Saturday, July 14, 2018

Short Rounds: The Damnation of Adam Blessing, Elvin Bishop's Big Fun Trio, Howlin' Rain & Rockers OST (2018)

The Damnation of Adam Blessing
New album releases in 150 words or less…

The Damnation of Adam Blessing – The Damnation of Adam Blessing (Exit Stencil Records, vinyl reissue)
The heavy, psych-drenched guitar rock and molten sludge riffs of the self-titled 1969 debut album by Cleveland, Ohio’s The Damnation of Adam Blessing was easily five years ahead of its time. Band namesake Blessing’s vocals are of the period, strongly bluesy with power and nuance, but the band’s complex, textured, and highly-amplified hard rock sound reminds of Blue Cheer while beating Black Sabbath to the gates of doom with guitarists Bob Kalamasz’s blistering leads and Jim Quinn’s thick rhythmic designs. Original tunes like the slightly-jazzy “Dreams,” the riff-happy “Hold On,” or the mournful, dark-hued “Lonely” play to the band’s instrumental strengths, but a cover of Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew” (a Grateful Dead fave) is hauntingly beautiful with its stinging fretwork, and the Monkees’ “Last Train To Clarksville” is provided a deeply funky instrumental groove and joyfully delivered with all the glee of a dog playing with a chew toy. Grade: A   BUY IT!

The Damnation of Adam Blessing's The Second Damnation
The Damnation of Adam Blessing – The Second Damnation (Exit Stencil Records, vinyl reissue)
A high-priced “Holy Grail” of psych-rock collectors, indie vinyl reissue label Exit Stencil Records has brought both of the legendary Cleveland rock band’s first two albums back to shiny black vinyl. Released in 1970, The Second Damnation features the same players but displays a modicum of artistic growth beyond the debut’s bludgeoning riffs and gale-force rhythms. Opening track “No Way” is delightfully doom-drenched while the molten licks and muscular rhythms of “Driver” are in a league with contemporary metallic-blues outfits like Cactus and Josephus. “Back To the River” is a dense, bluesy jam featuring Bob Kalamasz’s stunning fretwork, the socially-conscious “Money Tree” rumbles like a gang-fight with switchblade guitars, and the locomotive “In the Morning” welds a funky groove to an uncompromising hard rock din. The Second Damnation falls just short of the debut, but is every bit as rockin’. Kudos to Exit Stencil, too, for the über-cool gatefold repro cover! Grade: B+   BUY IT!

Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio's Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here
Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio – Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here (Alligator Records)
Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio is a lean, mean, blues-making machine, and with the band’s second effort, Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here, they pursue a tack similar to their self-titled 2017 debut. The musical chemistry of these three talented veterans undeniable; and Bishop’s trademark sense of humor sharply defines the politically-charged title track, the story-song “Lookin’ Good,” and the loping “That’s The Way Willy Likes It.” Beautifully-performed vintage R&B covers like “I Can’t Stand the Rain” feature Willy Jordan’s deeply-soulful vocals while the instrumental “Bob’s Boogie” displays pianist Bob Welsh’s fleet fingers and infectious sense of rhythm. Bishop’s twangy instrumental “Stomp” is the perfect showcase for his often-underrated six-string skills while “My Soul” is a juicy, Cajun-styled blues romp that shows off the trio’s individual chops. Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio doesn’t break any new ground here, but they’re having a hell of a time just makin’ music! Grade: B   BUY IT!

Howlin’ Rain's The Alligator Bride
Howlin’ Rain – The Alligator Bride (Silver Current Records)
A damn fine rock band, Howlin’ Rain nevertheless brings a soupçon of its previous Americana-styled twang to the songs on The Alligator Bride, their fifth album. Infusing deceptively complex tunes with elements of the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, and even Joe Walsh, The Alligator Bride provides a shining display of frontman Ethan Miller’s songwriting chops and the band’s immense instrumental skills. There are a lot of echoes of the past in these grooves, the album evincing a convincing early ‘70s rock vibe, each song’s sonic bliss driven by Miller’s plaintive vocals, the twin ringing guitars of Miller and Dan Cervantes, and a rock-solid rhythm section. There are only seven songs, clocked at a breakneck 40 minutes, but with flamethrowers like the epic title track and the raging “Missouri,” or the dreamy “Speed,” you won’t get whiplash. The album’s wonderfully-balanced musical dynamics make it sound like it’s 1975 all over again. Grade: A   BUY IT!

Rockers OST
Various Artists – Rockers OST (MVD Audio, vinyl reissue)
Reissued on red, green, and yellow-splashed vinyl that looks simply glorious spinning on your turntable, this soundtrack to the 1978 semi-documentary film Rockers provides a brief but toothsome history of the reggae genre. The LP hits many of the expected notes – Junior Murvin’s hypnotic “Police & Thieves” (later covered by the Clash), Peter Tosh’s blistering “Stepping Razor,” the Maytones’ melodic “Money Worries,” and Burning Spear’s powerful spiritual expression “Jah No Dead – but it offers a few pleasant surprises as well. Junior Byles’ “Fade Away” is a damning indictment of social inequality featuring haunting vocals and staccato rhythms; Bunny Wailer offers an equally devastating performance on the album’s title track, sounding like Curtis Mayfield singing to a reggae beat; and Gregory Isaacs’ “Slave Masters” is simply mesmerizing, its caustic lyrics matched by a deceptive rhythmic drone. Featuring fourteen burning tracks, Rockers is “must have” LP for any serious reggae collection. Grade: A   BUY IT!

Previously on That Devil
Short Rounds, May 2018: Brinsley Schwarz, Eric Corne, Roger McGuinn & Shuggie Otis
Short Rounds, April 2018: Catfish, Jimmie Vaughan Trio, King Crimson & Memphis Rent Party
Short Rounds, March 2018: 6 String Drag, The Doors, the Nick Moss Band & Jack White

CD Preview: Return of the Textones!

The Textones' Old Stone Gang
It’s no secret ‘round these parts that the ol’ Rev is partial to ‘80s-era rockers the Textones, one of the decade’s sadly overlooked and underappreciated bands. Suffering the same unjust fate as fellow travelers Jason & the Nashville Scorchers, the Long Ryders, Green On Red, Stealin’ Horses, and the Del-Lords, the Textones made a couple of great records that went largely unnoticed by the decade’s zombified, MTV-suckling music consumers before bandleader Carla Olson launched her long-running solo career. Omnivore Recordings reissued the Textones’ two critically-acclaimed albums – 1984’s Midnight Mission and 1987’s Cedar Creek – a couple years back, which has helped reignite interest in this trailblazing band.

Although founding member Phil Seymour (former Dwight Twilley Band drummer) sadly passed away back in 1993, Olson rounded up the rest of the old gang – guitarist George Callins, multi-instrumentalist Tom Jr. Morgan, bassist Joe Read, and Cedar Creek drummer Rick Hemmert – to record a new album. On September 21st, 2018 Blue Élan Records will release Old Stone Gang, the Textones’ third official studio album and their first in over 30 years. There have been efforts to reunite the band through the years, but life (marriage, family, jobs, etc) got in the way, but a potential reunion started in 2012 when the members recorded four tracks that ended up on Old Stone Gang. Omnivore’s reissues of the band’s first two LPs probably didn’t hurt the cause, and now we old-time Textones fans have a new album to look forward to in the fall. In addition to the original band members, the album also includes guest appearances from the legendary Allan Clarke of the Hollies and Rusty Young of Poco.

After the band broke-up, Olson recorded a couple of very fine albums with rock ‘n’ roll legends Gene Clark (The Byrds) and Mick Taylor (The Rolling Stones), launching her solo career with a 1989 self-titled debut album and rolling through the ‘90s with well-received efforts like 1993’s Within An Ace and 1994’s Reap the Whirlwind. Olson’s most recent solo effort was 2013’s Have Harmony, Will Travel; but she promises some surprises on the Textones’ Old Stone Gang. In a press release for the album, she states “I think the new album is just as viable, important, and relevant as Midnight Mission and Cedar Creek. It sounds similar to what we used to do, but of course we are now older and supposedly wiser [laughs] and I like to think, a little more sage.”

Related content: The Textones Midnight Mission & Cedar Creek CD reviews

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Book Review: Martin Popoff's The Clash - All the Albums, All the Songs (2018)

Martin Popoff's The Clash: All the Albums, All the Songs
For many of us – then and now – The Clash were “the only band that matters.” The new British Fab Four took their homeland by storm in 1977 with the release of their self-titled debut album. Featuring raucous tunes like “Janie Jones,” “White Riot,” and “Career Opportunities,” the album would hit a respectable #12 on the British charts even amidst a crowded field of U.K. punks that included the Damned, the Sex Pistols, the Stranglers, and too many others to count. What guitarists Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, bassist Paul Simonson, and drummer Terry Chimes (i.e. “Tory Crimes”) achieved with their debut album was remarkable, as impactful today as it was the day it was released.

With Chimes replaced by Nicky “Topper” Headon, the Clash’s recorded its sophomore effort, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, in the U.S. with producer Sandy Pearlman (Blue Oyster Cult, the Dictators). The album served as a proper stateside introduction to the band when released in late 1978 (the band’s debut album wouldn’t be released in the U.S. until July 1979). Fueled by singles like “Tommy Gun” and “English Civil War” as well as enduring album tracks like “Safe European Home” and “Julie’s Been Working For the Drug Squad,” the Clash’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope would rise to #2 on the U.K. chart but hit only a meager #128 in the U.S.

However, it would set the stage for the band’s landmark 1979 album London Calling, which transcended punk rock to incorporate elements of reggae, jazz, pop, and hard rock in creating an innovative, genre-busting work that would chart Top Ten in the U.K. and peak at #27 stateside on its way to sales in excess of five million copies worldwide. Other albums would follow – 1980’s controversial albeit daring triple-album set Sandinista!; the Platinum™-selling smash 1982 album Combat Rock, with the hit songs “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go”; and the band’s 1985 swan-song Cut the Crap – but the Clash would never again scale the creative heights that they would with London Calling.

Martin Popoff’s The Clash: All the Albums, All the Songs

The Clash's London Calling
Writer Martin Popoff is best known as the finest scribe that heavy metal has ever produced, publishing lengthy tomes on classic rock and metal bands like Deep Purple, Metallica, Black Sabbath, Dio, and Motörhead, among many, many others. The founding editor of Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles magazine and prolific to a fault, Popoff has penned better than 70 books overall and in excess of 7,000 published album reviews (i.e. twice as many as the Reverend has written). In the interest of full disclosure, Martin is also a friend and colleague of mine, and in spite of spending a lifetime working in music journalism, I’m continuously amazed by his depth of knowledge of, and wide-ranging tastes in music.

See, it’s not all metal all the time for the esteemed Mr. Popoff, no sir – he enjoys and appreciates a broad palette of music, including prog-rock (his book on Yes is essential for any fan) and, yes, even punk. That’s where The Clash: All the Albums, All the Songs enters our story. Much as he has done previously for Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Rush and, most recently, Pink Floyd, Popoff has taken it upon himself the Herculean task of listening to every single song by the Clash from every studio album and penning pithy, insightful, and interesting mini-reviews of every tune in the Clash canon. Popoff’s critical appraisals of each Clash album are spot-on, rightfully lauding London Calling as the landmark album that it is while putting the critical confusion of Sandinista! into proper context.

Popoff isn’t afraid to ‘call a dog a dog’ with his keen critical eye, either, dismissing the band’s final effort, the miserable Cut the Crap, as the glorified cash-grabbing demo tape that it is, or correctly surmising that the 36 songs on the three-disc Sandinista! could have easily been culled back to a couple dozen to create a more cohesive artistic statement. His deep dive into the Clash’s first two albums, which aren’t nearly as well-known stateside as the band’s post-London Calling efforts, provides the reader with a fascinating “look behind the scenes” into their creation, as well as a bit of historical discussion of the social and economic state of the U.K. that helped inspire songs on both (and mold lyricist Strummer’s left-leaning politics). Interviews with producer Pearlman, keyboardist Mickey Gallagher (who played on several Clash albums), singer Ellen Foley (Mick Jones’ girlfriend at the time), and justifiably-maligned manager Bernie Rhodes provide an even closer look at the band’s creative process both on stage and in the studio.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Much like Popoff’s other books published by Voyageur Press in the All the Albums, All the Songs series, The Clash’s entry is a freakin’ gorgeous hardback book. Whoever the company’s graphic designer is, they deserve the highest praise (and, no doubt, more money). The book is beautifully-laid out, Martin’s succinct prose complimented by dozens of color photos of the band, show posters, album covers and singles picture sleeves, and other rare memorabilia that will leave the Clash fan drooling. The book is pricey, running around $30 – all that color ain’t cheap! – but there’s a lot of great information about the band and its records here, and a good bit of history. But it’s the combination of Popoff’s writing and the book’s stunning visuals that make The Clash: All the Albums, All the Songs an essential purchase for any fan of “the only band that matters.” Grade: A+ (Voyageur Press, published May 15, 2018)

Martin Popoff's The Clash: All the Albums, All the Songs book

Buy the book from Martin Popoff’s The Clash: All the Albums, All the Songs

Check out Martin Popoff’s website for more cool books!

Also on That Devil Music:
Martin Popoff - Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers book review
Martin Popoff - Time and A Word: The Yes Story book review
Martin Popoff - Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs book review

Celebrating 50 years of The Band’s Music from Big Pink

The Band's Music from Big Pink
It’s hard to believe that a half-century has passed since the July 1st, 1968 release of the Band’s landmark debut album Music from Big Pink. It shouldn’t have been a big surprise, really, but the Bob Dylan’s former backing band shocked the world of rock ‘n’ roll out of its complacency with their original and forward-thinking hybrid of roots-rock, country, blues, and soul music.

Whereas the Beatles awed listeners a year previous with the evolutionary production technique and complex musical arrangements afforded their classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP, the Band drove in an absolutely opposite direction, stripping the music down to its bare bones and delivering a raw, emotional, and often haunting collection that drew from the roots of American music tradition.

On August 31st, 2018 Capitol Records and Universal Music will celebrate 50 years of the Band’s Music from Big Pink with a super-duper, ultra-deluxe reissue in a bunch of different formats. Newly remixed and expanded with a half-dozen “bonus” tracks in the form of alternate takes and studio outtakes, the album will be available as a single CD, double-vinyl LP, and limited edition double-LP on pink vinyl as well as a special Blu-ray disc.

All the anniversary edition reissues feature a new stereo mix created by Grammy® Award-winning producer Bob Clearmountain, who has worked on albums by Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, the Pretenders, and many others. Working from the original four-track analog master recordings, Clearmountain’s new mix brings a new clarity to the album’s sound and incorporates previously-unreleased studio chatter from the original sessions.

The Band's Music from Big Pink

The album will also be released as a deluxe collectors’ box set with CD, Blu-ray, vinyl, and hardbound book. Exclusive to the box set, the Blu-ray disc features a new 5.1 surround mix by Clearmountain as well as the high-resolution (96kHz/24 bit) stereo mix. The box set also includes a reproduction of the band’s vinyl 7” single for “The Weight” b/w “I Shall Be Released” while the hardbound book features a new essay by Rolling Stone magazine scribe David Fricke alongside rare, seldom-seen photos by Elliott Landy.

The Band would go on to make a lot of classic music after Music from Big Pink, including landmark albums like 1970’s Stage Fright and the live 1972 double-album Rock of Ages. It was with their debut album, though, that the band – Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson, talented multi-instrumentalists all – would create a template for the Americana music movement and influence subsequent generations of musicians, from 1970s-era bands like the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band to early ‘00s outfits like the Drive-By Truckers, the Hold Steady, and My Morning Jacket. The Band was inducted into Canada’s Juno Hall of Fame in 1989 and into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio in 1994. In 2008, the Band was honored with The Recording Academy’s “Lifetime Achievement Award.”

The Band's Music from Big Pink
Music from Big Pink enjoyed modest commercial success upon its release, peaking at #30 on the Billboard magazine albums chart, but in the ensuing half-century has become considered as one of the most important and influential album’s in the history of American music. Perhaps critic Greil Marcus summed it up best in his 1975 book Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, writing “the richness of ‘Big Pink’ is in the Band’s ability to contain endless combinations of American popular music without imitating any of them. The Band don’t refer to their sources any more than we refer to George Washington when we vote, but the connection is there.”

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The Band’s Music from Big Pink CD
The Band’s Music from Big Pink 2-LP vinyl

Celebrating 40 years of Bob Marley’s Kaya

Bob Marley & the Wailers' Kaya
Sandwiched, as it is, between Bob Marley & the Wailers’ classic 1977 album Exodus and the following year’s enormously popular Babylon by Bus live LP, Marley’s relatively low-key 1978 studio album Kaya has often been unfairly overlooked. With many of the album’s songs recorded at the same time as the material comprising Exodus during the reggae legend’s self-imposed exile in London, Kaya offers some of Marley’s best-loved songs, including “Is This Love” and “Sun Is Shining.”

On August 24th, 2018 the Marley Family, along with Island Records and Universal Music will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Kaya with a special deluxe reissue set. The two-disc CD or 180gr double-vinyl reissue will feature the album’s ten original tracks alongside Stephen “Ragga” Marley’s vibrant new “Kaya 40” mixes of all the songs. A digital version of the album will offer Marley’s mixes only. For those rabid vinyl collectors among our readership, a special limited-edition 180gr version of Kaya on cool herbal green vinyl is available exclusively at the Bob Marley website.

Kaya was released in March 1978, a month before Marley & the Wailers headlined the One Love Peace Concert on April 22nd, held at The National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica and representing Marley’s return to his home country after spending better than a year in England after a failed December 1976 assassination attempt at his home in Kingston. Recorded with a new Wailers line-up that included brothers Carlton and Aston “Family Man” Barrett on drums and bass, keyboardist Tyrone Downie, percussionist Alvin “Seeco” Patterson, guitarist Julian “Junior” Marvin, and backing vocalists the I Threes – Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths, and Judy Mowatt – Kaya would provide Marley with a new perspective on life and music that would subsequently result in the controversial and classic albums Survival (1979) and Uprising (1980).

According to the press release for the reissue, “Stephen’s goal in mixing Kaya 40 was to create a balance that drew heavily from the original versions. Using Bob’s vocals from demos from original Kaya sessions that were recorded at different tempos, Stephen synched the vocals with alternate takes and layered it over different instrumental arrangements. Stephen tried to keep the flavor as authentic as possible. To mix the album, he used a similar minimal approach, basing his version heavily off the classic analog concepts they used in the 1970s.” Sounds like an interesting approach towards framing an underappreciated album in a new light for a young generation of reggae fans.

Buy the CD from Bob Marley & the WailersKaya

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Archive Review: Walter Trout's The Outsider (2008)

Walter Trout's The Outsider
Madman guitarist Walter Trout has credentials that put most of his peers to shame, earning his guitar star status after spending the latter part of the 1970s as a “gun for hire” with the touring bands of John Lee Hooker and Big Mama Thornton. Trout further honed his skills on the road as a member of blues-rock band Canned Heat, and performed with the legendary John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers alongside guitarist Coco Montoya for a few years. Trout launched his solo career in 1989, and has since racked up accolades and acclaim for both his electrifying live performances and over a dozen live and studio albums.

Following up on 2006’s Full Circle album, where Trout collaborated with friends and fellow travelers like Mayall, Montoya, Guitar Shorty and Joe Bonamassa, The Outsider is Trout’s second new studio effort since 2001, a strong electric-blues collection that literally raises the roof. If many blues-rock guitarists sound like they’re skipping stones across a pond, Trout and his pick-up band of rock veterans hit your ears like a wrecking ball demolishing a building.

Walter Trout’s The Outsider

The Outsider opens with the white-hot bulldozer “Welcome To the Human Race,” a strong first pitch that roars across the plate with an abundance of screaming fretwork, muscular bass lines, and ‘70s-style big-beat drum bashing. Trout’s voice barely scrapes above the swirling maelstrom of 100% pure blues noise, singing about the highs and lows, temptations and obstacles of humanity, the lyrics striking these ears as more than a little biographical in nature. It’s a mighty powerful opening statement, one that helps set the stage for much of what follows on The Outsider.

You’d expect a bit of a letdown after a burner like “Welcome To the Human Race,” but Trout doesn’t stumble as much as he slows down the pace from a maddening race to a deliberate gallop with “The Next Big Thing.” Ostensibly an Old West parable, the song doubles as a metaphor for the blues game…just replace “gunslinger” with “guitarist” and you’re in the same lyrical ballpark as, say, Bad Company’s “Shooting Star.” Trout’s guitar wiggles and moans and cries throughout the song, finally jumping up and flying away with an exotic squiggly pseudo-psychedelic guitar fade-out.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Bluesrock

Pitched to a bluesy Texas shuffle, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Bluesrock” is a fairly cheeky little bit o’ fun, Trout taking aim at the poseurs and wanna-bes that equate self-destruction with suffering when singing that they have the blues. It’s a subject that, perhaps, Trout knows a little bit about, but his accusations here are tactful rather than venomous, supported by a raging Stevie Ray-styled guitar-mangling and explosive, machinegun drumbeats.

“Child of Another Day” is a sophisticated story-song about another lost soul on the blues highway, an insightful tale complimented by a powerful Trout vocal turn, some fine lyrical imagery, and guest star Jason Ricci’s rockin’ harpwork. Between Trout’s axe and Ricci’s harp, the two instrumental bruisers move the song into the heavyweight category so that the rhythm section can deliver the knockout punch. The acoustic intro to “Turn Your Eyes To Heaven” will catch you off guard, until you figure out that this is Trout all by his lonesome, the singer delivering an uncharacteristically subtle performance on a smart song about hypocrisy and judgement.

The Restless Age

The 1970s-era hard rock vibe of “The Restless Age” is created by Trout’s spoken-sung vocals, swinging guitarwork, and the addition of pianist Jon Cleary’s boogie-woogie barrelhouse key-pounding. The world-weary lyrics of “Gone Too Long” are given a bit of Latin flavor by Sammy Avila’s keyboard punctuations and Trout’s sassy, Santana-styled riffing. “Can’t Have It All” is another swaggering blues-rock romp, taking its cue from the John Lee Hooker songbook, its martial rhythms marked by descending guitar notes and foot-stomping six-string riffs.

The surprising “Sanjay” is Trout’s yin to the yang of Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane.” Written in support of “Bollywood” film star Sanjay Dutt – sentenced to prison on questionable charges in his homeland of India – the song is a stomp-and-stammer rocker with a bit of New Delhi flavor and some blistering string-bending. The album closes with the title track, an introspective and thoughtful meditation on what it’s like to be on “the outside looking in,” Trout’s gruff vocals complimented by a strutting, soaring electric-blues soundtrack. Trout’s fingers dance in the fire, Rick Knapp’s bass paces like a caged tiger, and Kenny Aronoff’s drums cruise with the sonic subtlety of a jet fighter.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

With a new studio band consisting primarily of roots rock journeymen James “Hutch” Hutchinson (Delbert McClinton, Ryan Adams) – who plays bass on ten of the album’s thirteen songs – and drummer Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp, Bob Seger), Trout has formed a trio that is flexible enough to hold up the bottom end of his throwback electric-blues/classic rock sound. More than this, The Outsider features some of Trout’s strongest songwriting in a decade, and flaming six-string work that is out-of-this-world. A collection that puts the “rock” into blues-rock, The Outsider showcases Walter Trout at his very best. (Provogue Records, released June 24, 2008)

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels returns on DVD!

Frank Zappa's 200 Motels
Released in 1971, the movie 200 Motels was the actualization of a lifelong dream for Mothers of Invention founder Frank Zappa. Absurd, entertaining, and totally off the wall, the film attempts to capture the reality of life on the road for a touring rock ‘n’ roll musician…in a manner. Comprised of a number of individual nonsensical vignettes threaded together into a loose story and intercut with concert footage of the Mothers, the film is punctuated with the innovative use of special effects like double-exposures, solarisation, speed changes and such in an attempt to create a surreal rock ‘n’ roll documentary. It made history as the first feature film shot on videotape and transferred to 35mm film stock using a Technicolor film printer used by the BBC.

200 Motels was co-written and directed by Zappa and Tony Palmer, a British music critic and filmmaker who had previously produced documentary films on Cream, Peter Sellers, Jack Bruce, and Fairport Convention. The movie starred Academy Award nominee Theodore Bikel as the “Master of Ceremonies” and also included Zappa friends like Ringo Starr, Keith Moon of the Who, and infamous L.A. groupie Pamela Des Barres. Zappa had put together a new version of the Mothers prior to working on the film that included guitarist Jeff Simmons, keyboardist George Duke, journeyman British drummer Aynsley Dunbar, bassist Jim Pons and singers Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (i.e. “The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie”), all three from the Turtles.

This new version of the Mothers debuted on Zappa’s 1970 solo album Chunga’s Revenge, which was produced as a sort of precursor to the film. Scoring for 200 Motels was provided by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and all the then-current members of the Mothers as well as former members like Don Preston, Ian Underwood, “Motorhead” Sherwood, and Jimmy Carl Black (as “Lonesome Cowboy Burt”) appeared in the movie, which was underwritten by United Artists with a $650,000 budget. The movie was released to mixed reviews as many middle-aged film critics just didn’t ‘get’ the surreal nature of the story, and it was accompanied by a double-LP soundtrack that included music from the film, new music not in the film, and spoken word pieces. Grabbed up by Zappa fanatics, the 200 Motels soundtrack peaked at a respectable #59 on the U.S. charts.

Frank Zappa's Chunga's Revenge
Needless to say, the film didn’t make a lot of money at the box office, and its history of availability on home media is spotty, to say the least. The soundtrack album didn’t come out on CD until 1997, released by RykoDisc under a licensing deal with the Zappa Family Trust and has long since been out-of-print and available only on the collectors’ market. The film itself was restored and released on DVD in 2009 with audio commentary by Tony Palmer, but has also long been unavailable stateside.

For Zappa fans that have never had the pleasure of watching this notorious cult film, MVD Entertainment is reissuing 200 Motels on DVD on August 14th, 2018 for the realistic price of $19.95 retail (but you can probably find it cheaper online). Check out the film that legendary movie critic Roger Ebert said “assaults the mind with everything on hand” and which Daily Variety called the “zaniest piece of filmusical fantasy-comedy since the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night.” It would be grand if the Zappa Family Trust could manage to reissue the soundtrack album on vinyl, like they are with the upcoming release of Chunga’s Revenge.

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Also on That Devil
Mothers of Invention - Burnt Weeny Sandwich LP review 

Frank Zappa’s Chunga’s Revenge returns on vinyl!

Frank Zappa's Chunga's Revenge
Last month, the Zappa Family Trust reissued the transitional Mothers of Invention album Burnt Weeny Sandwich on glorious black vinyl. They’re wasting no time in following up on the success of that previous offering, as on July 20th, 2018 Zappa Records and Universal Music will reissue Zappa’s 1970 solo effort Chunga’s Revenge on 180gram audiophile vinyl. Mastered for reissue by industry veteran Bernie Grundman (who has worked on albums by Prince, Michael Jackson, and Kendrick Lamar, among many others), the reissue was cut directly from the original analog master tapes. The album has been unavailable on vinyl for over 30 years, when it was included as part of the 1986 Old Masters Box Two vinyl box set, and the reissue features the original album artwork.

Zappa oversaw the release of three albums in 1970, the first two – Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh – really posthumous Mothers albums ‘frankensteined’ together from existing material after Zappa had broken up the original band. After a few months, though, the Maestro put together a new version of the Mothers of Invention that included guitarist Jeff Simmons, jazz keyboardist George Duke, journeyman British drummer Aynsley Dunbar, and singers Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (i.e. “The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie”) from the Turtles, all of whom appear on Chunga’s Revenge. The lone holdover from the earlier incarnation of the Mothers was multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood.

Stylistically speaking, Chunga’s Revenge was all over the board. As I wrote in my Frank Zappa Buying Guide book, “as he was wont to do, Zappa again changed musical directions with his second solo album, eschewing both the social satire of the early Mothers albums and the jazz-rock fusion of Hot Rats to deliver the intriguing and eclectic Chunga's Revenge. Set against a diverse musical backdrop that included lengthy guitar jams (“Transylvania Boogie”), jazzy outtakes from Hot Rats (“Twenty Small Cigars”), and bluesy rockers (“Road Ladies”), the critically-slagged album would find greater acclaim later in the context as a precursor to Zappa's 200 Motels.”

The album has held up well through the years, showcasing Zappa’s talents as a composer and instrumentalist as well as displaying an immediate musical chemistry with the talented members of his new band. It really needs to be heard on vinyl to fully appreciate Zappa’s nuanced production, so what are you waiting for? Order the LP from Amazon right now!

Also on That Devil
Mothers of Invention - Burnt Weeny Sandwich LP review

Sunday, July 1, 2018

New Music Monthly: July 2018 Releases

The industry typically slows down during the dog days of summer, but July this year has a bounty of great music by some solid rock, blues, and Americana artists. For you blooze fans, check out new tunes by Rory Block, Boz Scaggs, and the Apocalypse Blues Revue. For the rockers among you, there are reissues of classic LPs by folks like Guadalcanal Diary, Soul Asylum, and the almighty Lords of the New Church as well as new jams from folks like Ty Segall, Willie Nile, and Peter Holsapple.

I didn't forget my Americana friends, either, the genre represented this month by the legendary Kinky Friedman's first album of new music in 40 years as well as platters by the Jayhawks and Elvin Bishop (which, to be fair, treads the fine line between Americana and blues). And for those folks that prefer their music on vinyl, how about reissues of albums by Rolling Stone bassist Bill Wyman, Americana star Jason Isbell, British space music pioneers Hawkwind, Swans, and U2?! No matter your taste in music, there's something this month for everybody!

If we wrote about it here on the site, there will be a link to it in the album title; if you want an album, hit the 'Buy!' link to get it from's just that damn easy! Your purchase puts money in the Reverend's pocket that he'll use to buy more music to write about in a never-ending loop of rock 'n' roll ecstasy!

Kinky Friedman's Circus of Life

The Animals - Animalisms   BUY!
Rory Block - A Woman's Soul   BUY!
Fate's Warning - Live Over Europe   BUY!
Kinky Friedman - Circus of Life [first new album in 40 years]   BUY!
Hawkwind - Live Hits [vinyl]   BUY!
The Nude Party - The Nude Party   BUY!
Wishbone Ash - Here to Hear (import)   BUY!

Elvin Bishop's Big Fun Trio's Something Smells Funky 'Round Here

Cowboy Junkies - All That Reckoning   BUY!
Elvin Bishop's Big Fun Trio - Something Smells Funky 'Round Here   BUY!
Guadalcanal Diary - At Your Birthday Party   BUY!
Jason Isbell - Sirens of the Ditch [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
The Jayhawks - Back Roads and Abandoned Motels   BUY!
Bill Wyman - Monkey Grip [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Bill Wyman - Stone Alone [vinyl reissue]   BUY! 

Lords of the New Church

Apocalypse Blues Revue - The Shape of Blues To Come   BUY!
Lords of the New Church - Lords of the New Church: Special Edition   BUY!
Ty Segall & White Fence - Joy   BUY!
Soul Asylum - Made To Be Broken   BUY!
Soul Asylum - Say What You Will...Everything Can Happen   BUY!
Swans - Soundtracks For the Blind [vinyl reissue]   BUY!

Dee Snider's For the Love of Metal

Galen Ayers - Monument [daughter of Kevin Ayers]  BUY!
Drivin N Cryin' - Too Late To Turn Back Now [reissue]   BUY!
Peter Holsapple - Game Day   BUY!
Willie Nile - Children of Paradise   BUY!
Michael Romeo - War of the Worlds, Pt. 1   BUY!
Boz Scaggs - Out of the Blues   BUY!
Dee Snider - For the Love of Metal   BUY!
U2 - Achtung Baby [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
U2 - The Best of 1980-1990 [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
U2 - Zooropa [vinyl reissue]   BUY!

Album of the Month: In a month with promising new albums from both Peter Holsapple of the dB's and Willie Nile, I'm going to have to go with Nile's Children of Paradise. Although Holsapple is an extremely talented songwriter and musician, he hasn't released a solo album in 21 years, and his last recording altogether was six years ago, with the wonderful dB's 2012 reunion album Falling Off the Sky. We're not sure what we're going to get, we just figure that it's going to be good. With Nile, though, who has been cranking out new music every couple of years, the singer/songwriter may be at the top of his game; his songwriting pen is sharp and his lyrics insightful and concise, the music rockin' like nobody's business. If you could only afford one album this month, I'd go with the Willie Nile. But if you can squeeze two CD purchases into July, grab the Peter Holsapple disc,'ll be glad that you did!