Sunday, October 15, 2017

Short Rounds: Action Skulls, Arthur Adams, The Nighthawks & UFO

Action Skulls' Angels Hear
New album releases in 150 words or less…

Action Skulls – Angels Hear (CMP Records)
Comprised of John Cowsill (‘60s-era pop hitmakers the Cowsills and the Beach Boys’ touring drummer); child actor and adult musician Bill Mumy (TV’s Lost In Space, Barnes & Barnes); Vicki Peterson (The Bangles); and the late Rick Rosas (journeyman bassist who’s played with the likes of Neil Young and Johnny Rivers), Action Skulls deliver every pop/rock delight that the band’s pedigrees promise. An eleven-track collection of original tunes, Angels Hear resembles 1980s-styled college/alternative rock with a glossy millennial finish, not dissimilar to Dream Syndicate or Game Theory with dreamy psych-pop balanced with intricate folkish rock. Peterson’s lofty vocals are always welcome while Mumy’s fretwork is surprisingly deft and imaginative. As independent as indie rock can get, don’t overlook Action Skulls’ Angels Hear, a fine collection of mesmerizing and carefully-crafted rock ‘n’ roll. Grade: A-   BUY IT!

Arthur Adams' Look What The Blues Has Done For Me
Arthur Adams – Look What The Blues Has Done For Me (Cleopatra Records)
The Nighthawks' All You Gotta DoArthur Adams’ first new studio album since 2009 – the two-disc Look What The Blues Has Done For Me – offers a new recording from the underappreciated bluesman as well as a bonus disc of early tracks previously-unreleased on CD. The talented vocalist sounds a lot like Bobby “Blue” Bland on the thirteen new blues-oriented tracks, Adams knocking it out of the park with energy and emotion on songs like “Low Down and Dirty,” “I’ve Had Enough,” and “If You Let Me Love You.” With the band establishing a low-slung groove, Adams’ displays his B.B. King-influenced guitar style and deft songwriting skills. Disc two offers another thirteen tracks from four ‘70s-era albums, criminally-obscure soul-blues gems like “I’ll Never Be the Same,” the haunting “The Blues,” and the funky “Let’s Dance” guaranteed to get your liver quivering! It’s never too late to discover the soulful blues sound of Arthur Adams. Grade: A   BUY IT!

The Nighthawks – All You Gotta Do (Ellersoul Records)
Roots ‘n’ blues stalwarts the Nighthawks have released better than two-dozen live and studio albums over the past 40+ years, delivering up spirited originals and inspired covers that feature founder Mark Wenner’s gritty vocals and raging harp-play as well as some scorching fretwork, most recently courtesy of guitarist Paul Bell. The band’s latest, All You Gotta Do, doesn’t depart from this tried-and-trued formula, offering up entertaining moments like the rollicking “That’s All You Gotta Do,” a low-slung, greasy cover of Randy Newman’s “Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield,” and a raucous reading of the garage-rock standard “Dirty Water.” The band is at its best on its infrequent originals, tho’, drummer Mark Stutso’s “VooDoo Doll” a sly lil’ bit of bluesy hoodoo and Wenner’s “Blues For Brother John” a sleazy instrumental romp. Throw in high-octane covers of Sonny Boy Williamson, R.L. Burnside, and Willie Dixon tunes and you have yourself a party! Grade: B+   BUY IT!

UFO's The Salentino Cuts
UFO – The Salentino Cuts (Cleopatra Records)
British hard rock legends UFO deliver a long-overdue Pin-Ups styled covers disc in The Salentino Cuts and achieve mixed results. On one hand, golden-era rock ‘n’ roll tunes like “Heartful of Soul” (The Yardbirds) and “It’s My Life” (The Animals) are so finely-crafted that it’s hard to do them wrong. Surprise choices like “River of Deceit” (Mad Season) and “Ain’t No Sunshine” (Bill Withers) provide charming moments while hard rockin’ tracks like “Mississippi Queen” (Mountain) and “Rock Candy” (Montrose) are right up the band’s dark alleyway. On the other hand, stabs in the dark like “Paper In Fire” (John Mellencamp) and “Honey Bee” (Tom Petty) lack the subtlety and nuance of the originals, Phil Mogg’s voice too ravaged by time and abuse to pull off. Like I said, a mixed bag of classic rawk tunes. Grade: C+   BUY IT!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Here’s Little Richard 60th Anniversary

Little Richard's Here's Little Richard
The influence of rock ‘n’ roll legend Little Richard (a/k/a Richard Penniman) has spanned seven decades now and shows absolutely no sign of dwindling in the new millennium. Little Richard’s groundbreaking blend of R&B-tinged, rockin’ piano-pounding earned the singer Top 20 hits with a string of red-hot 45s, songs that would inspire a generation of rock, soul, and funk artists to follow. Little Richard would be inducted into the very first Rock & Roll Hall of Fame class in 1986 and was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of fame and earned Lifetime Achievement Awards from both The Rhythm and Blues Foundation and The Recording Academy.

For the singer, it all began with the hit singles that would end up making up the bulk of his debut album, Here’s Little Richard. Released in March 1957, the album built upon Little Richard’s previous chart success, the singer scoring six Top 40 hits over the previous year, five of which were included on Here’s Little Richard, driving the album to #13 on the pop charts. In celebration of the 60th anniversary of Little Richard’s auspicious debut, Craft Recordings – the catalog division of Concord Music – is reissuing the landmark album as a two-CD set on November 3rd, 2017. This deluxe reissue of Here’s Little Richard includes the original twelve-track album, anchored by timeless rockers like “Tutti Frutti,” “Ready Teddy,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Rip It Up,” and “Jenny Jenny.” The second disc features twenty-two demos, alternate takes, and previously-unreleased material from the original studio sessions.

The package also includes new liner notes by Grammy® Award-nominated writer and music journalist Chris Morris, who writes “like the classic recordings on Here’s Little Richard, these alternate versions reveal the blossoming of an unprecedented and wholly original talent whose first recordings broke down the categorical doors between R&B and pop. As they did in late 1955 when Little Richard arrived, like something from another planet, these wailing, rampaging songs present something new, rich and strange under the sun.”

Buy the CD from Little Richard’s Here’s Little Richard

The Searchers’ Sire Years Revisited

The Searcher's Another Night
Overshadowed by competitors like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, and the Who, British Invasion rockers the Searchers are too often overlooked. The band nevertheless collected almost a dozen Top 40 hits in the U.K. between 1963 and 1966, including timeless tracks like “Needles and Pins,” “Don’t Throw Our Love Away,” “Sugar and Spice,” and “When You Walk In The Room.” The hits dried up as the decade wore on, but the Searchers persevered as a touring band, playing the old songs as well as contemporary hits to enthusiastic audiences.

In 1979, the band came to the attention of Sire Records’ head honcho Seymour Stein, who saw them perform and offered them a deal with the label which, at the time, featured bands like the Ramones, Talking Heads, and the Dead Boys. Inspired musically by the early ‘70s British pub rock scene, the Searchers recorded a pair of albums for Sire, their self-titled 1979 disc produced by Pat Moran (Be Bop Deluxe, Dr. Feelgood) and offering a mix of original songs and covers of songs by artists like Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, the Records, and Mickey Jupp.

The following year, the Searchers released Love’s Melodies (released as Play For Today in the U.K.). Produced by Ed Stasium (The Ramones, Talking Heads), the LP featured more exhilarating original tracks as well as covers of rockin’ tunes from artists like Moon Martin, Big Star, John Fogerty, and others. Neither album performed well commercially, the label dropping the band as they prepared to record a third album. History has smiled kindly on the Searchers’ two Sire recordings, though, which have been released several times around the world with different track lists, B-sides and mixes, though sadly both albums have been out-of-print for better than a decade.

On December 8th, 2017 Omnivore Recordings will release Another Night: The Sire Recordings 1979-1981, a two-disc compilation that empties the vault of what many consider one of the Searchers’ most productive and inspired periods. The set includes all twenty-two tracks from the original two albums and adds seven alternative takes and outtakes, including a previously-unreleased cover of John Hiatt’s “Ambulance Chaser.” The package also features album cover artwork from various previous releases as well as an essay by writer Scott Schinder with new interviews with band members Mike Pender, John McNally, and Frank Allen. Check out the album trailer below and then check out Another Night, a fine collection by the long-forgotten British Invasion hitmakers the Searchers.

Buy the CD from The SearchersAnother Night: The Sire Recordings 1979-1981

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Archive Review: Metallica's Garage Inc.

Metallica's Garage, Inc.
A large part of the reason for Metallica's longevity as a band and their continuously growing popularity is that they provide their audience what they want: aggressive, no frills, ass-kicking, hard-edged rock 'n' roll. Flying in the face of both conventional wisdom and industry tradition, Metallica have thrust themselves into the rarified heights of multi-platinum bands with little or no radio airplay or video presence. Relying instead on constant touring and a very deliberate recording process that produces the kind of album that the band themselves would want to buy, the not-so-secret key to Metallica's success is that they are, at their very core, music fans themselves.

Because they are fans, Metallica's collective musical closet is filled with cover tunes, B-sides and obscure songs by bands that only the hardcore are familiar with. Garage Inc. is the foursome's tribute to their influences, a two-CD collection of songs that they themselves are quite fond of. Some of the material on Garage Inc. will be familiar to Metallica fans – the band's legendary and long out-of-print 1984 The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited is included here on the second disc, as are numerous B-sides, many of them songs performed live on a regular basis by the band. Even at this stage of the game, releasing an album of covers – much less a two disc set – is a bit risky even for a chart-topping fan's band like Metallica. But they seem to have pulled it off, as shown by initial sales figures (which is all that matters to the label), mostly because they bring such joy, sincerity and energy to the songs on Garage Inc.

Metallica's Garage Inc.

Like most affairs of this nature, Garage Inc. has its share of hits and misses. What matters here is that the band hits the bull's eye more often than not. Many of the covers here are derived from what is called the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” (NWOBHM), a late '70s/early '80s musical phenomenon that was to have a striking affect on the various members of Metallica. So strong an influence was NWOBHM band Diamond Head that their “It's Electric,” with its soaring vocals and roaring guitars, sounds like it could very well be a Metallica original. Garage Inc. offers four of the English band's songs spread across its two discs – it seems that every time Metallica starts cranking out the covers, it's Diamond Head they turn to for inspiration. Other NWOBHM bands represented on Garage Inc. include Holocaust, Blitzkrieg, and Sweet Savage.

There are takes – some odd and some not so odd – to be found on the discs here. Black Sabbath's “Sabbra Cadabra” receives an appropriately eerie reading, Thin Lizzy's version of the traditional Irish “Whiskey In The Jar” is provided a particularly inspired performance while the Misfits' “Die, Die My Darling” is just the sort of metal-tinged punk horror story that Mr. Danzig envisioned all those years ago. Lynyrd Skynyrd, another band that had more in common with their fans than their critics or label executives, is revisited here with a somber rendering of “Tuesday's Gone” that includes guests like Blues Traveler's John Popper, Alice In Chain's Jerry Cantrell, Les Claypool of Primus, and Gary Rossington of Skynyrd, among others.

The Reverend's Bottom Line

I personally prefer the songs found on the first disc, which are the newest of the batch, above the more trashy, early Metallica covers of the Garage Days Re-Revisited era. The “Motorheadache” performances from Lemmy's fiftieth birthday party, closing the second disc, provide a thunderous good time, as Metallica pays homage to one of heavy metal's godfathers. Whether it's punk (Discharge, Anti-Nowhere League, the Misfits), metal (the aforementioned Motorhead, Mercyful Fate, various NWOBHM bands), classic '70s rock (Blue Oyster Cult, Queen, Bob Seger), or the truly obscure (Budgie, Nick Cave, Killing Joke), all receive a proper “metallicizing.”

Garage Inc. is a hell of a lot of fun, and if this collection of 27 well-chosen covers inspires just one young rocker as much as the original tunes influenced Metallica, then the band has done their job well. (Elektra Records, released November 24, 1998)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ music zine, 1999

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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Book Review: Martin's Popoff's Led Zeppelin - All the Albums, All the Songs (2017)

Martin's Popoff's Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs
From their groundbreaking self-titled debut album in 1969 until they called it quits in 1980 after the death of drummer John “Bonzo” Bonham, Led Zeppelin re-wrote the book on rock ‘n’ roll stardom. The band’s immense popularity allowed them to get over on promoters who, at that point, were taking the lion’s share of box office receipts from a concert. Zeppelin grabbed that cash for themselves, forever changing the playing field for a generation of touring bands. They flew around the country to perform in their own private jet (nicknamed The Starship), launching from their base at the Continental Hyatt House hotel (a/k/a “Riot House) in Los Angeles. Stories of the band’s rock star excess are legend.

Musically, the band built on its blues-rock roots to incorporate British folk and Middle Eastern flourishes, among other disparate influences, etching in stone a blueprint for hard rock and heavy metal bands to follow. The band’s musical and cultural influence is inestimable, but Zeppelin was also incredibly successful commercially. The band’s meager catalog of nine studio and one live album released during between 1969 and ’82 have sold better than one hundred million copies domestically, placing them second only to the Beatles in U.S. record sales, earning the band six chart-topping albums. Posthumous releases like 1997’s BBC Sessions and 2003’s live How the West Was Won have only added to that sales total while numerous compilation albums, box sets, and reissues have kept Zep’s popularity strong here in the second decade of the new millennium.   

Martin Popoff’s Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs

Zeppelin’s status as one of a handful of truly legendary acts in the history of rock music has resulted in the publication of, literally, hundreds of books that discuss and dissect nearly every aspect of the band’s storied history. So, nearly four decades after the band called it quits, the question is ‘do we really need another book on the almighty Zep?’ If it’s Martin Popoff’s Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs, the answer would be a resounding ‘Yes!’ The founder and former editor of the acclaimed Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles music zine, Popoff has literally written the history of hard rock and heavy metal with over 70 published books that cover every rock ‘n’ roll legend from Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, and Yes to relatively obscure bands like Riot and Max Webster as well as acclaimed trilogies on the ‘New Wave of British Heavy Metal’ and his recently-completed history of thrash metal.

It must be noted that Martin is a friend and colleague, but it is without bias that I can unequivocally state that Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs is his best-looking tome to date, the book’s imaginative and striking design and graphics even edging out Popoff’s lush Ramones coffee-table book (Ramones at 40). A gorgeous 8”x10” hardback rife with color and B&W photos, Popoff’s Led Zeppelin is more than a mere looker to leave sitting on a table to impress your rock ‘n’ roll friends. Popoff’s commentary on every single song from the band’s nine studio albums is impressive in its scope, not only providing the reader with detailed information on each tune but offering context and historical asides as well.

As such, Popoff dives deep into songs like the band’s cover of blues legend Willie Dixon’s “You Shook Me” (from the debut album), exploring its roots and offering critical appraisal of the band’s tentative performance. The band’s best-known, if not most popular song – “Stairway To Heaven” – is compared with its original influence (Spirit’s “Taurus”), its roots in British folk revealed in depth. Just about every song in the Zeppelin catalog is thus discussed, Popoff bringing new details to these well-worn compositions, each song commented upon with knowledge and insight. Popoff balances his Zeppelin fandom with the critical eye of a music historian, his words accompanied by a wealth of band photos, memorabilia, rare import album covers, and other cool graphics. The only ‘omission’ that I found is that of the Zeppelin rarity “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do,” a personal favorite that was the B-side of the “Immigrant Song” single and the band’s only non-album B-side (at the time, it only appeared on a Dutch compilation of British folk-rock bands).

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

That’s a minor cavil, indeed – the rest of Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs shines as brightly as the band did at its mid-to-late ‘70s peak. Well-researched and mulled over and written with the enthusiasm that Popoff brings to every book project, this is one tome that every Led Zeppelin fan is going to want to add to their collection. After reading Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs you’ll find a newfound appreciation of those songs and albums that you love and know so well. Grade: A+ (Voyageur Press, published October 1, 2017)

Check out Martin Popoff’s website

Buy the book from Martin Popoff’s Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs

Related Content:
Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin I CD review
Martin Popoff’s Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers book review
Martin Popoff’s Time And A Word: The Yes Story book review

Led Zeppelin photo courtesy Atlantic Records
Led Zeppelin photo courtesy Atlantic Records

The Stones Roll Back the Years

The Rolling Stones' On Air
Rock ‘n’ roll legends the Rolling Stones have been kicking around since the early ‘60s, the band’s enormous and influential back catalog of music including some 30 studio albums, 23 live releases, and better than two dozen various compilations and box sets…not to mention a slew of DVDs and literally dozens of bootleg albums. The band’s early years are a sorely underrepresented part of the Stones’ milieu, an oversight that will be rectified with the December release of On Air on CD and vinyl.

On December 1st, 2017 Universal Music will release the Stones’ On Air in various formats, including single and double-CD sets and a two-disc vinyl album. The compilation collects the band’s live BBC sessions recorded between 1963 and 1965, with many of the performances previously-unreleased. The single CD and vinyl formats feature eighteen tracks that range from the band’s first single – a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On” – and include classic tunes like “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Memphis, Tennessee,” “Mercy, Mercy,” and “Down the Road Apiece” performed on various BBC programs like Saturday Club, Top Gear, and Blues In Rhythm.

For fans willing to cough up a few extra dollars for the double-CD set, you’ll get another fourteen songs like “Carol,” “Confessin’ the Blues,” “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” and “2120 South Michigan Avenue,” the performances highlighting the band’s blues and R&B roots. None of these tracks have appeared on CD before (although four songs were included on a 7” vinyl EP included with the band’s 2012 GRRR! compilation), and eight of the songs have never been recorded in the studio or even released by the band. Each recording has been restored via a process called “audio source separation” to provide a full, cleaner sound.

On Air is the audio companion to the recently-published The Rolling Stones on Air in the Sixties by author Richard Havers, who also co-wrote Bill Wyman’s book Rolling with the Stones. The book represents the first official, in-depth history of the Stones as viewed through their early television and radio performances and it includes many previously-unpublished documents and photos from the BBC archives. Copies of both the book and On Air are available direct from the Stones’ website as stand-alone or bundled purchases, or you can use the links below to order from

The Rolling StonesOn Air track listing:

Disc 1
1. Come On (Saturday Club, 10/26/1963)
2. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (Saturday Club, 9/18/1965)
3. Roll Over Beethoven (Saturday Club, 10/26/1963)
4. The Spider and The Fly (Yeah Yeah, 8/30/1965)
5. Cops and Robbers (Blues In Rhythm, 5/9/1964)
6. It’s All Over Now (The Joe Loss Pop Show, 7/17/1964)
7. Route 66 (Blues In Rhythm, 5/9/1964)
8. Memphis, Tennessee (Saturday Club, 10/26/1963)
9. Down The Road Apiece (Top Gear, 3/6/1965)
10. The Last Time (Top Gear, 3/6/1965)
11. Cry To Me (Saturday Club, 9/18/1965)
12. Mercy, Mercy (Yeah Yeah, 8/30/1965)
13. Oh! Baby (We Got a Good Thing Goin’) (Saturday Club, 9/18/1965)
14. Around and Around (Top Gear, 7/23/1964)
15. Hi Heel Sneakers (Saturday Club, 4/18/1964)
16. Fannie Mae (Saturday Club, 9/18/1965)
17. You Better Move On (Blues In Rhythm, 5/9/1964)
18. Mona (Blues In Rhythm, 5/9/1964)

Disc 2 (included with deluxe edition)
1. I Wanna Be Your Man (Saturday Club, 2/8/1964)
2.Carol (Saturday Club, 4/18/1964)
3. I’m Moving On (The Joe Loss Pop Show, 4/10/1964)
4. If You Need Me (The Joe Loss Pop Show, 7/17/1964)
5. Walking The Dog (Saturday Club, 2/8/1964)
6. Confessin’ The Blues (The Joe Loss Pop Show, 7/17/1964)
7. Everybody Needs Somebody To Love (Top Gear, 3/6/1965)
8. Little By Little (The Joe Loss Pop Show, 4/10/1964)
9. Ain’t That Loving You Baby (Rhythm and Blues, 10/31/1964)
10. Beautiful Delilah (Saturday Club, 4/18/1964)
11. Crackin’ Up (Top Gear, 7/23/1964)
12. I Can’t Be Satisfied (Top Gear, 7/23/1964)
13. I Just Want to Make Love to You (Saturday Club, 4/18/1964)
14. 2120 South Michigan Avenue (Rhythm and Blues, 10/31/1964)

Buy from
The Rolling Stones’ On Air double-CD set
The Rolling Stones’ On Air double-LP vinyl set
Richard Havers’ The Rolling Stones on Air in the Sixties

The Rolling Stones
Rolling Stones photo courtesy Universal Music

Monday, October 2, 2017

CD Review: Chris Bell's I Am the Cosmos (2017)

Chris Bell's I Am the Cosmos
Perhaps desiring to make his own music outside of the long shadow of Alex Chilton, Big Star co-founder Chris Bell left the Memphis cult band after the 1972 release of their debut album #1 Record. A classic slab of rock ‘n’ roll wax, the album’s influential, ahead-of-their-time power-pop tunes penned by Bell and Chilton sold poorly at the time and only after years of retrospection has #1 Record earned its legendary status. 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 over #1 Record and he was an integral part of the early Big Star sound.

After his departure from the band, Bell released only two songs before his tragic, accidental death in 1978 at the age of 27 years – “I Am the Cosmos” and “You and Your Sister” appeared as a single on Chris Stamey’s (The dB’s) Car Records label. Bell had also recorded several songs at the Château D’Hérouville in Paris as well as at Shoe Studios and Ardent Studios in his hometown of Memphis. Some of this material was released by Rykodisc in 1992 as the critically-acclaimed I Am the Cosmos CD; an expanded 2009 reissue nearly doubled the tracklist, adding alternative mixes and a handful of Bell’s pre-Big Star recordings. The Omnivore reissue of I Am the Cosmos offers the definitive version of this pop-rock gem, expanding upon the previous two releases by adding another ten tracks to the two-disc set, eight of them previously-unreleased and the other two only ever released on long out-of-print vinyl.

Chris Bell’s I Am the Cosmos

Bell’s scattered solo material largely follows the same melodic framework that he helped build with Alex Chilton for Big Star. The album’s title track and Bell’s lone single, “I Am the Cosmos” is a lofty, psych-drenched mid-tempo stunner with gorgeous miasmic guitars and wistful vocals. The B-side, “You and Your Sister,” is a gentle, pastoral, folk-drenched pop song with yearning lyrics and elegant fretwork with minimal backing. There are a lot of similarly mesmerizing moments on I Am the Cosmos, from the haunting beautiful guitar strum and wan vocals of “Speed of Sound” to the ethereal vocals afforded “Look Up,” a spiritual ballad with lovely acoustic guitar and lush instrumentation courtesy of an unnamed Mellotron player.

Bell was than a mere folkie balladeer, though. “Better Save Yourself” is a muscular, mid-tempo rocker with flaring guitars (reminding of Neil Young) and self-confident, hard-hitting drums. “Get Away” offers clattering vocals, piercing fretwork and feedback-tinged cacophony, resembling Big Star on steroids while “I Got Kinda Lost” is a clamorous pop-rock treat with hardy riffs, muffled vox, and cascades of percussion reminiscent of Cheap Trick’s best stuff. “Make A Scene” is the sort of cockeyed inventive and influential pop-rock gem that Big Star delivered with Bell’s scorching guitars accompanied by Ken Woodley’s bass and drummer Richard Rosebrough’s syncopated rhythms while “Fight At the Table” is a Beale Street-flavored, honky tonk-tinged number highlighted by Jim Dickinson’s raucous piano-pounding, former bandmate Andy Hummel’s steady bass line, and Carl Marsh’s raging saxophone.

The bonus disc accompanying I Am the Cosmos offers fans a wealth of alternative takes and various remixes mostly of interest to the Big Star completist. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few treasures to be found in the grooves, though…an extended version of “I Am the Cosmos” sounds like a DJ Screw production with drawled, trippy vocals, guitar solos, and an overall heavy lysergic vibe. Bell teams up with fellow Memphis music legend Keith Sykes on his “Stay With Me,” the innate chemistry of the two artists creating an ambitious mix of country twang and popish rock with angelic vocals; Bell’s guitar solo on the song is short but effective. A song featuring singer Nancy Bryan, “In My Darkest Hour,” is strangely alluring with Bryan’s sonorous vocals accompanied by only Bell’s fleet guitar playing. Bell reunites with Chilton for the studio outtake “Get Away,” a spirited instrumental with scraps of surf guitar, blustery drumbeats, and a fractured six-string solo or two to puncture the chaos.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

The Complete Chris Bell
The time is right for a critical reappraisal of Chris Bell’s small but notable body of work, as well as rediscovery of this tragic talent by a new generation of fans. Earlier this year, Omnivore released Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star, a 22-track collection that features Bell’s early recordings with Memphis bands like the Wallabys, Rock City, and Icewater. In November 2017, the label will be releasing a massive six-album vinyl LP set that collects everything from Looking Forward and I Am the Cosmos along with a previously-unreleased interview with the artist.

As for Bell’s I Am the Cosmos, the album is a treasure, a masterful melding of melodic pop/rock, folkish sincerity, and rock ‘n’ roll energy that makes one wonder why it took almost 15 years after Bell’s death before these songs would be released on CD. At the end of the ‘70s, a Chris Bell solo album may have faced the same indignities as Big Star’s previous attempts at grabbing the brass ring, but as shown by I Am the Cosmos, the man had some great creative ideas, spinning gold from imagination and leaving behind some timeless, classic rock music. Grade: B+ (Omnivore Recordings, released September 15, 2017)

Buy the CD from Chris Bell's I Am the Cosmos

Sunday, October 1, 2017

New Music Monthly: October 2017 Releases

You just gotta love a month that ends with Halloween and the promise of sweet treats, and while the month doesn't promise the same quantity of new albums as did September, there are plenty of sweet treats to be had anyway. From new albums by old stalwarts like the Church, Liam Gallagher, and Robert Plant to the third album this year from the King Gizzard folks as well archive releases from the Replacements and Peter Case and the last of Yep Roc's Nick Lowe reissues, no matter your taste in music, there's something for you in October!

If we wrote about it, there'll be a link to it in the album title, if you want an album, hit the 'Buy!' link to get it from's just that damn easy! Your purchase puts money in the Reverend's pocket that he'll use to buy more music to write about in a never-ending loop of rock 'n' roll ecstasy!

The Church's Man Woman Life Death Infinity

The Church - Man Woman Life Death Infinity   BUY!
The Darkness - Pinewood Smile   BUY!
Liam Gallagher - As You Were   BUY!
The Original Blues Brothers Band - The Last Shade of Blue Before Black   BUY!
The Replacements - For Sale   BUY!
Jerry Yester - Pass Your Light Around   BUY!

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard's Sketches of Brunswick East

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard - Sketches of Brunswick East   BUY!
L.A. Guns - The Missing Piece   BUY!
Robert Plant - Carry Fire   BUY!
The Pretty Things - Greatest Hits   BUY!

Kim Wilson's Blues and Boogie Vol One
Flat Duo Jets - Wild Wild Love   BUY!
Nick Lowe - Party of One   BUY!
Nick Lowe - Pinker and Prouder Than Previous   BUY!
N.R.B.Q. - Happy Talk EP   BUY!
Kim Wilson - Blues and Boogie, Volume One   BUY!

Looking at the Pictures in the Sky

Peter Case - On The Way Downtown   BUY!
Hollywood Undead - Five   BUY!
Various Artists - Looking at the Pictures in the Sky   BUY!
Weezer - Pacific Daydream   BUY!

Album of the Month: Robert Plant's Carry Fire is the Rock God's eleventh studio album and first new work in three years. Backed by his long-time band the Sensational Shape Shifters, Plant further explores the possibilities of rock music in his own undeniable fashion. Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders is a guest and Carry Fire will be released on CD and digitally as well as on lovely vinyl!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rant 'n' Roll: Frank Zappa as Hologram??!!!

Frank Zappa photo by Bruce Linton, courtesy Universal Music
Zappa photo by Bruce Linton, courtesy Universal Music
When you get to be the Reverend’s age and have spent as many years hanging around the fringes of the ‘respectable’ record biz as I have (45+), you see a few things…and I’ve seen few things as cockamamie as this. The Zappa Family Trust announced this week that Frank Zappa, the family’s patriarch and namesake, will be hitting the road again despite the unfortunate fact that he’s been dead for nearly 24 years. Dear Frank has kicked the bucket, he’s shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!

Working with Eyellusion, ‘live music’s premier hologram production company,’ the Zappa Family Trust has developed Frank Zappa – Back On The Road: The Hologram Tour. According to the bloato-hype accompanying the estate’s press release, ‘Hologram Frank’ will provide fans “an opportunity to experience the prolific, eclectic and critically acclaimed music legend live in concert again.” Production for the hologram tour will begin later this year with performances expected sometime in 2018.
“I’m thrilled that Frank Zappa will finally be going back out on tour playing his most well-known music as well as some rare and unheard material,” said Ahmet Zappa, co-Trustee of the Zappa Family Trust, in a press release. “We can’t wait to bring his creative work back to the stage with the musicians he loved to play with, such as Steve Vai, Ian Underwood, Adrian Belew, Arthur Barrow, Vinnie Colaiuta, Scott Thunes, Mike Keneally, Denny Walley, Warren Cuccurullo and Napoleon Murphy Brock among others who are committed to being part of this epic endeavor. When I spoke with them, they were excited at the prospect of performing alongside Frank once again and can’t wait to give fans an unforgettable experience.”

Now either Vai, Belew, et al are all strapped for the cash this bad idea might provide them, or else they were all just humoring Ahmet when he rang ‘em up and proposed this horrible example of a craven cash-grab. “Sure, kid, I’d love to play with the disembodied shadow of your late father; can’t think of anything else I’d rather do next year.” I don’t imagine that any of these talented musicians are chomping at the bit to line-up on stage and perform alongside the ghostly image of their former bandleader. I realize that the Zappa Family Trust has been hemorrhaging cash and is allegedly millions of dollars in debt, but pimping out the corpse of dear ol’ dad isn’t the way to dig out of the hole.

Frank Zappa photo by Greg Gorman, courtesy Universal Music
Zappa photo by Greg Gorman, courtesy Universal Music
In the press release for this travesty of bad estate planning, Ahmet had to throw in an unnecessary dig at his estranged brother and sister, i.e. them what got the shit end of the deal with their mother’s death. “Also, how radical would it be to have Moon singing ‘Valley Girl’ onstage with Frank? Or to see Dweezil side by side with our father playing dueling guitar solos? That would be my greatest wish and I look forward to bringing this special celebration of Frank’s legacy to a town near you. But if that wasn’t enough Zappa coolness, we’re also planning on staging Joe’s Garage The Musical with none other than Frank Zappa himself starring as the Central Scrutinizer.”

Yikes, that’s a self-serving line of bullshit…and no matter what side of the Zappa family feud you come down on, you have to admit that Dweezil has done more to keep his father’s music alive by performing it publically over this past decade as “Zappa Plays Zappa” than anything that Ahmet has achieved by whoring out their father’s legacy with a steady flow of “product” that includes CD reissues, a glut of live recordings, and gratuitous vinyl reissues. If I were the 40% half of the trust (i.e. Dweezil and Moon), I’d be challenging Ahmet’s oversight, its millions of dollars of debt in spite of the abundance of major label reissues, and other issues that have created familial discord, not the least of which is this crappy hologram tour idea.

I never knew Frank Zappa personally, but I know enough about the man and his music from a lifetime of listening and researching my Frank Zappa Buying Guide book to believe that Frank the Artist would hate this idea. A musical perfectionist and restless creative spirit whose legend is built not only on his compositional genius and immense six-string skills but also on his improvisational abilities, ‘Hologram Frank’ will display none of these attributes when performing alongside whatever high-profile former sidemen the ignorant half of the family can bribe to tour with the evanescent apparition of Daddy dearest. This isn’t rock ‘n’ roll, it’s zombie karaoke, and woe upon any of you that support this shitshow by buying a ticket.

Third Man Records remembers Muddy Waters

Blues legend Muddy Waters
Third Man Records – Jack White’s boutique label of oddities and delights – has decided to dip its toe into the rich back catalog of the legendary Chess Records with a series of 7” single reissues. Much as they previously did with Sun Records, reissuing sizzling slabs o’ hot wax from the likes of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Elvis Presley; and as they did with Detroit’s Tamla Records, with too-cool reissues of musical gems by Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Barrett Strong, and the Miracles, so too does Third Man plan on revisiting long-lost treasures from the beloved Chicago blues label.

Appropriately enough, the first seven-inchers in Third Man’s Chess reissue series focus on the King of the Blues, the almighty Muddy Waters. Unearthing three musty singles from the darkest recesses of the Chess Records vault, Third Man has pressed high-quality 45rpm discs from the early days of Waters’ career – 1950’s “Rollin’ Stone” b/w “Walkin’ Blues,” 1953’s “She’s All Right” b/w “Sad, Sad Day,” and 1955’s hit “Manish Boy” b/w “Young Fashioned Ways.”

Waters would re-record several of these songs in various sessions over the ensuing years, but Third Man is offering the raw, vibrant early versions, the first two of which were originally issued only on fragile 10” shellac 78rpm records (“Manish Boy” seems to have been released as both 10” 78rpm and 7” 45rpm singles). “She’s All Right” is a straight-up solo performance featuring just Muddy and his guitar while “Manish Boy” includes Junior Wells’ harp flourishes.

Third Man is offering these three first Chess singles on gorgeous black vinyl for $6 each or as a three-disc bundle for $15 plus shipping (that’s what I bought). Get ‘em via the Third Man Records website. There is also a limited edition of each single pressed up on electric “Chess-nut” brown vinyl and available only from the Third Man Records storefronts or from Reckless Records in Chicago, while supplies last. Can’t wait to see what the next batch of Chess singles brings!

Muddy Waters' Rollin' Stone single

Monday, September 18, 2017

CD Review: Bash & Pop’s Friday Night Is Killing Me (2017)

Bash & Pop’s Friday Night Is Killing Me
Widely considered one of the greatest outfits in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, the Replacements enjoy a cult following far above and beyond the band’s meager commercial accomplishments. Part of their hallowed status among fans is due to the band’s unpredictable live concerts where the ‘Mats could be the best band in rock on any given night…or possibly the worst. Either way, the band’s ramshackle performances were never dull and were always entertaining. Considering the enduring nature of the band’s classic recordings like Let It Be and Pleased To Meet Me, the Replacements have earned their place on the Mount Olympus of rock ‘n’ roll.

When internal tensions broke up the Replacements in 1991, bassist Tommy Stinson – an integral part of the band’s honest, anarchic sound – wanted to continue playing in a group. Switching to guitar, he convinced Replacements’ drummer Steve Foley to join the new band, along with his brother Kevin Foley on bass, and he brought in guitarist Steve Brantseg to form the outfit known as Bash & Pop. The foursome subsequently recorded Friday Night Is Killing Me with producer Don Smith, the 1993 album including guest appearances by Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Wire Train’s Jeff Trott. The album received modest critical acclaim for its energetic, guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll but went nowhere fast, and Stinson soon wandered off to eventually join Guns N’ Roses.

Bash & Pop’s Friday Night Is Killing Me

Although Friday Night Is Killing Me paled in comparison to the Replacements’ best work, the album has grown in stature in the nearly quarter-century since its release, no mean feat as the CD has been out-of-print for 20 years. Nothing more was heard from Bash & Pop until earlier this year, when Stinson hooked up with friends like Steve Selvidge of the Hold Steady and Luther Dickson of the North Mississippi Allstars to record Anything Could Happen, the first Bash & Pop album since 1993. With renewed interest in the band growing, Omnivore Recordings has reissued Friday Night Is Killing Me as a deluxe two-disc set featuring the original album mastered by current B&P bassist Justin Perkins as well as an eighteen-track bonus disc featuring rare singles, home demos, and B-sides, most of which are previously-unreleased.   

The original tracks on Friday Night Is Killing Me offer no-frills, guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll. Album opener “Never Aim To Please,” for instance, twangs ‘n’ bangs like the Georgia Satellites on dexies, with a BIG drum sound, scorching fretwork, and a melody you could hang your coat on. The mid-tempo “Loose Ends” is similarly rootsy, Stinson’s drawled vocals matched by Steve Foley’s measured timekeeping, a throbbing bass line, and scraps of twinkling guitar. “One More Time” bursts out of the gate like a champion race horse before teetering off the track, Foley’s can-slamming providing the only anchor to the musical chaos.

Fast & Hard

The punkish fervor of “Fast & Hard” is perhaps the closest that Stinson comes here to replicating the inexplicable chemistry of his former band, the song displaying reckless energy and great musical dynamics while the album’s title track is a grandiloquent almost-ballad with tortured vocals and lush instrumentation. The bonus disc provided with the Friday Night Is Killing Me reissue is a roller-coaster jaunt through the Bash & Pop archives, a mish-mash of demos and rarities that is uneven by nature. The home demo of “Hang Ups” is delightfully raw and more ramshackle than the final version while the rowdy “Situation” reminds of Rod Stewart & the Faces and should probably have made the cut on the original album tracklist.

Ditto for “Harboring A Fugitive,” a feedback-laden slab o’ punky power-pop with ringing guitars and enchanting instrumental drone; tailor-made for ‘90s era rock radio it could have cut through the grunge onslaught on the FM band. The band’s contribution to Kevin Smith’s 1994 cinematic debut Clerks, “Making Me Sick,” is chunky and discordant enough that it should have leapt off the soundtrack and grabbed the audience by the ears. Of the alternative versions, none really stand out as superior to the final line-up, tho’ the charming “Tiny Pieces” comes close with Stinson doing his best Westerberg vocals. The unreleased instrumental cover of Terry Reid’s “Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Piece” is a fine, high-octane showcase for Stinson’s underrated six-string skills (and another track that should have made the album).      

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

For long-suffering Bash & Pop fans, Omnivore’s reissue of Friday Night Is Killing Me provides just the right amount of a good thing, offering the true believer a wealth of engaging bonus tracks that shed a light on the band’s in-studio creative process. The original eleven-song album stands proudly enough on its own as one of the long-lost semi-classic recordings of rock ‘n’ roll but was overshadowed (and out-sold) at the time by grunge-y outfits like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, and Pearl Jam. Whether with the Replacements or fronting Bash & Pop, though, Tommy Stinson a considerable talent as well as a talented songwriter and bandleader; Friday Night Is Killing Me the moment he stepped out of the shadows of his notorious band and began to make a name for himself. Grade: B (Omnivore Recordings, released September 8, 2017)

Buy the CD from Bash & Pop’s Friday Night Is Killing Me

Sunday, September 17, 2017

CD Preview: The Pretty Things’ Greatest Hits

The Pretty Things’ Greatest Hits
The Pretty Things are undeniably one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll outfits of the 1960s and ‘70s…though they weren’t always considered so. After scoring hits out of the box with timeless tracks like “Roslyn” and “Don’t Bring Me Down,” the PTs suffered through an extended streak that saw a largely indifferent response from the record-buying public after the mid-‘60s. But as the band evolved beyond its early British R&B roots into a psychedelic and subsequent hard rock sound, the Pretty Things released great albums like S.F. Sorrow (1968), Silk Torpedo (1974), and Savage Eye (1976) before breaking up in the late ‘70s.

The original PTs – singer Phil May and guitarist Dick Taylor – put the band back together in the early ‘80s and have been plugging away in the trenches more or less ever since (with a few hiatuses here and there). The latter-day band has released a few gems as well, including 2007’s Balboa Island and 2015’s critically-acclaimed The Sweet Pretty Things (Are In Bed Now, of Course…). The year 2015 also saw the release of Bouquets From A Cloudy Sky, a career-spanning box set honoring the band that influenced artists as diverse as David Bowie, the Clash, and the Libertines, among many others.

On October 13th, 2017 Madfish Records will release the Pretty Things’ Greatest Hits, a two-disc collection of (their hyperbole, not mine) “25 of the very best tracks from the dirtiest, loudest, most controversial and influential band the world has seen.” The first disc includes the band’s initial 1960s-era U.K. chart hits “Roslyn,” “Don’t Bring Me Down,” “Honey, I Need,” “Cry To Me,” and “Midnight to Six Man” as well as latter tracks like “S.F. Sorrow Is Born,” “Defecting Grey,” and “L.S.D.” It looks like Greatest Hits only covers the period of the band’s first four album releases (1965-1968) and eschews any of their fine ‘70s work (a second volume, maybe?) but it does include a 2016 recording of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” which was originally offered to the band to record but they passed on it.

The Pretty Things’ Greatest Hits also includes a bonus CD of an exclusive recorded performance of the band’s self-titled 1965 album form the legendary 100 Club in London. The album will be available in CD, vinyl, and digital download formats and includes comments on individual tracks from May and Taylor as well as liner notes from longtime band manager Mark St. John.

Buy the CD from The Pretty Things’ Greatest Hits

Friday, September 15, 2017

Hüsker Dü’s Grant Hart, R.I.P.

Hüsker Dü (Grant Hart, center)
Grant Hart – singer and drummer for the influential, almighty punk rock onslaught that was Hüsker Dü – passed away at the University of Minnesota Medical Center of complications from liver cancer and hepatitis. Hart was only 56 years old.

Hüsker Dü was formed in 1979 in St. Paul, Minnesota by singer/guitarist Bob Mould, bassist Greg Norton, and Hart. Initially known as a hardcore punk band, Hüsker Dü’s music eventually evolved into a more melodic yet aggressive sound that was fast and loud but offered intelligent, erudite lyrics courtesy of Mould and Hart. The band signed with Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn’s SST Records, releasing three groundbreaking albums for the label, including the classic 1984 double-LP set Zen Arcade and its follow-up, 1985’s New Day Rising.

Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade
Signing with Warner Brothers Records, the band released a pair of critically-acclaimed studio albums before the band’s break-up in 1987. Hüsker Dü would later become known as one of the most influential bands to emerge from the punk underground of the ‘80s, inspiring artists like Metallica, the Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nirvana, among many others.

Hart launched a lengthy solo career with his 1989 SST Records album Intolerance; Hart’s 2013 album The Argument was his most recent release. In between solo albums, Hart also fronted the critically-acclaimed band Nova Mob, releasing two albums, the best of which is 1991’s The Last Days of Pompeii.

Hart’s death at a too-young age comes just as interest in Hüsker Dü is growing due to the forthcoming release of the three-disc Savage Young Dü box set by The Numero Group. A lot of other folks have waxed eloquently on Hart’s death, so here are a couple of links to stuff you should read if you’re a Grant Hart and/or Hüsker Dü fan:

Fred Mills in Blurt online
Chris Willman in Variety online
Stephen Thomas Erlewine in City Pages
Rob Sheffield in Rolling Stone online

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Go Johnny Go! with Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran & Ritchie Valens

Go Johnny Go! DVD
Rock ‘n’ roll was still in its infancy as an art form in the late ‘50s, which led to the creation of a number of films (the predominant form of pop culture at the time) targeting the red-hot teenage market. Although today we look back in embarrassment at a lot of these movies, they helped create a youthful rock ‘n’ roll demographic that would carry the music better than five decades until the present day.

Directed by Paul Landres – who made movies like Destiny and Johnny Rocco and directed episodes of Maverick, Flipper, and other TV shows – Go Johnny Go! was released in 1959 and starred celebrity DJ Alan Freed, rocker Chuck Berry, and singers Johnny Clanton and Sandy Stewart as the romantic couple at the heart of the film. Clanton was a respected talent, part of the New Orleans music scene, working with legends like Dr. John (nee Mac Rebennack) and Allen Toussaint. Clanton’s best-known hit was 1958’s “Just A Dream,” the singer placing seven singles in the Top 40 during the 1950s and early ‘60s.

On October 17th, 2017 VCI Entertainment – the oldest surviving home video company in the USA – will reissue Go Johnny Go! on DVD, to be distributed by our friends at MVD Entertainment Group. Previously released under titles like Johnny Melody, The Swinging Story, and The Swinging Story of Johnny Melody, the film has become a cult favorite for its engaging story and rockin’ soundtrack. The film offers the only cinematic appearance of singer Ritchie Valens before his untimely death, and features Eddie Cochran’s third and final appearance on film.

Featuring a based-in-reality story of DJ Freed searching for the next rock star, the soundtrack to the 75-minute film features performances by Clanton, co-star Chuck Berry, and such luminaries as Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, Jackie Wilson, Harvey Fuqua, the Cadillacs, the Flamingos, and others. Go Johnny Go! is an interesting and entertaining artifact of the early rock ‘n’ roll era.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Grapefruit Records’ Looking At the Pictures In the Sky celebrates 1968!

Grapefruit Records' Looking At the Pictures In the Sky
Everybody is just so jazzed up because this year is the 50th anniversary of 1967, the vaunted “summer of love.” Well, kiddies, the year is officially 75% over and done with and while that still leaves roughly three months to celebrate the hedonistic excesses of ’67, a new year is right around the corner. The good folks at U.K. archival specialists Grapefruit Records must agree, ‘cause they already have their eyes on the semicentennial of 1968...

On September 29th, 2017 here in the USA, Grapefruit will release Looking At the Pictures In the Sky, a three-disc anthology of British psychedelic rock that features 77 tracks and rocks an almost four-hour running time. The set is packaged in a cool clambox and includes a 44-page booklet brimming over with biographical information and rare photographs of the artists featured. Best of all, the set is budget-priced – selling on for $19.99 as of this writing – a bargain considering the tonnage of music included.

And just what, exactly, will you hear on Looking At the Pictures In the Sky? Well, among the 77 tracks here, you’ll find a number of the ‘usual suspects’ like the Move (“Omnibus”), the Crazy World of Arthur Brown (“Spontaneous Apple Creation”), the Pretty Things (“Talking About the Good Times”), and Procol Harum (“In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence”) offering lesser-known, lysergic-drenched tunes released in 1968.

The set also includes songs from a number of cult bands whose early singles demand platinum-prices from collectors, bands like the Fire (“Father’s Name Is Dad”), Tuesday’s Children (“She”), the Spectrum (“Music Soothes the Savage Breast”), the Alan Bown (“For Your Thoughts”), Andy Ellison (“Cornflake Zoo”), Blonde On Blonde (“Country Life”), and Skip Bifferty (“Round and Round”).

Grapefruit Records’ Looking At the Pictures In the Sky
Grapefruit Records has also dug up some truly hard-to-find, bona fide psych-rock classics for Looking At the Pictures In the Sky, rare 45s by bands like Fleur de Lys, the Barrier, the Factory, the Glass Menagerie, Rupert’s People, and Mike Stuart Span that are virtually unknown outside of the rabid psych collectors’ community. Throw in a handful of singles by unlikely candidates like the Spencer Davis Group (“Time Seller”), Status Quo (“Technicolor Dreams”), Graham Gouldman (“Upstairs Downstairs”), and the Marmalade (“Mr. Lion”) as well as the rarity “Aeroplane,” the flip-side of the debut single by Jethro Tull (credited incorrectly to ‘Jethro Toe’) and what you have is a mind-blowing collection of cult classics, obscure B-sides, and unreleased treasures of British psychedelia circa ’68!

Looking At the Pictures In the Sky is a sequel, of sorts, to Grapefruit’s critically-acclaimed 2016 box set I’m A Freak, Baby: A Journey Through the British Heavy Psych and Hard Rock Underground Scene 1968-72 (check out the Rev’s review). The label’s efforts in preserving this creative era of rock ‘n’ roll history is a godsend for those of us who can’t spend $1,000 on a rare single. Check out the full tracklist of Looking At the Pictures In the Sky on the Grapefruit Records website and use the link below to order your copy from…your ears will thank me later.

Buy the box set from Various Artists - Looking At the Pictures In the Sky 

Friday, September 8, 2017

CD Review: Flamin' Groovies' Fantastic Plastic (2017)

Flamin' Groovies' Fantastic Plastic
Who would have thought that, after 38 years, the Flamin’ Groovies would see a reunion of original band member Cyril Jordan and longtime singer/guitarist Chris Wilson to write and record a new album? Well, fellow travelers, the word is true and Fantastic Plastic is the result of this holy matrimony of teenage kicks and cheap thrills. The first Groovies’ flapjack since 1979’s criminally-underrated Jumpin’ In The Night, the new platter was produced by Jordan and guitarist Joel Jaffe and features ten red-hot new tunes penned by the team of Jordan and Wilson as well as a pair of too-cool-for-school covers in NRBQ’s “I Want You Bad” and the Beau Brummels’ “Don’t Talk To Strangers.”

The Flamin’ Groovies were formed in San Francisco in1965 by guitarist Jordan and singer/guitarist Roy Loney. The independent release of a seven-song 10” EP called Sneakers led to a CBS Records contract, the label releasing the Groovies’ 1969 debut LP Supersnazz. The band’s fast-burning, high-octane blend of ‘50s-inspired and ‘60s-wired power-pop, punk, and garage-rock was easily a decade or three ahead of its time, and CBS dropped the Groovies after poor sales. This forced the band to play major label bingo over the next few years, timeless albums like1970’s Flamingo and 1971’s Teenage Head released by Kama Sutra, later albums released by Sire Records. Loney jumped ship in the mid-‘70s, replaced by Wilson for 1976’s classic Shake Some Action album. The band broke up in 1980 after releasing a couple more rockin’ records that were ignored by a music-buying hoi polloi mesmerized by Top 40 hit radio.

Flamin’ Groovies’ Fantastic Plastic

In spite of their tragic obscurity during the rough ‘n’ tumble decade of the ‘70s, the Groovies’ handful of albums have since become considered important signposts along the pop/rock highway, influencing artists like NRBQ, the dB’s, and the Plimsouls, among many, many others. Listening to Fantastic Plastic, I’m not going to tell you that it’s a “return to form” or that it “sounds as good as the old stuff,” although the long-admirable musical chemistry between Jordan and Wilson couldn’t be re-created in a laboratory with any currently-known scientific equipment. I will tell you, however, that Fantastic Plastic rocks from stem to stern, a dozen sizzling tracks to bend your brain and cause rhythmic spasms in your metatarsus.

Forty minutes of musical bliss rolls out slowly with “What The Hell’s Goin’ On,” a low-slung raunch ‘n’ roll groove asking a question for the ages with a grinding rhythm, greasy fretwork, and drawled vocals that sound drenched in 90-proof whiskey. The whirling energy of “End of the World” harkens back to the band’s psychedelic SF roots, with an understated riff sounding like Blue Oyster Cult on a peyote bender while melodic crescendos of sound wash over your ears. The Groovies’ hit full stride with “Don’t Talk To Strangers,” an obscure Beau Brummels single they give a full 1965 makeover, the band capturing the original’s throwback vibe with Byrdsian jangle and shards of hallucinogenic-drenched guitar.

Just Like A Hurricane

The band original “Let Me Rock” is equally invigorating, solid rhythm guitar and explosive percussion creating a cacophonic backdrop for Wilson’s soulful vocals and the band’s backing harmonies. Squealing guitar licks and dense production create an exhilarating listening experience while the “save our music” lyrics are delightfully retro. The Groovies’ influence on their contemporaries NRBQ flows both ways, and the band’s cover of the Q’s “I Want You Bad” is every bit as heartbreakingly yearning as the original. With a wall of sound blanketing the performance, ‘60s-styled guitars break free to create a vibe while the wistful vox are spot on. The rockabilly-fueled “Crazy Macy” is the unusual misstep here, the crack in the windshield that you’ll stare at for hours, wondering when it’s going to break loose.

Although a technically perfect pastiche of rockabilly sound with manic guitars and machine-gun rhythms, “Crazy Macy” falls short of the high standard set by the other material on Fantastic Plastic. Much better is the British Invasion-tinged “Just Like A Hurricane,” a roller-coaster ride of echoed vocals and claustrophobic rhythms with piercing git licks (anybody else here remember Speedy Keen?). The shimmering instrumental “I’d Rather Spend My Time With You” features noted producer and rock ‘n’ roll archivist Alec Palao on bass and Tubes/Todd Rundgren drummer Prairie Prince for a surf-rock inspired rave-up that reminds of Dick Dale’s classic romps. Fantastic Plastic closes with “Cryin’ Shame,” the Byrds/Roger McGuinn-styled guitar intro evolving into a lovely mid-tempo rocker with gang harmonies and sparkling fretwork balanced atop a steady rhythmic framework.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

There’s some mad genius level insanity going on in the grooves of Fantastic Plastic, the Flamin’ Groovies delivering a much better album than one would expect after nearly four decades of creative separation for songwriters Cyril Jordan and Chris Wilson. It’s like they dug a beloved old hot rod out of the garage from behind the stacks of old newspapers and worn-out tires and found that, with a little polish and some fresh gas, the monster cranks right up like it’s 1980 all over again.

The Flamin’ Groovies’ first album of the 21st century is by no means a classic on the level of Shake Some Action, but it ain’t chopped liver, either. The Groovies shake off the ring rust to deliver one of the most consistent – and consistently entertaining – recordings of a career that now spans seven decades. Fantastic Plastic promises old school rock ‘n’ roll in a manner unlike just about any other band spinning its wheels these days, the Flamin’ Groovies proudly carrying the torch for an era that refuses to die. Grade: B+ (Sonic Kicks Records, released September 22, 2017)

Buy the CD from Flamin’ Groovies’ Fantastic Plastic

Soulsville U.S.A. A Celebration of Stax

Soulsville U.S.A. A Celebration of Stax
As we’ve written about over the last couple of months, 2017 is the 60th anniversary of the legendary Memphis-based label Stax Records. As part of the year-long celebration of all things Stax-related, the good folks at Concord Music Group and Rhino Entertainment have been collaborating on some essential soul releases, but probably none as cool as this one...

On September 22nd, 2017 the two labels will add points to their cosmic karma with the release of Soulsville U.S.A.: A Celebration of Stax. A three-CD collection featuring a liver-quivering 60 tracks in total, the set spans the early 1960s through the mid-‘70s and features music from such soul legends as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T & the M.G.’s, Carla Thomas, the Dramatics, William Bell, the Staple Singers, and Sam & Dave, among many others. The collection also includes new liner notes by journalist Jeff Slate.

An update, of sorts, to the best-selling Stax 50: A 50th Anniversary Celebration box set that has sold better than 100,000 copies since its 2007 release, Soulsville U.S.A.: A Celebration of Stax ups the ante by including rare tracks by lesser-known (tho’ no less talented) Stax label artists like Mable John, Little Milton, and the Soul Children alongside hits from folks like Rufus Thomas (“Walking the Dog”), Eddie Floyd (“Knock On Wood”), Jean Knight (“Mr. Big Stuff”), and Shirley Brown (“Woman To Woman”) as well as the aforementioned label stars. Check out the complete track listing for Soulsville U.S.A.: A Celebration of Stax below and you’ll agree that this is some of the best soul music every made!

Disc 1
1. The Veltones - Fool In Love
2. Carla Thomas - Gee Whiz
3. The Mar-Keys - Last Night
4. William Bell - You Don't Miss Your Water
5. Booker T. & the MG's - Green Onions
6. Rufus Thomas - Walking The Dog
7. Wendy Rene - After Laughter (Comes Tears)
8. Otis Redding - I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)
9. The Astors - Candy
10. Sam & Dave - You Don't Know Like I Know
11. The Mad Lads - Don't Have To Shop Around
12. Carla Thomas - Let Me Be Good To You
13. Mable John - Your Good Thing (Is About To End)
14. Eddie Floyd - Knock On Wood
15. Sam & Dave - Hold On! I'm Comin'
16. Otis Redding - Try A Little Tenderness
17. Carla Thomas - B-A-B-Y
18. Booker T. & the MG's - Hip Hug-Her
19. The Bar-Kays - Soul Finger
20. Otis & Carla - Tramp

Disc 2
1. Albert King - Born Under A Bad Sign
2. Sam & Dave - Soul Man
3. Otis Redding - (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay
4. Eddie Floyd - Big Bird
5. Ollie & The Nightingales - I Got A Sure Thing
6. Booker T. & the MG's - Soul Limbo
7. Linda Lyndell - What A Man
8. Judy Clay & William Bell - Private Number
9. Eddie Floyd - I've Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)
10. The Staple Singers - The Weight
11. Johnnie Taylor - Who's Making Love
12. Carla Thomas - I Like What You're Doing (To Me)
13. William Bell - I Forgot To Be Your Love)
14. Booker T. & the MG's - Time Is Tight
15. Rufus Thomas - Do The Funky Chicken
16. The Emotions - So I Can Love You
17. Isaac Hayes - Walk On By
18. Johnnie Taylor & Carla Thomas - Just Keep On Loving Me
19. The Staple Singers - Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom)
20. Rufus Thomas - (Do The) Push And Pull (Part. 1)

Disc 3
1. Jean Knight - Mr. Big Stuff
2. Johnnie Taylor - Jody's Got Your Girl And Gone
3. Isaac Hayes - Never Can Say Goodbye
4. The Dramatics - Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get
5. The Staple Singers - Respect Yourself
6. Isaac Hayes - Theme From Shaft
7. The Bar-Kays - Son Of Shaft
8. Little Milton - That's What Love Will Make You Do
9. The Soul Children - Hearsay
10. The Dramatics - In The Rain
11. Isaac Hayes - Do Your Thing
12. Frederick Knight - I've Been Lonely For So Long
13. The Staple Singers - I'll Take You There
14. Mel & Tim - Starting All Over Again
15. Temprees - Dedicated To The One I Love
16. The Dramatics - Hey You! Get Off My Mountain
17. Johnnie Taylor - Cheaper To Keep Her
18. The Staple Singers - If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)
19. The Soul Children - I'll Be The Other Woman
20. Shirley Brown - Woman To Woman

Also on That Devil
Sam & Dave - Stax Classics CD review
Carla Thomas - Stax Classics CD review
Otis Redding - Live At the Whiskey A Go Go CD review 

Buy the box set from Soulsville U.S.A.: A Celebration of Stax

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Numero Group’s Hüsker Dü box set

Hüsker Dü

Archival experts The Numero Group have announced the label’s long-rumored and much anticipated Hüsker Dü box set. Scheduled for early November release, Savage Young Dü is a three-CD or four-LP set packaged in either tip-on jackets or die-cut sleeves and boxed in a linen-finished slipcase and including a 108pp or 144pp hardcover book with 40 previously unpublished photographs, a flyerography, a sessionography by Paul Hilcoff, and a 12,000 word essay by writer Erin Osmon.

The Numero Group’s Hüsker Dü box set
Savage Young Dü features 69 songs, 47 of them previously unreleased, all of them remastered from the original analog tapes and including Everything Falls Apart, the band’s first studio album, and an alternative version of their live debut, Land Speed Record. Savage Young Dü is priced at $40 plus shipping for the three-CD version and $50 plus shipping for the CD box including a limited-edition 7” EP titled Extra Circus that is only available for mail order customers. Featuring five previously-unreleased songs from the January 1983 Metal Circus sessions, Extra Circus is packaged in a full-color sleeve designed by band member Grant Hart. The four-LP vinyl version of the box set has already sold out but, as of this writing, the four-LP box with the 7” EP is still available and priced at $95 plus shipping from the label.

Hüsker Dü was formed in 1979 in St. Paul, Minnesota by singer/guitarist Bob Mould, bassist Greg Norton, and drummer/singer Grant Hart. Initially known as a hardcore punk band, Hüsker Dü’s music eventually evolved into a more melodic yet aggressive sound that was fast and loud but offered intelligent, erudite lyrics courtesy of Mould and Hart. The band signed with Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn’s SST Records, releasing three groundbreaking albums for the label, including the classic 1984 double-LP set Zen Arcade. Subsequently signing with Warner Brothers Records, the band released a pair of critically-acclaimed studio albums in 1985 and 1986 before the band’s break-up; a live album featuring 1987 band performances was later released in 1994.

Hüsker Dü would become one of the most influential bands to emerge from the punk underground of the ‘80s, inspiring bands like Metallica, the Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nirvana, among many others. Savage Young Dü offers an in-depth look into the band’s early, formative years, collecting original soundboard tapes, demos, and session masters recorded by Hüsker Dü between 1979 and 1983. Reasonably-priced even by the exaggerated standards of archive box sets, and a must-have for any Hüsker Dü fan’s collection, Savage Young Dü is available from The Numero Group website – get ‘em before they go!

Monday, September 4, 2017

CD Review: Jesse Ed Davis's Red Dirt Boogie - The Atco Recordings 1970-1972 (2017)

Jesse Ed Davis's Red Dirt Boogie
Jesse Ed Davis was an extraordinarily-talented guitarist who parlayed his skills into a career as an in-demand session player and touring musician. Originally part of country legend Conway Twitty’s band, Davis switched gears when he became an integral part of root ‘n’ blues legend Taj Mahal’s band, playing on Mahal’s first three albums. Introduced to session work by Leon Russell in the late ‘60s, Davis would lend his talents to recordings by John Lee Hooker, Willie Nelson, Gene Clark (The Byrds), and many others.

Lesser-known – and tragically so – was Davis’s short-lived career as a solo artist. Launching his solo career with a self-titled release on the Atlantic Records subsidiary Atco, the guitarist’s debut featured high-profile musical guests like Leon Russell, Eric Clapton, Gram Parsons, and Alan White (Yes). Two subsequent critically-acclaimed albums would quickly follow, 1972’s Ululu (also released by Atco Records) and 1973’s Keep Me Comin’ (recorded for CBS). None of his albums sold too well in spite of their inspired blend of rock, blues, jazz, and country sounds and Davis’s incredible guitarplay. Davis would retreat back into session work, performing on albums like Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies’ Man and John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges as well as on albums by artists like Harry Nilsson, George Harrison, Donovan, and Tracy Nelson (Mother Earth).

Jesse Ed Davis’s Red Dirt Boogie

Real Gone Music’s Red Dirt Boogie: The Atco Recordings 1970-1972 offers every song from Davis’s two Atco albums, seventeen tunes in all, with the exception of his take on the traditional country jaunt “Oh, Susannah.” In its place, the label added a pair of studio outtakes in the form of the previously-unreleased basic track for “Rock N Roll Gypsies” and an unreleased instrumental, “Kiowa Teepee (Washita Love Child).” As the disc is squeezed for space at roughly 75 minutes, I personally might have dropped the former track and kept the latter and run both of Davis’s Atco albums in full in their original sequencing. For whatever reason, producers Gordon Anderson, Pat Thomas, and Mike Thomas chose to shake things up, and songs from both albums are intertwined, eliminating any sense of artistic evolution.

These minor cavils aside, Red Dirt Boogie is an impressive collection overall, offering stellar musicianship and an inspired mix of original songs, traditional material, and well-chosen covers. Davis was the consummate root ‘n’ blues artist, equally conversant in several musical styles and their history, and his knowledge and skills show in the grooves. While “Every Night Is Saturday Night” is a lyrical trifle, an up-tempo party song with blasts of manic horns and a foot-shuffling rhythm, it does display some fierce guitar licks. “Washita Love Child” is much better, combining Davis’s Kiowa-Comanche Indian heritage with Okie soul and a gospel fervor with low-slung vocals, a driving rhythm, angelic backing vocals, and what sounds like a guitar battle between Davis and guest Eric Clapton.

Rock N Roll Gypsies

Davis’s original “Reno Street Incident” displays the guitarist’s not-inconsiderable skills as a songwriter, the lyrics showing a fine eye for detail, Davis’s laid-back, nuanced vocals telling a sordid tale while the band rambles on, the languid vibe punctured time-to-time by Davis’s razor-sharp fretwork. A version of George Harrison’s “Sue Me, Sue You Blues” was released before Harrison would record the song, Davis backed by a band that included Dr. John on keyboards and Stax Records legend Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass. Davis’s take on the song is more honky-tonk flavored than George’s, with twangy instrumentation and stinging guitarplay. A cover of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” strikes a low-down soulful groove that offers, perhaps, one of Davis’s best vocal performances, backed by gorgeous backing harmonies.

The title track from his sophomore album, Davis’s “Ululu” opens with shimmering guitar lines and ethereal vox before settling into a mid-tempo hippie ballad with a hearty bass line and Jim Keltner’s strong tho’ subtle percussion. A cover of Leon Russell’s “Alcatraz” offers a funky rhythmic backdrop for Davis’s passionate vocals, which are almost smothered by the mix, while a cover of Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever” twangs-and-bangs with the best of them, Davis’s vocals more spoken than song, and accompanied by shards of nicely manic guitar.

“Golden Sun Goddess,” from Davis’s debut, is a delightfully wan slab of shiny cosmic pop with otherworldly harmonies, a subtle underlying bass line (Billy Rich?), and elegant guitar. The mid-tempo “Rock N Roll Gypsies” is a vintage sing-a-long with gang vocals, fiery guitar licks, and heavy drumbeats (Chuck Blackwell?) while “Kiowa Teepee (Washita Love Child)” is a tribute to Davis’s Native American ancestry, beginning with an Indian chant and rhythms before bursting into an infectious instrumental jam based on the melody of “Washita Love Child.” It’s a stunning performance and a great way to close out Red Dirt Boogie.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Tragically, by the end of the ‘70s, Davis’s personal demons would catch up with him and the guitarist spent much of the decade of the ‘80s battling addiction to drugs and alcohol before his death by overdose at the too-young age of 43 years old. Davis had resurfaced during the mid-‘80s, playing with Native American poet and activist John Trudell as part of the Graffiti Band, but his meager back catalog of solo work has gone in-and-out-of-print frequently through the years and has been hard to find by any measure.

Real Gone’s Red Dirt Boogie collection does a fine job of rescuing this underrated talent from obscurity, preserving Davis’s solo work and placing it in context with informative liner notes by noted writer and producer Pat Thomas. Davis wasn’t the most accomplished singer, his voice sounding like a cross between Leon Russell and Randy Newman – except grittier – but he did a fine job in conveying heart and soul in his material. While he also wasn’t the most gifted songwriter, Davis’s lyrics nevertheless told heartfelt stories forged from his personal experience. Where Jesse Ed really shined was with his phenomenal six-string skills, which provided energy and life to every performance. Davis is an artist worth rediscovery, Red Dirt Boogie an invaluable collection of ‘70s-era roots ‘n’ blues music. Grade: B (Real Gone Music, released June 9, 2017)

Buy the CD from Jesse Ed Davis’s Red Dirt Boogie: The Atco Recordings 1970-1972