Sunday, February 22, 2015

CD Review: Steve Earle & the Dukes' Terraplane

Steve Earle's Terraplane
For much of the first decade of his career, Americana legend Steve Earle was running around in circles. Too much the square-peg rock ‘n’ roll gypsy to fit easily into the round holes of Nashville’s Music Row machine, Earle was also deemed too rawboned country for the bi-coastal big-city intelligentsia who didn’t buy into the notion of the Music City as the “third coast.”

Earle made a lot of damn fine music through the 1980s, though, albums like Guitar Town and Copperhead Road providing inspiration and a veritable roadmap for like-minded twang ‘n’ bang fellow travelers like the Bottle Rockets, Slobberbone, and the Drive-By Truckers, among many others, to embroider with their own personal sound, hopes, and dreams. For Earle, however, his influence on a younger generation of roots-rock rebels was moot; between women, drugs, jail, record label woes, and the rigors of the road, the talented singer/songwriter easily lost a half-decade of his career.    

Steve Earle’s Terraplane

Suffice it to say, Earle has paid his dues and earned the right to sing the blues, which he does quite nicely on Terraplane, his 16th album and a rock-solid set by one of the great songwriting talents of our generation. Taking his album title from the 1930s-era car made by the Hudson Motor Car Company that inspired Delta blues legend Robert Johnson to write his song “Terraplane Blues,” Earle’s Terraplane is no mere collection of classic blues covers, but rather an ambitious, entirely original slate of songs inspired by giants like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Freddie King, Johnny Winter, and the Vaughan Brothers, who all influenced Earle’s sound as well as his storytelling in one manner or another.

Opening with a blast of Earle’s jaunty harmonica riffing, “Baby Baby Baby (Baby)” is an old-school styled romp, a shuffling trifle of a song that is notable mostly for Earle’s drawling Texas patois, and the sly rhythm put down by his backing band the Dukes. The song sounds like a late-hour jam at Antone’s, erudite lyrics are less in demand than a strong groove and a midnight vibe. “You’re The Best Lover That I Ever Had” is more like vintage Earle, poetic lyrics and no little emotion paired with dusky, droning fretwork and a low-slung rhythm reminiscent of both Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mississippi’s R.L. Burnside.

The Tennessee Kid

Menace hangs from the words of “The Tennessee Kid” like kudzu from a cypress tree, Earle delivering an intelligent, entertaining updating of the Robert Johnson “Crossroads” myth. Earle’s rapid-fire vocals spit out the lyrics above a dark-hued, malevolent soundtrack, shards of electric guitar punctuating the swampy fever-fog on occasion, the entire performance displaying a certain devilish inspiration that leads to the inevitable conclusion that “the balance comes due someday.” By contrast, while “The Tennessee Kid” is firmly mired in the mud of the Mississippi Delta, “Ain’t Nobody’s Daddy Now” is a Piedmont blues-inspired ditty more akin to Blind Blake than Blind Lemon Jefferson, Earle’s vocals even taking on more of a Georgia accent than that of his native Texas, delivered alongside some sublime six-string pickin’.

Bluesman Steve EarleEarle’s “Go Go Boots Are Back” could have easily fit on one of his early albums, the song a breathless amalgam of alt-country twang and bluesy rock with subdued vocals and fierce guitar licks delivered above a steady percussive rhythm. With a wink and a nod, the song’s well-constructed lyrics slyly deliver the message of history repeating itself with. Earle’s arrangement – echoing a sound he’d long since abandoned (or refined, perhaps) – is an unconscious choice that nevertheless drives his lyrical point home with no misinterpretation.

Whereas “Gamblin’ Blues” provides an insightful glimpse into the hard-luck life of the ramblin’, gamblin’ man, delivered perfectly with spry Piedmont-style guitar strum, the album-closing “King of the Blues” is a near pitch-perfect representation of the genre’s themes and mythology. From the protagonist’s divine birth and the evocation of “John the Conqueroo” to Earle’s raw, gritty vocals, his down ‘n’ dirty git licks, and the smothering, claustrophobic ambiance of the instrumentation, it’s a howling, growling result of a nearly a century of blues music. 

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

For any misguided soul who believes that the blues and country music are worlds apart from one another, I suggest that you give a listen to some of Jimmie Rodgers’ recordings from the 1920s or Hank Williams’ sides from the ‘40s. Blues is the father to the entirety of American music, and in few places is this tradition stronger than in the state of Texas. Steve Earle's Terraplane just represents the latest fraternization between blues and country, a long and respected tradition that began, perhaps, with Blind Lemon Jefferson and runs in a line through Sam Hopkins to Bill Neely to Townes Van Zandt and beyond to Earle and even his son Justin.

Earle’s Terraplane offers up all that the singer’s fans have come to expect – whipsmart lyrics and storytelling; the singer’s immense charisma; and well-constructed, skillfully-performed, often adventuresome music. Earle has always drawn from the whole spice rack of Americana in creating his own unique musical gumbo; this time around he just throws a bit more blues flavor into the pot. If you’re a longtime fan, don’t be scared off by the “this is Steve Earle’s blues album” hype or, if you’re a blues fan, don’t ignore this one because of any preconceived notions you may have of Earle. No matter what you want to call it, Terraplane is one damn fine collection of roots ‘n’ blues music. Grade: A (New West Records, released February 17, 2015)

Buy the CD from Steve Earle's Terraplane


Friday, February 20, 2015

The Pretty Things’ Bouquets From A Cloudy Sky Box

The Pretty Things’ Bouquets From A Cloudy Sky
This is one that hasn’t gotten a lot of press from the mainstream music rags, so we thought we’d shed a little light on a mighty fine box set comin’ your way – The Pretty ThingsBouquets From A Cloudy Sky. The legendary rockers are getting the full deluxe treatment in commemoration of the band’s 50th anniversary, and it’s only gonna set you back around $200 (if you buy the box from the good folks at Ugly Things zine).

“So,” you ask hesitantly, “what do I get for my pair of hunnies?” Bouquets was produced with the Pretty Things’ approval and input, and features all eleven of the band’s studio albums, including 2007’s often-overlooked Balboa Island, all packaged in gatefold digi-sleeves and including a whopping 42 bonus tracks. Two additional “rarities” discs offer up 45 previously-unreleased demos, alternate takes, live recordings, and outtakes while two DVDs feature a new documentary, Midnight To Six 1965-1970, plus S.F. Sorrow Live at Abbey Road, additional videos, and band interviews.

The Bouquets box also includes a 10” replica acetate that features the full-length demo for “Defecting Grey,” the studio version of “Turn My Head,” plus a pair of previously unreleased Pretty Things songs. Throw in an illustrated 100-page hardback book with a comprehensive Pretty Things history written by musician/music historian Mike Stax of Ugly Things (who named his zine after the band and knows from whence he speaks on all things ‘Pretty’), plus lots of rare photos and a complete band “family tree.”

You’ll even a “court case history” with excerpts from the legal files compiled by the band in their fight to regain the rights to their master recordings and songs. The box finishes up with an art print by singer Phil May; one lucky Pretty Things’ fan will find the original copy of the print, which has been randomly placed in one of the boxes. Overall, Bouquets From A Cloudy Sky has everything a collector or new fan might desire, and the box will be limited to 2,000 copies only.

The Pretty Things' Bouquets From A Cloudy Sky

The Pretty Things were formed in London in 1963 by guitarist Dick Taylor (who was the original Rolling Stones bassist) and singer Phil May, along with rhythm guitarist Brian Pendleton, bassist John Stax, and drummer Pete Kitley. The band would run through various members through the years, including notorious drummer Viv Prince, Twink (from the Pink Fairies), and Jack Green (from T.Rex), and Taylor would leave the band in 1969. But they scored hits with their first three singles – “Rosalyn,” “Don’t Bring Me Down,” and “Honey I Need,” and the band’s self-titled 1965 debut rose to number six on the U.K. charts before subsequent efforts experienced diminishing commercial returns.

The Pretty Things never scored a hit stateside, but they’ve had a loyal following that has only grown through the years, partially because of Mike Stax’s proselytizing on their behalf. The band has a musical legacy as strong as any of their peers, however, and stronger than most bands from the era. Their 1965 debut is an undisputed classic of British blues-rock; their conceptual 1968 album S.F. Sorrow is widely considered one of a handful of essential psychedelic-rock albums; and several of their 1970s-era recordings – Parachute (1970), Silk Torpedo (1974), and Savage Eye (1976) – earned significant critical acclaim even while selling only moderately.

If you’re a classic rock aficionado unfamiliar with the charms of the Pretty Things, Bouquets From A Cloudy Sky is a great way to get up to snuff!  

CD Preview: Van Der Graaf Generator’s Merlin Atmos

Van der Graaf Generator's Merlin Atmos
British progressive-rock legends Van der Graaf Generator recently released a new live album titled Merlin Atmos, the limited-edition two-disc set recorded in 2013 and released by the U.K. label Esoteric Antenna. For long-suffering fans of the band, their prayers have been answered, as the album features the first live performances of the popular Generator songs “Flight” and “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers.”

A bit of band back story: since reuniting in 2005, Van Der Graaf Generator has released a number (four, actually) of critically-acclaimed albums featuring long-time members Peter Hammill (vocals & guitar), Hugh Banton (bass & keyboards), and Guy Evans (drums & percussion), including their reunion album Present, cited by Classic Rock magazine as one of the ten essential prog-rock albums of the decade. In June 2013, the trio performed a series of live concerts that featured a set list of rarely-performed album tracks like the sprawling 23-minute “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers,” from the band’s 1971 album Pawn Hearts, which had never been played in its entirety on stage.

Hammill’s solo track “Flight” is another such song, a 19-minute epic from the guitarist’s 1980 solo album A Black Box. Together, these two rare album tracks became the heart of the band’s live performances, which also drew upon classic songs from past albums as well as from newer recordings like 2011’s A Grounding In Numbers. Several of these shows were recorded and compiled to create Merlin Atmos, a solid work from a still-innovative and exciting band. The limited-edition two-disc digipack edition also includes an additional 70-minute CD of extras recorded during the 2013 European tour.

“The most important thing to note and/or get across about Merlin Atmos is the fact that we played both the long-form pieces 'Flight' and 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers', says Hammill in a press release for the new album. “The former, of course, had been in the repertoire since the last North American Tour. The latter had only ever been played live once before, as far as we remember, back in the seventies. It was a pretty major commitment to say we'd be doing it even before we'd actually rehearsed together. We were also, of course, doing it as a trio whereas the original recorded version was as a quartet with David Jackson. It took quite a bit of work to make it stage-worthy! I suppose the mere fact that the record is being released proves that we were pretty satisfied with our efforts in the end!”

Van der Graaf Generator was formed in 1967 by Hammill and Chris Judge Smith, who would leave the band a year later. The band was the first act signed by the legendary Charisma Records label, releasing their debut album, The Aerosol Grey Machine, in 1969. The band would shuffle through various line-ups and even break up on occasion before settling into a roster that included Hammill, Banton, Evans, and saxophonist David Jackson.

Van der Graaf Generator would release eight albums until they broke-up one last time in 1977, including such critically-acclaimed recordings as Pawn Hearts and 1976’s Still Life. While the band found very little commercial success outside of Italy (where they were curiously popular), their immense musical legacy has endured, influencing artists like Rush, Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, Julian Cope, John Lydon of Public Image Ltd, and Marillion, among many others.

Merlin Atmos track listing:

Disc One
1. Flight
2. Lifetime
3. All That Before
4. Bunsho
5. A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers
6. Gog

Disc Two
1. Interference Patterns
2. Over The Hill
3. Your Time Starts Now
4. Scorched Earth
5. Meurglys III, The Songwriter’s Guild
6. Man-Erg
7. Childlike Faith In Childhood’s End

Buy the CD from Van der Graaf Generator's Merlin Atmos

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Dave Cloud, Nashville’s Own Captain Beefheart, R.I.P.

Nashville's Dave Cloud
The Nashville Scene has reported that singer and songwriter Dave Cloud passed away on Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 after a short illness. Cloud, 58 years old and a long-time fixture on the Nashville rock scene, had been admitted to Centennial Medical Center on Monday for complications from melanoma. He died quietly on Wednesday night after being taken off of life support.

A musical shaman that blazed his own trail and refused to dance to the beat of any other drummer than his own unique vision, Cloud was a dogged pursuer of truth, rock ‘n’ roll, and cheap thrills. He appeared on the local non-country music scene in 1979 as one of the first generation of original rockers, along with folks like Dave Olney and the White Animals, at first performing a sort of loud punk rock that he would later incorporate into a broader shambolic sound. He performed in many area clubs through the years, including the legendary Lucy’s Record Shop, but he primarily held court at Springwater Supper Club & Lounge, a dive bar located near Nashville’s Centennial Park, performing there several nights a week for over 20 years.

The only thing you knew for sure that you’d get from a performance by Dave Cloud and the Gospel of Power was a damn good time. Once described by the Nashville Scene as a “perverse cross between Neil Diamond and Tom Waits,” Cloud was just as likely to break into rock or soul covers from the 1960s and ‘70s on stage as he would his own brilliant original material; karaoke was another possibility, Cloud applying his sonorous pipes to pop classics. His charisma and talent would, in turn, attract other talents, and through the years the Gospel of Power featured veteran musicians from local bands like Lone Official, Lambchop, Silver Jews, and Trauma Team.   

Dave Cloud's Pleasure Before BusinessDuring the day, Cloud worked as a volunteer book reader for the visually impaired, and since 1984 he had reportedly recorded thousands of hours of audio books and magazines for the Nashville Talking Library. Aside from his long-standing music gig, Cloud also appeared in several films and music videos, including a pair of director Harmony Korine’s films, Gummo and Trash Humpers, and the 2005 music video for Bobby Bare’s “Are You Sincere.” Bassist Matt Swanson produced Cloud’s first two albums – Songs I Will Always Sing (1999) and All My Best (2004) – which brought the singer to the attention of London’s Fire Records.

The label signed Cloud and released Napoleon of Temperance, a two-disc compilation of Cloud’s first two albums, in 2006, subsequently bringing Cloud and the Gospel of Power overseas for the first of their two British tours. Three more albums would be released by Fire – 2008’s Pleasure Before Business, 2011’s Practice In The Milky Way, and 2012’s Live At Gonerfest – as well as the six-song Fever EP in 2009.   

Dave Cloud's All My BestThe Stool Pigeon music magazine in the U.K. wrote of Cloud, “fans of Lambchop or Be Your Own Pet will know that Nashville is a city split into two halves: the cowboy-hat-sporting, Clint Black-loving, yee-haw!, corporate country half and the other half, where bands exactly like Lambchop or Be Your Own Pet thrive in perfect opposition. Somehow, though, there’s a third half where Lambchop or Be Your Own Pet go when they’re bored of being the alternative and pine for something that makes them look like the mainstream. It’s dark over there in that third half but it has a radiant king. His name is Dave Cloud, garage rock lounge lizard extraordinaire, a legend in his own lunchbreak from reading books to the blind, and now the unexpected new face of Budweiser.* All women love him – they “luxuriate” in his masculinity – and all men fear him.”

Writer Phil Hebblethwaite summed up Cloud’s career perfectly – he was Nashville’s own Captain Beefheart, a unique and extraordinary talent who worked primarily in the garage-rock genre to re-define the meaning of popular music altogether. While not as well known an American cult artist as Roky Erickson or Vic Chestnut, Cloud’s legacy nevertheless lives on in his albums, on YouTube, and in the hearts of fans worldwide that he earned performing one sweaty, discordant, entertaining rock ‘n’ roll show at a time.   

* In one of those odd occurrences of cosmic irony, Dave was featured in a Budweiser TV and print ad campaign in the U.K.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Light In The Attic Releases 13th Floor Elevators Singles Collection

The Complete 13th Floor Elevators IA Singles Collection
Light In The Attic is dipping its toe deep into the psychedelic waters with the upcoming release of The Complete 13th Floor Elevators IA Singles Collection. Not much ambiguity in that title, really…the box set features eight glorious slabs o’ beautiful 7” black vinyl featuring sixteen essential classic tunes from the band that represents the alpha and omega of psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll. All of these songs were released by the legendary Texas-based International Artists label, and aside from the enduring hit “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” the set also includes the original (and different) version of the song as released by the Spades, the band that came before the Elevators, and a single so rare that it easily fetches a couple thousand simoleons whenever it comes up for sale.

The 13th Floor Elevators were formed in Austin, Texas in 1965 by singer/guitarist Roky Erickson, electric jug player Tommy Hall, and guitarist Stacy Sutherland. The band existed for but a short time – roughly four years from 1965 through ’69 – and released four albums and seven singles for International Artists, More important than the band’s brief tenure and meager recorded output is their role as one of, if not the first psychedelic rock band, lysergic-fringed musical pioneers whose influence touched artists as diverse as ZZ Top, Big Brother & the Holding Company (both with and without Janis Joplin), REM, Television, Zakary Thaks, and many others.

The band’s debut 45, “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” was a re-recording of one of Erickson’s songs with the Spades, the single rising to #55 on the Billboard charts. While they never enjoyed another hit – minor or otherwise – the band nevertheless delivered a pair of classic albums in 1966’s The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators and the following year’s Easter Everywhere, recordings that are still finding new listeners and influencing young psychedelic-oriented musicians to this day. While the band’s catalog and live archives have been exploited seven-ways to Sunday, including a ten-disc box set, Sign of the 3-eyed Men, released in 2009, I haven’t seen a collectors-oriented singles box like this.     

The eight singles included in The Complete 13th Floor Elevators IA Singles Collection are reproduced exactly like the original 45rpm releases, complete with the big hole in the middle, with only the original catalog numbers missing from the run-out grooves. The full-color box set includes a booklet with details on every single release as well as rare photos, and reproductions of French and German picture sleeves. The vinyl itself was cut by DMM utilizing 24-bit digital masters at Abbey Road studios. Check out the Light In The Attic Records website for more info and to pre-order the box set.

The Complete 13th Floor Elevators IA Singles Collection 45s:

1. “You're Gonna Miss Me” b/w “Tried To Hide”
2. “Reverbaration (Doubt)” b/w “Fire Engine”
3. “I've Got Levitation” b/w “Before You Accuse Me”
4. “She Lives (In A Time of Her Own)” b/w “Baby Blue”
5. “Slip Inside This House” b/w “Splash 1”
6. “I'm Gonna Love You Too” b/w “May The Circle Remain Unbroken”
7. “Livin'” On b/w “Scarlet and Gold”
8. “You're Gonna Miss Me” b/w “We Sell Soul” (The Spades)

Walter Trout Returns To The Stage!

Blues-rock guitarist Walter Trout
This is great news, indeed – beloved blues-rock guitarist Walter Trout will be returning to the stage this summer! After spending all of 2014 recovering from a life-saving liver transplant, and after undergoing extensive rehab to get back into “fighting” shape, the lifelong road warrior is ready to climb back on stage and thrill fans like he always has.

In a press release for the upcoming tour, Trout says, “the last year has been one where the blues truly came calling, and I came face to face with death more than once. My wife moved me to Nebraska to improve my chances of getting a life-saving liver transplant, and after a long wait, I got my new liver on May 26th, 2014. Since then I have been filled with immense gratitude. Gratitude for the fans who supported me via fundraisers, cards, messages, thoughts and prayers, for the donor and his or her family, for medical science, for my family, and for life itself. Everything matters more to me now.” 

Continuing, Trout adds, “now, 8 months after my transplant I feel like a new man. I have strength and energy. In some ways I feel like I am in my 20s again! The past couple of years of playing, I was getting dizzy spells, severe cramps in my hand and forearm and played many shows in severe pain. It turns out that was a result of my deteriorating liver. That is gone now! I am able to play better than I have in years. I feel reborn. I cannot wait to get back out on the road again and do what I love to do for my fans. The future looks great!”

Walter Trout's The Blues Came Callin'Trout will make his first public appearance in over at year on June 15th, 2015 in London at the Royal Albert Hall, the guitarist performing at the Leadbelly Fest. He’ll start his North American tour on July 10th at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, California, a venue that holds a lot of history for Trout. Since he didn’t get a chance to tour in support of his excellent 2014 release The Blues Came Callin’, I’m sure that Walter is eager awaiting the upcoming shows, and there will certainly be performances added to the list below before it’s all over. We’ve also included Trout’s video announcing his return to the stage.

Walter Trout 2015 Tour Dates

06/15 @ Royal Albert Hall, London UK
07/10 @ The Coach House, San Juan Capistrano CA
07/21 @ Redstone Room, Davenport IA
07/23 @ Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Sioux City IA
07/25 @ Lowertown Blues Festival, St. Paul MN
07/31 @ Infinity Music Hall, Norfolk CT
08/01 @ Riverfront Blues Festival, Wilmington DE
08/02 @ Ram's Head, Annapolis MD
08/04 @ B.B. King's, New York NY
08/07 @ Bear's Den @ Seneca Casino, Niagara Falls NY
08/08 @ Heritage Blues Festival, Wheeling WV
08/14 @ Buddy Guy's Legends, Chicago IL
08/15 @ Big Bull Falls Blues Festival, Wausau WI
09/10 @ Big Blues Bender, Las Vegas NV
09/11 @ Big Blues Bender, Las Vegas NV
11/17 @ Arc, Stockton UK
11/18 @ ABC, Glasgow UK
11/20 @ Picturedrome, Holmfirth UK
11/21 @ Forum, London UK
11/24 @ Assembly, Leamington Spa UK
11/25 @ Cheese & Grain, Frome UK
11/28 @ Carre, Amsterdam Netherlands
12/01 @ Fabrik, Hamburg Germany
12/02 @ Kesselhaus, Berlin Germany
12/03 @ RuhrCongress, Bochum Germany
12/06 @ Feriheiz, Munich Germany

Friday, February 13, 2015

Cult Rocker Merrell Fankhauser Pens Autobiography

Merrell Fankhauser's Calling From A Star
Often critically-acclaimed and commercially-challenged, cult rockers are those artists that exist forever on the outer edge of the mainstream music biz. Pursuing their own unique and frequently hallucinogenic artistic vision, musicians like Roky Erickson, Daniel Johnston, Jandek, or Wesley Willis represent the cult rock fringe. Creative geniuses like R. Stevie Moore, Robyn Hitchcock, and Game Theory’s Scott Miller are also considered cult rockers, albeit with varying degrees of respectability and success, but all enjoyed lengthy and creative careers. However, none of them hold a candle to the one and only Merrell Fankhauser.

Perhaps the cult artist’s cult artist, Fankhauser’s credentials read like rock ‘n’ roll mythology. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Merrell moved to California as a teenager, where he became one of the early innovators of surf music and psychedelic rock. Since joining the influential surf-rock band the Impacts in 1960, Fankhauser would go on to play in a veritable “who’s who” of cult rock outfits, including Merrell & the Exiles, HMS Bounty, Fapardokly (less a band than a concept), Fankhauser-Cassidy Band, and MU, among others, and as a songwriter he has better than 400 published songs to his credit.

A 2011 Grammy™ Award nominee, Fankhauser has also performed and recording with musicians like John “Drumbo” French of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service, Peter Noone of the Monkees, and Jay Ferguson and Ed Cassidy of Spirit, among others. Both with these bands and as a solo artist, Fankhauser has made a lot of interesting and entertaining music that has defined the boundaries of surf, psychedelic, and roots-rock, gaining the musician a small but loyal worldwide following.

Late last year, Fankhauser published his long-anticipated autobiography, Calling From A Star. In slightly more than 200 pages, Fankhauser shares stories from better than 50 years spent in the business, including his experiences with artists like Willie Nelson, the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, John Lennon, Captain Beefheart, and even an interlude with members of the infamous Charlie Manson family. Fankhauser also writes about the various television shows that he’s been involved with, including California Music, Route 55 TV Live, and the popular Tiki Lounge program.        

“I started the book in 1990 after years of friends and fans telling me I've had such an adventurous life that most rock stars don't have,” Merrell says in a press release for the autobiography. “Playing with so many music icons, moving to Maui, searching for the Lost Continent of MU, and now over 400 songs published! I kept trying to finish the book but because of my live playing schedule, writing, recording and doing a regular TV show…it took years to finish!” Find out more about this legendary rocker on his website, and use the link below to buy a copy of Fankhauser’s Calling From A Star to get the whole story!

Buy the book from Merrell Fankhauser's Calling from a Star



Scorpions’ Virgin Killer Vinyl Reissue

Scorpions' Virgin Killer
In 1976, Germany’s Scorpions were a hard rock band looking to expand their audience beyond a loyal following in their homeland. Formed in 1965 by guitarist Rudolf Schenker, Scorpions ran through various line-ups before recording the band’s 1972 debut, Lonesome Crow. By the time of the band’s third album, In Trance, the Scorpions roster had gelled with Schenker, singer Klaus Meine, guitarist Uli Jon Roth, bassist Francis Buchholz, and drummer Rudy Lenners, and it is these five talented musicians that would deliver what is widely considered to be the band’s breakthrough LP, as well as one of their best, Virgin Killer.

On April 21, 2015 Marshall Blonstein’s Audio Fidelity Records will reissue Virgin Killer as a limited edition, 180 gram vinyl album. Missing on this reissue will be the original album’s controversial cover image of a naked young girl sitting behind broken glass, which was replaced at the time by the current band photo. While the shocking original cover artwork garnered the band a degree of notoriety, it was the music that grabbed the attention of audiences across Europe and in the United States and Canada. Fueled by guitarist Roth’s imaginative, Hendrix-tinged leads, Virgin Killer represented the band’s first step towards the hard-rocking, influential heavy metal sound that would dominate their 1980s-era hit albums like Animal Magnetism and Blackout

Hardcore Scorpions fans hold Virgin Killer in high esteem, and the album has easily withstood the test of time. Virgin Killer still sounds great today and is a “must have” disc for any fan of guitar-driven hard rock. Reviewing Virgin Killer in his definitive tome The Collector’s Guide To Heavy Metal, Volume 1: The Seventies, music journalist and metal historian Martin Popoff wrote “the first in a string of monster records from the one and only Scorpions delivers brutal, stark metal wisdom, exposing tracks culled from a slow awakening within a proggy psychotronic fog into the bruising alchemical highs of a metallic mindscape,” adding that “only Judas Priest would line up a more impressive handful of industry-transforming records…”

Scorpions’ Virgin Killer track list:

1. Pictured Life
2. Catch Your Train
3. In Your Park
4. Backstage Queen
5. Virgin Killer
6. Hell-Cat
7. Crying Days
8. Polar Nights
9. Yellow Raven

Buy the vinyl from Scorpions' Virgin Killer LP

Sunday, February 8, 2015

CD Review: Siena Root's Pioneers

Siena Root's Pioneers
For a crusty old fart like the Reverend, who has literally spent decades writing about what is sometimes dismissed as “classic rock,” there’s a certain amount of satisfaction in the fascination and affection shown by young bands (and fans ) for vintage rock ‘n’ roll. From psychedelic acid-casualties like Blue Cheer and Iron Butterfly to hard-rock dinosaurs like Grand Funk Railroad or Mountain, from blues-rockers like Cream or Zeppelin to bands that transcend genre like the Grateful Dead, there are a lot of kids these days grooving on sounds that were fresh when the Rev was a green young stoner.

Maybe it’s boredom pushing new audiences towards old music, maybe it’s ennui, but I personally think that it’s music fans looking for cheap thrills in a world where the charts are dominated by frippery from the likes of Ed Sheeran or Sam Smith rather than Deep Purple or the Doors. There’s only one so-called “rock” band with an album in the Billboard Top Ten as I write and, to be honest, calling Fall Out Boy a “rock” band is like saying that Gerry Cooney was the best heavyweight boxer of his era (kids, look it up). It’s no wonder that a growing segment of music buyers is traveling to the past to get their kicks.   

Siena Root’s Pioneers

Sweden’s Siena Root are no youngsters by any reckoning, not with better than fifteen years and a half-dozen albums under their belt, but they’re relative newcomers to the U.S. scene and, as newcomers to this shore, they’re forced to built an audience one highly-amplified riff at a time. Pioneers, the band’s fourth studio album and their stateside debut (released by Cleopatra Records), is hyped on a sticker affixed to the CD case as “a heavy blend of Deep Purple and Iron Butterfly.” While that’s an apt description, even a casual spin of Pioneers shows that there’s a lot more going on in these grooves than a band trying to re-create their record collection.

Pioneers cranks up the amps from the opening notes, “Between the Lines” a heavy, plodding rocker with fierce guitars, blustery rhythms, and chiming keyboards that would have sounded equally at home in the mid-1970s as they do some four decades later. Singer Jonas Åhlén has an amazingly Americanized voice, his deep, rich vox gliding effortlessly above the industrial-strength riffage cranked out by guitarist Matte Gustafsson. While the song takes a few interesting musical twists and turns, Gustafsson's piercing fretwork and Erik Petersson’s ever-present keyboards anchor the performance.

Roots Rock Pioneers

The heavy, chaotic “7 Years” rolls out with drummer Love Forsberg’s explosive percussive beats, which are quickly joined by guitar and organ riffs that come as close as anything on Pioneers to mimicking early Deep Purple. An inspired mix of prog-rock, proto-metal, and goofy cosmic smiles, “7 Years” is too doggone funky, instrumentally, to be a true throwback, the song instead representing more of an original take on a classic rock sound. “Roots Rock Pioneers,” from which the album’s title is derived, is a spunky slice o’ hard rock heaven, with flaming guitar licks and spry keyboard runs that mix a bit of Atomic Rooster with a cuppa Uriah Heep and a soupcon of Sabbath in the creation of a heady musical brew.

Gustafsson’s fretwork on “Roots Rock Pioneers” is imaginative and complex, taking bluesy flights of fancy that even Ritchie Blackmore dared not entertain, while Petersson’s inspired keyboard-pounding out-maneuvers both Jon Lord and Ken Hensley, managing to drive the rhythm while still providing stylistic flourishes to joust with the guitar. The dark-hued “The Way You Turn” is an equally intricate tune that successfully blends Sabbath’s excellent use of menacing atmospherics with the contemporary edge of fellow graven idol worshippers like Opeth or Clutch.

Whole Lotta Love

“Going Down” provides a surprising about-face, the boogie-tinged hard rocker swaggering proudly like Paul Rodgers and Bad Company while still delivering plenty of high-octane six-string pyrotechnics. Forsberg’s percussive efforts are particularly impressive here, the drummer holding down the bottom end behind Gustafsson’s soaring leads with a masterful combination of heavy beats and light-fingered brushes. Bassist Sam Riffer deserves some credit here as well – while his presence is seemingly lost in the Sturm und Drang of the band’s lead instrumentalists, his steady hand provides the backbone the songs need to rip ‘n’ roar.

Siena Root’s “In My Kitchen” might be considered a blatant Doors rip-off by the unknowing, and while they do “appropriate” a certain ambiance and instrumentation from “Riders On The Storm” to open this exhilarating nine-minute-plus jam, they end up traveling to musical netherworlds that Jim Morrison only imagined in his dreams. A potent blend of psychedelic and bluesy hard-rock with out-of-this-world guitarplay, haunting rhythms, and Åhlén’s breathtaking vocals, the song’s lengthy, ethereal instrumental passage offers up enough spacey guitar licks, buzzing keyboards, and staggering percussion to satisfy any old-school rock aficionado.

The band’s reading of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” is the album’s lone cover, a slightly skewed take on the classic rock gem that manages to capture the song’s bombastic spirit while offering an imaginative re-shaping of Jimmy Page’s original vision. Seemingly recorded in a cave, Åhlén’s leathery vocals rise above the din created by Gustafsson’s razor-sharp fretwork and Forsberg’s machinegun drumbeats to breathe new life into the song while the muted, echoed effect provided the performance offers a canvas for the virtuoso instrumentation.         

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Siena Root’s Pioneers is a solid collection of swaggering, Marshall-stacked, hard-knocking cock-rock the likes of which we’ve seen little of since the Stones went disco in the late 1970s. Providing a fresh perspective on a sound seemingly mined down to the last ounce of proverbial gold by the likes of Zeppelin, Purple, Heep, and Sabbath, Siena Root are one of a new breed of rock ‘n’ roll true believers using classic rock influences in the creation of an inspired contemporary sound that, while dismissed as yesterday’s news, is nonetheless earning the band a legion of fans worldwide.

With Pioneers, Siena Root joins the ranks of fellow travelers like Admiral Sir Cloudsley Shovell, Blues Pills, Handsome Jack, and Rival Sons – among a handful of others – in joyfully reveling in the sounds of the past while creating a bright new future for rock ‘n’ roll. Grade: B+ (Cleopatra Records, released November 17, 2014)

Buy the CD from Siena Root's Pioneers

Friday, February 6, 2015

CD Preview: Vanilla Fudge’s Spirit of ‘67

Vanilla Fudge's Spirit of '76
Vanilla Fudge holds a special place in the history of rock music. Emerging from the mid-1960s psychedelic hard rock scene that also boasted of bands like Iron Butterfly and Blue Cheer, the NYC foursome developed a truly unique, HEAVY sound that would influence bands like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, and echoes of the low ‘n’ slow Fudge style can even be heard in the production work of late Houston rapper DJ Screw.

On March 3rd, 2015 Vanilla Fudge will release Spirit of ’76 on Purple Pyramid Records (an imprint of Cleopatra Records). Featuring ten cover songs that were popular during the “Summer of Love” – the year the band released its debut album – along with one original number written by founding member Mark Stein, Spirit of ’76 is the band’s first new album since 2007’s Out Through The In Door.    

The original Vanilla Fudge, consisting of singer and keyboardist Mark Stein, guitarist Vinny Martell, bassist Tim Bogert, and drummer Carmine Appice, came to the attention of legendary product George “Shadow” Morton, who was taken with the band’s slowed-down, sludge-drenched cover of the Supremes’ hit “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” The band recorded the song with Morton producing, which scored them a deal with Atco Records (an Atlantic label subsidiary), and their subsequent self-titled 1967 debut album.

That album rose to number six on the Billboard albums chart on the strength of the band’s original take on popular songs by the Beatles, Sonny Bono, Curtis Mayfield, and Rod Argent. Slowing down each song’s tempo, layering in a rich brew of Stein’s Hammond keyboards and Martell’s stinging guitar, and backed by the sludge-like stew of Bogert and Appice’s mesmerizing rhythms, the album struck a chord with young rock fans. Morton would go on to produce the band’s next two albums, both of which went Top 20, but the further the band strayed from that initial plodding approach to cover tunes, the more their commercial returns diminished, and Vanilla Fudge after the release of their fourth album, Rock & Roll.

Spirit of ’76 represents a return to that legendary psychedelic soul-tinged Vanilla Fudge sound. The album features the talents of most of the original band members – bassist Tim Bogert retired in 2011, to be replaced by Pete Bremy, who played with Appice in a recently reunited Cactus. In a press release for the new album, Appice says that Spirit of ’76 is “the best album we've done since our very first album, with great vocal arrangements and instrumental performances from everyone in the band.” Mark Stein adds “Spirit of ’76 is a record that I'm proud of. The success of Vanilla Fudge has always been based on our interpretations of songs by great artists. Our style of classic and symphonic rock lives large on this effort, and the performances and arrangements I would hope will be enjoyed by old and new fans alike.”

We have the full track list below, Spirit of ’76 featuring imaginative re-makes of classic tunes like the Box Tops’ “The Letter,” the Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’,” the Monkees’ “I’m A Believer,” Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” and Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale.” Guitarist Vinny Martell says “Spirit of ‘76 is the continuation of the journey we began in the Summer of Love – psychedelic, rhythmically powerful arrangements and performances of happening tunes of that era colored by the insight and vision of who we are today.”

Stein’s “Let’s Pray For Peace” is the album’s only original song which, he says, “is about a vision I had that came to me suddenly as if my supreme being was speaking through me…what if all of us could stop for a moment, as naive as it may sound to some, and say: 'who'd like to share, a little silent prayer, let's pray for peace tonight’.”

Unlike a lot of reunited 1960s-era bands, Vanilla Fudge’s members have been busy playing music since their first break-up in 1970. Bogert and Appice formed the beloved blues-rock outfit Cactus with former Mitch Ryder guitarist Jim McCarty and Amboy Dukes frontman Rusty Day, releasing four albums between 1970 and 1972; reuniting for a pair of Cactus studio albums and several live performances in 2006. Bogert and Appice formed a power trio with guitarist Jeff Beck in ’73, scoring a Gold™ album with the self-titled Beck, Bogert & Appice album in 1973.

Bogert and Appice backed up a literal “who’s who” of popular music throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, including Rod Stewart, Leslie West, Bo Diddley, and Pat Travers, among others. Mark Stein stayed busy as well, touring and recording with artists like Dave Mason, Tommy Bolin, and Alice Cooper before Vanilla Fudge re-formed in 2000. The band will be touring in support of Spirit of ’76, so watch for a Vanilla Fudge show near you!

Vanilla Fudge’s Spirit of ’67 Track List:

1.   I Heard It Through The Grapevine
2.  The Letter
3.  I Can See For Miles
4.  Break On Through (To The Other Side)
5.  The Tracks of My Tears
6.  I'm A Believer
7.  Gimme Some Lovin'
8.  For What It's Worth
9.  Ruby Tuesday
10. Whiter Shade of Pale
11. Let's Pray For Peace

Buy the CD from Vanilla Fudge's Spirit of '67

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Thin Lizzy vinyl from Light In The Attic Records

Thin Lizzy's Vagabonds of the Western World
Light In The Attic Records has announced that it will be reissuing two early Thin Lizzy albums –Shades of A Blue Orphanage and Vagabonds of the Western World – on vinyl in March.

Thin Lizzy’s sophomore effort, Shades of A Blue Orphanage was originally released in 1972, the album representing somewhat of a letdown after the band’s encouraging debut from the previous year. The band at the time was a trio with singer/bassist Phil Lynott, guitarist Eric Bell, and drummer Brian Downey. They had yet to develop their trademark, devastating twin-guitar sound, instead delivering an inconsistent blend of bluesy hard rock and psychedelic pop.

Although All Music Guide writer Eduardo Rivadavia considered Shades “disappointing,” noted critic Martin Popoff, author of three books on the band, calls it “grand and intimate at once.” Vagabonds of the Western World was released in late 1973; a non-album, hard-rocking single release of the traditional Irish song “Whiskey In The Jar” scored the band an unlikely Top Ten U.K. hit, affording them more time and resources to record their third album.

Still, the trio is obviously still searching for its unique sound with Vagabonds, which evinces a similar musical mix as its predecessor. Citing the album’s “style-searching waywardness,” Popoff states that Vagabonds “continues with a forging of the band’s sound under a variety of stylistic auspices.” Rivadavia is more generous in his perspective on the album, saying that it is “brimming with attitude and dangerous swagger,” concluding that the album’s improved production helped create the band’s “first sonically satisfying album.”

Eric Bell left the band after Vagabonds of the Western World, to be replaced by two guitarists – Scott Gorham and Brian Robertston – who would eventually create the signature Thin Lizzy sound. The band also left the clueless Decca Records, which had no idea how to record or market a hard-rock band, for Vertigo, a more progressive imprint that would allow Lizzy time to develop an artistic voice that culminated in 1976’s breakthrough album, Jailbreak.

Both Shades of A Blue Orphanage and Vagabonds of the Western World offer valuable insight into the band’s creative evolution, and both are entertaining when separated from pre-conceived expectations created by Lizzy’s better-known late-career recordings. Both albums are worthy of a place in your collection, the LITA reissues featuring deluxe gatefold jackets, 180-gram vinyl, in-depth liner notes, and rare archive photos.

Pre-orders of both albums (as well as the label’s previous vinyl reissue of Thin Lizzy’s self-titled debut album) are available on the Light In The Attic website as individual LPs and as two or three-album bundles to save some of your hard-earned coin.