Sunday, July 20, 2014

Michael Bloomfield, Al Kooper & Stephen Stills - Super Session

Bloomfield, Kooper & Stills' Super Session
It is, perhaps, the “Holy Grail” of Michael Bloomfield recordings, the ground-breaking 1968 album Super Session with Al Kooper and Stephen Stills. All of the marquee names on Super Session were “in between” bands – Bloomfield having left Electric Flag, Kooper kicked out of Blood, Sweat & Tears after producing that band’s magnificent Child Is Father To The Man album, and Stills in the process of leaving Buffalo Springfield (but before Crosby, Stills & Nash). They were joined by Bloomfield’s former Electric Flag bandmates bassist Harvey Brooks and keyboardist Barry Goldberg as well as drummer Eddie Hoh.

On August 19th, 2014 Audio Fidelity will release a limited-and-numbered edition of Super Session as a 5.1 Multichannel Hybrid SACD. This new version pares back the 2002 reissue’s four bonus tracks in favor of improved sound for the original nine album tracks; Kooper produced the original album and completed the previously unreleased 5.1 Surround Sound mix in 2006.

In a press release for the album Kooper says “Surround Sound allows the listener to get up close to each musician and hear details you can't hear in stereo.” The two-channel CD stereo can be played on all standard CD players while the SACD stereo requires a SACD player. SACD Surround Sound requires a Multichannel SACD player and system to be properly heard.

Super Session has its roots in the free-wheeling ‘60s. Kooper had become an A&R executive with Columbia Records after leaving Blood, Sweat & Tears, and would go on to work with talents like Nils Lofgren, the Tubes, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Kooper had an idea to record a studio jam session with guitarist Bloomfield, who he had worked with on sessions for Bob Dylan. He enlisted the other instrumental talents to back them in the studio on a set of rock, soul, and blues tunes mixing newly-minted originals with covers like Curtis Mayfield’s “Man’s Temptation” and the Philly soul classic “Stop.”

Bloomfield worked one day in the studio, recording the five tracks that would become the first side of Super Session, before packing his bags and going home. Kooper knew that his unpredictable friend suffered from insomnia and heroin addiction and, without dropping a beat, he recruited Stills for the second studio session, recordings that would become side two of the album including a lengthy jam on Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry,” and bluesman Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me.”

The result would be a classic of late 1960s rock ‘n’ blues, the album rising to #12 on the Billboard albums chart and eventually earning a Gold Record for sales. Super Session has been reissued numerous times through the years, and it’s earned its classic status, displaying timeless performances that still sound great 45+ years later.  

Super Session track list:

1. Albert's Shuffle
2. Stop
3. Man's Temptation
4. His Holy Modal Majesty
5. Really
6. It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry
7. Season of the Witch
8. You Don't Love Me
9. Harvey's Tune

Buy the SACD from Super Session (Hybrid Multichannel SACD)

Friday, July 11, 2014

CD Preview: The Flock’s Heaven Bound – The Lost Album

The Flock's Heaven Bound
The Flock was one of the more interesting of the great lost bands from the late 1960s/early ‘70s, the Chicago-based outfit incorporating elements of jazz, fusion, and progressive rock into an entirely unique sound that revolved around talented violinist Jerry Goodman. More adventuresome, both on stage and in the studio, than contemporaries like Chicago (a/k/a Chicago Transit Authority) or Blood Sweat & Tears, the Flock was signed by Columbia Records, back in the days when major labels would take a chance on any crazy old sounds.

The band recorded a pair of albums for the label – their acclaimed self-titled debut in 1969 (which hit #48 on the Billboard albums chart), and which featured liner notes by British blues-rock legend John Mayall, and 1970’s Dinosaur Swamps, which was less successful commercially, but yielded a memorable track in the soaring “Big Bird.” The band had begun work on a third album for the label when Columbia Records president Clive Davis allegedly stole Goodman away from the band to play with guitarist John McLaughlin’s new Mahavishnu Orchestra project and the Flock dissolved.

The band re-formed a couple years down the road to record 1975’s Inside Out for Mercury Records, but when the album received poor reviews and failed to meet sales expectations, they were dropped by the label. The band’s singer and guitarist, Fred Glickstein, continued to write and record new material with fellow Flock founding members Jerry Smith (bass) and Ron Karpman (drums) in anticipation of a record deal that never came. The tapes were stored away until now, and will finally see release on CD as Heaven Bound – The Lost Album on July 22nd, 2014 by Cleopatra Records’ imprint Purple Pyramid.
In a press release for the long lost album, Fred Glickstein says “we are all very lucky to have had that happy musical trip and the chance to entertain people in the U.S. and Europe. A special thanks to everyone at Cleopatra Records for helping this project become a reality and for keeping the spirit of the Flock alive.” We have the tracklist for Heaven Bound below.

The Flock’s Heaven Bound track list:
1. Heaven Bound
2. The Bells
3. Reasons
4. Crying Out/The Voice
5. Don't You Know (Who I Am)
6. Makes It All Worthwhile
7. Noise Boys
8. Mama
9. Rolling With the Clones
10. Love Away
11. C'mon Let's Walk
12. Be Strong and Survive
13. The Christos Jig
14. The Test
15. Outroduction

Buy the CD from The Flock's Heaven Bound-The Lost Album

CD Preview: Jim Croce’s Lost Time In A Bottle

Jim Croce's Lost Time In A Bottle
Singer/songwriter Jim Croce enjoyed a too-brief career – just five studio albums in seven years, from 1966 until his tragic death in a small plane crash in 1973. Only five singles were released during his lifetime, three of them Top Ten hits, including the chart-topping “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” In the wake of Croce’s death, six more singles were released over the following couple of years, most notably “Time In A Bottle,” which went number one in 1973, and “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song,” which hit number nine in 1974.

Croce’s imaginative mix of folksong storytelling, pop melodies, and late 1950s/early ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll innocence struck a chord with a mainstream audiences, albeit briefly, resulting in three Gold™ albums and seemingly endless possibilities. As record labels are want to do, various rights holders have released 18 compilation albums that have seemingly scraped the barrel clean of Croce’s extant recordings. The best of these discs is the posthumous Photographs & Memories: His Greatest Hits, released roughly a year after Croce’s death, the 14-track collection including all of the singer’s biggest hits and quickly achieving Platinum™ sales status. 

On July 22nd, 2014 Cleopatra Records will release what is certain to be one of the more interesting of the post-millennial Croce compilations, Lost Time In A Bottle, and one that offers some long-lost new material. The 24 songs on the collection include rare demo versions of Croce hits like “Operator,” “Time In A Bottle,” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” among others, as well as ten live performances from a February 1973 concert at Harper College. The crown achievement of Lost Time In A Bottle, however, is a previously-unreleased 1964 radio broadcast from a Cazenovia College performance early in Croce’s career, the six songs clearly displaying his rapidly-maturing songwriting and storytelling skills.

Lost Time In A Bottle will initially be released on CD, with a two-album vinyl set to follow. We have the complete track listing below, and a link to buy the CD from because we’re just that helpful...
Jim Croce's Lost Time In A Bottle tracklist:

1. Next Time, This Time (Harper College 2/5/73)
2. New York’s Not My Home (Harper College 2/5/73)
3. You Don’t Mess Around With Jim (Harper College 2/5/73)
4. Careful Man (Harper College 2/5/73)
5. A Good Time Man Like Me (Demo)
6. Tractor Trailer Story Intro (Harper College 2/5/73)
7. Speedball Tucker (Demo)
8. Operator (Demo)
9. Hard Time Losin’ Man (Demo)
10. Seems Like Such A Long Time Ago (Demo)
11. It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way (Harper College 2/5/73)
12. Bar Story Intro (Harper College 2/5/73)
13. Roller Derby Queen (Harper College 2/5/73)
14. One Less Set of Footsteps (Harper College 2/5/73)
15. Dreamin’ Again (Harper College 2/5/73)
16. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown (Demo)
17. Time In A Bottle (Demo)
18. I Got A Name (Live 1973)
19. Charley Green, Play That Slide Trombone (Cazenovia College 1964)
20. San Francisco Bay Blues (Cazenovia College 1964)
21. Washington At Valley Forge (Cazenovia College 1964)
22. La Bamba (Cazenovia College 1964)
23. Seek and You Shall Find (Cazenovia College 1964)
24. Woke Up This Morning (Cazenovia College 1964)

Buy the CD from Jim Croce's Lost Time in a Bottle

Kirk Hammett Action Figure To Debut At San Diego Comic-Con!

Kirk Hammett zombie figure
Since this is pretty damn cool, I'm just going let the press release do the talking:

Kirk Von Hammett Toys is proud to present the Famous Zombies Jr. limited edition toy at the year's San Diego Comic Con. The very limited edition green Hammett figure will be available exclusively at San Diego Comic Con, and Kirk will be signing the toy itself at the Nuclear Blast Records/Stern Pinball/JSR merch SDCC booth 503 on Friday July 25th from 1pm to 2pm, and on Saturday July 26th from 2pm to 3pm.

Fans will be able to purchase tickets starting on Wednesday July 23rd for the Friday appearance. Once Friday's tickets are sold-out, Saturday tickets will be released. Tickets are available at the Nuclear Blast Records/Stern Pinball/JSR merch booth (503).     

"I'm stoked to be bringing more exclusive wares to the San Diego Comic Con," says Kirk Von Hammett himself, "Nuclear Blast have been friends for quite some time, so I'm happy to be able to bring one of my exclusives to their booth. Being a fan of comics and movies since I was a kid, it's just a huge honor to be at Comic Con on both sides, selling and buying!"

Be warned, only a strict 300 of these Nuclear Blast Green collectible classics will be available, so act fast to make sure you're in line for yours!

Find out more about Hammett's horrible predilections at Fear

Saturday, July 5, 2014

CD Review: Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin I

Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin I
For those of you born in the Internet age, where music is ubiquitous and it’s relatively easy to pluck nearly any album, however obscure, out of the deepest corners of cyberspace, there’s no good way to relate just how ground-breaking and earth-shaking the first Led Zeppelin album truly was. Rising from the ashes of legendary British blues-rock outfit the Yardbirds which, at one time, boasted of such six-string heavyweights as Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck among its members, guitarist Jimmy Page was the literal last man standing. Inheriting the Yardbirds name and reputation, Page pieced together a band initially called “the New Yardbirds” to honor already-booked performances. Recruiting fellow studio pro John Paul Jones on bass, Page found a pair of relative rock ‘n’ roll newcomers in singer Robert Plant and drummer John “Bonzo” Bonham.

The New Yardbirds

These four talents are the men who would become rock ‘n’ roll giants as Led Zeppelin. Venturing into the studio for the first time to record, the band was short on material but rich with ideas, and Page brought with him years of studio experience in his role as bandleader and producer. Although Page has often been criticized, as the band’s composer, for his liberal “borrowing” of musical ideas from artists like Jake Holmes, Bert Jansch, Willie Dixon, and even his old friend and bandmate Beck, in reality Page was honoring an ages-old tradition of folk and blues artists by adapting and transforming existing material into a new creation that stands entirely on its own. Page was building on the work of blues-rock trailblazers like Eric Clapton and Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and creating something unique and magical in the process.

As the band’s main lyricist, Plant was equally to blame for including scraps of half-forgotten blues and folks songs in the writing of his words. Regardless of the band’s felonious inclinations, Page’s skills as a guitarist, arranger, and producer – when blended with the equally impressive instrumental talents of Jones and Bonham, as well as Plant’s enormous voice and golden charisma – would prove not only enduring but also incredibly influential. Released in January 1969, Zeppelin’s self-titled debut has sold better than ten million copies through the years. It was typically slagged by critics at the time (especially by Rolling Stone magazine), but has since become widely considered as one of the top rock albums of all time, influencing bands as diverse as Deep Purple, the Cult, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam, among many others.      

Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin I

Led Zeppelin 1969
Led Zeppelin 1969
The band’s debut is typically referred to as Led Zeppelin I seeing as how Page was just too damn lazy to properly name any of their first four albums. Nevertheless, it was a first in many ways, picking up the blues-rock mantle that had been abdicated by Cream and taking it into unforeseen and exciting territory. The shotgun guitar licks and rumbling drumbeats that open “Good Times Bad Times” were a revelation upon first hearing them, the song’s fluid groove displaying a soulful funk that would later inform bands like the Tommy Bolin/Glen Hughes-era Deep Purple and set the stage for an entirely new hard rock sound.

The band’s harmonies here are crisp, Page’s guitar solos devastating, and Bonzo’s percussion delightfully bombastic. Plant’s vocals are somewhat muted, although he does cut loose near the end of the song, displaying some of the passion and the power that he would bring to the band’s rockers. By contrast, the sound of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” is downright atmospheric, Page’s intricate guitarplay matched in the intro by Plant’s plaintive vocals; throughout the song, a curious vibe is retained, mixing sly Robert Johnson lyrical references alongside the guitarist’s sparse fretwork. When the entire band does explode, it’s a resounding slap to the face, the song successfully pairing hard rock and blues with the sort of uniquely British folk-rock sound that Page obsessed over so perfectly on Led Zeppelin III.

Back To The Blues

Page revisits his blues roots with a cover of Chicago blues legend Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me,” a smoldering mid-tempo rocker that is amped-up and provided a fine vocal performance by Plant, deliberately plodding rhythms by Jones and Bonham, and shards of electrifying guitar courtesy of Mr. Page. Jones adds a little organ almost halfway through, his keyboard riffing adding a bit of Stax Records-styled soul to the song’s bluesy undercurrent. Plant’s harmonica play here won’t be mistaken for Little Walter, or even Big Walter, but it’s effective in this setting and not entirely inappropriate.

Another Dixon tune, “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” opens with a punctured wail before settling into a guitar-fueled blues dirge that channels all its heartbreak through Page’s nimble fingers and Plant’s anguished vocals. Page’s solos on “I Can’t Quit You Baby” are both a throwback to the sort of Muddy Waters/Buddy Guy guitarplay he cut his teeth on, but also a contemporary sophistication that clearly pointed the way towards a new future. The classic “Dazed and Confused” was “inspired by” folk-rocker Jake Holmes, and while we can debate for hours how much of Holmes’ song was “borrowed” by Page for his “original” take, the fact is that Holmes never sounded quite like this.

Dazed & Confused

As a producer, Page was quite comfortable in the Captain’s chair, and he brings his studio acumen to the construction of a mysterious, alluring vibe for “Dazed and Confused” that is supported nicely by Plant’s haunting vocals, and the guitarist’s multi-layered soundtrack. The song evinces a psychedelic influence among its blues and folk roots, with an overall complexity and dark elegance that would influence an entire crop of British new wavers a decade later. Page’s incredible solo nearly 2/3 of the way through is fueled entirely by madness, a sonic tsunami that none of us had ever heard before, and only infrequently since.

The Page/Jones composition “Your Time Is Gonna Come” opens with Jones’ churchy organ run, a chiming drone that lingers in the air as it fades into an almost pastoral song of heartbreak and betrayal that is not dissimilar, thematically, to the band’s later not-so-obscure B-side “Hey Hey What Can I Do.” Plant’s vocals ride mournfully above Page’s elegant fretwork, while the song’s group chorus seems both appropriate and oddly out of place. The song’s framework is deceptively intricate, with fascinating layers of textured guitarplay, ethereal keyboards, and rolling drumbeats. The song fades into and o’er top of Page’s short, spry instrumental “Black Mountain Side,” a folkie-influenced bit of complex and exhilarating finger-picking that rivals masters like John Fahey or Sandy Bull.

Communication Breakdown

The short, sharp shock of “Communication Breakdown” is exceptionally jarring, coming as it does hot on the heels of the gentle “Black Mountain Side.” As Page slaps out the song’s now-familiar riff, Plant’s vocals take flight above the steely rhythms, the song choogling along at a machinegun pace, offering no quarter to the listener as Page’s wiry solo scars your psyche and numbs your eardrums. The song roars to a fading close at two and a half-minutes, the band cramming the entire next decade of rock music into a radio-friendly blues-rock riot. Led Zeppelin I closes with “How Many More Times,” a bluesy shuffle that display’s Bonham’s percussive skills as well as illustrating Page’s six-string mastery with a raucous blast of electric fury.

Unlike the lightning bolt that was “Communication Breakdown” in its fury, “How Many More Times” strikes more like a barrage of gunfire. Stretched out to almost eight and a half minutes, the song displays every member of the band’s immense instrumental skills. Page’s guitar soars like a hungry bird of prey, exploring unknown sonic turf while he re-writes the rules of rock guitar that had been believed to have been previously carved in stone by Mr. Clapton and Mr. Hendrix. Bonham’s drumming is provocative and, often times, deceptively subtle, while Jones’ steady bass playing is both imaginative and provides a solid foundation on which everything else builds upon.

How Many More Times

Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin I
Plant’s vocals on “How Many More Times” are, of course, magnificent, jumping from one high-flying cloud to another and opening the door for leather-lunged shouters like Freddie Mercury and David Coverdale to stroll through years later on their way to considerable success. The song rolls rapidly down the tracks before evolving into the (uncredited) Booker T & the MG’s R&B classic “The Hunter,” best-known as recorded by blues giant Albert King and previously waxed – a year previous – by fellow contenders for the British blues-rock throne Paul Rodgers and Free. Yikes!  

This deluxe reissue of Led Zeppelin I includes a bonus disc with a previously-unreleased live show from France. Capturing the band performing at The Olympia in Paris less than two weeks before the release of their sophomore effort, the creatively-titled Led Zeppelin II, the concert is ostensibly presented here in its entirety (roughly 71 minutes) and the setlist features songs from both discs. It opens with a mash-up of “Good Times Bad Times” and “Communication Breakdown” that rolls at the speed of light, the band’s ramshackle performance a welcome blur of perpetual motion, endless chaotic instrumentation, and sonic overkill.

Live At The Olympia

Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” is provided an extended, guitar-heavy and somewhat busy arrangement on the stage, providing more of a showcase for Plant’s vocals and Page’s guitar explorations. “Heartbreaker” is the first tune performed from the (then) upcoming album, an eardrum-busting flurry of monster riffs, amped-up vocals, explosive percussion, and rollicking rhythms. The performance is spot-on, building on the energy of the studio version with crashing cymbals and screaming guitar licks that create a wall of joyous noise behind the singer. “Dazed and Confused” is made even eerier, if possible, in the live setting; shorn of Page’s studio wizardry, the onstage arrangement plays up the dark vibe of the studio version, relying more on Plant’s wavering vocals and well-timed, well-played instrumentation.

Live At The Olympia is the first appearance, perhaps, of “White Summer,” as performed by Zeppelin. Paired with the first album’s “Black Mountain Side,” the exotic “White Summer” was an Arabic-influenced instrumental Page adapted from a British folk song and first recorded with the Yardbirds. He would later incorporate passages of the song into “Over The Hills and Far Away,” but here it’s given a breathtaking performance that highlights Page’s virtuosity and allows the rest of the band to take a break. “Moby Dick,” from Led Zeppelin II, provides Bonham with an extended solo to display his thunderbolt drumming technique while “How Many More Times” is given a scorching performance, with Plant’s lusty vocals rolling sanguinely alongside the smothering rhythms while Page’s guitar pierces the veil with jagged shards of sound.     

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Let’s be honest, shall we? Some 45 years after its initial release, there’s not much new to say about Led Zeppelin I, even if I’ve taken some 1,900+ words to say it anyway…this is classic, influential, timeless rock ‘n’ roll that would change the course of pop music forever. The CD re-mastering sounds good to my ears, capturing the electricity and dynamism of the album perfectly without losing the highs and lows, and the inclusion of the unreleased, albeit frequently-bootlegged performance in France is a nice addition. Overall, if you’re a long-time Zeppelin fan sitting on your old CDs, perhaps it’s time to upgrade; and if you’re a newcomer to the band, or just curious, this album is where the legend began. (Atlantic Records, released June 3, 2014)

Buy the CD on Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin I (Deluxe CD Edition)