Friday, August 17, 2018

Lost & Found: Preacher Boy

Preacher Boy's The Devil's Buttermilk
Christopher Watkins, a/k/a “Preacher Boy,” was a teenaged blues obsessive who discovered his muse in the country-blues sounds of acoustic bluesmen like Son House, Bukka White, and Mississippi John Hurt. After honing his craft playing guitar with a number of go-nowhere rock bands, Watkins embraced his alter ego and formed Preacher Boy & the Natural Blues in 1992. The band quickly made a name for itself on the thriving San Francisco Bay area blues scene that included talents like Tommy Castro and Elvin Bishop, and the band released its self-titled debut album on the esteemed Blind Pig Records label in 1995.

Preacher Boy & the Natural Blues opened up for artists like Los Lobos, Counting Crows, and J.J. Cale when they performed in the Bay area, and they wowed the audience of the 1995 San Francisco Blues Festival. The band released its sophomore effort, Gutters & Pews, on Blind Pig in 1996, the album incorporating a more Americana vibe centered on Watkins’ multi-instrumental talents (guitar, mandolin, banjo, accordion, keyboards, washboard, etc.). Moving to the U.K. in the late ‘90s, Preacher Boy released the 1998 solo album Crow. An opening performance for Eagle-Eye Cherry led to a songwriting partnership between the two artists, Watkins subsequently co-writing and playing on five tracks for Cherry’s 2001 release Living In the Present Future.

Preacher Boy's The Devil's Buttermilk


In the meantime, Preacher Boy wrote and recorded The Devil’s Buttermilk with keyboardist Steve Pigott and drummer Paul Burgess, the album released in 1999. This is where the Reverend picked up on Preacher Boy’s unique blues sound, writing for All Music Guide that “the listener is assured that The Devil’s Buttermilk is not your typical blues album and that Preacher Boy is definitely not your usual Telecaster-toting modern bluesman. With a guttural black-cat moan to match any death-metal howler, Preacher Boy sermonizes at the altar of hard knocks, reading from the good book of Muddy Waters and spreading the gospel of Howlin’ Wolf.”

I concluded my review of that album stating that “Watkins crosses the traditional country-blues of haunted legends like Robert Johnson and Son House with a modern, rock-influenced perspective similar to Jon Spencer or Jack White of the White Stripes, branding the sound with his own distinctive mark.” Sadly, Watkins and his Preacher Boy persona all but disappeared after the 2004 release of Demanding To Be Next, about which All Music Guide’s Stewart Mason wrote “Preacher Boy might be a young white boy singing the blues, but think Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart more than Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, and throw in some Townes Van Zandt and Gillian Welch as well.”

The National Blues


Preacher Boy's The National BluesThis wouldn’t be a ‘Lost & Found’ column without some resolution for the artist, though, and Watkins reached out to the Reverend on Facebook to let me know that contrary to the rumors that Preacher Boy was dead and gone he was, in reality, alive and thriving. After a short hiatus from music, Preacher Boy came roaring back strong in 2016 with three new albums filled with inspired original songs and choice classic blues covers. Released by Coast Road Records, the albums all feature Preacher Boy’s gruff vocals and the ringing sound of his slide-guitar playing on his vintage National Resophonic guitar.

The National Blues was the first of Preacher Boy’s three 2016 releases. According to Watkins’ website, the album was recorded in a shed in the mountains high above Santa Cruz, California. The performance is about as organic as one can get – no edits, no overdubs, and no freakin’ Auto Tune – just Watkins’ voice and guitar and drummer Zack Olsen. The result is a stunning collection of acoustic country-blues. The album-opening “Obituary Writer Blues” reminds of Son House, Watkins’ deft fretwork creating a mesmerizing vibe while his whiskey-soaked vocals conjure up the ghosts of the Mississippi Delta.

The spry “My Car Walks On Water” displays elements of the Piedmont style of blues, mostly due to Watkins’ jaunty git licks, while the haunting “Seven’s In the Middle, Son” is a Charley Patton styled blues dirge with wailing vox and dark-hued guitar lines. A pair of bonus tracks round out a ‘baker’s dozen’ of rock-solid ‘alternative blues,’ Watkins’ “Evil Blues” a deceptively engaging song, his strained vocals a cross between Tom Waits and Randy Newman as the song’s fascinating lyrics leaving you hanging on every word. A languid cover of the chestnut “Baby, Please Don’t Go” captures all the angst of the original by framing it in a different musical setting, Preacher Boy putting his own ‘stank’ on the song with an imaginative reading.

Preacher Boy’s Country Blues


Preacher Boy's Country Blues
The aptly-titled Country Blues followed The National Blues, the album’s cover featuring a B&W drawing by visual artist Amy Marinelli titled “Home” which depicts the rustic setting in which the album was created. Musically, Country Blues offers a similar sort of blues buffet as The National Blues, Preacher Boy reaching back to his roots to deliver eight scorching covers of songs by country-blues legends. The album was recorded ‘live’ without overdubs over the course of two nights on location at was once the old Meadowood Lodge, tucked away and virtually hidden among the redwood trees in the Santa Cruz mountains. Country Blues was released on November 12th in celebration of Bukka White’s birthday.

With his gravelly voice accompanied only by his National Resonator guitar, Watkins uses his interpretive skills to spin unique takes on songs like Delta blues giant Robert Johnson’s “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day,” which pairs Watkins’ imaginative fretwork with a unique arrangement that makes full use of a light/dark dynamic. Others artists receiving the Preacher Boy treatment include Bukka White, whose “Fixin’ To Die Blues” is provided a rowdy, upbeat performance while the traditional “Stagolee” – a classic song about which you could write a book or academic theses about – is delivered as a jaunty Piedmont-styled jam. Blind Willie Johnson’s “Jesus, Make Up My Dyin’ Bed” features some nimble pickin’ on what is a truly unique and exhilarating reading of the classic blues dirge.

Estate Bottled Blues


Preacher Boy's Estate Bottled Blues
Estate Bottled Blues rounds out this trilogy and represents the “long lost” Preacher Boy album. Pursuing an exercise in personal creativity, the songs on the album began with Watkins’ promise to write and record a song every day until his muse was exhausted. It ended 42 songs later in a Chicago hospital (a story for another time), the songs forgotten in an old box until Watkins’ rediscovered ‘em and remastered the material for Estate Bottled Blues. Offering 16 of those lost songs, Estate Bottled Blues is Preacher Boy’s most fully-realized album yet, the multi-instrumental talent layering electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, mandolins, banjos and such onto an eight-track tape machine.

Preacher Boy pursues a different tack with his singing here as well, softening his sandpaper vocal chords with a gentler delivery befitting the lush instrumentation of the tracks. He also adds a bit of Southern Gothic vibe to the lyrics and arrangements, mixing the lyrical sensitivity of a folk artist to his normal gutbucket acoustic blues. It’s an artistically-successful collection, ranging from the Tom Waits-styled barroom blues of “Envelope” and the more rock-oriented “Revelation Falls” to the lyrically-powerful “The Fine and the Weak” – which features some of Watkins’ hardest-edged fretwork to date – and the eloquent “Pulling Black Flowers From An Hourglass,” where Watkins’ gets his most oblique, lyrically. Estate Bottled Blues is Preacher Boy’s “rock” album, the songs full of passion and energy.  

Lost & Found: Preacher Boy


So, as one can tell from the previous 1,000+ words, Christopher Watkins/Preacher Boy wasn’t exactly ‘lost’ though he definitely is ready to be ‘found’ by a legion of blues fans in search of authenticity and sincerity in their music. Although his country-blues influences are evident in these grooves, Preacher Boy’s sound is entirely of his own making, and he’s been busy making vibrant and electrifying music that stands outside of the mainstream of the insular and tradition-bound world of the blues. In this, he reminds a lot of an artist like Corey Harris.

Preacher Boy wrote, recorded, and released three high-quality albums within a year, without succumbing to exhaustion or cliché. Nevertheless, I suspect that Preacher Boy still has some interesting music to make...

Buy these Preacher Boy CDs from Amazon.com:
The National Blues
Country Blues
Estate Bottled Blues




Peter Holsapple & Alex Chilton and the “Death of Rock”

They’re two of the most iconic rockers in the power-firmament – the late Alex Chilton, who blazed the trail via his pioneering work with the Box Tops and cult rockers Big Star, and Peter Holsapple, who picked up the torch dropped by Big Star and ran with it over the course of a half-dozen albums by his revered band the dB’s.

For one shining moment in 1978, however, the two rock ‘n’ roll stars collided and worked together at the legendary Sam Phillips Recording Service in Memphis, Tennessee. The resulting recordings were thought forever lost to the ages until their recent rediscovery; on October 12th, 2018 Omnivore Recordings will release The Death of Rock: Peter Holsapple vs. Alex Chilton on CD, some 40 years after the duo’s original sessions.

The story, as it turns out, happened thusly – three years before hooking up with the dB’s, Holsapple ventured from his North Carolina home in 1978 to the Bluff City, hoping to record with Big Star’s Chris Bell as his producer. After Bell rebuffed the singer/songwriter Holsapple hooked up with Big Star family member Richard Rosebrough, a musician and studio engineer, and the two began recording tracks during the studio’s off hours.

Meanwhile, Chilton was busy working on what would become his Like Flies On Sherbert album at the studio and hearing what Holsapple was working on said to Peter “I heard some of that stuff you’re working on with Richard...and it really sucks,” promising to drop by the studio and show the neophyte power-popper “how it’s done.” As Holsapple recalls, “I caught Alex exiting a world of sweet pop that I was only just trying to enter, and the door hit me on the way in, I guess.”

The results of the two men’s collaboration have been lost until now, and Omnivore’s first-time release of these sessions features extensive liner notes from Memphis author, filmmaker, and music historian Robert Gordon (no relation). The Death of Rock also includes previously-unseen photos from the personal collection of Holsapple and Memphis music documentarian Pat Rainer. The new album was produced by Omnivore’s award-winning Cheryl Pawelski and mastered by Mike Graves at Osiris Studio and Jeff Powell at Take Out Vinyl/Sam Phillips Recording Service, which appropriately brings the project full-circle.

In his liner notes for The Death of Rock, Gordon sums the recordings up thusly: “Holsapple and Chilton have a bang-up meet up. It works out OK for both artists, the collaboration taking each somewhere they’d likely not have gone by themselves. In some collisions, the results are Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. In others, the ambulance has to haul people to the hospital. Here, no blood was spilled, but each artist finds himself in a place pretty much unlike any other visited on his own.” You can check out the full track listing for The Death of Rock below.

The Death of Rock tracklist:

Peter Holsapple
1. Bad Reputation
2. House Is Not A Home
3. We Were Happy There
4. The Death of Rock
5. Take Me Back
6. Mind Your Manners (backing track)

Alex Chilton
7. Tennis Bum
8. Marshall Law
9. Heart and Soul
10. Train Kept A Rollin’
11. Hey Mona

Bonus Abuse: Peter Holsapple (except *Alex Chilton)
12. Bad Reputation (long version)
13. Tennis Bum (rehearsal)*
14. O My Soul (instrumental/rehearsal)
15. In the Street (instrumental/ rehearsal)
16. Baby I Love You (rehearsal)
17. The Death of Rock (rehearsal)
18. Someone’s Gotta Shine Your Shoes (rehearsal)
19. Mind Your Manners (4-Track version with vocals)

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: The Death of Rock: Peter Holsapple vs. Alex Chilton


CD Preview: Pink Fairies’ Resident Reptiles

Pink Fairies' Resident Reptiles
U.K. psychedelic rock legends Pink Fairies were formed in 1970, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of cult rockers the Deviants when guitarist Paul Rudolph, bassist Duncan Sanderson, and drummer Russell Hunter sacked frontman Mick Farren. The trio hooked up with former Pretty Things drummer ‘Twink’ and recorded their classic 1971 debut LP, Never Never Land.

The band was back to three members after Twink left for the following year’s What A Bunch of Sweeties, which also included contributions from the Move’s guitarist Trevor Burton. After a few roster changes, Sanderson and Hunter hooked up with former Shagrat guitarist Larry Wallis for 1973’s Kings of Oblivion. The Fairies packed it in mid-decade when Wallis jumped to join Lemmy in Motörhead.

Interest in the Pink Fairies’ unique brand of anarchic rock ‘n’ roll has been on the rise since the early 2000s when Polydor reissued the band’s first three albums on CD, and various line-ups of the Fairies have performed reunion shows in the ensuing years. On August 24th, 2018 Purple Pyramid (a Cleopatra Records imprint) will release a brand spankin’ new Pink Fairies album titled Resident Reptiles. Featuring original Fairies singer and guitarist Paul Rudolph along with fellow travelers Alan Davey (ex-Hawkwind) on bass and Lucas Fox (Motörhead) on drums, the trio recorded a sizzling eight-song set that will be released on both CD and, of course, pink vinyl.    

“I’d say this journey started with Nik Turner introducing me to Cleopatra Records,” says Rudolph in a press release for the new album. “I was asked about the possibility of recording a LP under the Pink Fairies banner and thought – this would be a lot of fun. Get a few people together, turn the amps up to 10 and let ‘er rip. So here it is – a spontaneous collaboration of ideas recorded mostly live. Thank you for listening. Peace and Love.”

Resident Reptiles tracklist:

1. Resident Reptile
2. Old Enuff To Know Better
3. Your Cover Is Blown
4. Mirage
5. Lone Wolf
6. Whipping Boy
7. Monkey Chatter
8. Apologize

Buy the pink vinyl LP from Amazon.com: The Pink FairiesResident Reptiles

Sunday, August 12, 2018

CD Review: Shemekia Copeland's America's Child (2018)

Shemekia Copeland's America's Child
The daughter of Texas blues legend Johnny Copeland, singer Shemekia Copeland first sang onstage at the young age of ten years old. She is long since removed from her father’s long shadow, forging a distinctive career of her own over the past two decades. Over the course of seven previous albums, Copeland has shown growth as a singer and performer, and has four times been awarded The Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Award for “Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year” as well as winning BMA/W.C. Handy Awards for her early albums Wicked and Talking To Strangers.

Copeland recorded 2015’s excellent Outskirts of Love in Nashville and evidently enjoyed the experience so much that she returned to record America’s Child with talented guitarist, songwriter, and producer Will Kimbrough (who also played guitar on Outskirts of Love), an acquaintance of mine of which I’ve long been a fan. Kimbrough brought with him to the studio a roster of some of the finest pickers the Music City has to offer, skilled musicians like pedal steel maestros Paul Franklin and Al Perkins, bassist Lex Price, fiddle player Kenny Sears, and legendary Stax Records guitarist Steve Cropper. Nashville A-listers like Emmy Lou Harris, Lisa Oliver Gray, and Gretchen Peters also provide backing vocals on several songs.

Shemekia Copeland’s America’s Child


Featuring songs from skilled songwriters like Kimbrough, Mary Gauthier, John Prine, Kevin Gordon and Gwil Owen, and Copeland’s old friend John Hahn, America’s Child is a stunning collection of Americana-flavored traditional blues music. Written by Hahn and Kimbrough, “Ain’t Got Time For Hate” is a powerful denouncement of fear and racism that features Copeland’s soaring vocals and Kimbrough’s delightfully greasy swamp-blues guitar while “Would You Take My Blood” covers much the same lyrical ground, but from a different perspective, a dark-hued Chicago blues soundtrack backing Copeland’s devastating delivery of the song’s prominent question.

Folk-country singer/songwriter Mary Gauthier is as underrated a talent in her chosen musical genre as Copeland is in the blues, and her song “Americans” is in good hands here. Gauthier’s cleverly-phrased and witty lyrics are provided a New Orleans rhythm and jaunty guitar licks over which Copeland drives home the point that, as Americans of all creed and color, we have more in common than we do to divide us. John Prine’s “Great Rain” offers a duet between the young blues singer and the aging folk legend that is as delightful as anything you’re going to hear this year. Oddly enough, Copeland’s sultry vox blend effortlessly with Prine’s gruff drawl as Kimbrough and Perkins’ intertwined guitars provide a solid rhythmic foundation for the song.

In The Blood of the Blues


Copeland knocks the only two real “cover songs” on America’s Child right out of the park. The first, Shemekia’s reading of her father’s “Promised Myself,” featuring Cropper’s shimmering, soulful fretwork and Copeland’s torch-song vocals, the singer evoking memories of Etta James with her heartbreaking outpouring of emotion. The other cover is of Ray Davies’ often-abused Kinks’ klassic [sic] “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” which was surely one of Will’s song suggestions. Regardless, Copeland grabs the song and shakes the soul out of the thing with an incredible vocal performance that downplays the original’s defiant stance and, in doing so, turns it into a fiery, stronger lyrical statement supported by Kimbrough’s slithery shards of guitar.

Guest star Rhiannon Giddens brings her African banjo to play on Gauthier’s wonderful “Smoked Ham and Peaches,” adding an Otis Taylor-styled “trance blues” edge to Copeland’s nuanced singing of the winsome, rustic memories of an era passed by. Copeland is in full-tilt blues-rock mode with the scorching “In the Blood of the Blues,” growling and roaring above Kimbrough’s flamethrower licks as the rhythm section – bassist Lex Price and drummer Pete Abbott – bang out a 1970s-era classic rock sound. Terry Abrahamson’s lyrics are brilliantly provocative with vivid imagery and Copeland wrings every bit of pathos from them. America’s Child closes with the traditional “Go To Sleep Little Baby,” Kimbrough’s resounding guitar the only accompaniment to Copeland’s loving vocals, which are offered with hymn-like reverence.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


If Koko Taylor and Etta James are the standard by which female blues sings must aspire in the 21st century, Shemekia Copeland stands proudly alongside the legends. For my money, Copeland and Janiva Magness are the two best vocalists in the blues field today – male or female – and both women have brought their enormous talents to songs that fit nicely into the stylistic blend of blues, folk, and country music that is “Americana.” No matter what you want to call it, over the dozen songs included on America’s Child, Copeland’s amazing voice turns every performance into timeless American music. Grade: A+ (Alligator Records, released August 3, 2018)

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Shemekia Copeland’s America’s Child

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Buyer's Guide to Spirit (Early Years)

Spirit's Spirit
When I was thirteen years old, there was a kid in my Erie, Pennsylvania neighborhood named Rick DiBello. Four to five years older than the rest of us, we got to know him because he dated the sister of one of our fellow juvie “gangstas.” A rocker-in-the-making, DiBello always had the best dope and was on the leading edge when it came to new music. So when he began ranting about a band called Spirit and their new album, Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, we all sat up and listened.

DiBello was right – Spirit was the most righteous rockers these ears had ever heard. Guitarist Randy California (nee Wolfe) had learned his chops as a wee sprout sitting at the feet of the master, Jimi H. himself. As a teen, he played with blues greats like Sleepy John Estes and Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. Spirit drummer Ed Cassidy, an imposing bald-headed percussion maniac, was California’s stepfather and had earned his props playing in big bands and jazz ensembles with folks like Zoot Sims and Dexter Gordon.

During the mid-‘60s, Cassidy played with Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal as part of the band Rising Sons; the band’s vocalist at the time, Jay Ferguson, went on to fame and fortune both as a solo artist and as frontman for Jo Jo Gunne. Bassist Mark Andes was to fly the coop along with Ferguson after Twelve Dreams to play with Jo Jo Gunne. Keyboardist John Locke had played with Cassidy in a jazz band. All of which is to say that Spirit had some solid musical credentials to do what they did.

Spirit's The Family That Plays Together
What this odd combination of musical souls created in Spirit had never been heard before and has never been duplicated since. Mixing disparate elements of rock ‘n’ roll, classical, jazz, blues, folk, and psychedelic rock, Spirit could, at times, be spacey, focused, forceful, laid-back, structured, and improvisational, sometimes all at once. California took guitar playing to levels undreamed of even by Hendrix, layering subtle flourishes beneath the flowing instrumentation of some Spirit songs, directly punctuating other songs with razor-sharp directness. Cassidy and Andes comprised a solid rhythm section, which became the backbone of many songs while Ferguson’s and, to a lesser extent, California’s vocals were appropriate for the material, seldom bombastic and, most of the time, actually somewhat subdued.

I remember, years later, reading some critic’s comment that if Spirit had been a British band, their peak years (1968-1971) would have brought them a great deal of fame. As it was, they remain a critical favorite, an obscure footnote in rock ‘n’ roll history, although their musical output stands as some of the most innovative, daring, and exciting music ever made. Like many Spirit fans, I eagerly awaited the 1996 Sony Legacy reissues of the band’s first four albums. Many of us thought that this project – overseen by Randy California and offering 20-bit re-mastering, track notes, and bonus cuts – would serve to introduce the band to an entirely new generation of fans. Along with Cassidy, California had kept Spirit together through some lean years, and through recent indie releases and touring, had begun creating a buzz around the band again.

Unfortunately, with the Sony Legacy reissue project completed and scheduled for release, California tragically died in a fatal accident off the coast of Hawaii, his home for the past few years. Trying to save his son from an ocean undertow, California rescued the boy but was swept out to sea himself. Over a year later, I don’t recall reading that his body was recovered. In light of this tragedy, the reissues of Spirit’s first four albums became Randy’s legacy rather than a starting point for greater things. For music lovers, however, these four albums mark a watershed in rock ‘n’ roll, the point where musical virtuosity and stylistic differences fused together to make a single musical form that, although tagged as “rock music,” actually transcends the narrow limitations of that genre.

Spirit's Clear
Spirit, the band’s self-titled debut, was originally released in 1968 and serves to set the stage for things to follow. The band created an instant buzz on the U.S. West Coast where, with bands like Buffalo Springfield and Canned Heat, they helped create a thriving rock scene in the scenic Topanga Canyon area. Sharing a house with Barry Hansen of “Dr. Demento” fame (considered the unofficial ‘sixth’ member of Spirit), the band began creating a musical imprint that was as unique as it was inventive. Several tracks from this first disc have become known as classics, notably “Fresh Garbage,” which would be covered live by Led Zeppelin, and “Mechanical World.” Listen to the opening of “Taurus” and you’ll know where Zeppelin later copped the melody for “Stairway To Heaven.”

The Family That Plays Together, the title a bit of satirical wordplay on Cassidy and California’s father/son relationship, was released as Spirit’s sophomore effort a year later. Yielding a hit single and future “classic rock” radio staple in “I Got A Line On You,” the disc continued the inspired improvisational nature of the band, adding a little more rock ‘n’ roll edginess than their debut. The band’s fleeting brush with fame would make 1969 a heady year, with Spirit touring as headliners with opening acts like Led Zeppelin, Chicago, and Traffic before finally playing the Atlanta Pop Festival in front of 100,000 people. The Family That Plays Together holds some wonderful moments, songs like “Poor Richard” and “Silky Sam” or “Drunkard” sounding as vital and fresh today as they did almost 30 years ago.

With the modicum of fame that they were enjoying, Spirit’s fortunes began to unravel. Released in late 1969, Clear shows a band under the gun, stressed by too much time on the road and unrealistic expectations. The tension is evident on Clear, the music displaying a harder edge that their previous works, rocking with abandon and more force than they’d shown before. A minor hit song emerged from the album, “1984” earning the band a loyal European audience even while the song was all but banned from airplay in the United States. The political turmoil of the country at large is evident on Clear, with cuts like “Policeman’s Ball,” “So Little Time To Fly,” and the aforementioned “1984” showcasing a newfound social awareness. In a perfect world, the album-opening “Dark Eyed Woman” would have been a huge hit. Instead, the band began its descent into obscurity and eventual break-up.

Spirit's 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus
With a single stupid corporate decision that would seem to be in line with the American Indian’s sale of Manhattan to the white man for a handful of trinkets, the band’s label (Epic Records) decided to send Spirit on a radio promotional tour rather than have them play Woodstock. Offered a plum spot opening for former California mentor Jimi Hendrix, Spirit would certainly have emerged from the festival as superstars. Instead, fate would lead them to record their magnum opus, Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. An inspired mix of every musical trick that spirit had in their considerable arsenal of skills, Twelve Dreams stands up, decades later, as one of the classic rock recordings of all time. Tracks like “Nature’s Way,” “Animal Zoo,” and “Mr. Skin” are masterful musical expressions. Mixing their improvisational backgrounds with a traditional three-and-a-half minute rock song structure, the band created music that was chaotic genius.

Released in 1970, Twelve Dreams would go on to become Spirit’s best-selling album and the one lone title in their catalog that has never been out-of-print. It would also become the original band’s swansong as well, Ferguson and Andes announcing – before the album’s release – their departure from the band to form the more pop-oriented Jo Jo Gunne. The original band broke up and a mediocre follow-up to Twelve Dreams titled Feedback was recorded without Randy California, who had suffered a head injury during a horse-riding accident. Released in 1971 under the Spirit name, it remains a deservedly lost chapter in the band’s history.

Brothers Al and John Staehely – recruited to replace the band’s departing members – led this less-than-stellar line-up, which also included Cassidy and Locke. When Cassidy left, he was replaced by a series of lesser drummers, including Cozy Powell, and the band toured in support of Feedback before officially breaking up altogether in 1973. In the meantime, California retreated to Hawaii for a couple years before he and Cassidy got back together to form a new version of Spirit in 1974. The band was subsequently signed to Mercury Records for a handful of albums, the best of which are represented by Spirit: The Mercury Years.

Spirit's The Mercury Years
The two-CD set culls material from the band’s mid-‘70s efforts. Much of the original spark of the band was gone, however, although California managed some impressive guitar pyrotechnics and Cassidy remained a solid drummer. Bassist Barry Keane, who played on 1975’s Spirit of ’76 was a pale imitation of Mark Andes, and wasn’t used on the following year’s Son of Spirit album. With Jay Ferguson destined for solo stardom, Andes returned to the fold for 1976’s Farther Along, bringing his guitarist brother Mark with him from Jo Jo Gunne. John Locke also dropped back into the Spirit line-up for this album, probably the band’s best since Twelve Dreams. A year later, the conceptual Future Games – a Randy California solo album in reality – proved to be the band’s last for Mercury.

Although Spirit’s mid-‘70s releases never matched the innovation and execution of their first four albums, there’s still some good material documented by Spirit: The Mercury Years which has withstood the test of time. California’s ode to Jimi Hendrix, “Sunrise,” is a fitting tribute to the influential guitarist while covers of “Walkin’ The Dog,” “Like A Rolling Stone,” and “Hey Joe,” original taught to California by Jimi, offer new perspectives on those classic songs. The wonderful “Green Back Dollar,” inspired by the assassination of John Lennon, is included here as an unreleased bonus track. Among its whopping 47 songs, Spirit: The Mercury Years includes almost all of the double-album Spirit of ’76 set; nine of ten tracks from Son of Spirit; and eleven of twelve from Farther Along we well as other odds and ends.

For newly won fans of the band, Spirit: The Mercury Years offers most of Spirit’s middle-period albums on two discs without having to go out and dig up higher-priced vinyl copies of these rarities. The Esoteric Records label in the U.K. reissued Spirit’s first five albums in early 2018 as a five-disc set in clamshell packaging titled It Shall Be, which is a cost-effective way for buyers to grab them all up (even the dreadfully mediocre Feedback) at once though, to be honest, the band’s essential first four can be had on CD for a pittance.

Spirit's It Shall Be
Randy California kept Spirit alive until his death in 1997 with Ed Cassidy, then in his 70s, still pounding the skins with the energy and fervor of a man a third of his age. Musical soulmates, this duo proved to be the artistic and intellectual heart of Spirit. Driven to play, to create, and to perform, California was one of the greatest artists and most tragic figures in rock music. Although he lived well into his 40s, and saw a musical career that spanned better than three decades, California never received the level of respect and success that his work truly deserved.

Originally published in Review & Discussion of Rock ‘n’ Roll zine, 1998

Buy the CDs from Amazon.com:
Spirit
The Family That Plays Together
Clear
12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus
Spirit: The Mercury Years
It Shall Be: The Ode & Epic Years 1968-1972





Thursday, August 9, 2018

King Crimson Live In Mexico City 2017

King Crimson's Meltdown In Mexico
Over the past few years, legendary prog-rock band King Crimson has become the epitome of the touring band. Ostensibly led by guitarist Robert Fripp, the band’s sole original member (and, for decades, its creative spotlight as well), these days Crimson is populated with a wealth of talent, all of whom contribute to the band’s nightly live performances.

As busy as they’ve been touring the last few years, they’ve been equally busy in documenting their performances with a slate of live album releases. Dig deep into your couch cushions or take out a bank loan ‘cause here comes yet another worthy King Crimson live set that you’re gonna want to add to your collection.

On September 28th, 2018 the band will release Meltdown In Mexico, a four-disc set, on its own DGM label. Comprised of three audio CDs and a Blu-ray disc, Meltdown features over three and a half hours of material performed during the band’s five-night residency at Teatro Metropolitan in Mexico City during July 2017. The Blue-ray disc offers over two hours of multi-camera, high-definition video footage as well as an audio soundtrack in several formats like 24/48 LPCM, high-resolution stereo, and 5.1 DTS HD-MA.

Meltdown In Mexico offers the first recorded appearance of a Crimson line-up that features Fripp, longtime bassist Tony Levin, guitarist Jakko Jakszyk, saxophonist Mel Collins, keyboardist Bill Rieflin, and a trio of talented percussionists in drummers Gavin Harrison, Pat Mastelotto, and Jeremy Stacey. The concerts were mixed by Crimson’s Bill Rieflin from full multi-track recordings, and the band’s performance includes tracks that span Crimson’s five decades like “Breathless,” “Discipline,” “Red,” “Starless,” “The Court of the Crimson King,” “Moonchild” and, of course, their signature song, “21st Century Schizoid Man.” Meltdown In Mexico also includes the band’s inspired cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” for a total of 38 tracks spanning the three audio discs.

If Meltdown In Mexico is anything like the recently-released Live In Vienna set from 2016, or the previously-released Official Bootleg: Live In Chicago 2017, King Crimson fan have something to look forward to!

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: King Crimson’s Meltdown In Mexico

Also on That Devil Music:
King Crimson - Live In Vienna CD review

The Us Generation: The Making of the 1982 US Festival DVD

The Us Generation: The Making of the 1982 US Festival
For those readers too young to remember, the first US Festival took place over Labor Day weekend in September 1982. Held in San Bernardino, California the event was sponsored by Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, with the music end of things handled by veteran promoter Bill Graham. Ever the visionary, Wozniak felt that if the 1970s was the “Me Generation” then the decade of the 1980s could be the “US Generation,” and the festival was conceived to combine music and technology and to encourage people to be more community-oriented.

Wozniak paid for the bulldozing and construction of a state-of-the-art venue for the event, which was held during some terribly hot weather and resulted in a loss of around $12 million. Graham lined up some heavy hitters for the festival, and the diverse group of artists performing included punks and new wavers like the Ramones, the Cars, the Talking Heads, and the Police as well as classic rockers like the Kinks, Santana, Fleetwood Mac, and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.

A second US Festival was held over the Memorial Day weekend in May 1983, with promoter Barry Fey taking the reins and Wozniak again paying the bills. The second festival featured some repeat performers from the first, including the English Beat, Oingo Boingo, and Stevie Nicks, performing solo. The Memorial Day event eventually conceived as a three-day festival, with performers on each day slotted under “New Wave Day,” “Heavy Metal Day,” and “Rock Day” but a fourth “Country Day” was added. Performers at US2 included the Pretenders, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, U2, Van Halen, David Bowie, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings, among others.

The second festival also lost a reported $12 million but, taken together, the two events proved to be enormously influential on a generation of rock fans. The festivals have been sliced and diced and released on home video in various formats, with individual performances by Triumph, Quiet Riot, the English Beat, and Willie Nelson released. The festivals evidently had a profound effect on award-winning filmmaker and rock ‘n’ roll documentarian Glenn Aveni, who had previously made An Ox’s Tale: The John Entwistle Story. Working with co-director Jay Cedarholm and producers Bruce Gibb and Rich Schmig, Aveni has created The Us Generation: The Making of the 1982 US Festival, an in-depth look behind the scenes at the influential rock festival.

Scheduled for August 10th, 2018 release on DVD and Blu-ray disc by MVD Entertainment, The Us Generation is the authorized (by ‘Woz’) story of the 1982 festival. The film features re-mastered live performances by artists like Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Santana, the Cars, the Police, Fleetwood Mac, the B-52s and others, and if that’s not enough to convince you to add check it out, the film also includes interview footage with Steve Wozniak, Mick Fleetwood, Eddie Money, Marky Ramone, Stewart Copeland (The Police), and Mickey Hart (The Grateful Dead), among others. The two-disc Blu-ray is going for less than $20 on Amazon so what are you waiting on – this is an essential addition to any fan’s collection of rock ‘n’ roll documentaries.

Buy the Blu-ray from Amazon.com: The Us Generation


Sunday, August 5, 2018

Vinyl Review: Frank Zappa's Chunga's Revenge (1970/2018)

Frank Zappa's Chunga's Revenge
Rock legend Frank Zappa, a/k/a ‘The Maestro’, was quite a busy little beaver during the year spanning (roughly) late 1969 to late 1970. He broke up his longtime band the Mothers of Invention due to the cost of paying nine musicians full-time wages in the face of dwindling record sales. He wiggled out of his MGM Records contract, allegedly tired of the label’s interference with his music, and he subsequently talked Warner Brothers into setting up his own boutique imprint, Bizarre Records, run by his manager Herb Cohen, which would also release albums by artistic eccentrics like Captain Beefheart and Wild Man Fischer.

Working with former Mothers band member Ian Underwood and musical guests like Don “Sugarcane” Harris, Jean-Luc Ponty, Lowell George, and Shuggie Otis, Zappa recorded and released his second solo album, Hot Rats and then, in early 1970, released a pair of Mothers’ albums – Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh – that were “frankensteined” together using previously-recorded material by the original band. To top off the year, Zappa put together a new version of the Mothers dubbed simply “The Mothers” (which itself would soon be dropped, with new music issued solely under Zappa’s name).

Frank Zappa’s Chunga’s Revenge


The revised version of the Mothers featured Zappa’s old pal, multi-instrumentalist Underwood, along with guitarist/bassist Jeff Simmons, keyboardist George Duke, journeyman British drummer Aynsley Dunbar, and three former members of 1960s-era hitmakers the Turtles – bassist Jim Pons and singers Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (i.e. “The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie” or, simply, “Flo & Eddie”). This is pretty much the line-up that went into the studio to record what would become Zappa’s third solo album (and second in a year’s time), Chunga’s Revenge. Released in October 1970, Chunga’s Revenge closed out a madcap year for ‘The Maestro’ that included four albums of new material, the early creative stirrings of his 200 Motels film project, and the formation of the new band.

Under supervision by the Zappa Family Trust, Universal Music has reissued Chunga’s Revenge on shiny, thick 180-gram audiophile vinyl, cut directly from the original analog master tapes. The album has been unavailable on vinyl for better than 30 years, last appearing on wax in 1986 as part of Zappa’s rare and long out-of-print Old Masters, Box Two set released on his own independent Barking Pumpkin label. The reissue LP features the original album artwork and is packaged in a gatefold outer sleeve and swanky, plastic-lined inner sleeve for maximum vinyl protection. It sounds as good as ever, and the luxurious vinyl captures all of the album’s sonic nuances.

Transylvania Boogie


As he was wont to do, Zappa changed musical directions again with this third solo album, eschewing both the social satire of early Mothers of Invention albums and (mostly) the jazz-rock fusion of Hot Rats (tho’ he’d further explore the possibilities of the fusion style a couple years later with the Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo albums). Really, Chunga’s Revenge is all over the board, musically, and if it served as ‘ground zero’ for Zappa’s growing fascination with sex and groupies, it also showcases Zappa’s mastery of a wide range of musical styles. Zappa had originally conceived of Chunga’s Revenge as a precursor to the story of his upcoming film, and while it was widely criticized at the time of its release, it has since found some acclaim in that context. Zappa’s “sex and groupie” phase would last throughout 1971 and the release of the live LP Fillmore East – June 1971 and the 200 Motels movie and soundtrack album, after which Frank would return to making “serious music.”

Chunga’s Revenge kicks off with some good, old-fashioned six-string pyrotechnics, the lengthy instrumental jam “Transylvania Boogie” putting the guitarist through his paces with a firecracker performance that skews towards the proggier end of jazz-rock fusion. Zappa bends and twists his notes into a pretzel-like apparition throughout the track while Underwood’s keyboards and Dunbar’s busy drum fills round out the sound. By the end of the song, Zappa has begun channeling some ghost of the Delta blues into his playing, and a human named Max Bennett lays down some funky fine bass lines. Bennett was evidently a jazz bassist of some renown, and an in-demand session guy who had previously played on Hot Rats as well as albums by the Monkees and the Partridge Family before being enlisted into Zappa’s studio corps.

Tell Me You Love Me


Frank Zappa photo by Greg Gorman
Zappa photo by Greg Gorman, courtesy UMe
Zappa further hones his blues chops on the devastating fretwork that frames the story-song “Road Ladies,” which lyrically delves into the travails of a rock ‘n’ roll band on the road and the availability of, well “road ladies.” Flo & Eddie make their first appearance with Zappa here on backing vocals, and jazz legend George Duke provides some tasty keyboard accompaniment alongside Zappa’s flamethrower licks. The short “Twenty Small Cigars” is a holdover from the Hot Rats sessions and hews to a similar musical template. Zappa’s subtle guitarwork is subdued here in support of the overall performance, which is dominated by Zappa’s use of a harpsichord to create a lounge-like ambience, a point further emphasized by Underwood’s jazzy piano playing.

The three-part suite “The Nancy & Mary Music” is a nine-minute live track that offers Zappa’s imaginative guitar noodling set against a solid rhythmic backdrop provided by bassist Jeff Simmons and drummer Dunbar. The song meanders a bit, featuring an obligatory drum solo (it was the ‘70s, after all), before morphing into a scorching, chaotic rocker that spotlights Duke’s eclectic keyboard notes and syncopated percussion before devolving into a jazzy jam that includes scat-vocals by Flo & Eddie. Side two of Chunga’s Revenge cranks the amps from the first note, “Tell Me You Love Me” as hard-hitting a rock song as Zappa ever delivered, with Flo & Eddie front and center in the mix with a soulful vocal performance that slides right in under Zappa’s greasy, fatback fretwork and Dunbar’s driving, explosive percussion.

Rudy Wants To Buy Yez A Drink


“Would You Go All The Way?” is a longtime personal favorite, a callback to Zappa’s beloved doo-wop of the sorts featured on 1968’s Cruising with Ruben & the Jets album. Flo & Eddie deliver some swinging harmony vocals with a few gymnastics as Zappa changes time signatures mid-song to take advantage of his talented rhythm section (Simmons and Dunbar) and Underwood’s electric piano. The song quickly moves on from its opening doo-wop flavor to become an oddball pop tune complete with a George Duke trombone solo. The title track is another extended instrumental jam that makes good use of the talents involved, Zappa pushing the musicians out of their comfort zones, with Underwood playing an electric alto sax through a wah-wah pedal and violinist Sugarcane Harris tasked with providing keyboards; both men acquit themselves nicely.

The minute-and-a-half long “The Clap” is an intriguing mini-instrumental that features Zappa creating in a percussive performance, playing drums, wood blocks, tom-toms, and such before the song jumps headfirst into “Rudy Wants To Buy You A Drink,” a throwback to the Absolutely Free era Mothers. A melodic and lyric-heavy satirical song that, musically, careens from one extreme to another like a runaway pinball – offering shades of doo-wop, ‘60s pop, and lounge jazz – Flo & Eddie’s hilarious vocal delivery effortlessly slots into the song’s instrumental arrangement. The lusty “Sharleena” closes out Chunga’s Revenge, the song a R&B tinged soul ballad that makes good use of twin keyboardists Underwood (piano) and Duke (organ) to create a sultry atmosphere beneath Zappa’s vocals and Flo & Eddie’s backing harmony. Zappa’s guitar spits out some funky notes that sit adjacent to Shuggie Otis while Duke’s wiggy keyboard fills add an interesting texture to the performance.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


If the preceding Zappa/Mothers albums – 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 towards “phase two,” Chunga’s Revenge reveals his pure joy in playing with a new and, arguably, more highly-skilled cast of musicians. The addition of two talented vocalists in Volman and Kaylan to the band added a new dimension to the musical possibilities, and if they were largely wasted over the following couple of years on needlessly juvenile material (although “Billy the Mountain” is still a hoot), they also largely freed Zappa from the microphone and allowed him to develop the innovative and influential guitar style that is a large part of his enduring legacy.

Chunga’s Revenge is the result of that aforementioned artistic catharsis, Zappa opening the decade of the ‘70s with a solid roadmap of musical ideas that he would go on to exploit extensively with a prolific slate of recordings that would enjoy both critical and commercial success. Chunga’s Revenge found Zappa exploring various musical avenues, after which he would deliver enduring works like Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe(’), which were his two most commercially-successful LPs, both earning Gold™ Record status, as well as fan favorites like Roxy & Elsewhere and Bongo Fury, a collaboration with Captain Beefheart. Chunga’s Revenge represented the dawn of a new era and the beginning of Zappa’s “solo career” in earnest. Grade: B+ (Zappa Records released July 20, 2018)

Buy the vinyl from Amazon.com: Frank Zappa’s Chunga’s Revenge

Also on That Devil Music: 
The Mothers of Invention - Burnt Weeny Sandwich LP review

The Rolling Stones are Confessin’ The Blues

Confessin’ The Blues
It’s not really a secret on either side of the Atlantic that British rock legends the Rolling Stones have long been fans and supporters of American blues music. The named themselves after a song by Chicago blues great Muddy Waters, and started their time-defying career in the early ‘60s as a blues and R&B covers band. The Stones have flirted with the blues ever since, celebrating their lengthy love affair with the release of the 2016 album Blue & Lonesome, a collection of heartfelt covers of classic blues tunes.

Given their relationship with, and knowledge of the blues, it only makes sense that the Stones’ band members could curate an authoritative collection of blues music. On November 9th, 2018 BMG and Universal Music will release Confessin’ The Blues, a 42-track collection of classic blues music chosen by the Stones and featuring red-hot tracks by folks like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Chuck Berry, and many others. Confessin’ The Blues will be released in two-CD, double-vinyl, and a 5”x10” vinyl book-pack that mimics the original 78rpm releases. All versions feature liner notes by music journalist Colin Larkin while the book-pack includes removable art card prints by noted blues illustrator Christoph Mueller. The album’s cover was painted by Stones guitarist and resident artist Ron Wood.

The band and BMG decided that 10% of the label’s net receipts from the sale of the album will be donated to Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation, an educational non-profit organization that keeps the history and spirit of the blues alive. Named after the legendary blues musician, songwriter, and producer Willie Dixon, the organization’s President and CEO Jacqueline Dixon says in a press release for the new album, “we are extremely honoured, grateful and humbled that Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation has been included in such an astonishing project. It means so much that my father’s dream of creating an organisation that promotes, protects and preserves the Blues for future generations is being recognised and supported by artists that have achieved so much.”

Rolling Stones founding member and guitarist Keith Richards says it best, “if you don't know the blues... there’s no point in picking up the guitar and playing rock and roll or any other form of popular music.” The blues is where it all began and, judging the complete track listing below, Confessin’ The Blues includes some of the best music the genre has to offer. 

Confessin’ The Blues track listing: 

Disc One:
01. Muddy Waters - Rollin’ Stone
02. Howlin’ Wolf - Little Red Rooster
03. John Lee Hooker - Boogie Chillen
04. Little Walter - Hate To See You Go
05. Chuck Berry - Little Queenie
06. Bo Diddley - You Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover
07. Eddie Taylor - Ride ‘Em On Down
08. Slim Harpo - I’m A King Bee
09. Magic Sam - All Your Love
10. Elmore James - Dust My Broom
11. Little Walter - Just Your Fool
12. Muddy Waters - I Want To Be Loved
13. Big Bill Broonzy - Key To The Highway
14. Robert Johnson - Love In Vain Blues
15. Mississippi Fred McDowell - You Gotta Move
16. Jimmy Reed - Bright Lights, Big City
17. Big Maceo - Worried Life Blues
18. Little Johnny Taylor - Everybody Knows About My Good Thing (Part 1)
19. Howlin’ Wolf - Commit A Crime
20. Otis Rush - I Can’t Quit You Baby
21. Jay McShann & Walter Brown - Confessin’ The Blues

Disc Two:
1. Howlin’ Wolf - Just Like I Treat You
2. Little Walter - I Got To Go
3. Chuck Berry - Carol
4. Bo Diddley - Mona
5. Muddy Waters - I Just Want To Make Love To You
6. Elmore James - Blues Before Sunrise
7. Eddie Taylor - Bad Boy
8. Boy Blue - Boogie Children
9. Jimmy Reed - Little Rain
10. Robert Johnson - Stop Breakin’ Down Blues
11. Reverend Robert Wilkins - The Prodigal Son
12. Lightnin’ Slim - Hoodoo Blues
13. Billy Boy Arnold - Don’t Stay Out All Night
14. Bo Diddley - Craw Dad
15. Dale Hawkins - Suzie Q
16. Amos Milburn - Down The Road Apiece
17. Howlin’ Wolf - Little Baby
18. Little Walter - Blue and Lonesome
19. B.B. King - Rock Me Baby
20. Buddy Guy - Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues
21. Muddy Waters - Mannish Boy

Also on That Devil Music.com:
The Rolling Stones - Blue & Lonesome CD review

New Supersuckers Album & 30th Anniversary Tour

The Supersuckers' Suck It
The Supersuckers celebrate three decades in the trenches this year, and to celebrate the infamous Seattle-based band is releasing a new album and launching a lengthy support tour to bring the music to their legion of loyal fans. On September 21st, 2018 Acetate Records will release Suck It, the Supersuckers’ 12th studio album.

“We’ve finally become the band that we’ve always threatened to be,” states the band’s longtime singer and bassist Eddie Spaghetti in a press release for the new album. Fronting a raucous power trio that includes guitarist Marty Chandler and drummer Chris Von Streicher, Suck It was recorded in a mere four days at Bismeaux Studio in Austin, Texas. “And it sounds great," says Eddie, “there’s not a lick I wish we could have back.”

Originally formed in Tucson, Arizona in 1988 as the Black Supersuckers, the band moved to Seattle in 1990, dropped the ‘Black’ from their name, and recorded singles for a number of regional labels including eMpTy and Sympathy For the Record Industry before they signed with the indie Sub Pop Records label. The Supersuckers would become the legendary grunge imprint’s only country-flavored shit-kickin’ outfit, releasing their debut LP, the Jack Endino-produced The Smoke of Hell, in 1992.

They would release a total of four albums on the Sub Pop label before departing for the middle-major label Koch Records for their The Evil Powers of Rock ‘n’ Roll album in 1999. Interestingly, the Supersuckers were one of the few Seattle-area bands of the early-to-mid ‘90s that didn’t record for a major label (they were signed by Interscope Records and dropped before releasing an album), and after the lone LP for Koch, they formed their own label, Mid-Fi Recordings, to release their next couple of albums. After a lengthy hiatus following their 2008 album Get It Together, the Supersuckers returned in 2014 with Get the Hell for Acetate Records.

The Supersuckers are described by writer Steve Huey of All Music Guide as “kicking out a gleefully trashy brand of throttling, rockabilly-flavored garage punk. Their lyrics were a raucous, over-the-top celebration of all the attendant evils of rock & roll – sex, booze, drugs, Satan, and whatever other vices the band could think of, all glorified with tongue planted firmly in cheek.” While the album flirts with the band’s country-leanings on a couple of songs, Suck It mostly features the band’s rowdy, punkish, guitar-driven rock sound. The Supersuckers’ 30th anniversary tour spans much of the U.S. so check out the list of tour dates below and be sure to check out this trailer-park tornado of a band when they come roaring through a town near you!

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: The Supersuckers’ Suck It
 
Supersuckers
’ 30th anniversary tour dates:

09/01/18 - Milwaukee, WI @ Harley-Davidson Museum
09/07/18 - Birmingham, AL @ Zydeco
09/08/18 - Huntsville, AL @ Sidetracks Music Hall
09/09/18 - Knoxville, TN @ The Concourse
09/11/18 - Tampa, FL @ Brass Mug
09/12/18 - Orlando, FL @ Soundbar
09/13/18 - Jacksonville, FL @ Jack Rabbits
09/14/18 - Savannah, GA @ The Jinx
09/15/18 - Charleston, SC @ The Royal American
09/16/18 - Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
09/18/18 - Asheville, NC @ Grey Eagle Music Hall
09/19/18 - Raleigh, NC @ The Pour House Music Hall
09/21/18 - Wilmington, NC @ Reggie's
09/22/18 - Richmond, VA @ The Camel
09/23/18 - Virginia Beach, VA @ Shaka's Live
09/24/18 - Washington, DC @ Pearl Street Warehouse
09/26/18 - New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
09/27/18 - Cambridge, MA @ Middle East Upstairs
09/28/18 - Worcester, MA @ The Cove Music Hall
09/29/18 - New Haven, CT @ Cafe Nine
09/30/18 - Troy, NY @ Hangar on the Hudson
10/02/18 - Buffalo, NY @ Mohawk Place
10/03/18 - Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom
10/05/18 - Erie, PA @ Kings Rook Club
10/07/18 - Columbus, OH @ A&R Music Bar
10/09/18 - Minneapolis, MN @ Uptown VFW
10/10/18 - Des Moines, IA @ Vaudeville Mews
10/11/18 - Waterloo, IA @ Spicoli's
10/12/18 - Lombard, IL @ Brauerhouse
10/13/18 - Pekin, IL @ Twisted Spoke
10/14/18 - Nashville, TN @ Exit/In

Friday, August 3, 2018

Living Blues Award Winners Announced!

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’s TajMo
The results are in for the 25th annual Living Blues Awards, with a pair of legends – Taj Mahal and Mavis Staples – taking the “Blues Artist of the Year” award in their respective categories (male and female) as voted on by Living Blues magazine’s writers and editors.

The entire list of award winners is available on the Living Blues website, along with the readers’ choices for the best of the year, but we’ve listed some of the recording award winners below (click on the links to buy the albums from Amazon.com).  

Album of the Year
Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’ – TajMo (Concord Records)

New Recordings (Contemporary Blues)
Mr. Sipp – Knock A Hole In It (Malaco Records)

New Recordings (Southern Soul)
Don Bryant – Don’t Give Up On Love (Fat Possum Records)

New Recordings (Best Debut)
Jontavious Willis – Blue Metamorphosis (self-produced)

Rhiannon Giddens' Freedom Highway
New Recordings (Traditional & Acoustic)
Rhiannon Giddens – Freedom Highway (Nonesuch Records)

Historical (Pre-war)
Various Artists – Blue 88s: Unreleased Piano Blues Gems 1938–1942 (Hi Horse Records)

Historical (Post-war)
Jimmy Reed – Mr. Luck: The Complete Vee-Jay Singles (Craft Recordings)

Blues Book of the Year
Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff – The Original Blues: The Emergence of the Blues in African American Vaudeville (University Press of Mississippi)

DVD of the Year

Various Artists – I am the Blues (Directed by Daniel Cross, Film Movement) 


Video of the Week: Little Steven’s “St. Valentine’s Day”



Although previous versions of this great song rock the house (especially the Twylight Zones, from the soundtrack for the David Chase film Not Fade Away), Little Steven’s take on last year’s Soulfire LP rings true, his aging voice and weary delivery bringing a lovely sense of gravitas to his lyrics.

Long working in the shadows of a legend like Bruce Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt doesn't get enough credit as a great songwriter in his own right. Aside from the delicate lovelorn lyrics here, there are concepts within the song that lesser scribes could only hope to create (the “your lifelong documentary” line still gets me).

The entire song is a lengthy story of a fascinating romantic relationship the equal of Springsteen’s classics like “Thunder Road” or “Born To Run.” The song is included on Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul’s Soulfire Live! album, released today, so what are you waiting for? Get it!




Wednesday, August 1, 2018

New Music Monthly: August 2018 Releases

Wow, if the new releases trickled into the stores throughout July, the month of August opens the floodgates. New albums from blues singer Shemekia Copeland, alt-rockers Robert Poss (Band of Susans) and Interpol, Rich Robinson's the Magpie Salute, metal up 'n' comers the Oh Sees, White Denim, and the Lemon Twigs will tax any fan's finances. Throw in a live album by Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul and archive releases from the Hampton Grease Band, Crack the Sky, the Posies, Status Quo, Bob Marley and many more and August is guaranteed to break the bank!

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!

Ronnie Davis & Idren's Come Straight

AUGUST 3
Gene Clark & Carla Olson - So Rebellious A Lover   BUY!
Shemekia Copeland - America's Child   BUY!
Ronnie Davis & Idren - Come Straight   BUY!
Electric Light Orchestra - Secret Messages [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Hampton Grease Band - Music To Eat   [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
James House and the Blues Cowboys - James House and the Blues Cowboys   BUY!
Winston Jarrett & the Righteous Flames - Jonestown   BUY!
Robert Poss - Frozen Flowers Curse the Day   BUY!

The Magpie Salute's High Water I

AUGUST 10
The Gladiators - Presenting the Gladiators   BUY!
Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul - Soulfire Live!   BUY!
The Magpie Salute - High Water I   BUY!
Walter Salas-Humara - Walterio   BUY!

Thee Oh Sees' Smote Reverser

AUGUST 17
Blue October - I Hope You're Happy   BUY!
Thee Oh Sees - Smote Reverser   BUY!

Bob Marley's Kaya

AUGUST 24
Alice In Chains - Rainier Fog   BUY!
Crack the Sky - Crackology   BUY!
Crack the Sky - Living In Reverse   BUY!
Neil & Liam Finn - Lightsleeper   BUY!
Interpol - Marauder   BUY!
Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood - With Animals   BUY!
The Lemon Twigs - Go To School   BUY!
Bob Marley & the Wailers - Kaya [40th anniversary edition]   BUY!
The Posies - Frosting On the Beater [deluxe reissue]   BUY!
White Denim - Performance   BUY!


The Band's Music From Big Pink

AUGUST 31
Angel - Angel: The Casablanca Years [box set]   BUY!
The Band - Music From Big Pink [50th anniversary edition]   BUY!
Alice Cooper - A Paranormal Evening at the Olympia Paris   BUY!
Amos Lee - My New Moon   BUY!
Nick Mason - Unattended Luggage   BUY!
David Olney - This Side or the Other   BUY!
Status Quo - Down & Dirty at Wacken   BUY!
Aaron Lee Tasjan - Karma For Cheap   BUY!
Various Artists - The Soul of Baltimore: The Ru-Jac Records Story [box set]   BUY!

Shemekia Copeland's America's Child

Album of the Month: It's another hard call, but in a month crowded with great music, I'm going to go with Shemeka Copeland's America's Child album. One of the top two or three best blues singers in the business today, Copeland returned to Nashville to record America's Child with talented producer and guitarist Will Kimbrough and a cast of great singers and musicians like Emmy Lou Harris, John Prine, Mary Gauthier, Al Perkins, Rhiannon Giddens, Steve Cropper, and more. Although Copeland veers close to Americana territory on a couple of songs (and does so well), America's Child is pure-D blues, Copeland mixing socially-conscious tunes with bluesy romantic moments, calling on the talents of skilled wordsmiths like Kimbrough, Prine, Gauthier, John Hahn, Kevin Gordon & Gwil Owen, among others. She even delivers a fiery take on the Ray Davies' Kinks classic "I'm Not Like Everybody Else." 

Long Lost Unicorn Recordings Rediscovered

Unicorn's Laughing Up Your Sleeve
Back during the early-to-mid-‘70s, England’s Unicorn was plowing a similar country rock-styled vein as pub-rockers like Brinsley Schwarz, but their American West Coast musical leanings were tempered by the inherently British folk-rock sound of primary songwriter and guitarist Ken Baker. Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour became a huge Unicorn supporter, picking up on them after the 1971 release of their debut album, Uphill All the Way, and subsequently producing three wonderful albums and opening more than a few doors for them in the industry. With a trio of fine albums to tour under, and an indelible connection to (then) world-beaters Pink Floyd, Unicorn pulled down opening slots with ‘70s-era heavyweights like Fleetwood Mac, Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel, and the Doobie Brothers.

Still, none of those Gilmour-produced records – 1974’s elegant Blue Pine Trees, 1976’s more rock-oriented Too Many Crooks, and 1977’s band swansong, One More Tomorrow – performed very well commercially in spite of their overall creativity and excellence and the band would break up. Still, those albums garnered new fans through the years and were ripe for rediscovery when U.K. archival label Esoteric Recordings reissued all three titles in 2017, expanded with bonus tracks and fresh liner notes.

Just when Unicorn fans thought that there would be no more unheard music from the band comes news from Omnivore Recordings that on October 5th, 2018 the label will release the Unicorn compilation album Laughing Up Your Sleeve. The 20-track collection will be released in CD, vinyl, and digital formats and features previously-unreleased demos by the band recorded in Gilmour’s home studio circa 1973-74, with the Floyd guitarist adding his tasty pedal steel guitar to the band’s “Sleep Song.”

Unicorn photo courtesy Omnivore Recordings
 Photo courtesy Omnivore Recordings
Laughing Up Your Sleeve also includes never-before-seen and recently rediscovered photos of the band that document their working in the studio with Gilmour and performing live onstage in London. Liner notes go into detail about the band’s history and the finding of these long-lost recordings with new interviews with Gilmour and original band members. The album was produced by the band’s Pat Martin from the restored original multi-track tapes and are said to feature remarkable sound quality (not surprising, as the band’s sophomore effort, Blue Pine Trees, is as sonically gorgeous an album as you’ll ever hear).

David Gilmour, quoted in the album’s new liner notes, says “one could say that Unicorn didn’t want success quite enough, or that they just weren’t prepared to compromise their music to better fit into the competitive world of popular music. Their music still gives me great pleasure.” The band’s unique blend of American influences like the Band and Crosby, Stills & Nash and homegrown favorites like Ray Davies and Syd Barrett resulted in some incredible, timeless music that is ripe for rediscovery here in the 21st century.

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Unicorn’s Laughing Up Your Sleeve

JD Souther’s Asylum Years Revisited

John David Souther
Singer, songwriter, and guitarist John David “JD” Souther was working in L.A. as a session player in the late ‘60s when fate intervened via an introduction to future Eagles frontman Glenn Frey. The two got along well and ended up recording a 1969 album under the group name Longbranch Pennywhistle with songs that they’d written together. After Frey formed the mega-successful band that will forever be his legacy (Frey sadly passed away in 2016), the two songwriters collaborated together on several hit Eagles tunes, including “Best of My Love,” “Heartache Tonight,” and “New Kid In Town.” The band’s last big chart hit, 2009’s “How Long,” was written by Souther.

Souther wrote several hits for Linda Rondstadt as well, and produced several tracks for her 1973 album Don’t Cry Now. At the urging of label boss David Geffen, Souther hooked up with former Byrds member Chris Hillman and Poco’s Richie Furay in a country-rock “supergroup,” the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. That collaboration lasted for a couple of modestly-successful albums circa 1974-75 before Souther returned to session work, songwriting, and his fledgling solo career.

In amidst all this activity, and almost overshadowed by his higher-profile songwriting triumphs, Souther had released three solo albums for Geffen’s Asylum Records label. All three of Souther’s long out-of-print Asylum albums were reissued on CD earlier this year by archival specialists Omnivore Recordings, re-mastered with bonus tracks and new liner notes that included fresh interviews with the artist. On September 21st, 2018 those Souther albums will return to vinyl when Omnivore reissues John David Souther, Black Rose, and Home by Dawn on high-quality 180gr vinyl. All three LPs were cut from the original analog masters by Kevin Gray at Cohearent and were overseen by Souther and Omivore’s award-winning Cheryl Pawelski.

John David Souther's Black Rose
The critically-acclaimed self-titled album John David Souther was released in 1972. Arguably a minor classic of country-flavored ‘70s “avocado rock” (a term coined by Souther’s friend, writer Bill Martin), the album featured a slew of great songs written by Souther as well as studio guests like guitarists Wayne Perkins and Ned Doheny; bassists Chris Ethridge and Brian Garafalo; drummers John Barbata and Gary Mallaber and, of course, his friend Glenn Frey.  

Black Rose followed in 1976, about which Rolling Stone magazine scribe Stephen Holden wrote “John David Souther’s second solo album benefits from a beautiful, all-star Peter Asher production. More sophisticated than either his first album or the two Souther-Hillman-Furay albums, Black Rose underscores Souther’s melodic writing.” Black Rose also featured a veritable “who’s who” of Cali rock, including several members of the Eagles, Lowell George of Little Feat, jazz legend Stanley Clarke, and guitarist Joe Walsh. The vinyl reissue of Black Rose features updated album artwork that no longer features the artist’s name and title, which is how Souther originally intended.

J.D. Souther's Home by DawnAfter a short detour to Columbia Records, Souther recorded another album for Asylum, 1984’s Home by Dawn. Produced by David Malloy (known for his work on album by country stars like Eddie Rabbit and Reba McEntire), Home by Dawn saw Souther move further towards a pure country sound that would prove influential on a generation of Nashville artists to follow.

Souther would take a lengthy hiatus from recording, returning to music in 2008 with a new solo album. During the interim, he worked frequently as an actor, with a recurring role on the hit TV show Thirtysomething and movies like 1990’s Postcards From the Edge. It was with his trio of Asylum Records albums that Souther built his reputation as a singer and songwriter, however, and it will be good to get them back on shiny black vinyl again after better than 30 years.