Sunday, October 30, 2016

New Music Monthly: November & December 2016 Releases

November is upon us and with it a dearth of new album releases at the end of the year. This month we're giving you, our readers, a 'two-fer' with both November and December release dates; there will be no column next month. But that doesn't mean that there isn't some great music coming our way, including a fine new album by the legendary Glenn Hughes, an outstanding tribute album for one of our favorite rock 'n' roll singers, Frankie Miller, a bunch of stuff from the Zappa archive, and cool new blues-rock discs by Greg 'Stackhouse' Prevost and the Rolling Stones...dig it!

Glenn Hughes' Resonate

Glenn Hughes - Resonate CD/DVD   BUY!
Jim James - Eternally Even    BUY!
Lambchop - FLOTUS (For Love Often Turns Us Still)   BUY!
The Pink Fairies - Naked Radio   BUY!
Public Image Limited - Metal Box   BUY!
Frank Zappa - Chicago '78   BUY!
Frank Zappa - Little Dots   BUY!
Frank Zappa - Meat Light: The Uncle Meat Project/Object   BUY!

Frankie Miller's Double Take

The Band - The Last Waltz (40th Anniversary Edition) BUY!
Frankie Miller - Frankie Miller's Double Take  BUY!
Pink Floyd - Cre/ation: The Early Years, 1957-1962  BUY!

Jethro Tull's Stand Up

Rory Block - Keepin' Outta Trouble: A Tribute to Bukka White   BUY!
Jethro Tull - Stand Up (The Elevated Edition)  BUY!
Metallica - Hardwired...To Self-Destruct  BUY!
R.E.M. - Out of Time (25th Anniversary Edition)   BUY!
Mike Zito - Make Blues Not War    BUY!

Metallica's Hardwired...To Self-Destruct

Greg Prevost - Universal Vagrant   BUY!

The Rolling Stones - Blue & Lonesome

The Rolling Stones - Blue & Lonesome    BUY!

Greg Prevost's Universal Vagrant

Album of the Month: Greg Prevost's Universal Vagrant is the singer, songwriter, and guitarist's second solo album after years of fronting garage-rock legends the Chesterfield Kings. The follow-up to 2013's acclaimed Mississippi Murderer LP, Universal Vagrant is another white-hot slab of ramshackle blues-rock that will rattle the teeth right out of your mouth. Whereas many otherwise earnest blues-rockers depend on covers of the classics with which to frame their fretwork, Prevost penned six of ten songs here, and they're barely distinguishable from his inspired covers of tunes by Muddy Waters, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and others. 

CD Review: The Meters' A Message From The Meters (2016)

The Meters' A Message From The Meters
New Orleans musical icons, pioneers of funk, superb session players – the “mighty” Meters have worn a lot of hats through the years. Formed in 1965 by singer/keyboardist Art Neville, guitarist Leo Nocentelli, bassist George Porter Jr., and drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste, the Meters were originally known as an instrumental outfit not dissimilar to Booker T. & the MG’s during their early years. During the early ‘70s they were joined by Art’s brother, percussionist and singer Cyril Neville (Royal Southern Brotherhood), and injected more group vocals into their genre-defining funk sound. The individual members of the Meters were instrumental virtuosos and much in demand in the recording studio, where the band served as producer Allen Toussaint’s de facto house band, playing on 1960s-era singles by Lee Dorsey, Chris Kenner, Betty Harris, among others.

The Meters also worked in the studio behind artists as diverse as Dr. John, Robert Palmer, Paul McCartney, and Labelle. It was with their own recordings, created with producers Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn, that the band would make its mark. Signed to Josie Records (which had previous hits with singles by the Cadillacs and Bobby Freeman), and later to Warner Brothers’ label subsidiary Reprise Records, the Meters recorded a string of singles which sold modestly but have outlived their chart positions to become treasured classics of American music. Real Gone’s A Message From The Meters is a two-disc set that collects all of the band’s domestic singles – A-and-B-Sides alike – released by Josie and Reprise/Warner, forty tracks total of red-hot funk. The Josie singles are presented in their original glorious mono mixes while the Reprise/Warner sides are in sizzling stereo.

The Meters’ A Message From The Meters

Truthfully, there were no ‘formative years’ for the Meters, the band’s studio experience and instrumental acumen allowing them to transcend their studio work and leap, fully formed, into a recording career with a sound and style entirely their own. Released by Josie Records, the Meters’ first single was the staggering “Sophisticated Cissy,” a languid, sub-three minute instrumental that, even as early as 1969, was built upon a girder-strength funky backbone atop which guitarist Leo Nocentelli embroidered his soulful rhythm guitar licks. The B-side, “Sehorns Farms,” is a low-key slab of steamy New Orleans-styled soul with jazzy undertones. How do you follow up a Top 30 R&B and pop chart hit like “Sophisticated Cissy”? With more of the same, of course…the Meters’ “Cissy Strut” was bolder and brasher than their debut, with an outstanding George Porter Jr. bass riff and foot-shuffling rhythms that drove the single to #4 on the R&B chart and #23 pop.

Although the Meters would never again score as high a pop chart position as they did with “Cissy Strut,” it wasn’t due to lack of effort, as their music would grow more effervescent and funky with each new single. Tunes like the slow-burning “Ease Back,” the keyboards-driven “Dry Spell,” and the sly, energetic “Look-Ka Py Py” would provide the Meters with a consistent R&B chart presence into the next decade. The raucous “Chicken Strut,” released in 1970, is a loose-limbed party track with lively fretwork, tongue-in-cheek lyrics (“just keep on struttin!”), and an anarchic groove so deep one could get lost in it. Another 1970 single release, “A Message from the Meters,” was one of the band’s first songs to feature harmony vocals riding atop the mesmerizing instrumentation, no doubt influencing the Isley Brothers’ work a few years later. With 1971’s “Good Old Funky Music” the band found its long sought-after formula, a dynamic mix of group vocals and chiming keyboards nestled behind an explosively funky wall o’ sound.

The Meters

The Complete Josie, Reprise & Warner Bros. Singles 1968-1977

The Meters recorded three albums for Josie circa 1969-70 but when “Good Old Funky Music” became the first of the Meters’ singles that failed to chart, Art Neville left the band for almost a year and Josie Records folded soon thereafter. The band’s management secured a deal with Reprise Records, Neville rejoined the group, and the Meters would soon expand their popularity beyond the R&B charts to a receptive young rock ‘n’ roll audience. Singles were less important than full-length albums in the classic rock era of the ‘70s, and while the band released some red-hot sides throughout the decade, they seldom lit up the charts the way they had in the ‘60s. Part of it was due to the bigger recording budgets they enjoyed under the Reprise umbrella, which led to slicker, more sophisticated production by Toussaint and Sehorn that eliminated a lot of the band’s raw grit while focusing more on the groove. Another factor was the influence of rock ‘n’ roll on the band’s sound and the Meters’ more frequent use of vocals along with their instrumental jamming.

While the band recorded several outstanding albums during the decade – 1972’s Cabbage Alley (their Reprise label debut), 1974’s Rejuvenation, and their classic, 1975’s Fire On The Bayou – their chart fortunes suffered. Reprise kept sending out singles, though, and several of them are righteous efforts, indeed. The title track to Cabbage Alley offers a fluid groove with some funky rhythms, group vocals, and undeniable spirit; the song itself is an update on the legendary Professor Longhair’s “Hey Now Baby.” The infectious groove of “Hey Pocky A-Way” (#32 R&B) would make the song a bona fide New Orleans standard, the spry traditional performance built on barrelhouse-style piano-pounding and blazing horns. “People Say” offers a more deliberate rhythm, soulful vocals, and blasts of horn (skillfully arranged by Toussaint). Sadly, the Meters tried to capitalize on musical trends with the awful “Disco Is the Thing Today,” the less said about the better; listen instead to their cover of Earl King’s “Trick Bag,” which brings the band back to a funky sound they helped define.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Art and Cyril Neville left the Meters in 1977 after the release of the New Directions album to form the Neville Brothers. The band stumbled along for a couple more years, however, even performing on Saturday Night Live with a new singer before finally breaking up altogether in 1980. Modeliste toured with Keith Richards and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones as part of their New Barbarians crew, while Nocentelli and Porter tooled around in their own bands while also enjoying a second act as studio professionals. Various members would reform the band in the late ‘80s but they’d never again record as the Meters.

Still, the band’s musical legacy has long been etched in stone, their status as pioneers in funk, and their brilliant fusion of R&B, jazz and, later, rock music invaluable in creating the blueprint which bands like Funkadelic and Sly & the Family Stone would build upon. With a reputation as a dynamic, electrifying live outfit, the Meters sadly never broke through to the mainstream. As heard on the singles preserved on A Message From The Meters, however, the band’s influence extended beyond the charts to inspire artists as diverse as the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone, and hometown favorites Galactic as well as many of the top hip-hop artists of the 1990s. This is where it all began, A Message From The Meters deserving of a place on your music shelf. Grade: B+ (Real Gone Music, released September 2, 2016)

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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Thoughts On The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2017 Nominees


The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation released its 2017 list of nominees for possible induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio next spring. As usual, the list elicits a tsunami of hot takes as people debate the merits of each of the otherwise worthy nominees. The Reverend has taken a pretty firm stance on the Hall of Fame in years past, and this new list of nominees is no different.

I’ve offered my own takes below on who should get inducted – and who shouldn’t be inducted – into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; if you think differently, please feel free to state your case in the comments section below. Keep in mind that beyond the performers listed below, a number of worthy artists remain unconsidered for the Rock Hall, including the Moody Blues, Humble Pie, Motörhead, Jason & the Scorchers, Roxy Music, and King Crimson, to name a few. Also remember that the Reverend is a lifelong rockist and an old fart raised during the classic rock era of the 1970s…the music really was better back in the day, and this perspective is reflected in my picks below...

Yes to Yes!

What makes an artist or band “worthy” for induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? I’m not sure what Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation’s guidelines are (the Foundation has little to do with the physical Hall of Fame in Cleveland but chooses who is inducted), but here’s my take. A Hall of Fame artist should possess agreed-upon talent (by industry, critics, and fans); exerted influence on the evolution of the genre; push the musical envelope creatively; and while commercial success isn’t a necessity, in combination with the above traits, it adds to an artist’s legacy. By these standards, there’s really no damn good reason why British prog-rock legends Yes aren’t already in the Hall of Fame.

Now, my friend and colleague Martin Popoff has literally written the book on Yes and has previously argued in favor of their induction, so it’s unlikely that I’ll add much to this discussion. For both their groundbreaking creative endeavors in progressive rock, and their amazing commercial run of Top 10 albums during the 1970s (Fragile, Close To The Edge, Relayer, and Going For The One remain enduring, influential works), Yes has earned their induction. The band’s virtuoso musical talents through the years – singer Jon Anderson; guitarists Peter Banks, Steve Howe and Trevor Rabin; bassists Chris Squire and Trevor Horn; keyboardists Tony Kaye, Rick Wakeman, and Patrick Moraz; and drummers Bill Bruford and Alan White – defined a genre and inspired several generations of musicians to follow.

Detroit’s almighty MC5 are a conundrum, another band that should have already received induction into the Rock Hall. Yes, they only released three albums during their fast-burning career, but they made a lot of noise and arguably helped create both punk rock and heavy metal. If fellow Motor City madman the Stooges are in (inducted 2010), so too should the MC5. Pearl Jam’s nomination was a gimmee, and the band’s status and importance during the Grunge era are unparalleled. Pearl Jam brought arena-conquering muscle and sinew back to rock ‘n’ roll after the (mostly) wimpy ‘80s, and their pro-consumer actions on behalf of their fans is the icing on the cake.

The Zombies deserve induction, not only for their outstanding early body of work, but also for the enduring influence of those albums. The J. Geils Band are on the bubble for me – I love the band, and those early albums (their 1970 self-titled debut, 1971’s The Morning After, 1972’s Live: Full House, and 1973’s Bloodshot) offer a high-octane fusion of blues and rock that was as influential at the time as the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was a decade earlier. Sensing changes in the musical currents, the J. Geils crew beat fellow travelers ZZ Top to the line, albums like 1978’s Sanctuary, 1980’s Love Stinks, and 1981’s Freeze-Frame mixing radio-friendly synth-pop into the band’s heady brew of R&B and blues influences and scoring on the charts. Call ‘em the “poor man’s Aerosmith” if you will, but I’d put ‘em in...

MC5 photo by Leni Sinclair
The MC5

No to Hip-Hop & Pop

As I’ve argued many times, it’s called the “Rock & Roll Hall of Fame” for a reason, and no matter their contributions to art, music, or film, hip-hop and pop artists should never be inducted. If it’s a “pop culture” hall of fame, then drop the pretense and call it such. Otherwise, cut out these gratuitous nominations made in the name of some sort of false diversity. For instance, somebody on the nominating committee really wants to see Chic inducted so they’re back on the ballot again this year. They shouldn’t be inducted for the sole reason that they aren’t a rock band by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, main man Nile Rodgers produced a great record for David Bowie, but that’s just not enough to make the cut. Sorry, Chic lovers...

The legend of Tupac Shakur has undeniably grown in the years since his death, and although the rapper released four acclaimed, influential albums during his lifetime, he wasn’t a rock artist and his influence on rock music was minimal (and I’m not even discussing the posthumous flood of dodgy album releases). I’d also include Janet Jackson under this category – a talented and popular dance-pop artist with one foot in the R&B grooves of the ‘90s – but she’s not a rocker, no matter Wenner’s fever dreams.

Joe Tex’s nomination is problematic in that while he was a great R&B singer, I don’t consider him to be a great artist and don’t feel that his influence extended to rock musicians the way that, for instance, the work of James Brown, Ray Charles, and Little Richard did. Tex’s career was almost entirely played out on the R&B charts, and he had only a pair of crossover hits stateside and only one single ever charted in the U.K. The nomination of folk music legend Joan Baez is some sort of joke, because beyond her brief flirtation as Dylan’s muse, there’s nothing in her career that even remotely “rocks.”

Willing to risk pissing off what little punk readership we have, I’d also nix Bad Brains from induction into the Rock Hall, and I’m kind of surprised that the band was nominated in the first place. Moderately influential on the ‘80s rock scene, the bulk of Bad Brains’ artistic output came via indie labels like ROIR, SST Records, and PVC Records – which, in itself, doesn’t disqualify them for induction – but much of the band’s music just isn’t notable and wasn’t distributed widely enough to have made a big difference. Quick, name a single Bad Brains album beyond their self-titled 1982 debut...yeah, I thought so. Sure, they influenced the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fishbone, but I’d rather induct the latter and forget about the former.

Electric Light Orchestra
Electric Light Orchestra

Not This Year (Or Any Other)

Sheesh, is there a more overrated band on the planet than Jane’s Addiction (save for maybe Smashing Pumpkins)? Yes, Perry Farrell and gang have a loyal and vocal following, but they released a mere three over-hyped albums during their short heyday (1987-90), hitting the upper region of the charts but once, which is not a Hall of Fame worthy career in my mind. Sure, they made some innovative music before spiraling into addiction and pretentiousness, and kudos to Farrell for traveling freakshow that was Lollapalooza (at least before the event became as bloated as Farrell’s bands), but we also have JA to thank for rap-metal outfits like Korn and Limp Bizkit. Yikes!

Never, never, never for Journey, a rock band in name only. Through their arena-rockin’ years during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, they were closer to the pop world than true rockers. Former Santana guitarist Neal Schon squandered his talents on this horrible band, and Steve Perry was a grating, faux soulful vocalist fronting a bunch of career opportunists. Synth-pop new wavers Depeche Mode were hot shit in their U.K. homeland, but their commercial peak in the U.S. came late in the game, and while they chalked up four RIAA sales awards, they never really made any waves stateside and their influence is restricted to a bunch of electronic-rock wankers and dance-pop outfits.

I could make a similar argument with Kraftwerk, who were an undeniably influential band in the very narrow sphere of electronic rock (a/k/a “Krautrock”), but the band literally disappeared early in the 1980s, and only scored one commercial and critically acclaimed album stateside with 1974’s Autobahn. I’d also question the merits of electronic rock and its place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but I’d promote artists like Brian Eno, Keith Emerson (ELP), or Rick Wakeman (Yes) – all of whom pioneered the use of synthesizers and Mellotrons in rock ‘n’ roll – before I’d induct Kraftwerk.

The nomination of Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) is also a hard one as I’m a fan of the band, but although they had a sweet commercial run in the mid-to-late ‘70s with four Top Ten albums and a pair of Top 20s, I can’t readily argue their overall importance to rock ‘n’ roll music. If anything, I’d rather induct ELO frontman Jeff Lynne’s earlier band, the Move, and even Lynne’s side gig as a superstar producer (Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Brian Wilson), where he often coaxed great performances out of the artists he was recording, has more real potential for Rock Hall induction than does ELO.

As for 2017 nominees that I haven’t mentioned in this rant, well, it’s because they aren’t much worth mentioning. You have until December 5th, 2016 to vote for your favorite artists, so hit up the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame website to register your choices.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Prog-Rock Legends Kaipa DaCapo with Roine Stolt release Dårskapens Monotoni

Kaipa DaCapo's Dårskapens Monotoni
The Swedish band Kaipa are legends in the world of progressive rock, and justifiably so. Originally formed in 1973 as ‘Ura Kaipa’ by keyboardist Hans Lundin and bassist Tomas Eriksson, the band recruited 17-year-old hot-shot guitarist Roine Stolt and drummer Ingemar Bergman, dropped ‘Ura’ from their name, and recorded an acclaimed self-titled 1974 debut album.

This line-up recorded a total of three albums in the early ‘70s that put them in the same class as prog-rock giants as Genesis, Yes, and Pink Floyd, the band touring Europe and performing over 100 shows each year. Stolt left Kaipa in 1979 to pursue a solo career and do session work, the guitarist later forming the Flower Kings in the mid-‘90s. Kaipa carried on without Stolt, who rejoined the band in the early 2000s for a trio of albums.

In 2014, original Kaipa band members Stolt, Bergman, and Eriksson re-grouped under the name Kaipa DaCapo to perform songs from the first three Kaipa albums as well as create new music. The three are joined by Stolt’s younger brother Mikael on vocals and guitar, and renowned Swedish keyboardist Max Lorentz. These five talented musicians have recorded a new album, titled Dårskapens Monotoni, which will be released on October 25th, 2016 by Foxtrot Records. You can get a taste of it via the video ‘trailer’ offered below.

Since his tenure with Kaipa, Roine Stolt has become a bona fide prog-rock legend himself, recording a dozen studio albums with his band the Flower Kings and four studio albums with Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), and Pete Trewavas (Marillion) in the prog supergroup Transatlantic. Stolt has most recently been touring as a member of guitarist Steve Hackett’s band, and released the critically-acclaimed album Invention of Knowledge, a collaboration with Jon Anderson of Yes, earlier this year. Prolific to a fault, Stolt is working with Anderson on a sequel to their acclaimed album, and possible live shows of the Anderson & Stolt Orchestra in 2017.

Dårskapens Monotoni tracklist:
1. Dårskapens Monotoni
2. När Jag Var En Pojk
3. Vi Lever Här
4. Det Tysta Guldet
5. Spår Av Vår Tid
6. Tonerna
7. Monoliten

Buy the CD from Kaipa DaCapo's Dårskapens Monotoni

Related Content: Jon Anderson & Roine Stolt's Invention of Knowledge CD review

The Pink Fairies Get ‘Naked’!

Pink Fairies' Naked Radio
Legendary British rockers the Pink Fairies will be releasing their first album in three decades on November 4th, 2016 when Gonzo Multimedia releases the band’s Naked Radio. Fronted by singer and guitarist Andy Colquhoun, the band reunited in 2013 and has played a number of successful U.K. shows over the past couple of years. The Pink Fairies today are comprised of Colquhoun, bassist Sandy Sanderson, drummers Russell Hunter and George Butler, and keyboardist Jaki Windmill.

Formed in 1970 out of the ashes of infamous U.K. band the Deviants (which included Sanderson and Hunter), the Pink Fairies were active participants in London’s psychedelic underground rock scene of the early ‘70s. They promoted free music, drugs, and anarchy and were famous for stunts like playing for free outside the gates at the Isle of Wight Festival and Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music. The initial band line-up, which included guitarist Paul Randolph, Sanderson, and Hunter recorded a pair of cult classics in 1971’s Never Never Land, which included former Pretty Things drummer ‘Twink’, and the following year’s What A Bunch of Sweeties, which included a second guitarist in Trevor Burton.

Rudolph was replaced by future Motörhead guitarist Larry Wallis for 1973’s Kings of Oblivion, the final album of the era for the band and another bona fide cult classic. During much of the rest of the 1970s and early ‘80s, Pink Fairies members played in various bands, frequently with former Deviants bandmate Mick Farren, before the opportunity to record for Demon Records was offered. A new Pink Fairies line-up was formed around Wallis, Sanderson, and Hunter with Twink and Farren’s guitarist Andy Colquhoun to record the band’s last album, 1987’s Kill ‘Em and Eat ‘Em.

Drummer Russell Hunter, in a press release for the new album, states “it’s over 45 years since the first studio album and nearly 30 since the last. The passage of these years is inevitably etched to some extent on all these songs, some much deeper than others. But in the final analysis, they’re all some facet of the Pink Fairies.” Check out the video below and you'll agree that the band sounds every bit as wiggy as it always has...then buy the CD from!

Friday, October 14, 2016

CD Review: Duke Robillard's Blues Full Circle (2016)

Duke Robillard's Blues Full Circle
If you’re a blues fan, I’d give odds that you’re already familiar with guitarist Duke Robillard’s bona fides. For you newcomers, though, here’s the condensed version – Robillard was co-founder of legendary ‘70s-era outfit Roomful of Blues; he was Jimmie Vaughan’s replacement in another legendary band, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, circa 1989-91; he’s produced albums by blues giants like Joe Louis Walker, Ronnie Earl, and Bryan Lee; he’s toured with both Tom Waits and Bob Dylan, recording Time Out of Mind with the latter; and he’s won six W.C. Handy/Blues Music Awards, mostly in recognition of his enormous six-string prowess.

Robillard has also enjoyed a lengthy, moderately-successful, and critically-acclaimed solo career; prolific to a fault, I lost count at two dozen Robillard solo releases, and that’s not even considering the ridiculous number of guest appearances he’s made on albums by folks like John Hammond, Billy Boy Arnold, Curtis Salgado, and others (who presumably like to include a hot-shot guitarist on their recordings). Robillard’s Blues Full Circle is this year’s model and features the guitarist along with his “All-Star Combo” comprised of talents like keyboardist Bruce Bears, bassist Brad Hallen, and drummer Mark Teixeira. Blues Full Circle also offers guest appearances by artists like guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, singer Sugar Ray Norcia, saxophonist Doug James, and others, all of which means that the listener is pretty much guaranteed a raucous, rockin’ good time!

Duke Robillard’s Blues Full Circle

In the past, Robillard has dabbled in everything from barrelhouse and jump blues to jazz, world music and traditional acoustic blues (of which last year’s The Acoustic Blues & Roots of Duke Robillard is a fine example). As an artist, Robillard has delved into old school, new school, and no school, and because of his talents and extraordinary knowledge of it all, he’s conversant in every genre. So with Blues Full Circle, the guitarist provides listeners a sumptuous buffet of style and substance that offers a little something for every taste in the blues. Album opener “Lay A Little Lovin’ On Me” is a Buddy Guy-styled slab o’ Chicago blues with a little blues-rock grit, especially in Robillard’s stinging licks and mesmerizing solos. “Rain Keeps Falling” swings lighter, but with no less muscle, the song evincing a 1920s or ‘30s vibe with Robillard’s wire-taut fretwork dancing atop the band’s infectious rhythmic groove.

With Sax Gordon Beadle leading the charge on “Last Night” with his brassy horns, singer Sugar Ray Norcia delivers a deeply soulful vocal performance that reminds of the blues-flaked jazz era of Duke Ellington or Count Basie. Robillard’s guitar playing here is equally enchanting, perfectly complimenting, rather than detracting from the song’s jump ‘n’ jive rhythms. Robillard does his best Dr. John impression with the New Orleans-flavored “Fool About My Money,” Bruce Bears shining with subdued piano-pounding that echoes the great Professor Longhair. Anytime Duke and Jimmie Vaughan get together is a good time, and “Shufflin’ and Scufflin’” is no different, the pair saddling up for a tempered but tasteful instrumental duel that displays the talents of both fretburners vamping above Bears’ energetic Hammond organ fills and Mark Teixeira’s snappy brushwork. Doug James’ baritone sax here provides a sultry counterpoint to the song’s lively rhythms.

Robillard’s “Blues For Eddie Jones” is a tribute to the late, influential ‘50s-era bluesman Guitar Slim. His gritty, raw vocals here display power and gravitas close to that of the great Howlin’ Wolf while his subtle guitar licks are slung low in the mix alongside the sparse rhythms, the lyrics taking the spotlight in honor of the fallen blues legend. “Worth Waitin’ On” is a mid-tempo love song with an old-school R&B feel (think ‘50s era Bobby “Blue” Bland), some gorgeous background keyboard flourishes, and Robillard’s elegant fretwork, which match the emotional delivery of his vocals. Blues Full Circle finishes with the rowdy, traditional “Come With Me Baby,” a stylistic mix of Chicago and West Coast blues with an emphasis on Robillard’s precise guitarplay and hearty vox and the band’s engaging, foot-shuffling rhythmic backdrop.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Blues Full Circle is your standard, high-quality, entertaining Duke Robillard LP – the man makes it all look so easy, that it’s often too easy to take him and his talents for granted. A traditionalist in every sense of the word, Robillard is a frequently-overlooked innovator as well, his acclaimed six-string skills nevertheless deceptive as Robillard invents new ways to apply antique blues vocabulary to contemporary expectations with each record. An artistic bridge between blues music’s 1920s and ‘30s-era roots and the today’s blues scene, Robillard never gets the credit he should, no matter the accolades he receives. Every Duke Robillard album is an adventure, a piece to a puzzle nearly 100 years in the making, and Blues Full Circle is a welcome addition to the Robillard canon. Grade: A- (Stony Plain Records, released September 9, 2016)

Buy the CD from Duke Robillard's Blues Full Circle

Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia’s Keystone Companions vinyl box set

Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia’s Keystone Companions vinyl box set

A little-known and, in my humble opinion, underappreciated part of the late, great Jerry Garcia’s milieu is the great music the guitarist recorded with Bay Area keyboardist Merl Saunders. Although Garcia’s musical credentials are well-established, those of his long-time friend Merl are less familiar to a general audience. A talented musician conversant in several genres, including rock, jazz, and world music, Saunders first met and began playing with Garcia in 1970 and, with his Merl Saunders and Friends band, performed with artists as diverse as Mike Bloomfield, Vassar Clements, and David Grisman. An in-demand session player, Saunders – who passed away in 2008 – recorded with folks like Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal, Betty Davis and, yes, the Grateful Dead.

For better than five years during the early ‘70s, Saunders took part in a weekly jam session at various San Francisco venues with Garcia, bassist John Kahn, and drummer Bill Vitt. Two nights at the Keystone in July 1973 were recorded and released that year as Live at Keystone, a double-album that is frequently overlooked by all but the hardest core Jerry/Dead fans. The album was subsequently reissued on CD in 1988 as two separate discs with bonus tracks, and later a pair of CDs titled Keystone Encores were released featuring even more material from the two nights. The whole kit ‘n’ caboodle was reissued in 2012 as a four-CD set called Keystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings which included all the material from the four extant CDs along with seven previously-unreleased tracks, all presented in the order they were performed in concert.

Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia’s Keystone Companions vinyl box set
On October 28th, 2016 Fantasy Records, a division of Concord Bicycle Music, will release Keystone Companions as a deluxe, six-album vinyl box set – two-dozen tracks total pressed onto magnificent black 180-gram vinyl. Re-mastered from the original tapes and presented in the order the songs were originally performed on July 10th and 11th, 1973 at the Keystone club in Berkeley, the performances were originally recorded by Grateful Dead associates Betty Cantor-Jackson and Rex Jackson, with the four musicians are credited as the album’s producers. The set includes a gorgeous accompanying booklet with never-before-seen photos and updated liner notes by Grateful Dead expert David Gans as well as a collectible poster.

With these performances, Saunders, Garcia, and the gang delve into a delightfully wide-ranging set list that spans blues, jazz, rockabilly, Motown, and even reggae with a cover of Jimmy Cliff’s classic “The Harder They Come.” Keystone Companions includes original material like “Merl’s Tune” and “Keepers” as well as classic R&B tunes like “I Second That Emotion” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” and vintage blues gems from Lightnin’ Hopkins (“Someday Baby”), Blind Lemon Jefferson (“One Kind Favor”), and Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (“That’s All Right, Mama”). The band even re-imagines a pair of Bob Dylan tunes with inspired covers of “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” and “Positively 4th Street.”

There’s some overlap in the songs from one night to another, but because of the band’s improvisational abilities, they’re not cookie-cutter performances. More than just another high-priced collectible, Keystone Companions offers enough great music to demand your attention.

Buy the vinyl box set from Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia's Keystone Companions

Sunday, October 9, 2016

CD Review: Various Artists - I'm A Freak, Baby... (2016)

I'm A Freak, Baby...
The 1960s were, indeed, a magical time for rock ‘n’ roll as bands across the planet took on the challenge laid down by Chuck and Elvis and tried to make the music bigger, better, and bolder than before. From British Invasion bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, and Eric Burdon and the Animals to the psychedelic revolution (R.I.P. 1968), folk-rock (The Byrds), country-rock (The Flying Burrito Brothers), blues-rock (Cream), roots-rock (The Grateful Dead) and all the other sub-genre hyphenates, the decade was one of innovation, experimentation, and youthful artistic expression that has yet to be equaled.

As for the Reverend, well, I’m a freak, baby…born too late in the ‘boom’ to be a ‘60s-era flower child and too early to be a hardcore punk, your humble critic was definitely a child of the 1970s. The early ‘70s, that is…the Flamin’ Groovies, the Dictators, the New York Dolls and all the ramblin’, rockin’ mutants of the monster that arose during the first five or six years of the last American decade. Although I appreciate and love much of the music of the ‘60s, it’s the harder-edged jams of my high school daze that still strike a chord with my jaded, beleaguered medulla oblongata. So when I found out about I’m A Freak, Baby..., a three-disc box set sub-titled “A journey through the British heavy psych and hard rock underground scene 1968-72,” well, as they say, that’s my cuppa...

I’m A Freak, Baby...

Any musical compilation of this sort has its omissions, usually due to licensing fees or refusals, so there is always somebody who stays home that really should have attended the party. In this case, the band most glaringly AWOL is Black Sabbath, who definitely played a part in Great Britain’s heavy psych and hard rock scene in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Ozzy and his gang of hoodlums aside, I’m A Freak, Baby… features an impressive roster of heavy-hitting professionals (folks like Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Fleetwood Mac, and the Yardbirds), hard-rockin’ obscurities (U.K. bands like Stray, the Move, the Pink Fairies, and the Groundhogs that should have been monsters stateside), and heavy-handed amateurs (the Mooche, Velvett Fogg, et al).

You’ll also find your share of eccentrics (Edgar Broughton), cult faves (Wicked Lady), and stepping stones (bands like Skid Row and Taste that gave us Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher, respectively) among the 48 tracks and number of bands spread across these three discs. The great, underrated Stray kick off the festivities on CD1 with the nine-minute-plus guitar-driven insanity that is “All In Your Mind,” as good a mind-blowing psych-rock jam as you’ll hear to date, with blistering percussion, swirling rhythms, and ear-splitting axe-wrangling creating more acid-drenched ambiance than you’d have thought possible in 1970. Guitarist Del Bromham led this band of merry pranksters for a decade and a handful of sadly overlooked, hard-rockin’ albums; but Stray was always on the outside looking in as friends and contemporaries like Free and Deep Purple became big rock stars.

Sweet Mistress of Pain

The Mooche only released one single during their lengthy existence, an inspired cover of the Texas psychedelic classic “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” that won’t make you forget the Bubble Puppy’s original, but it ain’t half-bad, either, with stinging fretwork and explosive percussion. Chicken Shack has been guitarist Stan Webb’s baby since the late ‘60s, the band one of the original British blues-rock pioneers but, as shown by their take on the blues standard “Going Down,” although Webb could wield a mighty riff, they lacked the spark of charisma that might have led to stardom. The Groundhogs were also first gen Brit blooze-rockers, and with singer, songwriter, and guitarist Tony McPhee at the helm, they cranked out such period gems as “Cherry Red,” a menacing, bluesy bludgeoning that boxes your eardrums into submission like a punch-drunk heavyweight.

One of the lesser-known but no less talented bands on I’m A Freak, Baby... is Factory, whose 1971 track “Time Machine” is a not-so-subtle cross of Black Sabbath-styled sonic tsunami and Hawkwind-flavored cosmic Sturm und Drang guaranteed to flip your wig. The box set takes its name from the previously-unreleased Wicked Lady track “I’m A Freak,” itself a lysergic-fueled romp across a surrealist landscape with locomotive rhythms and muddy, tho’ deceptively pointy-edged guitars. Speaking of Hawkwind, they show up here in one of their earliest incarnations as Hawkwind Zoo, longtime frontman Dave Brock’s “Sweet Mistress of Pain” a textbook example of psych-rock circa ’69, the song displaying just a hint of the stratospheric ambition that band would later pursue.


Writing On The Wall’s “Bogeyman” launches CD2, the song’s sneaky Scottish jig intro rapidly giving way to a hypnotic riff and somber veil of sound. By contrast, “Fireball” provided Deep Purple Mark II with a Top 20 hit single on the strength of Ian Gillan’s soaring vocals, Ritchie Blackmore’s unforgiving six-string guillotine, and the bombastic rhythm second of bassist Roger Glover and drummer Ian Paice. Although Jon Lord throws in a few keyboard licks, this is definitely Gillan’s show here. Jerusalem is one of those legendary cult rock bands that many have heard of but few have actually heard. Their “Primitive Man” is a fair-to-middlin’ romper-stomper, but they’re definitely outshined by some of their colleagues here.

The Edgar Broughton Band is another obscure cult fave, and rightfully so, Edgar and his crew probably too damn weird for the Top 40 but mighty entertaining nonetheless. “Love In The Rain” is one of their better-known songs, a cacophonic mix of slash ‘n’ burn instrumentation and anguished vocals that channel pure white light/white heat. Little Free Rock were fellow travelers on the British blooze-rock circuit, their stoned classic “Dream” a Cream-inspired sludge of squealing guitar licks and throbbing bass riffs backed by bulldozer drums and an overall smothering, claustrophobic production that made them seem louder than they actually were. Speaking of loud, how about Iron Claw, a proto-metal outfit comprised of teenaged Sabbath acolytes. The dino-stomp of the band’s “Skullcrusher” is marred somewhat by its rattletrap production, but the sincerity and ambition of the band’s effort cuts through the dense, foggy mix.

Race With The Devil

I'm A Freak, Baby...
Members of the Phoenix were industry pros by the time they recorded the previously-unreleased “Street Walking Woman” in 1969, the band’s roots dating back to the ‘50s. They slotted nicely with the bluesy vibe of the era, though, and while this under-produced track suffers from a cavernous sound, the scorching guitar and stellar rhythmwork comes through. Skid Row (no, not the ‘80s nerf-rockers) was guitarist Gary Moore’s first band of note, and “Go, I’m Never Gonna Let You” certainly offers up plenty of six-string pyrotechnics amidst its dirge-like blues-rockin’ style. Not half bad, and fitting within the era, but Moore would go on to do (much) better.

The third disc of I’m A Freak, Baby... is perhaps the weakest of the set, but you can’t fault opening track “Race With The Devil” by proto-metal rockers Gun. Featuring one of the finest mind-bending riffs of the era, the early power trio (including brothers Adrian and Paul Gurvitz, later to form Three Man Army) delivered a performance that is an unrelenting terminator of heavy rock that influenced Jimi Hendrix, the song later covered by metal pioneers Judas Priest. Sam Gopal were an influential and innovative gang of late ‘60s acid-rockers whose chaotic, blustery “Escalator” features one Lemmy Kilmister before he lit out for Hawkwind and eventually forming the great Motörhead.

The Green Manlishi

Uriah Heep’s “Gypsy” is one of many fan favorites in the band’s epic catalog of songs, and although the lyrics are laughable today, you just can’t ignore the song’s Godzilla-strength riffs, Ken Hensley’s haunting keys, and frontman David Bryon’s soaring, operatic vocals. Although they were infinitely influential, the Yardbirds weren’t necessarily considered one of the heaviest bands of the era. This late-period track, “Think About It,” featuring Jimmy Page’s circular riff and driving percussion, is pretty tasty and about as heavy as the band ever achieved, the song itself a sort of sonic trial run for Page’s blues-rock experimentation with Led Zeppelin a mere year later. The power trio Andromeda was an early showcase for the immense talents of guitarist John du Cann, later of Atomic Rooster, Hard Stuff, and even Thin Lizzy. Andromeda’s “Too Old” is a fine example of the band’s craft, a flashy psych-rocker with staggering guitars and busy percussion.

When guitarist Peter Green left John Mayall’s band, he enlisted Bluesbreakers alumni John McVie and Mick Fleetwood to form Fleetwood Mac. A far different band than they’d later be, “The Green Manlishi” is a brilliant slab of acid-blues with a spooky vibe and a dense, complex, sound. The Taste introduced the world to the phenomenal talents of beloved blues-rock guitarist Rory Gallagher, “Born On The Wrong Side of Time” originally the B-side of the band’s first single. The performance is solid if unspectacular, showing only brief flashes of the electricity Gallagher would bring to his later solo work, the song nevertheless displaying a small part of the guitarist’s songwriting genius with a few musical swerves, interesting rhythmic choices and, of course, stunning fretwork.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Among the bands unmentioned above but included in I’m A Freak, Baby... are such über-cool outfits as the Deviants, the Pink Fairies, the original Iron Maiden, Stack Waddy, Blonde On Blonde, Third World War, and the Move, among others. If you’re a fellow ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll fanatic, the three discs here will introduce you to a handful of bands you many not know and remind you of a few bands you may already know and love. The mix of music is an inspired blend of the well-known, the barely-known, and the unknown, all of whom contributed to the evolution and vocabulary of rock ‘n’ roll music. What are you waiting for – get it! Grade: A (Grapefruit Records, released August 5, 2016)

Buy the CD from I'm A Freak, Baby...

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective vinyl box set

Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective vinyl box set

Back in 2013, Rounder Records released the critically-acclaimed Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective, a seven-CD box set documenting nearly the entire career of the late, legendary blues-rock guitarist. Compiled by Duane’s daughter Galadrielle Allman with producer Bill Levenson, Skydog offered up classic Allman Brothers tracks alongside the guitarist’s earliest recordings with brother Gregg in bands like the Escorts, the Allman Joys, and Hour Glass. The set also featured some of Allman’s brilliant session work with artists like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Boz Scaggs, and Delaney & Bonnie as well as a live jam session with the Grateful Dead and rare single releases.

On October 28th, 2016 Rounder Records will release Skydog as a limited-edition box set comprised of 129 tracks spread across fourteen shiny black 180gr vinyl LPs. Each of the set’s 1,000 individually-numbered copies includes all the music from the CD version, as well as a 56-page booklet that features rare photos and essays by Galadrielle Allman and music journalist Scott Schinder. New to this release are several unpublished photos of Allman which will be featured on each LP sleeve.

Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective
In a departure from normal distribution, Rounder Records has hooked up with PledgeMusic, an online direct-to-fan platform, to make the box set available. Fans can pre-order the Skydog vinyl box directly from PledgeMusic and select from three bundles with exclusive goodies. What do you get for your hard-earned coin? The ‘Standard Bundle’ ($499) includes the Skydog vinyl box set, custom-printed shipping carton, an eight-panel postcard set, and a B&W photo. The ‘Deluxe Bundle’ ($580) gets all of that plus an embossed leather turntable slipmat, a lithograph poster, and a signed and numbered copy of Galadrielle’s Please Be With Me: A Song For My Father, Duane Allman. The ‘Super Deluxe Bundle’ ($700) includes all of the aforementioned goodies and features one of 50 limited-edition, numbered LPs in a custom-printed Skydog shipping carton with a correspondingly-numbered copy of Allman’s book.

“The Skydog retrospective tells my father Duane Allman’s life story in the fierce and melodic voice of his guitar,” says daughter Galadrielle in a press release for the new vinyl box set. “From his earliest high school strivings to the stunning virtuosity he finally achieved, it is all here. Being part of this project has deepened my understanding of who my father was, and he was remarkable. I hope it will do the same for all who listen. This collection deserves to be heard on vinyl, still the warmest and richest format there is. I'm so proud it was possible.” Grab your copy of the Skydog box set on vinyl from the PledgeMusic website.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Rev’s Let It Rock! book hits the shelves!

Rev. Keith A. Gordon's Let It Rock! book
The third volume of the Reverend’s personal archives, Let It Rock! is now available for order from Excitable Press and Named for the classic 1960 Chuck Berry song, Let It Rock! is a collection of over 100 rock ‘n’ blues album and book reviews penned by the “Reverend of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Rev. Keith A. Gordon over the course of his 44+ year career as a rock critic and music historian.

From classic rockers like King Crimson, Hawkwind, and Jimi Hendrix to relative newcomers like Graveyard and the Black Keys, if you love music, Let It Rock! is your guide to your next album purchases! Published on October 4th, 2016, you can order an autographed copy of Let It Rock! directly from the Reverend for $14.95 postpaid in the U.S. or $20.95 for Canada by using the PayPal buttons below. European orders should be made through Let It Rock! is a 5.5” x 8.5” trade paperback, a respectable 274 pages and profusely illustrated with album cover artwork.

What critics had to say about Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin’, the second volume in the Rev’s archive series:

“To say that the good Reverend Keith A. Gordon knows a thing or two about the blues is akin to saying that a duck likes water…” – Terry Mullins, Blues Blast magazine

“More of a reference work than a tome designed to be read cover to cover, Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin’ is a useful consumer guide to the world of currently-available blues (and blues-informed) music.” – Bill Kopp, Musoscribe blog

“These are actual, genuine, honest-to-Wolf, get-your-mojo-workin’ blues reviews, the kind that display an abiding passion for the artform, an appreciation for and deep knowledge of its history, and most important, the kind of descriptive, illuminating and no holds barred style of writing that serves to make its subject come alive.” – Fred Mills, Blurt magazine

Let It Rock! $14.95 U.S.

Let It Rock! $20.95 Canada

Prefer to buy from Here’s a link to the Rev. Gordon’s Let It Rock!

Book Review: Mike Stax's Swim Through the Darkness (2016)

Mike Stax's Swim Through the Darkness
One could easily come to the conclusion that Swim Through the Darkness author Mike Stax is obsessed. For better than three decades now, Stax’s Ugly Things zine has been the ‘go to’ publication for the smart rock ‘n’ roll fan and collector. Published a couple times annually on average, each issue of Ugly Things is typically thicker than the phonebook of a medium-sized Rust Belt city and crammed with band profiles, artist interviews, and record reviews. Those aforementioned band profiles – sometimes spanning two or more issues and tens of thousands of words – display the sort of attention to minutiae that you just don’t find outside the OCD ward of your local sanitarium.

Even immersed in a hobby and lifestyle that treasures, and often rewards fanatical behavior, Stax’s dedication to the story of singer/songwriter Craig Smith is unusual. The result of fifteen years of wool-gathering and pulling at strings, Stax’s Swim Through the Darkness – subtitled “My Search For Craig Smith and the Mystery of Maitreya Kali” – assembles as close to a complete story of the enigmatic Mr. Smith as one could muster at this late date. A talented songwriter and charismatic performer in the mid-to-late ‘60s, Craig Smith seemingly had it all, only to watch everything he wanted slip through his grasp.

Mike Stax’s Swim Through the Darkness

The odds are good that you’ve never heard of Craig Smith, or else he remains a vague memory at best. A clean-cut “All American” lad, Smith was a member of the Good Time Singers that backed singer Andy Williams and performed on his popular NBC television series. The folkish Good Time Singers also toured on their own and recorded a pair of albums for Capitol Records, with Smith often provided the spotlight. After that experience had run its course, Smith hooked up with fellow singer/songwriter Chris Ducey and performed as a folk-rock duo, eventually taking on other members and evolving into a full-fledged band as Penny Arkade.

Under the patronage of Michael Nesmith of the Monkees, who underwrote the band’s rehearsals and recording session as their producer, Penny Arkade recorded a slew of material that would nevertheless remain legitimately unreleased until Sundazed Records compiled almost two dozen songs for a 2004 CD titled Not The Freeze. Although his band faltered, Smith had songs recorded by Andy Williams, Glenn Campbell, and the Monkees, and he used his songwriting royalties to travel the world and figure out the next move in his seemingly upward career trajectory. Sadly, Smith suffered a near-deadly assault in Afghanistan (possibly while on LSD), and the combination of physical trauma and drug use seems to have kick-started an underlying mental illness, derailing Smith’s career permanently.

Craig Smith a/k/a Maitreya Kali

Before he lost himself completely to his illness and homelessness, Smith experienced a messiah trip and re-named himself ‘Maitreya Kali,’ believing he was Earth’s savior. Friends distanced themselves from Smith’s odd and often disturbing behavior. As Maitreya, Smith recorded and released two self-produced early ‘70s albums that combined unreleased Penny Arkade performances with newly-written songs. Pressed in small quantities, Smith sold copies of both Apache and Inca (the latter of which was combined with the former as a two-album set) to record stores in his native Los Angeles; both albums would later become red-hot collectors’ items for fans of acid folk and psychedelic pop, their rarity resulting in stratospheric five-figure prices whenever a copy surfaced. Without intervention by mental health professionals, Smith ended up on the street after spending a short time in prison, and was homeless for almost 40 years until his death in 2012.

Stax does a yeoman’s job in piecing together Smith’s story, tracking down and interviewing dozens of former friends and music industry colleagues to tax their memories in search of the truth about this talented, albeit obscure singer/songwriter. Stax’s obsession with the protagonist of his story provides insight, but also empathy, the fate of Craig Smith not so much a cautionary tale but rather the saga of promise unfulfilled. As a writer and musician himself, there’s also a bit of ‘but for the grace of God’ underlying Stax’s prose, the author obviously getting personally involved in providing Smith with a well-deserved epitaph to a career gone awry.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Mike Stax’s Swim Through the Darkness provides a fitting coda to Smith’s too-short career, offering a sort of cosmic closure for the late artist (and possible for the author, as well). Although Stax’s work, as published in Ugly Things, has always been well-researched and entertainingly-written, he’s outdone himself here. Swim Through the Darkness is as much an example of brilliant investigative journalism as it is rock ‘n’ roll biography, and Stax’s obsessive efforts have provided Craig Smith something a lot of musicians are denied – a legacy. Grade: A (Process Media/Feral House, released September 20, 2016)

Buy the book from Mike Stax's Swim Through the Darkness

Saturday, October 1, 2016

CD Review: The Frost's The Best of the Frost (1969/2003)

The Frost's The Best of the Frost
Detroit's the Frost is one of the truly great lost rock & roll outfits of the '60s. Led by the fiery guitar chops of Dick Wagner, who would go onto greater fame as an integral part of both Lou Reed and Alice Cooper's late '70s bands, the Frost pioneered a hard rock sound that would influence countless bands in the Motor City and beyond. Unlike a lot of fledgling hard rock guitarists in the late '60s, Wagner's musical influences leaned more towards British Invasion bands and the kind of psychedelic pomp championed by the early Pink Floyd rather than towards recycled blues licks. This provided Wagner's guitar playing with a tone and structure that was unique at the time, the Frost's eclectic sound blazing new trails by blending folk and rock with loud amplification and an energy and power that was seldom matched by the band's contemporaries.

The Best Of The Frost is a misnomer in some ways, a dead-on descriptive bull's eye in others. The story goes like this – the band and producer Sam Charters were unhappy with the sound they created in the studio for the band's critically acclaimed debut Frost Music. They decided to record the Frost's sophomore effort live, in front of a hometown audience at Detroit's fabled Grande Ballroom. Due to the raw sound of the performances, captured on tape during two nights at the Ballroom, the band and Charters "doctored" them in the studio, adding vocals and overdubs to concoct a more commercially acceptable album. The result, Rock And Roll Music, was a hybrid that wasn't a studio album and never really a true representation of the band's live skills.

The Best of the Frost corrects the oversight made back in 1969, offering the modern music fan a taste of what the band sounded like in front of an appreciative crowd. Charters has revived these ancient tapes for the digital age, doing a fine job in retaining the raw edge that made the Frost one of the Midwest's hottest live bands circa '69. The Best of the Frost draws liberally from the second album that the Ballroom performances would become, revisiting five of the album's songs, adding "Take My Hand," "Baby Once You've Got It" and the minor hit "Mystery Man" from Frost Music. "Black As Night" and "Fifteen Hundred Miles" would later show up on the band's third and final album.

The performances on The Best of the Frost are stellar, Wagner and second guitarist Don Hartman taking center stage, supported by a fine rhythm section in bassist Gordy Garris and drummer Bob Rigg. Musically, the Frost were probably five years or so ahead of their time, songs like "Sweet Lady Love" or "Black As Night" foreshadowing the chart-topping mid-'70s hard rock of artists like Alice Cooper and Grand Funk Railroad. Wagner's vocals are engaging but not spectacular, effective in a sort of '60s rock scream and shout style. The band's enormous energy and sheer volume raised the bar for later bands like GFR and Deep Purple, however, and the fluid interplay between Wagner and Hartman is simply dazzling, illustrated by the extended instrumental intro to "Take My Hand" or with the chiming guitars of the country-flavored "Black Train."

Wagner would disband the Frost after the band failed to achieve any sort of commercial success with its third album, Through The Eyes Of Love, released in 1970. He would form the short-lived Ursa Major for a lone album release in 1972, a growing friendship with producer Bob Ezrin leading to a partnership with guitarist Steve Hunter and a role in creating some of the best-loved music of the '70s. Wagner subsequently contributed his enormous talents to Alice Cooper's Welcome To My Nightmare and Lou Reed's Rock 'N Roll Animal as well as albums by Aerosmith, Peter Gabriel, and Kiss.

With the Frost, however, Wagner created the blueprint for much of the music to follow in the '70s, his singular lead guitar style, supported and challenged by a secondary rhythm guitarist, becoming a staple of hard rock and heavy metal for the next thirty years. The Best of the Frost offers long-suffering fans a (somewhat) new recording and provides a fine stepping stone for newcomers to discover an exciting, influential, guitar-driven rock 'n' roll band. Much to their credit, Vanguard has kept all three of the Frost's studio albums in print, allowing the band a chance to expand upon its long overdue legacy. (Vanguard Records, released March 11, 2004)

Buy the CD from The Frost's The Best of the Frost

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2004

Steve Hillage’s Awesome Searching For The Spark Box Set!

Steve Hillage's Searching For The Spark box set

Although often overlooked when the talk turns to great guitarists, Steve Hillage should always be a part of the conversation. The skilled string-bender stands as one of the most influential and important progressive rock artists – possibly one of the reasons for the lack of appreciation of his talents by mainstream critics and music historians – and Hillage has made significant contributions to the language of guitar with bands like Gong and System 7 as well as with his own lengthy solo career.

On October 21st, 2016 Hillage will release Searching For The Spark, an awesome 22-disc box set that celebrates the guitarist’s lengthy and prolific career. Although the set definitely showcases Hillage’s extensive solo work, it includes plenty of other material to keep the prog-rock fanboy drooling for days. Searching For The Spark gathers all eight of Hillage’s solo albums for Virgin Records, seven albums of live performances, and four discs of demos and archive recordings, most of ‘em previously-unreleased, plucked directly from Hillage’s personal collection.

The box also includes rare photos, press clippings, and reviews in a 188 page book with a history of the artist penned by Gong expert Jonny Greene. Throw in three reproduction promo posters, two lyric booklets, a high-quality enamel badge, and a Hillage-signed certificate of authenticity, and you have a lot for the Hillage fan to like.

Musically, in addition to über cool and critically-acclaimed Hillage solo albums like 1975’s Fish Rising, 1976’s L, and 1977’s Motivation Radio, you’ll also get the very rare 1969 album Arzachel, recorded by Hillage with the members of British psych-prog band Egg and Shanty, the 1972 album by proggers Khan featuring Hillage and including 40+ minutes of previously unreleased material from Kahn’s Mark II line-up. You also get the first System 7 album, two BBC performances recorded live in 1976 and ’79, and much, much more!

Searching For The Spark ain’t cheap – as of this writing, it’s gonna cost you around $260 US – but that breaks down to less than $12 per CD for an awesome amount of great music. Pre-order it from the Burning Shed website or wait for it to show up on Amazon. Extra bonus: one lucky fan will find a special ‘golden ticket’ hidden inside their Searching For The Spark box set that entitles them to an exclusive gift from Steve Hillage. Really, what more could you want?

The Band's The Last Waltz 40th Anniversary Celebration

The Band's The Last Waltz
It’s one of the most famous shows in rock ‘n’ roll’s long, storied history. On Thanksgiving Day in 1976, roots-rock legends The Band took the stage at the Winterland Theatre in San Francisco, California for their farewell concert. Filmed with a whopping seven 35mm cameras by acclaimed director Martin Scorsese, the show was released theatrically in April 1978 as The Last Waltz, widely considered one of the greatest concert films ever made. The concert also spawned the release of a three-LP live set that peaked at #16 on the Billboard album chart.

The members of The Band – Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson – were joined during the concert by a literal “who’s who” of mid-‘70s rock and blues royalty, including Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Ronnie Hawkins, Ron Wood, Ringo Starr, Neil Diamond, and Van Morrison, among others. The concert overall lasted better than five hours, and a lot of performances were cut from the final film, including two improvised jam sessions, the first of which included Clapton, Young, Wood, and Chicago blues legend and the other including the aforementioned artists plus guitarist Stephen Stills.

On November 11th, 2016 Rhino Records will celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Last Waltz with the release of three new reissues, including the first pairing of the audio and video in a single set. The Last Waltz 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition is a four-CD plus Blu-Ray set that includes the complete audio recording of the concert (54 tracks), including rehearsals and outtakes along with the complete film on Blu-Ray disc. This set includes a number of rare performances that didn’t show up on the original soundtrack album, including Joni Mitchell singing “Furry Sings The Blues” and “All Our Past Times,” with Clapton and Dr. John’s “King Harvest (Has Surely Come).” Limited to 2,500 copies this edition includes new liner notes by David Fricke and Ben Fong-Torres.

For those that just want the music, love vinyl, and don’t care much about the visuals, the complete audio recording from The Last Waltz, including rehearsals and outtakes, will also be released as a six-LP set pressed on 180gram vinyl and packaged in an ornate lift-top box. For those on a budget, the original soundtrack will be released as a two-CD set, newly re-mastered from the original master tapes. Finally, for those with deep pockets, there’s The Last Waltz 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition, which will be released on December 9th, 2016 in a limited edition of 2,500 copies worldwide.

This set includes the entire audio recording of the concert and the film on Blu-Ray (like the ‘deluxe edition’) and features a second Blu-Ray disc with rarely seen vintage ‘90s interviews with Scorsese and Robbie Robertson and a 5.1 audio mix of the original album. The 'Collector’s Edition' also includes a red faux-leather bound 300 page book with a full replication of Scorsese’s shooting script, rare photos, set sketches, fold-out storyboards, and a foreword by Scorsese. It’s all in all a pretty swank presentation of a top drawer event…check 'em all out on the Rhino Records website.

Buy the CD from The Band's The Last Waltz 40th Anniversary Edition (4 CD+Blu-Ray)