Friday, July 19, 2019

Archive Review: The Hellacopters's High Visibility (2002)

The Hellacopters's High Visibility
Forget about all those nu-metal poseurs and “modern rock” fops with their Pro Tools-enhanced vocals and vacant rock star riffs. Brothers and sisters are taking it back to the streets, with Europeans like the Hives and the Hellacopters showing we Americans the way back into our garages. Throw in a New York City rock scene that includes the Strokes and the Mooney Suzuki, and it’s cool once again to bang out three chords on your Stratocaster. If you have any doubt, do not fear, for the Reverend would never lead his flock astray! Look no further than the Hellacopters, good fellows from Sweden, and the High Visibility CD, a literal hymnal of all that is holy and righteous in rock ’n’ roll today.

Released overseas a couple of years ago, the good folks at Gearhead Records have recently made High Visibility available stateside for the Reverend’s rock ’n’ roll ministry. Hellacopters’ frontman Nick Royale is one of the genre’s most powerful vocalists, mixing heavy metal energy with Motown soul, while the band raises a mighty ruckus on songs like “Baby Borderline” and “Throw Away Heroes.” The Hellacopters worship at the altar of the Grande Ballroom, with spiritual influences that include the Stooges, the MC5, Radio Birdman, and other acolytes of the joyful noise of the Motor City. Unabashed proselytizers of a ’70s rock aesthetic, the Hellacopters bring the divine word and garage-rock grace to we sinners with massive, feedback-ridden, guitar-driven three-chord hymns certain to have the heathens dancing in the aisles.

Tunes like the romantic blunderbuss “Hopeless Case of A Kid In Denial” or the blustery “Toys and Flavors” strike your ears like a thunderbolt from the right hand of Zeus. The riff-heavy “A Heart Without A Home” will make you forget about the musical wasteland the new millennium has become, the Hellacopters smiting false modern rock idols with a righteous fury. Wait no longer my children! Get thee hence to the local music retailer and obtain a copy of High Visibility by the Hellacopters. The Reverend guarantees that thou shall discover rock ’n’ roll salvation in the grooves of this entirely essential compact disc. (Gearhead Records, released April 20, 2002)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2002

Buy the CD from Amazon: The Hellacopters’ High Visibility




Monday, July 15, 2019

Spotlight on Deep Purple

Deep Purple circa 1983
Deep Purple circa 1983

Deep Purple Select Discography:
Shades of Deep Purple (Tetragrammaton Records, 1968)
The Book of Taliesyn (Tetragrammaton Records, 1968)
Deep Purple (Tetragrammaton Records, 1969)
Concerto for Group and Orchestra [live] (Tetragrammaton Records, 1969)
Deep Purple In Rock (Warner Bros, 1970)
Fireball (Warner Bros, 1971)
Machine Head (Warner Bros, 1972)
Made In Japan [live] (Warner Bros, 1972)
Who Do We Think We Are (Warner Bros, 1973)
Burn (Warner Bros, 1974)
Stormbringer (Warner Bros, 1974)
Come Taste the Band (Warner Bros, 1975)
Made In Europe [live] (Warner Bros, 1976)
Deep Purple In Concert [live] (Spitfire Records, 1980)
Live In London [live] (Harvest Records, 1982)
Perfect Strangers (Polydor Records, 1984)
The House of Blue Light (Polydor Records, 1987)
Nobody's Perfect [live] (Polydor Records, 1988)
Slaves and Masters (RCA Records, 1990)
The Battle Rages On... (Giant Records/BMG, 1993)
Purpendicular (CMC International/BMG, 1996)
Abandon (CMC International/BMG, 1998)
Bananas (Sanctuary Records,2003)
Rapture of the Deep (Eagle Records, 2005)
BBC Sessions 1968–1970 (EMI Records, 2011)
Now What?! (Eagle Records, 2013)
Infinite (earMUSIC, 2017)

Deep Purple In Rock
British rockers Deep Purple are inarguably one of the most influential bands of all time. Purple's trail-blazing mix of operatic vocals, virtuoso guitar and keyboards, and unrelenting rhythms informed several generations of rock superstars, from Kiss, Queen, and Van Halen in the 1970s to Metallica and Iron Maiden in the '80s and even bands like Pantera and Alice In Chains in the '90s. Purple's imprint on the evolution of hard rock and heavy metal is enduring and undeniable.

Formed in 1968 by singer Rod Evans, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, bassist Nick Simper, keyboardist Jon Lord, and drummer Ian Paice, Deep Purple were originally a psych-influenced progressive rock band. This line-up recorded three late '60s albums that were released by the indie Tetragrammaton Records and scored hits with cover songs like Joe South's "Hush," Neil Diamond's "Kentucky Rain," and Donovan's "Lalena." By 1970, however, as rock music was evolving, so was Deep Purple, towards a heavier, harder-rocking sound.

Evans and Simper, deemed "unsuitable" for the band's new direction, were ousted, replaced by singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover, who were also a songwriting team. This cemented the legendary "Mark II" line-up of the band that lasted from 1969 to 1973, re-forming again for a five-year run from 1984 to 1989. First finding success in the U.K. with albums like Deep Purple In Rock and Fireball, the band scored a multi-Platinum™ Top 10 U.S. hit in Machine Head, which yielded their classic song "Smoke On the Water." The band's Made In Japan live set went Platinum™ in the U.S. and sold over eight million copies worldwide. Purple's 1973 studio follow-up, Who Do We Think We Are, earned a Gold™ record for sales but tensions between the band members came to a head with Gillan quitting the band and Blackmore subsequently firing Glover.

Deep Purple's Machine Head
Purple soldiered on, recruiting singer David Coverdale (later of Whitesnake) and bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes (Trapeze) for the recording of Burn, the band's eighth studio album, which became a Top 10 hit that was followed quickly by Stormbringer, both albums scoring Gold™ Record status. Disgruntled over the musical direction of the band, Blackmore quit to form Rainbow with singer Ronnie James Dio. Undaunted, Purple brought in guitarist Tommy Bolin for the disappointing Come Taste the Band, but after Bolin's death in 1976, Lord and Paice decided to break up the band.

After being offered a truckload of cash, the Mark II version of Deep Purple reunited in 1984 for a pair of studio LPs and a live album, but the bad blood between Gillan and Blackmore proved too much, the singer left the band once again. Purple brought in former Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner for the horribly mediocre Slaves and Masters album, but when the rest of the band wanted to bring Gillan back in the fold for the band's 25th anniversary, Blackmore acquiesced, but left the band himself after the release of The Battle Rages On, quitting during the album's support tour and temporarily replaced by shredder Joe Satriani. Accomplished six-string virtuoso Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs) took his place, and other than Jon Lord retiring in 2002 (R.I.P. 2012), to be replaced by journeyman keyboardist Don Airey (another Rainbow veteran), this Purple line-up has continued to tour and record to this day.

This is but a brief overview of Deep Purple's lengthy and complex 50-year career. If you want the full story, check out writer Martin Popoff's comprehensive history of the band. There are a bunch of dodgy Deep Purple live albums, some of 'em pretty good, but most of them not so much, and I haven't listed those here. There are also a slew of various compilation albums that I'd avoid, but if you really need to check out the band, look no further than Machine Head and/or Perfect Strangers. If you dig those LPs, the rest of these will end up in your collection sooner or later...

Archive Review: Emo Philips’ Live From the Hasty Pudding Theatre (1987)

Emo Phillips’ Live From the Hasty Pudding Theatre
Comedy is entirely a matter of personal taste, comedy recordings doubly so. Informed criticism of either is somewhat futile and not unlike dancing upon the edge of a well-oiled razor blade, albeit a rather large razor blade. What one person may consider leg-wetting, liver-quivering funny may seem incredibly droll and boring to the next person…all of which, in a round-about way, is my manner of introducing you, gentle reader, to the somewhat slightly strange work of Emo Philips.

You may have seen Emo on Letterman’s show or, perhaps, on one of the many pay-cable networks which seem to dote on young comics these days. If you’ve never seen Mr. Philips – a tall, gaunt fellow with an anachronistic pageboy haircut and a strained, sing-song delivery – you’d never forget him. Emo is one sick puppy. His shtick is a curious mix of introverted self-criticism, audience-shared personal experience, and intellectual absurdity; in short, an artist requiring an acquired taste.

Live From the Hasty Pudding Theatre is Philips’ second record, recorded at Harvard’s legendary Hasty Pudding Theatre, a living shrine to theatrical farce, a location well-suited for Philips’ style of comedy. The material here is consistently off-the-wall, the jokes quick and fleeting, dealing mostly with Emo’s day-to-day existence. The humor is more than a wee bit cerebral, with intellectual broadsides and odd non-sequiturs flying freely. At his best, Philips is a mirror reflecting the various quirks and eccentricities of our society; at his worst, he is merely strange. This is an enjoyable album, if not uproariously funny, but rather the sort of comedy record which yields a fresh dimension of thought with each listen… (Epic Records, 1987)

Review originally published by The Metro (Nashville), 1987

Buy the CD from Amazon: Emo Philips’ Live From the Hasty Pudding Theatre




Friday, July 12, 2019

Archive Review: Wayne Kramer's Citizen Wayne (1997)

Wayne Kramer's Citizen Wayne
When former MC5 axeman Wayne Kramer made The Hard Stuff, his first solo disc for Epitaph, he recruited a gang of studio help that read like a literal “who's-who” of alt-rock and punk stars. Cashing in on his legendary reputation, Kramer delivered a solid effort that was one of the year's best albums. For his third Epitaph release, Citizen Wayne, the Gen-X sidemen are gone, as is long-time Kramer lyricist Mick Farren. Under the guiding hand of producer Don Was, Kramer is entirely on his own here, and if the resulting songs aren't as breath-taking as those on The Hard Stuff, they ain't half-bad, either.

Mixing the metallic-tinged, guitar-driven style of rock that he's known for with a sort of manic jazz improv and urban R & B influence, Kramer has created an interesting, thought-provoking album that showcases a lyrical talent few of us realized Kramer possessed. There are several songs here that have caught my attention and fired my imagination, from the slightly surrealistic history lesson of "Back When Dogs Could Talk" to the clever satirical wordplay of "Revolution In Apt. 29." "Down On the Ground" is possibly the best riot song I've ever heard, the story of the MC5's ill-fated trip to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, while "Snatched Defeat" and "Count Time" tell of Kramer's personal trials and tribulations. "Shining Mr. Lincoln's Shoes," a simple Guthriesque tale of life on the streets in America reveals Kramer's populist social consciousness, while other cuts take on government-sponsored drug runners and media-created celebrity.

If much of Citizen Wayne seems to be autobiographical, well, it is. During their time, MC5 were a ground-breaking hard rock band with a political edge that made a lot of noise, stirred up a lot of controversy and, ultimately, sold few records. They might have been an obscure footnote in musical history if a current generation of young punks hadn't gone searching for their non-commercial roots and rediscovered the pre-punk Midwestern anger of MC5 and the Stooges. Kramer was elevated to the status of a legend without any of the material benefits. That he's defeated addiction and imprisonment to return to music after a hiatus of many years is a tribute to the man's talent, that Kramer has delivered an album as electric, insightful and vital as Citizen Wayne is an indication of his artistic creativity. (Epitaph Records, 1997)

Also on That Devil Music: Wayne Kramer's The Hard Stuff CD review




Friday, July 5, 2019

Archive Review: Radio Birdman's Zeno Beach (2006)

Radio Birdman's Zeno Beach
Australia’s Radio Birdman is possibly the first punk band to earn mythical status not on the strength of their music, but rather on their obscurity. The exposure of the average American rocker to Radio Birdman’s blistering late ’70s punk has come solely through a single compilation, The Essential Radio Birdman: 1974-1978. The band’s influence on a generation of Australian artists following in their footsteps cannot be understated, however, with every Oz band of note over the past 20 years – Celibate Rifles, the Screaming Tribesmen, Hoodoo Gurus, and many others – tapping into the Birdman spirit in one form or another.

While the prospects of a Radio Birdman reunion at this late date seemed a bit spotty, Zeno Beach, the album resulting from the reassembled band, is much better than it has any right to be. Recruiting original Birdman shouter Rob Younger – an ingredient essential to any successful reinvention of the band – and calling up mates Chris Masuak and Pip Hoyle, Deniz Tek managed to assemble two-thirds of the original Birdman lineup, adding a couple of new friends to the mix. The chemistry of the newfound band is incredible, adding a fresh layer of grime and grunge to the band’s classic high-flying punk roots.

Detroit-born Tek’s fascinations with the Stooges and the MC5 can still be heard in the songs, but they don’t dominate the proceedings as they once did. Younger’s amazing vocal range – he sounds like Robert Smith of the Cure one moment, like Iggy after a three-day binge the next – is supported by the dueling guitars of Tek and Masuak and a solid rhythm section. The result is a classic, timeless rock ’n’ roll album, bristling with energy and attitude and driven by screaming guitars that channel four decades of garage-bred roots into 45 minutes of near-perfect Marshall flash. (Yep Roc Records, released August 22, 2006)

Also on That Devil Music: Radio Birdmans The Essential Radio Birdman CD review

Buy the CD from Amazon: Radio Birdman’s Zeno Beach

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


Archive Review: Humble Pie's On To Victory/Go For the Throat (2012)

Humble Pie's On To Victory/Go For the Throat
Fronted by the dynamic, charismatic Steve Marriott, British blues-rockers Humble Pie enjoyed a brief early-1970s heyday that reached its peak with the band’s 1972 album Smokin’. Originally formed in 1968 by Marriott and guitarist Peter Frampton, the band would go through various line-ups and musical directions before latching onto Marriott’s favored rock ‘n’ soul hybrid, a boogie-and-blues brew that, combined with an unrelenting tour schedule, would take Smokin’ to number six on the Billboard albums chart.

While subsequent albums would experience diminishing commercial returns, Humble Pie remained a popular live band when Marriott decided to pull the plug after 1975’s disappointing Street Rats in favor of reforming his 1960s-era outfit the Small Faces. When that reunion went south in a tangle of egos and mediocre music, Marriott put together Steve Marriott’s All-Stars and toured briefly before finally forming a new version of Humble Pie in 1979 with original drummer Jerry Shirley, guitarist Bobby Tench (from the Jeff Beck Group), and bassist Anthony “Sooty” Jones. This Humble Pie line-up recorded a pair of albums – 1980’s On To Victory and the following year’s Go For the Throat before health issues prompted Marriott to bust up the band for a second time in 1981.

Humble Pie’s On To Victory


Reissued as part of a two-disc set, On To Victory and Go For the Throat were both unfairly maligned at the time of their original release, and both albums deserve another listen by long-time fans and newcomers alike. Rather than rest on past laurels or try to recreate the heavy blues-rock formula that struck gold with Smokin’, Marriott’s new Humble Pie would sojourn into unexpected musical territories, incorporating Marriott’s love of American soul music and R&B with the blues-rock sound with which he had built his reputation. As such, On To Victory cleverly mixes these related influences to create a fresh (and funky) sound.

On To Victory scored an unexpected minor hit with “Fool For A Pretty Face,” the song’s swaggering bravado mixing boogie-blues with raucous soul to good effect. The similar “Infatuation” is built with the same blueprint, Marriott adding backing harmonies behind his growling vocals, blasts of R&B styled horns accenting the mix. A cover of the Holland/Dozier/Holland classic “Baby Don’t You Do It” is offered a reckless performance with a lot of charm, Marriott’s signature high-flying vox imitating his previous “I Don’t Need No Doctor” while the band delivers a stone rhythmic groove in the background. Marriott plays a cover of Otis Redding’s “My Lover’s Prayer” fairly straight, gospel-styled keyboards chiming reverently behind his anguished vocals, while the high-flying “Further Down the Road” displays Marriott’s underrated six-string skills and a killer performance by drummer Shirley.

Humble Pie’s Go For the Throat


Experiencing a modicum of sales success with On To Victory, the re-formed Humble Pie was hustled into the studio to record a quick follow-up. Released in 1981, Go For the Throat could be viewed as a sequel to its predecessor and, in many aspects, its songs are almost interchangeable with On To Victory, with a few minor artistic lapses. An overwrought cover of Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up” features some fine guitar and keyboards from Marriott, but an overall embarrassing vocal take. Much better is Marriott’s original “Teenage Anxiety,” a mid-tempo ballad with emotional vocals, a solid rhythmic construct, and tasteful piano leads.

Marriott revisits an old Small Faces tune he co-wrote with Ronnie Lane, “Tin Soldier” a relic of the psychedelic 1960s but still holding a bluesy, soulful edge with Marriott’s inspired vocals and nuanced fretwork, and Shirley’s big-beat timekeeping. Another Marriott original, “Driver,” sounds like a ZZ Top outtake albeit with more frantic percussion and a chaotic arrangement fueled by ripping guitar, flying harmonica riffs, and explosive drumbeats. The swinging, Rolling Stones-styled “Restless Blood” is pure raunch ‘n’ roll cheap thrills, and “Chip Away” (The Stone)” is an unbridled rocker from the early Humble Pie songbook, Marriott’s vocals almost lost beneath a storm of stammering guitar, bass, and drums.

Live In Los Angeles 1981


This reissue of On To Victory and Go For the Throat packages both albums on a single CD, accompanied by a second live disc that captures a live 1981 radio broadcast recorded in front of an enthusiastic audience at the Reseda Country Club in Los Angeles, California. The eight-track playlist, although stretching across a full 45-minutes, is curiously short on material from the reformed band’s then-current albums. No matter, because starting with a particularly high-octane ten-minute jam on the band’s “I Don’t Need No Doctor” (originally an R&B chart hit for Ray Charles), this live set strikes like lightning and sounds like thunder, showing why Marriott was always more popular as a live performer than a studio artist.

“Infatuation” takes on a new life on-stage, the band stomping and snorting like a mad bull tearing through a china shop. The band revisits another early Humble Pie gem in “30 Days In The Hole,” one of the more popular AOR tracks from Smokin’, Jerry Shirley’s flying drumbeats and Marriott’s out-of-control vocals paired with intertwined guitars and heavy bass lines. The hit “Fool For A Pretty Face” is well-received, Marriott’s vocals edgier and stronger than the studio version, the band’s crashing instrumentation building to a cacophonous crescendo. Marriott revisits his childhood with a livewire cover of Gene Vincent’s early rock classic “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” pulling off an audacious performance, while a cover of Don William’s country classic “Tulsa Time” swings as hard as the original with amped-up guitars and sonic drumbeats, although the gravel-throated Marriott’s attempt at twangy vocals fall far short of the mark.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Since both On To Victory and Go For the Throat have long been out-of-print in the U.S. and available only sporadically as a British import, it’s good to have both albums available again as part of a single set. While neither album is as engaging or entertaining as early Humble Pie efforts like Rock On or Smokin’, neither is as bad as critics avowed at the time. Both albums include a handful of truly transcendent musical moments – solid fusions of blues, rock, and soul – and although On To Victory is the better and more spontaneous of the two releases, the albums mesh together seamlessly on a single disc. Throw in the red-hot live set, and you have a deluxe edition tailor-made for Humble Pie fans to chew upon for a while. (Deadline Music, released March 13, 2012)




Monday, July 1, 2019

New Music Monthly: July 2019 Releases

What July lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for with quality, the month offering new blues jams from Chicago's Billy Branch and the mighty Supersonic Blues Machine as well as a cool four-disc box Cadillac Baby's Bea & Baby Records set. There are new rockin' tunes from folks like Imperial Teen, Violent Femmes, and Purple Mountains; some rare Little Steven music; and a slew of archive releases, including some Crowded House on wax and some rare Paul McCartney vinyl stuff. Plus, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, a long overdue reissue of Brian Eno's Apollo album on CD and vinyl! No matter your taste in music, there's something here for you to listen to in July!

If you’re interesting in buying an album, just hit the ‘Buy!’ link to get it from Amazon.com...it’s just that damn easy! Your purchase puts valuable ‘store credit’ 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!

Billy Branch & the Sons of Blues' Roots and Branches

JULY 5
Billy Branch & the Sons of Blues - Roots and Branches: The Songs of Little Walter   BUY!

Crowded House's The Very Very Best of Crowded House

JULY 12
Crowded House - The Very Very Best of Crowded House [vinyl]   BUY!
Gomez - Liquid Skin [20th anniversary reissue]   BUY!
Imperial Teen - Now We Are Timeless   BUY!
Little Steven & the Interstellar Jazz Renegades - Lillyhammer The Score, Volume 1: Jazz   BUY!
Little Steven & the Interstellar Jazz Renegades - Lillyhammer The Score, Volume 2: Folk, Rock, Rio, Bits & Pieces   BUY!
Paul McCartney - Amoeba Gig [CD & vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Paul McCartney - Choba B CCCP [CD & vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Paul McCartney - Paul Is Live [CD & vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Paul McCartney - Wings Over America [CD & vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Purple Mountains - Purple Mountains   BUY!
Supersonic Blues Machine - Road Chronicles [live]   BUY!

Brian Eno's Apollo

JULY 19
Davina & the Vagabonds - Sugar Drops   BUY!
Brian Eno - Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks [Extended Edition]   BUY!
Steve Goodman - Affordable Art [CD reissue]   BUY!
Steve Goodman - Artistic Hair [CD reissue]   BUY!
Live - Throwing Copper [25th anniversary reissue]   BUY!
Various Artists - Cadillac Baby's Bea & Baby Records: The Definitive Collection [4-CD history of Chicago blues label]   BUY!

Violent Femmes' Hotel Last Resort

JULY 26
Soundgarden - Live From the Artists Den   BUY!
Violent Femmes - Hotel Last Resort   BUY!

Steve Goodman's Affordable Art

Album of the Month: There are a number of great choices for the month, but the Rev has to go with the late Steve Goodman's Affordable Art, reissued on CD by the good folks at Omnivore Recordings. The last album released during singer/songwriter's lifetime, on his own indie Red Pajamas label, Affordable Art is a fine collection filled with humor, poetry, and humility – all of which were Goodman's stock-in-trade. If you're unfamiliar with this legendary, talented wordsmith and performer, Affordable Art is a great place to start. Omnivore is also reissuing Goodman's Artistic Hair album this month, and a couple more titles from the artist in August, and you honestly can't go wrong with any of 'em!




Archive Review: Monster Magnet’s Dopes To Infinity (1995)

Monster Magnet’s Dopes To Infinity
What the 1990s are lacking, if I were to inject my two cents worth here, is a truly HEAVY rock ‘n’ roll band. Sure, there’s grindcore, death metal, and metallic rap; punk rap and hardcore punk, and a dozen other variations on the old guttural vocals/loud ‘n’ fast guitars and monster rhythm combo, but there's no really, really HEAVY rock outfit...the kind of stuff that an early Bob Seger (before he hit middle age and senility) used to call “Heavy Music.”

After all, the ‘60s had Dust, Sir Lord Baltimore, and Vanilla Fudge and the ‘70s had Led Zeppelin, Hawkwind, and the mighty Black Sabbath. Even the ‘80s – the great cesspool that was the Reagan era – produced semi-heavy bands in Metallica, Slayer, and the rest of Tipper’s demon-inspired nightmares. Kids these day have nobody to call their own, no righteous headbangers that they can tell tales to their grandchildren about – “well, chilluns, I remember the night that we pried Ozzie up off of a hardwood floor in a West Nashville bar and propped him in front of a mike. Sabbath rocked so hard that they were wheeling them out of the auditorium in iron lungs!”

With the best interests of these young ones at heart, I’d like to nominate Monster Magnet for the open position of the “Heaviest Band of the 1990s.” Dopes To Infinity, their latest effort, comes mighty close to recreating the magic that all of those aforementioned bands brought to their ‘heavy’ creations. First of all, they’ve got a great name, one that would look good on a patch or a school notebook (and that’s important!). Secondly, they've got great song titles – stuff like “Negasonic Teenage Warhead” or “Look To Your Orb For The Warning” or, lest we forget, “Ego, The Living Planet.”

Most importantly, as we used to say once upon a time, Dopes To Infinity kicks out the jams with a dozen powerful, psychedelic-tinged rock tunes. Thunderous, spacey, hypnotizing, and capital-H Heavy, Monster Magnet are no mere pretenders to the throne, but rather real contenders for the crown. (A&M Records, released March 21, 1995)

Buy the CD from Amazon: Monster Magnet Dopes To Infinity

Review originally published by Bone Music Magazine, Nashville (1995)




Friday, June 28, 2019

Archive Review: Dag Nasty's Minority of One (2002)

Dag Nasty's Minority of One
Given the time between Dag Nasty albums, you’re more likely to witness a total eclipse of the moon, or maybe get hit by a wandering comet, than you are to hear a new album from the band during your lifetime. Maybe we live in charmed times, or perhaps the stars are in perfect alignment, ‘cause the legendary punk outfit has dropped its first disc in a decade with the extraordinary Minority of One.

Fronted by former All vocalist Dave Smalley and Minor Threat/Meatmen axeman Brian Baker, Dag Nasty has released only a handful of albums since the classic 1986 debut Can I Say. Since Dag Nasty’s last effort, 1992’s overlooked Four On the Floor, the band members have been busy – Smalley with his vocal chores for Down By Law and Baker as Bad Religion’s resident six-string maniac. With Minority of One, tho’, the founding fathers of “emocore” have whipped up a new batch of fab tunes certain to whip the punk rock kids into a veritable frenzy.

Dag Nasty’s Minority of One


Minority of One slaughters the so-called “competition,” leaving bands like Dashboard Confessional and the Promise Ring in its wake. The musical gorefest kicks off with “Ghosts,” a high-voltage rocker that reminds us that the past can come back to haunt us, while the anthemic title cut sounds more than a little like Bad Religion. With screaming guitar riffs, crashing rhythms, chanted vocals and non-conformist lyrical perspective, “Minority of One” delivers a little classic “rant ‘n’ roll” for the attentive listener. Smalley’s passionate vocals and the fresh lyrics of “Broken Days” breathe new life into a poetic cliché, a mournful tale of love and betrayal. “Incinerate” is an old-fashioned love song, defiant lyrics matched with a dynamic chorus and Baker’s jagged-edge axework.

The powerful “Wasting Away” is both a lyrical call-to-arms for fresh blood to pick up the “tattered flag” and a deep cut at the hardcore Cassandra’s who would rather bitch about society than try to improve it. Crackling with electricity, “Wasting Away” offers Dave Smalley’s best Greg Graffin vocal imitation while Baker’s dubbed six-string sounds like a guitar army marching to battle alongside bassist Roger Marbury and drummer Colin Sears’ rhythmic artillery division. It’s a smart song, drawing the line in the sand for the next generation of punk rockers to cross. A hidden track sneaks up at the close of Minority of One, a Dag Nasty customized cover of Generation X’s “One Hundred Punks” featuring Baker’s best frantic, class of ’77 styled guitar performance and Smalley’s snarling Billy Idol-inspired vocals.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Although Dag Nasty will remain an afterthought for its members in the face of their various day jobs, Minority of One is nevertheless a potent musical statement. With top notch songwriting and an undeniable musical chemistry bolstered by inspired performances, Dag Nasty has delivered a career album that pairs the maturity of the member’s present stations with the youthful energy and fierce enthusiasm of their youth. Sixteen years in the making, Minority of One is one of the year’s standout efforts. (Revelation Records, released August 20, 2002)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2002

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Dag Nasty’s Minority of One


Sunday, June 23, 2019

Spotlight on Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper band
Alice Cooper band photo courtesy of Enigma Records

Alice Cooper (band) Discography:
• Pretties for You (Straight Records, 1969) *
• Easy Action (Straight Records, 1970) *
• Love It to Death (Straight Records, 1971)
• Killer (Warner Brothers, 1971)
• School's Out (Warner Brothers, 1972)
• Billion Dollar Babies (Warner Brothers, 1973)
• Muscle of Love (Warner Brothers, 1973)

* Later reissued by Enigma Records' Retro imprint, and again by Warner's Rhino Records archival label.

Alice Cooper, the band, was orignally signed to Frank Zappa's Straight Records label, home to oddball rockers like Captain Beefheart and the GTOs and hipster comedian Lord Buckley. The band – comprised of lead singer Alice (née Vince Furnier), guitarists Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton, bassist Dennis Dunaway, and drummer Neal Smith – had been kicking around the late '60s L.A. rock scene for a few years before releasing their first two albums for Straight. When neither album achieved any sort of commercial traction, the band pulled up roots and relocated to Pontiac, Michigan near Furnier's hometown of Detroit.

Alice Cooper's outrageous hard rock sound went over aces with a Rust Belt audience with a taste for honest, raucous rock 'n' roll after experiencing bands like Iggy & the Stooges, the MC5, SRC, and Ted Nugent. Working with young producer Bob Ezrin, the band scored a hit single in 1970 with their classic "I'm Eighteen," which kicked off a string of Top 40, Platinum™-selling albums that culminated in 1973's chart-topping Billion Dollar Babies. After the release of Muscle of Love – the band's fifth album in three years, the hard-touring outfit broke up.

Furnier took the "Alice Cooper" name with him out the door, launching a successful and legendary solo career with 1975's Welcome To My Nightmare, which hit #5 on the charts, and following it up with albums like Alice Cooper Goes To Hell (1976) and Flush the Fashion (1980). Cooper's solo career hit the skids during the nerf-metal decade of the '80s, though, the singer finally scoring a Top 20 album with 1989's Trash. Cooper's solo career continues to this day. The other band members didn't fare nearly as well, Bruce, Dunaway, and Smith forming the band Billion Dollar Babies, which released a single album titled Battle Axe in 1977.

The original Alice Cooper was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, the band reuniting to perform at their induction ceremony (sans Buxton, who sadly passed away in 1997 at 49 years old).

Friday, June 21, 2019

Archive Review: Richard Hell's Time (2002)

Richard Hell's Time
Young punk rockers that would like to find out more about the roots of their passion should seek out the wellspring from which punk first bubbled forth. In this case, I’m referring to Richard Hell, one of the most underrated and overlooked of the punk godfathers. An important member of not one, but three, seminal punk outfits, Hell’s influence on rock music, punk attitude, and street fashion should not be ignored. The odds-n-sods collection Time is a long overdue career retrospective for Hell, delivered, appropriately enough, in glorious lo-fi rock ‘n’ roll sound.

Born Richard Meyers in Lexington, Kentucky, Hell grew up in the sleepy Bluegrass State listening to British Invasion rock and Southern soul. He found a kindred spirit in Tom Miller (née Verlaine), and the pair would soon end up together in New York City. They would form the Neon Boys in 1971, a proto-punk outfit inspired by the Stooges and Velvet Underground, with Verlaine on guitar and Hell picking up the bass. The Neon Boys would evolve into Television and become an integral part of the mid-‘70s NYC music scene growing up around the CBGB club and including bands like the Ramones and Blondie.

Richard Hell’s Time


Richard Hell & the Voidoid's Blank Generation
Chafed at his role in the band, Hell left Television before they recorded their classic debut, Marquee Moon, hooking up with former New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan to form the Heartbreakers. Hell would again leave the band before recording, this time striking out on his own. Fronting a band that included guitarists Robert Quine and Ivan Julian and future Ramones drummer Marc Bell, Richard Hell & the Voidoids recorded what is arguably the most important song in the punk rock canon, “Blank Generation,” for their 1977 debut album of the same name.

With his torn clothing, nihilistic lyrics and snotty attitude, Hell became the blueprint of punk rock to follow. The Voidoids would record only one more album – 1982’s Destiny Street – but the band’s influence on a generation of punk rockers was set in stone. Hell would later play in other bands, write poetry and, in 1996, issued his first novel, Go Now, but he would never again pursue music with any sort of ambition. The first disc of the two-CD set Time pairs a previous, cassette-only collection, R.I.P. The ROIR Sessions, with a number of unreleased tracks, including the original version of the Richard Hell/Dee Dee Ramone song “Chinese Rocks,” performed here by the Heartbreakers. Four Heartbreakers demos kick off Time, including “Love Comes In Spurts,” which would be revisited by Hell on the first Voidoids disc.

Blank Generation


Richard Hell & the Voidoid's Destiny Street
Two early Voidoids’ demos follow, each song featuring the individual virtuosity of guitarists Quine and Julian. A different Voidoids line-up is featured on half-dozen tracks from 1979, drummer Bell having left to join the Ramones. The highlights of this middle passage include Hell’s philosophical take on life revealed by an obscure alternate take of “Time,” the Dylan cover “Going Going Gone” and the live at CBGB song “Funhunt,” taken from the ROIR Records release. Another live track, capturing a 1983 Atlanta performance of “I Can Only Give You Everything,” showcases a later-day Voidoids roster while the disc closes with what are possibly the final Voidoids demo recordings, made in 1984 in New Orleans.

The second disc of Time, collecting unreleased live performances by the Voidoids, is what has punk collectors salivating. The first half-hour plus set includes raw performances of Blank Generation era Voidoids from a 1977 performance at London’s Music Machine. All the band favorites are thrown out here, from “Love Comes In Spurts,” “Liars Beware” and “Blank Generation.” A cover of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” includes Hell’s barks and Quine’s scorched earth six-string riffs. An angry encore, a cover of the Stones’ “Ventilator Blues,” was chosen to piss off a confrontational audience, explains Hell in the extensive liner notes.

The sound quality equals that of a mediocre bootleg, but the passion and fire of the performance is priceless. The last four tracks on disc two of Time, taken from a 1978 benefit for St. Mark’s church held at CBGB, include an original take on “The Kid With the Replaceable Head” (later recorded for Destiny Street) and “You Gotta Lose,” featuring Elvis Costello on vocals and guitar. Time closes with another Stones’ cover, “Shattered,” performed by the Voidoids just this one time.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


The significance of Richard Hell’s influence on punk rock cannot be overstated. An innovator and pioneer who matched literature and poetry with angry, aggressive music in much the same way as his contemporary Patti Smith, Hell is often overshadowed by the bands that he helped create (Television) or influenced (the Sex Pistols, the Clash). While other punks have been incarcerated in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Time shows that Hell’s place is in the street, his music and defiant spirit ready to inspire a generation of rockers to come. (Matador Records, released March 19, 2002)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2002


Friday, June 14, 2019

Archive Review: The Yayhoo’s Fear Not the Obvious (2001)

The Yayhoo’s Fear Not the Obvious
Among contemporary rock bands, you’d have to look far-and-wide to find one that is as gloriously unconcerned about “hipness” or “commercial potential” as the Yayhoos. A loose-knit collaboration between former Georgia Satellite Dan Baird, Eric Ambel of the Del Lords, drummer Terry Anderson, and bassist Keith Christopher, the Yayhoos are the ultimate pick-up band. A throwback to a simpler, more pleasing rock era, the foursome genuflect towards a musical altar that rejects modern rock style in favor of classic Chuck Berry riffs and Rolling Stone rhythms. The band features four distinctive vocalists, songwriters and multi-instrumentalists and the whole motley bunch look a little too scruffy to be accepted by the MTV crowd or snobbish big city elitists.

The Yayhoo’s Fear Not the Obvious


The Yayhoos’ brief mid-‘90s existence resulted in a handful of tracks placed on alt-country compilations and their full-length Fear Not the Obvious LP, shopped around to major label indifference before emerging on the Bloodshot Records label. On this fine collection of songs, the Yayhoos deliver shameless roots-rock and electric twang, served straight up with no chaser for the unabashed blue collar headbanger who wants his musical tonic loud and uncluttered by fleeting fashion. Call Fear Not the Obvious “town and country” music, the songs here mixing Ambel’s Del Lords-inspired NYC guitar riffs with Baird’s country-styled redneck rock.

The four Yayhoos divvy up the songwriting duties, creating tunes that range from the dark-hued swamp rock of Baird’s “Wicked World” or Anderson’s British Invasion influenced “Hunt You Down” to the ‘60s-styled pop of Ambel’s hilarious “Baby I Love You.” “Monkey With A Gun” is a big beat rock ‘n’ roll tale of madness on the road complete with twin guitars and Ambel’s understated vocals while “Oh! Chicago” is a rollicking 90mph romp through Little Feat territory. The band closes Fear Not the Obvious with an inspired cover of Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” offering a different spin on the EuroPop origins of the classic radio hit.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


If your idea of rock ‘n’ roll cheap thrills includes the Faces, the Stones, CCR, the Georgia Satellites, and similar outfits, then the Yayhoos are right up your alley. Blazing guitars, foot-stomping rhythms and unpretentious songwriting make up Fear Not the Obvious in its entirety, the Yayhoos a welcome respite from manufactured pop and cookie-cutter modern rock. (Bloodshot Records, released August 7, 2001)

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

Buy the CD from Amazon.com!




Sunday, June 9, 2019

Book Review: Martin Popoff's Aces High: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the '80s (2019)

Martin Popoff's Aces High: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the '80s
The preeminent authority on all things hard rock and heavy metal, writer and music historian Martin Popoff is the author of 85+ books (and counting); the former founding editor of Canada’s Brave Words, Bloody Knuckles music zine; and a regular freelance contributor to music-related publications like Goldmine, Revolver, and Record Collector (U.K.), among many others. Martin is also a friend and colleague – a fact, in spite of which, he might still think that the Rev is a little crazy (not so…my mother had me tested!).

Among the dozens of titles to his credit, Popoff has written just about every type of book conceivable covering the aforementioned music genres – concise artist bios (Mötörhead, Max Webster, Riot, Dio, et al); sprawling, comprehensive multi-volume band histories (Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath); detailed historical timelines (Yes); record collectors’ guides (four large volumes, one each for the 1970s-2000s); genre histories (three books on the NWOBHM); album-by-album, song-by-song guides (Queen, Led Zeppelin, the Clash); and esoteric tomes covering the more abstract aspects of the art (Who Invented Heavy Metal?). Hell, it tires me out just listing Martin’s literary accomplishments.

Martin Popoff’s Aces High: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the ‘80s


With Aces High: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the ‘80s, Popoff asked his massive worldwide readership to help with some of the ‘heavy’ lifting (no pun intended). Returning to an idea that resulted in his 2018 book Riff Raff: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the ‘70s; Popoff polled his thousands of followers, Facebook friends, and assorted ne’er-do-wells as to their fave tunes from the heavy metal decade of the ‘80s. He subsequently pared this list of hundreds of songs down to a more manageable 250 selections. Although there is endless conversation as to “who invented heavy metal?” (as I mentioned above, Martin even wrote a book about it…) and when the genre actually took off as a critical and commercial force, there’s no arguing that the ‘80s was rich with all things metal. Thrash, speed, death, hair, prog…no matter your taste in all things metallic, there’s something in these pages for you!

So, Popoff counts down this particular Top 250 from the last entry (Dio’s “Sacred Heart”) to the first (you’ll have to buy the book to find out, bunkie!), each selection accompanied by Martin’s pithy commentary, which often adds a bit of history to the song, as well as quotes from those that made the music, artists and band members that Popoff has interviewed throughout his three decades in the trenches. This format is light and breezy, making for an entertaining read, and the text is supported by hundreds of unique band photos and picture sleeve graphics from those rare 7” slabs o’ wax on which the songs were originally released. The 1980s were a heady period and not without a few challenges, and Popoff touches on “satanic panic,” the PMRC and record censorship, and other cultural flotsam and jetsam of the decade.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Aces High: The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of the ‘80s is a helluva lot of fun, and for any music fan, it’ll dredge up memories of half-forgotten tunes and send the reader scurrying to their record collection to pull out dusty vinyl and revisit these songs. I was really surprised at the diversity of the artists represented in the book; sure, the expected heavyweights of the ’80s are here, with songs by Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC, Metallica, Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe, Iron Maiden and a handful of others all deservedly highly-rated. But Martin’s readers are a discerning bunch, and there are more than a few molten metal obscurities among the Top 250, bands like Savatage, Venom, Mercyful Fate, Armored Saint, and King’s X the province of the dedicated, hardcore fan. Popoff has done an admirable job in stripping down the music to its creative core – the individual song – reminding the reader of why they love this stuff in the first place. Grade: A (Power Chord Press, published April 2019)

Buy the book directly from the author (tell him the Rev sent ya!)

Also on That Devil Music:
Martin Popoff - The Clash: All the Albums, All the Songs book review
Martin Popoff - Led Zeppelin: All the Albums, All the Songs book review
Martin Popoff - Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers: The Rise of Motörhead book review
 

Archive Review: Radio Birdman's The Essential Radio Birdman (2001)

Radio Birdman's The Essential Radio Birdman
The Saints may be Australia’s best-known punk export, but for this scribe’s hard-earned cashola, I’d choose Radio Birdman as the more raucous of the two. Formed by American expatriate Deniz Tek – born in Michigan and weaned on the Stooges and the MC5 – Radio Birdman lasted for just four years and a handful of albums. They were skewered by the notoriously effete British music press and their single U.S. album release was widely ignored. Throughout it all, the band has lived on through rare recordings and bootlegs, building a devoted cult during the past two decades that rivals that of similar high-energy outfits like the Dictators or New York Dolls.

Radio Birdman's The Essential Radio Birdman (1974-1978)


The Essential Radio Birdman (1974-1978) should appeal to even the most dedicated of collectors. The compilation offers all the songs from both the Australian and U.S. versions of the band’s excellent 1978 debut album Radios Appear as well as their 1981 follow-up, Living Eyes (recorded in 1978). Two songs are provided from the original self-produced 1977 EP Burn My Eye, the album closing with three live tracks from a 1977 performance. Fully 12 of the 22 tracks collected on The Essential Radio Birdman (1974-1978) have never been released officially in the United States.

So what is it about Radio Birdman that attracts such fanatical acolytes? It’s a curious mix of American roots-rock, the madness of late 1960s Detroit bands like the Stooges, Up, SRC, and the MC5 and the peculiar Australian perspective created by residing at the end of the earth. When Deniz Tek moved to Australia in 1972 to study medicine, he brought with him the spirit of the slash-and-burn six-string style of Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith. Matched with fellow guitarist Chris Masuak’s metalstorm fretboard technique and surfer Rob Younger’s tortured howl, Radio Birdman cranked up the volume and kicked out electric jams that energized a generation of Aussie musicians behind them.

Tek’s lyrics were street-smart and darkly poetic, seeped in Velvet Underground imagery and Motor City sensibility; tuneage like the desolate “Murder City Nights” or the nostalgic “I-94” rock with a primal passion and fury that was shared by just a handful of mid-‘70s bands. “Aloha Steve & Danno” makes good use of the Hawaii Five-O TV show theme, pairing it with the band’s destructive twin guitars and pop-influenced rhythms while “Alone In the Endzone” echoes the Doors, featuring razor sharp riffs and Younger’s Morrison-like vox. Radio Birdman threw elements of three-chord rock, electric blues, and metallic drone into the creative blender and came up with a powerful, no-frills sound that resonates as loudly in 2001 and it did in 1977.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


If you listen to the Dictators, the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers, the Flamin’ Groovies, Sonic Rendezvous Band, the Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs, or any other devotees of the Detroit rock sound, then you owe it to yourself to discover Radio Birdman. The Essential Radio Birdman (1974-1978) is a hard-rocking introduction to this sadly overlooked band, a great collection of classic punk rock tuneage from “Down Under” that should appeal to new and old Radio Birdman fans alike. (Sub Pop Records, released July 17, 2001)

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

Buy the CD from Amazon.com!




Saturday, June 1, 2019

New Music Monthly: June 2019 Releases

We're standing on the brink of summer and the outlook is groovy! There are only four weeks in June's release schedule, but there's a lot of rock 'n' roll goodness here to kick off the season. You'll find new albums by folks like the Black Keys, Chris Stamey, Bruce Springsteen, the Raconteurs (with Jack White), the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Santana, Peter Frampton, and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, among many others. There are a few choice archival releases this month as well, including a long-lost live Neil Young album, a vinyl reissues of James Taylor's One Man Band and a 25th anniversary vinyl reissue of Americana legend Dave Alvin's classic King of California album (with bonus tracks).

Speaking of the archives, Krautrock and prog fans will like Universal's reissues of seven classic mid-to-late '70s albums by the legendary Tangerine Dream on CD with bonus tracks. Isaac Hayes' classic soundtrack to the movie Shaft gets a deluxe reissue, Prince is represented by a collection from his vaults, and Warren Haynes and Gov't Mule return with a red-hot live set. It's safe to say, no matter your taste in music, there's something in June to tickle your fancy!

If you’re interesting in buying an album, just hit the ‘Buy!’ link to get it from Amazon.com...it’s just that damn easy! Your purchase puts valuable ‘store credit’ 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!

Neil Young & Stray Gators' Tuscaloosa

JUNE 7
Perry Farrell - Kind Heaven   BUY!
Peter Frampton Band - All Blues [w/Sonny Landreth]   BUY!
Dylan LeBlanc - Renegade   BUY!
Gary Nicholson - The Great Divide   BUY!
Gary Nicholson (as 'Whitey Johnson') - More Days Like This   BUY!
Pelican - Nighttime Stories   BUY!
Santana - Africa Speak   BUY!
Silversun Pickups - Widow's Weeds   BUY!
Slowness - Berths   BUY!
James Taylor - One Man Band [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Neil Young & Stray Gators - Tuscaloosa [1973 concert]   BUY!

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real's Turn Off the News, Build A Garden

JUNE 14
Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Servants of the Sun   BUY!
Roger Daltrey - The Who's Tommy Orchestral   BUY!
Isaac Hayes - Shaft (Music From the Soundtrack)   BUY!
Iron & Wine/Calexico - Years To Burn   BUY!
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real - Turn Off the News, Build A Garden   BUY!
Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Cyclone [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Encore [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Force Majure [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Phaedra [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Richochet [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Rubycon [CD reissue]   BUY!
Tangerine Dream - Stratosfear [CD reissue]   BUY!

Tangerine Dream's Stratosfear

JUNE 21
Collective Soul - Blood   BUY!
Def Leppard - Def Leppard - Volume Two [box set]   BUY!
Hollywood Vampires - Rise   BUY!
Hot Chip - A Bath Full of Ectasty   BUY!
Chuck Mead - Close To Home   BUY!
Prince - Originals   BUY!
The Raconteurs - Help Us Stranger   BUY!

Dave Alvin's King of California

JUNE 28
The Allman Betts Band - Down To the River   BUY!
Dave Alvin - King of California [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
The Black Keys - Let's Rock   BUY!
Generation Axe - The Guitars That Destroyed The World [Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Zakk Wylde]   BUY!
Gov't Mule - Bring On the Music  [live]   BUY!
Magma - Zëss
Chris Stamey - New Songs For the 20th Century   BUY!


Album of the Month: The Black Keys' Let's Rock. It was another tough decision this month, with cool new music coming from talents like Chris Stamey, the Raconteurs, Bruce Springsteen, and Lukas Nelson, among many others. I'm going with the Black Keys this month, tho' as Let's Rock is the blues-rockin' duo's first new LP of studio material in five years and is said to be a return to the guitar-heavy sound of their early material. Recorded in the frontman Dan Auerbach's Nashville studio, it will be good to hear singer/guitarist Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney back in the groove again!


Archive Review: Current 93's Black Ships Ate the Sky (2006)

Current 93's Black Ships Ate the Sky
From Devendra Banhart to Sufjan Stevens, lots of folkies are gettin’ their freak on these days, and none of these humble troubadours is freakier than Mr. David Tibet. The stunning genius behind the ever-evolving collective that is Current 93, Tibet made his bones during the heady industrial-music daze of the mid ‘80s. Slicing and dicing and experimenting in sound effects with Burroughsian zeal, Tibet’s collaborative efforts with fellow travelers like John Balance (Psychic TV/Coil) and Steven Stapleton (Nurse With Wound) throughout the decade were complex, dark-hued and hauntingly beautiful tone poems that often verged on madness.

Somewhere along the way, Tibet got in touch with his inner-folkie and throughout the ‘90s he pursued his unique vision of “apocalyptic folk,” combining the adventurous musical experimentation of his early work with traditional and often exotic acoustic instrumentation. The resulting recordings were brilliant and challenging, the meager instrumentation pushing Tibet’s quivering vocals to the forefront, his voice wrapped around mystical tales and somber dirges. It is unlikely that Tibet ever thought that his work would impact an entire genre of music, albeit one as marginal as the current “avant folk” movement, but two-dozen years after his initial recording, Tibet’s importance and influence continue to grow.

Current 93’s Black Ships Ate the Sky


Black Ships Ate the Sky is Current 93’s first album in five years, a stunning collection that is both eerily alluring and magnificent in the breadth of its emotion and instrumentation. Working with his old friend and frequent collaborator Stapleton, guitarists Michael Cashmore and Ben Chasny, and cellist John Contreras, as well as guests like Marc Almond, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and the legendary British folklorist Shirley Collins, Tibet has created a work for the ages. Black Ships Ate the Sky is, says Tibet, “the closest I have come to picturing what I hope, and feel, and love, and fear.”

“Yeah,” you say, “all this hyperbole is well and good. But what does the damn album sound like?” Well, gentle reader, Current 93 defies categorization or comparison, refuses to be pigeonholed, and laughs in the face of mundane, focus group-driven trends. Current 93 simply is. As for Black Ships Ate the Sky, imagine the sweatiest, most flesh-tingling wet dream that you’ve ever enjoyed, and combine it with the most frightening, horrible, spine-tingling nightmare that you’ve ever suffered through. That’s the sound of Current 93. Black Ships Ate the Sky is bracketed by eight varying versions of the ancient hymn “Idumea,” each sung by a different vocalist, providing thematic continuity through the album and a foundation for Tibet’s ruminations on our final judgement, which take on a Biblical intensity.

David Tibet’s voice cuts through the mix like the Reaper’s scythe, a siren’s call to salvation or damnation – depending on your perspective – and the choice is entirely up to you. The instrumentation is at once both perverse and gossamer, a soundtrack to purgatory; Norwegian death metal bands dream of writing music this extreme. The guitars rumble, at times, like the four horsemen on a three-day drunk while delicate notes dance across the lyrics like fireflies in a mating frenzy. Punctuated by found voices grabbed from the ether, Tibet’s lyrics are obsessed with intangibles such as love and fear, and by the cold realities of death and loss. This is “folk” music only by the furthest stretch of the imagination, Tibet and crew bending and stretching the form for their own use, musicologists collecting random sounds and influences from across the globe in a quest to create a new folk idiom for the post-industrial age.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line


Confused? Now you know how I always feel after listening to a Current 93 album. The experience is exhilarating and infuriating, the music, vocals and lyrics working on both a conscious and subliminal level. This is the musical nirvana that fringe-folkies from Mike Heron and Vashti Bunyan to the current crop of talents have attempted to achieve for nearly half a century now. Current 93 combines the best of industrial music’s myriad of influences with classic British folk, a mystical tradition and a global vision to create both the most challenging and the most seductive music that you’ll ever hear...and you’ll never hear anything else like it in this world. (Durtro Jnana Records, released May 23rd, 2006)

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

Friday, May 31, 2019

Archive Review: Pere Ubu's The Tenement Year (1988)

Pere Ubu's The Tenement Year
Once upon a time, oh, say a decade ago, in the land of the expanded consciousness, there roamed a merry band of surrealistic music-makers led by a strange, tormented soul known as David. These troubadours, dubbed Pere Ubu by their followers, created a unique hybrid of rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, classical, and avant-garde electronic experimentation which enthralled any listener and served to fire off more than a few lazy nerve synapses. Before they disappeared into total obscurity, they left behind a handful of recordings, modern musical masterworks which illustrated their combined talents and created an artistic legacy of near-mythical proportion.

After several years of meditation, inner reflection, and personal projects Pere Ubu has re-formed to record and release The Tenement Year, an artistic tour de force of major proportions. The band, led by vocalist, songwriter, and poet David Thomas and included the multi-talented Chris Cutler (ex-Art Bears), soars and glides through eleven new, original songs like Icarus triumphant. Aiming for the sun and hotter than a solar flare, Ubu takes conventional musical tradition and turns it on its pointy lil’ head, moshing up a cacophonic blend of strange instrumentation, white noise, and industrial rhythms fronted by the tortured, howling vocals of the frantic Mr. Thomas.

The end result is aural excitement, an album unlike anything you’ve ever heard, sheer mind-expanding vinyl poetry that takes rock ‘n’ roll to a netherland that it’s never before witnessed. Find out for yourself why Pere Ubu’s early works influenced the creations of Joy Division, Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, and Devo, among others. The Tenement Year is certain to be every bit as influential. (Enigma Records, 1988)

Review originally published by The Metro (Nashville), 1988

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Pere Ubu’s The Tenement Year





Friday, May 24, 2019

Archive Review: Iggy Pop's Instinct (1988)

Iggy Pop's Instinct
Jimmy Osterberg was one of our childhood idols, you know. The levels of gratuitous, hormone-induced violence performed by even the meekest of adolescent males suffering through puberty during 1969 and ’70 were reflected in and, in some instances, given form by Osterberg a/k/a Iggy Pop. Through his chosen medium, rock ‘n’ roll, and his awesome vehicle, the Stooges, Pop preached the gospel of angst and alienation, singing with a madman’s fervor that appealed to the budding anarchist in all of us.

Iggy lived and breathed the auto-erotic ether of self-inflicted nihilism, nightly plunging through that white light/white heat wall-of-sound to swan dive, headfirst, into the gaping, toothy maw of Death. Painfully flagellating himself with the mike stand in a rite of passionate (un)holy penance; unflinchingly rolling, nearly-naked, across an onstage blanket of blood, feces, and jagged shards of glass; always pulling back at that final moment, never quite breaking through, collapsing in a pulpy heap of battered flesh to be carried offstage for another night’s attempt at destiny.

Unlike Jim Morrison, or even Janis Joplin – both peers of Iggy’s – Pop survived his frequent sojourns into the abyss, fading into late ‘70s obscurity until resurrected by the Thin White Duke to act as an elderly icon for a generation of young, would-be punks hell-bent on self-destruction. Nearly 20 years after the Stooges’ influential vinyl triptych of sonic style and three-chord artistry; after almost a dozen solo elpees which run the gamut from brilliant to brain-dead, Iggy is back with a new label and a new album, Instinct. Working for the first time with producer Bill Laswell (Material, Mick Jagger, Afrika Bambaata)…an odd couple matching if ever there was one…Iggy has put together a tougher-than-steel band led by the blitzkrieg six-string mastery of ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones that comes mighty close to the aural purge-and-stomp abilities of the heyday Stooges.

Walking the thin line between punk power and metal overkill that he created, Iggy has returned with a saber-rattling fury, knocking down ten new numbers as only Pop could. Jones’ chainsaw guitar riffs compliment Iggy’s guttural vocals, which range from stark primal screams to smoky, lounge-lizard-styled dirges. The angst is still there, and the alienation is tempered by age and an often-cynical romanticism. Iggy may have grown older, but he’s gotten no softer…there’s life in the ol’ boy yet…and with albums like Instinct, Pop can and will influence an entirely new generation of youth looking for a little of that old search and destroy action while he still remains a rock ‘n’ roll idol for us jaded anachronisms. (A&M Records, released 1988)

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Iggy Pop’s Instinct

Review originally published by The Metro (Nashville), 1988


Friday, May 17, 2019

Archive Review: NoFX & Rancid's BYO Split Series, Volume 3 (2002)

NoFX & Rancid's BYO Split Series, Volume 3
The idea of the “split” disc certainly isn’t a new one – I remember seeing “battle of the bands” styled albums that pitted the Beatles against some lightweight pretenders like the Four Seasons in the bins some thirty years ago. Punk has picked up the tradition with mixed results, tho’ I wouldn’t trade my Rudiments/Jack Kevorkian’s Suicide Machines split CD for anything less than a C-note. BYO Records has made an art form out of what is essentially a commercial marketing ploy, matching dissimilar bands together on a single disc to great effect. This NoFX/Rancid pairing is the third in the series, with each band delivering covers of five of the other band’s tunes, and let me say that it kicks ass in more ways than I can recount here…
   
Although both NoFX and Rancid are part of a California punk rock tradition, the resemblance ends with their geographic proximity. Influenced by bands like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, NoFX have always followed a sort of tongue-in-cheek, smutty juvenile hardcore aesthetic, which in turn has been watered down and exploited by such bubblegum punk poseurs as Blink-182. From their ska-punk roots in Operation Ivy to their current status as indie-rock royalty, Rancid has always been a group of died-in-the-wool Clash acolytes.

The dissimilarity in the styles of the two bands is what makes this split disc work, however. NoFX nail Rancid’s Clash fixation with manic readings of tunes like “Olympia WA” and “Tenderloin,” Fat Mike, El Jefe and the boys waxing Rasta with a reggae-tinged take on “Radio.” For their part, Rancid mix things up a bit and crank up the volume, sounding like nothing so much as a bunch of drunken frat boys. “Moron Brothers” is a frenetic musical leap-of-faith while covers of “Stickin’ In My Eye” and “Bob” roar from 0 to 100 mph with high-octane sound and seemingly endless energy. The disc closes with “Vanilla Sex,” a brilliant anti-censorship screed that Rancid infuses with new spirit and perspective. Altogether, the ten tracks offered here will have you bouncing off the walls like some sort of gleeful punk rock dervish. (BYO Records, released March 5, 2002)

Review originally published by Big O magazine (Singapore), 2003

Buy the CD from Amazon.com: NoFX & Rancid’s BYO Split Series, Volume 3

Monday, May 13, 2019

Archive Review: Timothy Truman and the Dixie Pistols' Marauders (1988)

Timothy Truman and the Dixie Pistols' Marauders
If I’ve said it to you once, I’ve said it to you a million times – the best rock ‘n’ roll music isn’t necessarily found on the major labels. Case in point: Timothy Truman and his merry band of houserockin’ fools, the Dixie Pistols; Truman is best known as the writer, artist, and creator of the Eclipse Comics publication Scout, an intelligent and original graphic portrayal of the United States of the next century, a visionary work that is at once both terrifying and intriguing. A flexi-disc included as a bonus “soundtrack” is an issue of Scout illustrated Truman’s skills as a bona fide rocker and led to the release by Eclipse of Truman’s and their first vinyl project, Marauders.

Truman and the Dixie Pistols practice the working man’s blues, worshipping at the altar of Robert Johnson and kicking out a righteous blend of soul-tinged, blues-infused rock ‘n’ roll madness, creating a mutant hybrid that started 50 years ago in the Mississippi Delta and has roared as an angry golem aboard a hell-bound, lightning-powered locomotive in the soul and spirit of every sad-singing, passionate axeman and artist from Johnson through B.B. King, Albert King, Elmore James, Eric Clapton, John Mayall, and legions of others attending the selfsame shrine.

Timothy Truman's Scout
Marauders holds within its grooves the aural essence of the smoke-filled bar, the straight bourbon shot with a beer chaser, and the alluring stare of that woman at the next table. Serving up a healthy dose of house-party, bring-down-the-roof madness, Truman and the Dixie Pistols romp and frolic through ten numbers that are hotter than the dog days of summer and more soulful than a roomful o’ blues!

Marauders is the real thing, folks – sincere, inspired, joyful music unencumbered by music industry expectations, commercial concessions, or corporate image-mongering. Musically, Truman and the Pistols are a skilled bunch of musicians with frequent flashes of brilliance. Although the tunes are derivative in the genre’s style, the material is original and respectful, showing a love for the tradition without being revivalist or patronizing. All in all, Timothy Truman and the Dixie Pistols’ Marauders is an entertaining, enjoyable album and a hell of a love of fun. The best music isn’t necessarily found on those big boy labels, a fact proven by this sleeper of a disc, a solid debut from a group that nobody’s heard of, released by a comic book company. (Eclipse Records, released 1988)

Review originally published by The Metro (Nashville), 1988