Sunday, November 16, 2014

CD Review: Devon Allman's Ragged & Dirty

Devon Allman's Ragged & Dirty
Devon Allman – Greg Allman’s son – has kicked around the blues-rock scene for a decade and a half now, first as frontman of Devon Allman’s Honeytribe, and later as one of the main creative voices in the roots ‘n’ blues supergroup Royal Southern Brotherhood. It’s been obvious from the start, however, that Allman has long been searching for his own sound – whereas the Honeytribe album Space Age Blues evoked more of a jam-band vibe, his proper solo debut, 2013’s Turquoise, was a tasty gumbo pot full of Southern soul, blues, funk, and rock that showcased Allman’s talents as a songwriter.

Devon Allman’s Ragged & Dirty

With his sophomore solo effort, Ragged & Dirty, Allman takes another all-important step towards crafting his own unique musical vision, the guitarist setting aside his Southern roots for a moment and sojourning to Chicago along a well-worn path traveled by so many bluesmen before him. Working with seasoned veterans from the bands of Charlie Musselwhite, Billy Branch, and Buddy Guy, Allman and producer/musician/songwriter Tom Hambridge have put together an electrifying collection of songs that dredge up half-forgotten memories of 1960s-era Chi-town soul and blues and vintage ‘70s rock riffs while somehow retaining a contemporary essence.

Ragged & Dirty kicks off with the stomp ‘n’ stammer of “Half The Truth,” a Foghat styled dinosaur-rocker that offers big rhythms, slippery guitarwork, and an infectious groove. Hambridge plays the drums, hitting the cans with an effect like a machine gun’s recoil while Allman gets funky with the git and keyboardist Marty Sammon adds background flourishes from his Hammond B3. It’s an energizing song, and probably goes over gangbusters in a live setting ‘cause it simply jumps off the turntable, grabs you by the ears, and demands that you pay attention.

Penned by Hambridge and country-rocker Lee Roy Parnell, “Can’t Lose Them All” is probably the closest that Allman comes here to his legendary father, not so much in his vocal delivery but rather in the overall sound and texture of the song, which simply glows with heart and soul. Allman’s stinging fretwork here is fluid, almost jazzy, but provides many shades of blue while his vocals are similarly sultry as the band delivers a subtle groove in the background. Hambridge custom-wrote several songs for Ragged & Dirty, and “Leavin’” is one of the best, a twang ‘n’ bang roots-rocker that features Allman’s acoustic strum and Bobby Schneck Jr.’s leads, the two players’ guitars intertwined to create a mesmerizing effect.

Ten Million Slaves

Allman proves himself a fine interpreter of other artist’s work here, beginning with a loving cover of the Spinners’ R&B classic “I’ll Be There.” Allman’s taut, soulful guitarplay here is surpassed only by his emotional vocals, which manage to capture the feeling of the original while adding a few tears to the lyrics; Wendy Moten’s background vocals offer a nice counterpoint while Sammon’s keyboards bring an air of elegance to the arrangement. Allman tackles bluesman Otis Taylor’s difficult “Ten Million Slaves” with reverence and authority, his vocals dropping into a lower register to properly capture the serious story told by the lyrics. With Felton Crews’ heavy bass line throbbing in unison with Hambridge’s tribal percussion, Allman’s somber vocals relate the tragic tale of African slaves being brought to America. The anguish of the lyrics is underlined by Allman’s scorching fretwork, which offers a thinly-veiled menace throughout the song.

The title track of Ragged & Dirty is an old Luther Allison cut, and Allman does it proud here. He and the band develop funky groove for the tune, Allman’s slightly electronically-altered vocals adding a nasty edge to the words, his high-flying guitar perfectly welding psychedelic-rock and blues together for a powerful rendition of a classic Allison performance. Allman penned a few original tunes himself for the album, the best of these being his ode to the Windy City, “Midnight Lake Michigan.” A late-night blues jam with a rock ‘n’ roll heart, just about everything on this instrumental – from Allman’s imaginative, scorched-earth guitarplay to Sammon’s moody keyboard fills to Hambridge’s explosive drumwork, and everything in between – is simply perfect, the performance telling a story without uttering a word.

Allman’s other originals also excite, from the funky rocker “Blackjack Heartattack” to the traditionally-styled “Back To You.” The former is a rapid-fire, foot-shuffling blues-rock Godzilla with an undeniable groove, monster fretwork, and a feedback-tinged wall of sound while the latter is a throwback to the Chicago blues sound of the 1970s with strong vocals, expressive guitar licks, humming keyboards, and a solid, if subtle rhythmic backbone. The album closes with the acoustic blues tune “Leave The City,” Allman’s “back to the country” screed offering nuanced vocals, supple resonator guitar pickin’, and Hambridge’s minimal percussion. It’s a fine closer, with a strong albeit gentle vibe that displays another side of Allman’s multi-faceted musical personality.      

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

There’s no doubting Devon Allman’s enormous talents, which are frequently overlooked in discussions in favor of his familial pedigree. Sit down and give Ragged & Dirty a spin, though, and you’ll discover a young artist that is blazing his own musical path, not necessarily following in his famous father’s footsteps but rather creating his own intoxicating blend of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll. Ragged & Dirty is Allman’s best album to date, but given the road he’s walking, my guess is that the best is yet to come. Grade: A- (Ruf Records, released October 14, 2014)

Buy the CD from Devon Allman's Ragged & Dirty

CD Preview: Todd Rundgren At The BBC 1972-1982

Todd Rundgren's At The BBC 1972-1982
Although he’s enjoyed a hit single or two during his extensive career – which is now in its fifth decade – Todd Rundgren remains the consummate “cult artist,” too often overlooked when the classic rock era is being discussed. Still, Rundgren’s expansive muse, which has danced across the rock, prog-rock, electronic, and pop genres, has resulted in an eclectic body of work displayed on nearly two-dozen albums, both solo and with his band Utopia, that have earned the artist a faithful legion of fans that have long followed him on his sojourn across the musical landscape.

Rundgren’s musical evolution has never been more apparent that it is on the retrospective At The BBC 1972-1982. Scheduled for December 2, 2014 release by Esoteric Recordings – one of the more interesting and adventuresome of the U.K. archival labels – this four-disc set offers an intriguing look back at the artist’s enormous talents during what is arguably the most productive period of Rundgren’s lengthy career. The collection comprises three CDs and a DVD which include all of the surviving radio and television broadcasts by Rundgren extant in the BBC archives. The set features Rundgren’s BBC Radio One “In Concert” performance that occurred in relation to the release of his Top 30 charting 1972 album Something/Anything?

The box also includes the classic 1975 performance by Rundgren and Utopia, including a previously-unreleased song “Something’s Coming,” as well as a 1977 Utopia performance from the Oxford Polytechnic to promote the band’s album Ra. The DVD offers three different performances from The Old Grey Whistle Test TV series, a 1975 session with Rundgren and Utopia, a film of Rundgren and the band at the Bearsville picnic in 1977, and an entire 1982 Rundgren solo performance for The Old Grey Whistle Test with a pair of songs not originally included on the TV broadcast.

All of the performances here have been re-mastered from the original BBC master recordings, and the set is packaged in a clamshell box with an illustrated booklet featuring a new essay. Featuring thirty previously-unreleased tracks across the set, At The BBC 1972-1982 is going to be a “must have” addition to any Rundgren fan’s collection. We have the complete track listing below, as well as a handy link to in case you just can’t wait!

CD Disc One
1. I Saw the Light
2. It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference
3. Piss Aaron
4. Hello It’s Me
5. Be Nice to Me
6. Black Maria
7. Real Man
8. The Seven Rays

Tracks 1-6, Todd Rundgren, BBC Radio One "In Concert," July 1972
Tracks 7 & 8, Todd Rundgren & Utopia, The Old Grey Whistle Test, October 1975

CD Disc Two
1. Freedom Fighters
2. Mister Triskets
3. Something’s Coming
4. The Last Ride
5. Sunset Boulevard / Le Feel Internacionale
6. Heavy Metal Kids
7. The Wheel
8. Open My Eyes
9. Sons of 1984
10. Do Ya
11. Couldn’t I Just Tell You

All tracks, Todd Rundgren & Utopia at the Hammersmith Odeon, October 1975

CD Disc Three
1. Communion with the Sun
2. Love of the Common Man
3. Sunburst Finish
4. Jealousy
5. Windows
6. Singring and the Glass Guitar
7. Utopia Theme

All tracks, Todd Rundgren & Utopia at Oxford Polytechnic, January 1977

DVD Disc Four (NTSC/region free)
1. Real Man
2. The Seven Rays
3. Bearsville Picnic
4. Love of the Common Man
5. It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference
6. Too Far Gone
7. Can We Still Be Friends
8. The Song of the Viking
9. Compassion
10. Lysistrata
11. Tiny Demons
12. Time Heals (promotional video)
13. One World
14. A Dream Goes on Forever

Tracks 1 & 3, Todd Rundgren & Utopia, The Old Grey Whistle Test, October 1975
Track 3, Todd Rundgren & Utopia, Bearsville Picnic
Tracks 4-14, Todd Rundgren, The Old Grey Whistle Test, June 1982

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert Gets Vinyl Release

Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert
After submersing himself on tour with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends after the break-up of the supergroup Blind Faith, guitarist Eric Clapton worked with Delaney Bramlett and members of the band like keyboardist Bobby Whitlock and sax player Bobby Keys in creating his self-titled 1970 solo debut. The album spawned a Top 20 hit with Clapton’s cover of J.J. Cale’s “After Midnight,” the album itself hitting #13 on the Billboard magazine albums chart.

It would be almost four years until the guitarist would record a follow-up to Eric Clapton (I’m not counting the Derek & the Dominos LP), during which time he struggled with heroin addiction. Aside from a brief appearance in August 1971 at friend George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, Clapton was a virtual recluse. Another friend, the Who’s Pete Townshend, convinced Clapton to commit to a “comeback” performance in January 1973. Held at London’s Rainbow Theatre, the guitarist was backed by a number of talented compatriots, including former Blind Faith bandmates Steve Winwood and Rick Grech, Traffic’s Jim Capaldi, the Faces’ Ron Wood, Townshend and others.

The show was a resounding success, resulting in the release of the Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert album in September 1973. Despite Clapton’s lengthy hiatus from music, the album sold like gangbusters, going Top 20 in both the U.S. and the U.K. On December 2nd, 2014 Marshall Blonstein’s Audio Fidelity label will add to its impressive run of Clapton reissues with a limited edition, re-mastered release of Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert on glorious 180gr vinyl. The LP includes the original album’s six performances, over half an hour of music on two sides, including red-hot takes of Cream’s “Badge,” Blind Faith’s “Presence Of The Lord,” Clapton’s version of “After Midnight,” and a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s classic “Little Wing.” The album is an often-overlooked item in Clapton’s extensive back catalog, and now it’s back on vinyl where it belongs!

Buy the LP from Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert (180gr vinyl)

Eric Clapton's Time Pieces

Audio Fidelity is in the Eric Clapton business in a big way, releasing several of the guitarist’s albums as high-quality hybrid SACDs, and on November 25th, 2014 the label will reissue Clapton’s Time Pieces, one of the best of glut of compilation albums released under the Clapton name. Time Pieces documents some of the best of Clapton’s 1970s-era work, including hit chart-topping “I Shot The Sheriff,” from his 1974 comeback album 461 Ocean Boulevard, and the full-length album version of Derek & the Dominos’ “Layla.”

Originally released in 1982, Time Pieces also included a rare non-album track among its eleven songs – Clapton’s take on Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” Most of the rest of the comp was culled from either 461 Ocean Boulevard (“Willie & the Hand Jive,” “Let It Grow”) or 1977’s Slowhand (“Wonderful Tonight,” “Cocaine,” “Lay Down Sally”) with only “After Midnight” included from Clapton’s solo debut, and one track apiece from Backless and There’s One In Every Crowd. Still, Time Pieces is worthy of a sonic upgrade, and the music inside the grooves is timeless, representing some of Clapton’s best and most memorable performances.

Buy the SACD from Timepieces: The Best of Eric Clapton

Friday, November 14, 2014

Peter Banks' The Mars Tapes Rescues Long-Lost Empire Recordings

Peter Banks Empire The Mars Tapes
Guitarist Peter Banks was a criminally-underrated talent who passed away too damn young in March 2013. A founding member of progressive-rock legends Yes, Banks left the band after a couple of years and two albums to form Flash, which pursued a similar style of prog-rock, scoring a Top 40 album with its self-titled 1972 debut.

Banks broke-up Flash after the release of the band’s third album in 1973, releasing his solo debut album Two Sides of Peter Banks later that year. Banks evidently suffered from a restless muse, because after releasing his solo album he formed Empire with singer/songwriter Sidonie Jordan (nee Sydney Foxx, and Banks' future wife). Fronted by Jordan’s powerful, bluesy vocals, Empire released three albums during the mid-to-late 1970s before dissolving into obscurity. The band’s albums (simple titled Mark I, Mark II, and Mark III) never received U.S. distribution, and would subsequently become coveted collectibles by rabid prog fans.

For long-suffering Banks fans that have been looking for new music from the underrated artist, Gonzo Multimedia has released The Mars Tapes, a two-disc collection credited to "Peter Banks Empire" that rescues a treasure of long-lost Empire recordings. The album features unreleased material culled from the band’s 1979 rehearsals for their Mark III album. The band was rooted at Mars Studio in Los Angeles for six months while working on the album, recording almost everything they played for posterity, resulting in the wealth of unheard music represented by The Mars Tapes. Empire at the time included Banks and Jordan, keyboardist Paul Delph, bassist Brad Stephenson, and drummer Mark Murdock.

In a press release for The Mars Tapes, Murdock says “the Peter Banks Empire ship set sail against the ever-changing music world, and was uncompromising in producing a range of material with Peter Banks’ ‘Signature Guitar Sound and Style,’ while incorporating themes of the time period in which the band existed and also reliving the past by playing songs from the early Empire catalog and even a Yes version of ‘Something’s Coming.’ There are various tracks on The Mars Tapes that also represented a ‘Work In Progress,’ which were both instrumental and vocal orientated. Empire was anticipating to make some big waves in the music scene, but the waves never reached the shore – until now!"

If you're a prog-rock fan unfamiliar with the six-string skills of Peter Banks, you owe it to yourself to find out more about a guitarist that sits alongside legends like Robert Fripp, Steve Howe, and Steve Hackett in terms of talent and influence.

Related content: Flash (featuring Peter Banks) In Public CD review

Buy the CD from Peter Banks Empire's The Mars Tapes

Jack Bruce’s 50th Birthday Concerts

Jack Bruce's The 50th Birthday Concerts
The late Jack Bruce made a lot of great music before his death last month, and just about everything he recorded during his lengthy career – his work with Cream, the power trio West, Bruce & Laing, and his numerous solo albums, from Songs For A Tailor and Harmony Row to this year's Silver Rails – features expressive, imaginative, entertaining, and adventuresome music.

Way back in 1993, Jack Bruce celebrated his 50th birthday with a pair of November shows at the E-Werk in Cologne, Germany that featured a number of his famous and talented friends. Former Cream drummer Ginger Baker made the party, as did noted British saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith (who played on Bruce’s early solo albums) and former Humble Pie guitarist Clem Clempson. Funkadelic guitarist Bernie Worrell and former Thin Lizzy guitarist and solo star Gary Moore joined the celebration, as did a number of other special guests like singer Maggie Reilly, pianist Gary Husband, and drummer Simon Phillips.

The performances were taped for the popular German TV show Rockpalast, and parts of them were originally released in 1994 as the two-disc Cities of the Heart. Sadly, that album suffered from poor distribution, and the concerts virtually disappeared memory. On December 2, 2014 however our good friends at MVD Entertainment are resurrecting this important slice of rock ‘n’ roll history with the release of The 50th Birthday Concerts starring Jack Bruce and friends.

The performances will be released in a number of formats, including a double-DVD set featuring almost four hours of music; a three-disc set that includes the two DVDs and a bonus CD, The Lost Tracks, as well as a 12-page booklet with new liner notes and unreleased photos; and a deluxe four-disc box set with three DVDs and the CD, the bonus DVD including interview footage.

Reflecting the entirety of Bruce’s career, The 50th Birthday Concerts includes a smorgasbord of rock, blues, and jazz music including many gems from the Cream songbook like “Sunshine of Your Love” (featuring Bruce’s legendary bass riff), “White Room,” “Politician,” and “Spoonful,” as well as the classic “Theme From An Imaginary Western,” from Bruce’s 1969 solo debut Songs For A Tailor. A number of previously unreleased songs that have been sitting in the archives will be included on the new set, including versions of “Blues You Can’t Lose” and the acoustic “Rope Ladder To The Moon,” and alternative performances of other songs.

The 50th Birthday Concerts is a fitting tribute to one of the rock music world’s essential talents, and for those unfamiliar with Jack Bruce’s enormous musical legacy, it’s also a good place to discover an incredible artist.

Buy the DVD/CD set at Jack Bruce's The 50th Birthday Concerts