Sunday, August 27, 2017

Blues Blast Music Awards 2017 Winners

Samantha Fish’s Chills & Fever
The Blues Blast Music Awards are sponsored every year by Blues Blast Magazine, a free weekly Internet blues zine with over 37,000 subscribers in all 50 U.S. states and more than 90 countries worldwide. Each year’s nominees are decided upon by a group of blues music industry professionals including music critics, festival promoters, producers, and musicians who choose the best of the blues in a dozen categories. Blues Blast Magazine subscribers then vote on the winners – one vote per subscriber – the winners announced this weekend.

The Reverend offers congratulations to all the below-listed winners of this year’s awards, and if you want to participate in voting for next year’s award winners, get over to Blues Blast Magazine and sign up for your free subscription and check out the full list of this year’s nominees.

Contemporary Blues Album
Samantha Fish’s Chills & Fever
Traditional Blues Album
Mississippi Heat’s Cab Driving Man

Walter Trout’s Alive In AmsterdamSoul Blues Album
Thornetta Davis’s Honest Woman

Rock Blues Album
Mike Zito’s Make Blues Not War

Acoustic Blues Album

Fiona Boyes’ Professin’ The Blues

Live Blues Recording
Walter Trout’s Alive In Amsterdam

Historical or Vintage Recording
Roy Buchanan’s The Genius of the Guitar - His Early Recordings

New Artist Debut Album
Southern Avenue’s Southern Avenue

Roy Buchanan’s The Genius of the Guitar - His Early Recordings
Blues Band
Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials

Male Blues Artist
John Mayall

Female Blues Artist
Beth Hart

Sean Costello Rising Star Award
Southern Avenue

New Music Monthly: September 2017 Releases

Talk about a wealth of choices, the month of September has it all – blues-rock (Walter Trout, Tommy Castro), indie rock (Mogwai, Ted Leo), hard rock (Living Colour, Foo Fighters), and classic reissues (Bash & Pop, Chris Bell, Frank Zappa & the Mothers) – as well as a fitting goodbye to an old friend with Gregg Allman's final album, and much, more more! There are five Fridays in September, meaning more new releases, so no matter your taste in music, there's something for you here. If we wrote about it, there'll be a link to it in the album title, if you want an album, hit the 'Buy!' link to get it from's just that damn easy! Your purchase puts money in the Reverend's pocket that he'll use to buy more music to write about in a never-ending loop of rock 'n' roll ecstasy!

Walter Trout's We're All In This Together

Jonny Lang - Signs   BUY!
Mogwai - Every Country's Sun   BUY!
Starsailor - All This Life   BUY!
Walter Trout - We're All In This Together   BUY!

Bash & Pop's Friday Night Is Killing Me

Gregg Allman - Southern Blood   BUY!
Arch Enemy - Will To Power   BUY!
Bash & Pop - Friday Night Is Killing Me [expanded reissue]   BUY!
Dream Syndicate - How Did I Find Myself Here?   BUY!
Ted Leo - The Hanged Man   BUY!
Living Colour - Shade   BUY!
The National - Sleep Well Beast   BUY!
Charlie Parr - Dog   BUY!
Sparks - Hippopotamus   BUY!


Ringo Starr's Give More Love

Chris Bell - I Am The Cosmos [expanded reissue]   BUY!
Foo Fighters - Concrete and Gold   BUY!
Prophets of Rage - Prophets of Rage   BUY!
Ringo Starr - Give More Love   BUY!

Black Country Communion's BCCIV

Black Country Communion - BCCIV   BUY!
Michael Bloomfield - Live at McCabe's Guitar Workshop   BUY!
Flamin' Groovies - Fantastic Plastic   BUY!
The Killers - Wonderful Wonderful   BUY!
Lee 'Scratch' Perry & Subatomic Sound System - Super Ape Returns to Conquer   BUY!
Roadcase Royale - First Things First (w/Nancy Wilson of Heart)   BUY!
Leon Russell - On A Distant Shore   BUY!
Brian Wilson - Playback: The Brian Wilson Anthology   BUY!

Tommy Castro's Stompin Ground

Black Stone Cherry - Black To Blues EP   BUY!
Tommy Castro & the Painkillers - Stompin' Ground   BUY!
David Crosby - Sky Trails   BUY!
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Fanfare 1970-1997   BUY!
The Mothers of Invention (Frank Zappa) - Absolutely Free [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Pere Ubu - 20 Years In A Montana Missle Silo   BUY!
UFO - Salentino Cuts   BUY!  

Gregg Allman's Southern Blood

Album of the Month: Gregg Allman's Southern Blood, the final album from the rock 'n' blues legend. Produced by Don Was in historic Muscle Shoals, Alabama this is Allman's first studio album since 2011's award-winning Low Country Blues. The acclaimed vocalist chose to record some of his favorite songs for Southern Blood, including material by blues giant Willie Dixon, Lowell George (Little Feat), Jackson Browne, Jerry Garcia & Robert Hunter (Grateful Dead), and the legendary songwriting team of Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn. We hate to see him go, but Allman left us a great gift in the form of one more album to cap off almost 50 years of great music! 

Friday, August 25, 2017

John Lee Hooker’s King of the Boogie box set

John Lee Hooker’s King of the Boogie box set

The late John Lee Hooker remains one of my favorite bluesmen, and I’d easily slot him in the top six or seven blues artists of all time in terms of importance and influence on the genre. There are an abundance of Hooker compilation albums available for the curious, including the excellent Acrobat Records set The Modern, Chess & Veejay Singles Collection 1949-62 that we reviewed a few months back. However, it looks like Craft Recordings, a division of Concord Bicycle Music, is going over and above the call of duty with the label’s recently-announced five-disc John Lee Hooker set.

Titled King of the Boogie, the set’s whopping five discs dig deep into the John Lee catalog, past the many pseudonyms he used to record under in order to compile a true career-spanning collection. King of the Boogie offers 100 songs (in celebration of the centennial of Hooker’s birth) that include not only his monster hits, but also rarities, live recordings, and previously-unreleased tracks. The set is housed in a cool 56-page book that includes a wide selection of photos as well as new liner notes by writer and Hooker historian Jas Obrecht as well as the artist’s longtime manager and friend, Mike Kappus.

The collection was curated by producer Mason Williams to provide a narrative of Hooker’s career. “Even at 100 songs, this set is just a snapshot of John Lee Hooker’s incredible and influential career” says Williams in a press release for the collection, “but one that takes you on the long journey he took from his early days in Detroit, to his time in Chicago recording for Vee-Jay Records and up through his later collaborations with Van Morrison, Bonnie Raitt, and Santana, among others.”

John Lee Hooker photo by Jay Blakesberg
John Lee Hooker photo by Jay Blakesberg
Born in 1917 near Clarksdale, Mississippi to a family of sharecroppers, Hooker worked his way to Detroit as a young man with an eye towards a career in music. Hooker enjoyed his first hit single in 1948 with the iconic “Boogie Chillun’,” and over a career that lasted better than 60 years until his death in 2001, Hooker recorded over 100 albums that would earn him four Grammy® Awards and induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame. Along the way, Hooker would influence several generations of musicians, from the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton to Canned Heat and Carlos Santana as well as modern bluesman like Tommy Castro.

Looking at the track listing for King of the Boogie, the first couple of discs document Hooker’s early years with great songs like “Boogie Chillun’” and “Crawlin’ King Snake” as well as obscurities recorded under alter-egos like “Texas Slim” and “Delta John” in order to collect a session check. Disc three offers up a wealth of classic tracks like “Boom Boom,” “Frisco Blues,” and “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” while disc four is comprised entirely of live tracks.

The fifth and final disc captures Hooker in the twilight of his career, his vocals and spirit still strong on 1980s and ‘90s-era recordings with friends like Canned Heat, the Groundhogs, Van Morrison, B.B. King, George Thorogood, Bonnie Raitt, and Carlos Santana, among others. King of the Boogie will be released by Craft Recordings on September 29th, 2017.

Buy the box set from John Lee Hooker’s King of the Boogie

Rare Pretty Things LP reissued!

Phillipe DeBarge & the Pretty Things’ Rock St. Trop
Back in the stone age of rock ‘n’ roll – the year 1969, to be exact – Phil May (vocals) and Wally Waller (bass) of British rock legends the Pretty Things were approached with an unusual offer. Flown to St. Tropez by rich French playboy Philippe DeBarge, the bandmates met with the young millionaire at the DeBarge family estate. DeBarge had long harbored dreams of rock ‘n’ roll stardom, and he wanted to record an album with the Pretty Things as his backing band.

In December 1968, the Pretty Things released S.F. Sorrow, the album that has since become known as the band’s psychedelic-era masterpiece. By the following August, however, the album was selling slowly, founding guitarist Dick Taylor had left the band, and the PTs’ future was uncertain. So May and Waller took DeBarge up on his offer, writing songs for and recording DeBarge’s album at Nova Studios in London during September 1969 with DeBarge singing lead vocals, May on backing vocals, and the band – including Waller, keyboardist Jon Povey, drummer ‘Twink’, and new guitarist Vic Unitt (from the Edgar Broughton Band) providing the music.

When S.F. Sorrow sales picked up months after its release, EMI wanted to follow up with a new album from the band, who subsequently put the DeBarge project on the back burner in order to work on what would become their 1970 album, Parachute. The album remained lost for almost 40 years when it was discovered by musician and Ugly Things zine publisher Mike Stax, who had found two acetates of the album and had it mixed and mastered, releasing it in 2009 on his own Ugly Things label. Stax even enlisted the classic Pretty Things line-up – including guitarist Dick Taylor – to record a new song titled “Monsieur Rock (Ballad of Philippe)” as a bonus track for The Pretty Things/Phillip DeBarge CD.

On September 1st, 2017 Madfish Records will reissue this obscure album as Rock St. Trop, billed to Phillipe DeBarge with the Pretty Things. Remastered for CD and featuring rare photos and new liner notes by Waller, the album features a 16-page booklet and bonus songs, including “Monsieur Rock.” Influential far beyond their often meager album sales, the Pretty Things seldom made a musical mistake during the 1960s and ‘70s and aside from being chummy with superstars like Led Zeppelin and David Bowie, the PT’s influenced bands as diverse as the Clash and the Libertines, among others, and this long-lost album is a welcome addition to the band’s catalog.
Buy the CD from Phillipe DeBarge & the Pretty Things’ Rock St. Trop

Phillipe DeBarge & the Pretty Things’ Rock St. Trop tracklisting:

1. Hello, How Do You Do?
2. You Might Even Say
3. Alexander
4. Send You With Loving
5. You`re Running You and Me
6. Peace
7. Eagle`s Son
8. Graves of Grey
9. New Day
10. It`ll Never Be Me
11. I`m Checking Out
12. All Gone Now
13. Monsieur Rock (Ballad of Philippe)
14. Lover
15. Silver Stars

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Bootleg Rodeo: Bob Seger

Bob Seger's Transmission Impossible
#3 - August 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.

With this “Bootleg Rodeo” column, we’re going to tackle the impressive three-disc Transmission Impossible set which collects a trio of Bob Seger’s “legendary radio broadcasts” from 1974, 1980 and 1983, along with a link to buy it from

Bob Seger – Transmission Impossible (Eat To The Beat Records)

The Reverend has been a Bob Seger fan since the first notes of “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” rang out of the underpowered speaker of the little blue transistor radio hidden beneath my pillow in the bedroom of my Western Pennsylvania home. A few years later, I got to witness Seger and the Silver Bullet Band in person as they took the stage at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium during the summer of 1976. Opening for Kiss, rockin’ Bob and his gang blew the feeble foursome off the stage and saw themselves kicked off the tour altogether after just a few shows spent upstaging the headliners. The double-shot of Seger’s Live Bullet and Night Moves albums that year would launch Seger to rock ‘n’ roll superstardom.

Flash forward a few more years, and the Reverend was living in Detroit and managing a bus station downtown. Hometown hero Seger announced a six-night run at the city’s famed Cobo Hall in support of his new album, Against The Wind. Tickets were sold on a lottery basis – you mailed in a money order and a self-addressed, stamped envelope and you might get tickets in return – and I was fortunate enough to score tix for my brother and myself for three shows, with rock legend Mitch Ryder pulled out of retirement by Seger personally to open for him.

The impressive three-disc Transmission Impossible set includes a trio of “legendary” Seger radio broadcasts from three distinctly different eras of the singer/songwriter’s career: a 1974 performance at Ebbet’s Field in Denver, Colorado; one of the six Cobo Hall shows from June 1980 that I attended; and a December 1983 appearance at The Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, Connecticut. The set’s deluxe multi-fold packaging is attractive tho’ too short on liner notes, offering up not much more than a list of songs. Still, for the true-blue Seger faithful, these three shows – adding up to over three hours of rockin’ Bob music – are something of a holy grail, and with a street price of under $20, Transmission Impossible is quite enticing…but is it worth the cost?

The 1974 Ebbet’s Field performance offers a fourteen-song set list that would sound somewhat alien to the casual Seger fan, with the newly-minted Silver Bullet Band touring in support of Seger’s (then) new album Seven. Familiar talents like guitarist Drew Abbott (from Detroit band Third Power), bassist Chris Campbell, drummer Charlie Allen Martin, and keyboardist Robyn Robins backed Seger on a scorching set that includes songs like “U.M.C. (Upper Middle Class),” “All Your Love,” and the entirely-appropriate “Get Out of Denver” from Seven as well as fan favorite “Rosalie,” a high-octane cover of Van Morrison’s “I’ve Been Working” (both from Back In ’72), and longtime live staple “Heavy Music.” There are a number of surprises on the 1974 set, though, beginning with the bluesy “Don’t Burn Down The Bridge,” which may or may not have been written by Albert King but featuring Abbott’s high-flying guitar licks backing Seger’s roaring vox.

One of the first appearances of the Ike & Tina Turner grinder “Nutbush City Limits” – which wouldn’t be recorded until 1975’s Beautiful Loser album – brings some funk to the party, while Seger revisits his past with “Song For Rufus,” from 1970’s Mongrel album. One oddball track is a cover of British glam-rocker Alex Harvey’s swinging “Gang Bang” which the Silver Bullet boys go way over the top with. Of course, Seger knocks out his big hit, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” with reckless abandon, the arrangement juiced by Robins’ frenetic keyboard-bashing. Sound quality throughout the set is pretty decent considering the vintage of the recording, with a slight hollowness that isn’t a bother when you turn up the volume. This Colorado performance was released in 2012 by Chrome Dreams as Get Out of Denver, so if you have that disc you may not need this one (unless, of course, you want either of the other two mouth-watering shows).

Disc two of Transmission Impossible offers one of the June 1980 performances from Cobo Hall (not ‘arena’ like it says on the back cover) in lovely downtown Detroit, Michigan. Touring in support of Against The Wind, Seger cranks the amps from the beginning of the set with a red-hot take on “Feel Like A Number” from 1978’s Stranger In Town. The band plays like the well-oiled rock ‘n’ roll machine they had become, with Seger’s old pal David Teegarden taking over on drums by this point. Oddly enough, Seger only includes four songs from Against The Wind here, all of ‘em packed in the middle of the set. Although that album’s quality is a point of contention among Seger fans – critic Dave Marsh considered it the worst album of the singer’s career at that point – it was undeniably popular, topping the charts and sitting there at #1 for six weeks as the album would go triple Platinum™ within a year.

Bob Seger photo by Brad Stanley, 1994
Bob Seger photo by Brad Stanley, 1994
Performed alongside the other material that Bob and band crank out, the Against the Wind tracks do pale by comparison. Two tracks from Stranger In Town, for example – “Old Time Rock & Roll” and “Hollywood Nights” – both kick ass, the former evincing a Southern rock groove with a nice Abbott git solo while the latter’s dense instrumental soundtrack and locomotive rhythm provide a perfect backdrop for Seger’s lyrics. A longtime live favorite from Beautiful Loser, “Katmandu” never fails to get the crowd stomping and this performance is no slouch, rolling out of your speakers with all the velocity and subtlety of machine gun fire while the deliberate vocals of “Night Moves” benefit from Abbott’s acoustic guitar strum and Alto Reed’s mournful saxophone. Of the Against The Wind tracks, “Fire Lake” stands the tallest, offering plenty of bluster, but even it is overshadowed by the scorched-earth groove of “The Fire Down Below.” Sound quality for the second disc is a mild improvement on the first, slightly more polished but still crackling with raw energy. Two tracks from this June 15th show were included on the live 1981 album Nine Tonight along with seven performances from four other nights. 

Disc three of Transmission Impossible documents a 1983 performance in Hartford, Connecticut, a show of some notoriety among Seger fans, bootleggers, and tape traders. Touring a year after the release of his 1982 album The Distance, the Silver Bullet Band had undergone upheaval with keyboardist Craig Frost and drummer Don Brewer from Grand Funk Railroad coming on board along with guitarist Dawayne Bailey (Chicago) replacing longtime band member Abbott. The Distance was another confusing album, with Seger seemingly searching for a sound, caught up in his own celebrity and unable to regain his old creative footing. Some of the old songs sound great, though – “Betty Lou’s Getting’ Out Tonight” features some hot guitar licks and cool blasts of Alto Reed’s sax while the old chestnut “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” fires on all cylinders.

Much like with Against The Wind, Seger only includes a handful of songs from The Distance on this seventeen-song set list, most notably the honky-tonker “Making Thunderbirds,” a swinging lil’ ditty with plenty o’ spirited Jerry Lee Lewis-styled piano-pounding. The set list as shown on the back cover veers off the tracks only six songs in, and the disc includes only a dozen of the seventeen tracks listed, with much of the middle of the set omitted for no good reason. The sound quality on this third disc is inferior to the first two, with an echo that would lead one to believe that it was an audience recording instead of a radio broadcast.

It’s by no means unlistenable, it just isn’t as enjoyable as the other two discs, and the missing songs are quite aggravating (what the hell, Eat To The Beat?). Still, Transmission Impossible provides a lot of rockin’ tunes for a pittance, and will kick out the jams for any classic rock fan. The Rev’s recommendation: if the missing songs aren’t a deal-breaker, then buy it!

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

Bootleg Rodeo #2 - Tom Petty, Stephen Stills & Manasass, Neil Young

Archive Review: Willie Nile's Beautiful Wreck of the World (1999)

Willie Nile's Beautiful Wreck of the World
Released in 1999, I recently found this criminally overlooked album in the discount bin at the local used music store. If my memory hasn't failed me quite yet, Willie Nile was hanging around Nashville in late '99 – so it's possible that this copy might have come into my greedy little hands via some unappreciative person who originally received it from Willie himself. Regardless, as a long-time fan I was glad to stumble across it and if you, gentle reader, care a whit about finely-crafted songs and intelligent lyricism, you should be digging up your own copy.

Saddled with the “new Springsteen” albatross early in his career (the '80 version of the “new Dylan” comparison leveled by unimaginative critics in the '70s), Nile never quite recovered from the critical overkill and commercial indifference. He only released three albums for Columbia before being shuttled off to relative obscurity. 'Tis a shame, too, since Beautiful Wreck of the World proves that not only have Nile's artistic chops not diminished any since his 1980 debut, his skills have sharpened and matured during the past two decades.

Nile's greatest asset as a songwriter is his observational ability and the skill with which he shares what he sees. Beautiful Wreck of the World kicks off with the ultra-clever and rocking “You Gotta Be A Buddha (In A Place Like This).” A wickedly tongue-in-cheek rundown of the modern world and tribute to the virtue of patience, the song includes one of my favorite refrains: “You laugh, you cry, you live, you die/you wake up in the morning and don't know why.” The title track is a whimsical and humorous look at a world turned upside down while “Brain Damage” is a slightly offbeat love song that is as witty as it is accurate. “On The Road To Calvary,” dedicated to Jeff Buckley, is filled with beautiful imagery and wordplay, as haunting a tribute to the late songwriter as will be written.

Although Nile's work evokes Dylan and Springsteen – his obvious artistic forebears – he is nevertheless an original voice with a singular lyrical vision. A vastly underrated talent, Nile has been frozen out of the mainstream music biz by trend-following cretins unable to recognize the man's skills or the aging 35-50 year old demographic that would appreciate a fresh and original singer/songwriter. Much like his contemporary Carolyn Mas or the recent efforts of wordsmiths such as Dan Bern or Nashville's Threk Michaels, Willie Nile is a man without a country.

Talented as hell, Nile is nonetheless out of step with the industry in which he's trying to make a living. Then again, as long as he makes records like Beautiful Wreck Of The World, we'll gladly march to the sound of Nile's different drummer. (River House Records, released 1999)

Originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide webzine, 2000

Also on That Devil
Q5: Willie Nile talks about Bob Dylan
CD review: Willie Nile's Positively Bob

Buy the digital download from (CD out of print): Willie Nile's Beautiful Wreck of the World

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Q5: Kerry Landreth of Birdseed talks about music

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

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

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

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

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

Q2. Who are your musical and songwriting influences?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 13, 2017

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

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

Power-Pop Pioneers

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

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

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

The Raspberries’ Pop Art Live

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

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

Go All The Way

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

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

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

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

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

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

Buy the CD from The Raspberries’ Pop Art Live

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Golden Dawn to the Pretty Things

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

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

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

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

Check out Flashback music zine

Buy the book from Richard Morton Jack’s Psychedelia

Apples In Stereo vinyl reissues from Yep Roc

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

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

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

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

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

Order the LPs from Yep Roc Records

Sunday, August 6, 2017

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

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

Birdseed’s Not Out of Time

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

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

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

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

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

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

UFO's The Salentino Cuts covers album

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

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

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

Buy the CD from UFO’s The Salentino Cuts

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

More great music from Chris Bell than you can handle!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mark Robinson Band’s Live at the 5 Spot

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

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

Mississippi Hill Country Stomp

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

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

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

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

Buy the album from Mark Robinson’s website