Friday, April 29, 2016

CD Review: Johnny Winter & Dr. John's Live In Sweden 1987 (2016)

Johnny Winter & Dr. John's Live In Sweden 1987
The reputation of beloved blues-rock guitarist Johnny Winter has only grown since his death in July 2014. Perhaps the most-bootlegged of blues artists (the classic bluesmen enjoyed the prime of their careers years before taping became prevalent), everything from Winter’s earliest demo recordings to an abundance of live performances has found its way to fans, traders, and collectors, authorized or no.

Winter’s legit back catalog is nothing to sneeze at – a dozen and a half studio LPs, another ten or so live discs, and then there’s the dozen Live Bootleg Series albums the guitarist compiled for Friday Music – over 40 albums featuring the legendary bluesman. Include an equal number of obscure releases of ill repute, and there’s certainly a wealth of Winter available for young blues fans to discover.

Johnny Winter & Dr. John’s Live In Sweden 1987

Toss Live In Sweden 1987 on top of the teetering stack o’ Winter wax, not only because it’s historically important, but because it’s just a hell of a lot of fun! Documenting a performance on Swedish television with his ol’ buddy Dr. John (a/k/a Mac Rebennack), Live In Sweden 1987 features Winter fronting a classic power trio comprised of bassist Jon Paris and drummer Tom Compton, the line-up that would subsequently record The Winter of ’88 for MCA Records. The performance is relevant as it showcases Winter in-between contracts, having just left Alligator Records, for whom he recorded a trio of acclaimed and dynamic albums, and before he returned to the majors (albeit briefly...).

Winter comes roaring out of the gate like a prize thoroughbred with “Sound The Bell,” from his middle Alligator release, 1985’s Serious Business. Mangling his fretboard like nobody’s business, Winter chomps up the track at a fast pace as his rhythm section tries to keep up, his wiry solos coiled like concertina wire as he turns a three-minute romp into a seven-plus minute manic jam. Things cool off a bit for “Don’t Take Advantage Of Me,” a funky rocker taken from 1984’s Guitar Slinger album. Atop a heavy fatback groove, Winter lays down some wicked licks while Paris nicks a classic bass riff from Cream’s Jack Bruce to play with, and Compton just beats the tar out of his kit, crashing and banging through the performance.

Love Life & Money

Winter digs into his blues songbook for a raucous cover of the legendary J.B. Lenoir’s “Mojo Boogie,” from 1986’s Third Degree. Winter’s fiery playing cleverly mixes Lenoir’s Chicago-style boogie-woogie groove with a little Texas roadhouse flavor while Paris hits a high note with his Little Walter-inspired harpwork. Dr. John jumps into the fray with his classic “You Lie To Much,” a slice of New Orleans blues with Rebennack’s rollicking pianoplay contrasting with Winter’s scorching guitar licks as the rhythm section establishes a boogie-flavored, Professor Longhair-approved swinging groove. Dr. John’s take on Muddy Water’s “Sugar Sweet” is a rolling, rocking tune with plenty o’ Winter’s greasy slide guitar, Rebennack’s jaunty piano-pounding, raging harpwork by Paris, and a steady, stomping beat from Compton.

The Willie Dixon-penned gem “Love Life & Money,” from Third Degree, is a bluesy duet between Winter and Dr. John, the two swapping off gruff, groaning vocals on a lyrical tale of woe, the song’s noisy instrumentation punctuated by Winter’s mourning guitar playing and Rebennack’s tearful, honky-tonk keys. Winter closes out the show with his traditional performance of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” a song tailor-made for Winter’s trademark style of guitar raunch. Winter and the gang don’t disappoint, ripping through the riff-heavy tune like a pride of hungry lions, with cascading rhythms, screaming guitar, and tidal waves of piano accompanying Winter’s best growling, Howlin’ Wolf vocals.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Running a mere seven songs and around an hour in length, Live In Sweden 1987 will leave the listener satisfied, but wanting much more. Winter’s performance throughout the album is stunning, his guitar solos sharp and joyful – his high-flying romp during “Love Life & Money” is particularly moving, full of emotion and imagination. Dr. John’s contributions to the show can’t be understated, his immense talents and particular style of jazz-flecked Cajun blues offering a fine counterpoint to Winter’s soulful, Texas-bred strain of the music.

Performance aside, Live In Sweden 1987 is important for Johnny Winter fans because there’s just not a lot of late ‘80s era live Winter recordings available. Aside from an antique VHS videotape, I couldn’t find any previous release of this material, either semi-legit or bootleg, which means that the good folks at MVD Audio have rescued a true JW treasure from obscurity. Better yet, the performance has been released on CD, DVD, and vinyl, covering all the bases for the rapid faithful. On any given night, Winter could be the best bluesman on the planet, and Live In Sweden 1987 captures an electrifying night that explains what all the hype surrounding Winter was about to begin with. Grade: A- (MVD Audio, released April 22, 2016)

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

CD Preview: Tinsley Ellis’ Red Clay Soul

Tinsley Ellis' Red Clay Soul
Over the past four decades, bluesman Tinsley Ellis has performed in every state, as well as Canada, Europe, Russia, Australia, and South America, travelling over a million miles and acting as a true ambassador of the blues. For the Georgia-born guitarist, there’s no place like home, though, and with his new album, Red Clay Soul, Ellis will pay tribute to the musical tradition of the Peach State. “Georgia is where the blues has got soul,” Ellis says in a press release for the new album. “From the gospel inspired Ray Charles, to the R&B of James Brown and Otis Redding, to the rock and roll of Little Richard, to the blues rock of the Allman Brothers Band, all these acts have one thing in common. They all have the sound of Georgia and down here we call that sound red clay soul.”

Ellis will release Red Clay Soul on his own independent Heartfixer Music label on June 3rd, 2016. Says the guitarist about his homegrown label, “I’ve been in the business of music for over 40 years now; I’ve been passed around like a joint from label to label, from booking agency to booking agency, from manager to manager, and from producer to producer, so I’ve learned a lot. Knowing what works in the music business can be very valuable, but knowing what doesn’t work in the music business is priceless. Things are changing fast in the music business, and it’s adapt or die.”

Ellis welcomed a number of guests into the studio for the making of Red Clay Soul, including Oliver Wood from the Wood Brothers, and keyboardist/producer Kevin McKendree. Says Ellis, “Kevin is someone I have recorded with on every studio album I’ve done since Fire It Up, which was produced by Tom Dowd. On this one, he co-produced with me for the first time, and it was his idea to record live in the studio. That insight and vision yielded an album that is different and more exciting than the others we've done in his Nashville-based studio.”

Oliver Wood was a member of Ellis’ band in the early 1980s, and the two artists wrote “Givin’ You Up” a decade ago, the song finally seeing the light of day on Red Clay Soul with Wood providing guitar and vocals. Among the other nine tracks on the album are the bluesy, raucous “All I Think About,” which offers up plenty of Ellis’ stinging guitar and some tasty piano and keyboards riding low in the mix; a wonderful slab o’ Southern soul called “Anything But Go” which showcases Ellis’ often-overlooked vocal chops; and “Circuit Rider,” a roadhouse rocker with a greasy, low-slung groove and a hypnotic riff, with plenty of Ellis’ underrated fretwork woven throughout an enchanting blues performance.

Ellis will be touring in support of Red Clay Soul, bringing his dynamic, electrifying performances to new audiences as he attempts to expand the vocabulary of the blues while expanding the variety of venues in which he appears. “From the time I was a young teenager watching B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, and Billy Preston, to the great new music of today, I've taken what I've learned from these masters and incorporated it into my concerts,” he says. “From BB King, I learned about performing with dynamics. From James Brown, I've learned about putting on a seamless, exciting concert. From the Allmans, I've learned about how to excite fans with extended instrumental jamming. I try to learn something new about putting on shows at every concert I attend.”

We’ve listed Ellis’ confirmed 2016 tour dates below so that you can make plans to attend one of these entertaining, electrifying shows…and don’t forget to pick up a copy of Red Clay Soul!

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Tinsley Ellis 2016 Tour Dates
05/12/16 @ Key West Theater, Key West FL
05/13/16 @ The Funky Biscuit, Boca Raton FL
05/14/16 @ The Moon, Tallahassee FL
06/08/16 @ Knuckleheads Saloon, Kansas City MO
06/09/16 @ Dakota Jazz Club, Minneapolis MN
06/10/16 @ Navy Pier, Chicago IL
06/11/16 @ Callahans Music Hall, Auburn Hills MI
06/12/16 @ Jazz Kitchen, Indianapolis IN
06/17/16 @ Cox Capital Theater, Macon GA    
06/19/16 @ Workplay Theatre, Birmingham AL
06/23/16 @ Isis Theatre, Asheville NC  
06/24/16 @ The Double Door Inn, Charlotte NC
06/25/16 @ City Winery, Atlanta GA
06/30/16 @ The Castle Theatre, Bloomington IL
07/02/16 @ Centennial Park, Grafton WI
07/12/16 @ Ram's Head, Annapolis MD
07/14/16 @ Iridium Jazz Club, New York NY
07/15/16 @ Thunder Road, Somerville MA
07/16/16 @ Sellersville Theater, Sellersville PA   
07/17/16 @ Daryl's House, Pawling NY
07/21/16 @ Narrows Center For The Arts, Fall River MA        
07/22/16 @ Summer Concert Series, Wilmington DE
07/23/16 @ Hampton Block Party, Hampton VA
07/30/16 @ Calgary International Blues Festival, Calgary Alberta, CANADA
08/11/16 @ Music Box Supper Club, Cleveland OH
08/12/16 @ Woodlands Tavern, Columbus OH
08/13/16 @ Cincy Blues Fest, Cincinnati OH
09/10/16 @ Music In The Park Concert Series, Travelers Rest SC
10/09/16 @ Daytona Blues Festival, Daytona Beach FL
10/21/16 @ Newburry Opera House, Newburry SC
10/29-11/05/16 @ Legendary R&B Cruise, San Juan PR
12/02 & 12/03/16 @ Egyptian Theatre, Park City, UT

Monday, April 25, 2016

Real Gone releases Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Fairport Convention live albums

Paul Butterfield Blues Band's Got A Mind To Give Up Living – Live 1966
Due to a quirk in European copyright laws, there’s a steady stream these days of semi-legit CD releases featuring rare, live performances by legendary artists like Steve Miller, Warren Zevon, Randy California, and Country Joe & the Fish (and those are only those that I’ve recently acquired). Caught in some gray area between authorized releases and underground bootlegs, these loophole CDs typically use FM radio broadcasts and/or live-in-the-studio performances as their source, so the sound quality of these dodgy discs is frequently lo-fi, and there’s typically little in the way of liner notes, photos, or other perks expected by those fans who still buy compact discs.

As much as we hardcore collectors may appreciate these releases, you can’t really beat the quality of the albums you get from a dedicated archive label like Real Gone Music. On June 3rd, 2016 the label will release the often-bootlegged but never surpassed Got A Mind To Give Up Living – Live 1966 by the legendary Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The first legitimate release of this classic performance, Real Gone has done Got A Mind To Give Up Living – Live 1966 up right, including rare photos and band memorabilia as well as liner notes by Chris Morris including new quotes from band members Elvin Bishop and Mark Naftalin.

Got A Mind To Give Up Living – Live 1966 presents the earliest incarnation of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, featuring the band’s namesake on vocals and harmonica, and the incredible fretwork of guitarists Bishop and Michael Bloomfield. Recorded live in May 1966 at Boston’s Unicorn Coffee House, the band’s performance was two months before the release of their classic East-West album and features songs from that album, as well as tunes that would be recorded for subsequent albums, and a pair of previously-unreleased songs that were never recorded by the band. A significant historical find, Got A Mind To Give Up Living – Live 1966 is one that every blues fan is going to want to check out.

Fairport Convention's Live In Finland 1971
But Real Gone isn’t just rolling the Butterfield CD down the distribution highway and taking the rest of the month off, nosirree! Also on June 3rd, the label will be rescuing another gem from obscurity when they release Fairport Convention’s Live In Finland 1971on CD. Legitimizing another fan-fave bootleg, Live In Finland 1971 features the lesser-known – but no less talented – Fairport Convention line-up of guitarist Simon Nicol, bassist Dave Pegg, fiddler Dave Swarbrick, and drummer Dave Mattacks. This is the roster that recorded a pair of acclaimed but underrated studio albums in 1971’s Angel Delight and the conceptual “Babbacombe” Lee.

This post-Richard Thompson incarnation of the band shared vocals and, as displayed by Live In Finland 1971, they leaned harder toward the rock side of their trademark British folk-rock sound. Capturing the band performing in support of the U.K. Top 10 charting Angel Delight, Live In Finland 1971 features a set that includes fan favorites like “Sir Patrick Spens” and “Matty Groves” as well as rare tracks like “Mason’s Apron” and “Sir B. McKenzie’s Daughters Lament.” The Real Gone Music release of Live In Finland 1971 includes liner notes by noted rock historian Richie Unterberger that feature quotes from band members Simon Nicol and Dave Pegg as well as rare photos and memorabilia from the band’s archive. Both the Butterfield and Fairport sets feature re-mastered sound courtesy of Mike Milchner at SonicVision…so you really can’t go wrong with Real Gone!  

Paul Butterfield Blues Band - Got A Mind To Give Up Living – Live 1966 setlist:

1. Instrumental Intro
2. Look Over Yonders Wall
3. Born in Chicago
4. Love Her with a Feeling
5. Get Out of My Life, Woman
6. Never Say No
7. One More Heartache
8. Work Song
9. Coming Home Baby
10. Memory Pain
11. I Got a Mind to Give Up Living
12. Walking by Myself
13. Got My Mojo Working

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Fairport Convention - Live In Finland 1971 setlist:

1. Bridge Over the River Ash
2. The Journeyman's Grace
3. Mason's Apron
4. Sir Patrick Spens
5. Matty Groves
6. Sir B. McKenzie's Daughter's Lament
7. Sir William Gower

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Thor’s underground metal classic Keep The Dogs Away LP reissued!

Thor's Keep The Dogs Away
In the annals of heavy metal, which counts among its ranks such notorious figures as Burzum and King Diamond, none are more infamous than the almighty Thor! Born Jon Mikl Thor in Vancouver, Canada in 1953, Thor is a professional bodybuilder, part-time actor and screenwriter, and rock ‘n’ roll legend. After winning the bodybuilding title of Mr. Junior Canada (one of many such honors he’s received in the U.S. and Canada), Thor decided to become a rock ‘n’ roll star. Proclaiming himself “The Legendary Rock Warrior” – basing his entire image on the Norse God of Thunder whose name he shares – Thor formed his first band in 1973.

His performances during the ‘70s were part hard rock/heavy metal and part performance art (he’d often perform acts of strength on stage as the band bashed away); Thor took Alice Cooper-inspired theatrics to a whole other level. Recording his debut LP in 1976-77, Thor subsequently licensed the album to RCA Records, which released Keep The Dogs Away in 1977. The album went Gold™ in Canada but failed to chart in the states, but Thor kept banging away at the gong, releasing albums and EPs throughout the 1980s, finding a new audience as heavy metal fandom blossomed during the decade. Thor temporarily retired from music in the late ‘80s to concentrate on film, but came roaring back in the late ‘90s and continues to record and perform sporadically until this day.

On May 13th, 2016 the good folks at Cleopatra Records will reissue Thor’s underground metal classic Keep The Dogs Away as both a three-disc deluxe edition and a triumphant vinyl version. Long out of print, Thor’s Keep The Dogs Away comes as a triple-disc CD set packaged in a six-panel digipak with alternative cover art and liner notes by longtime fan Brian Kehew (co-author of Recording The Beatles). The first disc reprises the original album, disc two features 22 rare and unreleased songs, while disc three is a bonus concert DVD offering a vintage 1980 performance by the metal legend. The black wax version of Keep The Dogs Away is a faithful recreation of the original vinyl album with a foldout poster and printed inner sleeve.

The day after, on May 14th, there will be a four-hour multi-media event held at the Highline Ballroom in New York City in celebration of the album’s release. Sponsored by Thor, radio and TV personality Eddie Trunk, and Fabio Productions the event will include a first time ever full concert performance of Keep The Dogs Away as well as a theatrical screening of the I Am Thor documentary film, a special Thor museum display, and a second concert performance of Thor’s most popular songs with special guest performers.

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Sunday, April 17, 2016

CD Review: The dB's Like This (1984/2006)

Formed in 1978 in North Carolina by guitarist/songwriter Chris Stamey, bassist Gene Holder, and drummer Will Rigby, the dB’s stood at the forefront of the late 1970s/early ‘80s Piedmont “jangle-pop” movement that included Mitch Easter’s fondly-remembered band Let’s Active and producer and musician Don Dixon’s various projects. Peter Holsapple, a former bandmate of Stamey’s, hooked up with the trio later the same year and the band moved to NYC in search of fame and fortune.

Sadly, they couldn’t get a stateside record deal, instead signing with British imprint Albion for the release of two excellent pop/rock efforts: 1981’s Stands For Decibels and 1982’s Repercussion. Although both albums were critically acclaimed, they were ignored by the masses – much like Big Star’s first two albums, an obvious touchstone for the dB’s sound – and Stamey left the dB’s in ’83 to pursue a solo career.

With Holsapple fronting the band, the three remaining members recorded Like This in 1984. Influenced, perhaps, as much by the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield as by the British Invasion, the album added more of Holsapple and Rigby’s roots-rock sound to the pop formula, moving beyond Stamey’s art-rock maneuvers to deliver an ingratiating collection of songs. It’s no stretch of the imagination to say that Like This paved the way for folks like Matthew Sweet and Velvet Crush to follow, influencing contemporaries like R.E.M. and the Fleshtones as well.

Like This opens with the charming “Love Is For Lovers,” a spry song with great vocal harmonies and hook large enough to reel in any listener, a song prime for covering by the right artist. “Love Is For Lovers” sets the table for the feast to follow, songs like the beautifully bittersweet “Lonely Is (As Lonely Does),” which matches lofty vocals with lush, intricate instrumentation and mournful lyrics.

“Amplifier,” a tragic, dark-hued tale of love, loss and suicide sports clever lyrical gymnastics supported by a solid rhythm and snakelike guitar licks to pierce the wall of sound. “A Spy In The House Of Love” displays the boy’s Southern funk side, with a loping rhythm and Holsapple’s soulful vocals while the fierce, rocking “Rendezvous” features Holsapple’s nifty fretwork and some of Rigby’s best drumming, the rhythms hitting your ears like a tidal wave.

“White Train” documents a meeting with the devil, a story of sin and salvation and a heaven-bound soul with a twangy rockabilly soundtrack and fine harmonies from the trio. The Collectors’ Choice Music CD reissue of Like This offers bonus tracks in the form of “Darby Hall,” a Gothic tale with ethereal vocals and delicate instrumentation, and a largely disposable and unnecessary remix of “A Spy In The House Of Love” that robs the song of its original energy.

As written by history, the dB’s chose to release Like This and jump into a tour opening for R.E.M. rather than wait for their label, Bearsville, to sign a distribution deal with Warner Music. The label folded shortly after the album’s release, leaving the band high and dry and dooming the album to commercial obscurity.

Although they would later sign a deal with R.E.M.’s label, IRS Records, for their 1987 release The Sound Of Music, the dB’s would never get over their “cult band” status and broke up after their fourth album. With Like This finally restored on compact disc, pop/rock fans can rediscover this long-lost musical bridge between Big Star’s groundbreaking early 1970s albums and ‘90s-era popsters like Matthew Sweet, Jellyfish and the Posies. Enjoy! (Alt.Culture.Guide, 2006)

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

DVD Preview: Louder Than Love - The Grande Ballroom Story

Louder Than Love - The Grande Ballroom Story
It was one of a handful of legendary American music venues, and the epicenter of the high-octane Detroit rock ‘n’ roll scene. Originally opened in 1928 as a popular dance hall, the historic Grande Ballroom was bought in 1966 by local high school teacher and radio DJ Russ Gibbs, who envisioned a venue similar to the Fillmore in San Francisco. Working with like-minded local counterculture figures John Sinclair (poet, musician, and MC5 manager) and High “Jeep” Holland (producer and manager of local bands), they booked a veritable “who’s who” of classic rock and blues artists to perform at the venue between 1966 and 1972, including Eric Clapton and Cream, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Howlin’ Wolf, the Who, and the Grateful Dead. Motor City rock legends the MC5 were frequent performers at the Grande, as were local rockers like Iggy & the Stooges, SRC, Catfish, Frost, Ted Nugent, and Savage Grace, among others.

On June 10th, 2016 our friends at Music Video Distributors will release Louder Than Love - The Grande Ballroom Story on DVD. Produced and directed by Tony D’Annunzio, the award-winning documentary film has enjoyed boffo screenings at nearly three dozen different film festivals around the world since its April 2012 debut to sold-out audiences in Detroit, including the Nashville Film Festival, Australia DocWeek, and the CBGB/NYC Music & Film festival. Filmmaker Michael Moore – a Flint, Michigan native – personally chose Louder Than Love for his Traverse City Film Festival, describing the movie as “an amazing look back at the talent and creative culture produced in this state.”  

“The Grande Ballroom era is potentially the greatest untold story in rock and roll history,’ says director D’Annunzio, a Detroit native, in a press release for the DVD. “With everything Detroit has been through in the last several decades, I wanted to let folks know that aside from the automobile industry, the city has some amazing musical history which helped shape American pop culture.” The filmmaker collected more than 75 hours of interviews with both local and international musicians who performed at the Grande Ballroom, including B.B. King, Alice Cooper, Scott Morgan (The Rationals), Wayne Kramer (The MC5), Dick Wagner (Frost), Ted Nugent, and James Williamson (The Stooges), among others.

D’Annunzio also gathered over 500 never-before-seen archival photos taken by professional photographers and fans of Grande Ballroom performers like the Who, Albert King, Jeff Beck Group, Iron Butterfly, the MC5, Traffic, and others. “We have incredible 8mm film of The Who performing ‘Tommy’ for the first time, including an audio recording by Pete Townsend explaining ‘Tommy’ to The Grande audience. Both have never been seen or heard in any documentary,” D’Annunzio notes. Showcasing the legacy of of one of the most influential music venues in rock ‘n’ roll history, you’re going to want to check out Louder Than Love - The Grande Ballroom Story!

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Friday, April 15, 2016

CD Preview: Walter Trout's ALIVE In Amsterdam

Walter Trout's ALIVE In Amsterdam
Blues-rock guitarist Walter Trout is back and better than ever, touring the globe on the back of his acclaimed Battle Scars album. Never one to let any moss grow beneath his feet, on June 17th, 2016 Provogue Records will release Trout’s ALIVE In Amsterdam, a red-hot collection of performances recorded in November 2015 in Amsterdam’s Royal Theatre CarrĂ©. ALIVE In Amsterdam will be released as both a two-CD set and a three-album set pressed in glorious 180gr black vinyl.

ALIVE In Amsterdam is a triumph for the beloved bluesman, Trout’s 2013 diagnosis of Hepatitis C and liver failure bringing the guitarist to the edge of death. A successful transplant in May 2014 was followed by a lengthy recuperation and rehab period, during which Trout wrote the stark autobiographical songs that make up 2015’s Battle Scars CD. Overjoyed to be back on the road again performing for his fans, of the performance documented by ALIVE In Amsterdam, Trout says, in a press release for the album, “we were rocking. If people are expecting a laid-back show, that’s not what they’ll get. This is potent stuff...”

ALIVE In Amsterdam features songs from every era of Trout’s five-decade (and counting) career, including his B.B. King tribute “Say Goodbye To The Blues,” a scorching cover of his idol Luther Allison’s “I’m Back” as well as Trout originals like “Almost Gone” and “Tomorrow Seems So Far Away.” Says Trout, “that whole tour was kind of triumphant for me, just to be back, after what I went through, but also to be playing with a renewed energy and commitment.” Truly at home on the stage, ALIVE IN Amsterdam captures Trout’s pure joy in performing. “I get into the energy and the moment and the excitement of it all,” he says. “I think I'm a very different guitarist live...”

Check out the track list below, and then get thee over to to reserve your copy of Walter Trout’s ALIVE In Amsterdam!

ALIVE In Amsterdam track list:

1. Marie's Introduction
2. Play The Guitar
3. Help Me
4. I'm Back
5. Say Goodbye To The Blues
6. Almost Gone
7. Omaha
8. Tomorrow Seems So Far Away
9. Playin' Hideaway
10. Haunted By The Night
11. Fly Away
12. Please Take Me Home
13. Rock Me Baby
14. Marie's Mood
15. Serve Me Right To Suffer
16. The Love That We Once Knew

Archive Review: The Exploding Hearts' Shattered (2006)

The Exploding Hearts' Shattered
One of the most exciting and promising young bands to hit the scene in a generation, the Exploding Hearts literally came and went in a flash. The band released its excellent debut album, Guitar Romantic, in early 2003, the disc showcasing a brilliant mix of 1960s-styled garage rock and vintage ‘70s power-pop, influenced by ‘80s-era punk and UK rock.  

Guitar Romantic was well-received by both critics and the ever-critical punk community, and the Exploding Hearts became a big draw on the west coast club circuit. In July 2003, however, fate struck in the form of tragic accident that took the lives of band members Adam Cox, Matt Fitzgerald, and Jeremy Gage.

In a fitting tribute to the band, Dirtnap Records has assembled the appropriately-named Shattered from the odds and ends of the band’s too damn brief career. Shattered collects the band’s early (hard-to-find) singles, various demos, unreleased songs and alternative mixes from Guitar Romantic under one roof. The album offers a glimpse at a band that had the potential to become really big, one that drew its influences from a myriad of impressive sources, forging a distinctive and electric sound that was entirely its own.

Shattered stands well on its own merits as a highly-entertaining rock & roll collection; coupled with the essential Guitar Romantic, it bookends the legacy this fine band. Discover them now, boys and girls, ‘cause you’ll be paying mucho dinero for these recordings in ten years or so when the Exploding Hearts become a coveted cult band. (Dirtnap Records)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Alligator Records Celebrates 45th Anniversary

Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection
It’s a rough world out there for an independent record company, but the esteemed blues label Alligator Records has beat the odds and is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year. Apart from the great music that Alligator has scheduled for 2016 release, the label is sharing its good fortune with its fans with the June 10th, 2016 release of the Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection. A budget-priced two-disc set offering over 148 rockin’ minutes of music from artists across the label’s storied history, the Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection features career-defining performances by artists both old and new, including Selwyn Birchwood, Shemekia Copeland, Curtis Salgado, Delbert McClinton, Anders Osborne, Joe Louis Walker, and many others.

Alligator Records was formed by Bruce Iglauer in 1971, a young blues fan working in the mailroom of the owner Bob Koester’s legendary Jazz Record Mart (also home to Delmark Records). Iglauer wanted Koester and Delmark to release an album by his favorite bluesman, Hound Dog Taylor, and when his boss wasn’t interested, Iglauer used a small inheritance to fund Alligator’s first album release, Taylor’s self-titled Hound Dog Taylor & the HouseRockers.

In those early years, Iglauer ran the label out of his small Chicago apartment, and each LP he released had to finance the next album, leading to a sporadic release schedule. Alligator’s early album releases, though, by legends like Big Walter Horton, Son Seals, and Fenton Robinson, helped establish blues music in the 1970s. Iglauer signed the great Koko Taylor in 1975, and soon attracted artists like Albert Collins, Roy Buchanan, and Johnny Winter.

Four-and-a-half decades later, Alligator Records is the largest independent blues label in the world, and it has been honored with 41 Grammy™ nominations, and three awards for its albums. The label and artists like James Cotton, Koko Taylor, Luther Allison, Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women, and Michael “Iron Man” Burks, among others, have been honored with over 100 Blues Music Awards and over 70 Living Blues magazine awards.

While Iglauer and his dedicated staff of 15 employees (many of which have spent over 20 years with the label) continue to live up to the label’s slogan, releasing “Genuine Houserockin’ Music,” they’re not resting on their laurels. Iglauer, in a press release for Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection, says “Alligator should be the label that's exposing the next generation of blues artists and bringing their music to the next generation of blues fans. I want the future of the blues and the future of Alligator Records to be one and the same. I want to keep bringing blues and roots music to new fans and getting them as excited about the music as I am.”

Sunday, April 3, 2016

CD Review: Wild Man Fischer's An Evening With Wild Man Fischer (1968/2016)

An Evening With Wild Man Fischer
Larry “Wild Man” Fischer was a tragic figure, and an unlikely rock star. Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and twice confined to a mental institution, the homeless Fischer roamed the streets of Los Angeles, singing his frequently made-up-on-the-spot songs for a dime for anybody willing to listen (and pay). Discovered by Frank Zappa – no stranger to weirdness for weirdness sake – the Maestro coaxed Fischer into the studio and produced An Evening With Wild Man Fischer, the album originally released in 1968 on Zappa’s own Bizarre Records imprint.

Zappa and members of the Mothers of Invention offered sparse instrumental accompaniment behind Fischer’s fractured vocals, the producer capturing the essence of Fischer’s street performances in the studio. The ambitious double-album offers up 36 songs, some no more than short, sharp stream-of-consciousness rants while others are insightful, revealing, autobiographical poems set to minimalist instrumental backing. The album has taken on an almost mythological status since its release, with scarce vinyl copies selling in the neighborhood of a C-note (if you can find one). Long out-of-print, An Evening With Wild Man Fischer has received its first-ever CD release courtesy of the good folks at Gonzo Multimedia in the U.K.

An Evening With Wild Man Fischer

Kids, I’m warning you up front – An Evening With Wild Man Fischer is not an album for the faint of heart, Republicans, the uptight, the elderly, politicians (Democrats or Republicans…Libertarians should be cool with it!), those who cringe at outsider art, the unsophisticated, those who don’t like rock ‘n’ roll, rednecks, hillbillies, or them whats believe that Frank Zappa was one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Zappa knew exactly what he was doing when he took a mentally ill street person into the studio in the halcyon days of 1968 to record an album he was certain that his corporate minders would find confusing and ultimately dislike.

The lawyer-approved language above notwithstanding, An Evening With Wild Man Fischer is a challenging but oddly entertaining listen. Larry’s Fischer’s voice can be alluringly hypnotic, but is just as frequently shrill, off-balance, and entirely non-melodic. Take one of his best-known ditties, “Merry-Go-Round,” a simple sing-a-long that digs its way into your cranium like a sentient corkscrew, leaving you humming or chanting the so-called chorus for hours after ingesting. Fischer’s vocal yelps, whoops, and croons are remarkably lacking in embarrassment, allowing the artist to let go with a carnival-like, free-flowing lyrical stream-of-consciousness that rivals that of Zippy the Pinhead.

The Madness & Ecstasy

Zappa mixed a combination of street and studio recordings to make An Evening With Wild Man Fischer, capturing the singer in his native environment (singing songs for a dime on the sidewalk), embellishing the latter recordings with studio gimcrackery like tinkling piano keys, random percussion, and strange noises not unlike his own Lumpy Gravy LP. “The Madness & Ecstasy” is a spoken word piece with unlikely instrumentation and features a rant by the late Kim Fowley – himself a notorious Hollyweird character – as well as an appearance by L.A. DJ Rodney Bingenheimer and a brief recitation by the all-girl groupies outfit the GTO’s (Girls Together Outrageously – when will that album receive its long overdue release on CD?)

After the five-song introductory “The Basic Fischer,” the first disc slides into straight, unaccompanied Fischer performances caught on tape in the studio. Songs like “Which Way Did The Freaks Go,” “I’m Working for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics” (which name-checks LBJ, Ronald Reagan, and baseball legend Sandy Koufax), “Cops and Robbers” (an intriguing story-song with a doo-wop chorus), and “Monkey Versus Donkeys” (with a distinct 1950s rock vibe) all display Fischer’s itchy performance style, his often created-on-the-spot lyrics half-spoken, half-sung in his trademark simplistic manner and accompanied by random hollers and mouth noises.

Frank Zappa & The Taster

Fischer rewrites Buck Owens’ classic 1966 hit “Think of Me” as the leering “Think of Me When Your Clothes Are Off” before veering into Dylanesque folk with “Taggy Lee,” Fischer banging atonally on the guitar in an approximation of Mr. Zimmerman’s more nuanced acoustic strum. He jumps quickly into the 1950s-styled, doo-wop inspired “Rhonda,” following, perhaps, Ruben & the Jets as his muse. At one point in the recording, Fischer asks “I’m getting paid for this ain’t I, Frank?” which is followed by Zappa patiently replying “yes you are.” The second disc opens with “The Taster,” which features Fischer fronting the Mothers of Invention, Zappa’s fluid guitar lines perfectly accompanying the singer’s bouncy, rapid-fire, and somewhat off-kilter vocals. With “Story of the Taster,” Fischer explains the previous song and his attempt, at age 16, to create a new dance craze along the lines of “The Twist.”

Fischer’s “The Rocket Rock” is another teenage fever-dream, the first song he remembers writing, a curiously derivative ditty that quickly devolves into a rambling Fischer story. “Dream Girl” was written in the pop style of the early 1960s, performed a cappella by Fischer in his best Pat Boone crooning style, accompanying himself in a faux female voice for background vocals. Fischer outlines his hopes and aspirations with “Why I Am Normal,” a two-and-a-half-minute conversation where he sounds almost coherent. “The Wild Man Fischer” story continues the previous train of thought, the song an autobiographical one-act-play with Fischer portraying himself and various characters from throughout his life. “Circle” is another Mothers-backed track, musically a swirling whirlpool of psychedelic rock upon which Fischer embroiders his lysergic-tinged lyrics and strained, shouted vocals.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Frankly, An Evening With Wild Man Fischer probably isn’t for you. Although the argument over whether this is art or not is, quite frankly, inconsequential. Wild Man Fischer circa 1968 was a bleak reflection of a society beginning its slow, inevitable decline towards decay and collapse, a slide towards oblivion that continues, albeit at a faster pace, to this day. But Zappa perceived a glimpse of society’s failing humanity in Fischer and his cockeyed songs, and sought to capture them on tape for posterity. That Fischer and Zappa would eventually fall out was pre-ordained, but with An Evening With Wild Man Fischer, the singer and producer proved that there’s a little rock ‘n’ roll in all of us.

Fischer was the original model for the rock ‘n’ roll outsider, the first in a line of artists that includes Roky Erickson, Wesley Willis, and Daniel Johnston. While he didn’t have Roky’s melodic skills, or the everyman appeal of Willis, Wild Man Fischer perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the era and inexplicitly managed to eke out a career, of sorts, recording and sporadically recording until his death in 2011. His most notorious and least self-conscious work, An Evening With Wild Man Fischer is a brilliant, disturbing portrait of outsider music, Fischer an artist with big dreams that never let a lack of talent get in the way of his ambitions. Grade: B- (Gonzo Multimedia, released March 18, 2016)

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