Sunday, June 18, 2017

CD Review: The Dramatics' Stax Classics (2017)

The Dramatics' Stax Classics
Originally formed in Detroit in 1964 as the Dynamics, R&B legends the Dramatics recorded singles for a number of independent labels during the mid-to-late 1960s, including Golden World and Sport Records, where they scored a minor R&B chart hit with “All Because of You.” The band signed with Stax Records in 1968 but, after releasing one unsuccessful (albeit impressive) single – “Your Love Was Strange” – the Dramatics took off for greener pastures.

The band’s association with the Memphis music institution wasn’t over, though; producer Don Davis re-signed the Dramatics to the Stax subsidiary label Volt Records in 1971 after they’d teamed up with Motor City songwriter and producer Tony Hester. With Hester’s well-written, soulful songs in hand, the band’s wonderful vocal harmonies drove songs like “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, “In The Rain,” and “Fell For You” to the upper reaches of the R&B and pop charts.

The Dramatics’ Stax Classics


The classic Dramatics line-up featured vocalists Ron Banks, William “Wee Gee” Howard, Elbert Wilkins, Willie Ford, and Larry “Squirrel” Demps, and that’s what you saw (and heard) on the band’s biggest hit, “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get.” A molten slab o’ soulful wax, the May single release dominated the AM radio airwaves during the summer of ’71, its syncopated, Latin-tinged rhythms and vocal harmonies leading into an infectious chorus that blew out of your car speakers like a gale of fresh air. The song charted Top Ten (R&B and Pop) but its November follow-up – the Afro-Cuban flavored “Get Up and Get Down” – fared less well commercially. An underrated entry in the Dramatics’ singles catalog, the song evinces a sly, funky groove and vocals that remind of Curtis Mayfield via the Four Tops. “Get Up and Get Down” was a rhythmic dance-floor foot-shuffler with symphonic strains that should have performed much better on the charts than it did (#16 R&B, #78 Pop).

By contrast, “In The Rain,” which followed in February 1972, became the Dramatics’ only R&B chart-topper (and achieved a respectable #5 position on the Pop chart). A moody, ambient ballad with a gorgeous instrumentation and a heady bass line to anchor the whimsical, bluesy lyrics it displayed a facet of the band that differed from their preceding singles. “Hey You! Get Off My Mountain” was a mid-tempo ballad with session pro Dennis Coffey’s filigree guitar licks, haunting harmony vocals that made good use of all the singers’ ranges, and an explosive chorus that helped drive the song to #5 on the R&B chart (#43 Pop). The single’s B-side, “The Devil Is Dope,” is a scorching anti-drug creed reminiscent of the Temptations, the song’s memorable chorus and orchestral scoring providing a larger-than-life feel to the song. Drenched in soul but offering gospel and rock undertones, “The Devil Is Dope” would have made for a strong single release on its own.

The Dramatics’ very first single for Stax – “Your Love Was Strange” – shoulda, coulda been a smash when it was released in October 1969. Showing a clear evolution of the band towards its popular ‘70s-era sound, the song is deep-fried in Motown production technique with obvious Temptations-inspired harmonies (something the band largely moved away from as they developed their own vocal magic), a minor up-tempo rhythm and singing strings. It’s a strong performance, slightly derivative but not much more than anything else on the radio in 1969. Released in August 1973, “Fell For You” would be the band’s last R&B chart hit for Volt/Stax, peaking at #5 while hanging around at #45 on the Pop chart. A low-key ballad with some impressive vocal gymnastics, producer Hester took full advantage of the band’s vocal abilities on the recording. The B-side to “In The Rain,” the uplifting “Gimme Some (Good Soul Music)” is a textbook example of fine pop songwriting with a soulful performance, the band’s soaring vocals wrapping around an inspirational lyrical message in what could have been another monster AM radio hit if it had been released as a solo single.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


This budget-priced Stax Classics set pulls its material mostly from the Dramatics’ Top 20 hit album Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, but also includes a number of other minor hit singles and rare B-sides from their Stax/Volt tenure. The band only hung around Memphis for three quick studio albums and a live set circa 1971 to 1974 before jumping ship from Stax to ABC Records and, later, MCA Records, where they enjoyed modest success as they incorporated disco moves into their sleek soul music. If only for their timeless early ‘70s hits, the Dramatics’ Stax Classics is worth your time and a little bit of money for a whole lot of great soul music. Grade: B+ (Stax Records, released May 19, 2017)

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: The Dramatics’ Stax Classics


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Jane’s Addiction celebrate 25 years of Ritual de lo Habitual

Dave Navarro and Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction
Dave Navarro and Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction
Rock legends Jane’s Addiction released its groundbreaking, earth-shaking sophomore album Ritual de lo Habitual back in the early alt-rock daze of 1990 (damn, has it really been that long ago?). The album continues to pick up new fans better than a quarter-century after its release, so it’s only fitting that the band should revisit the trailblazing recording in a live setting.

On August 4th, 2017 Rock Fuel Media, in association with Sonic Films, Cleopatra Records, and MVD Entertainment Group, will release Ritual de lo Habitual Alive at 25 on DVD and Blu-ray disc as well as on CD and vinyl LP. Directed by Mark Ritchie and produced by Barry Summers of Rock Fuel Media, Jane’s Addiction - Ritual de lo Habitual Alive at 25 documents a September 2016 concert filmed at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, the last stop on the band’s 20-city “Sterling Spoon Anniversary Tour.” The concert was filmed with 20 cameras spread across the venue and mixed in 5.1 Surround Sound.

Jane’s Addiction - Ritual de lo Habitual Alive at 25
Featuring classic Jane’s Addiction line-up of frontman Perry Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro, bassist Chris Chaney, and drummer Stephen Perkins, the band performed a 90-minute show which included their entire Ritual de lo Habitual album along with hits from across the band’s 30-year career. In a press release for the video and album Farrell says “25 years – what a beautiful milestone for both Ritual de lo Habitual and Lollapalooza. As both were great achievements in our lives that also helped change the course of music history, we really sought to come up with a special show for this tour so that the fans could celebrate it with us.”

Producer Barry Summers of Rock Fuel Media adds, “The band’s great visual and very edgy performances always kick ass on stage. Ritual de lo Habitual is such an iconic album that changed the landscape of alternative rock that we wanted to capture the 25 year anniversary in stunning 4k. It’s quite mind-blowing and we think fans will enjoy this package for years to come.” Rock Fuel Media is an award-winning, full-service film and television production company specializing in multimedia content distribution. The company has worked with a diverse range of artists, including Guns N’ Roses, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Elvis Costello, Melissa Etheridge, the Beach Boys, Bonnie Raitt, and many others.

Buy Jane's Addiction - Ritual de lo Habitual Alive at 25 from Amazon.com:
DVD/CD two-disc set
Blu-ray/DVD/CD three-disc set


The Elements of King Crimson 2017 Tour Box

The Elements of King Crimson 2017 Tour Box
If you’re one of the thousands of loyal prog-rock fans that have been enjoying the legendary King Crimson’s recent slate of shows, this news will make your month! This coming Friday – June 16th, 2017 – the band will release The Elements of King Crimson 2017 Tour Box. Like its predecessors from the past three years, the two-disc set features extracts from rehearsals, new live recordings, elements from studio recordings, full tracks, alternate takes, and finished recordings circa 1969 to 2016, many of which are making their first appearance on CD.

Every line-up of the historic band is represented on The Elements of King Crimson 2017 Tour Box, and the set includes a unique performance of “Lark’s Tongues In Aspic” comprised of studio and live tracks interspersed with elements taken from the original studio sessions and rehearsals. The set is packaged in a DVD-sized fold-out digipak-style book case with a 24-page booklet that includes photos of memorabilia, band photos, full info about the 2016 tour, and new liner notes by co-compiler Sid Smith. The Elements of King Crimson 2017 Tour Box can be ordered from King Crimson’s Schizoid shop or from Amazon.com using the link provided below.

The King Crimson 2017 North American tour continues through the end of July – check out tour dates here – and the band has taken the unusual step of placing its three drummers at the front of the stage. In addition to beat-keepers Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison, and Jeremy Stacey, this incarnation of King Crimson includes multi-instrumentalist Bill Reiflin on keyboards, guitarist Jakko Jakszyk, bassist Tony Levin, saxophonist Mel Collins and, of course, band founding member Robert Fripp on guitar.

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: King Crimson’s The Elements of King Crimson 2017 Tour Box

Friday, June 9, 2017

Archive Review: Johnny Rivers' New Lovers and Old Friends (1975)

Johnny Rivers' New Lovers and Old Friends
Rock music, like any other aspect of culture, seems to run in vicious cycles. With its roots in simplicity, rock music was born with a main purpose in mind: for fun. It was something youngsters could identify with, something their parents didn’t understand. And today, with styles of rock ranging from the pleasant twanging of country-oriented rock, right up to the heavy, metallic boredom present in the music of many modern groups, it sure is nice to find someone who presents us with simple, honest music. Such a performer is Johnny Rivers.

New Lovers and Old Friends is a collection of honest rock music, some old, some new. The tunes are simple, ranging from fun-time rockers to heavy ballads. And most important of all: the album doesn’t dose out heavy overproduction or extended boredom. “It’s The Same Old Song,” a Holland-Dozier-Holland tune, starts the album off. It leads into the single and Beach Boys classic “Help Me Rhonda” (with Brian Wilson on backing vocals). Just this much makes one remember summers spent on the beach, basic good times. The rest of side one is pretty soft, ballad material like “Can I Change My Mind.”

Side two begins with the title cut and leads into “Dancing In The Moonlight,” a minor hit for an unknown group. But Rivers conjures up images, his voice complimented by the guitarwork. The rest of the album rocks to the finish, leaving the listener immersed knee-deep in rock ‘n’ roll soul. New Lovers and Old Friends isn’t loud, nor is it boring What it is, is a journey to the past, to rock ‘n’ roll memories unforgotten...and fun. (Epic Records, released 1975)

Editor’s Note: In the pre-Internet dark ages, it was difficult to look up information like the fact that “Dancing In The Moonlight” was a #13 charting single in 1972 for the band King Harvest. Also, guitars on New Lovers and Old Friends were provided by the great Larry Carlton and Ned Doheny.

Originally published by Hank magazine, November 1975

CD Preview: Living Colour’s Shade

Living Colour's Shade
Heavy metal legends Living Colour haven’t ventured into the studio very often since the band got back together in 2000, releasing a pair of well-received albums in 2004’s CollideØscope and 2009’s The Chair In the Doorway. On September 8th, 2017 Megaforce Records will release the band’s third studio album this century in Shade.

Shade was produced by Andre Betts, who first worked with Living Colour on their 1993 album Stain. Betts has worked with the band over the past five years to craft an exciting new sound. Inspired by their live performance of blues legend Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues” at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre, Living Colour has incorporated elements of Mississippi Delta dirt into their trademark heavy metal thunder. “That was really the beginning of us thinking of the direction we want to take for our next project,” says Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid in a press release for the new album. “Hearing that blend of blues and metal was really what got the wheels turning.”

While Shade offers Living Colour’s unique juxtaposition of hard rockin’ blues, the album isn’t just a collection of antiquated sounds but rather a mix of various influences. “What better way to talk to the world than through the blues?” vocalist Corey Glover asks in a press release for the album. “We recorded ‘Preachin’ Blues’ several times to jump start the project and that got everybody fired up. After that, we were ready. Shade, in its final outcome, is more of a deconstruction of the blues than an interpretation. It was the idiom that gave us our voice.”

Featuring thirteen white-hot performances, Shade offers songs like the old-school thrash of “Blak Out,” the acid-funk romp “Two Sides” (featuring a guest appearance of the legendary George Clinton), and Reid’s six-string showcase “Freedom of Expression (F.O.X.).” The album includes the band’s incendiary cover of The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya?,” released late last year in protest of gun violence and racial profiling, as well as an inspired cover of the great Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” which stirs a bit of guitar-driven hard rock into a heady R&B gumbo.
  
“To me, there seems to be a shadow cast across our collective lives,” says Reid. “We can either allow it to oppress us or we can shine a light on it. Shade is the sound of a band coming to terms with the shadows and shining a light by using the blues as a mirror.”

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Living Colour's Shade


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Archive Review: Charlie Sexton Sextet's Under the Wishing Tree (1995)

Charlie Sexton Sextet's Under the Wishing Tree
Hendrix, circa 1968. Swirling guitar leads, banging chords, and a chaotic psychedelic sound. That’s what “Neighborhood,” the opening cut from Under the Wishing Tree calls to mind. The disc rapidly changes direction, slowing the pace down a notch and reining in a bit of the musical anarchy that kicks it off, but that doesn’t make it dull by any means.

Charlie Sexton, a Texas guitarslinger with a few miles under his young belt, is a vastly underrated picker who has never received the respect he deserves. Two previous releases – his first recorded before he was out of his teens – won Sexton a loyal following and critical accolades, if precious little else.

Under the Wishing Tree has the power to change all that. Cuts like “Wishing Tree” or “Ugly All Day” showcase a world-class player with a few tricks left under his hat, while more complex, flavorful fare like “Sunday Clothes” or “Spanish Words” offer an artist caught in the throes of growth pains, willing to experiment – musically and lyrically – in order to mature.

It is the twelve-minute story-song “Plain Bad Luck and Innocent Mistakes,” a tale as grand as the desert wasteland, that proves to be Under the Wishing Tree’s defining moment. Sexton pulls out all the stop sin the creation of an adventurous and memorable musical moment. This is rock ‘n’ roll delivered the Sexton way, full of guitar riffs, artistic sweat, and enough attitude to make it all worthwhile. (MCA Records, released March 28, 1995)

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Charlie Sexton Sextet's Under the Wishing Tree

Originally published by Bone Music Magazine, July 1995




CD Preview: The Raspberries’ Pop Art Live

The Raspberries’ Pop Art Live
The Raspberries were power-pop pioneers who, like just about anything to come from Cleveland, still struggle to get respect to this day. Formed in 1970 by singer/guitarist Eric Carmen, guitarist Wally Bryson, bassist John Aleksic, and drummer Jim Bonfanti, the line-up shifted when Aleksic left the band, Carmen took up the bass, and they added guitarist Dave Smalley. With a sound steeped in British Invasion bands like the Beatles and the Who, along with a dash of blues and gorgeous pop-derived melodies, the Raspberries enjoyed modest chart success with a half-dozen radio-friendly hits.

The Raspberries released four albums during their brief existence, including their 1972 self-titled debut and, later that year, Fresh (their best-seller, which yielded two hit singles). Side 3 followed in 1973, and the following year’s Starting Over would prove to be the Raspberries’ swansong. Carmen went on to a successful solo career after the band’s 1975 break-up, but the enduring influence of the Raspberries could be heard in the music of fellow-travelers like the Bangles, Game Theory, the dB’s, Jellyfish, and many others. The band counts among its fans such musical heavyweights as Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, and Paul Westerberg of the Replacements.

In November 2004, the classic line-up of the Raspberries – Carmen, Bryson, Smalley, and Bonfanti – reunited at the grand opening Cleveland’s House of Blues club for a boisterous, well-received show. The response prompted the band to undertake a 2005 mini-tour which in turn led to the release of a double-album, a VH1 Classic television special, and a concert broadcast by XM Satellite radio. On August 18th, 2017 Omnivore Recordings will release the Raspberries’ Pop Art Live, a two-disc set that documents that near-legendary House of Blues concert performance from 2004.

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. The double-disc set also includes notes and testimonials from fans like Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Cameron Crowe, pop music author James Rosen, and band aficionados Bernie Hogya and Ken Sharp. In addition to the CD release, plans are to release Pop Art Live as a three-album vinyl set later this year.

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: The Raspberries' Pop Art Live

The Raspberries' Pop Art Live track list:

Disc One
1. I Wanna Be With You
2. Play On
3. I Can’t Explain
4. Nobody Knows
5. Let’s Pretend
6. Don’t Wanna Say Goodbye
7. Party’s Over
8. Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)
9. Might As Well
10. It Seemed So Easy
11. Baby’s In Black
12. If You Change Your Mind
13. Tonight
14. I Can Remember

Disc Two
1. Starting Over
2. Last Dance
3. I Saw The Light
4. No Reply
5. When You Were With Me
6. It’s Cold Outside
7. Should I Wait
8. Come Around And See Me
9. Makin’ It Easy
10. Ticket To Ride
11. Hard To Get Over A Heartbreak
12. Ecstacy
13. I’m A Rocker
14. Go All The Way


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Captain Beyond’s Lost & Found 1972-1973

Captain Beyond's Lost & Found 1972-1973
The groundbreaking sound of ‘70s-era cult band Captain Beyond was one part space rock and one part prog, with a dash of guitar-heavy hard rock thrown in for good measure. Captain Beyond was formed in 1971 by original Deep Purple vocalist Rod Evans with guitarist Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt and bassist Lee Dorman of Iron Butterfly, and drummer Bobby Caldwell from Johnny Winter’s band. The original Captain Beyond line-up also included keyboardist Lewie Gold, who left the fold before the band’s first album and would later be temporarily replaced by Reese Wynans (Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble).

With Reinhardt and Dorman serving as the band’s musical anchor, Captain Beyond released three early-to-mid-‘70s albums with different line-ups that would prove wildly influential beyond their meager commercial achievements: Captain Beyond (1972), Sufficiently Breathless (1973), and the reunion album, Dawn Explosion (1977), recorded with singer Willy Daffern. The band’s first two LPs were released by Capricorn Records, a label best known for its association with Southern rock. But legend has it that Allman Brothers Band guitarist Duane Allman was so impressed by Captain Beyond’s demo tape that he convinced the label to sign the unique outfit.

That original Captain Beyond demo tape was lost to the ages until recently discovered by longtime band drummer Bobby Caldwell. Those original performances have recently been released by Purple Pyramid Records, a Cleopatra Records imprint, as Lost & Found 1972-1973 on both CD and as a special, limited edition red-colored vinyl album. The album documents the original versions of band favorites like “I Can’t Feel Nothing” and “Dancing Madly Backwards” as well as the previously-unreleased track “Uranus Expressway.” The set also includes lengthy liner notes by noted music historian and rock critic Dave Thompson.

Original Captain Beyond vocalist Rod Evans left the band after the release of Sufficiently Breathless and literally disappeared from the industry (really…nobody knows where Evans is and, if they do know, they ain’t talkin’…). After the band’s late ‘70s break-up, Reinhardt and Caldwell reunited in 1998 as Captain Beyond and toured for five years, disbanding in 2003 when Rhino developed cancer; the guitarist later passed away in 2012. Caldwell once again resurrected the band in 2013 and has scheduled a short tour in support of Lost & Found (dates below). In their prime, Captain Beyond was a powerful, innovative, and entertaining band that left its mark. Lost & Found provides yet another chapter in the story of this obscure, albeit influential band.

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Captain Beyond's Lost & Found

Captain Beyond's Lost & Found track list:
1. Uranus Expressway *
2. I Can't Feel Nothing, Pt. 1
3. As The Moon Speaks (To the Waves of the Sea)
4. Astral Lady
5. As The Moon Speaks (Return)
6. I Can't Feel Nothing, Pt. 2
7. Icarus
8. Raging River of Fear
9. Dancing Madly Backwards (On A Sea Of Air)
10. Myopic Void +

* previously unreleased
+ CD bonus track

Captain Beyond (with Bobby Caldwell) tour dates:
6/22/17 @ The Golden Pony, Harrisonburg VA
6/23/17 @ Cafe 611 “Maryland Doom Fest,” Fredrick MD
8/16/17 @ The Earl, Atlanta GA
8/18/17 @ The Pour House Music Hall, Raleigh NC
8/20/17 @ Kung Fu Neck Tie, Philadelphia PA
8/22/17 @ Saint Vitus, Brooklyn NY
8/25/17 @ “The Bear's Den” Seneca Niagara Casino, Niagara Falls NY
10/28/17 @ Ram's Head Live “Days of Darkness Fest,” Baltimore MD

Monday, June 5, 2017

Yep Roc rescues Nick Lowe!

Nick Lowe's Nick Lowe and his Cowboy Outfit
Back in March we talked about Yep Roc Records’ vinyl reissues of two long-out-of-print Nick Lowe albums in Nick the Knife and The Abominable Showman. The bad news is that the April release date has come and gone with no Nick in sight…but the great news is that Yep Roc has rescued of all six of Lowe’s ‘80s-era albums from the vagaries of obscurity and will be rolling out reissues on CD and vinyl over the months to come!

On July 4th, 2017 Yep Roc will reissue Lowe’s Nick the Knife (released 1982) and The Abominable Showman (released 1983). The following month, on August 25th, the label will reissue Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit (released 1984) and The Rose of England (released 1985) and, on October 20th, Yep Roc will complete the series with reissues of Lowe’s Pinker and Prouder Than Previous (released 1988) and Party of One (released 1990). Digital downloads of all six classic Lowe albums will be released digitally for the first time ever on July 14th.

Yep Roc’s Nick Lowe reissue series brings all fourteen of the British rock legend’s albums under one roof and spruces them up with bonus tracks comprised of demos, outtakes, and live recordings; alternative album art is also included with each set. These albums represent the heart of Lowe’s storied career, offering enduring original songs like “Raging Eyes,” “Half a Boy and Half a Man,” “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock & Roll),” and “Time Wounds All Heels” as well as Lowe’s inspired covers of tunes penned by Elvis Costello, Moon Martin, John Hiatt, Mickey Jupp, and Graham Parker.

Nick Lowe's Pinker and Prouder Than Previous
These albums also feature musical contributions from Carlene Carter – Lowe’s wife at the time – and his former bandmates in Rockpile (Billy Bremner, Dave Edmunds, and Terry Williams) and Little Village (Ry Cooder, John Hiatt, and Jim Keltner) as well as notable friends from the pub-rock days like Martin Belmont (Ducks Deluxe) and Paul Carrack (Ace, Squeeze) and new friends like Kim Wilson and Jimmie Vaughan of the Fabulous Thunderbirds. All six albums are currently available for pre-order through the Yep Roc webstore both individually and as a special deluxe bundle of either the CDs or LPs that gets you a bonus exclusive, collectible Nick Lowe lunchbox.

All six titles have been out-of-print much longer than they should have been considering the depth of Lowe’s songwriting and performing talents, an egregious oversight thankfully corrected by the good folks at Yep Roc Records.

Buy the CDs from Amazon.com:
Nick the Knife
The Abominable Showman
Nick Lowe & His Cowboy Outfit
The Rose of England
Pinker and Prouder Than Previous
Party of One 

Nick Lowe lunchbox
 

Omnivore reissues classic Arthur Alexander album

Arthur Alexander's Arthur Alexander
The good folks at Omnivore Records have been on a roll as of late, what with current or upcoming reissues of classic recordings from Big Star, Alex Chilton, and Game Theory to their credit. One title that may fly under your radar, however, is the archive label’s reissue of soul giant Arthur Alexander’s self-titled 1972 album, which will be released with six bonus tracks on July 28th, 2017.

An extremely talented songwriter and too-frequently-overlooked singer and stylist, Alexander scored a number of minor R&B chart hits throughout the 1960s with songs like “Anna (Go To Him),” “You Better Move On,” and “Soldier of Love,” many of which were recorded at the Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and featured musical contributions by the studio’s legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.

Alexander only released three albums during his lifetime, this self-titled 1972 “comeback” set for Warner Brothers Records the best-known of the trio. Recorded in Muscle Shoals and produced by bassist Tommy Cogbill, the album features such talents as guitarists Eddie Hinton and Reggie Young, drummer Kenny Malone, and keyboardists Shane Keister and Bobby Emmons. It’s Alexander’s incredible vocals that imbue the album with great heart and soul, however, and whether he’s singing his ass off on originals like “Go On Home Girl” and “In the Middle of It All” or co-writes with Donnie Fritts like “Come Along With Me” and “Thank God He Came,” Alexander always poured 110% of himself into a performance.

Arthur Alexander
Arthur Alexander photo courtesy Omnivore Recordings
Arthur Alexander, the album, also includes the singer’s versions of several tunes penned by noted Nashville songwriter Dennis Linde, Alexander bringing a bit of country soul to songs like “I’m Comin’ Home,” “Call Me Honey,” and “Burning Love” (later a huge hit for Elvis Presley). The Omnivore reissue of Arthur Alexander includes the album’s original twelve tracks as well as six bonus tracks – two of which are previously unreleased and from the original recording sessions – including the singer’s two non-album follow-up singles for Warner Brothers.

By the end of the ‘70s, Alexander was out of the music biz, driving a bus until his classic self-titled album was reissued in 1993. Inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1990, Alexander returned to performing, releasing his third and final album, Lonely Just Like Me, before his premature death in 1993 at the age of 53 years old. Alexander’s music had an impact, though, his songs covered by artists as diverse as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Otis Redding, Humble Pie, George Jones, Pearl Jam, and many others.

The reissue includes new liner notes by music historian Barry Hansen (a/k/a Dr. Demento), who was a Warner Brothers staff writer when the album was originally released. In his original notes, Hansen wrote “Arthur is especially proud of the variety and versatility of his work on this album. All of it is strong medicine, and should be a fine antidote for a lot of bad scenes.” In these tumultuous times, as in ’72, we could all use a little more soul in our lives, and few sung it as well as Arthur Alexander. If you don’t know him, now’s your chance to rediscover this underrated artist.

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Arthur Alexander's Arthur Alexander


Friday, June 2, 2017

CD Review: Isaac Hayes' Stax Classics (2017)

Isaac Hayes' Stax Classics
To an entire generation of young ‘uns, Isaac Hayes is best known as the voice of the popular character ‘Chef’ on the long-running TV series South Park. For us graybeards, however, we remember Hayes as one of the boldest and most innovative of the many talented singers, songwriters, and musicians to come out of the Stax Records hit factory in Memphis, Tennessee.

Hayes was much more, of course – he was a film actor (Hustle & Flow, Escape From New York) who also enjoyed various TV roles (The Rockford Files, Stargate SG-1, etc) – as well as a music producer, label executive (Hot Buttered Soul Records), and a humanitarian lauded for his work in Ghana. As a songwriter, often working with partner David Porter, Hayes wrote hits for a number of Stax artists including Sam & Dave (“Soul Man”), Carla Thomas (“B.A.B.Y.”), and Johnnie Taylor (“I’ve Got to Love Somebody’s Baby”), among others. During his lengthy career, Hayes won an Academy Award for his theme from the movie Shaft as well as a multiple Grammy® Awards.

Isaac Hayes’ Stax Classics


For our intents and purposes here, we’re going to focus on Hayes’ contributions to our culture as a performer and songwriter, both of which are perfectly showcased by this Stax Classics collection. Featuring a dozen sizzling tracks culled from Hayes’ tenure as a Stax recording artist circa 1968-1973 and originally released by the Stax subsidiary Enterprise Records, the emphasis here is on Hayes’ success as a singles artist but it also includes a few of his longer, complex, and ground-breaking album tracks. Stax Classics leads off with “Theme from Shaft,” which has become Hayes’ signature song; a muscular blend of funky grooves, thrilling wah-wah guitar licks, and cinematic storytelling, the song also displays Hayes’ proclivity towards orchestrating his music with lush tones and colors. The song was Hayes’ biggest hit, hitting #1 on the pop chart while only rising to #2 on the R&B chart.

Hayes’ 1969 album Hot Buttered Soul – considered a classic of American soul – offered up only four songs, including lengthy jams on Burt Bacharach’s “Walk On By” and Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” that ran 12 and 18 minutes, respectively, and featured incredible instrumental flights of fancy. Hayes recorded “Walk On By” only a few years after singer Dionne Warwick had scored a #6 chart hit with the song, but his imaginative take earned him a Top 30 single nonetheless. “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” fared slightly less well commercially, but still went Top 40; his Stax Classics offers the truncated single edits of both songs, which still sound great even in shorter form. The Jackson 5 hit “Never Can Say Goodbye,” taken from Hayes’ other bona fide classic, 1971’s Black Moses, is slowed down and dressed up with a dreamy soundtrack and wistful, yearning vocals that would drive the song to #22 on the pop chart and the album to Top 10 status.

Hayes’ original “Do Your Thing” is a master class in ‘70s-era funk, the Top 30 charting pop hit offering shimmering horns, Hayes’ fluid baritone vocals, and a groove so damn tasty it’s like drinking hot sauce straight from the bottle. Stax Classics offers more than the just the chart hits, though, allowing the raucous, funky original tune “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” (from Hot Buttered Soul) to run its full, nearly-ten-minute jaw-dropping album length. If the song doesn’t get your feet shuffling, then you’ve probably assumed room temperature while listening to the album. The instrumental track “Run Fay Run,” from the soundtrack of the 1974 Blaxploitation film Tough Guys for which Hayes wrote the score and co-starred in, is another delightful slice of cinematic soul with brilliant washes of instrumentation and pulse-quickening rhythms while “Soulsville,” from the 1971 soundtrack album Shaft, is an anything-but-traditional R&B tune that showcases Hayes’ soaring vocals and delicate touch on what is an intelligent, socially-conscious story-song.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Released as part of Stax Records’ 60th anniversary celebration, the Stax Classics series highlights some the label’s biggest stars from the 1960s and ‘70s, each budget-priced album offering a dozen songs that transcend the obvious hits to provide a more balanced portrait of the individual artist’s talents. The Isaac Hayes’ edition of Stax Classics does a great job in portraying all the many facets of this talented, pioneering, legendary artist, Hayes’ influence extending far beyond the world of R&B to such diverse artists as Prince and Henry Rollins. For newcomers, Stax Classics provides a heady introduction to Hayes’ charms, and if it prompts listeners to pick up copies of Hot Buttered Soul or Black Moses, so much the better… Grade: A (Stax Records, released May 19, 2017)

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Isaac Hayes' Stax Classics


CD Preview: Big Star’s The Best of Big Star

Big Star’s The Best of Big Star
As the Reverend mentioned in an earlier post on an upcoming Alex Chilton LP reissue, interest in his legendary band Big Star has never been greater. Formed in Memphis, Tennessee in 1971 by singers, songwriters, and guitarists Chilton and Chris Bell along with bassist Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens (the sole surviving member of the foursome), Big Star released three albums of intelligent, pioneering jangle-pop during the band’s short, unremarkable lifespan (i.e. 1971-1978).

Although Big Star never received the commercial fortune that was its due in a perfect world – critical acclaim doesn’t pay the bills, kiddies – the little cult band from the Bluff City would influence a generation of musicians to follow, from world-beaters like R.E.M. to fellow cult-rockers like the Replacements, and a lot of artists in-between. Largely thanks to the efforts of Omnivore Recordings and their quality reissues of albums like Chilton’s Free Again: The 1970 Sessions and the deluxe box set of Big Star’s Third as well as the popularity of the recent documentary film Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, an entirely new generation of music-lovers is discovering what some of us stumbled across as teens during the early 1970s – Big Star is fab!

In just a couple short weeks – on June 16th, 2017 – Stax Records will release The Best of Big Star on CD, vinyl, and as a digital download as part of the label’s ongoing 60th anniversary year celebration. The sixteen-track collection includes material from all three of Big Star’s original albums: 1972’s #1 Record, 1974’s Radio City, and 1978’s Third, recorded in 1974 but released after the band’s break-up. The Best of Big Star features rare single edits of some of the band’s most beloved songs, including “In The Street,” “September Gurls,” and “Don’t Lie To Me.” The set includes new liner notes by Grammy® Award-winning music journalist and filmmaker Robert Gordon and, for you vinyl fanatics, will be released as a two-LP 45rpm album in a gatefold jacket pressed on 180gr vinyl at Memphis Record Pressing.    

Big Star’s rock ‘n’ roll legacy is undeniable. Working with Ardent Studios producer John Fry, the band delivered three classic albums, beginning with #1 Record, which yielded enduring pop-rock songs in “Thirteen” and “In The Street” (later covered by Big Star acolytes Cheap Trick as the theme of That ‘70s Show). Radio City, recorded after the departure of band member Chris Bell, featured the classic “September Gurls” (later covered by the Bangles and Superdrag) while Third (also released, for some reason, under the title Sister Lovers) was recorded by Chilton and Stephens in ’74 after Andy Hummel’s departure but wasn’t released until 1978. Featuring contributions from Memphis musical legends like Steve Cropper and Jim Dickinson, Third has since come to be considered a landmark in rock ‘n’ roll.  

In his liner notes for The Best of Big Star, Robert Gordon (no relation) writes that the band “fizzled before most anyone heard them, then when they seemed totally forgotten they began to exert more musical influence than most bands ever dream of…Big Star reminds us that great art lives, that immediate audience appreciation can’t be counted on and that it’s not about the brightness of the light but its beauty.”

The Best of Big Star track listing:
1. In the Street [single mix]
2. Don’t Lie to Me [single version]
3. September Gurls [single version]
4. Thirteen
5. Jesus Christ [single edit]
6. I’m in Love With a Girl
7. O My Soul [single edit]
8. Feel
9. When My Baby’s Beside Me
10. Take Care
11. Life Is White
12. Watch the Sunrise [single version]
13. The Ballad of El Goodo
14. Nightime
15. Back of a Car
16. Thank You Friends

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Big Star's The Best of Big Star 

Big Star photo courtesy Stax Records
Big Star photo courtesy Stax Records

Alex Chilton’s A Man Called Destruction vinyl reissue

Alex Chilton’s A Man Called Destruction
If all he’d done was sing “The Letter” as a member of the Box Tops, Alex Chilton’s status as a rock ‘n’ roll legend would be ensured by that one single hit. That he would go on to form the Memphis rock band Big Star with Chris Bell, Andy Hummel, and Jody Stephens and subsequently influence a generation of rockers to follow only serves to carve Chilton’s legacy in stone.

Chilton also enjoyed a lengthy and influential solo career that stretched from the mid-‘70s until his untimely death in 2010, releasing critically-acclaimed albums like 1979’s Like Flies On Sherbert and 1987’s High Priest. To be honest, Chilton also released more than a few stinkers, too, and a number of live albums of dodgy provenance have cropped up through the years that have done little to tarnish his reputation as an edgy, constantly innovating musician.

The current Big Star revival is largely being fueled by high-quality reissues of works like Chilton’s Free Again: The 1970 Sessions and a deluxe box set of Big Star’s Third by Omnivore Recordings, as well as the recent documentary film Nothing Can Hurt Me. The band is gaining fans like it’s 1974 all over again and Radio City is fresh on the record store shelves. Interest in Chilton’s solo career has also grown relative to the band, and Omnivore appears to be doing something about the shameful state of Chilton’s back catalog of recordings.

On August 25th, 2017 Omnivore Recordings will release Chilton’s long out-of-print 1995 album A Man Called Destruction as a two-disc vinyl set on beautiful blue translucent wax. This will mark the first appearance of the album on vinyl and it includes seven previously-unreleased bonus tracks from the original recording sessions as well as fresh liner notes by music journalist Bob Mehr, who wrote the definitive book on one of the many bands to be influenced by Big Star, Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements. The double LP also includes a download card so that you can take the music with you, and the album will also be reissued on CD and as a digital download.

Chilton returned to Memphis and the city’s legendary Ardent Studios – where Big Star got its start – to record A Man Called Destruction for the studio’s revived Ardent Records label. A typical Chilton mix of original songs and classic cover tunes, the 1995 album offered up an amalgam of garage-rock, blues, and jazz as filtered through the eclectic mind of the artist and includes Chilton’s inspired take on songs like blues legend Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have To Go” and Jan & Dean’s “The New Girl In School,” co-written by the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson.

A Man Called Destruction garnered mediocre critical response upon its release but has since grown in stature to sit alongside accomplishments like High Priest or the 1985 EP Feudalist Tarts. The album is a good place to begin familiarizing yourself with the music of Alex Chilton, and hopefully the folks at Omnivore are busy working at rescuing some of Chilton’s other neglected recordings.

A Man Called Destruction track listing:
1. Sick And Tired
2. Devil Girl
3. Lies
4. It’s Your Funeral
5. What’s Your Sign Girl
6. Il Ribelle
7. You Don’t Have To Go
8. Boplexity
9. New Girl In School

10. You’re Lookin’ Good
11. Don’t Know Anymore
12. Don’t Stop 
13. Devil Girl (Double-Track Vocal) *
14. Don’t Know Anymore (Rough Mix) *
15. Give It To Me Baby (Take 3) *
16. You’re My Favorite *
17. (I Don’t Know Why) But I Do *
18. Please Pass Me My Walkin’ Shoes *
19. Why Should I Care/It’s Your Funeral *

* previously-unreleased bonus track

Buy the LP from Amazon.com: Alex Chilton's A Man Called Destruction


Video of the Week: Goldray’s Rising



Sometimes you really can judge a book from its cover – in this case, an advertisement on the back cover of the latest issue of Shindig! music zine (the one with Jimi on the front cover) caught my eye. The ad is for the album Rising by British psych-rockers Goldray, a fairly new band formed by industry veteran Kenwyn House, guitarist for 1990s-era British band Reef, which enjoyed quite a few hits in the U.K. and developed somewhat of a cult following stateside. The colorful ad quoted Prog Magazine as saying that Goldray’s music was “a blend of Zeppelin and Kate Bush.”

My curiosity piqued, I tracked down this video for the title track of Goldray’s debut LP and was gleefully surprised. “Rising,” the song, pushes all of our favorite buttons here at That Devil Music world HQ – blues, psychedelia, guitar-driven hard rock, ethereal female vox, punchy percussion – the song an amalgam of all of the above and much, much more. Lead singer Leah Rasmussen does, indeed, sound a bit like Bush during her loftiest moments, but she’s just as likely to test her vocal chords like Grace Slick, imbuing the lyrics with muscular emotion. House is a badass guitarist who I’m surprised I haven’t heard of before, his unhinged lysergic fretwork on the song the freshest thing these tired ears have heard since King Gizzard’s “microtones.”

I ordered the band’s CD this afternoon and if this is your cuppa heady psych-rock brew, you should get one, too...

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Goldray's Rising

Thursday, June 1, 2017

New Music Monthly: June 2017 Releases

It's hard to believe, but another 30 days have passed by and it's time to roll up your coins, cash in those pop bottles, and raid the piggy bank to go out and buy some new music! June promises to be the best month yet in 2017 as far as new music, with anticipated albums from Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd), punk legends Rancid, blues giant Joe Bonamassa and Chicago's Cash Box Kings, among others. Throw in some very cool reissue and archive releases from the likes of Prince, Jesse Ed Davis, Game Theory, Bob Marley, and David Bowie as well as vinyl reissues from Alex Chilton and the Spinto Band, and June may be the month that breaks the bank...

Dan Auerbach's Waiting On A Song

JUNE 2
Dan Auerbach - Waiting On A Song   BUY!
Benjamin Booker - Witness   BUY!
Jesse Ed Davis - Red Dirt Boogie: The Atco Recordings 1970-1972   BUY!
Hawkwind - Live Chronicles   BUY!
Bob Marley & the Wailers - Exodus 40: The Movement Continues   BUY!
U2 - The Joshua Tree: 30th Anniversary   BUY!
Roger Waters - Is This The Life We Really Want?   BUY!
 

Game Theory's 2 Steps From The Middle Ages

JUNE 9
Game Theory - 2 Steps From The Middle Ages   BUY!
Rainbow - Live In Birmingham   BUY!
Rancid - Trouble Maker   BUY!
 

 
JUNE 16
Chuck Berry - Chuck   BUY!
Alex Chilton - Take Me Home & Make Me Like It [vinyl]   BUY!
David Bowie - Cracked Actor: Live In Los Angeles 1974   BUY!
Steve Earle - So You Wannabe An Outlaw   BUY!
Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up   BUY!
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound   BUY!
Spinto Band - Nice and Nicely Done [vinyl reissue]   BUY!

Prince's Purple Rain

JUNE 23
Joe Bonamassa - Live at Carnegie Hall   BUY!
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard - Murder of the Universe   BUY!
Glenn Morrow - Cry For Help   BUY!
Prince - Purple Rain Deluxe   BUY!
Jeff Tweedy - Together At Last   BUY!
 

Chris Bell's Looking Forward

JUNE 30
Chris Bell - Looking Forward (pre-Big Star recordings)   BUY!
The Cash Box Kings - Royal Mint   BUY!
Willie Nile - Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan   BUY!



Chuck Berry's Chuck

Album of the Month: Chuck Berry's Chuck...the rock 'n' roll pioneers first studio album in nearly 40 years is already garnering rave reviews, and whether as comeback album or a self-conscious goodbye, Berry's legacy is already indelibly carved in granite. Chuck offers up ten mostly new, original songs produced by Berry, who is backed by both his children – guitarist Charles Berry Jr. and harmonica player Ingrid Berry – as well as his longtime stage band from the Blueberry Hill Club in St. Louis. Heck, it's Chuck Berry...what more do you need to know?

CD Review: Sam & Dave's Stax Classics (2017)

Sam & Dave's Stax Classics
The duo of Sam & Dave stood out even amidst a stable of talent as diverse and legendary as that blessed upon Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee. The legendary R&B duo of Sam Moore and Dave Prater performed together for two decades, from 1961 to 1981, delivering a string of hits that were influential far beyond their chart success. The pair struggled through their early days, and couldn’t buy a hit until they were signed to Atlantic Records by producer and A&R man Jerry Wexler. Sensing their potential, Wexler sent them to Memphis to record for the Stax label, which was distributed by Atlantic at the time.

Wexler’s largesse was pure genius. While at Stax Records, Sam & Dave largely performed material penned by the in-house songwriting team of Dave Porter and Isaac Hayes. This partnership would result in ten consecutive Top 20 R&B chart singles and three Top 10 albums for Sam & Dave, as well as lucrative “crossover” success as the duo made thirteen straight appearances on the pop chart as well as two Top 10 singles. They also helped popularize soul music with white audiences and, in doing so, created an indelible musical legacy that persists to this day. Sam & Dave songs have been recorded by artists as diverse as ZZ Top, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, and the Temptations, among many others.

Sam & Dave’s Stax Classics


As part of Stax Records’ 60th anniversary celebration, the label is revisiting its legendary hitmakers with new CD/LP/digital collections under the Stax Classics banner. Sam & Dave’s Stax Classics opens, appropriately, with the pair’s first Top 20 pop hit, 1966’s “Hold On! I’m Comin’,” which was also their first R&B chart-topper for the Memphis label. With deliciously rowdy vocals soaring above deep rhythms, it’s the ‘go to’ song for many Sam & Dave fans. Better known, perhaps, is their enduring signature song, 1967’s “Soul Man,” also written by Hayes and Porter and featuring an infectious, sing-a-long chorus, brassy horns, and some funky pickin’ by Col. Steve Cropper. Their second chart-topping R&B hit, “Soul Man” narrowly missed dominating the pop world as well, peaking at a respectable #2 on the pop chart. The last of the duo’s trio of larger-than-life hits, 1968’s “I Thank You” evinces a sly funky groove that would subsequently inspire everybody from George Clinton to Sly Stone in the years to follow. “I Thank You” was also a Top 10 pop hit would peak at #4 on the R&B chart.

There’s more to Sam & Dave than those three hits, however, some of the best of which is showcased on Stax Classics. Their cover of Sam Cooke’s “Soothe Me” breathes new life into an obscure track with an enchanting performance that succeeded artistically if not commercially (it was only a modest hit). Sandwiched in between their big hits, 1965’s “You Don’t Know Like I Know” offers a uniquely Sam & Dave spin on what could have been a Motown hit while the soul classic “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down” is provided a bluesy, almost gospel fervor that would later inspire Elvis Costello to cover the song. With a loping groove, piano tinkling, and a heavy bass line, “You Got Me Hummin’” juxtaposes the two singer’s voices against each other to great effect as the horns punctuate the song’s mesmerizing rhythm. The album-closing “I Take What I Want” mimics the Ray Charles’ hit “I Don’t Need No Doctor” with its strident rhythms but Sam & Dave take it up a notch with a subtle albeit strong vocal performance dancing atop a surging guitar riff.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


There have been a lot of variations on a Sam & Dave “greatest hits” compilation released through the years, including 2009’s sixteen-track The Very Best of Sam & Dave album and the one that the Reverend originally bought back in the day, 1981’s twenty-one track The Best of Sam & Dave, both of which are still available if you look hard enough. The budget-priced Stax Classics does a fine job of distilling the duo’s immense legacy to a lean ‘n’ mean twelve tracks, however, offering crystalline remastered sound and fresh, informative liner notes for both the newcomer and longtime fan. This is soul music at its very best, excellently performed by the legendary duo of Sam & Dave. Grade: A (Stax Records/Rhino Records, released May 19, 2017)


Monday, May 29, 2017

Southern Rock Legend Gregg Allman, R.I.P.

Gregg Allman
Gregg Allman – a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee with the Allman Brothers Band and a successful solo artist – passed away on May 27th at 69 years old due to complications from liver cancer.

Multi-instrumentalist and singer Gregg Allman formed the Allman Brothers Band with his guitarist brother Duane in 1969. It wasn’t the brothers’ first shot at the brass ring – they performed together as the Allman Joys in the mid-1960s when Gregg was but a teenager, and would relocate to Los Angeles from Florida in 1967 to form Hour Glass, which released two albums on the Liberty Records label. The ABB would perform rock and blues in the spirit of improvisational jazzmen, with songs often featuring extended free-form jams.

It was with the Allman Brothers Band that both brothers would find fame, the band breaking through with 1971’s double live LP At Fillmore East after releasing a pair of critically-acclaimed studio albums. At Fillmore East peaked at #13 on the pop chart on its way to Platinum™ sales status, which was virtually unheard of at the time. The band’s elation would be short-lived, however, as Duane Allman died in a tragic motorcycle accident in October 1971.

Gregg kept the band together in the face of adversity, recording new studio material for their 1972 album Eat A Peach, expanding it to a double-album with live material featuring recordings of Duane. The album would rise to #4 on the charts, achieving Platinum™ level sales and is a consistent favorite among ABB fans. Tragedy would strike the band again with the accidental death of bassist Berry Oakley in November 1972 as they were working on their new album. Produced by Allman’s former Hour Glass bandmate Johnny Sandlin, 1973’s Brothers & Sisters would become the band’s best-selling album, largely on the basis of the Dickey Betts-penned hit “Ramblin’ Man,” one of two songs on the album that included Oakley’s bass playing.

Gregg Allman's Laid Back
During this time, Allman released his first solo album in 1973 in Laid Back, which was also produced by Sandlin and featured Sea Level keyboardist (and future ABB member) Chuck Leavell. The album would go Gold™ on the strength of the hit single “Midnight Rider” and open the door for Allman to pursue a career outside of his namesake band. The Allman Brothers Band would soldier on, with 1975’s Win, Lose or Draw album charting Top 5 and 1979’s Enlightened Rogues charting Top 10, continuing the band’s commercial momentum. In between his responsibilities with ABB, Allman released a solo live album (1974’s The Gregg Allman Tour) and a new studio album (1977’s Playin’ Up A Storm) to mixed success.

Allman’s personal life was tumultuous during the mid-to-late ‘70s, beginning with his 1975 tabloid marriage to singer Cher (they divorced in 1978), which resulted in a1977 album titled Two the Hard Way and credited to ‘Allman and Woman’ which would become an embarrassing commercial failure. Allman struggled with a heroin addiction during this period and was arrested on drug charges in 1976. To avoid prison, Allman testified against the ABB’s road manager, Scooter Herring, which created acrimony with his bandmates, temporarily breaking up the band. After reuniting and adding various new members, the ABB released two moderately successful albums of inconsistent content – 1980’s Reach For The Sky and 1981’s Brothers of the Road – after which the Allman Brothers Band would again break up.

Gregg Allman's I'm No Angel
Allman continued to tour with his own Gregg Allman Band during this period, striking gold once again with his 1987 solo album I’m No Angel, which scored an FM radio hit in the title track and charting Top 30, earning a Gold™ Record. The album temporarily breathed new life into Allman’s moribund solo career, which would deflate a year later with the meager performance of 1988’s Just Before The Bullets Fly. Allman would be prompted to ‘put the band back together’ in 1989 with guitarist Dickey Betts and acclaimed percussionists Jaimoe and Butch Trucks complimented by new guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody.

Releasing their first studio album in nearly a decade, 1990’s Seven Turns enjoyed modest success but put the band back on the road, which is where the money was. The addition of Hayes and Woody brought two young, talented musicians into the band, expanding the ABB sound. The band would tour heavily throughout the ‘90s and well into the 2000s, releasing several acclaimed studio albums like 1994’s Where It All Begins and 2003’s classic Hittin’ The Note, adding a second phenomenal guitarist in Derek Trucks when Betts left the band. It was during this time period that the ABB would become known for their landmark sold-out shows at the Beacon Theater in New York City. The Allman Brothers Band performed its final show together on October 28th, 2014, the band’s 238th straight sellout at the venue.

Diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2007, which was attributed to a dirty tattoo needle, Allman later developed tumors on his liver and underwent a successful liver transplant in 2010. He would revisit his blues roots with 2011’s Low Country Blues album. Produced by roots musician T-Bone Burnett, Low Country Blues would chart Top 5 and take Allman’s solo career in a different direction. Allman published his best-selling autobiography, My Cross To Bear, in 2012.

Although he had suffered from health issues these past couple of years, Allman continued to tour until he couldn’t, taking time out to record what would become his final solo album, Southern Blood, with producer Don Was at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The album is scheduled for September 2017 release and will represent the final word from one of rock music’s most influential and important artists.


CD Review: Raging Fire's These Teeth Are Sharp (2017)

Raging Fire's These Teeth Are Sharp
Nashville’s Raging Fire was, perhaps, the best ‘80s-era band that you never heard. As recent as a couple years back, unless you were blessed by the gods of rock ‘n’ roll to have seen one of their Southeastern performances during the band’s too-brief tenure, all that remained of their legacy was a pair of firecracker recordings and a red-hot memory branded into your brain. Formed in 1984, they were gone by ’89, swept away by the plodding hoofbeats of grunge, the architects of the band’s unique sound and fury moving on to jobs, families, and lives outside the realms of rock.

Sometimes the gods smile upon we mere mortals, however, and such was the case when Raging Fire’s surviving members – powerhouse vocalist Melora Zaner, bassist Les Shields, and drummer Mark Medley – decided to take a look back at their collective past and honor the memory of their fallen band members, guitarist Michael Godsey and bassist Lee Carr, by releasing the retrospective set Everything Is Roses, 1985-1989. Collecting every sonic scrap recorded by the band for posterity, as I wrote upon its release, “Everything Is Roses is more than a mere nostalgia-tinted look backwards...the compilation instead a worthy snapshot of a time and place were an outfit as original and energetic as Raging Fire, with an enormous musical chemistry, could develop outside major label demands and expectations.”

Raging Fire’s These Teeth Are Sharp


In the wake of the 2015 release of Everything Is Roses, Raging Fire got back together and, with some friends pitching in to help, they performed a reunion show in Nashville. That led to the writing of some new songs and, long story short, a wondrous new 2017 Raging Fire album titled These Teeth Are Sharp, the band’s 30+ years-in-the-making follow-up to 1986’s Faith Love Was Made Of album. The core gang of Zaner, Medley, and Shields are here along with contributions from friends like guitarists Joe Blanton (The Bluefields, Royal Court of China) and Jeff Cease (The Black Crowes, Rumble Circus) and keyboard wizard Giles Reaves (one of the Music City’s most underrated talents). The old musical chemistry is definitely present, even with addition of the band’s new playmates, making the nine songs to be found on These Teeth Are Sharp every bit as raucous, intelligent, and anarchic as the band has ever been.

From the opening riff of the title track, one can hear the presence of something supernaturally special. Zaner sings unlike any vocalist you’ve ever heard, her kittenish voice capable of twisting emotion into a things of dark beauty while the backing instruments shift directions with whiplash brutality. “A Narrow Sky” shows its talons early on with swooping guitar licks and Zaner’s poetic lyrics yielding devastating imagery like “do you know the feeling when the air closes in as quiet as the grave?” which is sung in an ethereal voice as menacing as it is seemingly innocent. The album’s lone cover, of the 1960’s-era Rufus Thomas hit “Walking the Dog,” is as alien an interpretation of the Memphis soul classic as you’ll ever hear with breathless, stilted vocals, sparse rhythm, and delightfully jagged fretwork that work in spite of the fact that it probably shouldn’t.

By contrast, “Free to Be” is a bouncy pop song with rapid-fire vocals (some sung in Chinese…), Medley’s stormy percussion, jangly guitars, and an altogether energetic vibe that seems like a genetic hybrid of R.E.M. and the Talking Heads but with pure Raging Fire DNA. “Raindances” is a rocker with imaginative guitarplay coupled with John Reed’s concrete bass lines and Medley’s unrelenting drumbeats, tho’ it, too, throws a spanner in the works with quiet passages that crescendo to an explosive finish. These Teeth Are Sharp closes with “Dreams From Under the Love Seat,” one of the band’s few songs with lyrics written by drummer Medley, who displays a knack for imagery-drenched wordplay. Zaner delivers a stellar vocal performance while the guitars sting with the anger of a thousand wasps and the instrumentation, overall, washed over you like a gentle tsunami.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Here in 2017, Raging Fire is, perhaps, the best band that you’ve never heard. This time, however, you can change this sorry status by heading over to the band’s website and grabbing up a copy of These Teeth Are Sharp before Raging Fire once again disappears into the mists of time. The band’s blend of words and music is as alchemical as it’s ever been as they expand upon their original sound without treading across old creative grounds, exploring new creative pathways. There’s plenty for the band’s old fans to like about this year’s model of Raging Fire, and a world of wonder for the newcomer to explore. The gods of rock ‘n’ roll are pleased… Grade: A (Pristine Records, released May 12, 2017)

These Teeth Are Sharp is available from the Raging Fire website

Related Content:
Raging Fire's Everything Is Roses CD review 
Raging Fire's A Family Thing EP review


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Archive Review: Eugene Chadbourne & Camper Van Chadbourne (1988)

Eugene Chadbourne's Kill Eugene
EUGENE CHADBOURNE
Kill Eugene
(Placebo Records)

CAMPER VAN CHADBOURNE
Camper Van Chadbourne
(Fundamental Music)

Shades of insanity! What we have here, brothers and sisters, is a conspiracy, a contemptuous cover-up, a black-hearted attempt to conceal from you the truth that they wish you to be ignorant of! I’m talking about the shadowy, mysterious ‘them’ who want you to be stuck listening to re-tread rockers and processed cheese pop stars on their radio stations, buying their records, and playing them on the tinny transistor ray-didios and bass-heavy ster-oreos that they sell you!

Break free of these chains of mediocrity that they want you to be intellectually and aesthetically weighed down with and discover the music that will blow your mind, save your soul, and set you on the path of righteousness. I’m speaking, naturally, of the erstwhile Dr. Eugene Chadbourne and the one-and-only Camper Van Beethoven...

Ah, Dr. Chadbourne, I presume? Just when you thought it was safe to venture out of the house and into a new issue of The Metro, here we come slappin’ Chadbourne at you again. And well we should, ‘cause the rest of the free, cultured, civilized world is on the brink of declaring Eugene an artistic genius and showering him with the wealth, fleeting fame, and USA Today bar graphs that such esteem incurs. Nashville hasn’t even seen fit to honor the man with a gig in our city. Chadbourne talks about it, too, on his first Placebo Records release Kill Eugene.

In between the usual Chadbourne mix of original musical satire – such as his “Ollie’s Playhouse,” an ode to our favorite patriot [Ollie North]; the good-natured yet sociopathic “Women Against Pornography;” and the anti-sports tune “Big Boys With Little Balls” as well as inspired covers of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High,” Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam,” or “Ramblin’ Man,” a vintage Hank Williams number – rests a two-part telephone conversation between Eugene and Elliston Square’s Tommy Smith aptly titled “Getting A Gig In Nashville,” parts one and two. Yours truly is mentioned here, though not by name, ‘cause then they might hear it and realize that there are a few of us brave enough to recognize the talent and skill hidden beneath the looney-tune madness and tongue-in-cheek social commentary that is the art of Chadbourne.

Camper Van Chadbourne
Camper Van Chadbourne is a collaboration between the mighty Dr. Chadbourne and those revolutionary shock troops, Camper Van Beethoven. It’s a match made in heaven, friends, for both parties wander the same shadowy netherworld of broken pop tradition, radical musical composition, and distaste for the rules and regulations of the naked industry gentlefolk. Musical ancestry takes on a new meaning here as the Camper Van Chadbourne guys toss in the (un)usual mutant hybrid of covers, ranging from Joe South and Frank Zappa to Thelonious Monk and beyond, blending in a few typical Chadbourne creations among the trademark raga instrumentation and ‘80s psychedelia that had come to be known as Camper Van Beethoven.

The result is apocalypse dance muzak, nuclear new age classical for the post-holocaust crowd. Unless, of course, you defy them today by listening to the message hidden in these grooves beneath the hypnotic beat…a message that they, the all-too-evil, whore-mongering, erotica-spewing commercial conspiracy would like you to be ignorant of…the truth that music was meant to be energetic, dangerous, passionate, varied and, yes, even creative…and creativity is art. Will you listen?

Originally published by The Metro magazine, Nashville, 1988


Sunday, May 21, 2017

CD Review: Janiva Magness's Blue Again EP (2017)

Janiva Magness's Blue Again EP
For my money, Janiva Magness is arguably the finest, most dynamic vocalist in blues music today. A multiple Blues Music Award winner and a Grammy® Award nominee for her 2016 album Love Wins Again, Magness can purr like a kitten and roar like a lion, often times within the same performance, her voice an instrument on par with two other great R&B talents, Etta James and Koko Taylor. So I dove into Magness’s latest, Blue Again, with great expectations and while I was not disappointed, I do have a minor cavil – it’s just too damn short! Let’s be honest, 23 minutes and 35 seconds of Janiva Magness just isn’t enough, a six-song EP like Blue Again more of an appetizer than a feast...tho’ that doesn’t prevent it from being a satisfying experience nonetheless.

Janiva Magness’s Blue Again


Blue Again may be six songs brief, but it’s a whirlwind of a ride, beginning with the delightfully old-school sound of “I Can Tell,” the lesser-known B-side of a Bo Diddley R&B chart hit from 1962. Guest star Kid Ramos’s guitar trembles and shakes like the first winds before a thunderstorm, the rhythm shuffles along nicely like it’s late for a date, and the echoed production adds enough space to Magness’s voice that it amplifies her lusty, swaggering vocals to the point of red-lining the meters. Magness’s magnificent cover of Al Kooper’s Blood, Sweat & Tears’ classic “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” (from their Child Is Father to the Man LP) takes the song in a somewhat different direction, slowing down the pace and turning up the heartbreak to eleven.

The vibrating guitars that intro the performance segue nicely into Magness’s vocals, offering a counterpoint to the emotion that is literally pouring out of your speakers. When the instrumentation takes an unexpected, jazzy turn and the keyboards rise up, Magness’s voice rides the wave like a professional surfer. The band creates a dense, mesmerizing, outstanding instrumental ambiance for the song and Magness should win a Grammy® Award for her performance here alone. It’s true what they say that a great song is like putty in the hands of a great singer, and Magness paints a masterpiece with her blistering reading of Kooper’s “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.”

If I Can’t Have You


The listener can be excused if they need to take a cold shower after Blue Again’s second song, but there’s another dandy comin’ up on the Victrola – Magness’s duet with Sugaray Rayford on the Etta James’ classic “If I Can’t Have You” is simply priceless – their contrasting voices rising above the energetic soundtrack to create an entertaining song that is both contemporary-sounding and a throwback to 1950s-era R&B. Originally a vehicle for James and Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows, to their credit, Magness and Rayford find their own path for the song while keeping the spirit of the original. “Tired of Walking” is another vintage R&B jam, penned by obscure soulman Joe Hinton. The band lays down a raucous rockabilly rhythm with a bluesy undercurrent for the song, on top of which Magness lays out a blustery vocal performance that is more Koko than Etta, if you get my meaning.

Best known as recorded by the legendary Nina Simone, “Buck” is probably my least favorite track here, but that’s like trying to choose between your favorite pizza toppings. The guitars – Zach Zunis and/or Garrett Deloian – sting with the ferocity of a mad hornet, and guest harpist T.J. Norton’s harmonica adds just the right dose of soul beneath Magness’s forceful vocals. Blue Again’s finishing track, Freddie King’s “Pack It Up,” is more to my taste with the guitars providing squalls of notes dueling beneath Magness’s throaty, soul-drenched vocals. Arlan Schierbaum’s tasteful Hammond organ flourishes ride shotgun alongside the rhythm section of bassist Gary Davenport and drummer Matt Tecu, who have provided a strong yet subtle backbone for all the performances. It’s Magness’s incredible vocals that stoke the fires on Blue Again, though, the woman singing every song like the world is ending.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


The last couple of albums from Janiva Magness – 2014’s Original and 2016’s Love Wins Again – were stunning works that explored pop, soul, and gospel music with sly original songs and stellar performances. It’s nice to see Magness reach back to her roots with Blue Again, the singer admitting to deliberating long and hard on the EP’s choice of songs. In a press release for Blue Again, Magness stated “There’s definitely been an evolution, an arc over the course of time of the kinds of songs that I’ve elected to do and the kinds of songs I now write. I wanted to bring that arc full circle. I wanted to make a record of what and where I come from. It was important to me emotionally and spiritually.” Magness accomplished what she set out to do with Blue Again, the EP’s six songs displaying more passion and emotion, heart and soul than you’ll hear from any other singer, no matter the genre. Grade: A (Blue Élan Records, released May 12, 2017)