Wednesday, October 30, 2013

CD Review: Flash (featuring Peter Banks) - In Public

In Public


When guitarist Peter Banks was replaced by Steve Howe in the pre-fame Yes in 1971, he enlisted the help of keyboardist Tony Kaye (Yes's original keyboard wizard) to form Flash, the band also including vocalist Colin Carter, bassist Ray Bennett (from hard rock trio Gun), and drummer Mike Hough. It was this line-up that recorded the band's acclaimed, self-titled 1972 debut album. Kaye left shortly thereafter to form a similar prog-rock outfit in Badger,  and Flash soldiered on for two more albums – 1972's In The Can and the following year's Out Of Our Hands – before Banks departed to launch his solo career.

Although Flash toured steadily during the early 1970s in support of their trio of albums, documents of their electrifying live performances have been few and far between. Aside from a handful of bootleg recordings, the only mass-distributed live Flash disc has been 1997's Psychosync, an album of dodgy provenance itself. Long-suffering Flash fans can now take heart, the release of In Public satisfying the desire for a live Flash disc. Produced by former band associate George Mizer and Banks himself before his tragic death earlier this year, In Public documents a January 1973 show at The Cowtown Ballroom in Kansas City that captures the band in all of its glory, the classic Flash line-up (sans Kaye) instrumentally firing on all cylinders.

Flash Featuring Peter Banks

After a brief intro, "Small Beginnings" opens the set, the song itself the opener from the band's debut album. The Yes influence here is undeniable, not only because Banks had been gone from the band for such a short time before launching Flash, but also in the song's sense of melody, whiplash time signature changes, and familiar riffing. But "Small Beginnings" also proved somewhat of a signature song for the young band, paving prog-rock pastures in the creation of their own identity. The song includes some jazzy flourishes, especially in Banks' raging fretwork, and Hough's bombastic rhythm work leaves one breathless, the underrated pounder mixing the deft technical mastery of Bill Bruford with the improvisational fury of Buddy Rich.

A wildcat reading of "Black And White," from Flash's sophomore effort In The Can, opens with Hough's spry drumbeats atop which Banks layers on swirling, prog-psych guitar textures. A twelve-minute opus, the song is the perfect showcase for both the band's individual talents and immense chemistry. The odd man out may be vocalist Colin Carter, who is too frequently (and unfairly) compared to Jon Anderson of Yes when, in fact, he has his own distinctive style. "Black And White" is as much a display of Carter's impressive vocal gymnastics as it is for the guitar or percussion and, at nearly a quarter-hour of playing time, there's a lot of virtuoso sounds emanating from the grooves.

Children of the Universe

"Stop That Banging" is a shorter, albeit more cacophonic showcase for Hough's percussion cannon, the sort of extended drum solo that shot Iron Butterfly's "In A Gadda Da Vida" to the upper reaches of the charts. Although the drum solo was de rigueur during the early daze of the 1970s, such instrumental displays have long since passed their sell-by date and sound harsh and unnecessary without the accompanying smell of bongwater and a smoky haze. Luckily, In Public picks up quickly where "Black And White" left off, the second album's "There No More" a less-dated and dazzling showcase for Banks' phenomenal (and underrated, too) six-string skills as well as bassist Ray Bennett's extraordinary command of the fat strings. Although Bennett's contributions to these performances are often overshadowed by his partner in the rhythm section, listen closely and you'll hear some fine melodic chops as Bennett serves as a rhythmic foundation for Banks' guitarplay; Carter's vocals are nicely done here as well.

From the debut album, "Children of the Universe" is actually shortened somewhat from its original nine-minute running time (OK, so only by 17-seconds), the song still serving as the centerpiece of In Public and providing a breathtaking performance entirely on its own. With a curiously syncopated rhythm dominating the bottom end, Carter's vocals slip and slide across the soundtrack as Banks' guitar recedes a bit but never ceases to amaze. By contrast, the set-closing "Dreams Of Heaven" doubles its running time from the debut album, the band launching into a nearly twenty-five minute headtrip of swirling guitars, crashing cymbals, staccato drumbeats, throbbing bass lines and stop-on-a-dime musical lane changes. You'll hear scraps of other songs incorporated into what is, at heart, an improvised free-form jam, including a melody from the Byrds' "So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star." The song changes directions more often than a wind vane in a tornado, and subsequent listens reveal different musical patterns, shapes, and textures created by the instrumentation.

The Reverend's Bottom Line

Flash is one of those bands that you either "get" or you don't…the unwarranted "Yes lite" tag on the band was discarded years ago so that their three classic studio albums stand well on their own. Considering that many new listeners (old and young), in search of real musicians and exciting, adventurous music, are discovering the charms of Mr. Banks and crew, this is a welcome addition to the Flash canon. Additionally, the accompanying CD booklet includes memories of the band from former stage crew members, musicians like Steve Howe and Keith Emerson, and others. 

In the wake of Banks' death, former bandmates Carter and Bennett have struck out on their own with a new album titled Flash Featuring Ray Bennett & Colin Carter, the former bassist picking up the lead guitar duties and Carter providing vocals and rhythm guitar on an inspired set of classic and modern-styled progressive rock. Newcomers to Flash should start with the band's first couple of studio efforts before hitting the store for In Public, but long-time fans will enjoy this inspired live set as well as the new incarnation of the band.

(Click here to buy Flash's In Public from   

CD Review: Claudia Lennear's Phew!


(Real Gone Music)

Claudia Lennear's often-electrifying background vocals can be heard on a veritable "who's who" of 1970s rock 'n' toll. An original member of Leon Russell's Shelter People ensemble, Lennear toured with Joe Cocker's infamous Mad Dogs & Englishmen troupe, sang at George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh, and provided a spark to albums by artists as diverse as Al Kooper, blues legend Taj Mahal, Traffic's Dave Mason, blues guitarist Freddie King, Memphis legend Don Nix, and many others. Sadly, Lennear only had the chance to make one lone critically-acclaimed album solo album, 1973's Phew! Reissued on CD for the first time by the good folks at Real Gone Music, Claudia Lennear's Phew! is, essentially, two entirely different albums.

The first five songs on the album (side one) feature Memphis music legend Jim Dickinson and bassist Tommy McClure from his Dixie Flyers band backing the singer along with fretburner Ry Cooder. Although both sides of the album were ostensibly produced by Ian Samwell, Lennear was backed up on side two by New Orleans' favorite son Allen Toussaint and his cohorts, with Toussaint supplying the songs and musical arrangements. Two entirely different crews, held together by one common thread – Lennear's phenomenal voice. There's a lot of talent in these grooves, though, including Memphis/Muscle Shoals legend Spooner Oldham, drummer Jim Keltner, guitarist Charles Grimes (from Stephen Stills' Manassas), and others.

Claudia Lennear's Phew!

Phew! opens with Ron Davies' "It Ain't Easy" (also recorded by David Bowie for his Ziggy Stardust album). Needless to say Lennear's raspy, cat-in-heat vocals differ greatly from Bowie's, her voice soaring above a lively soundtrack that includes Dickinson's honky-tonk keys and underrated string-bender Grimes' nifty rhythm work. By contrast, a reading of Davies' "Sing With The Children" offers a smoldering, white-hot performance with Lennear bringing no little soul to the words as Dickinson's piano and Mike Utley's Hammond organ pound away alongside Cooder's electrifying fretwork.

The band cuts loose behind Lennear for her hard-rockin' original "Not At All," her voice rising and falling with the rhythm above a roof-raising soundtrack that includes Cooder's stinging guitar, a choogling rhythm created by bassist McClure and drummer John Craviotto, Grimes' backing guitar, and Dickinson's ever-present keys. A cover of blues great Furry Lewis's "Casey Jones" provides a nice contrast to end the side, Lennear's languid vocals pitch-perfect in their approximation of Lewis's laid-back voice, the band rambling and shambling nicely behind her. The entire first side is raw, immediate, and altogether Memphis soulful, even if recorded in L.A.

Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky

The vibe changes noticeably for side two (songs 6-10) of Phew!, beginning with Toussaint's classic "Goin' Down." Lennear strikes a funky pose, her gymnastic vox rollin' and tumbling above a spry soundtrack that includes a deep rhythmic groove, Harold Battiste's sax attack, Spooner Oldham's fleet-fingered piano and an overall loose-limbed take that shakes the album up nicely. While I can't say which of the session's three guitarists – the great Arthur Adams, the frequently overlooked Marlin Greene, or the Rick Littlefield – are filling out the edges, the energetic finger-pickin' is a delight. Toussaint's "From A Whisper To A Scream" is a moody, atmospheric semi-ballad that Lennear knocks out of the park with a sultry, sensual, hearty performance that dances nicely above the lush instrumentation, the song's soulful roots embellished by Don Monza's ethereal flute passage.

"Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky" is exactly that, authentic New Orleans funk a la the Meters or early Neville Brothers, Lennear's vocals playing nicely with the song's deep groove and foot-shuffling, booty-shakin' rhythms. The mid-to-low tempo "What'd I Do Wrong" displays a different side of Lennear's talent, the singer delivering an emotionally-powerful torch-song performance enhanced by the subtle use of horns and William Smith's background keyboards. Phew! originally closed with a reprise of "Goin' Down," this second reading turbo-charging the song into funk overdrive, Lennear's vocals nearly lost in the miasma of brassy horns, blazing fretwork, and cascading percussion. The CD reissue of Phew! tacks on a version of Lowell George's "Two Trains" that features another facet of Lennear's abilities, the singer bringing a gospel intensity that would inform George's later recording of the song.   

The Reverend's Bottom Line

Claudia Lennear's Phew! is a fine example of music from the crossroads of Memphis soul, Southern rock, and New Orleans funk, the singer mixing up these genres with casual aplomb, the performances driven by her explosive and expressive voice. Although the songs on the album's original first side often overshadowed Lennear's voice (no small feat), Toussaint found a way to truly blend the singer's talents with the band's contributions on the second side.

Sadly, Phew! was buried among a slew of other rock 'n' roll albums in the fertile year that was 1973, and Lennear would give up performing to become a school teacher. An obscurity long overdue for reissuing, Phew! is a timeless slice of 1970s rock 'n' soul worth rediscovering.

(Click here to buy Claudia Lennear's Phew! from

Progressive Nation At Sea 2014

Back in 2008, Dream Theatre drummer Mike Portnoy dreamt up an idea of a sort of prog-rock "super tour" to bring the music to the masses. Thus was the Progressive Nation launched, and over the course of two North American and one European tour during 2008 and '09 – fronted by Dream Theatre and including three other bands hand-picked by Portnoy – the package tour showcased a variety of prog-minded bands.

After a five year hiatus, Progressive Nation is returning, this time on the high seas. The Progressive Nation At Sea will be a floating party featuring some of the best of brightest from the prog-rock and metal worlds. Launching from Miami, Florida and sailing to Great Stirrup Cay and Freeport, Bahamas, the Progressive Nation At Sea cruise will run from February 18th-22nd, 2014 on the Norwegian Pearl ship. The ocean-going festival will feature 40+ shows on multiple stages as well as jam sessions that are sure to get the big boat a rockin'!   

Sponsored by Inside Out Music, Progressive Nation At Sea features a veritable "who's who" of prog-rockin' talent, including Portnoy and his former Dream Theatre bandmate Derik Sherinian, prog "supergroup" Transatlantic (with Portnoy, Neal Morse, Roine Stolt, and Pete Trewavas), former Yes frontman Jon Anderson, Adrian Belew's Power Trio, the Devin Townsend Project, Spock's Beard, King's X, the Flower Kings, Pain of Salvation, Anathema, Bigelf, Beardfish, Jolly, Haken, and many others.

The cruise ain't cheap – these things never are – but at $700 per person plus taxes and fees (say a grand total to be safe), you get the aforementioned entertainment, meals, and full run of the ship including an outdoor pool, hot tubs, a fitness center and more. The music is the main attraction, though, and comparing the cost of Progressive Nation At Sea with other cruises, it's a pretty good price for the entertainment value. Check out the Progressive Nation At Sea website for more info…

New Transatlantic CD & Tour In 2014

Prog-rock "supergroup" Transatlantic has announced the January 27th, 2014 release of Kaleidoscope, the band's fourth studio album which, of course, will be accompanied by a supporting tour. Since its forming in 2001, and over the course of three studio and three live albums, Transatlantic has become one of the leading lights of the modern progressive rock movement. The band features talents like Neal Morse (solo, Spock's Beard), Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings), bassist Peter Trewavas (Marillion), and Mike Portnoy (Dream Theatre).  

Says Morse in a press release for the new album, "we are all completely excited about the Kaleidoscope album and our upcoming tour! This will be a mind blowing experience for us and the audience for sure. We've never taken on a tour of this scope before and the album is crazy good so we are looking forward to playing this new material all over the world."

The track-listing for Kaleidoscope and initial Transatlantic 2014 tour dates are listed below:

1. Into The Blue
2. Shine
3. Black As The Sky
4. Beyond The Sun
5. Kaleidoscope

An Evening With Transatlantic 2014 World Tour:

Jan 31st @ El Segundo Performing Arts Center, Los Angeles CA
Feb 4th @ The Arcada Theater, Chicago IL
Feb 5th @ Theatre Du Capitole, Quebec City, Canada
Feb 6th @ L'Olympia, Montreal, Canada
Feb 8th @ Keswick Theater, Philadelphia PA
Feb 9th @ Highline Ballroom, New York NY
Feb 11th @ Teatro Metropolitan, Mexico City, Mexico
Feb 18th-22nd - "Progressive Nation At Sea" Cruise
Feb 27th @ La Rivera, Madrid, Spain
Feb 28th @ Razzmatazz 2, Barcelona, Spain
March 2nd @ Alcatraz, Milan, Italy
March 3rd @ Orion, Rome, Italy
March 5th @ Z7, Pratteln, Switzerland
March 6th @ Substage, Karlsruhe, Germany
March 7th @ Muffathalle, Munich, Germany
March 8th @ Astra, Berlin, Germany
March 9th @ E Werk, Cologne, Germany
March 11th @ Trix, Antwerp, Belgium
March 12th @ The Forum, London, England
March 13th @ 013, Tilburg, Holland
March 14th @ 013, Tilburg, Holland
March 15th @ Le Bataclan, Paris, France
June 4th-7th - Sweden Rock Festival

Monday, October 28, 2013

Rock N Roll Legend Lou Reed, R.I.P.

Rolling Stone may have been the first to report on the tragic loss to the world of rock music that came with the death of rock 'n' roll legend Lou Reed, but they certainly weren't the last to speak their minds on the acclaimed musician and songwriter. I'll leave it up to all those other folks to provide the minutiae of Reed's life, and biographies of the artist are certainly easy enough to come by, so I'll just relate Lou's importance to my life and career as a rock critic.

I was too young to have experienced the Velvet Underground, Reed's influential and essential mid-to-late-1970s band, but I came to love Reed's music with the release of his 1972 self-titled solo album. A collection of old, and sometimes unreleased or obscure VU tunes, with a handful of new songs, Lou Reed the album was a curious beast, comprised of both lean, stripped-down, garage-level rockers with a touch of the old Velvet magic, as well as some grand, exciting compositions that borderlined on prog-rock with their lush arrangements and progressive slant. Reed even enlisted the help of future prog legends Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman in the studio!

I had read about Reed's solo album in the pages of Creem, the music bible of choice for a young rock 'n' roll fanatic, and listening to it in its entirety proved to be a revelation. Lou Reed sent me back in time to rediscover the Velvet Underground, and opened the door to a future of musical possibilities. No longer restrained by either AM Top 40 pop or AOR-oriented FM radio, Reed's early albums – the debut, Transformer from later in '72, and 1973's Berlin – would lead me directly to energizing and inspiring music from artists like the New York Dolls, the Dictators, and the Flamin' Groovies, but it was Reed that first put me on that track.

When in high school, my Reed fandom was no secret, and when a bad haircut was forced on me by my parents to make me "presentable" for my grandfather's funeral (thanks Brentwood Barber Shop!), friends at old Franklin High began calling me "Lou" when Reed started wearing short-cropped and dyed hair. And yes, I dug the comparison! When Reed enlisted two of my fave Motor City axemen in Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter for Rock N' Roll Animal, I was thrilled.

But with the release of Metal Machine Music, which coincided with graduation from high school in 1975 and my subsequent sojourn into a semester of college and, subsequently, full-time employment, I lost track of, and interest in Mr. Reed. Although I followed Reed's jousting with rockcrit idol Lester Bangs in the pages of Creem, I wouldn't pick up on the man's music again until 1982's The Blue Mask, which prompted me to look backwards at Coney Island Baby (1976) and Street Hassle (1978).

Although Reed was no longer my fave rocker – a status I'd bestow on Bruce Springsteen after seeing him perform half a dozen times between 1978 and 1985 – I kept up with his work sporadically through the years and on albums like New Sensations (1984), the wonderful New York (1989), and Magic and Loss (1992). Reed gets a bad rap for the inconsistency of his albums through the late 1980s and into the new millennium, but he was consistent in his experimentation and willingness to take risks, and for every travesty like Lulu (2011) there is a triumph like The Raven (2003).

Reed only ever had one "hit single" – the ubiquitous "Walk On The Wild Side," from his 1973 sophomore album Transformer – which rose to #16 on the chart and drug the album behind it and into the Top 30. That's not to say that Reed didn't experience some commercial traction afterwards, as albums like 1974's Sally Can't Dance (#10), Coney Island Baby (#41), and New York (#40) all enjoyed modest success while virtually all of Reed's 1970s and '80s albums charted at least for a short while.

Reed's influence on rock music transcended commercial concerns; as a songwriter, he built upon the lyrical possibilities first created by Bob Dylan to expand the vocabulary of rock 'n' roll and allow artists as diverse as David Bowie, Ian Hunter, Tom Waits, and Patti Smith, among but a few, to aggressively chase their creative muse and wrestle the beast to the ground. As a musician, Reed continued to push the envelope in various interesting ways, never settling on a singular style or content to retread past glories…and for that, rock fans owe the man a debt of gratitude that we'll never be able to pay…

(Thanx to brother Thom King for the video links below)


Excitable Press to Publish Best Rock Writing Book!

Excitable Press is happy to announce that it is currently accepting editorial submissions for the company's next book, That Devil Music: Best Rock Writing 2014. Scheduled for March 2014 publication, the book will showcase the best critical writing about rock music from the previous year.

For over a decade, Da Capo Press published its eagerly-awaited annual Best Music Writing books. The series was discontinued in 2011, however, and its former editor has been unable to re-launch the popular collection of music criticism. We feel that this has left a void in the publishing world that we can fill.

Our plans for That Devil Music: Best Music Writing 2014 is for book to become an annual series much like Best Music Writing, but we need to get this first volume off the ground. We're asking for submissions of music writing with an important caveat: it needs to focus on rock 'n' roll in all of its persuasions. Classic rock, prog-rock, heavy metal, punk rock, blues-rock – it's all good with us!

What we're looking for is essays, articles, interviews, rants and reviews written and/or published during 2013. Reviews can be of albums, books, DVDs or other flotsam and jetsam of rock culture. Submissions should be emailed to c/o in MS Word or text formats and must include contact information.

We will accept editorial submissions through January 31, 2014 for the 2014 book, and we'll be contacting only those writers whose material will be used in the final book. We can't afford to pay much, but contributors will be paid a small fee and sent a copy of the finished book.

That Devil Music: Best Music Writing 2014 will be edited by infamous rock critic Rev. Keith A. Gordon, whose two most recent books include The Other Side of Nashville (2012) and Scorched Earth: A Jason & the Scorchers Scrapbook (2013, with Paul Needham), both published by Excitable Press. The book will receive a full promotional push and worldwide distribution through Ingram Distributing and and will be available in both print and eBook versions.

Friday, October 4, 2013

CD Preview: The Flower Kings' Desolation Rose

One of the Reverend's favorite prog-rock outfits, the Flower Kings, are set to release a follow-up to their critically-acclaimed 2012 album Banks of Eden. On October 29, 2013 Inside Out Records will release the band's Desolation Rose, the album featuring gorgeous cover art by Silas Toball. The U.S. release will include a second bonus disc while, musically, the album offers the typical Flower Kings mix of exhilarating guitar-driven rock and progressive soundscapes, with heady socially-conscious lyrics also typical of the Swedish musical legends.

Says Flower Kings frontman Roine Stolt in a press release for the album, "being somewhat of a political statement, the epic theme of Desolation Rose is a logical step in a time where perpetual war, famine, environmental threats, religious conflicts dominate the media and our minds. This is a time to wake up and the music on this album takes you on a journey where you are forced to questions what the mainstream media feed us and to rethink your whole world view on all of the above. This is in many ways a typical Flower Kings album but we have also taken it into another realm where we do take chances and where you may struggle to get into the music – or the lyrics – but trust me when I say that you will be rewarded, as this may be our most involved, important and interesting album ever."

Desolation Rose tracklist:

1. Tower ONE
2. Sleeping Bones
3. Desolation Road
4. White Tuxedos
5. The Resurrected Judas
6. Silent Masses
7. Last Carnivore
8. Dark Fascist Skies
9. Blood Of Eden
10. Silent Graveyards

Click on the CD cover above to buy the Flower Kings' Desolation Rose from

Dr. Feelgood & Oil City Confidential

Oil City Confidential DVD Oil City Confidential, filmmaker Julien Temple's award-winning documentary on the influential British pub-rock band Dr. Feelgood, will be released on DVD on November 5, 2013. The third part of Temple's trilogy of films documenting British music in the 1970s, Oil City Confidential is a prequel to Temple's The Filth & The Fury (on the Sex Pistols) and The Future Is Unwritten (on Joe Strummer and the Clash).

Temple's artistic vision differs from that of other documentary filmmakers, using music as an integral tool in his intelligent examination of social and cultural conditions in the U.K. With Oil City Confidential, Temple tells the story of four young men using rock 'n' roll as an escape from the bleak urban environment of Canvey Island, placing their ascent to a modest degree of fame and subsequent influence on the punk generation to follow in proper context with the social landscape. 

Dr. Feelgood was an amazing band, quite underrated and somewhat obscure here in the states, but well worth discovering on your own. Check out Oil City Confidential on DVD and you'll be buying up Dr. Feelgood records in no time! (The Reverend highly recommends the band's 1975 albums Down By The Jetty and Malpractice as well as 1976's Stupidity as the place to become acquainted with Dr. Feelgood's enormous charms.)

Watch the trailer for Oil City Confidential below and click on the DVD cover to buy from