Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mick Farren's Final Album Released!

Sadly, British music journalist and infamous rocker Mick Farren passed away last July, collapsing on stage while performing with a new line-up of his legendary 1960s-era band the Deviants. An influential rock critic from an era where writing about music actually swayed opinions, Farren's work for noted U.K. weekly New Music Express and for the International Times earned him a reputation as an insightful critic and writer. It was Farren's tenure with the Deviants that cemented his rock 'n' roll legacy, however, the notorious cult band releasing three influential and ground-breaking albums between 1967 and 1969.

Before his death, Farren had all but finished his final album, working with Deviants bandmate Andy Colquhoun on The Woman In The Black Vinyl Dress, released by Gonzo Multimedia in the U.K. “The initial vocal tracks were laid down by Mick in February 2012 at Brighton Electric," says Colquhoun in a press release for the new album. "Jaki Miles-Windmill added backing vocals, and some percussion at this session. I took the vocal tracks to my studio, Cybermusik, and overdubbed guitars, bass, drums, keyboards and more backing vocals, and also put the poetry in a song structure.” Colquhoun put the album together over a six month period, mixing the album in August 2012. The Woman In The Black Vinyl Dress was released on October 28th, 2013.

Farren's legacy extends far beyond music. A prolific writer, he had penned nearly two-dozen books during his lifetime, including  several novels, books of poetry, a couple of autobiographical books, and four well-received books on Elvis Presley. For five years, from 2003 to 2008, Farren was a columnist for CityBeat in Los Angeles. From the 1970 release of Mona – The Carnivorous Circus, his solo debut, Farren has never strayed far from music. Through the years, he would record a number of albums, including the acclaimed Vampires Stole My Lunch Money, which included Chrissie Hynde (later of the Pretenders) as well as a handful of albums with a reunited line-up of the Deviants.

During his storied career, Farren also collaborated with artists as diverse as Wilko Johnson of Dr. Feelgood, Wayne Kramer (ex-MC5), Lemmy of Motorhead, and Hawkwind, among many others. His final collaboration with Colquhoun on The Woman In The Black Vinyl Dress represents the last entry in his artistic canon and a fitting swansong to an influential and free-thinking rock 'n' roll legend.

Get the album direct from Gonzo Multimedia...

Related content: British Rocker/Writer Mick Farren, R.I.P.

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

Sunday, September 29, 2013

CD Review: The Prog Collective's Epilogue


(Purple Pyramid Records)

A couple years back, Yes guitarist and keyboardist Billy Sherwood had the idea to launch a project with a bunch of his talented prog-rock pals and former bandmates and see what would happen. Sherwood solicited collaborations from members of Yes, Asia, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, and others who recorded together as the Prog Collective, the outfit's 2012 self-titled debut album performing better than anybody involved had expected.

The Prog Collective's Epilogue

Hoping to capture lightning in a bottle for a second time (or on tape, as the case may be), Sherwood enlisted an all-star collection of talent for the creation of Epilogue, the sophomore effort by the Prog Collective. This second kick at the can includes artists like Rick Wakeman and Chris Squire of Yes; Jordan Rudess and Derek Sherinian, both veterans of Dream Theater; Larry Fast (Synergy); Steve Hillage (Gong, solo artist); John Wetton (Roxy Music, Asia); Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple); Patrick Moraz (Moody Blues); and Tony Kaye and Peter Banks (both Yes, Flash). There are a bunch of other musos here, as well as ol' Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, providing vocals on one song as only Shatner can.

The resulting music is exciting and exhilarating, blending traditional 1970s-styled progressive rock with contemporary sound and recording techniques. After all, modern day proggers like Spock's Beard, the Flower Kings, Dream Theater, and others have updated and expanded the definition of prog-rock over the past 20 years or so, dragging the music's intricate sound and virtuoso instrumentation into the 21st century with a focus on balancing songcraft and melody with flailing guitars and buzzing synthesizers.

Are We To Believe?

"Are We To Believe?," the opening track of Epilogue, is a perfect example of the Prog Collective's tightrope walk, the song sounding like a cross between early, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis and poppy, 1980s-era Yes. XTC's Colin Moulding takes the microphone for "Are We To Believe?," sounding curiously like Phil Collins in his vocal phrasing, but delivering an altogether otherworldly performance as Rick Wakeman's synths rage away in providing an instrumental foundation for the song. Steve Hillage adds some nice texture with his innovative guitar solos, while Mel Collins fleshes out the tune with squalls of sax and flute.

The vastly underrated John Wetton provides vocals for "What Can Be Done?," the Asia frontman bringing a particularly British sort of soul to his performance as guitarist John Wesley and keyboardist Derek Sherinian create a claustrophobic, dark-hued musical ambiance to serve as an instrumental backdrop. Fee Waybill of the Tubes is the odd man out on Epilogue, a seemingly out-of-character choice as collaborator, and his vocals are all but lost below the backing harmonies and instrumental fury of "Adding Fuel To The Fire." Steve Morse's guitar swats and stings like a pterodactyl-sized wasp here, while Jordan Rudess's understated keyboard fills strike like a stiletto rather than hitting like a bludgeon, and Sherwood's lively percussion proves to be a deft addition to the song.

Tomorrow Becomes Today

"Tomorrow Becomes Today" features Peter Banks' final performance, recorded before his death earlier this year, the guitarist layering his gorgeous tone and brilliant stringplay behind the soft, almost buried-in-the-mix vocals of Curved Air's Sonja Kristina. Banks' guitar soars and flutters like a nectar-drunk hummingbird before Larry Fast's cacophonic keyboard runs break the spell. Banks' guitar continues to flow with the current, though, rising to the top at times, otherwise just propping up the fragile construct. It's a stunning swansong, and a fitting tribute to an overlooked talent.

By contrast, "Shining Diamonds" is a sort of Yes/Moody Blues hybrid with bassist Chris Squire and keyboardist Patrick Moraz cementing the rhythmic bedrock on which Alan Parsons layers his breathless vocals and closet prog-rock fan Steve Stevens (best-known as Billy Idol's longtime guitarist) contributes a solid effort of electric and acoustic guitarplay. Moraz's imaginative keyboard solo showcases both his talent and influence on younger keyboard wizards like Rudess and Sherinian while Stevens' energetic solo displays his unassailable prog chops.

Just Another Day

Sherwood takes the vocal spotlight on "Just Another Day," a spry prog-pop tune with classical undertones, the song bringing more than a hint of vintage Pink Floyd to its mystery. Gentle Giant's Gary Green adds a gorgeous mix of electric and acoustic guitars while Tony Kaye provides brilliant Hammond organ and other keyboards to fill out the performance, bringing up memories of his long-forgotten band Badger. Sherwood's voice is tailor-made for this sort of lofty space-rock exercise, capturing a cosmic vibe while his rhythm guitar and subtle percussion work create a mesmerizing instrumental tapestry.

Shatner has become somewhat of a prog-rock aficionado these days, and his upcoming album Ponder The Mystery is produced by Sherwood and includes contributions from guitarist Steve Vai, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and other prog and jazz legends. Here Shatner delivers a spoken word performance on the title track atop a miasma of Sherwood's six-string chaos and drummer Jim Cuomo's solid timekeeping. Shatner's voice is electronically-altered to fit with the mood of the song, but it's an effective effort as no heavy lifting is needed in the face of Sherwood's energetic and innovative fretwork.

The Reverend's Bottom Line

It's unlikely that the Prog Collective's Epilogue will gain many converts among those rock snobs who turn up their noses at progressive rock's frequently meandering soundscapes (even while they wax poetic about Miles Davis's bleating improvisations). For those of us who grew up during the golden age of bands like King Crimson, Yes, ELP and Gentle Giant, though, the Prog Collective is like catnip to a bored feline.

While there's little innovation on Epilogue, neither is there a need to reinvent the wheel here…this is music performed by virtuoso instrumentalists for listeners who enjoy its intricacy and dimensions. Plus, it sounds like everybody here is having a heck of a lot of fun playing music without commercial expectations, and if the Prog Collective manages to convey the charms of prog-rock to a few younger listeners, 'tis all the better!

Click on the CD cover to buy the Prog Collective's Epilogue from

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Blodwyn Pig Anthology CD Available

Blodwyn Pig's Pigthology CD A lot of folks thought that original Jethro Tull guitarist Mick Abrahams was a bit daft when he left that band after its 1968 debut album This Was to form a new band. Dissatisfied by the musical direction that Tull was veering towards, Abrahams joined up with multi-instrumentalist Jack Lancaster (sax, flute, violin), bassist Andy Pyle, and drummer Ron Berg (later replaced by former Tull bandmate Clive Bunker) to form the British blues-rock outfit Blodwyn Pig.

The band's lifespan was short indeed, comprised of a pair of original albums over two years, two tours of the U.S., and several festival appearances opening for artists like the Who, Procol Harum, Miles Davis, Pink Floyd and others. The band's critically-acclaimed 1969 album Ahead Rings Out was a forward-thinking mix of blues and rock with jazz-fusion undertones while the following year's Getting To This adhered to a similar musical blueprint.

Blodwyn Pig went through several fits and starts throughout the 1970s before breaking up, with Abrahams putting together an all new band for 1993's Lies album. The band has recorded sporadically ever since, sometimes under the guise of Abrahams' solo albums, to the point that it's hard to tell the difference between Blodwyn Pig and Mick Abrahams these days. The band may have become a mere footnote in rock 'n' roll history, a proverbial cult band of interest only to blues-rock fanatics and Anglophiles if not for the Internet, where obscurity often finds the respect it originally deserved.

The last couple of years have seen a steady flow of Abrahams and Blodwyn Pig archival releases, everything from studio outtakes to live shows, often of dubious provenance. With the recent release of Pigthology – a collection of rare unreleased tracks produced by Abrahams and Lancaster – fans finally have a band-curated archival album, made available by the good folks at Gonzo Multimedia.

Pigthology features twelve tracks, including rare studio versions of such longtime fan favorites as "Dear Jill," "See My Way," and "Drive Me." Pigthology also includes tracks from the band's 1970 appearance on John Peel's BBC show ("Baby Girl," "Same Old Story") and live performances from the Marquee Club in Soho in 1969 ("The Change Song") and the Luton Town Hall in 1973 ("Cosmogrification"), among other tracks. Click on the CD cover to buy Pigthology from 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

CD Review: Steve Hillage's Live In England 1979

Live In England 1979

(Gonzo Multimedia)

An important member of progressive rock's royal family, guitarist Steve Hillage had his fingers in a number of groundbreaking and influential prog-rock outfits of the late 1960s and early '70s. With keyboardist/guitarist Dave Stewart (no, not the Eurythmics guy), Hillage formed the group Uriel, which evolved into prog cult faves Egg after Hillage's departure for school.

Progressive Rock Royalty

The guitarist popped up a couple years later to form the short-lived prog outfit Khan with Stewart, the band releasing one acclaimed album, 1972's Space Shanty, after which Hillage hooked up with former Soft Machine guitarist Daevid Allen in the influential psychedelic experimental prog band Gong. Hillage contributed fretwork and songwriting to three of Gong's most important albums: 1973's Flying Teapot and Angel Egg, and 1974's You.

After reuniting with Stewart and Egg to record that band's third and final album, 1974's The Civil Surface, Hillage hung out his shingle and begun flying solo with the 1975 release of his excellent debut album, Fish Rising. A number of acclaimed albums would follow, including 1976's L and the following year's Motivation Radio. By the mid-1980s, however, Hillage had turned to production, working on albums by Simple Minds and Robyn Hitchcock before virtually disappearing from music altogether. He would resurface in the 1990s, working with electronic dance band the Orb before launching his own electronic outfit System 7, with which he has explored the far reaches of popular music well into the 2000s.

Steve Hillage's Live In England 1979

In 1979, however, Hillage and band were touring in support of that year's Live Herald album, itself a collection of fine performances of material from across the previous half-decade of Hillage's career. Live In England 1979, a two-disc CD/DVD set, takes the Live Herald tracklist one step further…capturing a February 1979 performance by Hillage at The University of Kent, this Gonzo Multimedia release offers up over an hour of mind-bending prog-rock audio but also a video version of the performance.

Live In England 1979 opens with the psychedelic-tinged six-minute rocker "The Salmon Song," taken from Hillage's debut disc, that offers up plenty of screaming guitars courtesy Hillage and his old friend Dave Stewart, and some amazing percussion work by drummer Andy Anderson. "Unzipping the Zype" is a freeform band jam that includes synthesizer wizard (and longtime Hillage partner) Miquette Giraudy and bassist John McKenzie along with Hillage, Stewart, and Anderson, every band member getting an instrumental moment in the spotlight while Hillage and Giraudy share vocals. The song is a spacey amalgam of prog-rock, jazzy licks, electronic riffing, and heady percussion.

Electrick Gypsies

Hillage's take on Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" is taken from the guitarist's album L and twisted into a hallucinogenic musical landscape that the composer wouldn't recognize. With Giraudy's synth swirls providing a multi-hued backdrop, the band's gorgeous vocal harmonies, and Hillage's imaginative guitar licks take the hippie anthem to an entirely higher plane of consciousness. Ditto for the band's take on George Harrison's classic "It's All Too Much" (taken from the Beatles' Yellow Submarine album), the performance graced by dancing synths, melodic vocals, and gorgeous guitar lines.

Two bonus tracks on Live In England 1979 are actually live performances from an uncredited 1977 show, perhaps the Rainbow Theatre show in London that was partially documented by Live Herald. Both "Hurdy Gurdy Glissando" and "Electrick Gypsies" are culled from Hillage's L album, the former ostensibly inspired by the Donovan tune, Hillage and crew taking their vision to deliciously mind-altering extremes, the performance a third eye-opening psychedelic brew of soaring guitars; buzzing, throbbing synthesizers; breakneck percussion; and fluid bass lines that mix jazzy and classical elements into the prog-rock stew. The latter is a more straight-forward 1970s-era hard rock number but with plenty of proggy flourishes like phased fretwork, jazzy percussion, odd time changes, and oscillating synth riffs livening up the performance.    

The Reverend's Bottom Line

The DVD portion of Live In England 1979 offers up pretty much the entire audio portion of the set, minus the 1977 live bonus tracks but including the ethereal dueling acoustic and electric guitars of "Radio," a simply stunning performance that emerges from billowing clouds of smoke-machine generated fog, as well as the scorching "Light in the Sky," another period rocker with plenty of spacey visuals, Giraudy's oddball vocals, and Hillage's lively fretwork. The DVD also includes a 2006 interview with Hillage and Giraudy talking about the Live Herald album and the tour documented by Live In England 1979.  

Overall, Live In England 1979 offers up a fine representation of the Steve Hillage Band on stage as well as the guitarist's creative state of mind during the latter part of the 1970s as Hillage explored the outer reaches of the psych, prog, and hard rock universes. The CD and DVD are a lot of fun, and a welcome reminder of Hillage's immense and often underrated talents and his hallowed status as one of progressive rock's great guitarists and composers.

(Click here to buy Steve Hillage's Live In England 1979 from

CD Review: Hackamore Brick's One Kiss Leads To Another

One Kiss Leads To Another

(Real Gone Music)

Brooklyn-born Hackamore Brick were one of the great "should have beens" in 1970s rock 'n' roll, the foursome's decade-opening album One Kiss Leads To Another earning the Brick cult band status, the vinyl LP becoming a high-priced collectors' item that only grew in status as the years passed. The band's curious mix of minimalist pop-rock songcraft and overt Velvet Underground influences – the band members were reportedly all VU fan club members – presaged both late 1970s new wave and '80s-era power-pop sounds. 

Cult Favorites

Comprised of singer/keyboardist Chick Newman, guitarist/singer Tommy Moonlight, bassist Bob Roman, and drummer Robbie Biegel, Hackamore Brick was the proverbial mystery band. Although One Kiss Leads To Another generally earned the band critical kudos, not much else seems to have been written about Hackamore Brick in the music press. When they disbanded a little more than a year after their debut album's release, the band disappeared into the rock 'n' roll memory hole along with fellow obscurities Blue Ash and Crabby Appleton, awaiting re-discovery at a later date. The band's story isn't really remarkable by rock 'n' roll standards. Newman and Moonlight formed the core of the band, with Biegel and Roman coming on board later.

After gigging around the NYC area for the better part of a year, opening for folks like Richie Havens and British jazz-rock band If, and playing solo shows at such dubious locales as the city's Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, the band came to the attention of Kama Sutra Records. The label was attempting to branch out beyond its bubblegum pop music roots, signing rockers such as the Flamin' Groovies and Dust, so Hackamore Brick fit right into the label's plans. One Kiss Leads To Another was recorded in just one week with former rock critic Richard Robinson producing, the album subsequently released into the world with little or nothing in the way of promotion…not unlike those great Groovies and Dust records, when you think about it.     

Hackamore Brick's One Kiss Leads To Another

After decades of discussion and conjecture, One Kiss Leads To Another has finally been reissued on CD and is available for deeper inspection. The album kicks off with Chick Newman's laid-back ballad "Reachin'," the song's mellow vocals and elegant arrangement sounding like an outtake from Lou Reed's self-titled 1972 solo debut, and belying a similar dark lyrical hue resting uneasily beneath the surface. The song's introspective vibe and minimalist instrumentation echoes that which would come later from Jonathan Richman's Modern Lovers and also places it in the 1980s college rock firmament alongside bands like the dB's and Game Theory.

Moonlight's "Oh! Those Sweet Bananas" may sport an oddball title and slightly-skewed lyrics but the song furthers the band's Velvet Underground connection with Newman's flat, Lou Reedish vocal intonation, an infectious melody, and Moonlight's raw, undisciplined, and minimal fretwork. By contrast, the guitarist's "Radio," which was released as the album's single, is an early 1960s-styled gentle rocker with a great chorus and a melodic hook, but a definite mid-1970s vibe with awkward lyrics and Moonlight's breathless vocals.

I Watched You Rhumba

"I Watched You Rhumba" is similar in style to "Radio," albeit more upbeat and not dissimilar from some of REO Speedwagon's later tunes, mixing a pop-rock rhythm with energetic pianoplay and spry guitar licks driving the fast-paced vocals. Newman's mid-tempo "I Won't Be Around" is an interesting construct, the arrangement driven by the singer's vocals and top-of-the-mix piano with an underlying keyboard riff and a few crashing cymbals and cascading drumbeats. "And I Wonder" is even more pastoral, the vocals literally hidden beneath the lush instrumentation and calliope keyboard washes with work at a counterpoint with each other. One keyboard track sounds like Ray Manzarek of the Doors, mysterious and atmospheric, while the other evokes the psych-pop of bands like the Millennium. The song builds to an interesting instrumental crescendo with a definite Middle Eastern vibe that simply sings "psychedelic." 

The Newman/Moonlight composition "Zip Gun Woman" is an up-tempo rocker that could have provided an interesting musical direction for the band had it forged a second album. Riding a strident keyboard riff that flowers into a proggish jam, Moonlight's rapidfire vocals dance effortlessly along the edge with dangerous appeal. The Real Gone Music CD reissue of One Kiss Leads To Another includes three bonus tracks, including the previously unreleased single version of "I Watched You Rhumba" in glorious mono. A cover version of the Leiber-Stoller song "Searchin'" was the B-side of the "Radio" single, the song a solid rocker with a Rolling Stones feel, snarling vocals, and punkish intensity. 

The Reverend's Bottom Line

So, does Hackamore Brick's One Kiss Leads To Another live up to the hype you ask? Well, yes and no…the album is a solid collection of pop-oriented rock songs with intriguing performances. However, Robinson's immature and often slight production leaves several songs sounding unfinished, although the re-mastering for CD certainly provides a welcome sonic "pop" to the material. A stronger guiding hand in the studio may have also helped the young band further develop some of the songs into true power-pop masterpieces.

Moonlight wasn't the strongest guitar player on the late 1960s scene, and his six-string contributions here are largely overshadowed by Newman's stellar and ever-present keyboards. The rhythm section of Roman and Biegel are sturdy but unspectacular, but the songwriting skills of Newman and Moonlight are the album's definite high point, the pair – both solo and together – showing a great deal of promise as composers that, with a little ripening, could have been world-beating. Overall, I'd heartily recommend One Kiss Leads To Another for any fan of 1970s pop-rock, Hackamore Brick an also-ran that could have been great given the time and attention they deserved. [Review by Rev. Keith A. Gordon]

(Click here to order Hackamore Brick's One Kiss Leads To Another from

Friday, August 16, 2013

CD Preview: Quicksilver Messenger Service Live At The Old Mill Tavern 1970

There must be a ready market for these Quicksilver Messenger Service pseudo-bootlegs with dodgy provenance (and often questionable sound), because a bunch of fly-by-night labels have cranked out better than a half-dozen such releases in the last four years or so. Live At The Old Mill Tavern, documenting a March 1970 QMS show from Mill Valley, California was released digitally and as a CD-R in 2012 and now gets the full digipak CD treatment from the good folks at Cleopatra Records, which at least ensures a decent package with the best sound possible.

Of all the live QMS recordings floating around, this one is notable in that it features a newly-reunited band line-up that included singer Dino Valenti along with guitarists Gary Duncan and John Cipollina, bassist David Freiberg, keyboardist Nicky Hopkins, and drummer Greg Elmore working out on tunes like Valenti's "Mojo" and Bo Diddley's "Mona." This particular set includes two lengthy blues jams with Chicago blues legend James Cotton (extending out 21+ minutes) and the sort of blues-infused psychedelic pop that only Quicksilver could deliver.

My old buddy Dave Thompson wrote the liner notes for Live At The Old Mill Tavern, and the label's press releases quotes from them, telling us more about the story behind the album. “The six-piece band – Dino Valenti, Gary Duncan, John Cippolina, David Freiberg, and Greg Elmore – had only been playing together a few months, since New Year at the Fillmore rang in this new decade, and they are blazing tonight, ” writes Thompson. “Fiery and more fiery still...waiting in the wings for encore time was harmonica legend Jimmy Cotton, whose eponymous Blues Band was kicking the crap out of more or less every band it came up against in concert...there's a lot of live Quicksilver material out there, and that is how it should be. The records are great but, as all the members have said, it was live that the Messenger Service really smoked, and the live tapes that truly mark the life and times that they lived so well. This recording punches all of those buttons, and a whole bunch more besides!”

Lords of the New Church Revisited by Real Gone Music

When they formed in 1981, Lords of the New Church was a sort of intercontinental punk "supergroup." Comprised of singer Stiv Bators (Dead Boys), guitarist Brian James (The Damned), bassist Dave Tregunna (Sham 69), and drummer Nick Turner (The Barracudas), the band transcended its punk/hardcore roots to deliver a sound that mixed punk's energy with garage and hard rock, their songs replete with melody and sing-along choruses that separated them from much of what was going on in either the U.S. or the U.K. at the time. The Lords' live performances were the stuff of legend, Stiv picking up the torch from punk godfather Iggy and nearly killing himself on stage every night, while James' underrated fretwork soared above the yeoman work of a solid rhythm section.

The Lords released three albums proper during their roughly eight years in the trenches circa 1981-1988, not counting multiple "hits" collections and live discs sporting bootleg quality sound and dodgy provenance. These three albums – the self-titled 1982 debut, 1983's Is Nothing Sacred? and 1984's The Method to Our Madness – are essential 1980s-era rock 'n' roll listening, influential and entertaining and, sadly, out of print for years. Thanks to Real Gone Music, all three albums will be reissued on September 30th, 2013 with spiffed-up sound and new liner notes from Scott Schinder. Sadly, none of the reissues include bonus tracks, and you're going to have to find a copy of the Killer Lords CD to hear the band's incredibly ramshackle cover of Madonna's "Like A Virgin."

The three releases are part of RealGone's September schedule, which also includes albums from Billy Preston and more live music from the Grateful Dead.

Lords of the New Church - "Russian Roulette"

Lords of the New Church - "Little Boys Play With Dolls"