Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Magnificent Moody Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CD Preview: The Waterboys Return with Modern Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

CD Review: Dave Davies' Rippin' Up Time

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

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

Dave Davies’ Rippin’ Up Time

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

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

In The Old Days

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

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

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

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

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

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The Complete Zap Comix box set is coming!

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

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

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

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

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 Zap Comix #2

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)

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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

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Video of the Week: Siena Root’s The Way You Turn

This week’s video madness comes courtesy of Swedish heavy rockers Siena Root, who have a lot more on the ball than the usual “stoner rock” outfit. “The Way You Turn” displays some nuanced instrumentation to go along with the aural bludgeoning, the band’s hard-rocking sound evincing the same sort of “devil may care” experimental vibe as the best mid-1970s period Black Sabbath, but with a contemporary edge honed to a fine point by three decades of pioneering heavy metal. While Siena Root certainly has a sound rooted in the classic rock era of bands like Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Uriah Heep they manage to bring plenty of their own creative electricity to the game.

“The Way You Turn” comes from Siena Root’s upcoming disc Pioneers, the band’s first album to be released in the United States, due on November 18th, 2014 courtesy of the good folks at Cleopatra Records. The band’s riff-happy sound is complimented by its heavy use of throwback-vibe keyboards not dissimilar to Purple’s Jon Lord or Heep’s Ken Hensley. Throw in some heavy bass and explosive drumming, and you have a recipe for entertainment in any era. The album also includes a red-hot cover of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" guaranteed to singe the hair from your ears...

Although Siena Root has been kicking around its native Sweden since the late 1990s, they’re just now beginning to make a splash in the greater world of hard rock and heavy metal, earning the band no little praise from some of their obvious influences. In a press release for Pioneers, Uriah Heep guitarist and founder Mick Box says “it’s nice to hear a band like Siena Root playing it for real in this overly-processed world that we live in. Power to them, and I wish them all the success in the world!”

Fellow droogs, if anybody knows heavy rock ‘n’ roll music, it’s Mick Box, so you can take his endorsement of Siena Root to the bank…or just watch the video and make up your own bloody mind…

Buy the album on Siena Root's Pioneers

Lucifer’s Friend Reunion Tour & Album

Lucifer's Friend's Awakening
German hard rock band Lucifer’s Friend was one of the most interesting and entertaining outfits of the early 1970s. Fronted by leather-lunged British vocalist John Lawton, the music was propelled by Peter Hesslein’s imaginative guitar lines and bassist Dieter Horns’ heavier-than-uranium rhythms. The band’s self-titled 1970 debut album proved to be a defining work of hard rock and heavy metal, putting them similar commercial footing with like-minded fellow travelers Dust, Atomic Rooster, or Uriah Heep and influencing the next generation of (harder) bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.

Still, Lucifer’s Friend seemed to struggle for an identity that they’d already perfected on the first go-round, and subsequent albums evolved from the progressive rock of 1973’s Where The Groupies Killed The Blues to the jazz-fusion of the following year’s I’m Just A Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer to the melodic rock of the band’s late 1970s efforts. Lawton split in ’76 to front Heep in the wake of David Byron’s departure, and Lucifer’s Friend soldiered on until breaking up in 1981. A brief 1994 reunion between Lawton and Hesslein resulted in the Sumo Grip album, a throwback to their original sound, and then the band went quiet for another 20 years.

2015 may well prove to be Lucifer’s Friend’s year, however. Lawton, Hesslein, and Horns are reuniting to play the Swedish Rock Festival in June, and are currently putting together a full tour. Sadly, original band drummer Joachim Rietenbach passed away a few years ago, so newcomer Stephan Eggart will occupy that position, with Yogi Wichman, who played on Sumo Grip, on keyboards.

If that wasn’t enough good news to satisfy long-suffering Lucifer’s Friend fans, the band will also be releasing Awakening, a compilation album featuring four new songs recorded by the new band line-up, on Cherry Red Records in March 2015. Awakening is available for pre-order exclusively on the Cherry Red website, and fans that go ahead and order the disc will also receive an exclusive signed item.

In a press release for the band reunion, singer John Lawton states, “the reformation of Lucifer's Friend has been a long time coming, but we all feel that the time is right…to get back together with the guys with whom I had worked together for so many years and recorded albums that have in many respects stood the test of time, is for me, an upcoming highlight.” Adds guitarist Peter Hesslein, “…we thought that before it really is too late, to give our fans, especially the younger ones, a chance to experience a part of the founder members of hard rock...”

Sunday, October 26, 2014

British Blues-Rock Legend Jack Bruce, R.I.P.

British blues-rock legend Jack Bruce

Fresh off our recap of Cream’s musical legacy comes news of Jack Bruce’s death. The British blues-rock legend died from liver disease on Saturday, October 25th, 2014; Bruce was 71 years old.

Bruce is best-known for the brief 2½ years he spent as Cream’s bassist, singer, and primary songwriter circa 1966 to ‘68. Although the band’s tenure was short, they released four incredibly influential studio albums during their meteoric rise and eventual break-up. Bruce, guitarist Eric Clapton, and drummer Ginger Baker fused rock music and the blues unlike any band before them, and their musical legacy and immense commercial success would chase all the members for the remainder of their individually lengthy careers.

Bruce's Early Years

Before his enlistment into Cream, Bruce had already spent almost a half-decade as a pro, first with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated (a veritable breeding ground for British blues-rock talent), and later as a member of the Graham Bond Quartet (with guitarist John McLaughlin and drummer Ginger Baker alongside keyboardist Bond). Shortly after the quartet evolved into the Graham Bond Organisation with the departure of McLaughlin, Bruce’s tumultuous relationship with Baker would become downright combative, leading to Bruce’s departure from the band.

Bruce spent a short time in the mid-1960s with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, where he first met guitarist Clapton, before jumping ship to the Manfred Mann Band, where he gained his first taste of chart success with the hit single “Pretty Flamingo.” A one-off project with Clapton and singer Steve Winwood (pre-Traffic) under the band name Powerhouse resulted in a handful of tracks for a subsequent compilation album, but is notable mostly because it was an important precursor to the forming of Cream.

The Solo Years

Before Cream’s break-up in 1968 (the writing clearly on the wall), Bruce recorded an acoustic jazz album with guitarist McLaughlin and former bandmates Dick Heckstall-Smith and Jon Hiseman; titled Things We Like, it wouldn’t be released until 1970 as Bruce’s sophomore album. Bruce launched his solo career proper with the 1969 album Songs For A Tailor, an engaging mix of blues, rock, and jazz recorded with saxophonist Heckstall-Smith, drummer Hiseman, guitarist Chris Spedding, and other friends.

Jack Bruce's Songs For A Tailor
Songs For A Tailor would create the blueprint for the next four-plus decades of Bruce’s career as he would chase his restless muse across a musical landscape that explored the depths of hard rock, blues, jazz, fusion, British R&B, and rhythmic world music. Unlike many solo artists of his stature, after scoring a modest hit album (#6 on the U.K. charts, #55 U.S.), Bruce hooked up with the jazz-fusion band Lifetime with drummer Tony Williams and guitarist McLaughlin, appearing on the band’s second album.

This, too, would set a pattern for Bruce’s lengthy career – shortly after the 1971 release of his third solo album, Harmony Row, Bruce formed the Cream-influenced West, Bruce & Laing in 1972 with two former members of Mountain, guitarist Leslie West and drummer Corky Laing. The trio released two studio albums and one live set that still stand up well as guitar-heavy slabs of 1970s-era arena-rock, but by 1974 Bruce was on his own again, releasing his fourth solo album, Out Of The Storm, and subsequently lending his talents to recordings by Frank Zappa and Lou Reed.

Power Trios Redux

By the end of the 1970s, however, Bruce’s drug addiction had spiraled out of control, leaving him almost broke. Session work with artists like Gary Moore and Yes’s John Anderson firmed up his finances and lead to the formation of Jack Bruce & Friends with drummer Billy Cobham (who had been introduced to Bruce by old friend McLaughlin), former Humble Pie guitarist Clem Clempson, and keyboardist David Sancious (E Street Band) which released 1980's I've Always Wanted To Do That.

Bruce continued to make music throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, first as part of a trio with guitarist Robin Trower that would release two well-received albums (the first of which, B.L.T., went Top 40 in the U.S.), and as a solo artist, releasing a handful of recordings under his own a name. Bruce collaborated and performed with a number of musicians during the ensuing decades, including former Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, blues-rock guitar legend Rory Gallagher, and world music producer Kip Hanrahan. Yet another power trio by the name of BBM featured guitarist Moore, Bruce, and Baker, who managed to record a single 1993 album before old tensions between the former Cream bandmates flared up again.

Jack Bruce In The New Millennium

Bruce continued pursuing his musical curiosity into the new millennium, forming a band with Funkadelic’s keyboard wizard Bernie Worrell and former Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid which recorded the 2001 album Shadows In The Air. Bruce toured as part of Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band with guitarist Peter Frampton, and in 2005 he joined his former Cream mates for a series of sold-out reunion shows. Bruce went back into the studio with Trower in 2008 for the well-received Seven Moons album and a subsequent tour, and later that year he became part of the Lifetime Tribute Band with Reid, keyboardist John Medeski, and drummer Cindy Blackman to play jazz-fusion in the Tony Williams’ vein. The same musicians would re-form as Spectrum Road, named for a Lifetime song, to tour and record a 2011 album.

In 2014, Bruce released the critically-acclaimed Silver Rails, his first solo album in a decade, recorded with old friends like Manzanera and Trower. Bruce had suffered from ill health for years, however, the legendary bassist first diagnosed with liver cancer in 2003 and receiving a transplant that was initially rejected by his body. Although he worked consistently since that point, the disease reoccurred and finally took the life of one of the most influential musicians in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.

Bruce’s impact on bass players is immeasurable, and as an innovative and accomplished artist in his own right, Bruce leaves behind an enormous musical legacy that stands proud alongside the groundbreaking work he did with Cream early in his half-century career.

(Jack Bruce photo at top of post courtesy Christian Sahm, 2006)


CD Review: Elvin Bishop's Can't Even Do Wrong Right

Elvin Bishop's Can't Even Do Wrong Right
At this point in his lengthy career, roots ‘n’ blues legend Elvin Bishop is unlikely to bring about any sort of musical revolution. The guitarist has followed a pretty simple formula on albums like Red Dog Speaks and The Blues Rolls On, and over most of the past 20 or so years, really – a bit of good-natured humor, a little heartfelt emotion, a few inspired cover songs, and plenty of greasy git licks. It’s not a particularly innovative formula, but Bishop’s not out to set the woods on fire, he’s just trying to have a good time and play some entertaining music.

And entertaining it is…Bishop’s latest, Can’t Even Do Wrong Right, is the perfect showcase for the guitarist’s bawdy humor and his signature musical blend of twang ‘n’ bang. Marking his return to the Alligator Records label after an absence of better than a decade, Bishop teams up with some old pals – singer Mickey Thomas (he of “Fooled Around And Fell In Love” fame) and harp player Charlie Musselwhite – to crank out a set of songs that offer the perfect mix of talent, blues tradition, and humor.

The title track is a jocular tale of a sad sack named “Maurice” who always finds himself in hot water, the humorous lyrics matched by Bishop’s swinging vocals and engaging fretwork. A cover of the legendary Little Walter’s “Blues With A Feeling” substitutes Bishop’s raging guitarplay for Walter’s dancing harp, while Musselwhite brings his best game for “Old School,” a statement of defiance by a couple of aging bluesmen that offers up plenty of red-hot instrumentation and as funky a groove as you’ll ever hear.

Mickey Thomas takes the microphone for the original “Let Your Woman Have Her Way,” an effective ballad with torch vocals and Bishop’s subtle, elegant fretwork. Fat Domino’s “Bo Weevil” is a New Orleans-styled romp with crackling accordion and undeniable rhythm. Bishop is an underrated instrumentalist, his six-string skills often overshadowed by his playful charisma. As shown by Can’t Even Do Wrong Right, though, while the guitarist may joke around a bit, deep in the grooves where it counts, he’s all business…and Bishop seldom fails to bring energy and passion to his performances.

Buy the CD from Elvin Bishop's Can't Even Do Wrong Right

Friday, October 24, 2014

Eric Clapton & Cream Vinyl Box Set Coming!

Cream: 1966-1972
Here’s a fine present that any classic rock fan would salivate over finding underneath their tree come Christmas morning. On November 24, 2014 Universal Music will release Cream: 1966-1972, a seven-disc vinyl box set that includes all six of the legendary British blues-rock band’s four studio and two live albums pressed onto 180-gram heavyweight audiophile vinyl, with exact reproductions of each album’s original artwork, all of it gloriously packaged in a rigid slipcase box.

Formed in 1966 by guitarist Eric Clapton (fresh off stints with the Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers), bassist Jack Bruce (another Bluesbreakers alumni), and drummer Ginger Baker (via the Graham Bond Organization), Cream was one of the first “supergroups” on the British blues-rock scene. The erstwhile power trio revolutionized rock music by combining elements of blues, hard rock, and psychedelic rock, as well as elements of jazz in the creation of a unique and exciting new sound that, nearly fifty years later, still thrills listeners with its bold instrumentation and imaginative lyrics, frequently penned by poet Pete Brown.

Fresh Cream

Cream had a monster hit single right out of the box with the Jack Bruce/Pete Brown song “I Feel Free,” following it up with their 1967 debut album Fresh Cream a few months later. The album featured a number of original songs, covers of vintage blues gems like Skip James’ “I’m So Glad,” Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ & Tumblin’,” and Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful,” which drove the album to number six on the U.K. charts and into the U.S. Top 40.

By the end of the year, Cream would release the band’s landmark Disraeli Gears album, its striking psychedelic Martin Sharp cover art masking a phenomenal set of songs, the album racing up to number four on the U.S. album chart on the strength of the hit single “Sunshine of Your Love.” The album offered up other classic rock tunes in “Strange Brew” and “Tales of Brave Ulysses” that further re-worked the blues idiom into a fresh, remarkable new sound.

Wheels of Fire

If Disraeli Gears was Cream’s creative apex, the band’s 1968 album Wheels of Fire would be their commercial peak. A whopping two-album set (a rarity at the time), Wheels of Fire sat at number one on the U.S. album chart for a month and hit number three on the U.K. chart, spawning hit singles in “White Room” (#6) and a live cover of Delta blues legend Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” (#28), which has since become Clapton’s signature song. One disc of Wheels of Fire was comprised of new studio recordings (including covers of Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign” and the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Sittin’ On Top Of The World”) while the other disc offered four extended live tracks from the Fillmore West in San Francisco. The LP moved a lot of flapjacks, too, certified Gold almost immediately upon its release.

Cream circa 1967
By the time of the release of Wheels of Fire, tensions in the band (particularly between Bruce and Baker), as well as the exhausting touring done by the band over the previous two years, led to an inevitable break up. The band performed a farewell tour in late 1968, concluding at the Royal Albert Hall in London in November before calling it quits. Not willing to give up a cash cow, however, the label coaxed the band back into the studio to record a few tracks, which resulted in Cream’s final studio album, Goodbye, released in March 1969. A mix of live and studio tracks, Goodbye shot up to number one in the U.K. and number two on the U.S. chart on the back of the hit single “Badge,” the song co-written by Clapton and George Harrison, who played rhythm guitar on the session under the name L’Angelo Misterioso.

Cream’s Legacy

Two posthumous Cream albums were released after the band’s break up, the first in 1970 (Live Cream), which included performances from the Fillmore West and Winterland in San Francisco circa 1968, along with one lone studio recording (“Lawdy Mama”). The second, Live Cream Volume 2, was released in 1972 and included more Winterland ’68 performances along with three 1968 performances from the Oakland Coliseum. Both live albums would chart in the Top 30 on both the U.S. and the U.K. charts. Since then, a steady stream of anthologies and compilation albums would be released to capitalize on the band’s legacy, including a ten-track Best of Cream in 1969 (with its vegetable cover art - I totally had this LP!) and the double-album set Heavy Cream in 1973, as well as a 2003 collection of the band’s BBC radio performances.

Eric Clapton, of course, has gone on to a lengthy and storied solo career, as well as recording landmark albums with supergroups Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominos. Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker have found less commercial success during the years, but are both still making fine music (Bruce’s critically-acclaimed 2014 album, Silver Rails, is brilliant). In 2006, Cream received a Grammy® Lifetime Achievement Award, and the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. The band’s 2005 reunion shows in London and New York City sold out in less than an hour, attracting fans from across the globe.  

Cream: 1966-1972 brings the band’s immense musical legacy full-circle, once again capturing on vinyl the magic and the band chemistry that mesmerized listeners in the 1960s for a new audience to discover.

Buy the LP box set on Cream: 1966 - 1972 (LP box set)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Supertramp’s Crime of the Century Deluxe 40th Anniversary Reissue

Supertramp's Crime of the Century
Ah, Supertramp…after an absence of probably 30 years, the British art-rock jokers have inched their way back onto my stereo with their lighthearted blend of melodic pop, overblown pomp, and progressive rock instrumentation. I’m not sure why they were AWOL all those years; they probably fell out of favor when the Reverend went through his death metal phase, or maybe it was the siren call of the punk-rock ‘90s, but Supertramp went begging until they were just recently rediscovered.

Unlike 1970s-era proggers like Yes or ELP, Supertramp was designed from the ground up to be a commercial vehicle, and their progressive/art-rock proclivities were more a feature of the talents of band members like singer, songwriter, and pianist Rick Davies; singer and guitarist Roger Hodgson; and multi-instrumentalist and horn player John Helliwell than a deliberate attempt at virtuosity. After a couple of solid early 1970s album releases and a like number of roster changes, Supertramp grabbed the ever elusive brass ring with the 1974 release of their third album, Crime of the Century.

By the time of Crime of the Century, Davies and Hodgson had developed a real chemistry as a songwriting team, and the assembled musicians backing the frontmen were talented contributors to the band’s unique sound. The album was the band’s first to chart Top 40 in the U.S. while peaking at number four in the UK, mostly on the strength of the singles “Bloody Well Right” and “Dreamer,” both of which would become favored FM radio tracks. On December 9th, 2014 Universal Music will release a 40th anniversary version of Crime of the Century as a deluxe two-disc set.

This anniversary edition of Crime of the Century will include the classic original album, re-mastered by Ray Staff at Air Studios, on the first disc and a previously unreleased 1975 concert from the Hammersmith Odeon in London on disc two. The live set was mixed from the original tapes by engineer Ken Scott, who recorded them in 1975, and feature the performance of Crime of the Century in its entirety as well as tracks from the band’s as-yet-unreleased fourth album, Crisis? What Crisis?

The reissue also includes a 24 page booklet with rare photos and a new essay penned by Mojo magazine Editor-In-Chief Phil Alexander which includes new interviews with band members Hodgson, Helliwell, bassist Dougie Thomson, drummer Bob Siebenberg, and the album’s producer, Ken Scott. Crime of the Century will also be reissued in digital format and as a three-album vinyl LP set.

After Crime of the Century, Supertramp would take a few more years to cement its arena-rock superstar status. The band’s 1975 album, Crisis? What Crisis?, while receiving critical acclaim in some quarters (Rolling Stone hated it, tho’), backslid on the charts when compared to its predecessor, although it did help promote the band in far-flung markets like Norway and New Zealand. Supertramp’s fifth album, Even in the Quietest Moments..., made up the lost ground, hitting Top 20 in both the U.S. and U.K.

It was the band’s Breakfast In America album, released in early 1979, that would propel them to the commercial heights. Scoring three Top 20 singles, including “The Logical Song” and “Take The Long Way Home,” Breakfast In America would earn Supertramp a pair of Grammy® Awards on its way to selling better than four million copies. The band would ride this wave until it crashed ashore almost a decade later, but for Supertramp, their claim to fame begun with Crime of the Century.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Third Man’s The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records, Volume 2

The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records, Volume 2
Nobody has ever accused Jack White of subtlety. The former White Stripe and Raconteur has built a successful career – both solo and with his various band side projects – based on his musical creativity and keen business sensibilities. When it comes to the literal “labor of love,” nobody embraces a project like White, which was proven by the ingenuity and experimentation that went into the special features found on the vinyl version of this year’s solo release, Lazaretto.

White’s Third Man Records label has been reissuing recordings by blues legends Charley Patton, Blind Willie McTell, and the Mississippi Sheiks from the Paramount Records catalog on vinyl for the past couple of years. In 2013, however, the label released a monster box set, The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records, Volume 1, which featured six vinyl record albums, a pair of profusely-illustrated books, and thumb drives featuring some 800 re-mastered tracks from the enormous catalog of the legendary Wisconsin record label, all packaged in a beautiful, hand-crafted oak “cabinet of wonder” designed to look like an antique Victrola record player (and sporting a price tag nearing $500!).

It was an impressive labor of love and a critically-acclaimed, if commercially dubious collection, but that’s never stopped White in the past. So what does he do for an encore? How about The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records, Volume 2, a second enormous box set which covers the years 1928 to 1932, when Paramount was the undisputed king of “race records” (i.e. blues music). Like the first, this second box set was released in collaboration with Reverent Records, which released its own massive Charley Patton box set some years ago.

The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records, Volume 2This second volume also includes six 180gram vinyl LPs and a high-capacity USB drive that includes all the music (800 songs) and more than 90 vintage Paramount Records ads that originally appeared in the African-American newspaper The Chicago Defender. A pair of big books (250pp and 400pp) features artist biographies and visual representations of the Paramount advertising art.

For the packaging this time, the label went with a shiny aluminum and stainless steel case that reflects the evolution of not only Paramount’s sound at the time, but also the American industrial revolution. Stylistically, the box is meant to mimic not only the hollow-body National Resonator guitar that was popular among bluesmen at the time, but also the radical design and function of the RCA Victor Special Model K portable record player that became popular in the 1930s. 

Of the boxes design, in a press release Revenant’s Dean Blackwood says, “we didn’t want Volume 2 to be a strict bookend to Volume 1. That’s not an honest reflection of the design themes. The ’30s was the beginning of industrial design coming to the fore with its own brand of modernist design; rather than embracing exotica, our version was around this streamlined modern version of Art Deco. The machine was the source of America’s might and standing in the world, our capacity as an industrial power that connected the vast plains of our country and even other nations – that’s really where we found our sweet spot.”

The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records, Volume 2 includes some of the most essential and influential blues recordings in the history of the genre, including tracks from legends like Son House, Charley Patton, Skip James, Tommy Johnson, the Mississippi Sheiks, King Solomon Hill, Willie Brown, and literally hundreds of others. Like its predecessor, the second volume is priced well north of $400, but it’s an incredible feat – historic music packaged in style and with no little love.

White and Third Man Records have taken some heat for these Paramount sets, with an alleged rights holder filing suit against the label for copyright infringement. It’s hard to believe that these 80 to 90 year old tracks aren’t in the public domain given their age, but there’s no doubt of their influence, and I commend White and Third Man for taking the risk to bring this music to the label’s young audience.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Video of the Week: Last Gasp Books Fall Publishing Kickstarter

Last Gasp Books holds a nostalgic fondness for the Reverend. While a comix-obsessed teenager living in the rural suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee back in the early 1970s, I eagerly bought every underground comic that I could find, and when I couldn't find them easily, I became a "sales rep" for Last Gasp and Rip Off Press, placing comix in local head shops on consignment, and selling enough copies to underwrite my own collection.

Last Gasp has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to publish its fall 2014 slate of books and other cool stuff. I know as well as anybody that publishing is a sucker's game these days (please buy my books!) but the good folks at Last Gasp branched out long ago beyond their initial comix fare to include lush art books, trading cards, and other alt-culture flotsam and jetsam. Check out their very cool video below, and then click on the "Save Strange" graphic at the bottom of the page to see what kind of rewards are available for contributing to their Kickstarter. I've already pledged my donation; you can help put Last Gasp over the top.