Monday, December 10, 2018

Short Rounds: Doug Deming, Tom Guerra, Handsome Jack, Tom Morello, NRBQ & Unicorn (2018)

Doug Deming & the Jewel Tones' Complicated Mess
New album releases in 150 words or less...

Doug Deming & the Jewel Tones – Complicated Mess (EllerSoul Records)
Blues guitarist Doug Deming and his mighty band the Jewel Tones lay down a righteous groove with their latest LP, Complicated Mess. Deming lives on the be-bop side of bluestown, and you can hear classic jazz influences (i.e. 1940s and ‘50s) in original songs like the swinging instrumental “Captain’s Quarters” or the white-hot title track (thinking of T-Bone Walker here). Lively covers of Lazy Lester’s “Blues Stop Knockin’” and Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin’” sit on the fence between New Orleans jazz and soulful blues while other tracks, like the sultry “Sweet Poison” or “Need My Baby,” are full-blown blues-hued romps that showcase Deming’s incredible guitar tone and smooth-as-silk vocals. Guest turns by legends like guitarist Little Charlie Baty, pianist Bob Welsh, and harmonica wizards Kim Wilson and Madison Slim add a little spice to the gumbo pot. Complicated Mess is highly-recommended for any old-school blues fan looking for new thrills. Grade: A   BUY!

Tom Guerra's American Garden
Tom Guerra – American Garden (Casa del Soul Records)
Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Tom Guerra is a veteran musician that’s been toiling in the shadows far too long while lesser talents grab the spotlight. Guerra has played and recorded with the Dirty Bones Band and Mambo Sons as well as releasing a handful of solo albums including his latest, the brilliant American Garden. Featuring a high-octane blend of guitar-driven classic rock and blues, Guerra’s smart (and often timely) lyrics are paired with a clamorous soundtrack that reminds of Springsteen and Joe Grushecky. Guerra’s vocals are power-pop pure, though, as shown by his heartfelt cover of Tom Petty’s soft-edged “Walls.” The socially-conscious “Blood On the New Rising Sun” is simply gorgeous and features guest fretburner Jon Butcher while the blistering “The Lyin’ King” is a bluesy romp with raging harp, flamethrower guitar, and a powerful message. Guerra’s American Garden is a solid collection of muscular, no-frills, old-school rock ‘n’ roll. Grade: A   BUY!

Handsome Jack's Everything’s Gonna Be Alright
Handsome Jack – Everything’s Gonna Be Alright (Alive Natural Sound Records)
Buffalo NY area “boogie soul” power trio Handsome Jack have one foot in the blustery hard rock sound of the ‘70s and the other in the guitar-driven British blues explosion of the ‘60s; the band’s raw, immediate garage-rock worldview builds on the past while looking defiantly towards the future. Everything’s Gonna Be Alright is the band’s sophomore effort and it’s a real fine barn-burner. The title track is a buzzy, fuzz-drenched blues stomper with gritty Howlin’ Wolf vox and slashing guitar licks while “Why Do I Love You the Way I Do” offers throwback soul that wouldn’t have sounded out-of-place in Detroit circa 1978. “City Girls” is a sleazy, Stones-ish vamp and “Bad Blood” is an epic rocker with BIG guitars and whiskey-soaked vocals. Handsome Jack is the real thing, a switchblade-toting gang of ‘Rust Belt’ blues-rock thugs demanding your time, money, and attention. RIYL Leafhound, Foghat, or Savoy Brown. Grade: A   BUY!

Tom Morello's The Atlas Underground
Tom Morello – The Atlas Underground (Mom + Pop)
Given his folkier “Night Watchman” albums, Tom Morello’s The Atlas Underground isn’t quite what I expected. A sonic Molotov cocktail of blistering hard rock, rap, and pulse-quickening EDM beats, Morello and his guests are at their best on the rock-rap hybrids. Sounding a bit like Rage Against the Machine, socially-conscious lyrics are tattooed on your brain by MCs Big Boi, Killer Mike, GZA, and RZA on explosive songs like “Rabbit’s Revenge” and “Lead Poisoning.” Fellow fretburner Gary Clark Jr. brings a bluesy, soulful cutting edge to the raucous “Where It’s At Ain’t What It Is” while rapper Leikeli47 brings the pain like nobody since Public Enemy on the violent maelstrom that is “Roadrunner.” Experimental fare like the instrumental “Battle Sirens” (with Knife Party) shows Morello to be an avant-garde guitarist and composer without peer. Other guest collaborators on The Atlas Underground include Portugal the Man, Steve Aoki, and Vic Mensa. Grade: B+   BUY!

NRBQ's All Hopped Up
NRBQ – All Hopped Up (Omnivore Recordings)
The beloved cult-rock band’s fifth album (counting their 1970 collaboration with rockabilly great Carl Perkins) gets a long-overdue reissue from Omnivore and NRBQ fans couldn’t be happier. All Hopped Up is the first ‘Q album to feature guitarist Al Anderson, and the forward progress in the band’s already eclectic sound couldn’t be more noticeable. Anderson’s immediate contributions include the delightfully nostalgic “Ridin’ In My Car” and the loping, melodic “Help Me, Somebody.” Keyboardist Terry Adams’ “It Feels Good” is an enchanting slice of Beatle-esque pop while “I Got A Rocket In My Pocket” is an energetic honky-tonk rave-up. A cover of Big Joe Turner’s “Honey Hush” is jazzy in a cool 1950s R&B style. Four bonus tracks shine, especially the rockabilly-tinged “Start It Over.” A near-perfect blend of NRBQ’s signature fusion of pop, rock, R&B, and jazz music, All Hopped Up is charming, entertaining, and possibly the band’s best record. Grade: A   BUY!

Unicorn's Laughing Up Your Sleeve
Unicorn – Laughing Up Your Sleeve (Omnivore Recordings)
Unicorn was pub-rock pals of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, who produced three of the British band’s mid-‘70s albums before they disappeared like their mythical namesake. Unicorn’s obscurity wasn’t for lack of quality – singer/guitarist Ken Baker was a helluva songwriter – and the band’s unique mix of British folk-rock and West Coast influences (CSNY, The Byrds) provided a wide musical palette for the band to weave its complex filigree sound, with lyrics as British as anything Ray Davies ever penned. Laughing Up Your Sleeve offers twenty previously-unreleased demo tracks recorded by Gilmour, almost every song a perfect illustration of the band’s immense talents and rich sound. Several of these songs were fleshed out on Unicorn LPs like the excellent Blue Pine Trees and Too Many Crooks, and while I’d recommend you grab up import copies of those albums first, you’ll inevitably end up adding Laughing Up Your Sleeve to your Unicorn collection. Grade: A   BUY!

Previously on That Devil
Short Rounds, November 2018: Joe Bonamassa, Peter Holsapple & Alex Chilton, Winston Jarrett, Permanent Green Light, The Posies & Rolling River Royalty

Short Rounds, October 2018: Mike Felten, Eric Lindell, John McLaughlin, Daniel Seymour & Mark Robinson, Bob Seger & Ska Authentic
Short Rounds, September 2018: Junior Byles, Guadalcanal Diary, Peter Holsapple, the Textones & Bill Kopp’s Reinventing Pink Floyd book 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

That Devil Music's 2018 Holiday Gift Guide

Mott the Hoople’s Mental Train: The Island Years, 1969-1971
It’s not really a big secret that the world is filled with crapola and people trying to sell it to you. The Reverend isn’t above a little ‘bloato-hype’ of his own, thus the first (and probably last) That Devil Music 2018 Holiday Gift Guide. I bought all of the items listed below myself at some time over the past year or so and can personally attest to the quality of life they provide.

Most of these gift recommendations are music-related, but we do veer into fanboy territory with graphic novels and toys. It’s important to note that when you ‘click the link’ and buy these items from Amazon that the Rev gets a little piece of the action to help fund his rowdy rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle (i.e. buy more music).

Music Box Sets

The major record labels are depending, no…demanding that you shore up their bottom lines by reinvesting in music that you’ve already bought two or three times now. They’re flooding the market with expensive multi-disc box sets that revisit albums that you got tired of years ago, adding just enough flash (bonus DVD or extra vinyl to go along with lavish books) to convince you to part with your cash yet again. The Rev prefers checking out reasonably-priced various artist compilations for the multitude of music they contain, thus this list is heavy with cool boxes, but I’m also not above buying the odd artist-specific box set if the price (and content) is right. Anybody can gift a copy of the Beatles’ White Album, why not try something fresh and different for a change this holiday?

Mott the Hoople’s Mental Train: The Island Years

Mott the Hoople’s Mental Train: The Island Years, 1969-1971
Mott the Hoople’s Mental Train is a six-disc box set that collects includes remastered and expanded versions of all four of the band’s original Island Records label releases; an entire disc of unheard and unreleased material; and a full disc of raucous live and BBC on-air performances. Each of the original albums – Mott the Hoople, Mad Shadows, Wildlife, and Brain Capers – has been expanded by 8 or 9 tracks each, adding singles, demos, alternate takes, and much more. A fifth CD, The Ballads of Mott the Hoople, is subtitled “Unheard and Unreleased Music from the Island Archive.” That’s a lot of great music for the any Mott the Hoople fan!   BUY!

Frank Zappa's Zoot Allures!

Frank Zappa – Zoot Allures! The Legendary Broadcasts
Yeah, the Reverend is a longtime Zappa fanboy, dating back to the Mothers of Invention and solo LPs like Chunga’s Revenge. This is a real find, though, a budget-priced four-disc collection of live performances culled from radio broadcasts featuring 53 songs spanning roughly a six-year period. One of those “copyright gap” releases of dodgy provenance (i.e. semi-legit bootleg), the set nevertheless documents vintage Zappa concerts like The Ritz, NYC 1981; Providence College, Rhode Island 1975 (with Captain Beefheart); Rotterdam, 1980; and the Capitol Theatre in Passaic NJ, 1978. Sound quality ranges from fair to fairly good, but it’s the rarity of the performances, the eras that they span, and the ‘cheepnis’ of the set that sells it.   BUY!

Gary Crowley’s Punk & New Wave

Various Artists – Gary Crowley’s Punk & New Wave
Much like the ‘New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ set below, Gary Crowley’s Punk & New Wave box tackles the difficult cutting edge of U.K. and American punk and beyond with 77 tracks spread across three CDs. Curated by legendary British DJ Gary Crowley, the set covers a lot of ground spanning punk, post-punk, new wave, and power-pop bands like Alternative TV, the Saints, 999, the Vibrators, the Fall, the Only Ones, Generation X, and John Cooper Clarke, among many others. Unlike other punk-oriented collections, though, Crowley doesn’t just feature the familiar ‘hits’ but rather delves into each band’s catalog to find the deep tracks. A number of tracks here originally appeared on limited edition 7” singles that are too pricey to consider (if you can find ‘em), and the box includes a nifty 40-page book with notes by Crowley and memories from members of the Skids, Altered Images, the Boys, and other bands.   BUY!   

Trojan Ska & Reggae Classics

Various Artists – Trojan Ska & Reggae Classics
Offering 60 red-hot tracks on three discs and running better than three hours in length, the budget-priced Trojan Ska & Reggae Classics set offers a lot of bang for the buck, the compilation preserving some of the finest reggae performances of the past half-century with even-handed re-mastering and pretty decent sound (considering that some of these songs were recorded almost 50 years ago on often primitive equipment). If you’re a newcomer to reggae, the set offers an instant lesson in the genre’s history; for us longtime fans, it collects some of our favorite artists and songs in a single package.   Read the Reverend’s review!   BUY!

Winds of Time: New Wave of British Heavy Metal 1979-1985

Various Artists – Winds of Time: New Wave of British Heavy Metal 1979-1985
With a growing interest in the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” there are a number of compilation albums that have been released over the past few years, most of them featuring the same old track listing and bands. Leave it up to esteemed U.K. archival imprint Cherry Red Records to top everybody with their three-disc Winds of Time box set. Featuring 51 rockin’ tracks from both familiar ‘NWOBHM’ bands like Diamond Head, Samson, Raven, Saxon, Girlschool, and Tygers of Pan Tang as well as relatively-obscure outfits like Gaskin, Shiva, Witchfynde, Fist, and Rock Goddess, Cherry Red doesn’t offer up the ‘same old, same old’ but rather digs deep to find the gems in these bands’ catalogs for a collection truly representative of the scene.   BUY!

Try A Little Sunshine: British Psychedelic Sounds of 1969

Various Artists – Try A Little Sunshine: British Psychedelic Sounds of 1969
Another great psych-drenched box set from Cherry Red’s Grapefruit Records imprint, Try A Little Sunshine is a three-disc compilation of groovy music from ’69 that offers up 73 tunes, some from bands that would be familiar to any serious fan of the rock ‘n’ roll including Audience, the Spencer Davis Group, Barclay James Harvest, the Move, Dave Davies, Status Quo, and the Pretty Things. There are more than a few real obscurities included herein as well, fab 45s from the likes of Fat Mattress, Freedom, Andromeda, Edward’s Hand, Nirvana (U.K.), Sam Gopal (with Lemmy!), and others that would cost you a fortune to buy on the collectors’ market.  BUY!

Graphic Novels

Ed Piskor’s X-Men Grand Design - Second Genesis

Ed Piskor’s X-Men Grand Design - Second Genesis
The artistic genius that crafted the brilliant Hip Hop Family Tree series of books turns his talents to re-imagining the Marvel Comics world of the ever-popular X-Men. Mutant super-heroes living in a world that misunderstands and fears them, the late Stan Lee’s characters were designed to represent the oppressed minorities and immigrants in our society, and Piskor does right with his re-telling of the origin stories of beloved characters like Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus in this second book in the series.   BUY!

Also highly recommended: Ed Piskor’s first book of mutant origins – X-Men: Grand Design – which features tales of the heroic old-school X-group of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, The Beast, Angel, and Iceman. The two books stand well on their own, but if you’re a mutie-lover, buy ‘em both!   BUY!

Mark Bernardin’s Genius

Mark Bernardin’s Genius series
Mark Bernardin is the co-host of the popular Fatman Beyond podcast (with filmmaker Kevin Smith), and a talented writer for TV series and comics. His Genius graphic novels posit an intriguing question – what if the greatest military mind of a generation was a teenaged African-American girl from the hood? Destiny Ajaye is a strategic genius and charismatic leader who, in the first volume, takes on the LAPD’s SWAT forces with the backing of a rag-tag group of gang-bangers and pulls off the win.

In the second volume of Genius, Ajaye has been shanghaied by a shadowy government organization to fight a one-woman war against the Mexican drug cartels. Both books are fast-paced and action-packed, with Bernardin’s clever plotting and whipsmart dialogue and stunning artwork by Adam Freeman. Some film studio should option these books pronto and turn them into a starring vehicle for Letitia Wright. Get your fanboy groove on and buy ‘em both!

Mark Bernardin’s Genius

Genius, Volume One: Siege   BUY!
Genius, Volume Two: Cartel   BUY!

Gilbert Shelton’s Fifty Freakin’ Years of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers

Gilbert Shelton’s Fifty Freakin’ Years of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers
The Reverend has been a fan of underground comix for over 45 years now, and artist/writer Gilbert Shelton – along with Robert Crumb and Spain Rodriguez – has long been one of my “go to” artists for guaranteed entertainment. It’s hard to believe that Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers have been around for five decades now, but the ever-popular antics of Phineas, Freewheelin’ Franklin, and Fat Freddy have been published in 16 languages around the world and enjoyed sales of over 40 million copies…and that’s a shit-ton of comix! Fifty Freakin’ Years of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers celebrates the brothers’ 50th anniversary with a bunch of new strips, a gallery of Freak Brothers parody strips by artists like Crumb, and a brand new interview with Shelton. A ‘must have’ for any Freak Brothers fan!   BUY!


Funko ‘POP’ figures are possibly the hottest ticket in the world of toys, with rarer releases selling for hundreds of dollars on the collectors’ market. Personally, the Reverend likes to put ‘em on the bookshelves here at Conspiracy M.E.D.I.A headquarters as visually-stimulating ‘objekts de art’. Funko makes figures for a legion of comics, film, and TV characters but they’ve also begun cranking out a number of very cool rock ‘n’ roll figures that will spruce up your office, listening room, or wherever you want to sit ‘em down...

Jimi Hendrix “Woodstock”

Jimi Hendrix “Woodstock”
Alice Cooper

Lemmy Kilmister

Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead)
Jerry Garcia

Joey Ramone

Joey Ramone
Prince “Purple Rain”

Prince "Purple Rain"

Music-Related Books

Disclaimer: I know most of the authors whose work I’m hyping below and, in couple cases, have had decade-long professional relationships with them. That doesn’t mean that these books aren’t brilliant – they’ve all been “road tested” and approved by the Reverend and would make a great addition to your music library.

Daryl Sanders’ That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound

Daryl Sanders’ That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound
Daryl Sanders’ That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound provides a fascinating and comprehensive history of Bob Dylan’s classic Blonde On Blonde album. There are a heck of a lot of Dylan-related books available – enough to stock a smallish library, really – but none of them have dug this deep into the making of one of the Scribe’s most creative, critically-acclaimed, and commercially-successful works. If you’re a Bob Dylan fan, you’ll want a copy of That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound on your bookshelf.   Read the Rev’s Review!   BUY!

Bill Kopp’s Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to Dark Side of the Moon

Bill Kopp’s Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to Dark Side of the Moon
With Reinventing Pink Floyd, his first book, Bill Kopp focuses his insight on the legendary British rock band, exploring Floyd’s early years “from Syd Barrett to the Dark Side of the Moon.” His efforts pay off, as Reinventing Pink Floyd provides a deep dive into the band’s years in the wilderness, as they forged a significant career in the wake of founder and guiding light Barrett’s departure, delivering all the minutiae and anecdotes that a Floyd fan demands, weaving a fascinating story of one of the most influential, pioneering bands in rock ‘n’ roll history.   BUY!

Steven Hyden’s Twilight of the Gods

Steven Hyden’s Twilight of the Gods
Music journalist Steven Hyden is one of the best writers in the pop culture trenches today, and Twilight of the Gods is his first book. Providing an in-depth exploration of the enduring popularity and immense legacy of “classic rock,” Hyden also relates his own complicated history as a teenage fan of classic rock ‘n’ roll growing up in the grunge and alt-rock 1990s. He provides lots of insight and more than a few thought-provoking moments that will have you looking at classic rock bands in an entirely new way.   BUY!

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

Martin Popoff’s “Album by Album” book series
Rock writer and music historian Martin Popoff should be familiar to any regular That Devil Music reader. The talented scribe has written better than 80 music-related books to date (and counting), many of them self-published and leaving the reader neck-deep in band history. Martin’s (yeah, we’re on a first-name basis) coffee-table “Album by Album” series of books have been published by Voyageur Press, the music imprint of a larger publisher who is closing it down at the end of the year. That means that these gorgeous, informative, and highly entertaining books are going out-of-print and are destined to become rare, high-priced collectors’ items. You can still get some of them direct from Popoff’s website, or from Amazon via the links below.

Queen: Album by Album

Queen: Album by Album
Iron Maiden: Album by Album
Rush: Album by Album

Pink Floyd: Album by Album

Pink Floyd: Album by Album
AC/DC: Album by Album
The Clash: All the Albums, All the Songs
Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs

Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs

The Reverend’s Personal Stash
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend a few of my own tomes as suitable gifts for the music-lover in your life. Here are a few good ‘uns to get you started:

Scorched Earth: A Jason & the Scorchers Scrapbook
Blues Deluxe: The Joe Bonamassa Buying Guide
Frank Zappa Buying Guide 
The Other Side of Nashville: An Incomplete History & Discography of the Nashville Rock Underground, 1976-2006

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume One: Southern Rockers

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume One: Southern Rockers
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Two: Punk Rock
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Three: Heavy Metal
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Four: Cult Rockers

The Other Side of Nashville

Monday, December 3, 2018

Archive Review: The 101ers' Elgin Avenue Breakdown Revisited (2005)

Before Joe Strummer became a punk icon with the Clash or the patron saint of rock 'n' roll that he has become since his death, he was just another British musician trying to knock out a hardscrabble living with a local band. In Strummer's case, this band was the 101ers, a better-than-average group of rockers that have found a degree of infamy mostly through being eclipsed by the Clash's considerable legacy and Strummer's significant solo work.

A loose-knit collection of 101ers' material was originally issued on vinyl back in '81 and by various fly-by-night operations in varying forms and formats since. The expanded Astralwerks collection, Elgin Avenue Breakdown Revisited, provides the final word on this important, if historically slighted band's legacy.

Formed by Strummer in 1974 near the end of the British pub-rock era, the 101ers were much closer in spirit to bands like Ducks Deluxe and Dr. Feelgood than anything that would follow during the punk-rock explosion of '77. Inspired by the music of Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and early Rolling Stones, the 101ers practiced a street-smart brand of R&B drenched, guitar-driven rock 'n' roll that would later inform some of the Clash's London Calling and later musical output. The 101ers never put out a proper album, however, and released only one 7" single, making Elgin Avenue Breakdown Revisited a ragtag collection of rough-hewn studio demos and rare live tracks.

The 101ers' Elgin Avenue Breakdown Revisited

Fans of the Clash expecting the spit-and-bile proto-punk of the band's first two albums will be sorely disappointed. Fans of Strummer, though, who appreciate the artist's wide range of talent and musical tastes, will certainly enjoy the raw charm offered by these rare 101ers songs. Especially significant are Strummer's first attempts at songwriting, tentative steps like "Keys To Your Heart" or "Sweet Revenge" that sound surprisingly mature. Blending a classic Chess Records R&B sound with strains of rockabilly and roots-rock, the 101ers weren't a half bad band by any standards, and Strummer's early songs easily stand with similar efforts from notable songwriters like John Fogerty or Bruce Springsteen.

Elgin Avenue Breakdown Revisited
also includes a number of previously unreleased live tracks, including originals like "Keep Taking The Tablets" and "Lonely Woman's Son," one of Strummer's first socially-conscious songs that would later be recreated by the Clash. A number of live cover songs are also included, from the obvious (Chuck Berry's "Maybelline" and Bo Diddley's "Don't Let It Go") to the obscure (Slim Harpo's "Shake Your Hips") and the unusual (the Stones' "Out Of Time"). A glorious performance of Van Morrison's garage-rock standard "Gloria" closes the disc.

The Reverend's Bottom Line

Befitting its pedigree, the sound quality of Elgin Avenue Breakdown Revisited varies wildly, from rough studio recordings to hollow-sounding, thirty-year-old live tracks (digitally massaged to be slightly better than bootleg quality). The material here all displays a certain undeniable rock 'n' roll spirit, however, the performances filled with raw energy and passion. The 101ers were as much a part of Joe Strummer's considerable legacy as the Clash or the Mescaleros, Elgin Avenue Breakdown Revisited an essential document providing an intriguing snapshot of the artist's early days. (Astralwerks Records, released June 14, 2005)

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

Buy the CD from The 101ers' Elgin Avenue Breakown Revisited

Big Star’s 1974 WLIR sessions resurrected!

Big Star's Live On WLIR
Memphis power-pop legends Big Star released their classic sophomore album, Radio City, in February 1974, recording as a trio after the departure of founding member Chris Bell. Minus the overt pop sheen that Bell brought to the band’s material as a songwriter, Radio City features Chilton’s rock ‘n’ roll influences on gems like “September Gurls,” “Mod Lang,” “I’m In Love With A Girl,” and “Back of A Car.” The critically-acclaimed album didn’t sell particularly well, though it would later come to be considered a classic, influential work.

To tour in support of Radio City, Big Star singer and guitarist Alex Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens were joined by John Lightman, who replaced the band’s original bassist Andy Hummel, who was returning to school. The trio subsequently recorded a session for broadcast by New York City radio station WLIR-FM at the legendary Ultrasonic Studios. That near-mythical session was later released under the title Live on CD by Rykodisc in 1992, but would be out-of-print by the end of the decade.

On January 25th, 2019 Omnivore Recordings – those herald keepers of the Big Star flame – will release that legendary Ultrasonic recording on CD and double-vinyl as Live On WLIR. The fifteen-track set features material from the first two Big Star albums as well as a cover of singer/songwriter Loudon Wainwright III’s “Motel Blues.” Live On WLIR has been restored and remastered from the original tapes and features liner notes by Memphis native and music historian Robert Gordon (no relation) and includes an interview with bassist John Lightman by Rich Tupica, author of There Was A Light: The Cosmic History of Chris Bell and the Rise of BIG STAR.   

As Gordon writes in the album’s liver notes: “Alex is, in this trio, playing all the guitar and singing lead, and he’s giving it about all he’s got. The road and the march of time eventually wore down that Alex, as time wears on all of us. But this recording is a clear window into the impenetrable past, making it a thrill today to hear Alex so young and enthusiastic.” Check out the complete tracklist below and watch Omnivore’s video trailer for the album before sprinting over to to buy a copy of Big Star’s Live On WLIR on your choice of formats.

Buy the album from
Big Stars Live On WLIR CD
Big Stars Live On WLIR vinyl

Big Star’s Live On WLIR track list:
1. September Gurls
2. Way Out West
3. Mod Lang
4. Don’t Lie To Me
5. O’ My Soul
6. Interview
7. The Ballad Of El Goodo
8. Thirteen
9. I’m In Love With A Girl
10. Motel Blues
11. In The Street
12. You Get What You Deserve
13. Daisy Glaze
14. Back Of A Car
15. She’s A Mover

Soul Asylum’s While You Were Out LP and Clam Dip & Other Delights EP reissued

Soul Asylum’s While You Were Out
Before becoming multi-Platinum™ selling major label rock stars during the 1990s, Minneapolis, Minnesota’s Soul Asylum had spent much of the previous decade plugging away in the indie-rock trenches. The band often struggled to escape the long shadows cast by critic’s darlings like the Replacements and Hüsker Dü but, truth is, Soul Asylum was a tough-as-nails rock ‘n’ roll outfit that recorded three fine albums (as well as a cassette and EP) for their independent hometown label Twin/Tone Records before getting their shot at the brass ring from A&M Records.

While You Were Out was Soul Asylum’s third album released during 1986 (following their sophomore effort Made To Be Broken and the aforementioned tape, a cassette-only rarities compilation). Produced by Chris Osgood of local band Suicide Commandos, While You Were Out saw the band begin to transcend their punk roots towards becoming bona fide rock ‘n’ roll contenders.

The band would record a final EP for Twin/Tone before jumping into the major leagues; titled Clam Dip & Other Delights, the EP’s six-songs were a scattershot affair meant to fulfill their contract and provide a good time for the band members in the studio. It would end up becoming a longtime fan favorite. On January 18th, 2019 Omnivore Recordings will reissue both Made To Be Broken and Clam Dip & Other Delights in their entirety on a single CD along with seven bonus tracks, four of which are previously unreleased.

The set includes the full track lists of both the U.K. and U.S. versions of the EP and has been produced by Twin/Tone Records co-founder and Replacements manager Peter Jesperson along with Grammy® winning producer Cheryl Pawelski. This expanded reissue of Made To Be Broken features previously-unpublished photos, artwork, and flyers as well as liner notes by Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster.

Along with the label’s reissues of Say What You Will…Everything Can Happen and Made To Be Broken on CD earlier this year, Omnivore has nicely documented Soul Asylum’s raucous early years for both long-suffering Soul Asylum fans as well as for newcomers looking to rediscover the band’s indie rock roots.

Buy the CD from Soul Asylum’s While You Were Out/Clam Dip & Other Delights

Track listing:

While You Were Out
1. Freaks
2. Carry On
3. No Man’s Land
4. Crashing Down
5. The Judge
6. Sun Don’t Shine
7. Closer To The Stars
8. Never Too Soon
9. Miracle Mile
10. Lap Of Luxury
11. Passing Sad Daydream
12. Take It To The Root (Jam Mix) *

Clam Dip & Other Delights
13. Just Plain Evil
14. Chains
15. Secret No More
16. Move Over
17. P-9
18. Juke Box Hero
19. Artificial Heart
20. Take It To The Root
21. Saving Grace *
22. Forever And A Day *
23. There It Goes *
24. Artificial Heart (demo) *

* bonus tracks

Sunday, November 18, 2018

CD Review: Preacher Boy's The Rumble Strip (2018)

Preacher Boy's The Rumble Strip
Christopher Watkins, a/k/a ‘Preacher Boy’, has been kicking around the American blues scene for a couple decades, cranking out his original style of acoustic blues across a handful of critically-acclaimed albums. Inspired by country-blues legends like Bukka White, Son House, and Mississippi John Hurt, Watkins developed his own distinctive vocal and guitar style and launched Preacher Boy & the Natural Blues in the early 1990s. He recorded a couple albums for the esteemed Blind Pig Records label and released a couple more independently before disappearing from the blues world.

After a short hiatus from music, Preacher Boy came roaring back in 2016 with three new albums filled with inspired original songs and inspired classic blues covers. The albums all feature Watkins’ sandpaper-soaked-in-whiskey vocals and mesmerizing slide-guitar played on a vintage National Resophonic guitar. The trio of recordings wasn’t so much a commercial endeavor as an artistic one, Watkins shaking off the ‘ring rust’ and getting his blues mojo back in the wake of his absence. The Rumble Strip is his follow-up to 2016, a more commercially-oriented effort that nevertheless displays an amazing amount of artistry and musical sophistication. Simply put, Preacher Boy’s performances on The Rumble Strip leave nothing but scorched earth in their wake.

Preacher Boy’s The Rumble Strip

“The Sliding Window (Hail Mary)” reminds of R.L. Burnside’s 1990s-era electro-blues with its low-slung instrumental groove, Watkins’ vocals a cross between a guttural Tom Waits barroom brogue and Mississippi Hill Country patois. The album’s rockin’ title track is part field-holler and part street-corner talkin’ with percussive percussion, scraps of razor-sharp guitar, and an unrelenting vocal delivery that roars out of your speakers like a bootlegger speeding away from the revenuers. The devastating “Bullet” marries the poetic lyricism of Bob Dylan with Son House’s fatalism, the song’s ornate underlying instrumentation doing little to soften the crushing body-blows and uppercuts delivered by Watkins’ explosive heavyweight-class vocals and harrowing socially-conscious lyrics. I’ve been listening to rock and blues music for almost 50 years and I’ve never heard a more haunting, desperate, anguished story-song.

Watkins’ “Bandy-Legged and Broke” returns to the same cutting-edge blues sound that Jon Spencer brought to Burnside’s A Ass Pocket of Whiskey. The song crackles with energy, with vocals shouted above a deep background groove to jarring effect. The yearning vocals of “Saint Peter” are out of character for Preacher Boy, but quite effective here, Watkins displaying a more soulful facet of his talents on a song that buzzes with distortion, emotion, and raw immediacy. The syncopated rhythms of “Crazy Dirty James” are matched with similar vocal gymnastics with clashing instrumentation adding punctuation to Watkins’ lyrics. Preacher Boy’s familiar National Resophonic can be heard fighting to rise above the din, grounding an otherwise chaotic performance in the murky mud of the Mississippi Delta. The muscular “Can’t Sleep Here Tonight” is a Led Zeppelin-styled blues-rocker pumped up on steroids, threatening to blow out your speakers with a sonic tsunami while “Showers of Rain” ups the ante with exotic instrumentation clamoring behind Watkins’ colorful (autobiographical?) lyrics and world-weary vocals.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Although The Rumble Strip showcases a welcome expansion of his musical palette beyond his signature country-blues sound, Watkins’ vocals on these songs still growl and bite like Howlin’ Wolf chewing on a microphone, swallowing electricity and spitting out lightning bolts. It’s with his lyrical skills where Preacher Boy really shines, though, and The Rumble Strip is full of whip-smart story-songs backed by imaginative and often-dense instrumentation that proves that Preacher Boy is no one-trick pony. Recommended for rock and blues-rock fans alike, The Rumble Strip marks the return of a unique and original musical voice. Grade: A

Check out Preacher Boy's website

Also on That Devil
Lost & Found: Preacher Boy

Buy the CD from Preacher Boy’s The Rumble Strip

Spotlight On The Pandoras

The Pandoras photo by Jason Dost, courtesy Restless Records

Select Discography:
It's About Time (1984, Voxx Records)
Stop Pretending (1986, Rhino Records)
Rock Hard EP (1988, Restless Records)
Live Nymphomania (1989, Restless Records)
Hey It's the Pandoras (2018, Burger Records)

Omnivore reissues Henry Townsend’s 1980 album Mule

Henry Townsend’s Mule LP
Legendary bluesman Henry Jesse James “Mule” Townsend was born in Mississippi in 1909 and grew up in Cairo, Illinois before making his way to St. Louis as a teenager out on his own. Townsend recorded his first sides for Columbia Records in 1929 and enjoyed a lengthy career as both a solo artist (under a number of names) and as a sideman playing on a wealth of classic recordings by artists like Big Joe Williams, Roosevelt Sykes, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Robert Nighthawk, among many others. Along the way, he also recorded his own performances for a number of labels including Paramount Records and Victor/Bluebird.

Never the most prolific of blues artists, Townsend had recorded only a couple of full-length albums for labels like Prestige Bluesville in the 1960s and Adelphi Records in the ‘70s before recoding the album Mule for the St. Louis-based Nighthawk Records. At the time, Nighthawk was making the turn from a blues-oriented label towards reggae with releases by Jamaican artists like the Gladiators, Junior Byles, and others. Townsend’s critically-acclaimed Mule was one of the label’s last blues albums, but it was a good one that has sadly been out-of-print for over a decade.

On December 14, 2018 Omnivore Recordings will reissue Henry Townsend’s Mule as part of their restoration of the Nighthawk Records catalog. The reissue CD includes the original tracks along with eight previously-unreleased songs from the album sessions. Mule also includes updated liner notes and photos from original co-producer and Nighthawk label founder Leroy Dodie Pierson. The CD was remastered from the original master tapes by Grammy® Award-winning engineer Michael Graves.

The original liner notes for Mule show that the label was firmly behind the bluesman and his new album, stating “the production of this record was undertaken with two goals in mind: to create, finally, an album worth of Henry Townsend’s unique genius, and thus secure for him the recognition that an artist of his stature and historical importance deserves. We at Nighthawk have become convinced that Henry is perhaps the greatest living country bluesman.”

Henry Townsend died in 2006 at the ripe old age of 96 years old with a lifetime of great music to his name. He was awarded a posthumous Grammy® Award in 2008 for “Best Traditional Blues Album” for Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesman: Live In Dallas. Released by the Blue Shoe Project, the album featured performances by legends like Townsend, ‘Pinetop’ Perkins, Robert Lockwood, Jr. and ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards. After years lingering in obscurity, it will be good to have Mule back in print again.

Buy the CD from Henry Townsend’s Mule

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Short Rounds: Joe Bonamassa, Peter Holsapple & Alex Chilton, Winston Jarrett, The Posies & Rolling River Royalty (2018)

Joe Bonamassa's Redemption
New album releases in 150 words or less…

Joe Bonamassa – Redemption (J&R Adventures)
The second album this year from the blues-rock guitarist (the first being the live British Blues Explosion), Redemption is also Joe Bonamassa’s first studio work since 2016’s Blues of Desperation. Working again with producer Kevin Shirley and writing with some of Nashville’s finest wordsmiths, Bonamassa leans heavily towards his rock ‘n’ roll side, delivering an explosive set of songs that push against the boundaries of the blues with a scorching blend of classic rock and soul. “King Bee Shakedown” offers rollicking roadhouse boogie, “Deep In the Blues Again” is a blustery Celtic-tinged blues tune, “Pick Up the Pieces” is a sleazy Tom Waits slice-of-life, and the tortured title track welds haunting Delta blues to Rory Gallagher’s shivering ghost. None of the material strays far from Bonamassa’s tried-and-true blues template, but he could use an update and new musical challenges. Still, Redemption is an exciting collection that will thrill the Bona-fan. Grade: B   BUY!

Peter Holsapple & Alex Chilton's The Death of Rock
Peter Holsapple & Alex Chilton – The Death of Rock (Omnivore Recordings)
Months before hooking up with the dB’s, Peter Holsapple sojourned down to Memphis to record some demos at Sam Phillips’ studio, hoping to capture a spark of the ol’ Big Star magic. That band’s Alex Chilton was working on his Like Flies On Sherbert album and the two ended up playing together. The Death of Rock is drawn from those long-lost 1978 recordings, featuring Holsapple and Chilton collaborating on songs like the latter’s poppy “Tennis Bum” and the former’s “Take Me Back.” The recordings have a raw, immediate feel with some of Holsapple’s tunes like “Bad Reputation” and “We Were Happy There” later recorded by the dB’s. Chilton’s “Martial Law” is provided a chaotic, delightfully-messy performance while a ramshackle cover of “Train Kept A Rollin’” recklessly runs off the rails. More than a mere historical curiosity, The Death of Rock showcases two legendary artists trying to find musical common ground. Grade: B   BUY!

Winston Jarrett & the Righteous Flames's Jonestown
Winston Jarrett & the Righteous Flames – Jonestown (Nighthawk Records/Omnivore Recordings)
Winston Jarrett was a veteran of 1960s-era ska legends Alton & the Flames; when frontman Alton Ellis went solo, Jarrett formed the Righteous Flames from the ashes. Recording a number of albums during the 1970s with producers like Joe Gibb, Sir Coxsone, and Lee “Scratch” Perry, Jarrett landed on Nighthawk Records for this 1983 release. Recorded with a new version of the Righteous Flames, including talented guitarist Chinna Smith, Jonestown – named for the Kingston neighborhood where he was raised – showcases Jarrett’s silky vocals and the Flames’ gorgeous harmonies. Jarrett provides socially-conscious lyrics on the dub-tinged “Knotty Got To Find A Way” and “Jonestown” with a fierce voice while “Spanish Town Road” is more akin to Bob Marley. The rhythms of “Run To the Rock” are a throwback to the early ska sound while “Lover’s Making Love” is a pure-hearted R&B jam, Jonestown an album worth discovering for the reggae fanatic. Grade: A   BUY!     

Permanent Green Light's Hallucinations
Permanent Green Light – Hallucinations (Omnivore Recordings)
At the end of his legendary “Paisley Underground” band the Three O’Clock in 1989, Michael Quercio went looking for new rock ‘n’ roll cheap thrills. He formed obscure psych-rockers Permanent Green Light, which released a handful of singles and a full-length album, building a loyal West Coast following before breaking up. Hallucinations compiles 16 of the band’s best performances, including three previously-unreleased demos and, to be honest, as much as I liked the Three O’Clock, this stuff rocks with an urgency, creativity, and honesty directly in opposition to most ‘90s bands. While the deliciously psych-pop “We Could Just Die” or the jangly “Street Love” display Quercio’s 1960s-era musical influences, tunes like “The Truth This Time” (with its funky groove) and the somber “Portmanteau” (with its exotic intro) showcase a welcome willingness to experiment musically. Hallucinations is an exceptional collection of guitar-rock from one of the best bands you never heard. Grade: A+   BUY!

The Posies' Frosting On the Beater
The Posies – Frosting On the Beater (Omnivore Recordings)
The second of Omnivore’s restoration of power-pop pioneers the Posies’ major label catalog, Frosting On the Beater picks up where the band’s debut Dear 23 ended. Expanding the Posies’ sound to offer a harder-edge with more prominent guitars and dense instrumentation, the album’s brilliant original tracks offer more joyous noise in the grooves. Red-hot numbers like the psych-flavored “Dream All Day” or the smoldering “Burn & Shine” sound like R.E.M. on steroids. The band didn’t catapult its power-pop roots, though, as the lovely “Flavor of the Month” will attest, and the first disc of the two here offers nine bonus tracks in the form of demos and outtakes. The second disc will delight the faithful, featuring a whopping 21 unreleased songs, my faves being the charming, melodic “21” and the mesmerizing yet raucous “Magnifying Mirror.” Unfairly neglected in their day, the Posies were true heir-apparent to the Big Star legacy. Grade: A   BUY!  

Rolling River Royalty's Rolling River Royalty
Rolling River Royalty – Rolling River Royalty (Kingfish Records/New Bohemian Records)
Nashvillian Robert Jetton has been making great music since he landed in Tennessee from Texas 40 years ago. He partners with multi-instrumentalist Wendell Tilley as Rolling River Royalty, the two raising a helluva ruckus and having a grand ol’ time rocking a mix of original and traditional songs with a couple of Merle Haggard covers ‘cause why not? The duo’s self-titled debut is a sprightly collection of country, folk, blues, and bluegrass music delivered with no little authenticity. The laid-back “What A Country” is a twangy tale of love on the 4th of July and their “Man of Constant Sorrow” skews closer to the Stanley Brothers than contemporary versions. Jetton’s “Something’s Gonna Break” matches clever lyrics with “Black Betty” foot-stompin’ rhythms while Haggard’s “Mama Tried” displays a hauntingly beautiful performance. With plenty of high-lonesome vocals, spry guitar pickin’, and wailing harmonicas to entertain any listener, Rolling River Royalty defines Americana. Grade: A   BUY!

Previously on That Devil
Short Rounds, October 2018: Mike Felten, Eric Lindell, John McLaughlin, Daniel Seymour & Mark Robinson, Bob Seger & Ska Authentic
Short Rounds, September 2018: Junior Byles, Guadalcanal Diary, Peter Holsapple, the Textones & Bill Kopp’s Reinventing Pink Floyd book
Short Rounds, August 2018: Gene Clark, Kinky Friedman, David Olney, The Posies, Boz Scaggs, & Southside Johnny