Saturday, April 25, 2020

FREE copies of Alt.Culture.Guide books!

Alt.Culture.Guide 2006
The Reverend realizes that this pandemic has got us all a little (or a lot) freaked out. As we all shuffle around our homes in self-imposed isolation, we've listened to every record, read every book, watched every TV show.

As a public service, the kindly ol' Rev has uploaded PDF copies of the three Alt.Culture.Guide™ books from the early 2000s which you can download at NO CHARGE and enjoy years of writing from the finest music webzine around (at the time). Just click on the link in the titles and be transported away from your daily grind with FREE rock 'n' roll reading...

WARNING! These are quite large PDF files!

Alt.Culture.Guide™ 2003

• Feature article: "A Critic's Guide to the New Rock Sound" (with The Strokes, The White Stripes, etc)
• Interviews with heavy metal bass legend T.M. Stevens, bluesman Richard Johnston, and rock legend Wayne Kramer (MC5)
• Other articles include "Tower Records On the Ropes," "In Defense of the White Bluesman," "The Rise & Fall of Heavy Metal" and more!
• Dozens of CD, DVD, book & zine reviews
• Writers include Rev. Gordon, Bill Glahn, Tommy Hash, Kels Koch & others
• 7.25" x 9" trade paperback, B&W photos, 150pp w/color covers


Alt.Culture.Guide™ 2005

• Feature article: "Prog-Rock, An Introduction"
• Special Prog-Rock/Metal section featuring interviews with Neal Morse (Spock's Beard), Jerry Gaskill (King's X), Roine Stolt (Flower Kings) & members of Kotipelto, Pallas, Tiles & others!
• Articles include "Kansas Sails On - A Look Back," "Nashville - What Went Wrong?" and "The RIAA vs the Rest of Us" & more!
• Dozens of CD, DVD, book & zine reviews
• Writers include Rev. Gordon, Bill Glahn, Steve Morley, Tommy Hash, Ivadd Grimstone & others
• 7.25" x 9" trade paperback, B&W photos, 205pp w/color covers


Alt.Culture.Guide™ 2006

• Feature article: "Minimum Wage Rock 'n' Roll"
• Interviews with bluesman Bobby Rush, Steve Hackett (Genesis), Alex Skolnick (Testament), Blackie Lawless (W.A.S.P.), Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) and others!
• Other articles include "Deford Bailey: The First Star of the Grand Ole Opry," "Return of the Son of the RIAA vs the Rest of Us" and more!
• Dozens of CD, DVD, book & zine reviews 
• Writers include Rev. Gordon, Bill Glahn, Tommy Hash, Ivadd Grimstone, Eric Saeger, Kena Sosa & others
• 7.25" x 9" trade paperback, B&W photos, 265pp w/color covers


A Review of Alt.Culture.Guide 2006 by the esteemed Kent Orlando:

Way, waaaaaaaay back in the dim, farthermost reaches of human prehistory – sometime shortly after the advent of the velociraptors, but just a few scant ticks prior to that fateful moment in time when the Rolling Stones finally speed-boated their way irrevocably 'cross the Rubicon of Suck – I churned out a vast, eminently forgettable froth of record and concert reviews for various music-oriented publications in and around Nashville, Tennessee. (The Nashville Gazette, Hank, Take One, Anthem, etcetera and so on.

Rock'n'roll newspapers and 'zines in Music City, USA throughout the greater portion of the '70s and '80s were uncannily like the criminal super-organization "Hydra" in all those old Marvel comics: for every one inevitably cut down, two more would instantly spring up to take their place. My longest-lived column at that point ('Bunnies from Hell'; don't ask, and I solemnly pledge not to try and explain) netted an appreciably-better-than-warranted write-up in The Rolling Stone Review 1985, which was pretty much it for me, last hurrah-wise, insofar as serious, journeyman rock journalism goes.

The absolute, balls-to-the-wall, case-closed best of the whole boisterously opinionated lot of us, however – casually performing the written equivalent of great, looping Immelmann turns over my own comparatively lead-efforts; better, even, in certain specific respects, than contributing contemporary Allen Steele (who later went on to become a multiple Hugo Award-winning grandmaster in the SF field, so that's all right, then) – was this one guy, in particular: a perpetually black-clad, bearded, obelisk-sized-and-shaped primal force by the name of Keith A. Gordon, A.K.A. "The Reverend."

Unlike the more dilettantish among us [Insert Nervous, Self-Conscious Coughing Into Hand Here], The Rev remained hunkered and watchful in the rock journo trenches, from that day to this – selflessly standing guard against the Nazgul forces of musical darkness. His is the spiritual and intellectual impetus behind the stone essential Alt.Culture.Guide music webzine (boasting not only a genuinely jaw-dropping backlog of columns, CD/DVD playlists and recommended reading lists, but – bonus, BIG-time! – is home to the Mondo Weed music downloading system), as well as regular jeremiads re: the innumerable business follies and fetishes of the music industry on his other blog, Ryan Adams Sucks; not to mention his ongoing chronicling of the histories of the indie and prog rock scenes in Nashville, circa 1976 to present, on his other OTHER blog, The Other Side of Nashville. (At some point along the way, the Reverend evidently had himself surgically reconfigured into some freakish, sleep-eschewing cybernetic creature-thing of sorts. Persistent online scuttlebutt has it that the poor bastard hasn't actually seen direct sunlight since the latter part of 1989, give or take.)

The very best bestest of each year's material from the Alt.Culture.Guide site is attractively and conveniently collected annually in trade paperback format, with the latest edition – ALT.CULTURE.GUIDE: Aspects of (Un)Popular Culture v3.0, 2006 – clocking in at a fat and sassy 260+ pages of wittily perspicacious industry analysis and over 250 (!!!) music reviews, only one or two of which (inexplicably positive reviews for new releases by '80-era mellow rockschlocks Journey and Asia; both provided by contributor Tommy "Hashman" Hash, whom NO ONE MAN OR WOMAN LIVING MAY LOVE OR TRUST EVEREVEREVER AGAIN!) might legitimately qualify as being "indefensible"; pretty damned impressive any way you want to look at it, overall percentage-wise.  (… and when's the last time you could genuinely say the same of such comparatively calcified house organs as Rolling Stone or Spin, incidentally…?)

Standout pieces in v3.0 include "Minimum Wage Rock & Roll," the Reverend's intriguing, outside-the-box proposal for remedying the industry's present-day fiscal doldrums; thoughtful appreciations of bassist Pete Trewavas (Marillion) and Steve Hackett (Genesis); and convincing, spot-on analyses of the latest offerings (both new and reissued) from such disparate artists as Billy Idol, Roky Erickson, Robert Plant, the Go-Betweens, Jon Mikl Thor, Johnny Winter, The Tubes, Spock's Beard, The Subteens, The Shemps, Dash Rip Rock, Living Colour… you get the idea.

If you aren't reading this man's stuff:  you damned well oughtta be. I don't know how to phrase it any more plainly than that.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Short Rounds: Datura4, Dream Syndicate, Drivin' N' Cryin', Bryan Ferry, Game Theory & Supersuckers (2020)

Datura4's West Coast Highway Cosmic
New album releases in 150 words or less…

Datura4 – West Coast Highway Cosmic (Alive Records)
Rock ‘n’ roll ain’t dead, it’s just been hiding “down under” in the form of Australia’s electrifying Datura4. Fronted by the legendary Dom Mariani (DM3), the band’s fourth long-player continues Datura4’s pursuit of the hard rock Holy Grail, a soaring blend of modernized psychedelic-rock with jagged veins of blues, boogie, and throwback ‘70s-inspired sounds delivered with all the subtlety of an angry Tsunami. The Moog-storm that opens the title track deceptively leads into a droning rocker with prog overtones while “A Darker Shade of Brown” is a delightfully bluesy bit o’ dinosaur-rock with plodding rhythms and screaming guitar. The guitar-driven “Rule My World” is a greasy slab o’ booger-rock and the chiming guitars and spry keyboards of the melodic “Give” deliver a superb rock ‘n’ roll listening experience. Rather than sit and pine for those classic rock days of yore, pick up on what Datura4 is laying down right now! Grade: A   BUY!

Dream Syndicate's The Universe Inside
Dream SyndicateThe Universe Inside (Anti- Records)
Steve Wynn and his ‘Merry Pranksters’ have delivered a masterwork with The Universe Inside. Really just a single, lysergic-fueled performance “cut-up” a la Burroughs into “songs,” the album redefines the quantum possibilities of psychedelic-rock for the modern age. These aren’t songs so much as magickal incantations. The low-fi vibe provided the mesmerizing “The Regulator” belies the overall karmic weight of the 20-minute jam while “The Longing,” at seven-and-a-half minutes the shortest song here, offers a dreamy pop experience that will have you skipping on clouds. “Apropos of Nothing” is a delightful Gregorian-chants-meets-Indian-raga trip while the rumbling bass lines and exotic rhythms of “Dusting Off the Rust” provide a whirling dervish-level ecstasy. Album-closing “The Slowest Rendition” is a peyote-tinged fever-dream of instrumental cacophony and muted vocals. The Universe Inside is comprised of aggressively beautiful music hiding in plain sight beneath your consciousness, offering hours of discovery of its many sonic landscapes. Grade: A+   BUY!

 Drivin’ N’ Cryin’s Live the Love Beautiful Live
Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ Live the Love Beautiful Live (Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ Records)
The only thing better than a new Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ album is a new LIVE D’n’C album! The Atlanta-based Southern rock lifers released Live the Love Beautiful, their first full-length LP in ten years, in mid-2019. Live the Love Beautiful Live documents an onstage performance of the album, including a smokin’ cover of the Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” released as a digital single with proceeds going to the family of the late Jeff Wall of Guadalcanal Diary. D’n’C stalwarts Kevn Kinney and Tim Nielsen have kept the band going for 30 years, and you either get ‘em or you don’t…Kinney is an imaginative songwriter with an unusual voice, and the band’s eclectic mix of rock, country, folk, and blues is on full display here. As such, this live set is unlikely to attract many new listeners, but represents a welcome addition to the band’s catalog for longtime fans nonetheless. Grade: B+   BUY!

Bryan Ferry's Live at the Royal Albert Hall, 1974
Bryan FerryLive at the Royal Albert Hall, 1974 (BMG Music)
There was a time I would have paid to hear Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry sing the phonebook; this vintage live recording dates back to those days. Recorded in December 1974, months after the release of Ferry’s second solo LP, Another Time, Another Place, this set includes a handful of songs from that album and a few from his 1973 solo debut, These Foolish Things. Roxy Music was still very much an ongoing thing, and Ferry is backed here by bandmates like guitarists Phil Manzanera and John Porter, multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson, and drummer Paul Thompson, and if they only revisit a single Roxy cut (“A Really Good Time”) they collectively have a lot of fun on raucous covers like “Sympathy For the Devil” and “Tracks of My Tears.” Ferry’s voice is an acquired taste, especially on “standards” like “The ‘In’ Crowd,” but if you dug him then, you’ll dig this now! Grade: B+   BUY!

Game Theory's Across the Barrier of Sound: Postscript
Game TheoryAcross the Barrier of Sound: Postscript (Omnivore Recordings)
Having restored the catalog of beloved ‘80s indie-rock darlings Game Theory with a series of bonus-packed CD reissues, Omnivore Recordings rewards fans with a big fat kiss in Across the Barrier of Sound: Postscript. Comprised of studio recordings from the final incarnation of the band (which included Michael Querico of the Three O’ Clock) along with Scott Miller’s home recordings, live performances, and demos, Across the Barrier of Sound boasts of nearly two-dozen unreleased tracks in providing the final word on Game Theory. Although Miller’s songwriting genius was clearly influenced by touchstones like the Beatles, Big Star, et al songs like the buoyantly folksy “Idiot Son” or the whimsically beautiful “Inverness” display an originality and maturity of vision that Miller would take with him into his second chapter with the Loud Family (reissues, please?!). Covers of the Fab Four, Todd Rundgren, Big Star, and Eno only sweeten the pot here. Grade: A   BUY!

Supersuckers' Play That Rock ‘n’ Roll
SupersuckersPlay That Rock ‘n’ Roll (Acetate Records)
Play That Rock ‘n’ Roll, the turbocharged new slab o’ red-hot wax from Eddie Spaghetti and his droogs in Supersuckers, reminds of bands of yore like Zodiac Mindwarp and Hanoi Rocks. Songs like “Ain’t Gonna Stop” and “You Ain’t the Boss of Me” evince the gonzo energy of the Love Reaction while “Bringing It Back” and “Die Alone” perfectly capture the ramshackle sound of Finland’s favorite sons (meanwhile, “Last Time Around” channels Motorhead). Spaghetti’s a rock lifer, so he manages to imbue each performance with his unique, Zen-like dedication to blowing the roof off of every studio, rehearsal space, and concert hall he conquers. Eddie’s six-string razor cuts and burns like a laser while the band crashes and bashes behind him with reckless abandon, creating a joyous din. There’s nothing in these grooves but pure, unvarnished rock ‘n’ roll, greasier than a chicken wing and crackling with high-voltage cheap thrills. Grade: B+   BUY!

Previously on That Devil
Short Rounds, March 2020: The Bluefields, Dave Clark Five, Marshall Crenshaw, Gwil Owen, Gary Moore & Watermelon Slim
Short Rounds, February 2020: Beach Slang, The Bar-Kays, Booker T. & the M.G.'s, Delaney & Bonnie, Mott the Hoople & Television Personalities
Short Rounds, January 2020: The Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dana Gillespie, Manfred Mann, Mick Ronson & An A-Squared Compilation
Short Rounds, December 2019 (Holiday Gift Suggestions): Cindy Lee Berryhill, Black Pumas, Alice Cooper, Robyn Hitchcock & Andy Partridge, Handsome Dick Manitoba, The Muffs, Harry Nilsson, The Rosalyns & Bobby Rush 

Archive Review: Cheap Trick's At Budokan: The Complete Concert (1998)

Cheap Trick's At Budokan: The Complete Concert
It wasn’t really a gamble, that month in 1978, when Cheap Trick landed on the foreign soil of Japan for the first time for two nights of shows, but rather as close to a sure thing as Cheap Trick had experienced. Ignored commercially by all but a loyal base of fans after three critically-acclaimed albums in the United States, Cheap Trick were a big deal in the land of the rising sun, earning a pair of gold albums and a slew of hit singles.

The Japanese performances, recorded for a future album release in that country, were considered a stopgap measure for the band’s most successful market while the Illinois boys finished up what was to be their fourth domestic release, Dream Police. Fate being what it is, however, Cheap Trick’s At Budokan album became one of the best-selling import albums in the U.S. before finally being released domestically by the band’s label. Fueled by the hit single “I Want You To Want Me,” millions of American teens viewed Budokan as a musical mecca, Cheap Trick their new rock ‘n’  roll idols, driving At Budokan to multi-platinum sales and status as one of a handful of classic live albums.
Some twenty years later, Cheap Trick are still plugging away, sounding as fresh and energetic as they did in the ‘70s. To commemorate the Budokan concerts, the performances recorded those nights have been reissued on CD for the first time as a “Deluxe 20th Anniversary Edition.” Nineteen digitally remastered cuts presented in the original set order recreate a complete Budokan performance with improved sound and clarity, while a couple of neat video clips to be viewed with your computer are thrown in to bring the set into the modern age. What more can really be said about the songs performed by Cheap Trick those nights? Many have become timeless classics, cuts like “Surrender,” “Southern Girls,” “Come On, Come On” and, of course, “I Want You To Want Me” becoming part of our shared musical vocabulary.

Primarily a band that came across better on stage than in the studio, At Budokan: The Complete Concert captures the energy and charisma of one of the best rock bands of all time. The inclusion of additional material from the original shows improves upon the original LP release, providing a more authentic document of the band at the time. The release of At Budokan: The Complete Concert on CD allows Cheap Trick fans to finally fill out their collections with this important slice of rock history. (Legacy Recordings, released April 28, 1998)

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

Buy the CD from Cheap Trick’s At Budokan: The Complete Concert

Friday, April 17, 2020

Song of the Week: Sour Ops' "The Sexy Sadist" (2020)

Price Harrison and his gang o' sonic terrorists, Sour Ops, released (today!) a brand spankin' new digital single, "The Sexy Sadist." The song is a molten slab of Motor City meets the Big Apple rock 'n' roll that draws as much from Iggy & the Stooges as it does from Lou Reed's Velvet Underground, with the Harrison Brothers (Price & Mark) dancing a switchblade tango with clashing lead guitars while the rest of these Nashville thugs pound out a skull-splitting rhythm track above a snaky, sensual synth line. "The Sexy Sadist" is gar-an-damn-teed to rattle
yer bones, or your money back...check out the song below and discover more cool tunes by Sour Ops on the band's website...

Also on That Devil Music:  Sour Ops' Family Circuit CD review

Archive Review: Stiff Little Fingers' Hope Street/Greatest Hits Live In the U.K. (1999)

Stiff Little Fingers' Hope Street
One of the brightest and boldest of the “Class of ’76,” Stiff Little Fingers were Ireland’s working class heroes, brash punks with snarling attitudes and a ‘take-no-prisoner” style of three-chord punk that was heavy on the lyrical polemics and short on subtlety. Through the close to a quarter-century that has passed since the original onslaught of punk, Stiff Little Fingers has persevered through various break-ups, reformations, changes in membership and changes in punk itself.

Through the past few years, with the addition of former Jam member Bruce Foxton on bass, SLF has reinvented itself as more of a traditional rock band. While having roots in the rawest style of punk, SLF has managed to incorporate elements of roots rock, soul, and pop in the creation of an entirely new identity.

Stiff Little Fingers’ Hope Street/Greatest Hits Live In the U.K.

Although I’ve been generally impressed with the new direction SLF frontman Jake Burns has taken the band over the course of the last few albums, its seems as if SLF’s evolution has culminated in Hope Street, the new half of an unusual 2-CD set. Along with Hope Street, a collection of a dozen new tunes, a second disc offers the band’s Greatest Hits Live In The U.K. A selection of founding SLF member Jake Burns’ favorite songs, with comments on many from Burns in the liner notes, these ten tracks showcase the fire and passion that SLF originally brought to the material some twenty-years ago. Some of SLF’s best songs are recreated here by a band that is musically superior to the kids that performed these cuts long ago, with scorchers like “Suspect Device,” “Alternative Ulster,” and “Roots, Radics, Rockers & Reggae” representing some of the brightest-burning punk rock that any band has ever created.

As for Hope Street, this new collection of SLF tunes stands quite well on its own. Featuring full-bodied, complex and multi-textured music with lyrics that evince a greater grasp of social commentary, the new SLF has evolved into a damn fine band. Burns’ voice has smoothed out a bit through the years, approximating a rough growl as opposed to the angry snarl of his youth. It is matched on many of the songs by Foxton’s melodic vocals. Guitarist Ian McCallum adds another dimension to the songs with crystal clear lines and energetic riffs that underline the lyrics. Many of the songs on Hope Street, like the anthemic “No Faith,” “Bulletproof” or the lively title track are radio-friendly rockers with a dangerous edge and a contemporary sound.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Although the SLF guys tend to wear their myriad of influences on their collective sleeves at some places on Hope Street – I hear strains of Graham Parker, Midnight Oil, and Inxs in these grooves, to name but a few – they nonetheless work hard to imprint every familiar riff and inflection with their own identity. They’ve succeeded quite well, Hope Street representing a solid effort from a band that has defied the odds to crank out great music long after they were written off by all but their staunchest fans. If you want a great taste of both the past and present of one of the most underrated bands of the punk era, check out this great combo package from Stiff Little Fingers. (Oxygen Records)

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

Friday, April 10, 2020

Archive Review: Sinéad O’Connor's The Lion and the Cobra (1988)

Sinéad O’Connor's The Lion and the Cobra
Sinéad O’Connor is a wonderful anomaly. Women in rock music tend to come across as either spandex-clad, sexual cutie-pies or as asexual, sensitive folkie singer/songwriter types. Ms. O’Connor is certainly neither and yet, at times, both. She writes, wrote, or co-wrote every cut on The Lion and the Cobra, plays guitar, and sings exhibiting a great measure of intellectual sensitivity and lyrical acumen.

The material she has created, though, transcends the usual heavy-handed clichés and sparseness of the singer/songwriter genre in that it is complex, disturbing, and fully-realized. On the other side of the coin, O’Connor is aggressively sexual, a highly sensual creature in word and voice despite her unconventional (by social standards of beauty) shaved head and masculine appearance. Thus, the wonder and the anomaly...

The Lion and the Cobra is a delightful and entertaining album, an artistic triumph of form and substance. Incorporating an almost Baroque instrumental approach with her haunting, ethereal vocals, one had to search for the lyrics beneath a poetic, embroidered web of emotion and passion, the mark of O’Connor’s singular and personal vision. Often compared with Kate Bush – another outstanding female artist who travels similar starlit paths – O’Connor, in reality, more favorably compares with Peter Gabriel.

With her great musical ability, willingness to go beyond the boundaries of traditional pop formats, and her talented use of the voice as an instrument in its own right, O’Connor shares with Gabriel an interest in artistic experimentation and the use of instrumentation to stretch and extend the limits of rock music as we know it. The Lion and the Cobra is an album which, at times, is loud and harsh, soft and whispering, dreamlike and disturbing, at once both rhythmic and syncopated, cacophonic and never, never dull. (Chrysalis Records, released November 1987)

Review originally published by The Metro (Nashville), 1988

Buy the CD from Sinéad O’Connor’s The Lion and the Cobra

Archive Review: Zodiac Mindwarp & the Love Reaction's Tattooed Beat Messiah (1988)

Zodiac Mindwarp & the Love Reaction's Tattooed Beat Messiah
Heeey Kiddies!!! Get ready, boys and girls and those of unqualified gender, to blow thy minds with the full-blown, BIG-beat rockin’ sound and fury of the one-and-only mutant king, Zodiac Mindwarp and his fabled band, the Love Reaction. Tattooed Beat Messiah is your introduction to the unholy world of celestial kicks and cosmic licks, a non-stop primal rock ‘n’ roll firestorm of intense musical napalm

Riding iron steeds with fiery anuses, Zodiac and gang are the mutant biker lizard-men of your darkest fantasies; singing saviors of the nightmarish, post-apocalyptic civilization. Drawing on almost three decades of rock history, Tattooed Beat Messiah rings and dances with hermetic poetry; metallic guitar licks; and sneering, growling hard rock vocals bristling with punk-like attitude and hardcore energy.

Lyrically obscure and occult-ish, Zodiac Mindwarp & the Love Reaction match Crowley-ish mysticism with lysergic acid diethylamide experience and spiritual amorality with a heavy dose of New York Dolls/Alice Cooper/Screaming Lord Sutch hard rock mania. Toss in a healthy dose of solar psychosis and an anarchic streak a mile wide and you have a thugee-worshipping band of mercenary rockin’ madmen riding a laser beam to hell and back.

Zodiac Mindwarp & the Love Reaction just might be the first rock ‘n’ roll band from this planetary wasteland that’s ready to go on a three-hundred night road trip among the stars and galaxies of the universe. If you like your music loud and swaggering, your rock hard, as brutal as a rose petal and as sweet as an iron rod’s kiss, then glom a copy of Tattooed Beat Messiah. If not, then go back to yer momma’s Menudo albums, wimpo…

Review originally published by The Metro (Nashville), 1988

Buy the CD from Zodiac Mindwarp & the Love Reaction’s Tattooed Beat Messiah

Friday, April 3, 2020

Archive Review: Magic Sam's Live At The Avant Garde (2013)

Magic Sam's Live At The Avant Garde
By the mid-1960s, Chicago blues guitarist "Magic" Sam Maghett had been kicking around the Windy City for a decade and a half, trying to kickstart a career that seemed to be buoyed entirely by his dynamic live performances. A series of well-received but under-performing sides released by the Cobra and Chief Records labels between 1957 and 1961 had earned Sam a reputation as a fiery guitarist and soulful vocalist, and while they were influential beyond what their meager sales numbers would indicate, creatively Sam didn't hit his stride until signing with Bob Koester's groundbreaking Delmark Records label.

Magic Sam's Live At the Avant Garde

At the time, Delmark Records was pioneering a new style of blues that not only pushed the staid genre into new territory, but also appealed to a growing audience of young white fans. Records by Junior Wells, J.B. Hutto, and Magic Sam's 1967 debut, West Side Soul, would withstand the test of time to become influential classics of the blues, but in the soul-drenched era, anachronistic guitar men like Maghett had a hard time finding gigs in Chicago. Sam drove north in June 1968 to perform at the Avant Garde in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the show thankfully captured on tape by high school student and blues fan Jim Charne.

The Magic man kicked off the Avant Garde set with a rip-roaring cover of Freddie King's instrumental classic "San-Ho-Zay" that he'd later record later that year for his sophomore effort Black Magic. As drummer Bob Richey delivers a strong circular beat and bassist "Big Mojo" Robert Elem holds down a fat bottom end, Magic Sam embroiders the progressive rhythms with his electrically-charged fretwork. The notes jump out of the speaker and attack your ears with the subtlety of a swarm of angry bees, but you're overjoyed by the musical honey left behind. The slightly less rambunctious "Don't Want No Woman" is built on a standard Chicago shuffle, raised a notch by Sam's underrated, soulful vocals and imaginative guitarplay.

While the original recording has been re-mastered and cleaned up as much as possible by producer and engineer Charne, there's still plenty of dirt and grease in the grooves, and the shortcomings of the original 45-year-old recording technology are evident on several tracks. It's no worse sounding than standing at the back of a smoke-filled club though, the notes bouncing and colliding off the walls and other listeners. Besides, when you're faced with a performance as stunning as Sam's take on Lowell Fulson's "It's All Your Fault Baby," you're not really going to care. His emotional vocals are paired with a languid backbeat and the song's familiar recurring lick, the guitarist delivering a blues tour-de-force. While his instrument trembles and shakes throughout the take, Sam's anguished solo almost three-minutes into the song is the definition of the blues, perfectly capturing the song's heartbreak with a few well-written lines of poetic guitarplay.

Tribute to Muddy Waters

Maghett's original "You Belong To Me" is an upbeat rocker with a jaunty rhythmic soundtrack that relies heavily on Elem's lively bass lines and Sam's machine-gun guitar licks. His vocals pop out of the mix and lyrics are delivered at a frenzied pace as Richey's rapid-fire drumbeats keep moving the clock forwards. It's an exhilarating ride, and highly recommended, but still nowhere near as alluring as Sam's reading of Amos Blakemore's "Come On In This House." Sam's vocals here often ride a rocket into the stratosphere, the singer hitting falsetto notes that seem to amplify his emotional turmoil, his wiry fretwork echoing the tearful vibe, a few well-placed notes delivering tremors the equal of any earthquake.

Magic Sam pays tribute to the great Muddy Waters with a pair of nicely-chosen-and-delivered covers, the first of the Willie Dixon-penned "Hoochie Coochie Man," one of the Chicago blues master's signature songs. With Richey and Elem laying down a martial rhythm, Sam spits out the now-legendary lyrics with a certainty that, while less forceful than Waters, is boastful nonetheless. Sam's guitar licks mimic the original recording, but he slaps some fresh paint on the song with a tense solo that wraps around your ears like barbed-wire and squeezes every bit of braggadocio out of the tale. By contrast, while his cover of Waters' "Still A Fool" retains the Delta dirt of the original, Sam takes it to a while other level, his hypnotizing guitarwork rising above his equally-enchanting vocals to leave the listener gobsmacked by the primal electricity of the performance.

One of Sam's best-known songs, "All Your Love (I Miss Loving)" was actually written by his West Side blues partner Otis Rush, but Maghett takes it and makes it entirely his own with a powerful reading, the song's up-tempo rhythms matched by Sam's exclusive guitar tones and nimble-fingered playing, the blues literally falling from his fingertips and washing over the audience. Sam goes the opposite direction with his original instrumental "Lookin' Good," the guitarist amping up a reckless rockabilly vibe, welding it to a steely blues framework, and subsequently laying down the nastiest, greasiest, most enjoyable finger-pickin' east of the mighty Mississippi before the song just choogles on down the tracks as its infectious locomotive rhythm fades into the background. 

The Reverend's Bottom Line

As mentioned above, the sound quality of Live At the Avant Garde is a bit dicey, scratchy with a bit of echo and some fuzziness. What a young Jim Charne accomplished with his original tape is amazing nonetheless, his primitive recording technology managing to capture the raw immediacy and electricity of the performance. And it's the music that matters, Magic Sam and his trio reveling in the blues, cranking out a high-energy, hour-plus set that is both intimate and expansive, the guitarist bringing his best to a meager audience in a small club. Live At the Avant Garde perfectly documents the musical growth between Sam's West Side Soul and Black Magic albums, and is a welcome addition to the blues legend's too-small catalog. Highly recommended! (Delmark Records, released November 19, 2013)

Buy the CD from Magic Sam's Live At the Avant Garde

Archive Review: Robert Gordon's Robert Gordon with Link Wray & Fresh Fish Special (1979/2007)

Robert Gordon with Link Wray
One of the very cool things about the punk revolution of ‘77 was the major label’s begrudging willingness to listen to new sounds. With many of the arena-rock giants of the era either dying off or rapidly becoming irrelevant, record labels were forced to cast an eye about for something new and exciting to exploit. They didn’t really understand this punk rock stuff and, truthfully, most of it scared them half to death. This is what the kids were listening to, tho’, and they had to put out something to bolster flagging album sales, so...

The labels subsequently began a feeding frenzy that extended well into the “new wave” daze of the early ‘80s, throwing out albums by new artists with alarming regularity, tossing them up against the wall to see what stuck. This haphazard approach resulted in a wealth of truly crappy music, but it also gave voice to many creative and influential artists of enduring stature. It was an exciting time to be a fan of music, because one really never knew what the next new band would bring to the table.

Robert Gordon with Link Wray

Even by the relatively relaxed standards of the late 1970s, it’s still a wonder that rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon ever landed a label deal in the first place. Not that his music was terrible; on the contrary, his unique take on the rockabilly sound was firmly rooted in a heartfelt love and appreciation for the music. Rather than attempt to mimic the style, as the Stray Cats would do with varied commercial success half-a-decade or so later, Gordon’s musical homage was authentic and natural. In every way that counted, Robert Gordon was a rockabilly singer, standing in as stark a contrast to the punk rockers of the day as they did to the “dinosaurs” they had allegedly replaced.

It probably didn’t hurt that Gordon was signed to producer Richard Gottehrer’s Private Stock label, which was distributed by RCA Records, the label home of rockabilly icon Elvis Presley. Gordon found a kindred spirit in Gottehrer, and recruiting, perhaps, the greatest rock guitarist of the ‘50s – Link Wray – the singer, the producer, and the six-string marvel ventured into the studio during two different months in 1977 to record what would later become two legendary albums – Robert Gordon with Link Wray and Fresh Fish Special, both released in 1979.

The first of the two albums, Robert Gordon with Link Wray, finds the singer taking tentative steps towards recreating the rockabilly sounds that inspired him as a teen. The results are encouraging: tunes like the raucous “Red Hot” or the slinky “Summertime Blues” really tear up the asphalt while slow dances like “Sweet Surrender” place an emphasis on Gordon’s fine vocals, his infectious baritone swooping and soaring across the lyrics. Wray’s guitar swings pretty freely, subtly spicing up the material, but my one complaint would be that the band never really cuts loose and sets the studio on fire. Save for a couple of Wray originals, most of the tunes here are vintage nuggets, well chosen, and some of them, like “Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll,” threaten to leap right off the turntable. The album is a fitting tribute to Gordon’s influences, nearly-forgotten original rockers like Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and Johnny Burnette.

Robert Gordon’s Fresh Fish Special

Gordon and Wray hit their stride with their second collaboration, Fresh Fish Special. Recorded shortly after the tragic death of Elvis Presley, the King’s spirit is channeled throughout these performances. The album’s musical format is loosened up a bit – think Elvis circa ’65 rather than the rockabilly ‘E’ of ’55 – to include tunes like the classic New Orleans swinger “Sea Cruise” or the crooning ballad “Blue Eyes (Don’t Run Away).” There’s plenty here to satisfy the listener’s inner-rockabilly, however, from the shuffling “Five Days, Five Days,” with Wray’s tasty guitar licks complemented by the Jordanaires’ vocal harmonies, or the grand, Presley-esque “If This Is Wrong.”

Gordon knocks an obscure Elvis cover, “I Want To Be Free” from the movie Jailhouse Rock, right out of the park with a soaring performance, while the rollicking “Twenty Flight Rock” swings like an out-of-control wrecking ball. One of Gordon’s biggest fans, Bruce Springsteen, hand-delivered the eloquent “Fire,” which the singer makes his own with an inspired performance, and “Red Cadillac and A Black Mustache” is your typical sordid ‘50s-era tale of love gone wrong, the song’s shuffling beat paired with one of Gordon’s best vocal interpretations.

These two near-classic late ‘70s albums helped kickstart a rockabilly revival that resulted in ‘80s-era bands like the Stray Cats and Matchbox, and continues to inspire roots-rockers like the Reverend Horton Heat and the Legendary Shack Shakers. Reissue label American Beat Records released Robert Gordon with Link Wray and Fresh Fish Special on a single CD, remastered the sets for an invigorating sound and providing the collection with short liner notes.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Although neither of these fine albums made much of a commercial splash at the time of their release, they’ve gone in-and-out-of-print several times through the years and have displayed greater longevity than many better-known and better-selling artists. More than a relic of a time long passed-by, these albums are a treasured document of an almost-anything-goes era where an entertaining performer like Robert Gordon could make his voice heard. (American Beat Records, released February 27, 2007)

Buy the CD from Robert Gordon with Link Wray/Fresh Fish Special

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

New Music Monthly: April 2020 releases

Hope that everybody has been staying safe, staying indoors, and listening to a bunch of music! The pandemic crisis has impacted album release dates and distribution, so while the list below is current it could change at any moment and you might have trouble finding some of these titles on their release date. There's a lot of great new music, too, including albums from Dream Syndicate, Lucinda Williams, Thundercat, the Strokes, and many more! No matter your taste in music, there's something here for everybody... 

Release dates are subject to change and nobody tells me when they do. 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!

Gentle Giant's Octopus

The Claudettes - High Times In the Dark   BUY!
Gentle Giant - Acquiring the Taste [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Gentle Giant - Gentle Giant [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Gentle Giant - Octopus [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Gentle Giant - Three Friends [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Steve Goodman - Live '69   BUY!
The Monkees - The Mike & Micky Show Live   BUY!
Thundercat - It Is What It Is   BUY!
Various Artists - Stone Crush: Memphis Modern Soul 1977-1987   BUY!
Rick Wakeman & The English Rock Ensemble - The Red Planet   BUY!
M. Ward - Migration Stories   BUY!

Dream Syndicate's The Universe Inside

Ayreon - Electric Castle Live and Other Tales   BUY!
Dream Syndicate - The Universe Inside   BUY!
The Gladiators - Serious Thing [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Joe Satriani - Shapeshifting   BUY!
The Strokes - The New Abnormal   BUY!

Black Dahlia Murder's Verminous

Black Dahlia Murder - Verminous   BUY!
Danzig - Danzing Sings Elvis   BUY!
The Nighthawks - Trying To Get To You   BUY!
Ron Sexsmith - Hermitage   BUY!

Lucinda Williams' Good Souls Better Angels

The 1975 - Notes On A Conditional Form   BUY!
Brendan Benson - Dear Life   BUY!
Robby Krieger - The Ritual Begins At Sundown   BUY!
Trivium - What the Dead Men Say   BUY!
Lucinda Williams - Good Souls Better Angels   BUY!

Gentle Giant's Gentle Giant

Album of the Month: Not just one album this month, but rather four long overdue vinyl reissues of the first four albums from prog-rock legends Gentle Giant! The British band was right in the fray of early '70s progressive rock, and if they didn't get the respect of King Crimson or sell as many platters as Yes or ELP, these four LPs – 1970's self-titled debut, 1971's Acquiring the Taste, 1972's Three Friends and Octopus – were nevertheless innovative, ground-breaking works that set the standard for prog-rock during the decade and introduced the rock world to the immense talents of guitarist Gary Green, keyboardist Kerry Minnear, and the skilled multi-instrumentalist Shulman brothers (Derek, Phil & Ray). These albums have gone in and out-of-print on CD through the years, but these deluxe vinyl reissues are a welcome addition to the prog fan's collection!