Sunday, June 17, 2018

Vinyl Review: The Mothers of Invention's Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1970/2018)

Mothers of Invention's Burnt Weeny Sandwich
Released in February 1970, the Mothers of Invention’s Burnt Weeny Sandwich was the band’s sixth album (and eighth overall “official” Zappa release when you include two previous ‘solo’ LPs). An often overlooked entry in the Maestro’s canon, it’s both a transitional work as well as a signpost for creative directions that Zappa would take in the future. One of two albums released by Zappa that year (the other being the audacious Weasels Ripped My Flesh), it came in the wake of the break-up of the original Mothers as Zappa struggled artistically, professionally, and financially to bring his ever-shifting musical vision to his small but loyal group of fans. Under supervision by the Zappa Family Trust, Universal Music has reissued Burnt Weeny Sandwich on vinyl, correcting the sonic errors that marred earlier CD reissues (which likely had perfectionist Frank spinning in his crypt).

This vinyl reissue of Burnt Weeny Sandwich is pressed on shiny, thick 180-gram audiophile black vinyl and includes a stocky gatefold sleeve with the original album artwork. The reissue was mastered from the original ¼” stereo safety master tapes by Bernie Grundman, a veteran engineer who put the final stamp of approval on albums by folks like Prince, Steely Dan, Michael Jackson, and Kendrick Lamar, among many others. Unavailable on vinyl for over 30 years, last included as part of Zappa’s Old Masters Box Two box set, the reissue also includes a reproduction of the original album’s cool eight-panel, double-sided fold-out B&W poster featuring photos of the various band members. Cal Schenkel’s original oddball front cover is a stunning and prescient bit of post-industrial collage art while the cryptic back cover art offers an enigmatic cartoon thought bubble.

The Mothers of Invention’s Burnt Weeny Sandwich

Burnt Weeny Sandwich is the first Mothers’ album to combine studio and live recordings, a technique that Zappa would pursue throughout the remainder of his career. In many ways, it displays Zappa’s creative genius in reset mode, the bandleader running out of steam after releasing seven studio albums (including two double-discs) in roughly five years, a heady workload to be sure. The album holds up well in spite of its Frankenstein-styled construction, due not only to Zappa’s talents but also that of musical collaborators like violinist Sugarcane Harris, pianist Ian Underwood, and guitarist Lowell George (who left the Mothers by “mutual agreement” and formed Little Feat in 1969). The record also features the not-inconsiderable skills of Mothers OGs like Roy Estrada, Jimmy Carl Black, Don Preston, and the horn section of Bunk and Buzz Gardner.

Burnt Weeny Sandwich gets the party started with Zappa reaching back into his past with a cover of the Five Deuces’ doo-wop classic “WPLJ” complete with gorgeous backing harmonies and an arrangement that relies more on vocal delivery than on its sparse instrumentation. Not a year removed from the creative exercise that was Cruising with Ruben & the Jets, Zappa would revisit his beloved doo-wop and 1950s-era rock ‘n’ roll more than once in the years to come. “Igor’s Boogie, Phase One” and the following “Phase Two” are brief tone poems named in tribute to favored composer Igor Stravinsky; the former leads into the tinkling instrumental “Overture to A Holiday In Berlin” and the latter into the lengthier “Holiday In Berlin, Full Blown,” which extends musical themes that the Mothers had previously explored on the Absolutely Free and We’re Only In It For the Money albums. The improvised hornplay by the brothers Gardner here is as wild and innovative as anybody in the late ‘60s while Zappa’s imaginative fretwork is miles beyond that of his peers in the world of rock ‘n’ roll, save for Jimi Hendrix, who played in a universe entirely his own.

Little House I Used To Live In

Zappa photo by Bruce Linton, courtesy Universal Music
Zappa photo by Bruce Linton, courtesy Universal Music
In between this handful of tracks falls “Theme From Burnt Weeny Sandwich,” a guitar-driven four-and-a-half-minute instrumental jam that anchors the album’s first side and showcases Zappa’s six-string skills, his guitar solo repurposed from an unused earlier recording originally put on tape for an extended version of “Lonely Little Girl” from We’re Only In It For The Money. The first side closes with the cleverly-titled “Aybe Sea,” a vigorous piano solo by Ian Underwood that seems absolutely Elizabethan in its construction, his instrument sounding more like a harpsichord than a standard piano. It wouldn’t be the last time that Zappa would mix classical elements with jazz-fusion experimentation, and in the hands of the immensely-talented Underwood, the performance offers a fine conclusion to the first side.

The second side of Burnt Weeny Sandwich is comprised of but two songs, but Zappa’s original, eighteen-minute live performance of “House I Used To Live In” is a masterpiece of modern classical composition that itself would presage the Maestro’s various musical obsessions in years to come. Starting out small with Underwood’s discordant piano notes serving as the song’s intro, the performance reminds of Zappa’s fascination with avant-garde composers like John Cage, launching into a rich brew of syncopated rhythms, machinegun time changes, and overall chaotic instrumentation. The song careens off the boards like a pinball machine set to ‘tilt’ with whiplash musical directions and unexpected curves like Sugarcane Harris’s clattering but exhilarating violin solo (also previously-recorded but fitting here perfectly) and Underwood’s staccato piano-pounding. Burnt Weeny Sandwich closes out in the same manner as it opened, with a cover of Jackie and the Starlites’ doo-wop tune “Valarie,” an inspired reading supported by shimmering instrumentation and heartfelt vocals.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Surprisingly enough, Burnt Weeny Sandwich would become the Mothers’ highest-charting album to date in the U.K. while barely scraping into the Top 100 on the U.S. charts. The album’s piecemeal construction, mostly instrumental compositions, and its ongoing experimentation with musical themes began a year previous with the Uncle Meat double-album played true to Zappa’s intent to shake fans from their complacency and make them think. Along with the subsequent Weasels Ripped My Flesh, the two albums serve as a final conclusion to the original era of the Mothers of Invention. From this point on, the band’s sole focus would be on Zappa as it slowly evolved into a creative vehicle exclusively for Zappa’s solo efforts.

Zappa would later put together a new version of the Mothers centered on the vocal talents of former Turtles members Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (a/k/a “Flo & Eddie”) and including talented musicians like veteran British drummer Aynsley Dunbar (John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers) and bassist Jim Pons (The Turtles) as well as longtime Mothers Ian Underwood and Don Preston. Subsequent recordings would feature Zappa as a smutty comedic storyteller (Just Another Band From L.A.) and jazz-fusion pioneer (The Grand Wazoo) before hitting his commercial peak with the pop-influenced rock LPs Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe. Taken in this context, Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh served as an artistic catharsis necessary for Zappa to move on from his original vision for the Mothers and into the wide-open future. Grade: B- (Zappa Records/UMe, released June 22, 2018)

Buy the vinyl from The Mothers of Invention’s Burnt Weeny Sandwich

Blues Deluxe: The Joe Bonamassa Buying Guide

Joe Bonamassa fans rejoice, for the Reverend and Excitable Press are happy to announce the publication of Blues Deluxe: The Joe Bonamassa Buying Guide. The latest literary effort by the Reverend, Blues Deluxe is an album by album guide to the music of popular blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa. Profusely illustrated with dozens of color photos, including album cover artwork for every release, the guide also features eighteen album reviews covering many of Bonamassa’s solo efforts as well as albums recorded with Beth Hart, Black Country Communion, and Rock Candy Funk Party. The book also reprints a rare, long out-of-print 2011 Bonamassa interview previously-published by Blues Revue magazine.

The “Reverend of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Rev. Keith A. Gordon has been writing about music for 45+ years. A former contributor to the All Music Guide books and website, and the former Blues Expert for, Rev. Gordon has also written for Blurt magazine, Creem, High Times, Blues Music magazine, and The Blues (U.K.), among many other publications, and has written fifteen previous music-related books, including The Other Side of Nashville and Scorched Earth: A Jason & the Scorchers Scrapbook and several volumes in The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives series (including Southern Rock, Punk Rock, and the upcoming Heavy Metal).

Blues Deluxe: The Joe Bonamassa Buying Guide is a 188-page 5.5” x 8.5” trade paperback printed with gorgeous full-color photos and is available as a $26.99 print edition (sorry, but color ain't cheap) and as a less-expensive $4.99 eBook for your Kindle. Signed copies of Blues Deluxe are available from the Reverend through the PayPal link (with free shipping), or get your copy from Amazon with the handy links below.

Blues Deluxe print edition [ link]

Blues Deluxe eBook edition [ link]

Get your copy of Blues Deluxe personally signed by the Reverend Gordon his own bad self (U.S. orders only, please)!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Blues Legend Matt “Guitar” Murphy, R.I.P.

Matt Guitar Murphy in The Blues Brothers
Matt Guitar Murphy in The Blues Brothers
We’re saddened to report on the death of the great Matt “Guitar” Murphy, an underrated talent best known for his appearances in the two Blues Brothers movies. Murphy was 88 years old; no cause of death has been announced.

Born in Mississippi in 1929 but raised in Memphis, Murphy learned to play guitar as a child. Moving to Chicago in 1948, Murphy joined the great Howlin’ Wolf’s band, which also featured harp player ‘Little’ Junior Parker. Murphy subsequently played on recording sessions with Parker and Bobby “Blue” Bland before hooking up with legendary blues pianist Memphis Slim. Murphy played guitar behind the pianist throughout the 1950s, including on his classic 1959 album At the Gate of Horn.

During the 1950s and ‘60s Murphy played a lot of recording sessions and was in-demand for live performances as well, working with artists like Chuck Berry, Ike Turner, Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Etta James, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Koko Taylor. He performed on the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival of Europe, and would spend much of the ‘70s performing and recording with blues harp genius James Cotton, appearing on albums like 100% Cotton and High Energy.

For all of his great work on stage and in the studio over three decades, however, it is with the Blues Brothers Band that Murphy may forever be remembered. Formed in 1978 by Saturday Night Live featured players John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, the Blues Brothers started out as a musical skit featuring music the two comedians loved and quickly struck a chord with audiences, growing into a bona fide pop culture phenomenon. After appearing as the musical guest on SNL, the Blues Brothers recorded the live album Briefcase Full of Blues with some of the best players in the blues and R&B genres, including Murphy, Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn (Stax Records) and a complete horn section. The album topped the charts and sold better than three million copies.

Matt Guitar Murphy's Lucky Charm
Murphy appeared in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers as part of the band, notably playing guest star Aretha Franklin’s husband, and also appeared in the 1998 sequel, Blues Brothers 2000; his scorching fretwork was featured on the soundtracks to both films. Following up on the popularity of the first film and its accompanying soundtrack, Murphy formed his own band in 1982 and toured both with the Blues Brothers and his own outfit until sidelined by a stroke in 2002. He would return to the stage a few years later, playing a reunion show with James Cotton at the 2010 Chicago Blues Festival and as part of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2013.

Over the course of his lengthy career, Matt Murphy lent his talents to dozens of albums by some of the greatest legends in the blues and R&B, who sought his contributions to their music. He only recorded four acclaimed albums as a solo artist, however, including 1990’s Way Down South (with his brother Floyd on rhythm guitar) and 2000’s Lucky Charm. The contributions of Matt “Guitar” Murphy to the popularization of blues music and the impact of his enormous talent on the records that define the genre simply cannot be overstated. He will be missed…

Friday, June 15, 2018

Yet More Classic Reggae from Omnivore: Winston Jarrett & Ronnie Davis

Winston Jarrett & the Righteous Flames' Jonestown
The good people at Omnivore Recordings certainly aren’t sitting on their hands when it comes to sharing albums from the long-gone Nighthawk Records label with riddim-hungry reggae fans. Hot on the heels of a pair of classic albums from Junior Byles and Ethiopian & Gladiators scheduled for July release comes news of another two reggae classics in August. Along with the reissued reggae compilations coming from a revived Trojan Records label, this summer is going to be a big one for fans of the Jamaican sound!

On August 3rd, 2018 Omnivore will be reissuing the 1984 album Jonestown by Winston Jarrett & the Righteous Flames and the 19976 album Come Straight by Ronnie Davis and Idren. Although neither of these talented singers is a household name, their talent and pedigrees are recognized by hardcore reggae fans, and both albums have been out-of-print for decades.

Jarrett was a veteran of 1960s-era reggae harmony band Alton & the Flames, and the singer formed the original version of the Righteous Flames in the 1970s, recording for Prince Buster’s Olive Blossom label and working with producer Sir Coxsone on sides like “Ease Up” and “Born To Be Loved.” Jarrett also provided backing vocals on hits by legends like Ken Boothe and Marcia Griffiths before meeting up with Nighthawks’ Leroy Jody Pierson, who convinced the singer to put together a new version of the Righteous Flames to record Jonestown for the label. The album has been remastered from the original master tapes and includes liner notes by Pierson and a booklet with previously-unseen photos.

Ronnie Davis' Come Straight
Ronnie Davis was also a veteran of Jamaica’s 1960s-era music scene, singing with the Tennors on their 1968 hit “Ride Your Donkey” and 1973 single “Ride Your Donkey.” Producer Bunny Lee convinced Davis to pursue a solo career, and throughout the ‘70s he would become one of Jamaica’s most popular and prolific reggae artists, recording more than 100 sides for various labels and producers. By the end of the decade Davis was producing his own singles for his On Top Records label, hooking up with several friends to form the Itals, scoring a hit with their first single “In A Dis A Time.”

The band came to the attention of Nighthawk Records, who subsequently released a number of Itals’ albums throughout the ‘80s. Davis struck out on his own again when the Itals broke up and recorded the 1996 album Come Straight for Nighthawk, which was credited to Ronnie Davis and Idren. The album has since become considered an obscure gem of roots-reggae and this reissue includes two new tracks, new liner notes by Pierson, and previously-unseen photos. Both titles are “must have” reissues for reggae fans in the know, so get ‘em now!

Buy the CDs from
Winston Jarrett & the Righteous Flames’ Jonestown
Ronnie Davis & Idren’ Come Straight

Classic U2 LPs get Vinyl Reissues

U2's Achtung Baby
Universal Music/Island Records/Interscope (does anybody really know how these companies fit together?) announced this week that they’ll be giving three classic albums by Irish rockers U2 their proper vinyl reissues. On July 27th, 2018 the label will reissue 1991’s critically-acclaimed Achtung Baby, 1993’s equally-esteemed Zooropa, and the 1998 compilation album The Best of 1980-1990 on glorious 180-gram black vinyl, all three double-record sets.

This will be the first time all three titles have appeared on vinyl, each of them a product of the industry’s evolution towards vinyl during the 1990s. Released in November 1991, Achtung Baby was recorded over a period of six months at the Hansa Studio in Berlin, Germany and at Windmill Lane in Dublin, Ireland. The album production was shared by Daniel Lanois (Neil Young, Bob Dylan), Brian Eno (David Bowie, The Talking Heads), and Steve Lillywhite (The Pogues, Peter Gabriel) and would become one of the band’s most successful efforts, topping the charts in the U.S. and six other countries on its way to selling better than 18 million copies worldwide (over 8 million in the U.S. alone). The album also won U2 a Grammy™ Award for “Best Rock Performance.” The vinyl cover artwork is based on the original, with the sleeve expanded to hold two discs, and includes a lyric sheet and a download card for the twelve album tracks.

U2's Zooropa
It’s hard to follow up an album as successful as Achtung Baby but, if you’re going to do it, the ‘90s was the decade to try for the brass ring. Released in July 1993, Zooropa quickly topped the charts in eleven countries, and if it sold fewer copies than its predecessor (a mere seven million worldwide), it received nearly universal critical acclaim for its pop experimentation. Produced by Flood (Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails), Eno, and U2 guitarist The Edge, Zooropa earned the band another Grammy™ Award, this one for “Best Alternative Music Album.” The reissue also features expanded cover artwork and a download card and includes alternative mixes for two of the album’s singles, “Numb” and “Lemon.”

U2 was one of the best-selling bands of the ‘90s, selling in excess of 30 million copies of the three albums they released during the decade, and their landmark Zoo TV tour (1992-93) set the standard for multimedia overkill (and sold a truckload of tickets, over 10 million worldwide). In 1998, Island Records thought that they’d recoup some of the reported $60 million they spent on re-signing the band a few years earlier by releasing the first of two “greatest hits” albums.

U2's The Best of 1980-1990U2’s The Best of 1980-1990 covers the band’s early days, the sixteen-track collection shooting to the top of the charts in a number of countries (oddly, it only hit #2 in the U.S.) on its way to nearly ten million in sales worldwide. The album includes some of the band’s best-loved songs, including “New Year’s Day,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and “Angel of Harlem” and the reissue also includes the bonus track “One Tree Hill” from The Joshua Tree album. The reissue also features expanded cover artwork and a download card.

Buy the vinyl from
U2’s Achtung Baby
U2’s Zooropa

Sunday, June 10, 2018

CD Review: Webb Wilder and the Beatneck's Powerful Stuff! (2018)

Webb Wilder and the Beatneck's Powerful Stuff!
Back in the mid-1980s, Webb Wilder (née John McMurry) burst onto the Nashville rock scene like a revelation. Sure, we local fans enjoyed bands like Afrikan Dreamland, the White Animals, and Jason & the Nashville Scorchers which pursued their own individual muse, but the musical immigrant from Hattiesburg, Mississippi brought with him a love of British Invasion rock, 1950s-era rockabilly and blues, and classic 1960s-era country music. Wilder created a unique musical hybrid that helped define the “Americana” genre that would follow a decade later representing, as he did, the influence and resulting confluence of nearly every native musical style.

Launching his lengthy career with 1986’s It Came From Nashville, Wilder and his talented, often underrated bands – primarily the Beatnecks and the NashVegans – toured relentlessly and delivered five groundbreaking albums over the following ten years, including a pair of bona fide classics in 1991’s Doo Dad and 1996’s Acres of Suede. Sadly, Wilder was a man both ahead of and behind the times, and after failing to achieve much more than a cult following during the time of grunge and hair metal, he virtually disappeared for nearly a decade, popping back up as a DJ for Sirius XM radio’s “Outlaw Country” channel – an appropriate forum for a quick-witted, humorous, and glib talker like Webb (whom I’ve known and interviewed many times since his arrival in the Music City).

When Wilder reappeared with 2005’s About Time album, he showed that he still had plenty of gas in the tank, and he’s since almost doubled the number of titles in his catalog. Powerful Stuff! could be seen as a “stopgap” measure between studio albums, but it’s really a look back at the artist’s past, a carefully-curated collection of previously-unreleased studio outtakes and live performances that should thrill any longtime WW fan. Scatted among these sixteen exhilarating tracks are a handful of original songs that beg the question of their obscurity along with a number of electrifying cover tunes that not only prove Wilder’s skill as an interpreter of classic rock, blues, and R&B material but also serves to properly earn the singer revered status as a “songster” like so many Mississippi artists of yore.

Webb Wilder’s Powerful Stuff!

Slapping a Webb Wilder album on whatever twin-speaker rig you might own is like finding the “Trademark of Quality” stamp – you’re guaranteed a good time every time! Even a hodge-podge collection like Powerful Stuff! has more than enough cheap thrills to get you through your hectic day. The disc kicks off with the rollicking “Make That Move,” a vintage ‘90s locomotive rocker originally done by Levi & the Rockats, an early ‘80s rockabilly outfit that obviously made an impression on a young WW. The song receives the full treatment from the “Last of the Full Grown Men” here, complete with mile-a-minute rhythms, studio-distorted vocals, and wiry guitarplay. The 1960s-styled, pop-leaning “New Day” is a psych-drenched Wilder original recorded in ’93 but lost in the studio until now. The trippy, swirling fretwork of guitarist Donny “The Twangler” Roberts perfectly complements Wilder’s melodic vocals while the rest of the band creates a miasmic din of clashing instrumentation.

The blustery “Lost In the Shuffle” is one of longtime Wilder friend, producer, and compatriot R.S. “Bobby” Field’s many songs recorded by the singer. Why this one was never released I can’t figure out, even with an abacus and a slide-rule…the song’s bluesy undercurrents support a surprisingly deft R&B delivery, with the legendary Al Kooper adding his inspired keyboards, the talented Jim Hoke blowing his sax, and Field providing some tasty six-string flourishes. The song stands up with anything that Webb has recorded over his lengthy career, and that’s saying something. Field’s “Animal Lover,” a 1988 studio track that takes Wilder out of his comfort zone, veers dangerously close to ‘80s-era new wave pop territory with a bouncy melody and an unusual chorus, Webb straining his vocals to match the song’s wordy albeit erudite story-telling lyrics. The dueling guitars of Wilder and Roberts anchor the song firmly on rock ‘n’ roll planet earth.

Nutbush City Limits

As much fun as the long-lost studio tracks may be, Powerful Stuff! offers plenty of crackerjack live performances by the talented Beatnecks. The album’s title track was captured at Mountain Stage show in 1988; Webb and the Beatnecks wisely shelved the track after the Fabulous Thunderbirds picked it up and scored a hit, even naming their 1989 album for the song. Featured in the mondo-successful Tom Cruise movie Cocktail, “Powerful Stuff” was the first single released from a soundtrack album that sold better than ten million flapjacks around the globe. Webb’s reading of the song is less bluesy, but offers up shards of stinging, vibrant guitar and Wilder’s awestruck vocals. It takes cajones to cover Ike & Tina Turner, but Wilder does just that with a raucous live take of the classic “Nutbush City Limits,” delivering the panache that Bob Seger promised (but failed) by hewing closer to the original with a ramshackle arrangement, shotgun vocals, and a recklessly-rocking soundtrack delivered with punkish intensity.

Wilder covers fellow underrated Nashville rocker Steve Forbert’s “Catbird Seat,” a twangy lyrics-heavy tale that mixes a rockabilly rhythm and a classic country heart with fretwork as sharp as concertina wire and Wilder’s machinegun vocal delivery. The Cajun country of Doug Kershaw’s “Hey Mae” is close to Wilder’s heart, and with this performance – captured live at the world-famous Exit/In club in Nashville – Webb displays another facet of his talents. With backing vocal harmonies from the band that offers a sort of “call and response,” Wilder leads his troops through a rowdy performance that is equal parts Bo Diddley and Charlie Feathers. Ditto for his cover of Johnny Paycheck’s “Revenooer Man,” which is provided an inspired Webb performance complete with lively chicken-pickin’ and a choogling rhythm; by comparison, the Field song “Dead and Starting to Cool” is a somber tale of romantic heartbreak with Webb’s deep baritone vocals, menacing guitar riffs, and ominous rhythms. Powerful Stuff! closes out with Little Richard’s classic “Lucille,” Wilder and the Beatnecks finding a deep rhythmic groove for Webb’s free-flowing vocals to ride atop, the band rocking with joyous abandon.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

As I alluded to above, if you don’t have a good time playing a Webb Wilder album, then you’ve probably assumed room temperature. Sure, Powerful Stuff! is an “odds ‘n’ sods” collection culled from Wilder’s archives, but the material is delivered with every bit the same level of energy and commitment as anything that Webb has previously put on record. For those of us who became fans with Wilder’s It Came From Nashville LP, Powerful Stuff! is yet another welcome addition to the (slowly-growing) Webb Wilder canon. As the man says, “work hard, rock hard, eat hard, sleep hard, grow big, wear glasses if you need ‘em.” Amen… Grade: A (Landslide Records, released April 27, 2018)

Previously on That Devil Music:
Webb Wilder’s Mississippi Mōderne CD review
Webb Wilder’s It Came From Nashville CD review

Buy the CD from Webb Wilder’s Powerful Stuff!

Friday, June 8, 2018

CD Preview: Willie Nile’s Children of Paradise

Willie Nile’s Children of Paradise
Buffalo’s favorite son Willie Nile is one of our favorite singer/songwriters ‘round these parts. Ever since hearing Nile’s 1980 self-titled debut album, and his sophomore follow-up, 1981’s Golden Down, the Reverend has been a fan of Nile’s erudite lyricism and rockin’ melodic sense, which always roars out of the speakers like truth from the horn of Jericho.

We live in troubled times, but thankfully Nile is coming along just in time with a new album, Children of Paradise, to be released on July 27th, 2018 on Nile’s on River House label. In a press release for Children of Paradise Nile says, “I made this album because I needed a pick-me-up from the blues that’s all around us. The music always lifts my spirits, and that’s what these songs do for me and it’s why I wrote them. Hopefully they can lift others’ spirits as well.”

Children of Paradise offers a dozen new original songs, Nile’s intelligent lyrics combined with a gritty rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack. The album was co-produced by Nile and Grammy™ Award winner and longtime collaborator Stewart Lerman (who has also worked with Elvis Costello and Patti Smith, among others). The album includes such timely songs as “Seeds of A Revolution,” “All Dressed Up and No Place To Go,” “Don’t,” “Earth Blues, and “Getting’ Ugly Out There.” Nile wrote “Lookin’ For Someone” with his friend Andrew Dorff, who has written country hits for artists like Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney. Dorff died unexpectedly after the two finished the song, and Nile has dedicated Children of Paradise to his late friend.

Nile plays acoustic and electric guitars and piano on Children of Paradise, and is joined in the studio by members of his live band – guitarist Matt Hogan, bassist Johnny Pisano, and drummer Jon Weber. Guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Steuart Smith and keyboardist Andy Burton also lent their talents to the sessions, and backing vocals on the songs are provided by James Maddock, Leslie Mendelson, and Frankie Lee. Nile, needless to say, is pleased with the resulting album, saying, “it’s one of my personal favorites for sure.”

“I thought from the time I started putting this album together that it was going to be something special,” muses Nile. “It’s full of fire and passion and spirit, and it feels like real life to me. The songs come out of the box roaring and rocking, yet there are also songs of intimacy and tenderness. It’s got all the power and promise of what I love best about rock ‘n’ roll. It’s heartfelt, pissed off, in love, on fire and out of its mind all at the same time. A perfect recipe for a good party and a great album…”

Also on That Devil Music:
Q5: Willie Nile talks about Bob Dylan
Willie Nile - Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan CD review
Willie Nile - Beautiful Wreck of the World CD review

CD Preview: Peter Holsapple’s Game Day

Peter Holsapple’s Game Day
Peter Holsapple is a rock ‘n’ roll lifer with an impressive list of credits on his resume. An essential member of the legendary power-pop cult band the dB’s, Holsapple has been the band’s anchor, appearing on every album from 1981’s Stands For Decibels through 1984’s classic Like This to 2012’s acclaimed reunion album Falling Off the Sky. Holsapple spent several years touring with R.E.M. contributing guitar and keyboards to the band’s live sound, and he recorded four albums with the Continental Drifters.

What Holsapple hasn’t done very well is pursue a solo career (unlike his dB’s bandmate Chris Stamey, who has half a dozen solo LPs under his belt). After spending two decades playing with bands, Holsapple launched his solo career with 1997’s Out of My Way. That’s pretty much been it ‘til now, save for 2009’s Here and Now, recorded with Stamey, the second such collaboration between the two artists. That’s why it’s good news to hear that the talented singer and songwriter will has recorded his first solo album in 21 years; titled Game Day, it’s scheduled for July 27th, 2018 release by Omnivore Recordings.

Peter Holsapple photo courtesy Omnivore Recordings
Peter Holsapple, photo courtesy Omnivore Recordings
Holsapple’s Game Day features thirteen new songs, a bonus track, and two “super bonus tracks” in the form of the singer’s acclaimed single “Don’t Mention the War” b/w “Cinderella Style,” which was released in 2017. “After putting the single out on my own last year, I made the decision to put out an album,” says Holsapple in a press release for the new album. “Some tunes are brand new, some have been in rotation for a bit, but all are worthy. My ‘middle-aged Pet Sounds fantasy’ is real, with the issues of middle age put to memorable melodies. The old guy at work in ‘Tuff Day,’ watching my parents’ place get cleared out in ‘Inventory,’ a decades-late thank-you note to a college girlfriend in ‘Commonplace’ – they’re all a part of the present-day me.”

Holsapple wants fans to know that Game Day is a “solo album” in every sense of the word – “I played and sang 99 44/100ths of the notes on this record,” he says. “I wanted to be responsible for all of it, so I dove deep inside myself and the songs and came up with Game Day.” The album features the sort of melodic hooks and intelligent songwriting that has long been a trademark of Holsapple’s talent. We’ll let Peter have the last word on his new album – “today, with all of the hard competition in the music business, it’s almost impossible to come up with anything totally original. So I haven’t, but I had a lot of fun making Game Day, and I hope it comes through when you hear it.”

Buy the CD from Peter Holsapple’s Game Day

Also on That Devil Music:
The dB's - Like This CD review

Monday, June 4, 2018

CD Review: Joe Bonamassa's British Blues Explosion Live (2018)

Joe Bonamassa's British Blues Explosion Live
It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a year since blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa has released a new album, with Live At Carnegie Hall: An Acoustic Evening still a vibrant reflection in our rear-view mirror. Still, Joe loves the stage, and at this point in a career that has spanned nearly three decades, he’s released more live albums as a solo artist (14 counting this one) than he has studio works (a dozen as of 2016)…and don’t get me started on his band efforts with Black Country Communion or collaborations with singer Beth Hart. Releasing at least an album a year, he’s as prolific as any artist currently working.

Joe’s latest live set is yet another expansive two-disc collection where the guitarist lets his British blues-rock flag proudly fly. Guessing that Joe’s dad is of a similar vintage as myself (i.e. early 60s in age), we probably shared a lot of the same records – records that young Joe B. grew up listening to. Joe’s love of British blues-rock has been quite evident on his albums through the years, as he’s covered songs by a lot of his fave artists, but British Blues Explosion Live brings the guitarist’s fascination with bands like Cream, the Jeff Beck Group, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and Led Zeppelin to a boiling point.

Joe Bonamassa’s British Blues Explosion Live

Recorded live in July 2016 at The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich U.K. this fourteen-track collection may be the heaviest guitar album that Bonamassa has made in years. Joe’s done his homework here as well, mixing in covers of the usual suspects (Jeff Beck’s “Beck’s Bolero,” Zep’s “Boogie With Stu,” Cream’s “SWLABR”) with a few deep cuts of lesser renown. Although Eric Clapton’s reading of the traditional “Motherless Children” is a familiar favorite from his acclaimed 1974 album 461 Ocean Boulevard, his cover of songwriter George Terry’s “Mainline Florida” is obscure by any measure. Bonamassa funks the tune up with a loping groove and soulful vocals while the band recreates the original soundtrack to perfection.

Willie Dixon’s classic “Let Me Love You Baby” has been recorded by everybody from Buddy Guy and Koko Taylor to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Blodwyin Pig, and Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack. I’m not sure whose version inspired young Joe, but I’m going with Savoy Brown’s, as Bonamassa’s raucous fretwork here reminds of young Kim Simmonds (tho’ Joe is a fan of Blodwyn Pig’s Mick Abrahams). The Jeff Beck Group’s “Plynth (Water Down the Drain),” from the 1969 album Beck-Ola, was a tailor-made showcase for Bonamassa’s rockin’ “Guitar God” persona, and while his hurried vocals don’t capture much of the soul innate in Rod Stewart’s original performance, his fretwork burns with the intensity of a collapsing star.

How Many More Times

The vastly influential John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers is represented by “Double Crossing Time” and “Little Girl” from their classic 1966 LP Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton. The former is a sizzling Chicago-styled blues romp with plenty of Reese Wynans’ tinkling piano keys and Bonamassa’s fatback fretwork while the latter is a more up-tempo jaunt with stinging guitar and rollicking instrumentation. A cover of Beck’s “Spanish Boots” is simply breathtaking, Bonamassa’s voice soaring above the staggering rhythms while his guitar rages like a hurricane fiercely eyeing landfall. 

Bonamassa sneaks his own instrumental “Black Winter/Django” onto the set list, and it’s a testament to his British blues-rock influences that his nimble-fingered guitar playing reminds of both Beck and Jimmy Page. The guitarist’s duel with drummer Anton Fig here is particularly exhilarating, the two artists parrying and thrusting their instruments like skilled fencers gone mad. Fig’s bombastic percussion opens Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times,” Bonamassa’s vocals flowing more naturally than Plant’s original efforts, and while he’s not bowing his fretboard, he’s tearing it up like Albert King at his peak.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Joe Bonamassa never ceases to surprise, and British Blues Explosion Live is certainly no exception. The inspiration for these performances leaps out of the grooves with a vengeance, leaving Bonamassa’s talented veteran road band to catch up. There’s nary a wrong note to be found among these fourteen tracks, and the immense contributions here of keyboard wrangler Reese Wynans – himself a veteran of bands like Captain Beyond and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble – remind listeners of the role that piano-pounders like Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart playing on the original recordings of these songs.

Altogether, British Blues Explosion Live is another triumph for Bonamassa’s restless muse, serving as a solid addition to the guitarist’s ever-growing catalog of music as well as a fine introduction to the artist’s considerable talents. Grade: A (J&R Adventures, released May 18, 2018)

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