Sunday, November 26, 2017

Cult Rocker Tommy Keene, R.I.P.

Tommy Keene's Based On Happy Times
We’re saddened to report on the death of singer, songwriter, and guitarist Tommy Keene of natural causes at the very young age of 59 years.

Keene is known for his melodic power-pop songwriting skills, and over the course of a career that spanned four decades, Keene released better than a dozen critically-acclaimed live and studio albums. Born in Bethesda, Maryland Keene was taught classical piano as a child before teaching himself drums and guitar. As a teenager, Keene performed in Blue Steel, a trio with Nils Lofgren’s younger brother Mike, before forming the Rage with singer/songwriter Richard X. Heyman. Keene left the Rage to join the Washington, D.C. area band the Razz, which opened for artists like Patti Smith and the Ramones.

After touring with singer Suzanne Fellini as a sideman, Keene decided to form his own band with former bandmates Ted Nicely and Doug Tull from the Razz. The band released their 1982 debut album, Strange Alliance, under Keene’s name on their independent Avenue Records label before signing with the Dolphin Records label in North Carolina. Keene subsequently recorded two EPs for Dolphin before getting signed to Geffen Records. The major label released a pair of well-received Keene albums in 1986’s Songs From the Film and 1989’s Based on Happy Times before dropping the artist from their roster. To be sure, Geffen had no idea of how to promote Keene’s unique brand of melodic rock and intelligent songwriting as they were literally printing money with Guns N’ Roses albums.

Keene built upon his major label exposure with a string of solid indie recordings throughout the 1990s and early ‘00s, released by labels like Alias Records, Matador Records, and spinART Records. In 2009 he was signed by Stephen Judge’s fledgling Second Motion Records label, which would release a handful of Keene’s recordings between 2009’s In the Late Bright and 2015’s Laugh In the Dark. Second Motion also released a career-spanning 2010 retrospective titled Tommy Keene You Hear Me.

I interviewed Tommy Keene once during his brief major label career, but never had the pleasure of meeting the artist who, by all accounts, was a helluva nice guy in addition to being incredibly talented. Our pals Stephen Judge (publisher) and Fred Mills (editor), who knew and worked with Keene, have put together an excellent remembrance of the underrated talent on the Blurt magazine website.

Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers’ L.A.M.F. Revisited

When guitarist Johnny Thunders struck out on his own from the infamous New York Dolls in 1975, he brought the band’s drummer, Jerry Nolan, with him and formed the Heartbreakers with former Television bassist Richard Hell. Guitarist Walter Lure was added to the band and, when conflict inevitably arose between Thunders and his bassist, Hell left to form Richard Hell and the Voidoids, replaced by Billy Rath. This is the line-up that, as Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers (to separate them from Tom Petty’s band), recorded a single classic punk-rock album in 1977’s L.A.M.F.

L.A.M.F. has been remixed and reissued numerous times over the 40 years since its original release, the album grabbing a new audience each time and cementing its status as a seminal work of the punk-rock era. In November 2016, sole surviving Heartbreaker Walter Lure was joined by friends like Blondie’s Clem Burke, Tommy Stinson of the Replacements, and the MC5’s Wayne Kramer on two nights at New York City’s Bowery Electric Club to perform L.A.M.F. in its entirety. The events, captured on audio and videotape, also included guests ‘Handsome’ Dick Manitoba of the Dictators, D-Generation’s Jesse Malin, Liza Colby, and Cheetah Chrome of the Dead Boys.

On December 8th, 2017 MVD Entertainment will release LAMF: Live at the Bowery Electric as a fourteen-track CD, a colored vinyl album, and as a full-length DVD which features bonus interviews with Lure, Burke, Kramer, and Stinson. These releases capture an energetic and reverent performance of the material by a group of talented musicians, coinciding with Lure’s touring L.A.M.F. show which kicks off at the end of November 2017 with gigs in Los Angeles, San Diego, Brooklyn, and New York City. Lure is joined on the tour by guitarist Mike Ness (Social Distortion), bassist Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols), and drummer Burke. LAMF: Live at the Bowery Electric is a great addition to the Thunders/Heartbreakers canon and a perfect accompaniment to the recent 40th anniversary edition of the original L.A.M.F. album.

Buy the CD from L.A.M.F. Live at the Bowery Electric

D.O.A. A Rite of Passage punk rock documentary film

D.O.A. A Rite of Passage
The notorious punk rock documentary D.O.A. A Rite of Passage will receive its first stateside release on December 8th, 2017 when our friends at MVD Entertainment issue the film on standard DVD and high-definition Blu-ray disc. The set includes a 12-page booklet with liner notes by John Holmstrom, founding editor of PUNK Magazine, as well as a bonus feature – Dead On Arrival: The Punk Documentary That Almost Never Was – a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of the movie by award-winning filmmaker Richard Schenlman.

D.O.A. is, ostensibly, a documentary of the Sex Pistols’ 1978 tour, filmed by director Lech Kowalski with handheld cameras as the band performed dingy clubs across the South and Southwest United States. By the time of the film’s 1980 release, however, Kowalski had expanded the scope of his documentary to include footage of other contemporary punk bands like the Dead Boys, the Clash, X-Ray Spex, the Rich Kids (with former Pistols guitarist Glen Matlock), Sham 69, and Generation X (with Billy Idol), among others. The film also features interview footage with the Pistols’ Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen shortly before their deaths as well as interviews with audience members at various Pistols shows.

An essential slab of rock ‘n’ roll history, D.O.A. offers up the behind-the-scenes early history of punk rock, documenting the genre’s growing pains with footage from on and off stage, capturing the zeitgeist of the short-lived punk era on film for posterity. A number of theater screenings of D.O.A. are scheduled to promote the film; you’ll find a list of those shows below as well as a trailer for the movie.

Buy the Blu-ray from D.O.A. A Rite of Passage

D.O.A. A Rite of Passage film screenings:
11/29 @ FilmScene, Iowa City IA
12/01 @ Brattle Theatre, Cambridge MA
12/03 @ Brattle Theatre, Cambridge MA
12/04 @ Carolina Theater, Durham NC
12/11 @ Belcourt Theatre, Nashville TN
12/18 @ Enzian Theater, Maitland FL
01/03/2018 @ Alamo Drafthouse, Yonkers NY
01/12 @ Circle Cinema, Tulsa OK
01/12-1/14 @ Northwest Film Forum, Seattle WA
01/15 @ Alamo Drafthouse, San Francisco CA
01/15 @ Alamo Sloan's Lake, Denver CO
01/18 @ Speed Museum, Louisville KY

Friday, November 24, 2017

CD Review: Woody Guthrie - The Tribute Concerts (2017)

Woody Guthrie - The Tribute Concerts

Woody Guthrie is widely considered – and rightfully so – as the Grand Daddy of Americana music. Guthrie’s career was incredibly short, considering his accomplishments, spanning from the early ‘30s until the late ‘50s, when Huntington’s disease rendered him unable to perform until his too-young death in 1967 at the age of 55 years. Still, Guthrie wrote hundreds of songs during his relatively brief career: political songs, children’s songs, ballads, and folk songs, many of which have since become standards of the genre. Informed by his own Dust Bowl upbringing and westward migration during the ‘30s, Guthrie’s songs championed the working man, his left-leaning (and frequently political) lyrics biting the hand of company bosses and craven politicians with caustic wit and acidic poetry. Guthrie’s songs were extremely influential, and have been recorded by artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, Joe Strummer, Billy Bragg, and the Grateful Dead, to name a few.

Guthrie’s influence can best be heard in Dylan’s lyrics, Woody teaching the young guitar player from Minnesota that songs could be poetically profound, and you can hear Woody’s influence echo in the music of such disparate artists as the Clash, Rage Against the Machine, and Ani DiFranco, among many others. Before his death, friends and family had begun organizing a tribute concert in the artist’s honor, with proceeds to be donated to the newly-created Woody Guthrie Foundation (established by his widow Marjorie, the mother of musician Arlo Guthrie) to create an archive for the singer/songwriter, and to support research into Huntington’s disease, an effort that continues to this day. Bear Family Records has a reputation for quality reissues, and they’ve certainly outdone themselves with this deluxe repackaging of the previously-released (albeit long forgotten) performances, which have been released on both vinyl and CD, but never like this...

Woody Guthrie – The Tribute Concerts

Woody Guthrie – The Tribute Concerts is a three-CD box set comprised of both performances that were given in honor of the singer/songwriter. The first disc documents a January 1968 show from Carnegie Hall in New York City while the other two discs feature a sequel, of sorts, as a second Guthrie tribute concert was held at the Hollywood Bowl in 1970. The Carnegie Hall show sounds like a wonderful affair, a veritable “who’s who” of ‘60s-era folk musicians performing including Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, Tom Paxton, the legendary Odetta, and Richie Havens (still a year and a half away from his Woodstock moment) as well as Guthrie acolyte Bob Dylan and his son Arlo. The performers were backed by the musicians who would become known as the Band, who had been playing behind Dylan circa 1966-67 and would release their debut album, Music From Big Pink, later that year.

Actors Robert Ryan and Will Geer (i.e. ‘Grandpa Walton’) – both friends of Woody and well-known Hollywood social activists – provide narration in between songs, offering a brief history of the Dustbowl Bard. A truncated version of Guthrie’s “This Train Is Bound For Glory” leads off the show, with the entire cast pitching in behind Seeger’s reedy vocals and Arlo’s wailing harmonica, before a bit of narration kicks in. Arlo tackles “Oklahoma Hills,” acquitting himself nicely, while Judy Collins does a bang-up job with “So Long, It’s Been Good To Know Yuh.” A vintage recording of Woody singing “Riding In My Car” is a rough-hewn, joyful thing displaying both the songwriter’s sense of humor but also his innate ability to create a melody with even the silliest of lyrics. Folk legend Odetta offers a mesmerizing read of “Ramblin’ Round,” with just her voice guitar weaving a spell that leaves the audience enchanted.

Tom Paxton brings his usual zeal to Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd,” an engaging story-song with real life inspiration, while Richie Havens delivers a haunting original, “Blues For Woody,” his sonorous voice and sparse fretwork capturing the audience’s attention. Havens’ version of Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man” is equally fraught with emotion, the singer’s otherworldly vocals perfectly capturing the song’s dark vibe. Reappearing on stage after a two-year hiatus from performing, Bob Dylan grabs the spotlight for three songs, his raw, unpolished take of “Grand Coulee Dam” barely staying on the rails; his rowdy reading of “I Ain’t Got No Home” is bluesier and more self-assured. Led by Odetta and Arlo, the entire cast closes out the show with “This Land Is Your Land,” as uplifting a performance of the classic song as you’ll ever hear, complimented by Geer’s fierce between-verses narration.

The Hollywood Bowl 1970

Woody Guthrie - The Tribute Concerts
A second Guthrie tribute concert was held at The Hollywood Bowl in September 1970. Although featuring mostly the same material as the original, this show offered performances by Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Odetta, Country Joe McDonald, Richie Havens, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and, of course, Arlo Guthrie, with narration this time by Will Geer and actor Peter Fonda. The backing band for the concert included talents like guitarist Ry Cooder, and bassist Chris Ethridge and fiddler Gib Guilbeau of the Flying Burrito Brothers. With Cooder and John Beland providing a fine instrumental backdrop with mandolin and Dobro, respectively, Arlo delivers an even more affecting version of “Oklahoma Hills,” than in 1968. Joan Baez is joined by folk legend Pete Seeger for a lovely duet on “So Long, It’s Been Good To Know Yuh,” Seeger enlisting the audience to sing along with the well-worn lyrics.

Baez brings her hauntingly beautiful voice to bear on a chilling read of “Hobo’s Lullaby,” a song written by wandering troubadour Goebel Reeves and covered by both Woody and Arlo Guthrie. “I Ain’t Got No Home,” covered by Dylan on the 1968 show, is performed here by Seeger and Arlo to good effect, the pair swapping off vocals and bringing an upbeat tone to the wistful lyrics. Richie Havens raises thunderclouds with his powerful performance of “Nine Hundred Miles,” his tortured vocals matched by incendiary acoustic fretwork while Baez’s ethereal vocals on “Plane Wreck At Los Gatos” perfectly capture Woody’s tale of the plight of the immigrant laborer. Odetta provides “John Hardy” with a strong, upbeat vocal performance and Arlo leads the full band in a jaunty take on his dad’s “Do Re Mi.” Obscure folk singer/songwriter Earl Robinson is joined by Pete Seeger on Guthrie’s “Roll On Columbia” (based on a Leadbelly song); the two men’s vocal styles an interesting study in contrast.

More engaging is Robinson’s performance of “Mail Myself To You” on disc three, his unique vox perfectly portraying the song’s sense of whimsy. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s ramshackle singing of “Howdido” befits the artist’s reputation, while Country Joe McDonald’s “Woman At Home” is delivered as a raucous, electric blues-styled romp with Cooder’s stinging bottleneck guitar and a big-boned rhythm tracks that’s as scary as a fist. Arlo, Country Joe, Odetta, Baez, and Seeger gang up on “This Train Is Bound For Glory,” providing the folk classic with a gospel fervor, while the entire cast closes out the show again with “This Land Is Your Land.” The back half of disc three offers scraps of interviews, with artists like Arlo, Judy Collins, Tom Paxton, Country Joe, and Jack Elliott offering memories of Woody and the concerts. Two lengthier interviews, with Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan, provide further insight and comments on Guthrie (with Ochs being his usual irascible self).

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Woody Guthrie – The Tribute Concerts offers 100 tracks across three CDs in a slipcase with two beautiful hardback books. A 160-page book offers information on both of the tribute concerts, bios of the artists, and a brief history of Woody himself as well as a providing dozens of gorgeous B&W and color photos from the two concerts for the reader to gawk at. The smaller 88-page book is literally a Woody Guthrie songbook with words and music for the songs performed during the two shows along with rare B&W photos from across Guthrie’s life and career.

Altogether, this is an impressive packaging of documenting two glorious moments in American music history, a collection that belongs on the shelf of any Woody Guthrie fan or Americana music aficionado that wants the complete story. Guthrie’s importance and influence on the evolution of American music – folk, country, rock ‘n’ roll alike – is undeniable and the joy of these artists in honoring Woody with their performances is simply contagious. Grade: A+ (Bear Family Records, released October 13, 2017)

Buy the box from Woody Guthrie – The Tribute Concerts

Monday, November 20, 2017

Short Rounds: Tommy Castro, NRBQ, Radio Moscow & the Replacements (2017)

Tommy Castro & the Painkillers' Stompin’ Ground
New album releases in 150 words or less...

Tommy Castro & the Painkillers – Stompin’ Ground (Alligator Records)
Blues veteran Tommy Castro made his bones with Bay Area roots-rockers the Dynatones before going solo in the early ‘90s. Castro has since become one of our most popular contemporary blue performers, his association with Alligator Records beneficial for artist and label alike. Stompin’ Ground is Castro’s fourth Alligator release, a joyful collection of fierce blues-rock originals and inspired covers wrapped in velvety R&B tones. Castro has always been more than another Strat-toting pretender to Stevie Ray’s crown and, as a vocalist, he’s found inspiration in the soul giants of the ‘60s. Tunes like the quietly raucous “Blues All Around Me,” the grits ‘n’ gravy boogie-rock of “Enough Is Enough,” or a funky, rollicking cover of Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes” (with guest Dave Hidalgo of Los Lobos) display a reverent throwback vibe honed to a razor edge by uplifting instrumentation, blasts of horn, and Castro’s electrifying fretwork and dynamic vox. Grade: A   BUY IT!

NRBQ's Happy Talk EP
NRBQ – Happy Talk EP (Omnivore Recordings)
It’s too bad that pop music isn’t more like the stock market, where a band’s fortunes could rise or fall on the basis of their most recent product. Sure, bloato-hype would still move units, but artists would have to deliver the real goods to grab sales and chart position. Recently celebrating 50 years in the trenches, rock ‘n’ roll stalwarts NRBQ have seen their stock rise in the wake of their High Noon career retrospective as a fresh generation of investors…er, fans…discovered the band’s immense charms. The five-song Happy Talk is a stopgap between the box and a full-length album, but you won’t find a more entertaining way to spend seventeen minutes. Tunes like “Yes, I Have A Banana,” “Blues Blues Blues,” and a cover of Roy Orbison’s classic “Only The Lonely” display what the band does better than anybody – mix rock, pop, country, and blues into a heady brew. Grade: A   BUY IT!

Radio Moscow's New Beginnings
Radio Moscow – New Beginnings (Century Media)
I’ve been following these guys for a couple albums now, but they’ve been knockin’ around since the mid-2000s with a half-dozen releases to their name. Radio Moscow’s latest, New Beginnings, follows the same sort of electro blues-drenched classic hard rock jams as their recent work, albeit with less psychedelic drapery and more street-walkin’ cheetah ferocity. Singer/guitarist Parker Griggs fronts a classic power trio, and New Beginnings displays the man’s uncompromising six-string skills that, while deeply-rooted in the ‘60s, offer up hi-watt tonnage more akin to Leslie West’s Mountain than Eric Clapton’s Cream (two obvious reference points). If you’ve wondered where loud ‘n’ proud old-school rock ‘n’ roll disappeared, look no further than Radio Moscow. Songs like the shimmering instrumental “Woodrose Morning” or the flamethrower dino-rocker “Last To Know” will singe your eardrums, kick yer ass, and trigger Jimi flashbacks like no other band rockin’ the scene today. Grade: A   BUY IT!

The Replacements' For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986
The Replacements – For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 (Rhino Records)
The Replacements have a long-standing reputation – depending on which night you saw them perform – as either the best or the worst band in rock ‘n’ roll. The rabid fanboy mythology that has grown up around the ‘Mats is a large part of the band’s reputation as well, and well-deserved. Which begs the questions…why has it taken 30 years to release For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986? The first legit Replacements live album, this double-disc set captures the band firing on all cylinders and cranking out 29 red-hot slabs of joyful noise. From favored originals like “I Will Dare,” “Left of the Dial,” “Answering Machine,” and “Unsatisfied” as well as their raucous reading of the Kiss gem “Black Diamond” and unexpected covers of Sweet’s “Fox On the Run” and the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man,” each performance here shines with reckless abandon and the ramshackle charm that was the Replacements’ trademark and legacy. Grade: A   BUY IT!

Previously on That Devil Music:
Short Rounds, October 2017 - Action Skulls, Arthur Adams, the Nighthawks & UFO  

Sunday, November 19, 2017

AC/DC’s Malcolm Young, R.I.P.

AC/DC's Malcolm Young
Malcolm Young photo courtesy AC/DC
Although it wasn’t entirely unexpected, we’re still devastated by the loss of AC/DC founder Malcolm Young at the too-young age of 64 years. Young had been suffering from dementia and other health problems for years, which forced him to retire from the band in 2014. Young will be remembered as a hard rock and heavy metal pioneer, a talented rhythm guitarist who was the driving musical force behind AC/DC, the band he formed with his younger brother Angus in 1973.

Born in Scotland, the Young brothers – George, Malcolm, and Angus – migrated to Australia in the early ‘60s with their family. As teenagers, Malcolm and Angus formed the Marcus Hook Roll Band with older brother George and his friend and former bandmate in the Easybeats, Harry Vanda. That band released a single album – Tales of Old Grand Daddy – in 1973 before the two younger Young brothers split off to form AC/DC. After several line-up changes, AC/DC gelled with the addition of vocalist Bon Scott, recording their 1975 debut LP High Voltage with George playing bass and producing along with Vanda. Adding bassist Mark Evans and drummer Phil Rudd, AC/DC recorded their second album, 1975’s T.N.T., produced again by the team of Vanda and Young.

The band’s first two albums were only released in Australia, their tentative debut marked by flirtations with glam-rock whereas the follow-up album pursued a more assured, bluesy hard rock sound. Signed to Atlantic Records, the label reissued a version of High Voltage in Europe with songs picked from both the band’s early albums; critically-panned, fans nevertheless picked up on AC/DC early on and eventually pushed High Voltage to triple-Platinum™ sales levels. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, the band’s third album, was originally released in 1976 in Australia and Europe, but wouldn’t receive U.S. release until 1981, after AC/DC had already found international fame (and after the death of Bon Scott).

AC/DC's Highway to Hell
With Malcolm steering the sound of the band, AC/DC continued to get louder and more raucous with subsequent Vanda/Young-produced albums like 1977’s Let There Be Rock and 1978’s Powerage, which introduced new bassist Cliff Williams. The band’s European popularity was driven by their electrifying live shows, with 1978’s live If You Want Blood You’ve Got It album earning AC/DC a loyal stateside following. Pushed by the label to work with a more commercial producer, former Jimi Hendrix foil Eddie Kramer’s disagreements with the Young brothers (already angry at the “firing” of their brother George) led them to recruit veteran pub-rock producer Robert “Mutt” Lange to helm the recording of the band’s 1979 U.S. breakthrough, Highway to Hell, with Lange honing AC/DC’s rough-hewn boogie-rock sound to a sharp commercial edge.

Although Highway to Hell would chart Top 20 in Australia, the United States, and much of Europe, eventually selling better than seven million copies in the U.S. alone, AC/DC suffered a major setback with the death of gritty singer and frontman Bon Scott from alcohol poisoning. Work had already begun with Lange in the studio on Back In Black, so the Young brothers recruited singer Brian Johnson (from British hard rock band Geordie) to fill Scott’s enormous role with the band. Johnson proved to be up for the challenge, and although his vocal style differed greatly from Scott’s, it meshed perfectly with AC/DC’s blustery hard rock sound. Released in 1980, Back In Black would become the band’s best-selling album, achieving 22x Platinum™ sales status in the U.S. and selling over 50 million copies worldwide.

The band’s 1981 album For Those Who Are About To Rock We Salute You became AC/DC’s first number one album in the U.S., eventually certified quadruple Platinum™, and would be the last recorded with producer Lange. Subsequent AC/DC albums during the ‘80s suffered by comparison with the band’s first two albums of the decade, discs like 1983’s Flick of the Switch and 1985’s Fly On The Wall produced by the Young brothers and experiencing diminished commercial returns. Vanda and Young returned to oversee successful 1988’s Blow Up Your Video, but Malcolm sat out the majority of the album’s supporting tour to tackle his own alcohol problem; his nephew Stevie Young temporarily replaced him for the tour.

AC/DC's The Razors Edge
AC/DC leapt back up the charts with 1990’s The Razors Edge album. Working with a new producer, Bruce Fairbairn (Bon Jovi, Aerosmith), and with newly-sober Malcolm back in firm control of the band, the album would go Top 10 across the globe on its way to selling five million copies in the U.S. The band would retain its popularity throughout the ‘90s on the basis of their relentless touring schedule and powerful live performances, subsequent albums like 1995’s Ballbreaker and 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip charting in the Top 10 in most countries and enjoying Platinum™ sales status stateside.

It would be eight years between releases, though, the band leaving Atlantic to sign a new deal with Sony Music and slowly working on a new album while bassist Cliff Williams recovered from an injury to his hand. Working with producer Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Black Crowes), 2008’s Black Ice would debut at number one on the charts in 29 counties, becoming one of the band’s best-selling albums and resulting in a highly-successful world tour. Black Ice would also prove to be Malcolm Young’s swansong with AC/DC, the guitarist forced to retire from the band in 2014 due to the growing effects of dementia.

During his 40+ years with AC/DC, Young’s songwriting and innovative fretwork would influence dozens of young bands in the hard rock and heavy metal genres, including Def Leppard, Megadeth, Soundgarden, Guns N’ Roses, and Queens of the Stone Age, among many others. While his band’s meat ‘n’ potatoes hard rock sound was seldom in style, AC/DC transcended musical trends to retain a degree of commercial popularity spanning four decades. Malcolm Young was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with AC/DC in 2003 and will long be remembered as the standard by which contemporary rhythm guitar players should aspire.

Blues Images 2018 Calendar

Blues Images' 2018 calendar
We’ve written about John Tefteller’s wonderful Blues Images calendar for quite a few years, and each new edition never disappoints. For 15 years now, noted record collector and dealer Tefteller has been publishing what is essentially a labor of love in the Blues Images calendar. Featuring vintage 1920s-era Paramount Records advertising art – some with photos, but usually just gorgeous B&W artwork – that Tefteller literally rescued from a dumpster, each new year further preserves an immensely-valuable visual history of the early years of the blues.

The 2018 calendar includes imaginative pen-and-ink artwork that promoted Paramount Records’ releases like Tampa Red’s “Strewing Your Mess” (February), Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Hot Dogs” (March), Blind Blake’s “Hard Road Blues” (June), and the Beale Street Sheiks’ “Wasn’t That Doggin’ Me?” (September) as well as pages featuring rare photos of little-known blues artists like Johnnie “Geechie” Temple, Isaiah Nettles, and the popular duo of Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie. Each calendar page is annotated with historical information about the featured artist and each month also includes the birth and death dates of classic blues artists.

You’ll pay more for the Blues Images 2018 calendar than you would for some cheap wall-hanger from a mall kiosk, but for the hardcore blues fan, Tefteller packs a lot of value for the $24.95 (plus shipping) it will cost to put this on your wall. Each Blues Images calendar includes a full-length CD that features rare, impossible-to-find (and many one-of-a-kind) tracks, many of them sourced from Tefteller’s extensive personal collection. The performances, which include the songs from the original advertising as well as related releases, have been remastered from the original 78rpm records using the revolutionary new ‘American Epic’ digital process that makes the sound on these antique shellac flapjacks really shine.

The Blues Images 2018 CD includes a wealth of early blues music, including releases by haunted Delta legend Tommy Johnson (“Slidin’ Delta” and “I Wonder To Myself”), Mississippi Delta legend Charley Patton (“Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues,” “Mississippi Boweavil Blues”), Texas blues great Blind Lemon Jefferson (“Hot Dogs,” “Weary Dogs Blues”), and the duo of Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie (“Frisco Town”). You’ll also find rare tracks by lesser-known artists like “Hi” Henry Brown (“Brown Skin Angel, “Hospital Blues”), the Mississippi Moaner (“It’s Cold In China Blues”), and Johnnie “Geechie” Temple (“Jacksonville Blues,” “The Evil Devil Blues”) as well as two recently-discovered songs by Jab Jones and the Memphis Jug Band.

The calendar is a bone fide collectors’ item as well as a fine addition to the wall of any blues fan, while the accompanying CD, with two-dozen tracks total, is akin to those expensive import discs you’ve bought in the past, but with tracks that are scarcer than hen’s teeth. Blues Images also sells other blues-related stuff like posters (I bought a cool Blind Willie Johnson poster from them a few years back), t-shirts, CDs from previous years, and past years’ calendars. You’ll find it all on the Blues Images website.

Monday, November 13, 2017

CD Review: Peter Case's On The Way Downtown (2017)

Peter Case's On The Way Downtown
Peter Case doesn’t receive anywhere near the respect he’s earned. Case, with fellow talents Jack Lee and Paul Collins, was an early punk pioneer with San Francisco-based band the Nerves, whose “Hanging On The Telephone” would later be recorded by Blondie. When the Nerves broke up, Case formed power-pop favorites the Plimsouls in ’79, the band’s song “A Million Miles Away” featured in the cult film Valley Girl and becoming a college radio staple throughout the ‘80s. By 1986, Case had launched his solo career with an engaging self-titled debut LP that earned the singer/songwriter a Grammy® nomination. In the three-decades-plus since, Case has created a solid body of work with his intelligent wordplay and unique blend of rock, folk, and blues music (i.e. what we call ‘Americana’ today...).

Case’s critically-acclaimed debut was reissued as a special 30th anniversary set with bonus tracks last year by Omnivore Recordings, who had also released his underrated Hwy 62 album in 2015. Now the label has dipped into the artist’s archives with a big net and landed On The Way Downtown, an entertaining eighteen-song collection featuring previously-unreleased performances from nearly 20 years ago. Documenting two live radio performances on the popular KPFK-FM syndicated radio program FolkScene, On The Way Downtown features a full-band performance of nine songs from Case’s 1998 album Full Service, No Waiting while the second half features material from the artist’s 2000 album Flying Saucer Blues as well as several songs from earlier releases. Both sets have remained unheard since their original radio broadcasts.

Peter Case’s On The Way Downtown

Case was backed on his 1998 performance by a full band that included some mighty skilled folks like guitarist Greg Leisz (who has also played with Dave Alvin, Joni Mitchell, and Lucinda Williams, among others), bassist Tony Marsico (The Cruzados), and percussionist Don Heffington (Lone Justice, et al). So Case is in good company here, talent that shines through wonderful songs like the haunting “Spell of Wheels,” with its exotic percussion and blazing harmonica riffs, or “On the Way Downtown,” whose loping groove is accented by Case’s melodic vocals and an odd-but-affecting guitar line.

“Crooked Mile” is fatback swamp-rocker with serpentine fretwork, rapid-fire vocals, and an undeniably menacing vibe while “See Through Eyes” is provided a more traditional folk-rock performance with emotional vocals and sparkling instrumentation that incorporates gorgeous pop melody. On the acoustic 2000 radio performance preserved by On The Way Downtown, Case is joined by violinist David Perales. The pair delivered a fine performance here that strips Case’s lyrics down to their naked emotional roots. “Something Happens” offers rich interplay between Case’s guitar and Perales’ violin that creates an exotic ambiance that allow Case’s vocals to ride on waves of ethereal sound.

An energetic cover of Mississippi John Hurt’s spry “Pay Day” plays up the ‘country’ side of country-blues with nimble fretwork and twangy vocals while “Icewater,” from Case’s debut LP, combines the songwriter’s words with the music of Texas blues legend Lightnin’ Hopkins for a twang ‘n’ bang bluesy romp with locomotive harp and fast-peddling vocals dueling with Perales’ scorching violin licks. “Beyond the Blues” is a beautifully-crafted song, Case’s lilting vocals accompanied by a weeping violin that you’d swear was a pedal-steel guitar. “Paradise Etc” displays not only Case’s guitar skills, but also his wit as a wordsmith, the song featuring one of my favorite lines in “the apocalypse is over, and I still owe rent,” the lyrics sung above an elegant guitar strum. An inspired cover of the North Carolina Ramblers’ Charlie Poole’s “Leaving Home” is provided an up-tempo arrangement with fast-moving vocals and raucous guitarplay on an obscure 1926 folkabilly rave-up.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Odds are that the faithful Peter Case fans have already snatched up a copy of On The Way Downtown, but for those on the fence, what are you waiting for? Jump down off that post and run – don’t walk – to your nearest independent record store and buy the album! On The Way Downtown places Case in a live setting where his natural talent and charisma can transcend the studio setting of most of his albums. A skilled songwriter; an effective and, at times, charming vocalist; and an underrated guitarist, On The Way Downtown provides listeners old and new alike with a fine pair of performances that represent Case’s talents at their best. Grade: A (Omnivore Recordings, released October 27, 2017)

Buy the CD from Peter Case’s On The Way Downtown

Omnivore Acquires Soul & Reggae Labels

Nighthawk Records releases

Take a gander at the Omnivore Recordings website and you’ll find plenty of examples of how the archival label has spun gold out of long-lost recordings by rockers like Big Star, Bash & Pop, and Game Theory as well as singer-songwriters like Peter Case, Linda Perhacs, and Tim Buckley, among many others. So it would seem that Omnivore’s recent acquisition of the back catalogs of soul label Ru-Jac Records and reggae imprint Nighthawk Records is a bit out of their comfort zone. Given the past commitment to excellence shown by the label for its archive releases, I’m willing to provide Omnivore with the benefit of the doubt.

The initial releases from Omnivore’s acquisition of Nighthawk Records will include the Gladiators’ 1995 album Full Time and the previously-unreleased The Return of Jack Sparrow by Ethiopian & His All Stars. Both albums will be released on December 15, 2017. Nighthawk Records was founded in St. Louis in 1976 and originally released several acclaimed post-WWII blues compilations. The label changed gears to focus on reggae by 1980 and would release albums by reggae legends like the Itals, Gladiators (and their singer Albert Griffiths), Justin Hinds, and others, before closing up shop in the ‘90s.

Gladiators’ Full Time is an excellent twelve-song compilation of session outtakes from the band’s handful of albums for Nighthawk, remastered from the original master tapes. We can only hope that Omnivore chooses to reissue Nighthawk’s 1980 compilation album Wiser Dread, an incredible sampler of some of Jamaica’s best music. The Nighthawk catalog releases will be co-produced by Omnivore’s Grammy® Award-winning producer Cheryl Pawelski and Nighthawk co-founder Leroy Jodie Pierson, who will also provide updated liner notes and rare photos for the reissues.

Get Right: The Ru-Jac Records Story Volume 2, 1964-1966
On January 19, 2018 Omnivore will release Something Got a Hold on Me: The Ru-Jac Records Story Vol. 1, 1963-1964 and Get Right: The Ru-Jac Records Story Volume 2, 1964-1966. The former album features 28 tracks, 10 of them previously-unreleased, including performances by Winfield Parker, Flattop Bobby & the Soul Twisters, Brenda Jones, Jolly Jax, and Jessie Crawford while the latter album offers 22 tracks, eight of them unreleased, including singles by Brenda Jones, Shirley of the Soul Sisters & Brother, Harold Holt, The Mask Man & The Cap-Tans, and Bobby Sax & His House Keepers, as well as newly-discovered demos by soul giant Arthur Conley. Subsequent volumes of the Ru-Jac Records story will be released on February 2, 2018.

Founded in 1963 by Baltimore promoter Rufus Mitchell and his partner Jack Bennett, Ru-Jac Records primarily released regional soul and R&B singles from ’63 through the mid-‘70s. Omnivore has already enjoyed success with previous releases by two of Ru-Jac’s brightest stars, Winfield Parker and the duo of Gene & Eddie. Parker will help oversee production of the Ru-Jac albums, which are co-produced by Pawelski and soul music historian Kevin Coombe, who also provides liner note for the releases, which will also feature rare photos.

In a press release for the new releases, Omnivore co-founder Cheryl Pawelski says, “we are so pleased to be the custodians of these wonderful recordings and songs. It is deeply meaningful to all at Omnivore to be entrusted with the preservation of these labels so we may introduce new audiences to the music they hold.”

Buy the CDs from
Gladiators’ Full Time
Ethiopian & His All Stars’ The Return of Jack Sparrow

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Two: Punk Rock

Rev. Keith A Gordon's The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Two: Punk Rock
Excitable Press and That Devil Music’s Rev. Gordon are happy to announce the publication of the second volume in the Rev’s ongoing series of archive interviews. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Two: Punk Rock is a budget-priced collection of eleven vintage artist interviews from 1990s-era punks like Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Billy Idol, Joey Shithead (D.O.A.), Michael Muir (Suicidal Tendencies), Joey Ramone, and members of Rancid, Descendents, Blanks 77, Choreboy, the Screamin’ Sirens, and the Meat Puppets. This second volume also includes album reviews for many of the featured artists.

The “Reverend of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Rev. Keith A. Gordon has been writing about music for 45+ years. A former contributor to the All Music Guide books and website, and the former Blues Expert for, Rev. Gordon has also written for Blurt magazine, Creem, High Times, and The Blues (U.K.), among many other publications, and has written ten previous music-related books, including The Other Side of Nashville and Scorched Earth: A Jason & the Scorchers Scrapbook.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Two: Punk Rock is a 64pp 5.5” x 8.5” paperback with B&W photos, priced at $5.99 retail with a $2.99 eBook version with the same content. Get your copy through the handy links below:

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Two: Punk Rock print edition

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Two: Punk Rock eBook edition

Also available:

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume One: Southern Rockers print edition

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume One: Southern Rockers eBook edition

Monday, November 6, 2017

CD Preview: Big Star’s Live at Lafayette’s Music Room

Big Star’s Live at Lafayette’s Music Room
Omnivore Recordings has become the source for all things related to legendary Memphis rockers Big Star. From 2009’s Grammy® Award-winning box set Keep An Eye On The Sky and Alex Chilton solo albums to the rescue and reissue of Chris Bell’s recording history, Omnivore has provided great fan service to long-suffering Big Star fanatics. The tradition continues in 2018 when the label releases Live at Lafayette’s Music Room, a long-lost Big Star live disc plucked from the depths of the band’s archive.

The tale is the stuff of legend for the Big Star faithful – in May 1973, the band played a single promotional concert for the Memphis Rock Writers Convention at the city’s Lafayette Music Room. Their incredible performance created a legion of fans among the critical cognoscenti, who subsequently extravagantly hyped the band’s lone album, #1 Record, to a largely indifferent public. Largely unknown to the casual fan, however, is that Big Star played the same venue several months earlier, opening for R&B legends Archie Bell & the Drells, a show caught on tape for posterity.

Originally released as disc number four of Keep An Eye On The Sky, that early Big Star performance will be released by Omnivore on January 12, 2018 as Live at Lafayette’s Music Room in CD, digital, and double-album vinyl formats. Live at Lafayette’s Music Room has been provided new mastering and restoration from Grammy®-winning engineer Michael Graves and Grammy®-winning producer Cheryl Pawleski. The twenty-track collection features material from #1 Record and songs from the yet-to-be-recorded Radio City as well as covers of band favorite songs by Todd Rundgren, the Kinks, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and others.

All the various Live at Lafayette’s Music Room formats include a download of a previously-unissued 1972 interview with Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel with local radio legend DJ Jon Scott from Memphis’ FM 100. The package also includes new liner notes from noted rock critic and historian Bud Scoppa. Altogether, Live at Lafayette’s Music Room promises to be a welcome addition to the Big Star catalog, courtesy of Omnivore Recordings. Complete track list is below, along with video trailer and a link to buy this essential set from Big Star.

Buy the CD from Big Star’s Live at Lafayette’s Music Room

Big Star’s Live at Lafayette’s Music Room track listing:
1. When My Baby’s Beside Me
2. My Life Is Right
3. She’s A Mover
4. Way Out West
5. The Ballad Of El Goodo
6. In The Street
7. Back Of A Car
8. Thirteen
9. The India Song
10. Try Again
11. Watch The Sunrise
12. Don’t Lie To Me
13. Hot Burrito #2
14. I Got Kinda Lost
15. Baby Strange
16. Slut
17. There Was A Light
18. St 100/6
19. Come On Now
20. O My Soul

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Summer 82 - When Zappa Came to Sicily DVD

Summer 82 - When Zappa Came to Sicily
During the summer of 1982, rock ‘n’ roll legend Frank Zappa and band were to conclude their European tour in Palermo, Sicily – home of Zappa’s paternal family. In an interview, Zappa once remembered, “I wanted to see the town that my father was born in and I went there and I saw it and then we played the concert and the next thing you know, you have the army and the police; each with their own general telling them what to do; an audience that had brought their own guns; and they're shooting tear gas and tearing up this stadium that we were playing in. We played for an hour and a half in this riot with tear gas in our face and everything else, and when it was all over we went off the stage and we were trapped inside this place. The audience was circling around outside shooting at the police and the police were shooting back.”

Italian filmmaker and Zappa fan Salvo Cuccia had a ticket to that concert, but never made it to the show due to the rioting. Instead, Cuccia decided to make a movie commemorating the event. Thirty years after the ill-fated performance, Cuccia looks back with Summer 82 - When Zappa Came to Sicily, a documentary film that recreates the event through a combination of rare concert and backstage footage, photographs, stories from Zappa’s family, band members, and concert-goers, with Zappa biographer and friend Massimo Bassoli providing insight into the event.

Cuccia personalizes the film with his own memories of the summer of ’82, and the film includes footage of the return of the late rocker’s family – wife Gail and children Dweezil, Moon Unit, and Diva – to Sicily to meet their relatives there for the first time. On December 8th, 2017 our friends at MVD Entertainment Group will release a Blu-ray edition of Summer 82 - When Zappa Came to Sicily, and the film will also receive screenings in Los Angeles (November 5th), Philadelphia (November 17th), and Boston (November 20th). The L.A. screening will include a Q&A session with Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa and guitarist Steve Vai while the Philly and Boston screenings will include a Q&A with Dweezil. Check out the movie’s trailer, below and use the link to grab a copy!

Buy the Blu-ray from Summer 82 - When Zappa Came to Sicily