Sunday, July 30, 2017

Zappa & the Mothers’ Absolutely Free returns to vinyl!

The Mothers of Invention's Absolutely Free

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 23, 2017

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

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

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

Tonite Lets All Make Love In London

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

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

Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive

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

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

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

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

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

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

Buy the CD from Tonite Lets All Make Love In London

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

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

David Weigel’s The Show That Never Ends

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

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

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Crimson Fall 2017 tour dates

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Q5: Willie Nile talks about Bob Dylan

Willie Nile photo courtesy Conqueroo Music Publicity
Photo courtesy Conqueroo Music Publicity
Singer/songwriter Willie Nile is one of rock music’s lesser-known treasures, a talented performer and artist who has forged his own path to create an enduring career and a catalog of recordings that would be the pride of any musician.

The Reverend has long been a fan of Nile’s music and songwriting skills, from his 1980 self-titled debut and the following year’s Golden Down to more recent work like 2009’s House of A Thousand Guitars or 2016’s World War Willie (and a lot of great records in between). As I’m also a big Bob Dylan fan (no surprise), I’ve been particular enamored as of late by Nile’s recently-released tribute album Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan.

Nile provides the ten-song collection of vintage Bob with his own reverent but unique spin on the songs, making for an exhilarating and entertaining listen. I thought it would be interesting to get a little behind-the-scenes info on Positively Bob, and Nile was gracious enough to answer a few questions by email for this Q5 interview, providing answers that are as intelligent and enlightening as his music usually is. You can check out the Reverend’s review of Positively Bob here.     

Q1. What does Bob Dylan mean to you as an artist and as a fan?

I was a teenager in the ‘60s into all kinds of rock and roll and was knocked out by Bob’s music.  Nobody was writing songs like he did. They were interesting, funny, poignant, mystical, passionate, compassionate, sarcastic, idealistic, realistic, surrealistic. There was nothing remotely like it on the radio. It was really inspiring. He was one of a kind and single-handedly changed the conversation completely. He raised the bar for everyone, artists and listeners alike.

These songs opened up a lot of doors for me, and for a whole generation of kids. Discovering Dylan’s songs in the ‘60s was incredibly liberating; it made me realize that there were no limitations or walls that could not be scaled or knocked down. I started reading the poetry of the Beats, Walt Whitman, Rimbaud, and it was off to the races from there.

Q2. Considering the depth of the Dylan songbook, how did you choose the songs to include on Positively Bob?

When I got the invitation to sing four Dylan songs at a Bob 75th birthday concert in NYC last year I stayed up late one night and just looked at all the songs in his catalog. I wanted to see if there were some songs I could pull off that would be fun to play live. I went by feel and instinct. I grabbed my guitar and went through his song list and tried a few of them that I thought might work in concert and knocked out the arrangements pretty quickly. I didn’t want to force anything. If a song didn’t come together right away, I moved on to something else. They were such a blast to play live I thought it would be fun to do an album of Bob songs. They’re still so relevant and need to be heard. I just wanted to do them justice and bring some good energy in a respectful way.

Willie Nile's Positively Bob
Q3. What is your favorite Dylan album and why?

That’s a tough one because there’s a lot of great ones. Probably Blonde On Blonde. There are so many great songs on it, including 9 or 10 stone cold classics. There’s humor, sarcasm, beauty, depth, love, sorrow, madness, edge, you name it, it’s there, and it ends with the stunning “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” It’s the voice of a true poet and seeker at the top of his game, and it has that great mercury sound he spoke of. I love the live feel and excitement of the performances. It sounds so real and alive. It’s a high water mark in the history of music.

Q4. What's the hardest aspect of interpreting Dylan's songs?

The songs mean so much to me and after all these years of living they felt like old friends coming around to share some wine and talk about the world. It all happened very naturally in the studio so it wasn’t that hard. We didn’t rehearse. I just played a tape of the arrangement of each song I had recorded on my phone to the band and everybody brought their experience and appreciation of the songs to the table. We’d listen once in the control room, talk a little bit, and go into the studio and play our hearts out. 90% of it was all done in two days. We didn’t labor over it. Most of it is live. It was a labor of love I guess you’d say. If I’d had any doubts I wouldn’t have made the album. I think the key was in picking the right songs so maybe that was the hardest part. Once that was done it all just kind of fell into place.

I think the tallest mountain to climb was attempting “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” It’s such a masterpiece and more relevant today than ever. I wanted to do it justice. My first thought was what if we approached it like “Bolero?” There’s so much power in the lyric and in the melody. There’s nothing like it on radio today. When we cut it I just took a deep breath and went for it. The band killed it and I just gave it all I had. I was pleasantly surprised listening back to it. And to think he was only 21 when he wrote it! Way to go Bob!

Q5. Much of Dylan's music displays a blues influence, as do many of your songs. Will we ever see a Willie Nile blues album and, if so, what shape would it take?

I recorded a blues song on my World War Willie album last year, a song called “Citibank Nile.” I never thought I could pull something like that off but it sure worked out all right. I love how it came out. I don’t know that I’d do a full album of blues songs but you never know. I’m still learning and have a lot more to learn. Maybe one day I’ll get there and be able to do a full album of blues. I could call it Willie Nile Sings The Lookout World Here I Come Blues.

CD Review: Willie Nile's Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan (2017)

Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan
Willie Nile’s self-titled 1980 debut album earned him membership in an exclusive fraternity of singer/songwriters unfairly dubbed as the “New Dylan.” Of course, the “Old Dylan” was still around at the time, undergoing a religious conversion that resulted in controversial albums like Slow Train Coming and Saved before he returned to his secular senses with 1983’s brilliant Infidels. Nevertheless, Nile’s critically-acclaimed debut was just one in a series of albums upon which the “New Dylan” albatross was hung, from self-titled releases by David Blue (1966) and John Prine (1971), to Bruce Springsteen’s Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. and Elliott Murphy’s Aquashow (both 1973) or Steve Forbert’s Alive On Arrival (1978), each one signaling the important arrival of something...

Much like those aforementioned artists, so too did Willie Nile emerge from the looming shadow of The Scribe; it could easily be argued that Nile’s debut displayed more of his personality and artistry than many albums by the Dylanesque fraternity. While contemporary music critics aren’t quite as slap-happy in applying the “New Dylan” tag to talented songwriters these days, that’s not to say that the man from Minnesota’s immense lyrical legacy doesn’t continue to influence and inspire new artists to this day. And Dylan’s (largish) catalog of songs has mostly held up pretty well here in the new millennium, a fact proven by Nile’s Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan. Plucking ten gems from the Dylan vault, Nile performs them in honor of the man that inspired him to find his own voice as a singer and songwriter, and he does ol’ Bob proud!

Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan

Nile’s take on the classic “The Times They Are A Changin’” opens with a mesmerizing guitar riff that swirls itself into a poppier, less folk-oriented reading of the song’s timeless lyrics. Nile’s delivery is fast-paced and, perhaps, lighter-hearted in a sense but no less serious than Dylan’s intense approach some 50+ years ago. I’d put it in a tie for second place (with Will Hoge) behind Dylan as my favorite performance of the song. Nile’s “Rainy Day Women #13 & 35” is less loose-limbed than Dylan’s ramshackle original performance, but Nile handles the lyrical gymnastics with aplomb, with claustrophobic production and chaotic instrumentation providing a sense of reckless abandon in the studio.

Dylan’s protest-era treasures “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” are both provided masterful interpretations. The former benefits from Nile’s energetic vocals and the band’s strident instrumentation (with a raging guitar solo mid-song lighting a fire to the performance), while the latter is afforded a more considered reading, the song’s mouthful of lyrics nevertheless delivered with skill and no little passion by a singer whose vocal similarity to Dylan is undeniable but also uniquely original. “I Want You” is one of my personal favorites from the Dylan songbook, the song’s yearning and desire literally flowing from the record’s grooves to your ears. Nile captures the emotional spirit of the song, with strong but subtle instrumentation supporting his delightfully breathless vocals and obvious infatuation.

Subterranean Homesick Blues

The lyrical roller-coaster of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is anchored by a rowdy, rockabilly-tinged rhythmic backing with flashes of honky-tonk piano as Nile’s rapid-fire vocals swell to a verbal tsunami by the song’s end. The surrealistic, romantic “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” is complimented by elegant fretwork and, perhaps, Nile’s most overt Dylan impersonation, the singer adding a few flourishes of his own as the band provides lush instrumentation with a vaguely exotic, Spanish vibe. The obscure “Every Grain of Sand” (from 1981’s Shot of Love) is given a simple acoustic backing which only heightens the lyrics’ spiritual message, the song one of the best penned by The Scribe during his infatuation with Christianity. The equally-overlooked “You Ain’t Going’ Nowhere,” which dates back to 1967 and Dylan’s recordings with the Band (subsequently release in ’75 as The Basement Tapes), is a jaunty, country-flavored tune that Nile infuses with plenty of charm and vigor.

The melancholy “Abandoned Love” closes out Positively Bob. Written in 1975 about Dylan’s troubled marriage and remaining unreleased until the 1985 Biograph box set, it’s a hauntingly beautiful albeit wistful love song that is sung perfectly by Nile, who captures every heartbeat of the florid lyrics, every hue of the song’s emotions. Although much has been said here about Nile’s skilled vocal interpretation of these often-difficult songs, his elegant acoustic guitar provides a constant thread through each performance. Nile’s band members should also be praised – guitarists Matt Hogan and James Maddock, bassist Johnny Pisano, pianist Andy Burton, and drummer Aaron Comess – who, along with backing vocalist Leslie Mendelson and percussionist Frankie Lee provide a suitable and finely-textured musical canvas on which Nile paints these songs.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

There are a couple of different ways to cover a Bob Dylan song. You can skew as close as possible to The Scribe’s original intent, which is just mimicry of Dylan’s recorded performances, something that Dylan himself seldom does these days. Or, you can spin a creative web around Dylan’s words and underrated melodies and interpret the song in your own fashion as an artist. With Positively Bob, Willie Nile eschews the traditional path and instead honors the Master with ten brilliant musical portraits that capture Dylan’s essence while staying true to Nile’s own unique and always-evolving muse.

Nile’s Positively Bob won’t replace Dylan’s original performances these classic songs, but his reverent efforts here might just prompt you to pull those dusty old records off the shelf and give ‘em another spin, reminding you why Mr. Zimmerman continues to be an inspiration and guiding light for generations of talented singer/songwriters like Willie Nile. Grade: A (River House Records, released June 23, 2017)

Related Content: Q5 interview with Willie Nile

Buy the CD from Willie Nile’s Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan

Hype! rockumentary returns to DVD!

Hype! Blu-ray
Filmmaker Doug Pray’s critically-acclaimed ‘rockumentary’ Hype! premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1996 and was released to general audiences later that year. The film attempted to place the Seattle ‘grunge’ scene into proper context through on-camera interviews with those involved while poking gentle fun at an overly-enthusiastic music media that ‘hyped’ the scene to epic proportions. Among those interviewed by Pray for the documentary were members of rising stars Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Mudhoney as well as lesser-known bands like the Gits, the Melvins, Supersuckers, and the Fastbacks.

On September 29th, 2017 Shout! Factory will release Hype! for the first time on Blu-ray disc as well as updating the original DVD release for their Shout Select line. Hype! [Collector’s Edition] includes new audio commentary by director Pray, vintage interviews and performances, and cartoonist Peter Bagge’s animated short “Hate” as well as video outtakes and a new featurette with interviews with some of the original characters from the film 20 years later. 

‘Grunge’ rose from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s rock scene in Pacific Northwest that was based in Seattle, Washington and exploded out of a vibrant local underground music scene on the strength of major label releases by Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam. Nirvana, arguably the scene’s best-selling band, hit #1 on the charts with their classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (and accompanying video, which received heavy airplay on MTV), opening the floodgates for dozens of bands like Seaweed, Flop, and 7 Year Bitch to sign deals as the major labels went on a ‘grunge’ feeding frenzy. While the top bands on the scene achieved multi-Platinum™ sales status and worldwide fame, many others scrapped by in the PNW and are known primarily by hardcore fans of the genre.

Hype! [Collector’s Edition] features rare performance footage of Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, the Posies, Supersuckers, the Mono Men, the Fastbacks, the Gits, and the Young Fresh Fellows as well as the first live performance of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. Aside from the wealth of band interviews the film provides, director Pray also included interviews important with behind-the-scenes movers and shakers like Sub Pop Records co-founders Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt, K Records founder Calvin Johnson, Empty Records founder Blake Wright, and many others. Hype! offers the definitive story of what was arguably the last great rock scene before major labels took control and diluted ‘grunge’ in the name of more marketable ‘alt-rock’.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

CD Review: Captain Beyond's Lost & Found 1972-1973 (2017)

Captain Beyond's Lost & Found 1972-1973
Arguably the first true rock ‘n’ roll ‘supergroup’ of the ’70s, Captain Beyond never rose above the band’s cult status to achieve the fame and fortune they deserved. Formed by former Deep Purple singer Rod Evans (the voice on early Purple hits like “Hush” and “Kentucky Woman”) with guitarist Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt and bassist Lee Dorman – both refugees from Iron Butterfly – and Bobby Caldwell, Johnny Winter’s former drummer, Captain Beyond sounded like no other band at the time. Their self-titled debut album, released in 1972, was notable for its mind-blowing 3-D cover art (created using lenticular printing) and its heady, ambitious mix of guitar-driven, proto-metal hard rock and improvisational jazz influences.

The music of Captain Beyond was tailor-made for the bourgeoning progressive rock audience, the album’s songs zipping along the grooves with ever-evolving time signatures and whiplash sonic dynamics. In ‘Rhino’ Reinhardt, the band had a guitarist who could rock with the best of his contemporaries but also knew an odd, enticing lick or two, and the Dorman/Caldwell rhythm section played more like seasoned jazzbos than plodding rockers, together developing a complex foundation for Evans’ ‘rock star’ vocals. The album was released by Capricorn Records – better known for its Southern rock fare like the Allman Brothers and the Marshall Tucker Band – Captain Beyond signed by the label at the request of Duane Allman, an enthusiastic early supporter of the band.

Captain Beyond’s Lost & Found 1972-1973

It was Captain Beyond’s original demo tape, recorded in Rhino’s four-track home studio, which caught the ear of Mr. Allman (and, later, his manager and Capricorn big chief Phil Walden). Although the band re-created the songs from their demo tape for their debut, those original recordings were thought lost for all these years until resurfacing in Bobby Caldwell’s possession. Purple Pyramid’s release of these original demo tapes as Lost & Found 1972-1973 places Captain Beyond’s efforts in proper context, and showcases a band whose immense musical chemistry was obviously present from the very beginning. Unlike other band’s demos that were poorly-recorded and badly transferred onto CD for sale to the hardcore faithful here in the 21st century, the sound quality of the performances on Lost & Found 1972-1973 is pretty good considering the vintage of the tracks, a testament to the veteran performers’ studio experience.

Lost & Found 1972-1973 opens with the previously-unreleased “Uranus Highway,” an exhilarating psych-rock sojourn that “nobody has heard outside of the band” according to Caldwell. Why such an exciting, fully-formed song would fall through the cracks is a mystery, but Rhino’s wiry fretwork, the swirling rhythms, and Evans’ lofty vocals provide four minutes of brand-new excitement. The demo version of “I Can’t Feel Nothing (Part One)” is longer and, to these ears, sounds more confident than the studio version used on Captain Beyond. Rhino’s guitar licks dance and parry like an expert fencer, Evans’ semi-metallic vocals muscle their way out of the mix, and Caldwell’s percussive drumbeats slap your ears with the force of a sledge hammer. The song is just the entry point to the five-song suite that made up much of side two of the original album – tracks like the mesmerizing “As the Moon Speaks (To the Waves of the Sea),” with its shimmering instrumentation and eerie spoken-word passage, or “As The Moon Speaks (Return),” with its staccato Latin rhythms – are perfect showcases for the band’s instrumental virtuosity.

“Icarus” was originally written for singer Rod Evans, although it wasn’t recorded until 1977 with a different singer for the band’s Dawn Explosion album. Evans’ vocals compliment the song quite nicely, soaring along effortlessly on the waves of scorching guitar, cacophonic rhythms, scraps of hallucinogenic keyboards, and an overall intoxicating space-rock vibe. It’s a heavy trip, to be sure, and it probably should have been shoehorned somewhere onto the debut album. The demo take on “Raging River of Fear” is an out-of-control wildfire featuring Rhino’s bluesy, serpentine slide-guitar playing that is obviously inspired by Johnny Winter; the album version, suffice it to say, pales by comparison. The martial rhythms of “Myopic Void” provide a strong center for Evans’ psych-drenched vocals and Rhino’s otherworldly fretwork, the song kicking into overdrive with Caldwell’s explosive percussion and Dorman’s fluid bass lines.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Truth is, there were but a handful of bands making music as innovative as Captain Beyond during the sunrise years of the ‘70s. The American band Gypsy is the only one that readily comes to mind, and while they walked a similar neo-prog path as Captain Beyond, they incorporated more folk than jazz influences into their unique sound. Captain Beyond’s imaginative instrumentation and unique song construction set them apart from a crowded field of early 1970s hard rockers.

Captain Beyond’s reckless musical experimentation in the studio, combined with their electrifying live performances, earned the band a loyal, albeit small group of fans. Fellow travelers like Rush and King’s X have kept the musical spirit of the band alive for a subsequent generations of fans, and young newcomers jump on the bandwagon each passing year. Running a hair short of 30 minutes, the early band demos documented by Lost & Found 1972-1973 are nevertheless a real treat for Captain Beyond fans, and Dave Thompson’s knowledgeable liner notes offer important historical context. Lost & Found 1972-1973 preserves the unvarnished sound and fury of a band that knows they’ve stumbled upon an alchemical formula to create musical magic. Grade: A (Purple Pyramid Records, released June 2, 2017)

Buy the CD from Captain Beyond’s Lost & Found 1972-1973 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Book Review: Goldmine’s Essential Guide to Record Collecting by Dave Thompson (2017)

Goldmine’s Essential Guide to Record Collecting
For better than 40 years now, Goldmine magazine has been the go-to publication for record collectors, music fanatics, and fellow travelers. Back in the pre-Internet good old days, the zine was an oversized behemoth constructed of durable newsprint, its pages jam-packed with ads from various vinyl vendors. Some were selling albums and 45s outright for a set cost while other advertisers ran auctions that required the interested party to send their bid by U.S. mail and wait, patiently, for a month (sometimes two) to find out if you were the lucky soul to win the auction and, by the way, where’s my money?

These Goldmine ads, often in migraine-inducing type sizes, provided a valuable education for those of us interested in the minutiae of obscure doo-wop singles, psychedelic rock albums, and other musical flotsam and jetsam. Each issue of the zine also featured well-written artist interviews and album reviews (a few of which I penned) that easily stood shoulder-to-shoulder in quality with mainstream music rags like Rolling Stone, Spin, and Creem, et al. Goldmine is still published monthly and while many of the auction advertisers have fled for Discogs or eBay, a few remain, and the zine’s music coverage is still top notch, featuring writers like my old buddy Martin Popoff, Gillian Gaar, Bill Kopp, Lee Zimmerman, and the ‘Mack Daddy’ of them all, Dave Thompson.

Goldmine’s Essential Guide to Record Collecting

In the interest of full disclosure, Thompson was briefly an editor of mine a number of years ago at an obscure Midwestern zine with a focus on, shall we say, the ‘seedier’ side of the music biz. That colors my opinion of his brilliance not a whit, and many other readers must agree. The man is prolific in a manner that puts even Mr. Popoff to shame, Thompson having written over 100 music-related books (several of which I’ve read); he’s also a well-respected pricing expert for a wide range of vinyl records, writing both The Standard Catalog of American Records and the Goldmine Jazz Album Price Guide. In other words, Thompson knows his stuff and he isn’t going to steer you wrong.

Thompson’s latest contribution to the record-collecting hobby/obsession is the nifty, informative Goldmine’s Essential Guide to Record Collecting. Now the Reverend, I’m not so much a collector as a ‘hunter and gatherer’…I’ve probably sold as many records and CDs as I currently own through the years, and my own reckless and eclectic musical tastes have caused me to constantly hone my collection to fit my mood at any given moment, resulting in a permanent library of a few thousand items. I’ve always been more into the music than the value of the medium, which is why I once sold a collectible promotional copy of a Bob Marley & the Wailers box set on eBay for $100+ and invested the money in several different Marley albums instead.

Addicted to Vinyl

I certainly understand the addictive qualities of record collecting, however, and with vinyl making a long overdue ‘comeback’ due to a generation of fresh-faced music fans, even the Reverend hasn’t been able to resist the lure of a recent Buzzcocks bootleg LP reissue, a Redd Kross rarities collection on gray vinyl, or almost anything from the Third Man Records “live” in the studio series. So while I’m an old hand at buying, selling, and trading records, I nevertheless found Thompson’s work on Goldmine’s Essential Guide to Record Collecting to be an interesting and informative read no matter one’s level of collecting knowledge. Thompson starts out with a couple of chapters on the birth and evolution of vinyl, ‘cause it always helps to know where you’ve been so you can tell where you’re going. A chapter on vinyl grading is essential to the hobby, and Thompson provides valuable examples of how condition can mess with the value of a record.

From this point, Thompson gets into the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the hobby, discussing the ever-collectible Beatles and Stones, dipping into jazz and box sets, and sojourning into the ancient past to talk about the almighty Elvis and other early-era rockers like Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent. Thompson hits many of the touchstones of the collectors’ community, artists like Bob Dylan and David Bowie and record labels like Motown, as well as providing a chapter on the highly-collectible and often pricey field of psychedelia. He spends much more time on disco than I certainly would have – who knew that old 12” disco biscuits were collectible – but Thompson redeems himself with a solid chapter on pub rock and punk. Chapters on the music of the ‘80s and classical music round out the guide, which is profusely-illustrated with artist photos, album covers, 45rpm picture sleeves, and poster art. Frequent sidebars offer a glimpse at current pricing on rarities like “rare blues from the shellac age” 78s and Elvis’s Sun Records releases and more.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Overall, the 240 pages of Goldmine’s Essential Guide to Record Collecting provide an informative primer for the veteran and newcomer alike. I do have a few minor complaints, however – classic blues music from the 1950s and ‘60s is given short shrift, as is old-school hip-hop, which is easily as popular with collectors as disco. An entire chapter on fan favorites like Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Fleetwood Mac, etc would have been nice – rabid fans of those artists will buy anything, and there’s certainly a lot to buy – but then the book would have run in excess of 300 pages, I suppose.

As it is, Goldmine’s Essential Guide to Record Collecting provides an excellent blueprint to the hobby, written in Thompson’s usual friendly but knowledgeable style. With Thompson’s considered advice and a pocket full of cash, one can put together an impressive and satisfying record collection in no time.  Grade: A- (Krause Publications, published June 29, 2017)

Buy the book from Goldmine’s Essential Guide to Record Collecting by Dave Thompson

Friday, July 7, 2017

Link Wray’s S/T 1971 LP reissued on vinyl!

Link Wray's Link Wray
The legendary Link Wray hadn’t released an album in nearly eight years when a self-titled LP appeared on record store shelves in June 1971, released by Polydor Records. Featuring a stark photo of Wray clad in native Shawnee Indian garb on the front cover in honor of his Native American roots, the collection can best be characterized as what we’d call ‘Americana’ these days, the mostly-original songs an inspired blend of roots-rock, blues, country, and folk music.

On July 28th, 2017 Future Days Recordings – a Light In The Attic imprint – will reissue Wray’s Link Wray for the first time on vinyl since the early ‘70s on both standard black vinyl and as a limited, 400-copy edition on “Juke Box Mama Gold” wax. The album has been newly remastered, includes new liner notes by Chris Morris, and is packaged in a reproduction of the original die-cut album gatefold jacket.

Link Wray, the album, was recorded by the guitarist in a makeshift three-track studio slapped together in a chicken shack on his brother Ray’s property in rural Maryland that was dubbed ‘Wray’s Shack Three Track’. Wray was backed on the songs by pianists Bobby Howard and Bill Hodges and drummers Doug Wray and Steve Verroca, who co-wrote several songs and co-produced the album with Ray. Recording in as primitive of conditions as one could conceive, Wray was defiantly shrugging aside the slick production of contemporary records in favor of a raw, simpler sound.

Link Wray's Beans and Fatback
Featuring Wray’s ramshackle vocals – he’d lost a lung to TB while serving during the Korean War – and his trademark high-flying fretwork, the album eschewed the guitar-driven instrumentals like “Rumble” and “Rawhide” on which he’d built his reputation in the 1950s and ‘60s. The move didn’t win Wray many new fans, and it alienated many of his old listeners. Nevertheless, the album has since been reconsidered as a minor classic of pioneering Americana music, with several semi-biographical songs penned by Wray like “Fire and Brimstone” and “Fallin’ Rain” later covered by artists as diverse as the Neville Brothers, Nick Cave, and Calexico.

To accompany the vinyl release of Link Wray, Light In The Attic is also distributing three other albums of a similar vintage by the guitarist that have been reissued by Tidal Waves Music. Also recorded at Wray’s Shack Three Track, 1971’s Mordicai Jones (a pseudonym for pianist Bobby Howard) and Beans and Fatback (released in ’73) are available from LITA as is 1972’s Be What You Want. All four vinyl albums are also available in a budget-minded bundle from the Light In The Attic Records website.

Walter Trout Summer 2017 tour dates

Walter Trout photo by Austin Hargave
Walter Trout photo by Austin Hargave
In case you missed our post the other day, the almighty Walter Trout has a brand new album coming out on August 25th, 2017. Titled We’re All In This Together, the disc features all original songs from Walter’s skilled pen and a slew of guest performers that reads like a spinning Rolodex™ of blues-rock talent, including Joe Bonamassa, Warren Haynes, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and the Godfather of the scene, the revered John Mayall.

Before heading back to Europe for a run of shows, Trout recently launched a North American tour that runs into September in support of We’re All In This Together. Although we missed the first few dates, we have a list of all the rest of them, so if Walter and his hard-working band come anywhere near your hometown, you should really plan on checking him out in person. You’ll thank me later...

Walter Trout tour dates
7/08 @ Narrows Center for the Arts, Fall River MA
7/09 @ Daryl’s House, Pawling NY
7/10 @ Maxwell’s, Hoboken NJ
7/12 @ B.B. King’s, New York NY
7/13 @ Bull Run, Shirley MA
7/14 @ Infinity Music Hall, Norwalk CT
7/15 @ Tupelo Music Hall, Derry NH
7/16 @ North Atlantic Blues Festival, Rockland ME
7/19 @ Blues On The Mall, Grand Rapids MI
7/20 @ Club Soda, Toledo OH
7/21 @ Legends, Chicago IL
7/22 @ Legends, Chicago IL
7/23 @ Shank Hall, Milwaukee WI
7/26 @ Chrome Lounge, Omaha NE
7/27 @ Famous Dave’s, Minneapolis MN
7/28 @ Fargo Blues Fesival, Fargo ND
7/29 @ Arnolds Park Amusement Park, Arnolds Park IA
7/30 @ Lefty’s Live Music, Des Moines IA
8/05 @ Bluespalooza, Mammoth Lakes CA
8/06 @ Mt. Baker R&B Festival, Deming WA
8/16 @ Ram’s Head, Annapolis MD
8/17 @ The Hamilton, Washington D.C.
8/18 @ Somers Point Concert Series, Somers Point NJ
8/19 @ Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival, Morristown NJ
8/20 @ Long’s Park Concert Series, Lancaster PA
8/22 @ Peter’s Players, Gravenhurst, Ontario CAN
8/23 @ Peter’s Players, Gravenhurst, Ontario CAN
8/25 @ Trois Rivieres En Blues, Trois Rivieres, Quebec CAN
8/26 @ North River Blues Festival, Marshfield MA
8/27 @ 2 Left Feet Blues Festival, Simsbury CT
8/30 @ Callahan’s, Auburn Hills MI
8/31 @ Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland OH
9/02 @ Peoria Blues & Heritage Festival, Peoria IL
9/07 @ Big Blues Bender, Las Vegas NV
9/08 @ Big Blues Bender, Las Vegas NV

Monday, July 3, 2017

CD Review: Carla Thomas's Stax Classics (2017)

Carla Thomas's Stax Classics
Widely known as the “Queen of Memphis Soul,” singer Carla Thomas was born into Memphis music royalty. The daughter of local music institution Rufus Thomas – a popular and talented Bluff City deejay, comedian, and singer who recorded for labels like Chess, Sun, and Stax Records – Carla was one of three musical siblings, including singer Vaneese Thomas and keyboardist Marvell Thomas. A member of Memphis’ Teen Town Singers (which also once included Isaac Hayes), Thomas sang with the group from the age of ten until she graduated from high school.

At the age of eighteen, Thomas recorded her first single – a 1960 duet with her father titled “Cause I Love You” – released by producer Jim Stewart’s pre-Stax label Satellite Records. She would subsequently become one of the fledgling Stax label’s biggest stars, scoring some 18 R&B chart hits circa 1960-1969, occasionally crossing over to the pop charts and taking her place as arguably the best soul singer, male or female, that Memphis had to offer. The budget-priced Stax Classics offers up a dozen fine Thomas performances, mixing (most of) her chart hits with some obscure album tracks to showcase the underrated singer’s enormous voice and talent.

Carla Thomas’s Stax Classics

Carla Thomas’s Stax catalog comprises a mere six albums, but it was with those little 7” vinyl flapjacks where her talents truly shined. There were hard choices to be made, I’m sure, in what to include and what to exclude when piecing together Thomas’s Stax Classics collection, but in the end the producers assembled a fairly representative (and entertaining) twelve tracks. Thomas’s Stax Classics set opens with “B-A-B-Y,” the singer’s biggest and most enduring hit (#3 R&B, #14 Pop), and a perfect vocal showcase. There’s an innocence and youthful energy at play on the side (Thomas would have been only 24 years old when it was released), but also a knowing, sensual purr that is emphasized by the judicious use of Stax’s horn players.

Thomas and Otis Redding were the biggest-selling female and male artists on the label’s roster so somebody (OK, probably Stax main man Jim Stewart) had the bright idea of having the two talented singers wax an album of duets like those which Motown’s Marvin Gaye had so much success with at the time. “Tramp” was a Top 30 hit single off the 1967 album King & Queen, the song a lively call-and-response between the two singers that is playfully argumentative as Thomas and Redding talk-sing a humorous, melodramatic tale. Sadly, Stax Classics doesn’t include either of the other two Thomas/Redding hits from that album (including a scorching take on “Knock On Wood”), but since the label is reissuing King & Queen on vinyl this summer, I’ll forgive them.

Carla & Rufus Thomas

The collection also includes “Cause I Love You,” Thomas’s duet recorded with her father Rufus which didn’t chart, but is a gem nonetheless. The teenaged Carla’s soulful vocals were nearly fully-formed and offer a sweet counterpoint to her dad’s gruff but affectionate singing. The song doesn’t feature a strong melodic hook, but it does offer a fine foot-shuffling rhythmic line. “I Like What You’re Doing (To Me)” is one of Thomas’s most underrated releases, the 1969 single displaying a fuller range of the singer’s voice and her ability to inject emotion into even the most rote of lyrics. The ballad “Comfort Me” went absolutely nowhere when released in 1965 tho’ I can’t imagine why. Standing proudly on the fine line between classic R&B and pop-influenced early rock ‘n’ roll, Thomas delivers a wonderful vocal performance amidst the crooning backing vocal harmonies and swells of instrumentation.

The Isaac Hayes/David Porter collaboration “When Tomorrow Comes” is another such soul-pop hybrid with lush instrumentation supporting Thomas’s soaring vocals. Although the song crept onto the pop chart at #99 in 1967, it could have been a huge hit if it had received significant airplay on mainstream AM radio. Released later that year, “Pick Up the Pieces” is what we would consider “classic soul” these days, Thomas knocking out another powerful mid-tempo ballad, her vocals flying high above crescendos of orchestration and an undeniable melody. An obscure album track from 1965, “I’ve Got No Time To Lose” shows Carla in Irma Thomas (no relation) mode, belting out the lyrics with strength and feeling that fuses contemporary ‘60s soul with gospel fervor. Thomas’s edition of Stax Classics closes out with the 1969 track “I Play For Keeps,” the song’s overall vibe similar, musically, to the sound that the Fifth Dimension was scoring hits with at the time. Strip away all of the gratuitous strings and instrumentation, though, and you’ll find a lovely soul-pop performance with Thomas’s magnificent voice front and center.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

After the release of her final Stax album, 1971’s Love Means… and an appearance in the 1972 Wattstax film, Thomas largely turned her energy away from chasing hits and towards improving her community. Although the singer toured every now and then during the 1980s, her work with the “Artists in the Schools” program allowed her to inspire Memphis teenagers, earning Thomas a prestigious ‘Pioneer Award’ from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, an honor that placed the singer in the company of fellow R&B and soul legends like James Brown and Solomon Burke.

Carla Thomas’s Stax Classics entry is one of the strongest in the series, showcasing the singer’s dynamic voice and charisma over the course of a dozen songs. However, I’ve knocked a point off the grade for one major omission – the lack of Thomas’s first big hit, 1960’s “Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes),” which was released by Stewart’s Satellite Records label and distributed by Atlantic Records. Peaking at #5 on the R&B chart and #10 pop, the song helped put Thomas on the map and led directly to her subsequent string of hits for the Stax label. If you can include “Cause I Love You,” which is of a similar vintage, then you have to include “Gee Whiz.” Nevertheless, Thomas’s Stax Classics is a treasure of mid-to-late ‘60s soul and pop performances that is available on CD for a pittance. The Rev sez “check it out!” Grade: B+ (Stax Records, released May 19, 2017)

Buy the CD from Carla Thomas’s Stax Classics

CD Preview: Walter Trout’s We’re All In This Together

Walter Trout’s We’re All In This Together
Blues-rock guitarist Walter Trout has been mighty busy since undergoing a life-saving liver transplant in late 2013. Whereas lesser musicians might have been tempted to hang up their running shoes, Trout was back on the road in early 2015 and has been touring ever since, performing with the fervor and energy of a man half his age. Somewhere along the way, Walter found time to chronicle his dance with the reaper on the brutally honest and musically-powerful 2015 album Battle Scars. He followed it up in 2016 with the equally impressive concert LP Alive In Amsterdam, a testament to his renewed effort as an ambassador for the blues.

I have the feeling that the talented Mr. Trout is really just getting started…on August 25th, 2017 Provogue Records will release the guitarist’s new studio album, We’re All In This Together, his 26th recording to date. With nearly a half-century of performing under his belt, Trout takes nothing for granted, and We’re All In This Together is filled with guest appearances from Walter’s friends and former bandmates like John Mayall, Joe Bonamassa, Sonny Landreth, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Louis Walker, Charlie Musselwhite, Edgar Winter, Mike Zito, and others. The album also showcases the talents of Trout’s son Jon, a talented string-bender in his own right who is beginning to give his old man a run for his money.

Unlike Trout’s previous (and critically-acclaimed) cameo-filled album, 2006’s Full Circle, the sequel-of-sorts We’re All In This Together pays tribute to his friends and collaborators as Trout wrote an original song for each one of his fourteen special guests to perform on. The material is less heavy in nature than his previous studio album, which is to be expected as Trout moves away from his trial by fire with a renewed sense of purpose. “Now was the right time for this record,” Trout says in a press release for the new album. “Battle Scars was such an intense piece of work, written with tears coming down my face. I needed a break from that, to do something fun and light-hearted. This album was joyous for me.”

Trout reunites with friends from the recent all-star Supersonic Blues Machine project, with six-string talents Warren Hayes, Robben Ford, and Eric Gales all contributing to We’re All In This Together. It wouldn’t be a Walter Trout album without the larger-than-life presence of British blues legend John Mayall, who enlisted the guitarist into his Bluesbreakers band way back in 1985. Mayall displays his underrated harp skills on “Blues For Jimmy T.” Says Trout, “am I proud to call myself a former Bluesbreaker? Yeah, of course. What a credential. That is a very exclusive club, and I know that when I’m gone, that’s gonna be one of the big things that they’ll remember me for: that I was a Bluesbreaker for five years.”

Much of We’re All In This Together was created with modern, cutting-edge recording technology, many of Trout’s collaborators sending in their contributions to be incorporated with performances by Trout and his band – keyboardist Sammy Avila, bassist Johnny Griparic, and drummer Mike Leasure – who appear on every track. Producer Eric Corne put together a seamless mix that sounds electrifyingly live in the studio. Says Trout, “it’s very hard to tell we’re not in the studio together. If you listen to the Warren Haynes track, when we get into that guitar conversation on the end – it sounds like we’re looking each other right in the face, y’know?” Prog-rock musicians have been working this way for years and creating innovative and entertaining albums, so why not blues musicians?

We’re All In This Together promises to represent another milestone in a career littered with such. With 25+ years as a solo artist under his belt, Trout is still rockin’ and shooting for the stars, winning over new fans one live show at a time. “I’m 66 years old,” says Trout, “but I feel like I’m in the best years of my life right now. I feel better than I have in years physically. I have more energy. I have a whole different appreciation of being alive, of the world, of my family, of my career. I want life to be exciting and celebratory. I want to dig in. I want to grab life by the balls and not let go...”

Buy the album from Walter Trout’s We’re All In This Together

We’re All In This Together track listing:
1. Gonna Hurt Like Hell (featuring Kenny Wayne Shepherd)
2. Ain’t Goin’ Back (featuring Sonny Landreth)
3. The Other Side of the Pillow (featuring Charlie Musselwhite)
4. She Listens To the Blackbird Song (featuring Mike Zito)
5. Mr. Davis (featuring Robben Ford)
6. The Sky Is Crying (featuring Warren Haynes)
7. Somebody Goin’ Down (featuring Eric Gales)
8. She Steals My Heart Away (featuring Edgar Winter)
9. Crash and Burn (featuring Joe Louis Walker)
10. Too Much To Carry (featuring John Nemeth)
11. Do You Still See Me At All (featuring Jon Trout)
12. Got Nothin’ Left (featuring Randy Bachman)
13. Blues For Jimmy T. (featuring John Mayall)
14. We’re All In This Together (featuring Joe Bonamassa)

Also on That Devil Music:
Walter Trout - Battle Scars CD review
John Mayall - Talk About That CD review
Supersonic Blues Machine - West of Flushing, South of Frisco CD review

CD Review: Walter Trout's Battle Scars (2015)

Walter Trout's Battle Scars
Here’s the CliffsNotes version of the Walter Trout saga: the beloved blues-rock guitarist was to spend much of 2014 taking a victory lap in honor of the 25th anniversary of his solo career. Instead, he was fighting like hell just to exist before and after his life-saving liver transplant. Before illness had sidelined him in late 2013, he recorded The Blues Came Callin’, a powerful twelve-song celebration of life in the face of mortality. After much struggle, pain, and prayer, the guitarist has come out the other side a wiser, but no less determined man.

After shaking off the ring rust by getting back on stage and doing what he loves best, Trout took a new batch of songs into the studio and recorded Battle Scars. No less potent a set than The Blues Came Callin’, the new album doesn’t stray far from the familiar, guitar-driven blues-rock blueprint that Trout has followed for a couple of decades. What is new here is that Trout, unlike Robert Johnson, has shaken the hellhounds from his trail for a second chance at life.

Battle Scars opens with the incredible “Almost Gone,” as haunting a song as any Delta bluesman ever imagined. Fueled by Trout’s dark, mesmerizing fretwork – which runs like the river Styx beneath his somber vocals – this is the lyrical moment of truth, the singer full of regret but icily staring down the Reaper. The dramatic, tragic “Omaha” offers another jackhammer performance, as stark as a dark alleyway, but is balanced by Trout with “Please Take Me Home,” a beautiful, heartfelt ballad for his wife, who stood by his side during the ordeal.

By the time the guitarist gets to the acoustic “Gonna Live Again,” the listener has taken an emotional roller-coaster ride with this underrated songwriter, the song’s fluid melody and melancholy guitar strum a declaration of a bittersweet sort of optimism.  Battle Scars is Trout’s Inferno, a tale of redemption and rebirth that doesn’t shy away from reality but rings loudly with hope…it’s also the best album, in all facets, that Trout has ever recorded. Here’s to another 25 years! (Provogue Records, released October 23, 2015)

Reprinted courtesy of Blues Music Magazine

Buy the CD from Walter Trout’s Battle Scars

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Bootleg Rodeo: Tom Petty, Stephen Stills & Manassas, Neil Young

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' Psychotic Reaction
#2 - July 2017

Thanks to the vagaries created by loopholes in international copyright law, it seems that live music from the 1970s – particularly FM radio broadcasts – are fair game for release on CD by dodgy European labels. The situation is a godsend for rock ‘n’ roll fans, who now have access to budget recordings by their favorite artists that were only previously available as higher-priced bootleg titles.

Not all of these so-called “copyright gap” releases are worth your time and money, however, which is where That Devil Music’s “Bootleg Rodeo” comes into play. This monthly (give or take) column aims to separate the wheat from the chaff and let you know which of these recordings deserve a place in your collection and which should have been left to collect dust in a closet somewhere. Get ‘em while you can, kiddies, ‘cause one never knows when copyright treaties will be revised and the availability of these albums disappears.

For this sophomore “Bootleg Rodeo” column the Rev has chosen to round up recently-released live CDs from Neil Young, Tom Petty, and Stephen Stills and Manassas, with links to buy ‘em from

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Psychotic Reaction (Zip City Records)
Of a later vintage than the mighty fine Petty set we previously reviewed, Psychotic Reaction captures an FM radio broadcast of a live November 1991 Heartbreakers performance in Oakland, California. The Heartbreakers has previously gone on hiatus when Petty hooked up with his idols Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Roy Orbison as a member of the erstwhile ‘supergroup’ the Traveling Wilburys, appearing on albums by the band in 1988 and 1990. In between, working with his Wilburys bandmate Jeff Lynne and the Heartbreakers’ guitarist Mike Campbell, Petty recorded his first solo album, 1989’s Full Moon Fever.

Petty and the Heartbreakers reunited in 1991 to record Into the Great Wide Open with Lynne co-producing, after which the band hit the road for a 48-date North American tour from which this recording is taken. Psychotic Reaction is a lengthy (73min) collection of sixteen tracks that includes older tunes like “Refugee,” and “Here Comes My Girl” alongside new Heartbreakers’ jams like “King’s Highway,” “Into the Great Wide Open,” and “Learning To Fly.” Throw in live versions of Petty solo tunes like “Free Fallin’,” “I Won’t Back Down,” and “Runnin’ Down A Dream” and you have a totally electrifying set. Sound quality is better than an FM broadcast should be. Previously released on CD-R and widely traded in taping circles, Psychotic Reaction gets its name from the band’s raucous reading of the classic Count Five song featuring Petty’s ramshackle harmonica, Campbell’s scorching fretwork, and Benmont Tench’s undeniably foot-shufflin’ keyboards. The Rev’s recommendation: buy it!

Stephen Stills & Manassas' Live Treasure
Stephen Stills & Manassas – Live Treasure (Go Faster Records)
This might be the CD find of the month – provided that you’re a fan of Stephen Stills and Manassas, of course – Live Treasure a budget-priced two-disc set capturing a March 1972 performance at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam that was broadcast on FM radio. After releasing two well-received solo albums in the span of a roughly nine months circa 1970-71, Stills put together Manassas with former Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers multi-instrumentalist Chris Hillman, later recruiting Crosby, Stills & Nash drummer Dallas Taylor, pedal steel wizard Al Perkins (Flying Burrito Brothers), keyboardist Paul Harris, and percussionist Joe Lala (Blues Image). Manassas would release its self-titled debut in April 1972 (the label flogging it as “Stephen Stills’ Manassas”), which means that Live Treasure documents the band still knocking the rough edges off their (then) unique blend of rock, country, and blues music – what we’d call ‘roots-rock’ or “Americana’ these days.

Among the 29 songs and better than two hours of music you’ll find on Live Treasure are a bunch of songs from Stills’ solo albums, including gems like “Do For the Others,” “Change Partners,” and the hit “Love the One You’re With” as well as tracks from the then-forthcoming Manassas album like “Bound To Fall,” “Don’t Look At My Shadow,” and “Johnny’s Garden.” There are also performances of a couple of outliers like “Hot Burrito #2” from the Flying Burrito Brothers’ Gilded Palace of Sin album and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” The band displays a complex musical dynamic here, and Stills’ fretwork is simply stunning on songs like “Blues Man.” The sound quality on Live Treasure is spotty, but don’t believe the negative reviews on Amazon – although not as impressive a recording as, say, the aforementioned Tom Petty album, it’s not as bad as your garden variety bootleg, either; the overall fine band performance documented on these two discs more than makes up for the album’s sonic flaws. The Rev’s recommendation: buy it!        

Neil Young's Bottom Line 1974
Neil Young – Bottom Line 1974 (Gold Fish Records)
Rock ‘n’ Roll legend Neil Young has released a number of classic live recordings under the banner of his “archive series” over the past few years, but this often-bootlegged performance seems to have been overlooked as of this date. Recorded at New York City’s storied Bottom Line club in May 1974, the album showcases Young performing in a solo acoustic setting. As legend has it, Young was in the audience that night for a performance by the talented Ry Cooder and, so moved was he that Young jumped onstage and proceeded to knock out a stellar eleven-song set clocking in at over an hour.

Although the Gold Fish Records release of Bottom Line 1974 states that it was taken from an FM radio broadcast, notes on Young’s own website say that it’s an audience recording. My educated ears say that it probably falls in between – maybe a soundboard recording with some bleed through from the audience – but there’s no denying the strength and passion of Young’s performance here. Young debuts five entirely new songs and a total of ten unreleased songs from future albums like On the Beach (“Ambulance Blues,” “Revolution Blues,” “Motion Pictures,” “On The Beach”), Tonight’s The Night (“Roll Another Number For The Road”), and Zuma (“Pardon My Heart”). Young draws upon not only his own songbook but also material like “Long May You Run,” from his future (1976) collaboration with Stephen Stills, and Buffalo Springfield’s “Flying On the Ground Is Wrong.” A charming display of Young’s talents, Bottom Line 1974 is an obscure but important addition to the artist’s catalog. The Rev’s recommendation: buy it, or wait for Neil to release a legit version  

Previous Content:
Bootleg Rodeo #1 - Tom Petty, Carlos Santana/John Lee Hooker, George Thorogood & the Destroyers

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Bash & Pop’s Friday Night Is Killing Me reissued

Bash & Pop’s Friday Night Is Killing Me
When the Replacements – arguably the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in history – broke up in 1991, the band’s guitarist Tommy Stinson didn’t want to give up on playing in a group. Stinson convinced Replacements’ drummer Steve Foley to join his new outfit, along with his brother Kevin Foley on bass and guitarist Steve Brantseg, the foursome becoming known as Bash & Pop.

Working with producer Don Smith (Cracker, Keith Richards) and with guest appearances by musicians like the Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell and Wire Train’s Jeff Trott, Bash & Pop recorded Friday Night Is Killing Me. Released in 1993, the album received modest critical acclaim for its energetic albeit ramshackle collection of guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll. Although it paled in comparison with the Replacements’ best work, Friday Night Is Killing Me has since grown in stature, even as the CD has been out of print for over 20 years.

That was it for Bash & Pop for nearly a quarter-century until Stinson put together a new band line-up with friends like Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars and Steve Selvidge of the Hold Steady and recorded the album Anything Could Happen, released earlier this year. You can’t escape the past, though, and as Stinson takes Bash & Pop on the road in support of Anything Could Happen, interest in the band’s vintage debut album has only grown, causing the price of buying a used copy of the CD to inch ever upwards.

On September 8th, 2017 the esteemed archive label Omnivore Recordings will reissue Friday Night Is Killing Me as a deluxe two-disc set, adding an 18-track bonus disc with rare singles, home demos, and B-sides to go along with the 11-track original album. The second disc offers 15 previously-unreleased songs as well as rarities like “Making Me Sick,” Bash & Pop’s musical contribution to director Kevin Smith’s 1994 cult film Clerks. The reissue was produced by the Replacements’ former manager Peter Jesperson and Omnivore’s Grammy® Award-winning Cheryl Pawelski and was mastered by the band’s bassist, Justin Perkins. Friday Night Is Killing Me also features rare photos and a new essay by writer Bob Mehr, author of the best-selling band bio Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements.

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