Sunday, September 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jefferson Starship 1976
Jefferson Starship 1976

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kiss Solo 40th Anniversary Vinyl Reissues

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

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

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

Sunday, September 23, 2018

CD Review: Sour Ops' Family Circuit (2018)

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

Sour Ops’ Family Circuit

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

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

Mind Like Glue

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

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

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

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

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CD Preview: Los Straitjackets’ Complete Christmas Songbook

Los Straitjackets’ Complete Christmas Songbook
Nashville’s Los Straitjackets are everybody’s favorite Mexican wrestler mask-clad instrumental surf-rock band, hands down! The band has been on tour recently with British rock legend Nick Lowe as part of his “Quality Rock & Roll Revue,” but they’ve somehow found the time to compile a new album for the upcoming holidays.

On October 19th, 2018 Yep Roc Records will release Los Straitjackets’ Complete Christmas Songbook on CD and digitally; a vinyl version will follow on December 7th, which isn’t too late to add to your favorite fan’s Christmas list. Through the years, Los Straitjackets have released various Christmas albums and singles to near universal acclaim.

Los Straitjackets’ Complete Christmas Songbook includes the entirety of two previous LPs (2002’s ‘Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets and 2009’s limited-edition Yuletide Beat) as well as limited-edition singles, a song from Yep Roc’s Oh Santa! compilation disc, and a live performance of “Linus & Lucy” from the Straitjackets’ 2015 tour with Lowe. The album is now available for pre-order from Yep Roc and includes a six-ornament bundle that features each of the five band members’ masks on an ornament, and a sixth tree-hanger in the shape of a guitar. Check out the complete tracklisting below and either order the set directly from Yep Roc Records or head over to

Los Straitjackets’ Complete Christmas Songbook tracklist:

1. Here Comes Santa Claus
2. It’s a Marshmallow World
3. Feliz Navidad
4. Jingle Bell Rock
5. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
6. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
7. Frosty the Snowman
8. Christmas in Las Vegas
9. Let It Snow
10. Sleigh Ride
11. Christmas Weekend
12. Little Drummer Boy
13. The Christmas Song
14. Deck the Halls
15. We Three Kings
16. Que Verdes Son
17. O Come All Ye Faithful
18. Groovy Old Saint Nick
19. Silent Night Rock
20. Joy to the World
21. Close to Christmas (The First Noel)
22. Jingle Bells
23. Soul’d Lang Syne
24. Holiday Twist
25. Hark the Herald Angels Sing
26. Silver Bells
27. Linus & Lucy

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Short Rounds: Junior Byles, Guadalcanal Diary, Peter Holsapple & the Textones (2018)

Junior Byles' Rasta No Pickpocket
New album releases in 150 words or less…

Junior Byles – Rasta No Pickpocket (Nighthawk/ Omnivore Recordings)
Deservedly a big star in Jamaica, reggae artist Junior Byles is tragically unknown here in the states. Working with producers like Lee “Scratch” Perry, Rupert Reid, and Lloyd Campbell, Byles enjoyed a string of hit singles in his homeland during the early ‘70s. Mental health issues and an attempted suicide sidelined the singer for over a decade, until the recording sessions that resulted in Rasta No Pickpocket. Originally released by Nighthawk Records in 1986 and reissued by Omnivore as part of their Nighthawk label restoration, the album is a reminder of just how good a vocalist Byles was…songs like the gently skanking, socially-conscious “I Don’t Know,” the rhythmic, sing-song “I No Got It,” the Rasta fantasy “Cally Weed,” and the mesmerizing title track showcase the singer’s mellow tones and insightful lyrical skills. Several previously-unreleased tracks sweeten the pot and further display Byles’ soulful vocals. RIYL Bob Marley or Gregory Isaacs. Grade: A   BUY IT!

Guadalcanal Diary's At Your Birthday Party
Guadalcanal Diary – At Your Birthday Party (Omnivore Recordings)
Guadalcanal Diary was often overshadowed by upstarts like Pylon or R.E.M. but, truth is, they were a damn fine studio outfit and even better live rock band. Taken from a pair of January 1998 reunion shows in Atlanta, At Your Birthday Party was originally released independently by the band. Omnivore’s reissue puts the album back in print after almost 20 years, providing wider distribution for this entertaining disc. A band screaming for “rediscovery,” Guadalcanal Diary was firing on all cylinders these nights. From the haunting “Trail of Tears” and the poppy “Pretty Is As Pretty Does” to the raging rocker “Whiskey Talk” and the rowdy, cowpunkish “Watusi Rodeo,” band frontman Murray Attaway and crew crank out 16 wired performances of songs from all four of the band’s LPs circa 1984-1989. Like the college rock radio playlist of your misspent youth, At Your Birthday Party is a very fine present, indeed. Grade: A  BUY IT!

Peter Holsapple's Game Day
Peter Holsapple – Game Day (Omnivore Recordings)
The voice of the revered power-pop outfit the dB’s, Peter Holsapple hasn’t released a solo album in 21 years (since 1997’s Out of My Way), but he climbs back in the saddle effortlessly with the gorgeous, shimmering Game Day. Holsapple’s deft songwriting chops and emotive vocals have always fueled his band’s best material, and with his second solo effort, he dials up the intensity to eleven. Game Day’s thoughtful, melodic songs run the gamut from the electrifying “In Too Deep” and the rocking “Tuff Day” to the delightfully-morose “Don’t Ever Leave” or the devastating ballad “Don’t Mention The War,” where Peter channels his inner Neil Young. An explosive cover of Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes,” mixed with the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble obscurity “Sing Lady Sing,” provides a new dimension to both songs. Holsapple plays nearly every note on the excellent Game Day, making it a true “solo album.” Grade: A   BUY IT!

The Textones' Old Stone Gang
The Textones – Old Stone Gang (Blue Elan Records)
The Textones’ Carla Olson put the original band back together (sans Phil Seymour, R.I.P.) for another shot at the brass ring, and their first new album in 30+ years sounds like they never really left the game. The band’s pioneering hybrid of rock, country, and a touch of soul (i.e. ‘Americana’) is much in evidence on songs like the jaunty title track, the thoughtful rocker “All That Wasted Time,” the country-toned “Ride On,” the engaging story-song “Carly Jo,” or the bluesy “Midnight Roundabout.” Guitarist George Callins and Olson make a helluva songwriting team, penning four of the album’s best tunes, but other band members also deliver solid material, creating a cohesive and entertaining overall effort. The Textones’ Old Stone Gang offers a lot of twang and bang for your buck, and if you didn’t know them back in the ‘80s, you owe it to yourself to discover the band today. Grade: A   BUY IT!

Bonus Track:

Bill Kopp's Reinventing Pink Floyd
Bill Kopp – Reinventing Pink Floyd (Rowman & Littlefield)
Music Journalist Bill Kopp is a colleague, writing for publications like Blurt and Goldmine (among others). With Reinventing Pink Floyd, his first book, Bill focuses his insight on the legendary British rock band, exploring Floyd’s early years “from Syd Barrett to the Dark Side of the Moon.” His efforts pay off, as Reinventing Pink Floyd provides a deep dive into the band’s years in the wilderness, as they forged a significant career in the wake of founder and guiding light Barrett’s departure. There’s plenty of musical experimentation to be found on ‘70s-era albums like Atom Heart Mother and Meddle before Floyd crafted its signature sound and found superstardom, and Kopp walks the reader through the chaos and creation of a legend. Bill delivers all the minutiae and anecdotes that a Floyd fan demands, weaving a fascinating story of one of the most influential, pioneering bands in rock ‘n’ roll history. Grade: A   BUY IT!

Check out Bill’s own music zine, Musoscribe

Previously on That Devil
Short Rounds, August 2018: Gene Clark, Kinky Friedman, David Olney, The Posies, Boz Scaggs, & Southside Johnny
Short Rounds, July 2018: The Damnation of Adam Blessing, Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio, Howlin’ Rain & the Rockers OST
Short Rounds, May 2018: Brinsley Schwarz, Eric Corne, Roger McGuinn & Shuggie Otis 

Stax ’68: A Memphis Story box set

Stax ’68: A Memphis Story box set

We’ve written about the legendary Stax Records label on That Devil before. At a time when the music industry was centered on the coasts, the Stax label put Memphis soul on the map in the mid-to-late ‘60s with influential and innovative records by giants like Sam & Dave, Rufus Thomas and his daughter Carla, Otis Redding, and Booker T & the M.G.’s. As they approached the decade of the 1970s, the label branched out into blues music with essential recordings by guitarist Albert King and they pioneered ‘70s soul and funk with groundbreaking releases by the great Isaac Hayes. In our house, there’s no such thing as too much music from Stax Records.

Stax Records, now owned by the Concord Music Group, celebrated its 60th anniversary last year with a slew of archival releases including vinyl reissues of vintage LPs by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas; a four-disc Isaac Hayes box set; and individual “best of” CDs by some of the label’s biggest stars. The celebration has continued into 2018 and on October 19th, Craft Recordings, Concord’s archival imprint, will release Stax ’68: A Memphis Story, a five-disc box set that offers the A- and B-sides of every single released by the label during that tumultuous year. The set also includes a 56-page book with in-depth liner notes by writers Robert Gordon, Andrea Lisle, and Steve Greenberg as well as rare and previously-unpublished photos.

More important is the music – more than 120 songs spread across the five CDs – featuring both some of Stax’s marquee stars like Redding, Hayes, William Bell, Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd, and the Staple Singers but also from underrated talents like Mable John, Linda Lyndell, the Soul Children, and the Mad Lads. The year was a tough one for Stax, which had lost its distribution deal with (and control of the label’s back catalog to) Atlantic Records. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis had a profound effect on the label’s multi-racial roster of musicians, and Stax was already reeling from the December 1967 death of the great Otis Redding.

Stax ’68: A Memphis Story box set
Considering the enormous track listing for the Stax ’68: A Memphis Story box, I’m amazed at the sheer amount of great music Stax released over the course of the year. While not all of the singles were huge hits, they were all of uniformly high quality. Of course, there are the ‘heavy hitters’ – songs like Otis Redding’s posthumous hit “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” Sam & Dave’s classic “I Thank You,” Johnnie Taylor’s smooth-as-silk hit “Who’s Makin’ Love,” and Albert King’s fiery “Blues Power” – but there are also faintly-remembered tunes like Booker T & the M.G.’s “Soul Limbo” and Carla Thomas’s “A Dime A Dozen.” The box set also includes long-lost material by folks like the Memphis Nomads, the Bar-Kays, Shirley Walton, Judy Clay, Billy Lee Riley, and the Epsilons as well as rock ‘n’ roll by cult band Southwest F.O.B. and the first recordings by Delaney & Bonnie and Bobby Whitlock (Derek & the Dominoes).

The Stax ’68: A Memphis Story box retails for roughly $70 (less for a downloadable digital version) but is also available in various “deluxe bundles” from the Stax Records online store. Ranging in prices up to $120, you can get bundles with a cool letter-pressed vintage poster, Stax hat and t-shirt, or all of the swag in the “Superb Bundle.” The release of Stax ’68: A Memphis Story coincides with two exhibits opening at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis, Tennessee – “The Sound of ’68” and “Give A Damn! Music + Activism at Stax Records.” Details on both exhibits are available from the museum website.

Buy the box set from Stax 68: A Memphis Story

Also on That Devil
Otis Redding - Live at the Whiskey A Go Go CD review
Sam & Dave - Stax Classics CD review
Carla Thomas - Stax Classics CD review
Isaac Hayes - Stax Classics CD review

CD Preview: Anthrax’s State of Euphoria 30th Anniversary

Anthrax’s State of Euphoria
New York City’s own Anthrax is widely considered to be one of the leading thrash-metal bands of the decade of the ‘80s, one of the “Big Four” along with Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer to change the musical currents and influence a generation of hard-rockin’ bands to follow. Since releasing its earth-shaking debut album Fistful of Metal in 1984 on the pioneering Megaforce label, Anthrax has gone on to release eleven studio and six live albums.

Anthrax benefited from a distribution deal that Megaforce signed with Island Records, the increased availability of the band’s music allowing their third album, 1987’s Among the Living, to reach a wider audience that was already growing due to their explosive, uncompromising live performances. Among the Living earned the band a Gold™ Record for 500k+ in sales and set the stage for the band’s 1988 release, State of Euphoria. The band’s fourth studio effort, State of Euphoria would hit #30 on the U.S. charts and #12 in the U.K. – no mean feat for a thrash-metal outfit – and earn Anthrax their second Gold™ Record.

On October 5th, 2018 Island Records/UMe will reissue a 30th anniversary deluxe edition of Anthrax’s State of Euphoria. A two-disc set, the reissue will feature the remastered original album and all of the B-sides originally released with the singles from State of Euphoria, as well as a 1989 live performance of the song “Antisocial” from the Hammersmith Odeon in London. The second disc, “Charlie’s Archives,” was curated by the band’s drummer and archivist Charlie Benante, who specifically chose the material to display the evolution of the album’s songs. “We recorded everything back then,” says Benante in a press release for the reissue. “We would sit in the rehearsal room with a little two-track machine; record everything we did in rehearsal while we were putting the songs together.”

The State of Euphoria reissue includes a 20-page booklet with liner notes by British music journalist Alexander Milas, the former editor-in-chief of Metal Hammer magazine. The package also features previously-unpublished photos of the band and memorabilia from the period including magazine cover art and advertising. Also, Benante went on social media and asked that the band’s fans to comment on the album, stating “I think fans will be really excited when they see their own quotes in the package.”  

Aside from the two-CD set, State of Euphoria will also be reissued as a double-vinyl set on black wax and as a limited edition red and yellow-colored vinyl set. “State of Euphoria is the album that we always felt we never got to finish properly” says Benante. “We wished we had had a little more time to spend on it. But, having revisited it while putting together this package, I really got to enjoy it again, it took me back to that time when everything was a whirlwind.”

Buy the CD from Anthrax’s State of Euphoria

Sunday, September 9, 2018

CD Review: Manfred Mann's Mann Made Hits (1966/2018)

Manfred Mann's Mann Made Hits
It’s a memorable scene from the hit 1981 movie Stripes, a military comedy starring Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and John Candy. The platoon, in a full-gear march, is led in cadence by Ramis’s character with a version of Manfred Mann’s 1960s-era hit “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.” The scene is so memorable that, during my own short stint in the military, our platoon marched to the mess hall to “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” when left on our own at the Fort Leonard Wood reception center over a long holiday weekend. Manfred Mann, named for band keyboardist Mann, was one of the first ‘British Invasion’ bands to find an audience in North America. While the band’s stateside commercial success was sporadic and largely dependent upon the strength of their then-current single release, Manfred Mann nevertheless enjoyed a string of U.K. chart hits between 1964 and the band’s break-up in 1969.

As was frequently the practice in the ‘60s, different versions of the band’s albums were released on the two continents, with the U.K. versions representing the ‘true’ album and U.S. releases generally ‘frankensteined’ together from a band’s singles, EPs, and album tracks. By way of example, Manfred Mann’s first U.K. album was the stellar 1964 release The Five Faces of Manfred Mann, which displayed the band’s blues and R&B roots with a mix of solid originals and covers of material by revered artists like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Bo Diddley. Manfred Mann’s debut U.S. album, the imaginatively-titled The Manfred Mann Album, took eleven songs from the band’s U.K. debut and tacked on the chart-topping hit single “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.” An album titled The Five Faces of Manfred Mann was subsequently released stateside in 1965, but it only had two songs in common with its British doppelganger. Got all that?

The British Invasion

The band’s proper sophomore effort, titled Mann Made, was released in 1965 in both the U.K. and the U.S., where it was the band’s fourth (!) studio album, and they shared a lot of songs between them. Singer Paul Jones and guitarist Mike Vickers both left the band in early 1966, and EMI’s His Master’s Voice imprint, which had enjoyed significant sales with Manfred Mann, dropped the band but kept singer Jones on contract, feeling that he was the real ‘star’ of the outfit. Whereas Jones subsequently scored a handful of hits – most notably 1966’s “High Time” and the following year’s “I’ve Been A Bad, Bad Boy” – he would split his time between music and acting from the late ‘60s well into the ‘70s before becoming a popular British radio and TV personality.

Meanwhile, Manfred Mann moved bassist Tom McGuinness to guitar, added singer Mike d’Abo and bassist Klaus Voorman (after the legendary Jack Bruce kept the seat warm for a few months), signed a new deal with Fontana Records, and continued to chalk up hit singles for the next couple of years. After Jones’ departure from the band, however, EMI played a number of dirty tricks on Manfred Mann, first cashing in with a quickie EP of early, unreleased songs titled As Was (designed to be confused with the band’s first post-Jones LP, As Is). Then they used session players to complete an unfinished Manfred Mann song, “You Gave Me Somebody To Love,” which featured Jones on vocals, the single hitting #36 on the U.K. charts despite the band officially disowning the release.

Manfred Mann’s Mann Made Hits

In a move that would be duplicated numerous times over the years by different record labels exploiting other bands, EMI released a ‘posthumous’ compilation album of the band’s singles and album tracks titled Mann Made Hits. In this case, however, the label really did fans a favor by collecting all this material together under one roof. Billed as “Manfred Mann with Paul Jones,” Mann Made Hits provides the perfect bookend to Jones’ successful years with the band. Across fourteen tracks, the album showcases the many facets of the band’s talents as well as its enormous musical chemistry, with songs running the stylistic gamut from ‘60s pop, rock, and jazz to American blues and folk music. Manfred Mann’s big cross-continental hits are all here – the love-struck yearning of “Pretty Flamingo” (#1 U.K./#29 U.S.), the band’s breakthrough rocker “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” (#1 U.K./#1 U.S.), the poppy singalong “Sha La La” (#3 U.K./#12 U.S.), and the soulful ballad “Come Tomorrow” (#4 U.K./#50 U.S.).

But there are a lot of great songs on Mann Made Hits that will be unfamiliar to even the most avid Anglophile. There are those British singles that never sailed across the Atlantic, fine songs like the revved-up rocker “5-4-3-2-1,” which would become the band’s first Top 10 U.K. hit and the theme song for the popular British TV show Ready Steady Go. The band’s first flirtation with the Bob Dylan songbook, a faithful cover of the Bard’s country-flavored “If You Gotta Go, Go Now,” hit #2 on the U.K. charts while their reading of Dylan’s haunting “With God On Our Side” is, perhaps, the definitive recording of the song, Jones’ emotional vocals accented by Mann’s reverent piano accompaniment and swelling instrumentation. A couple of Jones’ original songs stand out, notably the self-referential “The One In The Middle,” a strutting R&B-styled rocker with swagger to spare, and the blues-infused “I’m Your Kingpin,” which features Jones’ subtle harmonica-play, jazzy free-form piano, and Mike Hugg’s shimmering vibes.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

The band that recorded much of the material found on Mann Made Hits – singer Jones, keyboardist Mann, talented guitarist/bassist Tom McGuinness, guitarist Mike Vickers, and drummer Mike Hugg – essentially ceased to exist by the time of the album’s release. But the music they made together has proven to be timeless, and if they’re not as well-known as other British Invasion bands like the Beatles, the Kinks, and the Rolling Stones, Manfred Mann nonetheless left their mark on the decade’s pop-rock firmament. The band members recently formed their own Umbrella Music label to reissue these early albums on CD, and the U.K. versions of these albums, including Mann Made Hits, are readily available online.

As for the band members’ future endeavors, as mentioned above, Paul Jones became a British radio and TV personality while also fronting the popular U.K. act The Blues Band (which also included Manfred Mann guitarist Tom McGuinness). Manfred Mann, the band, soldiered on until 1969, their last big hit a chart-topping cover of Dylan’s “The Mighty Quinn.” Manfred Mann, the musician, formed the short-lived jazz-rock band Manfred Mann Chapter Three with Mike Hugg, releasing a pair of albums in 1969 and 1970 before forming Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in 1971. A prog-rock oriented outfit with pop-rock undercurrents, the Earth Band carries on to this day, but found modest success throughout the late ‘70s and early ‘80s with albums like The Roaring Silence (1976), Watch (1978), and Somewhere In Africa (1983), among many others…but that’s a story for another time. Grade: A (Umbrella Music, released July 6, 2018)

Buy the CD from Manfred Mann’s Mann Made Hits

Early Lenny Kravitz Albums Reissued On Vinyl

Lenny Kravitz vinyl reissues

Virgin Records and UMe have announced a September 21st, 2018 release date when four of rocker Lenny Kravitz’s first five albums will be reissued on both glorious black vinyl and as individualized, limited-edition colored wax versions. The four albums – 1991’s chart breakthrough Mama Said, 1993’s Are You Gonna Go My Way, 1995’s Circus, and 1998’s 5 – collectively sold better than eight million copies stateside and yielded hits like “It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over,” “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” “Believe,” and “Fly Away.” Kravitz’s 1989 debut album, Let Love Rule, will be reissued on vinyl on November 30th.

Each album will be released as a two-disc set and four of the five also feature non-album bonus tracks, many of which are appearing on vinyl for the first time. The colored wax versions of the albums are all different – Let Love Rule is 50/50 semi-transparent brown and yellow, Mama Said is marbled white and gray, Are You Gonna Go My Way is transparent red and purple, Circus is solid white and clear transparent, and 5 is solid orange and white.

Kravitz’s first five LPs made the singer, songwriter, and guitarist one of the 20th century’s last big rock stars (along with the White Stripes’ Jack White). Kravitz’s unique throwback hybrid of rock, blues, soul, and funk, all delivered with a heavy psychedelic influence, earned him a reputation as one of the decade’s most engaging artists, and he won the Grammy™ Award for “Best Male Rock Vocal Performance” four years in a row from 1999 to 2002. Much like the late, legendary Prince – the closest comparison to Kravitz that you could justifiably make – Kravitz frequently played all the instruments on his albums himself while recording.

Whether you spend your hard-earned cash on the plain black versions of these Kravitz reissues or cough up for the colored variations, there’s no argument that it will be good to have these albums back on vinyl for the first time in over 20 years.

Buy Lenny Kravitz vinyl on
Mama Said
Are You Gonna Go My Way

Studio One reissues Ska Authentic comp

Studio One's Ska Authentic
Good news, indeed, for reggae fans – the legendary Studio One record label will be reissuing its essential compilation album Ska Authentic on September 21st, 2018, making it available for the first time since 1964 – almost 55 years!

Ska Authentic will be reissued on CD, vinyl, and digital formats and represents one of the rarest albums in the Studio One catalog. It has been remastered and features the ultra-cool original album artwork as well as liners written by reggae expert Chris Wilson.

The coolest thing about the reappearance of Ska Authentic, though, is that is rescues and documents early performances by reggae legends like The Skatalites, Toots & the Maytals, Lee “Scratch” Perry,  and The Gaylads that originally lit up Jamaican dancehalls in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. Check out the album’s complete track listing below and then get over to Amazon and buy a copy.

Buy the CD from Ska Authentic
Ska Authentic track listing:
1. Tommy McCook – “Freedom Sounds”
2. The Gaylads – “Brown Skin Gal”
3. Roland Alphonso – “Full Dread”
4. Andy and Joey – “You’re Wondering Now”
5. Jackie Opel – “Turn Your Lamp Down Low”
6. Lee Perry – “Mother in Law”
7. Roland Alphonso – “Bridge View”
8. The Gaylads – “Rolling Down”
9. Roland Alphonso – “Lee Oswald”
10. The Maytals – “Heaven Declare”
11. Tommy McCook – “Sca-Ba”
12. Delroy Wilson – “Sammy Dead”

Friday, September 7, 2018

Living Colour & Mike Doughty vinyl reissues

Living Colour’s Time’s Up
Great music and charity have gone together forever, and there are a couple of special releases coming that are worth your time and money to buy. On September 28th, 2018 Living Colour’s Time’s Up and Mike Doughty’s Live At Ken’s House albums will be released as limited-edition green vinyl editions as part of the Mindful Vinyl initiative for mental health awareness. A portion from the proceeds of both albums will benefit The Jed Foundation (JED), a non-profit organization that exists to protect emotional health and prevent suicide for teens and young adults.

Originally released in 1990 as the follow-up to the band’s breakthrough LP Vivid, the equally hard-rockin’ Time’s Up featured tracks like “Pride,” “Elvis Is Dead” and “Love Rears Its Ugly Head.” Winner of a Grammy Award for “Best Hard Rock Peformance,” Time’s Up featured guest appearances by Maceo Parker, Little Richard, Doug E. Fresh, and Queen Latifah. The album is being reissued by Megaforce Records.

Mike Doughty's Live At Ken's House
Mike Doughty’s Live At Ken’s House was released in 2014 and featured the frontman of 1990s-era alt-rockers Soul Coughing performing re-imagined versions of his former band’s best-known material. The singer/guitarist was back on the live performance by Catherine Popper on upright bass and Pete Wilhoit on drums. This vinyl reissue of Live At Ken’s House is being released by Doughty’s own Snack Bar label. In a press release for the vinyl reissue, Doughty – who has written frankly about his own mental health challenges in his memoir The Book of Drugs – says “there's an emotional-pain crisis in America, and it's incumbent on us to make medical care and talk therapy normal and accessible for people who suffer from depression and anxiety.”

The Mindful Vinyl initiative was created in 2016 with a goal of increasing conversation and awareness of mental wellness issues and connecting those conversations to music. Other titles reissued on vinyl as part of their series include Living Colour’s Stain, Fishbone’s The Reality of My Surroundings, and the Silver Linings Playbook movie soundtrack. JED partners with high schools and colleges to strengthen their mental health, substance abuse, and suicide prevention programs and systems. You can learn more about JED on the organization’s website.

Buy the vinyl from
Living Colour’s Time’s Up
Mike Doughty’s Live At Ken’s House

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

CD Review: Willie Nile's Children of Paradise (2018)

Willie Nile's Children of Paradise
Willie Nile is the “Old Faithful” of the rock ‘n’ roll world…you can depend on getting a brand new studio album from the talented singer/songwriter every couple of years, and you always know that it’s gonna be great! Nile has released six studio albums (and several live discs) over the past twelve years, including some of the true gems in his catalog – masterworks like 2006’s Streets of New York, 2009’s House of A Thousand Guitars, and 2016’s World War Willie. Nile stepped outside of his own comfort zone for 2017’s Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan, a collection of, er...well, Dylan tunes…which means that he’s otherwise penned dozens of original songs over the past decade or so.

It wasn’t always this way, though...Nile took the long road to achieving his relative success. By the time that his self-titled debut album was released in 1980, Nile had already established himself as a folk-rock songwriter performing with punkish intensity. The following year’s Golden Dawn received praise equal to his debut, but legal issues kept Nile out of the studio until 1991’s long-delayed Places I Have Never Been, which included guest turns from folks like Richard Thompson and Roger McGuinn. Nile’s career was subsequently misplaced during the grunge tsunami in the ‘90s, the artist releasing Beautiful Wreck of the World on his own in 1999.

Willie Nile’s Children of Paradise

So yes, Nile has suffered his share of indignities during his career, but he’s been undeterred from pursuing his unique musical vision, delivering some of the most reliably rockin’ albums you’ll find on your local record store’s shelves since the turn of the millennium. Following up on his Positively Bob LP, 2018 brings us Nile’s Children of Paradise, a twelve-track collection that could be seen as the songwriter’s response to the political upheaval of the past couple of years. It is, perhaps, the most socially-conscious work of Nile’s nearly 40 years in the trenches; but there are no morose dirges or dire folk entreaties to be found on Children of Paradise. Instead, Nile infuses his songs with hope and humor, and the music crackles with the electricity of a live power line.

The album opens with the gorgeous “Seeds of A Revolution,” a defiant statement of inclusivity that offers unity for humanity in spite of the “sound of distant thunder,” regardless of race, gender, or nationality. It’s an uplifting effort that spits in the face of our contemporary society’s tragic embrace of racism, homophobia, and xenophobia. Nile has an answer for corporate greed as well, the hilarious and very punk “Don’t” offering the sage advice “don’t let the fuckers kill your buzz.” The rockin’, up-tempo “All Dressed Up and No Place To Go” is the sort of Dylanesque tune that has become Nile’s signature, filled to the brim with brilliant imagery and imaginative character portraits.

Earth Blues

Nile’s “Earth Blues” is as up-to-the-minute topical as a songwriter can be and is the best song about Mother Earth that’s been written in decades. Referencing California wildfires, melting arctic ice, animal extinction, climate change, and other planetary tragedies, Nile concludes “there’s a storm outside that’s ragin’, it smells like Judgement Day. When the landlord comes to take a look, there’s gonna be hell to pay.” His apocalyptic poetry is accompanied by a fierce soundtrack of strutting rhythms and martial drumbeats. The album’s title track is a mid-tempo ode to lost souls everywhere, delivered with the same sort of anthemic instrumentation as Springsteen’s “Born To Run” and it features a scorching guitar solo.

“Getting’ Ugly Out There” is another dance with the devil you know, a bluesy acoustic tale where “Baby Jesus” is getting the hell out of town and the Reaper laughs. Children of Paradise isn’t devoid of old-fashioned love songs, though. “Have I Ever Told You” is a lyrically beautiful tune rife with emotion while “Lookin’ For Someone” displays a troubadour’s heart and a true romantic’s yearning with its protagonist wanting to “be a painting, I don’t wanna be a sketch” while “looking for someone who is breakin’ just like me.” The song’s use of mandolin adds to power of the wistful lyrics. By contrast, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Sister” blows out of the gate like a nitro-drunk hot rod, Nile singing of a woman who is “a risk-takin’, I ain’t fakin’, body shakin’ meteorite” above a rollicking, unbridled arrangement, the song name-checking Springsteen, the Stones, the Kinks, the Clash, and the Who as it shakes the rafters with no-frills rock ‘n’ roll.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Longtime Willie Nile fans won’t be disappointed by the more topical material on Children of Paradise, most of which is delivered with a rock ‘n’ roll spirit. In spite of the album’s frequent lyrical vision of a world in flames, Nile closes out the song cycle with the hopeful, pastoral “All God’s Children.” The song offers salvation through faith in our fellow humans and (unspoken) the power of rock ‘n’ roll to transcend life’s indignities. Nile’s simple plea of “sing for the angels, sing for the sinners, all of the losers one day will be winners…” provides a ray of light piercing the darkness that has enveloped our society. You can ask of nothing more from the true artist. Grade: A+ (River House Records, released July 27, 2018)

Buy the CD from
Willie Nile’s Children of Paradise 

Also on That Devil
Willie Nile’s Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan CD review
Willie Nile’s Beautiful Wreck of the World CD review

NRBQ’s All Hopped Up reissue

NRBQ's All Hopped Up
A long-time favorite ‘round these parts, after nearly 50 years of making records, the mighty NRBQ are finally getting the respect they deserve these days. Much as they did in restoring the Big Star catalog to its righteous glory, archival label Omnivore Recordings seems to be jumping on the New Rhythm & Blues Quartet train. The label reissued the band’s self-titled 1969 debut album on CD earlier this year and now, on October 26th, 2018 Omnivore will reissue NRBQ’s fifth album (counting their 1970 collaboration with rockabilly legend Carl Perkins, which I do…), the sublime All Hopped Up, on both CD and vinyl.

All Hopped Up was the first recording to feature the classic NRBQ line-up of keyboardist Terry Adams, guitarist Al Anderson, bassist Joey Spampinato, and drummer Tom Ardolino which would go on to make a lot of great music together over the following 20+ years. All Hopped Up was the first album to be released by the band’s own independent Red Rooster Records label and the first to feature the ‘Whole Wheat Horns’, comprised of trombonist Donn Adams and saxophonist Keith Spring. The Omnivore reissue of All Hopped Up features the original album’s front and rear artwork and track sequencing and sports new liner notes by writer John DeAngelis as well as a bunch of rare photos. For wax fanatics, the vinyl release offers a deluxe gatefold jacket.

NRBQ's April Showers EP
Before the October resurrection of All Hopped Up, however, ‘Q fans can enjoy the September 28th release of the digital-only three-song EP April Showers, which includes the title track, featured in the upcoming film Change In the Air, which was scored by Terry Adams and Bill Frisell. The EP also features two previously-unreleased live bonus tracks from the April 1977 record release party for All Hopped Up. Recorded at the Shaboo Inn in Willimantic CT (near the University of Connecticut), these two songs – “It Feels Good” and “Still In School” – will take the ‘Q fan back in time to the band’s early days.

CD Preview: John McLaughlin & Jimmy Herring’s Live In San Francisco

John McLaughlin & Jimmy Herring’s Live In San Francisco
British guitarist John McLaughlin is an extraordinary talent who, for better than 50 years now, has both pushed the boundaries of jazz, rock, and blues music as well as transcended mere genre labels. McLaughlin was a member of various British bands throughout the 1960s, playing alongside legends like Alexis Korner, Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames, and the Graham Bond Organisation before releasing his first solo album, Extrapolation, in 1969.

That same year, McLaughlin moved to the states to play with the pioneering jazz-fusion band Tony Williams Lifetime, which brought him to the attention of jazz legend Miles Davis, who recruited the guitarist to play on visionary recordings like In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew. During the ‘70s, McLaughlin fronted the fusion outfit the Mahavishnu Orchestra, whose albums The Inner Mounting Flame (1971), Birds of Fire (1973), and Visions of the Emerald Beyond (1975) set the standard for innovative guitarplay.

Aside from Mahavishnu and a lengthy solo career that has yielded almost 20 recordings, McLaughlin fronted the late ‘70s band Shakti, collaborated with talents like Carlos Santana and Return to Forever’s Al Di Meola on albums, and lent his enormous six-string skills to records by the leading lights of 20th century music, including jazz giants Stanley Clarke and Wayne Shorter, rockers Jack Bruce (Cream) and James Taylor, and many others. McLaughlin has earned awards from publications like Down Beat and Guitar Player and has been lauded by fellow guitarists like Jeff Beck, Frank Zappa, Steve Morse, and Pat Metheny as an influential and evolutionary musician.

Sadly, every good thing must come to an end sometime, and last year the 76-year-old guitarist and band leader embarked on a farewell tour of the United States. Comprised of 25 concerts, McLaughlin invited a favorite guitarist of his, Jimmy Herring, and his band The Invisible Whip, to accompany him on his trek across the states. The tour concluded with a sold-out show at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, a venue last visited by the guitarist 36 years ago.

On September 21st, 2018 Abstract Logix will release McLaughlin’s Live In San Francisco on CD and vinyl. The album is an eight-song, 73-minute collection that features a nine-piece band including members of The Invisible Whip and The 4th Dimension performing material that McLaughlin created with the Mahavishnu Orchestra some four decades ago. The final show of the “Meeting of the Spirits Tour,” the concert documentary features performances of classic McLaughlin songs like “Birds of Fire,” “The Dance of the Maya,” “Earth Ship,” and “Eternity’s Breath.” McLaughlin hasn’t lost a step through the years, and his crystalline playing of these legendary songs is sure to appeal to both Mahavishnu Orchestra fans and jazz-fusion aficionados alike. You can check out the complete track listing for Live In San Francisco below.

John McLaughlin & Jimmy Herring’s Live In San Francisco track listing:
1. Meeting of the Spirits
2. Birds of Fire
3. A Lotus on Irish Streams
4. The Dance of Maya
5. Trilogy
6. Earth Ship
7. Eternity’s Breath Part 1 & 2
8. Be Happy

Buy the CD from John McLaughlin & Jimmy Herring’s Live In San Francisco