’s contributions to the album helped create “a metal magic that is the embodiment of the NWOBHM’s ideals now made real.” Considered the third of the band’s classic albums, Power & the Glory only rose to #15 on the U.K. charts but inched its way into the upper reaches of the U.S. charts and allowed the band to tour stateside with some success. Although it sold well enough, 1984’s Crusader found the band vying to stay relevant amidst the growing glut of nerf-metal bands like Mötley Crüe, Ratt, and Poison.

Saxon jumped into the major leagues with 1985’s Innocence Is No Excuse, the band’s first album for EMI Records’ Parlophone imprint after falling out with Carrere Records. Recorded in Germany, it was the last album with original band bassist Steve Dawson, and would be met with mixed feelings by the band’s fans. In The Collector’s Guide to Heavy Metal, Volume 2: The Eighties Popoff called the album a return “full-steam to the bastions of metal, without an idea in their dust-clouded heads” and, indeed, the album represented a turn in the band’s commercial fortunes. Increasingly saddled with inappropriate producers and sub-par material, the band’s following EMI albums – 1986’s Rock the Nations and 1988’s Destiny – would underperform and, worse yet, failed to build upon the band’s growing U.S. popularity.

Dropped by EMI, the band added permanent bassist Nibbs Carter who, a decade or more younger than his bandmates, brought a renewed energy and creative perspective to Saxon that is reflected in the band’s second live set, 1989’s dynamic Rock ‘n’ Roll Gypsies. It’s here that Popoff basically ends his narrative, a decade of music neatly wrapped up in roughly 240 pages. An epilogue quickly covers the band’s subsequent 30 years of history, but it’s this first decade that is truly explored in depth by Denim and Leather. Popoff’s writing technique and attention to detail paints a comprehensive portrait of the band’s creative process, the recording of each album, and the band’s touring experience.

NWOBHM pioneers Saxon
NWOBHM pioneers Saxon

The Reverend's Bottom Line


Although Byford is the dominant voice in Denim and Leather – much as he is within the band – Popoff provides the other band members, past and present, plenty of room for their own observations. While interpersonal conflicts between Saxon’s original members are explored in depth, with commentary from all parties, more illuminating is the band’s interaction with the diverse group of producers they worked with over the course of their first decade.

Overall, Denim and Leather is another excellent job done by Popoff, whose insights and knowledge of the bands he writes about allows him to solicit vital perspective from a band’s members, resulting in what amounts to the definitive work on their careers (outside of their music, of course). Saxon may not be as well-known to U.S. audiences as fellow NWOBHM outfits like Iron Maiden or Def Leppard, but longtime fans will delight in this in-depth biography of the band’s early era and, given a positive enough response (and sales), Martin might be persuaded to pen a second volume… (Power Chord Press, published April 2020)

Find out more about Denim and Leather at www.martinpopoff.com

Also on That Devil Music:
Martin Popoff’s Ace’s High book review
Martin Popoff’s Born Again! book review




Archive Review: Black Sabbath's The Rules of Hell (2008)

Black Sabbath's The Rules of Hell
There are only two kinds of Black Sabbath fans on this cold, grey planet – Ozzy acolytes and Dio devotees. Forget about the fleeting tenures of singers Dave Walker, Dave Donato and Ray Gillen, or those horrible records with Ian Gillan, Glenn Hughes, and Tony Martin. And just who the heck is Jeff Fenholt? No, for the true Sab fanatic, it all boils down to the eight albums made with Osbourne circa 1970-79, or the four recorded with Ronnie James Dio between 1979 and 1982.

Black Sabbath's The Rules of Hell


A couple of years ago, Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi reunited the band's Dio-lead line-up under the banner Heaven & Hell, named for their 1980 album, as a way to promote 2006's The Dio Years set. The band recorded three new songs for that compilation, the collaboration resulting in a lengthy tour and a subsequent live recording. To satiate the tastes of those who have come around to Sabbath after experiencing Heaven & Hell, Rhino Records has done their 16-song The Dio Years one better by boxing up all four of the Dio-era Sabbath albums as the five-disc The Rules of Hell set.

Black Sabbath's Heaven and Hell
Although the true believer already has most of this stuff, for the casual fan or newbie, The Rules of Hell captures the brief magic of the Dio-years Sabbath in an overflowing treasure chest, the four albums remastered and including newly-penned liner notes. The Heaven and Hell album is the cornerstone of the box, not so much a breath of fresh air after Ozzy as it was a hurricane-force blast, perfectly timed at the dawn of the "New Wave of British Heavy Metal." An influential album that yielded classic songs like "Neon Knights" and "Children of the Sea," Heaven And Hell masterfully paired Iommi's massive, doom-laden riffs with the former Rainbow vocalist's imaginative, fantastic lyrics and unique melodic sense.

Long-time Sabbath drummer Bill Ward left the band due to personal problems, to be replaced for 1981's Mob Rules by former Rick Derringer skin-basher Vinny Appice. The foursome recorded a suitable follow-up to the Platinum™-selling Heaven And Hell, following much the same blueprint, i.e. heavy riffing, scorching fretboard runs, and bombastic rhythms. The album-opening "Turn Up The Night" is a dark, rumbling rocker with histrionic vox, while "The Sign of the Southern Cross" is a Goth-tinged molten doom-stomp that starts life on gossamer wings before emerging from its chrysalis as a light-chewing, flesh-rending carnivore. For Sabbath, Mob Rules was the right album at the right time: capital-H Heavy with plenty of metallic theatrics.

Black Sabbath's Mob Rules
There has always been a lot of discussion among fans over Live Evil, the two-disc concert set unabashedly mixing songs from the two previous studio albums with vintage Ozzy-era gems like "Paranoid" and "War Pigs." The dichotomy was not lost on listeners, and Live Evil retains a muddied reputation among the faithful to this day. Still, there is some quality noggin-knocking to be found on Live Evil. Whether you're grooving to the speeding two-wheeled hog that is "E5150," its tailpipe belching fire as Iommi marks the pavement with his scorched-asphalt six-string garroting, or genuflecting towards the temple of doom that is "Black Sabbath," the band's original signature song, the album delivers enough bone-deep chills and plodding thrills to satisfy even the most couch-bound hesher. There are fourteen songs total on Live Evil, each performance a sign of the impending apocalypse.

When the smoke had cleared after the release of Live Evil, Dio would bolt from the Sabbath ranks in '82 to form his own band; bassist Geezer Butler would depart a couple of years later. A decade passed, heavy metal was seemingly on the ropes, and as both Dio's self-titled band and the Sabs were floundering in the tidal wave emerging from Seattle, the original Heaven And Hell crew reunited for the middling Dehumanizer in 1992.

Black Sabbath's Dehumanizer
An attempt to re-imagine Sabbath for the confusing alt-rock daze of the '90s, Dehumanizer turned away from the swords-and-sorcery imagery of Dio's earlier work in favor of a Voivod-like struggle between humanity and technology. Although the dour collection illustrates Sabbath at its darkness, and songs like "TV Crime" or "Time Machine" (from the movie Wayne's World) are rife with Appice's cannonball drumbeats, Dio's soaring vocals, and Iommi's 12-gauge blunderbuss approach to riff-playing, the truth is that a dozen other bands did this sort of thing much better at the time, and Dehumanizer sank like a stone, suffering from the same tensions that broke up this incarnation of the band a decade previous.

The Reverend's Bottom Line


Dio would return to his solo career, while Iommi continued to carry Black Sabbath on his shoulders throughout the '90s and into the new millennium – even reuniting with Ozzy once upon a time – until the band's current reincarnation. For the crazed and the curious, The Rules of Hell captures every note of the often-overlooked Dio-era Sabbath, taking the listener back to the storied roots of Heaven & Hell, warts and all… (Rhino Records, released July 22nd, 2008)

Buy the CD box set from Amazon.com: Black Sabbath's The Rules of Hell




Friday, June 5, 2020

Short Rounds: The Burrito Brothers, Richie Owens & the Farm Bureau, Jon Savage's 1969-1971, Webb Wilder, Lucinda Williams & X (2020

The Burrito Brothers' The Notorious Burrito Brothers
New album releases in 150 words or less…

The Burrito BrothersThe Notorious Burrito Brothers (The Store For Music)
Whether “flying” or not, the Burrito Brothers have consistently evolved as a band since Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman first tried to fuse country and rock into “Cosmic American Music” back in 1969. This newest incarnation follows in their footsteps, the Chris James-led, Nashville-based outfit acquitting themselves nicely with The Notorious Burrito Brothers, the band blending country, rock, and soul with the all-important twang provided by Tony Paoletta’s weeping steel guitar and Bob Hatter’s elegant fretwork. Although James’ voice strains at times, he knocks the Dan Penn classic “Dark End of the Street” out of the park with a soulful reading. The ballads are gorgeous, but it’s honky-tonk jams like “Do Right Man” and “Gravity” that are the band’s bread ‘n’ butter, showcasing their instrumental virtuosity and country-rock mastery. Forget about questions of “authenticity”; these guys are the real deal, cranking out poop-punting tunes in the true Burrito Brothers tradition. Grade: B+   BUY!

Richie Owens and the Farm Bureau's Reconstruction
Richie Owens and the Farm BureauReconstruction (Kleartone Records)
Nashville’s Richie Owens and the Farm Bureau have quietly made some of the best Americana music of the past 20 years, the talented singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist forging an inspired blend of roots-rock and twangy country for albums like In Farm We Trust and Tennessee. Owens’ brilliant Reconstruction is a paean to the classic rock he grew up with and, although he wears his influences well, Owens brings an unbridled enthusiasm and energy to these 11 original tunes that transcends mere mimicry or adulation. The performances are rich with melody and the band’s skilled instrumentation is simply gorgeous, but it’s with tunes like the insightful, guitar-driven country-rock of “Welcome To America” or the hauntingly-beautiful “Stay In My Memories” that Owens showcases formidable lyrical skills as impressive as the musical accompaniment. With a talent equal to current hipster faves like Jason Isbell or Lukas Nelson, Owens is an artist worth discovering. Grade: A+   BUY!

Jon Savage’s 1969-1971: Rock Dreams On 45
Various Artists – Jon Savage’s 1969-1971: Rock Dreams On 45 (Ace Records U.K.)
British music journalist Jon Savage has curated several of these bespoke sets for Ace Records, each compilation album collecting pop/rock tunes from a single year, documenting both the hits and the obscurities. With Rock Dreams On 45, Savage moves beyond K-Tel and into the FM radio era where bands uncomfortably straddled the line between AM pop and FM street cred. This heady two-disc combo offers up 43 über-cool tunes from both well-known rockers like Jethro Tull, Free, the Kinks, the James Gang, Procol Harum, Mott the Hoople, and Velvet Underground, with a song selection that often eschews the hits in favor of the art. More obscure outfits like Steamhammer, the Idle Race, Kaleidoscope, Blossom Toes, Man, and the Flamin’ Groovies fill out a dream playlist of vintage hard rock and blues. Rock Dreams on 45 is the perfect introduction to the often-exhilarating dawn of the classic rock era; highly recommended. Grade: A+   BUY!

Webb Wilder's Night Without Love
Webb WilderNight Without Love (Landslide Records)
Americana legend Webb Wilder’s Night Without Love is a concept album, exploring both the wonder and woe of love and romance. Wilder tackles the heady subject matter with his usual aplomb, his trademark blend of roots-rock, country, and R&B (rhythm and blues) literally built for this sort of artistic exercise. The Big Man doesn’t disappoint, his deep, twangy vocals perfectly suited for tunes like the yearning title track (penned by long-time friend R.S. Field) or the lyrical poetry of “Illusion of You” while a cover of Los Lobos “Be Still” is performed beautifully. Wilder’s original “The Big Deal” is as heartfelt a love song as you’ll hear, Wilder’s earnest vocals accompanied by multi-instrumentalist George Bradfute’s gorgeous strings while a honky-tonk cover of Chip Taylor’s “Holdin’ On To Myself” will have you crying in your beer. Overall, Night Without Love is a perfect showcase for Wilder’s enormous talents and unbridled enthusiasm. Grade: A+   BUY!

Lucinda Williams' Good Souls, Better Angels
Lucinda WilliamsGood Souls Better Angels (Highway 20 Records)
Lucinda Williams has built her reputation as a talented singer/songwriter plumbing the depths of country, folk, and rock music with highly-personal lyrics. With Goods Souls Better Angels she strolls along the muddy Mississippi with as bluesy an album as you’ll hear in 2020. Backed by her road-tested touring band – including stellar guitarist Stuart Mathis – Williams belts out these 12 tunes with the brass of Koko Taylor and the finesse of Etta James. Sure, there’s some twang to be heard in the grooves of songs like “Bad News Blues” or “Big Rotator” but when Williams cuts loose on tracks like “Bone of Contention” or “Down Past the Bottom,” she’s howlin’ like The Wolf, her bruised vocals pouring out emotion like a thunderstorm. Many blues artists try their entire lives and fail to capture the grief and anger that Williams channels through Good Souls Better Angels, the singer’s most powerful album yet. Grade: A   BUY!

X's Alphabetland
XAlphabetland (Fat Possum Records)
The opening notes of Alphabetland, punk legends X’s first album in 25+ years will have you thinking that it’s 1980 all over again. When Exene Cervenka’s distinctive vox jump in and guitarist Billy Zoom hits a nasty razorblade chord, you’re sure of it. Alphabetland offers the band’s original line-up of Cervenka, Zoom, singer/bassist John Doe, and drummer D.J. Bonebrake, reunited for the first time since 1985’s Ain’t Love Grand! and it sounds like it was recorded in a time warp. Each song provides the sort of short, sharp shock that was the band’s trademark on LPs like Los Angeles and Wild Gift, but with contemporary lyrics. The band’s reckless musical chemistry remains intact, X’s magical blend of raging punk, roots-rock, and rockabilly as fresh and startling as it was 40 years ago. Don’t call it a “comeback,” but rather a continuation, Alphabetland an inspired collection of timeless rock ‘n’ roll. Grade: A+   BUY!


Previously on That Devil Music.com:
Short Rounds, April 2020: Datura4, Dream Syndicate, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, Bryan Ferry, Game Theory & Supersuckers

Short Rounds, March 2020: The Bluefields, Dave Clark Five, Marshall Crenshaw, Gwil Owen, Gary Moore & Watermelon Slim

Short Rounds, February 2020: Beach Slang, The Bar-Kays, Booker T. & the M.G.'s, Delaney & Bonnie, Mott the Hoople & Television Personalities

Short Rounds, January 2020: The Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dana Gillespie, Manfred Mann, Mick Ronson & An A-Squared Compilation