Friday, December 6, 2019

Archive Review: Porcupine Tree's Deadwing (2005)

Porcupine Tree's Deadwing
If any band leads the charge, bringing progressive-rock back to the great unwashed masses, it may well be Porcupine Tree. For almost a decade and a half, the English band, led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Steven Wilson, has forged a career by tempering prog-rock tendencies with hard rock sensibilities. Unlike other leading lights in the modern prog movement such as Spock’s Beard or the Flower Kings – bands that take their cue from ‘70s-era progmasters like Yes or King Crimson – Porcupine Tree instead follows a path similar to Pink Floyd. Throw in a strong measure of NWOBM reliance on startling guitar riffs; add elements of lush, ‘90s-vintage 4AD label atmospherics, and stir well with Wilson’s self-taught musical genius and you’ll have the sound of Porcupine Tree.

Porcupine Tree’s Deadwing

The eighth studio effort from Porcupine Tree and only the band’s second album to receive any sort of significant stateside distribution, Deadwing is a magnificent collection of songs with easy appeal to both the mainstream music fan and the diehard prog-rocker. The album opens with the nine-minute-plus title cut, a stunning musical tour de force that never loses steam no matter how many twists and turns the song takes. Infected with an overall moody ambience, Wilson’s somber lyrics are supported by taut leads and blazing riffs, tribal drumbeats and Richard Barbieri’s magnificent keyboard wizardry. The wiry guitar solo in the middle of the song is provided courtesy of Adrian Belew, a well-respected fretmaster with credentials from both the prog-rock and art-rock worlds.

Deadwing gets a little heavier with “Shallow,” a riff-happy rocker that edges into industrial territory, swinging back towards sanity before Trent Reznor comes knocking at the door. Alternately both brutally electric and gently melodic, the song’s theme of technological alienation stands in stark contrast to “Lazarus,” a pastoral composition with fine vocal harmonies and beautifully constructed instrumental passages. “Halo” ventures into horror-rock territory, echoed vocals and monster rhythms counterbalanced by a harmonic chorus with its roots in hard-rocking ‘90s-era grunge.

The band is at its most progressive with the twelve-minute “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here,” the song’s breathtaking instrumentation incorporating elements of swirling psychedelica, Eno-styled ambient electronics and classic, ‘70s-vintage prog-rock song structure. The punchy “Open Car” may be as close to a single release as Deadwing ventures; with its monstrous riffing and larger-than-life vibe the song sojourns into prog-metal territory and would fit perfectly into a modern rock radio format.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Handling vocals, guitars and some secondary keyboards, Wilson’s talents are abundant. Every wunderkind needs players to push them towards greatness, however, and Porcupine Tree offers an impressive collection of instrumental virtuosos. Richard Barbieri, who cut his teeth with groundbreaking ‘80s-era new wave art-rock band Japan, brings a classical element to the band, his keyboard and synth creations providing the underlying structure for Wilson’s complex, extravagant compositions.

Bassist Colin Edward is more than mere background scenery, his fills and occasional leads providing the band’s sound with a heavy bottom end while drummer Gavin Harrison brings an explosive hard rock mentality to the material. Altogether, the band’s musical chemistry is quite impressive, the foursome creating a tapestry of sound and emotion that is ambitious in scope and invigorating in its results. Poised on the brink of U.S. stardom, Porcupine Tree is ready for you…but are you ready for Porcupine Tree? (Lava Records, released March 25, 2005)

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

Buy the CD from Porcupine Tree’s Deadwing

Archive Review: Entombed's Serpent Saints (2007)

Entombed's Serpent Saints
I swear, I put this thing on the box and sparks started flyin’ like ball lightning. The low bass kicked in, bouncing off my head like a concrete police baton and then the guitars – those damn guitars – started to shred my eardrums like a hungry carnivore tearing into a hot meal. Yeah, verily, I speak of the mighty Entombed, Swedish purveyors of black noise most disturbing and yet alluring. Serpent Saints is the hallowed band’s new album, a return to the magnificent metal onslaught of 2003’s Inferno and a gut-busting, liver-shaking, migraine-injecting exercise in tension in its own right.

Entombed’s Serpent Saints

Serpent Saints kicks off with the title track, a deceptive bit of hallucinogenic, hypnotic six-string noodling leading the listener down a dark path on a rainy night, the drums kicking in like thunderstorms on the horizon…and then L.G. Petrov’s werewolf-like vocals kick in and the guitars assault your ears like a concussion grenade. “Serpent Saints” and its follow-up, “Masters of Death,” both flex the band’s thrash muscles, getting good and limber to better drop to the ground and limbo dance across the low-frequency, bass-heavy doom-like soundscapes of “Thy Kingdom Coma” and “Amok.”

If the first four of the ten monster tracks on Serpent Saints haven’t caused you to wet your bed and dive beneath the mattress in horror, wait until yer hungry lobes get snatched up by the razor-sharp fishhook of “Warfare Plague Famine Death,” a tasteful tune straight outta the Four Horsemen’s fakebook, the wiry, tense, demonic six-string pyrotechnics scatting around your cranium like a thousand bloodsucking locusts. Yowsa!

“The Dead, The Dying, And The Dying To Be Dead” is an impressive cross between Sabbath-inspired riff-laden doom and classic Entombed death ‘n’ roll, with galloping drumbeats, bass to beat you over the head with, disturbing fretwork, and lyrics so angry one wonders why Petrov’s head doesn’t burst into flames when he sings ‘em… “Love Song For Satan” is just plain ooky-spooky, cult voices heard beneath a fog of ambience when the song goes all scratchy and industrial with backwards vox and arcane refrains and found sounds and metallic crashing and, well, you’ll certainly be headed for hell in a handbasket of your own weaving if you listen too closely to this song, kiddies…and I’ll see you there!

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Entombed has often been criticized by notoriously tight-minded death metal fanatics for the band’s frequent experimentation in other less…shall we say…metallic endeavors. The result is always the same, however – the band takes a trip down a stylistic side street of its choosing, expands its musical palette, and returns to metal with its batteries recharged and its instruments set on stun, stomp and blister.

After their intriguing (and enjoyable) dalliance with classical ballet forms on Unreal Estate, Entombed has eagerly jumped headfirst back into the abyss with Serpent Saints, an album every bit as stone-crushingly powerful as anything these talented Swedes have ever recorded. (Candlelight Records, released June 25, 2007)

Originally published by the Trademark of Quality blog, 2007

Buy the CD from Entombed’s Serpent Saints

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Blues Images 2020 Calendar Is Here!

Blues Images 2020 Calendar
The Reverend has hung a copy of John Tefteller’s incredible Blues Images calendar on his office wall for over a decade now, its brilliant imagery and blues spirit providing inspiration for my own humble creative efforts. When the leaves begin to turn each autumn, I look forward to receiving the 12”x12” square box with the next year’s calendar enclosed, and I’m happy to say that the 2020 edition is now available!

For the neophytes among you, the Blues Images calendar features vintage advertising artwork from long-gone blues label Paramount Records that noted record collector and dealer Tefteller literally rescued from a dumpster over 20 years ago. Each year’s calendar preserves an immensely-valuable visual history of the early years of the blues; I donate my copies at the end of each year to the Bill Schurk Sound Archives at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

The 2020 calendar offers the imaginative pen-and-ink art promoting Paramount releases of plastic fantastic sides like Charley Spand’s “Ain’t Gonna Stand For That,” Leola B. Wilson’s “Ashley Street Blues,” Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Bad Luck Blues,” and a holiday-themed December ad featuring Mississippi Sarah and Daddy Stovepipe’s “Read Your ABC’s.” There are little photos of B&W advertising artwork reproduced in the empty squares among the days as well.

This year, for the first time, the Blues Images calendar features more photographic advertising art than pen-and-ink drawing, probably because printing technology had improved by the 1930s-era date of many of these ads. As such, the calendar features rare, not-seen-for-decades photos of artists like B.B. King, Victoria Spivey, the Mississippi Sheiks, Bo Carter, “Texas” Alexander, Lonnie Johnson, and Bessie Jackson instead of the usual B&W drawings. Each calendar page is annotated with historical and biographical information about the featured artist, and each month also includes the birth and death dates of classic blues artists.
The Blues Images 2020 calendar cost slightly more than some cheap wall-hanger you’d buy from the mall or local bookstore, but for the hardcore blues fan, Tefteller packs a lot of value for the $24.95 (plus shipping) it will cost you. Each Blues Images calendar includes a full-length CD that features rare, impossible-to-find, and often one-of-a-kind tracks, many of them sourced from Tefteller’s extensive personal collection. The performances, which include the songs from the original advertising as well as related releases, have been remastered from the original 78rpm records using the ‘American Epic’ digital process that makes the sound on these antique shellac marvels really pop out of your speakers.

Blues Images 2020 Calendar
For 2020, Tefteller expanded the reach of the enclosed CD’s coverage to span from the late 1920s through the late 1940s, which encompasses a heck of a lot of great blues sides. The 2020 CD opens with a rare track from the calendar’s cover artist, the phenomenal blues legend B.B. King. “Got the Blues” is a jaunty, jazzy track released as King’s second single in 1949 by the Bullet Records label. It wouldn’t chart, but that’s OK ‘cause a couple of years (and a half-dozen singles) later, B.B. would strike gold with the R&B chart-topping “3 O’Clock Blues.” Still, “Got the Blues” sketches out the bluesy, jazz-flecked sound that King would take to the bank over the decades to follow.

Victoria Spivey’s “Blood Thirsty Blues” takes the listener back to the 1920s – 1927 to be exact – the song’s vaudeville roots apparent in its early jazzlike feel. Spivey recorded with greats like Louis Armstrong and King Oliver throughout her career, so the jazz influences heard in her vamping blues are honest. The Mississippi Sheiks’ “Baby Keeps Stealing Lovin’ On Me” is a prime slice of jug band blues dating to 1930 while Sheiks’ guitarist Bo Carter’s “Howling Tom Cat Blues” is an enchanting, underrated track from 1931.

There’s a lot of other great stuff on this year’s CD, including tracks by “Texas” Alexander with the Mississippi Sheiks (“Days Is Lonesome,” 1930), Blind Lemon Jefferson (“Bad Luck Blues,” 1930), Lonnie Johnson (“She’s Making Whoopee In Hell Tonight,” 1930), and Bessie Jackson (“Shave ‘Em Dry,” 1935), all of which are represented by cool advertising artwork across the months. The CD includes another ten tracks for which there is no artwork, but represents a treasure trove of blues music nevertheless. You’ll find three recently-discovered (and unreleased) demos by obscure bluesman Juke Boy Barner, a couple of songs by Blues Boy Bill (one of ‘em previously unreleased), and super-duper-rare recordings by folks like William Moore, Mississippi Sarah, and Joe Stone (a/k/a Jaydee Short).

The annual Blues Images calendar and CD is a “must have” addition to the collection of any serious old-school blues fan. Blues Images sells other cool blues-related stuff, too, like posters, t-shirts, CDs from previous years, and past years’ calendars. You can find it all on the Blues Images website. Tell John that “the Rev sent ya!”

Short Rounds: Holiday Gift Suggestions (2019)

Cindy Lee Berryhill's Garage Orchestra
Reviews of holiday gift suggestions in 150 words or less…

Cindy Lee Berryhill – Garage Orchestra (Omnivore Recordings)
One of the leading figures in the ‘anti-folk’ movement of the 1980s, which sought to bring punkish intensity and creativity to a staid old traditional sound, singer/songwriter Cindy Lee Berryhill’s first couple of albums were a mixed bag but, by the time of 1994’s Garage Orchestra, Berryhill had found a delicate balance of influences like Dylan, Patti Smith, and the Beach Boys in developing her own voice. Reissued by Omnivore, Garage Orchestra has been expanded with a slew of bonus tracks, but the ten original songs sound as fresh and endearing as they did 25 years ago. Berryhill’s expressive vocals and erudite lyricism on songs like “Radio Astronomy,” “I Want Stuff,” and “Every Someone Tonight” color outside the lines while musically she tends to follow wherever whimsy leads her. The result is a magical musical journey that has held up surprisingly well over the past quarter-century (and worthy of rediscovery). Berryhill’s 1996 LP Straight Outta Marysville was also recently reissued by Omnivore with a half-dozen additional bonus tracks. Grade: A   BUY!

Black Pumas' Black Pumas
Black PumasBlack Pumas (ATO Records)
The self-titled debut album from Black Pumas – the Austin, Texas duo of Adrian Quesada and Eric Burton – is a magnificent hybrid of psychedelic-drenched rock, throwback soul, and contemporary R&B with more than a hint of old-school funk to be found in the blood-red grooves. The two co-produced the album and they hit all the right beats, bringing a modern neo-soul feel to the performances while still managing to capture the heartbeat of 1960s and ‘70s-era Stax Records, Sly & the Family Stone, and Parliament-Funkadelic. With ten original songs, Burton has a lot to work with, and his bluesy vocals edge close to Otis’s turf while Quesada is a nuanced, but powerful guitarist. The studio players fall in behind Burton and Quesada to create a mesmerizing tapestry of sound, but it’s the masterful combination of all these factors – songs, vocals, instrumentation, and production – that propel Black Pumas above their contemporaries. Grade: A+   BUY!

Alice Cooper's Bread Crumbs
Alice CooperBread Crumbs EP (Ear Music)
I haven’t been a big fan of a lot of Alice Cooper’s recent work, but this nifty lil’ 10” vinyl EP kicks ass! Aided and abetted by guitarists Wayne Kramer (The MC5) and Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad) and drummer Johnny “Bee” Badanjek (The Rockets), among others, Alice pays tribute to his Motor City roots with five cover tunes of songs originally recorded by Mitch Ryder (“Devil With A Blue Dress On”), Suzi Quatro (“Your Mama Wont’ Like Me”), Bob Seger (“East Side Story”), the MC5 (“Sister Anne”), and the Dirt Bombs (“Chains of Love)” as well as a couple of rockin’ new tunes in “Detroit City 2020” and “Go Man Go.” Alice has seldom sounded better, really investing his musical charisma into these performances, and his scratch band plays like starry-eyed teens on a collection of hard rock, punk rock, and garage-rock that sounds like 1970 all over again… Grade: A-   BUY!

Robyn Hitchcock & Andy Partridge - Planet England EP (Ape House)
This collaborative effort between two of rock music’s mad geniuses offers the best of both Robyn Hitchcock and XTC’s Andy Partridge. Although Planet England features only four cool tunes on compact disc or collectible 10” vinyl EP, there’s a lot going on in these grooves. Both artists share a distinctive British pop sensibility that skews their compositions towards the complex, lyrically and musically, and they play off each other here like old friends, with all the chemistry that implies, each song overflowing with lush instrumentation. “Turn Me On, Deadman” has a decidedly Hitchcock slant, while “Got Me…” evinces a distinct Partridge whimsy. The other two tracks on Planet England are equally quirky, charming, magical, and entertaining as only two well-respected gentlemen who have forged a career on the fringes of rock music could create. Caution: after spinning Planet England a couple of times you’ll be yearning for a full-length Hitchcock/Partridge album… Grade: A+   BUY!

Handsome Dick Manitoba's Born In the Bronx
Handsome Dick ManitobaBorn In the Bronx (Liberation Hall)
With the testosterone-fueled swagger of a professional wrestler and a larger-than-life personality custom-made for rock music, Handsome Dick Manitoba made his bones as frontman for legendary ‘70s-era sonic terrorists the Dictators. He formed Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom in the late ‘80s with a couple of Dictators bandmates, but Born In the Bronx is Manitoba’s first bona fide solo album. You won’t find any secret penchant for folkie ballads or wimpy pop tripe here, just scorched-earth rock ‘n’ roll with a surprising blues edge. Recorded in Nashville with producer/musician Jon Tiven and a cast of talented musos, Manitoba infuses story-songs like “Thicker Than Blood,” “8th Avenue Serenade,” and “The Cooker & the Hit” with gritty, street-smart gravitas. His somber, updated cover of P.F. Sloan’s “Eve of Destruction” is eerily prescient’ Manitoba’s vocals throughout the album capturing the aspirations of every young man and woman whose life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll. Grade: A   BUY!   

The Muffs' No Holiday
The MuffsNo Holiday (Omnivore Recordings)
With Kim Shattuck’s death from ALS earlier this year came an outpouring of grief from the rock ‘n’ roll community. Shattuck was a beloved figure on the scene, a member of 1980s-era distaff garage-rockers the Pandoras and founder of pop-punk pioneers the Muffs, the band recording a trio of albums for Warner Bros. during the ‘90s before going indie. No Holiday, recorded during Shattuck’s illness, brims over with the charm and intelligence that has become Shattuck’s trademark sound. Although much of No Holiday is softer around the edges, with more introspective songs, perhaps, than the band’s earlier work, a few tunes like “Late and Sorry” or the raucous “Pollyanna” could easily have fit on those first couple of albums. Shattuck’s distinctive raspy, shouted vocals capture the energy of rock ‘n’ roll while her underrated guitar playing could often be both subtle and over-the-top. No Holiday is a fitting tribute to Shattuck’s passion and talents. Grade: A   BUY!

Uh Oh! It's...the Coolies

Check out Kim Shattuck’s other band, the Coolies – Little Steven’s Wicked Cool Records has re-pressed the band’s recent Uh Oh! It’s…the Coolies 10” EP on colored vinyl as a tribute to the late singer, songwriter, and guitarist with 100% of the profits from sales donated to The ALS Association Golden West Chapter.

Harry Nilsson's Losst and Founnd
Harry Nilsson – Losst and Founnd (Omnivore Recordings)
Harry Nilsson found modest success as a singer and songwriter during the 1960s and ‘70s, scoring a handful of Top 40 hits and earning the respect of contemporaries like John Lennon and Ringo Starr. He’d gone over a decade without releasing an album when he went into the studio with producer Mark Hudson in the ‘90s but sadly died before they could finish the project. Hudson has resurrected these tapes for Losst and Founnd, sweetening Nilsson’s demo vocals and adding instrumentation by folks like Jim Keltner, Klaus Voorman, and Nilsson’s son Kiefo. The result is nine new original Nilsson tracks and a couple of inspired cover songs that explore the singer’s love of pop and rock music and display the man’s undeniable musical charisma. It’s been almost 40 years since we were gifted with a Harry Nilsson album, but for longtime fans of the artist, it’s better late than never! Grade: B+   BUY!

The Rosalyns' Outta Reach
The Rosalyns – Outta Reach (Pig Baby Records)
A veritable “supergroup” of distaff rockers, the Rosalyns features multi-instrumentalist Birdy Bardot along with members of the Loons, the Schizophonics, and the Gore Gore Girls. Credentials like these mean that their debut LP, Outta Reach, rocks like a trailer park in a tornado. The Rosalyns formed a few years back to pay tribute to pioneering “girl groups” like the Pleasure Seekers and Ace of Cups, the band pursuing a similar sonic blueprint, i.e. unbridled 1960s-styled garage-rock with swaths of psychedelic color. They put their original spin on classic songs and obscurities alike here, infusing tunes like “Give Him A Great Big Kiss,” “Hanky Panky,” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko Bop” with plenty of howling guitars, heavy bass, explosive percussion, and old-school keyboards. You haven’t lived, though, until you’ve heard the Rosalyns tear up the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” like a pack of hungry she-wolves. Highly recommended…and pick up a copy of the Schizophonics new LP when you check out the indie Pig Baby Records website! Grade: B+    BUY!

Bobby Rush's Sitting On Top of the Blues
Bobby RushSitting On Top of the Blues (Deep Rush Records)
Blues legend Bobby Rush, at 86 years old, rocks a performance like singers a third his age, and has been doing so since long before most of us were born. Rush has been recording since the early ‘60s, creating his own unique fusion of blues, soul, and funk. Rush follows-up on his 2017 Grammy™ Award-winning album Porcupine Meat with the stellar collection Sitting On Top of the Blues, one of the most entertaining entries in a catalog rich with such. The self-referential “Hey Hey Bobby Rush” is a brash, swaggering ode to the blues while “Recipe For Love” is a rollicking instrumental showcase for Rush’s underrated harmonica skills. The sweltering “Pooky Poo” is a Swamp Dogg-styled old-school R&B jam and the bawdy “Bowlegged Woman” is trademark Bobby Rush with good-natured ribald humor. Vashti Jackson provides guitar on most tracks, the Mississippi bluesman’s talents providing a counterpoint to Rush’s vocals and harp-play. Grade: A   BUY!

Previously on That Devil
Short Rounds, April 2019: Steve Earle, Nils Lofgren, Lone Justice, Adam Sandler, Sour Ops, Robin Trower, Jimmie Vaughan 

Short Rounds, March 2019: Tommy Castro, Gary Clark Jr, R. Stevie Moore, Jason Ringenberg, 3x4
Short Rounds, February 2019: Pete Berwick, Big Star, Ted Drozdowski, Walter Trout & Watermelon Slim