Thursday, August 17, 2017

Q5: Kerry Landreth of Birdseed talks about music

Birdseed's Kerry Landreth
Kerry Landreth is lead singer and songwriter for the San Francisco rock band Birdseed, whose recently-released 10” EP Not Out of Time the Reverend found quite impressive, writing that “Not Out of Time is one of those rare treasures that will take 20 years or so for rock music’s critical cognoscenti to catch up with.” Comprised of singer Landreth, guitarists Jamie Goodyear and Mason Morfit, bassist Lane Murchison, keyboardist Brian Hetherington, saxophonist Peter Landreth, and drummer Scott Bell, Birdseed delivers “grown-up rock ‘n’ roll from an adult’s perspective, with lyrics forged in the crucible of life.”

After my review of Not Out of Time was published, Birdseed guitarist Mason Morfit got in touch. He kindly hooked me up via email with Landreth for the following Q5 interview and she graciously took time out of her schedule to answer a few questions about the best band that you’ve haven’t heard (yet).

Q1. What originally got you interested in singing and music?

I grew up surrounded by music – I lived in London during Andrew Lloyd Weber’s heyday and sang songs from musicals in my living room every night. I sang in an a capella group and a band at Exeter, and then in an a capella group at Stanford. Joining Birdseed was a joyful revisit of the things I loved most. I’d beaten breast cancer in 2010-11 and going through that was as transformative as you’d imagine. Except my version of taking the “cancer lesson” wasn’t to slow down, it was to speed up.

Luckily I fell in with the right group of musicians – we were all at a point in our lives where we’d lived enough to know what was important to us. And to our surprise and delight, we found we write great music about it. My cancer came back in 2015, which created a sense of urgency. Musically, things ignited. We started writing, recording, and playing live with a vengeance.

Q2. Who are your musical and songwriting influences?

Sheryl Crowe, Natalie Merchant, Ray LaMontagne, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, and J.J. Cale.

Q3. Why compile Birdseed's singles onto vinyl rather than CD, and why a 10" EP?

For the same reason we are writing music about people our age. It’s for the generation who grew up loving vinyl.

Q4. Why record and release singles rather than a full-length album?

We record them as soon as we write them (and inspiration only comes when it comes). We are so excited to share them with our friends that we can't hold anything back for a LP. Most of the fun is from sharing this stuff.

Q5. Has the band been approached by any labels, or would y’all prefer to keep doing your records yourselves?

We signed early to Bird Records because of how cool the Bird school and studio are. That place brought music to all of our kids. Most of them now play music and have been in bands. We are an independent group of people and independent label makes sense for us.

Related content: Birdseed’s Not Out of Time EP review

Sunday, August 13, 2017

CD Review: The Raspberries' Pop Art Live (2017)

The Raspberries' Pop Art Live
At the time, I didn’t personally agree with placing The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. As the music editor of Nashville’s Metro magazine when the choice was made in 1986, I was one of those voices that spoke loudly in favor of the Music City, where Elvis had recorded many of his early hits and where Jimi honed his axe before taking his act worldwide. There’s no denying, however, that the “mistake on the lake,” as Cleveland was known when I lived there in 1967-68, is a rock ‘n’ roll town.

Power-Pop Pioneers

Cleveland broadcasting powerhouse WMMS has a history as one of the most influential tastemakers in FM rock radio, helping break artists like Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, and Rush, among others, while the station’s long-running weekly live broadcast, The WMMS Coffee Break Concert, promoted artists as diverse as Warren Zevon, Lou Reed, Tim Buckley, and Peter Frampton, resulting in a wealth of bootleg tapes and records. Although Cleveland hasn’t spawned a rock scene as madly-hyped as, say, Athens, Seattle, or Austin through the years, how can you argue against the influence and importance of such homegrown artists as Joe Walsh and the James Gang, the Dead Boys, Pere Ubu, Peter Laughner, Rocket From The Tombs or, perhaps, the most notorious of them all – the Raspberries?

Formed in Cleveland in 1970 by members of two fondly-remembered local rock outfits – the Choir and Cyrus Erie – the Raspberries originally consisted of singer and guitarist Eric Carmen, guitarist Wally Bryson, bassist John Aleksic, and drummer Jim Bonfanti. Aleksic bolted before the group really had its feet on the ground, replaced by guitarist Dave Smalley while Carmen moved to playing bass, completing what is considered to be the “classic” line-up of the Raspberries. Influenced greatly by British Invasion bands like the Beatles, the Who, the Hollies, and the Small Faces, the foursome struck gold when their second single, “Go All The Way,” went all the way to #5 on the charts and sold over a million copies.

Coasting on the success of “Go All The Way,” the Raspberries self-titled 1972 debut virtually invented the “power pop” genre, peaking at #51 and spending a whopping 30 weeks on the charts. The band’s ‘60s-era musical roots, whipsmart songwriting, melodic instrumentation, and gorgeous vocal harmonies made fans out of fellow musicians like Bruce Springsteen and John Lennon. Carmen and Smalley switched instruments again and a quick follow-up album, Fresh, was released in November 1972. Fresh would yield two big hits with its two singles, “I Wanna Be With You” and “Let’s Pretend,” which would help push the album into the Top 40.

The Raspberries’ Pop Art Live

The Raspberries
The band’s Side 3, released in 1973, saw the Raspberries moving towards a more aggressive rock sound as creative tensions grew among the members. None of the album’s three singles performed all that well, leading to Smalley’s ejection from the band, followed by Bonfanti’s departure, the pair replaced by Scott McCarl and Michael McBride. The band’s final album, 1974’s Starting Over, produced a Top 20 hit with “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record),” but it wasn’t enough to push the album up the charts and the Raspberries broke up in 1975, with Carmen moving on to enjoy a modestly-successful career as a solo artist and songwriter well into the late 1980s.
The House of Blues chain of nightclub/restaurants opened a location in Cleveland in 2004, coaxing the four members of the Raspberries to reunite for the first time in nearly 30 years. After a bit of practice to shake off the ring rust, the band’s best-known line-up – Carmen, Bryson, Smalley, and Bonfanti – climbed on stage on November 26th and ran through an inspired set that featured better than two-dozen songs and included both hits and ‘deep cuts’ alike. The well-received performance led to a ‘mini-tour’ in 2005, a VH1 Classic TV special, and a live concert broadcast on XM satellite radio. One of the band’s 2005 performances was filmed and subsequently released on CD and DVD as Live on Sunset Strip. Oddly, however, the band’s triumphant reunion at the House of Blues in 2004 remained unreleased until now, with Omnivore Recordings rescuing the performance and releasing it as Pop Art Live.

With interest in the Raspberries revived by the use of “Go All The Way” on the hit movie soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy during the summer of 2014, along with the following year’s reissue of all four of the band’s classic ‘70s-era albums as a reasonably-priced box set, the time seems ripe for Pop Art Live. That the band’s electrifying performance belies their three-decade layoff doesn’t hurt any – from the opening notes of the 1972 hit “I Wanna Be With You,” the listener knows that they’re about to hear something special – and the band keeps the energy crackling throughout the two-disc set’s 28 red-hot tracks. Carmen’s voice has lost a bit of resonance over the years, but what it lacks in range it makes up for in character as the singer sounds a bit more soulful. Instrumentally, the band itself still kicks ass, with Bryson’s stinging guitar and Bonfanti’s powerful drum fills providing a perfect backdrop for Carmen’s vocals and the band’s backing harmonies.

Go All The Way

The Raspberries' Fresh
Even amidst a playlist that features an abundance of hits like the aforementioned “I Wanna Be With You,” “Go All The Way,” and “Let’s Pretend,” there remain a few surprises. A cover of the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” explodes out of your speakers while “Nobody Knows,” from Fresh, is a Beatles-esque delight with vocals shared by Carmen and Smalley. A cover of the Beatles’ obscurity “Baby’s In Black” is afforded gorgeous harmonies dancing atop the song’s waltz-like tempo while “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)” is drenched in grandeur. The familiar opening riff of “Tonight,” combined with the song’s passionate vocals and ramshackle instrumentation, makes one wonder why it didn’t climb higher than #69 on the charts back in 1973.

Bryson’s original “Last Dance” showcases both his underrated songwriting skills as well as his elegant fretwork. It should come as no surprise that a bunch of Beatles fans like the Raspberries would pluck more than one tune from the Lennon/McCartney songbook. The band acquits itself nicely as “Fab Four” sound-alikes on “No Reply,” falling somewhere on the spectrum between Klaatu and Badfinger, while their cover of “Ticket To Ride” is beefier than the original, with deliberate drumbeats and a solid rhythmic backbone on which the vocals ride, with flashes of brilliant guitar punctuating the arrangement. The album’s only other cover song, of the Choir’s 1966 garage-rock hit “It’s Cold Outside,” is delivered reverently but with appropriate zeal, offering jangling instrumentation and expressive gang vocals that perfectly capture the innocence of the era.

The other two unsuccessful singles from the Side 3 album (the first being the aforementioned “Tonight)” – “Ecstasy” and “I’m A Rocker” – are a pair of pure pop gems. The former offers the band’s trademark melodic sonic bluster, with an epic sound not unlike “Go All The Way” or “I Wanna Be With You,” featuring soaring vocals and rolling drumbeats, while the latter is more of a Stonesy blooze grind with Bryson’s deliciously greasy guitar licks and a foot-shuffling rhythmic track. Pop Art Live closes, of course, with “Go All The Way,” the band’s performance of their best-known song living up to the audience’s expectations, its yin/yang creative dynamic balanced by Carmen’s lofty vocals and Bryson’s raucous fretwork.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Fans of the Raspberries waited nearly 30 years for the band’s 2004 reunion show, and have suffered through almost another decade and a half waiting for the concert to receive a legit CD release. The band sounds mighty good for a bunch of aging duffers, picking up pretty much where they left off in 1975 and delivering a high-octane performance for those of us who never got to witness the band in person back in the day.

The closest most of us have come to hearing the Raspberries perform live was a 1974 bootleg album (Back Home Again) that framed the band in a more rock-oriented light with blues overtones (Omnivore, why don’t you track that disc down and reissue it?). Short of inventing a time machine and traveling back to the early ‘70s and Cleveland’s Agora club, Pop Art Live provides all the cheap thrills a fan could ask for from power-pop pioneers the Raspberries. Grade: B+ (Omnivore Recordings, released August 18, 2017)

Buy the CD from The Raspberries’ Pop Art Live

CD Preview: The Original Blues Brothers Band’s The Last Shade of Blue Before Black

Original Blues Brothers Band photo by Pepe Botella
The late, great John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd caught a lot of crap for their 1980 film The Blues Brothers, mostly because a few ignorant critics misunderstood the Saturday Night Live duos’ cinematic treatment of the blues and R&B as satire rather than as the reverent, heartfelt homage that the original BB skit and the resulting movie were meant to be.

Regardless of a few bad reviews, and studio concerns about its appeal to white audiences, The Blues Brothers would score $100+ box office worldwide, spawn an equally-misunderstood but probably unnecessary sequel, yield a couple of hit record albums, and introduce its (mostly white) audience to dynamic performances by great talents like Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, John Lee Hooker, and James Brown.

The Original Blues Brothers Band’s The Last Shade of Blue Before BlackFlash forward a few decades and the two Blues Brothers movies have come to be considered as cult classics, resulting in a long-running radio program hosted by Aykroyd and a full-time touring band comprised of musicians from the movies. On October 6th, 2017 Severn Records will release The Last Shade of Blue Before Black, a new album by the Original Blues Brothers Band. Featuring bona fide rock ‘n’ blues legends like guitarist Steve Cropper and saxophonist “Blue Lou” Marini (both from the original film) as well as notable musical guests like R&B singer Eddie Floyd, guitarists Joe Louis Walker and Matt “Guitar” Murphy, keyboardists Paul Shaffer (an SNL alumni) and Dr. John as well as Blues Brothers 2000 star Joe Morton.

In a press release for the new album, “Blue Lou” Marini says, “Had anyone told me in 1978 that in 2017 I would still be traveling around the world and playing with the Blues Brothers’ Band, I would have said they were out of their minds. But, amazingly here we are with a new CD and still playing all over the world. This album is a true labor of love and I’m so proud of the organic way it came about. We really wanted to honor our history and to include some of our favorite musicians that we’ve worked with and loved over the years. We have the legends, Eddie Floyd and Dr. John, plus our original band leader, Paul Shaffer and the great bluesman Joe Louis Walker.”

The Last Shade of Blue Before Black was produced by Marini, Cropper, and the Original Blues Brothers Band and recorded by Jay Messina at IQII Studios in Hoboken, NJ. The album’s track list is a heady collection of original material and cover songs by such roots ‘n’ blues artists as Delbert McClinton, Jimmy Reed, Willie Dixon, Eddie Floyd, and James Brown. “We wanted to present some new original material and do some tunes that hearkened to our past,” says Marini. “This is a live CD, with everyone recording at once, mostly first or second takes and live vocals and solos. The only overdubs were some baritone sax parts and a few minor fixes.”

Concluding, Marini states “I’ve often said that the OBBB is the world’s greatest part-time job because of you, our fans. We’ve gotten to see the world and enjoy it in your company. We’ve eaten and drank with you, especially the latter, and you have treated us like kings. Enjoy this music and for God’s sake, PLAY IT LOUD!”

Buy the CD from The Original Blues Brothers BandsThe Last Shade of Blue Before Black

Friday, August 11, 2017

Book Review: Richard Morton Jack's Psychedelia - 101 Iconic Underground Rock Albums 1966-1970 (2017)

Richard Morton Jack's Psychedelia
It’s been better than a year since we’ve seen Richard Morton Jack’s excellent music zine Flashback, but I guess that the publisher and editor had a good reason for the lack of a new issue. The British author’s recently-arrived book – the hardback coffee-table tome Psychedelia: 101 Iconic Underground Rock Albums 1966-1970 – is 256 pages of gorgeous album artwork and informative music history that deserves a place on the shelf of every fan of classic rock ‘n’ roll.

Morton Jack is no neophyte to music journalism; a regular contributor to music magazines like Mojo, Q, and Record Collector he also publishes Flashback and is co-founder of the specialist reissue label Sunbeam Records. Morton Jack is also the author of several previous books, including Endless Trip and Galactic Trip, and he edited the new edition of The Tapestry of Delights, a guide to 1960s and ‘70s-era British pop and rock.

Richard Morton Jack’s Psychedelia: 101 Iconic Underground Rock Albums 1966-1970

While some may argue about Morton Jack’s choices for the book’s “101 iconic underground rock albums,” there’s no doubting his authority on the subject – the writer has probably forgotten more about psychedelic rock than most of us will ever know. Psychedelia is arranged chronologically by the date of each album’s release, and Morton Jack is generous in his definition of the psychedelic-rock era, dating it from 1966 to 1970 (with ’67 being the genre’s peak). A lot of music historians feel that the psychedelic era had petered out by late ’68 in spite of the glaring fact that artists were still exploring the music’s potential as late as 1970; I side with Morton Jack in this argument.

So, the first album featured in Psychedelia is Bob Dylan’s 1966 LP Blonde on Blonde, a courageous choice that Morton Jack deftly defends in his notes. A handful of other pioneering early psych albums from ’66 are included, including LPs by the Yardbirds, the Blues Magoos, and the Deep as well as an odd bodkins outlier, Pat Kilroy’s Light of Day. From here, we’re off to the races, with 1967’s wealth of psychedelia including both well-known releases like the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Country Joe & the Fish’s Electric Music for the Mind and Body, and Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn as well as relative obscurities like Captain Beefheart’s Safe as Milk and the 13th Floor Elevators’ Easter Everywhere as well as discs from folks like Moby Grape, the Bee Gees (?!), Love, and Jefferson Airplane.

From Golden Dawn to the Pretty Things

Richard Morton Jack's Flashback zine
When 1968 rolled around, if we are to believe conventional wisdom, psychedelic rock was already waning, a misconception disabused by Psychedelia. From January’s International Artists label release Power Plant by Golden Dawn and Spirit’s self-titled debut to December’s S.F. Sorrow by the Pretty Things, and with albums in-between by artists as diverse and adventuresome as the Mothers of Invention, the Zombies, the United States of America, Silver Apples, the Grateful Dead and many others, the meat and potatoes of Psychedelia can be dated to 1968. Everything occurring afterwards – self-titled albums by visionary bands like Kak, Gandalf, the Charlatans, Mighty Baby, and Arzachel as well as essential psych-rock LPs like Sam Gopal’s Escalator, Alexander “Skip” Spence’s Oar, and Quicksilver Messenger Service’s Happy Trails – are all gravy, released in 1969 and ’70.

The entry for each album includes a 7” to 8” color reproduction of the album’s original artwork, the book’s hefty 10” by 11.5” size allowing for the brilliance of each album’s cover to be preserved and presented in detail. Morton Jack’s accompanying notes offer insightful historical context for each album, often provided by interviews with the artists, both new and previously-published in the music press. Psychedelia also includes a deeply-researched timeline of psychedelic music as well as special sections on U.S. and U.K. music publications, great American and European psychedelic singles, rock festivals and, lest one forget the original inspiration for the psychedelic revolution, a brief history of LSD.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Richard Morton Jack’s Psychedelia is unassailable as both a history of psychedelic rock or as a guide to the essential albums of the era. These are the records that would set the table for much of what would follow in rock ‘n’ roll, from the guitar pyrotechnics and progressive rock of the ‘70s to 1980s-era garage rock and the psychedelic revival of the ‘90s. More than just another good-looking coffee table book, Psychedelia offers substance and style, providing a lot of info to chew on for the baby-faced new fan and psychedelic veteran alike. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the psychedelic style or you’re looking for an introduction to the genre, you can’t go wrong with Psychedelia, which would be a bargain at twice the price. Grade: A (Sterling, published May 2, 2017)

Check out Flashback music zine

Buy the book from Richard Morton Jack’s Psychedelia

Apples In Stereo vinyl reissues from Yep Roc

The Apples In Stereo's Velocity Of Sound
Hot on the heels of their successful six-album Nick Lowe reissue series, the good folks at Yep Roc Records have their sights set on a slightly more obscure, but no less talented indie pop outfit. On November 3rd, 2017 Yep Roc will reissue the first of four albums by The Apples In Stereo when 1997’s Tone Soul Evolution hits the shelves once again in glorious black vinyl. The Apples’ 1999 album Her Wallpaper Reverie follows on November 24th.

The band’s second album, Tone Soul Evolution was originally released by the indie SpinART Records label and has been out of print for over a decade. This Yep Roc reissue represents the album’s first release on vinyl and also features the original master recording as it was first envisioned by band frontman Robert Schneider. The album will arrive with a deluxe gatefold sleeve featuring the artwork of longtime band collaborator Steve Keene. The band’s third album, Her Wallpaper Reverie, saw the Apples exploring their inner psychedelic id with their trademark Beatle-esque pop/rock sound complimented by trippy musical interludes. 

The fourth and fifth Apples In Stereo albums – 2000’s The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone and 2002’s critically-acclaimed Velocity of Sound – will also be reissued on vinyl by Yep Roc on January 12th and February 16th, 2018, respectively. The former album eschewed the band’s normal “wall of sound” production in favor of a raw, live sound and songs that were more inspired by R&B while the latter album was a collection of short, guitar-driven songs created in tribute to the Ramones.

The Apples In Stereo's Tone Soul Evolution
Each album has been carefully remastered and includes a digital download; they can be purchased individually or as a discounted bundle directly from Yep Roc Records. Formed in 1991 in Denver, Colorado the Apples In Stereo were part of the Elephant 6 Recording Company collective of like-minded lo-fi indie groups that also included Neutral Milk Hotel and the Olivia Tremor Control.

Influenced by the Beatles and other British Invasion bands as well as late ‘60s psychedelic rock, the Apples were fronted by singer/songwriter Robert Schneider and included bassist Jim McIntyre, guitarist Chris Parfitt, and drummer Hilarie Sidney. Guitarist John Hill and bassist Eric Allen would replace their counterparts in 1995, and multi-instrumentalist Bill Doss of Olivia Tremor Control would later tour and record with the band. With these missing pieces of the Apples In Stereo catalog brought back in print by Yep Rec (who also released the band’s more recent recordings), a new generation has the opportunity to discover the band’s inspired music.

Order the LPs from Yep Roc Records

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Vinyl Review: Birdseed's Not Out of Time EP (2017)

Birdseed's Not Out of Time EP
Even for a jaded old rock critic like the Reverend, every now and then the blue-clad U.S. postman delivers a gem whose sparkle and gleam catches one’s eye. One such recording that muscled itself to the top of the slush pile amidst faceless modern rock clones and carbon-copy pop divas was Birdseed’s Not Out of Time. While promotional copies of vinyl records arrive more frequent these days (jeez, there was a time in the early ‘00s where wax was nearly extinct!), the diminutive younger sibling of the LP – the oddball 10” EP – is still a rarity though, to be honest, I have bought in EPs by Jimi Hendrix and Marshall Crenshaw in this 10” vinyl format recently.

Birdseed’s Not Out of Time

Birdseed is an honest-to-Chuck-Berry American rock band formed in 2012 in San Francisco. Comprised of singer Kerry Landreth, guitarists Jamie Goodyear (who also sings) and Mason Morfit, bassist Lane Murchison, keyboardist Brian Hetherington, saxophonist Peter Landreth, and drummer Scott Bell, Birdseed’s Not Out of Time EP collects five of the band’s songs that had previously been released as singles. Although the band’s sound has been described as “Fleetwood Mac meets Wilco,” there’s really a lot more than these convenient labels going on here.

The EP’s title track, for instances, offers Landreth’s throaty, slightly-twangy vocals which remind more of the Textones’ Carla Olsen than of Stevie Nicks. Roaring above country-flavored soundtrack that follows a jangly Byrdsian blueprint, the song’s accompanying harmony vocals, stinging guitars, and rumbling percussion provide an encouraging introduction to the band. “Next Trip Around the Sun” is unexpectedly stunning, Landreth’s voice channeling no little emotional turmoil above a low-slung rhythmic groove, her brother Peter’s mournful sax offering a masterful counterpoint to Landreth’s dark-to-light lyrics.

The newest song on the EP, “I Want You To Know” is a mid-tempo ballad with Landreth’s lovely voice complimented by elegant fretwork and subtle instrumentation. Lyrically a poignant letter from a parent to their child, it’s a well-crafted tearjerker. The inspirational “We Can Do It” was co-written by Landreth and her nine-year-old daughter Bebe, the song’s hopeful message bolstered by strong-though-subdued instrumentation that rightfully places the spotlight on the lyrics. Peter Landreth’s soul-flavored sax and some impressive Steve Cropper-style guitar provide additional texture to the performance. “More Than I Needed the Truth” addresses personal relationships from a mature perspective, Landreth’s twangy vocals partially-buried in a gorgeous, multi-faceted soundtrack with a too-brief guitar solo and melodic harmonies.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

This ain’t your kid’s music, Birdseed delivering grown-up rock ‘n’ roll from an adult’s perspective, with lyrics forged in the crucible of life. Birdseed’s members were older than most bands when they got together, and most – if not all of ‘em – are parents, with all the headaches and heartaches parenthood entails. Birdseed’s lyrics are informed by Kerry Landreth’s struggle with incurable breast cancer, but are hopeful rather than dire, while the band’s instrumental talents provide a suitable backdrop for her skilled vocals. Creating music that is too good, and too authentic for major label release, Birdseed’s Not Out of Time EP is one of those rare treasures that will take 20 years or so for rock music’s critical cognoscenti to catch up with. Grade: A (Bird Records, released August 4th, 2017)

Buy the EP from Bandcamp: Birdseed’s Not Out of Time EP

UFO's The Salentino Cuts covers album

UFO's The Salentino Cuts
On September 29th, 2017 British rock ‘n’ roll legends UFO will release their very first album of cover tunes with The Salentino Cuts on Cleopatra Records. Paying homage to a dozen of the band’s favorite tunes, The Salentino Cuts offers up some unexpected-but-no-less-inspired choices like covers of John Mellencamp’s “Paper In Fire” and the Bill Withers’ soul classic “Ain’t No Sunshine” along with more traditional rock ‘n’ rollers like the Yardbirds’ “Heartful of Soul” and ZZ Top’s “Just Got Paid” as well as deep cuts like Mad Season’s “River of Deceit,” Robin Trower’s “Too Rolling Stoned,” and Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher.”

Unlike other 1970s-era classic rock revivalists that will remain nameless, UFO has punched its way into the 21st century. Rather than rehashing their storied past, the band has released a number of studio albums of new material over the past decade, the most recent being 2015’s acclaimed A Conspiracy of Stars. As UFO rapidly approaches its 50th anniversary as a band, the current line-up includes original members Phil Mogg (vox) and Andy Parker (drums), keyboardist Paul Raymond (who’s been with the band since 1976), guitarist Vinnie Moore (since 2003), and recent addition, American bassist Rob De Luca, who joined the band when original UFO madman Pete Way’s health forced his retirement.

In a press release for the new album, Vinnie Moore says, “Making this covers record was a blast for me. I thoroughly enjoyed putting a little of my own spin on these tunes that I grew up with. I played ZZ Top and Robin Trower songs about a gazzilion times onstage over the years. It was great to actually get to record some of my old faves.” The Salentino Cuts will be available on both CD and as two limited-edition vinyl pressings – one on splatter vinyl and one on white vinyl. In support of The Salentino Cuts, the band will be touring North America with fellow British hard rock legends Saxon; you can check out the tour dates listed below to see if they’re coming near your hometown.

Buy the CD from UFO’s The Salentino Cuts

UFO 2017 North American tour dates:
Sep 22 @ Newton Theater, Newton NJ
Sep 23 @ Paramount Theater, Huntington NY
Sep 24 @ Baltimore Soundstage, Baltimore MD
Sep 26 @ Theater Of The Living Arts, Philadelphia PA
Sep 28 @ Flying Monkey, Plymouth NH
Sep 29 @ Palladium, Worcester MA
Sep 30 @ Webster Theater, Hartford CT
Oct 1 @ Aura, Portland ME
Oct 3 @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto ON Canada
Oct 4 @ Corona Theatre, Montreal QU Canada
Oct 6 @ Machine Shop, Flint MI
Oct 7 @ Ground Zero, Traverse City MI
Oct 8 @ Concord Music Hall, Chicago IL
Oct 9 @ Tangier Cabaret Room, Akron OH
Oct 11 @ Jergels, Pittsburgh PA
Oct 12 @ Bogarts, Cincinnati OH
Oct 13 @ Star Plaza, Merrillville IN
Oct 14 @ The Egyptian, Indianapolis IN

More great music from Chris Bell than you can handle!

Chris Bell's I Am The Cosmos
Big Star co-founder Chris Bell left the band after the 1972 release of their debut album #1 Record. A legendary and influential slab o’ wax with great power-pop tunes penned by Bell and Alex Chilton, sales of #1 Record were miserable, and only in retrospect has the album earned its status as a rock ‘n’ roll classic. As co-writer of many of the album’s songs, as well as one of the band’s two singers and guitarists, Bell’s fingerprints are all of #1 Record and he was an integral part of the early Big Star sound.

In Big Star’s wake, Bell released only two new songs before his tragic, accidental 1978 death at the age of 27 years – a single on Chris Stamey’s (The dB’s) Car Records label, “I Am the Cosmos” b/w “You and Your Sister.” Bell had created a lot more music than was initially released, however, the singer, songwriter, and guitarist recording at the Château D’Hérouville near Paris as well as at Shoe Studios and Ardent Studios in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Some of these recordings were posthumously released by Rykodisc in 1992 as the critically-acclaimed I Am the Cosmos CD; an expanded 2009 reissue of the album by Rhino Handmade nearly doubled the track listing, adding alternative mixes and a handful of Bell’s pre-Big Star recordings. Bell’s legacy was explored further earlier this year with the release of Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star by archival specialists Omnivore Recordings, a heady 22-track collection that includes Bell’s early recordings with Memphis pop/rock bands like the Wallabys, Rock City, and Icewater.

Looking Forward was just a taste of things to come however – on September 15th, 2017 Omnivore will release the definitive version of Bell’s unsung classic. The super-duper expanded reissue of I Am the Cosmos expands upon the two previous releases, the two-disc set adding ten more tracks to the set, eight of them previously unreleased and two only ever previously released on vinyl. The CD packaging includes updated liner notes from co-producer Alex Palao as well as Memphis author Bob Mehr and includes a bunch of rare, previously unseen photos. The original twelve-song version of I Am the Cosmos will also be reissued on cool-looking clear vinyl with a download card for all the bonus material.

The Complete Chris Bell
If that’s not enough Chris Bell music for you fans, you can start saving your pennies now, ‘cause on November 24th, 2017 Omnivore will be releasing a six-disc vinyl box set titled The Complete Chris Bell. The first two LPs in the set are comprised of recordings previously released on CD as Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star and Bell’s pre-Big Star band Rock City’s See Seven States. The remastered I Am the Cosmos will make up the set’s third LP with all of the bonus songs from the deluxe CD reissue presented on the fourth and fifth LPs as Outtakes & Alternates, the material making its vinyl debut.

The sixth LP of The Complete Chris Bell is exclusive to the vinyl box set and features a never-before-heard 1975 interview of Bell by Barry Ballard. The writer had interviewed Bell in London and allowed the use of his original tape for transfer and restoration for the set. The artist’s remarks on his solo recordings and his former band will provide music historians with new insights. The Complete Chris Bell was compiled by Grammy™ winning producer Cheryl Pawelski, Ardent Studios’ Adam Hill, and Alec Palao and was remastered by Grammy™ winning engineer Michael Graves with the vinyl cut on the original lathe at Ardent Studios.

Aside from a lot of great music, The Complete Chris Bell also includes a 20-page color booklet with liner notes by Palao and the aforementioned Bob Mehr (music critic for The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis and author of the New York Times best-seller Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements). The set also includes previously unseen photos and memorabilia as well as an excerpt from Rich Tupica’s upcoming book There Was a Light: The Cosmic History of Chris Bell and the Rise of Big Star. This vinyl box set will only be pressed one time, tho’ individual parts of it may be released if demand warrants, except for the London interview LP.

All of Omnivore’s Chris Bell projects have been developed with oversight by the artist’s estate and his brother, David Bell. With interest in Big Star and, by relation, Chris Bell continuing to grow (no doubt in response to Omnivore’s tireless advocacy), as well as the artist’s upcoming biography by Rich Tupica mentioned above, there’s never been a better time to discover the charms of the great Chris Bell!

Buy the music from
Chris Bell’s I Am the Cosmos [deluxe CD]
The Complete Chris Bell [six-LP box set]

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Video of the Week: Peter Himmelman’s “245th Peace Song”

Minnesota native Peter Himmelman has been kicking around on the fringes of polite society since the early 1980s when his band Sussman Lawrence released a pair of critically-acclaimed indie albums in 1980’s Hail To The Modern Hero! and 1984’s Pop City, which earned Himmelman not entirely unflattering comparisons to new wave icons like Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson. Sussman Lawrence evolved into the Peter Himmelman Band and recorded the 1986 album This Father’s Day, which earned Himmelman a major label deal on the strength of his intelligent, erudite songwriting skills and passionate lyrical delivery.

Island Records reissued This Father’s Day, as well as 1987’s Gematria and 1989’s Synesthesia before Himmelman jumped to 550/Epic Records for a number of albums, including what is probably his best-known and most acclaimed effort, 1994’s Skin. Himmelman has since released a bunch of well-received recordings like 1996’s Stage Diving on the indie Plump label and 1998’s Love Thinketh No Evil for Island’s Six Degrees imprint, as well as a number of acclaimed children’s albums. The singer/guitarist formed his own independent Himmasongs label to release his 2010 album The Mystery and the Hum and, in-between all this activity, somehow found time to compose music for TV shows like Bones and Judging Amy and movies like Snow In August and Heart of Dixie.

Despite his reasonably prolific output of music – I count a dozen or so studio albums in the past 20 years – Peter Himmelman is anything but a household name. Still, he persists, and his talents have shown no signs of diminishing after roughly 40 years in the game. Witness this video for his “245th Peace Song,” a stunning musical and lyrical tour de force that reminds of John Lennon’s plea for peace so long ago while sadly pointing out how far we still have to go, the heartfelt lyrics delivered with a personal perspective. The lead-off track from Himmelman’s upcoming There Is No Calamity album (due out on August 11th, 2017), the video for “245th Peace Song” was created by Peter’s son Isaac, a Brooklyn-based filmmaker.

Although Himmelman’s vocals do sound like a more sandpapered version of Elvis Costello’s singing style, they evince a gritty edge missing from the British rock icon’s music for decades. Partially inspired by the events in Ferguson, Missouri during the summer of 2014, the stark imagery gathered together for the song by Isaac Himmelman is perfectly matched with the song’s anti-racism, anti-violence message. The best singer/songwriter you’ve never heard of, “245th Peace Song” shows that Peter Himmelman is still creating challenging, entertaining, and thought-provoking music after all these years.

Buy the CD from Peter Himmelman’s There Is No Calamity

CD Review: The Mark Robinson Band's Live at The 5 Spot (2017)

The Mark Robinson Band's Live at The 5 Spot
Nashville blues guitarist Mark Robinson picked an odd place to move once he “quit his job” to play guitar, the Music City not especially known for blues music after Jimi fled Jefferson Street for London all those years ago. So mark Robinson as a trailblazer in the city’s growing blues-rock scene that includes talented fellow pickers like Ted Drozdowski and recent immigrants like Keb’ Mo’, Jack White, and Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. Robinson released his debut album, Quit Your Job – Play Guitar, back in 2010 and followed it up three years later with the equally-impressive sophomore effort Have Axe – Will Groove.

The Reverend has had the good fortune of following Robinson’s career since his 2010 debut, writing in Blues Revue that the album “offers a nuanced mix of blues, soul, and twangy roots-rock in its grooves” and that “Robinson successfully balances bluesy ballads with mid-tempo rockers, all of which feature his taut fretwork.” Writing about Have Axe – Will Groove in 2013 for Blues Music magazine I said that the album “surpasses all expectations, delivering a high-wattage jolt of blues, rock, soul, and Southern¬‐fried funk that enhances Robinson's reputation as a gifted songwriter and guitarist with a fluid technique that he applies effortlessly to a myriad of styles.”

Other than a couple of digital single releases, Robinson has been largely quiet as far as recording goes, the guitarist producing an excellent 2015 album by folk-rocker David Olney (When The Deal Goes Down) as well as recordings by Americana artists Ray Cashman and Mark Huff. This absence from the studio makes the release of Robinson’s Live at The 5 Spot all the more welcome. Fronting a classic power trio through its paces during a September 2016 performance at the popular Nashville nightspot The 5 Spot, Robinson takes the opportunity to expand his songs instrumentally and explore a myriad of sonic turf, from blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll to jazz and even adding psychedelic textures to some performances.

The Mark Robinson Band’s Live at the 5 Spot

Spanking the amps from note one, Robinson leads the band through “Baby’s Gone to Memphis” a smoky rock ‘n’ soul ripper with great guitar tone, a foot-shuffling rhythm, and Robinson’s smooth, silky vocals telling a tale of losing his gal to “The King.” There’s plenty of twang ‘n’ bang chicken pickin’ to be had, as well as a badass rhythm that evokes the “Peter Gunn Theme,” but the performance takes a cool, clever jazzy instrumental turn as well, leading the listener off into parts unknown before pulling the line back in for a big, bluesy finish. The band ramps up the soul with a cover of the Temptations’ hit “Can’t Get Next To You.” The band acquits itself nicely in mimicking the Temps’ hearty harmony vocals, but it’s Robinson’s imaginative, high-flying guitarplay that drives this stripped-down but mighty powerful take on the Motown classic.

Robinson’s original, “Poor Boy” is from the guitarist’s debut album and, as good as it is in its studio version, it’s a hoary beast of myth when performed on stage. Based on a long-lost traditional blues song, Robinson mangles its swamp-rock vibe with jagged, broken-glass guitar licks and drummer Rick Schell’s martial rhythms, delivering the lyrics in an anguished howl befitting the Wolf’s best screeds. The original “One Way Ticket” is a new addition to the Robinson milieu in that it appears on neither of his previous albums; the song’s Chicago blues influences are readily apparent in its deep rhythmic groove. Robinson and the gang play it like Butterfield would, minus the harmonica but with a sturdy, steely bass line courtesy of Daniel Seymour and fine brushwork and cascading beats from Schell, atop of which Robinson embroiders his multi-hued fretwork.

Mississippi Hill Country Stomp

After spending some time in the Mississippi Hill Country, Robinson put the experience to good use in penning the darkly delightful “I Know You’ll Be Mine,” a stomping ‘n’ stammering force of nature that reminds of the great R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough without being derivative. Schell’s drumbeats hit your ears like a sledge hammer, Seymour’s underlying bass pumps like a heartbeat, and Robinson’s guitar squeals like a tortured instrument as he cuts through the mix with menace and purpose. By contrast, Robinson’s “Under Her Spell” is exotic in an entirely different manner, the guitarist taking his cue from Carlos Santana and embellishing his performance with an undeniably hypnotic Latin groove that reminds a little of Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green and “Oh Well” in its instrumental virtuosity and trembling tone. The band’s shuffling rhythm is the perfect backdrop for the guitar, with Seymour throwing in an underlying bass line that serves as a perfect complement to Robinson’s guitar.

Befitting its real-world inspiration, “Drive Real Fast” choogles along with a 600-horsepower heartbeat, the rhythm section’s raucous boogie riff fleshed out by the contributions of guest performers Ben Graves (rip-roaring harp) and Mark T. Jordan (trip-hopping keyboards). It’s Robinson that drives this hell-bound hot-rod, though, his otherworldly guitar licks swirling and dancing atop the mix like a manic dervish as his vocals tell a malevolent tale of rage on the asphalt. The extended jam that closes the song is more in the vein of ZZ Top/Canned Heat styled booger-rock than aimless noodling, every instrument meshing like gears in a high-performance engine. Live at The 5 Spot closes out with a fiery rendition of bluesman Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater’s “Wouldn’t Lay My Guitar Down,” Robinson playing it straight in paying tribute to the Chicago blues legend with a rockin’ performance that rolls heavy on wiry guitar licks and big beat rhythms.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Quite simply, Mark Robinson is the best independent contemporary bluesman I’ve run across in the past decade that I’ve been closely watching the scene. His vocal skills are underrated, perfectly servicing the need of the song whether it’s one of his well-written originals or inspired cover tunes. It’s Robinson’s fretwork that shines, however, the guitarist always expanding his musical palette to incorporate new influences and styles while never losing his focus as a skilled blues instrumentalist. Robinson reminds me a lot of both Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton not only with his unique guitar tone but also in his ability to synthesize varying styles in creating an entirely original sound of his own. If you dig blues-rock guitar, you’re gonna love Mark Robinson’s Live at The 5 Spot. Grade: A (Blind Chihuahua Records, released June 1, 2017)

Buy the album from Mark Robinson’s website

New Music Monthly: August 2017 Releases

Wow! July offered a slew of new album releases but the month of August just backs the truck up to your garage and dumps a ton of great new albums for our listening experience. For one, there are a number of very cool vinyl reissues, including LPs by New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands Samson (featuring pre-Iron Maiden Bruce Dickinson) and Jaguar as well as some of Brian Eno's best work, appearing on high-resolution 45rpm vinyl for the first time since the 1970s. Throw in more great Nick Lowe albums as part of Yep Roc's restoration of the pub-rock legend's back catalog, a previously-unreleased album by power-pop kings the Raspberries, and new music by the likes of Kenny Wayne Shepherd, the Hard Working Americans, George Thorogood, Will Hoge, and others and August is a month destined to bankrupt our music budgets!

Brian Eno's Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy

Accept - The Rise of Chaos   BUY!
Coldplay - Kaleidoscope EP   BUY!
Def Leppard - Hysteria [deluxe 5 CD/2 DVD reissue]   BUY!
Brian Eno - Another Green World [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Brian Eno - Before and After Science [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Brian Eno - Here Come the Warm Jets [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Brian Eno - Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Hard Working Americans - We're All In This Together   BUY!
Jaguar - Power Games [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Jane's Addiction - Ritual de lo Habitual Live at 25   BUY!
Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band - Lay It On Down   BUY!
Samson - Shock Tactics [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Kim Simmonds - Jazzin' On the Blues   BUY!
Thor - Beyond the Pain Barrier   BUY!
George Thorogood - Party of One   BUY!
The Winery Dogs - Dog Years: Live In Santiago & Beyond 2013-2016   BUY!

Rick Estrin & the Nightcats' Groovin' In Greaseland

Rick Estrin & the Nightcats - Groovin' In Greaseland   BUY!
Peter Himmelman - There Is No Calamity   BUY!
Will Hoge - Anchors   BUY!
Paul Kelly - Life Is Fine   BUY!
Dwight Yoakum - Live From Austin, TX   BUY!

Steven Wilson's To the Bone

Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruins   BUY!
Ray Wylie Hubbard - Tell The Devil I'm Getting There As Fast As I Can    BUY!
The Raspberries - Pop Art Live   BUY!
Steven Wilson - To the Bone   BUY!

Savoy Brown's Witchy Feelin'

The Cadillac Three - Legacy   BUY!
Alex Chilton - A Man Called Destruction   BUY!
Gogol Bordello - Seekers and Finders   BUY!
Iron & Wine - Beast Epic   BUY!
Nick Lowe - Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit   BUY!
Nick Lowe - The Rose of England   BUY!
Queens of the Stone Age - Villains   BUY!
Savoy Brown - Witchy Feelin'   BUY!

The Raspberries' Pop Art Live

Album of the Month: The Raspberries Pop Art Live is a two-disc set that documents that near-legendary House of Blues concert performance from 2004 by the reunited Cleveland power-pop legends. Pop Art Live features live versions of songs from all four of the band’s classic studio albums, including favorite hits like “Go All The Way,” “I Wanna Be With You,” “Let’s Pretend,” and “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)” as well as their unique performances of timeless songs by rock music legends like the Beatles and the Who. In addition to this month's CD release, plans are to release Pop Art Live as a three-album vinyl set later this year. 

CD Preview: The Flamin’ Groovies’ Fantastic Plastic

The Flamin’ Groovies’ Fantastic Plastic
News just doesn’t get better than this…after almost 38 years, rock ‘n’ roll legends the Flamin’ Groovies are returning with a brand new album! Titled Fantastic Plastic, the album will be released on September 22, 2017 on the band’s own Sonic Kicks Records label in association with Severn Records. The release will be the first Groovies’ studio album since 1979’s Jumpin’ In the Night and represents the reunion of original band member Cyril Jordan and longtime guitarist Chris Wilson.

Produced by Cyril Jordan and Joel Jaffe (who also contributes guitar) and largely recorded at Studio D in Sausalito, Fantastic Plastic features ten new original tunes penned by Jordan and Wilson as well as covers of the Beau Brummels’ “Don’t Talk To Strangers” and NRBQ’s “I Want You Bad.”

Formed in 1965 by guitarist Jordan and singer/guitarist Roy Loney, the Flamin’ Groovies quickly found an audience in their hometown of San Francisco. The release of a 10” seven-song EP titled Sneakers earned the band a contract with CBS, which released the Groovies’ subsequent 1969 debut album, Supersnazz. Audiences weren’t ready for the Groovies’ 1950s-inspired, ‘60s-oriented hybrid of power pop, punk, and garage rock and poor sales led to the label dropping the band shortly after the LP’s release.

Undaunted, the Groovies were signed by Kama Sutra Records, which released a pair of bona fide classic rock ‘n’ roll LPs in 1970’s Flamingo and 1971’s Teenage Head. Once again, audiences weren’t keeping up with the band’s evolution in sound. Going on a five-year hiatus that saw the departure of lead vocalist Loney (who later formed his Phantom Movers band), the Flamin’ Groovies roared back with new singer and guitarist Chris Wilson to record what would become the band’s ‘magnum opus’, 1976’s classic Shake Some Action, released by Sire Records.

The label would release two more Groovies’ albums – 1978’s Flamin’ Groovies Now and 1979’s Jumpin’ In the Night – both of which displayed a harder-edged, punkier sound, before dropping the band. Wilson jumped ship in 1980 to join the Barracudas, and Jordan kept the Groovies going until he pulled the plug in 1992. Always slightly ahead of their time, none of the Groovies’ Sire releases sold particularly well, although all have since become considered as important albums that influenced both the evolution of punk rock and power-pop, and the Groovies’ sound can be heard in the music of folks like NRBQ, Matthew Sweet, the dB’s, and the Plimsouls, among many others.

Jordan and Wilson reunited in London in 2013 where Jordan was performing with Groovies co-founder Loney. One thing led to another, and the Groovies’ reformed with Jordan and Wilson and began doing live shows. Fantastic Plastic was the result of sporadic recording sessions held over a three-year period as the band met in San Francisco to rehearsals. “The second time we got together,” recalls Jordan in a press release for the new album, “I said, ‘let’s go to Sausalito, let’s do some recording. If we’re going to cut an album, let’s keep going like we were in the days with Sire, writing original material in the style that we’ve chosen.’ Every time we got together, we’d go in the studio and lay down two or three basic tracks, and then I would start overdubbing, and Chris would come down and we’d do vocals. It’s taken us almost three years to do the album – recording it that way, we had to wait until the next tour, and the guys would come into town and start up again.”

Fortunately, Jordan and Wilson quickly found their songwriting groove “It was 33 years that we hadn’t seen each other – we’re talking three decades,” says Jordan. “But when we got back together and I started showing him the musical ideas I had for [the new song] ‘End of the World,’ he immediately came up with the second verse. It was as if time and space hadn’t affected us. It was the same as it was back in 1979 when we were writing the songs for Jumpin’ In the Night. We went back and locked into that. It’s really amazing.”

Largely recorded with original band bassist George Alexander and latter-day Groovies’ drummer Victor Penalosa, Fantastic Plastic includes assistance from members of the Fabulous Thunderbirds. The instrumental song “I’d Rather Spend My Time With You” was recorded with noted producer/archivist Alec Palao on bass and Tubes/Todd Rundgren drummer Prairie Prince. The band will be on the road for a number of late-August dates on the east coast before spending most of September performing in Europe. The Groovies will return to the states in October for shows in Chicago, Cleveland, Nashville, St. Louis, and elsewhere. In the meantime, we get a cool new Flamin’ Groovies album…and that’s good news, indeed!

Buy the CD from The Flamin’ Groovies’ Fantastic Plastic

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Zappa & the Mothers’ Absolutely Free returns to vinyl!

The Mothers of Invention's Absolutely Free

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s classic, groundbreaking 1967 album Absolutely Free, the Zappa Family Trust will be releasing an expanded, vinyl-exclusive edition of the album on September 29th, 2018. The double-LP will be pressed on shiny black 180gram vinyl, mastered by Bernie Grundman, and cut directly from the original analog master tapes.

While the first disc offers the original album in all its glory, the second disc in the set features twenty minutes of rare and unreleased bonus material from the seemingly-endless Zappa vaults, including radio ads, vintage remixes, and the album’s original single release of “Don’tcha Do Me Right?” b/w “Big Leg Emma.” The flip side of the second disc features a laser-etching of Zappa’s infamous visage and the album itself features Zappa’s original graphic layout and a reproduction of the album’s rare, highly sought-after “libretto,” an 18-page booklet with a foreword by Zappa and lyrics to all the songs which was originally only available by mail when the album was released.

Released on May 26, 1967 by Verve Records and produced by Tom Wilson (Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan), Absolutely Free was the Mothers’ sophomore effort and the follow-up to the previous year’s landmark debut Freak Out! Expanding the band to include guitarist Jim Fielder, keyboardist Don Preston, drummer Billy Mundi, and horn player Bunk Gardner along with the original Mothers cadre of singer Ray Collins, bassist Roy Estrada, and percussionist/drummer Jimmy Carl Black (“the Indian in the group…”), Zappa delivered a scorching musical snapshot of life in America during the swinging ’60s, offering his usual acerbic, satirical takes on the counter-culture and the mainstream alike. Matching his complex, often aggressive musical compositions with frequently-hilarious and surrealistic lyrics, Zappa delivered a baker’s dozen of timely and timeless songs.

In my 2012 eBook, the Frank Zappa Buying Guide, I said of Absolutely Free that “the second Mothers’ album is only a slight step down from the lofty ambitions of Freak Out!, and itself is a near-masterpiece of political satire and social commentary,” pointing out that songs like “Plastic People” and “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” directly inspired the Polish Solidarity movement. Continuing, I stated that “the album shows the first signs of Zappa’s classical leanings amidst its avant-garde rock, with several songs quoting passages from Stravinsky and Holst,” while concluding that “Absolutely Free is an impressive sophomore effort from one of the edgiest, musically-talented bands of the psychedelic ‘60s.”

With original copies of Absolutely Free selling in the $200 range for a decent copy, it’s good to see this classic album reissued on vinyl for the first time in decades in a more reasonably-priced package. I’ve already ordered my copy from Amazon and recommend that you do the same – be there or be square, daddio!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

CD Review: Tonite Lets All Make Love In London (1967/2017)

Tonite Lets All Make Love In London
By 1967, British director Peter Whitehead was building a reputation as a documentary filmmaker with an eye on youth culture. His short 1965 film Wholly Communion featured footage shot at the International Poetry Incarnation in London with readings by Beat poets from both sides of the pond like Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Michael Horovitz, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, among many others. The event drew an estimated audience of 7,000 people and is credited with jump-starting the British literary underground during the 1960s.

Whitehead followed the modest success of Wholly Communion with his 1966 film Charlie Is My Darling, which was produced by Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham. Initially intended as a sort of ‘screen’ test for the band, video footage was shot during the Stones’ second tour of Ireland in September 1965 and premiered at the Mannheim Film Festival in Germany in October 1966. The film was not released commercially at the time due to a legal brouhaha between the Stones and Allen Klein, and all prints disappeared during a subsequent burglary in Oldham’s office. The film footage would reappear in the early 2000s when rediscovered by American director Mick Gochanour, who pieced together the 2012 release Charlie Is My Darling – Ireland 1965, sharing the director’s credit with Whitehead.

Tonite Lets All Make Love In London

Undaunted, Whitehead dove headfirst into what would become his signature film – Tonite Lets All Make Love In London – a journey into the heart of ‘swinging ‘60s’ London. Combining live performances by Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones with interview footage of U.K. celebrities like John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Mick Jagger, Vanessa Redgrave, Julie Christie, Allen Ginsberg, Michael Caine, and others, the film captured the zeitgeist of London circa 1967. Due to Whitehead’s association with Andrew Loog Oldham, the film’s original soundtrack album was released on the impresario’s Instant Records imprint, a subsidiary of Oldham’s legendary Immediate Records label.

In celebration of the film’s 50th anniversary, Charly Records UK has reissued the soundtrack for Tonite Lets All Make Love In London on CD, bringing the long out-of-print album into the modern era for the first time in over two decades. The film’s soundtrack is an odd bird, to be sure – part fish and part fowl as one might say – mixing songs by Pink Floyd, rock ‘n’ blues singer Chris Farlowe, folkie Vashti Bunyan, and the Small Faces (all Immediate label artists) with spoken interviews with folks like actors Michael Caine and Julie Christie, Mick Jagger, pop artist David Hockney and, of course, Oldham himself, among others. The results are mixed, but usually entertaining.

Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive

As for the album’s music – the main reason you and I, dear reader, are both here – the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd performance of “Interstellar Overdrive” acts as the heart of the soundtrack, which is mostly comprised of previously-released Immediate label hits. Recorded over two sessions in January 1967 and paid for by Whitehead, the song offers a psychedelic-drenched glimpse at the band before the release of their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The all-too-brief three-minute snippet of the 17-minute performance of “Interstellar Overdrive” provides a rush of sonic ecstasy with brilliant ambiance matched by Barrett’s otherworldly guitar licks.

Chris Farlowe, a blue-eyed soul singer who made an early career out of Stones covers before moving on to jazz-rock pioneers Colosseum and, later, sonic terrorists Atomic Rooster, provides the other musical highlights here. His versions of “Out of Time” and “Paint It Black” – both big U.K. chart hits – are wonderfully sublime, Farlowe’s performances mixing Jagger’s soulfulness with the electricity of Tom Jones to forge a beautiful, original sound. The Small Faces’ “Here Comes The Nice” is a delightfully wry slab of winsome ‘60s pop while “The Changing of the Guard” by the Marquis of Kensington (a studio project of Kinks manager Robert Wace and producer Mike Leander) is a whimsical Ray Davies’ sound-alike. British folk singer/songwriter Vashti Bunyan’s ethereal “Winter Is Blue” and Twice As Much’s beautifully baroque “Night Time Girl” (the songwriting duo of Dave Skinner and Andrew Rose) are only available on the Tonite Lets All Make Love In London soundtrack.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Whitehead’s film captured perfectly London’s mid-to-late ‘60s apex as the center of art, fashion, and music on the world stage. Remastered from original master tapes found in the CBS vaults, the soundtrack for Tonite Lets All Make Love In London is an important artifact of a fleeting moment in pop culture history, its music and interviews (including Allen Ginsberg’s brilliant reading of his poem from which the film takes its name) offering a glimpse into the window of the increasingly-distant past.

Quintessentially British, this album would certainly appeal to any anglophile or collector of ‘60s-era ephemera, but it also offers some choice musical morsels for the rest of us. My only complaint is the exclusion of the full 17-minute performance of Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive.” With the CD’s running time falling short of 40 minutes, it could have easily been tacked on. Still, with the movie itself seeing re-release later this year, Tonite Lets All Make Love In London is the soundtrack to an influential and entertaining era. It’s also one of the first steps in the restoration of the Immediate Records back catalog to CD this year by Charly Records UK, which ranks highly in my book. Grade: B+ (Charly Records UK, released June 2, 2017)

Thanx to Shindig! music zine, whose July 2017 article on Tonite Lets All Make Love In London provided a lot of valuable information for this review...

Buy the CD from Tonite Lets All Make Love In London

Book Review: David Weigel's The Show That Never Ends (2017)

David Weigel's The Show That Never Ends
David Weigel is best known as a sometimes-controversial political columnist for the Washington Post, but he has also contributed to online publications like Slate and Politico as well as to print rags like Rolling Stone, GQ, and Esquire and is a frequent commentator on MSNBC. A gifted and often insightful writer, politics is the libertarian-leaning Weigel’s preferred milieu, but every now and then he sticks his toe in the waters of rock ‘n’ roll. Back in 2012, Weigel penned a five-part series of essays about progressive rock for Slate titled “Prog Spring” which provided readers with a sort of primer on the history prog-rock.

David Weigel’s The Show That Never Ends

Weigel has turned “Prog Spring” into a 360+ page hardback book, The Show That Never Ends. Ostensibly written as a defense of progressive rock by a mega-fan of the genre, the book provides an expanded history of the music through artist interviews, historical material, and Weigel’s thoughts, which are informed by his deep interest in and knowledge of prog-rock. Although I could make a crack about a political columnist taking a writing job away from some hard-working music journalist, I’ll let it pass – although folks like yours truly, the ever-prolific Tommy Hash, or even heavy metal historian Martin Popoff, who has dabbled in prog-rock from time to time – have been writing about the misunderstood prog genre for decades with little of the acclaim (and hype) afforded Weigel’s first book on the subject.

Still, Weigel delves into the subject with the zeal and enthusiasm of a true fanboy. Utilizing his considerable journalistic skills, Weigel has assembled a definitive early history of prog-rock that focuses heavily on the original innovators of the scene like Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer while still taking time to dally with fellow travelers like Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant, Marillion, Rush, and Jethro Tull as well as kinda, sorta ‘80s-era prog-popsters Asia. Although Weigel barely acknowledges the era’s cult bands like Camel and Badger, or even the mid-period prog-leanings of British folk-rockers Strawbs, he digs so deeply into the work and history of his preferred artists that one tends to overlook the oversight – there’s a heck of a lot of information provided in these pages. Weigel’s ruminations on experimental, prog-adjacent bands like Soft Machine provide further insight into the genre’s founding and evolution.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Overall, David Weigel does a yeoman’s job in capturing the heart and soul of first generation progressive rock. However, he seems overly smitten with the genre’s original early ‘70s incarnation and pays scant attention to the subsequent evolution of the genre and the Internet-fueled fandom that has supported prog-rock well into the new millennium. Although Weigel offers the briefest, but well-deserved overview of innovative modern prog pioneers like Porcupine Tree, Opeth, and Dream Theater, he completely ignores contemporary prog trailblazers like the Flower Kings and I.Q. or he offhandedly shrugs off the contributions of influential scene-makers like Pallas, Spock’s Beard or Neal Morse’s Transatlantic, all bands with immense international appeal.

So too does Weigel pass over recent recordings by still-relevant artists like Steve Hackett that display fresh new musical ideas that have captured the imagination of young fans for whom first-gen prog represents their ‘grandfather’s music’. The popularity and endurance of online zines like Sea of Tranquility or Ytsejam are also unmentioned except as sources, and the successful present-day run of England’s Prog magazine is mentioned only in passing. Truth is, the genre needs little defense these days – a second generation of rock critics such as myself who grew up on prog-rock have been much kinder to bands like ELP or Tull than our forebears – while a younger crop of rabid prog fans, fueled by YouTube videos, CD reissues, music festivals and webzines, have turned the genre into a veritable cottage industry.

These significant cavils aside, I have to say that I enjoyed The Show That Never Ends as a detailed history of the genre, even if Weigel seems to end his defense of progressive rock a few years (and a few bands) too soon. Grade: B+ (W.W. Norton & Company, published June 13, 2017)

Buy the book from David Weigel’s The Show That Never Ends

Also on That Devil Music:
Anderson Stolt’s Invention of Knowledge CD review
Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s A Time and A Place CD review
Martin Popoff's Time And A Word - The Yes Story book review

Friday, July 21, 2017

Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Fanfare 1970-1997 deluxe box set

Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Fanfare 1970-1997 deluxe box set
The Reverend tends to take a dim view of a lot of the recent box set fare released by cash-hungry major labels looking to fleece an artist’s hardcore fans for one last ride on the merry-go-round. Although there are a handful of dedicated reissue labels performing a public service in rescuing the work of obscure artists from the scrap-heap of history with finely-curated deluxe boxes (Omnivore Recordings, I’m looking at you…), much of what you’re putting up a C-note or two for these days is a rehash of music that you already own...

That being said, everybody’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll padre is going gaga over the recently-announced Emerson, Lake & Palmer box set. Titled Fanfare 1970-1997, and scheduled for September 29th, 2017 release, the limited-edition numbered Fanfare 1970-1997 box offers a lot for both the grizzled original ELP fan as well as the rookie just now climbing on the prog-rock bandwagon. First of all, the box contains remastered CD versions of all eleven ELP albums with original sleeve artwork, from the band’s 1970 self-titled debut to their underrated 1994 swansong, In The Hot Seat, and every note in between.

As they used to say on those old K-Tel TV commercials, “that’s not all!” The box also includes a previously unreleased live triple-vinyl album with May 1973 performances from Milan and Rome, Italy. Throw in five previously-unreleased live CDs mastered by engineers Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham, including Live At Pocono International Raceway (1972), Live At Waterloo Concert Field (1992), Live At Birmingham Symphony Hall (1992), On the BBC (including a 1979 performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test and a 1993 performance on Pop Goes Summer), and Live At Élysée Montmartre (1997) and you have one hell of a box set.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer
“Wait a minute, there’s still more!” sez Rev. Pompeil…Fanfare 1970-1997 includes an audio Blu-ray disc with stereo 5:1 and surround sound mixes of the first four ELP albums by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Tarkus) and King Crimson’s Jakko Jakszyk (Trilogy and Brain Salad Surgery). Add a pair of remastered 7” singles – “Lucky Man” b/w “Knife-Edge” (1970) and “Fanfare For The Common Man” b/w “Brain Salad Surgery” (1977) – with reproduced original sleeve artwork, throw in a metal & enamel ELP logo pin badge, reprinted original 1970 promo poster and 1972 promo brochure and 1974 and 1992 tour programs and top it off with a deluxe 12” hardback book with rare band photos and extensive notes by acclaimed British music journalist Chris Welch with quotes from Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, and Carl Palmer and I think that even the most reluctant progger would agree that Fanfare 1970-1997 offers a lot of value for the pre-order price of $152 (plus shipping).

And yes, the Rev does believe the hype and I’ve already ordered my copy of Fanfare 1970-1997, which earned me a previously-unreleased CD with the rough album mixes for Black Moon, something truly for the obsessive ELP fan. Still, we’ve recently lost both Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, and although ELP has taken a lot of grief through the years for their pomposity and the over-the-top nature of the band’s music, they continue to drag young new fans in by the truckload. You can get your very own copy of Fanfare 1970-1997 via the band’s website.

Also on That Devil Music:
Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s A Time & Place CD review
Greg Lake’s Greg Lake/Manoeuvres CD review 

King Crimson Fall 2017 tour dates

King Crimson 2017
King Crimson 2017
Prog-rock legends King Crimson just concluded an extremely successful, albeit too-short North American tour that saw the band performing seventeen shows mostly on either coast as well as prestigious events like the Rochester Jazz Festival (NY) and the Montreal Jazz Festival. During their month-long trek through the U.S. and Canada, the band also released its The Elements of King Crimson 2017 Tour Box set to no little acclaim.

Response to the current incarnation of King Crimson was so strong that the band has booked a fall 2017 tour of the United States that brings them to several destinations that the band hasn’t seen in decades. Stops on road include Atlanta, Georgia (which the band hasn’t visited since 2001) and Austin, Texas (not since 1974) as well as Philadelphia PA, Cleveland OH, and Washington, D.C. You’ll find the full slate of fall tour dates listed below.

The Elements of King Crimson 2017 Tour Box
The Elements of King Crimson 2017 Tour Box
Bandleader Robert Fripp is an odd bird, indeed, but an interesting one to be sure, and for the upcoming tour – much like the recently-completed dates – he is placing the band’s three drummers up in front of the stage where the audience can see them. In addition to beat-keepers Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison, and Jeremy Stacey, the current of King Crimson roster includes multi-instrumentalist Bill Reiflin on keyboards, guitarist Jakko Jakszyk, longtime bassist Tony Levin, longer-time saxophonist Mel Collins and, of course, the enigmatic Mr. Fripp himself on guitar.

This could be the band’s last run through the states for a while, so don’t wait, buy your tickets for King Crimson now! Aside from standard tickets, the band’s label – DGM – will also be offering a limited number of 60 VIP Royal Packages per show. Details on the tour and everything else related to the band can be found on the King Crimson website.

King Crimson Fall 2017 Tour Dates
Oct 19 @ Bass Concert Hall, Austin TX
Oct 21 @ Music Hall, Dallas TX
Oct 23 @ Center Stage, Atlanta GA
Oct 24 @ Center Stage, Atlanta GA
Oct 26 @ Duke Energy Centre for the Performing Arts, Raleigh NC
Oct 28 @ Lisner Auditorium, Washington D.C.
Oct 29 @ Lisner Auditorium, Washington D.C.
Oct 31 @ New Jersey Performing Arts Centre, Newark NJ
Nov 02 @ Merriam Theatre, Philadelphia PA
Nov 03 @ Merriam Theatre, Philadelphia PA
Nov 06 @ Orpheum Theatre, Boston MA
Nov 08 @ The Egg, Albany NY
Nov 09 @ The Egg, Albany NY
Nov 11 @ Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown PA
Nov 17 @ Beacon Theatre, New York NY
Nov 18 @ Beacon Theatre, New York NY
Nov 22 @ Michigan Theatre, Ann Arbor MI
Nov 24 @ Hard Rock Rocksino, Cleveland OH
Nov 26 @ Riverside Theatre, Milwaukee WI