Friday, March 24, 2017

New Music Monthly: April 2017 Releases

April seems to bring the "revenge of the indies" as a number of high-profile indie-rock artists are releasing new material, with Father John Misty, the New Pornographers, Guided by Voices, and Robyn Hitchcock all dropping new albums this month. Classic rock legends Deep Purple and Ray Davies are both offering new LPs, and there's also a cool Cheap Trick rarities collection and other great stuff to be had in April! And don't forget – Record Store Day 2017 happens on Saturday, April 22nd!

Imelda May's Life Love Flesh Blood

Carptree - Emerger   BUY!
Deep Purple - InFinite   BUY!
Father John Misty - Pure Comedy   BUY!
Guided by Voices - August By Cake   BUY!
Nick Lowe - Nick The Knife   BUY!
Nick Lowe - The Abominable Showman   BUY!
Imelda May - Life Love Flesh Blood   BUY!
The New Pornographers - Whiteout Conditions   BUY!
Professor Louie & The Crowmatix - Crowin' The Blues   BUY!

Robyn Hitchcock's Robyn Hitchcock

Brinsley Schwarz - It's All Over Now   BUY!

The Black Angels - Death Song   BUY!
Ray Davies - Americana   BUY!
Robyn Hitchcock - Robyn Hitchcock   BUY!
Marc Jonson - Years   BUY!
Rhino Bucket - The Last Real Rock 'n' Roll   BUY!
Neil Young - Bottom Line 1974   BUY!

Cheap Trick'sThe Epic Archive, Vol. 1

Cheap Trick - The Epic Archive, Vol. 1 (1975-1979)   BUY!
Mark Lanegan Band - Gargoyle   BUY!
Leon Russell - Leon Russell [vinyl]   BUY!

(Album release dates are subject to change without notice and they don't always let me know, so there...)

Neil Young's Bottom Line 1974

Album of the Month: Neil Young's Bottom Line 1974 is a semi-legit import release of the rock legend's fabled (and often bootlegged) 1974 show at the infamous NYC venue. This unannounced solo acoustic set of eleven mostly new (at the time) songs runs slightly more than an hour and was fortunately caught on tape by an anonymous fan. Five of the songs Young performed debuted with this show, and ten of the eleven songs were unreleased at the time. Surprisingly, as beloved as this Bottom Line show is among Neil Young fans, he has yet to provide it an authorized release as part of his archive series.  

Leon Russell’s debut LP gets vinyl reissue!

Leon Russell's Leon Russell
Leon Russell was one of the most accomplished musicians in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll. As a session musician, he was a member of the legendary Wrecking Crew, and his honky tonk-inspired piano-pounding can be heard on albums by artists as diverse as the Beach Boys, the Ronettes, the Byrds, and Darlene Love, among many others. As a songwriter, his tunes like “Delta Lady,” “This Masquerade,” and “A Song For You” were hits for artists like Joe Cocker, the Carpenters, and George Benson. As a solo artist, Russell recorded better than 30 albums, scoring a number of hits in the mid-to-late ‘70s with works like Carney, Will O’ The Wisp, and Stop All That Jazz.

Even after he’d achieved rock stardom, Russell continued to lend his talents to recordings by friends like Bob Dylan, George Harrison, the Rolling Stones, and other heavyweights who would pick up the phone and give Leon a call when they wanted some rockin’ piano on their records. So, when time came for Russell to record his self-titled solo debut album in 1970, he simply opened up his address book and enlisted the help of talented folks like guitarists Eric Clapton and Delaney Bramlett, bassist Klaus Voorman, and drummer Buddy Harmon in the studio.

That wasn’t the end of the album’s all-star cast, though – there were guest appearances by 3/5 of the Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman & Charlie Watts) and 1/2 of the Beatles (George Harrison, Ringo Starr) as well as skilled musicians like saxophonist Jim Horn, drummer Jim Gordon, keyboardists Steve Winwood and Chris Stainton (Grease Band), and background singers like Joe Cocker, Bonnie Bramlett, and Merry Clayton. Aside from vocals, Russell also played piano and guitar as well co-producing the album with Denny Cordell for their independent Shelter Records label.

To justify the contributions of all the above-named talents, Russell also whipped up a stellar set of songs, and the track list of his debut LP includes such enduring tunes as “A Song For You,” “Shoot Out On the Plantation,” “Hummingbird,” “Delta Lady,” and “Give Peace A Chance” (co-written with Bonnie Bramlett). The album proved to be a modest hit, peaking at #60 on the Billboard chart and setting the stage for the following year’s Top 20 breakthrough album, Leon Russell and the Shelter People.

On April 28th, 2017 the fine folks at Audio Fidelity – best known for their swanky hybrid SACD archival releases – will reissue Leon Russell, the album, on deluxe 180g blue translucent vinyl with a gatefold sleeve. If you have any cash left over after Record Store Day, this is one you should really get a copy of; Leon Russell is a spectacular collection of performances by some of the biggest and brightest marquee names of 1960s-era rock and the artist’s first step towards his induction in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Buy the LP from Leon Russell's Leon Russell

Leon Russell’s Leon Russell track list:

Side One
1. A Song For You 
2. Dixie Lullaby
3. I Put A Spell On You
4. Shoot Out On the Plantation
5. Hummingbird

Side Two
1. Delta Lady
2. Price of Peace
3. Give Peace A Chance
4. Hurtsome Body
5. Pisces Apple Lady
6. Roll Away The Stone 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Chuck Berry, Rock ‘n’ Roll Pioneer, R.I.P.

Chuck Berry photo courtesy Universal Music
Chuck Berry photo courtesy Universal Music
Chuck Berry, inarguably one of the founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll, passed away at the age of 90 on March 18th, 2017. As reported by Rolling Stone magazine and elsewhere, St. Charles County Missouri police responded to a medical emergency at Berry’s home Saturday after where they found the rock legend unresponsive. First responders applied lifesaving techniques but were unable to revive Berry, who had recently battled pneumonia.

Born in St. Louis, Berry was interested in music at an early age, and he learned to play guitar as a teenager. By the early 1950s, Berry was playing professionally with the Johnnie Johnson Trio in St. Louis area nightclubs. A meeting with blues legend Muddy Waters in Chicago lead to an introduction to Chess Records founder Leonard Chess in 1955 and the rest, as they say, is history. Berry pitched Chess a song called “Maybellene,” which was based on an old country tune by the title of “Ida Red,” but with new lyrics and a red-hot guitar lick and he was quickly signed to the label.

Chuck Berry's Rockin' at the Hope
“Maybellene” proved to be a breakthrough single, hitting the top of the R&B chart and crossing over and peaking at #6 on the pop chart on its way to selling better than a million copies. A couple of Berry’s other 1955 single releases did well on the R&B chart, but he’d next hit the Top 30 with the classic 1956 tune “Roll Over Beethoven.” Berry hit his stride in 1957 and ’58 with a string of pop hits that included “School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell),” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and “Johnny B. Goode,” the songs appealing to a growing teenage market with their humorous lyrical themes of teen life. Berry was an in-demand performer as well, his T-Bone Walker-inspired guitar licks and on-stage charisma leading to profitable tours and film roles.

Berry’s career was sidetracked in the early 1960s by a racism-fueled federal conviction that put him in prison at the peak of his popularity. After serving 20 months of a three-year sentence, Berry’s emerged an angry, bitter man. Resuming his recording career in 1964, Berry would score a number of hits in the midst of the “British Invasion” that he helped inspire, including “Nadine (Is It You?),” “No Particular Place To Go,” “You Never Can Tell,” and “Promised Land.” By mid-decade, though, Berry left Chess and signed with Mercury Records, with whom he’d release five albums between 1966 and ’69, including Live at Fillmore Auditorium, his first live LP, recorded with the Steve Miller Band backing the rock legend.

Berry’s Mercury Records years weren’t particularly commercially successful, yielding no hit singles and placing only one album in the upper regions of the charts. He remained a top concert draw, though, and Berry subsequently returned to the Chess label in 1970, releasing a pair of well-received albums in Back Home (1970) and San Francisco Dues (1971). Berry would score the biggest hit of his career in 1972 with the novelty song “My Ding-a-Ling,” taken from The London Chuck Berry Sessions album.

The London Chuck Berry Sessions
Chasing a trend that they had started with similarly successful collections from blues legends Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, Chess Records sent Berry to London to record The London Chuck Berry Sessions with British musicians. Side one of the original vinyl LP was made up of studio recordings, while side two featured a truncated performance from the Lanchester Arts Festival in Coventry, England. The eleven-minute performance of “My Ding-a-Ling” was edited down to four minutes for single release and earned surprising airplay on both AM and FM radio, earning Berry his first #1 single, the song topping the charts in the U.S as well as in the U.K. and Canada, pushing the album to #8 on the stateside pop chart.

A live performance of “Reelin’ and Rockin’” from The London Chuck Berry Sessions was later released as a single and hit the Top 30 in both the U.S. and the U.K. (many FM radio stations played the entire eighteen-minute span of “Reelin’ and Rockin’” and “My Ding-a-Ling” from the album). It would prove to be Berry’s last hurrah, however, as his subsequent (and last) album for Chess, a self-titled 1975 disc, failed to chart. Berry wouldn’t record again for four years and released his final studio album, the critically-acclaimed Rock It, in 1979 on the Atco Records label.

Berry continued to tour heavily, booking shows entirely on reputation and performing as many as 100 nights a year through the late ‘70s and well into the 1990s. Berry would arrive for a show with his guitar in hand, demand that he be paid in cash, and hire a local band for back-up, expecting them to know his music. This led to erratic and often unsatisfactory performances, but Berry continued the practice until health problems forced his retirement from the road in 2011. His ‘cash only’ requirement from promoters also brought Berry to the attention of the IRS, the rocker eventually pleading guilty to tax evasion in 1979, sentenced to four months in prison and 1,000 hours of community service, performing benefit concerts.

Chuck Berry's Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll
Although he was no longer a presence on the charts in the latter half of his career, Berry still enjoyed a number of milestones. He was asked to perform at the White House by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, received a Grammy® Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984 and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2000. Berry was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame when it opened in 1986 and during that same year, director Taylor Hackford made the documentary film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll of a concert organized by Keith Richards for Berry’s 60th birthday. The film included pop, rock, and blues talents like Eric Clapton, Etta James, Robert Cray, and Linda Ronstadt performing on stage with Berry.

Berry had stopped touring over the last few years, but he still performed one Wednesday night a month at Blueberry Hill, a St. Louis restaurant and bar, from 1996 to 2014, backed by the Blueberry Hill band of pianist Robert Lohr, bassist Jimmy Marsala, and drummer Keith Robinson. It was this trio that Berry took into the studio to record what would become his final studio album. On his 90th birthday in October 2016, Berry announced the 2017 release of Chuck, his first studio recording since 1979’s Rock It. Dedicated to his wife of 68 years, Themetta Berry, Chuck features his son Charles Berry Jr. on guitar and his daughter Ingrid playing harmonica on a set of mostly new songs.

If Elvis Presley inspired a generation of young teens to pursue a life in rock ‘n’ roll, Chuck Berry provided the musical blueprint for them to follow. His importance to the popularity and evolution of rock music cannot be overstated and he leaves us with a wealth of great music that will live forever...

Friday, March 17, 2017

Blues Legend James Cotton, R.I.P.

Blues legend James Cotton
James Cotton photo by Christopher Durst
We’re immensely saddened to report on the death of blues legend James Cotton, who passed away on March 16th, 2017 of pneumonia at St. David’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas. Cotton was 81 years old. The powerful sound of Cotton’s harmonica helped define the evolution of the blues during the 1970s onward, and he was a constant presence on the stage, touring worldwide for better than 60 years.

Known around the globe as “Superharp,” Cotton recorded nearly 30 solo albums, earning the talented singer and harp player six Living Blues magazine music awards, ten Blues Music Awards from The Blues Foundation, and a Grammy® Award for his 1996 album Deep In The Blues. Widely considered one of – if not the greatest – harmonica players in the blues, Cotton’s innovative and fluid style inspired a generation of bluesmen and women to follow. Cotton was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2006, his status ranking him alongside fellow harmonica greats like Little Walter, Junior Wells, and Sonny Boy Williamson.

Born on a cotton plantation in Tunica, Mississippi in July 1935, Cotton was working as a musician by age nine, learning to play the harmonica from Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller). Cotton subsequently toured with Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf before hooking up with Chicago blues legend Muddy Waters at the tender age of 20. Cotton would spend the next 12 years touring and recording with Waters before launching his solo career in earnest during the mid-1960s. He’d return to perform with his old boss on Waters’ classic 1970s-era albums like Hard Again and I’m Ready, which were produced by Johnny Winter.

James Cotton's Cotton Mouth Man
Cotton’s stellar work with Waters aside, he also enjoyed a long career as a solo artist, releasing The James Cotton Blues Band album in 1967 on Vanguard Records. Cotton recorded worthwhile albums for a handful of labels through the 1960s and ‘70s, including Blind Pig Records, Verve, and Buddah Records. It was Cotton’s work for Alligator Records that is best-remembered, however, the harpslinger signing with the esteemed Chicago blues label in 1984, releasing two great albums, including a bona fide blues classic in High Compression. In 1990, Cotton teamed up with fellow harp players Junior Wells, Carey Bell, and Billy Branch for the critically-acclaimed Alligator release Harp Attack!

After leaving Alligator, Cotton went on to record a series of strong albums for labels like Verve, Telarc, and Tomato Records, including the aforementioned Deep In The Blues. Cotton returned to Alligator in 2010, enjoying a late-career revival with Grammy®-nominated albums like that year’s Giant and 2013’s Cotton Mouth Man. Aside from the many blues artists that Cotton lent his talents to throughout his lengthy and successful career – fellow legends like B.B. King, Freddie King, and Taj Mahal – the harpist was a favorite of rock ‘n’ rollers as well, and Cotton toured and recorded with artists like Janis Joplin, Santana, the Grateful Dead, and Johnny Winter, among many others. A legendary talent, the passing of James Cotton leaves a big void in the world of the blues.

Nick Lowe reissues coming from Yep Roc!

Nick Lowe's Nick the Knife
The gang at Yep Roc Records did the world of rock ‘n’ roll a major favor back in 2011 when they gave British rock legend Nick Lowe’s classic 1979 album Labour of Lust its first proper U.S. release in roughly two decades. The years have since slipped by, but Yep Rock is again raiding the Lowe archives to reissue a long-lost pair of gems. On April 7th, 2017 Yep Roc will reissue Lowe’s 1982 album Nick the Knife (his long-anticipated follow up to Labour of Lust) and the following year’s The Abominable Showman on both CD and vinyl formats.

Lowe first came to prominence during the British pub-rock scene of the early ‘70s as a member of the legendary band Brinsley Schwarz. Between 1969 and ’75, Lowe sang, played bass, and wrote songs for the band’s six albums, which today are cherished collectibles for the faithful pub-rock fan. After the break-up of Brinsley Schwarz, Lowe tinkered around as a solo artist, releasing singles like “So It Goes” for Stiff Records, where he also worked as the label’s staff producer (working with Elvis Costello, the Damned, and Dr. Feelgood). Lowe also performed as part of the band Rockpile with Dave Edmunds. Lowe released his solo debut, Jesus of Cool (titled Pure Pop for Now People in the U.S.) in 1978, followed by the hit album Labour of Lust.

Nick Lowe's The Abominable Showman
After marrying singer Carlene Carter (Johnny Cash’s stepdaughter) in 1979, Lowe recorded a single album with Rockpile, 1980’s Seconds of Pleasure, the band enjoying a modest hit when the album charted Top 30 in the U.S. After the break-up of Rockpile (whose members had also played played on various Lowe and Edmunds solo LPs), Lowe returned to his solo career with Nick the Knife. Recruiting former Rockpile bandmates Billy Bremner (guitar) and Terry Williams (drums), Lowe brought friends like guitarist Martin Belmont (from the Rumour) and keyboardists Steve Nieve (the Attractions) and Paul Carrack (Squeeze) into the studio. Nick the Knife features a solid set of Lowe’s pop-rock originals (including two songs co-written with Carter, who also sings on the album) as well as a version of the Rockpile song “Heart.”

The following year’s The Abominable Showman found Lowe returning to his pub-rock roots, recording with a stripped-down band that included Belmont, Carrack, and drummer Bobby Irwin, who formed the core of Lowe’s Cowboy Outfit backing band throughout the decade. The album offers up some fine rockin’ country-tinged moments and a few great songs like “Ragin’ Eyes,” “We Want Action,” and “Time Wounds All Heels,” the last two co-written with Carter. A cover of Moon Martin’s “Paid the Price” fits nicely on the track list.

Reissues of both of these long out-of-print albums is certainly welcome, and comes at a nice time as Lowe’s friends and Yep Roc labelmate’s Los Straitjackets will be releasing their tribute to the songwriter with their new album, What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and …Los Straitjackets. It’s the year of Nick Lowe, y’all!

Buy the vinyl from
Nick Lowe's Nick the Knife
Nick Lowe's The Abominable Showman

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Real Gone Goes for Marc Jonson & Cheap Trick in April!

Marc Jonson's Years
The good folks at Real Gone Music have announced their April releases and there are a couple of real ear-grabbers on the list that will certainly be of interest to That Devil readers. The first is a long-overdue, first time release of the obscure debut album by folk-rocker Marc Jonson, the other a dive into the archive of rock ‘n’ roll legends Cheap Trick, curated by none other than the band’s beloved drummer Bun E. Carlos.

Characterized as a lost psych-folk/baroque pop masterpiece, singer/songwriter Marc Jonson was signed to the legendary Vanguard Records label when he recorded his self-produced 1972 debut album Years. Compared to such critically-acclaimed recordings as Tim Buckley’s Goodbye & Hello and Phil Ochs’ Pleasures of the Harbor, Jonson’s Years featured his stellar poetic songs and a lush psychedelic-drenched pop soundtrack.

For whatever reason, Years slipped into the dustbin of history, and hasn’t been reissued or even bootlegged on CD or LP during the ensuing years. Luckily, Marc Jonson himself didn’t suffer a similar fate – rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon recorded three of Jonson’s songs for his 1981 RCA Records album Are You Gonna Be The One. As Jonson’s status as a songwriter grew, artists as diverse as the Roches, Dave Edmunds, Paul Butterfield, Suzanne Vega, Willie Nile, and the Smithereens, among others, would record his songs.

Real Gone’s CD April 21st, 2017 reissue of Years offers four bonus tracks, including a non-album single, “Coming To Boston,” and the original 7” single mixes of “Rainy Dues,” “Mother Jane” and “Fly” for a total of thirteen tracks altogether on the CD. Jonson's Years was produced for reissue by Pat Thomas and re-mastered from the original tapes by John Baldwin and includes rare vintage photos and an interview with Jonson by writer Steve Simels.

Cheap Trick's The Epic Archives, Vol. 1 (1975-1979)
Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Cheap Trick should need no introduction, the band rolling off nearly two-dozen studio and live albums since its formation in 1973, including such smashes as 1978’s Cheap Trick at Budokan (peaking at #4 on the charts on its way to three million flapjacks sold), 1979’s Dream Police (#6 on the charts, Platinum™ sales), and 1988’s Lap of Luxury (#16 on the charts, Platinum™ sales). On April 28th, 2017 Real Gone will release The Epic Archives, Vol. 1 (1975-1979), an 18-track compilation of Cheap Trick rarities, demos, and unreleased live tracks chosen for the CD by original band drummer Bun E. Carlos.

The Epic Archives, Vol. 1 (1975-1979) includes three demo songs (“Come On, Come On,” “Southern Girls,” and “Taxman, Mr. Thief”) recorded by Cheap Trick in 1975 at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis (where Big Star made its magic) before the band had a record deal. Three studio outtakes circa 1976-77 and produced by Jack Douglas are included, as are live versions of “You’re All Talk” and “Goodnight” from 1977, a couple of instrumentals, promo-only tracks, and other goodies that should keep the true Cheap Trick fans up at night listening to the stereo.

The compilation was produced by Tim Smith and re-mastered by Vic Anesini at Battery Studios in New York and includes cool new photos as well as song-by-song comments by Carlos as transcribed for this release by noted writer Ken Sharp.

Buy the CDs from
Marc Jonson's Years
Cheap Trick's The Epic Archives, Vol. 1 (1975-1979)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

CD Review: Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band's Front Porch Sessions (2017)

Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band's Front Porch Sessions
Reverend Peyton of “Big Damn Band” fame has carved out his own little corner of the blues world, straddling the fine line between traditional country blues and contemporary Americana (i.e. an inspired hybrid of country twang, muddy blues, and folk music) with original songs cranked out in a high-energy, octane-fueled fervor. The Big Damn Band’s sound is as minimalist as one can achieve in a recording studio, just the Reverend’s finger-picked guitar licks and low growl vocals, wife Breezy Peyton’s raucous percussion (washboard, typically, but also handclaps and tambourine), and the occasional drummer, this time around it’s Max Senteney with his suitcase drum. They can make a lot of noise for three people, but it’s a joyful noise.

Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band’s Front Porch Sessions

The entire Big Damn Band ensemble is as portable – and powerful – as the blues can be, like Charley Patton picking up his guitar and hitchhiking down Highway 61 to the next town over. The Big Damn Band has toured better than 200 nights a year since the 2004 independent release of The Pork n’ Beans Collection album, opening for such like-minded fellow travelers as Jimbo Mathus and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band as well as for punk and metal outfits like Flogging Molly and Clutch; they’ve also performed on the Van’s Warped Tour. So while the band’s overall appeal is to an audience that skews toward the youthful end of the rock ‘n’ blues experience, there’s a lot to like for we tired, middle-aged blues fans as well.

Front Porch Sessions is the latest from Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, and the follow-up to their critically-acclaimed 2015 set So Delicious. This time around the trio has hooked up with Americana marketing giant Thirty Tigers to release Front Porch Sessions on their own indie Family Owned Records imprint. Musically, Reverend Peyton never strays far from his Delta-haunted old-school blues sound – no sense in re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, you know – and nowhere is this more evident than on the passionate, claustrophobic cover of the great Furry Lewis’s “When My Baby Left Me.” Peyton’s guitar lines shimmer and quiver like the ghost of Son House, his anguished vocals propelled into an otherworldly emotional realm by the song’s rudimentary percussion.

Peyton’s original “One Bad Shoe” is an engaging slice o’ pure country blues; the song’s rambling bass line is interwoven with twangy guitar and the singer’s woeful, broke-ass tale of poverty is as relevant today as it was in the terrible 1920s. Less dour, the upbeat “It’s All Night Long” merges the fever of a tent revival with the beer-drenched energy of the juke-joint, the song a rowdy, mostly-instrumental romp punctuated by whoops and hollers above Peyton’s mesmerizing fretwork. “One More Thing” is an equally powerful take on modern life, Peyton’s lyrics perfectly capturing the reality of life on the economic edge while his guitar gently moans. There are only three cover songs on Front Porch Sessions, the last of which – Blind Willie Johnson’s “Let Your Light Shine” – the best of all, the song provided a Southern gospel feel with Peyton’s spiritually-inspired vocals, stinging guitar licks, and plenty of foot-stompin’ percussion.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Modern blues fans pay a lot of lip service to traditional blues, but most of ‘em were weaned on Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan records. It’s a sure bet that many seldom pull out the crusty old Charley Patton or Son House records and play them…1920s-vintage recordings are difficult to listen to, they sound downright alien with their primitive recording techniques, and it takes a lot of historical context to appreciate them.

What Reverend Peyton and his Big Damn Band have done is take that hallowed antique blues sound and made it palatable for young, modern audiences. As witnessed by Front Porch Sessions, Peyton has done an admirable job of absorbing his influences and creating something vibrant, original, and contemporary that pays reverence to his blues forebears and sounds like it should be lighting up a juke-joint stage. Front Porch Sessions is another fine effort from a skilled practitioner of vintage blues. Grade: B+ (Family Own Records/Thirty Tigers, released March 10, 2017)

Buy the CD from Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band's Front Porch Sessions

CD Review: Richard Palmer-James' Takeaway (2016)

Richard Palmer-James' Takeaway
This wonderful little album flew under the radar for most of us, 2016 a horrible year where the enthusiastic appreciation of the year’s good music was dampened greatly by the parade of rock ‘n’ roll obituaries that horrified us all. Somewhere in between the bad news and the worse news, Richard Palmer-James' lovely Takeaway album flitted by, ignored by both the mainstream music press and many music blogs that claim to revel in such indie-rock fare.

For the unknowing, Richard Palmer-James should be a huge name in rock music rather than the sorely overlooked footnote he seems to have become. A friend and early bandmate of prog-rock legend John Wetton, as “Richard Palmer” he was a founding member of the British art-rock outfit Supertramp, contributing to the band’s 1970 self-titled album as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter. A gifted wordsmith in a band with two other strong songwriters – Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson – Palmer left Supertramp shortly after the release of the band’s debut.

Palmer-James resurfaced when his old pal Wetton took a gig with Robert Fripp in the restructured, mid-1970s version of King Crimson. The band’s original lyricist, Pete Sinfield, had been ousted by Fripp and Crimson was looking for a new word-wrangler. Enter Palmer- James, who contributed lyrics to what are widely considered to be three of the band’s best, and most influential albums – 1973’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (1973) and 1974’s Starless and Bible Black and Red – after which Fripp broke up the band until the ‘80s. Palmer-James would later perform with former Crimson members Wetton and David Cross, releasing a 1979 album as Jack Knife with Wetton. 

Richard Palmer-James’ Takeaway

Palmer-James has never forged much of a solo career as a recording artist, seemingly preferring his status as a lyricist. If he’d done nothing more than help launch Supertramp and bolster King Crimson during a tumultuous time, he’s earned his place in rock ‘n’ roll history. So it’s no surprise that Takeaway, Palmer-James’ solo debut, coming so late in the artist’s career, should be overlooked in today’s mad, mad world. ‘Tis a shame, too, ‘cause Takeway is a powerful showcase for a talented scribe and composer with a unique, timeless sound that would certainly appeal to today’s hordes of indie-rock fans. Palmer-James’ vocals remind a lot of the late Leonard Cohen’s, a sonorous half-spoken/half-song voice that draws equally from rock, blues, and folk traditions and place a songs’ emphasis on the literary lyrics.

Takeaway kicks off with Palmer-James’ charming “Aerodrome,” a wistful look at lost youth by an aging protagonist that is swirling with odd, imaginative instrumentation. “A Very Bad Girl” is a more traditional rock song, with some fine rockabilly-tinged guitar and a walking bass line underscoring the singer’s clever, humorous verses. The poetic “Chances Passing” offers Palmer-James’ typically obtuse lyrics punctuated by some elegant fretwork and minimalist percussion while “Dance For Me” is a bluesy, up-tempo, lusty tune with wiry guitar licks and engaging rhythms.

With a world seemingly in ruins, “Honest Jim” looks for a hero among the chaos with cheeky lyrics, filigree guitar-strum, and syncopated percussion. The languid “Guano Blues” is based on a bluesy piano run reminiscent of Pinetop Perkins while Palmer-James’ spry vocals dance lively above the shuffling rhythm. The lush “Saving You From Drowning” is a hauntingly beautiful, seemingly auto-biographical ballad that features Palmer-James’ wan vocals supported by a deceptively mesmerizing soundtrack with a mournful romantic undercurrent created by sparse use of accordion to provide accents. The album’s title track is a similar construct, its familiar melancholy melody and lovely instrumentation perfectly underlining Palmer-James’ yearning vocals.         

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Richard Palmer-James’ Takeaway works as an album on a lot of different levels – Americana aficionados would appreciate his cross-genre hybrid sound and indie-rock fans could embrace his singer/songwriter prowess – while the rest of us can simply enjoy the album’s throwback sound that contemporizes 1970s-era folk-rock for a modern era. A wonderfully-gifted songwriter, evocative vocalist, and underrated guitarist, Richard Palmer-James has taken decades to do so, but he’s delivered an impressive, engaging debut album with Takeaway.

‘Tis all the more the shame that today’s media landscape offers little room for such a charming, personal album to thrive commercially. That shouldn’t stop you from checking out Takeaway, however, Richard Palmer-James a talent worth your time to discover! Grade: B+ (Primary Purpose Records, released October 14, 2016)

Buy the CD from Richard Palmer-Jones' Takeaway

CD Preview: The Creation’s Action Painting

The Creation's Action Painting
Those of you who aren’t ‘60s rock fanatics (Greg Prevost, Mike Stax, I’m looking at you guys!), may not be familiar with the Creation. One of the great cult bands of ‘60s-era British rock, the Creation were what aficionados term a “freakbeat” band, their style a unique mix of psychedelic-rock, period pop, guitar-driven garage-rock, and avant-garde experimentation rare in commercially-oriented rockers of the era. The band’s best-known tune is, perhaps, “Painter Man,” a psych-drenched, radio-ready slab o’ wax that hit the Top 40 in the U.K. in 1966 while also charting in Germany.

Although the Creation enjoyed mixed chart returns with other single releases like “Making Time,” “If I Stay Too Long,” and “Life Is Just Beginning” circa 1966-68, and they were hot stuff in Germany and northern Europe, their commercial prospects dwindled in their homeland and they were never able to find a stateside audience. Notable for American Shel Talmy (The Who, The Kinks) producing their early singles, and for musicians like Mick Avory (The Kinks) and Ronnie Wood (The Faces) passing through its ranks, the Creation drew predictable comparisons to the Who. In reality, the band pursued a unique sound created by the wandering muse of guitarist Eddie Phillips that would influence a generation of British musicians to follow, including the Jam’s Paul Weller and even contemporary Pete Townshend. What the Velvet Underground was in terms of inspiration for American rockers, the Creation was to England’s guitar-wielding youth.

The Creation never released a full-length album during their brief career, although there have been various compilations appearing in the years (and decades) since, the most notable of these being the wonderful 24-track “Our music is red – with purple flashes” CD. On March 17th, 2017 the Numero Group will release the final word on the Creation with Action Painting, a two-disc compilation available on both CD and vinyl that collects every studio recording ever made by the band, including rare U.S. single releases. All 46 tracks here have been re-mastered from the original master tapes by producer Shel Talmy; including new stereo mixes where previously unavailable.

Action Painting includes a very cool 80-page hardbound book (CD version only) featuring new essays from Dean Rudland and esteemed music historian Alec Palao that tell the band’s story in depth and details the Creations’ studio sessions. The book offers up dozens of rare, previously-unpublished photos of the band as well as four songs by early ‘60s pre-Creation freakbeat quartet the Mark Four that featured original Creation vocalist Kenny Pickett, guitarist Phillips, and future Kinks bassist John Dalton. Taken altogether, Numero’s Action Painting provides as detailed a history of this important, influential band as is possible, the set hopefully placing the Creation’s groundbreaking sound in proper context and raising their status to match that of rock ‘n’ roll contemporaries like the Who and the Kinks.

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

CD Review: John Lee Hooker's The Modern, Chess & VeeJay Singles Collection 1949-62 (2016)

John Lee Hooker's The Modern, Chess & VeeJay Singles Collection 1949-62
Enigmatic bluesman John Lee Hooker was a one-of-a-kind talent whose career began in the early 1940s and continued through the late ‘90s. While Hooker certainly experienced his share of hard times and misfortune, his late career efforts earned him critical acclaim (including a couple of Grammy® Awards), some measure of commercial success, and the adoration of long-time fans and acolytes like Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, and Keith Richards, among many others. Born in (or around) Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1912 (maybe), Hooker left home at the age of 14, sojourning out of the Delta and eventually landing in Detroit in 1943 after spending a while in Memphis and Cincinnati. While in Detroit, Hooker earned a place in the city’s competitive and often cutthroat blues scene, earning a reputation as an electrifying performer.

Hooker eventually came to the attention of producer Bernard Besman, who took the bluesman into the studio to record 18 sides, many of which were licensed by Besman to the Bihari Brothers for their L.A. based Modern Records label. Hooker’s first hit single came from those early sessions, the classic “Boogie Chillun,” released by Modern in 1949, peaking at #6 on the Billboard magazine R&B chart. From this point on, Hooker’s discography becomes a little murky; although he would sign contracts with a number of labels through the years, he would also record for any fly-by-night outfit that offered him a handful of dollars up front (royalties be damned!). Thus there are many, many Hooker recordings released under such often thinly-veiled guises as John Lee Booker, Johnny Lee, Texas Slim, and Delta John, among other nom de plumes.

John Lee Hooker’s The Modern, Chess & Veejay Singles Collection 1949-62

Acrobat’s whopping four-disc set The Modern, Chess & Veejay Singles Collection 1949-62 attempts to put Hooker’s early recordings into proper perspective. Reminding us that the music biz in the mid-20th century ran at 45rpm, the set collects 101 of Hooker’s songs that were released as singles (A-and-B-sides) by the Modern, Chess, and Vee-Jay Records labels during the first 10-12 years of the bluesman’s fledgling career. These songs are the foundation upon which Hooker’s immense legacy is built, and they stand as among some of the headiest blues ever recorded. Acrobat places the songs in chronological order, with as detailed session notes as are possible better than half-a-century after the actual events, the detailed CD booklet providing a convenient timeline for this first stage of Hooker’s career.

Of Hooker’s early sides, a handful stand out and are familiar even the casual blues fans – songs like the aforementioned “Boogie Chillun,” “Crawlin’ King Snake,” “I’m In The Mood,” and “Dimples” extending the bluesman’s influence as far from the Motor City as the U.K. and Europe. His droning, boogie-blues style would inspire young white musicians such as Canned Heat (with whom Hooker would later record an album) and George Thorogood to pick up the boogie-blues mantle. There are a lot of fine early recordings here that offer Hooker’s talents in a different light, however, solo works like the acoustic-based 1949 track “Hobo Blues” (the #5 charting B-side to the #9 charting single “Hoogie Boogie”) evincing an undeniable Delta blues influence.

John Lee’s House Rent Boogie

Hooker’s energetic “John Lee’s House Rent Boogie” (1950) crosses boogie with a talking blues narrative to tell a woeful tale of misfortune that offers up some of the artist’s most stunning and innovative fretwork (the song later raucously covered by Thorogood on his 1977 debut album). Hooker’s unique perspective on rhythm and tempo made it difficult for other musicians to accompany him, but in 1951 he began recording with guitarist Eddie Kirkland, which added another dimension to his performances as one can hear with the classic “I’m In The Mood.” Hooker’s vocals on the song are otherworldly, the juxtaposed guitars providing an unusual and engaging rhythm to the track. “Ride ‘Til I Die” is a red-hot slab o’ refined, jazzy boogie-blues recorded with a full band including Boogie Woogie Red pounding the 88s, drummer Jimmy Turner slappin’ the skins, and Johnny Hooks blastin’ away on the sax.

Although Hooker would frequently ‘appropriate’ traditional blues songs as his own (and his various producers would insert themselves as co-writers so as to grab a share of the publishing), he would also perform the occasional cover song. Hooker’s reading of the Big Bill Broonzy gem “Key To The Highway,” with Kirkland on second guitar, is rowdier than versions cranked out by rockers like Eric Clapton, delivered here with more of a Holy Spirit-inspired, tent revival gospel fervor. The timeless “Dimples,” which was Hooker’s first U.K. chart hit, is built on George Washington’s infectious walking bass line and Eddie Taylor’s rhythm guitar atop which dance Hooker’s jaunty vocals.

Boom Boom

Re-recorded a decade after they originally hit the charts, “Boogie Chillun” and “Crawling Kingsnake” are afforded a band treatment the second time around, Eddie Taylor’s guitar and Earl Phillips’ drums providing a foundation on the former song upon which Hooker embellishes with strong vocals and his jagged guitar licks while their minimal accompaniment on the latter song, along with Hooker’s deep, breathless vocals, provide for an elemental performance. The rockin’, raging “Boom Boom,” released by the Chicago-based, African-American owned Vee-Jay Records label in 1962, would prove to be Hooker’s most wide-reaching hit, peaking at #16 R&B and #60 on the pop charts while also reaching across the ocean to hit #16 on the U.K. charts three decades later, in 1992, after being used in a British TV advertisement.

Recorded with a full studio band, including horns, guitarist Larry Veeder, bass legend James Jamerson, and drummer Benny Benjamin, the song’s striking, up-tempo boogie rhythms, Detroit pianist Joe Hunter’s tinkling keys, and Hooker’s growling, lusty vocals inspired Eric Burdon and the Animals to record their take on the song in 1964, hitting high on the charts and prompting a wealth of versions to follow by folks like Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, the Shadows of Knight, and Dr. Feelgood, among others. Hooker himself would revisit the song several times during his lengthy career, re-recording it under the titles “Boom Boom Boom” (1968) and “Bang Bang Bang Bang” (1973), and reverting back to the original title for his 1992 album of the same name. Hooker’s most enduring and, perhaps, best-known song, he can be seen playing it in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers as a Chicago street musician.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Make no mistake – there are a helluva lot of John Lee Hooker compilations to spend your hard-earned coin on, many comprised of much of the same material found on The Modern, Chess & Veejay Singles Collection 1949-62. This budget-priced, compact four-disc set offers a lot of bang for your buck, however, compiling over 100 of the Hook’s best sides and clearly tracing the evolution of his early sound, from lonesome Delta troubadour to charismatic R&B bandleader. These performances by the Rock & Roll and Blues Hall of Fame inductee have inspired a couple generations of blues and blues-rock musos on both sides of the pond.

If you’re only familiar with Hooker’s late-career masterworks such as The Healer or Mr. Lucky and you’re interested in the blues giant’s roots, this is a fine collection to introduce you to the charms of one of the greatest bluesmen that ever walked out of the Delta and into legend. I’ve docked it a full grade here – not for the powerful music, but rather for the shabby care with which the folks at Acrobat approached the overall mastering of the set. Surely there were better sources for these great performances (especially the earliest ones), which far too often sound like they were taped from somebody’s record collection. No matter, because the performances here overshadow the sonic inadequacies. Grade: B (Acrobat Music, released October 7, 2016)

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Los Straitjackets meet the Jesus of Cool!

Los Straitjackets’ What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets
Those Mexican wrestler-masked instrumental madmen are back at it again! Following three tours that saw the band opening for British rock legend Nick Lowe, the members of Los Straitjackets wondered “what would Nick Lowe’s songs sound like as instrumentals?” On May 19th, 2017 we’ll all get to hear the answer to that profound question when Yep Roc Records releases Los Straitjackets’ What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets.

A thirteen-track collection that re-imagines some of Lowe’s most iconic songs, What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets was produced by Neil Brockbank, Lowe’s longtime producer and musical collaborator, and includes Lowe band member Geraint Watkins on keyboards as well as a cameo by Lowe himself, singing on an undisclosed track. The album also represents the recording debut of Royston Lowe on percussion.

“Recording these songs reminded me what a great melodist Nick is,” observes guitarist and co-found Eddie Angel in a press release for the new album. “Everybody knows that he writes great lyrics, but he doesn’t always get credit for his amazing melodies. The fact that the songs stand up as instrumentals is proof of that. And I think that we managed to bring something new to the songs, which is what you hope to do when you’re covering other people’s material.”

Comprised of guitarists Danny Amis, Eddie Angel, and Greg Townson as well as bassist Pete Curry and drummer Chris Sprague, the hard touring Los Straitjackets have been tearing up the highways and thruways for better than two decades now, and they’ll be hitting the road in June in support of What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets, performing with fellow traveler Marshall Crenshaw.

Each show will feature an instrumental set as well as vocal collaborations. The album’s first single, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding” has been released and you can check it out below before making plans to catch one of these electrifying Los Straitjacket shows when the band hits your town!

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What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets track list:
1. Shake and Pop
2. All Men Are Liars
3. Lately I’ve Let Things Slide
4. You Inspire Me
5. Rollers Show
6. (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding
7. I Read A Lot
8. Half A Boy and Half A Man
9. Checkout Time
10. I Live On A Battlefield
11. Raging Eyes
12. Cruel To Be Kind
13. Heart of the City

Los Straitjackets w/Marshall Crenshaw June 2017 tour dates:
June 15th @ Cat’s Cradle Back Room, Carrboro NC
June 16th @ The Hamilton, Washington DC
June 17th @ Ram’s Head, Annapolis MD
June 18th @ Club Café, Pittsburgh PA
June 20th @ Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center, Harrisburg PA
June 21th @ Capital Ale House, Richmond VA
June 22th @ World Café Live, Philadelphia PA
June 23th @ Daryls’ House, Pawling NY
June 24th @ Boulton Center For The Performing Arts, Bay Shore NY
June 25th @ City Winery, New York NY
June 27th @ The Penthouse at One East Avenue, Rochester NY
June 28th @ Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland OH
June 29th @ Southgate House Revival, Newport KY
June 30th @ The Ark, Ann Arbor MI

Audio Fidelity reissues Grand Funk’s All the Girls in the World Beware!!!

Grand Funk’s All the Girls in the World Beware!!!
After 1973’s We’re An American Band album peaked at #2 on the Billboard chart on its way to eventual Platinum™ Record sales status, the band formerly known as Grand Funk Railroad wasted no time in getting back in the studio to record a follow-up. The following year’s Shinin’ On ‘only’ hit the Gold™ Record sales level (still, no mean feat in the mid-70s), but the band’s profile and touring income had never been better. By the end of 1974, the band had released their third full-length album in roughly a year and a half in All the Girls in the World Beware!!!

Recorded at singer/guitarist Mark Farner’s studio, The Swamp, located on his farm in Parshallville, Michigan All the Girls in the World Beware!!! was produced by Jimmy Ienner (best known for his work with Three Dog Night and the Raspberries) and represented the band’s ninth album. The album found Grand Funk venturing further out on the thin ice of mainstream pop/rock sounds but still offered some cheap rock ‘n’ roll thrills and soulful R&B; with eight of the album’s tracks written by the band, it’s definitely their most melodic effort. The striking cover artwork – created by taking photos of the band member’s faces and putting them on the bodies of then-famous body builders Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbo – is reprised on the interior by a Neal Adams illustration of the body builders surrounded by a bevy of young female fans.

Grand Funk’s All the Girls in the World Beware!!!
Surprisingly, Capitol Records chose to pass on the band’s original songs to release a cover of the Soul Brothers Six’s “Some Kind of Wonderful” as the album’s first single. The move paid off, the song hitting #3 on the chart and propelling the album to #10 while scoring Gold™ Record sales; although less well known, Farner’s song “Bad Time” peaked at #4 when released as a single in June.

On March 10, 2017 All the Girls in the World Beware!!! will be reissued by Marshall Blonstein’s Audio Fidelity label as a limited edition hybrid SACD. The enhanced Super Audio CD format makes Ienner’s glossy production really pop out of the speakers. The album was the last under the band’s ‘Grand Funk’ moniker (they’d discarded the original “Railroad” with 1972’s Phoenix album and picked it back up with 1976’s Born To Die).

In a press release for the new, upgraded CD release the band’s Don Brewer says the album “was a bit of an experiment for Grand Funk. Disco had raised its ugly head in 1974, and if you wanted radio airplay you needed to go in that direction. Grand Funk, not being a ‘Disco Act,’ decided to do R&B which was really what GFR was all about…R&B pumped up on steroids.” Check out the album’s full track list below.

All the Girls in the World Beware!!! track list:
1. Responsibility
2. Runnin’
3. Life
4. Look at Granny Run Run
5. Memories
6. All the Girls in the World Beware
7. Wild
8. Good & Evil
9. Bad Time
10. Some Kind of Wonderful

Previously on That Devil Music: 
Grand Funk’s Shinin’ On gets Audio Fidelity upgrade

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