Sunday, January 25, 2015

Crowdfunding: Create An Album With Ted Drozdowski's Scissormen!

Ted Drozdowski
Nashville bluesman Ted Drozdowski and his band the Scissormen have launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise money to finance their new album, titled Love & Life. So, you ask, “why should I care about some guy whose name I can’t say, much less spell, and cough up the coin to help unleash another indie record on the weak-willed public?” 

Well, Bunkie, if the Reverend’s inspired word from on high isn’t enough to get you to crack open that dusty, moth-eaten bankbook of yours, or prompt you to take a sledge hammer and blowtorch to your titanium piggy bank, then how about this – Drozdowski is no latecomer to the blues party like some folks asking for your donation. No, ol’ Ted is a lifer, an award-winning music journalist and critically-acclaimed musician with more than a few decades in the trenches.

Drozdowski acquits himself nicely in the balancing act between critic and artist, Thalia and Melpomene as it were, the man both a knowledgeable and entertaining writer about music as well as a fiery, talented guitarist and songwriter thoroughly steeped in the history and tradition of the blues. If that’s not enough to engage your sense of guilt and motivate you to part with your paycheck, then consider this…the Scissormen have a proven track record of excellence. Recent albums like 2008’s Luck In A Hurry or 2012’s Big Shoes: Walking and Talking the Blues, a collaboration with documentary filmmaker Robert Mugge, have garnered a truckload of accolades and entertained audiences across this spinning green rock.

If you care a lick about the blues, check out Ted’s video for Love & Life on his Indiegogo page and then be prepared to part with some cash for this worthy project. If you don’t donate, I’ll forever haunt your dreams (which, to be honest, I may just do anyway for the lulz). Give 'em a listen, below... 


Sunday, January 18, 2015

CD Review: Supertramp's Crime of the Century (deluxe edition)

Supertramp's Crime of the Century
Supertramp’s third album, Crime of the Century, was essentially the work of a brand new band. Formed in 1969 by keyboardist and singer Rick Davies, Supertramp originally enjoyed financial support from a Dutch millionaire and, after scoring a deal with A&M Records, the band recorded a pair of art-rock albums for the label that were released in 1970 and ‘71. Mixing progressive rock virtuosity with British pop sensibilities, the two records served more as a showcase for the individual band member’s instrumental skills than as a true creative statement. Neither album sold particularly well so when their benefactor withdrew his patronage, Supertramp essentially broke up.

Davies and fellow founding member Roger Hodgson (vocals, guitar) worked to put together a new Supertramp, recruiting American drummer Bob C. Benberg from pub-rockers Bees Make Honey, and making Dougie Thomson, who had already been substituting on bass, a full-time member. Thomson brought in his former Alan Bown Set bandmate John Helliwell (saxophone) and what is today known as the classic Supertramp line-up was formed. This was the band that would record Crime of the Century with producer/engineer Ken Scott, who had worked previously with the Beatles, David Bowie, and Pink Floyd. Whereas previously Davies and Hodgson had written songs together, the widening gap in their interests and lives spurred them to begin writing individually, resulting in a glut of material.

Supertramp’s Crime of the Century


The band entered the studio with a surplus of great songs, many of which would end up on subsequent albums. Crime of the Century tempered the band’s previous overt progressive tendencies with more of a pop-rock sheen. Although the new players were every bit as talented as the earlier members (if not more so), the complex songs were less a display of instrumental virtuosity than they were careful constructs of sound melody. Producer Scott pushed the band to think outside of the box and utilize the studio as an instrument in itself, and to incorporate non-traditional sounds into their songs. Not that Supertramp entirely abandoned their prog-rock proclivities – the album’s opening track, “School,” is somewhat the best of both worlds, featuring lush instrumentation and extended musical passages alongside its pop melody.

The album’s second single, “Bloody Well Right,” was indicative of the band’s new direction, showcasing a more muscular, hard rock sound with proggy overtones that depended on Hodgson’s imaginative fretwork and the song’s distinctive chorus. The addition of Helliwell’s soulful sax playing fleshed out the song’s minimal lyrics and helped catch the ears of U.S. audiences, which sent the song into the Top 40. By contrast, the album’s other single release – Hodgson’s “Dreamer” – didn’t chart at all stateside but rose to #13 in the band’s U.K. homeland. It’s a whimsical performance, Hodgson’s lofty vocals assisted by Davies’ busy, insistent keyboard line. The vocal harmonies weren’t dissimilar to what Queen was doing at the time, but the song’s syncopated rhythms and ethereal vocals help create a mesmerizing listening experience.

If Everyone Was Listening


If Crime of the Century is remembering today entirely on the basis of “Bloody Well Right” and “Dreamer,” that would be legacy enough, but there are plenty of other strong songs on the album that many band members consider Supertramp’s creative pinnacle. Davies’ subtle piano flourishes on “Hide In Your Shell” mimic melodic themes he uses throughout the album, tying all the songs together as a single related composition. The song’s instrumentation is somewhat proggy and artful, often working at odd angles to the vocals, resulting in a breathtaking performance. Ostensibly the protagonist behind the album’s loosely-conceptual lyrical themes of loneliness and alienation, “Rudy” provides a showcase for Davies’ fluid keyboards, the song’s jazzy undercurrent and Hodgson’s biting guitar solos providing a counterpoint to the frequently minimalist instrumentation, at times placing an emphasis on the lyrics and at other times serving to create a moody ambience.

Hodgson’s “If Everyone Was Listening” is the album’s most orchestral track, its swelling instrumentation and busy arrangement sounding not unlike Dark Side of the Moon era Pink Floyd. Davies was a far different piano player than Rick Wright, however, his flailing ivories adding a much more atonal, almost improvisational-jazz styled vibe to the song, an idea that is only bolstered by Helliwell’s flashes of mournful sax. Benberg’s drumming is superb here, not so much keeping time as in providing instrumental support to the often fey effects of the accompanying strings and melancholy piano. The album’s title track is a minor classic in itself, its construction also in a Pink Floyd vein, orchestral passages creating a stark ambience with the occasional jolts of piano, sax, or guitar, while its raucous shouted vocals pre-date Roger Waters’ The Wall by several years.

     

Live At The Hammersmith Odeon 1975


The “deluxe” 2014 reissue of Crime of the Century includes a bonus disc that documents a March 1975 performance by the band at the Hammersmith Odeon. Just as Supertramp had collaborated with producer Ken Scott to create a new sonic paradigm in the studio, the band’s management worked with electronics experts to create an innovative sound system to properly reproduce the band’s complex music in a live setting. The results speak for themselves, as the Hammersmith Odeon performance sounds every bit as crystalline and aurally engaging as the original album itself. The live set begins with the first four songs from the album, expanded a bit, perhaps, from the LP versions with a little more instrumentation, but nothing too ostentatious, the band pretty much recreating the album tracks with the addition of small, interesting instrumental flourishes.

Supertramp veer off course by the fifth song, however, the band drawing upon the material they had stockpiled to deliver a taste of their upcoming album, Crisis? What Crisis? Featuring four songs from that album, which would be released in late 1975, the new songs don’t stray that far from the sound the band had crafted for Crime of the Century. “Sister Moonshine” offers up some nice vocal interplay, the arrangement highlighted by Davies’ gentle keyboard runs while “Lady,” the lead-off single from the 1975 album, is a nifty pop triumph with lively vocals and keyboards. The odd man here is “A – You’re Adorable,” a 1940s-era pop song that was a hit for Perry Como and Jo Stafford, spoken/sung here by saxman Helliwell, who provides muted, slightly-crooning vocals above Davies’ discordant piano. The band closes out the live set with the four remaining songs from Crime of the Century, highlighted by the title track, which is provided a stunning instrumental performance.
      

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Crime of the Century was considered Supertramp’s commercial breakthrough, the album yielding a pair of minor hit singles in what was an increasingly album-oriented rock ‘n’ roll world. The album rose as high as #38 on the U.S. charts on its way to Gold™ Record status (for 500,000+ copies sold) while it hit a lofty #4 on the charts in the U.K. It was also somewhat of a worldwide success, charting Top 10 in Canada and Germany and Top 20 in Australia and France while also developing a following in the Netherlands. More importantly, Crime of the Century provided the band with a musical blueprint that, although it would take two more modestly-successful albums to perfect, would emerge at the end of the decade with Supertramp’s 1979 smash hit LP Breakfast In America.

The creative tensions and lifestyle differences that had pushed Davies and Hodgson to become individual songwriters also provided Supertramp with a fascinating complexity and dichotomy of sound that transcended the band’s prog-rock roots to bring something uniquely exquisite in its stead. Although Supertramp is often denied the respect and admiration provided contemporaries like Yes, Pink Floyd, or Genesis, their influence can be heard today in like-minded prog-pop outfits like Spock’s Beard and the Flower Kings. From humble beginnings, Crime of the Century pushed Supertramp onto a world stage and cemented the band’s considerable musical legacy. Although this 40th anniversary reissue of the album lacks any studio outtakes, the addition of a live disc and an illustrated booklet with well-written (and extensive) new liner notes should prompt fans to upgrade their old CDs. Grade: A- (A&M Records, released September 1974, reissued December 2014)

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Supertramp's Crime of the Century (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Harvey ‘The Snake’ Mandel Six-Disc Box Coming!

Harvey Mandel's Snake Box
Blues-rock guitarist Harvey Mandel has long been a favorite ‘round these parts, the underrated, innovative fretburner seldom getting the credit he deserves for all the great music he’s made through the years. Sadly, many of his best solo recordings have long been out of print and copies have been more painful than a root canal to scratch up. Luckily, Purple Pyramid Records will be fixing this unfortunate situation when they release the limited edition, six-disc Snake Box set comprised of Mandel’s classic first five solo albums and a sixth bonus disc with an unreleased 1968 concert recording.

Born in Detroit but raised in Chicago, Mandel fell under the spell of the blues at an early age, and the first time we heard of the young guitarist was as part of Charlie Musselwhite’s South Side Band. Mandel appeared on Musselwhite’s Stand Back! LP, widely considered to be one of the best Chicago blues albums of all time, with Mandel adding his imaginative fretwork behind the frontman’s soulful, frenetic harp playing. Moving to the San Francisco Bay area, Mandel fell in with like-minded artists and was convinced by Blue Cheer producer Abe “Voco” Kesh to record a solo album, resulting in his acclaimed 1968 instrumental debut, Cristo Redentor.

After releasing his second solo effort, 1969’s Righteous, Mandel replaced Henry Vestine as lead guitarist of the legendary blues-rock outfit Canned Heat. The Woodstock Festival was Mandel’s third show with the band, and he’d go on to tour extensively and record three albums with Canned Heat, including the band’s landmark Future Blues LP. Recruited by British blues-rock legend John Mayall, Mandel joined the Bluesbreakers in 1970, appearing on three albums with Mayall, including 1971’s classic Back To The Roots. In between Canned Heat and the Bluesbreakers, Mandel released his third solo album, 1970’s Games Guitars Play, his first recorded with a vocalist.

Leaving Mayall’s band, Mandel returned to his solo career, releasing what his considered his best work, 1971’s Baby Batter, the album a masterful and influential hybrid of blues, jazz, and rock instrumentals that included former Canned Heat/Bluesbreakers bandmate Larry Taylor on bass. Mandel veered towards jazz-rock fusion with 1972’s The Snake album, his fifth, which also featured former Mayall/Zappa violinist Don “Sugarcane” Harris, with whom he would form the short-lived band Pure Food and Drug Act, which released a single 1972 album, Choice Cuts. Mandel has continued to record solo through the present day, as well as performing with a reformed Canned Heat through much of the 2000s.

Mandel somehow found time to audition for Mick Taylor’s spot in the Rolling Stones in the mid-1970s; he didn’t get the gig, but he appears on two songs – “Hot Stuff” and “Memory Motel” – from the band’s 1976 album Black and Blue. Through the years, Mandel has also lent his six-string skills to recordings by the Ventures, Graham Bond, Love, and bluesman Jimmy Witherspoon, among others, as well as playing on several albums from his old Chicago running buddy Barry Goldberg and his former Bluesbreakers bandmate “Sugarcane” Harris. Mandel’s innovative two-handed fretboard tapping technique – first used by The Snake in 1973 – would influence a generation of rock guitarists to follow, including Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai.     

Each CD in the Snake Box is packaged in its own sleeve with the original album artwork, and the set includes a full-color booklet with new liner notes. Amazon.com has a pre-order page up with the set priced at around $36, which works out to $6 per disc…not a lot of money for a heck of a lot of fine music. Whether you’re a long-time Harvey Mandel fan or a newcomer, this is one set you’re going to want to get behind!

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Harvey Mandel's Snake Box

 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Alligator Records Releases Nine Digital-Only Collections

Chicago blues institution Alligator Records may be pushing 50 years old, but the label continues to swing with the times, signing talented young artists like Selwyn Birchwood and Jarekus Singleton, essentially promoting both the future of the blues with new artists, and the music’s past with a catalog of essential blues music.

In promoting this rich back catalog of great music, Alligator Records has announced the January 15, 2015 digital-only release of nine “best of” albums that represent an impressive slate of artists. Koko Taylor, Hound Dog Taylor, James Cotton, Coco Montoya, Tinsley Ellis, Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, Roomful of Blues, Eric Lindell, and Lonnie Mack will all have the best of their best recorded for Alligator released as digital albums. Each “best of” set features between 15 and 20 songs and runs from 70 to 90 minutes, and will be available for download from iTunes, Amazon.com and other major digital music retailers.

Label founder Bruce Iglauer has chosen a great set of artists to represent the diversity and electricity of Alligator Records, and he personally re-mastered each “best of” album. Although all of these artists are worthy of your time and monetary investment, if pressed I’d have to choose three traditional artists to begin with – Koko Taylor, Hound Dog Taylor, and James Cotton. Miss Koko was the “Queen of Chicago Blues” until her death in 2009 and The Best of Koko Taylor features 17 songs that span the entirety of her lengthy tenure with Alligator, including such classic cuts as “Wang Dang Doodle,” “I’m A Woman,” “Evil,” and “Let The Good Times Roll.”

James Cotton’s musical legacy is well-established, the harp wizard honing his skills with the great Muddy Waters before launching a solo career that continues to this day, resulting in the award-winning 2013 album Cotton Mouth Man. The digital The Best of James Cotton offers 17 great performances running over 75 minutes, featuring both live and studio tracks, including material from the acclaimed Harp Attack! album Cotton recorded with fellow harmonica masters Junior Wells, Carey Bell, and Billy Branch.

Chicago blues legend Hound Dog Taylor is the reason why Alligator Records exists, Iglauer originally forming the imprint to record the guitarist and capture his electrifying mojo on disc for posterity. Better than 43 years later, the late Taylor remains one of Alligator’s signature artists, and The Best of Hound Dog Taylor features 18 houserockin’ songs, including seven live cuts, and offers up such raucous tracks as “Give Me Back My Wig,” “Don’t Blame Me,” “She’s Gone,” and a scorching live version of “Kitchen Sink Boogie” among its 72+ minute running time.    

According to Iglauer, re-listening and re-mastering these classic blues tracks was not an easy task. “It was a very enjoyable but tough job choosing which tracks constitute the ‘best’ of these great artists. We chose their biggest radio songs and most-requested fan favorites, but also included some tracks that we consider unrecognized gems among their recordings. New fans will find these a great introduction to these artists, and established fans will find tracks they may be unaware of. I think the re-mastering brings out more details of the music and makes the listener appreciate the quality of these performances even more.”

Foghat & J. Geils Band Top Real Gone Music’s March Slate

Foghat's Live
The esteemed archive label Real Gone Music is getting in on the vinyl craze with two rockin’ reissues of gems from the 1970s – Foghat’s 1977 album Live and the J. Geils Band’s 1973 album Bloodshot, both albums scheduled to be released on March 3, 2015.

Foghat had been on a roll during the mid-1970s, enjoying a trio of Top 40 charting albums: 1974’s Energized, 1975’s Fool For The City (their biggest, at #23), and 1976’s Night Shift (#36), all of which spawned hit singles to fuel their chart positions. Foghat was one of the most popular of the decade’s arena-rock bands, offering ticket-buyers a lot of value for their dollar with a high-octane, high-energy blend of rock, blues, and boogie. Thus, it was only natural, given the overwhelming commercial success of live rock ‘n’ roll LPs during this era (see Peter Frampton, Kiss, Bob Seger, et al), that Foghat’s record label, Bearsville, would release a live disc on the band, 1977’s imaginatively-named Live.

What the album lacked in creative titling it more than made up for with righteous rock ‘n’ roll jams, Live featuring on-stage versions of fan favorites like “Slow Ride” (which rode the charts to #20), “Fool For The City,” and “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” which served to push the album to #11 on the charts. There were but six songs on Live, the album running roughly 38 minutes, but guitarists “Lonesome” Dave Peverett and Rod Price, bassist Craig MacGregor, and drummer Roger Earl made the most of the time, delivering a red-hot set that has withstood the test of time. Real Gone is bringing the legendary set back to hot wax with a 180gr vinyl reissue with limited-edition package that reproduces the original die-cut jacket and four-color inner sleeve.

The J. Geils Band's BloodshotThe third studio album from Boston’s J. Geils Band temporarily lifted the band into the upper reaches of the rock ‘n’ roll stratosphere. Bloodshot, originally released in 1973, would rise to #10 on the charts on the strength of the album’s Top 30 single, “Give It To Me.” The band had already developed a reputation as scorching live performers, the Geils crew’s dynamic live set only partially captured on wax by the previous year’s “Live” Full House LP. Bloodshot offered up nine hard-charging tracks, a combo of bluesy rock, R&B, and soul that, along with the aforementioned hit, would feature great songs like “Southside Shuffle” and “(Ain’t Nothing But A) House Party.” This 180gr vinyl reissue has been pressed on gorgeous red wax with vintage Atlantic Records labels; both the Foghat and J. Geils Band LP reissues were re-mastered and the lacquer cut by Peter Black.