Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Magnificent Moody Blues

The Moody Blues' The Magnificent Moodies
Formed in 1964 in Birmingham, England, the Moody Blues would become one of (if not the) biggest art-rock bands on the planet during the late 1960s and throughout the decade of the ‘70s. Beginning with their Days of Future Passed album in 1967, the Moodys scored an impressive string of a dozen high-charting Gold™ and Platinum™ selling albums that carried the band’s commercial momentum well into the late 1980s. Although the band’s critical acclaim would dwindle as they moved further away from the proggy, psychedelic-tinged sound of their early albums towards the pop-influenced discs of the ‘80s, the Moodys remained a popular live attraction through the end of the century.

What a lot of people don’t remember is that, like many U.K. combos, the Moody Blues started out as a soulful R&B outfit, not all that far off, stylistically, than the early Beatles or the Stones. A lot of folks also don’t realize that the band released an album prior to the chart-busting Days of Future Passed. On January 13th, 2015 Esoteric Records will release an official 50th anniversary edition of The Magnificent Moodies, the band's 1965 debut album. Featuring the line-up of guitarist Denny Laine, singer Ray Thomas, keyboardist Mike Pinder, bassist Clint Warwick, and drummer Graeme Edge, The Magnificent Moodies earned the band no little critical acclaim, and while the album didn’t chart, it did yield a number one U.K. chart hit in the song “Go Now.”

The band went on to release a number of singles between 1964 and ‘67, and when none of them reached the heights of “Go Now,” the band broke-up and reformed with Laine and Warwick replaced by Justin Hayward and John Lodge, resulting in what is considered to be the classic Moody Blues line-up. With the new members came a fresh musical orientation, the orchestral backing of Days of Future Passed leading to the signature Moody’s sound, an ambitious mix of prog-rock and psychedelic-rock with pop undertones.

This 50th anniversary reissue of The Magnificent Moodies comes in several different flavors; the one you buy will depend on your level of fandom and the depth of your bank account. The Deluxe edition includes the original 1965 album, re-mastered from the first generation master tapes, along with the myriad of singles released by the band between 1964 and ’66, including the rare “People Gotta Go,” which was only released on a rare French EP. The two-disc set also includes 29 previously-unreleased bonus tracks, including the band’s entire July 1964 sessions from Olympic studios in London, a number of surviving BBC radio sessions, and nine tracks from the summer of 1966 recorded with producer Denny Cordell for an unreleased second Moodys album (all freshly remixed from the original four-track master tapes).

The set is packaged in a clamshell box along with an illustrated booklet with previously unpublished photos and an essay by writer Mark Powell, three rare promotional postcards, and a poster. Since Amazon is listing the set right now at around $25, that’s a lot of bang for yer buck! For those of more modest means, Esoteric is also releasing a single-disc version of The Magnificent Moodies that offers the original twelve album tracks, and fifteen bonus tracks comprised of the band’s early single releases (including that elusive version of “People Gotta Go”).

Like many U.S. fans, my interest in the band began with their sophomore album, but I’m looking forward to hearing the band in a different light, The Magnificent Moodies featuring a smattering of original R&B styled tunes along with covers of songs by James Brown and Willie Dixon. Check out the Esoteric Records website for more info...

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CD Preview: The Waterboys Return with Modern Blues

The Waterboys' Modern Blues
Singer, songwriter, and bandleader Mike Scott and his outfit the Waterboys first made a name for themselves 30 years ago with classic mid-1980s albums like This Is The Sea and Fisherman’s Blues, which mixed rock ‘n’ roll with Celtic folk and other similar influences to create an invigorating and entirely unique sound. While the Waterboys remained a cult band here in the states, in their native U.K. they regularly placed high on the charts until Scott essentially went solo in 1993.

Scott put together a new Waterboys line-up for 2000’s A Rock In The Weary Land, and the band has released new material sporadically during the new millennium, the most recent being 2011’s An Appointment With Mr. Yeats LP. On January 20th, 2015 the Waterboys return with their first new album in four years in Modern Blues. Produced by Scott and recorded in Nashville, the band’s eleventh studio album features nine new soulful rock songs that feature Scott’s poetic lyrics, lush instrumentation, and folkish influences.

Drummer Ralph Salmins returns for Modern Blues, his second album with Scott, while longtime Waterboys fiddle player Steve Wickham – who has also played with Elvis Costello and World Party – adds his talents to the mix. Rounding out the Waterboys line-up for Modern Blues are Memphis keyboard wizard “Brother” Paul Brown (who has played with Al Green and Bobby Rush, among others) and Muscle Shoals studio legend David Hood on bass.

In a press release for Modern Blues, the Dublin-based Scott explains why he chose Nashville to record the new album. “Nashville has a reputation as Music City, USA and I fancied some of that,” he says. “It’s one of the few cities that still has a recording studio industry intact, which brings the spur of competition. I know that across town Jack White’s making a record, the Black Keys are making theirs. I like that competitive feeling, it’s exciting. It’s a spur.”

Expect the Waterboys to tour the U.S. this coming spring; in the meantime, we have the track listing for Modern Blues below, as well as a video for the first song released from the album, the beautiful “November Tale.”

Modern Blues track listing:
1. Destinies Entwined
2. November Tale
3. Still A Freak
4. I Can See Elvis
5. The Girl Who Slept For Scotland
6. Rosalind (You Married The Wrong Girl)
7. Beautiful Now
8. Nearest Thing To Hip
9. Long Strange Golden Road

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Reverend's Favorite Rock 'n' Roll Records of 2014

OK, I’ll be honest here…the Rev is not the guy you want to go to in order to discover what’s “trending” in new rock music. The older I get, the more time I spend listening to the sounds of my youth, and an alarming percentage of my annual music-buying budget goes to picking up reissues of albums I had in high school, or in discovering bands I missed the first time around (like Gong or Amon Duul).

That’s not to say that I’m entirely deaf to what’s going on in contemporary rock ‘n’ roll currents…I read Blurt online every day, check out various other music blogs, and try to stay informed. But much of today’s “modern rock” is regurgitated from the 1960s and ‘70s, and I have little time for poseurs, pretenders, and corporate hacks. A lot of my favorite new music comes from veteran rockers, but there are a few adventuresome souls making good new music that I’ve picked up on.

This, therefore, is less a list of the “best” rock music of 2014 than it is a list of my personal favorites from throughout the year. These are the albums that spent the most time on my CD player or turntable, each and every one of ‘em worthy of your investment in time and money! (Links beneath each album cover to

Admiral Sir Cloudsley Shovell – Check Em Before You Wreck Em (Rise Above)
The oddly-named Admiral Sir Cloudsley Shovell pursue a hard rockin’ throwback proto-metal sound that is heavy on riffs and plodding rhythms and entirely lacking in patience for what’s happening in contemporary rock. This gang o’ British headbangers took Budgie, Dust, Sir Lord Baltimore, (early) Sabbath, and Motorhead, threw them all in a blender with a sheet of blotter, and let it spin all over the walls. This isn’t any trendy “doom” music, kiddies, but rather a celebration of riff-rock in all its hirsute glory!

Ian Anderson – Homo Erraticus (Kscope Records)
It makes sense that Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson would end up on Kscope, the British prog-rock label, as his music inspired and influenced half the label’s roster (Steven Wilson & his various musical side projects, the Pineapple Thief, Gazpacho, et al). At this stage in his lengthy career, Anderson refuses to phone it in, instead delivering a delightful concept album in Homo Erraticus that retains enough of Tull’s old school charm along with the album’s contemporary prog sound to thrill old fans and newcomers alike.


Chrissie Hynde – Stockholm (Caroline Records)
The former Pretenders frontwoman proved to be as sexy and sassy at 63 as she was at 33 and Stockholm, her debut solo album, is as engaging and energetic as any but the first Pretenders album. Working with producer, musician, and songwriter Björn Yttling, Hynde delivered a wonderful collection of melodic rock ‘n’ roll with Stockholm that sounds fresh and yet as naïve as the early new wave era that vaulted her original band onto the charts.

King Tuff – Black Moon Spell (Sub Pop Records)
King Tuff brings a contemporary edginess to what is essentially classic rock music, the band (and its namesake bandleader) mixing punkish energy and power-pop cheap thrills to live-wire rock ‘n’ roll that channels the spirits of fave bands like T-Rex and Thin Lizzy. You’d never confuse anything on Black Moon Spell with early-to-mid-1970s rock ‘n’ roll, but it doesn’t stray far from the well from which the band's obvious musical influences drank themselves silly.

Rival Sons – Great Western Valkyrie (Earache Records)
A bunch of blockhead critics have dismissed Rival Sons as “classic rock revivalists.” If they’d pull their collective heads out of their asses and stop listening to those awful Spoon and St. Vincent albums for a moment, they’d discover that while Rival Sons certainly draw inspiration from classic bands like Led Zeppelin, what they’re doing is bringing the blues back to hard rock. The Sons’ fourth album locks in British blues-rock tone and psychedelic riffs to separate themselves from the creative rut that contemporaries like The Sword are stuck in. 

Temples – Sun Structures (Fat Possum Records)
The new flag bearers for the modern psychedelic sound, U.K. band Temples created quite a buzz on the other side of the pond with their wonderful debut album Sun Structures. Topping many a British rockcrit’s “best of 2014” list (and chosen as “Best New Album” by Shindig! zine), Sun Structures is a whirling dervish of Beatlesque melodies, Zombies-styled psych-pop, 1970s-era glam rock, psychedelic guitars (the Byrds), and Motown junk that sounds unlike any new band since the Flaming Lips, but with less inherent weirdness and more imagination.

The Black Keys – Turn Blue (Nonesuch Records)
Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney took a lot of shit for Turn Blue, either because they continued their association with talented producer Danger Mouse, or because they didn’t make a sequel to El Camino, or maybe because they did…who knows? They’re either too commercial, or not commercial enough, or they sold out or…there’s really no winning for the band. Coming off an undeniably difficult couple of years, the duo experienced a whirlwind of commercial success balanced by personal turmoil, which is reflected in the lyrics of Turn Blue. Musically, the band continues to use the Mouse as a secret weapon (and third member), the album’s psychedelic soul ‘n’ blues foundation concealing some serious heartbreak ache. That’s what you call ART, people…

The Bluefields – Under High Cotton (Underground Treehouse Records)
As good as the first three Bluefields albums were (and make no mistake, they all kicked serious ass), Under High Cotton has ‘em all beat. The songwriting is just as solid as ever – Dan Baird (Georgia Satellites) and Joe Blanton (Royal Court of China) turn a phrase as good as anybody in the Americana field – and Warner Hodges’ (Jason & the Scorchers) hefty fretwork stings as deeply as ever. No, it’s the addition of drummer Brad Pemberton (Ryan Adams & the Cardinals) that makes Under High Cotton a near perfect hybrid of town and country, his talent and energy perfect complimenting the band’s high-octane twang ‘n’ bang sound.

The Empty Hearts – The Empty Hearts (429 Records)
The new millennium’s first bona fide power-pop “supergroup,” the Empty Hearts can boast of members from the Cars (guitarist Elliot Easton), Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Blondie (drummer Clem Burke), the Romantics (singer Wally Palmar), and garage-rock pioneers the Chesterfield Kings (bassist Andy Babiuk). As such, the band’s self-titled debut album sounds pretty much like you might expect, given that you’re the least bit familiar with the individual members’ past work. This is unvarnished, old-school rock ‘n’ roll with its roots in 1950s-era rock (think Chuck Berry), ‘60s-styled British Invasion (Beatles and the Stones), and vintage 1970s proto-punk (the Ramones, the Dictators…er, Blondie). These guys play their hearts out with a passion and fever that younger bands can only hope to approach.

The Strypes – Snapshot (Island Records)
Unabashedly retro, the Strypes wear their antique influences on their sleeves, the young Irish foursome drawing inspiration from the right folks, talents like the Yardbirds, the Stones, Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, and Eric Burdon & the Animals, among others. The Strypes imbue the sound of their myriad of influences with youthful energy and attitude, extending the rock ‘n’ roll tradition from the 1950s to the 2010s, the latest and the greatest in a direct ancestry that covers almost 60 years. Never derivative, these guys lay a fresh groove on the old grease, and make it sound entirely new and vigorous once again.

Honorable Mention: Joe Grushecky's Somewhere East of Eden, Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ Hypnotic Eye, Bigelf’s Into The Maelstrom, Tin Spirits’ Scorch, Opeth’s Pale Communion, Ace Frehley’s Space Invader, Handsome Jack’s Do What Comes Naturally, Radio Moscow’s Magical Dirt, and Warner Hodges’ Gunslinger

Looking for more great music? How about the Reverend’s choices for the “Best Blues Albums of 2014” and the “Best Blues-Rock Albums of 2014,” listed over at!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

CD Review: Dave Davies' Rippin' Up Time

Dave Davies' Rippin' Up Time
Guitarist Dave Davies has had the good – or bad, depending on your perspective – fortune to be a talented songwriter in a legendary band with a great wordsmith in his brother Ray. But the younger Davies brother’s imaginative and influential fretwork over the decades was as integral a part of the Kinks sound as was Ray’s words and vocals, and the occasional Dave song recorded by the band during its commercial run (“Love Me Till The Sun Shines,” “Funny Face,” and “Trust Your Heart” among them) proved that he had the goods.

Davies has also enjoyed a sporadic but modestly successful career as a solo artist apart from the band, notably 1980’s AFL1-3603 and 1983’s Chosen People, but the guitarist put aside his own efforts for 20 years to contribute to the Kinks, reappearing as a solo artist with 2002’s Bug. He’s since made up for lost time, releasing a string of five critically-acclaimed studio and live albums during the new millennium that culminates in 2014’s Rippin’ Up Time. Much like the previous year’s I Will Be Me, Davies explores a mix of romanticized nostalgia and contemporary storytelling with an undeniable rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack.  

Dave Davies’ Rippin’ Up Time

Rippin’ Up Time is a guitar-driven album, and nowhere is this more apparent than on the album-opening title track. With his six-string vibrating with a grungy energy every bit the equal of, say, Rust-era Neil Young, Davies’ gruff vocals tread water above the feedback-drenched, distorted, squealing, entirely delightful instrumentation that smothers any hint of nuance in pure sonic overkill. Davies’ lyrics are poetically dense, something about reality and madness and sadness that could only be penned by somebody that’s been there, lived the life, and triumphed in the long run. It’s a monster of a performance, the song setting the stage for the rockin’ leviathan to follow.

Much like its predecessor, “Semblance of Sanity” delves into the question of sanity/insanity, understandable, perhaps, for an artist a decade down the road from a life-threatening stroke. Still coming to grips with his altered brain chemistry, Davies’ surrounds the dark Goth vibe of his lyrics with a heavy, discordant soundtrack from which sharp-edged, angular guitar licks emerge like frenzied laser beams. “King of Karaoke” is a more traditional, Kinks-styled rock tune with a discernible melody providing a foundation for Davies’ reminiscence-tinged lyrics, which reference everybody from the Kinks and the Beatles to Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, and even the Knack (!). With a slight flamenco guitar styling and exotic rhythms, the song is somewhat wistful, but Davies really imbues the performance with heart and soul, and the instrumentation is pure elegance.

In The Old Days

“Front Room” may be the beating heart of Rippin’ Up Time, a nostalgic remembrance of growing up in post-war England. With folkish lyrics blanketed by whimsical instrumentation, Davies fondly recalls time spent with his family, the early days of the Kinks, even favored music like Lonnie Donegan and Howlin’ Wolf, the memories joyously delivered with nicely crunchy guitar solos. If “Front Room” evinces a pastoral vibe, “Nosey Neighbors” is the B-side of those particular memories. With a slicing, riff-driven arrangement, “Nosey Neighbors” buries its scornful lyrics amidst a clamor of guitar and percussion, creating a cyclone of chaos that pairs perfectly with the song’s sentiments.

The dino-stomp “Mindwash” neatly sidesteps spite with clever lyrics that tackle advertising, the media, even big business and their attempt to, well, “mindwash” us with smoke and mirrors and corporate propaganda. Davies delivers the lyrics above explosive percussion and deadly guitar licks, his guttural vocals perfectly suited to the task. By contrast, “In The Old Days” is another walk down memory lane, but this is a humorous stroll with fast-paced vocals, crashing rhythms, searing fretwork, and lyrics that tell the tale, warts and all, with Davies refusing to sugar-coat the missteps that life often brings. “Through My Window” ends Rippin’ Up Time with another Kinks-styled melodic rocker, this one displaying a bit more melancholy in Davies’ vocals than anything else on the album. But the song also stamps ‘paid’ on the past, all debts erased, Davies expressing a sentiment that clearly looks forward rather than backwards.       

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Dave Davies’ Rippin’ Up Time is a solid collection that will appeal not only to the long-suffering Kinks fan desperately dreaming of a reunion that may never happen, but also to any classic rock fan looking for some primo-grade ear candy that sounds contemporary and edgy but retains the cherished rock ‘n’ roll traditions of slashing guitars, rhythmic bass lines, and heavy-handed drum play.

Nothing in the grooves here is going to replace Sleepwalker, Misfits, or Low Budget in the mind of the late-period Kinks fanatic, but Rippin’ Up Time is a snortin’, stompin’, hard-rockin’ record that entertains, Dave Davies’ earnest muse evincing more heart than nearly anything other album released this year. Davies is a bona fide talent enjoying a second (or third) chapter in a lengthy and storied career. Grade: B (Red River Entertainment, released October 27, 2014)

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The Complete Zap Comix box set is coming!

The Complete Zap Comix Box Set
It’s long been the Holy Grail of underground comix collectors – the publication of a collection of long-ago issues of the infamous Zap Comix in graphic novel form. Arguably one of the best-selling series in underground comix history, with sales rivaling those of many mainstream comic titles, Zap offered readers scatological humor, scathing social and political satire, and artwork unlike anything we’d seen before. From the first gang of counter-culture revolutionaries like Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez, and S. Clay Wilson to the second wave of alternative talents like Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, and Charles Burns, the pages of Zap Comix provided an invaluable forum for artists to hone their craft.

On December 6, 2014 Fantagraphics Books will release The Complete Zap Comix, a beautiful six-volume hardback box set with slipcase, 900+ pages that features all 16 issues of Zap Comix published between 1968 and 2005, as well as a previously-unpublished 17th issue with work by Crumb, Shelton, Rodriguez, and others. Also included in the set is a portfolio of Zap covers by the series’ eight original artists, replicated from high-resolution scans and proofs, and specially printed for the edition on acid-free, 100% cotton fine-art paper with archival pigment inks. The set includes an introduction by Zap Comix founder Robert Crumb and an oral history of Zap (and, thus, underground comix) by writer Patrick Rosenkranz (author of the fine Rebel Visions).  

The first issue of Zap Comix was published in a modest print run of 3,500 copies in 1968 by Apex Novelties, with Robert Crumb writing and drawing the entire comic himself. For Zap Comix #2, Crumb brought in brought in a diverse bunch of talented fellow travelers like Shelton, Rodriguez, Robert Williams, and two well-known SF area psychedelic poster artists, Victor Moscoso and Rick Griffin. Zap was published sporadically, with years often passing between issues, but the level of talent involved remained impressive throughout the series’ run, and Zap was arguably responsible for changing the comic industry, freeing artists and writers to create the stories they wanted to tell without censorship or boundaries.

Unfortunately, considering the posh presentation provided The Complete Zap Comix by Fantagraphics, the set sports a $400+ price tag that is accessible to only the most well-heeled of rabid fanboys, leaving those of us with more modest bankrolls to drool with desire. Hopefully the publisher will consider splitting the series into individual volumes somewhere down the road like with The Complete Crumb Comics (how about five or six full-color paperbacks with $29.95 cover prices?) so the rest of us can revisit the vital, radical, influential cultural game-changer that was Zap Comix.

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 Zap Comix #2