Sunday, February 10, 2019

Short Rounds: Pete Berwick, Big Star, Ted Drozdowski, Walter Trout & Watermelon Slim (2019)

Pete Berwick's Island
New album releases in 150 words or less…

Pete BerwickIsland (Shotgun Records)
Second-generation country outlaw Pete Berwick made his bones playing the honky-tonks and juke-joints that existed on the fringes of late 20th century Nashville. Berwick’s intelligent wordplay has always been his strength and previous albums like Ain’t No Train Outta Nashville show that he could rock a bit as well. Island is a departure for Berwick, a collection of mostly-introspective, insightful mid-tempo tunes that lean more country than rock, more blues than folk. You can’t argue with the results, songs like “Anyway” and “Island” speaking to the heartbreak of love and loneliness while “The Streets of Pasadena” is country tear-jerker worthy of George or Merle. “One Setback At A Time” gallops by comparison, the song a statement of defiance set to a lush soundtrack that would make it a hit single in a more enlightened era. Island is Berwick’s most melodic and mature album yet, a masterwork from a unique craftsman. Grade: A+   BUY! 

Big Star's Live On WLIR
Big Star – Live On WLIR (Omnivore Recordings)
After the release of 1974’s sophomore effort Radio City, power-pop pioneers Big Star sojourned to Ultrasonic Studios in Long Island, NY to record this live-in-the-studio radio broadcast. Although this performance was previously released by RykoDisc as Live, it’s been out-of-print for the better part of a quarter-century until rescued by the good folks at Omnivore. Working from the original studio session tapes, the often-bootlegged performance captured by Live On WLIR displays all the rawness and immediacy of the radio broadcast but provided a modern-sounding sonic clean-up. The then-new line-up of Alex Chilton, John Lightman, and Jody Stephens crank out an energetic 14-song set that includes “September Gurls,” “Mod Lang,” “Thirteen,” and “I’m In Love With A Girl,” classic tunes upon which the Big Star mythology would later be built. If you’re a fan of Big Star and/or power-pop and don’t have Live On WLIR, what are you waiting for? Grade: A   BUY! 

Ted Drozdowski's Coyote Motel
Ted DrozdowskiCoyote Motel (Dolly Sez Woof Records)
Nashville-by-way-of-Boston blues guitarist Ted Drozdowski steps aside from his regular band the Scissormen to explore the outer edge of Americana with Coyote Motel. Not surprisingly, given his status as a well-respected music journalist, Drozdowski is a superb, if underrated lyricist and his intelligent story-songs here are accompanied by apt, imaginative music and wickedly effective six-string play. The based-on-a-true-story “Still Among the Living” benefits from Drozdowski’s devastating fretwork, somber vocals, and an overall ominous vibe. The “whimsical” apocalyptic tale “Los Alamos” is deceptively poetic with a maddening riff. The heartfelt “My Friend” is a powerful tribute to R&B great “Mighty” Sam McClain while the anti-racism ode “Jimmy Brown” is an artistic maelstrom, roaring with a punkish fury. Altogether, Coyote Motel is a hell of a lot of fun, a near-perfect fusion of blues, country, rock, and folkish elements that shouldn’t work but instead sounds like Drozdowski invented the entire Americana genre. Grade: A   BUY!

Walter Trout's Survivor Blues
Walter TroutSurvivor Blues (Provogue Music)
Contemporary blues artists stand on the shoulders of giants, and the great Walter Trout pays tribute to some of these legendary talents with Survivor Blues. Not your run-of-the-mill covers album with predictable results, the guitarist digs deep into blues history to unearth long-hidden gems by often-overlooked talents like Sunnyland Slim, Luther Johnson, and J.B. Lenoir, among others, each performance provided Trout’s unique creative spin. Trout inhabits Chicago bluesman Jimmy Dawkins’ “Me, My Guitar, and the Blues” with soaring solos while Floyd Lee’s “Red Sun” is a potent blues-rock stomp with classic rock riffs. Guitarist Robbie Krieger of the Doors sits in on Mississippi Fred McDowell’s country-blues classic “Goin’ Down To the River,” providing elegant solos above Trout’s hypnotic riffs. The twelve tracks chosen by Trout for Survivor Blues serve as a primer for the genre, each performance imbued with the passion and sincerity that has long been the guitarist’s trademark. Grade: A   BUY!

Check out the Reverend’s interview with Walter Trout on the Rock and Roll Globe website!

Watermelon Slim's Church of the Blues
Watermelon SlimChurch of the Blues (Northern Blues Music)
Erudite singer/songwriter Watermelon Slim worships at the Church of the Blues, delivering his typically droll brand of roots-rock and traditional blues music with whip-smart lyrics and no little insight. Slim is fronting a trio here, but he’s joined in the studio by a wealth of musical talent including legendary guitarists Bob Margolin and Joe Louis Walker and soul-blues singer John Nemeth. The results are stunning, Slim layering his half-spoken, half-sung Okie drawl and greasy slide-guitar atop original tracks like the topical “Charlottesville (Blues For My Nation),” “Too Much Alcohol,” and “Post Modern Blues” as well as covering gems from legends like Muddy Waters, Allen Toussaint, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Howlin’ Wolf. Church of the Blues provides the listener with an entertaining, spiritual experience that rocks like a tent revival, Watermelon Slim a true believer preaching the power of the blues. Grade: A   BUY!

Previously on That Devil
Short Rounds, January 2019: Badfinger, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Billy Bremner, Dave Davies & Midnight Oil

Short Rounds, December 2018: Doug Deming, Tom Guerra, Handsome Jack, Tom Morello, NRBQ & Unicorn
Short Rounds, November 2018: Joe Bonamassa, Peter Holsapple & Alex Chilton, Winston Jarrett, Permanent Green Light, The Posies & Rolling River Royalty   

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Book Review: Martin Popoff's Born Again! Black Sabbath In the Eighties and Nineties (2019)

Martin Popoff's Born Again! Black Sabbath In the Eighties and Nineties
As a teenage rock ‘n’ roll fanatic in the early ‘70s, you discovered bands in a myriad of ways. Sure, FM radio was the primary source of exposure, especially if you were lucky enough to live someplace like Nashville where WKDA-FM offered a progressive rock playlist (the station would get much more conservative in its musical choices after changing its call sign to WKDF later in the decade). Zines were another invaluable tool in discovering new music, and I devoured monthly issues of Creem and Crawdaddy, trucked down to the corner store every two weeks for a new Rolling Stone, and cherished copies of obscure rags like Zoo World, Fusion, and Rock magazine whenever they could be found. Friends, especially older ones, helped fill in a lot of the blanks, and I have to thank long-lost compadres like Rick DiBello and Mark Vantrease for introducing me, respectively, to Spirit and the Mothers of Invention.

As I wrote in my review of rock historian Martin Popoff’s excellent Sabotage! Black Sabbath In the Seventies book, it was Rick and Bill Berg and their biker buddies that turned me onto Sabbath, a band that has remained among my favorites for nearly 50 years. Popoff is a familiar, much-reviewed writer ‘round these parts; the author of some 80 books on hard rock and heavy metal, he was the founder and former editor of the Canadian metal zine Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles, and a frequent contributor to music publications like Goldmine and Record Collector (U.K.), among many others. Here is the part where I’m duty-bound to mention that Martin is also a pal of mine, a friend and colleague of many years, and a fellow masochist trudging away in the treacherous trenches of self-publishing.

Martin Popoff’s Born Again! Black Sabbath In the Eighties and Nineties

Black Sabbath is obviously one of Martin’s favorite bands as well, as he’s madly written three previous books on the band, including the aforementioned Sabotage!, the informative (and essential) Black Sabbath F.A.Q., and Black Sabbath: Doom Let Loose, a gorgeous illustrated history of the British metal pioneers. Born Again! Black Sabbath In the Eighties and Nineties compliments the other three volumes by plowing new turf; nothing here overlaps those other books. As is his usual literary modus operandi, Martin provides the reader with an album-by-album history of these contentious two decades, relying on interviews with Sabbath members and fellow-travelers to create a narrative that includes just the right amount of his critical insight.

Born Again! opens with the release of Sabbath’s 1980 “comeback” album, Heaven and Hell, which vaulted the band back into Platinum™ record sales territory. Sabbath had booted flamboyant frontman Ozzy Osbourne, whose well-documented rock star excesses had begun catching up with him in the late ‘70s. Enlisting former Elf and Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio, Sabbath forged a heavier sound for the new metallic decade with the Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules albums. In recapturing a bit of their former creative and commercial glory, they also sparked an ‘Ozzy or Dio’ debate that, while not as turbulent as ‘David Lee or Sammy’ discussions among the Van Halen faithful, nevertheless split the band’s fans into two distinct sides.

Tony Iommi’s Years In the Wilderness

All good things eventually come to an end, however, and when egos clashed over the mixing of Sabbath’s 1982 Live Evil album, Dio packed his bags and exited stage right, taking drummer Vinny Appice (who had replaced the ailing Bill Ward for Mob Rules) with him to form the subsequently-successful band that bore his name. Thus begun Tony Iommi’s years in the “wilderness,” the Sabbath riff master keeping the band together, for better or worse, over the ensuing years and decades. The band would become a revolving door of musicians and singers, Iommi recruiting legendary rockers like Ian Gillan (Deep Purple) and Glenn Hughes (Trapeze) and lesser-knowns like Tony Martin and Ray Gillen (Badlands) to front Sabbath and journeymen musos like drummer Cozy Powell and bassist Bob Daisley to fill holes in the roster as Ward and original fat-string player Geezer Butler rotated in and out of the line-up.

The results of this uncertainty and tumult were mixed – only Martin held onto the microphone for more than a single album, and Gillen didn’t even get that – but Sabbath nevertheless released some pretty decent, albeit overlooked records during this period (1983’s Born Again and 1987’s The Eternal Idol) as well as some stinkers (1994’s Cross Purposes), and one that never should have seen the light of day (1995’s horrible Forbidden). An ill-fated reunion with Ronnie James Dio resulted in 1992’s Dehumanizer album and, after much blood, sweat, and fiercely-negotiated tears, the inevitable band reunion with Ozzy occurred (tho’ it didn’t include original drummer Bill Ward at first), which yielded the rockin’ two-disc live Reunion album (which did include Ward!). Popoff dives deeply into these shadowy corners of the band’s career, standing out of the way and allowing Sabbath band members and related parties to create an oral history of the 1980s and ‘90s.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

I admittedly knew a lot less about the lengthy period of Sabbath’s career covered by Popoff’s Born Again! than I did about the early years of the band, but I walked away from the book with a better knowledge of the artistic dynamic that drove Black Sabbath through the ‘dark’ years. The late, beloved Ronnie James Dio comes across as a bit of a prima donna in his comments and recollections. Tony Iommi’s ego matches that of other great musicians (Ritchie Blackmore comes to mind), which made clashes of personality with other strong-willed talents (Dio and Ian Gillan, notably) a certainty.

Ozzy Osbourne comes across as a clueless dolt in Born Again!, a charismatic singer whose wife and manager Sharon holds the strings (and has seemingly been the ‘agent of chaos’ in the Ozzy/Sabbath camp all these years). Beleaguered original Sabbath drummer Bill Ward is the conscious of the band, and has usually gotten the short end of the stick when dealing with his former band members while Geezer Butler is the literal and figurative ‘heartbeat’ of the band, reappearing in the story to help propel Sabbath to the next level when needed. Popoff spins the tale, warts and all, providing the reader with no little insight into the musical legacy of one of rock’s most misunderstood and often-maligned bands. Grade: A (Power Chord Press, published January 2019)

Buy the book directly from the man himself!

Also on That Devil
Martin Popoff - Sabotage! Black Sabbath In the Seventies book review
Black Sabbath - The Dio Years CD review

Friday, February 1, 2019

New Music Monthly: February 2019 Releases

It may be cold as the dickens outside your window, but the spring thaw could come up quickly in the wake of February’s red-hot slate of new releases guaranteed to tickle your eardrums. Aside from new tunes from talents like Tommy Castro, R. Stevie Moore, Bob Mould, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and the Long Ryders your auditory canals can feast on archive music from Alex Chilton (two of ‘em!) and U2 among much, much more! 

If you’re interesting in buying an album, just hit the ‘Buy!’ link to get it from’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!

Tommy Castro & the Painkillers's Killin’ It Live

Beirut - Gallipoli   BUY!
Tommy Castro & the Painkillers - Killin’ It Live   BUY!
Girlpool - What Chaos Is Imaginary   BUY!
Van Duren - Waiting: The Van Duren Story Original Documentary Soundtrack   BUY!
The Specials - Encore   BUY!

Alex Chilton's From Memphis to New Orleans

Alex Chilton - From Memphis to New Orleans   BUY!
Alex Chilton - Songs From Robin Hood Land   BUY!
Charlie Faye & the Fayettes - The Whole Shebang   BUY!
Humble Pie - Joint Effort   BUY!
Colin Linden & Luther Dickinson - Amour   BUY!
Marley’s Ghost - Travelin’ Shoes   BUY!
Gurf Morlix - Impossible Blue   BUY!
Bob Mould - Sunshine Rock   BUY!
The Lemonheads - Varshons 2   BUY!
Mercury Rev - Bobby Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited   BUY!
Panda Bear - Buoys   BUY!

Humble Pie's Joint Effort

Hayes Carll - What It Is   BUY!
Jon Fratelli - Bright Night Flowers   BUY!
The Long Ryders - Psychedelic Country Soul   BUY!
Millencolin - SOS   BUY!
Tedeschi Trucks Band - Signs   BUY!

Tedeschi Trucks Band's Signs

Claypool Lennon Delerium - South of Reality   BUY!
Dream Theater - Distance Over Time  BUY!
R. Stevie Moore - Afterlife   BUY!
Overkill - The Wings of War   BUY!
Rockin’ Johnny & Quiqué Gomez - Dos Hombres Wanted?   BUY!
Luther Russell - Medium Cool   BUY!
U2 - No Line On the Horizon [vinyl reissue]    BUY!
Various Artists - 3x4 (The Bangles, Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate, etc)   BUY!

R. Stevie Moore's Afterlife

Kinetic Element - The Face of Life   BUY!

Album of the Month: The Long Ryders’ Psychedelic Country Soul (Omnivore Recordings), the reunited legendary band’s first studio LP in 32 years. Produced by noted board-wrangler Ed Stasium, who has worked with the Ramones and the Smithereens, among many others, Psychedelic Country Soul is a collection of eleven brand spankin’ new original slabs o’ rockin’ Americana along with an inspired cover of the Tom Petty song “Walls.”

Says Long Ryders’ singer, guitarist, and songwriter Sid Griffin in a press release for the new LP, Psychedelic Country Soul is  “the album we were always trying to make… each flavor which made the band unique is there be it C&W, rock ’n’ roll, troubadour folk music, raw R&B, or out-there psychedelia.” The new album comes in the wake of deluxe three-disc reissue versions of the band’s classic 1980s-era albums State of Our Union and Two-Fisted Tales by the U.K. archival label Cherry Red.