Sunday, July 17, 2016

CD Review: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band's Radio Chicago 1976 (2016)

Bob Seger's Radio Chicago 1976
At 1976’s opening bell, Detroit’s favorite son – Bob Seger – was just another blue-collar rocker who’d been treading the boards for better than a decade in search of the fabled brass ring of success. By the year’s end, he’d be a shooting star on his way to legend status, and all because of one little ol’ album that, if it hadn’t have sold the copies it did, might have consigned Seger to history’s teetering stack o’ cult rock obscurities.

Released in the spring of ’76, ‘Live’ Bullet captured Seger and his road-tested band’s electrifying stage show in front of a frenzied hometown crowd at Detroit’s Cobo Hall on wax. The double-LP set earned the singer his first Top 40 album, ‘Live’ Bullet eventually certified as five-times Platinum™. Seger ended the year with a studio album, Night Moves providing a fine bookend to an explosive year, the album cementing his success with a Top Ten showing, three hit singles (including the title track’s #4 chart showing), and over six million copies sold.

Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band’s Radio Chicago 1976

Even as stardom loomed over the horizon, Seger’s popularity was entirely regional, his hard-charging rock ‘n’ roll style – peppered with soul and blues and former Third Power guitarist Drew Abbott’s underrated, impressive fretwork – was perfectly suited to his fans’ Rust Belt mentality. Even while he was beginning to break through to mainstream audiences, the dichotomy of his appeal was obvious to band and critical observers alike. In June 1976, Seger played to a sold-out crowd of nearly 80,000 fans at the Pontiac Superdome outside of Detroit; the next night, Seger and the Silver Bullet Band performed for a few hundred fans at the B’Ginnings club in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Illinois.

The show was originally broadcast live on WXRT-FM radio in Chicago, and has recently been released for the first time on compact disc as Radio Chicago 1976 for long-suffering Seger fans. Although released underground as a vinyl bootleg incorrectly titled as Live In Montreal 1978, this proper CD release features a superb live recording of the band kicking out the jams with a performance as vital and exciting as the previous night’s party at the Silverdome. Offering up twelve songs (“Lookin’ Back” and “Mary Lou,” split by a DJ announcement, are two separate performances), the set list reaches back to Seger’s early career, Radio Chicago 1976 showcasing a band about to burn down the world with talent and ambition.

Radio Chicago 1976 opens, seemingly with the concert already underway, the band cranking out a raw-boned performance of “Bo Diddley/Who Do You Love?” from Seger’s excellent 1972 Smokin’ O.P.’s album. With Drew Abbott’s stinging guitar licks and Robyn Robins’ fleet-fingered keyboard runs leading the way, the band establishes a raucous foundation for the remainder of the show. Chris Campbell’s funky bass solo, embellished by Robins’ keys, keeps the party rolling for nearly eight minutes. Seger’s originals “Travelin’ Man” and “Beautiful Loser” hail from his fan favorite 1975 LP Beautiful Loser, which flirted with Top 40 status upon its release. The former song is a rollicking, mid-tempo “rocker’s life on the road” style song that features Abbott’s wiry guitar and some fine percussion from drummer Charlie Martin while the latter is a rockin’ ballad fueled by Robins’ chiming keyboards, with Seger’s earnest vocals augmented by Abbott’s sly, nuanced guitarplay.

Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man

The blazing “Katmandu” is, hands down, one of Seger’s most all-time popular tunes, delivered here as a rapid-paced, soul-flavored rocker that features the singer’s vocal gymnastics, Abbott’s Chuck Berry-styled git-pickin’, and Alto Reed’s raging saxophone dancing atop a pile-driving rhythmic groove. The R&B standard “I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” offers up some of Abbott’s tastiest Southern-fried fretwork with Seger acquitting himself nicely as a soul shouter while “Lookin’ Back,” released only as a single, revisits the late ‘60s incarnation of the Bob Seger System, the gospel-tinged performance featuring reverent vocal harmonies and Robins’ inspired keyboard riffs. A cover of the Ronnie Hawkins’ ‘50s-era jam “Mary Lou” would become a favorite track from Night Moves; performed here, the song is provided a wired, imaginative arrangement that pivots on Abbott’s distorted rattletrap guitar and a swinging, ramshackle rhythmic backdrop.

“Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” was actually Seger’s first Top 20 charting single (#17) in 1968, the song breaking out nationally but doing little to improve the singer’s fortunes (the subsequent album only made it as high as #68 on the charts); during the ensuing years, it has become a bona fide classic rock treasure. With Seger’s voice accompanied by a heavy keyboard riff and a dense, fluid rhythm, the band’s backing harmonies fit hand in glove with Seger’s livewire vox and Abbott’s buzzsaw guitar. A cover of Chuck Berry’s classic “Let It Rock” is a revved-up, redlined, runaway locomotive of a performance. Seger’s machine-gun reading of the master’s lyrics is bolstered by the band’s well-oiled, turbo-charged instrumentation, led by Robins’ tortured keyboards, Abbott’s gritty guitar, and Reed’s soaring saxophone. The extended jam given the song provides an excuse for Seger to get the audience involved in the performance.

Seger’s “Rosalie” is an underrated gem in the singer/songwriter’s back catalog that was originally recorded for Seger’s Back In ’72 album (which has never been reissued on CD…c’mon Bob, what are you waiting for?!). A tribute to Windsor, Ontario’s CKLW-AM music director Rosalie Trombley, an early Seger supporter, the song would later be nicely covered by U.K. rockers Thin Lizzy. This night in the Chicago suburbs, “Rosalie” is provided a raucous performance with gang vocals, rattling fretwork, high-flying keyboards, and explosive percussion. Just for the hell of it, the band covers Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” Seger introducing the song with a lengthy spiel that unrolls above Abbott’s John Lee Hooker-inspired booger-rock guitar licks. While Seger doesn’t possess the high register of Zep’s Robert Plant, his more soulful vocals are assisted by Abbott’s amazing guitar playing while the band rocks the house with reckless abandon. Radio Chicago 1976 closes with the wicked rocker “Lucifer,” from Seger’s 1970s album Mongrel. Featuring one of Seger’s best leather-lunged vocal performances, the band evinces a complex, slightly-funky groove with Abbott’s roaring fretwork at the forefront.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Radio Chicago 1976 is an unexpected, early Christmas present for Bob Seger fans. Hailing from the period that the hardcore faithful consider the Motor City legend’s best era (1972 through 1979), this performance captures Seger and the talented Silver Bullet Band near the peak of their abilities, stalking the stage each night like the hungry predators they were. Better yet, the twelve tracks on Radio Chicago 1976 only duplicate seven songs from ‘Live’ Bullet, with “Rosalie” and “Lucifer” both live rarities and the Zep cover never repeated on tape to my knowledge. Sound quality here is very good, with only slight echo and distortion, the CD faithfully replicating the sound of the band’s incredible performance. Got it? Get it! Grade: A+ (All Access/MVD Audio, released July 8, 2016)

Related content: Bob Seger's Smokin' O.P.'s CD review

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Rare Gunhill LPs with John Lawton reissued!

GunHill's Nightheat
The talented John Lawton is one of those journeymen rockers who leave excellence in their wake as they jump from one project to another over the decades. The British-born singer first came to prominence as frontman for the German hard rock outfit Lucifer’s Friend, touring and recording with the legendary band from 1969 through ’76, appearing on five albums before leaving to join Uriah Heep.

Replacing the irreplaceable David Byron on the microphone, Lawton recorded three solid albums with Heep – 1977’s Firefly and Innocent Victim and 1978’s Fallen Angel – before leaving to rejoin Lucifer’s Friend for another lengthy run. Lawton was also part of Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover’s 1975 project “Butterfly Ball,” performing live at the Royal Albert Hall alongside Purple’s Ian Gillan, David Coverdale, and Glenn Hughes.

Often overlooked, however, is Lawton’s early ‘90s-era band GunHill. With Lawton on vocals, Brian Bennet on guitar, bassist Neil Kavanagh, and drummer Chris Jones, GunHill released two studio albums of prog-flavored hard rock similar to Rainbow or King’s X – 1995’s fan club exclusive One Over The Eight cassette and 1997’s Nightheat – both of which have been out of print for ten years or more, and are incredibly hard to find.

Answering the prayers of John Lawton fans worldwide, both albums have been reissued as a two-disc set with bonus tracks, representing a comprehensive collection of GunHill studio recordings (a live album was released in 1999). Provided a fresh digital re-mastering, the reissue was overseen by Lawton personally and has his approval.

In a press release for the reissues, Lawton says “these two CDs are part of my musical history when I played together with some fine musicians, some quite young and some a bit more experienced. It was an opportunity to cover some tracks that I look back on as really great songs and a few original tracks that have stood the test of time.”

Buy the CD from GunHill's One Over The Eight/Nightheat

John Lawton's GunHill circa 1997
John Lawton's GunHill circa 1997

Thursday, July 14, 2016

CD Review: Das Damen's Triskaidekaphobe (1988)

Das Damen's Triskaidekaphobe
Lost among an ‘80s-era SST label catalog that included Black Flag, Husker Du, the Minutemen, the Meat Puppets, and Sonic Youth, among other notables, New York rockers Das Damen continue to be tragically overlooked by the indie, punk-metal, and alt-rock crowd. Even St. Vitus receives more love these days for their ground-breaking stoner rock albums from back in the day...Das Damen has been reduced to a mere musical footnote on an otherwise legendary record label.

Formed in 1984 by guitarists Jim Walters and Alex Totino, bassist Phil Von Trapp, and drummer Lyle Hyser, Das Damen was originally signed by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore to his Ecstatic Peace label. The band released a self-titled EP in 1986 that was later reissued by SST, releasing its full-length SST debut, Jupiter Eye, a year later. The album featured improvisational acid-rock jams not dissimilar to the Bevis Frond with a touch of Sonic Youth-inspired guitar squonk thrown in for good measure. Although the band toured heavily in support of the album, the disc’s poor production and Das Damen’s free-wheeling sound – which was easily a decade ahead of its time – did little to attract an audience.

Triskaidekaphobe was the band’s second album for SST, a solid collection of guitar-driven rockers that incorporated elements of ‘60s psychedelica, ‘70s hard rock and proto-metal and ’80s punk. Named after the technical term for the “fear of the number 13,” Triskaidekaphobe, released in 1988, is in many minds the high point of the Das Damen’s career. First of all, the band received a few more dollars to throw at production this time around, so the sound is better than the muddy mix provided Jupiter Eye.

Constant touring had sharpened the band’s sound to a blistering, surgically-precise aural onslaught. The guitars of Walters and Totino dominate the songs, providing cascading riffs and squalls of feedback. The rhythm section is equally impressive; aside from their explosive drumbeats and heavy bass lines, Von Trapp and Hyser create some interesting textures and patterns behind the guitarist’s flying notes. To top it off, the MC5’s Wayne Kramer stops by to contribute what the liner notes call “riff rock,” showing the young pups how an old dog plays the game. In many ways, the music of Das Damen carries a vibe similar to the MC5. Both bands delivered loud, dense, guitar-driven riff-rock; substitute Das Damen’s metallic tendencies for the MC5’s blues-and-jazz influences and you can see the comparison.

The songs themselves were much sharper on Triskaidekaphobe than previously, the acid-drenched instrumental jams shorter and delivered with laser-like focus. “Reverse Into Tomorrow” kicks off like an R.E.M. tune and shares a similar melodic construction, with washes of guitar and a consistent rhythmic barrage building a wall-of-sound behind Walters’ hidden vocals. Sounding like an imploding high-rise before settling into a martial beat not unlike Killing Joke, Walters and Totino’s guitars provide a storm of spiraling leads amidst a rhythmic fury on “firejoke.”

The chaotic “Ruby Woodpecker” is soaked in gasoline and lit up with syncopated, dissonant fretwork while the raucous instrumental “Seven” benefits from its improvisational nature and undeniably tight band chemistry. As good as the instrumental performances are, if there is one drawback to Triskaidekaphobe, it would be Walters’ vocals. Often lost in the mix, the vox are passable, if not particularly strong. The band would have benefited from finding a ballsy frontman a la Plant to shout above Walters and Totino’s amazing six-string work.

Das Damen wasn’t particular influential, and the band’s audience was small, if loyal. Where Das Damen is remembered, it is for their notorious bit of social protest, better known as The Marshmallow Conspiracy EP. Released a few months after Triskaidekaphobe and including two songs from the album, the EP also featured a non-LP track called “Sky Yen” and the controversial “Song For Michael Jackson To $ell.” Michael Jackson had just purchased the rights to the Beatles’ song catalog for around $100 million, so Das Damen recorded its own warped version of “Magical Mystery Tour,” complete with Beatles samples, calling it “Song For Michael Jackson To $ell” and giving themselves credit. The gloved one’s lawyers got involved, the record was recalled, and the band was promptly given the boot by SST.

Although they would break up a couple of years later, thus missing out on the alt-rock explosion of the early ‘90s where they might have found their audience, Das Damen is fondly remembered by those of us who bought their records and saw this talented band perform live. It is somehow fitting that we remember Triskaidekaphobe on Friday the 13th, because if not for bad luck, Das Damen might not have had any luck at all! (SST Records)

Originally published by Trademark of Quality blog

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

CD Review: Supersonic Blues Machine's West of Flushing, South of Frisco (2016)

Supersonic Blues Machine's West of Flushing, South of Frisco
You can tell a lot about a band by who their friends are – and in the case of Supersonic Blues Machine, they come roaring into the room with a monster pedigree. An axe-rattling blues-rock gang consisting of singer and guitarist Lance Lopez, bassist Fabrizio Grossi, and drummer Kenny Aronooff, the band brought along heavy friends like ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes, Walter Trout, and Eric Gales, among other talented fretburners, as guests on their explosive debut.

Not that the Supersonic guys are any slouches themselves: Texas bluesman Lopez has been kicking the can as a solo artist for over a decade and half a dozen albums; Grossi has toured and recorded with talents like Slash, George Clinton, and Steve Lukather; and Aronoff has kept time behind everybody from John Mellencamp and Bob Dylan to Leslie West and Walter Trout. In other words, the Supersonic Blues Machine is a group of veteran musicians who know their stuff, and still get a thrill out of getting together with friends and jamming.

As such, the band's debut album West of Flushing, South of Frisco, offers the sound of joyous, unbridled music-making that falls a bit heavier on the rock side of the blues-rock equation. Unlike a lot of these kinds of affairs, Grossi wrote or co-wrote most of the songs, and he produced the album with a steady hand, providing West of Flushing, South of Frisco with a dynamic sound that accents the band’s bad-ass instrumental prowess. The album-opening “Miracle Man” starts out with a bit of exotic acoustic guitar, soulful vocals, and blasts of harp before blowing up into a chaotic, bluesy maelstrom.

“Running Whiskey,” with Gibbons, is a hot rod rocket launched by the ZZ Top frontman’s delightfully growled vocals, locomotive rhythms, and scorched earth fretwork, while “Can’t Take It No More” is a near-perfect duet with Lopez and Trout swapping vox and git licks. An inspired cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Ain’t No Love (In The Heart of The City)” is given an expansive reading that showcase’s Lopez’s immense guitar skills. If you’re a fan of any of the aforementioned guitar stars mentioned above, you’re going to find a lot to like this debut by Supersonic Blues Machine. Grade: B+ (Provogue Records, released February 26, 2016)

Buy the CD from Supersonic Blues Machine’s West of Flushing, South of Frisco

CD Review: Fairport Convention's Live In Finland 1971 (2016)

Fairport Convention's Live In Finland 1971
For those unfamiliar with this legendary band, Fairport Convention was one of the first wave of British folk-rock outfits that masterfully welded British folk tradition to an electric rock n’ roll framework. The early sound of the band, upon its formation in 1967, was built around the delightful guitars of Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol. Over the first four or five years of the band, and with classic albums like Unhalfbricking and Liege & Lief, Fairport Convention also featured talented vocalists like Sandy Denny and Iain Matthews.

That’s not the version of Fairport Convention that you’ll hear on Live In Finland 1971, but that’s not to say that’s necessarily a bad thing. Denny was long gone by the time of this August ’71 show, Thompson had just gone out the door, and Matthews had already launched his solo career (with help from his former bandmates) with 1969’s Matthews Southern Comfort album.

Touring in support of their overlooked and underappreciated Angel Delight album, this version of Fairport Convention – now comprised of bassist Dave Pegg, drummer Dave Mattacks, and fiery fiddle player Dave Swarbrick along with founding guitarist Nicol – raised a bit of a ruckus with a rowdy set that featured a couple of songs from Angel Delight (the traditional “Bridge Over the River Ash” and the original “The Journeyman’s Grace,” penned by Swarbrick and Thompson”) but otherwise relied heavily on traditional British folk tunes.

While the first couple of songs (the aforementioned Angel Delight tracks) are a wee bit wonky with the fiddleplay for my taste, there’s a fine instrumental balance on “Matty Grove” (from Liege & Leaf) and the lively “Sir B. McKenzie’s Daughter’s Lament” is a spry, foot-shuffling medley and jig and reels guaranteed to get the blood flowing. The sound on Live In Finland 1971 is excellent, especially given the era in which it was recorded, and the performance showcases the solid talents of this latter-day Fairport Convention line-up. Grade: B (Real Gone Music, released June 3, 2016)

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Sunday, July 10, 2016

CD Review: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s Got A Mind To Give Up Living - Live 1966 (2016)

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s Got A Mind To Give Up Living
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band were musical trailblazers not because they were fusing blues music and rock ‘n’ roll unlike any band before them – John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and the Yardbirds, among others, had already been doing so on the other side of the pond, even if they were relatively unknown to American audiences. No, Butterfield’s group was influential because they were the first interracial band to emerge from the 1960s, and they played Chicago blues with a rock ‘n’ roll edge that retained the emotional soul of the former and the unbridled energy of the latter.

The band was formed in Chicago in 1963 by homegrown blues fan Paul Butterfield and transplanted Oklahoman Elvin Bishop, both of who were ostensibly attending the University of Chicago at the time but, in reality, spent more time in the city’s notorious blues clubs than in classes. The offer of a regular performing gig prompted Butterfield to lure bassist Jerome Arnold and drummer Sam Lay from Muddy Waters’ band, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was formed. The band caught the eye of Elektra Records producer Paul Rothchild and, adding the phenomenal guitarist Michael Bloomfield to the line-up, they secured a record deal with the label and thus a legend was born.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s Got A Mind To Give Up Living

After several misfires in the studio, the band released its self-titled debut album in late 1965; keyboardist Mark Naftalin was brought on board during the album’s recording sessions to expand the band’s sound. With Butterfield on the microphone and blowing a mighty blues harp (influenced by the likes of Junior Wells and Little Walter), Bloomfield adding his innovative lead guitar, Bishop providing solid rhythm guitar, and a seasoned rhythm section holding down the bottom end, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band quickly made a name for themselves as an electrifying and imaginative live outfit. Although the band’s debut album only rose to #123 on the Billboard album chart, it has since become a blues-rock touchstone and is widely considered one of the truly pioneering albums of the blues.

The band toured across the country in the wake of their debut album, appearing at the Newport Folk Festival in ’65 (even playing behind Bob Dylan); opening for the Jefferson Airplane in San Francisco; and hitting the east coast with a May 1966 performance at the Unicorn Coffee House in Boston, Massachusetts. By this time, Sam Lay had fallen ill and was replaced by jazz drummer Billy Davenport, himself an alumnus of Muddy Waters’ and Howlin’ Wolf’s bands. One of the Butterfield band’s rafter-shaking performances at the Unicorn Coffee House was recorded, the performance recently rediscovered and released on CD by the good folks at Real Gone Music as Got A Mind To Give Up Living – Live 1966. Previously unreleased – I can’t even find mention of this particular show in any of my bootleg LP references – this dynamite 13-track live set earns its legit release status.

Born In Chicago

Capturing the band at the peak of its performance skills, Got A Mind To Give Up Living offers up a mix of songs from the band’s debut and their upcoming musical tour de force, East-West, which was recorded and released later in 1966. Providing an hour-plus of low-fidelity, high-energy jams, the albums kicks off with a rattletrap instrumental vamp to introduce the band, jumping directly into an inspired take on Elmore James’ “Look Over Yonders Wall” that features Butterfield’s vibrant harp, Bloomfield’s stinging guitar licks, and the rhythm section’s rollicking instrumental backdrop. The band’s signature song, the Nick Gravenites-penned “Born In Chicago,” offers up a rowdy good time; Butterfield’s rapid-fire reading of the lyrics matched by a similarly fast-paced but multi-textured rhythm track, which itself is neatly embroidered by the frontman’s fluid harp playing.

“Love Her With A Feeling” is a vintage 1930s-era Tampa Red blues song famously covered by guitarist Freddie King; never recorded to album by Butterfield and crew, it’s delivered this night as a slow-burn Chicago blues dirge, Bloomfield’s amazing fretwork leaping out of the arrangement as Butterfield’s emotional vocals are underlined by his mournful harp and the band’s steady, traditional Chicago blues beat. Later recorded for East-West, “Get Out Of My Life, Woman” was written by New Orleans music legend Allen Toussaint, and the band evinces a funky Crescent City groove atop which Butterfield lays down his vocals and Naftalin adds his lively, melodic keyboard flourishes. With a similar vibe, the band’s cover of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ R&B gem “One More Heartache” is an up-tempo lil’ rocker that benefits from Davenport’s jazzy percussion and Butterfield’s upbeat vocals and brilliant accompanying harp.

The instrumental “Work Song,” also from the band’s then-forthcoming album, is a romping, stomping extended jam courtesy of jazz trumpeter Nat Adderley (brother of saxman Cannonball), the song allowing each of the band members to step into the spotlight for a little solo time. The performance never loses cohesion or energy, though (and the listener never loses interest, even after 12+ minutes). The title track here is one of the darker numbers from East-West, a real blues tear-jerker that features some of Butterfield’s most emotional and nuanced harp-play as well as Bloomfield’s frenetic guitar solos. The Muddy Waters’ blues standard “Got My Mojo Working” closes out the album, Arnold and Davenport laying down a fine shuffling groove that allows Butterfield’s harp and Bloomfield’s guitar to run free.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Let’s address the elephant in the room first, shall we? The sound on Got A Mind To Give Up Living is, to put it mildly, “less than perfect.” I have no doubt that engineer Mike Milchner did the best he had with the tapes he was provided, but as the old adage goes, “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” Recording technology in 1966 was still in the cave-painting era, and whatever rig was used to capture this otherwise blistering performance was probably somewhat Neanderthal in nature. Bloomfield’s usually nuanced vocals are often washed out or redlined, too hot for the tape. There’s an overall echoed sound that club spelunkers will readily recognize, and more than a little fuzz growing on the cave walls, if you catch my meaning...

That being said, Got A Mind To Give Up Living documents a prime performance by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and there just ain’t that many of those around, Bunkie! Milchner seems to have brightened up the instruments so that, for instance, Butterfield’s wired harp playing and Bloomfield’s electrifying fretwork stand tall in the mix, while Davenport’s steady pounding of the skins provides an anchor for many of the performances. Arnold’s fluid bassplay is almost altogether lost in the din and distortion, and Bishop’s skilled rhythmic work is mostly indiscernible.

Longtime fans of Butterfield and Bloomfield will certainly appreciate the performance, but newcomers should probably start with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and East-West albums before venturing into these waters. There’s no arguing, though, that at their prime the Butterfield gang was simply explosive on stage, and Got A Mind To Give Up Living captures the full megatonnage of the band’s performance. Grade: B+ (Real Gone Music, released June 3, 2016)

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Walter Trout’s ALIVE In Amsterdam Tour

Walter Trout’s ALIVE In Amsterdam
Touring in support of his recently-released live album ALIVE In Amsterdam, blues-rock guitarist Walter Trout – one of the Rev’s personal favorites – has announced that he’ll be hitting the road in August for a number of North American performances. Trout’s tour opens on August 13th with an appearance at the Cincinnati Blues Festival and will close in Denver, Colorado on August 30th, 2016 at the Oriental Theater. After a brief romp across Europe, Trout will return to the states for a slate of December shows that are as of yet unannounced.

Trout’s ALIVE In Amsterdam is a red-hot collection of performances recorded in November 2015 in Amsterdam’s Royal Theatre CarrĂ©. ALIVE In Amsterdam has been released as both a two-CD set and a three-album set pressed in glorious 180gr black vinyl. In a press release for the album, Trout states “we were rocking. If people are expecting a laid-back show, that's not what they’ll get. This is potent stuff.  That whole tour was kinda triumphant for me. Just to be back, after what I went through. But also to be playing with a renewed energy and commitment.”

With songs pulled from every era of his five-decade career, ALIVE In Amsterdam includes the Luther Allison cover “I'm Back,” the plaintive B.B. King tribute “Say Goodbye To The Blues,” the harmony-bolstered rocker “Almost Gone” and the raucous “Tomorrow Seems So Far Away” from Trout’s Battle Scars album and much more. Check out the video for ALIVE In Amsterdam below and then get ready to catch Trout perform live when he comes to your hometown!

Walter Trout's August 2016 Tour Dates

8/13 @ Cincinnati Blues Festival, Cincinnati OH
8/14 @ Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland OH
8/16 @ City Winery, New York NY
8/18 @ Violet's, Barrie, Ontario CAN
8/19 @ Violet's, Barrie, Ontario CAN
8/20 @ Seneca Casino, Niagara Falls NY
8/21 @ Funk 'n' Waffles, Syracuse NY
8/24 @ Castle Theatre, Bloomington IL
8/25 @ Redstone Room, Davenport IA
8/26 @ Paola Roots Fest, Paola KS
8/27 @ Playing With Fire Concert Series, Omaha NE
8/28 @ Lefty's Live Music, Des Moines IA
8/30 @ Oriental Theater, Denver CO

Fossils: Ralph Records – Musick For Weirdos (1978)

Ralph Records' Musick for Weirdos
[click to embiggen]
Ralph Records' Musick For Weirdos

Not so much an advertisement for a single album release but rather a clever slab o’ bloato-hype from avant-garde indie label Ralph Records for a slew of their releases. Formed in 1972 in San Francisco by cult rockers the Residents when they realized that no corporate label would come anywhere near the band without a hazmat suit and ten-foot-pole, Ralph’s first album release came in 1974 with the extraordinary Meet The Residents, as bizarre-o a chunk of PVC as one would ever slap on a turntable. After their acclaimed debut, Residents’ albums fell like acid rain on the fringes of American rock ‘n’ roll, beginning with 1976’s The Third Reich ‘n Roll and following with 1977’s Fingerprince, 1978’s Not Available and the oddball Duck Stab!/Buster & Glen, a compilation of  the band’s seven-song Duck Stab! EP on the A-side and Buster & Glen holding down the B-side of the album.

The Residents evidently attracted a lot of like-minded fellow-travelers, and Ralph Records began releasing 45rpm singles and full-length albums by a number of, ah…shall we say ‘unique’ artists who fell into orbit around the label. The first was guitarist Philip “Snakefinger” Lithman, whose 7” single “The Spot” was release by Ralph in 1978, followed by a wonderful full-length album the next year, Chewing Hides The Sound featuring songwriting and musical contributions by the Residents as well as covers of Kraftwerk’s “The Model” and composer Ennio Morricone’s “Magic and Ecstasy,” from the soundtrack of the movie Exorcist II: The Heretic. Of Snakefinger’s debut LP, the All Music Guide’s Tom Schulte says “this is the peculiar and unique material of a cult guitarist extraordinaire. Each song is a quirky island in a sea of sonic oddity.”

Snakefinger would record five albums total for Ralph Records, as well as a number of singles and appearances on several of the Residents’ albums. The label would go on to release and promote music from a number of original, singular artists during the 1980s and ‘90s, including Fred Frith, Voice Farm, Tuxedomoon, MX-80 Sound, Renaldo and the Loaf, and the ‘King’ of the American underground, Eugene Chadbourne. This advertisement, culled from an old issue of Trouser Press – perhaps the only music zine to pay attention to Ralph Records and its bastard children at the time – is a striking and effective way to promote the label’s releases, displaying cover shots of several singles/EPs along with the label’s recognizable logo. An almost subliminal phrase “you will buy lots of Ralph Records” is repeated in the background, and the label’s address on the side encourages the curious to send off for a catalog…an important bit of marketing that seems quaint in the Internet era...

Sunday, July 3, 2016

CD Review: Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection (2016)

Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection
When blues fan Bruce Iglauer formed Alligator Records in 1971 to release an album by Chicago blues stalwart Hound Dog Taylor, little did he know the journey he had begun. Forty-five years and hundreds of album releases later, Alligator Records is the second longest-running independent blues label in America (lagging behind his mentor Bob Koester’s Delmark Records imprint). It could be said (and I’d argue this ‘til I’m ‘blue’ in the face…) that Alligator has done more to define and shape blues music than any other institution, and the label’s back catalog features classic albums by legends like Son Seals, Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, Otis Rush, Johnny Copeland, and too many more to mention.

This year, Alligator celebrates its 45th anniversary and, as is Iglauer’s tradition, the label has released a two-disc, budget-priced compilation set that showcases the label’s wealth of talent. The Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection provides listeners with a taste of the diverse styles of blues that has been released by the label through the years, powerful music that ranges from the harp-driven blues of James Cotton, Carey Bell, and Charlie Musselwhite to powerhouse female vocalists like Koko Taylor and Shemekia Copeland to skilled six-string maestros like Anders Osborne, Luther Allison, and Smokin’ Joe Kubek.

Alligator Records: 45th Anniversary Collection

Disc one of the Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection opens with the ever-raucous Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials, one of Iglauer’s favorite gang of houserockers. The band kicks out the jams with “Hold That Train,” from their 2008 album Full Tilt. Befitting one of the hardest-working bands in the blues, Lil’s Ed’s guitar licks shimmy and shake while the talented band lays down a locomotive rhythm that sends the performance into the stratosphere. The mood changes considerably with Son Seals’ “Cotton Picking Blues,” a slow-burning blues number from his 1973 debut album for the label. A perfect showcase for Seals’ unique and powerful fretwork, “Cotton Picking Blues” is one of those tunes that simply defines the blues genre.

Shemekia Copeland is one of the best blues singers on the planet today, and if you don’t believe me, just listen to her reading of her legendary father Johnny Copeland’s “Devil’s Hand.” Her emotional vocals soar above the band’s sparse instrumentation, wrapping around the lyrics like an iron fist in a velvet glove. The late, great Koko Taylor showcases her own not insignificant vocal abilities with the powerful “Voodoo Woman.” Taken from Taylor’s 1975 album I Got What It Takes, the performance pairs Koko’s hurricane-strength vocals with Mighty Joe Young’s wiry, provocative guitar licks to great effect. Selwyn Birchwood is one of Alligator’s recent finds, a talented young songwriter and fretburner whose “Don’t Call No Ambulance” is a fine boogie-rocker that displays his fiery guitar style and soulful vocals.

The father and son team of Carey and Lurrie Bell offers up two talented generations of bluesmen, Carey’s smoky vocals and subtle, classical blues harp providing a fine counterpoint to the teenaged Lurrie’s elegant finger-picking on “The Road Is So Long,” from the pair’s 2004 album Second Nature. Original Alligator houserocker Hound Dog Taylor lays down an unabashed boogie with his swinging, infectious “Take Five,” from his 1974 album Natural Boogie. Lest one think that these are the only good tunes on disc one, there are also solid, rockin’ performances by artists as diverse as Elvin Bishop, Toronzo Cannon, Tommy Castro, Charlie Musselwhite, Joe Louis Walker, Anders Osborne, and Mavis Staples, among others, to consider.

James Cotton, Luther Allison & Michael “Iron Man” Burks

Disc two opens, appropriately, with the legendary James Cotton’s “Cotton Mouth Man,” from his 2013 album of the same name. Cotton lost his voice due to cancer some time ago, but the man still blows a mean harp, and it rages up and down, over and under this performance while Darrell Nulisch delivers the vocals and Cotton’s buddy Joe Bonamassa tears up the strings, his galloping fretwork a perfect match to Cotton’s rampaging harp. Albert Collins, a/k/a the “Ice Man,” was a cool customer, indeed, and as shown by his scorching performance of “If Trouble Was Money,” the man knew his blues. Collins’ vocals evinced more than a little of his native Texas patois, but it was his guitar that did most of the talking on this song from the guitarist’s 1983 Live In Japan album.

Talented singer, songwriter, and guitarist Jarekus Singleton is another major find for Alligator, the young artist turning full-time to music after a career-ending injury derailed his dreams of pro basketball. Singleton’s label debut, Refuse To Lose, is the source of “I Refuse To Lose,” an inspirational, high-flying blues number with hip-hop overtones and biographical lyrics. The late Michael “Iron Man” Burks was well on his way to blues superstardom when fate intervened; his sizzling “Empty Promises,” from the 2008 album Iron Man, is a solid example of Burks’ talents. Burks’ soulful vocals infuse the lyrics with heavy gravitas while his devastating guitar playing provides an emotional catharsis. Curtis Salgado’s personal story could have been similarly tragic – the man has beat cancer twice – and he lays it out for the listener in the biographical “Walk A Mile In My Blues.” Above a nuanced, bluesy soundtrack with jazzy flourishes, Salgado sings his tale of woe with authority and heartbreak.

Legendary blues-rock guitarist Johnny Winter recorded three solid albums for Alligator back in the 1980s, and his performance on “Shake Your Moneymaker,” from 1986’s classic Third Degree, captures the Texas bluesman rockin’ the rafters with a wired take on the R&B standard that offers up plenty of flamethrower guitar and growling vocals. A.C. Reed was a Chicago blues favorite, contributing his red-hot sax to a number of artists’ albums. Here he steps out with “She’s Fine,” from his 1987 album I’m In The Wrong Business! A duet with Bonnie Raitt, her moaning slide guitar is a perfect accompaniment to Reed’s subtle tones. One of the giants of blues guitar, Luther Allison is well represented by his Alligator recordings. Taken from 1999’s Live In Chicago, “Will It Ever Change?” offers five minutes of Allison’s scorching, imaginative guitar and warm vocals. Want more? Disc two also includes songs by Roomful of Blues, Guitar Shorty, Billy Boy Arnold, Ann Rabson, and the Holmes Brothers, among others.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

What’s not to like? The Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection offers up two discs of guaranteed “genuine houserockin’ music” taken from across the entire four-and-a-half decades of the label’s existence – 37 fantastic performances in all from some of the best and brightest talents the blues has had to offer in both the 20th and 21st century.

Bruce Iglauer and his merry crew show no signs of slowing down, so I thoroughly expect to revisit the Alligator catalog again in five years for the label’s big 5-0 anniversary. In the meantime, the Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection provides long-time fans with a reminder of the quality of music the label has to offer and serves as a great introduction to Alligator’s rich catalog of blues for the newcomer. Grade: A+ (Alligator Records, released June 10, 2016)

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Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records

Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records DVD

Filmmaker Robert Mugge, director of Deep Blues and Big Shoes, helped the venerable Alligator Records celebrate its 20th anniversary with Pride and Joy, part documentary and part concert film. Reissued for the first time on DVD, the film offers interviews with Alligator main man Bruce Iglauer, his mentor Bob Koester, producer Dick Shurman, and several of the label’s artists as well as behind-the-scenes footage of the label’s operation.

It’s the music that speaks the loudest, though – superb performances from Alligator’s anniversary tour feature Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials, Elvin Bishop, Katie Webster, Lonnie Brooks (with son Ronnie), and Koko Taylor. A raucous, show-closing, all-star jam on “Sweet Home Chicago” reminds one of just how good the blues can be. (MVD Visual, released April 22, 2016)

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