Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Lee Michaels Massive CD Box Set Coming!

Lee Michaels' Fifth
Lee Michaels is one of the great lost artists of the rock ‘n’ roll ‘70s. A soulful singer with an incredible range, and capable of expressing great emotion, Michaels was also a talented songwriter and keyboard player, his performances based around his trusty Hammond organ years before folks like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep pushed keyboards to the front of their songs. Michaels often eschewed using a full band in favor of accompaniment by a lone drummer – “Frosty” (real name Bartholomew Eugene Smith-Frost) for two of his first four albums, and former Grassroots timekeeper Joel Larson on his best-selling title, Fifth.

Nobody sounded like Michaels during his critical and commercial peak, circa 1968-72, and nobody else has come close since. Sadly, much of Michaels’ back catalog has remained difficult, if not impossible to track down on CD except for Fifth, which had yielded a pair of hits, including the timeless “Do You Know What I Mean” (#6 on the Billboard singles chart) and Michaels’ cover of the Marvin Gaye hit “Can I Get A Witness” (peaking at #39). In the absence of readily-available CDs, fans and collectors like the Reverend have been digging through used LP bins to find vintage Michaels’ albums on vinyl.

Start saving your pennies, Lee Michaels fans, ‘cause we’ll be getting an early Christmas present on November 20th, 2015 when Manifesto Records releases The Complete A&M Album Collection, a seven-disc box set of the singer’s complete run for the label. For those yet to be sold on Michaels’ charms, Manifesto will also be releasing Heighty Hi – The Best of Lee Michaels, a 20-song CD featuring just Michaels’ hits, including “Do You Know What I Mean,” “Keep The Circle Turning,” and “Heighty Hi.”

Lee Michaels' Barrel
Michaels’ recorded seven albums for A&M Records, beginning with 1968’s Carnival of Life. Michaels had been kicking around L.A. for a few years prior to his debut, playing in various bands with future members of the Turtles, Canned Heat, and Moby Grape, so he used SoCal session guys like guitarist Hamilton Wesley Watt and drummer “Fast” Eddie Hoh on the album. His sophomore effort, Recital, was released later that year and also featured a full studio band, including bassist Larry Knechtel and his buddy John Barbata on drums.

With the release of Michaels’ self-titled 1969 album, though, he’d hit upon the formula that would bring him a modicum of commercial success. Accompanied only by drummer Frosty, Michaels delivered a sizzling set of R&B infused rock ‘n’ roll with inventive keyboard work and percussion. The following year’s Barrel followed a similar musical blueprint as its predecessor, although guitarist Drake Levin contributed to several songs. Both albums displayed meager commercial prospects, charting in the middle of the Billboard Hot 100.

Michaels was making great music, but fighting constantly with his label, the allegedly “artist friendly” A&M wanting more return on their investment. Given one more chance, Michaels responded to the label’s demand for a hit single with an album of R&B covers and original songs that sounded like 1960s-era R&B hits. The result was 1971’s Fifth, which included the biggest hit of Michaels’ career in “Do You Know What I Mean” alongside songs like B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby” and the Johnny Otis classic “Willie & the Hand Jive.” Provided a bit of momentum courtesy of his Top 20 charting album, Michaels went in a completely opposite direction with 1972’s Space & First Takes, a four-song collection of psychedelic hard rock that featured two lengthy 15-minute jams with Michaels’ downplaying the keyboards to play guitar alongside Levin.

Lee Michaels' Live
Ending his dysfunctional relationship with the label, Michaels provided A&M Records with the double-album Live to finish up his contract. Recorded on the support tour for Space & First Takes, Michaels’ Live falls back on the keyboards/drums dynamic, Michaels’ backed by percussionist Keith Knudsen. Live features extended versions of songs from all of his studio albums except for Carnival of Life. The album was recorded at Carnegie Hall, which was uncredited at the time as the venue would have gotten a share of the LP’s profits.

Leaving A&M, Michaels was signed by Clive Davis and Columbia Records, which would release two subsequent albums – 1973’s Nice Day For Something and 1974’s Tailface – both of which would sink like a stone without promotion when Davis’s departure from Columbia cost Michaels the support of his biggest supporter at the label. Michaels would record just one more album, the independently-produced Absolute Lee, in 1982. Michaels largely retired from music at the time, later finding success as an entrepreneur with his popular Killer Shrimp restaurants.

There’s no listing for Michael’s The Complete A&M Album Collection on as of yet, and I couldn’t find album cover art for the box, but for long-suffering Lee Michaels fans, this is going to be the box set of the year!

John Mayall’s Live In 1967 on Vinyl!

John Mayall's Live In 1967

Good news, everybody! Released earlier this year, the critically acclaimed, long lost live album by John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Live In 1967, will see release on glorious ebony-black vinyl on October 2nd, 2015 courtesy of our good friends at Forty Below Records. Mayall’s Live In 1967 will be a double-album pressed on 140-gram vinyl with a gatefold cover that includes large photos inside of Mayall and his Bluesbreakers line-up at the time – guitarist Peter Green, bassist John McVie, and drummer Mick Fleetwood.

Mayall’s Live in 1967 is a rare live recording by one of the best of the many Bluesbreakers line-ups. Although the band of Mayall, Green, McVie, and Fleetwood were together a mere three months, they made some mighty fine music together before the three guys that weren’t Mayall flew the coop to form Fleetwood Mac. This special live recording was made available by a hardcore Mayall fan from Holland by the name of Tom Huissen, who concealed a one-channel reel-to-reel tape recorder on his person as he attended shows at a handful of London clubs (including the legendary Marquee) in early 1967, recording the band’s performance each night.

The tapes Huissen made of these shows remained unheard and unreleased until they were acquired by Mayall who, working with Forty Below’s Eric Corne, restored them to releasable condition. “While the source recording was very rough and the final result is certainly not hi-fidelity, it does succeed in allowing us to hear how spectacular these performances are,” Corne said in a press release for the album. The resulting historical document is a diamond in the rough, soliciting rave reviews from just about every critic, including the Reverend, my review of the album stating that “Live In 1967 proves that his legacy and the long shadow Mayall casts across the British blues tradition is based on more than just that one single album” (referring to Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton).

Live in 1967 walked away with honors as both the best “Live Blues Album” and best “Historical/Vintage Album” at the recent Blues Blast Music Awards, held in Chicago by Blues Blast Magazine. Now fans can get this gem of an album on vinyl, just like it would have been released almost 50 years ago!

Related Content: John Mayall's Live In 1967 CD review

Buy the vinyl from John Mayall's Bluesbreakers - Live in '67

Friday, September 25, 2015

CD Preview: Tommy Castro & the Painkillers’ Method To My Madness

Tommy Castro's Method To My Madness
Tommy Castro is one of the most popular bluesmen on the scene today – a six-time Blues Music Award winner, Castro has twice been honored with the coveted “B.B. King Entertainer of the Year” award. Since releasing his debut album for Blind Pig Records in 1996 – by which time Castro had already had better than a decade of experience under his belt, including a stint with Warner Brothers Records band the Dynatones – Castro has recorded frequently and toured non-stop, building a loyal worldwide audience.

Castro signed with the esteemed Alligator Records label in 2009, releasing the BMA winning Hard Believer album. In 2012, Castro scaled back his band to the lean, mean four-piece outfit known today as the Painkillers, which released the acclaimed 2014 album The Devil You Know. In-between these two band releases, Castro oversaw 2011’s Tommy Castro Presents the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue – Live!, a collection of raucous live performances from the perpetually sold-out ‘blues cruise’ that features Castro and his band, who also back up stars like Rick Estrin, Michael “Iron Man” Burks, and Joe Louis Walker, among other artists.

On October 23rd, 2015 Alligator Records will release Castro’s latest world-beating album for the label, titled Method To My Madness. A twelve-track collection that features ten new Castro originals or co-writes (including songs penned with pals Rick Estrin and Joe Louis Walker), the album also features covers of the Clarence Carter hit “I’m Qualified” and B.B. King’s “Bad Luck.” Castro is backed by the Painkillers – bassist Randy McDonald, keyboardist Michael Emerson, and drummer Bowen Brown – on an electrifying blend of blues, rock, and soul music that is guaranteed to add extra octane to your tank!

“My main objective when making a new album,” says Castro in a press release for Method To My Madness, “is to do something different from before. I’ve always been a blues guy; it’s what I’m meant to do. But I’m always listening and reacting to what’s going on in the outside world, experimenting with my guitar tone and my songwriting approach to constantly keep my music fresh. In the end, though, my brand is on every song.” The album was recorded at Laughing Tiger Studio in San Rafael, California, with Castro producing for the very first time. The band was recorded without studio gimmicks – just the raw sound of talented musicians cranking out the tunes with passion and energy.

“With the new album,” says Castro, “I was trying to get back to my basic ingredients: blues and soul. I went for the energy of connecting with my band. We kept everything raw, capturing the feeling of playing live. I’m not about being perfect,” he concludes, “I’m about being real.” Having heard this electrifying and entertaining album, I’d say that Castro accomplished what he set out to do with Method To My Madness.

Buy the CD from Tommy Castro's Method To My Madness

High Moon Reissues Love’s Reel to Real on CD & LP

Love's Reel to Real
Psychedelic folk-rock pioneers Love have continued to pick up fans decades after their mid-to-late 1960s artistic peak. The band’s 1967 magnum opus, Forever Changes, is widely revered as one of the most creative and influential albums in rock ‘n’ roll history, and Love frontman Arthur Lee has since become a cult idol heralded as a genius, a status that has only grown since his death in 2006.

While copies of Love classics like Forever Changes and Da Capo are readily available and easy to find for even the novice collector, copies of late-period Love albums, as well as Lee’s infrequent solo albums, have become increasingly more difficult to dig up. Thanks to the good folks at High Moon Records, Love’s previously-unreleased 1973 album Black Beauty was finally made available some 40 years after its recording. The boutique label strikes gold again with its plans to reissue another long-lost Love effort, Reel to Real.

On November 27th, 2015 High Moon Records will reissue Reel to Real on CD and digitally, with a vinyl LP reissue following on February 19th, 2016. Featuring eleven red-hot tracks, Reel to Real was originally released in 1974 by RSO Records. High Moon’s deluxe CD package offers re-mastered audio from the original tapes and a dozen bonus tracks, most of which are previously-unreleased, and includes a full-color, 32-page booklet with an essay by Rolling Stone magazine’s David Fricke as well as rare, unpublished photos. The label’s LP reissue will be pressed on high-quality RTI vinyl and will include a full-color, 28-page LP-sized booklet as well as a download card for the full album and bonus tracks. The digital download will include a full-color, 26-page PDF booklet.

Arthur Lee of Love
Arthur Lee
A major label follow-up to the indie-produced, ultimately unreleased Black Beauty, Love’s Reel to Real featured the same band as its predecessor: guitarist Melvan Whittington, bassist Robert Rozelle, and drummer Joe Blocker – a talented lineup that Lee referred to as “cats who can play funky and rock” – who were joined by guitarist John Sterling. The album also included guest appearances by guitarists Harvey Mandel (former Canned Heat guitarist and solo artist) and Howard “Buzzy” Feiten (who had played with Paul Butterfield and Bob Dylan).

Availed of a larger budget courtesy of RSO, Love recorded an underrated collection of blues, rock, funk, and soul that is a timeless representation of Lee’s immense musical vision. The bonus tracks provided the High Moon reissue of Reel to Real are sourced from the original sessions for the album and include alternate takes and mixes, live in-studio rehearsals, and four previously-unknown Lee originals: “Do It Yourself,” “I Gotta Remember,” “Somebody,” and “You Gotta Feel It,” the first three of which are said to be fully-produced rockers.

I tracked down a copy of Black Beauty on CD a few months ago and was pleased by the effort that went into the production and packaging; working from original tapes, I expect Reel to Real to sound even better. Reel to Real is available from the High Moon Records website.

Reel to Real - original album tracks:
1. Time Is Like A River
2. Stop The Music
3. Who Are You?
4. Good Old Fashion Dream
5. Which Witch Is Which
6. With A Little Energy
7. Singing Cowboy
8. Be Thankful For What You Got
9. You Said You Would
10. Busted Feet
11. Everybody’s Gotta Live

CD bonus tracks:
12. Do It Yourself [Outtake]
13. I Gotta Remember [Outtake]
14. Somebody [Outtake]
15. You Gotta Feel It [Outtake]
16. With A Little Energy [Alternate Mix]
17. Busted Feet [Alternate Mix]
18. You Said You Would [Single Mix]
19. Stop The Music [Alternate Take]
20. Graveyard Hop [Studio Rehearsal]
21. Singing Cowboy [Alternate Take]
22. Everybody’s Gotta Live [Electric Version]
23. Wonder People (I Do Wonder) [Studio Rehearsal]
All Reel to Real bonus tracks previously unreleased except for the "You Said You Would" single mix

Monday, September 21, 2015

Archive Review: Urban Spacemen And Wayfaring Strangers (2000)

Richie Unterberger's Urban Spacemen And Wayfaring Strangers
A sequel, of sorts, to Richie Unterberger's wonderful Unknown Legends Of Rock & Roll, the author's Urban Spacemen And Wayfaring Strangers tackles in greater depth the careers of some of the greatest lost musical talents of the 1960s. It is Unterberger's premise, as set out in his introduction, that “more great rock music was made in the '60s than in any other decade,” an argument he sets out to prove with profiles of nineteen creative talents from the era.

I would agree with Unterberger to an extent, but just as there was a lot of great rock 'n' roll cranked out in the sixties, there was more than a decade's worth of pap released as well. Record companies threw almost anything up against the proverbial wall to see if it would stick in the “drug-addled” youth market. Unterberger also states that there was “no other time in which so many rock musicians made fabulous unknown music that did not sell tons of records and remains virtually undiscovered by the general public.”

It seems to me that the advantages of time and perspective have provided the author with a rose-colored view of the decade. Certainly there was (and remains) a lot of undiscovered musical talent from the '60s, but numerous books, videos, CD reissues, websites and fanzine articles have filled in a lot of blanks. I would point to the '80s as being an equally overlooked decade, with many talented artists edging out careers on the fringes of the commercial music world.

Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones, Cream, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix and other familiar music legends dominate any discussion of rock music in the '60s to the detriment of worthy artists such as the Pretty Things, the Remains, Creation, or Nick Drake. Similarly, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Michael Jackson, and Van Halen overwhelmed pop culture in the eighties, leaving talents like Joe Grushecky, the Long Ryders, Jason & the Scorchers, and the Del Lords, to name a few, as obscure rock 'n' roll footnotes.

These minor disagreements between two critics aside, Urban Spacemen And Wayfaring Strangers is a definite “must-have” for any rock music fanatic. Unterberger's profiles are entertaining and exhaustive, carefully compiled from interviews with the artists, band members, managers, producers and other participants in the respective scenes. As any reader would, I found several of the profiles to be of greater interest than others, particularly those of the Pretty Things, the Fugs, Arthur Brown, the Bonzo Dog Band, and producer Shel Talmy. A few of the profiles I found somewhat below par, chapters on Thee Midniters and Mike Brown being over-extended and somewhat boring. Other chapters cover folks like the Electric Prunes, Kaleidoscope, Dino Valenti and Bobby Fuller.

Overall, however, Urban Spacemen And Wayfaring Strangers is well written, well documented, and an entertaining read. Just as was done with Unknown Legends Of Rock & Roll, this volume also includes a CD with songs from the book's featured artists. Unfortunately, although inflation has raised the price of Urban Spacemen And Wayfaring Strangers when compared to its predecessor, deflation has decreased the number of songs on the CD from the previous tome's even dozen to a mere six. The enclosed CD does include tracks from the Fugs, Bobby Fuller, Richard and Mimi Farina, the Electric Prunes and Thee Midniters however, as well as a rare song from the Poets.

More useful than the CD is Unterberger's habit of including a suggested discography for each artist profiled at the end of the chapter. If the main purpose of a book of this scope is to introduce the reader to new music, then Unterberger has done an admirable job with Urban Spacemen And Wayfaring Strangers. I've already gone out and bought suggested CDs for several of the featured bands that I didn't already have, and I'd be willing to bet that you'll do the same once you find a place on your bookshelf for this important rock 'n' roll history. (Miller Freeman, 2000)

Buy the book from Richie Unterberger's Urban Spacemen and Wayfaring Strangers: Overlooked Innovators and Eccentric Visionaries of '60s Rock

Sunday, September 20, 2015

CD Review: Dave Davies' Rippin' Up New York City (2015)

Dave Davies' Rippin' Up New York City
Late last year, former Kinks guitarist Dave Davies released the critically-acclaimed solo album Rippin’ Up Time. The album was Davies’ follow-up to 2013’s equally esteemed effort I Will Be Me (itself Davies’ first album in six years, and his second since a life-threatening stroke), and the new LP dealt with themes of time and mortality with fond reminiscences of the past and one eye to the future.

A short tour followed the release of Rippin’ Up Time, with an appearance at the City Winery in the ‘Big Apple’ caught on tape and released on disc as Rippin’ Up New York City. While not the most raucous live album you’ll ever hear – what do you expect from a rocker nearing 70? – Davies nevertheless displays more energy and vitality in these performances than musicians half his age.

Dave Davies’ Rippin’ Up New York City

Rippin’ Up New York City offers up fifteen actual songs (and a brief album-opening intro), comprising an inspired mix of Davies’ originals and classic gems from the deep Kinks catalog. Davies is fronting a band that includes former Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken, an underrated timekeeper by any measure, as well as second guitarist Jonathan Lea, bassist Tom Currier, and backing vocalist Rebecca G., Wilson. Altogether, it’s a lean rock ‘n’ roll machine Davies takes to the stage and they deliver in spades.

The live set opens with the muscular title track from Davies’ recent solo album, “Rippin’ Up Time” benefitting from the powerful Diken/Currier rhythm section, which lays down a meaty groove, upon which Davies embroiders his raw, blistering squalls of guitar. The six-string cacophony that takes over the anarchic arrangement makes for a heady brew of sound and fury, Davies only spitting out occasional lyrics, preferring to let his guitar do the talking. A vintage Kinks track, “I’m Not Like Anybody Else,” rides a similar silver rail to oblivion, displaying every bit as much piss and vinegar as the album-opener, albeit with more order brought to the instrumental chaos, Davies interpreting his brother’s angst-ridden lyrics with defiant anguish, wailing guitars, and crashing instrumentation.

Death of A Clown

Davies is also quite capable of showing his gentler side, as proven by the wan pseudo-ballad “Suzannah’s Still Alive,” delivered with more sonic bluster than the original, but with similar wistful vocals floating above a jangling soundtrack. The nostalgia-tinged “Front Room” and “King of Karaoke,” both from Rippin’ Up Time, provided that album’s heart and soul, and they work their similar magic in a live setting. The former is a fond remembrance of growing up in post-war England, folkish lyrics blanketed by whimsical instrumentation and fluid guitar solos. The former is a more traditional, Kinks-styled rocker with a strong melody providing a foundation for Davies’ reminiscent lyrics, which reference everybody from his former band and the Beatles to Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix. Bolstered by exotic, flamenco-styled guitar and flowing rhythms, the song is as elegant as it is mournful.

Davies’ “Death of A Clown” was one of the Kinks’ most underrated of hits, the song a musically-complex wonder that echoes British dancehall music while showing flashes of psychedelic pop and Dave’s dark-hued lyrics. It’s performed here with a break for audience participation, which doesn’t detract from the song’s joyous celebration. Davies and crew close out Rippin’ Up New York City with a pair of bona fide classics. “All Day and All Of The Night” and “You Really Got Me” are British Invasion royalty, both songs major Kinks hits that relied on Davies’ flamethrower fretwork – jagged, distorted riffs and dangerous power chords that did as much to launch a thousand and one garage-rock bands as the Beatles ever did. Performed here, nearly 50 years later, neither song has lost any of their charm, and Davies does them both proud.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Dave Davies’ Rippin’ Up New York City offers up an energetic mix of the guitarist’s solo work (including the three best songs from Rippin’ Up Time) and Kinks favorites as well as a handful of his obscure solo tracks (“Creepin’ Jean,” “I Need You”) and long-lost Kinks’ songs (“Strangers,” “Where Have All The Good Times Gone”). Davies’ talented backing band is up for the challenge, offering a solid backdrop for Davies’ electrifying, exciting fretwork. Davies’ isn’t the best vocalist in the world of rock music, but he makes up for it with verve and charisma, and Rippin’ Up New York City is as entertaining a live album as you’ve heard in a long, long time. Grade: B+ (Red River Entertainment, released September 4, 2015)

Related Content: Dave Davies' Rippin' Up Time CD review

Buy the CD from Dave Davies' Rippin Up New York City: Live at the City Winery

Nashville Bluesman Mark Robinson 'Goes South'

Mark Robinson's Gone South
Nashville-based bluesman Mark Robinson is one of my favorite contemporary guitarists, a talented string-bender who can deliver songs with either subdued sizzle or flamethrower intensity. The two acclaimed albums that Robinson has released to date – 2010’s Quit Your Job, Play Guitar and 2013’s Have Axe Will Groove – garnered all sorts of rave reviews from your humble scribe. Of the former, I concluded “expect big things in the future from this ‘self-employed’ singer/songwriter” while of the latter I said “Robinson proves that’s he a talent to be reckoned with, and you can climb on the bandwagon now or wait until he’s a festival headliner…”

Robinson has kept busy since Have Axe Will Groove, producing and performing on albums by a number of Americana artists, including an excellent effort by Nashville’s poet laureate, David Olney (his 2014 LP When The Deal Goes Down). In a classic case of “what have you done for me lately,” Robinson answers proudly with a brand new ‘digital’ single, “Gone South.” This is no throwaway track tacked up on iTunes to gain some attention, but rather a carefully-considered and true double-sided single in the spirit of our beloved vinyl 45s of old.

As you can see and hear for yourself by watching the videos embedded below, “Gone South” is presented by Robinson as two entirely different-sounding versions, albeit both featuring the same exciting blues DNA. The ‘electric’ version of the song is a blustery, blues-rock tornado complete with swaggering, cerebellum-crushing fretwork that certainly owes a debt of gratitude to the late Texas masters Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughan. By contrast, the ‘acoustic’ version of “Gone South” is a rootsy delight, Robinson’s twang ‘n’ bang reading offering a laid-back Piedmont blues vibe in the vein of Eric Bibb or the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Both versions are unique and inspiring Robinson creations.

“Gone South” was recorded with the backing of bassist Daniel Seymour and drummer Justin Amara, with Robinson affording both versions of his skilled and creative fretwork. Poco’s Michael Webb adds keyboards to the ‘electric’ version of “Gone South,” joined by Pinmonkey’s Rick Schell’s backing vocals; country singer Luke Amelang provides backing vocals on the ‘acoustic’ take, while the SteelDrivers’ Richard Bailey plays banjo. Robinson’s dual-pronged approach to the song is more than just a clever way to provide differing musical perspectives, but is also representative of the guitarist’s underrated talents and immense artistic vision. Both versions of “Gone South” are available as a digital download from iTunes and

DVD Preview: Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Church

Jimi Hendrix's Freedom: Live At The Atlanta Pop Festival
Jimi Hendrix fans have a lot to be happy about this year – Experience Hendrix, the late guitarist’s estate, and Sony Legacy have finally reissued the live performance from the Atlanta Pop Festival 1970 as a long-anticipated, budget-priced two-disc set (Freedom: Live At The Atlanta Pop Festival). The new Atlanta Pop Festival CD expands what was heard on the Stages box set, which has been out of print for nearly two decades, adding five additional tracks from the original concert, including fan faves like “Red House” and “Hey Joe.”

On October 30th, 2015, Hendrix fanatics will have another reason to whirl like a dervish when Sony Legacy releases the Electric Church documentary film on DVD and Blu-Ray. The film debuted on Showtime in early September, but the commercial home video release features bonus content not included on the broadcast. Documenting the event considered by many to be the “Southern Woodstock,” the film tells the behind-the-scenes story of the Atlanta Pop Festival and Hendrix’s performance in front on the largest audience of his career.

The Atlanta Pop Festival, held over the July 4th holiday weekend in 1970, was the result of the efforts of Atlanta promoter Alex Cooley. Attempting to create a true cultural event, Cooley signed talents like Bob Seger, the Allman Brothers, and blues legend-in-the-making B.B. King to perform at the festival, but it was Hendrix’s Independence Day appearance that created rock music history. Electric Church features 16mm film footage of Hendrix’s performance with Experience bandmates Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell, including songs like “Hey Joe,” “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” “Purple Haze,” and “Room Full of Mirrors” as well as a scorching read of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Electric Church also includes interviews with Cox and Mitchell, as well as fellow musicians like Paul McCartney, Steve Winwood, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, and festival organizer Cooley, among others. The film provides further insight into the genius that was Jimi Hendrix and serves as another important chapter in the career of, perhaps, the most deeply documented artist in rock ‘n’ roll aside from individual members of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Gentle Giant’s Octopus gets the Steven Wilson treatment!

Gentle Giant's Octopus - U.K. artwork
Prog-rock legends Gentle Giant released Octopus, the band’s fourth album, in 1972 to mixed reviews. Those critics with a proclivity towards progressive music hailed Octopus as another step forward for the band artistically and a fine example of the prog-rock form; less charitable pundits found the album plodding and uninspired.

Over time, however, Octopus has been rediscovered by prog-rock fans and is now considered one of Gentle Giant’s creative triumphs. Writing for All Music Guide, noted critic and rock music historian Dave Thompson says “returning to Gentle Giant's fourth album after any kind of lengthy absence, it's astonishing just how little Octopus has dated. Often written off at the time as a pale reflection of the truly gargantuan steps being taken by the likes of Jethro Tull and Barclay James Harvest…Gentle Giant often seemed more notable for its album art than its music. Octopus, however, marries the two seamlessly…and the end result is an album that has withstood the test of time a lot better than anyone might have expected.”

Gentle Giant's Octopus - U.S. artwork
On October 27th, 2015 Universal Music Group will reissue Gentle Giant’s Octopus in both CD and Blu-Ray formats with a Steven Wilson 5.1 surround sound remix. Founder of modern prog favorites Porcupine Tree and an acclaimed solo artist, Wilson has brought his studio wizardry and genius to remixing classic prog-rock album by artists like Yes, King Crimson, and Jethro Tull. Wilson previously remixed Gentle Giant’s The Power & The Glory album in 2014.

For the recording of Octopus, Gentle Giant featured original band members Gary Green (guitars), Kerry Minnear (keyboards) and the three Shulman brothers – vocalist Derek, bassist Ray, and saxophonist Phil – along with a new drummer, John Weathers. Octopus was produced by the band and engineered by Martin Rushent who, at that time, had already worked on classic albums by T-Rex and Fleetwood Mac.

Wilson’s re-mix of Octopus includes a bonus live fifteen-minute concert performance of “Excerpts from Octopus,” sourced from the band’s 1976 tour. The Blu-ray version also includes instrumental mixes of five of the eight original album tracks, and both CD and Blu-Ray include new sketches by Roger Dean (who created the original U.K. album artwork) as well Charles White’s original “octopus in a jar” cover art that was used in the U.S.

Related Content: Gentle Giant's Octopus [Fossils]

Buy the CD from Gentle Giant's Octopus - Steven Wilson 5.1 Remix

Fossils: Gentle Giant's Octopus (1972)

Gentle Giant's Octopus
[click to embiggen]
Gentle Giant – Octopus

By 1972, British rockers Gentle Giant were firmly entrenched in the mid-tier of progressive rock outfits, a step behind more successful chartbusters like Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer and not as highly regarded as critical darlings like King Crimson and Jethro Tull. Instead, they were kind of lumped in together with bands like Starcastle and the Strawbs, esteemed groups that enjoyed pockets of fandom but achieving only a modicum of commercial success. Although Gentle Giant would eventually transcend its cult band status to be considered one of the important and influential movers and shakers of 1970s-era prog-rock, with the release of their fourth album Octopus, they were just looking for a hit.

Although Octopus received uniformly positive reviews, with rockcrit handicappers predicting it to be the band’s breakthrough moment, Columbia Records’ advertising for the album did little to support Gentle Giant’s chart aspirations. Lauded for the virtuoso musicianship displayed by band founders the Shulman brothers (Derek, Phil & Ray), as well as guitarist Gary Green and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Kerry Minnear, the U.S. version* of Octopus sported an intriguing Charles White cover design that portrayed a stylized cephalopod captured in a jar. Columbia’s ad featured Berg’s striking cover front and center and larger than life, tagging it with a horrible pun (“a jarring new album”…really, what were you guys smoking/snorting to come up with a line like that?) and reducing the descriptive text to the fine print at the bottom of the page.

They’d have been better off reducing the size of the dominating graphic (which is reproduced again at the bottom of the ad) and including short, pithy, easy-to-read descriptions of the band and the album instead of the dense text that nobody bothered to dig through. By this time, the band’s fan base was pretty much set in stone, and Octopus only rose to #170 on the Billboard Top 200 before sinking. Although Gentle Giant would call it quits in 1980, they still had a couple of masterpieces up their sleeve and Octopus, along with the following year’s In A Glass House and 1975’s Free Hand would prove to be the cornerstones of the band’s enduring legacy.  

* The U.K. version of Octopus featured typically cool Roger Dean cover artwork

Related Content: Gentle Giant's Octopus gets the Steven Wilson Treatment!