Wednesday, June 29, 2016

CD Preview: Bob Seger live in Chicago 1976

Bob Seger's Radio Chicago 1976
Like a lot of rock ‘n’ roll legends, Detroit’s Bob Seger toiled in obscurity for years before finding fame (and, presumably fortune). Seger scored his first regional hit with his band the Last Heard, the sales of their 1966 single “East Side Story” (on the local Hideout Records label) leading to a deal with the nationally-distributed Cameo-Parkway Records. Seger and the Last Heard released four more singles on Cameo-Parkway, the last of which – “Heavy Music” – was on its way to hit status when the label went kaput.

A couple years later, Seger signed with Capitol Records, changing the name of his band to the Bob Seger System, scoring a national hit with the classic “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” (#17). The Bob Seger System recorded three albums for Capitol: 1969’s Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man (which peaked at #62 on the charts) and Noah, and 1970’s Mongrel before deciding to go solo. A string of solid, albeit overlooked albums followed – Smokin’ O.P.’s (an incredible covers LP), Back In ’72, and Beautiful Loser, which captured much of the promise of Seger’s talents as a songwriter and performance but nonetheless went nowhere commercially at the time (it later sold double Platinum™ in the wake of Seger’s subsequent success).

Seger formed the Silver Bullet Band in 1974 with veteran Motor City rocker Drew Abbott on guitar, bassist Chris Campbell, keyboardist Robin Robbins, and drummer Charlie Martin. Adding saxophonist Alto Reed, this is the line-up that recorded Seger’s breakthrough album, 1976’s ‘Live Bullet’. Recorded in September 1975 at the legendary Cobo Hall in front of a hometown crowd, it’s considered to be one of the best live albums in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. The album showcased Seger’s dynamic showmanship and the band’s immense chemistry and electrifying performance skills.

‘Live Bullet’ would peak at #34 on the Billboard album chart on its way to five times Platinum™ sales status in the U.S. and double Platinum™ sales in Canada (where Seger had long enjoyed a loyal fan base). The artist followed up the live album’s success quickly, releasing the classic Night Moves album in October 1976, providing Seger with his first Top Ten album and single with the title track. In the six months that separated the two breakthrough recordings, Seger and the Silver Bullet Band earned an opening spot on the 1976 Kiss Destroyer tour, only to get kicked off the tour after six or eight shows.

More experienced, and more polished as musicians – and with the charismatic Seger on the microphone – the Silver Bullet Band outplayed Kiss every night, providing the Detroit rockers with invaluable exposure that helped fuel the success of both ‘Live Bullet’ and, later, Night Moves, launching Seger to stardom after almost a decade and a half in the trenches. But the imbalance in Seger’s popularity was evident before the Kiss tour. The singer played to a sold-out crowd of nearly 80,000 fans at the Pontiac Silverdome outside of Detroit one night in June 1976; the next night, Seger and the band performed for a few hundred people at the B’Ginnings club in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Illinois.

Luckily, the B’Ginnings club show was broadcast live on WXRT-FM radio in Chicago, and will be released on July 8th, 2016 as Radio Chicago 1976 by All Access Records, distributed here in the states by our good friends at MVD Entertainment. The CD is said to feature a superb live FM recording from the B’Ginnings club, capturing Seger and the Silver Bullet Band before they broke through to the big time. Seger’s Radio Chicago 1976 features eleven songs, including fan favorites like “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” “Beautiful Loser,” and “Travelin’ Man” as well as obscurities like “Rosalie” and “Lucifer,” and even a scorching cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” (full track list below).

Strangely enough, Seger’s live shows have never been bootlegged as prolifically as his friend and contemporary Bruce Springsteen (although they rocked just as hard), but this Chicago ’76 set had been released below-ground as the incorrecly-named Live In Montreal 1978. This proper CD release will bring an essential performance to fans in a better-sounding package. Seger and the Silver Bullet Band are said to have really burned the club down during their night in the Chicago area with a show that was as vital and exciting as what they’d performed in the Silverdome.

Superstardom followed as Seger and the Silver Bullet Band kicked out one hit LP after another – 1978’s Stranger In Town, 1980’s Against The Wind, 1982’s The Distance, and 1986’s Like A Rock – all multi-Platinum, Top Ten-charting blockbusters. Seger would subsequently be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012. For one night in Illinois, though, he was another hard-luck rocker looking to grab the brass ring that always seemed just out of reach, Seger and the band playing like they had nothing left to lose...

Bob Seger’s Radio Chicago 1976 track list:
1. Bo Diddley/Who Do You Love?
2. Travelin’ Man
3. Beautiful Loser
4. Katmandu
5. I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home
6. Lookin' Back/Mary Lou
7. Ramblin' Gamblin’ Man
8. Let It Rock
9. Rosalie
10. Whole Lotta Love
11. Lucifer

Buy the CD from Bob Seger's Radio Chicago 1976

Sunday, June 26, 2016

CD Review: Anderson Stolt's Invention of Knowledge (2016)

Anderson Stolt's Invention of Knowledge
It’s a match made in heaven for the diehard progressive rock fan – former Yes vocalist and bona fide prog-rock legend Jon Anderson collaborating with Flower Kings founder, guitarist Roine Stolt. Both men have been an essential part of an iconic prog band, and both have dallied with outside projects that took them out of their comfort zone (Anderson on a series of collaborations with Greek electronic music pioneer Vangelis and Stolt with Transatlantic and the Tangent). Both Anderson and Stolt have enjoyed a modicum of success with their solo careers, although both remain firmly identified with their well-known bands.

Anderson Stolt’s Invention of Knowledge

So perhaps it was fate that brought them together – or maybe just rock ‘n’ roll. The two met in 2014 on a Progressive Nation at Sea cruise when Transatlantic drummer Mike Portnoy suggested that the band should perform a couple of songs with Anderson. The performance ended up being an hour long jam on Yes classics like “Long Distance Runaround,” “And You And I,” and “Starship Trooper.” Stolt found an easy musical chemistry with Anderson and the two artists ended up creating Invention of Knowledge, a four-song prog-rock masterpiece with extended suites and more than enough exciting and innovative music to thrill even the hardcore progger.

Working long-distance via the internet, Anderson would email his song ideas and vocals for his co-producer Stolt to assemble and expand upon in the studio. Stolt added some of his most imaginative fretwork to date to the material, while a band consisting of Flower Kings members Jonas Reingold (bass) and Felix Lehrmann (drums) as well as keyboardist Tom Brislin fleshed out the songs and added their own impressive talents to the mix. Backing vocals on several tracks were provided by Nad Sylvan and Pain of Salvation’s Daniel Gildenlow, who were joined by the feminine voices of Anja Obermayer, Maria Rerych, and Kristina Westas. The resulting performances are simply breathtaking in both their invention and execution.

The title track, comprised of three suites, enters your consciousness with shimmering vocal harmonies; Anderson’s voice eventually soars above the gloss to take center stage alongside Stolt’s piercing guitar licks. The song’s instrumentation is lush and gorgeous, but Stolt’s fretwork really shines, dancing lively across the mix and perfectly complimenting Anderson’s lofty, familiar vocals. The second suite depends a lot on Anderson’s voice, which never falters in telling his tale while the band weaves golden threads of sound behind him, while the third suite offers up more of Anderson’s ethereal vocals accompanied by heady, jazz-rock fusion styled guitar lines.

Everybody Heals

The second song on Invention of Knowledge, “Knowing,” is broken down into two suites, with a gentle opening based on Anderson’s echoed vocals and swirls of psych-drenched instrumentation and interesting percussive rhythms. Brislin’s keyboards are brought to the fore here, the skilled musician evoking memories of Rick Wakeman with his hauntingly beautiful keyboard flourishes. The first suite offers some classical influences with orchestration and signature changes that dart to and fro, Stolt’s guitar more subdued in the mix but evincing some interesting stylistic choices which enhance, rather than distract, from the business at hand. Suite two, titled “Chase and Harmony,” opens with Brislin’s charming piano-play, which offers a nice counterpoint to Anderson’s whimsical vocals and the dreamlike instrumentation that runs like a river beneath the performance.

“Everybody Heals” offers three exciting suites, a lonesome violin riff exploding into full instrumentation on the first section before Anderson’s vocals kick in and provide a road map for the band to follow. Lehrmann’s invigorating percussion work here provides a canvas on which Stolt paints his colorful and multi-textured guitar playing. Although it rises and falls beneath the instrumentation, Stolt’s guitar is a vital part of the song, accompanying Brislin’s similarly deep-tracked piano. The song’s brief second section, titled “Better By Far,” veers musically only slightly from the preceding suite, with Stolt’s weepy guitar licks matched by Brislin’s chiming keyboards while “Golden Light,” the third suite, is operatic in scope and cacophonic in nature with some fascinating, clamorous instrumental swerves that will keep the listener on their toes.

Invention of Knowledge closes out with “Know,” a sweeping, eleven-minute fantasy that offers up more of Anderson’s gorgeous vocal gymnastics and a cinematic soundtrack for his lyrics with tinkling piano notes, flowing guitars and jagged solos, squalls of synthesizer, and sparse rhythms that altogether create a mesmerizing performance that jets by far too quickly. Throughout all of these performances, much like with the Flower Kings’ best efforts, Jonas Reingold’s understated and fluid bass lines provide the foundation on which all the other musical ideas are built.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

After four-and-a-half decades, I’ve remained a loyal Yes fan, and I find much of the band’s 1970s-era catalog to be the timeless, still-exciting definition of progressive rock. Jon Anderson’s solo material is equally enchanting, his unique vocal skills imbuing both his band and solo efforts with an identifiable and magical aura. I’ve been a longtime fan of the Flower Kings as well, Roine Stolt’s contributions to prog-rock guitar easily on a par with Yes’ Steve Howe and Genesis’ Steve Hackett.

Needless to say, I was excited to hear of a musical collaboration between these two talented artists, and they do not disappoint. Invention of Knowledge is as timeless as anything that Yes or the Flower Kings have released through these many decades, a musical throwback to the hallowed, halcyon prog-rock era of the ‘70s but still retaining a contemporary sound and edge. Anderson and Stolt – modern-day musical alchemists – have delivered an incredible work that sits proudly with the classic albums of progressive rock history. Grade: A+ (Inside Out Music, released July 8, 2016)

Buy the CD from Anderson Stolt's Invention of Knowledge

Related Content:
Anderson Ponty Band's Better Late Than Never CD review
Martin Popoff's Time and a Word: The Yes Story book review

Guitarist Eric Gales brings the Blues to Sunset Strip

Eric Gales' A Night On The Sunset Strip
Since discovering Memphis blues-rock guitarist Eric Gales back in 1991 with the release of his debut album (The Eric Gales Band, recorded with his brother Eugene), the Reverend has been a big fan. Gales didn’t disappoint with his sophomore effort, either, Picture of a Thousand Faces kicking out the blues-rock jams with even more energy and vitality than Gales’ debut.

I’ve kept track of the talented guitarist for a quarter-century now as he’s released fiery, critically-acclaimed albums like 2001’s That’s What I Am, 2006’s Crystal Vision, and 2011’s Transformation, as well as the two projects he recorded with King’s X bassist dUg Pinnick and former Mars Volta drummer Thomas Pridgen (2013’s Pinnick Gales Pridgen and the following year’s PGP2). Throughout all his recordings, Gales has displayed a knack for innovation, an unquenchable musical curiosity, and an adventuresome nature that he shares with one of his major influences, Jimi Hendrix.

Although he tours constantly, I’ve yet to witness Eric Gales perform live…a sad situation only partially redeemed by the upcoming release of the guitarist’s A Night On The Sunset Strip. A two-disc CD/DVD concert set scheduled for July 8th, 2016 release by the good folks at Cleopatra Records, Gales’ A Night On The Sunset Strip documents a particularly explosive performance by the guitarist and his band at the notorious Hollywood venue the Viper Room.

During the Hollywood show, Gales performed material from his growing back catalog, including fan favorites like “Block The Sun” and “The Open Road,” as well as songs from his recent 2014 album Good For Sumthin’ and a very cool cover of the Rolling Stones’ classic “Miss You” (full album track list below). If you’re not hip to this extraordinary blues-rock fretburner, you owe it to yourself to check out Eric Gales’ A Night On The Sunset Strip…you’ll thank me later!   

Eric Gales’ A Night On The Sunset Strip track list:
1. Intro
2. Make It There
3. The Change In Me
4. Block The Sun
5. The Open Road
6. Sea of Bad Blood
7. Bass & Drum Solos / Guitar Solo
8. Swamp
9. 1019
10. Good For Sumthin’
11. Miss You

Buy the CD from Eric Gales' A Night On The Sunset Strip

Brand X Reunion Tour Happening!

Brand X 2016
Brand X 2016
Dig this, fusion fans – the legendary jazz-rock fusion outfit Brand X has reunited for a lengthy tour beginning this fall and running through the spring of 2017. Featuring three of the four original band members (and before you start, no…Phil Collins will not be attending), Brand X will headline at Progtoberfest in Chicago on October 21st, 2016 before heading out to perform in metropolises as Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, and Boston, among others.

For you youngsters who have no idea of exactly who or what Brand X is, the groundbreaking band was formed back in 1975 by guitarist John Goodsall, bassist Percy Jones, and drummer Kenwood Dennard, all of whom will be part of the Brand X reunion tour. Other members, like Phil Collins (Genesis) and Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson) came and went, but whatever the band’s line-up at the moment, Brand X kicked out an inspired and pioneering blend of jazz, progressive rock, and Ethnic music that influenced a generation of like-minded sonic trailblazers.

Brand X's Morrocan Roll
Contemporaries of such influential 1970s-era jazz-rock fusion bands as Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Return To Forever, Brand X released three critically-acclaimed studio albums in three years – 1976’s Unorthodox Behaviour, 1977’s Moroccan Roll, and 1978’s Masque – as well as 1977’s Livestock, recorded live at the legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London. Although none of the albums climbed any higher than #125 on the Billboard album chart, their influential was long-reaching, and Goodsall and Jones kept the Brand X brand rockin’ and rollin’ through the end of the century and another half-dozen albums.

The core Brand X line-up of Goodsall, Jones, and Dennard will be joined on tour by keyboardist Chris Clark, formerly of the Who bassist John Entwistle’s solo band, along with percussionist Scott Weinberger. During the October and November 2016 legs of their upcoming tour, the reunited Brand X will perform material from their groundbreaking first three studio albums; beyond that, your guess is as good as mine. We’ll share Brand X tour dates as soon as they’re available, but in the meantime, get you some of these fine Brand X albums on CD:

Brand X's Unorthodox Behaviour

Brand X's Moroccan Roll

Brand X's Masque

Brand X's Livestock

Sunday, June 19, 2016

CD Review: John Mayall's Bluesbreakers' Live In London 1967 - Volume Two (2016)

John Mayall's Bluesbreakers' Live In 1967 - Volume Two
As the old counter-culture saying goes, “too much of a good thing is never enough.” It’s particularly true in this instance – the (mostly) unexpected arrival of a second volume of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers' Live In 1967 – which gives foaming-at-the-mouth fans like myself a baker’s dozen of rarer-than-rare, previously released anywhere on the planet, historic albeit lo-fi performances by a short-lived but influential superstar Bluesbreakers line-up.

As so kindly explained in my review of the first Live In 1967 collection, a hardcore Bluesbreakers fan from Holland named Tom Huissen hid a one-channel reel-to-reel tape recorder under his jacket while attending several John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers shows in London back in swinging ’67, using it to record the band’s performance each night. The tapes were stored in a dusty attic somewhere and unheard for better than 40 years until they were acquired by Mayall. These rusty, antique tapes were restored to something resembling acceptable sound quality by Forty Below Records’ Eric Corne, and a compilation of the band’s best performances from the period was released in early 2015 as the aforementioned Live In 1967.

John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’ Live In 1967 – Volume Two

Fast forward roughly a year and this second collection offers so much bluesy goodness that Mayall fans should be swooning in their buttermilk (or an equivalent alcoholic beverage). Thirteen  new (old) tracks featuring frontman Mayall, the legendary Peter Green on guitar, and a rhythm section comprised of bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood, who also performed similar duties for a little band you may have heard of by the name of Fleetwood Mac – whatever happened to them, anyway?

As I also mentioned in my review of the first volume, the audio quality here is quite different than what many music fans are used to hearing from digitally-recorded albums that have had the stuffing squeezed out of ‘em by Pro Tools. The performances here are deep and hollow and somewhat boomy, like you might hear when you’re standing against the back wall of your favorite club. Recording tech in ’67 was Cro-Magnon level at best, and Huissen’s good intentions were somewhat defeated by his primitive recording rig. Corne has done an admirable job of cleaning up the sound, though, and if what is essentially an audience-sourced bootleg is too raw for your tender ears, grab me a tissue Nancy ‘cause I’ll be laughing until I cry over what you’re missing...

Tears In My Eyes

At its heart, Live In 1967 – Volume Two is another superb collection of firecracker performances that display just how white-hot this particular Bluesbreakers roster could be on even the smallest of stages. Mayall’s original “Tears In My Eyes” is a smoky, slow-burning blues dirge captured live at The Marquee Club in London. Mayall’s vocals are somewhat obscured, but not even the lowest of fidelity can rob his voice of the deep-blue emotion welling up through the microphone. Green’s guitar licks are spot on, complimenting the boss’s vocals and channeling some serious Buddy Guy-styled soulfulness.

An already rowdy Sonny Boy Williamson deep track “Your Funeral and My Trial” is made all the more raucous by Mayall’s raging harmonica riffs, Green’s energetic guitar bashing, and a rhythm section that stays out of the way while still building a firm musical foundation. “So Many Roads,” recorded but not used for the A Hard Road album (it shows up on expanded CD releases), is an eight-minute-plus blues jam that showcases the immense chemistry of the band, with Green’s amazing fretwork meshing perfectly with McVie’s strong bass lines and Fleetwood’s propulsive, high-energy percussion.

Sweet Little Angel

A cover of B.B. King’s “Sweet Little Angel” is played slowly and soulfully, Mayall’s falsetto vocals complimented by Green’s jazzy guitarplay and Mayall’s own subdued but timely keyboard flourishes. Green’s guitar licks pierce the cloudy sound of The Ram Jam Club to establish the song’s blues bona fides while the rest of the guys nicely fill in the edges. T-Bone Walker’s blues standard “Stormy Monday” is cut from similar cloth as “Sweet Little Angel.” A fiery, mid-tempo moan designed to singe the side-stage curtains at the Klook’s Kleek club, the performance further cements Green’s status as one of the finest British blues guitarists of the 1960s, his instrumentation running parallel to Mayall’s mournful vocals and keyboards, the two working in tandem to kick out a phenomenal reading of an old (even in ’67) blues treasure.

The instrumental “Greeny” is really a guitar-driven excuse to allow the master instrumentalist to vamp onstage for six-plus minutes, the McVie-Fleetwood tag-team delivering a steady boogie beat while Mayall pounds the keys in the background. It’s a fine example of Green’s six-string prowess, the guitarist throwing blues, rock, and jazz licks into the blender and coming up with a heady brew, indeed. Mayall’s “Chicago Line” features his locomotive harpwork, Fleetwood’s tribal drumbeats, and even an engaging, hypnotic McVie bass solo while a cover of the Otis Rush gem “Double Trouble” – another cutting-room outtake from A Hard Road – further highlights the band’s ability to wrest the essence of a vintage blues classic and make it their own.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

I’m not really sure why John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers original Live In 1967 album received no love from The Blues Foundation earlier this year – not a single damn Blues Music Award nomination – but then again, I can’t find a BMA nomination for anything Mayall has released over the past couple of decades, an egregious oversight that should be remedied immediately by his induction to the Blues Hall of Fame (yeah, I don’t know why Mr. Mayall, O.B.E. hasn’t been provided that honor, either...).

But I digress with my well-meaning (and accusatory) rant…Live In 1967 – Volume Two is a welcome bookend to its predecessor. This additional volume offers more of a good thing by documenting the explosive performance ability and musical chemistry of a Bluesbreakers line-up that blinded like a supernova, if only for a meager three months, before burning out and splitting into two separate celestial bodies. Mayall fans, and those who genuflect before the altar of British blues, will find Live In 1967 – Volume Two an enchanting trip back to swinging London for some of the best blues you’ve never heard. Grade: B+ (Forty Below Records, released May 6, 2016)

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

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Real Gone revisits Wilson Pickett’s The Complete Atlantic Singles

Wilson Pickett's The Complete Atlantic Singles, Vol. One
We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again – singer Wilson Pickett was one of the giants of American soul music. The dynamic showman and vocalist scored 17 Top Ten hits on the R&B chart between 1962 and ’72, and charted a whopping 50 songs overall during his career, including such timeless classics as “In The Midnight Hour,” “Land of 1,000 Dances,” “Mustang Sally,” and “Funky Broadway,” among many others. Pickett’s influence on the evolution of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll is inestimable, and he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

On August 5th, 2016 Real Gone Music will dip into the wide and deep Wilson Pickett catalog with the release of artist’s The Complete Atlantic Singles, Vol. One, a 22-song anthology that features Pickett’s first eleven singles recorded for the legendary Atlantic Records label (A and B-sides both). The tracks were sourced from the original master tapes, re-mastered by Mike Milchner, and are offered here in their original mono mixes that have never been previously released on CD (not even on Rhino Handmade’s Atlantic Records set). Joe Marchese wrote liner notes for the new set, which is the first of three albums of Pickett’s Atlantic singles.

Pickett’s The Complete Atlantic Singles, Vol. One includes some of the singer’s biggest hits, including “In The Midnight Hour,” “634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.),” “Land of 1,000 Dances,” “Mustang Sally,” “Don’t Fight It,” and others. The musicianship on these sides is exemplary, featuring talented players like guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, keyboardist Isaac Hayes, and drummer Al Jackson – the Stax Records house band minus Booker T, really. The results are musical magic.

This isn’t the first time that Real Gone has dipped its toe into the Wilson Pickett back catalog, either – late last year the archival label released Pickett’s Mr. Magic Man: The Complete RCA Recordings to no little acclaim. The Pickett legend begun with these Atlantic Records sides, though, so it looks like Real Gone is going to strike gold once again!

Buy the CD from Wilson Pickett's The Complete Atlantic Singles, Vol. One

Real Gone reissues Fanny’s Mother’s Pride

Fanny's Mother's Pride
We’ve discussed the great 1970s-era band Fanny on the site before (see the Rev’s Fanny Hill CD review), and Real Gone Music has done an admirable job in restoring the band’s long-out-of-print back catalog by reissuing Fanny’s first three Reprise Records albums on CD. Concluding their (much welcome) crusade, Real Gone will wrap up the Fanny catalog with a CD reissue of the band’s fourth and final Reprise album, Mother’s Pride, scheduled for August 5th, 2016 release.

Produced by rock ‘n’ roll wunderkind Todd Rundgren, whose deal was that he would oversee the final mix of the album, Fanny Hill was the band’s most ambitious and best-sounding album to date. While it failed to chart in the states, it helped further increase Fanny’s popularity in the U.K. The Real Gone reissue of Fanny Hill includes eight bonus tracks including rare album demos that were only previously released on CD as part of Rhino Handmade’s expensive box set. The reissue includes track-by-track annotation by the band, rare photos from the Fanny archive, liner notes by guitarist/singer June Millington, and original gatefold album art. Real Gone will also be re-pressing the band’s debut album, which it originally reissued in 2013, also making Fanny available again on August 5th.

Fanny's Fanny
Fanny was just the third all-female rock ‘n’ roll band signed by a major record label (following Goldie & the Gingerbreads and the Pleasure Seekers, which featured future Fanny member Patti Quatro), and the first to release an album with their self-titled 1970 debut. Their sophomore effort, 1971’s Charity Ball, scored a Top 40 hit with its title track, the album rising to #150 on the Billboard magazine chart. Their third album, Fanny Hill, charted higher than its predecessor at #135 and the band toured constantly, especially in the U.K., opening for such barn-burners as Slade, Jethro Tull, and Humble Pie.

When Mother’s Pride failed to chart, June Millington and Alice de Buhr left the band, replaced by the aforementioned Quatro and drummer Brie Howard (who would later play with another group of distaff rockers, the Screamin’ Sirens). This line-up released a single album, 1974’s Rock and Roll Survivors, which gave the band its biggest hit with the song “Butter Boy” (#29). Howard left the band after the album was finished and the band broke up shortly thereafter. Fanny left behind a rock-solid catalog of five albums, and counted legends like David Bowie among their many fans; kudos to Real Gone for preserving the band’s immense and important musical legacy.

Buy the CDs from
Fanny's Fanny
Fanny's Mother's Pride

The Fleshtones’ 40th Anniversary Celebration!

The Fleshtones' The Band Drinks For Free
Our favorite gang of rock ‘n’ roll hooligans – the almighty Fleshtones – will be celebrating their 40th anniversary this year with the release of a new album, their 21st, and a supporting tour. Titled The Band Drinks For Free, the album was recorded at Florent Barbier’s CCP Sound Studio in Brooklyn and will be released on September 2nd, 2016 by Yep Roc Records.

The Band Drinks For Free features the long-time Fleshtones line-up of singer Peter Zaremba, guitarist Keith Streng, bassist Ken Fox, and drummer Bill Milhizer, the garage-rock legends kicking out the jams on a dozen new original songs that don’t stray far from the band’s trademark “super rock” sound (just check out the groovin’ “Love Like A Man” below).

The Fleshtones debuted in May 1976 at the infamous CBGBs club in NYC at the height of American’s punk-rock uprising. They were the first band to play at Irving Plaza and Danceteria in Manhattan and the legendary Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey. The band has inspired books (including Joe Bonomo’s 2007 book Sweat); movies (2009’s Pardon Us For Living But The Graveyard’s Full), and tribute albums (2007’s Vindicated).

The Fleshtones have inspired a legion of fellow travelers in bands like the Forty-Fives, the Dirt Bombs, the White Stripes, and the Godfathers, among many others. Give ‘em a listen and they just might inspire you!

Order the CD or LP from Yep Roc Records!

The Band Drinks For Free track list:
1. Love Like A Man
2. Love My Lover
3. Rick Wakerman’s Cape
4. Suburban Roulette
5. Respect Our Love
6. Living Today
7. Too Many Memories
8. The Gasser
9. Stupid Ol’ Sun
10. The Sinner
11. How To Make A Day
12. Before I Go

Sunday, June 12, 2016

CD Preview: Little Richard’s Mono Box set!

 Little Richard’s Mono Box: The Complete Specialty and Vee-Jay Albums

OK, I know that this blog has three or four loyal readers, so if any of you brothers and sisters are looking to buy the ol’ Reverend a birthday present in July, might I humbly suggest Little Richard’s Mono Box: The Complete Specialty and Vee-Jay Albums? Yeah, it’s a might pricey at the moment, but you can bet that some vendors will be offering a discount once the set has been officially released.

What am I talking about? On July 15th, 2016 Specialty Records – an imprint of Concord Bicycle Music – will release the aforementioned Mono Box: The Complete Specialty and Vee-Jay Albums, a deluxe five-album vinyl box set that includes the entire run of albums that early rock ‘n’ roll legend Little Richard recorded for both the Specialty and Vee-Jay Records labels circa 1957 to 1965, an exceptional and commercially blockbuster era for the influential rocker. Each vinyl album reproduction includes the original label and jacket art, with the music re-mastered from analog tapes and presented in their original mono mixes. The box also includes a sixteen-page booklet chock full o’ period photographs and lengthy liner notes by music journalist and historian Bill Dahl, a dude that definitely knows his stuff.

After a couple of false starts with RCA Records and Don Robey’s Peacock Records during the early 1950s, Georgia native “Little” Richard Penniman literally exploded on the fledgling rock ‘n’ roll scene after signing with Art Rupe’s Specialty Records label in 1955. A string of hit singles followed, beginning with “Tutti Frutti” and including “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Long Tall Sally,” and “Lucille,” among others, raucous performances that would subsequently influence a generation of young rock ‘n’ roll fans on both sides of the Atlantic. Over the course of a career that has spanned seven decades, Little Richard has released nearly 80 singles and over 20 studio albums, been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and earned a Grammy® Lifetime Achievement award.

Little Richard’s Mono Box: The Complete Specialty and Vee-Jay Albums includes classic records like 1957’s Here’s Little Richard, the singer’s debut, which includes a wealth of hit singles, among them “Tutti-Frutti,” “Ready Teddy,” and “Long Tall Sally.” Recorded in New Orleans with producer Bumps Blackwell, Richard is backed on Here’s Little Richard by talented musicians like bassist Frank Fields, guitarist Edgar Blanchard, and drummer Earl Palmer. The self-titled Little Richard album followed in 1958. Recording again with producer Blackwell, the album yielded hits like “Lucille,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” and the title track of the popular Jayne Mansfield film The Girl Can’t Help It.

Photo courtesy Specialty Records
Penniman left rock ‘n’ roll after the release of the Little Richard album, pursuing the ministry and later recording several albums of gospel music. As such, 1959’s The Fabulous Little Richard was a sort of “odds ‘n’ sods” album pieced together by Specialty from previously unreleased sessions. It would be Little Richard’s final album for Specialty, notable mostly for songs like “Kansas City” and “While Lotta Shakin’ Going On.” After a hiatus of roughly five years, Little Richard returned to rock ‘n’ roll in 1964, signing with the independent Vee-Jay Records label after a successful European tour featuring the Beatles as one of his opening acts. Returning to the studio, Richard recorded a number of new tunes as well as re-recording several of his old hits with a band that included guitarist Jimi Hendrix and pianist Esquerita.

The fruits of these sessions were released by Vee-Jay as Little Richard Is Back in 1964 and His Greatest Hits in 1965, the latter album including re-imagined versions of songs like “Tutti-Frutti” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” featuring new arrangements and instrumentation. Sadly, Vee-Jay went into bankruptcy shortly after the release of His Greatest Hits and almost half the tracks recorded by Little Richard during these sessions went unreleased for years (even then, they were released on albums of dodgy provenance). Little Richard’s recording career lie fallow throughout the rest of the decade, the flamboyant and dynamic performer finding later success with albums and live performances during the 1970s.

It was with these five albums, released at the dawn of the rock ‘n’ roll era, that Little Richard wrote his legacy, and his influence on the evolution of pop and rock music cannot be overstated. Little Richard’s unique mix of gospel, blues, rock, and boogie-woogie piano-play fired up the dreams of bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Pretty Things and artists like Elton John, Michael Jackson and Prince. Mono Box: The Complete Specialty and Vee-Jay Albums documents where Little Richard’s legend began.

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Osibisa’s Gregg Kofi Brown’s Rock ‘n’ Roll and UFOs

Gregg Kofi Brown’s Rock ‘n’ Roll and UFOs
Ghanaian musician Gregg Kofi Brown spent nearly twenty years with pioneering world music outfit Osibisa before releasing his first solo album, Together As One, in 2005. Formed in London in 1969 by a group of African and Caribbean musicians, Osibisa fused the sounds of the various band members’ homelands with elements of R&B, rock, jazz, and funk to create an entirely new genre of music that found a small but loyal cult audience in both the U.K. and the U.S. as the band landed albums like 1971’s self-titled Osibisa and its follow-up, Woyaya, onto the Billboard magazine charts.

Gregg Kofi Brown joined Osibisa in the mid-80s and continues to make great music with the band, helping to expand its audience and influence worldwide while also recording solo music with friends like jazz legends Billy Cobham and Stanley Jordan, both of whom appeared on Together As One. On June 24th, 2016 Gonzo Multimedia U.K. will release Rock ‘n’ Roll and UFOs, a career-spanning anthology to accompany Brown’s upcoming autobiography of the same title. Including previously-unreleased songs, remixes, and demos the album features guest musicians like guitarists Dominic Miller (Sting) and Gus Isidore (Seal) and keyboardist John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick (Free) as well as material from Osibisa and Brown’s solo efforts.

Brown’s autobiography, Rock ‘n’ Roll and UFOs, promises to be as much fun to read as the artist’s album will be to listen to. He certainly has some stories to tell, not only tales of globetrotting as part of Osibisa but also from his work as a studio bassist and producer with artists like Joe Cocker, Eric Burdon, Hanoi Rocks, and Bomb da Bass. Brown has also enjoyed a modicum of success as an actor, performing as Jellyroll Morton at London’s prestigious Royal Court Theatre as well as in the hit musical Tribute to the Blues Brothers. The book also promises to reveal the truth behind the title, documenting “three strange encounters” experienced by Brown in the California desert.

A fascinating and prolific artist, Gregg Kofi Brown has made an invaluable contribution to the popularity and evolution of world music.

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

CD Review: Black Sabbath's The Dio Years (2007)

Black Sabbath's The Dio Years
Few bands in the history of rock & roll have exerted the kind of long-lasting musical influence that has been enjoyed by Black Sabbath. The Beatles, certainly, continue to influence rock music unlike any other band, as do the Rolling Stones (although their status has been diminished somewhat by the band’s refusal to just GO AWAY and be quiet for a long while). The Who has its champions, and one cannot discount Led Zeppelin’s remaining legion of loyal fanatics. But Sabbath…bloody Sabbath…reviled by critics, adored by teenage miscreants across both in the U.K. and the U.S.A…Black Sabbath continues to grow in stature, casting an undeniable shadow over subsequent generations of headbangers and metalheads of every stripe, style and flavor.

Hardcore Sabbath fans can be excused for their unflagging allegiance and devotion to the original, Ozzie-led band line-up (circa 1969-1978). Of the band’s first five albums – from 1970’s self-titled Black Sabbath through 1973’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and including the seminal Paranoid – well, only the aforementioned musical legends, and maybe Bob Dylan, can brag of such time-tested, tried-and-true initial efforts. There’s a reason that the youngsters keep rediscovering these discs, and it’s not just because “Ozzie rules,” man! From Osbourne’s haunting vocals and disturbed, madness-tinged lyrics and Tony Iommi’s incredible, inflammatory (and still unsurpassed) fretwork to the larger-than-life, molten-sludge rhythms of bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward, these albums were ground-breaking in every way, providing a musical blueprint that other bands would later use to build their own sounds.

There was a second incarnation of Black Sabbath, however – sans Ozzie – that has also proven its mettle time and time again to become, if not as influential as the original line-up, at the very least, highly-regarded as an important era for the band. That era has been documented by The Dio Years. However, first I’ll have to provide a bit of history for the young ‘uns in the audience. When the struggle between Osbourne and his excesses proved to be too much for bandleader Iommi to tolerate, Ozzie was shown the door and the band performed gigs for a few months (1977-78) with former Savoy Brown vocalist David Walker. It never worked out, though, and by the time the band went into the studio to record Never Say Die (1978), Ozzie was back in the fold, singing on the album and subsequent tour.

The reunion proved to be short-lived, however, as the tensions between Osbourne and Iommi led to either Ozzie quitting the band, or being fired, depending on who’s telling the story. Former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio was recruited as Ozzie’s replacement sometime during early 1979, and it was with this new frontman that Sabbath recorded Heaven And Hell (1980), an album that many who ought to know consider to be among Sabbath’s best. With Dio’s sword-and-sorcery, fantasy-oriented lyrics providing a thematic change of direction, the band supported the singer’s soaring vocals with the heaviest dinosaur-stomp soundtrack they’d ever recorded. Produced by respected boardman Martin Birch (Deep Purple, Rainbow), the album was a commercial success on both sides of the pond, yielding classic slabs o’ metal like “Neon Knights,” “Lady Evil” and the title track, “Heaven And Hell,” all fondly remembered by ‘80s-era, second-generation fans of the band.

Going into the studio to record Mob Rules (1981), again produced by Birch, Sabbath lost force-of-nature-drummer Bill Ward, who resigned from the band to address several personal problems, including his own growing depression. Vinnie Appice, younger brother of legendary skinman Carmine (Vanilla Fudge, Cactus), was enlisted to try and fill Ward’s chair. Although it was every bit as heavy, the resulting album lacked the fresh revelations of its predecessor. Songs like the driving “Turn Up The Night,” featuring Dio’s best high-flying vocals and Iommi’s taut six-string leads, or the riff-happy “Voodoo,” find the band absorbing “New Wave Of British Heavy Metal” influences, sounding more like Iron Maiden than the Sabbath of yore. The Dio Years includes five songs from Heaven And Hell and four from Mob Rules.

For whatever reasons, Dio left Sabbath after the 1981/82 tour supporting Mob Rules, taking Appice with him to form his own self-named band. A live album was released from that tour, Live Evil (1983) providing fans with a mix of new material as well as Dio interpretations of vintage Sabbath like “Paranoid” and “War Pigs.” Sadly, The Dio Years only includes one song from Live Evil, the mesmerizing “Children Of The Sea.” After Dio’s departure, Sabbath soldiered on with a succession of vocalists, to varied success. Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan, Glenn Hughes, and Tony Martin all fronted the band at various times throughout the remainder of the ‘80s.    

Fate being what it is, however, Dio rejoined the band in 1991, nearly a decade after leaving, to record and tour in support of Dehumanizer. By this point, Sabbath had been passed, commercially, by the previous decade’s nerf-metal bands, and artistically by a generation of thrash-and-black-and-Goth-metal bands that had been weaned on Dio-era Sabbath. The band desperately needed to reassert its domination in the metal world. Dehumanizer was the album that brought the band into the ‘90s and, strangely enough, subsequently set the stage for Ozzie to later perform with Sabbath again. Represented on The Dio Years by three songs – “After All (The Dead),” “TV Crimes” and “I” – Dehumanizer offered the heaviest Sabbath sound since Dio’s previous turn with the band. Iommi’s guitar screeches like a banshee across these tracks while Appice and Butler team up to redefine “doom-metal” with amazingly thick, bass-heavy rhythms.

Another fifteen years has passed, and Ronnie James has reunited with Tony and Geezer for yet another trip ‘round the world, dragging drummer Vinnie Appice behind him. The Dio Years includes three freshly-minted songs by the fab foursome, including the diabolical “The Devil Cried,” which features some of Iommi’s nastiest, most surgically-precise solos in years, and the ethereal “Shadow Of The Wind,” a riff-happy monster of a song that sounds as menacing as anything from the band’s earliest albums. The Dio-fronted line-up will tour under the name “Heaven And Hell” in support of The Dio Years, choosing not to go out on the road as Black Sabbath in respect of Ozzie’s (now permanent) place at the front of the band.   

Whether you’re a fan of the original Ozzie-led Sabbath, a true-blue Dio devotee, or you sit somewhere in between, The Dio Years is a fine collection representing a typically overlooked era for this legendary band. Other than the three new “Heaven And Hell” tracks, there’s nothing else here that’s new – I, for one, would have liked to have seen the inclusion of one or two of the unreleased studio tracks that are known from the Dio era, or perhaps some rare live tracks from the vaults – but The Dio Years nevertheless stands tall as an essential document of this underrated period of Sabbath history, providing it the respect it has so richly deserved for over two-and-a-half decades. (Trademark of Quality blog, 2007)

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Friday, June 3, 2016

CD Review: Greg Lake's Greg Lake & Manoeuvres (2016)

Greg Lake's Greg Lake & Manoeuvres LPs
When British prog-rock legends Emerson, Lake & Palmer released the band’s self-titled debut album in 1970, progressive rock was just a fringe genre without any genuine commercial clout (King Crimson’s initial success notwithstanding). The album took off upon release, hitting #4 on the UK charts and #18 in the US, mostly on the strength of the classic rock staple, “Lucky Man.” They quickly followed their debut album with Tarkus, released a few months later and topping the UK charts while hitting #9 in the US.

ELP’s musical pedigree was impressive, the band considered a true rock “supergroup” when it formed – singer/guitarist Greg Lake came from the aforementioned King Crimson, drummer Carl Palmer from cult faves Atomic Rooster, and keyboardist extraordinaire Keith Emerson from classical art-rockers the Nice. Along with Yes, ELP was prog-rock royalty, helping define the genre and dominating the charts throughout the 1970s with subsequent albums like 1971’s live Pictures At An Exhibition (#10 US/#3 UK), 1972’s Trilogy (#5 US/ #2 UK), and 1973’s Brain Salad Surgery (#11 US/#2 UK). The band’s first eight albums achieved Gold™ Record status, with seven of them charting Top 20 or better.

But the ol’ black magic had begun to fizzle out by the time of 1978’s Love Beach which, although the album would eventually be awarded a Gold™ Record, failed to chart in the Top 30 at the time. The high expense of touring left ELP virtually broke, and the individual band members were exhausted and couldn’t stand each other’s company. ELP broke up (temporarily) in ’79, leaving frontman Greg Lake wondering what he would do next. Lake did what any good muso would do, launching a solo career and forming the Greg Lake Band. The guitarist released two solo albums – 1981’s self-titled debut and 1983’s Manoeuvres – both of which experienced only modest commercial success. Reissued by Cherry Red Records as a two-disc set with four rare bonus tracks, these unfairly obscure and long out-of-print albums are worth another listen.

Greg Lake’s Debut LP

Greg Lake's Greg Lake
Lake’s self-titled debut was recorded partly in the United States and partly at his own studio in the United Kingdom. In Los Angeles, Lake worked with members of Toto, with backing provided by guitarist Steve Lukather, bassist David Hungate, and drummer Jeff Porcaro, as well as studio guests like King Crimson drummer Michael Giles and E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons. Lake’s band on the UK sessions included bassist Tristian Margetts (Spontaneous Combustion), keyboardist Tommy Eyre (Joe Cocker’s Grease Band), and drummer Ted McKenna (Tear Gas, Rory Gallagher). Legendary Irish blues-rock guitarist Gary Moore lent his talents to both of Lake’s solo efforts.

In the liner notes to Greg Lake, the guitarist refers to his “creative turmoil” at the time, and states in retrospect (and I’m paraphrasing) that he should have further explored his prog-rock roots rather than flitting from style to style as he does on this debut. Although Lake’s performances are exemplary, and his backing musicians are top-notch, the material often suffers from focus and, at times, from lack of understanding. For instance, the album-opening “Nuclear Attack” was written by Moore, and his fingerprints are all over this performance (Moore would subsequently release the song on one of his own albums). A scorching, at times symphonic heavy metal flamethrower, Moore’s fretwork is stunning, but Lake’s voice wasn’t built to deliver this sort of molten slag, and it shows…it’s an altogether solid song, but Lake is no Ronnie James Dio, if you know what I mean...

Dylan’s Love You Too Much

A more comfortable fit is “Love You Too Much,” an unfinished song that Lake solicited from Bob Dylan. The Scribe gave the tune to Lake to complete, and he did so nicely, retaining enough of Dylan’s original phrasing and melody to make the song sparkle while pumping up the performance on steroids with his impressive vocals, wonky guitarplay, ambitious instrumentation, and an overall breathless reading. Lake’s original “It Hurts” is an ELP-tinged ballad with his elegant acoustic guitarplay providing counterpoint to a wiry electric guitar. “Black and Blue” veers dangerously close to Fleetwood Mac’s stylistic turf, both lyrically and musically, complete with fey vocals and lovely harmonies – either a good thing or bad depending on your perspective – but a sound probably five years past expiration either way.

The rocker “Retribution Drive” was a bit commercial in orientation, perhaps, but does offer tasty, soaring guitars and dense rhythms and although it has a pretty cheesy middle section where Lake croons out his lyrics, the strident instrumentation and overall sonic dynamic should have made the song a chart hit. Definitely a product of the 1980s, “The Lie” is part rocker/part ballad with overstuffed production and busy instrumentation that almost buries Lake’s vocals at times. It sounds like Lake has gone MOR with “Let Me Love You Once,” a meager ballad that sounds more like Toto than ELP (and no, that’s not a good thing). Of the bonus tracks, an inspired cover of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got A Hold On Me” swings nicely on Lake’s vocal chops while “You’re Good With Your Love” is a poppy, new wave construct that Lake never really pulls off.

Greg Lake’s Manoeuvres

Greg Lake's Manoeuvres
Although Greg Lake, the album, experienced moderate chart success (hitting #62 in both the US & UK), Chrysalis Records was expecting a hit single and major league sales like ELP enjoyed, and the label was disappointed by the outcome. While Lake was still trying to find his solo musical identity, he had nevertheless swung for the fences, so it wasn’t for lack of trying that the album didn’t blow up. Dutifully, Lake had taken his band out on the road, touring in support of his solo debut. Comprised of bassist Margetts, keyboardist Eyre, and drummer McKenna, the Greg Lake Band developed a natural musical chemistry while on the road, the experience benefiting them greatly when they entered the studio to record Lake’s second album, Manoeuvres.

With an experienced and stable group of musicians behind Lake (instead of the hodge-podge of talents assembled to record the debut album), and with Gary Moore back in the studio to lend a hand, Manoeuvres is a vastly different album than its predecessor. Yes, the bombastic title track – a Lake/Moore co-write – is the sort of metal-edged hard rock that Moore was pursuing at the time, but toned down somewhat to create a more appropriate showcase for Lake’s lofty vocals. “Too Young To Love” is a mid-tempo rocker, Moore’s scorching fretwork and the band’s crashing percussion complimenting Lake’s vocal performance, which ranges from what is basically a spoken word delivery to shimmering, ethereal phrasing. Lake’s vocal gymnastics are match by the instrumentation, Moore’s frenetic guitarplay flying high above the busy rhythms.

I Don’t Know Why I Still Love You

Lake’s “Paralysed” is a curious construct, at once both the sort of moody, strident new wave music being made by contemporary bands like Berlin and Eurythmics at the time, but with guitar-driven hard rock roots. Lake’s vocals are emotionally-charged and slung low in the mix while Moore’s six-string squeals punctuate the lyrics. Another Lake/Moore co-write, “Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love Tonight” would have been the obvious choice to release as a single, and given the era, it could have scored big-time. A mid-tempo rocker wearing new wave fringe, the song offered Lake’s heartfelt lyrics, Moore’s imaginative guitarplay, and the band’s rock solid rhythmic foundation.

“Someone” provides the right framework for the singer’s best vocal performance on Manoeuvres. A mix of proggy ELP and poppy new wave melodies (think Simple Minds or Icehouse), Lake’s voice drives the haunting ballad while his classical-flavored acoustic strum provides a nice contrast with the lush instrumentation; with a little promotional push, “Someone” could have been another hit single. “I Don’t Know Why I Still Love You” is a beautiful, tearjerker of a ballad, with Lake’s delightful vocals soaring high above bittersweet instrumentation while “It’s You, You Gotta Believe” is a proggy, keyboards-driven ballad with a whimsical soundtrack that nevertheless could have used a bit more guitar. The bonus track included here, “Hold Me,” is a good song that would have fit perfectly within the scope of the original album, the song a lightweight melodic ballad with bright instrumentation, Lake’s warm (double-tracked?) vocals, and classically-inspired fretwork.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Greg Lake was no world-beater as a solo artist, and after Manoeuvres failed to chart, the guitarist accepted former ELP bandmate Carl Palmer’s 1983 invite to join Asia as bassist John Wetton’s replacement. A year or so later, when Wetton returned to the fold, Lake hooked up with Keith Emerson and journeyman drummer Cozy Powell in the ill-advised Emerson, Lake & Powell (ELP, geddit? Did they have t-shirts left over or what?). That band released a single, modestly successful album in 1986. Emerson, Lake & Palmer would reunite in 1991, releasing a pair of albums, including 1992’s critically-slagged Black Moon, and the band would tour sporadically throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s.

For Greg Lake, though, he seemingly set aside any further dreams of a solo career. Aside from a handful of late ‘80s demos recorded with Asia’s Geoff Downes, which were released in 2015 as Ride The Tiger, Lake largely stayed within the ELP universe. With these two solo albums, though, Lake experimented with different sounds; most notably, the melodic rock found on Manoeuvres would be extremely influential on a generation of European bands. Neither of Lake’s solo albums are earth-shaking recordings, but they’re solid efforts by a talented instrumentalist and songwriter and deserve to take their place as part of the rich ELP legacy. Grades: B- for Greg Lake, B+ for Manoeuvres (Cherry Red Records, released February 5, 2016)

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Related Content: Emerson, Lake & Palmer's A Time and A Place CD review

Book Review: Steve Krakow's My Kind of Sound: The Secret History of Chicago Music Compendium (2016)

Steve Krakow's My Kind of Sound
He may not be a household name, but writer, artist, and musician Steve Krakow (a/k/a Plastic Crimewave) is one of the most important and engaging music historians working in the field today. A self-taught expert on psychedelic rock and esoteric music, Krakow – under his ‘Plastic Crimewave’ nom de plume – launched his Galactic Zoo Dossier music zine in 1995. Published by the Chicago-based Drag City Records label, Galactic Zoo Dossier is a joyful celebration of the musical and pop culture flotsam and jetsam of the 1960s and ‘70s. Most notably, every issue of the zine (published roughly once a year to date) is hand-drawn by Krakow in his unique, psychedelic-tinged style.

Krakow’s bona fides extend beyond the publication of Galactic Zoo Dossier, although his eclectic tastes have led to interviews in those pages with such interesting talents as the Clive Palmer (Incredible String Band), Simeon (Silver Apples), Dave Lambert (Strawbs), Dick Taylor (The Pretty Things), and Arthur ‘Hellfire’ Brown (the zine takes its name from an album by Brown’s band Kingdom Come). As a musician, Krakow fronts Plastic Crimewave Sound, the avant-garde psychedelic outfit releasing half a dozen albums to date and, as a visionary, Krakow is promoter of the Million Tongues Festival in Chicago, exposing fringe and cult artists to a new audience.

Steve Krakow’s My Kind of Sound

Galactic Zoo Dossier zine
Most importantly for our purpose here, Krakow is the creator of The Secret History of Chicago Music. Krakow’s hand-lettered and hand-drawn column has been published by alternative newsweekly the Chicago Reader since 2005. An outgrowth of Galactic Zoo Dossier, the single-panel strip was meant to showcase “pivotal Chicago musicians that somehow have not gotten their just dues,” and it runs as a semi-monthly feature in the paper. Krakow also hosts a regular “Secret History” segment on WGN-AM radio, taking phone calls related to the featured artist, some of whom join the conversation. Now nearly 200 of Krakow’s “Secret History” columns – more than a decade of his work – have been collected by publisher Curbside Splendor in a gorgeous hardback book.

Ostensibly an odd-shaped (6.75” x 8.75”) art portfolio with matte B&W covers and thick, semi-glossy paper, My Kind of Sound: The Secret History of Chicago Music Compendium is an invaluable, groundbreaking work of original research and hell of a lot of fun to read and pore over. Krakow’s enthusiasm as a fan comes through in every artist profile he presents, and his familiarity with the bands and their music is complimented by personal interviews whenever Krakow is able to track the down an artist or band member. Every pen-and-ink panel features a sketch of the band or artist (some more effective than others, but all of them enchanting) along with an insightful, informative hand-lettered bio that captures the essence of the subject, providing a bit of back story, the reasons why we should care about them and, when possible, where the musicians are today – no little feat for any writer.  

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

The scope of Krakow’s achievement with My Kind of Sound is remarkable by any standard, and the range of artists he covers is impressively diverse. From lesser-known Chicago bluesmen like Blind Arvella Gray, Fenton Robinson, and Mighty Joe Young to obscure rockers like Mason Proffit, the Ides of March, and Starcastle, Krakow gives ‘em all the deluxe treatment. Throughout the book, Krakow frequently covers more prominent artists like Bo Diddley, Rufus, and ‘Magic’ Sam Maghett, but he also gives a lot of love to true cult musicians like Skafish, Ken Nordine, Phil Upchurch, and the Illinois Speed Press, among many others.

It’s a heavy load to carry, but Krakow skillfully documents Chicago’s rich musical history in all its hues and facets, preserving it for the future. If you’re anything like the Reverend, Krakow’s My Kind of Sound will have you filling up your Amazon wish list and digging through vinyl listings on Discogs – and that’s the highest praise I can think of… Grade: A+ (Curbside Splendor, published January 5, 2016)

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Rage Against the Machine Debut gets Audio Fidelity release!

Rage Against the Machine's Rage Against the Machine
Depending on your age and musical perspective, rockers Rage Against the Machine are either to blame for the inexplicable commercial success of the rap-metal genre during the 1990s, with all that entails – Tool, the Deftones, Limp Bizkit (*shudder*) – or they were merely pioneers of a new hybrid style that rapidly went in the wrong direction.

No matter, ‘cause Rage’s self-titled 1992 debut album hit the ears of American rock ‘n’ rollas like a mortar blast. Featuring bombastic tracks like “Killing In The Name,” “Bullet In The Head,” “Bombtrack,” and “Freedom,” which offered frontman Zack de la Rocha’s machinegun vox, guitarist Tom Morello’s flamethrower fretwork, and a truly explosive rhythm section in bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk that re-defined the meaning of ‘heavy,’ the album quickly achieved triple Platinum™ sales status with over 3m flapjacks sold.

The Reverend remembers his first hearing of Rage Against the Machine – on a cross-country repo job, I was driving a fire-red pickup truck with dodgy provenance from Oakland to Nashville. I picked up a copy of the Rage Against the Machine album on cassette tape from a truckstop in Nevada, and blasted it full-tilted through that state, across Utah’s Salt Lake Desert, over the mountains of Colorado, and over the badlands of Kansas. On June 24th, 2016 Rage Against the Machine will receive a long-overdue (IMHO) upgrade when our esteemed friends at Marshall Blonstein’s Audio Fidelity reissues the album as a limited-edition, hybrid SACD.

The band’s energetic mix of punk furor and heavy metal thunder mixed with free-flowing, politically-charged, left-leaning rapped vocals was fresh, exciting, inciting, and seemingly laboratory-created to blast loudly from a car radio or shoulder-held boom box. Rage Against the Machine also included guest appearances by Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan and Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins on the song “Know Your Enemy.” The album only rose as high as #45 on the Billboard magazine chart but would follow its critical acclaim with worldwide success, charting in the UK, Australia, Sweden, and Germany. The angry dynamics of Rage Against the Machine can only be enhanced with re-mastering and reissue in a high-resolution Super-Audio CD format.

Rage Against the Machine’s career was short, but groundbreaking in both influence and creativity. The band only released a total of four studio albums in eight years, with both their sophomore effort (1996’s Evil Empire) and third album (1999’s The Battle of Los Angeles) hitting number one in the US on their way to multi-Platinum™ sales. Even the band’s swansong, the covers album Renegades, rose to #14 on the charts and was subsequently awarded a Platinum™ Record.

Rage broke up in 2000, but has reunited sporadically for single shows and short tours; Morello is currently pursuing a solo career as ‘The Nighwatchman’ and has toured with Springsteen’s E Street Band while Wilk has been playing with Black Sabbath. It all began with that self-titled debut, a blockbuster album that was a true game-changer for rock ‘n’ roll!

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