Friday, September 20, 2019

Archive Review: Dead Kennedys' Frankenchrist (2001)

Dead Kennedys' Frankenchrist
Although they’re often underrated when mainstream pundits revise the history of punk rock, the Dead Kennedys were nonetheless one of the most influential and important bands in hardcore America. They provided a voice of sanity during the Reagan era and set the lyrical stage for other politically-oriented bands like Rage Against The Machine and Corporate Avenger.

This CD reissue of 1985’s Frankenchrist is part of Manifesto’s overall revamping of the Dead Kennedys’ catalog; this being the band’s third and, perhaps, most notorious album. The original vinyl release included a fold-out poster by Swiss surrealist artist H.R. Giger that led to the arrest of DK frontman Jello Biafra on obscenity charges. Although Biafra eventually won the case, the attempted censorship and subsequent legal trials and tribulations broke the DKs apart.

Strangely enough, Frankenchrist is long way from being the band’s best album (a spot still reserved by Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, their debut). Frankenchrist may be the most politically-strident release in the DKs catalog, but it eschews the satirical good humor of earlier efforts in favor of more poisonous lyrical barbs. Musically, it is perhaps their most accomplished effort, with guitarist East Bay Ray, bassist Klaus Flouride, and drummer D.H. Peligro coming into their own as instrumentalists. The album kicks off with a mutant surf guitar riff, “Soup Is Good Food” documenting the early days of corporate “downsizing” and the hidden costs of consumerism.

Biafra’s “Chicken Farm” offers a wicked raga-flavored guitar riff beneath a chilling tale of life during wartime. “MTV - Get Off The Air” points out the enervating, soulless corporate nature of “music television” while the pedestrian lyrics of “At My Job” are matched with a brilliantly martial undercurrent courtesy of some strange time changes and recurring rhythms. Biafra’s “Stars and Stripes of Corruption” would later be revisited in spoken word form but here it sports an unrelenting guitar attack punctuating Biafra’s unique and powerful vocals.

At the time, the Dead Kennedys were a perfect fit between Biafra’s often-brilliant social commentary and the player’s hardcore punk assault. Biafra’s manic performances are legend, the energy and passion that he and the band brought to the material unmatched by any punk band in the decade and a half since. (Manifesto Records, released September 11, 2001)

Buy the CD from Dead Kennedys' Frankenchrist

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

Friday, September 13, 2019

Spotlight on R.E.M.

R.E.M. photo by Anton Corbijn, courtesy Warner Bros. Records
R.E.M. photo by Anton Corbijn, courtesy Warner Bros.

R.E.M. Select Discography

Reckoning EP (I.R.S. Records, 1982)
Murmur (I.R.S. Records, 1983)
Reckoning (I.R.S. Records, 1984)
Fables of the Reconstruction (I.R.S. Records, 1985)
Lifes Rich Pageant (I.R.S. Records, 1986)
Document (I.R.S. Records, 1987)
Green (Warner Bros. Records, 1988)
Out of Time (Warner Bros. Records, 1991)
Automatic For the People (Warner Bros. Records, 1992)
Monster (Warner Bros. Records, 1994)
New Adventures In Hi-Fi (Warner Bros. Records, 1996)
Up (Warner Bros. Records, 1998)
Reveal (Warner Bros. Records, 2001)
Around the Sun (Warner Bros. Records, 2004)
R.E.M. Live (Warner Bros. Records, 2007)
Accelerate (Warner Bros. Records, 2008)
Live At the Olympia (Warner Bros. Records, 2009)
Collapse Into Now (Warner Bros. Records, 2011)
Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions (Rhino Records, 2014)
R.E.M. At the BBC (Craft Recordings, 2018 box set)

R.E.M. mini-bio

For almost three decades, from 1983 until their break-up in 2011, R.E.M. was one of the biggest and most beloved bands in the world. Formed in Athens, Georgia in 1980 by singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry, the band would grow beyond its status as college radio superstars to become one of the leading progenitors of 1990s-era “alternative rock.” Over the course of their lengthy career, R.E.M. would release 15 studio and four live albums, selling better than 85 million records worldwide, and inspiring artists like Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus. Unusual, for a band with such a large commercial presence, R.E.M. also enjoyed significant critical support through the years.

R.E.M.'s Chronic Town EP
As the legend goes, Michael Stipe met Peter Buck in 1980 at Wuxtry Records in Athens, where Buck was working at the time. The two hit it off, discovering that they had similar taste in music, both favoring artists like Patti Smith and the Velvet Underground. Stipe and Buck were introduced to Mike Mills and Bill Berry by a mutual friend, and the four decided to make some music together. They quickly developed a unique musical style based on Stipe’s distinctive vocals and obscure lyrics, and Buck’s jangly guitar sound. They would record their first single, “Radio Free Europe,” along with a handful of other songs, at producer Mitch Easter’s Drive-In Studios in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. They originally used the four-track demos to promote the band, but would release “Radio Free Europe,” with the B-side “Sitting Still,” as a single on the local indie label Hib-Tone.

The single’s first pressing quickly sold out, and popular demand forced the label to press thousands of additional copies. R.E.M. returned to North Carolina to record songs that would be featured on their Chronic Town EP. Originally planned for release by the band’s manager’s label, I.R.S. Records signed R.E.M. on the strength of their demo tape and released the five-song Chronic Town in 1982. The band followed it up less than a year later, recording their full-length debut album Murmur with producers Mitch Easter and Don Dixon. The album would inch into the Top 40 of the Billboard magazine charts, mostly due to early support by college radio and the band’s constant touring and electric live shows. Although clearly inspired by 1960s-era rock ‘n’ roll, Murmur’s enigmatic sound and texture – based on Stipe’s often-incomprehensible vocals, Buck’s unique guitar playing, and Mills’ melodic bass lines – was unlike anything released by any other band at the time. The album was eventually awarded a Gold™ Record for better than a half-million units sold.

R.E.M.'s Reckoning
R.E.M. returned to North Carolina to record their sophomore album, Reckoning, working once again with Easter and Dixon. The album sported an original cover by Georgia “outsider” artist Rev. Howard Finster, whose association with R.E.M. would bring his work to a much wider audience. The album would receive almost universal critical acclaim and would peak a few notches higher on the charts than its predecessor, at #27 on its way to Gold™ Record status. For their third album, Fables of the Reconstruction, the band traveled to England to work with famed producer Joe Boyd, who had worked with British folk legends Nick Drake and Fairport Convention. The band hated the experience, and nearly broke up over it, and while Fables of the Reconstruction stumbled a bit commercially in comparison to its predecessor, it actually grew the band’s audience in the U.K.

In an effort to take their record sales to the next level, R.E.M. enlisted John Mellencamp producer Don Gehman to record Lifes Rich Pageant at Mellencamp’s Belmont Mall Studios in Indiana. Gehman sanded down some of the band’s rough edges and provided them with a tougher, harder-rocking sound but ultimately the album charted only slightly higher (#21) than the band’s previous two efforts. Still searching for something that they probably didn’t know they needed, R.E.M. hooked up with producer Scott Litt for what would be the band’s last album for I.R.S. Records, 1987’s Document. Litt had worked with artists like Ian Hunter, the dB’s, and Matthew Sweet as an engineer and producer and his efforts on behalf of R.E.M. would ensure not only his own career but that of the band.

R.E.M.'s Document
Document would be the first of six exceedingly successful albums that R.E.M. would co-produce with Litt, their initial collaboration resulting in a Top 10 hit single in “The One I Love” and minor hits with “Finest Worksong” and “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” earning the band its first Platinum™ Record for over one million units sold. The release of Document fulfilled the band’s contract with I.R.S. Records and, frustrated that the label’s distributor didn’t consider R.E.M. a priority, they left the label. Shopping around, R.E.M. took less money to sign with Warner Bros. Records in exchange for total creative freedom. Some fans saw this move as “selling out,” an accusation that was soon rendered moot by the 1988 release of Green, the band’s major label debut.

An authentically-eclectic mix of songs, Green benefitted from the better distribution and marketing muscle afforded the band by Warner Bros. and resulted in a Top 10 hit in “Stand” and Modern Rock chart hits in “Orange Crush” and “Pop Song 89,” the album eventually achieving Double Platinum™ sales status. Unlike many of their contemporaries, who were overwhelmed by the steamroller that was “grunge” in the 1990s, R.E.M. weathered the commercial tsunami created by an “alternative rock” movement that it helped create. The band’s 1991 album, Out of Time, would propel R.E.M. to international stardom, yielding three hit singles in “Losing My Religion,” “Shiny Happy People,” and “Radio Song.” Out of Time would earn the band three Grammy® Awards and go on to sell better than four million copies in the U.S. (over 18 million worldwide), topping the charts stateside and in the U.K. as well as in new markets like Canada, Italy, Holland, and Austria.

R.E.M.'s Automatic For the People
A little more than a year later, R.E.M. returned with Automatic For the People, another chart-busting effort that, fueled by radio hits in “Everybody Hurts,” “Drive,” and “Man On the Moon,” would also sell over four million copies in the U.S. and over 15 million worldwide. Much as they did with Out of Time, however, R.E.M. decided not to tour in support of the album. They would switch gears again for 1994’s Monster, delivering a louder, less complex set of songs that nevertheless resounded with audiences, topping the charts in the U.S. and the U.K. on the strength of hit songs like “Crush With Eyeliner” and “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” and selling over four million copies stateside. The band launched a worldwide tour in support of Monster, their first in six years, with Sonic Youth and Radiohead as opening acts.

Although shows on the Monster tour sold out consistently, the tour wasn’t without its obstacles. Three of the four band members experienced serious health issues over the course of the year and underwent surgery, sidelining the band for months at a time. R.E.M. used their time on the road widely, though, writing and performing a number of new songs. They taped shows on an eight-track recorder and based their 1996 album, New Adventures In Hi-Fi, on those recordings. Although the album was moderately successful, it sold a quarter of the band’s previous three blockbusters, which was attributed to alt-rock fatigue on the part of audiences. It would be the last album with founding member Bill Berry, who left the band on good terms after its release, and it was the last they’d record with producer Scott Litt.

In the interim, R.E.M. re-signed with Warner Bros. for a reported $80 million, a contract that included the band’s early, and still consistently-selling catalog of albums. Carrying on as a three-piece without Berry, and enlisting friends like drummer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees) and Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows), R.E.M. closed out the tumultuous decade with 1998’s critically-acclaimed album Up, produced by the band and Irish producer Patrick McCarthy (The Waterboys, U2). McCarthy would also work with the band on 2001’s Reveal and 2004’s Around the Sun albums as well as the soundtrack to the 1999 Andy Kaufman biopic Man On the Moon. Although the band’s commercial peak was clearly in the rear-view mirror and the recording industry was undergoing drastic changes, two of the three studio albums that R.E.M. recorded with McCarthy would achieve Gold™ Record status.

R.E.M.'s Accelerate
The band released the hard-rocking album Accelerate in 2008, recorded with Irish producer and punk rocker Jackknife Lee. The album was deemed “a return to form” by many critics, and would top the charts in several countries (peaking at #2 in the U.S.). Bookending the band’s 14th studio album was 2007’s R.E.M. Live (a collection of 2005 performances) and 2009’s Live At the Olympia (capturing a 2007 performance). The band’s swansong would come with 2011’s Collapse Into Now, co-produced by the band working again with Lee and recorded in Berlin, Nashville, and New Orleans. The album fulfilled the band’s contract with Warner Bros. and the three band members decided to call it a day.

R.E.M. had considered hanging up their spurs years previous, after the lukewarm critical and commercial response received by Around the Sun, but decided to continue, Mike Mills telling Rolling Stone magazine’s David Fricke “we needed to prove, not only to our fans and critics but to ourselves, that we could still make great records.” R.E.M. has continued to live on through a series of deluxe reissues, live album releases, and various compilation albums and their influence extended beyond the 1980s-era bands that rose in their wake like Dream Syndicate, Sonic Youth, and the Smiths to include ‘90s-era rockers like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Coldplay, among others. Finishing on a high note, R.E.M. left behind a catalog of music of unparalleled artistic quality that, for a brief shining moment, managed to balance commercial and creative success unlike any band before or since.

Archive Review: Webb Wilder's About Time (2006)

Webb Wilder's About Time
It’s been nearly nine years since Webb Wilder last came ’round these parts with a new phonograph recording and we’ve all been that much poorer for his absence. Heck, during the great one’s hiatus we’ve suffered through nu-metal, modern rock, Britney Spears, boy bands, and Geo. Bush – a veritable cultural famine of Biblical proportions. You don’t have to tie up that noose and throw it over the rafters just yet, bunkie, ’cause our year is about to get a whole lot “wilder” and this scribe can only exclaim that it's “about time!”

Rounding up his “A” Team of veteran players, musical monsters like guitarist George Bradfute, bassist Tom Comet, and drummer Jimmy Lester, Webb Wilder has again hooked up with his long-time partner in crime, the “Ionizer,” R.S. Field to record About Time. As comeback albums go, it’s really like ol’ Webb never left; you can’t really call these grooves a “return to form” because Wilder has never abandoned his pure, untarnished vision of rock ‘n’ roll with a touch of country and blues. Sure, Wilder spices up the brew now and then with some fine brasswork courtesy of Dennis Taylor and Steve Herrman, the band sounding like some R&B revue of old. Overall, old time fans of the “last full-grown man” won't be disappointed by the track selection found on About Time.

Webb Wilder’s About Time

For those of you unfamiliar with Webb Wilder, or those who only know him through his XM satellite radio program, About Time will hit you like that first kiss in the backseat of your daddy’s jalopy. The songs on About Time stand as tall as the singer, a fine combination of roots-rock and Southern-fried influences. “Scattergun,” for instance, is a somber, Marty Robbins-styled old west tale of tragedy while “Battle of the Bands” is a ’50s-flavored rockabilly rave-up with rollicking horns and swinging rhythms. “I Just Had To Laugh” is a typical, old-school Field/Wilder lyrical collaboration about the trials of romance, offering plenty of clever wordplay, Wilder’s magnificent baritone, and some mesmerizing fretwork from Bradfute.

“Miss Missy From Ol’ Hong Kong” is a roadhouse rocker with Steve Conn channeling the spirit of a young Jerry Lee on the ivories. As Wilder speaks of Missy’s many attributes, the rest of the band teeters on the edge, blowing the roof off the mutha with instrumental interplay as tight as a fist and honed to a surgical-edge by 1,001 nights spent performing on the road. Wilder reworks Tommy Overstreet’s early ’70s country classic “If You're Looking For A Fool” with a heartbreaking, bittersweet tone that is punctuated by Bradfute’s sadly weeping guitar. Kevin Gordon’s excellent “Jimmy Reed Is the King of Rock and Roll” is provided a bluesy, ethereal reading that brings to mind John Campbell’s voodoo king, knee deep in the swamp, howling at the moon while Hank’s ghost-driven Cadillac careens around a corner, down Broadway, and away from the Ryman.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

There’s more, but you’re just going to have to pick up a copy of About Time for yourself and discover the mystery, the madness, and the magic of the man called Wilder. Giants standing proudly above lesser talents, Webb Wilder and the Nashvegans deliver a tonic for these troubled days and times in About Time. Welcome back, boys! (Landslide Records, released April 24, 2006)

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

Archive Review: Gary Moore's Live At the Marquee (2002)

 Gary Moore's Live At the Marquee
One of British rock’s greatest secret weapons, Gary Moore has never received the attention or props that he deserves as one of the Emerald Isle’s wildest and most talented guitarslingers. It is certainly not his immense skills that have prevented him from gaining more than a token stateside audience, although his penchant for skipping from project to project might provide some reasons for his obscurity. After fronting the early ’70s British blooze-rock outfit Skid Row, Moore banged out hard rock with Thin Lizzy, flirted with jazz/fusion as a member of Colosseum II, and played on solo albums by folks like Cozy Powell and Greg Lake. Moore’s own solo efforts have run the gamut from heavy metal to improvisational jazz to hardcore blues. For all of his genre hopping, Moore might be pegged as a dilettante but for the fact that no matter the style of music, he plays it so damn well...

Live At the Marquee is taken from a 1980 show captured at London’s Marquee Club and is probably as good a representation of Moore’s six-string skills as one might find. Although this critic personally prefers the blues bashing Moore practiced during the ’90s, the metal-tinged rock and jazzy fretwork found on Live At the Marquee is nevertheless impressive. Fronting a band that includes journeyman MVP drummer Tommy Aldridge, the Irish guitar wizard runs through a set that includes the hard-driving title cut from his 1979 solo album, Back On the Streets and the wonderfully sublime “Parisienne Walkway,” Moore’s first U.K. hit. “Run To Your Mama” rocks with a rabid ferocity, Moore’s lightning-quick runs highlighting an otherwise generic “kiss-off” song while “You” plays like melodic new wave pop. The soaring, operatic “Nuclear Attackv and the thrash-and-bash instrumentation of “Dallas Warhead” (with Aldridge’s manic drum solo) close out Live At the Marquee with a proper showing of Moore’s heavy metal skills.

Although Live At the Marquee probably won’t win Gary Moore any new fans, standing miles away stylistically from his latest release – the bluesy, bone-rattling Scars – the album does serve as a solid documentation of Moore’s early work. Hopefully this reissue will herald a complete revamping of Moore’s ’80-era hard rock catalog by Sanctuary, which very well might attract listeners searching for a new guitar hero in this age of limp, lifeless “modern rock.” Gary Moore is a guitarist of unusual skill and dexterity, a six-string virtuoso capable of great subtlety, power and speed. He deserves a much wider hearing in the United States. (Sanctuary Records, 2002)

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

Friday, September 6, 2019

Archive Review: Eric Gales' That What I Am (2001)

Eric Gales' That What I Am
Like most African-American guitarists who dare to cross over onto rock ‘n’ roll turf, Eric Gales has suffered from comparisons to guitar legend Jimi Hendrix. Like Hendrix, Gales is a left-handed guitarist with a taste for hard rock. Early acclaim laid the dreaded “guitar hero” mantle on the young artist, Gales recording his self-assured, self-titled debut album in 1991 at the tender age of fifteen. He followed it up with Pictures of A Thousand Faces just two years later. Although both albums were heady efforts, the sides show that Gales was prone to overextending himself, jumping headfirst into a song with youthful abandon, six-string Hendrixisms flying off the grooves recklessly.

Since the early days of his career, the young Memphis guitar prodigy has honed his skills, worked with a diverse range of musicians, including former Warlock babe Doro, new wave popster Howard Jones, and hardcore rappers Eight Ball & MJG. As shown by That’s What I Am, the experience has done Gales well. A knowledgeable rock ‘n’ roll veteran in his mid-twenties, Gales is more restrained these days, but not afraid to put the boot to it when it's time to kick out the jams. Just the first two songs on That’s What I Am – the title track and “Hand Writing On the Wall” – contain more fretboard gymnastics and six-string pyrotechnics than you'll hear from a dozen hard rock bands.

The difference is that Gales weaves his solos more carefully these days, incorporating them into the groove rather than allowing them to dominate the song. The result is a looser set of songs that allow Gales’ other musical influences to shine through the mix. “Down Low,” for instance, is a slipping-n-sliding chunk o’ Sly Stone-inspired funk that will have your toes tapping while “Blue Misty Morning” takes a page from Robin Trower’s playbook with spacey, multi-layered guitars sharpening the edge beneath Gales’ soulful vocals. With half-spoken, half-rapped vocals laid down on top of a staccato guitar riff, “Insane” is crazed with bold braggadocio and hometown name checking. Gales leaps into “Black Day” with both feet, notes falling from the fretboard like lightning hitting a Kansas cornfield. “Can’t Go On” is a gentle ballad with tasteful background vocals from, of all people, Josie Cotton (check early ’80s new wave pop obscurities for mention of the talented Ms. Cotton).

Hendrix comparisons be damned, Gales tackles the master’s “Foxey Lady” with a joyful playing that redefines the song, bringing a more contemporary sound to the rock classic. That's What I Am’s other cover, of ZZ Top’s “Just Got Paid,” takes the blues-grunge of the original to new heights, sounding even dirtier and funkier than the Texas trio’s worst nightmares, Gales’ six-string razor roaring out of your speakers. That’s What I Am benefits from the production skills of Geza X (Black Flag, Dead Kennedys), who brings a hard edge to the songs that frames Gales’ skills perfectly. The result is a rocking and rollicking disc, That’s What I Am a guitar-lover’s dream come true. In one final nod to the ghost of Hendrix, Eric Gales is also the first artist signed to Nightbird Records, the new label formed by the Hendrix estate. (Nightbird Records/MCA Records, 2001)

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

Sunday, September 1, 2019

New Music Monthly: September 2019 Releases

We’re finishing up Q3 of 2019 and, from a business perspective, the label levees are about to open as they flood your local record store with new titles vying for your holiday sales attention. No matter, ’cause that means more great music for you and I, and September promises new tunes from folks like Chrissie Hynde, Black Star Riders, the Pixies, Iggy Pop, Opeth, Temples, and the almighty NRBQ, among many others! If you're a blues fan, you’ll rejoice over fresh albums by talents like Janiva Magness, Tad Robinson, Toronzo Cannon, and Rick Estrin and the Nightcats.

There’s honestly not nearly as many archival releases this month, but a whopping four-CD live box set from the Allman Brothers Band should scratch any fan’s itch. 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!

Allman Brothers Band's Fillmore West ’71

Allman Brothers Band - Fillmore West ’71 [4-CD box]   BUY!
Bat For Lashes - Lost Girl   BUY!
Black Star Riders - Another State of Grace   BUY!
Chrissie Hynde - Valva Bone Woe   BUY!
NRBQ - Turn On, Tune In   BUY!
Iggy Pop - Free   BUY!
Status Quo - Backbone   BUY!
Those Pretty Wrongs - Zed for Zulu [Luther Russell & Big Star’s Jody Stephens]   BUY!

Tad Robinson's Real Street

Devendra Banhart - Ma  BUY!
Janiva Magness - Change In the Weather   BUY!
Mike Patton & Jean-Claude Vannier - Corpse Flower   BUY!
Lee “Scratch” Perry - Rootz Reggae Dub   BUY!
The Pixies - Beneath the Eyrie   BUY!
Gruff Rhys - Pang!   BUY!
Tad Robinson - Real Street   BUY!
Leeroy Stagger - Strange Path   BUY!

Toronzo Cannon's The Preacher, the Politician or the Pimp

Toronzo Cannon - The Preacher, the Politician or the Pimp   BUY!
Bruce Cockburn - Crowing Ignites   BUY!
Rick Estrin & the Nightcats - Contemporary   BUY!
Fitz & the Tantrums - All the Feels   BUY!
Liam Gallagher - Why Me? Why Not   BUY!
Hiss Golden Messenger - Terms of Surrender   BUY!
Keane - Cause and Effect   BUY!
Michael Schenker Fest - Revelation   BUY!

Temples' Hot Motion

Hellyeah - Welcome Home   BUY!
Opeth - In Cauda Venenum   BUY!
Steel Panther - Heavy Metal Rules   BUY!
Temples - Hot Motion   BUY!

Album of the Month: With Change In the Weather, Janiva Magness tackles the John Fogerty songbook. If ever there was a songwriter with a wealth of undeniably great songs, it’s Fogerty, and it will be pure pleasure hearing Magness – a former Blues Foundation “B.B. King Entertainer of the Year” award winner – bring her enormous talents and bluesy vocals to the riches of Fogerty’s material.

New Book: Fossils, Relics of the Classic Rock Era v2

Fossils, Relics of the Classic Rock Era v2
Back in the day, record labels didn’t have a network of blogs, artist websites, and social media to help market new music. They only had FM radio, cash ‘payola’ to DJs and, if the budget allowed, advertisements in a handful of music rags like Creem, Trouser Press, and Rolling Stone to help provide hype for a new release. Much like album cover artwork, advertisements created for new album releases were often works of art in themselves.

Creative record label graphic designers often came up with ads that cleverly promoted the artist and their work; just as often, corporate hacks cranked out copy with little or no relation to the album being promoted. With this second volume of Fossils, award-winning rock critic and music historian Rev. Keith A. Gordon takes another look at these “relics,” album advertisements found in frayed and graying copies of cherished old music magazines. Offering insightful and informative commentary on over 60 ads, the ‘Reverend of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ explores this overlooked artistic aspect of the classic rock era.

The “Reverend of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Rev. Keith A. Gordon has been writing about music for almost 50 years. A former contributor to the All Music Guide books and website, and the former Blues Expert for, Rev. Gordon has also written for Blurt magazine, Creem, High Times, and The Blues (U.K.), among many other publications, and has written two-dozen previous music-related books, including Blues Deluxe: The Joe Bonamassa Buying Guide, The Other Side of Nashville, and Scorched Earth: A Jason & the Scorchers Scrapbook.

Fossils v2 is a 140pp 5.5” x 8.5” paperback with B&W photos and is only available in paperback at $11.95 (no eBook version of this one, kids!). Get your copy through the handy link below or buy an autographed copy direct from Excitable Press:

Fossils, Relics of the Classic Rock Era, Volume Two: The 1960s-'80s 

Buy an autographed copy direct from Excitable Press ($11.95 postpaid, PayPal):

Monday, August 26, 2019

Archive Review: Dead Kennedys' Give Me Convenience OR Give Me Death (1987/2001)

Although often overshadowed by legendary outfits like Black Flag, X or the Misfits, the Dead Kennedys were arguably one of the most important and influential punk bands in the history of the genre. They were the most political of the new breed, mixing a radical worldview with a tongue-in-cheek lyrical style and uncompromising hardcore punk chops to create a thought provoking and unique, hilariously satirical sound.

A late ’80s PMRC-inspired obscenity trial didn’t shut the band up but rather managed to censor Amerikka’s most infamous punk rock troublemakers by breaking the band apart. A decade later, the band members have gone through another (very public) break-up, with East Bay Ray, Klaus Flouride and D.H. Peligro wresting control of much of the Dead Kennedy’s catalog away from vocalist and songwriter Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label.

Give Me Convenience OR Give Me Death is one of those former AT titles, reissued by Manifesto Records with the dissenting band member’s blessing; Biafra has disavowed the reissue series entirely. A sort of “greatest hits” compilation, Give Me Convenience OR Give Me Death is a great place for the uninitiated to sample the Dead Kennedys’ experience firsthand. Some of the band’s best material is collected here, including early songs like “Police Truck,” “California Uber Alles” and “Holiday In Cambodia.” A killer cover of “I Fought The Law” shows the band’s retro chops while a Biafra rant, “Night Of The Living Rednecks” foreshadows Jello’s spoken word career.

Old hardcore DK fans probably already have this title on vinyl or CD, but the reissue does offer cleaner sound via digital remastering and a 32-page reproduction of the album’s accompanying booklet, including song lyrics and Winston Smith artwork. I’d recommend Give Me Convenience OR Give Me Death for new fans, and would suggest that if you like this stuff, you should check out Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, the band’s best album and the lone title still available on Alternative Tentacles. (Manifesto Records, 2001)

Review originally published by Jersey Beat zine, 2001

Buy the CD from Amazon: Dead Kennedys' Give Me Convenience OR Give Me Death

Monday, August 19, 2019

Archive Review: The Buzzcocks' Flat-Pack Philosophy (2006)

The Buzzcocks' Flat-Pack Philosophy
Never as nihilist as the Sex Pistols, nor social realists like the Clash, the Buzzcocks’ immense reputation was built on the band’s appropriation of the three-minute pop song for the punk milieu. Frontman Pete Shelley’s acute observations on the teenage condition, coupled with an undeniable sense of melody and a biting instrumental tact – courtesy of guitarist Steve Diggle – made the Buzzcocks one of the most influential bands to emerge from the class of ’77. If, after all this time, they’re not exactly a household name in the US, well, dammit, they should be! After breaking up in 1981, the Buzzcocks reformed a decade later around Shelley, Diggle, bassist Tony Barber and drummer Philip Barker.

This line-up has now been around longer than the original band, and they have released music every bit as memorable as those now-legendary early albums. Flat-Pack Philosophy is a perfect example of Buzzcockian rock; Shelley’s matured songwriting underlined by a fast-and-loud delivery and bold, bright instrumental hooks. Although Shelley no longer shares a teenage perspective, his romantic inclinations are no less clumsy, and songs like “Sell You Everything,” “Credit,” and “Between Heaven and Hell” showcase a wider, intellectual worldview. Altogether, Flat-Pack Philosophy blows across the current musical horizon like a gale-force wind, proving that punk rock can grow old without losing amperage, fury or attitude. One of the year’s best rock ’n’ roll albums, Flat-Pack Philosophy stands proud alongside works like Love Bites and A Different Kind of Tension. (Cooking Vinyl, 2006)

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

Buy the CD from Amazon: The Buzzcocks' Flat-Pack Philosophy

Monday, August 12, 2019

Archive Review: The Distillers' Sing Sing Death House (2002)

The Distillers' Sing Sing Death House
Contrary to what many people believe, punk is as much a philosophy as it is an attitude. Fashion doesn’t really have shit to do with it, ‘cause it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, ya know? You can spike your hair higher than Pamela Anderson’s silly-putty funbags, pierce your face with every safety pin in your mom’s sewing kit and wear all the ripped band t-shirts that you want and it doesn’t mean dick. Meanwhile, you can go to work every day of your life wearing khaki chinos and a button-down oxford shirt and still have a head full o’ evil punk rock thoughts.

Brody Armstrong of the Distillers is an authentic punk rock poster child, and don’t you forget it pal! Possessing a voice that sounds like Joan Jett tossing down steroids with a strychnine-laced whiskey chaser, Armstrong walks the walk and talks the talk like few rockers have been able to. And don’t believe for a minute, buttercup, that Ms. Brody got her recording gig courtesy of husband and fellow punk-for-life Tim Armstrong of Rancid. The Distillers kick out the jams with every bit as much muscle, ferocity, spit and vinegar as any hardcore posse out there today. If you don’t believe me, throw Sing Sing Death House on yer measly little boombox and get ready to dodge the chunks of plaster falling from your ceiling for the next thirty minutes.

Listening to Sing Sing Death House, one gets the distinct impression that for Armstrong, punk is more than a way of life, it’s also an escape from this mundane mortal vale. When Armstrong asks “are you ready to be liberated” at the beginning of the “The Young Crazed Peeling,” you know that homegirl isn’t whistling Dixie (which would be hard for her to do anyway since she’s from Australia...) Much like Rancid, Brody’s Distillers bring a decidedly populist bent to their material – Armstrong isn't a particularly poetic songwriter, but she is an effective one, and certainly not beyond throwing out a tortured growl if needed to express her feelings.

The Distillers
The Distillers
Much of the material on Sing Sing Death House is autobiographical in nature, drawn from Armstrong’s life and experiences, which is partially what makes it so accessible. “Sick of It All” tackles the question of violence that punk rock is often accused of while “City of Angels” takes aim at LA urban decay. “Seneca Falls” picks up the torch of women’s liberation while the aforementioned “The Young Crazed Peeling” is a personal tale of rage and retribution.

All of the songs are delivered with an energetic, high-voltage hardcore hum, the Distillers cutting through all the bullshit to deliver raw, unadorned, honest-to-god punk rock thrills. At the end of the album, either you got it or you didn’t. Personally, I couldn’t give a shit either way; I’m going to listen to Sing Sing Death House again... (Hellcat Records, released February 12th, 2002)

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

Buy the CD from Amazon: The Distillers' Sing Sing Death House

Archive Review: Shane MacGowan and the Popes’ The Snake (2000)

Shane MacGowan and the Popes’ The Snake
When friends and fellow critics argue U2s dubious status as the greatest band to come out of Ireland, I not so politely disagree. The Pogues and the Undertones both are genuine Irish working class artists, and at their worst either band could nonetheless easily teach Bono and crew a thing or two about the true spirit of rock ’n’ roll. If my money was on the line, I’d lay it all down on the Pogues above U2 every time (with the ’tones being my second choice over the self-obsessed, pretentious wankers that U2 sadly became).

Shane MacGowan and the Popes’ The Snake

Shane MacGowan was the undeniable heart and soul of the Pogues, a hard-drinking rock anti-hero who consistently flirted with self-destruction even while the band tottered on the edge of stardom. MacGowan’s departure leveled the band, and even if the Pogues’ swan song, Waiting For Herb, was a vastly underrated jewel of an album, MacGowan’s presence – or lack thereof – was sorely missed. MacGowan brought to the band a sort of reckless abandon and joyful lustiness far too often missing from rock these days.

Gladly, MacGowan has gotten his shit together enough to toss a band into the studio and crank out The Snake, the best album that the Pogues never made. Although there are some slight stylistic differences between the fifteen songs found on The Snake and those of MacGowan’s former mates, his charismatic musical presence creates an uncanny similarity. Lyrically, The Snake shows MacGowan at his very best, with autobiographical songs like “The Church of the Holy Spook” and “Nancy Whiskey” taking a good, hard look at the lifestyle that almost killed him. Others, like “A Mexican Funeral In Paris” or “I’ll Be Your Handbag” are well-written vignettes, story-songs with a personal edge that are almost poetic in their retelling, reminiscent of artists like William Burroughs or Jack Kerouac.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Musically, The Snake is pretty much what one might expect, a brawling, muscular blend of punk rock, classic blue-eyed soul and traditional Celtic roots, with MacGowan’s guttural, coarse, heavily-accented vocals a primal force that many find to be an acquired taste. The Snake is a marvelous comeback album from MacGowan, a lively and uncompromising effort from one of rock’s unheralded geniuses. (ZTT/Warner Bros, released May 9, 2000)

Review originally published by R.A.D! Review & Discussion of Rock ’n’ Roll, 1995

Buy the CD from Amazon: Shane MacGowan and the Popes’ The Snake

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Rock 'n' Roll Archives, Volume Five: Rockin' 'round the World

The Rock 'n' Roll Archives, Volume Five: Rockin' 'round the World
Excitable Press and That Devil Music’s Rev. Gordon are happy to announce the publication of the fifth and final volume in the Rev’s ongoing collections of artist interviews. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Five: Rockin' 'round the World is a budget-priced collection of vintage interviews with seventeen musicians from around the world, including Little Steven, Sisters of Mercy, R.E.M., John Wesley Harding, Wayne Kramer, and Midnight Oil, among others. The book also includes album reviews for many of the featured artists.

The “Reverend of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Rev. Keith A. Gordon has been writing about music for almost 50 years. A former contributor to the All Music Guide books and website, and the former Blues Expert for, Rev. Gordon has also written for Blurt magazine, Creem, High Times, and The Blues (U.K.), among many other publications, and has written two-dozen previous music-related books, including Blues Deluxe: The Joe Bonamassa Buying Guide, The Other Side of Nashville, and Scorched Earth: A Jason & the Scorchers Scrapbook.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Five: Rockin' 'round the World is a 108pp 5.5” x 8.5” paperback with B&W photos, priced at $8.99 for the print edition and $2.99 for the eBook. Get your copy through the handy links below:

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Five: Rockin' 'round the World print edition

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Five: Rockin' 'round the World eBook edition

Also available:

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Four: Cult Rockers print edition

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Four: Cult Rockers eBook

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Three: Heavy Metal print edition

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Three: Heavy Metal eBook

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Two: Punk Rock print edition

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume Two: Punk Rock eBook edition

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume One: Southern Rockers print edition

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Archives, Volume One: Southern Rockers eBook edition

Monday, August 5, 2019

Archive Review: Sex Pistols' Filthy Lucre Live (1996)

Sex Pistols' Filthy Lucre Live
For members of bands like the Clash or the Sex Pistols – arguably the two most important punk bands of the 1970s –  it hasn't been easy living down the legend that’s been built up around them these past 20 years like a bloody albatross around the neck. While the Clash finally melted away into mediocrity with sub-par versions of the band, the Sex Pistols instead self-destructed in the white heat of scandal, hype, death, drugs and violence.

Although Johnny Rotten (née Lydon) built a solid rep as the frontman of Public Image, Ltd., there was always that “unfinished” Sex Pistols business lurking around the corner. For quite a while, throughout the ’80s, it seemed as if everybody but the band were making money, as their illustrious former manager, various record labels and numerous t-shirt and sticker companies marketed Sex Pistols products. It must be particularly vexing to be a legend when you’re not getting your share of the pie.

Sex Pistols’ Filthy Lucre Live

Thus this year’s dubious Sex Pistols reunion tour, celebrating their twentieth anniversary, and the resulting live CD. Making no bones about their intentions, the newly reformed Sex Pistols polished up their axes and polished off musical chestnuts like “God Save the Queen” and “Pretty Vacant” for a whirlwind “Filthy Lucre” tour of Europe and the United States, a performance trail expressly designed to financially soften their descent into retirement. Although I find it all perfectly hilarious – young punks these days bitch far too often about which bands have “sold out” and what’s real punk and what’s not – here are the godfathers of the entire damn scene making an unabashed grab for the cash.

I held reservations about Filthy Lucre Live, however, until I slapped this mean little puppy onto the box and cranked up the sound. Somewhere along the line during the past two decades, the Sex Pistols have actually learned how to play, and their old punk standards take on new potency when stripped of their amateurish original performances. Cuts on Filthy Lucre Live like “New York,” “EMI,” “Holidays In the Sun” and “Anarchy In The U.K.,” as well as the aforementioned pair of Pistols’ classics, sound every bit as vibrant and exciting in this live setting as they ever have. Johnny Rotten’s wailing vocals sound as off-kilter as they always have, his snarling humour at his own expense (and the audience’s) merely part of his longstanding public identity. The band – guitarist – sound like they’ve been playing together for the past 20 years rather than apart, their timing, energy, and power unmatched by bands half (or even a third) their age.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Filthy Lucre Live sounds damn good, and although I doubt that the fearless foursome could create new material with the strength of that on which their legend rests, it’s good to hear these songs, and the band, once again. Score one for the old timers... (Virgin Records, released July 27, 1996)

Buy the CD from Amazon: Sex PistolsFilthy Lucre Live

Thursday, August 1, 2019

New Music Monthly: August 2019 Releases

August is shaping up nicely for music, with rockin' new albums by Ty Segall, the Hold Steady, Redd Kross, Oh Sees, the Hangmen, the Futureheads, and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard (their second this year!). It's also a great month for blues fans with new tunes from Bobby Rush, Coco Montoya, Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters, and the Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Grueling. If that's not your cuppa, how about reissues of great albums by Gregg Allman, John Lee Hooker, Linda McCartney, Steve Goodman, and the talented, effervescent Cindy Lee Berryhill?

Finally, the vaults were opened to sneak out vintage (and previously-unreleased) live sets from Creedence Clearwater Revival and Richard Thompson as well as Jefferson Airplane's complete Woodstock performance on three LPs. 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!

Cindy Lee Berryhill's Straight Outta Marysville

Berlin - Transcendance   BUY!
Cindy Lee Berryhill - Garage Orchestra [CD reissue]   BUY!
Cindy Lee Berryhill - Straight Outta Marysville [CD reissue]   BUY!
Creedence Clearwater Revival - Live at Woodstock [CD & vinyl]   BUY!
Cherie Currie & Brie Darling - The Motivator   BUY!
John Lee Hooker - The Country Blues of John Lee Hooker [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Linda McCartney - Wide Prairie [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Ty Segall - First Taste   BUY!
Richard Thompson - Across A Crowded Room: Live At Barrymore’s 1985   BUY!

The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling's Lucky Guy!

Steve Goodman - Santa Ana Winds [CD reissue]   BUY!
Steve Goodman - Unfinished Business [demos & outtakes]   BUY!
Jefferson Airplane - Woodstock: Sunday August 17,1969 [3-LP vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Rocky Kramer - Firestorm   BUY!
The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling - Lucky Guy!   BUY!
Slipknot - We Are Not Your Kind    BUY!

Bobby Rush's Sitting On Top of the Blues

The Hold Steady - Thrashing Thru the Passion   BUY!
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard - Infest the Rats' Nest   BUY!
Peter, Paul & Mary - At Newport 1963-65   BUY!
Oh Sees - Face Stabber   BUY!
Ride - This Is Not A Safe Space   BUY!
Bobby Rush - Sitting On Top of the Blues   BUY!
Sleater-Kinney - The Center Won't Hold   BUY!
Frank Turner - No Man's Land   BUY!
Versus - Ex Voto   BUY!

Redd Kross's Beyond the Door

Crobot - Motherbrain   BUY!
Arlo Guthrie - Alice's Restaurant OST [CD & vinyl]   BUY!
The Hangmen - Cactusville   BUY!
Coco Montoya - Coming In Hot   BUY!
Redd Kross - Beyond the Door   BUY!
The Rembrandts - Me and Fate   BUY!
The Rubinoos - From Home   BUY!

Gregg Allman's The Gregg Allman Tour

Gregg Allman - Laid Back [deluxe CD & vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Gregg Allman - The Gregg Allman Tour [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters - Beyond the Blue Door   BUY!
The Futureheads - Powers   BUY!
Jesse Malin - Sunset Kids   BUY!
Nirvana - Live and Loud [vinyl reissue]   BUY!

Creedence Clearwater Revival's Live at Woodstock

Album of the Month: Creedence Clearwater Revival's Live at Woodstock is the first release of the legendary band's hour-long set from the August 1969 festival. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, the eleven tracks here include some of the most revered classic rock songs of all time. John Fogerty and crew rip through gems like "Born On the Bayou," "Bad Moon Rising," "Proud Mary," "I Put A Spell On You," and "Suzie Q" from CCR's first three LPs. My only question is why did it take so damn long to release this performance? Available on CD or groovy black vinyl...

Archive Review: Manic Street Preachers' Know Your Enemy (2001)

Manic Street Preachers' Know Your Enemy
In the ever-changing Britpop genre, where longevity isn’t a well-known character trait, the Manic Street Preachers have nevertheless managed to forge a decade-long career. From their early ’90s punk guise as “generation terrorists” to a millennial role as popular arena rockers, the Manic Street Preachers have become the respected graybeards of the British pop/rock scene.

Along the way, they have struggled through controversy, sorrow and fleeting trends to emerge as one of the most successful British bands in recent memory. The one thing that has eluded them, however – stateside success – won’t be won with Know Your Enemy, a mixed bag of style and performance.

Manic Street Preachers’ Know Your Enemy

Know Your Enemy opens with a “Suffragette City” inspired roar that propels “Found That Soul” dangerously close to the “raucous and roll” turf inhabited by harder rocking bands like Dogs d’Amour or Hanoi Rocks. James Dean Bradfield’s guitar stings and buzzes like a six-string hornet’s nest while the background rhythm crashes and tumbles behind his vocals. Unfortunately, “Found That Soul” bleeds into “Ocean Spray,” an aggravating piece of shite with wimpy vocals and nonsensical lyrics.

The remainder of Know Your Enemy is a similar roller-coaster ride, mixing breathless rockers like “Intravenous Agnostic” and “Dead Martyrs” with bland pop tripe that wouldn’t pass muster with the most fervent Anglophile. It seems as if the band is trying to reconcile the success of its present with the street credibility of its past, leading to this choppy, frequently ill-conceived collection of songs. When the band rocks, they raise the roof like few others bands can. When they fall down, however – such as with “Miss Europa Disco Dancer” – they are truly embarrassing.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

The 1995 disappearance of original lyricist and guitarist Richey James has certainly affected the band, although not as much as some critics claim. The Preachers quartet that included Richey James and the post-James trio that carried on after his mysterious disappearance are two quite different outfits. James’ growing mental illness, penchant for self-mutilation and politically charged lyrics made for a flamboyant and electric style of music, and early Preachers’ albums and bootlegs are prized by their fans.

The post-James band has created their own sound in his absence, incorporating their early random madness with a slicker, more professional pop structure. This direction has led to a certain degree of success that they might never have enjoyed with James running the show. These days, however, the Manic Street Preachers seem to be a band in the midst of an identity crisis, too seldom sounding truly manic and, with Know Your Enemy, preaching only to the faithful. (Virgin Records, released April 24, 2001)

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

Buy the CD from Amazon: Manic Street PreachersKnow Your Enemy

Friday, July 26, 2019

Archive Review: Grin's The Very Best of Grin (1999)

Grin's The Very Best of Grin
Nils Lofgren has gained a fair degree of respect for his role as guitarist in Springsteen’s E Street Band, receiving far fewer props for his solo efforts and studio work with Neil Young and Ringo Starr. Lofgren’s is a career that dates back to the late sixties, however, thirty years as a journeyman rocker and visionary. Grin, Lofgren’s first band, is one of those great cult favorites whose place in rock & roll obscurity outshines even Lofgren’s wonderful, if mostly ignored solo career.

Grin released four fine major label albums during their six years, 1968 – 1974, and toured constantly, supporting folks like Jimi Hendrix, the Faces, the Byrds and the J. Geils Band. The Very Best Of Grin offers a deeper retrospective look at the band than previous “best of” albums, a nineteen song history that pretty well sums up what Grin was all about musically.

Grin’s The Very Best of Grin

Originally a trio, teenage guitarist Lofgren was joined by Washington D.C. music scene vets Bob Gordon on bass and drummer Bob Berberich, forming Grin. Signed by Columbia Records’ Spindizzy imprint with a little help from Neil Young and producer David Briggs, the band relocated on the West Coast to record their debut album. The Very Best of Grin includes four tracks from the band’s first effort, including the surprisingly honky-tonkish “Everybody’s Missin’ the Sun.” The previously unreleased “Nobody” is an outtake from the sessions for the first album and sounds a lot like a Lofgren solo song, offering a foreshadowing of music to come while the also unreleased “Sing For Happiness” from those sessions is a soulful ballad complete with lush backing vocals.

The band’s second album, the conceptual 1+1, proved to be their signature disc, yielding what would be the closest Grin ever came to a hit single, the buoyant “White Lies.” An energetic pop/rock tune with an undeniable hook, “White Lies” again sounds like solo Nils, the young guitarist developing his vocal chops and showing the charisma that would later create a loyal following. 1+1 was broken into two sides, the “dreamy” side and the “rocking side,” and The Very Best of Grin includes a selection of material from both, six songs in all. “Hi, Hello Home” offers a countryish beat with fine harmony vocals by Nils and guest Graham Nash. The turbo-charged “Moon Tears” would become a staple of Grin’s, and later Nils’ live performances, an enduring fan favorite that refuses to die.

Grin expanded to a foursome in 1972, adding Nils’ brother Tom on guitar and keyboards, a pairing that continues even today, the two brothers touring in support of Nils solo material. This Grin line-up would record two albums, the criminally-overlooked All Out, which would be their Spindizzy/Columbia swan song and the ill-promoted Gone Crazy for A & M, which would later become Nils solo label. The Very Best of Grin includes a half-dozen cuts from All Out including the rocking “Love or Else” with Nils and Berberich’s shared vocals playing off each others differences and strengths. “Sad Letter” is a bittersweet love song with a tearful guitar riff courtesy of brother Tom while the title cut is a soulful ballad featuring solid vocals by Berberich and guest Kathi McDonald. “You’re the Weight,” the lone cut here from Gone Crazy, is a flat-out rocker, featuring forceful vocals from Lofgren, a full band chorus and some tasteful six-string work from Nils.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Grin would be dropped by A & M Records after the lukewarm success of Gone Crazy, the band playing their farewell show in front of a hometown D.C. crowd in late 1974. Nils was almost immediately picked up as a solo act by the label, and would go on to enjoy a critically acclaimed if commercially questionably career until joining the E Street Band in 1984. Lofgren’s solo releases have been less frequent since hitting the road with Bruce, but albums like Silver Lining or Damaged Goods show a mature artist mining different musical veins that those enjoyed in his youth.

For those Nils Lofgren fans who know him only through his solo work or E Street Band performances, I’d heartily recommend The Very Best of Grin as a portrait of Lofgren’s roots. With only the classic 1+1 still out-of-print, this is the best documentation of the range and depth of one of rock music’s better, if little-known bands. (Sony Legacy Recordings, released June 8, 1999)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 1999

Also on That Devil Music: Grin’s Gone Crazy CD review

Buy the CD from Amazon: Grin’s The Very Best of Grin

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 Mini-Bio

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