Saturday, February 6, 2016

Archive Review: Dan Baird's Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired (1992)

Dan Baird's Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired
Songwriter and frontman Dan Baird “fired” himself from the Georgia Satellites after their wonderfully complex and darkly emotional third album and struck out on his own. That he should hit the often-traveled trail of the journeyman should certainly come as no surprise. The Satellites were always just a group of inspired journeymen at heart, as loose as a pick-up band in a one night jam session, as tight and cohesive a unit as any well-practiced bar band could be.

Baird’s solo debut draws upon the same influences and inspiration as did his band’s best work – the Stones, Chuck Berry, the Faces; all musical pioneers who defied the expectations of their time and defined an art form. As such, Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired is no-frills, straight-ahead, gut-level, guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll.

A vastly underrated songwriter in a Woody Guthrie/Hank Williams “keep it simple but convey a lot of thought” vein, Baird has always had a flair for penning both lyrical and musical hooks, and he provides both here in quantity. Tunes like “The One I Am,” “Julie and Lucky,” “Seriously Gone,” and the grammatically-correct “I Love You Period” are meat-and-potatoes tunes for fans who like their rock unpretentious and undiluted. From Baird, no less is expected.

Fossils: MC5's Back In The USA (1970)

The MC5's Back In The USA
[click to embiggen]
Detroit’s favorite sonic terrorists, the infamous MC5, were an oddity even in the late 1960s. The band’s first album, 1969’s Kick Out The Jams, was recorded live at Russ Gibbs’ legendary Grande Ballroom venue, capturing the dynamic band onstage and raging against the machine. As such, Back In The USA, the band’s sophomore effort, was actually their studio debut. Even in those days, a band usually had a couple of studio records under their belt before shooting for a live disc.

But MC5 were no ordinary band, and their deep repertoire of original material and inspired covers of deep blues, soul, and jazz sides allowed them to introduce themselves with a high-octane live collection that would hit #30 on the charts on the strength of its incendiary title track. Back In The USA was a different kind of beast, however – produced by rock critic Jon Landau (who would later become Bruce Springsteen’s manager), the album masterfully blended punkish intensity with a raucous, melodic power-pop sound that would yield some of the band’s best original songs in “Teenage Lust,” “High School,” and “Shakin’ Street,” songs that would in turn influence bands like the Dictators, the Flamin’ Groovies, and the New York Dolls, among others.

Atlantic’s ad campaign for Back In The USA was simple – a black and white photo of the band, clad in leather jackets with a collective sneer on their faces, looking like a gang of ruffians (an image later appropriated to good use by the Ramones). Beneath the dominant band photo is a list of the album’s songs, and a shot of the cover. Although Back In The USA found nowhere near the success of its predecessor, rising only as high as #137 on the charts, its influence would cross the decades. It has since become considered a high water mark for the legendary band, and you can hear strains of MC5 in the music of the White Stripes, the Clash, the Dead Kennedys, Radio Birdman, and other bands across the spectrum of the rock, punk, and metal genres.

Friday, January 29, 2016

An Evening with Wild Man Fischer coming to CD!

An Evening With Wild Man Fischer
Today’s your lucky day, Bunkie, ‘cause Gonzo Multimedia is reissuing the notorious underground classic LP An Evening with Wild Man Fischer on CD for the very first time on January 29th, 2016. Produced by Frank Zappa, the album has taken on an almost mythological status since its original release in 1968, with vinyl copies selling in the neighborhood of a C-note (if you can find one). Long out of print, An Evening with Wild Man Fischer has never received legit CD release until now…

Larry Fischer was a tragic figure; diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Fischer roamed the streets of Los Angeles singing his songs for a dime for anybody willing to listen. Discovered by Frank Zappa, who released Fischer’s debut album on his Warner Brothers-distributed Bizarre Records imprint, An Evening with Wild Man Fischer featured musical accompaniment by Zappa and members of the Mothers of Invention behind Fischer’s fractured vocals, Zappa reproducing Fischer’s street performances in the studio. Released as an ambitious two-LP set, the album offered up 36 songs – some no more than short, sharp stream-of-consciousness rants while others were insightful, revealing autobiographical poems set to minimalist instrumental backing.

After the release of An Evening with Wild Man Fischer, the singer and Zappa had a falling out over royalties (Zappa held the rights to the album). After Zappa’s death, his widow Gail refused to release the album on CD because she felt that it displayed Frank in a poor light. Fischer later hooked up with Rhino Records, and released three albums for the label – 1977’s Wildmania, 1981’s Pronounced Normal, and 1983’s Nothing Scary – and he would become a minor underground culture celebrity. He was featured in 2004 comic book The Legend of Wild Man Fischer by artist/writer Dennis Eichhorn, and the same year Fischer performed on ABC TV’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! In 2005, a documentary film on Fischer, Derailroaded: Inside the Mind of Wild Man Fischer, debuted at the SxSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas.

Fischer passed away in June 2011 at the age of 66 from heart problems. With the recent death of Gail Zappa, who administered the Zappa estate, the road was obviously paved for the long overdue reissue of Fischer’s most notorious recording. An Evening with Wild Man Fischer is a brilliant, disturbing portrait of outsider music, Fischer an artist with big dreams and talent on par with better-known cult artists like Wesley Willis or Daniel Johnston. 

An Evening with Wild Man Fischer track list:

Disc One

“The Basic Fischer”
1. Merry-Go-Round
2. New Kind of Songs for Sale
3. I’m Not Shy Anymore
4. Are You from Clovis
5. The Madness of Ecstacy Larry’s Songs (unaccompanied)
6. Which Way Did the Freaks Go
7. I’m Working for the Federal Bureau Of Narcotics
8. The Leaves Are Falling
9. 85 Times
10. Cops and Robbers
11. Monkeys Versus Donkeys
12. Start Life over Again
13. The Mope
14. Life Brand New
15. Who Did It Johnny
16. Think of Me When Your Clothes Are Off
17. Taggy Lee
18. Rhonda
19. I Looked Around You
20. Jennifer Jones

Disc Two

“Some Historical Notes”
1. The Taster
2. Story of the Taster
3. The Rocket Rock
4. Explanation and Dialog
5. Dream Girl
6. Dream Girl Explanation
7. Serrano Beach
8. Success Will Not Make Me Happy
9. Wild Man on the Strip Again

“In Conclusion”
10. Why Am I Normal
11. Wild Man Fischer Story
12. Balling Isn’t Everything
13. Ugly Beautiful Girl
14. Larry and His Guitar
15. Circle
16. Larry Under Pressure

Buy the CD from Wild Man Fischer's An Evening With Wild Man Fischer

Archive Review: Webb Wilder's It Came From Nashville (2006)

Webb Wilder's It Came From Nashville
Brothers and sisters, I want to share the good word about Webb Wilder and the Beatnecks and their magnificent debut It Came From Nashville! This will make the third time since 1987 that the Reverend has reviewed this particular album. Not surprisingly, in a corporate music world dominated by airheaded, lip-syncing Barbie dolls and angry male fashion models with out-of-tune guitars, It Came From Nashville holds up remarkably well. In fact, much like fine wine, this version – the album's third incarnation (vinyl, CD w/bonus tracks, CD w/more bonus tracks) – has only gotten better with age.

For you poor souls who have never experienced the greatness of the man known to legions as "WW," this is where it all began, a humble introduction to a Wilder world. Roaring into the Music City like a drunken tornado sometime during the mid-80s, WW quickly assembled a top-notch musical hit squad, a finely-tuned machine of rock 'n' roll salvation helmed by the man behind the throne, Bobby Field. Although a vinyl recording is a poor substitute for the magnificence that is WW in person, It Came From Nashville did a pretty doggoned good job of capturing the spirit – the zeitgeist, if you will – of the man from Mississippi. Wilder, Fields and crew masterfully mixed roots-rock, country, and blues with elements of psychdelica, swamp rock and surf music. Imagine Hank Williams, Robert Johnson and Screamin' Jay Hawkins sharing a beer at the crossroads in a midnight jam session and you'd come close to the sound of It Came From Nashville.

Friends, Webb Wilder and the Beatnecks hit Nashville like a double-shot of whiskey with a six-pack chaser. Along with Jason & the Nashville Scorchers, WW and his posse allowed a bunch of cornpone punk rockers to break loose and embrace the reckless country soul of their ancestors. After eighteen years, the songs on It Came From Nashville still rock like a house afire! From "How Long Can She Last," Field's ode to youthful indiscretion, to the original album-closing instrumental rave-up "Ruff Rider," these songs are muscular, electric and 100% high-octane rock 'n' roll. An inspired cover of Steve Earle's "Devil's Right Hand" showcases both Wilder's sense of humor and his deep, friendly baritone in this tragic tale. "One Taste Of The Bait" speaks of the dangers of love while "Is This All There Is?" is a kiss-off to failed romance on par with Dylan's "Positively 4th Street."

The original CD reissue bonus tracks are included here, a motley bunch of spirited covers that illustrate Wilder's range and tastes. From a raucous rendition of Johnny Cash's "Rock 'n Roll Ruby" to a swinging reading of Steve Forbert's "Samson And Delilah's Beauty Shop," these are all keepers. Fields' instrumental "Cactus Planet" provides a rollicking good time while "Dance For Daddy" is a down-and-dirty, leering rocker with scrappy guitarwork. The six new live tracks included here were culled from a vintage 1986 Nashville performance at the world-famous Exit/Inn and include rarities like the rockabilly-flavored "Hole In My Pocket" and an early version of fan favorite "Rocket To Nowhere."

If It Came From Nashville introduced the world to its rock 'n' roll savior, the album also marked Bobby Field's emergence as a songwriter of some skill and knowledge. These songs have held up so well over time because they are rooted in the deep tradition of rock, blues and country that was forged by pioneers like Elvis, Hank and Chuck. Unfortunately, the world has turned so much that these men have mostly been lost in the haze of pre-fab pop stars and soft drink advertising. Even a prophet like WW is without honor in his own country, although a loyal cult of followers continues to keep the flame burning. Rescued from the abyss of obscurity, It Came From Nashville is an important document of a time when giants roamed this planet and men were unashamed to follow the Webb Wilder Credo:

"Word hard…rock hard…eat hard…sleep hard…grow big…wear glasses if you need 'em."


# # #

Review republished from the Reverend's The Other Side of Nashville book

Related content: Webb Wilder - Mississippi Mōderne CD review

Fossils: Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy (1973)

Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy
[click to embiggen]
Sitting on top of the world in 1973, Jimmy Page and his fellow gang members in Led Zeppelin felt little need to follow the rules of polite society. When the label pressured them to come up with a name for their untitled fourth album, Page provided them with a set of cryptic runes. The album sold millions of flapjacks in spite of its anonymity, as fans figured it out anyway. Zep’s fifth album, Houses of the Holy, was its first in four years to not receive a numbered title.

The album was not without its own controversy, however – the imaginative cover art, created by Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis, features a number of apparently naked children crawling across the stones of some ancient, arcane temple. Some retailers, especially in the Southern U.S. states, refused to stock the album because of its cover (relax, people – the kids were wearing body suits). Like its predecessor, neither the album’s title nor the band name adorned the cover of Houses of the Holy, although a paper wrapper with the info was strategically-strapped around the cover to block out the horribly naked (and oddly colored) children.

Also like Led Zeppelin’s fourth effort, fans promptly figured out the ruse, and Houses of the Holy would eventually move better than ten million copies worldwide, topping the charts in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the U.K. The print advertising for Houses of the Holy eschewed the album’s brilliant cover artwork in favor of cool Victorian-era styled B&W pen-and-ink art that showed a bound man’s head being squeezed in a viselike contraption between two railway cars. A simple tagline beneath the album’s title read “does things to people…” For Zep’s legion of rabid, cash-toting fans, nothing else needed to be said…

Friday, January 22, 2016

Cleopatra Releases Super Deluxe UFO live box set!

UFO's Live Sightings box set

Formed in 1969 by singer Phil Mogg, guitarist Mick Bolton, bassist Pete Way, and drummer Andy Parker, British rockers UFO began life as a psychedelic-drenched space-rock band that staked out musical turf that wasn’t far away, stylistically, from what Gong or Hawkwind were doing at the time. By the time of the band’s third album – 1974’s Phenomenon – Bolton had been replaced by guitarist Michael Schenker and UFO had veered away from exploring their inner consciousness and towards a hard rock sound that would become the band’s calling card. Subsequent albums like 1975’s Force It, 1976’s No Heavy Petting, and 1977’s Lights Out would influence a generation of rockers to follow, including many bands that would create the ‘New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ in the late 1970s and early ‘80s.

On February 5th, 2016 the good folks at Cleopatra Records will release UFO’s Live Sightings, a four-CD box set that features classic live performances from the band’s successful early ‘80s concert run through the states. Guitarist Paul Chapman had replaced Schenker by the time of 1980’s No Place To Run album, and this line-up of the band delivered a handful of charting albums like 1981’s The Wild, the Willing and the Innocent and 1982’s Mechanix. The first disc of the box set features a Chicago 1980 concert with performances of songs like “No Place To Run,” “Doctor Doctor” and “Rock Bottom” among its dozen tracks. Disc two offers up a Chicago 1981 show that includes performances of “The Wild, the Willing and the Innocent” and “Too Hot To Handle” while disc three delivers a St. Louis 1982 set with performances of songs like “We Belong To The Night,” “Only You Can Rock Me,” and “Lights Out.”

The fourth disc of Live Sightings features a Cleveland 1982 set with performances of songs like “Doing It All For You” and “Live Rain.” Altogether, the four concert discs feature 46 songs, and each disc is packaged in its own mini-jacket with printed inner sleeve. Live Sightings also includes a 12”x12” sixteen-page booklet with color photos and extensive liner notes as well as duplicate printings of vintage tour programs. If that wasn’t enough for your $60 (pre-order price on Amazon as of today), Live Sightings also includes Early Flight, a special bonus vinyl LP documenting a 1972 performance featuring the only known recordings of guitarist Larry Wallis (Pink Fairies, Motörhead) on songs like “Galactic Love,” “Back In The U.S.A.,” and “Mean Woman Blues.” A very collectible set for long-time UFO fans, Live Sightings provides a lot of bang for your buck!

Buy the CD box set from UFO's Live Sightings

Greg Lake’s Solo Albums Reissued

Greg Lake's Greg Lake & Manoeuvres
As both an essential early member of progressive rock legends King Crimson and as a founding member of chart-toppers Emerson, Lake and Palmer, singer and multi-instrumentalist Greg Lake has certainly left his mark on rock ‘n’ roll. One aspect of Lake’s career that is too-frequently overlooked is his short tenure as a solo artist. During an ELP break-up in the early 1980s, the guitarist formed the Greg Lake Band and recorded a pair of critically-acclaimed LPs – a self-titled 1981 set and 1983’s Manoeuvres.

On February 5th, 2016 Cherry Red Records in the U.K. will reissue both of Lake’s long out-of-print solo albums as a single two-disc set, including four bonus tracks that have never appeared on any CD reissue of either album (only on separate rarities discs). Re-mastered and approved by Lake himself, the set includes a booklet with extensive liner notes. Lake handled vocals and guitars on the self-titled 1981 set, backed by guitarist Steve Lukather, bassist David Hungate, and drummer Jeff Porcaro of Toto as well as guests like King Crimson drummer Michael Giles and E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons. 

For Manoeuvres, Lake was backed by a band that included bassist Tristian Margetts from the band Spontaneous Combustion, keyboardist Tommy Eyre of Joe Cocker’s Grease Band, and drummer Ted McKenna of Tear Gas and Rory Gallagher’s band. Irish blues-rock guitar Gary Moore lent his talents to both albums. Whereas Greg Lake, the album, inched its way up to #62 on the Billboard albums chart, Manoeuvres failed to break the Top 200, although not for lack of good material.

Both albums are fascinating collections that display a wider range of Lake’s talents than any of recordings with his notable bands, and solo efforts like “Nuclear Attack” (written by Moore) or “Manoeuvres” (co-written by Lake with Moore) have held up well through the years. The new set allows long-time fans to upgrade their collection and provides an opportunity for new listeners to discover the underrated talents of Greg Lake.

Buy the CD from Greg Lake's Greg Lake & Manouevres

Real Gone Releases Dave Mason Anthology

Dave Mason's The Columbia Years
British singer, songwriter, and guitarist Dave Mason is one of those underrated artists whose best solo efforts definitely brightened up the decade of the 1970s. A founding member of ‘60s-era prog-rock trailblazers Traffic, Mason contributed to Traffic’s first two albums and would later tour with the band. After performing on recordings by Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, and George Harrison, Mason launched his solo career in earnest with 1970s Alone Together album. After releasing a pair of albums, as well as a collaboration with singer “Mama” Cass Elliot, Mason signed with Columbia Records for 1973’s It’s Like You Never Left. Mason enjoyed a productive and commercially-successful tenure with the label, chalking up seven straight charting albums for Columbia between 1973 and 1980.

On March 11th, 2016 Real Gone Music will release Mason’s The Columbia Years – The Definitive Anthology, a two-disc set featuring 30 songs taken from the seven albums Mason recorded for the label. Mason’s critically-acclaimed Columbia albums included titles like the aforementioned It’s Like You Never Left, a self-titled 1974 recording, Split Coconut (1975), Certified Live (1976), Let It Flow (1977), Mariposa De Oro (1978), and Old Crest On A New Wave (1980). These albums yielded such FM radio staples as “We Just Disagree,” “All Along The Watchtower,” “Let It Go, Let It Flow,” and “Headkeeper” as well as live versions of earlier Mason songs like “Feelin’ Alright” and “Only You Know and I Know.”

The anthology includes liner notes by writer Bill Kopp taken from an exclusive new interview with Mason, and the album was re-mastered by Maria Triana at Sony’s Battery Studios. The Columbia Years will place Mason’s career in proper perspective and offer fans a solid collection of some of the artist’s best solo work.

Buy the CD from Dave Mason's The Columbia Years - The Definitive Anthology

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Reverend's Favorite CDs of 2015

Real rock ‘n’ roll music may have been on the ropes in 2015, but many blues and blues-rock musicians continue to thrive and survive, with some veteran artists releasing the best work of (often) lengthy careers. Looking at the Billboard “Hot 100” singles, there’s not a single legit rocker among songs by Adele, Justin Bieber, and Drake; over on the trade magazine’s Top 200 albums list, you won’t find but one rock band in the first 20 spots, a Beatles’ CD reissue…

Yes, ‘tis a dire time commercially for rock ‘n’ roll, although there is still a great amount of it being recorded and released these days, usually by smaller indie labels. Blues music and its related sub-genres is growing in popularity but, like Rodney Dangerfield, it gets no respect in spite of the fact that the blues is the root influence of rock and country music alike. No matter, ‘cause around That Devil Music World HQ, we don’t care about labels or vintage – witness our list of the Rev’s fave reissue and archive albums for 2015 – we just want to listen to great music! 

The Reverend’s list below of favorite CDs for the year isn’t necessarily a roll call of “the best” of 2015 – although several of these titles would certainly qualify on their merit – but rather those discs that spent the most time bouncing off your humble critic’s eardrums over the past few months. Forget about those other publications’ lists and their predictable choices…you can’t go wrong cueing up any of these fine albums when you need to satisfy your rock ‘n’ blues fix… 

Gary Clark Jr's The Story of Sonny Boy Slim
Gary Clark Jr. – The Story of Sonny Boy Slim
Gary Clark Jr. once again defied expectations with his sophomore effort, the album’s throwback musical vibe owing a debt of gratitude to Jimi Hendrix, Arthur Lee, and Sly Stone as Clark gets his soul groove on in a big way. The Story of Sonny Boy Slim isn’t, strictly speaking, a blues album – at least not as your grand-pappy would recognize it. Instead, it’s an entertaining, masterful, fluid collection of blues, soul, and funk guaranteed to send traditionalists into an apoplectic frenzy while the rest of us dance to the music. (Warner Brothers Records)

Shemekia Copeland's Outskirts of Love
Shemekia Copeland – Outskirts of Love
Shemekia Copeland is one of the best singers performing today, regardless of musical genre. That the daughter of legendary Texas guitarslinger Johnny Copeland could sing the blues was pre-ordained; that Copeland’s so damn good singing in other styles is pure joy. Copeland’s Outskirts of Love marks her return to Alligator Records, but she’s not singing the same old song, the album featuring a rich blend of blues, soul, and roots-rock that will astound the casual listener while rewarding Copeland’s long-time fans. (Alligator Records)

Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen's Love & Life
Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen – Love & Life
Guitarist Ted Drozdowski fronts the Scissormen, one of the leanest, meanest, bad-ass gang of juke-joint blues noisemakers to roll down the highway on four fiery, alcohol-fueled wheels in as long as the Rev can remember. Ted’s gruff, soulful vocals, erudite songwriting chops, and greasy six-string pyrotechnics, combined with the band’s percussive din, make the Scissormen natural heirs to the Delta and Hill Country blues traditions. Love & Life is the second Scissormen studio album, each song featuring an aggressive, primal sound that straddles the fence between traditional country-blues and highly-amped blues-rock. You won’t find a tastier slab o’ off-highway juke-joint blues than Love & Life anywhere these days… (Dolly Sez Woof Recordings)
Read the Reverend's review...

Steve Earle & the Dukes' Terraplane
Steve Earle & the Dukes – Terraplane
Blues music is the father to the entirety of American music, and in few places is this tradition stronger than in the state of Texas. Steve Earle’s Terraplane represents the latest fraternization between blues and country, a long and respected tradition that began, perhaps, with Blind Lemon Jefferson and runs in a line through Sam Hopkins to Bill Neely to Townes Van Zandt and beyond to Earle and even his son Justin. Terraplane offers up all that the singer’s fans have come to expect – whipsmart lyrics and storytelling; the singer’s immense charisma; and well-constructed, skillfully-performed, often adventuresome music. Earle has always drawn from the whole spice rack of Americana in creating his own unique musical gumbo; this time around he just throws a bit more blues flavor into the pot. No matter what you want to call it, Terraplane is one damn fine collection of roots ‘n’ blues music. (New West Records)
Read the Reverend's review... 

Billy Gibbons' Perfectamundo
Billy Gibbons – Perfectamundo
ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons’ first-ever solo LP grows on you, kind of like kudzu – on first listen, my impressions were along the line of “what the hell was he thinking?” Two, three spins down the road and my interest was piqued, and by the fifth or sixth time putting Perfectamundo on the box, I found myself grinning in spite of myself. Gibbons expands his musical palette here, allowing his guitar greater freedom to soar into new territory while exploring different tones and textures with his lyrics and singing. Perfectamundo is an engaging, and entertaining – if surprising – solo debut from one of rock music’s legendary guitarists. (Concord Records)
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Graveyard's Innocence & Decadence
Graveyard – Innocence & Decadence
Sweden’s Graveyard began life in 2006 as a loud, sludge-rock doom metal outfit, but during the ensuing years the band’s musical inspiration has swerved more towards Cream and Peter Green’s original Fleetwood Mack and away from Sabbath. The new direction looks good on them, as Innocence & Decadence – Graveyard’s third album for Nuclear Blast Records (and fourth LP overall) – offers up a breakneck mix of hard rock and metallic blues that makes full use of leather-lunged frontman Joakim Nilsson’s Robert Plant-styled vox and guitarist’s Jonatan Larocca Ramm’s seemingly bottomless trick bag of tasty licks, leaden riffs, and screaming notes. Innocence & Decadence belongs in this year’s Top Ten, if only for the breathtaking “The Apple & The Tree,” which offers Nilsson’s vocals dancing on the razor blade of Ramm’s Mark Knopfler-influenced fretwork. (Nuclear Blast Records)

The Pretty Things' The Sweet Pretty Things
The Pretty Things – The Sweet Pretty Things (Are In Bed By Now, of Course…)
Although a stalwart Pretty Things fan, the Reverend’s expectations for The Sweet Pretty Things (Are In Bed By Now, of Course…) were not such that I was looking for the ‘Second Coming’. Still, the band’s first studio LP since 2007’s Balboa Island (not too shabby itself, in retrospect) features the core members in original singer Phil May and guitarist Dick Taylor, along with long-time guitarist Frank Holland (on board since 1999’s ...Rage Before Beauty). The result is an entertaining, energetic mix of guitar-driven garage-rock, psychedelic-rock, and blues-rock that blows away bands half the aggregate age of the Pretties. May’s old-school British R&B croon still has plenty of punch, and Taylor’s reckless fretwork cuts deep through the imaginative, musically-rich arrangements here. The new songs are instrumentally impressive, while a cover of the Byrds’ “Renaissance Fair” will have you reaching for the bong like it’s 1968 all over again. The Pretty Things are proof that rock ‘n’ roll is the fountain of youth, The Sweet Pretty Things… a tonic for what ails ya! (Repertoire Records)

Keith Richards' Crosseyed Heart
Keith Richards – Crosseyed Heart
More than a decade since the last Rolling Stones studio album (2005’s A Bigger Bang) and nearly a quarter-century since his previous solo effort (1992’s Main Offender), guitarist Keith Richards managed to leave listeners gob-smacked with Crosseyed Heart. The performances sound spontaneous – not like an unformed, meandering jam – but rather like a well-seasoned veteran band stumbling into the studio, laying down the session, and then heading out to the local watering hole for some liquid refreshment. Richards scratches the various musical itches that have plagued him for years now, experimenting with reggae (a brilliant cover of Gregory Isaacs’ “Love Overdue” mixing Island rhythms and doo-wop sentimentality), folk-blues (a spirited cover of Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene”), boogie-blues (the original “Blues In The Morning”) and, of course, rock ‘n’ roll. Although an altogether more laid-back effort than previous solo albums, Crosseyed Heart nevertheless lives up to Richards’ legend, displaying why Keef is rock music’s most notorious – and revered – guitarist. (Republic Records)      

Walter Trout's Battle Scars
Walter Trout – Battle Scars
Beloved blues-rock guitarist Walter Trout almost died in 2014 and, after receiving a liver transplant, he spent much of 2015 recuperating from his dance with the Reaper. At some point, Trout entered the studio with a brace of new songs, resulting in Battle Scars. The album is Trout’s Inferno, a tale of redemption and rebirth that doesn’t shy away from reality but rings loudly with hope…it’s also the best album, in all facets, that Walter Trout has ever recorded, full of emotion and insight. (Provogue Records)

Webb Wilder's Mississippi Mōderne
Webb Wilder – Mississippi Mōderne
I don’t believe that Webb Wilder has every made a bad record – only good and great – and the Rev has heard every single one of ‘em! Still, Mississippi Mōderne is, perhaps, the best album Wilder’s made since It Came From Nashville. In the hands of a lesser artist, this ramshackle mix of garage-rock, blues, and old-school country music would sink like an over-inflated soufflé, and the album’s often over-the-top lyrics would lack in sincerity coming from a singer without Wilder’s charismatic personality. Backed by the grizzled veterans that comprise the Beatnecks, though, Wilder delivers a powerful and entertaining collection in Mississippi Mōderne. (Landslide Records)
Read the Reverend's reviews...

Dan Baird & Homemade Sin's Get Loud
Honorable Mention: I received a copy of Dan Baird & Homemade Sin’s Get Loud album late in the year or else it probably would have squeezed its way onto the list above. Nashville bands Snakehips and the Great Affairs both released rockin’ LPs this past year. They’re doing some fine work over at Alive Natural Sound Recordings, and both Datura4’s Demon Blues and Dirty Streets’ White Horse are worthy of inclusion here…plus, you can buy Alive’s releases through the Bomp Records store and often get vinyl/CD bundles for a price that won’t cripple you financially.

Dirty Streets' White Horse Other good stuff you may want to check out – albums by Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, British blues-rock band King King, the always eerie metallic Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, and the debut album by the Arcs.