Sunday, October 14, 2018

Short Rounds: Mike Felten, Eric Lindell, John McLaughlin, Daniel Seymour & Mark Robinson, Bob Seger & Ska Authentic (2018)

Mike Felten's Diamonds and Televisions
New album releases in 150 words or less…

Mike Felten – Diamonds and Televisions (Landfill Records)
I almost overlooked this one, a new(ish) album by my old buddy Mike Felten. Mike owned a Chicago record store for 30+ years and he absorbed a heck of a lot of music over that time. As such, Diamonds and Televisions is an electrifying collection of blues, rock, and folk sounds that perfectly scratches your itch, if you catch my meaning. It’s no surprise – Felten has been playing guitar and writing songs since he was a teen, and he’s honed his talents to a sharp edge over the course of several albums. Backed by a full band, Felten’s songs like the working-class blues of “Seven Days A Week,” the imaginative “Pa Kettle’s Bastard Son,” or the Dylanesque story-song “Statue of Liberty” showcase intelligent lyricism and exhilarating instrumentation. Diamonds and Televisions places Felten at the crossroads standing alongside fellow outsiders like Tom Waits and Mike Doughty, and that’s good company, indeed. Grade: A   BUY!

Eric Lindell's Revolution In Your Heart
Eric Lindell – Revolution In Your Heart (Alligator Records)
New Orleans-based blues guitarist Eric Lindell has been making great music for over a decade, at least since 2006’s Change In The Weather. The sublimely wonderful Revolution In Your Heart marks his return to Alligator Records, the label where he made three underappreciated albums during the late ‘00s. Recording in his Louisiana backyard, Lindell infuses a dozen original tracks with a subtle, laid-back, New Orleans vibe, effortlessly blending blues, funk, soul, and Southern rock into a heady musical brew. A superb lyrist and vocalist, Lindell loads songs like the hopeful title track or ‘70s-era soul throwback “Heavy Heart” with plenty of emotion, but it’s his nuanced fretwork that shines through every song. “Big Horse,” for instance, is a psych-drenched rave-up with swirls of Jimi-influenced guitar while the wistful reminiscences of “Pat West” are accompanied by jazzy licks. A talented artist worthy of greater acclaim, Eric Lindell is ready for prime-time. Grade: A   BUY!

John McLaughlin's Live In San Francisco
John McLaughlin & Jimmy Herring – Live In San Francisco (Abstract Logix)
Pioneering jazz-fusion guitarist John McLaughlin’s legacy is carved in granite, if only for his ground-breaking work with Miles Davis or the influential Mahavishnu Orchestra. Hooking up with talented guitarist Jimmy Herring and members of the 4th Dimension and the Invisible Whip bands, McLaughlin took a final spin across the states during 2017. Live In San Francisco documents the final concert of this ‘farewell tour’ and to say that the performance is breathtaking would be an understatement. McLaughlin’s guitar chops are as sharp as they were 50 years ago, and this collection of prog-leaning jazz-fusion instrumentals is stunning, the backing musicians displaying an uncanny chemistry and easily falling in lockstep with the guitarist’s immense imagination. The ‘70s-era Mahavishnu material is timeless, and McLaughlin seemingly hasn’t lost a step through the years. His crystalline playing of these legendary songs will appeal to fans of any era of McLaughlin’s lengthy and acclaimed career. Grade: A   BUY!

Daniel Seymour & Mark Robinson's Chug It Down and Go
Daniel Seymour & Mark Robinson – Chug It Down and Go (Blind Chihuahua Records)
Nashville guitarist Mark Robinson has a pair of critically-acclaimed electric blues studio albums – Quit Your Job, Play Guitar and Have Axe - Will Groove – to his credit along with a rowdy live LP that any blues fan should have on their shelf. Hooking up with fellow multi-instrumentalist Daniel Seymour, Robinson performs a breakneck stylistic U-turn with the acoustic Chug It Down and Go. Talent always shines through and Robinson and Seymour deliver a high-spirited, energetic, and entertaining collection of original songs with deep roots. While Seymour’s material skews towards old-timey jug band-sounding fare like the lovely “Barefoot Gal” (with David Olney on harmonica) and the spry instrumental “19th Street Ramble,” Robinson dabbles in Zydeco (“One Eye Blue”), antique jazz (“Gypsy Moon”), and Piedmont blues (“Take Me Down the Road”). It’s all quite clever and exceptionally well-performed, Chug It Down and Go a truly magical collaboration between two skilled and passionate music-makers. Grade: A   BUY!

Bob Seger & the Last Heard's Heavy Music
Bob Seger & the Last Heard – Heavy Music (Abkco Records)
Bob Seger & the Last Heard were one of the legendary singer’s earliest bands. Signed to the Cameo-Parkway label, they released five singles, ten songs total circa 1966-67, all of which are collected on CD for the first time with Heavy Music. An artist in search of a sound (hint: he’d glimpse it a couple years later with “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”), Seger checks several then-contemporary cultural boxes with these long out-of-print 45s – James Brown (“Sock It To Me Santa”), Bob Dylan (“Persecution Smith”), psych-rock (“Vagrant Winter”), the Beach Boys (“Florida Time”), and AM-radio pop balladry (“Very Few”) – as well as the timeless, bluesy title track and the stunning regional hit “East Side Story,” both of which open a window to Seger’s 1970s-era success. There are only ten tracks on Heavy Music, but each one is a slab of raw, energetic, prime-grade rock ‘n’ roll from the early Motor City scene. Grade: A-   BUY!

Studio One's Ska Authentic
Various Artists – Ska Authentic (Studio One)
Released nearly 55 years ago, Studio One’s wonderful Ska Authentic provides a snapshot of Jamaica’s homegrown music scene in the early 1960s, preserving long-lost tracks by legends like the Skatalites, Toots & the Maytals, and Lee “Scratch” Perry. While some performances, like Perry’s rollicking “Mother In Law” or the Maytals’ “Heaven Declare,” offer glimpses of the artist’s future genius others, like Delroy Wilson’s “Sammy Dead,” were throwaway singles with plenty of soul. Echoing the American R&B heard on transistor radios in Jamaica circa 1955-65, these songs are dance-oriented with foot-shuffling rhythms with blasts of soulful horns. The horns would eventually be replaced by amplified guitars and the rhythms would develop a harder edge as the style evolved into what we now know as reggae. Studio One’s Ska Authentic captures the island’s sounds with all their fresh naiveté and energy, taking the listener back in time to a more innocent age. Grade: A   BUY!

Previously on That Devil
Short Rounds, September 2018: Junior Byles, Guadalcanal Diary, Peter Holsapple, the Textones & Bill Kopp’s Reinventing Pink Floyd book
Short Rounds, August 2018: Gene Clark, Kinky Friedman, David Olney, The Posies, Boz Scaggs, & Southside Johnny
Short Rounds, July 2018: The Damnation of Adam Blessing, Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio, Howlin’ Rain & the Rockers OST

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard vinyl reissues

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard's Willoughby's Beach
Over the past few years, Australia’s King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard has made quite a name for itself as one of the hardest-working and imaginative bands in the rock ‘n’ roll firmament. The psychedelic time-travelers formed in Melbourne, Victoria in 2010 and features singer/guitarist Stu Mackenzie, singer/keyboardist Ambrose-Kenny Smith, guitarists Cook Craig and Joey Walker, bassist Lucas Skinner, and drummers/percussionists Michael Cavanagh and Eric Moore. The band has been extremely prolific since the release of its first record, 2011’s Angelsea EP, releasing 14 studio albums during the ensuing years, including an awe-inspiring five full-length recordings in 2017 alone.

Incredibly, no two King Gizzard albums sound alike, and the band’s sonic experimentation is often exhilarating, drawing upon classic 1960s-era psych-rock but pushing the boundaries of the genre even as they incorporate decades of subsequent musical influences. They’ve developed a loyal and growing worldwide audience not only on the strength of their eccentric, unique records (many of which were released on vinyl as well as CD at the time) as well as their energetic live performances. Sadly, the band’s earliest recordings were mostly released on their own independent Flightless Records label, and copies of them have been scarce as hen’s teeth for faithful Gizzard collectors to find.

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard's 12 Bar Bruise
As a testament to the band’s growing U.S. popularity, ATO Records – which released King Gizzard’s last few albums stateside – will be reissuing the band’s first five records on both CD and vinyl on November 2nd, 2018. Each album title will include ‘reimagined’ artwork and packaging and new liner notes, and the vinyl versions will feature dazzling, eye-popping colored wax. The band’s ground-breaking nine-song EP, 2011’s Willoughby’s Beach, will be reissued on red colored vinyl with an embossed and spot UV deluxe sleeve. The band’s first two full-length albums – 2012’s 12 Bar Bruise and the following year’s Eyes Like the Sky – blended surf and garage-rock with the band’s trademark psychedelic sound. The former will be reissued on “Doublemint” green vinyl and the latter on “Halloween” orange vinyl, both with heavyweight sleeves.

The band’s third album, 2013’s Float Along – Fill Your Lungs, will be reissued on “Easter yellow” vinyl with a heavyweight jacket with inner sleeve printed on uncoated offset paper and includes a 24” square fold-out poster. Their fourth album, 2014’s Oddments, will sport “Grimace purple” vinyl and includes a heavyweight gatefold jacket with original artwork by Jason Galea and an inner sleeve printed on uncoated offset paper. Both albums showcase a maturing band expanding its sound to incorporate scraps of progressive rock, jazz, soul, and even heavy metal influences into its restless, reckless, innovative sound. Any of these reissues, on either CD or LP, offer an introduction to the charms of King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard for newcomers; for those of us already on the hook, ATO is providing a cost-effective way for us to expand our collections.

Buy the vinyl from
Willoughby's Beach
12 Bar Bruise
Eyes Like the Sky
Float Along - Fill Your Lungs 

CD Preview: Big Brother & the Holding Company’s Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills

Big Brother & the Holding Company’s Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills
Legendary rock ‘n’ blues vocalist Janis Joplin was only with Big Brother & the Holding Company for a short while – a little more than two years between 1966 and ‘68 – but she had already begun forging a legend that endures to this day. Joplin would be fondly remembered by classic rock fans if only for her explosive performance on Big Brother’s classic Cheap Thrills album. That Joplin only released one solo album, 1969’s I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, before her tragic death in 1970 only ensured her notoriety (Joplin’s classic Pearl was released posthumously).

Unlike contemporaries such as Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison of the Doors, whose estates have turned the late artists’ work into profitable cottage industries, there’s not a heck of a lot of posthumous Janis Joplin material extant. There are the couple of Big Brother LPs she recorded with the band, her two solo efforts, three or four live performances, and a cash-grabbing myriad of “greatest hits” compilation albums. On November 30th, 2018 Legacy Recordings will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Cheap Thrills with the release of Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills. The album will be available as a two-disc CD featuring 30 rare performances, including 25 previously-unreleased songs, culled from the 1968 Cheap Thrills sessions, while a two-LP vinyl version will feature 16 songs.

Janis Joplin 1970
Janis Joplin 1970, photo courtesy Legacy Recordings
Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills was purportedly the album’s original title, considered too controversial in 1968 by the label, which shortened it to the now-familiar moniker. The new set rescues 29 studio outtakes, as well as a previously-unreleased performance of “Ball and Chain” recorded live at the Winterland Ballroom in April 1968. Alternative versions of classic Joplin performances on songs like “Summertime,” “Piece of My Heart,” and “Combination of the Two” are centerpieces of the new set, which also includes liner notes by Big Brother drummer Dave Getz and Jefferson Airplane vocalist (and friend of Janis) Grace Slick.

Cheap Thrills seems to have stood the test of time,” writes Dave Getz in his notes for Sex, Dope & Cheap Thrills. “It might be because it is arguably the greatest work by a great artist, Janis Joplin. It is certainly the greatest and closest representation of what Big Brother & The Holding Company was as a band and I would add to that argument that Big Brother/Janis as a band, and as a SOUND, was the embodiment of the San Francisco, psychedelic, counter-culture of the 1960s…on another, more metaphorical level and in the perspective created by the distance of fifty years, I see Cheap Thrills as a time capsule for the year 1968. That year might have been the moment when it all came to a boil for Big Brother, Janis and the entire 1960s, acid-infused, revved-to-the-max, counter-culture generation.”

Buy the CD from Big Brother & the Holding Company's Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Bootleg Rodeo: Buckingham Nicks, Ry Cooder with David Lindley, Spooky Tooth

Buckingham Nicks' Alabama 1975
#7 – October 2018

Thanks to the vagaries created by loopholes in international copyright law, it seems that live music from the 1970s and early ‘80s – particularly FM radio broadcasts – are fair game for release on CD by dodgy European labels. The situation is a godsend for rock ‘n’ roll fans, who now have access to budget recordings by their favorite artists that were only previously available as higher-priced bootleg titles.

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

For this month’s “Bootleg Rodeo” column, the first in a few months, the Reverend reviews releases by Buckingham Nicks, Ry Cooder with David Lindley, and the mighty Spooky Tooth, with links to buy ‘em (or not) from

Buckingham Nicks – Alabama 1975: The Tuscaloosa Broadcast (Iconography)
If not for Fate’s fickle hand, the duo of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks would have long ago faded into rock ‘n’ roll obscurity…though maybe not, given the talent and ambition of both musicians. The two met while attending high school in the San Francisco area, after which Buckingham invited Nicks to sing with his band the Fritz Rabyne Memorial Band. From 1968 through 1971, ‘Fritz’ would open for a number of biggish acts performing in the Bay area, including Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, allowing Buckingham and Nicks to get a taste of the bigtime and develop an onstage poise and chemistry that would prove invaluable during their future gig together.

The two artists developed a romantic relationship, and when Fritz broke up, Buckingham and Nicks moved south to L.A. to pursue their dreams of rock stardom. While in Los Angeles, Buckingham continued to hone his guitar skills while Nicks worked various jobs like waitress and cleaning lady to support the two. They wrote and recorded songs together, starving for their art, before coming to the attention of studio engineer and producer Keith Olsen, who helped the duo get a deal with Polydor Records. They released a lone 1973 album (Buckingham Nicks) for the label, which was subsequently under-promoted to death (to put it mildly). Although much of the country never heard the soon-to-be cut-out LP, they found a receptive audience in Birmingham, Alabama (of all places), and would later perform several well-received shows in the Birmingham and Tuscaloosa area (this is important – I’ll get to this below).

Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac heard songs from Buckingham Nicks, the album, while checking out Sound City Studios. Liking what he heard, Fleetwood and the band met with Buckingham and Nicks and offered them a gig with Fleetwood Mac. It was an opportunistic meeting for all concerned. Fleetwood Mac was a band in transition at the time after lead singer and songwriter Bob Welch left to pursue a solo career after the release of the modestly-successful 1974 album Heroes Are Hard To Find. Fleetwood Mac needed a singer and guitarist badly to capitalize on their rising star, and Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks ended up fitting like a glove. Released in mid-’75, the self-titled Fleetwood Mac album included just four songs written by the newcomers, but they were four important ones, and the injection of new creative ideas and energy resulted in a chart-topping album that would selling better than five million copies stateside (unheard of at the time) and launch the band to a superstar status that continues to this day.

Before hooking up with Fleetwood Mac, however, Buckingham Nicks had a trip to make to Alabama, which is where this Iconography label CD release of Alabama 1975: The Tuscaloosa Broadcast is sourced. Interest in the duo has only grown after their creative and commercial successes with Fleetwood Mac, and their lone studio album has never been reissued on vinyl or CD even after all these years (though both Buckingham and Nicks have spoken of wanting a reissue of the album). It’s an odd oversight for a label family as big as Polydor Records (now a part of the Universal Music Group), especially since aside from the original album’s ten tracks, there are reportedly another dozen or so songs available in the can.

The live performances documented by Alabama 1975 have circulated around the Internet for years, but Iconography is the first to release them on CD to my knowledge. The first 15 tracks here feature a complete January 1975 radio broadcast live from The Morgan Auditorium in Tuscaloosa, with another five tracks sourced from a previous 1974 performance in the same venue. While Alabama 1975 offers no musician credits, Internet scuttlebutt says that bassist Tom Moncrieff (who later played on Nicks’ first solo album) and drummer Gary Hodges were part of the Buckingham Nicks touring band; superstar studio bassist Waddy Wachtel also toured with the band at times, although it’s not known whether or not he appears on any of these tracks.

Overall, Alabama 1975 is an entertaining collection that provides an early glimpse of greater success to come for the duo. The sound is a fair-to-good with a few drop-outs but not much distortion to get in the way of the listener’s enjoyment of the performances. Buckingham Nicks crank through songs from their already-dead studio album as well as material like Buckingham’s up-tempo “Monday Morning” and Nicks’ hauntingly beautiful “Rhiannon” that would achieve greater heights when recorded by Mac further down the line. Nicks’ “Crystal” is a real gem, delivered here with great emotion and charm by the pair as a lovely duet. In spite of its minor flaws, Alabama 1975 is a fine live collection that would appeal to both Buckingham Nicks fans as well as the legion of Fleetwood Mac faithful. The Rev’s recommendation: Buy it!

Ry Cooder & David Lindley's Two Long Riders
Ry Cooder & David Lindley – Two Long Riders (Good Ship Funke)
I’ve written about the phenomenal guitarist Ry Cooder on this site before. A favorite here at That Devil Music, Cooder is a veteran of 1960s-era bands the Rising Sons (with the legendary Taj Mahal) and Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band as well as an accomplished studio professional whose credits include recordings by Van Morrison, Little Feat, the Rolling Stones, among many others. A moderately-successful solo artist during the 1970s and early ‘80s, Cooder also made a name for himself as a composer, writing movie scores for films like Walter Hill’s The Long Riders (1980) and Southern Comfort (1981) and Tony Richardson’s 1982 film The Border.

I haven’t had the opportunity to write about the multi-instrumentalist talent David Lindley until this moment, however. Lindley can boast of a C.V. every bit as impressive as Cooder’s – he was a member, with Chris Darrow (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), of the 1960s psych-rock band Kaleidoscope, which released three albums circa 1967-69 that remain highly collectible. Lindley would become Jackson Browne’s ‘secret weapon’, contributing his talents to Browne’s recordings from For Everyman (1973) through the hit Running On Empty (1977) to Looking East (1996), and touring with him for over a decade.

Lindley served much the same purpose for Warren Zevon, notably performing on records like Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School (1980), Sentimental Hygiene (1987), and I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (1996). Lindley was more than just a sideman for Browne and Zevon, however, as he was also an in-demand session player with records by Rod Stewart, Ian Matthews, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Joe Walsh, and Crosby, Stills and Nash (band and solo efforts) to his credit.

Lindley fronted his own roots-rock outfit, El Rayo-X, with whom he released three wonderfully eclectic studio albums between 1981 and 1988; he has recorded a slate of true solo albums; and he collaborated with experimental guitarist Henry Kaiser on four acclaimed albums during the 1990s – and that just scratches the surface of Lindley’s career. Throughout all of this activity, Lindley became friends with Ry Cooder, the two first working together on Cooder’s 1978 album Jazz and again on 1979’s excellent Bop Till You Drop. Cooder would also use the multi-instrumentalist on film scores like Alamo Bay; Paris, Texas; and The Long Riders, from whence this live recording takes its name.

Documenting an FM radio broadcast of a lively acoustic performance by the two musicians at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July 1990, Two Long Riders mostly features material from Cooder’s solo catalog and soundtrack albums as well as a smattering of traditional blues and gospel songs. The sound quality is mediocre, at best, with muddy vocals literally buried in the mix, a great deal of hollowness, and an overall tinny ambiance that tends to favor the high end, making the two men’s instruments sound bright, loud, and clangy. The performances are top-notch, however, a literal guitar workshop for readers that dig that sort of thing, with the talented string-benders jousting on songs like the gospel standard “Jesus On the Mainline,” Cooder’s “Across the Borderline” and “Mercury Blues,” Bobby Womack’s classic “It’s All Over Now,” and the Leadbelly folk-blues gem “Goodnight Irene.”  
Bottom line: due to shabby production and sound quality, I can’t recommend Two Long Riders to any but the most hardcore fan of either Ry Cooder and/or David Lindley. If you’re a ‘newbie’ interested in Cooder, you’d be better served by albums like Paradise and Lunch or Bop Till You Drop, both of which can be had on CD at a budget price or found on vinyl at used record stores for a reasonable cost. Likewise for Lindley, whose El Ray-X albums are of uniformly high quality and a great showcase for the musician’s talents. Spend your money on those recordings instead. The Rev’s recommendation: Eh, maybe?
Spooky Tooth's Son of Your Father

Spooky Tooth – Son of Your Father (Laser Media)

It was a simple equation, really – take the late ‘60s British psych-rock band Art, add American keyboardist and songwriter Gary Wright – and viola, you have legendary rockers Spooky Tooth! It wasn’t really that easy – Island Records founder Chris Blackwell introduced Wright to the members of Art, which at the time included singer Mike Harrison, guitarist Luther Grosvenor, bassist Greg Ridley, and drummer Mike Kellie. The five guys hit it off, formed Spooky Tooth, and releasing their overlooked debut album, It’s All About, in 1968. They delivered what is arguably their masterwork, Spooky Two, in 1969 after which Ridley left to join Humble Pie, replaced by Andy Leigh for the controversial LP Ceremony.

Released in 1969, Ceremony was a project championed by Wright, a musical collaboration with French electronic composer Pierre Henry. Wright envisioned the resulting album as a Henry album for which Spooky Tooth served as studio musicians, but the label released it as a bona fide Spooky Tooth album against Wright’s protests. It sounded nothing like Spooky Two, and the band’s fans stayed away in droves, causing Wright to quit and chase after solo stardom. Harrison and the remaining members enlisted the help of the Grease Band’s Henry McCullough and Chris Stainton to record 1970’s The Last Puff, after which Harrison left to launch his own solo career before putting Spooky Tooth back together with Wright and guitarist Mick Jones for 1973’s You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw. The band’s history becomes even more convoluted after this point, before Harrison reformed it again in the 1990s.      

Son of Your Father ostensibly captures a 1969 live radio broadcast by the Ceremony band line-up and features mostly songs from The Last Puff album (four of the eight). They throw in “Better By You, Better By Me” off Spooky Two and a couple other songs of unverified provenance (possibly mistitled?). Better sources credit the album to the 1970 version of the band that toured in support of The Last Puff – Harrison, Grosvenor, drummer Mike Kellie, bassist Steve Thompson, and keyboardist John Hawken – which makes more sense given the album’s track listing. As such, Son of Your Father offers a glimpse of this transitional band roster that existed for the tour, subsequently breaking up and never recording.

The performances on Son of Your Father are pretty rockin’ tho’ the sound is somewhat muddy and there’s a bit of hollowness to the mix. Overall, though, the sonic quality is acceptable using the Reverend’s standard benchmark (age of recording x volume = aural satisfaction), but I really wish that Laser Media would get its shit together and provide better packaging, liner notes, and such for its semi-legit releases of ages-old radio broadcasts like this. Still, performances like the band’s malevolent take on the Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus,” Harrison’s soulful reading of “Son of Your Father” (complete with some delightfully white-hot Grosvenor fretwork), and the fluid, chaotic instrumentation provided the powerful “Better By You” make for an entertaining listen regardless of the incorrect information provided the CD release.   

It should be noted that Spooky Tooth served as a finishing school for a number of accomplished musicians. Singer/songwriter Mike Harrison enjoyed a modest solo career during the mid-to-late ‘70s, releasing three critically-acclaimed albums. Gary Wright, of course, scored a big FM radio hit in 1975 with “Dream Weaver” and released a slew of acclaimed solo albums, later reuniting with Harrison in Spooky Tooth but also doing session work with folks like George Harrison, B.B. King, and Jerry Lee Lewis, among others. Greg Ridley, as mentioned above, became Humble Pie’s longtime bassist and also played on Steve Marriott’s solo albums. Guitarist Luther Grosvenor changed his name to ‘Ariel Bender’ and hooked up with Mott the Hoople while late-period Spooky Tooth guitarists Henry McCullough (Wings) and Mick Jones (Foreigner) also went on to successful bands.

Spooky Tooth was a criminally-underrated band during its time on planet earth, its legacy partially redeemed by the 2015 release of the nine-disc box set Island Years, 1967-1974 which collected everything from Art’s lone 1967 album Supernatural Fairy Tales through the band’s final 1970s-era LP The Mirror. The box also includes a rare, previously-unreleased live album documenting a 1972 performance in Germany. There’s precious little live Spooky Tooth to be found in the wild – I recall seeing an obscure albeit legit release titled Live In Oldenburg 1973 that shows up on few of the band’s discographies (tho’ I can see the LP cover in my mind), and there’s an out-of-print BBC Sessions disc from 2001 that seems to feature the 1969 band line-up. As such, in spite of Laser Media’s notorious labeling snafus and minimalist packaging, I have to recommend Son of Your Father for any faithful Spooky Tooth fan. The Rev’s recommendation: buy it!

Previous Columns:
Bootleg Rodeo #6 - The Band, John Hiatt with Ry Cooder, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Bootleg Rodeo #5 - The Byrds, Midnight Oil & Poco
Bootleg Rodeo #4 - The Marshall Tucker Band, Steely Dan & Joe Walsh  

The Long Ryders’ Two Fisted Tales box

The Long Ryders' Two Fisted Tales
The Long Ryders were another of those great “lost” bands of the 1980s, fellow travelers to outfits like Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade, Stealin’ Horses, and Jason & the Scorchers, among others, a band that never received its due in spite of a brace of innovative and entertaining albums that blended punk rock intensity with the “cosmic cowboy” roots-rock of influences like Gram Parsons, Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan, and the Byrds. Formed in Los Angeles in 1982, and widely labeled part of the “Paisley Underground” movement, the Long Ryders featured guitarists Sid Griffin and Stephen McCarthy, bassist Tom Stevens, and drummer Greg Sowders with vocals provided by all the band members.

The Long Ryders’ third and final album, 1987’s awesome, critically-acclaimed Two Fisted Tales, was tragically ignored by a record-buying public buying into the “nerf metal” din of less-talented bands. It remains Griffin’s favorite album by the Ryders, and in addition to great original songs like “Gunslinger Man,” “Prairie Fire,” and “Harriet Tubman’s Gonna Carry Me Home” the album also included a wonderful cover of NRBQ’s classic “I Want You Bad.”

On November 30, 2018 British archival label Cherry Red Records will reissue Two Fisted Tales as a three-CD box set. With production overseen by the band’s Tom Stevens, the set includes the re-mastered original album with three bonus tracks, a second disc of demos from the band’s archives, and a third disc featuring a memorable live show from Palm Springs.

The Two Fisted Tales box set includes a new booklet with rare, unpublished photos and memorabilia and new liner notes by Griffin. The box set precedes a brand-new Long Ryders studio album scheduled to be released in 2019 by Cherry Red in the U.K. and the good folks at Omnivore Recordings stateside. If you’re a fan of contemporary roots-rock bands like the National, American Aquarium, or Beachwood Sparks, you owe it to yourself to rediscover the Long Ryders, one of the influential and innovative pioneering bands that helped launch the Americana movement.

Check out the album on the Cherry Red website

Chris Cornell’s Legacy Honored with Deluxe Box Set

Chris Cornell box set
Chris Cornell’s death in May 2017 robbed the rock ‘n’ roll world of one of its all-time greatest vocalists. The talented singer and songwriter for chart-topping bands like Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Temple of the Dog, Cornell also enjoyed a significant solo career with his four solo albums circa 1999-2015 all charting in the Top 20. Over the course of a career that spanned four decades (and still ended far too soon), Cornell earned two Grammy™ Awards and selling better than 30 million records worldwide.

Given his popularity and influence on rock vocalists to follow, it’s only fitting that Cornell should be honored with a career retrospective box set. On November 16th, 2018 UMe will release the self-titled Chris Cornell, a limited-edition deluxe four-disc box set with 64-tracks, 11 of which are previously-unreleased. The set is being released with the support of Cornell’s wife Vicky on behalf of The Chris Cornell Estate.

Working extensively with Cornell’s former bandmates and friends, Vicky Cornell has compiled a collection that represents the singer’s entire career, including songs by all three of his aforementioned bands along with solo material. The set includes such memorable moments as Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike,” and Audioslave’s “Like A Stone.” Among the previously-unreleased songs are a live performance of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a duet with Cat Stevens on “Wild World,” and a duet with his daughter Toni on a cover of Bob Marley’s reggae classic “Redemption Song.”

Chris Cornell
In addition to the four-disc box set, Chris Cornell will also be released as a seventeen-track single disc version housed in a jewel case with a limited-edition custom die-cut slipcase that showcases Seattle with tree-line graphics on the front and other cities that Cornell lived in on the back cover. The set includes a 32-page booklet with unreleased photos and liner notes by friends and bandmates like Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron, Tom Morello, Mike McCready, and Brendan O’Brien. A two-LP 180-gram vinyl edition features a gatefold jacket with similar slipcase graphics and a twelve-page booklet while the four-disc box set includes an expanded 54-page booklet.

For the hardcore fan with money to burn, Chris Cornell will also be available as a limited-edition ‘Super Deluxe’ box with four CDs, a DVD, and seven-LP set featuring all 64 songs plus 23 music videos along with a 66-page hardcover book wrapped in linen with a red foul signature cover. The ‘Super Deluxe’ box also includes three artist lithos, three photochromatic lithos inspired by Cornell’s fascination with the sun, a turntable mat, a microfiber vinyl cleaning cloth, and a 36” x 48” wall poster.

“Since Chris’ sudden passing I have put all my efforts and energy into sharing his music and legacy with his fans from all over the world,” says Vicky in a press release for the Chris Cornell box set. “I felt we needed to create a special collection to represent all of him – the friend, husband and father, the risk taker and innovator, the poet and artist. His soaring vocals found their way into the hearts and souls of so many.  His voice was his vision and his words were his peace. This album is for his fans.”

Buy your copy at
Chris Cornell single disc version
Chris Cornell double LP set
Chris Cornell four-disc box

Monday, October 1, 2018

New Music Monthly: October 2018 Releases

We're nearing the finish line for 2018, kiddies, and October promises another slobber-knocker slate of new releases that promise to tax your bankroll and please your soul. You got your new music from folks like Will Hoge, Graham Parker, Doyle Bramhall II, High On Fire, Elvis Costello, John Hiatt, Tom Morello, Ace Frehley, and many others as well as archive releases from Lindsey Buckingham, Permanent Green Light, Mott the Hoople, and R.E.M. among others. So, like I said, lots of tunes to spend your hard-earned coin on.

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'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!   

Lindsey Buckingham's Solo Anthology

Anthrax - State of Euphoria [deluxe 30th anniversary reissue]   BUY!
David Bowie - Live In New York 1987   BUY!
Doyle Bramhall II - Shades   BUY!
Lindsey Buckingham - Solo Anthology: The Best of Lindsey Buckingham   BUY!
Coheed & Cambria - The Unheavenly Creatures   BUY!
Hugh Cornwell - Monster   BUY!
Echo & the Bunnymen - The Stars, The Oceans & The Moon   BUY!
Electric Six - Bride of the Dead   BUY!
Kristin Hersh - Possible Dust Clouds   BUY!
High On Fire - Electric Messiah   BUY!
Will Hoge - My American Dream   BUY!
John Lennon - Imagine [deluxe box set]   BUY!
Cat Power - Wanderer   BUY!
Sari Schorr - Never Say Never   BUY!
Unicorn -  Laughing Up Your Sleeve   BUY!

Graham Parker's Cloud Symbols

Martin Barre - Roads Less Traveled   BUY!
Lindsay Beaver - Tough As Love   BUY!
The Bottle Rockets - Bit Logic   BUY!
Elvis Costello  & the Imposters - Look Now   BUY!
John Hiatt - The Eclipse Sessions   BUY!
Peter Holsapple & Alex Chilton - The Death of Rock...   BUY!
Calvin Johnson - A Wonderful Beast   BUY!
Dave Keller - Every Soul's A Star   BUY!
Paul Kelly - Nature   BUY!
Tom Morello - The Atlas Underground   BUY!
Nazareth - Tattooed On My Brain   BUY!
Graham Parker - Cloud Symbols   BUY!
Permanent Green Light (Michael Querico) - Hallucinations   BUY!
Primal Scream - Give Out But Don't Give Up: The Original Memphis Sessions   BUY!

Ace Frehley's Spaceman

Terry Callier - The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Sandy Carroll - Blues & Angels   BUY!
Neneh Cherry - Broken Politics   BUY!
Disturbed - Evolution   BUY!
Ace Frehley - Spaceman   BUY!
Marty Friedman - One Bad M.F. Live!!   BUY!
Handsome Jack - Everything's Gonna Be Alright   BUY!
Los Straitjackers - Complete Christmas Songbook   BUY!
Will Oldham - Songs of Love and Horror   BUY!
Yoko Ono - Warzone   BUY!
R.E.M. - R.E.M. At the BBC [box set]   BUY!
Soulfly - Ritual   BUY!
Various Artists - Stax '68: A Memphis Story   BUY!

The Action's The New Action!

The Action - The New Action! [vinyl]   BUY!
Eric Bibb - Global Griot
Fifth Angel - The Third Secret   BUY!
Mott the Hoople - Mental Train: The Island Years 1969-1971 [box set]   BUY!
NRBQ - All Hopped Up   BUY!
Ty Segall - Fudge Sandwich   BUY!
Joe Louis Walker, Bruce Katz & Giles Robson - Journeys to the Heart of the Blues   BUY!

Mott the Hoople's Mental Train

Album of the Month: Mott the Hoople's Mental Train is a six-disc box set that collects includes remastered and expanded versions of all four of the band's original Island Records label releases; an entire disc of unheard and unreleased material; and a full disc of live and BBC performances. Each of the original albums - Mott the Hoople, Mad Shadows, Wildlife, and Brain Capers - has been expanded by 8 or 9 tracks, adding single versions, demos, alternate takes, and much more. A fifth CD, The Ballads of Mott the Hoople, is subtitled "Unheard and Unreleased Music from the Island Archive." That's a lot of great music for the Hoople fan!

Bob Dylan’s More Blood, More Tracks Bootleg Series Box Set

Bob Dylan’s More Blood, More Tracks
Bob’s Dylan’s Blood On the Tracks is, without a shred of doubt, my all-time favorite album by the Scribe, and it remains one of my Top 10 discs of all time. I can sing along, verbatim, with almost every track on the album and I’ve played it, literally, over a thousand times since its release 43 years ago in January 1975. So it pains me to say that, as much as I adore this record, I still won’t be ponying up almost two C-notes for a copy of More Blood, More Tracks.

The 14th volume in Dylan’s acclaimed “Bootleg Series,” More Blood, More Tracks is scheduled for release on November 2nd, 2018 as both a six-CD box set and in two-LP or single-CD ‘highlights’ editions. The boxed version features 87 songs, including 75 previously-unreleased tracks, covering all the extant session material from Blood On the Tracks.

The More Blood, More Tracks box set follows the same format as The Bootleg Series, Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965-1966 in that is presents all the available studio material in chronological order so that each song is presented in multiple versions. The box also includes a large hardcover book with new liner notes and reproductions of pages from Dylan’s original lyric notebooks while the double-LP and CD versions include one alternative take of each of the album’s ten original songs plus an eleventh song, “Up to Me,” a rare session outtake.

The story behind Blood On the Tracks reads something like this – after signing with, and releasing a pair of albums for David Geffen’s Asylum Records label (including 1974’s underrated Planet Waves), Dylan returned home to Columbia Records to record what would become one of the most acclaimed albums of his storied career. It didn’t come easy, though…after recording four sessions over ten days in September 1974 in New York City with producer/engineer Phil Ramone, Dylan assembled a ten-track album and submitted it to Columbia for release. He took a test pressing of the disc with him to Minnesota in late November to listen to over the Christmas holidays.

Bob Dylan's Blood On the Tracks
The notoriously-demanding singer/songwriter was dissatisfied with what he heard and, in December (shortly before Columbia was to release the album); he went into Sound 80 studios in Minneapolis with a new group of musicians and re-recorded five of the album’s ten songs. These five takes would replace the NYC recordings, and would become the Blood On the Tracks album that we know and love. Over the years, material from the New York City sessions has leaked out, but only one of the five NYC-recorded tracks from the original test pressing has ever been officially released, “You’re A Big Girl Now” appearing on Dylan’s Biograph box set. Alternate takes of songs like “Idiot Wind” and “Tangled Up In Blue” from the NYC sessions have been subsequently released on the first three albums in The Bootleg Series.

While the More Blood, More Tracks box set offers an absurd amount of material, the current $160 Amazon price tag is too damn rich for my blood. Although it’s likely to drop by $10 or so by release day, that still averages out to a costly $25 per CD, which smells to me like label exploitation of Dylan’s rabid fans. The single-disc set featuring the best alternative versions of each song (or the double-LP set) may be the best bet for fans that just don’t need eleven takes of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” I’ve included Amazon links to all three versions so that y’all can pick your poison…

Grab it from Amazon!
Bob Dylan’s More Blood, More Tracks 6-CD box set
Bob Dylan’s More Blood, More Tracks single CD
Bob Dylan’s More Blood, More Tracks two-LP vinyl

The Rock 'n' Roll Archives, Volume Four: Cult Rockers

The Rock 'n' Roll Archives, Volume Four: Cult Rockers
Excitable Press and That Devil Music’s Rev. Gordon are happy to announce the publication of the fourth volume in the Rev’s ongoing collections of artists interviews. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Four: Cult Rockers is a budget-priced collection of thirteen “cult rockers” who have made great music that failed to find a mainstream audience, talents like Billy Bragg, Eugene Chadbourne, Mojo Nixon, Kirsty MacColl, Band of Susans, Barrence Whitfield, and They Might Be Giants, among others. The book 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 eighteen previous music-related books, including Blues Deluxe: The Joe Bonamassa Buying Guide, The Other Side of Nashville, and Scorched Earth: A Jason & the Scorchers Scrapbook.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Four: Cult Rockers is a 74pp 5.5” x 8.5” paperback with B&W photos, priced at $7.99 for the print book and $2.99 for the eBook version with the same content. Get your copy through the handy links below:

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Four: Cult Rockers print edition

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Four: Cult Rockers eBook

Also available:

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Three: Heavy Metal print edition

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Three: Heavy Metal eBook

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Chicago Blues Legend Otis Rush, R.I.P.

Chicago blues guitarist Otis Rush
Chicago blues guitarist Otis Rush
The Blues Foundation and Rolling Stone magazine are both reporting on the death of Chicago blues legend Otis Rush, who passed away on Saturday, September 29th, 2018 from complications arising from a stroke the guitarist suffered in 2003. Rush was 84 years old and had been unable to perform for several years.

Otis Rush is revered by hardcore fans, but is virtually unknown outside the blues world. This in spite of the fact that his unique guitar style and hearty, soulful voice influenced a generation of blues artists and would factor heavily in the sound of rockers like Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Michael Bloomfield, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among many others. Indifferent or underfunded record labels and bad contracts, erratic behavior, mediocre live performances, and poor management have prevented Rush from taking his rightful place as one of the greats of the Chicago blues.

Born and raised in Mississippi, the left-handed Otis Rush learned the rudiments of blues harp and guitar, which he played upside down, while still a youth. Rush moved to Chicago in 1948 and, inspired by the electric Delta blues of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, was performing in South Side and West Side clubs by the age of 20. Rush’s expressive fretwork and powerful vocals brought him to the attention of Willie Dixon, who signed the guitarist to Cobra Records.

Rush hit it out of the ballpark with his first side for Cobra, “I Can’t Quit You Baby” quickly rising to #6 on the Billboard magazine R&B chart in 1956. Subsequent singles for the label performed nearly as well, songs like “Double Trouble,” “All Your Love,” and “My Love Will Never Die” becoming staples of Rush’s live show for decades and, along with fellow guitarists Magic Sam and Buddy Guy, Rush helped to define and popularize the West Side Chicago blues sound.

When Cobra Records went bankrupt in 1959, Rush followed his producer Dixon over to Chess Records. The label recorded eight songs on the guitarist between 1960 and ‘62, but only released one lone single, the classic “So Many Roads, So Many Trains.” Dismayed by the lack of support from Chess, Rush jumped to rival Duke Records, which also released just one single, the houserockin’ “Homework” (later covered by the J. Geils Band). Although his fortunes in the recording studio were waning, Rush’s live performances were in high demand, and he toured Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival.

In 1965, Rush had the rare good luck to have five songs included on Vanguard’s seminal Chicago/The Blues/Today! compilation album, which brought the guitarist’s unique sound to an appreciative rock music audience. Guitarist Mike Bloomfield, of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, convinced his manager Albert Grossman to take Rush on as a client. With a deal from Atlantic Records’ Cotillion subsidiary in their pocket, Bloomfield and fellow blues-rock guitarist Nick Gravenites produced Rush’s Mourning For The Morning album in 1969. The pair failed to capture the guitarist’s incendiary performance style on tape and when the album suffered from lackluster sales, the label dropped Rush.

Otis Rush's Right Place, Wrong Time
Undaunted, Grossman grabbed a deal for the guitarist with Capitol Records, and Gravenites went back into the studio with Rush in 1971 to record Right Place, Wrong Time, widely considered to be Rush’s best album. Not liking what they heard, the label refused to release the album, and it sat on a shelf until the independent Bullfrog Records bought the rights and released it in 1976. By this time, however, the allure of the blues for white rock audiences had fallen by the wayside, and the album sold few copies.

Rush recorded the unspectacular Cold Day In Hell for Delmark Records in 1975, but recording sessions became few and far between for the bluesman well into the 1980s, and he made a living through club performances and the odd festival appearance. Rush retired from music for a while in the early 1980s, but by mid-decade he was back in the saddle, using questionable pick-up bands for performances outside of Chicago.

Rush’s reputation took a hit during the 1980s as the guitarist displayed increasingly erratic behavior and delivered mediocre performances with substandard bands, many of which were later released on vinyl and compact disc by exploitative fly-by-night labels. By 1994, though, Rush had seemingly tightened up his game, and he recorded the inspired Ain’t Enough Comin’ In with noted producer John Porter, his first studio album in sixteen years.

Rush released what might be the final studio album of his career in 1998, Any Place I’m Goin’ receiving widespread critical acclaim and earning Rush his first and only Grammy® Award for “Best Traditional Blues Album.” Rush toured steadily throughout the 1990s and into the ‘00s until suffering a stroke in 2003 that put the Chicago blues legend on the sidelines for good. Rush’s Live...And In Concert From San Francisco was released in 2006, the album capturing an above-average 1999 performance by the underrated Chicago blues legend.

Often overshadowed by contemporaries like Buddy Guy and Magic Sam, Otis Rush’s influence nevertheless can be heard in the music of current Chicago bluesmen like Dave Specter and Nick Moss. Inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1984, Rush made a rare public appearance in June 2016 at the Chicago Blues Festival when the city declared June 12th to be “Otis Rush Day.” Ranked a measly #53 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “100 Greatest Guitarists” list, Otis Rush’s music and incredible tone will endure and continue to inspire generations of guitarists to come.

Otis Rush biography courtesy of Chicago Blues (1940s-1960s): Gordon’s Blues Guide, Volume Two eBook

Jefferson Airplane’s Marty Balin, R.I.P.

Jefferson Airplane
Jefferson Airplane
Rolling Stone magazine and other music media are reporting on the death of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship vocalist Marty Balin. A Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Balin passed away of unknown causes on Thursday, September 27th, 2018 at the age of 76 years.

Jefferson Airplane’s founding member and initially the band’s lead vocalist and songwriter, Balin “launched” the Airplane in 1965 from The Matrix club in San Francisco, a former pizza parlor that he partially-owned and managed. The Airplane would become the club’s house band, their electrifying live performances bringing them to the attention of legendary local music critic and columnist Ralph J. Gleason, an early advocate for the group.

The Airplane would soon become known as the avatars of the “San Francisco sound,” with songs featuring vocals from three singers – Balin, Grace Slick, and guitarist Paul Kantner – as well as a solid rhythm section in bassist Jack Casady and drummer Spencer Dryden (who replaced original band drummer Skip Spence, who would later form Moby Grape). Talented lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen would round out the band’s pioneering psychedelic rock sound. This is the band line-up that would headline several major U.S. rock festivals of the ‘60s, including Monterey in 1967, and Woodstock and Altamont in 1969 as well as the first Isle of Wight Festival in 1968 in the U.K.

The band released five studio albums with Balin on the microphone, including bona fide classics like 1967’s Surrealistic Pillow and 1969’s Volunteers, and several Balin-penned songs like “Plastic Fantastic Lover,” “It’s No Secret,” and “Volunteers” would become staples of the band’s live set. By 1970, however, Kantner and Slick had become the dominant creative voices in the band, and Balin left to pursue other opportunities, managing and producing an album for the Bay area band Grootna before joining the hard rock band Bodacious DF as their lead vocalist. The Airplane released two albums without Balin before breaking up, splintering into two separate outfits – Jefferson Starship with Kantner and Slick and Hot Tuna with Kaukonen and Casady.

Jefferson Starship 1976
Jefferson Starship 1976

Asked by Kantner to write a song for the re-christened Jefferson Starship, Balin appeared as a guest vocalist on the band’s 1974 debut Dragon Fly. He would subsequently become a full-time member of the commercially-successful and more pop-oriented Starship, once again singing alongside Slick and Kantner on four studio albums including 1975’s double-Platinum™ Red Octopus, which yielded a monster hit with Balin’s song “Miracles,” and 1976’s Platinum™-selling Spitfire. Tensions among band members grew along with the band’s success, however, and Balin quit Starship after the release of their 1978 album Earth, following Grace Slick out the door.

Balin launched his career as a solo artist with the release of the 1981 album Balin, enjoying a Top Ten hit with the single “Hearts.” Balin reunited with Kantner and Casady to form the KBC Band, which released a single album in 1985. Jefferson Airplane reunited in 1989 for an album and tour, and Balin also toured with a reunited Starship in the 1990s and early ‘00s. The singer would also release a dozen solo records through the years, his last being 2016’s The Greatest Love. An accomplished and acclaimed painter, Balin painted portraits of many of his contemporary musicians and his permanent signature collection gallery is located in Saint Augustine, Florida.

An underrated rock ‘n’ roll vocalist in spite of his many accolades and honors, Marty Balin was far too often overshadowed by the larger-than-life personalities of bandmates Grace Slick and Paul Kantner. His incredibly warm voice and songwriting chops lent a certain gravitas that grounded the free-flying inclinations of his bandmates, however, and it’s safe to say that both Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship would not have reached the heights they did without Balin.

For more on the life of Marty Balin, check out writer Jeff Tamarkin’s obituary on the Best Classic Bands website; Jeff literally wrote the book on the Airplane (2003’s Got a Revolution!) and has forgotten more about the band than many of us will ever know.  The Rock and Roll Globe website’s Ron Hart also penned a wonderful obit on the legendary singer.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Archive Review: Blue Oyster Cult's Agents of Fortune (1976)

Blue Oyster Cult's Agents of Fortune
There may be heavier bands, louder bands, more obnoxious bands walking the earth these days like so many ill-fated, doomed-to-die dinosaurs, but none of them can hold a candle to Blue Oyster Cult. In their day, with their glorious first four albums, BOC brought intelligence to heavy metal, rooting the music firmly in rock's past while creating an invaluable blueprint for rock's future to follow.

With the FM radio hits “This Ain't The Summer of Love” and “(Don't Fear) the Reaper,” Blue Oyster Cult broke through to the mainstream with 1976's Agents of Fortune LP. Reissued by Legacy in 2001 with cleaner sound courtesy of digital remastering, as well as bonus tracks and liner notes by Lenny Kaye, Agents of Fortune is unarguably one of rock's classic albums.

Everybody knows the hit singles from Agents of Fortune, but only fans understand the depth of talent that BOC brought to their material. The band had three primary songwriters in guitarist Buck Dharma, bassist Joe Bouchard and keyboardist Allen Lanier. They introduced the world to Lanier's girlfriend, Patti Smith, who co-wrote the haunting “The Revenge of Vera Gemini” and “Debbie Denise” with drummer Albert Bouchard. Producers and managers Murray Krugman and Sandy Pearlman functioned as members of the band, adding to the songwriting chores and creating a unique sound that is instantly identifiable on any song as BOC.

The material on Agents of Fortune runs the gamut from the hard-rock fantasy “Tattoo Vampire” to the radio-friendly musing on the afterlife, “(Don't Fear) the Reaper.” Alone among '70s heavy metal fiends, BOC had an enduring love and intimate knowledge of music and the artistic credibility that allowed them to add musical flourishes from influences as disparate as soul, jazz, and pop music. What other hard rock/heavy metal band could get away with adding the Brecker Brothers' horns to their songs as they did with the soulful “True Confessions”? The rollicking “Tenderloin” features gentle vocals and a fluid riff from guitarist Dharma and while “Morning Final” has a slight jazz feel behind a sordid story of fear and murder.

This new version of Agents of Fortune also includes four bonus tracks, among them Dharma's original 4-track demo for “(Don't Fear) the Reaper.” A sparse, ethereal alternative take of “Fire of Unknown Origin” was recorded for the album but not used and an original demo for an Allen Lanier/Jim Carroll lyrical collaboration, the winsome “Dance The Night Away,” later recorded by Carroll. Although Blue Oyster Cult would maintain their popularity well into the 1980s, they are always recognized as one of the seminal bands of the '70s. If not for the ground broken by BOC with Agents of Fortune, much of today's hard rock heroes could not exist. As such, it's an album worth revisiting.

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2001

Buy the CD from Blue Oyster Cult's Agents of Fortune

Daryl Sanders’ That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound & the Making of Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde

Daryl Sanders’ That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound
In late 1965, rock ‘n’ roll legend Bob Dylan began recording the album that would subsequently become widely considered as his masterpiece. But the initial recording sessions for Blonde On Blonde, held in New York City, didn’t go all that well so Columbia Records staff producer Bob Johnston recommended moving the project to Nashville (an action that Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, was vehemently opposed to). Dylan agreed to the relocation and recording on the album reconvened in February 1966 at Columbia’s Studio A in Nashville.

Johnston brought keyboardist Al Kooper and guitarist Robbie Robertson down to Nashville for the sessions, but otherwise the producer rounded up a bunch of the Music City’s most talented players to record – legendary musicians like harmonica wizard Charlie McCoy, guitarists Wayne Moss and Joe South, and drummer Kenny Buttrey. Over the course of roughly eight days spread across February and March 1966, Dylan and his band spun pure magic out of these sessions, and Blonde On Blonde would be released as a double-album in mid-1966 to nearly universal critical acclaim. It would peak at #9 on the Billboard album chart in the U.S. and #3 in the U.K. and would eventually be certified as double Platinum™ for over two million in sales (during an era when few albums sold a quarter of that number).

On October 2nd, 2018 the Chicago Review Press will publish That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound, author Daryl Sanders’ in-depth history of the making of Blonde On Blonde. A well-regarded Nashville music journalist, Sanders has served as editor for a number of local publications, including Hank magazine, Take One magazine, and Bone music magazine and as a writer he’s contributed to The Tennessean newspaper, The Nashville Scene, and The East Nashvillian, among other publications. That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound provides the definitive account of the sessions that resulted in this classic album, Sanders interviewing the people who played on the album, correcting much of the misinformation that swirls around Blonde On Blonde with new details sourced by years of exhaustive research.

Daryl Sanders is a friend and colleague of mine dating back some 40 years. He has been my editor at three different publications, and we spent more than a few hours on the phone talking about this new book. When it comes to Dylan, Daryl knows his stuff and he’s been around the Music City, and involved in the local music scene, long enough that he knows all the major players, from the recording studios to the executive suites. There are a heck of a lot of Dylan-related books available – enough to stock a smallish library, really – but none of them have dug this deep into the making of one of the Scribe’s most creative, critically-acclaimed, and commercially-successful albums. If you’re a Bob Dylan fan, you’ll want a copy of That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound on your bookshelf.

Buy the book from Daryl Sanders’ That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

CD Review: Jean-Michel Jarre’s Planet Jarre (2018)

Jean-Michel Jarre’s Planet Jarre
Guest review by Steve Morley

Electronic music enthusiasts comprise the kind of niche group that generally knows all the inputs and outputs regarding its genre of choice, so there's probably not a lot that a reviewer can hope to do in terms of educating them regarding the pros and cons of this 4-disc overview of French composer and performer Jean-Michel Jarre. (A flurry of online fan posts confirms this, in fact.) There are, however, fans whose familiarity is centered upon Jarre’s first two non-soundtrack albums, the hugely successful Oxygène (1976/1977) and Équinoxe (1978).

Jarre has certainly proven his ability to evolve and stretch his sound in the years that followed, but his career-defining breakthrough albums nonetheless formed the foundation for his entire body of work. Planet Jarre’s 41 tracks are arranged non-chronologically, bringing to mind the creative sequencing of Pink Floyd’s career-spanning Echoes collection. But while Floyd’s condensed oeuvre presents the juxtaposition of near-outrageous extremes (and a host of songwriters), Planet Jarre largely possesses a cohesion made possible by the artist’s longstanding vision for an orchestral approach to synthesizer music.

Those who know Jarre’s music only casually, based on his early commercial success, likely have no sense of his subsequent significance in the electronic genre; those who have followed the artist closely are likely aware that Jarre was active for the better part of a decade, learning his craft and creating music for soundtrack and background applications before emerging into the mainstream and finding massive, near-immediate exposure. While hardly the first electronic musician to hit the charts, Jarre had the musical goods to challenge his predecessors: unlike the interpretations of existing works electronically realized by Tomita and Walter/Wendy Carlos, Jarre offered original pieces with album-length compositional depth.

Rich in their melodies, themes, textures, and sonic innovations, his pieces set themselves apart from Kraftwerk’s spartan and likeably nerdy synth-pop tweedlings and Tangerine Dream’s pensive, trance-inducing explorations, while still mirroring various aspects of their work. Fans of the aforementioned Krautrock synth pioneers may find Jarre a bit too rich and elaborate for their tastes, and yet Planet Jarre demonstrates that, in the midst of constructing his synthesized symphonettes, he can indeed muster up ethereal atmospheres and robotic rhythms a la his German contemporaries.

This particular Jarre compilation differs from previous entries in that it presents four individual playlist-styled sections, each representing a particular element of his work: soundscapes, themes, sequences, and experimentation. With all but a couple tracks here available elsewhere, it would be possible for any Jarre-head to assemble something similar, though not directly from the mind of the artist himself, who — while pondering approaches for assembling this sprawling collection — evidently had an epiphany about the multiple layers within his compositions. That burst of inspiration did not, however, include formatting choices designed to accommodate his most fervent followers.

With two box-set versions available (one on limited-edition vinyl and one comprised of two CDs and two cassettes) and a double-CD set that partially spoils the four-playlist effect by pairing them on its two discs, only those with a turntable can experience the intended quartet of playlists in a single format (unless they’re willing to copy and burn the original track list to four separate discs). Even more curious is the fact that the 5.1 surround-sound content (confusingly including tracks not otherwise included on the collection) is made available only via a download card included in the box sets, not in a more conventional and convenient (not to mention appropriately audiophile-ready) format such as DVD or Blu-Ray.

While we’re in complaint mode, it’s worth adding that the “50 Years-of Music” concept behind Planet Jarre is something of a stretch: The first track here, the debut single and utter flop “La Cage,” was recorded in 1969 but not released (and subsequently ignored) until 1971. Even if you count the year of origin, and that in itself is pushing it, your handy abacus will tell you that doesn’t add up to a 50th anniversary. That said, the extremely inaccessible and downright clunky track (and others of similar vintage and avant-garde vibe on the fourth disc) is a minor revelation for the still-uninitiated, demonstrating how far Jarre moved the then-stuffy and academic electronic genre toward musicality and mainstream viability within about a half-dozen-year span. That fourth disc, loaded with examples of Jarre’s least-accessible work, offers comparatively little insight into his overall compositional makeup, though it does help complete the story of his career for those who wish to delve into every chapter.

Evidence that the career-defining Oxygène remains the artist’s calling card du jour is offered in the six sections of that extended work featured here, half of them drawn from the original 1976 album and half from the two sequels released between 1997 and 2016. Still, this overview of the synthetic sphere spinning under Jean-Michel Jarre (its multi-format fiasco notwithstanding) is a fairly comprehensive and well-organized one. And while Oxygène might be a dominant element in his sometimes peculiar world, Planet Jarre proves that there’s more than that on the table. (Sony Records, released September 21, 2018)

Buy the box set from Jean-Michel Jarre’s Planet Jarre

Kiss Solo 40th Anniversary Vinyl Reissues

KISS: The Solo Albums – 40th Anniversary Collection
It was 40 years ago this month when each of the four founding members of Kiss – Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons, and Peter Criss – all released self-titled solo albums on the same day in September 1978. While critical assessment on the albums was mixed (Ace and Paul good, Gene and Peter not so much), the band was riding a wave of popularity and commercial success in the wake of their 1977 Top Ten album Love Gun, which helped push three of the four solo albums into the Top 40 on the charts with all four subsequently selling better than a million copies each.

On October 19th, 2018 Casablanca Records and UMe will be reissuing all four of these Kiss solo efforts on 180-gram vinyl as a four-disc limited edition box set as KISS: The Solo Albums – 40th Anniversary Collection. The set is available in a limited run of 2,500 copies and is available exclusively through the band’s web shop or from The Sound of Vinyl website, both of which are now taking pre-orders. Each heavyweight vinyl LP has been assigned a unique color matching its associated cover art – Gene Simmons on red vinyl, Paul Stanley on purple wax, Ace Frehley on blue vinyl, and Peter Criss in green – and the four LPs are packaged in a deluxe black-matte slipcase featuring glossy black images of the four band members’ face surrounding a silver-foil print of the Kiss band logo.

KISS: The Solo Albums – 40th Anniversary Collection also includes four 12”x12” posters of each album’s cover art, as well as an exclusive turntable slipmat with all four of artist Eraldo Carugati’s painted album-cover faces connected together. Odds are good that the hardcore Kiss faithful already have these albums, probably on both vinyl and CD, but to sweeten the pot the band has put together a pricey $300 collectors’ bundle that includes the aforementioned box set and paraphernalia along with a limited-edition tee-shirt, Kiss buttons, and a set of pretty cool-looking Kiss coasters that is limited to 300 sets. Caveat emptor, indeed…

Sunday, September 23, 2018

CD Review: Sour Ops' Family Circuit (2018)

Sour Ops' Family Circuit
Sour Ops is a collection of some of the most talented rock ‘n’ roll musicians from Nashville and Memphis, veterans of beloved Tennessee bands like Sixty-Nine Tribe, Snake Hips, Triple X, Neighborhood Texture Jam, and Tav Falco and the Panther Burns, among many others. Led by singer, songwriter, and guitarist Price Harrison – a ridiculously-talented polymath who, aside from being a talented musician, is also an architect, photographer, video producer, and owner of the band’s Feralette Records label – Sour Ops also includes skilled music-makers like bassist Tony Frost, guitarist Mark Harrison (Price’s brother), and drummer George Lilly who contributed to the hellfire and brimstone rock ‘n’ roll debut album that is the band’s Family Circuit.

Sour Ops’ Family Circuit

Family Circuit opens with a rowdy, mostly-instrumental song that captures the listener’s ears with a torrential downpour of psychedelic-drenched, multi-tracked guitars, crashing drumbeats, and throbbing bass lines that roar beneath a rowdy chant of “U.S.A.” (which, appropriately, is also the song’s title). The song is either a sly commentary on blind American patriotic rhetoric or else it merely echoes the mindless jingoistic cheering of fans at a sporting event; either way, it’s a rockin’ little sucker. The album’s title track reminds of Neil Young’s poppier ‘70s-era records like After the Gold Rush, the song an up-tempo rocker with a discerning melody, Harrison’s nasally, Neil-like vox, and shards of angular guitarplay.

Nashville pedal-steel wizard Paul Niehaus brings the twang to the sublime “Everything,” a lonesome country-rock ballad that displays a different side to Sour Ops’ sonic Sturm und Drang. Harrison’s sprawling vocals again evoke Young, channeling the rock legend’s country side but with a softer, more distinctive emotional heft. Harrison’s former Sixty-Nine Tribe bandmate John Sheridan (a musical genius, IMHO) contributes the slinky, sensual “Photograph,” the mid-tempo rocker reminiscent of the Stones but with a lil’ bit more soul. Guitarist Mark Harrison takes the microphone here, his vocals complimented by splashes of wiry guitar, Tony Frost’s tough-as-nails bass lines, and drummer George Lilly’s driving rhythms. In a more enlightened musical era, this one could have been a chart-topping, FM radio contender.

Mind Like Glue

Sour Ops' Photograph
The key to Sour Ops’ entertaining stroll through rock ‘n’ roll history is the band’s uncanny ability to provide familiar vintage sounds with their own unique edge. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Not Enough,” the best song the Replacements never recorded. Written by the Harrison brothers and sung by Mark with his signature sandpaper drawl, the song’s shambolic vibe and reckless instrumentations combines the ‘Mats’ trademark swagger with a (appropriate) Big Star melodic undercurrent. But the addition of background harmonies, ringing guitars, and subtle percussion creates a new flavor from old ingredients. The shimmering “Mind Like Glue” also treads dangerously close to power-pop turf with its big chords, Beatle-esque harmonies, and livewire guitar licks. An unbridled rocker with cutting fretwork, a deep melodic line, and explosively lead-footed drumbeats supporting a brilliant lyrical tale, “All That I Want” combines the muscle and sinew of the Stooges or Iggy Pop’s best solo work with a menacing vibe and an underlying, ‘80s-styled instrumental palette.

“Stockcar” is another Sheridan song, a metaphoric rocker that careens from guardrail to guardrail at an alarming pace, Sheridan taking on the vocals above jagged shards of feedback-laden guitar that crackle like lightning above a uranium-heavy rhythmic foundation courtesy of Messrs. Frost and Lilly. “See the Light” is another Alex Chilton-styled, pop-turbocharged tune full of spiraling guitars and shimmering keyboards, timely backing harmonies, and wall-of-sound instrumentation that creates a certain chaotic energy that is anchored by Harrison’s soulful, plaintive vocals while the album-closing “Alabama Mall Child” is yearning story-song with vibrant lyrical imagery and solid instrumentation that blends just the merest of folk and country influences into the song’s otherwise rockin’ soundtrack.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Contrary to conventional industry wisdom, rock ‘n’ roll ain’t dead – and Sour Ops proves my point with the delightfully raucous Family Circuit. Price Harrison and his musical gang take their obvious cues from the legends of classic ‘70s and ‘80s rock but manage to provide this original material with a contemporary spin via their imaginative songwriting and skilled instrumentation. In addition to Family Circuit, Sour Ops has also released a fab 12” single comprised of “Photograph” and “Mind Like Glue,” two of the album’s best tunes and a safe bet for vinyl collectors looking for cheap thrills. Covers of both the Sour Ops CD and the vinyl single feature striking (different) photos of African-American model Indya James, the images perfectly capturing the dignity, mystery, and soul inherent in the band’s music. Grade: A+ (Feralette Records, released October 26, 2018)

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