Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pink Floyd’s The Early Years 1965-1972 box

Pink Floyd’s The Early Years 1965-1972

You wouldn’t think that there’d be much of a market for multi-disc box sets that run hundreds of dollars, but the major labels keep crankin’ out these things, so I guess that somebody’s buying them. As P.T. Barnum is alleged to have said, “There’s a sucker born every minute!”

I have to admit, though, that sometimes these things are mighty sweet…take a gander at Pink Floyd’s The Early Years 1965-1972, a wallet-whopping 27-disc box set that is receiving the Dylan treatment from Legacy Recordings on November 11th, 2016. Swaddled in swanky deluxe packaging, The Early Years box offers ten CDs, eight Blu-ray discs, nine DVDs, and five 7” vinyl singles packaged in seven individual book-style volumes, all of the discs graced with a wealth of unreleased music.

This absurd mix of quality and quantity doesn’t come cheap, Bunkie, and The Early Years is gonna set you back seven bills…six and a half if you’re lucky…but did I mention that the box also includes over 40 pieces of Floyd memorabilia such as posters, flyers, tour programs, etc to drool over?

With unreleased songs, BBC radio sessions, remixes, outtakes, and alternative versions, The Early Years provides almost twelve freakin’ hours of audio content from 130+ tracks as well as live and TV performances comprising better than fourteen hours of audio-visual thrills. The box highlights the evolution of the band from psychedelic rockers to prog-rock legends via seven hours of previously-unreleased live audio and five-plus hours of rare concert footage.

The five 45s included in the box are presented in replica sleeves and feature such awesome A-sides as “Arnold Layne,” “See Emily Play,” “Apples and Oranges,” “It Would Be So Nice,” and “Point Me At The Sky” as well as groovy Bs like “The Scarecrow” and “Careful With That Axe, Eugene.”

Pink Floyd's Cre/ation – The Early Years 1967-1972

For those of us of, well, more ‘modest’ means (i.e. we’re not freakin’ millionaires…), Sony Legacy will also be releasing the two-disc “highlights” set Cre/ation – The Early Years 1967-1972. Also scheduled for November 11th release, Cre/ation features 27 tracks culled from the larger box set, 19 of ‘em previously unreleased, offering fans a budget-priced ($16 on Amazon as I type...) way to experience the tasty rare tracks, BBC performances, and live recordings included in the massive Floyd The Early Years box set.

Hidden in the fine print of Sony’s press release for this box set it says “each individual book-style package will be released separately early in 2017,” save for a bonus disc exclusive to the box, so we fans may be able to buy “ala carte” from the Pink Floyd menu early next year. And can a 40-disc “later years 1973-1995” box set be far behind? Buy your flavor of Floyd via the links below...

I won the lottery, give me the full Pink Floyd experience: The Early Years 1967-1972 box set

I found a twenty on the street, give me a little taste of the Floyd: Cre/ation – The Early Years 1967-1972 two-disc set

Rhino Records celebrates Rocktober with Vinyl Reissues!

Flamin Groovies' Groovies Greatest Grooves
Archival specialists Rhino Records has announced their first ever “Rocktober” celebration, the label planning on releasing limited-edition vinyl reissue of some classic – and some not-so-classic – rock ‘n’ roll albums throughout the month of October. The party kicks off on Tuesday, October 4th, 2016 with an über-cool slate of titles that includes Deep Purple’s Machine Head and Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry.

The celebration continues throughout the month, each Tuesday bringing a brand new batch of vinyl goodies from the likes of the Stooges, the Small Faces, Iron Butterfly, ZZ Top, and the Flamin’ Groovies, among others. These audio flapjacks will only be available at participating brick and mortar record stores, so fluff up your sleeping bag and get ready to camp out overnight to buy the cheap thrills vinyl of your choice from the handy list below.

October 4th
• Deep Purple – Machine Head (clear vinyl, limited edition of 2500 copies, $21.98 list) *
• Foreigner – 4 (red colored vinyl, limited edition of 2400 copies, $19.98 list) *
• Jet – Get Born (180gr black vinyl, $21.98 list) +
• Twisted Sister – Stay Hungry (pink & black starburst colored vinyl w/band poster, limited edition of 2500 copies, $21.98 list) *

The StoogesOctober 11th
• Iron Butterfly – Heavy (stereo version, 180gr black vinyl, $19.98 list)
• ZZ Top – Eliminator (red colored vinyl, $19.98 list)

October 18th
• Alice Cooper – Billion Dollar Babies (green, yellow & orange marble vinyl w/one billion dollar bill insert, limited edition of 3000 copies, $24.98 list) *
• Small Faces – First Step (orange vinyl, $19.98 list)
• The Stooges – The Stooges (gold & brown colored vinyl, $19.98 list)

October 25th
• Buckcherry – 15 (10th anniversary vinyl edition, $19.98 list) *
• Heaven & Hell – The Devil You Know (two-LP set on dark orange & gold colored vinyl w/band poster and etching on side four, limited edition of 2000 copies, $27.98 list) *
• T-Rex – T-Rex (remastered vinyl & CD release, $19.98 list each) +
• The Flamin’ Groovies – Groovies Greatest Grooves (two-LP vinyl set, $27.98 list)

* Only available in the U.S.
+ Only available in North America

Sunday, July 24, 2016

CD Review: Junior Kimbrough's You Better Run (2003)

Junior Kimbrough's You Better Run
Mississippi – this is where the blues began. Get off Interstate 40 from Nashville to Memphis just short of the Bluff City and go directly south. You'll hit Highway 6 West, which will take you across the North Mississippi Hill Country, where Fred McDowell, R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough lived and toiled and made music. When you hit Highway 61, sneak in behind the casinos in Tunica and make your way to the old highway. This is the road used by hundreds of African-American sharecroppers, many the sons and daughters of slaves, to make their way out of the frying pan of the Delta and into the fire of big cities like St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit in search of a better life. Go south on 61 'til you hit Clarksdale and stop at the crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil. You're in the heartland of the blues, baby, and if the faces of the people you've seen as you drove through this fabled land hasn't brought you an understanding of the blues, then nothing ever will...

Junior Kimbrough was one of the last of the authentic Hill Country bluesmen, as gifted an artist as the state ever shared with the world, and when he died in 1998 at the age of 67, a large piece of blues tradition went with him. Even though he didn't record his first album until 1992, Kimbrough's influence on contemporary blues and rock music is immense and unstated. "Discovered" by critic and blues aficionado Robert Palmer, Kimbrough was featured in Palmer's excellent book and film, Deep Blues. Palmer was responsible for getting Junior's unique sound on tape, producing the bluesman's first two albums for Fat Possum, the tracks recorded mostly at the juke joint that Kimbrough operated in Chulahoma, Mississippi.

You Better Run: The Essential Junior Kimbrough serves as a primer for the uninitiated listener. Collecting material from Kimbrough's first four albums along with odd live tracks and rarities, You Better Run offers an overview of Kimbrough's career and cements his place in the blues hierarchy. Kimbrough's music is deceptively simple, usually beginning with a repetitive riff upon which Junior embroiders his free-flowing lyrics. The Soul Blues Boys – bassist Gary Burnside (son of Junior's contemporary R.L. Burnside) and drummer Kenny Malone (one of Junior's many sons) – react to Kimbrough's improvisations without missing a beat, providing a hard-driving musical tapestry behind Junior's hypnotic performances. Several tracks here include guitarist Kenny Brown, the aggressive axeman adding a further dimension to the material by providing an instrumental counterpoint to Kimbrough's droning six-string.

There are songs on You Better Run that will be studied by blues scholars for generations to come. The tension-filled "All Night Long," the haunting "Sad Days Lonely Nights," and the rambling title track all showcase Kimbrough's skills as a performer, the singer evoking passion, lust, dread and elation with nothing but his voice and guitar (no special effects necessary). "Done Got Old" is the chilling lament of a man facing his own mortality, Kimbrough's voice a plaintive wail above the sparse instrumentation. "Old Black Mattie" is a traditionally styled juke-joint blues, starting hard and rising to a powerful crescendo while "Most Things Haven't Worked Out" is a lengthy and insightful observation on life. Most, if not all of the songs here were captured in one take – Palmer observed that Junior never was one to do a song over again – lending a raw, immediate feel to the material, just like you'd hear it at Junior's juke-joint.

As Rolling Stone editor Anthony DeCurtis states in his excellent liner notes to You Better Run, Kimbrough's blues were "a language that he made up," an entirely original distillation of one-hundred years of Mississippi music, rural culture and poverty. Kimbrough is often compared to his friend, contemporary and sometimes rival R.L. Burnside, but Junior's music has less to do with the Hill Country fife and drum tradition followed by Burnside and more to do with the ghosts of Mississippi bluesmen who came before. Although there are a few artists who evoke the Kimbrough style – Richard Johnston, who fronted the Soul Blues Boys after Junior's death, comes to mind – nobody will ever be able to replace Junior Kimbrough. If you have any interest in the genre at all, You Better Run: The Essential Junior Kimbrough is required listening in the Blues 101 course load.

Buy the CD from Junior Kimbrough's You Better Run

Originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2003

Real Gone Gets Funky with The Meters!

The Meters' A Message From The Meters
Our friends at Real Gone Music have released their September 2016 release schedule and let me tell you, brothers and sisters, they’re getting into the funk in a big way! First on the slate is a two-disc compilation covering the Crescent City’s favorite sons, the Meters. Scheduled for release on September 2, 2016 A Message From The Meters – The Complete Josie, Reprise & Warner Brothers Singles 1968-1977 is a forty-track monster that includes the A and B sides of every single released by the legendary band on the aforementioned record labels, providing the listener with a motherlode of great music! The set was re-mastered by Mike Milchner at SonicVision, the studio wizard working from the original master tapes for all but five of the singles…no mean feat considering the age of many of these tracks. Music historian Bill Dahl provides in-depth liner notes for the set that include quotes from Neville, Nocentelli, and Porter.

The Meters formed in 1965 with keyboardist and singer Art Neville up front, guitarist Leo Nocentelli shredding the strings, bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste holding down the bottom end. Art’s younger brother Cyril (currently of the Royal Southern Brotherhood) joined the band in 1970. The Meters were musician, songwriter, and producer Allen Toussaint’s house band for his Sansu Records label, backing performers like Lee Dorsey and Dr. John, among many others, on a bunch of hits. The band released its self-titled, Toussaint-produced debut album in 1969, scoring a Top 30 single out of the box with the infectiously funky “Cissy Strut.” Mixing elements of rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, and jazz with deep grooves and fluid rhythms, the Meters defined the sound of New Orleans funk.

An impressive slate of critically-acclaimed albums followed – 1970’s Look-Ka Py Py and Struttin’, 1972’s Cabbage Alley, 1974’s Rejuvenation, and what many consider the Meters’ best, 1975’s Fire On The Bayou. Real Gone’s A Message From The Meters includes classic tracks like the aforementioned “Cissy Strut,” “Sophisticated Cissy,” “Hey Pocky A-Way,” “Look-Ka Py Py,” and more, offered in their original versions. The Josie label singles are represented by the original mono singles mixes, most of which have never made their way onto CD (in fact, the first disc of A Message From The Meters is entirely in mono, with the Reprise/Warner Brothers label singles on disc two in stereo). Art and Cyril Neville left the band in 1977 after the release of the New Directions album to form the Neville Brothers, and the Meters officially broke up in 1980. They would later reunite in 1989, renaming themselves the Funky Meters, but the original band left behind eight albums, a slew of fine single releases, and an enormous musical legacy.

Buy the CD from The Meters' A Message From The Meters

Real Gone Gets In the Groove with The Isley Brothers

The Isleys Brothers’ Groove with You…Live!
The roots of the Isley Brothers date back to the mid-1950s when teen brothers Vernon, O’Kelly Jr., Rudolph, and Ronald Isley were performing as a gospel quartet. A couple of years after Vernon’s tragic accidental death, the remaining trio moved to New York City and began to pursue a more secular sound, blending R&B and doo-wop with early rock ‘n’ roll. They scored their first hit in 1959 with the classic “Shout,” which peaked at a modest #47 on the charts before eventually going on to sell more than a million platters. Jumping from label to label, the trio enjoyed modest success with a handful of singles before scoring again with their first Top 20 hit, 1962’s “Twist and Shout.” Jimi Hendrix played with the Isleys for a while, contributing guitar to the 1964 single “Testify,” released by the brothers’ own T-Neck Records.

The Isley Brothers struggled throughout the 1960s, mixing Top 40 hits like “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You)” for Motown with a number of near chart misses. The brothers resurrected their T-Neck label for the release of 1969’s “It’s Your Thing,” which included younger brother Ernie on bass. Mixing a little funk into their soulful sound, the song became a smash hit, topping the R&B chart and rising to #2 on the ‘Hot 100’ singles chart while earning the band a Grammy™ Award. The album by the same name rose to #22 on the pop chart, launching the Isley Brothers into the stratosphere. The singing trio added musical talent to the band with younger brothers Ernie (guitar) and Marvin Isley (bass) and brother-in-law Chris Jasper (keyboards). Throughout the ‘70s the band scored hit after hit with classic albums like 1973’s 3+3, 1974’s Live It Up, 1975’s The Heat Is On, 1976’s Harvest For The World, and 1977’s Go For Your Guns, among others.

With a string of chart successes behind them, the Isley Brothers decided in 1980 to record a live album. Rather than record a live performance with a mobile truck, however, the Isleys decamped to Bearsville Sound Studio in Woodstock, New York, recording the album live in the studio. The resulting effort – Groove with You…Live! – was enhanced with an overdubbed audience and introductions by MC “Gorgeous” George Odell to create a live album with pristine studio sound. However Columbia Records, which was distributing the band’s T-Neck Records releases, passed on the album preferring to wait for another studio disc, and the Isley’s Groove with You…Live! was shelved until 2015, when it was dusted off, remixed (removing the faux crowd noise), and included as part of an Isley Brothers retrospective box set.

The Isleys’ Groove with You…Live! was later released as a limited edition two-disc vinyl set with the audience noise re-inserted into the mix for Record Store Day 2015. On September 2, 2016 the album will finally see proper release on CD when Real Gone Music reissues Groove with You…Live! Offering up classic Isley Brothers hits like “Summer Breeze,” “That Lady,” “Fight The Power,” and “Take Me To The Next Phase” among its dozen tracks, the album was re-mastered by Mark Wilder and Chris Le Monde and features new liner notes by The Second Disc’s Joe Marchese which feature quotes from Ernie Isley and Chris Jasper. Call it the “long lost live” Isley Brothers album, Groove with You…Live! is an invaluable document by a legendary group and will appeal to any fan of vintage funk, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Buy the CD from The Isley Brothers' Groove with You...Live!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

CD Review: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band's Radio Chicago 1976 (2016)

Bob Seger's Radio Chicago 1976
At 1976’s opening bell, Detroit’s favorite son – Bob Seger – was just another blue-collar rocker who’d been treading the boards for better than a decade in search of the fabled brass ring of success. By the year’s end, he’d be a shooting star on his way to legend status, and all because of one little ol’ album that, if it hadn’t have sold the copies it did, might have consigned Seger to history’s teetering stack o’ cult rock obscurities.

Released in the spring of ’76, ‘Live’ Bullet captured Seger and his road-tested band’s electrifying stage show in front of a frenzied hometown crowd at Detroit’s Cobo Hall on wax. The double-LP set earned the singer his first Top 40 album, ‘Live’ Bullet eventually certified as five-times Platinum™. Seger ended the year with a studio album, Night Moves providing a fine bookend to an explosive year, the album cementing his success with a Top Ten showing, three hit singles (including the title track’s #4 chart showing), and over six million copies sold.

Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band’s Radio Chicago 1976

Even as stardom loomed over the horizon, Seger’s popularity was entirely regional, his hard-charging rock ‘n’ roll style – peppered with soul and blues and former Third Power guitarist Drew Abbott’s underrated, impressive fretwork – was perfectly suited to his fans’ Rust Belt mentality. Even while he was beginning to break through to mainstream audiences, the dichotomy of his appeal was obvious to band and critical observers alike. In June 1976, Seger played to a sold-out crowd of nearly 80,000 fans at the Pontiac Superdome outside of Detroit; the next night, Seger and the Silver Bullet Band performed for a few hundred fans at the B’Ginnings club in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Illinois.

The show was originally broadcast live on WXRT-FM radio in Chicago, and has recently been released for the first time on compact disc as Radio Chicago 1976 for long-suffering Seger fans. Although released underground as a vinyl bootleg incorrectly titled as Live In Montreal 1978, this proper CD release features a superb live recording of the band kicking out the jams with a performance as vital and exciting as the previous night’s party at the Silverdome. Offering up twelve songs (“Lookin’ Back” and “Mary Lou,” split by a DJ announcement, are two separate performances), the set list reaches back to Seger’s early career, Radio Chicago 1976 showcasing a band about to burn down the world with talent and ambition.

Radio Chicago 1976 opens, seemingly with the concert already underway, the band cranking out a raw-boned performance of “Bo Diddley/Who Do You Love?” from Seger’s excellent 1972 Smokin’ O.P.’s album. With Drew Abbott’s stinging guitar licks and Robyn Robins’ fleet-fingered keyboard runs leading the way, the band establishes a raucous foundation for the remainder of the show. Chris Campbell’s funky bass solo, embellished by Robins’ keys, keeps the party rolling for nearly eight minutes. Seger’s originals “Travelin’ Man” and “Beautiful Loser” hail from his fan favorite 1975 LP Beautiful Loser, which flirted with Top 40 status upon its release. The former song is a rollicking, mid-tempo “rocker’s life on the road” style song that features Abbott’s wiry guitar and some fine percussion from drummer Charlie Martin while the latter is a rockin’ ballad fueled by Robins’ chiming keyboards, with Seger’s earnest vocals augmented by Abbott’s sly, nuanced guitarplay.

Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man

The blazing “Katmandu” is, hands down, one of Seger’s most all-time popular tunes, delivered here as a rapid-paced, soul-flavored rocker that features the singer’s vocal gymnastics, Abbott’s Chuck Berry-styled git-pickin’, and Alto Reed’s raging saxophone dancing atop a pile-driving rhythmic groove. The R&B standard “I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” offers up some of Abbott’s tastiest Southern-fried fretwork with Seger acquitting himself nicely as a soul shouter while “Lookin’ Back,” released only as a single, revisits the late ‘60s incarnation of the Bob Seger System, the gospel-tinged performance featuring reverent vocal harmonies and Robins’ inspired keyboard riffs. A cover of the Ronnie Hawkins’ ‘50s-era jam “Mary Lou” would become a favorite track from Night Moves; performed here, the song is provided a wired, imaginative arrangement that pivots on Abbott’s distorted rattletrap guitar and a swinging, ramshackle rhythmic backdrop.

“Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” was actually Seger’s first Top 20 charting single (#17) in 1968, the song breaking out nationally but doing little to improve the singer’s fortunes (the subsequent album only made it as high as #68 on the charts); during the ensuing years, it has become a bona fide classic rock treasure. With Seger’s voice accompanied by a heavy keyboard riff and a dense, fluid rhythm, the band’s backing harmonies fit hand in glove with Seger’s livewire vox and Abbott’s buzzsaw guitar. A cover of Chuck Berry’s classic “Let It Rock” is a revved-up, redlined, runaway locomotive of a performance. Seger’s machine-gun reading of the master’s lyrics is bolstered by the band’s well-oiled, turbo-charged instrumentation, led by Robins’ tortured keyboards, Abbott’s gritty guitar, and Reed’s soaring saxophone. The extended jam given the song provides an excuse for Seger to get the audience involved in the performance.

Seger’s “Rosalie” is an underrated gem in the singer/songwriter’s back catalog that was originally recorded for Seger’s Back In ’72 album (which has never been reissued on CD…c’mon Bob, what are you waiting for?!). A tribute to Windsor, Ontario’s CKLW-AM music director Rosalie Trombley, an early Seger supporter, the song would later be nicely covered by U.K. rockers Thin Lizzy. This night in the Chicago suburbs, “Rosalie” is provided a raucous performance with gang vocals, rattling fretwork, high-flying keyboards, and explosive percussion. Just for the hell of it, the band covers Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” Seger introducing the song with a lengthy spiel that unrolls above Abbott’s John Lee Hooker-inspired booger-rock guitar licks. While Seger doesn’t possess the high register of Zep’s Robert Plant, his more soulful vocals are assisted by Abbott’s amazing guitar playing while the band rocks the house with reckless abandon. Radio Chicago 1976 closes with the wicked rocker “Lucifer,” from Seger’s 1970s album Mongrel. Featuring one of Seger’s best leather-lunged vocal performances, the band evinces a complex, slightly-funky groove with Abbott’s roaring fretwork at the forefront.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Radio Chicago 1976 is an unexpected, early Christmas present for Bob Seger fans. Hailing from the period that the hardcore faithful consider the Motor City legend’s best era (1972 through 1979), this performance captures Seger and the talented Silver Bullet Band near the peak of their abilities, stalking the stage each night like the hungry predators they were. Better yet, the twelve tracks on Radio Chicago 1976 only duplicate seven songs from ‘Live’ Bullet, with “Rosalie” and “Lucifer” both live rarities and the Zep cover never repeated on tape to my knowledge. Sound quality here is very good, with only slight echo and distortion, the CD faithfully replicating the sound of the band’s incredible performance. Got it? Get it! Grade: A+ (All Access/MVD Audio, released July 8, 2016)

Related content: Bob Seger's Smokin' O.P.'s CD review

Buy the CD from Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band's Radio Chicago 1976

Rare Gunhill LPs with John Lawton reissued!

GunHill's Nightheat
The talented John Lawton is one of those journeymen rockers who leave excellence in their wake as they jump from one project to another over the decades. The British-born singer first came to prominence as frontman for the German hard rock outfit Lucifer’s Friend, touring and recording with the legendary band from 1969 through ’76, appearing on five albums before leaving to join Uriah Heep.

Replacing the irreplaceable David Byron on the microphone, Lawton recorded three solid albums with Heep – 1977’s Firefly and Innocent Victim and 1978’s Fallen Angel – before leaving to rejoin Lucifer’s Friend for another lengthy run. Lawton was also part of Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover’s 1975 project “Butterfly Ball,” performing live at the Royal Albert Hall alongside Purple’s Ian Gillan, David Coverdale, and Glenn Hughes.

Often overlooked, however, is Lawton’s early ‘90s-era band GunHill. With Lawton on vocals, Brian Bennet on guitar, bassist Neil Kavanagh, and drummer Chris Jones, GunHill released two studio albums of prog-flavored hard rock similar to Rainbow or King’s X – 1995’s fan club exclusive One Over The Eight cassette and 1997’s Nightheat – both of which have been out of print for ten years or more, and are incredibly hard to find.

Answering the prayers of John Lawton fans worldwide, both albums have been reissued as a two-disc set with bonus tracks, representing a comprehensive collection of GunHill studio recordings (a live album was released in 1999). Provided a fresh digital re-mastering, the reissue was overseen by Lawton personally and has his approval.

In a press release for the reissues, Lawton says “these two CDs are part of my musical history when I played together with some fine musicians, some quite young and some a bit more experienced. It was an opportunity to cover some tracks that I look back on as really great songs and a few original tracks that have stood the test of time.”

Buy the CD from GunHill's One Over The Eight/Nightheat

John Lawton's GunHill circa 1997
John Lawton's GunHill circa 1997

Thursday, July 14, 2016

CD Review: Das Damen's Triskaidekaphobe (1988)

Das Damen's Triskaidekaphobe
Lost among an ‘80s-era SST label catalog that included Black Flag, Husker Du, the Minutemen, the Meat Puppets, and Sonic Youth, among other notables, New York rockers Das Damen continue to be tragically overlooked by the indie, punk-metal, and alt-rock crowd. Even St. Vitus receives more love these days for their ground-breaking stoner rock albums from back in the day...Das Damen has been reduced to a mere musical footnote on an otherwise legendary record label.

Formed in 1984 by guitarists Jim Walters and Alex Totino, bassist Phil Von Trapp, and drummer Lyle Hyser, Das Damen was originally signed by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore to his Ecstatic Peace label. The band released a self-titled EP in 1986 that was later reissued by SST, releasing its full-length SST debut, Jupiter Eye, a year later. The album featured improvisational acid-rock jams not dissimilar to the Bevis Frond with a touch of Sonic Youth-inspired guitar squonk thrown in for good measure. Although the band toured heavily in support of the album, the disc’s poor production and Das Damen’s free-wheeling sound – which was easily a decade ahead of its time – did little to attract an audience.

Triskaidekaphobe was the band’s second album for SST, a solid collection of guitar-driven rockers that incorporated elements of ‘60s psychedelica, ‘70s hard rock and proto-metal and ’80s punk. Named after the technical term for the “fear of the number 13,” Triskaidekaphobe, released in 1988, is in many minds the high point of the Das Damen’s career. First of all, the band received a few more dollars to throw at production this time around, so the sound is better than the muddy mix provided Jupiter Eye.

Constant touring had sharpened the band’s sound to a blistering, surgically-precise aural onslaught. The guitars of Walters and Totino dominate the songs, providing cascading riffs and squalls of feedback. The rhythm section is equally impressive; aside from their explosive drumbeats and heavy bass lines, Von Trapp and Hyser create some interesting textures and patterns behind the guitarist’s flying notes. To top it off, the MC5’s Wayne Kramer stops by to contribute what the liner notes call “riff rock,” showing the young pups how an old dog plays the game. In many ways, the music of Das Damen carries a vibe similar to the MC5. Both bands delivered loud, dense, guitar-driven riff-rock; substitute Das Damen’s metallic tendencies for the MC5’s blues-and-jazz influences and you can see the comparison.

The songs themselves were much sharper on Triskaidekaphobe than previously, the acid-drenched instrumental jams shorter and delivered with laser-like focus. “Reverse Into Tomorrow” kicks off like an R.E.M. tune and shares a similar melodic construction, with washes of guitar and a consistent rhythmic barrage building a wall-of-sound behind Walters’ hidden vocals. Sounding like an imploding high-rise before settling into a martial beat not unlike Killing Joke, Walters and Totino’s guitars provide a storm of spiraling leads amidst a rhythmic fury on “firejoke.”

The chaotic “Ruby Woodpecker” is soaked in gasoline and lit up with syncopated, dissonant fretwork while the raucous instrumental “Seven” benefits from its improvisational nature and undeniably tight band chemistry. As good as the instrumental performances are, if there is one drawback to Triskaidekaphobe, it would be Walters’ vocals. Often lost in the mix, the vox are passable, if not particularly strong. The band would have benefited from finding a ballsy frontman a la Plant to shout above Walters and Totino’s amazing six-string work.

Das Damen wasn’t particular influential, and the band’s audience was small, if loyal. Where Das Damen is remembered, it is for their notorious bit of social protest, better known as The Marshmallow Conspiracy EP. Released a few months after Triskaidekaphobe and including two songs from the album, the EP also featured a non-LP track called “Sky Yen” and the controversial “Song For Michael Jackson To $ell.” Michael Jackson had just purchased the rights to the Beatles’ song catalog for around $100 million, so Das Damen recorded its own warped version of “Magical Mystery Tour,” complete with Beatles samples, calling it “Song For Michael Jackson To $ell” and giving themselves credit. The gloved one’s lawyers got involved, the record was recalled, and the band was promptly given the boot by SST.

Although they would break up a couple of years later, thus missing out on the alt-rock explosion of the early ‘90s where they might have found their audience, Das Damen is fondly remembered by those of us who bought their records and saw this talented band perform live. It is somehow fitting that we remember Triskaidekaphobe on Friday the 13th, because if not for bad luck, Das Damen might not have had any luck at all! (SST Records)

Originally published by Trademark of Quality blog

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

CD Review: Supersonic Blues Machine's West of Flushing, South of Frisco (2016)

Supersonic Blues Machine's West of Flushing, South of Frisco
You can tell a lot about a band by who their friends are – and in the case of Supersonic Blues Machine, they come roaring into the room with a monster pedigree. An axe-rattling blues-rock gang consisting of singer and guitarist Lance Lopez, bassist Fabrizio Grossi, and drummer Kenny Aronooff, the band brought along heavy friends like ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes, Walter Trout, and Eric Gales, among other talented fretburners, as guests on their explosive debut.

Not that the Supersonic guys are any slouches themselves: Texas bluesman Lopez has been kicking the can as a solo artist for over a decade and half a dozen albums; Grossi has toured and recorded with talents like Slash, George Clinton, and Steve Lukather; and Aronoff has kept time behind everybody from John Mellencamp and Bob Dylan to Leslie West and Walter Trout. In other words, the Supersonic Blues Machine is a group of veteran musicians who know their stuff, and still get a thrill out of getting together with friends and jamming.

As such, the band's debut album West of Flushing, South of Frisco, offers the sound of joyous, unbridled music-making that falls a bit heavier on the rock side of the blues-rock equation. Unlike a lot of these kinds of affairs, Grossi wrote or co-wrote most of the songs, and he produced the album with a steady hand, providing West of Flushing, South of Frisco with a dynamic sound that accents the band’s bad-ass instrumental prowess. The album-opening “Miracle Man” starts out with a bit of exotic acoustic guitar, soulful vocals, and blasts of harp before blowing up into a chaotic, bluesy maelstrom.

“Running Whiskey,” with Gibbons, is a hot rod rocket launched by the ZZ Top frontman’s delightfully growled vocals, locomotive rhythms, and scorched earth fretwork, while “Can’t Take It No More” is a near-perfect duet with Lopez and Trout swapping vox and git licks. An inspired cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Ain’t No Love (In The Heart of The City)” is given an expansive reading that showcase’s Lopez’s immense guitar skills. If you’re a fan of any of the aforementioned guitar stars mentioned above, you’re going to find a lot to like this debut by Supersonic Blues Machine. Grade: B+ (Provogue Records, released February 26, 2016)

Buy the CD from Supersonic Blues Machine’s West of Flushing, South of Frisco

CD Review: Fairport Convention's Live In Finland 1971 (2016)

Fairport Convention's Live In Finland 1971
For those unfamiliar with this legendary band, Fairport Convention was one of the first wave of British folk-rock outfits that masterfully welded British folk tradition to an electric rock n’ roll framework. The early sound of the band, upon its formation in 1967, was built around the delightful guitars of Richard Thompson and Simon Nicol. Over the first four or five years of the band, and with classic albums like Unhalfbricking and Liege & Lief, Fairport Convention also featured talented vocalists like Sandy Denny and Iain Matthews.

That’s not the version of Fairport Convention that you’ll hear on Live In Finland 1971, but that’s not to say that’s necessarily a bad thing. Denny was long gone by the time of this August ’71 show, Thompson had just gone out the door, and Matthews had already launched his solo career (with help from his former bandmates) with 1969’s Matthews Southern Comfort album.

Touring in support of their overlooked and underappreciated Angel Delight album, this version of Fairport Convention – now comprised of bassist Dave Pegg, drummer Dave Mattacks, and fiery fiddle player Dave Swarbrick along with founding guitarist Nicol – raised a bit of a ruckus with a rowdy set that featured a couple of songs from Angel Delight (the traditional “Bridge Over the River Ash” and the original “The Journeyman’s Grace,” penned by Swarbrick and Thompson”) but otherwise relied heavily on traditional British folk tunes.

While the first couple of songs (the aforementioned Angel Delight tracks) are a wee bit wonky with the fiddleplay for my taste, there’s a fine instrumental balance on “Matty Grove” (from Liege & Leaf) and the lively “Sir B. McKenzie’s Daughter’s Lament” is a spry, foot-shuffling medley and jig and reels guaranteed to get the blood flowing. The sound on Live In Finland 1971 is excellent, especially given the era in which it was recorded, and the performance showcases the solid talents of this latter-day Fairport Convention line-up. Grade: B (Real Gone Music, released June 3, 2016)

Buy the CD from Fairport Convention’s Live In Finland 1971

Sunday, July 10, 2016

CD Review: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s Got A Mind To Give Up Living - Live 1966 (2016)

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s Got A Mind To Give Up Living
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band were musical trailblazers not because they were fusing blues music and rock ‘n’ roll unlike any band before them – John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and the Yardbirds, among others, had already been doing so on the other side of the pond, even if they were relatively unknown to American audiences. No, Butterfield’s group was influential because they were the first interracial band to emerge from the 1960s, and they played Chicago blues with a rock ‘n’ roll edge that retained the emotional soul of the former and the unbridled energy of the latter.

The band was formed in Chicago in 1963 by homegrown blues fan Paul Butterfield and transplanted Oklahoman Elvin Bishop, both of who were ostensibly attending the University of Chicago at the time but, in reality, spent more time in the city’s notorious blues clubs than in classes. The offer of a regular performing gig prompted Butterfield to lure bassist Jerome Arnold and drummer Sam Lay from Muddy Waters’ band, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was formed. The band caught the eye of Elektra Records producer Paul Rothchild and, adding the phenomenal guitarist Michael Bloomfield to the line-up, they secured a record deal with the label and thus a legend was born.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s Got A Mind To Give Up Living

After several misfires in the studio, the band released its self-titled debut album in late 1965; keyboardist Mark Naftalin was brought on board during the album’s recording sessions to expand the band’s sound. With Butterfield on the microphone and blowing a mighty blues harp (influenced by the likes of Junior Wells and Little Walter), Bloomfield adding his innovative lead guitar, Bishop providing solid rhythm guitar, and a seasoned rhythm section holding down the bottom end, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band quickly made a name for themselves as an electrifying and imaginative live outfit. Although the band’s debut album only rose to #123 on the Billboard album chart, it has since become a blues-rock touchstone and is widely considered one of the truly pioneering albums of the blues.

The band toured across the country in the wake of their debut album, appearing at the Newport Folk Festival in ’65 (even playing behind Bob Dylan); opening for the Jefferson Airplane in San Francisco; and hitting the east coast with a May 1966 performance at the Unicorn Coffee House in Boston, Massachusetts. By this time, Sam Lay had fallen ill and was replaced by jazz drummer Billy Davenport, himself an alumnus of Muddy Waters’ and Howlin’ Wolf’s bands. One of the Butterfield band’s rafter-shaking performances at the Unicorn Coffee House was recorded, the performance recently rediscovered and released on CD by the good folks at Real Gone Music as Got A Mind To Give Up Living – Live 1966. Previously unreleased – I can’t even find mention of this particular show in any of my bootleg LP references – this dynamite 13-track live set earns its legit release status.

Born In Chicago

Capturing the band at the peak of its performance skills, Got A Mind To Give Up Living offers up a mix of songs from the band’s debut and their upcoming musical tour de force, East-West, which was recorded and released later in 1966. Providing an hour-plus of low-fidelity, high-energy jams, the albums kicks off with a rattletrap instrumental vamp to introduce the band, jumping directly into an inspired take on Elmore James’ “Look Over Yonders Wall” that features Butterfield’s vibrant harp, Bloomfield’s stinging guitar licks, and the rhythm section’s rollicking instrumental backdrop. The band’s signature song, the Nick Gravenites-penned “Born In Chicago,” offers up a rowdy good time; Butterfield’s rapid-fire reading of the lyrics matched by a similarly fast-paced but multi-textured rhythm track, which itself is neatly embroidered by the frontman’s fluid harp playing.

“Love Her With A Feeling” is a vintage 1930s-era Tampa Red blues song famously covered by guitarist Freddie King; never recorded to album by Butterfield and crew, it’s delivered this night as a slow-burn Chicago blues dirge, Bloomfield’s amazing fretwork leaping out of the arrangement as Butterfield’s emotional vocals are underlined by his mournful harp and the band’s steady, traditional Chicago blues beat. Later recorded for East-West, “Get Out Of My Life, Woman” was written by New Orleans music legend Allen Toussaint, and the band evinces a funky Crescent City groove atop which Butterfield lays down his vocals and Naftalin adds his lively, melodic keyboard flourishes. With a similar vibe, the band’s cover of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ R&B gem “One More Heartache” is an up-tempo lil’ rocker that benefits from Davenport’s jazzy percussion and Butterfield’s upbeat vocals and brilliant accompanying harp.

The instrumental “Work Song,” also from the band’s then-forthcoming album, is a romping, stomping extended jam courtesy of jazz trumpeter Nat Adderley (brother of saxman Cannonball), the song allowing each of the band members to step into the spotlight for a little solo time. The performance never loses cohesion or energy, though (and the listener never loses interest, even after 12+ minutes). The title track here is one of the darker numbers from East-West, a real blues tear-jerker that features some of Butterfield’s most emotional and nuanced harp-play as well as Bloomfield’s frenetic guitar solos. The Muddy Waters’ blues standard “Got My Mojo Working” closes out the album, Arnold and Davenport laying down a fine shuffling groove that allows Butterfield’s harp and Bloomfield’s guitar to run free.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Let’s address the elephant in the room first, shall we? The sound on Got A Mind To Give Up Living is, to put it mildly, “less than perfect.” I have no doubt that engineer Mike Milchner did the best he had with the tapes he was provided, but as the old adage goes, “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” Recording technology in 1966 was still in the cave-painting era, and whatever rig was used to capture this otherwise blistering performance was probably somewhat Neanderthal in nature. Bloomfield’s usually nuanced vocals are often washed out or redlined, too hot for the tape. There’s an overall echoed sound that club spelunkers will readily recognize, and more than a little fuzz growing on the cave walls, if you catch my meaning...

That being said, Got A Mind To Give Up Living documents a prime performance by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and there just ain’t that many of those around, Bunkie! Milchner seems to have brightened up the instruments so that, for instance, Butterfield’s wired harp playing and Bloomfield’s electrifying fretwork stand tall in the mix, while Davenport’s steady pounding of the skins provides an anchor for many of the performances. Arnold’s fluid bassplay is almost altogether lost in the din and distortion, and Bishop’s skilled rhythmic work is mostly indiscernible.

Longtime fans of Butterfield and Bloomfield will certainly appreciate the performance, but newcomers should probably start with The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and East-West albums before venturing into these waters. There’s no arguing, though, that at their prime the Butterfield gang was simply explosive on stage, and Got A Mind To Give Up Living captures the full megatonnage of the band’s performance. Grade: B+ (Real Gone Music, released June 3, 2016)

Buy the CD from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s Got A Mind To Give Up Living - Live 1966 

Walter Trout’s ALIVE In Amsterdam Tour

Walter Trout’s ALIVE In Amsterdam
Touring in support of his recently-released live album ALIVE In Amsterdam, blues-rock guitarist Walter Trout – one of the Rev’s personal favorites – has announced that he’ll be hitting the road in August for a number of North American performances. Trout’s tour opens on August 13th with an appearance at the Cincinnati Blues Festival and will close in Denver, Colorado on August 30th, 2016 at the Oriental Theater. After a brief romp across Europe, Trout will return to the states for a slate of December shows that are as of yet unannounced.

Trout’s ALIVE In Amsterdam is a red-hot collection of performances recorded in November 2015 in Amsterdam’s Royal Theatre Carré. ALIVE In Amsterdam has been released as both a two-CD set and a three-album set pressed in glorious 180gr black vinyl. In a press release for the album, Trout states “we were rocking. If people are expecting a laid-back show, that's not what they’ll get. This is potent stuff.  That whole tour was kinda triumphant for me. Just to be back, after what I went through. But also to be playing with a renewed energy and commitment.”

With songs pulled from every era of his five-decade career, ALIVE In Amsterdam includes the Luther Allison cover “I'm Back,” the plaintive B.B. King tribute “Say Goodbye To The Blues,” the harmony-bolstered rocker “Almost Gone” and the raucous “Tomorrow Seems So Far Away” from Trout’s Battle Scars album and much more. Check out the video for ALIVE In Amsterdam below and then get ready to catch Trout perform live when he comes to your hometown!

Walter Trout's August 2016 Tour Dates

8/13 @ Cincinnati Blues Festival, Cincinnati OH
8/14 @ Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland OH
8/16 @ City Winery, New York NY
8/18 @ Violet's, Barrie, Ontario CAN
8/19 @ Violet's, Barrie, Ontario CAN
8/20 @ Seneca Casino, Niagara Falls NY
8/21 @ Funk 'n' Waffles, Syracuse NY
8/24 @ Castle Theatre, Bloomington IL
8/25 @ Redstone Room, Davenport IA
8/26 @ Paola Roots Fest, Paola KS
8/27 @ Playing With Fire Concert Series, Omaha NE
8/28 @ Lefty's Live Music, Des Moines IA
8/30 @ Oriental Theater, Denver CO

Fossils: Ralph Records – Musick For Weirdos (1978)

Ralph Records' Musick for Weirdos
[click to embiggen]
Ralph Records' Musick For Weirdos

Not so much an advertisement for a single album release but rather a clever slab o’ bloato-hype from avant-garde indie label Ralph Records for a slew of their releases. Formed in 1972 in San Francisco by cult rockers the Residents when they realized that no corporate label would come anywhere near the band without a hazmat suit and ten-foot-pole, Ralph’s first album release came in 1974 with the extraordinary Meet The Residents, as bizarre-o a chunk of PVC as one would ever slap on a turntable. After their acclaimed debut, Residents’ albums fell like acid rain on the fringes of American rock ‘n’ roll, beginning with 1976’s The Third Reich ‘n Roll and following with 1977’s Fingerprince, 1978’s Not Available and the oddball Duck Stab!/Buster & Glen, a compilation of  the band’s seven-song Duck Stab! EP on the A-side and Buster & Glen holding down the B-side of the album.

The Residents evidently attracted a lot of like-minded fellow-travelers, and Ralph Records began releasing 45rpm singles and full-length albums by a number of, ah…shall we say ‘unique’ artists who fell into orbit around the label. The first was guitarist Philip “Snakefinger” Lithman, whose 7” single “The Spot” was release by Ralph in 1978, followed by a wonderful full-length album the next year, Chewing Hides The Sound featuring songwriting and musical contributions by the Residents as well as covers of Kraftwerk’s “The Model” and composer Ennio Morricone’s “Magic and Ecstasy,” from the soundtrack of the movie Exorcist II: The Heretic. Of Snakefinger’s debut LP, the All Music Guide’s Tom Schulte says “this is the peculiar and unique material of a cult guitarist extraordinaire. Each song is a quirky island in a sea of sonic oddity.”

Snakefinger would record five albums total for Ralph Records, as well as a number of singles and appearances on several of the Residents’ albums. The label would go on to release and promote music from a number of original, singular artists during the 1980s and ‘90s, including Fred Frith, Voice Farm, Tuxedomoon, MX-80 Sound, Renaldo and the Loaf, and the ‘King’ of the American underground, Eugene Chadbourne. This advertisement, culled from an old issue of Trouser Press – perhaps the only music zine to pay attention to Ralph Records and its bastard children at the time – is a striking and effective way to promote the label’s releases, displaying cover shots of several singles/EPs along with the label’s recognizable logo. An almost subliminal phrase “you will buy lots of Ralph Records” is repeated in the background, and the label’s address on the side encourages the curious to send off for a catalog…an important bit of marketing that seems quaint in the Internet era...

Sunday, July 3, 2016

CD Review: Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection (2016)

Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection
When blues fan Bruce Iglauer formed Alligator Records in 1971 to release an album by Chicago blues stalwart Hound Dog Taylor, little did he know the journey he had begun. Forty-five years and hundreds of album releases later, Alligator Records is the second longest-running independent blues label in America (lagging behind his mentor Bob Koester’s Delmark Records imprint). It could be said (and I’d argue this ‘til I’m ‘blue’ in the face…) that Alligator has done more to define and shape blues music than any other institution, and the label’s back catalog features classic albums by legends like Son Seals, Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, Otis Rush, Johnny Copeland, and too many more to mention.

This year, Alligator celebrates its 45th anniversary and, as is Iglauer’s tradition, the label has released a two-disc, budget-priced compilation set that showcases the label’s wealth of talent. The Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection provides listeners with a taste of the diverse styles of blues that has been released by the label through the years, powerful music that ranges from the harp-driven blues of James Cotton, Carey Bell, and Charlie Musselwhite to powerhouse female vocalists like Koko Taylor and Shemekia Copeland to skilled six-string maestros like Anders Osborne, Luther Allison, and Smokin’ Joe Kubek.

Alligator Records: 45th Anniversary Collection

Disc one of the Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection opens with the ever-raucous Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials, one of Iglauer’s favorite gang of houserockers. The band kicks out the jams with “Hold That Train,” from their 2008 album Full Tilt. Befitting one of the hardest-working bands in the blues, Lil’s Ed’s guitar licks shimmy and shake while the talented band lays down a locomotive rhythm that sends the performance into the stratosphere. The mood changes considerably with Son Seals’ “Cotton Picking Blues,” a slow-burning blues number from his 1973 debut album for the label. A perfect showcase for Seals’ unique and powerful fretwork, “Cotton Picking Blues” is one of those tunes that simply defines the blues genre.

Shemekia Copeland is one of the best blues singers on the planet today, and if you don’t believe me, just listen to her reading of her legendary father Johnny Copeland’s “Devil’s Hand.” Her emotional vocals soar above the band’s sparse instrumentation, wrapping around the lyrics like an iron fist in a velvet glove. The late, great Koko Taylor showcases her own not insignificant vocal abilities with the powerful “Voodoo Woman.” Taken from Taylor’s 1975 album I Got What It Takes, the performance pairs Koko’s hurricane-strength vocals with Mighty Joe Young’s wiry, provocative guitar licks to great effect. Selwyn Birchwood is one of Alligator’s recent finds, a talented young songwriter and fretburner whose “Don’t Call No Ambulance” is a fine boogie-rocker that displays his fiery guitar style and soulful vocals.

The father and son team of Carey and Lurrie Bell offers up two talented generations of bluesmen, Carey’s smoky vocals and subtle, classical blues harp providing a fine counterpoint to the teenaged Lurrie’s elegant finger-picking on “The Road Is So Long,” from the pair’s 2004 album Second Nature. Original Alligator houserocker Hound Dog Taylor lays down an unabashed boogie with his swinging, infectious “Take Five,” from his 1974 album Natural Boogie. Lest one think that these are the only good tunes on disc one, there are also solid, rockin’ performances by artists as diverse as Elvin Bishop, Toronzo Cannon, Tommy Castro, Charlie Musselwhite, Joe Louis Walker, Anders Osborne, and Mavis Staples, among others, to consider.

James Cotton, Luther Allison & Michael “Iron Man” Burks

Disc two opens, appropriately, with the legendary James Cotton’s “Cotton Mouth Man,” from his 2013 album of the same name. Cotton lost his voice due to cancer some time ago, but the man still blows a mean harp, and it rages up and down, over and under this performance while Darrell Nulisch delivers the vocals and Cotton’s buddy Joe Bonamassa tears up the strings, his galloping fretwork a perfect match to Cotton’s rampaging harp. Albert Collins, a/k/a the “Ice Man,” was a cool customer, indeed, and as shown by his scorching performance of “If Trouble Was Money,” the man knew his blues. Collins’ vocals evinced more than a little of his native Texas patois, but it was his guitar that did most of the talking on this song from the guitarist’s 1983 Live In Japan album.

Talented singer, songwriter, and guitarist Jarekus Singleton is another major find for Alligator, the young artist turning full-time to music after a career-ending injury derailed his dreams of pro basketball. Singleton’s label debut, Refuse To Lose, is the source of “I Refuse To Lose,” an inspirational, high-flying blues number with hip-hop overtones and biographical lyrics. The late Michael “Iron Man” Burks was well on his way to blues superstardom when fate intervened; his sizzling “Empty Promises,” from the 2008 album Iron Man, is a solid example of Burks’ talents. Burks’ soulful vocals infuse the lyrics with heavy gravitas while his devastating guitar playing provides an emotional catharsis. Curtis Salgado’s personal story could have been similarly tragic – the man has beat cancer twice – and he lays it out for the listener in the biographical “Walk A Mile In My Blues.” Above a nuanced, bluesy soundtrack with jazzy flourishes, Salgado sings his tale of woe with authority and heartbreak.

Legendary blues-rock guitarist Johnny Winter recorded three solid albums for Alligator back in the 1980s, and his performance on “Shake Your Moneymaker,” from 1986’s classic Third Degree, captures the Texas bluesman rockin’ the rafters with a wired take on the R&B standard that offers up plenty of flamethrower guitar and growling vocals. A.C. Reed was a Chicago blues favorite, contributing his red-hot sax to a number of artists’ albums. Here he steps out with “She’s Fine,” from his 1987 album I’m In The Wrong Business! A duet with Bonnie Raitt, her moaning slide guitar is a perfect accompaniment to Reed’s subtle tones. One of the giants of blues guitar, Luther Allison is well represented by his Alligator recordings. Taken from 1999’s Live In Chicago, “Will It Ever Change?” offers five minutes of Allison’s scorching, imaginative guitar and warm vocals. Want more? Disc two also includes songs by Roomful of Blues, Guitar Shorty, Billy Boy Arnold, Ann Rabson, and the Holmes Brothers, among others.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

What’s not to like? The Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection offers up two discs of guaranteed “genuine houserockin’ music” taken from across the entire four-and-a-half decades of the label’s existence – 37 fantastic performances in all from some of the best and brightest talents the blues has had to offer in both the 20th and 21st century.

Bruce Iglauer and his merry crew show no signs of slowing down, so I thoroughly expect to revisit the Alligator catalog again in five years for the label’s big 5-0 anniversary. In the meantime, the Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection provides long-time fans with a reminder of the quality of music the label has to offer and serves as a great introduction to Alligator’s rich catalog of blues for the newcomer. Grade: A+ (Alligator Records, released June 10, 2016)

Buy the CD from Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection

+ + + + +

Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records

Pride and Joy: The Story of Alligator Records DVD

Filmmaker Robert Mugge, director of Deep Blues and Big Shoes, helped the venerable Alligator Records celebrate its 20th anniversary with Pride and Joy, part documentary and part concert film. Reissued for the first time on DVD, the film offers interviews with Alligator main man Bruce Iglauer, his mentor Bob Koester, producer Dick Shurman, and several of the label’s artists as well as behind-the-scenes footage of the label’s operation.

It’s the music that speaks the loudest, though – superb performances from Alligator’s anniversary tour feature Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials, Elvin Bishop, Katie Webster, Lonnie Brooks (with son Ronnie), and Koko Taylor. A raucous, show-closing, all-star jam on “Sweet Home Chicago” reminds one of just how good the blues can be. (MVD Visual, released April 22, 2016)

Buy the DVD from Pride and Joy

Friday, July 1, 2016

CD Review: Bob Seger's Smokin' O.P.'s (2005)

Bob Seger's Smokin' O.P.'s
As a kid, I was lucky enough to live within the limited midwestern sphere of Bob Seger's musical shadow. Growing  up in the industrial wasteland of Erie, Pennsylvania – a mere few hours away from Seger's Detroit home – I heard the artist's earliest ventures into rock 'n' roll, songs like "Persecution Smith," "East Side Story," and the classic "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man," played on my local rock radio station.

A subsequent move southward to the Nashville area coincided with Seger's major label recording contract and album releases like Noah and Mongrel, which I eagerly dug out of the bins of local record stores. Half a decade later, after Live Bullet and Night Moves propelled Seger into the upper reaches of '70s arena rock stardom, I was living in Detroit and had the chance to witness in person a string of sold-out 1979 and '80 hometown concerts by the rust belt phenomenon.

I mention all of this merely to establish my long-held Seger bona fides. Your humble scribe was no mere "johnny come lately" on the Seger front, no sirree! The Reverend was down with Bob back in '69 and '70. Of all those pre-stardom album releases – nearly every one, sadly, long out-of-print and unavailable on CD – none was nearer and dearer to my heart than Seger's 1972 "covers" album, Smokin' O.P.'s.

Bob Seger's Smokin' O.P.'s

Released by Motor City indie label Palladium, the album was a bitch to find outside of the Midwest. Thanks to the wonders of the postal service and an editor in Illinois, a young rock critic in Tennessee got his grubby little hands on a copy of this often-overlooked entry in the classic Seger canon. Reissued on CD by Seger's long-time label Capitol, I'm glad to say that Smokin' O.P.'s sounds every bit as great as it did over thirty years ago. Hopefully the label will see fit to reissue some of the other early Seger material on CD in the near future. (Editor's note: they didn't...Seger's early '70s catalog remains dormant here in 2016)

At the time the album's release, Bob Seger was in a state of transition. He had delivered an understated, underrated singer/songwriter  styled disc, Brand New Morning, as the final album of his contract with Capitol. Returning to Detroit, he put together a touring band that included drummer Dave Teegarden and keyboardist Skip "Van Winkle" Knape, a pair of musicians from the Tulsa, Oklahoma scene that had relocated to Detroit on the heels of a fluke hit, "God, Love And Rock & Roll."

Classic Rock & Soul Gems

Recruiting guitarist Michael "Monk" Bruce, the four of them recorded Smokin' O.P.'s as an unabashedly hard rocking album. Taking its title from a slang term – "smoking" other people's songs – Seger and his short-lived pick-up band would run through a selection of songs that included classic rock & soul gems like "Bo Diddley" and "Let It Rock" as well as newer material from artists like Stephen Stills and Leon Russell. The album's primal D.I.Y. dynamic was provided by recording the songs in a studio beneath a bowling alley, the balls rolling down the lanes accidentally providing bass rhythms.

Seger's choices in material and his vocal performances both hold up well, even after almost three-and-a-half decades. The singer manages to rework much of the material in his own image, infusing the performances with his charismatic energy and personality. Kicked off by Van Winkle's churchy-organ riffs, "Bo Diddley" rocks as hard as any of today's young punks, while a scorched-earth cover of "Love The One You're With," featuring some raw fretwork from Bruce and vocal assistance from Pam Todd and Crystal Jenkins. Turning the tune into an energized, R&B styled rave-up, Seger and crew manage to out-distance Stephen Still's classic original.

If I Were A Carpenter

Tim Hardin's "If I Were A Carpenter" benefits especially from Seger's soulful vocals. Fueled by Van Winkle's dynamic keyboard work, Seger's voice soars, reinterpreting the folk-ballad as a spiritual passion play. The blues romp "Turn On Your Love Light" rocks like a church revival, with Van Winkle's organ and Teegarden's jazzy percussion driving the tune towards the stars. Seger even covers his own work here, delivering, perhaps, the strongest version of his "Heavy Music" yet. Stripped down to a mere two-and-a-half minute explosion, the song builds slowly towards a powerful crescendo, delivering sort of classic Motor City rock 'n' roll thrills that made cult favorites of bands like the Rationals, SRC, the Up, and Seger's Last Heard.

In the end, Smokin' O.P.'s would serve to reinvigorate Seger's career, which had been treading water for at least a couple of years by 1972, serving as a crucial point in Seger's transition from cult rocker to musical superstar. By embracing the music of other artists, Seger laid the path for his future commercial breakout, figuring out the formula of flat-out rockers and mid-tempo ballads that would later become his musical trademark. It would take a couple more albums before 1975's Beautiful Loser album would cement Seger's lyrical and performance voice and lead him towards his eventual destiny.

The Reverend's Bottom Line

Smokin' O.P.'s would prove to be the only album Seger recorded with this particular trio of musicians – Michael "Monk" Bruce would disappear into obscurity while Teegarden would rejoin Seger later in the decade as a member of his Silver Bullet Band. Regardless, the chemistry and focus of the musicians on these songs is undeniable, the album a triumph of the spirit of pure, unvarnished rock 'n' roll. Although Seger would go on to write some great songs and to make (much) more successful albums, never again would he capture the raw immediacy and reckless spirit of Smokin' O.P.'s. (Capitol Records, released June 7, 2005)

Buy the CD from Bob Seger's Smokin' O.P.'s

Originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2005

Book Review: Jim DeRogatis' Milk It! (2003)

Jim DeRogatis' Milk It!
The Reverend is an old-school rock critic, weaned on dog-eared copies of Creem and Crawdaddy, influenced by first generation critics like Lester Bangs and Dave Marsh and mentored by their contemporaries, folks like Rick Johnson and John Kordosh. It's no secret that I find many of today's so-called "music journalists" to be either corporate-supported whores or pathetic would-be hipsters who dismiss an album's merit merely because of its label pedigree. I read a lot of music magazines, but find very little good writing about music.

Seldom, however, have I been let down by Jim DeRogatis, former Jersey Beat zine contributor and music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. Over the course of his illustrious career, DeRogatis has developed an original voice and a distinctive form of criticism that echoes that of his influences. From his perch in the middle of Chicago's often overlooked rock music scene, DeRogatis spent the decade of the '90s observing and writing about the rise and fall of the "alternative" rock scene. Like any good critic, Dero's feuds are the stuff of legend and his critical darts are usually perfectly aimed and well deserved.

Milk It! offers nearly 400 pages of DeRogatis' ruminations on rock 'n' roll from the freewheeling decade of the '90s, the book collecting columns, interviews, and reviews from different publications and providing, perhaps, the most insightful and comprehensive history of the decade's music that will be written. DeRogatis was right in the middle of it all, writing about and interviewing the era's biggest alt-rock stars; artists like Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, and Billy Corgan. Although DeRogatis is seldom as caustic in his criticism as other writers, his insight and honesty cuts to the bone, earning him criticism of his own from antagonists like Corgan, producer Steve Albini, and Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, among others.

The chapters in Milk It! are appropriately divided by theme or artist, including individual sections on Nirvana, Hole, Pearl Jam, and Smashing Pumpkins. A chapter titled "Positively Bleeding" looks back at Chicago's local rock scene, including Albini, the sensational Liz Phair, and the overlooked Urge Overkill while "It Was A Riot, Girls" tackles the "girl power" movement, covering artists as diverse as Phair, Sinead O'Connor, Tori Amos, Bjork, and P.J. Harvey. Other chapters speak of a wide range of artists, from Patti Smith, R.E.M. and U2 to Weezer, Pere Ubu, and the Jesus Lizard. An entire section is dedicated to Britain's adventuresome Creation Records label and bands like Ride, My Bloody Valentine, and the Stone Roses while another section covers "hypes" and "frauds" like Jon Spencer and Marilyn Manson.

Some of the best work in Milk It! is also the most controversial, including the savage Hootie & the Blowfish review that got DeRogatis fired from Rolling Stone magazine. The book offers a brutal indictment of the Lollapalooza Nation, a bird's eye view of Woodstock '94, and a dismissal of the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame that should give anybody second thoughts about visiting the institution. Pieces on cult bands like Wire and the Flaming Lips are particularly interesting and provide important counterpoint to the coverage of more commercial artists in the book.

Milk It! captures the best and the worst of the decade of the '90s, the wit and intelligence that DeRogatis brings to his writing complimenting the critic's passion for and immense knowledge of rock 'n' roll. With little fanfare and only a modicum of recognition – Chicago, after all, is considered a literary slum by many NYC and LA based tastemakers – Jim DeRogatis has advanced the state of rock criticism and made a strong argument for his inclusion among the giants of the genre. Consistently entertaining and always thought provoking, DeRogatis is shown at his best in the pages of Milk It!. (Da Capo Press, published October 2, 2003)

Originally published by Alt. Culture.Guide™, 2004

Buy the book from Jim DeRogatis' Milk It!