Sunday, April 29, 2018

CD Preview: Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story

Beside Bowie The Mick Ronson Story
We have a fondness for guitarists here at That Devil world HQ, and few more so than the late Mick Ronson. An integral part of the sound of David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” era, Ronson would go on to play alongside legends like Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and John Mellencamp and the guitarist also had a lengthy friendship with former Mott the Hoople frontman Ian Hunter, playing on a number of Hunter’s solo albums during the 1970s and ‘80s. Ronson had also built a significant solo career before his untimely death 25 years ago, in April 1993, releasing a trio of critically-acclaimed albums including a bona fide classic in 1974’s Slaughter On 10th Avenue.

In 2017, filmmaker Jon Brewer unveiled Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, a feature-length documentary film about the guitarist’s life and career that enjoyed a limited theatrical run before its release on DVD and streaming via Hulu and Amazon Prime. Brewer, who had previously made documentary films on B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix, lined up some heavy hitters for his Ronson movie, which features narration by David Bowie and exclusive contributions from Ian Hunter, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, Queen’s Roger Taylor, and Rick Wakeman of Yes, among others.

On June 8th, 2018 Universal Music will release Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, The Soundtrack, a fourteen-song collection to compliment Brewer’s documentary film. Known to his friends as “Ronno,” the de facto movie soundtrack features songs from Ronson’s various collaborations with artists like David Bowie, Ian Hunter, Elton John, and Michael Chapman as well as a handful of the guitarist’s solo tracks. The album also includes a previously-unreleased cover version of “This Is For You” by Joe Elliott, as well as a piano tribute to Ronson by former Bowie keyboardist Mick Garson, who has also played with Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins.

Mick Ronson's Slaughter On 10th Avenue
Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, The Soundtrack also features a live performance of Mott the Hoople’s “All The Young Dudes” from the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert For AIDS Awareness held at Wembley Stadium in London that includes members of Queen, Bowie and Ronson, and Def Leppard’s Elliott and Phil Collen. The soundtrack includes a lengthy essay and liner notes and will be released on CD and heavyweight 180-gram black vinyl as well as a digital download. A limited edition red vinyl version of the album is available exclusively from the uDiscover website.

Mick Ronson was an imaginative and innovative guitarist whose work inspired a generation of British rockers to follow. If you’re not familiar with Ronson’s work, Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, The Soundtrack seems like a great place to start! The full tracklist for the album is provided below along with a handy link to buy a vinyl copy (that's the version I'm gonna buy!) of this long-overdue tribute to a great artist.

Buy the vinyl LP from Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, The Soundtrack

Beyond Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story, The Soundtrack track listing:
1. Queen, Ian Hunter, David Bowie, Mick Ronson, Joe Elliott & Phil Collen – “All The Young Dudes” [live]
2. Michael Chapman – “Soulful Lady”
3. Elton John – “Madman Across The Water”
4. David Bowie – “Moonage Daydream”
5. David Bowie – “Cracked Actor”
6. David Bowie – “Time”
7. Ian Hunter – "Once Bitten, Twice Shy"
8. Mick Ronson – “I’d Give Anything To See You”
9. Mick Ronson – “Hard Life”
10. Mick Ronson – “Midnight Love”
11. Mick Ronson – "Like A Rolling Stone"
12. Joe Elliott – “This Is For You” *
13. Queen, David Bowie and Mick Ronson – “Heroes” [live]
14. Mike Garson – “Tribute To Mick Ronson” *

* Previously unreleased

Friday, April 27, 2018

CD Preview: John Wesley Harding’s Greatest Hits

John Wesley Harding’s Greatest Other People’s Hits
OK, so they’re not exactly John Wesley Harding’s “greatest hits,” but they were hits for somebody. On May 18, 2018 Omnivore Recordings will release Harding’s Greatest Other People’s Hits album on CD and as a digital download. The seventeen-track collection features Harding, née Wesley Stace, tackling songs by artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen, George Harrison, Madonna, Roky Erickson (!), Madonna, and Peter Seeger, among others.

A limited-edition ten-track version of Greatest Other People’s Hits was released on vinyl for Record Store Day this year and featured collaborations with artists like Bruce Springsteen, Eric Bazilian (The Hooters), the Universal Thump, Fastball, and the Minus Five. The expanded CD and digital version of the album includes performances with Lou Reed, Kelly Hogan, Rick Moody, and Elizabeth Barraclough.
Using the stage name “John Wesley Harding,” Wesley Stace emerged as one of the finest singer/songwriter talents on the 1980s rock scene, scoring a handful of hits on college radio with songs like “The Devil In Me,” “The Person You Are,” and a unique cover of Madonna’s “Like A Prayer.” During the ensuing years, he has released better than 20 albums and four novels. In a press release for the new album, Stace says “you can write quite as good and accurate a narrative of a musical career through the covers sung as the songs written. Often, I’ve found people like the covers more, which may speak for itself, but I’ve always found it a compliment: covers are my strong suit.”

John Wesley Harding's Greatest Other People's Hits tracklisting:
1. If You Have Ghosts
2. Words Words Words – with The Minus Five
3. Star – With Fastball
4. Je Suis Venu Te Dire Que Je M’en Vais
5. Jackson Cage
6. Story Teller
7. Need I Know
8. It’s Only Make Believe – with Kelly Hogan
9. Old Bourbon – with Rick Moody
10. Benedictus – with Eric Bazilian
11. Another Age
12. Wah Wah – with The Universal Thump
13. Wreck On The Highway – with Bruce Springsteen
14. Covered Up In Aces – with Elizabeth Barraclough
15. Think It Over
16. Satellite Of Love – with Lou Reed & Rob Wasserman
17. Like A Prayer

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Short Rounds: Catfish, Jimmie Vaughan Trio, King Crimson & Memphis Rent Party (2018)

Catfish's Get Down & Live Catfish LPs
New album releases in 150 words or less…

Catfish – Get Down/Live Catfish (BGO Records)
Bob “Catfish” Hodge grew up in Detroit, birthplace of most of the country’s high-octane blues, R&B, and rock ‘n’ roll (sorry Memphis). A leather-lunged blues-belter and a mighty fine guitarist, Hodge formed Catfish in the late ‘60s, opening for the likes of Bob Seger, Mountain, and Santana. Catfish only released a pair of 1970 albums – Get Down and Live Catfish – but it’s been enough to earn them a cult following that spans decades. This two-disc BGO reissue includes both LPs, remastered and with new liner notes but no bonus tracks. Get Down offers nine powerful jams, including the blues-on-roids “The Hawk” while Live Catfish, recorded in Hodge’s hometown, is electrifying with the tongue-in-cheek “Letter To Nixon” and a ramshackle cover of the Motown gem “Nowhere To Run.” Hodge is still kicking around to this day, with a dozen or so solo albums on tap. RIYL Johnny Winter or Walter Trout. Grade: B+   BUY IT!

Jimmie Vaughan Trio – Live at C-Boy’s (Proper Records)
Guitarist Jimmie Vaughan strips his sound down to the raw blues bones, fronting a trio that includes keyboardist Mike Flanigin and the late drummer Barry “Frosty” Smith (who played with Lee Michaels in the ‘70s). Recorded at C-Boy’s Heart and Soul club in Austin, Texas back in March 2016, Live at C-Boy’s is a no-frills, mostly-instrumental collection of well-chosen blues, rock, and jazz cover tunes that perfectly capture the smoky ambiance and late-night vibe of the performance. The jazzy instrumental arrangement of the Lennon/McCartney gem “Can’t Buy Me Love” showcases Vaughan’s immense chops and range of talent while the classic “Saint James Infirmary” features Flanigin’s emotional keys. The bluesy “Dirty Work At the Crossroads” offers Vaughan’s underrated vocals alongside his expressive fretwork while Slide Hampton’s “Frame For the Blues” explores the jazzy side of blues street. The performances are fine but missing the spark that would have made them great. Grade: B-   BUY IT!

King Crimson's Live In Vienna
King Crimson – Live In Vienna (Discipline Global Mobile)
Prog-rock pioneers King Crimson have discovered gold in beating the bootleggers by releasing frequent live discs for their loyal following. Live In Vienna is a career-spanning three-disc set at a reasonable price, packaged in a slipcase with 16pp booklet, offering everything the hardcore fan could want. Disc one features a majestic reading of “In the Court of the Crimson King” and the cybernetic funk of “Vroom” while disc two includes the darkly chaotic “Red” and the grand story-telling of “Cirkus.” The pulse-quickening electricity of “21st Century Schizoid Man” anchors disc three, which includes a reverent and imaginative cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes.” There’s plenty more, including the first-ever live performance of “Fracture,” making Live In Vienna a comprehensive set by any standards. Offering 30 performances by one of the best Crimson line-ups, Live In Vienna delivers an incredible mix of old favorites and new gems in Crimson’s unique, indomitable style. Grade: A   BUY IT!

Memphis Rent Party
Various Artists – Memphis Rent Party (Fat Possum Records)
The ‘soundtrack’ to writer Robert Gordon’s excellent Memphis Rent Party, this vinyl-only compilation adds punctuation to Gordon’s vivid storytelling. The buffet begins with real-life outlaw Jerry McGill’s incredible reading of Guy Clark’s classic “Desperadoes Waiting For A Train” before seguing into Luther Dickinson and Sharde Thomas (daughter of Otha) kicking up dust with the bluesy, hypnotic “Chevrolet.” Half the LP comprises previously-unreleased material like Alex Chilton’s shambolic romp on reggae legend Jimmy Cliff’s “Johnny Too Bad” or Memphis legend Jim Dickinson’s tongue-in-cheek “I’d Love To Be A Hippie (But My Hair Won’t Grow That Long).” There are lo-fi recordings of Hill Country blues great Junior Kimbrough and fiery band the Fieldstones as well as Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Feathers, Furry Lewis, and the Panther Burns, a glorious platter of blues, jazz, R&B, and rockabilly. Pressed on black vinyl, this is the sound and fury of Memphis music in its glory. Grade: A+   BUY IT!

Previously on That Devil Music:
Robert Gordon
’s Memphis Rent Party book review

Short Rounds, March 2018: 6 String Drag, The Doors, the Nick Moss Band & Jack White
Short Rounds, February 2018: 6 String Drag, Tinsley Ellis, Mabel Greer's Toyshop & Wishbone Ash
Short Rounds, January 2018: Ethiopian & His All Stars, Gladiators, Moloch & Phil Seymour

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Bootleg Rodeo: The Band, John Hiatt & Ry Cooder, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

The Band's Syria Mosque 1970
#6 – April 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 monthly (give or take) column aims to separate the wheat from the chaff and let you know which of these recordings deserve a place in your collection and which should have been left to collect dust in a closet somewhere. Get ‘em while you can, kiddies, ‘cause one never knows when copyright treaties will be revised and the availability of these albums disappears.

For this month’s “Bootleg Rodeo” column, the first in a couple of months, the Reverend reviews recent releases by the Band, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and the team of John Hiatt and Ry Cooder, with links to buy ‘em (or not) from

The Band – Syria Mosque 1970 (Zip City Records)
The Band’s self-titled 1969 sophomore album would vault the rustic rockers and former Dylan backing band into the Top Ten in the U.S. and Canada on its way to selling better than a million copies. Fueled by the Top 30 hit single “Up On Cripple Creek,” the album turned heads and created expectations for what the Band would do to follow up their success. The answer came less than a year after the release of The Band in the form of Stage Fright, a complex work fraught with lyrical self-doubt and disenchantment. While songs like “The Shape I’m In” and the title track would propel the album to #5 on the charts, it would be years before the initial mixed critical response would turn uniformly positive and Stage Fright would be considered a bona fide classic of roots-rock.

Touring in support of Stage Fright, the Band made a stop in the ‘Steel City,’ Pittsburgh PA, performing at the Syria Mosque. A legendary venue built by the Shriners in 1911 and opened in 1916, the Syria Mosque had a lengthy history of hosting incredible musical performances long before the Band showed up at their door, with artists as diverse as Enrico Caruso, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Buddy Holly, Sam Cooke, Bo Diddley, the Who, and the Band’s old cohort, Bob Dylan among the many performers that had graced Syria Mosque before 1970. The Band’s November 1st performance was, according to the liner notes of this Zip City CD release, syndicated to FM stations across the country for broadcast. While I couldn’t confirm this as true, I did find that a Dutch TV station taped the concert for later airing, and it was a mono line feed from that recording that was used for several previous bootleg releases of the show.

In 2013, a fly-by-night operation in Japan by the name of Hook & Jab Productions released a bootleg CD titled Syria Mosque 1970 with restored sound and a track listing identical to this Zip City CD, so I’m guessing that they used that Japanese release as an origin for this one, which would explain the odd audio of the performances. The CD’s sound isn’t bad, just a bit muted and hollow which, given its vintage and alleged provenance, isn’t too shabby at all. The Band’s performance is top notch, however, as they crank through a dozen and a half songs drawn from all three of their albums at the time (with an emphasis on songs from Stage Fright, natch). The highlights are what you would expect – “This Wheel’s On Fire,” “The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek,” “Stage Fright,” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” – but a rowdy cover of Little Richard’s “Slippin’ and Slidin’” tops off the concert nicely. The Rev’s recommendation: buy it!

John Hiatt & Ry Cooder's Live at the Cotati Cabaret 1983
John Hiatt with Ry Cooder – Live at the Cotati Cabaret 1983 (Gold Fish Records)
The early ‘80s were an odd and trying time for talented singer/songwriter John Hiatt. By the time of the 1983 release of his Riding With the King album, Hiatt had already released five commercially unsuccessful albums for three different record labels. His albums were critically-acclaimed and Hiatt songs were recorded and/or performed by folks like Roseanne Cash, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Ricky Nelson, and Bob Dylan. Still, Hiatt couldn’t buy a bullet on the charts. Guitarist Ry Cooder, on the other hand, was riding fairly high at the time. A veteran of the Rising Sons (with the great Taj Mahal) and Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, Cooder was an in-demand studio musician whose credits included recordings by the Rolling Stones, Randy Newman, Van Morrison, and Little Feat, among many others.

Cooder’s solo albums sold reasonably well throughout the 1970s and, by the early ‘80s, he’d made the transition towards into writing movie scores which, with his instrumental talents, he excelled at, resulting in acclaimed soundtracks for films like Walter Hill’s The Long Riders (1980) and Southern Comfort (1981) and Tony Richardson’s 1982 film The Border. Cooder and Hiatt had become friends when Hiatt contributed a pair of songs for Cooder’s 1980 solo album Borderline. Hiatt and his road band at the time backed Cooder on his 1980 Borderline American tour, a favor later returned by Cooder, who played with Hiatt during his 1983 tour for Riding With the King. Cooder would remain with Hiatt for the recording of the singer’s breakthrough album, 1987’s Bring the Family and, in 1991, they formed the band Little Village with Hiatt’s friends and bandmates Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner, the musical collaboration resulting in a lone self-titled album in 1992.

All of which, in a roundabout way, brings us to Live at the Cotati Cabaret 1983, an FM radio broadcast featuring Hiatt and Cooder performing together in Cotati, a rural California town north of San Francisco. Touring in support of Riding With the King, the concert’s setlist draws heavily from that album, Hiatt performing nine of the LP’s dozen songs on this sixteen-track collection, alongside a smattering of material from his earlier efforts. The sound quality ranges from good to better, with a couple of drop-outs and some recording artifacts, but nothing that detracts from the performance. Hiatt’s band included players from his 1982 album All of A Sudden, including keyboardist Jesse Harms and drummer Darrell Verdusco, as well as former Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ bassist Howie Epstein and, of course, guitarist Cooder.

Little of this material is familiar to any but the most hardcore Hiatt fanatics, but there’s a lot to like from the underachieving Riding With the King. “Love Like Blood” showcases the warm, soulful vocals that Hiatt would perfect on later albums, his voice complimented by Cooder’s wiry fretwork. “Riding With the King” itself is an underrated tune (that would later become a hit for Eric Clapton and B.B. King), the song brimming with swaggering, confident vocals, resonant guitar licks, and energetic keyboard flourishes while “Say It With Flowers” is a new wave-styled power pop jaunt with vibrant guitar playing and an infectious rhythm punctuated by warbling synthesizer notes.

“Zero House,” which would later be recorded for Hiatt’s 1985 album Warming Up To the Ice Age, is an unabashed rocker that offers some mighty fine Cooder slide guitar and Hiatt’s rapid-fire vox roaring above a locomotive rhythm. Altogether, Live at the Cotati Cabaret 1983 is a solid showcase for both Hiatt’s intelligent lyricism and expressive vocals and Cooder’s imaginative and lively fretwork. The performance captures Hiatt “before the fame,” and it’s well worth checking out for any fan of the man. The Rev’s recommendation: buy it!

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Nashville 1974
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Nashville 1974 (All Access)
This is a concert that the Rev sort of remembers from high school. Broadcast by local FM radio powerhouse WKDA (before its name change to WKDF), it featured the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performing live at Woodland Studios in Nashville. The band’s inspired mix of country, rock, and bluegrass music was an unlikely fit with the station’s regular hard rock playlist, but the Nitty Gritty boys had a firm local connection, and they were plugging away in an artistic milieu that included the Eagles, Poco, and the Flying Burrito Brothers, appealing to open-minded record buyers before commercial radio formats placed genre cross-overs into a one-size-fits-all straitjacket.

With their mix of twangy originals – typically penned by singer and guitarist Jeff Hanna and/or multi-instrumentalist John McEuen – and well-chosen cover tunes that ran the gamut from early rock ‘n’ roll classics to country legends like Hank Williams and Bill Monroe, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were uncredited, albeit bona fide Americana pioneers. The Dirt Band was still touring in support of their 1972 Will the Circle Be Unbroken album at the time of this live broadcast, the enormous triple-vinyl release representing a commercial breakthrough for the band and featuring a slew of impressive guest stars like “Mother” Maybelle Carter, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Merle Travis, and Norman Blake. The LP would hit #4 on the country charts and a respectable #68 on the pop charts, opening up an entirely new audience for the band as the album eventually went Platinum™. They would later revisit the entire Will the Circle Be Unbroken concept with two additional volumes in 1989 and 2002.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was down to four members in January ’74 when they performed for the radio audience at Woodland Studios, with Hanna and McEuen joined by drummer Jimmie Fadden and guitarist/keyboardist Jimmy Ibbotson. Some of the material from this show would be included on the band’s Stars and Stripes Forever album, released later that year, but I’m not sure why they didn’t just release the entire concert on vinyl. The performance documented by Nashville 1974 offers an engaging mix of country, rock, and bluegrass, the band’s signature sound accompanied by an obvious enthusiasm and reverence for the material.

They deliver passionate performances of tunes like Buddy Holly’s “Rave On,” Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans,” and Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen,” but they aren’t afraid to dig into more obscure songbooks, as with their fine reading of Michael Nesmith’s “Some of Shelley’s Blues” or Michael Martin Murphy’s “Cosmic Cowboy.” Of course they included their two biggest hits at the time – loving covers of Kenny Loggin’s “House At Pooh Corner” and Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles” – before closing out the show with the Cajun romp ‘n’ stomper “Diggy Liggy Lo.”

The band would continue to struggle through the rest of the ‘70s, scoring the occasional hit single but virtually spending nearly two decades in the wilderness before dropping the “Nitty Gritty” from their name and finding their footing as an exclusively country-leaning, hit-making machine. They’d score better than a dozen Top Ten charting country hits during the mid-to-late ‘80s before re-adopting their former name and soldiering on well into the new millennium. For this night in Nashville, the band let its talents shine brightly, performing with joyous abandon. The Rev’s recommendation: buy it!

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

Bootleg Rodeo #2 - Tom Petty, Stephen Stills & Manasass, Neil Young
Bootleg Rodeo #3 - Bob Seger
Bootleg Rodeo #4 - The Marshall Tucker Band, Steely Dan & Joe Walsh  
Bootleg Rodeo #5 - The Byrds, Midnight Oil & Poco

CD Preview: Shuggie Otis’s Inter-Fusion

Shuggie Otis’s Inter-Fusion
This one almost slipped by the ol’ Reverend – on April 20th, 2018 the amazing Shuggie Otis will be releasing a new album titled Inter-Fusion. Recorded with a monster rhythm section comprised of veteran rockers Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, Rod Stewart) on drums and bassist Tony Franklin (The Firm, Roy Harper, Kenny Wayne Shepherd), the album was produced by keyboardist Kyle Hamood of L.A. rockers Them Guns. Inter-Fusion will be available on CD, vinyl, and as a digital download.

Shuggie Otis, of course, is the brilliant singer, songwriter, and guitarist who created such magical musical moments as “Strawberry Letter 23” and “Inspiration Information.” Shuggie honed his chops playing with his legendary father Johnny Otis’s band during the ‘60s, and had his official “coming out party” with the 1969 release of Al Kooper’s Kooper Session album, which featured Otis’s stellar guitar playing. He subsequently recorded a trio of albums for Epic Records, including 1974’s landmark classic Inspiration Information. After appearing on his father’s 1981 album The New Johnny Otis Show, Shuggie all but disappeared from the frenzied rock music scene. He was still writing and recording music, but he was also raising a family and seemed to be in no hurry to undergo the sort of roadwork necessary to sustain a career.

Otis reappeared in 2013 to promote an expanded reissue of Inspiration Information, touring with his sons Eric and Nick and recording a live album, Live In Williamsburg, which was released in 2014. Inter-Fusion is Otis’s first album of new material in over 40 years, a mostly instrumental collection that features his skilled fretwork on what is being called a “fusion rock” project (a mix of funk, blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll). In a press release for the new album, Carmine Appice says “this was one of the wildest sessions I’ve ever done in my career!” while Tony Franklin adds “Shuggie loved to jam, and was very open to everyone’s input. He was not afraid to experiment and try new directions and sounds. I think the music sounds very fresh and alive.”

Producer Hamood offers his perspective, saying “watching the songs come together over such a short period of time, and the diversity that each band member brought to the overall sound and vibe was truly magical. It was an honor to work and create with such a talented group of musicians.” You can check out the promotional video embedded below for a taste of things to come. Heck, I’d walk across the street anytime to hear Shuggie play guitar, so I’ve already ordered my copy of the CD and you can get one yourself from

Also on That Devil Shuggie Otis - Live In Williamsburg CD review

Archive Review: Shuggie Otis's Live In Williamsburg (2014)

Shuggie Otis's Live In Williamsburg
Shuggie Otis, the son of R&B legend Johnny, was a true musical prodigy, the guitarist recording his first album at 16 and retiring from the rigors of the biz by age 30 with a handful of classic recordings comprising his canon. With the 2013 reissue of Otis’s landmark 1974 album Inspiration Information (which included Wings of Love, a bonus disc of unreleased recordings), Otis went back on the road after a three-decade hiatus, performing with a band that included his brother Nick on drums and son Eric Otis as second guitar. Live In Williamsburg offers a snapshot of a single performance from the guitarist’s “comeback” concerts, the document a welcome reminder of Otis’s unique musical voice and enormous talent.

Otis runs through a dozen of his best songs on Live In Williamsburg, the performances ranging from the soulful groove of Inspiration Information or the Chicago-styled, guitar-driven electric blues of "Sweetest Thang" to the psychedelic soul of "Wings of Love." The guitarist’s signature "Shuggie’s Boogie" displays Otis’s deft hand at traditional blues guitar while the exotic "Aht Uh Mi Hed" blends reggae rhythms with lush fretwork, wistful lyrics, and bleating horns to create a new R&B sound. Otis is best known, perhaps, for the sly funk of "Strawberry Letter 23," the song a 1977 Top Ten chart hit for the Brothers Johnson. Here Otis tones down the song’s rhythmic backbone slightly in favor of shimmering instrumentation and soulful vocals, creating a transcendent musical moment. Otis’s vocals and guitar playing show little or no rust here, displaying the same livewire electricity as his groundbreaking 1970s work, albeit tempered with experience and wisdom. (Cleopatra Records, released October 14, 2014)

Review originally published by The Blues magazine in the U.K.

Buy the CD from Shuggie Otis's Live In Williamsburg

Friday, April 13, 2018

CD Preview: Wilko Johnson Blows Your Mind!

Wilko Johnson's Blow Your Mind
British rock legend Wilko Johnson isn’t living on “borrowed time” – he just up and snatched the years away from the Reaper – and he has been rockin’ full-tilt ever since. The former Dr. Feelgood guitarist and influential solo artist was diagnosed with terminal cancer in early 2013 and wasn’t expected to live out the year. Instead of sitting around in bed, he hit the road for a “farewell tour” of the U.K. and then ventured into the studio to record the acclaimed Going Back Home album with his friend Roger Daltry; released in March 2014, it would become the most commercially successful album of Johnson’s career.

After touring with Daltry in support of the album, and outliving his doctors’ prognosis by months, Johnson underwent a radical eleven-hour surgery that removed his cancer and provided the artist with a new lease on life. At 70 years old, Johnson isn’t letting any time slip by…as he has been quoted as saying, “there’s nothing like being told you’re dying to make you feel alive.” As an illustration of his rock ‘n’ roll vigor, on June 15th, 2018 Johnson will be releasing Blow Your Mind, his first album of new material in 30 years. The album will be available on CD, LP, and as a digital download on the historic Chess Records label, which also released Going Back Home.

Johnson was joined in the studio by his longtime band – bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Dylan Howe – with Dave Eringa, who produced Going Back Home, on the board. Watt-Roy’s rhythmic bass playing was an integral part of the Stiff Records’ sound, and he’s played on tracks by Nick Lowe, Rachel Sweet, Madness, and the Clash and was a founding member of Ian Dury & the Blockheads. Howe, the son of Yes guitarist Steve Howe, is an acclaimed musician in his own right, playing with artists as diverse as Nick Cave, Ray Davies, Paul McCartney, and David Gilmour.

In a press release for Blow Your Mind, Johnson says of the album’s new songs, “it’s tricky when you get to seventy years old, because what am I supposed to be singing? ‘I love you, baby, but you done me wrong?’ Come on! That’s kind of a problem. But I never thought that I’d be the sort of person to write songs about different sorts of real-life experiences until I got sick.” Featuring his typical mix of R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, several songs on the new album deal with his illness and mortality; evincing the black humor that is a Johnson trademark. “I didn’t really intend to ever use them and, obviously, I didn’t know if I’d ever get back into the studio. One of those songs, that’s a reflection of that time, about sitting around the house at night knowing that death’s coming; we’ve recorded it, and it’ll be on the album. It’s actually quite a cheerful one, too!”

Check out the album’s track list below and then order your copy from

Wilko Johnson's Blow Your Mind track list:

1. Beauty
2. Blow Your Mind
3. Marijuana
4. Tell Me One More Thing
5. That's The Way I Love You
6. Low Down
7. Take It Easy
8. I Love The Way You Do
9. It Don't Have To Give You The Blues
10. Lament
11. Say Goodbye
12. Slamming

CD Preview: Eric Clapton’s Life In 12 Bars

Eric Clapton’s Life In 12 Bars
There can be little argument about guitarist Eric Clapton’s enduring influence on the blues and rock music. From his short-but-sweet tenure with British blues-rock pioneers the Yardbirds and his even shorter stint with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers during the early ‘60s to the formation of Cream, one classic album each with British rock “supergroup” Blind Faith and with Derek and the Dominos, and an acclaimed solo career that continues to this day, Clapton has enjoyed a legendary career. Eric Clapton: A Life In 12 Bars, a documentary film about the guitarist by Oscar® winning director, Lili Fini Zanuck, is currently showing on the Showtime premium cable network.

On June 8th, 2018 Universal Music will release the soundtrack to the film, Life In 12 Bars available as a two-CD or four-LP set as well as a digital download (the vinyl set will be released on July 20th). The set’s 32 songs span the entirety of the eighteen-time Grammy® Award winner’s storied career, featuring tracks by all of the aforementioned bands as well as session recordings of Clapton playing alongside fellow legends like the Beatles, George Harrison, and Aretha Franklin as well as songs by Muddy Waters and Big Bill Broonzy that inspired Clapton. The set includes five previously-unreleased tracks, including a 17-minute-long live 1968 performance by Cream of “Spoonful” and two Derek and the Dominos songs, including a live 1970 performance of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.”

The set also includes a pair of unreleased solo tracks from 1974 include the first release of the entire full-length recording of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” (running nearly seven minutes) and a live performance of Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie.” Alternative mixes of “After Midnight” and “Let It Rain,” both from Clapton’s self-titled 1970 solo debut album, were produced by the late Delaney Bramlett and Tom Dowd, and Life In 12 Bars also includes a rare live track by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends featuring Clapton on guitar. Altogether the album is a fairly comprehensive overview of the career of one of the most influential guitarists that rock music has ever seen.  

Eric Clapton's Life In 12 Bars track list:

1. Big Bill Broonzy - "Backwater Blues"
2. Muddy Waters - "My Life Is Ruined"
3. Muddy Waters - "I Got Mojo Working"
4. The Yardbirds - "I Wish You Would"
5. The Yardbirds - "For Your Love"
6. John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers - "Steppin’ Out"
7. John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers - "All Your Love"
8. Cream - "I Feel Free"
9. Cream - "Strange Brew"
10. Cream - "Sunshine of Your Love"
11. Aretha Franklin - "Good To Me As I Am To You"
12. Cream - "Crossroads" [live]
13. The Beatles - "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
14. Cream - "Badge"
15. Cream - "White Room" [live]
16. Cream - "Spoonful" [live] *
17. Blind Faith - "Presence of the Lord"

1. Delaney & Bonnie & Friends featuring Eric Clapton - "Comin' Home" [live]
2. Eric Clapton - "After Midnight" [alternate mix]
3. Eric Clapton - "Let It Rain" [alternate mix]
4. Derek and The Dominos - "High" *
5. George Harrison - "My Sweet Lord"
6. Derek and The Dominos - "Thorn Tree In the Garden"
7. Derek and The Dominos - "Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out"
8. Derek and The Dominos - "Bell Bottom Blues"
9. Derek and The Dominos - "Layla"
10. Derek and The Dominos - "Little Wing" [live] *
11. Derek and The Dominos - "Got To Get Better In A Little While"
12. Eric Clapton - "I Shot the Sheriff" *
13. Eric Clapton - "Little Queenie" [live] *
14. Eric Clapton - "Mainline Florida"
15. Eric Clapton - "Tears In Heaven"

* Previously-unreleased track

Buy the CD from Eric Clapton's Life In 12 Bars

Monday, April 9, 2018

Book Review: Robert Gordon's Memphis Rent Party (2018)

Robert Gordon's Memphis Rent Party
Grammy® Award-winning writer, filmmaker, and music historian Robert Gordon (no relation) is the author of some of my favorite books on music, including It Came From Memphis, Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion, and Can’t Be Satisfied, the very best Muddy Waters bio, bar none. Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Gordon has spent 30+ years writing about Southern art and music, with an emphasis on his hometown sounds and the talented and eccentric artists who make the music. With his latest effort, Memphis Rent Party, Gordon digs into his archives to spin a paean to the rich musical heritage of the Bluff City.

Robert Gordon’s Memphis Rent Party

Gordon’s Memphis Rent Party is a collection of essays, many of them previously-unpublished, that cover the gamut of musical styles and larger-than-life personalities that make Memphis a virtual breeding ground for unique and exciting American music. Although, in my opinion, Gordon shorts bluesman Furry Lewis (one of my longtime faves) by relegating him to the book’s preface, the remainder of Memphis Rent Party more than makes up for this relative oversight by covering both non-musical trailblazers like Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, and outsiders like the late Jeff Buckley and indie-rock darling Cat Power whose fates are inextricably linked to the city on the big Mississippi River.

I admittedly brought a fair degree of familiarity with many of the musicians that Gordon profiles here, as I have also written about artists like Alex Chilton, Junior Kimbrough, Jim Dickinson, and Robert Johnson throughout my 45 years as a music journalist. Still, Gordon fills in the edges with insightful anecdotes courtesy of a personal history with many of his subjects, and chapters on all of the aforementioned provide a greater understanding of their music or, in the case of Dickinson (an underrated figure in rock ‘n’ roll overall, IMHO), deeper knowledge of the individual. His chapter on Jerry Lee Lewis provides a deep assessment of the rock legend’s life and career without actually interviewing the subject, while Gordon’s conversation with singer Cat Power swings the pendulum in the exact opposite direction, providing a starkly revealing glimpse at the artist’s psyche.

Where Memphis Rent Party really shines, for this reader, is in Gordon’s tales of the eccentric and original talents that make Memphis a musical melting pot that has long struggled for the respect the city deserves. Gordon paints soul singer James Carr as the tragic figure that he was, while an interview with Mama Rose Newborn – wife of Phineas and mother of Phineas, Jr. and Calvin – provides all three of these incredibly talented musicians with long overdue accolades. Gordon’s beleaguered friendship with the troubled singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley ends with his accidental death while his brief relationship with career criminal Jerry McGill results in a tense but ultimately satisfactory conclusion. Chapters on the Fieldstones and Otha Turner are, realistically, field reports by an intrepid reporter and outsider offering a glimpse behind the curtain to reveal an enticing musical culture.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Memphis Rent Party LP
Memphis Rent Party, the LP
Overall, I have few arguments with Gordon’s editorial choices for Memphis Rent Party. I’d like to have seen a chapter on garage rocker Greg Cartwright and his various bands (Reigning Sound, Compulsive Gamblers, the Oblivians); perhaps something more on the talented Sid Selvidge, a friend of Jim Dickinson and a member of his Mud Boy and the Neutrons band; or perhaps something on sonic terrorist Alicja Trout and her various garage-punk bands (Lost Sounds, River City Tanlines). But those are minor cavils; there’s more than enough meat on the bone here to satisfy any free-thinking music fan.

An appendix to the book offers plenty of information on further reading (including Peter Guralnik’s excellent books on soul music and Elvis) and a couple dozen LPs and CDs of Memphis music well worth your while to track down. If you want to take the easy way out, Fat Possum Records has released a vinyl-only compilation with songs by many of the musicians featured in Memphis Rent Party. Overall, Gordon does an impressive job in capturing the grease, sweat, and heartbeat of Memphis music on the pages of Memphis Rent Party, and you can’t really ask for nothing more from this literary love letter to the writer’s hometown. Grade: A+ (Bloomsbury Publishing, published March 6th, 2018)

Buy the book from Robert Gordon’s Memphis Rent Party

Also on That Devil Robert Gordon - Can’t Be Satisfied book review  

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Book Review: Robert Gordon's Can't Be Satisfied (2003)

Robert Gordon's Can't Be Satisfied
There are precious few cultural icons as important as McKinley Morganfield, better known to most people as Muddy Waters. A Mississippi Delta sharecropper working on the Stovall Plantation, the thirty-year-old Morganfield would travel to Chicago in 1943 to eventually become the musical link between Delta bluesmen like Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, and Son House and early rockers like the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds.

During the next forty years, Waters would find fame as a bandleader, singer and guitarist, influencing a generation of blues and rock musicians while scrabbling for every hard dollar. Robert Gordon, music journalist and author of the acclaimed It Came From Memphis, has written the definitive biography of the blues legend, Can’t Be Satisfied.

Robert Gordon’s Can’t Be Satisfied

Can’t Be Satisfied is based on interviews conducted by Gordon with family and former Waters band members and on four decades of published material, from obscure manuscripts in university libraries to books, newspapers and magazines and, of course, the music of Muddy Waters itself. The resulting book is, perhaps, the most comprehensive music biography outside of Peter Guralnick’s excellent books on Elvis Presley. Gordon finds Waters in the Mississippi cotton fields of his youth, recounting his formative years and early field recordings with Library of Congress historian Alan Lomax and Fisk University professor John Work. We travel along with Waters when he first arrives in Chicago, already a booming blues town during the unpredictable World War II years. Waters’ relationship with famed label magnate Leonard Chess is covered in detail, as are the studio sessions for Chess Records and the Aristocrat label that resulted in a number of late ’40s and early ’50s R&B chart hits for Waters.

After Water’s popularity waned with African-American record buyers more interested in soul records than in Delta-dirtied blues, Gordon takes us on the road to England and across the United States with Waters and his touring band. Throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, Waters played to a younger white, middle class audience, influencing rockers like the Rolling Stones, who took their name from a Waters’ song. Gordon recounts the early ‘60s folk era when Waters and contemporaries like Mississippi John Hurt were recast as “folk blues” artists. Can’t Be Satisfied winds down with Waters’ late ‘70s studio work with Johnny Winter and death in 1983 from cancer.

Gordon writes in a fluid style, his enthusiasm sometimes getting the best of him when describing a
certain song or performance. Brought up on the blues in Memphis, Gordon has an ear for the music and brings a great deal of passion and empathy to his treatment of Waters. He offers up the blues giant with warts intact, covering Waters’ frequent autocratic manner as bandleader, his considerable womanizing that would lead to numerous children, and his infrequent mean streak that would cause band members to quit.

Gordon also does an admirable job in relating Waters’ generosity, his love of family, and his sense of responsibility for his many children and his creativity, which was never more than a few steps away from the Delta. More importantly, Gordon tells the story of the blues, the music’s roots and its importance and explains its influence on music today. The book’s appendixes offer up a suggested discography and other historical minutiae while Gordon’s exhaustive notes bring Waters’ life into finer detail.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Muddy Waters is an important figure in American music, not only for his own recordings, which would be enough to ensure his legacy, but also for the many talented musicians Waters brought into his band and launched into the spotlight. Little Walter, Otis Spann, Jimmy Reed and James Cotton all got their start in Waters’ bands, each contributing to Waters’ reputation even while creating musical history with their own work. Muddy Waters helped define the Chicago blues sound, putting the wheels in motion for much of what would follow in the music world, from blues and jazz to R&B and rock ‘n’ roll. Waters’ story is a phenomenal tale, expertly told by Robert Gordon in Can’t Be Satisfied, an excellent book that should not be overlooked by anyone with more than a passing interest in blues or rock music. (Back Bay Books, published 2003)

Review originally published in Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine, 2003

Buy the book from Robert Gordon’s Can't Be Satisfied

1968 Revisited: The International Submarine Band's Safe At Home

The International Submarine Band's Safe At Home
Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Gram Parsons is widely considered to be the de facto ‘Godfather’ of country rock and the spiritual forefather of the ‘90s Americana movement for his influence on the making of the Byrds’ landmark Sweetheart of the Rodeo album as well as his later work with the Flying Burrito Brothers and a pair of acclaimed, long-enduring solo albums. Long before Parsons became the avatar of what would long be called “Cosmic American Music,” however, he was a member of the International Submarine Band.

The International Submarine Band’s Safe At Home

The ISB only released a single album, 1968’s Safe At Home, but its unique and progressive sound – a hybrid of traditional country, folk, rock, and R&B influences – would echo over the decades. Parsons was a theology student at Harvard University in 1965 with an eye towards becoming a folk singer when he met guitarist John Nuese, who turned him onto country legends-in-the-making like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Parsons had allegedly originally turned his nose up at country music, but he quickly bought into the idea of fusing country and rock together, and thus the International Submarine Band was born.

With Parsons and Nuese joined by bassist Ian Dunlop and drummer Mickey Gauvin, the ISB gigged around Boston for a while without making a real splash, eventually moving to New York City in early 1967. While in the Big Apple, the band recorded a pair of singles for Goldstar Records as well as a full-length album that was never released and subsequently lost to the ages. A move to Los Angeles brought new possibilities for the band, which eventually fell apart due to a lack of gigs and subsequent shortage of money – Parsons’ trust fund allowed him to live in relative comfort while his bandmates struggled, financially – so by the time that the International Submarine Band entered the studio under the patronage of producer Lee Hazelwood, only Parsons and Nuese remained.

Cosmic American Music

Gram Parsons
Gram Parsons
Suffering from performance anxiety, Nuese struggled to find his footing in the studio, prompting Parsons to bring in his new pal Bob Buchanan of the New Christy Minstrels to play guitar and an old friend from Boston, Jon Corneal, on drums. They were joined on initial recording sessions by Wrecking Crew bassist Joe Osborn and guitarist Glen Campbell, pedal steel wizard Jay Dee Maness, and pianist Earl Ball, with Hazelwood’s girlfriend Suzi Jane Hokum producing. Later sessions would include future Burrito Brothers bassist Chris Ethridge on bass. This grouping of abundant talent would cobble together nine songs, a mix of Parsons’ originals and traditional country tunes that would virtually define “Cosmic American Music,” a sort of rock-influenced, folk-inspired country sound that Parsons’ would further refine with his solo albums.

By the time that Safe At Home was ready to release, however, Parsons had lit out for the Byrds, leaving his erstwhile bandmates in the lurch. Hazelwood and Parsons would come to an agreement, and the album was released without publicity (or much promotion) by Hazelwood’s LHI Records in March 1968, promptly sinking like a stone. Although critics generally praised the collection, others found it to be a featherweight contender next to similar efforts that year by Moby Grape, the Band, and even Parsons’ short-lived tenure with the Byrds. There’s a lot to like about Safe At Home, though, in spite of the album’s brevity (clocking in at less than 30 minutes). Parsons’ original “Blue Eyes” is a true-to-traditional country twang ‘n’ banger that could easily pass for a long-lost Buck Owens’ single while a cover of Merle Haggard’s “I Must Be Somebody Else You’ve Known” is framed by Maness’ weeping pedal steel and offers an appropriately lovelorn Parsons vocal performance.

Folsom Prison Blues

Johnny Cash’s classic “Folsom Prison Blues” is brilliantly mashed together with Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s All Right” into a sort of mondo medley of country and R&B with funky rhythms akimbo yelping vocals, Ball’s honky-tonk piano, and staccato fretwork. Another Cash gem, “I Still Miss Someone,” is provided an emotional vocal performance that captures all the romantic yearning of the original, Parsons’ efforts greatly assisted by Ball’s sparkling ivories and Maness’ stirring pedal steel guitar.

Another Parsons’ original, “Luxury Liner,” foreshadows the sort of pop-oriented country sounds that former Monkees member Michael Nesmith would pursue on albums like 1970’s Magnetic South. The song would later be recorded by Parsons’ acolyte Emmylou Harris, but here the song is provided a slow fade-in and locomotive rhythms rambling beneath Parsons’ high lonesome vocals, with striking guitar playing and an undeniable melody creating the perfect fusion of alt-country rebellion and pop music sensibilities that might have been a hit had Hazelwood had cared enough to promote the album. The 2014 Sundazed Records CD reissue of Safe At Home, remastered from the original two-track stereo tapes, includes a very cool ‘lost’ track in “Knee Deep In The Blues,” which evokes the early work of Hank Williams or Johnny Cash with tear-jerk vocals, a subdued instrumental soundtrack, and a few lonesome guitar licks.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

“Hindsight,” as the old adage reads, “is always 20-20,” and that pretty much sums up the International Submarine Band’s Safe At Home. On its surface, the album is an entertaining blend of country and rock sounds, with more twang than bang for your buck, if you catch my meaning. Parsons had yet to take the audacious artistic steps that he’d later show with Sweetheart of the Rodeo, or the major leap forward that he would with the Flying Burrito Brothers’ adventuresome 1969 debut, The Gilded Palace of Sin.

Some folks would argue that Parsons invented country-rock with Safe At Home, and some folks would argue otherwise, citing bands like Buffalo Springfield, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and even the Grateful Dead who were exploring similar aesthetic turf at the time. At its heart, Safe At Home is a paean to the country music tradition that Parsons would later drag, screaming and kicking, from its safe 1950s home into the ‘70s and beyond with his innovative later work. The ISB was an important first step in Parsons’ evolution and influential far beyond its meager commercial showing, inspiring artists like Terry Dolan, Michael Nesmith, Michael Martin Murphy, and even Uncle Tupelo to wander down the lost highway in search of musical truth. (Sundazed Records)

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Steve Wynn reissues coming from Omnivore Recordings

Steve Wynn's Kerosene Man
For much of the decade of the 1980s, Dream Syndicate was the leading light of the “Paisley Underground” scene in L.A. Fronted by singer, songwriter, and guitarist Steve Wynn, the band were critical darlings, and although they released but a handful of albums during their first run at the brass ring (The Days of Wine and Roses being a bona fide classic of the indie-rock era), they would be a major influence on bands to follow.

When the band broke up in wake of the release of 1988’s Ghost Stories, Wynn set out on a solo career that is still going strong some 30+ years later. Wynn launched his career with the release of 1990’s critically-acclaimed Kerosene Man album, following it up a couple of years later with the equally-excellent Dazzling Display. Both albums have been in-and-out-of-print over the years, but on April 27th, 2018 Omnivore Recordings will reissue both discs as deluxe expanded editions.

Kerosene Man offered suffering Dream Syndicate fans eleven new original songs, which Wynn recorded with a little help from friends like Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano, D.J. Bonebrake of X, Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, and former Dream Syndicate bandmate Mark Walton. The album introduced Wynn as a significant solo artist and displayed new facets to his songwriting and performing skills. The album has been expanded with six live tracks culled from the rare promotional LP Straight to the Swapmeet: Legendary Authorized Bootleg.

Wynn writes in the new liner notes for Kerosene Man, “sure, I was nervous. I had spent most of my adult life making music with the Dream Syndicate – a very good, successful band, with musicians I still considered very good friends. Bands break up because the members hate each other, or because nobody cares, or because someone in the band joins the Rolling Stones, or something. That wasn’t the case with us. I just wanted to try something different. I wanted to play different kinds of music, make new sounds, play with new people. I wasn’t running away from anything. I was just running towards something new.”

Steve Wynn's Dazzling Display
Released two years after his solo debut, Wynn’s Dazzling Display also featured talented friends like Vicki Peterson of the Bangles, Peter Buck of R.E.M., and Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan of the Turtles and the Mothers of Invention). The expanded edition of the album also includes five rare live bonus tracks. The reissue versions were both overseen by Wynn himself.

Writes Wynn, “I’ve had the chance to revisit Dazzling Display in the course of writing these liner notes and putting together this reissue and, as is often the case, time has brought its merits into focus. Here’s the bottom line. It’s a really fun record. It was made with a fan’s enthusiasm as a reflection of the things that made me happy and got me excited in 1991. It may not have been the right record for its time and it may not have been the right record for this particular recording artist. But it sure feels good to listen to it now.”

Buy the CDs from
Steve Wynn’s Kerosene Man
Steve Wynn’s Dazzling Display

Kerosene Man track listing:
1. Tears Won’t Help
2. Carolyn
3. The Blue Drifter
4. Younger
5. Under The Weather
6. Here On Earth As Well
7. Something To Remember Me By
8. Killing Time
9. Conspiracy Of The Heart
10. Kerosene Man
11. Anthem
12. Younger *
13. Something To Remember Me By *
14. Graveyard Train *
15. Tell Me When It’s Over *
16. Burn *
17. The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Alter *

Dazzling Display track listing:
1. Drag
2. Tuesday
3. When She Comes Around
4. A Dazzling Display
5. Halo
6. Dandy In Disguise
7. Grace
8. As It Should Be
9. Bonnie And Clyde
10. 405
11. Close Your Eyes
12. Light Of Hope
13. Kool Thing *
14. Boy In The Bubble *
15. Conspiracy Of The Heart *
16. Watching The River Flow *
17. Crazy Feeling *

* Bonus live tracks

CD Preview: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids?

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids?
Rockin’ R&B legend Screamin’ Jay Hawkins is one of those cult artists that many are vaguely familiar with or, at a minimum, they know his best-known song, the 1956 hit “I Put A Spell On You.” Performing live, he’d be carried onstage in a coffin, leaping out at the audience with a bone in his nose and clad in voodoo regalia as he launched into song.

The primal proto-rock ‘n’ roll wildman was a major influence on theatrical rockers like Alice Cooper, the Cramps, Marilyn Manson, and Glenn Danzig while his signature hit has been recorded by artists as diverse as Nina Simone, Bryan Ferry, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, among many others.

Hawkins was always more popular in Europe than in the U.S. and his discography is sketchy at best, littered with dubious compilations released to capitalize on the enduring popularity of “I Put A Spell On You.” In 1990, however, Hawkins met up with Bizarre Records A&R man Robert Duffey, who would become the singer’s manager, getting him a deal with the Warner Music-distributed label. Hawkins would record three albums for Bizarre – 1991’s Black Music for White People, 1993’s Stone Crazy, and 1994’s Somethin’ Funny – before moving to France, where he’d die in 2000.

On May 18th, 2018 Manifesto Records will release the two-disc compilation Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids?, a 44-track collection that offers some of Hawkins’ best work for the Bizarre label. The album’s title is derived from Hawkins’ reputation as a ladies man, the singer allegedly fathering somewhere between 57 and 75 illegitimate children over the course of his lengthy career. The set includes a unique “dance version” of “I Put A Spell On You,” an incredible reading of the standard “Ol’ Man River,” and a pair of Tom Waits songs, “Heart Attack and Vine” (which would become a hit in the U.K.) and “Ice Cream Man.” The collection also includes five previously-unreleased bonus tracks and brand new liner notes by music journalist Chris Morris.

Of his creative relationship with Hawkins, Duffey says in the liner notes, “he was unique. He opened me up to a different kind of creativity. Jay wasn’t trying to make hit records. Jay was just trying to be Jay. He was trying to show the world Jay. He wasn’t a pretentious rock star.”

Buy the CD from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids?

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

CD Review: Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa's Black Coffee (2018)

Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa's Black Coffee
Flamethrower soul vocalist Beth Hart sang on blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa’s 2011 album Dust Bowl, thus beginning a beautiful relationship that has since resulted in a bevy of mighty fine studio collaborations, beginning with 2011’s critically-acclaimed Don’t Explain and followed by 2013’s Grammy® Award-nominated Seesaw. The duo added a stunning live disc, Live In Amsterdam, to their growing catalog in 2014.

Black Coffee is the third studio album recorded by Hart and Bonamassa, and the pair’s first work together in five years, during which time Hart released a pair of well-received solo albums in 2015’s Better Than Home and the following year’s Fire On the Floor while Bonamassa released something like a zillion live and studio LPs. With producer Kevin “Caveman” Shirley back on the boards for round three, and much like their first two albums, Black Coffee is a collection of well-chosen cover tunes that run the gamut from pure blues to R&B and even Americana. With Joey B. holding down the six-string chores, the pair is backed by Bonamassa’s talented, road-tested touring band of veteran musicians.

Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa’s Black Coffee

Hart and Bonamassa dug deep into the annals of rock ‘n’ blues for Black Coffee, kicking the album off with “Give It Everything You Got,” a minor 1971 FM radio hit for Edgar Winter’s White Trash. Hart’s voice is more soulful than White Trash vocalist Jerry Lacroix, if not quite as funky, but a full-blown, gale-force horn section provides the groove atop of which Bonamassa embroiders his molten fretwork while Hart punches out the lyrics like a champion prizefighter. The title track is an obscure Ike & Tina Turner deep cut from a 1972 album, but a rocker like Bonamassa would be more familiar with the Humble Pie version from their 1973 album Eat It. The Hart/Bonamassa version treads much closer to Steve Marriott’s reading of the song, from the sludgy, bass-heavy instrumentation and shimmering guitar to Hart’s gritty, whiskey-soaked vox.

Not everything on Black Coffee works, or even rocks – a cover of the 1960 Teri Thornton jazz classic “Lullaby of the Leaves” allows Hart to indulge in her torch singer persona, which displays a lot of emotion but seldom moves the meter for me, even with Bonamassa’s nuanced and melodious guitar solos. In a similar vein, but much tastier, is a cover of “Kansas Joe” McCoy’s 1936 blues/jazz standard “Why Don’t You Do Right.” Originally recorded by the Harlem Hamfats as “The Weed Smoker’s Dream,” Hamfats member McCoy later rewrote the song, which later became a 1941 hit for Lil Green, with Big Bill Broonzy on guitar, and an even bigger hit a year later for Peggy Lee and Bennie Goodman. In Hart’s hands, the jazzy big band arrangement offers her blustery, albeit playful vocals and stunning guitar playing as an integral part of the song’s lush instrumentation.

Hart and Bonamassa blow up Howlin’ Wolf’s “Sitting On Top of the World” with brassy hornplay, scorching guitar licks, and Reese Wynans’ honky-tonk keyboards. There’s no way that Hart could blow gruffer and grittier than the legendary Wolf; instead she brings a subtle but strong soulfulness to the lyrics rather than duel with history. Their cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Joy” takes the Americana legend’s original, pumps up the volume and paints it blue with slithery guitarplay, vocal gymnastics, and a menacing rhythmic soundtrack. Their version has taken some heat from Williams’ hardcore fans for its funky reconstruction, but Hart and Bonamassa bring a punkish blues vibe to the song while still capturing the heartbeat of the original. The LaVern Baker 1953 single “Soul On Fire” is the sort of emotionally-singed R&B that Hart cut her teeth on, and her rendition here is simply priceless, the singer paying tribute to Baker’s original while exorcising a few demons of her own with the performance.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

In its heart (no pun intended), Black Coffee is retro as hell…Hart and Bonamassa wear their love of these songs and the artists that originally sang them on their sleeves, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They imbue their performances with enough old-school tradition to honor the O.G. recordings, but bring an energy, musical chemistry, and contemporary edge that helps pull the songs into the second decade of the 21st century.

Hart is at her very best when she’s paired with Bonamassa, belting out these tunes like she’s singing for her supper, and he gladly relinquishes the glare of the spotlight for a while, content to channel his restless creative muse through his fingertips. Black Coffee is the pair’s most accomplished effort yet, a too-quick romp through the great American rock ‘n’ soul songbook by a pair of talented artists that have found magic in the music. Grade: A (J&R Adventures, released January 26, 2018)

Buy the CD from Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa’s Black Coffee 

Also on That Devil Joe Bonamassa’s Live At Carnegie Hall CD review

Sunday, April 1, 2018

New Music Monthly: April 2018 Releases

April showers bring May flowers and all that in the frozen tundra of WNY, we'd be satisfied if the temperature would get above freezing for more than a day or two at a time. Oh well, maybe in July...but while we're waiting for our tulips to bloom, April brings another bounty of great music, including the long-anticipated CD release of King Gizard & the Lizard Wizard's Gumboot Soup album, as well as new music from King Tuff, John Prine, bluesman Ian Siegal, King Crimson, and the Melvins as well as reissues and archive releases by Doug Sahm, Steve Wynn, reggae legends the Gladiators, and the magnificent Webb Wilder!

If we wrote about it here on the site, there'll be a link to it in the album title; if you want an album, hit the 'Buy!' link to get it from's just that damn easy! Your purchase puts money in the Reverend's pocket that he'll use to buy more music to write about in a never-ending loop of rock 'n' roll ecstasy!

King Crimson's Live In Vienna, December 1st, 2016

Eels - The Deconstruction   BUY!
King Crimson - Live In Vienna, December 1st, 2016   BUY!
Manic Street Preachers - Resistance Is Futile   BUY!
Ian Siegal - All the Rage   BUY!
Wye Oak - The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs   BUY!

King Tuff's The Other

Sandy Bull - Steel Tears   BUY!
The Damned - Evil Spirits  BUY!
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard - Gumboot Soup   BUY!
King Tuff - The Other   BUY!
John Prine - The Tree of Forgiveness   BUY!
Doug Sahm - Live From Austin, TX [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Sir Douglas Quintet - Live From Austin, TX [vinyl reissue]   BUY!

The Gladiators' Serious Thing

A Perfect Circle - Eat the Elephant  BUY!
Marcia Ball - Shine Bright   BUY!
Black Stone Cherry - Family Tree   BUY!
Gladiators - Serious Thing [reissue]   BUY!
Gladiators - Symbol of Reality [reissue]   BUY!
Lord Huron - Vide Noir   BUY!
Melvins - Pinkus Abortion Technician   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Quantum Gate/Quantum Key   BUY!

Humble Pie's Office Bootleg Box Set, Vol. 2

Humble Pie - Office Bootleg Box Set, Vol. 2   BUY!
Okkervil River - In the Rainbow Rain   BUY!
Tom Rush - Voices   BUY!
Chris Squire - Fish Out of Water [deluxe box set]   BUY!
Webb Wilder & the Beatnecks - Powerful Stuff!   BUY!
Steve Wynn - Dazzling Display [reissue]   BUY!
Steve Wynn - Kerosene Man [reissue]   BUY!


Album of the Month: Webb Wilder and the Beatnecks' Powerful Stuff! Nashville's favorite son (and an old pal of the Reverend's) gets a long overdue odds 'n' sods collection of studio and live tracks dating from 1985 through 1993 and featuring special guests like Al Kooper. Check it out!

CD Preview: Webb Wilder’s Powerful Stuff!

Webb Wilder's Powerful Stuff!
Americana legend and Nashville’s favorite son Webb Wilder has been making great music for better than 30 years with a dozen studio and live albums to his credit. With his band of various ne’er-do-wells the Beatnecks, Wilder has cranked out a heady, unique blend of roots-rock, rockabilly, blues, and country music that owes as much to the British Invasion as it does the Delta blues. It’s a sound that could only be pulled off by the big man from Mississippi.

Wilder’s last album was 2015’s critically-acclaimed Mississippi Mōderne, of which the Reverend wrote “in the hands of a lesser artist, this ramshackle mix of garage-rock, blues, and old-school country music would sink like an over-inflated soufflé, and the album’s often over-the-top lyrics would lack in sincerity coming from a singer without Wilder’s charismatic personality. Backed by the grizzled veterans that comprise the Beatnecks, though, Wilder delivers a powerful and entertaining collection…” Mississippi Mōderne was Wilder’s first studio effort in six years and only his second since 2005’s excellent About Time, so none of us thought that we’d hear from him again anytime soon.

On April 27th, 2018 however, Landslide Records will release Wilder’s odds ‘n’ sods collection Powerful Stuff! A sixteen-song album comprised of previously-unreleased studio and live tracks dating from 1985 to 1993, the album primarily features the original Beatnecks band of Wilder on vocals and guitar, guitarist Donny “The Twangler” Roberts, bassist Denny “Cletus” Blakely, and drummer Jimmy Lester.

Much of the material on Powerful Stuff! was produced by Wilder’s longtime friend and collaborator R.S. “Bobby” Field and special guests include keyboardist Al Kooper, noted guitarist David Grisman, and bassist Willie Weeks. Powerful Stuff! features seven studio tracks and nine live performances including original material written by Wilder and Field and raucous covers of songs by Ike & Tina Turner (“Nutbush City Limits”), fellow Nashvillian Steve Forbert (“Catbird Seat”), Cajun fiddle legend Doug Kershaw (“Hey Mae”), and Little Richard (“Lucille”). Among the originals, “Powerful Stuff” was originally recorded by Wilder and the Beatnecks but remained unreleased after the Fabulous Thunderbirds had a hit with the song; it’s presented here as a rowdy live version. 
If you’re in the Music City at the end of the month, Webb Wilder and the Beatnecks will perform at the official CD release party for Powerful Stuff! on Sunday, April 29th at Nashville’s Exit/In, a venue where several of the tracks on the new CD were originally recorded live in 1986. The current Beatnecks lineup includes Webb Wilder, drummer Jimmy Lester, bassist Tom Comet, and guitarist Bob Williams. Check out the album’s tracklist below and then order your copy from!

Webb Wilder's Powerful Stuff! track list:

1. Make That Move
2. New Day
3. No Great Shakes
4. Lost In The Shuffle
5. Powerful Stuff *
6. Ain’t That A Lot Of Love
7. Wild About You Baby *
8. Animal Lover
9. Nutbush City Limits *
10. High Rollin’
11. Catbird Seat *
12. Hey Mae *
13. Revenooer Man *
14. Is This All There Is? *
15. Dead and Starting To Cool *
16. Lucille *

* live tracks

Also on That Devil Webb Wilder’s Mississippi Mōderne CD review 

Buy the CD from Webb Wilder and the Beatnecks’ Powerful Stuff!