Sunday, August 30, 2015

CD Review: Lazer Lloyd's Lazer Lloyd (2015)

Lazer Lloyd's Lazer Lloyd
I’ve long heard it said that blues music is an international language, and it seems to be true. You’ll find a thriving blues scene in the U.K. and northern Europe, thousands of miles away from its Delta roots. Hard-touring road warriors like Walter Trout and Joe Bonamassa have spread the gospel of the blues to corners of the world, like Southeast Asia, that hadn’t yet heard the word. In over 40 years of covering music, however, much of it spent in thrall to the blues, I had never heard of blues coming from the Middle East until I heard Mr. Lazer Lloyd.

Lazer Lloyd – for those of you who have yet to discover this talented singer, songwriter, and guitarist – brings the blues from Israel. An American by birth, Lloyd was raised in Madison, Connecticut and taught a love of music by his father, who exposed the future musician to blues, folk, rock, and jazz, all vital elements of his current sound. Lloyd began playing in his first bands as a teenager, and migrated to his adopted homeland a few years ago, finding an eager audience for his intelligent songs and dynamic, charismatic performance style.

He released his first album, Lazer Lloyd Unplugged – Blues In Tel Aviv in 2011, following it up with My Own Blues in 2012, which was honored as the best blues album of the year by the Israeli Blues Society. Lloyd’s acoustic Lost On The Highway album was released in the U.S. in 2013 by Blue Leaf Records, leading to a North American tour. In other words, Lloyd is a veteran bluesman with a few miles on his odometer. 

Lazer Lloyd – Blues From Israel

Lazer Lloyd, the album, was released by the Chicago-based independent Lots of Love Records label, which doesn’t seem to have anyone other than Lloyd on their roster, which is cool by me. If you’re going to launch a label, you may as well start with a good ‘un, and Lazer Lloyd is a revelation, indeed. The album features twelve red-hot tracks, eleven of them original, the lone cover an inspired take on Otis Redding’s classic “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” Lloyd eschews the usual, by-the-books reading of the timeless hit, his somber vocals displaying an enormous emotional depth, a weariness that is accompanied by his nicely elegant acoustic fretwork. He knows he’s not going to match Redding’s version, so he infuses the song with his own personality while holding onto the bittersweet elements of the original.

Lloyd’s original “Burning Thunder” kicks off the album, his slash ‘n’ burn electric guitarplay providing the muscle to his powerful, albeit oblique lyrics. His solos are as sharp as a stiletto, his deep, rich vocals backed by a crescendo of bass notes and explosive drumbeats. The tongue-in-cheek autobiographical “Rockin’ In The Holy Land” tells of Lloyd’s move to Israel with an up-tempo, rockabilly-tinged soundtrack that features some snappy harmonica lines, a locomotive rhythm, and livewire guitarplay. By contrast, the self-referential “Never Give Up” is a thoughtful ballad that reminds of Jeff Healey, with sharp, clean guitar solos and softer, more considered vocals wrapping around inspirational lyrics that carry a positive message for all of us.

The bluesman goes caveman on us with the dino-stomp wonder of “Out of Time.” Although the song’s lyrics are based on traditional blues, albeit with a contemporary tilt, musically the song is an edgy, raucous construct – all sinew ‘n’ bones with stunning, chaotic guitars and sledgehammer rhythms, with powerful vocals and an overall 1970s arena-rock sound that sits comfortably alongside Pat Travers or Robin Trower’s best work. The tearful “Broken Dreams” is a clever note on lost love with beautiful guitar tone and trembling vocals that make for a timeless performance. The haunting “Moroccan Woman” brings an exotic air to the album, with sparse lyrics and an overall swamp-blues vibe, while “Time To Love” offers up a Chicago-styled blues sound with Otis Rush influence and a universal message that soars on the strength of Lloyd’s breathless fretwork, which veers dangerously into Jimi Hendrix territory at one exhilarating point in the song.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

In my humble opinion, Lazer Lloyd is one of the most exciting blues artists to come down the track in many a year. His songs display a unique lyrical perspective; the music derived from familiar blues forms but imbued with Lloyd’s own original vision. The invigorating performances on Lazer Lloyd display a uniformly high quality of musicianship, from Lloyd’s imaginative guitarplay to the band’s masterful backing. Overall, the album is a fine, entertaining, and innovative effort from the unlikely blues hotbed of Israel. RIYL Joe Louis Walker, Walter Trout, or Coco Montoya. Grade: A (Lots of Love Records, released June 23, 2015)

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Fossils: The Faces' Ooh La La (1973)

The Faces' Ooh La La
[click to embiggen]
The Faces – Ooh La La

In the three years following the Faces’ rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of British mod-era rockers the Small Faces, it had been a hell of a party. Although albums like 1971’s Long Player and A Nod Is as Good As a Wink…to a Blind Horse are now considered rock ‘n’ roll classics, and both were modest-to-impressive commercial successes (the former hitting #29 on the charts, the latter rising to #6 on the strength of the hit single “Stay With Me”), by the time of 1973’s Ooh La La, frontman Rod Stewart’s solo success had begun to outshine his erstwhile band. Ooh La La would take a step backwards on the charts, rising only as far as #21and yielding no hit singles; by contrast, Stewart’s fourth solo album, the previous year’s Never A Dull Moment, hit #2 on the charts and coughed up a pair of hits.

While it was apparent to anybody at the time that Stewart was sidling, albeit in slow-motion, towards the door on his way to exiting for a full-time solo jaunt, that doesn’t mean that Ooh La La doesn’t have its charms. Rod the Mod may have been gracing magazine covers instead of, say, bandmates Ron Wood or Ian McLagen, but Ooh La La was a true group effort, with all five members involved in the songwriting, resulting in great tunes like “Cindy Incidentally” and “Borstal Boys.” It was bassist Ronnie Lane, one of the original Small Faces, who was the band’s creative heart, and he dominated the songwriting on the album’s second half, providing the Faces with a fitting swansong for their final album.

The Warner Brothers label ad for the album was a perfect portrayal of the band’s public image, the reckless rockers gazing upwards at the upturned skirt of the dancing girl as the album cover’s leering visage sits in the top right corner. When the label called Ooh La La the Faces’ “sauciest album,” they may have been partly kidding, but they also weren’t that far off the mark!

Friday, August 21, 2015

CD Preview: Walter Trout’s Battle Scars

Walter Trout's Battle Scars
Listening to “Almost Gone,” the lead-off track from blues-rock guitarist Walter Trout’s upcoming album Battle Scars, all I can say is “Damn!” If this white-hot slab o’ scorching guitar and anguished vocals doesn’t sucker-punch your soul, well, all I can say is that it must suck to be you…

On October 23rd, 2015, Provogue Records will release Trout’s Battle Scars, the much-anticipated follow-up to the guitarist’s acclaimed 2014 album The Blues Came Callin’, and his first since undergoing life-saving liver transplant surgery last year. If Trout’s previous album was reflected the uncertainty and fear caused by his illness, Battle Scars is a chronicle of Trout’s fight to survive, the singer/songwriter staring down death and living to tell the tale.

One thing for certain, as shown by the heat and energy of “Almost Gone,” is that Trout is back and better than ever. In a press release for Battle Scars, Trout says “I’m thrilled about this album, about my life and about my music. I feel that I’m reborn as a songwriter, a singer, a guitarist and a human being. I have a new chance at being the best musician and the best man that I can be. And I’m incredibly happy and grateful.”

A little more than a year ago, Trout was lying in a hospital bed, unable to move or speak as his liver was failing. After receiving the transplant in May 2014, and suffering through the difficult recuperation process, Trout began the long and tortuous process of healing. “At first I wasn’t strong enough to play a single note on the guitar,” he says, “but as I regained my strength, the music came back to me. Now when I pick up the guitar, it is liberating, joyful, and limitless. I feel like I’m 17 again.” 

Arriving in Los Angeles in 1973, Trout was schooled in the blues while playing behind legends like John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thornton, Finis Tasby, and Lowell Fulsom, among others. Trout burnished his blues bona fides first as a member of blues-rock legends Canned Heat, then moving on to play five years as part of British blues legend John Mayall’s famed Bluesbreakers band. Trout launched his solo career in 1989 with his debut album Life In The Jungle, and has since become one of the blues most beloved artists, earning the guitarist numerous awards and accolades. 

Before his illness sidelined the hard-touring guitarist, Trout had planned on celebrating the 25th anniversary of his solo career with a lengthy tour and deluxe vinyl reissues of many of his solo albums. Rescued From Reality: The Life and Times of Walter Trout, Trout’s autobiography, was written with noted British music journalist Henry Yates (full disclosure – Henry is my editor at The Blues magazine) and released to great reviews in 2014. Although the planned 2014 tour didn’t happen, Trout returned to the stage this spring and plans on touring heavily in support of Battle Scars with his band – keyboardist Sammy Avila, bassist Johnny Griparic, and drummer Michael Leasure.

As for all his loyal fans that stood by Trout during his illness, and donated over $240,000 to help with his medical expenses, the guitarist says “I don’t take this lightly. Marie [his wife] says that all of the people who donated to our fundraiser for my medical expenses bought stock in me and my liver. When I play for them now, I have a responsibility to give back and offer the very best that I have.” As anybody who has ever attended one of his shows already knows, Walter Trout has always been an electrifying live performer. Given a new lease on life after a lengthy struggle, and with the “battle scars” to prove it, Trout will be paying his fans back one show at a time.

CD Preview: Ironing Board Sam’s Super Spirit

Ironing Board Sam's Super Spirit
Since hooking up with the good folks at the Music Maker Relief Foundation in 2010, blues legend Ironing Board Sam has been making up for lost time. After the non-profit outfitted the flamboyant musician with new gear, Sam has been hitting the road and the recording studio alike, releasing four critically-acclaimed albums under the Music Maker banner in four years.

The 75-year-old bluesman isn’t done yet, nosirree…on October 2nd, 2015, Big Legal Mess Records (a subsidiary of Mississippi’s esteemed Fat Possum Records) will release Ironing Board Sam’s Super Spirit, a new ten-track collection produced by Big Legal Mess head honcho Bruce Watson and roots ‘n’ bluesman Jimbo Mathus at Watson’s Dial Back Studio in Water Valley, Mississippi.

Ironing Board Sam is backed on Super Spirit by a band that includes Mathus on guitar, bassist Stu Cole (Squirrel Nut Zippers), and drummer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees). In his role as producer, Watson drew inspiration from classic 1960s and ‘70s era singles, pulling out songs by Ann Peebles, the Gories, Mathus, Jack Oblivian, and Roy Hawkins, among others for Sam to wrap his soulful voice around. The result is Super Spirit, a lively collection of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll with a funky undercurrent that’s guaranteed to blow your mind!

Born Sammie Moore in Rock Hill, South Carolina in 1939, Sam got his nickname by strapping his keyboards to an ironing board hanging from his neck, allowing him to move around on stage. Way back in ’62, Sam’s band included a red-hot guitarist who would become known as Jimi Hendrix, and throughout the 1960s and ‘70s he released a number of singles for Atlantic Records and numerous soul labels, and was a regular guest on the Night Train TV show.

Although Sam scored some regional hits through the years, he wouldn’t release a debut album until 1996’s Human Touch. An earlier album, Ninth Wonder of the World of Music, which Sam using as a sort of calling card with promoters, was recorded in the 1970s but not released commercially until 2011. With Super Spirit, Ironing Board Sam is building on a legacy decades in the making. Check out Sam’s “Baby You Got it,” a track from Super Spirit, embedded below. You’re welcome…

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Webb Wilder goes “Mississippi Moderne”

Webb Wilder's Mississippi Moderne
On September 25th, 2015, Landslide Records will release Mississippi Moderne, the first album in almost six years from Nashville roots-rock legend Webb Wilder. Before he landed in the Music City back in the mid 1980s, Wilder hailed from Mississippi, and he was honored with induction into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame in 2011.

Mississippi Moderne was recorded at Studio 19 in Nashville (formerly known as Scotty Moore’s Music City Recorders), and produced by Wilder, Joe McMahan, Bob Williams, and Tom Comet. The roots ‘n’ blues veteran was backed on the recording by his longtime, road-tested band the Beatnecks, consisting of bassist Comet, guitarist Bob Williams, and drummer Jimmy Lester.

Mississippi Moderne features a mix of Wilder originals and co-writes with folks like Dan Penn, John Hadley, and Patrick Sweany, as well as covers of songs by Otis Rush, the Kinks, Charlie Rich, and Jimmy Reed. Wilder and the Beatnecks will be touring in support of the new album, and we have the first scheduled tour dates listed below. If you haven’t experienced Wilder’s unique blend of rock ‘n’ roll, blues, country, and R&B before, you owe it to yourself to check out Mississippi Moderne and then get to a show.

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Webb Wilder & the Beatnecks tour dates:

8/29 @ Woodhouse Concerts, St. Louis MO
8/30 @ Lafayette's Music Room, Memphis TN
9/25 @ The Basement East, Nashville TN
9/29 @ Cypress Moon Studios, Sheffield AL
10/3 @ Public Theatre of Kentucky, Bowling Green KY
10/8 @ Thacker Mountain Radio, Oxford MS *
10/9 @ Proud Larry's, Oxford MS
10/17 @ Log House Concerts, Edwardsville IL *
10/23 @ Straight To Ale, Huntsville AL *
10/28 @ Gene's Beer Garden, Morgantown WV *
10/29 @ World Cafe Live, Philadelphia PA +
10/30 @ Ram's Head Tavern, Annapolis MD +
10/31 @ The Birchmere, Alexandria VA +
11/14 @ Exit/In, Nashville TN
11/21 @ Knuckleheads, Kansas City MO

* Solo show
+ Opens for Dave & Phil Alvin

Sunday, August 16, 2015

CD Review: Steppenwolf's The ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection

Steppenwolf's The ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection
If all you know of Steppenwolf is “Born To Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride,” you may consider them to be just another ‘60s-era hard rock band. During Steppenwolf’s brief initial run (1968-72), however, they often straddled the fine line between pop chart singles band and nascent FM radio rockers…sometimes they were successful, sometimes they weren’t, but it was never for lack of trying. Steppenwolf racked up a handful of Top 10 singles, and the band’s first five studio albums would all chart Top 20, with most of ‘em scoring Gold™ record status for sales.

Few American bands can claim similar chart success while still retaining a certain amount of rock ‘n’ roll street cred – only Creedence Clearwater Revival comes to mind – but, unfortunately, Steppenwolf’s contributions to this beast we call “classic rock” seldom extend beyond the aforementioned pair of hit songs. Formed in 1967 by members of the Canadian blues-rock outfit Sparrow, the core of the band was singer/songwriter John Kay, keyboardist Goldy McJohn, and drummer Jerry Edmonton. Steppenwolf scored gold in 1968 with “Born To Be Wild,” their third single, taken from the band’s self-titled debut album. Written by former Sparrows band member Mars Bonfire (Edmonton’s brother), “Born To Be Wild” hit #2 on the U.S. charts and launching the band’s lengthy career.

Steppenwolf’s The ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection

In spite of their modest success, Steppenwolf’s singles have been largely unavailable on CD in their original 45rpm mixes, an oversight corrected by Real Gone Music’s The ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection. A two-CD set, The ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection includes every A and B-side released by the band on the label, 30 tracks in all, as well as another eight John Kay solo tracks, making for a sumptuous hard rock feast, indeed! The set has been compiled from the best sources available (the original tapes for this material were reportedly trashed years ago), with nearly two-dozen of the tracks in their original mono mixes. Mr. Kay himself was enlisted to pen lengthy and insightful liner notes for the set. Aside from Kay’s personal memories of the songs, the set’s 24-page booklet includes rare photos and chart info.

One thing that readily apparent from The ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection, is the band’s steady musical evolution. The band’s first single release, “A Girl I Know,” is a charming slab of period psychedelic rock with a wistful, psych-pop intro and driving rhythms, with full instrumentation backing Kay’s vocals and Michael Monarch’s swirling guitar licks. The B-side, “The Ostrich,” is a bluesy hard rocker with McJohn’s aggressive keyboard washes underlining a performance that is a curious cross between Love and the Doors.

Heavy Metal Thunder

The band’s sophomore single, “Sookie Sookie,” was a cover of a Don Covay song the R&B great wrote with Steve Cropper. Although Steppenwolf’s livewire version captured the soul of the original with Kay’s hearty vocals and screeching guitars, the song failed to chart as radio program directors between the coasts refused to play the single, not knowing (or caring) what a “Sookie Sookie” actually was. Steppenwolf definitely found its mojo with their third single, though...“Born To Be Wild” would dominate the charts throughout the summer of ’68, its lyrics coining the phrase “heavy metal thunder” while selling a million copies.

Dennis “Mars Bonfire” Edmonton’s original version of the song positioned it as a ballad; the band amped up the tempo, welded on Monarch’s legendary guitar riff, and graced the performance with Kay’s sandpaper vocals to create a rock ‘n’ roll legend. As Kay tells the story, neither the band or the label could figure out whether “Born To Be Wild” or “Everybody’s Next One” should be the A-side of the single, so they left the record unmarked and left it up to radio DJs to choose between the two songs…the rest, as they say, is history. Still, “Everybody’s Next One” is an engaging song, with a throwback melody that reminds of early ‘60s British Invasion bands like the Kinks, with Monarch’s piercing guitar licks balanced by Kay’s folkish strum, and Edmonton’s thunderous percussion.

Magic Carpet Ride

With ABC/Dunhill desperate for a follow-up to “Born To Be Wild,” Kay and band bassist Rushton Moreve swung for the fences and came up with “Magic Carpet Ride.” Another smash hit, the combination of Monarch’s innovative fretwork and McJohn’s spacey keyboard notes set the stage for Edmonton’s bombastic percussion and Kay’s growling, nimble vocals. The single release of the song offers a different vocal take by Kay, and is shorter than the album version by a couple minutes, which only strengthens its bludgeoning sonic impact. “Magic Carpet Ride” would peak at #3 and stay on the charts for 16 weeks – longer than any other Steppenwolf song – on its way to a million flapjacks sold. The single’s B-side, oddly, was the previously released “Sookie Sookie,” an act of charity, perhaps, that garnered Covay and Cropper some nice royalties.

It’s a hard to believe, in this era of artists taking two or three years to create new material, but the pace for rock bands in the 1960s and early ‘70s was brutal. Record, tour, back to the studio, and then tour some more – Steppenwolf released four studio albums in two years, circa 1968-69, a breakneck schedule that often didn’t help any band that running on that commercial treadmill. Still, Steppenwolf managed to score Top 10 again with “Rock Me,” the Kay-penned lead-off single from their third album, At Your Birthday Party. The band’s last real chart “hit,” the song’s infectious melodic hook and up-tempo mix of solid lyricism and vaguely exotic instrumentation (slightly Latin-tinged a la Santana) made for heady radio airplay. The single’s B-side, the equally engaging “Jupiter Child,” is a muscular, mid-tempo sledgehammer of psych-drenched rock with abrasive guitars and fierce vocals chased by a heavy bass line and mortar-fire drumbeats.

The Pusher

Although Steppenwolf wouldn’t again hit the top regions of the chart after “Rock Me,” that’s not to say that they didn’t release some fascinating and satisfying singles. The anti-drug dirge “The Pusher,” written by Hoyt Axton, who may have been the first true alt-country artist, originally appeared on the band’s debut album, but earned new notoriety with its inclusion in the 1969 movie Easy Rider. With Kay’s powerful vocals riding atop a spacey, psychedelic acid-rock soundtrack (that sounds somewhat drug-fueled itself), the song’s strong language (“God Damn the pusher man!”) caused radio programmers to run away from the song faster than an IRS audit. The follow-up to “Rock Me,” the folkish “It’s Never Too Late” is a solid effort featuring brilliant but claustrophobic “wall of sound” production that starkly underlines Kay’s intelligent lyrics. Scraps of McJohn’s piano vie with Monarch’s scorching fretwork amidst the song’s busy instrumentation.

Kay’s “Move Over,” co-written with longtime band producer Gabriel Mekler, knocked on the door of Top 30 chart success at #31, but the song should have risen higher. Kay’s hearty vocals are mixed with a memorable bass line courtesy of new band fat-stringer Nick St. Nicholas, complimented by new guitarist Larry Byrom’s wiry guitarplay. Edmonton’s timekeeping is especially noteworthy here, his steady rhythms and high-octane drum fills kicking the arrangement into overdrive. The band’s fourth studio album, Monster, included “Move Over” and the title track, which was released as a single in its stereo LP mix. Maybe the reshuffled band line-up hadn’t had time for the individual members’ chemistry to gel, but “Monster” strains at its restraints, the band’s tentative instrumentation often at odds with Kay’s passionate vocals. While the extended nine-minute-plus track works fine on album in context with its surrounding material, “Monster” was tailor-made for AOR radio…and Steppenwolf found itself in the vanguard of the fledgling FM rock format.   

Hey Lawdy Mama

Kay admits in the liner notes to The ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection that he had run out of gas as a songwriter by the release of Monster. As a stopgap measure, the label released Steppenwolf Live in early 1970, Steppenwolf scoring an unexpected Top 40 hit with the band-written “Hey Lawdy Mama.” A swaggering, R&B influenced hard rocker, the tune was a favored addition to the band’s rowdy live set. Other singles from this arid period included the former Sparrow song “Corina, Corina,” an enchanting folk-rock ballad which the band re-recorded in the studio. It was added to Steppenwolf Live along with “Hey Lawdy Mama” and other studio tracks by the label against the band’s wishes to fill out four sides of a double-album set. The band worked with new producer Richard Podolor on “Screaming Night Hog,” a bluesy rocker that features some inventive circular guitar riffs and Kay’s hypnotic harmonica licks, but the single went largely unnoticed.

After again revamping the band line-up with new bassist George Biondo, Steppenwolf recorded what would be their fifth studio effort (and seventh album overall, with two live discs under their belts). Steppenwolf 7 displayed further evolution in the Steppenwolf sound as the other band members – especially guitarist Larry Byrom – began to contribute more to the group’s songwriting efforts. The band’s instrumental chemistry improved with the addition of Biondo as well, the bassist’s style meshing nicely with drummer Edmonton. Although the album’s lead-off single, “Who Needs Ya,” was a ballsy, free-wheelin’ rocker with an infectious chorus and gang vocals, it only peaked at #54 on the charts in spite of its charms.

Steppenwolf 1971 courtesy ABC / Dunhill Records


By contrast, the largely instrumental “Earschplittenloudenboomer,” with its vaguely boogie-blues foundation and uncharacteristic blasts of horn, made for an interesting B-side that displayed the band’s musical chops. Kay dipped back into the Hoyt Axton songbook again for the folk-country anti-drug ballad “Snow Blind Friend,” the song’s more gentle sound presaging the direction of the singer’s future solo work. It’s a magnificent performance, Kay infusing the song with heart and character while the band offers subtle instrumental flourishes which enhance the lyrics; sadly, as a single, it peaked at only #60 on the charts although it did receive widespread FM radio airplay.

For Ladies Only, released in late 1971, was the last Steppenwolf album before the band’s short-lived break-up. Guitarist Kent Henry replaced Byrom, who would end up in Nashville as a respected (and busy) session guitarist. A loose-knit concept album about male/female relationships with a definite feminist slant, For Ladies Only took the band into a different creative direction, with Kay contributing only a pair of songs, along with the group-penned title track. The band tried to capture lightning in a bottle again by recording an old Mars Bonfire song, “Ride With Me,” a good hard rock number with a driving rhythm, but no discernible melodic hook to hang AM airplay onto. The album’s title track offered a twangy undercurrent beneath its guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll trappings, Kay’s vocals easily adapting to the country-rock sound, but the backing instrumentation is too jarring and discordant for a straight country tune, yet showed a little too much twang ‘n’ bang for AOR playlists.

Forgotten Songs & Unsung Heroes

The last eight songs on The ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection are actually John Kay solo tracks, four each culled from 1972’s Forgotten Songs & Unsung Heroes and the following year’s My Sportin’ Life. Recorded during the first Steppenwolf hiatus, the former album included spirited covers of country classics from the likes of Hank Snow and Hank Williams amidst harder-rocking original material while the latter album mixed Kay’s pensive originals with material from contemporary songwriters. Suffice it to say that you’ve never heard Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On” sound quite like Kay performs it, Kent Henry’s swamp-blues guitar licks matched by Kay’s hoarse vocals and a busy instrumental arrangement which walks a tightwire between blues and rock.

Hank Williams’ “You Win Again” is played more traditionally, with acoustic guitar and Kay’s soulful vocals turning the country classic into a Southern rock jam complete with gospel-tinged backing vocals. “Moonshine (Friend of Mine)” is basically a country song clad in rock ‘n’ roll garb, Kay successfully capturing the good ole boy vibe of Charlie Daniels or Waylon Jennings with the song’s jaunty arrangement  and spry fretwork. Alan O’Day’s “Easy Evil” is a more considered work, with O’Day’s soulful keyboards offering a counterpoint to Kay’s breathless vocals and a Memphis/Stax Records style instrumental groove. Needless to say, none of Kay’s solo singles charted any higher than the #52 of “I’m Movin’ On,” and the erstwhile Steppenwolf frontman would reform the band around Biondo, McJohn, and Edmonton with new guitarist Bobby Cochran. The reunion proved to be short-lived, however, the band breaking up again in 1976, only to be resurrected by Kay in the 1980s as John Kay and Steppenwolf, which is where it remains today, more or less, the band performing sporadically on the oldies circuit.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

While Steppenwolf undeniably had a signature hard rock sound, the band’s blues roots and willingness to incorporate folk and country influences into its songs displayed a deftness that belies their reputation. Although Steppenwolf enjoyed a modicum of chart success with its single releases circa 1968 to ’72, its evolution into one of the first (immensely) popular AOR bands can be seen in commercial success of their full-length albums. Even the band’s Steppenwolf Gold “hits” compilation would chart Top 30 in 1971 and achieve Gold™ record sales levels.

As showcased by The ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection, Steppenwolf was a hard-working outfit, cranking out tunes on demand for a demanding label, more often than not with positive commercial and creative results. This two-disc set is a fine addition to the long-suffering Steppenwolf fan’s collection, providing long-lost mono mixes of those early AM radio hits alongside stereo mixes of the band’s harder-rocking AOR tracks (as well as Kay’s obscure solo sides). With much of Steppenwolf’s back catalog a literal label afterthought (comprised entirely of budget CDs from the 1980s), The ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection is like an early Christmas present, the set hopefully kick-starting a reconsideration of the legacy of this too often overlooked band. Grade: B+ (Real Gone Music, released August 14, 2015)

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