Sunday, March 27, 2016

Book Review: Martin Popoff's Time And A Word - The Yes Story (2016)

Martin Popoff's Time And A Word
Full disclosure right up front: music critic and historian Martin Popoff is a pal of mine. That said, he is, perhaps, also the most prolific scribe in the history of rock ‘n’ roll literature. Seriously, it seems like this guy cranks out a new tome every four to six weeks, and the machinegun pace at which he shoots these things out wouldn’t be nearly so embarrassing for the rest of us tin-eared, slothful rockcrits if his books weren’t so damn good…must be something in the water up there in Toronto, or perhaps one can simply get a lot more work done when it’s winter nine months of the year…

The founder and former editor of Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles music zine, Popoff is widely considered one of the world’s leading authorities on heavy metal and hard rock music. To date (and this will probably change by the end of this week…), Popoff has published multiple volumes on Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Thin Lizzy as well as single books on rockers as diverse as Blue Oyster Cult, Rush, and Ted Nugent plus various essential music guides and the acclaimed, scholarly Who Invented Heavy Metal? For his landmark 50th book, Popoff has chosen to chronicle the life and times of one of rock music’s most beloved gangs with Time And A Word: The Yes Story.

Martin Popoff’s Time And A Word: The Yes Story

Yes' The Yes Album
For Time And A Word: The Yes Story, Popoff uses his familiar timeline technique to unroll the band’s story as it happened chronologically. The book begins before the beginning, as it were, Popoff documenting the pre-Yes days of the various band members, briefly revealing the musicians’ early experience and influences with a dozen pages that lead up to the formation of Yes in 1968 and the release of their debut album the following year. From this point, Popoff breaks the story into easily-digestible chunks by decade, i.e. the ‘1970s,’ ‘1980s,’ etc, undeniably the best and smartest way to tell the tale of a band with as many movable pieces as Yes.

As anybody who has read any of Popoff’s recent books would know, the writer intersperses revelations from the various band members throughout the text, material gleaned from original interviews with longtime Yes members like Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, and Alan White as well as lesser-known (but no less talented) members like Bill Bruford and John Wetton, relative band newcomers like Geoff Downes and Billy Sherwood, and contemporaries like Carl Palmer (ELP, Asia) and Steve Hackett (Genesis). Throw in information culled from nearly 50 years of heavy press for the popular band, vintage artwork (album ads, show posters, etc), and rare color and B&W photos and you have a well-researched and documented history of Yes.     

Yes' Fragile
Time And A Word is also an entertaining read, as are all of Popoff’s many books, and he manages to coax relevant memories and comments from the musicians that other writers never go the distance to grab. As shown by the column he regularly writes for Classic Rock magazine, any conversation with Rick Wakeman is going to be peppered with insight and humor, and his experience as a member of Yes spans decades. Heck, Wakeman came and went from the band so often that they should have installed a revolving door on his kit. Jon Anderson sounds every bit like the free-thinking hippie his lyrics would have you believe he is, and both Chris Squire and Steve Howe come across as serious, intelligent musicians that invested a lot of energy into the band’s music and success.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Yes' RelayerThe main takeaway from Popoff’s Time And A Word is that, no matter the decade or the roster, Yes has always featured skilled, accomplished musicians that, knowing they were part of something special – a rich musical heritage – brought their ‘A’ game to performances and recordings alike. Neither Popoff nor the various band members gloss over the frequent tensions within the band, or the differences in opinion about musical direction that often threatened to derail their efforts.

Throughout it all, Yes continued to make inspired, often great music, and Popoff tells the complete tale, from the beginning through Chris Squire’s tragic death in 2015. There have been other books written about Yes, but none capture the heartbeat of the band’s storied history quite like Martin Popoff’s Time And A Word: The Yes Story. If you’re a Yes fan, or just a fan of prog or classic rock, this is one for your bookshelf. Grade: A (Soundcheck Books, published May 1, 2016)

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CD Preview: The Jelly Jam’s Profit

The Jelly Jam's Profit
A prog-rock supergroup of sorts, the Jelly Jam has been a longtime side project for the talented Ty Tabor of King’s X and his equally talented friends John Myung (Dream Theater) and Rod Morgenstein (Dixie Dregs, Winger). The trio released its critically-acclaimed, self-titled debut album in 2002 and followed it with The Jelly Jam 2 in 2004. After a period of time during which the musicians were focused on their day jobs, the Jelly Jam resurfaced after a lengthy hiatus with 2011’s Shall We Descend.

On May 27th, 2016 Music Theories Recordings, an imprint of the Mascot Label Group, will release the Jelly Jam’s fourth album, Profit. For the first time in the band’s fourteen-year existence, the trio will launch a globe-spanning tour to support the new album. Profit is a conceptual album that follows the sojourn of The Prophet, whose mission is to save the world and open the eyes of those who “will not see.” In a press release for Profit, Tabor describes the album’s concept as “a fight between progress and jobs at all cost and not thinking about any future payment that are going to have to be made.”

Tabor says that, “each Jelly Jam album is very different and we are most definitely discovering new ground. The first album was pretty straight ahead in its nature and vibe. The second album was more about the songwriting and had a very different feel. By the time we got to Shall We Descend, we were all at different musical places. It had more of a darker edge to it, but we finally realized that we had tapped in to something that was unique to us. There really is no Jelly Jam ‘sound.’ In order to make Profit the strongest album, we recorded a lot of excess music and chose songs that work together towards the general story idea. Musically and sonically we started experimenting a lot further than we had before. It stands on its own as an album beginning to end with a purpose. It’s not just a bunch of songs thrown together. It’s an entire journey through a story.”

The accomplishments of the Jelly Jam’s three musicians are impressive. As a founding member of King’s X, Tabor wrote the band’s three chart hits – “It’s Love,” “Black Flag,” and “Dogman” – and has toured with folks like Iron Maiden, AC/DC, and Cheap Trick, among others. Tabor produced all four of the Jelly Jam’s albums as well as his own solo releases and several King’s X albums. Myung is a respected innovator on bass guitar and a founding member of Dream Theater, perhaps the most successful and influential prog-metal bands of all time. Drummer Morgenstein was timekeeper for the Dixie Dregs, an influential and ground-breaking 1970s-era outfit that also included guitarist Steve Morse (Deep Purple). He’d go on to play with Winger during that band’s gravy years, and has also performed and recorded with Platypus and the Steve Morse Band and is currently an Associate Professor with the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

As stated above, the Jelly Jam will soon be announcing dates for a greatly anticipated full tour in support of Profit. Tabor explains, “This album is without a doubt the most special moment the band has ever had together and we must make touring real this year to support this album.” Get a taste of the new album below...

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Todd Rundgren’s Box O’ Todd Live Box Set

Todd Rundgren's Box O'Todd

With so many new album releases every month, it’s easy to overlook something specific that may scratch a musical itch that’s been running like drunken chiggers across your cerebellum. One such release that may have flown under your well-tuned rock ‘n’ roll radar is Box O’Todd, a three-disc, limited edition live box set from legendary singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Todd Rundgren released on March 18th, 2016 by Purple Pyramid, a subsidiary of Cleopatra Records.

Rundgren, of course, has left his mark on rock music as both an artist and producer. After making his bones as an integral member of the bands Nazz and Runt (really a Todd solo vehicle), Rundgren launched his solo career in earnest in 1971 with the classic double-album Something/Anything, on which he played all the instruments on three sides of the disc. Rundgren would subsequently release classic albums like Todd, Faithful, and Hermit of Mink Hollow, finding moderate commercial success and the occasional hit single; his side band, Utopia, provided an outlet for Rundgren’s more outré instrumental compositions. As a producer, Rundgren has worked on classic albums by artists like Meatloaf, the New York Dolls, and Grand Funk Railroad as well as recordings by XTC, Hall & Oates, Sparks, and the Tubes, among others, and he continues to tour and record to this day.   

Todd Rundgren's Box O'Todd
Box O’Todd features previously unreleased (but frequently bootlegged) live in-studio performances which were all originally broadcast on FM radio at the time. Disc one features a 1971 performance by Rundgren, backed by the Hello People, which was originally broadcast on WMMR-FM in Philadelphia. The Hello People were an odd late 1970s/early ‘80s band that mixed mime and music, and they served as Rundgren’s touring band for a while (Todd also produced their 1975 LP Bricks). The performance offers a mix of songs by Rundgren and the Hello People.

Disc two of Box O’Todd captures a 1972 performance by Rundgren and the Hello People, originally broadcast from the UltraSonic Studios on WLIR-FM radio in Long Island, New York. The third disc of the box features a 1973 performance in Cincinnati which was broadcast by WKRQ-FM and features an early performance by Rundgren with his band Utopia. Box O’Todd also comes with a 20-page booklet featuring liner notes by esteemed writer Dave Thompson (a buddy of mine), rare color photos, a signature guitar pick, three collectible pins, and a backstage pass – goodies that will certainly appeal to the hardcore Todd fan – as will three discs of great live music. 

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Box O’Todd track list:

DISC 1 - Live From Philadelphia 1971
1. Banter & Soundcheck
2. Believe In Me
3. Lady On The Terrace
4. I Got My Pipe
5. It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference
6. Rock All Over Again
7. Everybody In The Congregation
8. Broke Down & Busted
9. Tonight I Wanna Love Me A Stranger
10. Ooh Baby Baby
11. Hold Me Tight (Excerpt)
12. Before I Grow Too Old
13. Be Nice To Me
14. I'm Feelin' Better
15. The Ballad (Denny & Jean)

DISC 2 - Ultrasonic Studios 1972
1. Broke Down & Busted
2. Georgia Swing
3. Outside Love
4. Piss Aaron
5. A Dream Goes On Forever
6. I Saw The Light
7. It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference
8. Feels So Good to Be Alive
9. Mad Red Ant Lady
10. Blaze
11. Lady On The Terrace
12. Slut

DISC 3 - Counterpart Studios Cincinnati 1973
1. Intro
2. I Saw The Light
3. A Dream Goes On Forever
4. Piss Aaron
5. Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song
6. Hello It's Me
7. Banter
8. Utopia Theme
9. Black Maria
10. Hungry For Love
11. The Ikon (Segments)

Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records on Blu-ray

Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records
Alligator Records has arguably done more to advance the cause of the blues than any other company. Formed in 1971 by blues fan Bruce Iglauer, who was working as a shipping clerk for the legendary Delmark Records label at the time, the first album released by Alligator Records was the debut by Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers. Alligator subsequently released ground-breaking and career-making albums by legends like Koko Taylor, Albert Collins, Lonnie Brooks, Son Seals, and others throughout the 1970s and ‘80s. More recently, Alligator has discovered and developed young blues talents like Selwyn Birchwood, Jarekus Singleton, and Michael “Iron Man” Burks.

Originally released in 1992, Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records is part documentary and part concert film. Pride and Joy was created by respected filmmaker Robert Mugge, who collaborated with music writer Robert Palmer the year before on the influential and essential documentary Deep Blues, which introduced fans to talented artists like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. The film offers musical highlights from one of the four-hour-plus concerts along the Alligator Records 20th Anniversary Tour, including performances by Lonnie Brooks, Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials, Koko Taylor, Elvin Bishop, and others. The film also includes profiles of key performers and label staff members as well as a look behind the scene at Alligator’s Chicago offices.

On April 22nd, 2016 MVD Entertainment Group will release Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records on Blu-ray DVD for the first time. The movie has been newly transferred to HD from the original 16mm film and stereo audio masters and carefully restored by the director Mugge. Also included on the Blu-ray are ten bonus songs taken from Alligator’s original 1992 tour and soundtrack CD, as well as Mugge’s new ‘making of’ video, Alligator Tales. Altogether, Pride and Joy provides an in-depth look at one of longest-running independent labels in America and the artists who contributed to Alligator’s success and legacy.

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Video of the Week: Blackfoot Gypsies’ Under My Skin

Blackfoot Gypsies' Handle It
Blackfoot Gypsies hail from Nashville, which is an absolutely horrible place to be in a rock ‘n’ roll gang unless you’re willing to King’s wax Jann Wenner’s limo every weekend (and on holidays). The east-and-west-coast-based major labels want nothin’ to do with your band unless you sound exactly like everybody else on their roster, which has been hand-picked for conformity and exploitation by some coke-snorting empty suit with a six-figure expense account.

Even when a record label does take a chance on a band from the Music City, they usually don’t know how to “sell them,” which makes one wonder how they got their job in the first place ‘cause, well, selling records is really their only job…a task at which they fail as often as not (just ask Jason & the Scorchers, Webb Wilder, the Features, et al…). Instead, Blackfoot Gypsies are signed to local label Plowboy Records, co-founded by the legendary Cheetah Chrome, a man who knows a thing or two about both major label hijinx and making a joyous noise.  

Handle It is the band’s second full-length album, from which our video of the week comes from. “Under My Skin” has nearly everything you could want in a visual representation of the song – a scantily-clad, pissed-off voodoo priestess laying some serious black cat moan down on the band with her hoodoo witchery; a throbbing Delta blues mojo sound combined with eerie, hollowed-out production; wailing harmonica; and wiry, razor-edged fretwork that helps bring those long-gone Mississippi ghosts back to life.

The Gypsies lead singer looks like a cross between Buddy Holly and Rivers Cuomo, the harp player resembles a long lost Neville Brother, and the drummer looks like he should be behind the kit playing for some sludge-metal outfit like Mastodon. As for the bassist, well…he’s the bassist, the band’s pretty boy and the holy keeper of a heavy bottom end. Handle It is a pretty spiffy LP, though, the band cranking out an inspired mix of psychedelic blues, asphalt-munching hard rock, and roots-bound country twang that proves that these guys have visited Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge a time or two. Captured on tape, Blackfoot Gypsies evince a fierce groove that proves their status as young soul rebels. Don’t believe me? Check out the video for “Under My Skin” and make up your own damn mind...

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CD Preview: John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’ Live in 1967 - Volume Two

John Mayall's Bluesbreakers' Live In 1967 - Volume Two
Fans of British blues legend John Mayall found a lot to like with the release of the critically-acclaimed Live In 1967 album last year. Rescued from obscurity by a hardcore Bluesbreakers fan from Holland by the name of Tom Huissen, who taped the London shows that would become Live In 1967, the album showcased rarer-than-rare, previously-unreleased recordings by the short-lived Bluesbreakers line-up of Mayall, guitarist Peter Green, bassist John McVie, and drummer Mick Fleetwood – three of whom would soon leave the band and go on to form Fleetwood Mac.

On May 6th, 2016 Forty Below Records will release Live In 1967 - Volume Two by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, a second highly-anticipated collection of vintage live recordings that feature never-before-heard performances by the aforementioned legendary Bluesbreakers line-up. Live In 1967 - Volume Two was produced by Forty Below’s Eric Corne and John Mayall, who also did the cover photography, artwork, and design. The pair worked from the original one-channel reel-to-reel tapes recorded by Huissen, cleaning up and restoring the sound of each performance to as close to modern sonic standards as possible from nearly fifty-year-old recordings…they ain’t hi-fidelity, but they sound good enough for rock ‘n’ roll, if you know what I mean...

Live In 1967 - Volume Two features performances recorded during the spring of ’67 at such London venues as Bromley, The Marquee Club, The Ram Jam Club, and Klook’s Kleek. Among the album’s thirteen tracks are Mayall originals like “Chicago Line” and “Tears In My Eyes” and Peter Green’s instrumental guitar showcase “Greeny,” as well as raucous covers of classic blues tunes like Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Your Funeral and My Trial” and Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble. Of the new album’s thirteen tracks, only three songs appeared on the first volume, but these new performances were recorded on different nights. A cover of the T-Bone Walker gem “Stormy Monday” features guest vocalist Ronnie Jones, a former American serviceman and original member of Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated band.  

“I am so happy that the remaining usable tracks from these London club dates have been released as a follow-up to the well-received Volume One,” says John Mayall in a press release for the new album. “Peter Green as before is on fire throughout and this set includes a great instrumental based on his composition, ‘Greeny.’ There are a couple of Otis Rush tracks that were included on the first volume, but they are from different venues and totally different. I couldn’t possibly let these slide. With these new tracks added to the collection, it pretty much features all the material we had in our repertoire at that time and I’m very glad that you can now enjoy this great piece of rock/blues history.”

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’ Live In 1967 - Volume Two track list:

1. Tears In My Eyes
2. Your Funeral And My Trial 
3. So Many Roads 
4. Bye Bye Bird  
5. Please Don’t Tell
6. Sweet Little Angel
7. Talk To Your Daughter  
8. Bad Boy    
9. Stormy Monday 
10. Greeny   
11. Ridin’ On The L&N  
12. Chicago Line  
13. Double Trouble

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

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Pat Travers & Carmine Appice Revisit ‘Balls’!

Pat Travers & Carmine Appice's The Balls Album
Blues-rock guitarist Pat Travers has forged a lengthy career spanning better than four decades now, ranging from his mid-1970s status as arena-rock guitar hero to his current blues-bustin’ bluster as displayed by albums like 2012’s Blues On Fire or 2015’s Retro Rocket. During the early 2000s, Travers hooked up with legendary Vanilla Fudge/Cactus/Rod Stewart drummer Carmine Appice for a handful of goodtime records that showcased the guitarist’s trademark six-string shred and the drummer’s bombastic percussion.

Among those Travers/Appice collaborations was the 2004 album It Takes A Lot of Balls, a recording that was sadly lost among the guitarist’s abundant back catalog and kneecapped by his relative obscurity at the turn of the century. Travers has since been rediscovered as the talented elder statesman of blues-rock, so the guitarist and his former drummer have decided to revisit It Takes A Lot of Balls with a new edition. Deadline Music, a Cleopatra Records subsidiary, reissued the album on March 4th, 2016 on CD as The Balls Album, adding a pair of bonus tracks – including the scorching cover of Barry White’s “Never Gonna Give You  You Up” shown in the video below – along with brand new album artwork.

The pair deliver an odd take on the soul classic, Travers sounding like a crooning David Bowie on vocals and infusing the song with Jimi-inspired swirls of psychedelic color and Stevie Ray-styled slashes of switchblade licks while Appice pounds the stuffing out of his kit as he is wont to do. The rest of The Balls Album shows a similar disregard for the rules of polite society, Travers and Appice rocking and rolling with reckless abandon.

In a press release for the new reissue, Appice praised his partner, stating “I love playing with Pat. He is a great artist, and this was one of the best albums I have made, especially in such a short time – 3 weeks to make! Great songs, great playing, lots of energy, and each track has a lot of BALLS!” Travers responds in kind, saying “I have been a fan of Carmine since 1967. I followed his career over the years and was very pleased to meet him when he was playing drums for Ted Nugent in 1981. We did a lot of shows together and got to know and like each other along the way…we decided that we should record an album together. That led to me going to L.A. and recording this amazing album.”

Related Content: Pat Travers' Retro Rocket CD review

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Statement From Greg Lake About Keith Emerson

Keith Emerson & Greg Lake
Keith Emerson & Greg Lake, photo © Neal Preston/Corbis

To all ELP friends and fans all over the world, I would like to express my deep sadness upon hearing this tragic news. As you know Keith and I spent many of the best years of our lives together and to witness his life coming to an end in the way that it has is painful, both to myself and to all who knew him. 

As sad and tragic as Keith’s death is, I would not want this to be the lasting memory people take away with them. What I will always remember about Keith Emerson was his remarkable talent as a musician and composer and his gift and passion to entertain. Music was his life and despite some of the difficulties he encountered I am sure that the music he created will live on forever.

My deepest condolences go to Keith’s family. 

May he now be at peace.

Greg Lake
London - March 12, 2016

Archive Review: Emerson Lake & Palmer's A Time and A Place (2010)

Emerson Lake & Palmer's A Time and A Place
Formed in 1970 by keyboardist Keith Emerson (The Nice), guitarist/vocalist Greg Lake (King Crimson), and drummer Carl Palmer (Atomic Rooster), the trio known worldwide as Emerson, Lake & Palmer wasn’t the “supergroup” that it was heralded as at the time so much as a collaboration of disgruntled musicians looking for new artistic opportunities.

Commercially, ELP exploded onto the U.S. charts with a 1970 self-titled debut album that cleverly fused classically-oriented art-rock with the growing progressive rock trend to create a genre-smashing set of songs. Displaying a heretofore “Gothic” edge to their music that reminded (some) listeners of Atomic Rooster’s darkest hues, and easily displaying the instrumental virtuosity of rivals like King Crimson, Yes, or the Moody Blues, the album showcased the three members’ talents in the best possible light.

Subsequent albums would tumble quickly from the band’s creative efforts: 1971’s Tarkus, 1972’s live Pictures At An Exhibition and Trilogy, and 1973’s Brain Salad Surgery – considered by many fans to be the band’s best – would propel ELP to worldwide superstar status. The band burned too brightly, perhaps, and by the end of the 1970s, ELP experienced an acrimonious break-up that kept the three musicians from performing together until the early 1990s…and make no mistake, it was the band’s raucous live performances that fueled its record sales.

While Palmer would flail at his drum kit like he was bludgeoning it into submission, Emerson’s impressive array of electronics gear allowed the musician to stab recklessly at piano, keyboards, or synthesizers with the tact and subtlety of a rabid badger. In turn, Lake’s six-string gymnastics were positively sane when compared to the instrumental madness of his band mates. The band released three live albums during its first decade together, but even the several hours of music represented by those multiple-disc sets pales next to the band’s total commitment to live performances. The recently-released four-CD box set A Time And A Place balances out the band’s too-brief catalog, presenting a career-spanning oversight of the best of Emerson, Lake and Palmer live.

A Time And A Place is divided neatly into three distinct eras, the first representing the band’s early 1970s origins. The first CD in the set opens with “The Barbarian,” a lengthy piece adapted by the band from Bela Bartak’s “Allegro Barbaro.” While not quite involved as some of their other performances here, “The Barbarian” manages to cram a lot into its five-plus minutes nonetheless. Recorded at ELP’s first major concert performance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival in the UK, the band rages across the sonic landscape with fierce determination, seemingly wedging classical piano, psychedelic guitar, bombastic drumplay, and proggish keyboard riffs into the mix with a figurative crowbar. It’s a chaotic, powerful performance made all the more impressive by the band’s instrumental virtuosity and total lack of guile.

You’ll find several ELP fan favorites midst the 72-minutes-and-change worth of music on disc one. Emerson’s “High Level Fugue” brings the band indoors to London’s Lyceum Ballroom in late 1970 for a spirited romp. Fueled by the pianist’s manic pounding of the 88s, Emerson solos for approximately 2/3s of the song before Palmer’s jazzy drumbeats come crashing in, and Lake’s serpentine fretwork weaves its way through the maddening syncopation. The band’s re-imagining of composer Aaron Copeland’s “Hoedown,” captured live at the legendary 1972 Mar Y Sol Festival in Puerto Rico, is an energetic, measured performance that strays very little from the recorded version familiar to many in attendance, tho’ Emerson manages to wrangle a little space-noise from his trusty Moog synthesizer.

Performances of two of ELP’s best-known and beloved songs, “Still…You Turn Me On” and “Lucky Man,” are taken from a 1974 show at the Civic Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Both songs were written by Greg Lake, and both are fine examples of the best that progressive rock has to offer. The former is a moody, provocative tone poem with whimsical lyrics and imaginative instrumentation that perfectly melds each of the three musician’s strengths in the creation of a magical moment. The latter features a fine vocal performance by Lake, accompanied by folkish guitar-strum that places an emphasis on the lyrics. Shorn of its studio trappings, offering just Lake and his instrument, the song takes on a different vibe altogether. Disc one finishes up with a bang, a thirty-four minute jam on “Karn Evil 9” from 1974 that features more prog-rock raging at the machine than you may care to swallow in one sitting.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer

The second CD of A Time And A Place documents the band’s late 1970s work, basically 1977 and ‘78, really, before the big break-up that would send the band members in different directions for over a decade. Cranking to a stylish opening with a lively, synth-driven cover of the classic, menacing “Peter Gunn Theme,” the disc jumps immediately into the extended madness that was “Pictures At An Exhibition.” Performed here in a severely-condensed sixteen-minute version taken from a Memphis 1977 show, the song loses none of its power due to brevity, the band’s melding of the work of composer Modest Mussorgsky with mid-70s prog-rock instrumentation audacious even by ELP standards, a breathless roller-coaster ride across an art-rock horizon.

Although featuring few songs that are as well known as those on the first disc, tunes like “Tank” (from the self-titled 1970 debut LP) and “Tarkus” (from the 1971 album of the same name) are important entries in the ELP canon. This 1978 performance of “Tank” is a frenetic, nearly breathtaking tightrope sprint that condenses the original six-minute song into a two-minute race against time that provides urgency to Palmer’s drumbeats and an electrifying shock to Emerson’s stabbing synthesizer riffs, eventually leading into a lengthy and explosive drum solo. On the other hand, “Tarkus” is afforded an only slightly reduced running time, although the pace is no less frantic as the band plays its lines with alarming madness, the listener wondering what sort of hellhounds were on their trail. 

Still, it’s with their more obscure material that ELP often surprises. The band was never afraid to kick up a bit of kitsch now and then, and their breakneck take on Scott Joplin’s 1899 ragtime hit “Maple Leaf Rag” is no exception. A 1978 performance of Prokofiev’s “The Enemy God Dances With The Black Spirits” is exhilarating and illuminating in its fusion of the classical and progressive worlds, while Lake’s beautiful “Watching Over You,” from Works, Vol. 2, is as close as the band ever came to creating a conventional British folk-rock ballad. Emerson’s inspired, jazzy piano play is perfectly married to Lake’s fluid vocals on the 1920s British folk standard “Show Me The Way To Go Home.” Not surprisingly, there’s nothing on the second CD from ELP’s ill-fated “break up” album, 1978’s Love Beach, which is for the better, really.

By 1979, the rigors of the road and the pitfalls of the business had clearly gotten to Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and the trio was at creative odds with each other after cranking out seven studio and two live albums in a mere eight years. More than the result of mere artistic fatigue, hundreds of nights on the road in close proximity to one another had created tensions beyond ego, and the band broke up at the end of the decade with the three members allegedly unable to stand one another.

Lake would forge a moderately successful solo career during the 1980s, and Palmer would fall into the accidental goldmine that was the supergroup Asia, while Emerson wrote film scores. Lake and Emerson would briefly reunite for an album and tour in 1985, recruiting journeyman drummer Cozy Powell (Rainbow, Whitesnake) to replace the hesitant Palmer (who was making bank with Asia). This new “ELP” trio recorded a single unremarkable album that somehow still managed to place in the Top 40 in America, showing that a lot of original ELP nostalgia remained among the band’s fans. Suspecting that he had been chosen for the drum seat because his name began with a ‘P’, the prickly Powell scooted out of the ELP universe before the end of ‘86, leaving his bandmates high and dry. Things would pick up in 1991, however, as Asia met its inevitable end and Palmer rejoined his mates in a properly-reunited Emerson, Lakes and Palmer.     

The third CD in A Time And A Place documents the ‘90s-era Emerson, Lake and Palmer reunion with performances taken from 1993 through 1997. While not quite as bombastic as their 1970s-era shows could become, the 1990s version of ELP shows a talented, mature band that hasn’t lost a step, merely learned that you don’t have to end every musical sentence with exclamation marks. The band’s 1992 Black Moon album, its first collection of new material in over a decade, is represented here by three inspired performances.

While Greg Lake’s voice shows a distinct lessening of it warmth and richness a couple of decades on, his vocals on this 1993 performance of “Paper Blood” take on a timbre closer to Dave Cousins’ of Strawbs than his old ELP work. Backed by harmony vocals, the song is a stampeding rocker that benefits from Emerson’s heavy hand on the keyboards and Palmer’s heavier sticks on the drums. “Black Moon” sounds like vintage King Crimson, but with nastier six-string work, a heavier-than-lead bass line, imploding drumbeats, and lightning-bolts of synthesizer. The third song here from Black Moon, the album’s first single “Affairs Of The Heart,” is an engaging ballad with a warm vocal track and intricate fretwork by Lake and some nice keyboard flourishes by Emerson.

Sadly, disc three includes nothing from the band’s ill-fated and final (so far) studio album, 1994’s In The Hot Seat, an under-recorded and unsympathetic recording whose songs may have fared better in the live setting. Instead, we get a smattering of old-school ELP (an acoustic guitar-oriented reading of “From The Beginning” from Trilogy with some fine, nuanced Palmer drumwork; a full-bore prog assault on “A Time And A Place,” from Tarkus) mixed with rare odds ‘n’ sods like the surprising ragtime-styled piano instrumental “Honky Tonk Train Blues,” or the edgy art-rock instrumental “Creole Dance.” A 1993 performance of the dark-hued “Knife Edge,” from ELP’s long-ago debut, stands out for its malevolent voodoo vibe, Emerson’s restrained keyboard-bashing, and some great drumming by Palmer alongside Lake’s mesmerizing vocals.

The fourth and final disc of A Time And A Place takes a surprising and welcome tack, providing listeners with a collection of a dozen tracks culled from various fan-recorded bootlegs that span the entire 20-year career of the band. Admittedly, the sound quality lessens considerably on these covertly-recorded performances, but they stand out in contrast mostly because the rest of the live material in the box set sounds so damn good. Still, designed with the fan in mind, what true ELP follower is going to quibble with a 1972 performance of the art-rock/space-rock epic “The Endless Enigma” or a romp through “Abaddon’s Bolero” from the same year? ELP fanatics can sink their teeth into a haunting version of “Jerusalem” from 1974, or an enchanting reading of the hit “I Believe In Father Christmas” from 1993.               

If it seems like A Time And A Place is geared towards the ELP fanatic, well, yeah it is. While much of the material here was previously released on various collections, many long out-of-print, this four-disc set is a cost-effective way for the collector to gather up a 43 fine and entertaining performances by one of prog-rock’s most exciting and dynamic live bands. While the commercial success of Emerson, Lake and Palmer never matched that of contemporaries Yes or Genesis, and they seldom received the critical acclaim afforded King Crimson, their place in the prog-rock galaxy is safe and secure, ELP one of the most influential and ground-breaking bands in the genre. (Shout! Factory Records, 2010)

Review reprinted courtesy of Blurt magazine...

Buy the box set from ELP's A Time and A Place

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Live 1985 Joe Lynn Turner Album Released

Joe Lynn Turner's Street of Dreams
Rock ‘n’ roll singer Joe Lynn Turner has a larger-than-life voice that is equaled, perhaps, in power and glory only by his friend Glenn Hughes. Over a storied career that now spans some five decades, Turner’s has fronted legendary outfits like Rainbow, Deep Purple, and Yngwie Malmsteen’s band as well as recorded with artists as diverse as Leslie West, Billy Joel, Lita Ford, and Cher. Turner has also forged an acclaimed solo career of better than 30 years, and his voice has appeared on over 60 recordings, including better than a dozen solo studio and live albums.

On March 4th, 2016 Cleopatra Records released Street of Dreams – Boston 1985, a long-lost live Turner solo album. A year after the break-up of Rainbow, with whom Turner recorded three classic, acclaimed, and successful albums, the singer was touring in support of his solo debut album, Rescue Me. The live set includes several songs from Turner’s solo effort, as well as raucous performances of Rainbow’s “Stone Cold” and “Street of Dreams.” 

In a press release for Street of Dreams, Turner recalls, “that night at the Boston Paradise, it was outstanding. I can remember seeing the audience and I remember there was an awkward pillar – I guess it was a support column in front – not directly in front, but enough to block some of the view. But the stage was an actual concert stage. Aerosmith and all those guys used to always play there, the Paradise. So I can remember actually going on and playing the set, how it felt because it was absolutely exhilarating, and the audience was just crazy.”

Turner’s solo band at the time featured guitarist Bobby Messano, bassist Barry Dunaway, keyboardist Alan Greenwood, and drummer Chuck Burgi. Turner recalls, “this was our first tour out, and I’m not sure if we were opening for someone at the Paradise, but if we were, then they had a pretty difficult time because the crowd was absolutely bananas for us, and we were hot. We were really on top of our game, the whole band and it sounds it, you can hear it, everyone is playing with incredible energy and enthusiasm and very precise.”

Street of Dreams track list:
1. I Found Love
2. Losing You
3. Soul Searcher
4. Young Hearts
5. Endlessly
6. Rescue You
7. Stone Cold
8. Street Of Dreams
9. Feel The Fire
10. Guitar Solo/Good Girls Gone Bad
11. Get Tough
12. On The Run
13. Them Changes

Buy the CD from Joe Lynn Turner's Street of Dreams - Boston 1985

Blurt magazine reviews Rollin' 'n' Tumblin'!

Rev. Gordon's Rollin' 'n' Tumblin'
The Reverend's friend and former editor Fred Mills has delivered a lengthy review of Rollin' 'n' Tumblin', my latest book, for Blurt magazine online, Fred's insightful comments are accompanied by an email interview between the two of us. Here's but a taste of Fred's book review:

"Rev. Gordon’s just-published Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin’, a compendium of over 100 long-form (e.g., 400+ words, with many clocking in at over 1,000) blues reviews that he wrote from 2008 to 2014 for such venues as Blues Music here in the States and The Blues in the U.K., plus All Music Guide, BLURT, and where Gordon authored that site’s “Blues Guide” section, doing reviews, interviews and features. These are actual, genuine, honest-to-Wolf, get-your-mojo-workin’ blues reviews, the kind that display an abiding passion for the artform, an appreciation for and deep knowledge of its history, and most important, the kind of descriptive, illuminating and no holds barred style of writing that serves to make its subject come alive."

Check out Fred's full review of Rollin' 'n' Tumblin' and our lengthy interview exclusively at Blurt online!

Fat Possum Records celebrates 25th Anniversary

Launched in 1991 by blues fan Matthew Johnson, the Oxford, Mississippi-based Fat Possum Records quickly earned a name for itself by recording artists that had largely been overlooked by established blues imprints like Alligator and Blind Pig Records. Specializing in artists well-versed in the (then) obscure branch of the genre known as Mississippi Hill Country blues, Fat Possum gained respect and recognition with releases like Junior Kimbrough’s All Night Long and R.L. Burnside’s Bad Luck City, which were produced by respected musician and former New York Times music critic Robert Palmer.

It’s been a quarter-century since Johnson formed his ground-breaking label, and throughout the ensuing years Fat Possum has branched out, releasing acclaimed albums by bluesmen like Robert Belfour and T-Model Ford as well as rockers like the Black Keys and the Stooges. The underdog Southern label whose motto is “we’re trying our best” celebrates its Silver Anniversary in 2016 with an ambitious, year-long program that will feature the first-time-on-vinyl release of thirty phenomenal, ground-breaking blues recordings from the Fat Possum archives. Many of the titles will also be made available as digital downloads.

Junior Kimbrough's Meet Me In The City
Among the fresh-to-vinyl reissues to be released by Fat Possum as part of its 25th anniversary celebration are Junior Kimbrough’s Meet Me In The City, which was originally released on CD a year after the bluesman’s death in 1998, and T-Model Ford’s outrageous LPs Pee Wee Get My Gun (1997) and Bad Man (2002), the latter produced by Memphis music legend Jim Dickinson. Other classic titles receiving the deluxe ‘hot wax’ treatment include Asie Payton’s Just Do Me Right (2002), Robert Belfour’s What’s Wrong With You (2000), and R.L. Burnside’s Unplugged, an anticipated collection of performances recorded in Europe in 1982, years before Fat Possum’s most beloved bluesman signed with the label.

Additionally, the Fat Possum-affiliated Big Legal Mess Records will be releasing ten album reissues on its own on vinyl and digitally, vintage bluesmen recorded by producer and music historian George Mitchell in the field between 1963 and 1982. Many of these albums have been unavailable since their original release, and among the titles are great records like R.L. Burnside’s Mississippi Hill Country Blues (1981) and Furry Lewis’s Good Morning Judge (1960s-era recordings from the Memphis bluesman). John Lee Hooker’s Alone, a solo live set recorded at Hunter College in New York in 1976 will be released as two single vinyl albums.

R.L. Burnside’s Mississippi Hill Country Blues
Fat Possum has long been known for the label’s inspired compilation discs, and collections like the label’s three volumes of Not The Same Old Blues Crap (from 1997, 2001, and 2004 and featuring Fat Possum artists and rockers like Hasil Adkins and Paul Westerberg’s Grandpaboy); 1998’s All Men Are Liars (with Bob Log III and the Neckbones); and its 2005 Junior Kimbrough tribute Sunday Nights (featuring the Black Keys, Iggy & the Stooges, and Mark Lanegan) will also be released on vinyl and digitally. We have the label’s release schedule for the rest of the year listed below, and you can join in the anniversary celebration at Fat Possum’s website.

Fat Possum Records 25th Anniversary Vinyl Releases:

April 8th: Furry Lewis - Good Morning Judge [LP/digital]
April 8th: Houston Stackhouse & Friends [LP/digital]
April 16th: Sunday Nights: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough [Record Store Day LP]
April 16th: Junior Kimbrough - I Gotta Try You Girl (Daft Punk edit) [Record Store Day LP]
May 6th: R.L. Burnside - Mississippi Hill Country Blues [LP]
May 20th: John Lee Hooker - Alone, Volume 1 [LP]
May 20th: John Lee Hooker - Alone, Volume 2 [LP]
May 27th: T-Model Ford - Pee Wee Get My Gun [LP]
May 27th: T-Model Ford - Bad Man [LP]
June 10th: Jim Bunkley & George Henry Bussey [LP/digital]
June 10th: Junior Kimbrough - Meet Me in the City [LP]
June 24th: R.L. Burnside - Unplugged [LP]
July 15th: Asie Payton - Just Do Me Right [LP]
July 15th: Robert Belfour - What's Wrong With You [LP]
July 22nd: All Men Are Liars compilation [LP/digital]
August 17th: Jimmy Lee Harris - I Wanna Ramble [LP/digital]
August 17th: Robert Cage - Can See What You're Doing [LP]
September 9th: Johnny Farmer - Wrong Doers Respect Me [LP]
October 7th: Dewey Corley & Walter Miller [LP/digital]
October 7th: Paul “Wine” Jones - Mule [LP]

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

CD Preview: Jimbo Mathus’ Band of Storms

Jimbo Mathus' Band of Storms
You just never know where Jimbo Mathus’ restless muse is going to take him, so every new recording from the talented Mississippi native is an adventure. On May 6th, 2016, Mathus fans can ride the roller-coaster when Big Legal Mess, via Fat Possum Records, releases the nine-song EP Band of Storms.

Characterized by Mathus in a press release for the new record as “just some offs and ends…you know, folk music,” Band of Storms is said to feature an inspired mix of garage-rock, blues, honky-tonk, R&B, and other American music forms. “It’s just a continuation of the work I’ve been doing for, shoot, the past 20 years,” Mathus says. “There’s no big overall, arching thing. It’s just random notes out of my brain.”

The EP’s cover art is by Erika Jane Amerika, the artist capturing the vibe of the songs with her portrait of Mathus standing in a cypress swamp with a guitar in one hand and a fiery bible in the other, with an alligator at his feet alongside his Catahoula dog and a snake-handling Yemayá (the “great mother” of Santeria religion). The folksy cover art of Band of Storms accurately portrays the theme of Mathus’ songs, of which he says “it’s dealing with nature – forces beyond us – and trying to sum it up in my little cave paintings that we call recorded songs.”
Band of Storms was recorded at Dial Back Sound, the Water Valley, Mississippi studio owned by Fat Possum Records partner Bruce Watson. Mathus records at the studio frequently, and he’s joined on the EP by a talented group of multi-instrumentalist musicians like Ryan Rogers, Eric Carlton, Will McCarley, Jim Spake, and Stu Cole, among others, who helped create what Mathus calls a “primal Southern groove.” Eight of the nine songs were written by Mathus, with “Play With Fire” co-written with Mathus’ late friend Robert Earl Reed.

The songs on Band of Storms range from the garage-rockin’ “Massive Confusion,” an homage to bands like the Ramones and the Replacements, where Mathus notes the unlikely rhyming of “Yemayá” with “FBI,” and odd pairing to be sure. “I wrote it when I was getting audited by the IRS and I was trying to save my fuckin’ ass,” says Mathus. “It’s just super-punk rock. I came up in the ’80s and the Replacements turned me on to songwriting. They showed me that I could actually write songs. I’m 48, but I’m still a punk rocker.” Other songs on the EP include the bluesy “Can’t Get Much Higher,” the twangy Southern Gothic “Stop Your Crying,” and the Celtic-inspired “Wayward Wind.”

Jimbo Mathus never disappoints, so circle May 6th on your calendar and get ready to part with some coin for a copy of Band of Storms, nine brand new songs by one of Americana’s most imaginative and exciting artists.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

CD Preview: Hard Working Americans’ Rest In Chaos

Hard Working Americans' Rest In Chaos
Everybody’s favorite Americana supergroup – Hard Working Americans – has announced the band’s upcoming second studio effort. Titled Rest In Chaos, the album will be released on May 13th, 2016 by Melvin Records and Thirty Tigers. The thirteen-track album offers a cover of Guy Clark’s “The High Price of Inspiration,” with Clark himself sitting in on guitar, along with a dozen original songs written by the band while touring, the material recorded live in six different studios.

Fronted by singer/songwriter Todd Snider, the Hard Working Americans includes guitarists Neal Casal (solo artist, Ryan Adams’ Cardinals) and Jesse Aycock, bassist Dave Schools (Widespread Panic), keyboardist Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi), and drummer Duane Trucks (Widespread Panic). This diverse group of musicians has managed to create an inspired mix of American roots music – rock, blues, country – that is delivered with energy, intelligence, and humor. Produced by Schools, Rest In Chaos is said to take the band’s sound into new and exciting new sonic directions.

The Hard Working Americans’ self-titled debut album was released in early 2014; a covers collection of blue collar blues, the album included songs by such talented scribes as Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack, Kevin Gordon, Hayes Carll, and Kevn Kinney (Drivin’ ‘n’ Cryin’), among others. The band followed up that initial release later that year with The First Waltz, a two-disc CD/DVD live set that included a new studio track recorded with Roseanne Cash. Rest In Chaos is the band’s first album to take full advantage of Snider’s immense songwriting skills. Living up to their name, the band will hit the road after the album’s release and although they haven’t released tour dates yet, we do have a track list for Rest In Chaos, provided below. 
Hard Working Americans’ Rest In Chaos track list:
1. Opening Statement
2. It Runs Together
3. Half Ass Moses
4. Dope Is Dope
5. Burn Out Shoes
6. Roman Candles
7. Ascending Into Madness
8. Throwing The Goats
9. Something Else
10. Massacre
11. The High Price of Inspiration [w/Guy Clark]
12. Acid
13. Purple Mountain Jamboree