Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Return of the Chocolate Watchband

The Chocolate Watchband 2017
The Chocolate Watchband 2017
 From a fascist-leaning Presidential administration to the horrible racism experienced by people of color in America, it seems that everything old is becoming new again. This goes double for rock music, which seems unable to nurture dynamic, creative young talents these days and instead finds itself increasing looking backwards to the 1960s for succor and inspiration. It’s fitting, perhaps, that we should relive the tumultuous psychedelic decade as we certainly seem to have forgotten the hard-fought lessons of Nixon, Viet Nam, and the civil rights and anti-war movements.

Into the void strut erstwhile ‘60s-era psychedelic pioneers the Chocolate Watchband. One of the legendary garage-rock bands of the era, the Chocolate Watchband formed in San Jose, California in 1965, appeared in the ground-breaking 1967 movie Riot On Sunset Strip, and would release three critically-acclaimed albums between 1967 and ’69, including No Way Out and The Inner Mystique. The band broke-up in 1970 but reformed in 1999 under the aegis of original vocalist David Aguilar and drummer Gary Andrijasivich. They’re still kicking around today with a line-up that includes guitarist Tim Abbott (who played with the band in 1967) as well as guitarist Derek See and bassist Alec Palao, both veterans of the Rain Parade, performing festivals with like-minded artists like the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Electric Prunes, and the Yardbirds.

The Chocolate Watchband's Judgment Day
Like I said, everything old is new again, and the Chocolate Watchband has released a pair of new singles and a very cool video of a live performance of the Kinks’ “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.” The two new songs – “Judgment Day” and “Secret Rendezvous” – were recorded last year at Kingdom Voice Productions in Santa Clara, California. Framed by exotic, Middle Eastern-sounding riffs and Aguilar’s howling harpwork, “Judgment Day” is a bluesy, psych-drenched rocker with socially-conscious topical lyrics and some scorching fretwork while “Secret Rendezvous” is a ramshackle garage-rocker with dense, chaotic instrumentation and largely-buried vocals that evokes memories of the band’s halcyon days.
In a press release announcing the new songs, band vocalist David Aguilar says, “I wrote ‘Judgment Day’ as the country was still in recovery after every dollar you might have had invested suddenly tanked thanks to Wall Street. People were getting laid off, they were moving backwards in income, homes were being foreclosed on. Families were living in their cars. It was a terrible time for the American dream. But this was pure opportunity for those who enjoyed stratospheric wealth. Wall Street gangsters, bailed out by American taxpayers, were rewarded for their massive greed and stupidity. They immediately started buying up everything they could, hotels, new corporate jets, restaurants chains, radio stations, small businesses, big businesses, casinos, 300+ acre ranches with 16,000 square foot homes in compounds near Aspen, on Long Island, or in Florida. Their trophy wives were pampered like pet poodles. It resulted in the anger that put the current president into the White House. And it’s ironic, Judgment Day didn't come for the political party that remains the mouthpiece for the fat cats. And now the White House is filled with more Wall Streeters! The Who were wrong, Americans can get fooled again!”

Both songs are available for purchase from iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere and we’ve embedded the band’s new video (as well as a classic vintage performance) below for your enjoyment. Now’s the right time to rediscover the Chocolate Watchband!

Buy the tunes from
The Chocolate Watchband’s “Judgment Day
The Chocolate Watchband’s “Secret Rendezvous

Also on That Devil The Chocolate Watchband’s The Inner Mystique CD review

Friday, May 25, 2018

Short Rounds: Brinsley Schwarz, Eric Corne, Roger McGuinn & Shuggie Otis (2018)

Brinsley Schwarz's Live Favourites
New album releases in 150 words or less…

Brinsley Schwarz – Live Favourites (Vogon Records)
British pub-rock legends Brinsley Schwarz never released a live album during their brief time in the spotlight (roughly 1969-1975), and ‘tis more the shame. Any band that can boast of Nick Lowe and, later, Ian Gomm as songwriters is aces in my book, and band namesake Schwarz’s fretwork is uniformly superb. Why they never made a commercial splash over the course of half-dozen studio albums is a mystery. Live Favourites is a semi-legit release of a June 1974 show, shortly before the release of The New Favourites Of..., their final album, and it’s a spankin’ fine effort at that. Sound quality is good with clear separation while the setlist – which includes treasures like “Country Girl,” “Trying To Live My Life Without You,” and “What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” – displays the band’s deft alchemical mix of rock, country, and soul; highly recommended for any rock ‘n’ roll fan. Grade: A   BUY IT!

Eric Corne's Happy Songs For the Apocalypse
Eric Corne – Happy Songs For the Apocalypse (Forty Below Records)
In his role as studio engineer and producer, Forty Below Records founder Eric Corne has shepherded into the world some of the most essential blues albums of the past decade by legends Walter Trout and John Mayall. Few know that Corne is also a talented singer and songwriter in his own right, as attested to by Happy Songs For the Apocalypse, which offers an inspired blend of country-flavored folk-rock with blues influences. Corne’s “Mad World” is a lilting, folkish song featuring weeping pedal steel. The bluesy “The Gilded Age” reminds of Charley Patton with its high lonesome vocals, languid fretwork, and flowing harmonica tones. My favorite is “The Distance You Run,” a sort of country waltz with spry vocals and intelligent lyrics while the anguished “Forbidden Town” is wrought with emotion. With his sophomore solo LP, the talented Eric Corne delivers an altogether solid effort of primo-grade American music. Grade: B+   BUY IT!

Roger McGuinn's Peace On You
Roger McGuinn – Peace On You (Floating World Records)
The Byrds’ estimable catalog is revered, and rightfully so. As for Byrds’ frontman Roger McGuinn’s solo work, well, not so much…and for good reason, as many of his LPs are littered by lack of focus. For Peace On You, the singer/songwriter’s sophomore album, he’s backed by the cream of L.A. session musicians, including guitarist Tommy Tedesco and steel guitar maestro Al Perkins. McGuinn delivers a work that veers from the engaging folk-rock of his legendary band to weepy, subpar country-rock fare that former bandmate Gram Parsons would have hit out of the park. Part of the problem sits with McGuinn’s songwriting partner Jacques Levy, a pal of Dylan’s who never met a lyrical cliché he didn’t like. McGuinn has long blamed the musical excesses of Peace On You on producer Bill Halverson when he should have looked in the mirror. Although the album has its charms, it’s no Cardiff Rose. Grade: C+   NAH?

Shuggie Otis's Inter-Fusion
Shuggie Otis – Inter-Fusion (Cleopatra Records)
When everybody else in popular music is running, lemming-like, in a single direction, Shuggie Otis is veering off towards left field. For his first studio album in better than forty years, the songwriter responsible for soulful gems like “Strawberry Letter 23” and “Inspiration Information” delivers a mostly-instrumental set guaranteed to blow your  mind. Working with talented journeymen like bassist Tony Franklin and drummer Carmine Appice, Otis puts the emphasis on his flamethrower fretwork, contributing only a pair of songs to Inter-Fusion but leaving his fingerprints all over the grooves. A buffet of rock, soul, funk, and jazz, Inter-Fusion is a breathtaking collection of virtuosity and, when Otis opens his mouth to sing as on “Ice Cold Daydream,” there’s little rust in his voice, just silky lyrical flow. Inter-Fusion is proof that Otis has lost none of the chops, imagination, or innovation that made him a legend in the first place. Grade: A   BUY IT!

Previously on That Devil
Short Rounds, April 2018: Catfish, Jimmie Vaughan Trio, King Crimson & Memphis Rent Party
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

Sunday, May 13, 2018

2018 Blues Music Award Winners

Blues legend Keb' Mo', photo by Joseph A. Rosen
Keb' Mo', photo by Joseph A. Rosen, courtesy The Blues Foundation
The Blues Foundation held its 39th annual Blues Music Awards celebration on Friday, May 11th, 2018 in Memphis, Tennessee with the event hosted by the legendary ‘Little Steven’ Van Zandt. Legendary bluesmen Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ were the night’s big winners, the duo’s critically-acclaimed musical collaboration, TajMo, winning both “Album of the Year” and “Contemporary Blues Album of the Year” awards. Additionally, Blues Hall of Fame 2009 inductee Taj Mahal walked off with the “Acoustic Artist of the Year” and the coveted “B.B. King Entertainer of the Year” awards while Keb’ Mo’ was named the “Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year.”

Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ weren’t the only big winners on Friday night. Esteemed blues outfit Rick Estrin & the Nightcats celebrated ten years in the trenches by earning the “Band of the Year” honor while Estrin was named “Traditional Blues Male Artist of the Year” and his song “The Blues Ain’t Going Nowhere” was named “Song of the Year.” Dynamic young blues woman Samantha Fish was named “Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year,” her second BMA (she won “Best New Artist Debut” in 2012 for her album Runaway) of many I’m sure she’ll win in the years to come. The Blues Foundation added two new categories this year – Mike Zito won the new “Blues Rock Artist of the Year” award while Beth Hart earned the new BMA for “Instrumentalist of the Year, Vocals.”

Along with hosting the event, Little Steven was also among the presenters for the evening, joined by such talents as Janiva Magness, Ruthie Foster, Tony Joe White, Joe Louis Walker, and David Porter. Several of the BMA nominees also performed during the show, including Walter Trout, the North Mississippi Allstars, Keb’ Mo’, Guy Davis, Trudy Lynn, and Rick Estrin & the Nightcats, among others. For those naysayers claiming that the “blues is dead,” half the performances at this year’s event were by artists under the age of 45 years old, with many still in their 20s and 30s.

Taj Mahal & Keb' Mo's TajMo
Of this young blood injecting new life and electricity into the genre, Blues Foundation President and CEO Barbara Newman states “we are watching the trends closely, and the blues, as a genre, is definitely on an uptick, with younger musicians being drawn to create and play this style of music and a continually growing following of the music on our social media outlets and beyond.”

Little Steven set the tone for the evening and beyond with his introductory speech, stating “at a time our country is more segregated than at any time in the past 100 years, music holds us together and touches all our souls.” You’ll find the complete list of 2018 Blues Music Award winners below.

Acoustic Album of the Year:
Doug MacLeod’s Break the Chain

Acoustic Artist of the Year:
Taj Mahal

Album of the Year:
Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’s TajMo

B.B. King Entertainer of the Year:
Taj Mahal

Southern Avenue's Southern AvenueBand of the Year:
Rick Estrin & the Nightcats

Best Emerging Artist Album of the Year:
Southern Avenue’s Southern Avenue

Contemporary Blues Album of the Year:
Taj Mahal & Keb Mo’s TajMo

Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year:
Samantha Fish

Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year:
Keb’ Mo’

Song of the Year:
Rick Estrin’s “The Blues Ain’t Going Nowhere”

Historical Album of the Year:
Luther Allison’s A Legend Never Dies, Essential Recordings 1976-1997 (Ruf Recordings)

Walter Trout's We're All In This Together
Rock Blues Album of the Year:
Walter Trout’s We’re All In This Together

Rock Blues Artist of the Year:
Mike Zito

Soul Blues Album of the Year:
Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm’s Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm

Soul Blues Female Artist of the Year:
Mavis Staples

Soul Blues Male Artist of the Year:
Curtis Salgado

Traditional Blues Album of the Year:
Mike Welch & Mike Ledbetter’s Right Place, Right Time

Traditional Blues Male Artist of the Year:
Rick Estrin

Koko Taylor Award (Tradition Blues Female Artist of the Year):
Ruthie Foster

Instrumentalist of the Year Awards:
Beth Hart, vocalist
Ronnie Earl, guitarist
Michael “Mudcat” Ward, bassist
Tony Braunagel, drums
Jason Ricci, harmonica
Trombone Shorty, horn

Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year:
Victor Wainwright

Also on That Devil 2017 Blues Music Award Winners

Links in album titles to, Buy, BUY!!!

Thomas Ruf, Walter Trout & Mike Zito, photo by Jeff Fasano
Thomas Ruf, Walter Trout & Mike Zito, photo by Jeff Fasano, courtesy The Blues Foundation

1968 Revisited: Jeff Beck's Truth

Jeff Beck's Truth
British rock legend Jeff Beck is a bona fide guitar innovator who helped define a particular blues-rock style of playing while also influencing a generation (or three) of rock ‘n’ roll, blues, and jazz string-benders and fret-burners. Joe Bonamassa has cited Beck as a major inspiration, and his enormous influence can be heard in the music of artists as diverse as Adrian Belew (The Bears, King Crimson), Steve Vai, Vernon Reid (Living Colour), Joe Satriani, and Tommy Bolin, among many others.

After playing with a number of small bands during the early ‘60s, and doing session work, Beck first came to prominence as a member of popular British blues-rock band the Yardbirds. Replacing guitarist Eric Clapton, who jumped ship to join John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Beck played on nearly all of the band’s mid-decade Top 40 hits, including “Shapes of Things” and “Over Under Sideways Down,” as well as on the 1966 Yardbirds’ album Roger the Engineer. After leaving the band, Beck released a string of modestly-successful U.K. singles like “Hi Ho Silver Lining” and “Tallyman” before recording Truth, his 1968 solo debut album.

Jeff Beck’s Truth

One of rock music’s truly lost classic albums, the good folks at Sony Legacy decided to provide Truth (and its follow-up, Beck-Ola) the deluxe reissue treatment in 2006. Remastered and provided dynamics appropriate to the digital age, the songs on Truth sound every bit as dirty and grungy as they did when originally released back in 1968. Six-string wizard Jeff Beck had been unceremoniously sacked from the Yardbirds and living in the shadows of Eric Clapton’s international acclaim when he pieced together this short-lived ensemble, the first ‘Jeff Beck Group,’ that included Rod Stewart on vocals, Ron Wood on bass, and Micky Waller on drums.

Truth would introduce the world (and, more specifically, a U.S. audience as the album charted Top 20 stateside) to the talents of singer Rod Stewart but, more importantly, Truth would become one of the cornerstones for both ‘70s heavy metal (blues roots, big vocals, heavy percussion, screaming guitar solos) and the blueprint for dozens of British blooze-rock bands to follow in the wake of Cream (including Led Zeppelin, formed by Beck’s former bandmate Jimmy Page). Along the way, however, Truth has been overlooked for its mastery of form and the impressive range of the individual performances. Stewart’s vocals are never less than superlative, no matter what direction Beck takes the band, and the album’s mix of hard rock, Delta blues, Motown soul, and jazzy flourishes make for an intoxicating elixir.

Beck’s Bolero

Jeff Beck Group 1968
A remake of the Yardbirds’ hit “Shape of Things” soars on Stewart’s weary vocals and the song’s pulse-thumping instrumental breakdown. Stewart’s “Let Me Love You” (in reality, a reworked Buddy Guy tune) benefits from a heavy bass riff, explosive percussion, and Beck’s cyclonic psych-drenched guitar licks. Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew” (a hit for folkie Tim Rose) is delivered as a soulful ballad while Willie Dixon’s classic “You Shook Me” (a major hit for Chicago blues giant Muddy Waters) showcases the band’s collective blues roots and love for the genre. Based on Stewart’s expressive vocals and studio pro Nicky Hopkin’s piano flourishes, Beck embroiders the performance with some of his edgiest and most imaginative playing.

An impromptu studio performance of the medieval folk standard “Greensleeves,” which displays the full measure of the guitarist’s skills, would surprisingly became an audience favorite while the B-side of “Hi Ho Silver Lining,” the electrifying instrumental “Beck’s Bolero,” has become known as one of Beck’s signature songs. The stereo version of “Bolero” includes studio guests like Jimmy Page and the Who’s Keith Moon alongside Beck and band. The writing of the blues-infused shouter “Rock My Plimsoul” is credited to Jeffrey Rod (Beck and Stewart), but it is really just a raucous re-write of B.B. King’s classic “Rock Me Baby” while the slow-burning “Blues Deluxe,” which has been covered by Beck fan Bonamassa, is based on King’s “Gambler’s Blues” and features some fine Hopkins’ piano along the song’s fringes to accompany Beck’s jagged fretwork.

Willie Dixon’s “I Ain’t Superstitious” was a big song for blues legend Howlin’ Wolf, and has been covered over the years by everybody from the Yardbirds and Savoy Brown to the Grateful Dead and Carlos Santana. Beck has recorded “I Ain’t Superstitious” multiple times himself, including the greasy, wah-wah tinged version found on Truth. The 2006 Sony Legacy reissue of Truth includes extensive liner notes and eight additional tracks. The non-LP single “Hi Ho Silver Lining” was an uncharacteristic psych-pop offering featuring rare Beck vocals; ditto for “Tallyman,” which is even more of a trifle and notable mostly for Beck’s scorching solos. Much better is “I’ve Been Drinking,” the B-side to the 1967 single “Love Is Blue,” which allows Stewart to capture the full emotional pathos of the re-worked Johnny Mercer original.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Beck’s Truth would launch a solo career that persists, 50 years later, to the present day, the guitarist nearly as spry and innovative in 2018 as he was in 1968. The Beck-Ola album would follow in 1969, earning Beck his “guitar god” status, and subsequent albums (now credited to the ‘Jeff Beck Group’) would further explore musical avenues in soul, R&B, and jazz. A brief dalliance with the power trio Beck, Bogart & Appice would result in a pair of blustery blooze-rawk releases, after which Beck would deliver his mid-‘70s jazz-rock fusion classics Blow By Blow and Wired. It all began with Truth, however, the album highly recommended for classic rock fans, guitar aficionados, blues fans, Rod Stewart fans, Jeff Beck fans, and just about everybody else. It’s just that damn good… (Sony Legacy, released October 10, 2006)

Buy the CD from Jeff Beck’s Truth

Also on That Devil
Jeff Beck’s Performing This Week...Live at Ronnie Scott’s CD review
The YardbirdsUltimate! CD review

Frank Zappa’s Burnt Weeny Sandwich Vinyl Reissue

Frank Zappa’s Burnt Weeny Sandwich
After reissuing the extensive Frank Zappa catalog of albums on CD through Universal Music, the Zappa Family Trust has turned its eye towards making a quick buck by exploiting an acquiescent audience by reissuing long out-of-print Zappa titles on vinyl. On June 22, 2018 Zappa Records and UMe will release the Mothers of Invention’s 1970 album Burnt Weeny Sandwich on 180-gram audiophile black vinyl.

With supervision from the Zappa Family Trust (hey Ahmet!), this vinyl reissue of Burnt Weeny Sandwich was mastered by Bernie Grundman using analog production and cut directly from the original ¼” stereo safety master tape. The album has been unavailable on vinyl for over 30 years, when it was included as part of the Old Masters Box Two box set. The reissue features frequent Zappa cover artist Cal Schenkel’s oddball artwork and includes a reproduction of the original LP’s black & white poster. A limited edition color vinyl version will be made available for sale at a later date.

Burnt Weeny Sandwich combines studio and live recordings, a technique that Zappa would pursue throughout the remainder of his career. The album includes several notable Mothers performances, including covers of the doo-wop classics “WPLJ” and “Valarie” as well as the Zappa originals “Little House I Used to Live In” and “Igor’s Boogie” (parts one and two). In my book Frank Zappa Buying Guide, I wrote of the album, “Burnt Weeny Sandwich was the first posthumous Mothers’ album, and the first to mix studio and live tracks into a single work...Altogether, Burnt Weeny Sandwich holds up well in spite of its Frankenstein-styled construction, mostly due to the talent involved (Lowell George, Sugarcane Harris, Ian Underwood, several Mothers) in making the original recordings.”

Check out the album’s track list below and then get thee over to and order a copy of the vinyl reissue…

Burnt Weeny Sandwich track listing:

Side One
2. Igor’s Boogie, Phase One
3. Overture to a Holiday in Berlin
4. Theme from Burnt Weeny Sandwich
5. Igor’s Boogie, Phase Two
6. Holiday In Berlin, Full Blown
7. Aybe Sea

Side Two
8. Little House I Used To Live In
9. Valarie

Friday, May 11, 2018

Archive Review: Primus' They Can't All Be Zingers (2006)

Primus' They Can't All Be Zingers
Every marketing slogan – no matter how lame, laughable or lamentable – carries with it a germ of truth. In the case of They Can’t All Be Zingers, ostensibly a “greatest hits” compilation from post-punk, modern-funk avant-grunt trio Primus, the slogan is entirely apt. Without a doubt one of the strangest bands to crawl out of the primordial muck that was ‘90s alternative rock, this “Most Unlikely To Succeed” outfit drew its influences from an eclectic succotash of American musical outsiders, from Frank Zappa and Funkadelic to Devo and the Residents. The Primus hybrid of odd-rock, heavy metal, improv-jazz and Motown funk made for heady listening; surprisingly enough, considering its pedigree and pretensions, it also sold reasonably well, scoring the band a handful of Gold™ and Platinum™ Album certifications.

It all started with bassist Les Claypool, a virtuoso musician with a deft hand and a truly warped sense of humor. In another lifetime, Claypool might have been the next Jaco Pastorious, exploring the outer limits of jazz conventions. Claypool took another direction, however, brewing up his musical madness in the shadows of the Bay Area punk and metal scenes. With the addition of guitarist Larry LaLonde – an axeman whose talents were often overshadowed by Claypool’s personality and abilities – and drummer Tim Alexander, Primus assaulted the grunge generation with a succession of strange and somewhat confusing recordings, beginning with the band’s 1991 major label debut, Sailing The Seas Of Cheese.

Primus' They Can't All Be Zingers

Primus followed with Pork Soda in 1993 and Tales From The Punchbowl in 1995, the band’s first three albums yielding unique songs like “Tommy The Cat” and “My Name Is Mud” that found their faithful among the “anything goes” Lollapalooza crowd, if little in the way of traditional radio airplay. Claypool later booted Alexander from the band, replacing him with Brian Mantia in time for 1997’s The Brown Album. By the end of the decade and 1999’s Antipop, the gig had pretty well played itself out. By this time, Claypool had sunk into the mire of jam-band instrumentals, preferring virtuosity over even a semblance of melody or song-structure, which was never Primus’ strong suite anyway.

In many ways, Primus was a modern prog-rock band. As illustrated by songs like “Too Many Puppies” or “Mr. Krinkle,” Primus dove deep into the abyss of the genre-whose-name-we-dare-not-speak, surrounding Claypool’s nonsensical, often surrealistic lyrics and goofy, off-kilter vocals with an instrumental soundtrack straight from the musical playbook of prog’s extreme avant-experimental wing. Claypool’s talents were such that he could attack his instrument in a way that bass had never been played, slapping, tickling and manipulating riffs like a metal guitarist while retaining a funky rhythmic undercurrent that owes as much to Tony Levin and John Wetton as it does to Bootsy Collins or Marcus Miller.

In the same vein, Claypool’s longtime foil LeLonde hits the frets with a fervor that is equal parts Robert Fripp and Alex Lifeson. LeLonde’s wiry leads are dissonant and atonal, exploring the limits of the instrument in much the same way as Fripp. However, LeLonde would also incorporate classical and classic rock influences into his work, the dichotomy between the familiar and the exploratory supporting Claypool’s outer space instrumentals and heavy tone-riffing with both subtle and not-so-subtle flourishes. The drummers of Primus’ history – Alexander and Mantia – aren’t chopped liver, by any means, both doing an admirable job of keeping the beat behind a madman known to switch gears in a heartbeat. In the end, however, the drummers in Primus were incidental: the band’s sound is defined by the stormy interplay of Claypool’s dominant bass and LeLonde’s surgical six-string work.

The Reverend's Bottom Line

They Can’t All Be Zingers explores the complete history of the band, including three tunes from their pre-Interscope 1990 debut, Frizzle Fry, three songs each from the essential first three major label discs, and a smattering from the band’s later efforts. The album also includes a previously unreleased extended mix of “Shake Hands With Beef” from The Brown Album and “Mary The Ice Cube,” rarities thrown in as a sop to get fans to pony up for the compilation. For those unfamiliar with the radical noise made by Primus, They Can’t All Be Zingers is the only logical introduction; after you get a taste of this stanky cheese, you might be hungry for more... (Interscope Records, released October 17, 2006)

Buy the CD from Primus' They Can't All Be Zingers

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ music zine, 2006

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Archive Review: Roky Erickson's I Have Always Been Here Before (2005)

Roky Erickson's I Have Always Been Here Before
Any rock snob or music historian worth his or her credentials knows the story of Roky Erickson by heart. Naïve young musician flirts with the big time, gets hassled by intolerant local law enforcement, chooses a mental hospital over serious jail time after getting jammed up on a marijuana possession charge (due to the draconian anti-drug laws in Texas) and pays for this choice for the rest of his life.

Unlike other madmen and visionaries of rock 'n' roll, however, Erickson's mental instability is less organic than manufactured, any neurotic tendencies he may have possessed before he entered the asylum blown up by the dubious treatments of electro-shock and psychoactive drugs. After his release from the institution in 1973, shady operators, fly-by-night labels, rip-off artists and bad luck plagued Erickson's subsequent musical career – which, incidentally, has nevertheless lasted longer than most of his contemporaries from the '60s.

Roky Erickson's I Have Always Been Here Before

Lost among the whispers, rumors and half-truths of Erickson's legend is the fact that the artist has made some pretty damn good music over the past forty years. Sure, for a long time any charlatan with a microphone and an eight-track tape deck would closet Roky in a studio, on a stage, or even in a hotel room to record his songs (recordings for which the artist never earned a dime). Prolific to a fault, Erickson would crank out the songs, enigmatic rockers and sad-eyed folk tunes that spoke of two-headed dogs, demons and outer space, the chatter in his mind taking form as interesting and often mesmerizing lyrical poetry.

Unfortunately, for the uninitiated wanting to delve into the Erickson catalog, the choices have been confusing and often times disappointing, albums marred by poor sound quality, duplicate performances and dubious stewardship. Music lovers who want a taste of Erickson's talent can rejoice in the Shout Factory's excellent two-disc set I Have Always Been Here Before.

Starry Eyes

Featuring forty-three songs culled from four decades of the artist's lengthy career, this is the only Roky Erickson anthology the average music lover will ever need. Assembled with loving care by long-time Erickson supporter Bill Bentley (who also produced the wonderful 1990 Roky tribute album Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye), I Have Always Been Here Before displays the many faces of this amazing artist in roughly chronological order.

The first disc kicks off with the rare Spades B-side "We Sell Soul" featuring Roky's piercing tenor vocals, jumping quickly into the psych-garage classic "You're Gonna Miss Me." The disc features a total of ten 13th Floor Elevators songs, culled from the band's first two albums, 1966's The Psychedelic Sounds Of and 1967's Easter Everywhere. After his release from the mental hospital in 1973, Erickson's friends helped him form his first backing band, Bleib Alien. This band recorded a handful of tracks in an Austin, Texas studio with Doug Sahm, including "Red Temple Prayer (Two-Headed Dog)" and "Starry Eyes," both of which would be revisited by Erickson frequently through the years to follow. Part of the Erickson mythology is that he sold the rights to a handful of songs, including the hauntingly beautiful "Starry Eyes," to Sahm for a slushie.

Career-spanning Anthology

From 1975 until the late '90s, trying to nail down Erickson's extensive catalog is like tiptoeing through a minefield while on crutches. One of the most productive eras of Erickson's career was with his late '70s band the Aliens, which recorded fifteen strong tracks in Austin with Creedence Clearwater Revival bassist Stu Cook (who was playing with Sahm at the time). These tracks -- psych-rockers and proto-metal romps with vivid lyrical imagery like "Creature With The Atom Brain" and "It's A Cold Night For Alligators" -- would travel the globe. The fifteen songs would be packaged and repackaged a maddening number of times by various labels, although they were originally released by CBS on two albums in 1980/81. Around two-thirds of the Stu Cook recordings are presented on I Have Always Been Here Before.

The second disc concludes the Cook session material, includes an assortment of Erickson's imaginative work with Evil Hook Wildlife E.T., songs from the All That May Do My Rhyme album recorded with Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers in the mid '90s and various solo acoustic recordings. Erickson's impressive songwriting skills are reflected in touching ballads like "You Don't Love Me Yet," "For You I'd Do Anything" and "Clear Night For Love" that display Erickson's tortured vocals and lonely, lovelorn lyricism. The second disc also includes a fair number of rockers, often-covered tunes like the rockabilly-tinged "Don't Slander Me" and "The Beast," a bluesy work-out with fractured vocals and taut lead guitar work.

The Reverend's Bottom Line

With a documentary film on the horizon, this exhaustive two-disc anthology and the recent reissuing of Restless/Pink Dust label collections like Don't Slander Me and Gremlins Have Pictures, a full-fledged Roky Erickson revival seems right around the corner. It's about time, too, to take a look behind the veil of mystery to discover the too-often overlooked talents of one of rock & roll's truly misunderstood artists. I Have Always Been Here Before is an essential collection for anybody interested in discovering the heart and soul of rock 'n' roll as embodied by Roky Erickson. (Shout! Factory, released March 1, 2005)

Buy the CD from Roky Erickson's I Have Always Been Here Before

(Royalties from I Have Always Been Here Before benefit the Roky Erickson Trust Fund, formed by Roky's brother and others to help provide the artist with food, shelter and medical care.)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ music zine, 2005

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

CD Preview: Guadalcanal Diary’s At Your Birthday Party LIVE!

Guadalcanal Diary’s At Your Birthday Party
The favorite sons (and daughter) of Marietta, Georgia the alt-rock band Guadalcanal Diary released four critically-acclaimed albums and achieved modest MTV airplay during their time in the sun circa 1981-1989. Favorites of the college FM radio crowd (including yours truly), Guadalcanal Diary was frequently overshadowed by R.E.M. and the nearby “Athens scene” that included bands like the B-52s, Pylon, and Love Tractor, among others. The band broke up when frontman Murray Attaway launched his solo career, which yielded a single, albeit significant album in 1993’s In Thrall.

Guadalcanal Diary got back together a few times throughout the 1990s to perform regional live shows. During a couple of nights in January 1998 the line-up of singer/guitarist Attaway, guitarist Jeff Walls, bassist Rhett Crowe, and drummer Joe Poe convened at the popular Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta for a two-night stand that was recorded and subsequently released independently by the band in ’99 as At Your Birthday Party as a “thank you” to their loyal fans.

On July 13th, 2018 Omnivore Recordings will reissue At Your Birthday Party, providing the long out-of-print cult recording its first shot at worldwide distribution. The sixteen-song performance includes songs from all four of the band’s albums for Elektra Records, as well as an exclusive song found nowhere else. The CD also features updated artwork and new liner notes by Attaway. 

In the liner notes to At Your Birthday Party, Attaway writes, “after doing one solo album in L.A., I wanted to go back to the South and record with musicians who were pals and who had the same record collection that I had...A lot of tracks that I love came from those sessions, but others seemed like Guadalcanal songs. Guadal needed to do them. So Rhett Crowe, John Poe, and Jeff Walls all agreed to play on the tracks. That record remains unreleased, unfortunately. But during the sessions, the four of us had big fun and we decided to do some live shows. Again, a good time was had by all. Then we got anxious to do a live album, as we never quite got our sound on record accurately, because you never do. So we did that. ”

Hopefully this sought-after collectors’ item will be the first shot in a restoration of the Guadalcanal Diary catalog by Omnivore (similar to the label’s work on the Big Star and Game Theory catalogs). Albums like Walking In the Shadow of the Big Man (1984, with the great song “Watusi Rodeo”), 1986’s Jamboree, 1987’s classic 2x4, and 1989’s band swansong Flip-Flop have darted in-and-out of print sporadically through the years, robbing the band of the opportunity for rediscovery by a younger generation of fans for whom the band’s guitar-oriented, melodic jangly-rock sound could be catnip.

Omnivore Revisits the Posies

The Posies
The Posies, photo by James Bush, courtesy Omnivore Recordings

The archival experts at Omnivore Recordings are launching an ambitious reissue campaign for power-pop legends the Posies that includes new CD and vinyl versions of the band’s three critically-acclaimed major label albums. Fronted by the talented duo of Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, the Posies were critical darlings of the alt-rock ‘90s, their unique blend of British Invasion styled melodies and grungy guitars tailor-made for the era. Although Posies songs like “Golden Blunders,” “Suddenly Mary,” “Dream All Day,” and “Flavor of the Month” achieved a modicum of FM airplay, especially on college radio, by the end of the decade the band had rejoined the indie rock ranks.

The Posies' Dear 23
Omnivore will reissue Dear 23, the band’s 1990 DGC Records debut album, on June 15th, 2018 as a two-CD set featuring the album remastered from the original master tapes along with previously-unreleased bonus tracks. The band’s 1993 album, Frosting On the Beater, will follow on August 3rd as a double-disc set with additional bonus tracks. Both albums will also be reissued on vinyl as two-LPs sets mastered at 45rpm for better sound. The band’s major label swansong, 1996’s Amazing Disgrace, will be reissued as a remastered two-CD set on October 28th, and will also be available on vinyl as a two-LP set mastered at 33-1/3 rpm (it is too long for 45rpm).

The Posies' Frosting On the BeaterThe Posies kick off a lengthy North American tour in May featuring the Frosting On the Beater line-up of Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, bassist, Dave Fox and drummer Mike Musburger. After their jaunt through the U.S. and Canada, they’ll be jetting over to Europe for dates in September, October, and November. These three albums remain the most popular and in-demand titles of the extended Posies catalog of music, and yet they’ve jumped in-and-out of print with alarming regularity through the years and, even then, previous CD releases weren’t always properly sourced from the original analog master tapes.

The band has launched a PledgeMusic campaign to help make the reissues a reality, writing on their campaign page “we need to raise a pretty significant advance fee to license these albums from Universal, so we are putting a ton of personal items, experiences, and exclusive merchandise into this campaign…from clothes we’ve worn onstage, in videos, etc. to spending quality time with Jon and/or Ken in their adopted city of Paris or a coffee date in Seattle…private shows…music lessons…plus exclusive Jon & Ken style guitars…” Check out all the available perks on the Posies’ PledgeMusic page.

The Posies' Amazing DisgraceThe Posies 2018 North American tour

May 18  VICTORIA, BC @ Capital Ballroom
May 19  PORTLAND OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
May 20  EUGENE OR @ OW Hall
May 21  BEND OR @ Volcanic Theatre Pub
May 22  SACRAMENTO CA @ Harlow's
May 23  SAN FRANCISCO CA @ The Independent
May 24  SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO CA @ Coach House
May 25  LOS ANGELES CA @ Bootleg Theater
May 26  SAN DIEGO CA @ Soda Bar
May 28  PHOENIX AZ @ Valley Bar
May 30  SANTA FE NM @ Santa Fe Brewing Co.
May 31  DALLAS TX @ Club Dada
June 1  SAN ANTONIO TX @ Paper Tiger
June 2  AUSTIN TX @ The Parish
June 3  HOUSTON TX @ Bronze Peacock at House of Blues
June 4  LITTLE ROCK AR @ Capitol View Studios
June 6  NEW ORLEANS LA @ The Parish at House of Blues
June 7  NASHVILLE TN @ Mercy Lounge
June 8  BIRMINGHAM AL @ Saturn
June 9  ATHENS GA @ Georgia Theatre
June 10  CHARLOTTE NC @ Neighborhood Theatre
June 11  ANNAPOLIS MD @ Ram's Head On Stage
June 13  PHILADELPHIA PA @ World Cafe Live
June 14  FAIRFIELD CT @ Stage One at Fairfield Theatre
June 15  SOMERVILLE MA @ ONCE Somerville
June 16  WASHINGTON DC @ The Hamilton
June 17  NEW YORK NY @ The Bowery Ballroom
June 19  PITTSBURGH PA @ Club Cafe
June 20  CLEVELAND OH @ Music Box Supper Club
June 21  KALAMAZOO MI @ Bell's Eccentric Cafe
June 22  DETROIT MI @ The Magic Bag
June 23  CHICAGO IL @ Park West
June 24  MADISON WI @ High Noon Saloon
June 25  DES MOINES IA @ Vaudeville Mews
June 26  ST. PAUL MN @ Turf Club
June 28  MILWAUKEE WI @ Summerfest
June 30  DENVER CO @ Levitt Pavilion
July 1  SALT LAKE CITY UT @ The State Room
July 6  BELLINGHAM WA @ Wild Buffalo
July 7  SEATTLE WA @ Neptune Theatre

Sunday, May 6, 2018

CD Review: Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite's No Mercy In This Land (2018)

Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite's No Mercy In This Land
Ben Harper is a musical chameleon who has dabbled – and quite successfully I might add – in blues, rock, soul, and even reggae music. A three-time Grammy® Award winner, Harper has better than a dozen studio and live albums under his belt, but few have showcased his skills as both a songwriter and guitarist than his award-winning 2013 collaboration with bluesman Charlie Musselwhite, Get Up! The critically-acclaimed album successfully introduced Harper to the blues audience and did the same for blues lifer Musselwhite, introducing his raging style of harmonica blues to the alt-rock crowd that has long adored Harper.

Harper and Musselwhite first met in 1997 while both were playing a session for blues great John Lee Hooker, who first had the idea that the two artists could make beautiful music together. Their paths crossed many times through the years as Harper was building a career and Musselwhite was cementing his legacy as one of the blues’ great harp players alongside legends like Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Big Walter Horton. While Get Up! displayed a certain musical chemistry, it was touring together in support of the album that tightened the bond between the two artists, a musical brotherhood quite evident in the grooves of the pair’s sophomore effort, No Mercy In This Land.

Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite’s No Mercy In This Land

Harper wrote or co-wrote all the songs for No Mercy In This Land, his lyrical voice haunted by the ghosts of the Mississippi Delta, blues-infused material like “When I Go” and inspired by giants like Charley Patton and Son House. Even bluesier, perhaps, than its predecessor, the album reveals diamonds like the country-blues jaunt “Bad Habits,” which features a spry rhythmic soundtrack above which Musselwhite’s harmonica soars. “Love and Trust” evinces some hard-fought wisdom and brilliant imagery highlighted by the song’s inspired acoustic strum while “The Bottle Wins Again” is a blustery, rockin’ slab o’ Chicago blues run amok with raging harp, a stompin’ rhythm, and Harper’s best guttural Howlin’ Wolf styled vox.

There’s not much romance to be found among the songs on No Mercy In This Land, but “When Love Is Not Enough” is a good old-fashioned heartbreak song, minimalist in its instrumentation but offering up Harper’s most soulful vocal performance on the album, the singer channeling Otis Redding and Levi Stubbs in his delivery, his vocals supported by his sublime fretwork. “Trust You To Dig My Grave” is virtually a Piedmont blues tune, Harper’s nimble guitarplay evoking Blind Blake while Musslewhite’s harp provides valuable accents; together they remind of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. The album’s title track is stunning, subtle, and powerful, Harper’s apocalyptic guitar slung low beneath the lyrics, his sweeter vocals complimented by Musselwhite’s weathered voice and mournful harp playing. “Nothing At All” is equally strong, Harper’s considered vocal delivery enhancing the emotional heft of the lyrics.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

From open to close, No Mercy In This Land is an incredible collaboration between two musical titans. Ben Harper brings intelligent, poetic lyrics and a sense of youthful vigor to the performances, an energy that spurs Charlie Musselwhite – a jaded veteran who has played with bona fide legends like Big Joe Williams, John Lee Hooker, and Michael Bloomfield – to play here like a man possessed. The result is an instantly classic album that fuses blues and soul music like few artists have been able to do. My only complaint is that the album’s 35-minute running time is too little when the music is as good as what you’ll find on No Mercy In This Land. Grade: A+ (Anti- Records, released March 30, 2018)

Buy the CD from Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite’s No Mercy In This Land

Little Steven’s Soulfire Live! Album & Tour

Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul's Soulfire Live!
It was a pleasant surprise to discover that Little Steven Van Zandt was releasing a live album, the twenty-four track Soulfire Live! Recorded with his the Disciples of Soul band during last year’s North American and European tours in support of Soulfire, Van Zandt’s first studio album in nearly 18 years, the collection is already available from digital musical retailers and streaming services. A three-disc CD set, Blu-ray disc, and vinyl editions will be released sometime this summer.

Produced by Van Zandt, Soulfire Live! is a career-spanning collection that benefits from Little Steven’s song introductions and onstage patter, the album featuring material like “I Don’t Want To Go Home” and “Saint Valentine’s Day” from Soulfire as well as deep cuts like “Bitter Fruit,” “Solidarity,” and “Princess of Little Italy” from Van Zandt’s early ‘80s albums. The live disc also includes high-octane covers of classic songs like Electric Flag’s “Groovin’ Is Easy,” Etta James’ “Blues Is My Business,” and James Brown’s “Down and Out In New York City.”

As stated above, Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul have launched a tour of the U.S. and Europe that benefits TeachRock, the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation’s national initiative to bring music curriculum to middle and high schools across the country. TeachRock will host workshops at each tour date to educate teachers on how to implement music education in their schools. Van Zandt will be taking a side trip from the tour when he hosts The Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Awards show in Memphis, Tennessee on May 10th, 2018; Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul will also perform a show on May 8th in Memphis to kick off the Blues Music Week festivities.

Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul’s Soulfire Live! track listing:
1. Soulfire
2. I’m Coming Back
3. Blues Is My Business
4. Love On the Wrong Side of Town
5. Until the Good Is Gone
6. Angel Eyes
7. Some Things Just Don’t Change
8. Saint Valentine's Day
9. Standing In the Line of Fire
10. I Saw the Light
11. Salvation
12. The City Weeps Tonight
13. Down And Out In New York City
14. Princess of Little Italy
15. Solidarity
16. Leonard Peltier
17. I Am A Patriot
18. Groovin' Is Easy
19. Ride the Night Away
20. Bitter Fruit
21. Forever
22. Checkpoint Charlie
23. I Don't Want To Go Home
24. Out of the Darkness

Buy the digital album from Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul’s Soulfire Live!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Hoodoo Gurus Back On Vinyl!

Hoodoo Gurus' Stoneage Romeos
On April 27th, Australia’s Hoodoo Gurus released their entire album catalog on streaming services around the world. Each one of the band’s highly-rockin’ efforts has been expanded with bonus tracks like B-sides and various rarities, and the roll-out included previously-unavailable recordings like the live rarities collection Bite the Bullet: Director’s Cut and the 2003 album Turkish Delight, recorded by the band under the pseudonymous band name Persian Rugs.

That’s only part of the good news, true believers – and a very small part at that! Hoodoo Gurus has announced that their back catalog will also be reissued on CD and vinyl through their own label, Big Time Phonograph Recording Co. All of the band’s future recordings will also be released through their imprint. In a press release, Dave Faulkner, the band’s lead singer and songwriter, says “we’ve finally gone from the Stone Age to the 21st Century (pun intended) and made our music available for streaming, something our fans outside of the U.S. have been demanding for a long time and it’s a delicious irony for us that we are doing it through the revived Big Time Records entity, the label that first signed us in 1982.”

The Hoodoo Gurus’ eleven-album back catalog will be released on CD this coming summer, and all titles will be reissued on vinyl, starting in September 2018 with Stoneage Romeos, the band’s 1984 debut album. Subsequent titles will be reissued on a monthly basis, one per month over the course of the following year, all pressed on glorious 180-gram colored wax. The band has also announced the launch of their Hoodoo Gurus Record Club, through which fans across the globe can order each vinyl album release early and direct from the band, info on which can be found on their revamped website.

Hoodoo Gurus' Mars Needs Guitars
In case you’re not hip to the Gurus, the band from “down under” has cranked out peerless garage-inspired rock with punkish energy and intelligent lyrics for better than 35 years to date, earning them truckloads of critical acclaim and a worldwide reputation as creators of classic rock ‘n’ roll music. The band was inducted into the Australian Music Hall of Fame in 2007 and count Little Steven Van Zandt, Courtney Love of Hole, and the Manic Street Preachers as among their many fans.

We’re offering the band’s chronological discography below, taken directly from their Howlin’ Wuelf Media press release:  

Stoneage Romeos

The debut album from Hoodoo Gurus; released in 1984, it boasts the singles “Leilani,” “Tojo,” “I Want You Back,” and “My Girl.” One of the greatest debut albums of all time, the record was featured within the Top 30 of the book 100 Greatest Australian Albums of All Time in 2010 and topped the US College charts. Stoneage Romeos reached Platinum™ status in Australia.

Mars Needs Guitars
The second Gold™ album from Hoodoo Gurus; released in 1985 and reaching #140 in the U.S. Billboard charts, the album boasts the classic singles “Bittersweet,” “Like Wow-Wipeout,” “Death Defying,” and “Poison Pen.”

Hoodoo Gurus' Magnum Cum Louder
Blow Your Cool
The third album from Hoodoo Gurus, also going Gold™, released in 1987 and reaching #120 in the U.S. the album boasts the singles “What’s My Scene,” “Good Times,” and “In The Middle of the Land.”

Magnum Cum Louder
Released in 1989 and reaching #101 in the U.S., the album boasts the singles “Come Anytime,” “Axegrinder,” “Another World;” Gold™ in the band’s home territory again.

The fifth album from Hoodoo Gurus, released in 1991 and reaching #172 in the U.S., the album boasts the singles “Miss Freelove ‘69,” “1000 Miles Away,” “A Place In the Sun,” “Castles In The Air.”

Electric Soup / Gorilla Biscuit
Compiled in 1992 to mark the Hoodoo Gurus’ tenth anniversary, Electric Soup collected all the singles from Hoodoo Gurus career to that point – the album was coupled with Gorilla Biscuit, collecting all B-Sides to that point in Hoodoo Gurus career.

Hoodoo Gurus' Crank
Album number six; released in 1994, the album features the singles “The Right Time,” “You Open My Eyes,” “Less Than A Feeling,” and “Nobody.”

Blue Cave
Album number seven, released in 1996, the singles include “Big Deal,” “If Only,” “Waking Up Tired,” and “Down On Me.”

Mach Schau
After an eight year hiatus, the band releases album number eight in 2004, the album featuring the tracks “When You Get To California” and “Nothing's Changing My Life.”

Purity of Essence
The last (to date) studio album was released in 2010 and boasts the singles “Crackin Up,” “I Hope You’re Happy,” and “What’s In It For Me.”

Gold Watch
The ‘best of’ compilation from the Hoodoo Gurus was released in 2012 and went Gold™ for sales immediately in Australia.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

More Classic Reggae from Omnivore: Junior Byles, Ethiopian & Gladiators

Ethiopian & Gladiators' Dread Prophecy
Omnivore Recordings has been crushing it since buying the catalog of the legendary reggae label Nighthawk Records a year or so ago. The first pair of Nighthawk titles, released at the end of 2017, were the Gladiators’ Full Time and a very cool, previously-unreleased Ethiopian & His Allstars’ album titled The Return of Jack Sparrow.

Two more titles, both critically-acclaimed albums by Gladiators, were released in April 2018. Now Omnivore has announced another pair of acclaimed reggae albums, which will be released on CD and as digital downloads on June 22, 2018 – Ethiopian & Gladiators’ Dread Prophecy and Junior Byles’ Rasta No Pickpocket.

Leonard Dillon, a/k/a Ethiopian a/k/a Jack Sparrow first met Albert Griffiths of the Gladiators back in the mid-1960s. Dillion had already formed the Ethiopians and had been working in the studio with legendary reggae producer Coxsone Dodd for his Channel One label. The sessions inspired a musical collaboration between Dillon and Griffiths, who would later form the Gladiators, the pair recording the classic “Train To Skaville” single.

The Ethiopians were one of the most popular bands in Jamaica during the late 1960s and into the early ‘70s while the Gladiators hit their creative and commercial peak during the late 1970s and the early ‘80s. A recording session in 1986 for Nighthawk Records reunited Dillon with Griffiths and the Gladiators, which resulted in the classic roots-reggae album Dread Prophecy.

Junior Byles' Rasta No Pickpocket
Meanwhile, reggae singer Junior Byles formed the vocal group the Versatiles in 1967, recording with noted producers Lee “Scratch” Perry and Joe Gibbs, resulting in the hit single “Children Get Ready.” When the Versatiles split up in 1970, Byles continued to record as a solo artist for Perry, garnering a minor hit with the song “What’s The World Coming To,” released as ‘King Chubby,’ Byles’ nickname. Byles continued to record numerous singles for Perry, including classics like “Cutting Razor,” “Place Called Africa,” and “Rasta No Pickpocket” which made Byles a major star in Jamaica.

Byles suffered from mental illness, however, and moved in and out of sanitariums during the late 1970s and early ‘80s. The artist scored a final hit with the Joe Gibbs-produced “Heart & Soul.” His session for Nighthawk Records was arranged by Byles’ longtime friend Niney the Observer, which resulted in his final album, 1986’s Rasta No Pickpocket. He released a handful of singles during the rest of the decade and would end up homeless, begging in the streets.

Byles would return to performing in the late ‘90s, though, and would travel to the U.K. for a short tour in 2004. The Omnivore release of Rasta No Pickpocket is the first time the album has appeared on CD, remastered from the original tapes and including bonus tracks.

Buy the CDs from
Ethiopian & Gladiators’ Dread Prophecy
Junior Byles’ Rasta No Pickpocket

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

New Music Monthly: May 2018 Releases

After April's glut of new albums, reissues, and archival say nothing of the overwhelming number of vinyl Record Store Day titles...the month of May seems absolutely mundane. Still, we have new music coming from Belly, Ry Cooder, Courtney Barnett, Stephen Malkmus, Matthew Sweet, and Graveyard this month as well as reissues from Tom Waits, Lenny Kravitz, and Malo as well as the first new album in eons from Canadian punk legends D.O.A. Plus there are probably a few we missed 'cause the record labels aren't always great about letting the Rev know what's going on!

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

D.O.A. Fight Back

Belly - Dove   BUY!
Black Moth Super Rainbow - Panic Blooms   BUY!
D.O.A. - Fight Back   BUY!

Beach House's 7

MAY 11
Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino   BUY!
Beach House - 7   BUY!
Ry Cooder - The Prodigal Son   BUY!
Tom Waits - The Heart of Saturday Night [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Parquet Courts' Wide Awake!

MAY 18
Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel   BUY!
Lenny Kravitz - Greatest Hits [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks - Sparkle Hard   BUY!
Parquet Courts - Wide Awake!   BUY!
Matthew Sweet - Tomorrow's Daughter   BUY!
Graveyard's Peace

MAY 25
Chvrches - Love Is Dead   BUY!
Graveyard - Peace   BUY!
Malo - Latin Bugaloo: The Warner Bros Singles   BUY!
Ian Moore - Toronto   BUY!

Album of the Month: Malo's Latin Bugaloo, a collection of the Latin rock band's singles released by the Warner Brothers label. The San Francisco-based outfit featured Carlos Santana's brother Jorge, who was an estimable guitarist in his own right, as well as dynamic vocalist Arcelio Garcia and a unique sound that mixed rock, funk, soul, and jazz with Latin rhythms. Malo released four albums for the WB between 1972 and 1974, which yielded seven singles, including the minor hit "Suavecito." Latin Bugaloo offers all 14 of the band's A- and B-sides on a single CD, including a rare track that was only released in Turkey! An underrated and unfairly overlooked outfit, this archival release comes courtesy of the fine folks at Omnivore Recordings (of course).

1968 Revisited: Muddy Waters' Electric Mud

Muddy Waters' Electric Mud
The mid-to-late 1960s were a difficult time for the bluesmen of the 1950s. The young African-American audiences they once ruled had largely turned their back on the blues, preferring the pop-soul of Motown or the Memphis soul of Stax Records to what they increasingly saw as their “parent’s music.” Young white rock ‘n’ roll fans had just begun to embrace the blues, leaving legends like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Little Water, among others, to scramble for every hard dollar. For Waters, this meant his record label – Chess Records – trying to bring a contemporary edge to his music by forcing the bluesman into the uncomfortable position of a blues-rock artist.

Many, if not most, blues purists shudder and shake their collective heads in revulsion at the very mention of Waters’ Electric Mud album, the result of a grand experiment by producer Marshall Chess to introduce the bluesman to a young, white audience. For some of us, though, the 1968 recording was our first exposure to the Chicago blues legend, and while many of the album’s performances don’t meet the highs of either Waters’ classic 1950s sides or his late-career, Johnny Winter-produced 1970s era albums, Electric Mud still has its charms. The album sold exceptionally well upon its release and has proven to be quite influential in the years since, with artists as diverse as guitar-god Jimi Hendrix and rapper Chuck D singing the praises of Electric Mud.

Muddy Waters’ Electric Mud

Chess had a simple concept for Electric Mud: re-imagine Muddy’s classic songs as psychedelic blues-rock romps (it was 1968, after all) and back the master with a band of young players like guitarists Pete Cosey and Phil Upchurch, and keyboardist Charles Stepney, the latter two men from the great psychedelic-soul outfit Rotary Connection. While many of the song choices for Electric Mud were pretty good, others – like a horrible cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” – makes one wonder what Chess was thinking in making what he termed a “concept album.” Still, as mentioned previously, there’s a lot to like on Electric Mud.

Waters’ classic “She’s All Right” is re-tooled as a dark-hued voodoo stomp, Waters’ hypnotic vocals reaching up from the boggy swamp, his voice surrounded by squalls of swirling wah-wah guitar and crashing drumbeats, the song’s extended jam evolving into a soft-peddled instrumental fade-out of the Temptations’ “My Girl” complete with dancing flute. The raucous Waters/Bo Diddley gem “I’m A Man (Mannish Boy)” benefits greatly from a more rock-oriented arrangement, wiry guitars entwined with Waters’ swaggering vocals and explosive rhythms to great effect.

The Willie Dixon-penned “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” welds jazzy guitar licks to blustery rock ‘n’ roll percussion and bluesy vocals for a powerful performance. Although Waters’ vocals are all but lost in the din, the unbridled psychedelic zeal of “Herbert Harper’s Free Press” made the song one of Hendrix’s favorites, while Dixon’s “Same Thing” displays Waters’ ability to rise above the mix to deliver a strong vocal performance amidst smothering instrumental chaos, with (I’m guessing) Upchurch’s jagged, fractured guitarplay embroidered throughout the performance.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

While critics, almost to a man, hated Electric Mud, the album equally reviled by the aforementioned blues purists, young white rock fans – especially those in England, the land of Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page – flocked to the LP in droves. It was, for a while, Waters’ most commercially-successful album, so when it came time to start thinking about a follow-up, Chess decided to deliver fans more of the same, but with a few significant changes. For 1969’s After the Rain, producer Chess got rid of the awkward, ill-fated cover tunes and instead went with tried-and-true blues treasures from Waters’ deep catalog of songs.

Nevertheless, Electric Mud remains a valuable document of Waters’ lengthy and unusually varied (for a bluesman of his vintage) career, the psychedelic-blues sounds of Electric Mud definitely a product of their era. The guitars of free-jazz master Pete Cosey (who would go on to play with Miles Davis) and psychedelic-soul innovator Phil Upchurch (vastly underrated, in my estimation) positively light up Electric Mud, an album that continues to find a new audience on CD and vinyl in spite of itself...

Buy the CD from Muddy Waters’ Electric Mud & After the Rain twofer

Buy the vinyl from Third Man Records: Muddy Waters’ Electric Mud