Sunday, June 17, 2018

Vinyl Review: The Mothers of Invention's Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1970/2018)

Mothers of Invention's Burnt Weeny Sandwich
Released in February 1970, the Mothers of Invention’s Burnt Weeny Sandwich was the band’s sixth album (and eighth overall “official” Zappa release when you include two previous ‘solo’ LPs). An often overlooked entry in the Maestro’s canon, it’s both a transitional work as well as a signpost for creative directions that Zappa would take in the future. One of two albums released by Zappa that year (the other being the audacious Weasels Ripped My Flesh), it came in the wake of the break-up of the original Mothers as Zappa struggled artistically, professionally, and financially to bring his ever-shifting musical vision to his small but loyal group of fans. Under supervision by the Zappa Family Trust, Universal Music has reissued Burnt Weeny Sandwich on vinyl, correcting the sonic errors that marred earlier CD reissues (which likely had perfectionist Frank spinning in his crypt).

This vinyl reissue of Burnt Weeny Sandwich is pressed on shiny, thick 180-gram audiophile black vinyl and includes a stocky gatefold sleeve with the original album artwork. The reissue was mastered from the original ¼” stereo safety master tapes by Bernie Grundman, a veteran engineer who put the final stamp of approval on albums by folks like Prince, Steely Dan, Michael Jackson, and Kendrick Lamar, among many others. Unavailable on vinyl for over 30 years, last included as part of Zappa’s Old Masters Box Two box set, the reissue also includes a reproduction of the original album’s cool eight-panel, double-sided fold-out B&W poster featuring photos of the various band members. Cal Schenkel’s original oddball front cover is a stunning and prescient bit of post-industrial collage art while the cryptic back cover art offers an enigmatic cartoon thought bubble.

The Mothers of Invention’s Burnt Weeny Sandwich


Burnt Weeny Sandwich is the first Mothers’ album to combine studio and live recordings, a technique that Zappa would pursue throughout the remainder of his career. In many ways, it displays Zappa’s creative genius in reset mode, the bandleader running out of steam after releasing seven studio albums (including two double-discs) in roughly five years, a heady workload to be sure. The album holds up well in spite of its Frankenstein-styled construction, due not only to Zappa’s talents but also that of musical collaborators like violinist Sugarcane Harris, pianist Ian Underwood, and guitarist Lowell George (who left the Mothers by “mutual agreement” and formed Little Feat in 1969). The record also features the not-inconsiderable skills of Mothers OGs like Roy Estrada, Jimmy Carl Black, Don Preston, and the horn section of Bunk and Buzz Gardner.

Burnt Weeny Sandwich gets the party started with Zappa reaching back into his past with a cover of the Five Deuces’ doo-wop classic “WPLJ” complete with gorgeous backing harmonies and an arrangement that relies more on vocal delivery than on its sparse instrumentation. Not a year removed from the creative exercise that was Cruising with Ruben & the Jets, Zappa would revisit his beloved doo-wop and 1950s-era rock ‘n’ roll more than once in the years to come. “Igor’s Boogie, Phase One” and the following “Phase Two” are brief tone poems named in tribute to favored composer Igor Stravinsky; the former leads into the tinkling instrumental “Overture to A Holiday In Berlin” and the latter into the lengthier “Holiday In Berlin, Full Blown,” which extends musical themes that the Mothers had previously explored on the Absolutely Free and We’re Only In It For the Money albums. The improvised hornplay by the brothers Gardner here is as wild and innovative as anybody in the late ‘60s while Zappa’s imaginative fretwork is miles beyond that of his peers in the world of rock ‘n’ roll, save for Jimi Hendrix, who played in a universe entirely his own.

Little House I Used To Live In


Zappa photo by Bruce Linton, courtesy Universal Music
Zappa photo by Bruce Linton, courtesy Universal Music
In between this handful of tracks falls “Theme From Burnt Weeny Sandwich,” a guitar-driven four-and-a-half-minute instrumental jam that anchors the album’s first side and showcases Zappa’s six-string skills, his guitar solo repurposed from an unused earlier recording originally put on tape for an extended version of “Lonely Little Girl” from We’re Only In It For The Money. The first side closes with the cleverly-titled “Aybe Sea,” a vigorous piano solo by Ian Underwood that seems absolutely Elizabethan in its construction, his instrument sounding more like a harpsichord than a standard piano. It wouldn’t be the last time that Zappa would mix classical elements with jazz-fusion experimentation, and in the hands of the immensely-talented Underwood, the performance offers a fine conclusion to the first side.

The second side of Burnt Weeny Sandwich is comprised of but two songs, but Zappa’s original, eighteen-minute live performance of “House I Used To Live In” is a masterpiece of modern classical composition that itself would presage the Maestro’s various musical obsessions in years to come. Starting out small with Underwood’s discordant piano notes serving as the song’s intro, the performance reminds of Zappa’s fascination with avant-garde composers like John Cage, launching into a rich brew of syncopated rhythms, machinegun time changes, and overall chaotic instrumentation. The song careens off the boards like a pinball machine set to ‘tilt’ with whiplash musical directions and unexpected curves like Sugarcane Harris’s clattering but exhilarating violin solo (also previously-recorded but fitting here perfectly) and Underwood’s staccato piano-pounding. Burnt Weeny Sandwich closes out in the same manner as it opened, with a cover of Jackie and the Starlites’ doo-wop tune “Valarie,” an inspired reading supported by shimmering instrumentation and heartfelt vocals.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Surprisingly enough, Burnt Weeny Sandwich would become the Mothers’ highest-charting album to date in the U.K. while barely scraping into the Top 100 on the U.S. charts. The album’s piecemeal construction, mostly instrumental compositions, and its ongoing experimentation with musical themes began a year previous with the Uncle Meat double-album played true to Zappa’s intent to shake fans from their complacency and make them think. Along with the subsequent Weasels Ripped My Flesh, the two albums serve as a final conclusion to the original era of the Mothers of Invention. From this point on, the band’s sole focus would be on Zappa as it slowly evolved into a creative vehicle exclusively for Zappa’s solo efforts.

Zappa would later put together a new version of the Mothers centered on the vocal talents of former Turtles members Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (a/k/a “Flo & Eddie”) and including talented musicians like veteran British drummer Aynsley Dunbar (John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers) and bassist Jim Pons (The Turtles) as well as longtime Mothers Ian Underwood and Don Preston. Subsequent recordings would feature Zappa as a smutty comedic storyteller (Just Another Band From L.A.) and jazz-fusion pioneer (The Grand Wazoo) before hitting his commercial peak with the pop-influenced rock LPs Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe. Taken in this context, Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh served as an artistic catharsis necessary for Zappa to move on from his original vision for the Mothers and into the wide-open future. Grade: B- (Zappa Records/UMe, released June 22, 2018)

Buy the vinyl from Amazon.com: The Mothers of Invention’s Burnt Weeny Sandwich

Blues Deluxe: The Joe Bonamassa Buying Guide

Joe Bonamassa fans rejoice, for the Reverend and Excitable Press are happy to announce the publication of Blues Deluxe: The Joe Bonamassa Buying Guide. The latest literary effort by the Reverend, Blues Deluxe is an album by album guide to the music of popular blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa. Profusely illustrated with dozens of color photos, including album cover artwork for every release, the guide also features eighteen album reviews covering many of Bonamassa’s solo efforts as well as albums recorded with Beth Hart, Black Country Communion, and Rock Candy Funk Party. The book also reprints a rare, long out-of-print 2011 Bonamassa interview previously-published by Blues Revue magazine.

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 About.com, Rev. Gordon has also written for Blurt magazine, Creem, High Times, Blues Music magazine, and The Blues (U.K.), among many other publications, and has written fifteen previous music-related books, including The Other Side of Nashville and Scorched Earth: A Jason & the Scorchers Scrapbook and several volumes in The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives series (including Southern Rock, Punk Rock, and the upcoming Heavy Metal).

Blues Deluxe: The Joe Bonamassa Buying Guide is a 188-page 5.5” x 8.5” trade paperback printed with gorgeous full-color photos and is available as a $26.99 print edition (sorry, but color ain't cheap) and as a less-expensive $4.99 eBook for your Kindle. Signed copies of Blues Deluxe are available from the Reverend through the PayPal link (with free shipping), or get your copy from Amazon with the handy links below.

Blues Deluxe print edition [Amazon.com link]

Blues Deluxe eBook edition [Amazon.com link]

Get your copy of Blues Deluxe personally signed by the Reverend Gordon his own bad self (U.S. orders only, please)!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Blues Legend Matt “Guitar” Murphy, R.I.P.

Matt Guitar Murphy in The Blues Brothers
Matt Guitar Murphy in The Blues Brothers
We’re saddened to report on the death of the great Matt “Guitar” Murphy, an underrated talent best known for his appearances in the two Blues Brothers movies. Murphy was 88 years old; no cause of death has been announced.

Born in Mississippi in 1929 but raised in Memphis, Murphy learned to play guitar as a child. Moving to Chicago in 1948, Murphy joined the great Howlin’ Wolf’s band, which also featured harp player ‘Little’ Junior Parker. Murphy subsequently played on recording sessions with Parker and Bobby “Blue” Bland before hooking up with legendary blues pianist Memphis Slim. Murphy played guitar behind the pianist throughout the 1950s, including on his classic 1959 album At the Gate of Horn.

During the 1950s and ‘60s Murphy played a lot of recording sessions and was in-demand for live performances as well, working with artists like Chuck Berry, Ike Turner, Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Etta James, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Koko Taylor. He performed on the 1963 American Folk Blues Festival of Europe, and would spend much of the ‘70s performing and recording with blues harp genius James Cotton, appearing on albums like 100% Cotton and High Energy.

For all of his great work on stage and in the studio over three decades, however, it is with the Blues Brothers Band that Murphy may forever be remembered. Formed in 1978 by Saturday Night Live featured players John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, the Blues Brothers started out as a musical skit featuring music the two comedians loved and quickly struck a chord with audiences, growing into a bona fide pop culture phenomenon. After appearing as the musical guest on SNL, the Blues Brothers recorded the live album Briefcase Full of Blues with some of the best players in the blues and R&B genres, including Murphy, Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn (Stax Records) and a complete horn section. The album topped the charts and sold better than three million copies.

Matt Guitar Murphy's Lucky Charm
Murphy appeared in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers as part of the band, notably playing guest star Aretha Franklin’s husband, and also appeared in the 1998 sequel, Blues Brothers 2000; his scorching fretwork was featured on the soundtracks to both films. Following up on the popularity of the first film and its accompanying soundtrack, Murphy formed his own band in 1982 and toured both with the Blues Brothers and his own outfit until sidelined by a stroke in 2002. He would return to the stage a few years later, playing a reunion show with James Cotton at the 2010 Chicago Blues Festival and as part of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2013.

Over the course of his lengthy career, Matt Murphy lent his talents to dozens of albums by some of the greatest legends in the blues and R&B, who sought his contributions to their music. He only recorded four acclaimed albums as a solo artist, however, including 1990’s Way Down South (with his brother Floyd on rhythm guitar) and 2000’s Lucky Charm. The contributions of Matt “Guitar” Murphy to the popularization of blues music and the impact of his enormous talent on the records that define the genre simply cannot be overstated. He will be missed…




Friday, June 15, 2018

Yet More Classic Reggae from Omnivore: Winston Jarrett & Ronnie Davis

Winston Jarrett & the Righteous Flames' Jonestown
The good people at Omnivore Recordings certainly aren’t sitting on their hands when it comes to sharing albums from the long-gone Nighthawk Records label with riddim-hungry reggae fans. Hot on the heels of a pair of classic albums from Junior Byles and Ethiopian & Gladiators scheduled for July release comes news of another two reggae classics in August. Along with the reissued reggae compilations coming from a revived Trojan Records label, this summer is going to be a big one for fans of the Jamaican sound!

On August 3rd, 2018 Omnivore will be reissuing the 1984 album Jonestown by Winston Jarrett & the Righteous Flames and the 19976 album Come Straight by Ronnie Davis and Idren. Although neither of these talented singers is a household name, their talent and pedigrees are recognized by hardcore reggae fans, and both albums have been out-of-print for decades.

Jarrett was a veteran of 1960s-era reggae harmony band Alton & the Flames, and the singer formed the original version of the Righteous Flames in the 1970s, recording for Prince Buster’s Olive Blossom label and working with producer Sir Coxsone on sides like “Ease Up” and “Born To Be Loved.” Jarrett also provided backing vocals on hits by legends like Ken Boothe and Marcia Griffiths before meeting up with Nighthawks’ Leroy Jody Pierson, who convinced the singer to put together a new version of the Righteous Flames to record Jonestown for the label. The album has been remastered from the original master tapes and includes liner notes by Pierson and a booklet with previously-unseen photos.

Ronnie Davis' Come Straight
Ronnie Davis was also a veteran of Jamaica’s 1960s-era music scene, singing with the Tennors on their 1968 hit “Ride Your Donkey” and 1973 single “Ride Your Donkey.” Producer Bunny Lee convinced Davis to pursue a solo career, and throughout the ‘70s he would become one of Jamaica’s most popular and prolific reggae artists, recording more than 100 sides for various labels and producers. By the end of the decade Davis was producing his own singles for his On Top Records label, hooking up with several friends to form the Itals, scoring a hit with their first single “In A Dis A Time.”

The band came to the attention of Nighthawk Records, who subsequently released a number of Itals’ albums throughout the ‘80s. Davis struck out on his own again when the Itals broke up and recorded the 1996 album Come Straight for Nighthawk, which was credited to Ronnie Davis and Idren. The album has since become considered an obscure gem of roots-reggae and this reissue includes two new tracks, new liner notes by Pierson, and previously-unseen photos. Both titles are “must have” reissues for reggae fans in the know, so get ‘em now!

Buy the CDs from Amazon.com:
Winston Jarrett & the Righteous Flames’ Jonestown
Ronnie Davis & Idren’ Come Straight

Classic U2 LPs get Vinyl Reissues

U2's Achtung Baby
Universal Music/Island Records/Interscope (does anybody really know how these companies fit together?) announced this week that they’ll be giving three classic albums by Irish rockers U2 their proper vinyl reissues. On July 27th, 2018 the label will reissue 1991’s critically-acclaimed Achtung Baby, 1993’s equally-esteemed Zooropa, and the 1998 compilation album The Best of 1980-1990 on glorious 180-gram black vinyl, all three double-record sets.

This will be the first time all three titles have appeared on vinyl, each of them a product of the industry’s evolution towards vinyl during the 1990s. Released in November 1991, Achtung Baby was recorded over a period of six months at the Hansa Studio in Berlin, Germany and at Windmill Lane in Dublin, Ireland. The album production was shared by Daniel Lanois (Neil Young, Bob Dylan), Brian Eno (David Bowie, The Talking Heads), and Steve Lillywhite (The Pogues, Peter Gabriel) and would become one of the band’s most successful efforts, topping the charts in the U.S. and six other countries on its way to selling better than 18 million copies worldwide (over 8 million in the U.S. alone). The album also won U2 a Grammy™ Award for “Best Rock Performance.” The vinyl cover artwork is based on the original, with the sleeve expanded to hold two discs, and includes a lyric sheet and a download card for the twelve album tracks.

U2's Zooropa
It’s hard to follow up an album as successful as Achtung Baby but, if you’re going to do it, the ‘90s was the decade to try for the brass ring. Released in July 1993, Zooropa quickly topped the charts in eleven countries, and if it sold fewer copies than its predecessor (a mere seven million worldwide), it received nearly universal critical acclaim for its pop experimentation. Produced by Flood (Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails), Eno, and U2 guitarist The Edge, Zooropa earned the band another Grammy™ Award, this one for “Best Alternative Music Album.” The reissue also features expanded cover artwork and a download card and includes alternative mixes for two of the album’s singles, “Numb” and “Lemon.”

U2 was one of the best-selling bands of the ‘90s, selling in excess of 30 million copies of the three albums they released during the decade, and their landmark Zoo TV tour (1992-93) set the standard for multimedia overkill (and sold a truckload of tickets, over 10 million worldwide). In 1998, Island Records thought that they’d recoup some of the reported $60 million they spent on re-signing the band a few years earlier by releasing the first of two “greatest hits” albums.

U2's The Best of 1980-1990U2’s The Best of 1980-1990 covers the band’s early days, the sixteen-track collection shooting to the top of the charts in a number of countries (oddly, it only hit #2 in the U.S.) on its way to nearly ten million in sales worldwide. The album includes some of the band’s best-loved songs, including “New Year’s Day,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and “Angel of Harlem” and the reissue also includes the bonus track “One Tree Hill” from The Joshua Tree album. The reissue also features expanded cover artwork and a download card.

Buy the vinyl from Amazon.com:
U2’s Achtung Baby
U2’s Zooropa

Sunday, June 10, 2018

CD Review: Webb Wilder and the Beatneck's Powerful Stuff! (2018)

Webb Wilder and the Beatneck's Powerful Stuff!
Back in the mid-1980s, Webb Wilder (née John McMurry) burst onto the Nashville rock scene like a revelation. Sure, we local fans enjoyed bands like Afrikan Dreamland, the White Animals, and Jason & the Nashville Scorchers which pursued their own individual muse, but the musical immigrant from Hattiesburg, Mississippi brought with him a love of British Invasion rock, 1950s-era rockabilly and blues, and classic 1960s-era country music. Wilder created a unique musical hybrid that helped define the “Americana” genre that would follow a decade later representing, as he did, the influence and resulting confluence of nearly every native musical style.

Launching his lengthy career with 1986’s It Came From Nashville, Wilder and his talented, often underrated bands – primarily the Beatnecks and the NashVegans – toured relentlessly and delivered five groundbreaking albums over the following ten years, including a pair of bona fide classics in 1991’s Doo Dad and 1996’s Acres of Suede. Sadly, Wilder was a man both ahead of and behind the times, and after failing to achieve much more than a cult following during the time of grunge and hair metal, he virtually disappeared for nearly a decade, popping back up as a DJ for Sirius XM radio’s “Outlaw Country” channel – an appropriate forum for a quick-witted, humorous, and glib talker like Webb (whom I’ve known and interviewed many times since his arrival in the Music City).

When Wilder reappeared with 2005’s About Time album, he showed that he still had plenty of gas in the tank, and he’s since almost doubled the number of titles in his catalog. Powerful Stuff! could be seen as a “stopgap” measure between studio albums, but it’s really a look back at the artist’s past, a carefully-curated collection of previously-unreleased studio outtakes and live performances that should thrill any longtime WW fan. Scatted among these sixteen exhilarating tracks are a handful of original songs that beg the question of their obscurity along with a number of electrifying cover tunes that not only prove Wilder’s skill as an interpreter of classic rock, blues, and R&B material but also serves to properly earn the singer revered status as a “songster” like so many Mississippi artists of yore.

Webb Wilder’s Powerful Stuff!


Slapping a Webb Wilder album on whatever twin-speaker rig you might own is like finding the “Trademark of Quality” stamp – you’re guaranteed a good time every time! Even a hodge-podge collection like Powerful Stuff! has more than enough cheap thrills to get you through your hectic day. The disc kicks off with the rollicking “Make That Move,” a vintage ‘90s locomotive rocker originally done by Levi & the Rockats, an early ‘80s rockabilly outfit that obviously made an impression on a young WW. The song receives the full treatment from the “Last of the Full Grown Men” here, complete with mile-a-minute rhythms, studio-distorted vocals, and wiry guitarplay. The 1960s-styled, pop-leaning “New Day” is a psych-drenched Wilder original recorded in ’93 but lost in the studio until now. The trippy, swirling fretwork of guitarist Donny “The Twangler” Roberts perfectly complements Wilder’s melodic vocals while the rest of the band creates a miasmic din of clashing instrumentation.

The blustery “Lost In the Shuffle” is one of longtime Wilder friend, producer, and compatriot R.S. “Bobby” Field’s many songs recorded by the singer. Why this one was never released I can’t figure out, even with an abacus and a slide-rule…the song’s bluesy undercurrents support a surprisingly deft R&B delivery, with the legendary Al Kooper adding his inspired keyboards, the talented Jim Hoke blowing his sax, and Field providing some tasty six-string flourishes. The song stands up with anything that Webb has recorded over his lengthy career, and that’s saying something. Field’s “Animal Lover,” a 1988 studio track that takes Wilder out of his comfort zone, veers dangerously close to ‘80s-era new wave pop territory with a bouncy melody and an unusual chorus, Webb straining his vocals to match the song’s wordy albeit erudite story-telling lyrics. The dueling guitars of Wilder and Roberts anchor the song firmly on rock ‘n’ roll planet earth.

Nutbush City Limits


As much fun as the long-lost studio tracks may be, Powerful Stuff! offers plenty of crackerjack live performances by the talented Beatnecks. The album’s title track was captured at Mountain Stage show in 1988; Webb and the Beatnecks wisely shelved the track after the Fabulous Thunderbirds picked it up and scored a hit, even naming their 1989 album for the song. Featured in the mondo-successful Tom Cruise movie Cocktail, “Powerful Stuff” was the first single released from a soundtrack album that sold better than ten million flapjacks around the globe. Webb’s reading of the song is less bluesy, but offers up shards of stinging, vibrant guitar and Wilder’s awestruck vocals. It takes cajones to cover Ike & Tina Turner, but Wilder does just that with a raucous live take of the classic “Nutbush City Limits,” delivering the panache that Bob Seger promised (but failed) by hewing closer to the original with a ramshackle arrangement, shotgun vocals, and a recklessly-rocking soundtrack delivered with punkish intensity.

Wilder covers fellow underrated Nashville rocker Steve Forbert’s “Catbird Seat,” a twangy lyrics-heavy tale that mixes a rockabilly rhythm and a classic country heart with fretwork as sharp as concertina wire and Wilder’s machinegun vocal delivery. The Cajun country of Doug Kershaw’s “Hey Mae” is close to Wilder’s heart, and with this performance – captured live at the world-famous Exit/In club in Nashville – Webb displays another facet of his talents. With backing vocal harmonies from the band that offers a sort of “call and response,” Wilder leads his troops through a rowdy performance that is equal parts Bo Diddley and Charlie Feathers. Ditto for his cover of Johnny Paycheck’s “Revenooer Man,” which is provided an inspired Webb performance complete with lively chicken-pickin’ and a choogling rhythm; by comparison, the Field song “Dead and Starting to Cool” is a somber tale of romantic heartbreak with Webb’s deep baritone vocals, menacing guitar riffs, and ominous rhythms. Powerful Stuff! closes out with Little Richard’s classic “Lucille,” Wilder and the Beatnecks finding a deep rhythmic groove for Webb’s free-flowing vocals to ride atop, the band rocking with joyous abandon.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


As I alluded to above, if you don’t have a good time playing a Webb Wilder album, then you’ve probably assumed room temperature. Sure, Powerful Stuff! is an “odds ‘n’ sods” collection culled from Wilder’s archives, but the material is delivered with every bit the same level of energy and commitment as anything that Webb has previously put on record. For those of us who became fans with Wilder’s It Came From Nashville LP, Powerful Stuff! is yet another welcome addition to the (slowly-growing) Webb Wilder canon. As the man says, “work hard, rock hard, eat hard, sleep hard, grow big, wear glasses if you need ‘em.” Amen… Grade: A (Landslide Records, released April 27, 2018)

Previously on That Devil Music:
Webb Wilder’s Mississippi Mōderne CD review
Webb Wilder’s It Came From Nashville CD review

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Webb Wilder’s Powerful Stuff!

Friday, June 8, 2018

CD Preview: Willie Nile’s Children of Paradise

Willie Nile’s Children of Paradise
Buffalo’s favorite son Willie Nile is one of our favorite singer/songwriters ‘round these parts. Ever since hearing Nile’s 1980 self-titled debut album, and his sophomore follow-up, 1981’s Golden Down, the Reverend has been a fan of Nile’s erudite lyricism and rockin’ melodic sense, which always roars out of the speakers like truth from the horn of Jericho.

We live in troubled times, but thankfully Nile is coming along just in time with a new album, Children of Paradise, to be released on July 27th, 2018 on Nile’s on River House label. In a press release for Children of Paradise Nile says, “I made this album because I needed a pick-me-up from the blues that’s all around us. The music always lifts my spirits, and that’s what these songs do for me and it’s why I wrote them. Hopefully they can lift others’ spirits as well.”

Children of Paradise offers a dozen new original songs, Nile’s intelligent lyrics combined with a gritty rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack. The album was co-produced by Nile and Grammy™ Award winner and longtime collaborator Stewart Lerman (who has also worked with Elvis Costello and Patti Smith, among others). The album includes such timely songs as “Seeds of A Revolution,” “All Dressed Up and No Place To Go,” “Don’t,” “Earth Blues, and “Getting’ Ugly Out There.” Nile wrote “Lookin’ For Someone” with his friend Andrew Dorff, who has written country hits for artists like Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney. Dorff died unexpectedly after the two finished the song, and Nile has dedicated Children of Paradise to his late friend.

Nile plays acoustic and electric guitars and piano on Children of Paradise, and is joined in the studio by members of his live band – guitarist Matt Hogan, bassist Johnny Pisano, and drummer Jon Weber. Guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Steuart Smith and keyboardist Andy Burton also lent their talents to the sessions, and backing vocals on the songs are provided by James Maddock, Leslie Mendelson, and Frankie Lee. Nile, needless to say, is pleased with the resulting album, saying, “it’s one of my personal favorites for sure.”

“I thought from the time I started putting this album together that it was going to be something special,” muses Nile. “It’s full of fire and passion and spirit, and it feels like real life to me. The songs come out of the box roaring and rocking, yet there are also songs of intimacy and tenderness. It’s got all the power and promise of what I love best about rock ‘n’ roll. It’s heartfelt, pissed off, in love, on fire and out of its mind all at the same time. A perfect recipe for a good party and a great album…”

Also on That Devil Music:
Q5: Willie Nile talks about Bob Dylan
Willie Nile - Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan CD review
Willie Nile - Beautiful Wreck of the World CD review

CD Preview: Peter Holsapple’s Game Day

Peter Holsapple’s Game Day
Peter Holsapple is a rock ‘n’ roll lifer with an impressive list of credits on his resume. An essential member of the legendary power-pop cult band the dB’s, Holsapple has been the band’s anchor, appearing on every album from 1981’s Stands For Decibels through 1984’s classic Like This to 2012’s acclaimed reunion album Falling Off the Sky. Holsapple spent several years touring with R.E.M. contributing guitar and keyboards to the band’s live sound, and he recorded four albums with the Continental Drifters.

What Holsapple hasn’t done very well is pursue a solo career (unlike his dB’s bandmate Chris Stamey, who has half a dozen solo LPs under his belt). After spending two decades playing with bands, Holsapple launched his solo career with 1997’s Out of My Way. That’s pretty much been it ‘til now, save for 2009’s Here and Now, recorded with Stamey, the second such collaboration between the two artists. That’s why it’s good news to hear that the talented singer and songwriter will has recorded his first solo album in 21 years; titled Game Day, it’s scheduled for July 27th, 2018 release by Omnivore Recordings.

Peter Holsapple photo courtesy Omnivore Recordings
Peter Holsapple, photo courtesy Omnivore Recordings
Holsapple’s Game Day features thirteen new songs, a bonus track, and two “super bonus tracks” in the form of the singer’s acclaimed single “Don’t Mention the War” b/w “Cinderella Style,” which was released in 2017. “After putting the single out on my own last year, I made the decision to put out an album,” says Holsapple in a press release for the new album. “Some tunes are brand new, some have been in rotation for a bit, but all are worthy. My ‘middle-aged Pet Sounds fantasy’ is real, with the issues of middle age put to memorable melodies. The old guy at work in ‘Tuff Day,’ watching my parents’ place get cleared out in ‘Inventory,’ a decades-late thank-you note to a college girlfriend in ‘Commonplace’ – they’re all a part of the present-day me.”

Holsapple wants fans to know that Game Day is a “solo album” in every sense of the word – “I played and sang 99 44/100ths of the notes on this record,” he says. “I wanted to be responsible for all of it, so I dove deep inside myself and the songs and came up with Game Day.” The album features the sort of melodic hooks and intelligent songwriting that has long been a trademark of Holsapple’s talent. We’ll let Peter have the last word on his new album – “today, with all of the hard competition in the music business, it’s almost impossible to come up with anything totally original. So I haven’t, but I had a lot of fun making Game Day, and I hope it comes through when you hear it.”

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Peter Holsapple’s Game Day

Also on That Devil Music:
The dB's - Like This CD review


Monday, June 4, 2018

CD Review: Joe Bonamassa's British Blues Explosion Live (2018)

Joe Bonamassa's British Blues Explosion Live
It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a year since blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa has released a new album, with Live At Carnegie Hall: An Acoustic Evening still a vibrant reflection in our rear-view mirror. Still, Joe loves the stage, and at this point in a career that has spanned nearly three decades, he’s released more live albums as a solo artist (14 counting this one) than he has studio works (a dozen as of 2016)…and don’t get me started on his band efforts with Black Country Communion or collaborations with singer Beth Hart. Releasing at least an album a year, he’s as prolific as any artist currently working.

Joe’s latest live set is yet another expansive two-disc collection where the guitarist lets his British blues-rock flag proudly fly. Guessing that Joe’s dad is of a similar vintage as myself (i.e. early 60s in age), we probably shared a lot of the same records – records that young Joe B. grew up listening to. Joe’s love of British blues-rock has been quite evident on his albums through the years, as he’s covered songs by a lot of his fave artists, but British Blues Explosion Live brings the guitarist’s fascination with bands like Cream, the Jeff Beck Group, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and Led Zeppelin to a boiling point.

Joe Bonamassa’s British Blues Explosion Live


Recorded live in July 2016 at The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich U.K. this fourteen-track collection may be the heaviest guitar album that Bonamassa has made in years. Joe’s done his homework here as well, mixing in covers of the usual suspects (Jeff Beck’s “Beck’s Bolero,” Zep’s “Boogie With Stu,” Cream’s “SWLABR”) with a few deep cuts of lesser renown. Although Eric Clapton’s reading of the traditional “Motherless Children” is a familiar favorite from his acclaimed 1974 album 461 Ocean Boulevard, his cover of songwriter George Terry’s “Mainline Florida” is obscure by any measure. Bonamassa funks the tune up with a loping groove and soulful vocals while the band recreates the original soundtrack to perfection.

Willie Dixon’s classic “Let Me Love You Baby” has been recorded by everybody from Buddy Guy and Koko Taylor to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Blodwyin Pig, and Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack. I’m not sure whose version inspired young Joe, but I’m going with Savoy Brown’s, as Bonamassa’s raucous fretwork here reminds of young Kim Simmonds (tho’ Joe is a fan of Blodwyn Pig’s Mick Abrahams). The Jeff Beck Group’s “Plynth (Water Down the Drain),” from the 1969 album Beck-Ola, was a tailor-made showcase for Bonamassa’s rockin’ “Guitar God” persona, and while his hurried vocals don’t capture much of the soul innate in Rod Stewart’s original performance, his fretwork burns with the intensity of a collapsing star.

How Many More Times


The vastly influential John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers is represented by “Double Crossing Time” and “Little Girl” from their classic 1966 LP Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton. The former is a sizzling Chicago-styled blues romp with plenty of Reese Wynans’ tinkling piano keys and Bonamassa’s fatback fretwork while the latter is a more up-tempo jaunt with stinging guitar and rollicking instrumentation. A cover of Beck’s “Spanish Boots” is simply breathtaking, Bonamassa’s voice soaring above the staggering rhythms while his guitar rages like a hurricane fiercely eyeing landfall. 

Bonamassa sneaks his own instrumental “Black Winter/Django” onto the set list, and it’s a testament to his British blues-rock influences that his nimble-fingered guitar playing reminds of both Beck and Jimmy Page. The guitarist’s duel with drummer Anton Fig here is particularly exhilarating, the two artists parrying and thrusting their instruments like skilled fencers gone mad. Fig’s bombastic percussion opens Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times,” Bonamassa’s vocals flowing more naturally than Plant’s original efforts, and while he’s not bowing his fretboard, he’s tearing it up like Albert King at his peak.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Joe Bonamassa never ceases to surprise, and British Blues Explosion Live is certainly no exception. The inspiration for these performances leaps out of the grooves with a vengeance, leaving Bonamassa’s talented veteran road band to catch up. There’s nary a wrong note to be found among these fourteen tracks, and the immense contributions here of keyboard wrangler Reese Wynans – himself a veteran of bands like Captain Beyond and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble – remind listeners of the role that piano-pounders like Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart playing on the original recordings of these songs.

Altogether, British Blues Explosion Live is another triumph for Bonamassa’s restless muse, serving as a solid addition to the guitarist’s ever-growing catalog of music as well as a fine introduction to the artist’s considerable talents. Grade: A (J&R Adventures, released May 18, 2018)

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Joe Bonamassas British Blues Explosion Live   

Also on That Devil Music:
Joe Bonamassa - Live At Carnegie Hall: An Acoustic Evening CD review
Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa - Black Coffee CD review

The Return of Crack the Sky

Crack the Sky's Crackology
Formed in the early ‘70s in Weirton, West Virginia just across the state line from Pittsburgh, Crack the Sky was a musically adventurous outfit that, while clearly inspired by British prog-rock currents from across the pond, nevertheless forged their own unique sound that many critics compared favorably with Steely Dan. The original band line-up included singer and keyboardist John Palumbo, guitarists Rick Witkowski and Jim Griffiths, bassist Joe Macre, and drummer Joey D’Amico.

The band’s self-titled 1975 album earned near universal critical acclaim, even from the notoriously anti-prog Rolling Stone magazine, whose Stephen Holden called it “one of the year’s most impressive debuts.” The band followed up their debut a year later with the equally-acclaimed Animal Notes, touring heavily during the latter half of the decade as an opening act for bands like Supertramp, Rush, Yes, Kansas, and Frank Zappa, among others. Palumbo left the band in 1977, but Crack the Sky kept on truckin’, releasing Safety In Numbers and Live Sky in 1978 and, with Palumbo back in the fold, the album White Music in 1980. Distribution problems by their label, Lifesong Records, prevented the band from reaching a larger audience, and with the odd exception of Baltimore, which holds an avid CTS fan base, Crack the Sky never caught on beyond Pittsburgh.

Crack the Sky has continued to tour and record in various incarnations led by Palumbo and/or Witkowski, however, releasing their most recent album, Ostrich, in 2012. Some 40 years after their formation, Crack the Sky is coming back in a big way with two new albums. On August 24th, 2018 Loud & Proud Records will release Living In Reverse, a new studio album, and Crackology, a compilation set featuring of the band’s twelve favorite songs from across the years. The current band line-up includes Palumbo and Witkowski, original drummer Joey D’Amico, guitarist Bobby Hird, keyboardist Glenn Workman, and bassist Dave DeMarco.

Crack the Sky's Living In Reverse
“We’ve been going back in time to try and find ourselves, even while we’ve been looking ahead to the future,” observes guitarist/producer Rick Witkowski in a press release for the new album, “and we’re looking to bring in new fans who’ve never heard what we’ve done before.” Adds lead vocalist and chief songwriter John Palumbo, “eventually, you find that everything comes full circle, so it’s fair to say we’ve been quite reinvigorated as artists these past few years.”

Crack the Sky will be playing a special show on Saturday August 25th, 2018 at MECU Pavilion (formerly Pier Six Pavilion) in Baltimore, Maryland for the 4th Annual Veteran’s Benefit Concert presented by Music Healing Heroes to benefit K9s for Warriors and the Wounded Warrior Project. They will be performing songs from the new album, as well as from Crackology.

Buy the CD from Amazon.com:
Crack the Sky’s Living In Reverse




Lords of the New Church Debut LP Expanded

Lords of the New Church
Lords of the New Church
Comprised of the Dead Boys’ Stiv Bators, the Damned’s Brian James, Sham 69’s Dave Tregunna, and the Barracuda’s Nick Turner, Lords of the New Church were the first “supergroup” of the post-punk era. The band’s self-titled 1982 debut album stands as one of the true classic rockers of the era, and now the title is going to get an overhaul and expansion for the new century.

On July 20, 2018 Blixa Sounds will reissue the band’s debut album as a two-disc set titled Lords of the New Church: Special Edition. The set will feature the album’s ten original songs as well as two B-side bonus tracks in “Girls Girls Girls” and “Young Don’t Cry” as well as the single version of the band’s Top 30 hit “Open Your Eyes.”

Lords of the New Church CD
The album will be expanded with the addition of a 13-song live set from 1982, performing at the legendary Long Island NY club My Father’s Place. Along with high-octane live versions of songs from their debut like “Question of Temperature,” “Russian Roulette,” “Holy War,” and “Apocalypso” the live disc also features a cover of New Orleans music legend Allen Toussaint’s “Fortune Teller.” The set also includes a twelve-page, full-color booklet with liner notes by music journalist Craig Rosen.

Formed in 1980 by Bators and James at the suggestion of I.R.S. Records founder Miles Copeland, the Lords originally included former Generation X bassist Tony James and Clash drummer Terry Chimes. James’ former Damned bandmate Rat Scabies even sat in on drums for a while, before the band line-up gelled with the addition of Tregunna and Turner. Although their time in the sun was short-lived, Lords of the New Church released three classic rock albums between 1982 and their 1989 break-up, following up on their debut with Is Nothing Sacred? in 1983 and The Method to Our Madness a year later.

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Lords of the New Church: Special Edition




Sunday, June 3, 2018

Archive Review: Ian Hunter's Shrunken Heads (2007)

Ian Hunter's Shrunken Heads
Belying the idea that rock music is a young man’s game, Ian Hunter puts his lifer status on the line with Shrunken Heads. A superb collection that features Hunter’s typical fusion of witty, whip-smart lyrics and guitar-driven hard rock, Shrunken Heads also provides insightful and topical lyrical commentary from one of the sharpest writers in rock music history.

As frontman for British rockers Mott the Hoople during the early ‘70s, Hunter earned a reputation as somewhat of a grumpy old man with a poison pen, penning pithy commentary on culture and society with a satirist’s eye and a journalist’s tenacity, each packaged in three-minute bundles ready for radio airplay. His lengthy solo career has done nothing to disillusion the casual listener that they’re hearing nothing more than a crank, albeit one with no little skill as a rock ‘n’ roll tunesmith. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and you’ll discover a hopeless romantic that, much like Quixote, prefers to endlessly tilt at windmills rather than go gently into that good night.

Ian Hunter’s Shrunken Heads


Now, some forty years after first picking up the torch, Hunter has crafted one more minor masterpiece in a career littered with such. Hunter’s voice isn’t what it used to be, age and abuse lessening its power and leaving it ragged around the edges. The years have done nothing to dull the passion to be found in his vocals, however, and his undeniable British accent remains intact even after decades of living in America. Neither have the years diminished Hunter’s biting lyrical style, the inspired work of a formerly angry young man with enough experience under his belt to be deadly with his aim.

Shrunken Heads has a wealth of magical moments where the band and performance and song all come together to jump right out of the grooves. As a stranger living among philistines, Hunter has a perspective on the current social and cultural zeitgeist that we Americans may be too myopic to discern, and his views are scattered throughout the songs here. “Fuss About Nothin’” tackles the conservative snake oil salesmen that we continuously place in positions of power, whether they be corporate CEOs, preachers or politicians. Hunter sings “but if it’s left to the left…there won’t be nothing left,” his words a tongue-in-cheek swipe at the brainwashed legion of Fox News drones. Speaking of which, the hard-rocking “Brainwashed” challenges the media-bred, corporate-approved, celebrity-driven propaganda that we’re deluged with 24/7, concluding “if you walk like a duck, quack like a duck, baby you bin brainwashed.”

One of the finer moments on Shrunken Heads is the nostalgic “When the World Was Round.” Having just turned 50, I can attest to the reminiscent nature of running headfirst into the brick wall of the final 1/3 of your life; here Hunter humanizes the grumpy old man with a wistful arrangement and clever lyrical turns. Decrying the information overload of the modern age and remembering simpler times he asks “is it my imagination, when I look back thru the ages?” Wondering if the past isn’t seen through rose-colored glasses, Hunter pleads “give me a reason to believe in, give me a reason to believe in, I think I liked it better when the world was round.”

Soul of America


Ian Hunter
The title cut, “Shrunken Heads,” displays the sort of magnificent Dylanesque grandeur that has long been Hunter’s musical trademark. With brilliant lyrical imagery and offering the best vocal performance on the album, Hunter sings “nothin’ matters any more, the rich get richer, and the poor get sorer,” asking “who’s gonna save us from these shrunken heads?” The song is a tragic commentary on a once-mighty, now sadly-crumbling American empire that is run by uncultured, ignorant boors (the shrunken heads of the song) that are masters of the dimwitted soundbite but can’t see beyond their own greed to recognize the damage they’ve wrought.

The equally impressive “Soul of America” shows a keen understanding of native-born patriotism that many on the left just don’t understand. Praising the heroes who take up arms and lay down their lives for their country, Hunter sings “yeah them wild boys ‘n’ red, white and blue, them wild boys gotta see the mission through, come hell or high water, we’re rooting for you,” finishing with “let’s rock the soul, let’s rock the soul of America.” Hunter includes a broadside against those that Dylan called the “masters of war,” damning them as “them good old boys in their three piece suits, feathering their nests while they’re rallying the troops, they cut off the flowers, don’t worry ‘bout the roots, eroding the soul of America.”

The rest of Shrunken Heads is equally sharp and entertaining, Hunter leading a talented band through, perhaps, his best collection of songs in over two decades. Musically, it helps that he has the foresight to bring along some of the best and brightest, if underrated musicians in the rock world. Former Jason & the Scorchers/Hearts And Minds guitarist Andy York is Hunter’s secret weapon, the overlooked and unheralded talent co-producing the album with Hunter and providing subtle-yet-powerful accompaniment on guitar, keyboards and backing vocals. Hunter has recruited some other Grade ‘A’ talent for the album as well, from guitarists Jack Petruzzelli and James Mastro to drummer Steve Holley and longtime Joe Jackson bassist Graham Maby. Guest shots include Jeff Tweedy and violinist Soozie Tyrell.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Hunter has never been the most prolific of artists. Although he recorded six studio albums during the first eight years of his solo career, since the hiatus that began in the wake of 1983’s All of the Good Ones Are Taken, Hunter has preferred quality over quantity, releasing just five studio albums during the past two decades. Now nearing 70 years old, with his place in rock ‘n’ roll history insured, Hunter has delivered a stunning tour de force in Shrunken Heads. Regardless of whether he records another single note – and I personally hope that he does – this would be a good one to go out on… (Yep Roc Records, released May 15, 2007)

Review originally published by Trademark of Quality blog, 2007

Archive Review: Ian Hunter's All of the Good Ones Are Taken (1983/2007)

Ian Hunter's All of the Good Ones Are Taken
By the time of the 1983 release of Ian Hunter’s All of the Good Ones Are Taken, the rock legend’s career had survived at least two turns of the generational screw. The first, while Hunter fronted British rockers Mott the Hoople, came when the band’s foundering fortunes were revived by the timely contribution by David Bowie of his glam-era anthem “All the Young Dudes.” After Mott’s rendition of the song became a smashing success in both England and the U.S., they rode the subsequent record sales and radio airplay to a modicum of success in the glam-dominated early ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll world. By 1975, however, glam had fizzled out and punk was on the horizon, as was the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal,” and Hunter jumped ship to launch a solo career.

The second major turn for Hunter came with the critical acclaim and modest success of his fourth solo album, 1979’s You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic. Yielding AOR hits in the classic “Just Another Night” and fan favorite “Cleveland Rocks” (which was later popularized by its use as a theme song for The Drew Carey Show), the album hit Top 40 in America, Hunter’s best chart showing since his 1975 self-titled debut. His follow-up, 1981’s Short Back and Sides, was produced by Mick Jones of the Clash and featured a more aggressive rock ‘n’ roll sound, but failed to meet the expectations of its predecessor; it peaked at number 62 on the Billboard album chart but dropped no hit singles and quickly sank from sight in the face of the cresting “new wave” and MTV.

Ian Hunter’s All of the Good Ones Are Taken


All of the Good Ones Are Taken, then, proved to be Hunter’s last grab at the brass ring. He had tasted success before, most notably with Mott the Hoople, but his waning solo fortunes and a changing musical environment had the musician skating on thin ice. With a core band that included bassist-around-town Marc Clarke, guitarist Robbie Alter and drummer/solo artist Hilly Michaels, Hunter recorded an album that has often been unfairly slagged as falling behind the artist’s loftier and acclaimed early efforts. In reality, if you enjoy and appreciate Hunter’s fairly-consistent ‘70s-era albums (Overnight Angels notwithstanding), you’d probably like All of the Good One Are Taken. Aside from a couple of clunky song arrangements no doubt designed for MTV-influenced airplay, and elements of dated, thin ‘80s-styled production, the songs and performances here hold up reasonably well almost 25 years later.

The disc opens with the title cut, the sort of Dylanesque rocker that Hunter cut his teeth on, an erudite love song that offers a couple of whimsical vocal turns and an infectious chorus; it should have been a big hit upon its release. Cut from the same lyrical/musical cloth as better-known Hunter compositions like “Just Another Night” or “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” and including a soulful sax solo courtesy of E Streeter Clarence Clemons, the song should be considered part of Hunter’s canon of great songs. It would also set the stage perfectly for much of the album to follow.

“Every Step of the Way” is an enjoyable, big-booted hard rocker with a pop chorus and a stomping beat while “Fun” is a more intricate song, with an ever-changing musical horizon and a somewhat confused self-identity. With chameleon-like vocals, big band horns, heavy guitar riffs and a recurring tinny lead that foreshadows the coming Miami Vice years, is this an honest rocker or merely a sad relic of the times? Speechless is another artistic mistake, with waaayyy too much Flock O’ Men At Work styled punchy synth and the sort of short-attention-span arrangement that was de rigueur on MTV at the time. Hunter’s vocals sound like he recorded them in a helium booth. In this day and age, the song sounds horribly dated.

That Girl Is Rock ‘N’ Roll


Ian Hunter
Luckily, there’s more muscle than flab on All of the Good Ones Are Taken. Starting with a moody synthesizer/keyboard crescendo, “Death ‘N’ Glory Boys” is a grand, epic spaghetti western of a song, filled with provocative instrumentation and one of Hunter’s best vocal turns. Representing longtime Hunter foil Mick Ronson’s only appearance on the album, his six-string contribution is priceless. Understated beneath Hunter’s vocals and the symphonic grandeur of the keyboard work, Ronson’s subtle yet wiry fretted punctuations add a truly ethereal dimension to the song. “That Girl Is Rock ‘N’ Roll” fakes us out with a Huey Lewis & the News-styled plinking synth intro before settling into a spirited, rockabilly-tinged rambler that would have fit perfectly on an early Mott LP.

The R&B influenced “Seeing Double” benefits from Clemons’ lush sax intro and some fine Northern Soul style backing vocals, the ballad offering up a smart set of lyrics and another fine Hunter performance, one that highlights the artist’s true range of talents. The original album version of All of the Good Ones Are Taken ended with a reprise of the title track, reinforcing the power of the original while taking on an identity of its own with a wonderfully wistful reading and slowed-down, almost melancholy arrangement.

This American Beat reissue of the album tacks on a bonus cut in the form of the single version of “Traitor,” an ultra-cool ‘70s stadium rock throwback that starts with a Billy Joel type piano roll before jumping headfirst into a sort of metallic K.O. of the Billy Squier sort with a big, staggered rhythm and angry OTT vocals. I’m not sure of the song’s pedigree, or why it wasn’t originally included on the album, but it certainly had a chance to be a monster hit.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


For whatever reasons, All of the Good Ones Are Taken failed to capture the imagination of the record buying public at the time. Blame it on MTV, if you want, or on the strange days and times of the early ‘80s when punk and new wave and college rock and heavy metal clashed for our attentions. Regardless, after the album’s release and subsequent commercial dismissal, Hunter went on an extended hiatus that lasted until the 1990 release of YUI Orta, a collaboration with guitarist Mick Ronson that was credited to the Hunter Ronson Band.

In the 24 years following the release of All of the Good Ones Are Taken, Hunter has released but a half-dozen studio albums and a handful of live discs with mixed results. While his work since 1990 has enjoyed a significant amount of critical acclaim, Hunter has seemingly given up his quest for stardom and instead concentrated on making good music. Nearly everything that Hunter has recorded through the years has merit and there is a wealth of great songs waiting to be rediscovered on albums like this one. (American Beat Records, released January 9, 2007)

Review originally published by Trademark of Quality blog, 2007

Archive Review: Ian Hunter’s Welcome To The Club – Live (1980/2007)

Ian Hunter's Welcome To the Club - Live
Rock ‘n’ roll icon Ian Hunter always had something that his contemporaries didn’t – plenty of attitude. Although he came of age during the yellow mellow daze of hippiedom, Hunter was always too acerbic, too intelligent and too cranky to fall prey to the false aphorisms of the peace and love crowd. When the punk rock revolution hit the U.K. in 1977, many late ‘60s/early ‘70s British rock stars were swept away by the aggressive new cultural zeitgeist. Very few pop stars survived the explosion of punk and the swelling post-punk “new wave” that crested at the dawn of the new decade, most of them dismissed as tottering old duffers by the angry young men and women of the Mohawk-clad, safety-pin-wearing, torn-jeans crowd.

Outside of heavy metal, which rested comfortably on the edge of the musical mainstream, enjoyed its own set of rules, and which would experience its own genre-overturning moment as the NWOBHM raised its ugly head, only David Bowie, Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott, and Hunter came through the 1977-78 stretch relatively unscathed. For Bowie, it was because he was just too damn weird, too brilliant, and too chameleon-like to get pinned by the punk crowd – a moving target, as it were. Lynott recognized early on the promise and potential of punk and became a sort of older brother to the movement, but Hunter…his distinctive attitude expressed so wonderfully through both his own solo material and countless Mott the Hoople songs…became a sort of guiding light to the young punks, influencing bands from the New York Dolls and the Clash to Billy Idol and Generation X.

Ian Hunter’s Welcome To The Club – Live


By 1979, the British punk “revolution” had largely fizzled out, the genre splitting into three distinct factions – the hardcore underground, represented by Crass, Conflict, Discharge, et al; the mainstream, which could boast of the Clash and Stiff Little Fingers among its frontrunners; and the “new wave,” which spawned a thousand disparate bands suddenly freed from the constraints of commercial expectations that had been crippled (though not eliminated entirely) by the rise of punk. Also in 1979, Hunter would release his fourth studio album, You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic, which ironically would become the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed album of a career that now spans five decades.

All of which, in a roundabout way, brings us to Hunter’s Welcome To The Club – Live. A two-album set that was originally released in 1980 and subsequently reissued on CD in 1994 with bonus tracks; it has been further embellished and expanded for its 2007 reissue by American Beat Records. Culled from a week of performances at the infamous Roxy in Los Angeles in support of You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic, the two-CD set does a solid job of capturing Hunter’s onstage energy as well as the instrumental talents of a band that included long-time friend and former Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson and bassist Martin Briley.

Slaughter On Tenth Avenue


Ian Hunter
Welcome To The Club – Live features all of the songs that fans would expect: “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” taken from Hunter’s self-titled 1975 debut; “Just Another Night” and “Cleveland Rocks” from Schizophrenic; and lesser-known gems like “Bastard” and “When The Daylight Comes.” Hunter throws a few surprises into the mix as well, like a scorching version of Ronson’s “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue” from his 1974 album of the same name, and a shockingly engaging reading of Sonny Bono’s “Laugh At Me.” Hunter reprises a number of songs from his Mott the Hoople days, including the breakthrough hits “All the Young Dudes” and “All the Way From Memphis,” both benefiting from wider arrangements, backing harmonies, and lush instrumentation.

Through several issues and reissues over the past 27 years, Welcome To The Club – Live has picked up some extra baggage along the way, and it mostly all fits into the intended scheme of things as laid out on the original vinyl release. Mott’s “The Golden Age of Rock and Roll” is provided an appropriately rollicking performance, and the additional medley of “Once Bitten, Twice Shy/Bastard/Cleveland Rocks” enjoys an energetic, rowdy rendering with Ronson’s screaming six-string licks and Hunter’s powerful honky-tonk-tinged piano work.

Three “live in the studio” tracks originally intended for the vinyl release resurface here; “We Gotta Get Out of Here” is a synth-driven new wave styled romp complete with chanted chorus that foreshadows Hunter’s work on albums like Short Back and Sides or All of the Good Ones Are Taken. “Silver Needles” is a slower, more deliberate ballad that shows Hunter at his most Dylanesque, with a fine vocal performance and sparse instrumentation, while “Man O’ War” is a mostly unremarkable, mid-tempo claustrophobic rocker that would fit comfortably on any of the artist’s solo albums.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Here’s where the attitude part comes into play, however. By 1979, the kind of roots-based rambling rock that Ian Hunter preached was supposed to be passé, dead in the water…the Sex Pistols had told us so…but Hunter, in his arrogance, refused to change directions even when the market seemed ready to force his hand. Both the joyous celebration of rock music displayed by You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic and the raucous, spirited performances preserved in wax by Welcome To The Club – Live represent a belief in the overwhelming power of rock ‘n’ roll and the value of a great song. This is probably one of the most honest live albums that you’ll ever hear, as well as a fitting document of Ian Hunter, one of rock music’s most respected cult artists, at the highest creative peak of his lengthy and storied career. (American Beat Records, released February 6, 2007)

Review originally published by Trademark of Quality blog, 2007

Friday, June 1, 2018

New Music Monthly: June 2018 Releases

May was a pretty good month for new releases, but it pales in comparison to the slate of new tunes we have in store for June. Plus, the month has five release Fridays, which means more music for all of us! You'll find new albums from British rock legends Roger Daltrey (The Who) and Wilko Johnson (Dr. Feelgood) on the shelves this month, as well as new music by blues legend Buddy Guy, Pete Yorn (with actress/singer Scarlett Johansson), Ray Davies, Jim James, Howlin' Rain, and Arthur Buck (a collaboration between singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur and former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck.

And for those of us with a "classic" orientation, how about archival releases from Mick Ronson, Junior Byles, Dennis Coffey, the Posies, and Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention or vinyl reissues of classic LPs from Liz Phair, Buddy Guy, and Junior Wells?

If we wrote about it here on the site, there will be a link to it in the album title; if you want an album, hit the 'Buy!' link to get it from Amazon.com...it'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!

Roger Daltrey's As Long As I Have You

JUNE 1
Neko Case - Hell-On   BUY!
Roger Daltrey - As Long As I Have You   BUY!
Father John Misty - God's Favorite Customer   BUY!
Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson - Apart   BUY!

Liz Phair's Liz Phair

JUNE 8
Eric Clapton - Life In 12 Bars OST   BUY!
Dennis Coffey - One Night at Morey's, 1968   BUY!
Howlin Rain - The Alligator Bride   BUY!
Liz Phair - Liz Phair [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Liz Phair - Whip-Smart [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Liz Phair - Whitechocolatespaceegg [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Gruff Rhys - Bablesberg   BUY!
Mick Ronson - Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story OST   BUY!
Various Artists - Ska & Reggae Classics (Trojan Records)   BUY!

Arthur Buck

JUNE 15
Arthur Buck - Arthur Buck [Joseph Arthur & Peter Buck]   BUY!
Junior Byles - Rasta No Pickpocket   BUY!
Gene Clark - Gene Clark Sings For You   BUY!
English Beat - Here We Go Love   BUY!
Ethiopian & Gladiators - Dread Prophecy   BUY!
Buddy Guy - The Blues Is Alive and Well   BUY!
Wilko Johnson - Blow Your Mind   BUY!
Johnny Marr - Call the Comet   BUY!
The Posies - Dear 23   BUY!
The Rose Garden - A Trip Through the Garden (w/Gene Clark)   BUY!
Mark Wenner's Blues Warrriors - Mark Wenner's Blues Warriors   BUY!

The Rose Garden's A Trip Through the Garden

JUNE 22
Nine Inch Nails - Bad Witch   BUY!
Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention - Burnt Weeny Sandwich [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Various Artists - This Is Trojan Roots (Trojan Records)   BUY! 

Buddy Guy's A Man and the Blues

JUNE 29
Ray Davies - Out Country: Americana Act II   BUY!
Florence + the Machine - High As Hope   BUY!
Buddy Guy - A Man and the Blues [vinyl reissue]  BUY!
Jim James - Uniform Distortion   BUY!
Junior Wells - Coming At You [vinyl reissue]   BUY!

Wilko Johnson's Blow Your Mind

Album of the Month: It may be a controversial pick in a month that includes new LPs from Roger Daltrey, Neko Case, and Ray Davies, but Wilko Johnson's Blow Your Mind is the British rock legend's first studio album in 30 years, and the follow-up to his Daltrey collaboration Going Back Home. Read more about it here... 

CD Review: Beside Bowie The Mick Ronson Story soundtrack (2018)

Even during an era of guitar heroes, Mick Ronson was exceptional, albeit underrated. Born in Kingston upon Hull, England Ronson was classically-trained as a pianist as a child, but was inspired to pick up a guitar after becoming enamored with early rocker Duane Eddy’s distinctive “twangy” sound. A veteran of various 1960s and ‘70s-era British rock bands (most notably The Rats), Ronson’s star began its ascent when he became an essential part of David Bowie’s short-lived Ziggy-era “Spiders From Mars” band. Ronson lent his six-string talents to such groundbreaking Bowie albums as 1971’s Hunky Dory, 1972’s classic The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, and 1973’s Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups.

When Bowie broke up the “Spiders,” Ronson launched his solo career with a pair of critically acclaimed albums in 1974’s Slaughter On 10th Avenue and 1975’s Play Don’t Worry. Neither disc sold particularly well and a third solo album, recorded in 1976, was subsequently shelved and Ronson dropped from the label. The guitarist soldiered on, however, recording and performing with his longtime friend Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople) and serving as a “gun for hire” for stars like Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and John Mellencamp. Ronson would also become an in-demand producer as well, working with artists as diverse as Midge Ure, Morrisey, the Rich Kids, and Slaughter and the Dogs, among others, before his tragic death in 1993 at the too-young age of 46 years. All of this history is recounted in the 2017 documentary film, Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, for which this CD and vinyl release serves as a soundtrack of the guitarist’s life.

Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story


Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story is essentially bookended by Ronson’s performance as part of the all-star crew appearing at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness. Held in April 1992 – a mere year before Ronson’s death from liver cancer – the concert included members of Mercury’s band Queen as well as Bowie, Ronson, Hunter, and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott and Phil Collen, among many others. Two songs are culled from that show, the first being a raucous performance of the classic “All the Young Dudes,” the Bowie-penned song that revived Mott the Hoople’s career in 1972. With all the hoopla surrounding the live performance of the revered Hoople song, it’s hard to pick out Ronson’s contribution from the fray, which isn’t necessarily the case with the epic live reading of Bowie’s “Heroes” that appears later on the album. Although Ronson was long gone from Bowie’s band by the time that the rock ‘n’ roll legend recorded “Heroes” (with guitarist Robert Fripp of King Crimson), his familiar wiry fretwork drives the performance’s inherent grandeur.

Far more intimate a portrait of Ronson’s immense talents can be heard on a track by British folk-rock legend Michael Chapman, whose “Soulful Lady” successfully blends Chapman’s not inconsiderable guitar skills with Ronson’s distinctive leads from an early session for Chapman’s 1970 album Fully Qualified Survivor. A lengthy alternative version of Elton John’s classic 1970 song “Madman Across the Water” features Ronson’s imaginative acoustic and electric guitar playing; it’s a damn shame that it wasn’t released on the original album, showing up years later as a bonus track and on rarities compilations. Ronson’s long-standing friendship with Ian Hunter is represented by Hunter’s popular solo track “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” which offers Ronson’s particularly jaunty git licks. More of this, please!

Ziggy’s Moonage Daydream


Mick Ronson's Slaughter On 10th Avenue
Joe Elliott’s previously-unreleased “This Is For You” was written in tribute to the universally-beloved guitarist, but its rather sedate performance is a real snooze. Ditto for pianist Mike Garson’s tepid instrumental “Tribute to Mick Ronson” which, however heartfelt, is nevertheless a somnambulant ending to an otherwise dynamic collection. The heart and soul of Beside Bowie can be found in four tracks taken from Ronson’s three extant solo albums along with three Bowie tracks that prominently feature the young man from Hull. Although the point of the documentary film is that Mick Ronson was so much more than his work with Bowie, there’s no denying the power of the performances created by the two men. Naturally, Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” has to be included in any story written about Ronson, his electrifying fretwork melding with Bowie’s otherworldly vocals to create a rare bit of musical magick.

“Cracked Actor,” a favorite from Bowie’s 1973 album Aladdin Sane, is another bit of rock ‘n’ roll finery, a guitar-driven melody welded to a foot-tapping rhythm while the lesser-known Bowie track “Time,” also from Aladdin Sane, displays Ronson’s subtle side. Curiously, all four of Ronson’s solo tracks here were taken from posthumous albums released in 1994 (Heaven and Hull) and 1999 (Just Like This) – nothing from his earlier solo efforts. Recorded in 1976 as Ronson’s third solo album, but not released until ’99, Just Like This offers the excellent “Hard Life,” a muscular, melodic rocker with stellar guitar playing including a Ziggy-ish solo that soars above the mix. A cover of Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone,” from the acclaimed Heaven and Hull album, showcases Ronson’s six-string abilities in his familiar role as sideman, expertly backing up Bowie’s vox on the classic song. A pallid cover Giogio Moroder’s languid instrumental “Midnight Love,” where Ronson plays all the parts, would have best been replaced by anything from Ronson’s earlier solo albums.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Not having seen Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story documentary film (yet), I can’t speak with certainty how representative this “soundtrack” album may be to the music actually included in the film, but I see how this CD could easily have been expanded into a two-disc set. Any of Ronson’s contributions to recordings by Lou Reed, John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan, or Roger McGuinn could have been included here, and we could have used more Bowie (with whom he recorded five studio albums) and Hunter (appearing on four studio albums).

That minor cavil aside, while the hardcore Ronson fan already has almost all of these songs, it’s nice to get them on one disc (or two vinyl LPs), and for newcomers to the music and magic that was Mick Ronson, Beside Bowie offers a rock solid introduction to the guitarist’s talent and charm, opening the door for the musically curious to Ronson’s underappreciated solo albums as well as his timeless work with Bowie and Hunter. Grade: A- (Universal Music, released June 8, 2018)

Buy the vinyl LP from Amazon.com: Beside Bowie The Mick Ronson Story