Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rare Cactus & Pat Travers Archive Albums

Cactus Live In The U.S.A.
Legendary rock ‘n’ roll drummer Carmine Appice has worked a deal between his Rocker Records label and Cleopatra Records to dig into the musician’s archives and pull out previously-unreleased plums from his hard-charging blues-rock band Cactus as well as a musical collaboration between Appice and longtime musical foil Tim Bogert and yet another album with extraordinary guitarist Pat Travers. 

Cactus was formed by Vanilla Fudge alumni Tim Bogert on bass and Appice on drums. Their original plan was to hook up with legendary guitarist Jeff Beck, but when a motorcycle accident put the guitarist on the shelf for a year and a half, the rhythm section recruited Jim McCarty – guitarist for Mitch Ryder’s Detroit Wheels – and leather-lunged singer Rusty Day, from Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes. The band displayed all of the high-octane, livewire rock ‘n’ roll chops one would expect from a Motor City gang, releasing four albums between 1970 and 1972 that earned them a reputation as “America’s Led Zeppelin.”

After leaving Cactus, Bogert and Appice worked on their long-delayed project with Jeff Beck, a short-lived union that resulted in a 1973 studio album and subsequent live disc before the members all went their separate ways. Appice would go on to play in bands like KGB (with Michael Bloomfield) and Blue Murder, and he was Rod Stewart’s longtime drummer during Rod’s salad days of the 1980s. Appice and Bogert reunited with McCarty in 2006 to re-form Cactus with former Savoy Brown singer Jimmy Kunes replacing the late Day. The reunion resulted in a well-received studio album, Cactus V, but first there was a special reunion show held at B.B. King’s club in New York City in June 2006.

On August 5th, 2014 Cleopatra Records will release Live In The U.S.A., a double-CD set that documents that historic 2006 Cactus reunion show in its entirety. The album features new performances of all of the band’s long-time fan favorites, including songs like “Long Tall Sally,” “One Way…Or Another” (the title track of their sophomore album), “Parchman Farm,” and the band’s unique take on the Willie Dixon/Howlin’ Wolf gem “Evil.”

Live In The U.S.A. just scrapes the top of the barrel from Appice’s Cactus archive, however. Cleopatra recently released An Evening In Tokyo, a ten-track album that captures a late 2012 concert recorded at the Garden Shimokitazawa club in Tokyo, Japan. Featuring a Cactus line-up that included Appice, McCarty, Kunes, bassist Pete Bremy and harmonica player Randy Pratt, the album offers up performances of several Cactus fan favorites as well as turbo-charged takes on several obscure but worthy songs. On September 2nd, 2014 Cleopatra will also release the band’s TKO In Tokyo – Live In Japan, a three-disc set that documents the performance on the night after An Evening In Tokyo in the same venue, 15 live tracks on two CDs and a DVD that features clear digital video.

Tom Bogert & Carmine Appice's FriendsThat’s a wealth of music for any Cactus fan, but Appice isn’t stopping there, nosirree – on August 19th, 2014 Cleopatra will release Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice’s Friends, a six-song collection that reunites the longtime Cactus/Vanilla Fudge rhythm section with friends like Fudge alums Bill Pascali, Teddy Rodinelli, and Vince Martell as well as talents like bassist T.M. Stevens (who played with Appice in Pat Travers’ band) and keyboardist Brian Auger (a British rock ‘n’ roll legend who has played with Rod Stewart, John McLaughlin, and his own bands).

If that wasn’t enough music to exhaust your poor ol’ eardrums, on September 16th, 2014 Cleopatra will release Live In Europe from guitarist Pat Travers and drummer Appice, with bassist Tony Franklin (The Firm) as a guest. The live album offers up 14 rockin’ tracks from both the Travers and Appice songbooks, including raw-boned performances of “Snortin’ Whiskey,” “Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights),” and “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” co-written by Appice and sounding nothing like Rod Stewart. We have links for all of these releases from and, personally, I can’t wait to see what else Carmine Appice has hiding in his musical vault!

Buy the albums from

Cactus - Live In The U.S.A.  

Cactus - An Evening In Tokyo 

Cactus - TKO Tokyo - Live in Japan  

Bogert & Appice - Friends  

Travers & Appice - Live in Europe

Tommy Bolin’s Zephyr Revisited

Tommy Bolin & Zephyr
You may know guitarist Tommy Bolin as the gun for hire in such bands as the James Gang, where he was Joe Walsh’s replacement, recording two albums with the band; or Deep Purple, where he stepped into Ritchie Blackmore’s shoes for the band’s 1975 album Come Taste The Band. Maybe you know Bolin from his two solo albums – 1975’s Teaser and the following year’s Private Eye…or maybe your tastes run towards another end of the musical spectrum and you’re familiar with Bolin’s stellar fretwork on such jazz-fusion classics as Billy Cobham’s Spectrum or Alphonse Mouzon’s Mind Transplant album.

Regardless of where you may know Tommy Bolin from among his many musical endeavors, the legend began with the late 1960s Colorado band Zephyr. Formed by singer Candy Givens and her husband, bassist David, with Bolin, keyboardist John Faris, and drummer Robbie Chamberlin, Zephyr paired hard rock with blues and jazz influences to create a highly unique and fresh rock ‘n’ roll sound that wasn’t entirely blues-rock and not quite jazz-fusion.

The larger-than-life vocals of Candy Givens were originally the band’s main draw, but Bolin’s awe-inspiring six-string mastery brought the band a reputation as dynamic and entertaining on-stage performers. Bolin left the band after its self-titled 1969 debut and its 1971 follow-up, Going Back To Colorado, to hook up with the James Gang, but Zephyr kept plugging away until frontwoman Givens’ death in 1984. Along the way, the band proved to be the first stop in a career for a number of successful musicians, including bluesmen Otis Taylor and Eddie Turner, Zack Smith (Scandal), Jock Bartley (Firefall), and others.

On August 5th, 2014 the Cleopatra Records imprint Purple Pyramid Records will reissue Zephyr’s self-titled 1969 debut, remixed and re-mastered under the aegis of founding band member David Givens. In a press release for the album, Givens says “for the first time you can hear what we heard before everything went wrong. I’m happy with the results!” Bolin fans will be overjoyed by a number of bonus tracks added to Zephyr, the album, including previously unreleased live tracks as well as a long-lost studio jam taped during a band rehearsal.

Zephyr was reissued earlier this year as a limited-edition three-disc box set of 2,000 copies, all of which have long since sold out to hardcore fans. For the more budget-minded among you, this single-disc version provides the entire original album as well as a taste of the live tracks available on the previous box set. The album will also be reissued as a special 180gram colored-vinyl release later this year, minus the bonus tracks; we have the entire track listing for the album below, as well as an link to purchase the album should you choose to do so…believe the Reverend, kiddies, it’s well worth your time for Bolin’s guitar playing alone...

Zephyr track list:

1. Sail On
2. Sun’s A Risin’
3. Raindrops
4. Boom-Ba-Boom
5. Somebody Listen
6. Cross The River
7. St. James Infirmary
8. Huna Buna
9. Hard Chargin’ Woman
10. Guitar Solo / Cross The River (Reed’s Ranch, Colorado Springs, CO - July 3, 1969) *
11. Jam *
12. Uptown (To Harlem) *
13. Sail On (Tulagi’s - Boulder, CO June 19, 1973) *

* Bonus tracks, CD only

Buy the album from Zephyr's Zephyr w/Tommy Bolin

There isn't much video footage available on Bolin and Zephyr, but this recording will give you an idea of the band's sound:

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Michael Bloomfield, Al Kooper & Stephen Stills - Super Session

Bloomfield, Kooper & Stills' Super Session
It is, perhaps, the “Holy Grail” of Michael Bloomfield recordings, the ground-breaking 1968 album Super Session with Al Kooper and Stephen Stills. All of the marquee names on Super Session were “in between” bands – Bloomfield having left Electric Flag, Kooper kicked out of Blood, Sweat & Tears after producing that band’s magnificent Child Is Father To The Man album, and Stills in the process of leaving Buffalo Springfield (but before Crosby, Stills & Nash). They were joined by Bloomfield’s former Electric Flag bandmates bassist Harvey Brooks and keyboardist Barry Goldberg as well as drummer Eddie Hoh.

On August 19th, 2014 Audio Fidelity will release a limited-and-numbered edition of Super Session as a 5.1 Multichannel Hybrid SACD. This new version pares back the 2002 reissue’s four bonus tracks in favor of improved sound for the original nine album tracks; Kooper produced the original album and completed the previously unreleased 5.1 Surround Sound mix in 2006.

In a press release for the album Kooper says “Surround Sound allows the listener to get up close to each musician and hear details you can't hear in stereo.” The two-channel CD stereo can be played on all standard CD players while the SACD stereo requires a SACD player. SACD Surround Sound requires a Multichannel SACD player and system to be properly heard.

Super Session has its roots in the free-wheeling ‘60s. Kooper had become an A&R executive with Columbia Records after leaving Blood, Sweat & Tears, and would go on to work with talents like Nils Lofgren, the Tubes, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Kooper had an idea to record a studio jam session with guitarist Bloomfield, who he had worked with on sessions for Bob Dylan. He enlisted the other instrumental talents to back them in the studio on a set of rock, soul, and blues tunes mixing newly-minted originals with covers like Curtis Mayfield’s “Man’s Temptation” and the Philly soul classic “Stop.”

Bloomfield worked one day in the studio, recording the five tracks that would become the first side of Super Session, before packing his bags and going home. Kooper knew that his unpredictable friend suffered from insomnia and heroin addiction and, without dropping a beat, he recruited Stills for the second studio session, recordings that would become side two of the album including a lengthy jam on Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry,” and bluesman Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me.”

The result would be a classic of late 1960s rock ‘n’ blues, the album rising to #12 on the Billboard albums chart and eventually earning a Gold Record for sales. Super Session has been reissued numerous times through the years, and it’s earned its classic status, displaying timeless performances that still sound great 45+ years later.  

Super Session track list:

1. Albert's Shuffle
2. Stop
3. Man's Temptation
4. His Holy Modal Majesty
5. Really
6. It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes A Train to Cry
7. Season of the Witch
8. You Don't Love Me
9. Harvey's Tune

Buy the SACD from Super Session (Hybrid Multichannel SACD)

Friday, July 11, 2014

CD Preview: The Flock’s Heaven Bound – The Lost Album

The Flock's Heaven Bound
The Flock was one of the more interesting of the great lost bands from the late 1960s/early ‘70s, the Chicago-based outfit incorporating elements of jazz, fusion, and progressive rock into an entirely unique sound that revolved around talented violinist Jerry Goodman. More adventuresome, both on stage and in the studio, than contemporaries like Chicago (a/k/a Chicago Transit Authority) or Blood Sweat & Tears, the Flock was signed by Columbia Records, back in the days when major labels would take a chance on any crazy old sounds.

The band recorded a pair of albums for the label – their acclaimed self-titled debut in 1969 (which hit #48 on the Billboard albums chart), and which featured liner notes by British blues-rock legend John Mayall, and 1970’s Dinosaur Swamps, which was less successful commercially, but yielded a memorable track in the soaring “Big Bird.” The band had begun work on a third album for the label when Columbia Records president Clive Davis allegedly stole Goodman away from the band to play with guitarist John McLaughlin’s new Mahavishnu Orchestra project and the Flock dissolved.

The band re-formed a couple years down the road to record 1975’s Inside Out for Mercury Records, but when the album received poor reviews and failed to meet sales expectations, they were dropped by the label. The band’s singer and guitarist, Fred Glickstein, continued to write and record new material with fellow Flock founding members Jerry Smith (bass) and Ron Karpman (drums) in anticipation of a record deal that never came. The tapes were stored away until now, and will finally see release on CD as Heaven Bound – The Lost Album on July 22nd, 2014 by Cleopatra Records’ imprint Purple Pyramid.
In a press release for the long lost album, Fred Glickstein says “we are all very lucky to have had that happy musical trip and the chance to entertain people in the U.S. and Europe. A special thanks to everyone at Cleopatra Records for helping this project become a reality and for keeping the spirit of the Flock alive.” We have the tracklist for Heaven Bound below.

The Flock’s Heaven Bound track list:
1. Heaven Bound
2. The Bells
3. Reasons
4. Crying Out/The Voice
5. Don't You Know (Who I Am)
6. Makes It All Worthwhile
7. Noise Boys
8. Mama
9. Rolling With the Clones
10. Love Away
11. C'mon Let's Walk
12. Be Strong and Survive
13. The Christos Jig
14. The Test
15. Outroduction

Buy the CD from The Flock's Heaven Bound-The Lost Album

CD Preview: Jim Croce’s Lost Time In A Bottle

Jim Croce's Lost Time In A Bottle
Singer/songwriter Jim Croce enjoyed a too-brief career – just five studio albums in seven years, from 1966 until his tragic death in a small plane crash in 1973. Only five singles were released during his lifetime, three of them Top Ten hits, including the chart-topping “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” In the wake of Croce’s death, six more singles were released over the following couple of years, most notably “Time In A Bottle,” which went number one in 1973, and “I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song,” which hit number nine in 1974.

Croce’s imaginative mix of folksong storytelling, pop melodies, and late 1950s/early ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll innocence struck a chord with a mainstream audiences, albeit briefly, resulting in three Gold™ albums and seemingly endless possibilities. As record labels are want to do, various rights holders have released 18 compilation albums that have seemingly scraped the barrel clean of Croce’s extant recordings. The best of these discs is the posthumous Photographs & Memories: His Greatest Hits, released roughly a year after Croce’s death, the 14-track collection including all of the singer’s biggest hits and quickly achieving Platinum™ sales status. 

On July 22nd, 2014 Cleopatra Records will release what is certain to be one of the more interesting of the post-millennial Croce compilations, Lost Time In A Bottle, and one that offers some long-lost new material. The 24 songs on the collection include rare demo versions of Croce hits like “Operator,” “Time In A Bottle,” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” among others, as well as ten live performances from a February 1973 concert at Harper College. The crown achievement of Lost Time In A Bottle, however, is a previously-unreleased 1964 radio broadcast from a Cazenovia College performance early in Croce’s career, the six songs clearly displaying his rapidly-maturing songwriting and storytelling skills.

Lost Time In A Bottle will initially be released on CD, with a two-album vinyl set to follow. We have the complete track listing below, and a link to buy the CD from because we’re just that helpful...
Jim Croce's Lost Time In A Bottle tracklist:

1. Next Time, This Time (Harper College 2/5/73)
2. New York’s Not My Home (Harper College 2/5/73)
3. You Don’t Mess Around With Jim (Harper College 2/5/73)
4. Careful Man (Harper College 2/5/73)
5. A Good Time Man Like Me (Demo)
6. Tractor Trailer Story Intro (Harper College 2/5/73)
7. Speedball Tucker (Demo)
8. Operator (Demo)
9. Hard Time Losin’ Man (Demo)
10. Seems Like Such A Long Time Ago (Demo)
11. It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way (Harper College 2/5/73)
12. Bar Story Intro (Harper College 2/5/73)
13. Roller Derby Queen (Harper College 2/5/73)
14. One Less Set of Footsteps (Harper College 2/5/73)
15. Dreamin’ Again (Harper College 2/5/73)
16. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown (Demo)
17. Time In A Bottle (Demo)
18. I Got A Name (Live 1973)
19. Charley Green, Play That Slide Trombone (Cazenovia College 1964)
20. San Francisco Bay Blues (Cazenovia College 1964)
21. Washington At Valley Forge (Cazenovia College 1964)
22. La Bamba (Cazenovia College 1964)
23. Seek and You Shall Find (Cazenovia College 1964)
24. Woke Up This Morning (Cazenovia College 1964)

Buy the CD from Jim Croce's Lost Time in a Bottle

Kirk Hammett Action Figure To Debut At San Diego Comic-Con!

Kirk Hammett zombie figure
Since this is pretty damn cool, I'm just going let the press release do the talking:

Kirk Von Hammett Toys is proud to present the Famous Zombies Jr. limited edition toy at the year's San Diego Comic Con. The very limited edition green Hammett figure will be available exclusively at San Diego Comic Con, and Kirk will be signing the toy itself at the Nuclear Blast Records/Stern Pinball/JSR merch SDCC booth 503 on Friday July 25th from 1pm to 2pm, and on Saturday July 26th from 2pm to 3pm.

Fans will be able to purchase tickets starting on Wednesday July 23rd for the Friday appearance. Once Friday's tickets are sold-out, Saturday tickets will be released. Tickets are available at the Nuclear Blast Records/Stern Pinball/JSR merch booth (503).     

"I'm stoked to be bringing more exclusive wares to the San Diego Comic Con," says Kirk Von Hammett himself, "Nuclear Blast have been friends for quite some time, so I'm happy to be able to bring one of my exclusives to their booth. Being a fan of comics and movies since I was a kid, it's just a huge honor to be at Comic Con on both sides, selling and buying!"

Be warned, only a strict 300 of these Nuclear Blast Green collectible classics will be available, so act fast to make sure you're in line for yours!

Find out more about Hammett's horrible predilections at Fear

Saturday, July 5, 2014

CD Review: Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin I

Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin I
For those of you born in the Internet age, where music is ubiquitous and it’s relatively easy to pluck nearly any album, however obscure, out of the deepest corners of cyberspace, there’s no good way to relate just how ground-breaking and earth-shaking the first Led Zeppelin album truly was. Rising from the ashes of legendary British blues-rock outfit the Yardbirds which, at one time, boasted of such six-string heavyweights as Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck among its members, guitarist Jimmy Page was the literal last man standing. Inheriting the Yardbirds name and reputation, Page pieced together a band initially called “the New Yardbirds” to honor already-booked performances. Recruiting fellow studio pro John Paul Jones on bass, Page found a pair of relative rock ‘n’ roll newcomers in singer Robert Plant and drummer John “Bonzo” Bonham.

The New Yardbirds

These four talents are the men who would become rock ‘n’ roll giants as Led Zeppelin. Venturing into the studio for the first time to record, the band was short on material but rich with ideas, and Page brought with him years of studio experience in his role as bandleader and producer. Although Page has often been criticized, as the band’s composer, for his liberal “borrowing” of musical ideas from artists like Jake Holmes, Bert Jansch, Willie Dixon, and even his old friend and bandmate Beck, in reality Page was honoring an ages-old tradition of folk and blues artists by adapting and transforming existing material into a new creation that stands entirely on its own. Page was building on the work of blues-rock trailblazers like Eric Clapton and Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and creating something unique and magical in the process.

As the band’s main lyricist, Plant was equally to blame for including scraps of half-forgotten blues and folks songs in the writing of his words. Regardless of the band’s felonious inclinations, Page’s skills as a guitarist, arranger, and producer – when blended with the equally impressive instrumental talents of Jones and Bonham, as well as Plant’s enormous voice and golden charisma – would prove not only enduring but also incredibly influential. Released in January 1969, Zeppelin’s self-titled debut has sold better than ten million copies through the years. It was typically slagged by critics at the time (especially by Rolling Stone magazine), but has since become widely considered as one of the top rock albums of all time, influencing bands as diverse as Deep Purple, the Cult, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam, among many others.      

Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin I

Led Zeppelin 1969
Led Zeppelin 1969
The band’s debut is typically referred to as Led Zeppelin I seeing as how Page was just too damn lazy to properly name any of their first four albums. Nevertheless, it was a first in many ways, picking up the blues-rock mantle that had been abdicated by Cream and taking it into unforeseen and exciting territory. The shotgun guitar licks and rumbling drumbeats that open “Good Times Bad Times” were a revelation upon first hearing them, the song’s fluid groove displaying a soulful funk that would later inform bands like the Tommy Bolin/Glen Hughes-era Deep Purple and set the stage for an entirely new hard rock sound.

The band’s harmonies here are crisp, Page’s guitar solos devastating, and Bonzo’s percussion delightfully bombastic. Plant’s vocals are somewhat muted, although he does cut loose near the end of the song, displaying some of the passion and the power that he would bring to the band’s rockers. By contrast, the sound of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” is downright atmospheric, Page’s intricate guitarplay matched in the intro by Plant’s plaintive vocals; throughout the song, a curious vibe is retained, mixing sly Robert Johnson lyrical references alongside the guitarist’s sparse fretwork. When the entire band does explode, it’s a resounding slap to the face, the song successfully pairing hard rock and blues with the sort of uniquely British folk-rock sound that Page obsessed over so perfectly on Led Zeppelin III.

Back To The Blues

Page revisits his blues roots with a cover of Chicago blues legend Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me,” a smoldering mid-tempo rocker that is amped-up and provided a fine vocal performance by Plant, deliberately plodding rhythms by Jones and Bonham, and shards of electrifying guitar courtesy of Mr. Page. Jones adds a little organ almost halfway through, his keyboard riffing adding a bit of Stax Records-styled soul to the song’s bluesy undercurrent. Plant’s harmonica play here won’t be mistaken for Little Walter, or even Big Walter, but it’s effective in this setting and not entirely inappropriate.

Another Dixon tune, “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” opens with a punctured wail before settling into a guitar-fueled blues dirge that channels all its heartbreak through Page’s nimble fingers and Plant’s anguished vocals. Page’s solos on “I Can’t Quit You Baby” are both a throwback to the sort of Muddy Waters/Buddy Guy guitarplay he cut his teeth on, but also a contemporary sophistication that clearly pointed the way towards a new future. The classic “Dazed and Confused” was “inspired by” folk-rocker Jake Holmes, and while we can debate for hours how much of Holmes’ song was “borrowed” by Page for his “original” take, the fact is that Holmes never sounded quite like this.

Dazed & Confused

As a producer, Page was quite comfortable in the Captain’s chair, and he brings his studio acumen to the construction of a mysterious, alluring vibe for “Dazed and Confused” that is supported nicely by Plant’s haunting vocals, and the guitarist’s multi-layered soundtrack. The song evinces a psychedelic influence among its blues and folk roots, with an overall complexity and dark elegance that would influence an entire crop of British new wavers a decade later. Page’s incredible solo nearly 2/3 of the way through is fueled entirely by madness, a sonic tsunami that none of us had ever heard before, and only infrequently since.

The Page/Jones composition “Your Time Is Gonna Come” opens with Jones’ churchy organ run, a chiming drone that lingers in the air as it fades into an almost pastoral song of heartbreak and betrayal that is not dissimilar, thematically, to the band’s later not-so-obscure B-side “Hey Hey What Can I Do.” Plant’s vocals ride mournfully above Page’s elegant fretwork, while the song’s group chorus seems both appropriate and oddly out of place. The song’s framework is deceptively intricate, with fascinating layers of textured guitarplay, ethereal keyboards, and rolling drumbeats. The song fades into and o’er top of Page’s short, spry instrumental “Black Mountain Side,” a folkie-influenced bit of complex and exhilarating finger-picking that rivals masters like John Fahey or Sandy Bull.

Communication Breakdown

The short, sharp shock of “Communication Breakdown” is exceptionally jarring, coming as it does hot on the heels of the gentle “Black Mountain Side.” As Page slaps out the song’s now-familiar riff, Plant’s vocals take flight above the steely rhythms, the song choogling along at a machinegun pace, offering no quarter to the listener as Page’s wiry solo scars your psyche and numbs your eardrums. The song roars to a fading close at two and a half-minutes, the band cramming the entire next decade of rock music into a radio-friendly blues-rock riot. Led Zeppelin I closes with “How Many More Times,” a bluesy shuffle that display’s Bonham’s percussive skills as well as illustrating Page’s six-string mastery with a raucous blast of electric fury.

Unlike the lightning bolt that was “Communication Breakdown” in its fury, “How Many More Times” strikes more like a barrage of gunfire. Stretched out to almost eight and a half minutes, the song displays every member of the band’s immense instrumental skills. Page’s guitar soars like a hungry bird of prey, exploring unknown sonic turf while he re-writes the rules of rock guitar that had been believed to have been previously carved in stone by Mr. Clapton and Mr. Hendrix. Bonham’s drumming is provocative and, often times, deceptively subtle, while Jones’ steady bass playing is both imaginative and provides a solid foundation on which everything else builds upon.

How Many More Times

Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin I
Plant’s vocals on “How Many More Times” are, of course, magnificent, jumping from one high-flying cloud to another and opening the door for leather-lunged shouters like Freddie Mercury and David Coverdale to stroll through years later on their way to considerable success. The song rolls rapidly down the tracks before evolving into the (uncredited) Booker T & the MG’s R&B classic “The Hunter,” best-known as recorded by blues giant Albert King and previously waxed – a year previous – by fellow contenders for the British blues-rock throne Paul Rodgers and Free. Yikes!  

This deluxe reissue of Led Zeppelin I includes a bonus disc with a previously-unreleased live show from France. Capturing the band performing at The Olympia in Paris less than two weeks before the release of their sophomore effort, the creatively-titled Led Zeppelin II, the concert is ostensibly presented here in its entirety (roughly 71 minutes) and the setlist features songs from both discs. It opens with a mash-up of “Good Times Bad Times” and “Communication Breakdown” that rolls at the speed of light, the band’s ramshackle performance a welcome blur of perpetual motion, endless chaotic instrumentation, and sonic overkill.

Live At The Olympia

Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” is provided an extended, guitar-heavy and somewhat busy arrangement on the stage, providing more of a showcase for Plant’s vocals and Page’s guitar explorations. “Heartbreaker” is the first tune performed from the (then) upcoming album, an eardrum-busting flurry of monster riffs, amped-up vocals, explosive percussion, and rollicking rhythms. The performance is spot-on, building on the energy of the studio version with crashing cymbals and screaming guitar licks that create a wall of joyous noise behind the singer. “Dazed and Confused” is made even eerier, if possible, in the live setting; shorn of Page’s studio wizardry, the onstage arrangement plays up the dark vibe of the studio version, relying more on Plant’s wavering vocals and well-timed, well-played instrumentation.

Live At The Olympia is the first appearance, perhaps, of “White Summer,” as performed by Zeppelin. Paired with the first album’s “Black Mountain Side,” the exotic “White Summer” was an Arabic-influenced instrumental Page adapted from a British folk song and first recorded with the Yardbirds. He would later incorporate passages of the song into “Over The Hills and Far Away,” but here it’s given a breathtaking performance that highlights Page’s virtuosity and allows the rest of the band to take a break. “Moby Dick,” from Led Zeppelin II, provides Bonham with an extended solo to display his thunderbolt drumming technique while “How Many More Times” is given a scorching performance, with Plant’s lusty vocals rolling sanguinely alongside the smothering rhythms while Page’s guitar pierces the veil with jagged shards of sound.     

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Let’s be honest, shall we? Some 45 years after its initial release, there’s not much new to say about Led Zeppelin I, even if I’ve taken some 1,900+ words to say it anyway…this is classic, influential, timeless rock ‘n’ roll that would change the course of pop music forever. The CD re-mastering sounds good to my ears, capturing the electricity and dynamism of the album perfectly without losing the highs and lows, and the inclusion of the unreleased, albeit frequently-bootlegged performance in France is a nice addition. Overall, if you’re a long-time Zeppelin fan sitting on your old CDs, perhaps it’s time to upgrade; and if you’re a newcomer to the band, or just curious, this album is where the legend began. (Atlantic Records, released June 3, 2014)

Buy the CD on Led Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin I (Deluxe CD Edition)

Friday, July 4, 2014

CD Review: Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band's Live From Harpos 1980

Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band's Live from Harpos 1980
Don Van Vliet, better known by his stage name Captain Beefheart, is one of those hipster musical icons that a lot of people have heard of, but far fewer have actually heard. A talented multi-instrumentalist (harmonica, saxophone, clarinet) and dynamic singer, Vliet was influenced by the blues and jazz music of his youth, taking his cue from artists like Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, and John Coltrane. As a teenager, he would become friends with like-minded musical oddball Frank Zappa, a contentious relationship that began in the 1950s and was on/off until Zappa’s death in 1993. The collaboration resulted in several recordings over the years, including one fine full-length album, 1975’s Bongo Fury.


The Magic Band

Taking on the stage name Captain Beefheart, Van Vliet hooked up with the Magic Band, a Los Angeles-based R&B outfit. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band (as they were originally billed) recorded a couple of bluesy but unconventional singles for A&M Records that got them dumped by the label. After the Captain shook-up the band’s line-up and brought in guitarist Ry Cooder (then of blues-rock outfit Rising Sons), they recorded the Safe As Milk album for Buddah Records in 1967. Displaying a heavy blues influence, the album would nonetheless offer signs of Beefheart’s future musical amalgam of psychedelic rock, blues, improvisational jazz, and avant-garde experimentation that would result in 1969’s Trout Mask Replica, an album of such enduring weirdness and timelessness that it has influenced countless songwriters and musicians to follow, from Tom Waits to Sonic Youth and beyond.

Beefheart recorded thirteen albums with the Magic Band between 1965 and 1982, when he hung up his microphone for a life of creative contemplation and visual art, a rare case of an influential musician making the leap into the art world, where Van Vliet’s drawings and paintings demanded premium pricing and were exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide. During his tenure at the head of the Magic Band, however, Beefheart’s artistic temperament earned him the reputation of being a real asshole. A strict bandleader and notorious cheapskate, Beefheart kept his bandmates in perpetual poverty and frequently abused them verbally and, sometimes, physically.


Captain Beefheart's Live From Harpos 1980

Still, due to his recognized genius, Beefheart was able to recruit and keep a number of extremely talented musicians in his Magic Band through the years. Such was the case as illustrated by Live From Harpos 1980, an invaluable document that captures a remarkable performance by Beefheart & the Magic Band at Harpos, a longstanding Detroit concert venue, in December 1980. Touring in support of the Doc at the Radar Station album, which was released in August 1980, the Magic Band that backed up Beefheart in the Motor City included guitarist Jeff Moris Tepper, bassist Eric Drew Feldman, and drummer Robert Arthur Williams, all of which had also appeared on 1978’s Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) album. The line-up on this cold night in Detroit was rounded out by guitarists Richard Snyder and Jeff Tapir/White.

The Reverend attended this show at Harpos; I frequently haunted the club (as well as the New Miami) after getting off work from the Trailways bus station in downtown Detroit. Since it began hosting rock ‘n’ roll shows in 1973, Harpos had become a worthy heir to Russ Gibbs’ legendary Grande Ballroom, hosting shows by artists as diverse as Ted Nugent, Mitch Ryder, Johnny Winter, Cheap Trick and, yes, Captain Beefheart. The club moved more towards heavy metal in the 1980s, and rap/hip-hop in the 1990s (including legendary Goth rapper Esham, the real “Motor City Madman”); best I can tell, they’re still rockin’ at Harpos today. I probably got to the club late; as I wouldn’t have left downtown until midnight, but I wasn’t going to pass up the rare opportunity to catch Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band perform live, even if I don't remember much of it today (after the beer-fueled decade of the '80s).

The set list for Live From Harpos 1980 is appropriately heavy on material from Radar Station, comprising six of that album’s twelve songs, including a growling, snarling performance of “Hot Head” that features some stellar guitarplay with shotgun solos, and Beefheart’s mesmerizing vocals dancing sloppily atop a fractured, circular rhythm. “Ashtray Heart” is of a similar construct, with Beefheart’s scatting vocals be-bopping alongside a syncopated soundtrack and squalls of razor-sharp guitar. The sagely-titled “A Carrot Is As Close As A Rabbit Gets To A Diamond” is an enchanting, all too brief instrumental with guitars intertwining to create an elegant, classically-oriented soundscape that is atypical for the Captain and his band.


Bat Chain Puller

Among its 17 songs, Live From Harpos 1980 also includes several choice cuts from across the band’s storied career. The Delta blues-influenced “Abba Zabba” is a throwback from the Safe As Milk album, a dark-hued stomper with tribal rhythms and the Captain’s best raspy, Howlin’ Wolf styled sandpaper vocals. “My Human Gets Me Blues” dates back to Trout Mask Replica, the song a nifty lil’ slice o’ jump ‘n’ jive with surreal, seemingly stream-of-consciousness lyrics and a cacophonic symphony as a backdrop. Originally recorded to appear on an unreleased (until 2012) album of the same name, “Bat Chain Puller” landed on Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller); its performance here is all right angles, with raw, primal, often-screamed vocals and jumbled instrumentation that often works at cross purposes with itself.

Also from Shiny Beast, “Suction Prints” is the sound of collapsing buildings, with Beefheart’s tortured saxophone up front, barely escaping from the instrumental barrage of squealing guitars, madcap drumbeats, and thunderous rhythms. In the best Beefheart tradition, it sounds like it was created by a brace of insane criminals who broke out of the asylum and found refuge in a recording studio, each inmate taking out their hostilities and fractured obsessions on the innocent instruments.


The Reverend's Bottom Line

The sound on Live From Harpos 1980 is a notch above bootleg quality – hollow, muddy, slightly distorted, and with a bit of echo – most of which is par for the era in which it was recorded, some of which is due to the provenance of the original tape, no doubt (sounds to my ears like a good audience recording). Since Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band never released a live album during the nearly two decades of their existence, however, and as there are only a handful of readily available live Beefheart albums to be found, Live From Harpos 1980 is a welcome addition to the artist’s canon. The performances are singularly abrasive, and thoroughly entertaining, if you’re of a similar mindset (and evidently a small number of us fellow travelers are in that odd position). Captain Beefheart isn’t for everybody, but he might just be for you! (Gonzo Multimedia, released May 13, 2014)

Buy the CD from Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band's Live From Harpos 1980

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Audio Fidelity reissues Renaissance’s classic Scheherazade album

Renaissance's Scheherazade
British progressive folk outfit Renaissance was one of two great bands to rise up from the ashes of legendary British blues-rock band the Yardbirds (the other being Led Zeppelin). Formed in 1969 by former ‘birds Keith Relf (vocals) and Jim McCarty (drums), the band’s original line-up recorded two obscure and poorly-distributed albums before the founders jumped ship. The roster ran through a number of musicians by 1971 before a new version of Renaissance was formed around the incredible voice of singer Annie Haslam.

The new Renaissance included Haslam, guitarist Michael Dunford, and keyboardist John Tout, with a virtual revolving door of bass players and drummers. The Haslam-fronted band recorded a number of critically-acclaimed albums which increased the band’s audience, including 1972’s Prologue and 1974’s Turn of the Cards. With the release of Scheherazade and Other Stories in 1975, the band struck that magical balance of prog-rock instrumental virtuosity, classical and folk influences, and lush orchestration. Widely-considered to be the apex of the band’s creativity, Scheherazade featured the classic Renaissance line-up of Haslam, Dunford, and Tout along with bassist/vocalist Jon Camp and drummer Terence Sullivan.

On July 15th, 2014 Audio Fidelity will reissue Scheherazade and Other Stories as a limited edition, numbered Hybrid SACD, a format that is certain to enhance the sound and dynamics of this beautiful, complex album. Recorded in May 1975 at the Abbey Road Studios and released in July of that year, Scheherazade featured four lengthy compositions: the dreamy eleven-minute “Trip To The Fair”; the short, punchy rocker “The Vultures Fly High”; the elegant seven-minute “Ocean Gypsy;” and the epic, nine-part, 25-minute “Song of Scheherazade,” where the band is accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra along with a full chorus. 

The album rose to #48 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart, its highest position at that time, an achievement they would beat with 1977’s Novella album. Renaissance would survive and thrive through the punk and new wave years, releasing a number of albums before breaking up in 1987. Haslam re-formed the band eleven years later, in 1998, with Dunford, Tout, and Sullivan and with Roy Wood (The Move, Wizzard) on bass.

The band went on hiatus again in 2002, returning in 2009 with Haslam still on the microphone today. Various line-ups of the band have recorded a handful of recordings in the new millennium, and Haslam continues to tour in the wake of Dunford’s 2012 death. For all that Renaissance has achieved during its 45-year history, they’ve never reached another peak as high as the classic Scheherazade album.

Scheherazade tracklist:
1. Trip to the Fair
2. The Vultures Fly High
3. Ocean Gypsy
4. Song of Scheherazade
i. Fanfare
ii. The Betrayal
iii. The Sultan
iv. Love Theme
v. The Young Prince and Princess as told by Scheherazade
vi. Festival Preparations
vii. Fugue for the Sultan
viii. The Festival
ix. Finale

Buy the album from Renaissance's Scheherazade & Other Stories SACD