Friday, November 27, 2020

Archive Review: Emmit Rhodes' The Emitt Rhodes Recordings (2009)

Emmit Rhodes' The Emitt Rhodes Recordings
A phenomenal talent who would be battered by the music biz much the same way that a rowboat might be tossed around like a hurricane, singer, songwriter, and musician Emitt Rhodes was, perhaps, destined to become on the more enigmatic cult artists in rock music. Unlike tragic figures like Tim Buckley and Nick Drake who would die young before fulfilling their full artistic promise, or a talent like Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett, who would burn out long before fading away, Rhodes simply walked away from it all, leaving behind four sparkling and forward-reaching albums of pure pop genius.

Rhodes’ story is not unique, although the circumstances and experiences that pushed his artistic development certainly were. Somewhat of a child prodigy, Rhodes was playing professionally in bands in the L.A. area at the age of 14, and by the time he was old enough to get his California driver’s license, he was writing beautifully-crafted songs and fronting the folk-influenced baroque pop outfit Merry-Go-Round. 

The Merry-Go-Round enjoyed a brief but moderately successful career circa 1966-69, scoring two regional hits with the Rhodes’ songs “Live” (which would later be covered by the Bangles almost 20 years later) and “You’re A Very Lovely Woman.” The acclaimed British folk-rock band Fairport Convention thought enough of Rhodes’ songwriting chops to cover the band’s “Time Will Show The Wiser” on their 1968 debut album, but by 1969 the writing was on the wall as the Merry-Go-Round’s slight commercial fortunes waned and Rhodes turned his attentions towards a solo career.

Emmit Rhodes’ The American Dream

Emmit Rhodes' The American Dream
Still owing A&M Records an album under the terms of the Merry-Go-Round’s contract with the label, Rhodes went into the studio with members of The Wrecking Crew, studio pros like Hal Blaine and Larry Knechtel, to cut original material to compliment a handful of leftover Merry-Go-Round tracks. The resulting album was titled The American Dream, and although Rhodes completed recording the album in 1969, it would be a couple of years before A&M would release it...more about which later. The American Dream album is where the limited-edition career retrospective The Emitt Rhodes Recordings (1969–1973) begins, the two-disc set kicking off with the original album in its entirety. 

More than its entirety, really, as the song “Saturday Night” would be pulled from subsequent pressings of The American Dream in 1971 in favor of the minor Merry-Go-Round hit “You’re A Very Lovely Woman.” Both songs are included here, and both are equally deserving of inclusion, the former a wistful recollection of days passed and love lost that sounds like the Byrds minus McGuinn’s 12-string, the latter an exotic fusing of L.A. pop and vague Middle Eastern musical themes, the tension between the two matched by Rhodes’ acrobatic lyrics and the band’s delicious harmonies.

On the whole, The American Dream is really just a more mature Merry-Go-Round album, featuring a similar sort of pop sensibilities while showcasing Rhodes’ growing songwriting savvy and a fuller, more textured sonic palette. With its lush instrumentation and socially-conscious lyrics, the jangling “Mother Earth” is a wonderful example of the baroque pop style, while the Beatlesque “Textile Factory” displays a wider sense of rhythm and style with a slight countryish twang and touches of bluegrass-styled fiddleplay. The complex “In The Days of the Old” takes the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s musical breakthroughs a step further, matching fantasy-infused metaphorical lyrics with a spry soundtrack and a clever vocal turn.

Emitt Rhodes' Emitt Rhodes
After “paying his bill,” as it were, with A&M Records, Rhodes scraped up a little cash and purchased an old Ampex four-track tape deck, sticking it in his parent’s garage with the rest of his musical gear. Transforming himself into a one-man¬band in order to better control the final sound of his recordings, Rhodes taught himself to play the instruments he didn’t already know. Writing prolifically at this time, Rhodes cranked out demos of some songs, scored a label deal with ABC-Dunhill, and subsequently recorded his (true) self-titled debut at home…lending a whole new meaning to the term “garage rock.” 

Released in 1970 by ABC-Dunhill, the Emitt Rhodes album – considered by many to be the songwriter’s masterpiece, and easily recognizable by its stylized cover showing Rhodes gazing through mottled windowpanes – was a twelve-song collection of finely-crafted pop-rock created entire by Rhodes and evincing a delightful whimsy to go along with its imaginative instrumentation and intelligent songwriting. Rhodes’ solo debut is often compared to Paul McCartney’s songwriting efforts, but in my mind Rhodes took the best of John Lennon and Paul McCartney and put his own unique spin on their trademark style.

Emmit Rhodes’ Mirrors

For instance, “With My Face On The Floor” sounds positively McCartneyesque, from Rhodes’ lofty vocals right through the pop/rock instrumentation. But Rhodes displays his own uncanny sense of popcraft, infusing the song with some tasty guitar licks, unusual changes in direction, and an infectious chorus. “Lullabye” is slightly more than a minute of pure melodic nirvana, Rhodes’ warm vocals caressing the lyrics, accompanied by only a fine thread of guitar strum. The album’s single, “Fresh As A Daisy,” is a jaunty pop tune with an infectious tick-tock beat, warm vocals stuck high in the mix, and a lovely chorus while “You Take The Dark Out of the Night” is provided a muted, wall-of-sound production that barely conceals Rhodes’ expressive vocals and taut fretwork.

The success of Emitt Rhodes, the album creeping into the Billboard “Top Thirty” chart at #29, forced A&M Records to reconsider The American Dream. The label dusted the album off and pushed it into the stores in early 1971, perhaps confusing Rhodes’ growing legion of fans, and competing with his own subsequently released Mirror album. And here is where the Emitt Rhodes’ story starts to get a little dicey, but not entirely unfamiliar for dozens…if not hundreds of musicians that have experience similarly lugheaded and stupid corporate hijinx. Despite the fact that Rhodes’ self-titled ABC-Dunhill album took close to a year of dedicated studio work to craft, the executive braintrust at the label wanted a follow-up a mere six months later, as per the ridiculous terms of Rhodes’ contract (which, yes, he signed and thus agreed to, but really, what’s the hurry, bub?!).

Emmit Rhodes' Mirror
Rather than support Rhodes’ creative efforts and nurture the growth of a talented songwriter and performer that could have been a virtual cash cow for a label notoriously lacking in capital, ABC-Dunhill instead suspended Rhodes’ contract and sued the poor schlub for $250k, a sum no doubt several times what they’d paid him in royalties for sales of the Emitt Rhodes album. Hurried, and no doubt frenzied, Rhodes’ delivered the flawed but still classic pop/rock collection Mirror. Released in 1971 and going up against his The American Dream album in the market, Mirror may have been conceived and created in a rush relative to his debut, but it contains a lot of fine material nonetheless. “Birthday Lady” is a spry bit o’ lofty rock ‘n’ roll cheap thrills that helped usher in a more sophisticated era in pop music. The introspective “Better Side of Life” displays not only Rhodes’ warm vocals, but his fully-emerged songwriting skills as well. Intelligently worded and backed by a simple but effective melody, the song is a rock-solid example of Rhodes’ talents.

Mirror’s title track is another musically complex showcase for Rhodes’ increasingly sensitive and insightful wordplay, his lyrics complimented by a dense soundtrack and a tight thread of guitar that brings a sense of urgency to the performance. The lovely “Golden Child of God” features gossamer strings, a chameleon-like changing of sounds, multi-tracked harmonies, and an ambitious Rhodes vocal performance. “Take You Away” treads into Crosby, Still, Nash & Young territory with folkish roots, clashing vocals, and a textured guitar performance worthy of Stephen Stills. Overall, the ten songs Rhodes created for Mirror are darker, more inward-looking, and teetering on the edge of emotional meltdown. With little or no support from the label (they sued him, remember?), Mirror barely scraped onto the Billboard Top 200 album chart, and ABC-Dunhill ramped up their squeeze tactics on the singer/songwriter. As the lawsuit rolled on, and the pressures mounted, Rhodes’ took most of 1972 to create the album that would become his swansong, Farewell To Paradise.

Farewell To Paradise

Farewell To Paradise, released in 1973, would be Rhodes’ most ambitious collection yet. In many ways, the songs illustrated the singer’s growing disillusionment with the music business and his pursuit of rock ‘n’ roll stardom. Again recording entirely in his home studio and playing every instrument, Rhodes stretches his talents even further than ever before. The album-opening “Warm Self-Sacrifice” includes Rhodes’ first use of the violin, the instrument adding an air of weariness to an otherwise up-tempo arrangement. Lyrically, though, Rhodes is beginning to show the strain, a certain amount of self-defeat and self-doubt evident across several of the songs on Farewell To Paradise.

Emmit Rhodes' Farewell To Paradise
It may have been Rhodes’ final album, but the dozen songs on Farewell To Paradise display no deterioration of talent. Quite the contrary, actually, as the aforementioned “Warm Self-Sacrifice” and songs like the bluesy “See No Evil,” with its baroque pop undertones, or the bluegrass/country-styled “Blue Horizon” showing a further expansion of not only style but performance as well. The latter, particularly, is a wistful look back at what might have been, a metaphorical acceptance of Rhodes’ future departure from a flagging career. “Only Lovers Decide” may be one of the best songs that Rhodes ever wrote, a folk-influenced musing on relationships with brilliant imagery and a poetic sensibility floating above a beautiful, albeit dark-hued soundtrack with masterful piano, haunting strings, and strains of provocative fretwork. The rollicking “Bad Man” is an unabashed rocker with a slight boogie beat and Rhodes’ understated vocals while the title track is a perfect snapshot of Rhodes’ talents, blending a multi-textured musical backdrop with his typically fluid wordplay and a difficult, but ultimately successful vocal turn.

The Emitt Rhodes Recordings (1969-1973) also includes “Tame The Lion,” a non-LP track released as a single by ABC-Dunhill in 1972 as a stopgap before Farewell To Paradise was completed. A timely anti-war song with vocals reminiscent of Paul McCartney and a song structure similar to some of Paul Simon’s later work, “Tame the Lion” is a good song with clever turns of a phrase supported by an up-tempo soundtrack and impressive, hard-rocking guitarplay. A companion piece, of sorts, with “Those That Die” from Farewell To Paradise, the song woulda, coulda, shoulda been a huge hit with just a small push from Rhodes’ under-appreciative label. Following the disappointing lack of success of Farewell To Paradise, Rhodes simply walked away from his recorded career at the age of 24. A veteran of nearly a decade in the competitive and pressure-filled trenches of the pop-rock rat-race, Rhodes would subsequently become a producer and A&R repre¬sentative for Elektra and Asylum Records. Later, he would retreat to his own recording studio, built in a house across the street from his childhood home, where Rhodes would record other artists while reportedly (and hopefully) amassing a wealth of unreleased songs.

Through the ensuing years, Emitt Rhodes has been saddled with a sort of “savior of pop” albatross that has only added to his cult status among a growing crowd of fans. The Internet has made legends out of more than one obscure musician, but in Rhodes’ case the adoration and renewed attention is certainly well-deserved. Listening to his early ‘70s recordings today, one must marvel not only at the technical proficiency displayed by the trio of ABC-Dunhill releases, recorded in (primitive, by today’s standards) Rhodes’ home studio, but also at the warmth and density of the sound that he achieved. Throw in Rhodes’ prescient songwriting skills (really, all that stuff that you’ve heard folks like Paul Simon, Harry Nilsson, and Matthew Sweet, to name but three, create in the late ‘70s and ‘80s is but a reflection of what Rhodes had already done) and his overlooked and often under-appreciated instrumental talents, and you have the makings of an artist that was decades ahead of his time.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

The Emitt Rhodes Recordings (1969-1973) collects all four of the singer/songwriter’s long out-of-print albums, as well as that one lone single release – 48 songs total – into an impressive two-CD set complete with pristine remastered sound, and a CD booklet with informative liner notes and a handful of rare photos. If you’re a fan of Beatlesque pop, and you’re not familiar with Emitt Rhodes, you owe it to yourself to discover one of the 20th century’s most talented and unheralded cult legends, an artist who is just now beginning to receive the acclaim he earned almost four decades ago. (Hip-O Select, released June 11, 2009)

Editor’s Note: Rhodes returned to the music world in 2016 with the critically-acclaimed album Rainbow Ends, which would achieve the highest chart position (#150) of his career. Rhodes passed away in July 2020 at the age of 70.

Review originally published by the Trademark of Quality (TMQ) blog, 2009

DVD Review: Echo & the Bunnymen's Dancing Horses (2007)

Echo & the Bunnymen's Dancing Horses
Echo & the Bunnymen are one of the most beloved of the edgy ‘80s “new wave” rock bands hailing from the UK. Releasing their debut LP, Crocodiles in 1980, the band immediately captured an audience with its inspired mix of Goth gloom and doom, psychedelic instrumentation and shoegazer soundscapes. Subsequent albums like Heaven Up Here (1981), Porcupine (1982) and Ocean Rain (1984) set the band above the ranks of MTV-fueled new wave one-hit-wonders and created an influential, lasting musical legacy. Although the band has survived several break-ups and changes in roster over the past 25 years, they reformed in 1997 around the nucleus of vocalist Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant and have continued to create their own unique brand of music ever since.

Echo & the Bunnymen’ Dancing Horses DVD

Recorded live during a 2005 performance at The Shepherds Bush Empire in England, Echo & the Bunnymen’s Dancing Horses DVD features 20 songs, including many fan favorites, chosen from across the British band’s lengthy and storied career. The videography on Dancing Horses is decent, with multiple cameras capturing several close and distant angles of the band’s performance. The lightning is moody, atmospheric to a fault, often obscuring the band member’s features, providing only a shadowy, ethereal outline of the performers. It’s all about the songs, of course, and the band sounds as good here as they did some 25 years ago. Guitarist Will Sergeant’s fretwork is phenomenal, consistently excellent and entertaining throughout with incredible tone and liveliness punching up the performances. Ian McCulloch’s vocals are coarse, yet warm, often barely breaking through the wall of sound woven by his bandmates.

McCulloch offers a minimum of between-song patter, the band sliding from one song into another, although he does loosen up and get a little chattier as the show proceeds. There are some fine performances to be found on Dancing Horses. The mid-tempo “Stormy Weather” features one of McCulloch’s most heartfelt deliveries, his vox cradled in a blanket of gently chiming guitars, strong rhythms and mesmerizing instrumentation. “Bring On the Dancing Horses,” from which the DVD takes its name, starts out big with an upward spiral of swirling synths (courtesy of Paul Fleming) as jangling guitars chime in. The instrumentation can barely sustain the middle, McCulloch’s vocals edging through the mix as the music sort of washes over your soul. A heavy bassline, delivered by Stephen Brannan, holds down the foundation while the twin guitars of Sergeant and Gordon Goudie rattle and shake for all they’re worth.

The band mimics the Doors with “Rescue,” McCulloch kicking out his best Jim Morrison as “The Lizard King” impersonation as the music swells and throbs behind him. My personal Bunnymen fave, “The Cutter,” cranks up with Sergeant’s mind-bending psychedelic fretwork at the forefront before launching into McCulloch’s distressed reading of the song’s lyrics. “The Killing Moon” offers a similarly haunting performance, with instrumentation as strong as a spider’s web and as delicate as a moonlit night. “Villiers Terrace” hits hard, drummer Simon Finley’s tribal-styled big beat flaying the skins and propelling McCulloch’s powerful vocals to new highs. The song ends with a torrent of machine-gun beats, stopping with the sudden urgency of a car wreck. “Scissors In The Sand” is another hard-driving number, McCulloch’s vocals straining to rise above the din of clashing guitars and explosive drumbeats. It’s a breathtaking performance, one of many on the DVD. A three-song encore includes a vibrant performance of “Lips Like Sugar” that features electrifying guitar with shimmering leads that provide a distinct signature to the song.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Overall, Dancing Horses captures a very engaging performance from Echo & the Bunnymen, lively and with many highs and lows that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The DVD also includes a bonus interview with Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant, done as a simple Q&A with the questions flashing onto the screen in print and the guys providing their answers on camera. No concert DVD can replace the intimacy and energy of a live performance, but with Dancing Horses, Echo & the Bunnymen have done a fine job of bringing their live show into our homes, displaying the vibrancy and vitality of a band that, even after all these years, still has something to prove. (Secret Films / MVD Visual, released June 26, 2007)

Review originally published by Trademark of Quality (TMQ) blog, 2007

Friday, November 20, 2020

DVD Review: Cactus' Cactus Live (2008)

Life often doesn’t take us where we expect it to go. For bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice, after the break-up of their band Vanilla Fudge, they planned to form a Cream-styled supergroup with flash Yardbirds guitarist Jeff Beck. When Beck took his motorcycle over the edge – a serious accident that put the guitarslinger out of commission for nearly a year and a half – the instrumental duo instead hooked up with crunch-axeman Jim McCarty, from Mitch Ryder’s band, and gravel-throated vocalist Rusty Day from Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes outfit, to form the blooze-rock foursome Cactus.

Although the lifespan of Cactus was short (1969-1972) and commercially unremarkable (a couple of high-profile tours and an infamous performance at the Mar-Y-Sol Pop Festival in Puerto Rico did little to jumpstart album sales), subsequent praise from well-known fans such as Van Halen, King’s X, Monster Magnet, David Coverdale, and Kid Rock have turned Cactus into a bona fide ‘70s cult band. The subsequent limited-edition CD release of the band’s entire studio recordings and live performances on two double-disc sets has prompted a re-evaluation of the band once known as the “American Led Zeppelin.”

One Way...Or Another

To be perfectly honest, there’s little that’s unique, or even overly original about the trademark Cactus sound – a high-energy, boogie-based, blooze-rock thunderstorm where the whole enchilada seldom rises above the talents of the separate ingredients. Masters of sonic ear-sludge, Cactus practically wrote the hard rock playbook that would later be followed by folks like Foghat, Fastway, and Montrose but, in truth, much of the band’s dubious provenance is provided by Day’s high-flying vocal gymnastics and the maestro-level chops of frontline players McCarty and Bogert. But while critics fretted and sweated over Cactus albums like the band’s eager self-titled debut or its potent follow-up, One Way...Or Another, wayward youth like the Reverend found the Cactus sound to be pure catnip to our chemically-altered teenage cerebellums nonetheless.

Cactus' One Way...Or Another
With all of the increased interest and activity swirling like a dervish ‘round the band’s meager four-album canon during the latter years of the century, the original pair of Bogert and Appice got back together with McCarty and began writing songs together again in 2001. Recruiting vocalist Jimmy Kune from the revolving door that is Britain’s Savoy Brown to replace the late Rusty Day, and bringing in mouth-harp tornado Randy Pratt, the reformed band debuted with Cactus V in 2006, a brand-new album with the same old booger-rock sound. The release of the new album led to a series of shows, including a June 2006 performance at the B.B. King Blues Club in New York City, a show that was captured on video for posterity and released on DVD by Music Video Distributors as Cactus Live.

The NYC performance kicks off with a bit of wicked riffing courtesy of McCarty before launching into a down-n-dirty rendition of Little Richard’s timeless “Long Tall Sally” that grinds and bumps nasty like your high school prom date. McCarty is one of the unsung geniuses of ‘60s/’70s hard rock, an explosive fretburner with pyrotechnics dancing from his fingertips. When Jimmy Mac takes off on one of his wiry leads, you feel the garrote tighten, and his mastery of the monster riff is second to none.

Cactus’ Cactus Live DVD

“One Way...Or Another,” one of the trademark tunes in the Cactus canon, is dedicated to the memory of Rusty Day, and the band smokes the song, hitting the target like 1,000 rounds from a fire-breathing Gatling gun. Kune’s vocals soar above the band’s metallic clash, but let’s establish right from ‘Jump Street’ that Jimmy Kune ain’t a mere Rusty Day clone, and we’ll admit that those are rather large lungs to fill. An old-school shouter with a solid pedigree, Kune’s vox don’t have the spicy bar-b-que twanginess of Day’s boozy drawl, but he belts out these tunes like an angry longshoreman anyway.

Another throwback from the band’s 1970 debut, “Bro Bill” is the kind ole-fashioned jackhammer shuffle that nicks more than its dinosaur-stomp melody from the Willie Dixon songbook. The song itself is some sort of anti-drugs screed, a death-n-reds fright-flick that enjoys an Eastside Chicago vibe, with McCarty tearing off fistfuls of hoary riff meat. One of the new tunes from Cactus V, “Muscle And Soul” opens with a tasty old-school riff before tossing the listener back to ’72 with a sound that evokes memories of smoldering stacks o’ wax from fellow travelers like Status Quo and Mountain. Much of the song’s instrumentation was plagiarized by the band from its own catalog, which in turn “found” a large chunk of its own underground sonic dynamism from the Yardbirds, Zeppelin and Cream (by way of Howlin’ Wolf).

“Oleo,” also from the Cactus debut, basically serves as a spotlight for a Tim Bogert bass solo. Bogert is a rarity, a true hard rock bassist born-and-bred, and he single-handedly invented the bass-heavy bottom end sound during his Vanilla Fudge daze, back when the hippies were still chasing butterflies. A lot of rock bassists of the modern era – many who have subsequently mimicked the Bogert sound – looked no further than Sabbath’s Geezer Butler or Deep Purple’s Roger Glover for inspiration or, worse yet, pursued some nancy-boy jazz training. Bogert remains underrated and a true spectacle to watch, beginning his four-string rumble with a low-tuned growl that sounds like a pack of rabid ridgebacks. Then he flies into a thrashy, blistering display of talent that soars and dives like some demented bird of prey.

Howlin' Wolf's Evil

Cactus V
The Cactus version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Evil” remains the definitive version of the classic stalker (save for the master’s original, natch). On Cactus Live, the band takes the song on a breathtaking high-speed run on a Hellbound train with a performance that is as sweet as a voodoo queen’s kiss and as surprisingly powerful as a dynamite suppository. The song leads into the obligatory ‘70s-style drum solo, and Carmine Appice does not disappoint those who enjoy this sort of percussive excess. Appice is anything but a subtle drummer, and any technical superiority that he once possessed has long since fled for higher ground. The collateral damage that he heaps upon his kit is entirely appropriate for the band’s ballistic approach to the blooze-rock idiom, however.

“Cactus Boogie,” another new tune from Cactus V, sinks deeper into the booger-rock mire, a veritable tar pit of big riffage and bigger rhythms. These guys come by the boogie honestly, attending the J.L. Hooker School of Architecture, and with this rambler they erect the kind of funky free-for-all that went out of fashion with the birth of punk, but never fell out of favor with the stoners, heshers and other low-hanging fruit of music fandom (including this humble scribe). There really ain’t much to the song, and little thought went into the lyrical poetry, but the song stomps-and-stammers along anyway, howling like the enraged beast that it is.

Another landmark from the band’s distant past, “Parchman Farm,” although credited to blues/jazz giant Mose Allison, is really a story older than the dirt of the Mississippi Delta. A scorched-earth, fire-and-brimstone, guitar-driven rocker, the moans and wails of McCarty’s six-string work echo the misery of the prison’s occupants, the infamous work farm itself the inspiration for a score of blues tunes. Randy Pratt’s harp choogles along like a freight train, while an extended jam be-tween Mac and Bogie steam and char the paint from B.B. King’s walls. Cactus Live closes with a notable encore, another Cactus trademark tune, “Rock N Roll Children,” a funky rhythmic orgy of mud wrestling with an undeniable boogie-beat and Kune’s best strangled gutter-tramp vocals.

Psychedelic Blues and Soul-Drenched Booger-Rock

While the band’s performance is solid and, at times, spectacular on Cactus Live, from a technical perspective the film gets a solid ‘B’ from this critic, a moderate thumb’s up with a few issues. The camera work is excellent overall, the multiple-cam rig capturing several good angles. With the exception of Kune’s mug being washed out with bright white light a time or two often, the lighting is usually pretty good, and the picture is often crystal clear. Although the live sound is quite listenable, a notch, perhaps, below studio-CD quality, spoken word segments are out-of-sync at times, resulting in an unnerving kung-fu flick sensation. The editing is razor-sharp, though, including both full and widescreen shots, as well as some uber-cool slo-mo time-capture segments and groovy split-screen effects that showcase the individual band members.

To fully understand the lasting appeal of Cactus, one has to look back at the breeding ground that spawned such a Frankenstein hybrid of psychedelic blues and soul-drenched booger-rock. If Bogert and Appice were the heart of the band’s sound, Day and McCarty were the band’s soul. Together, the foursome broke out of the boiling cauldron that was the old, industrial Detroit – after the riots, but before the Motor City’s fall from grace and rapid descent into darkness. This was back when bands like the Stooges, the MC5, SRC, Third Power, the Amboy Dukes, and others roamed the city streets, rewriting the rock ‘n’ roll rule book with a sound as strong and deadly as the factory killing floor.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

If nostalgia for the era is largely what drives the growing popularity of ‘70s-era bands, one can’t fault Cactus for trying to recapture their former infamy. It doesn’t hurt that the performances on Cactus Live raise a joyful noise in an entirely appropriate, noisy Motor City way; not for nothing does Jimmy Kune wear a Creem magazine t-shirt through the show. Spiritually and sonically, the new Cactus shares common ground with its predecessor. Life doesn’t always take us where we expect to go, and it’s unlikely that McCarty, Bogert and Appice expected to be playing old Cactus tunes 30+ years after the band’s flame-out. But as my dear old departed Grandpa used to say, “that’s some real poop-punting music!” Boy howdy! (Music Video Distributors, released December 11, 2007)

Buy the DVD from Amazon.com: Cactus’ Cactus Live 

Review originally published by the Trademark of Quality (TMQ) blog, 2008

 


Book Review: Martin Popoff's Ye Olde Metal: 1973 To 1975 (2007)

Martin Popoff's Ye Olde Metal: 1973 To 1975
Yeah, yeah, all of you cretins and hopheads that read my previous review of rock critic Martin Popoff’s funtastic book Ye Olde Metal: 1968 To 1972 should know the drill by now. Popoff is heavy metal’s most intelligent voice; he’s reviewed literally thousands of albums, blah, blah, blah. As the editor of, and a contributor to metal bible Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles, Popoff has written about just about every hard rock hero and metalhead to blow across the tumbleweed wasteland over the past two decades or so.

Popoff has also penned scores of books – closing in on two dozen by my count – including the authoritative biographical tomes on pud-stompers like Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Ronnie James Dio, among many others. It’s his latest project, however, that might well be Martin’s most ambitious yet, even more “pie-in-the-sky” loony-tune than The Collectors’ Guide To Heavy Metal three-volume series that exhaustively reviews 30+ years of album releases and makes for great reading on the toilet. These books are essential for any collector obsessed with guitar-driven rock, obscure metal bands and rare heavy artifacts of a recorded nature.

Martin Popoff’s Ye Olde Metal: 1973 to 1975

Popoff’s latest series is titled Ye Olde Metal, and each book is available only from the author as a private stock, limited-edition of 1,000 signed and numbered copies. Each volume in the proposed multi-book series will cover a specific time period and, through interviews with the people that created them, will tell the story of a number of classic metal albums. The second book is now available, and the Reverend shouldn’t have to hit each of you over the head with his trusty claw-hammer to convince you that Ye Olde Metal: 1973 To 1975 is a mandatory addition to your concrete-block-and-scrapwood bookshelves, wedged right in between Madonna’s Sex and my own Rock Talk.

For Ye Olde Metal: 1973 To 1975, Popoff has put together a stellar line-up of talent, even more impressive than the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates for sheer batting average and off-the-plate power. Some of the folks in this 230-page paperback collection are undeservingly obscure, bands like the Dictators, the New York Dolls, and Buffalo largely discussed only in the pages of serious rock-rags like Creem, Circus, or Beetle back in the day and never really moving all that many PVC party favors in their time.

Several of the British bands included in the book – classic rock combustibles like Status Quo, Budgie, and Nazareth – were goodly stars in their homeland circa ’73, etc, while other “rock arteests” offered here, notably Alice Cooper, Uriah Heep, and Deep Purple, were either at the top of their craft, or only slightly past their commercial peak at this particular point in time. Ye Olde Metal: 1973 To 1975 also includes crucial platters from personal faves like Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Montrose, Robin Trower, Foghat, and ZZ Top – eighteen albums from fourteen bands, total, discussed in length with interesting factual tidbits and insightful anecdotes.

Deep Purple’s Misunderstood Albums

Interviews with Deep Purple’s David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes cover a lot of ground on two of the legendary band’s most misunderstood albums, Burn and Come Taste the Band, the conversations revealing some of the tensions that broke the early ’70s Mark II version of Purple apart in the first place. Randy Bachman’s thoughts on the two BTO albums included here (II and Not Fragile) are every bit as down-to-earth and self-effacing as one might have expected from the blue-collar rocker, while Syl Sylvain’s take on the New York Dolls scorching self-titled debut album is priceless. The song-by-song recap provided every album and interview in the book illuminate each artist’s thoughts and the creative processes behind every recording.

There are only two bands carried over from the first book – Uriah Heep and Buffalo – but in the first case, any conversation with Heep’s Ken Hensley and Mick Box is always a lot of fun to read (and after spending a drunken evening with the band backstage at a Rush show in Nashville, I found that they’re also a lot of fun to talk with); and as for Australia’s underrated Buffalo, they were so obscure and off-the-American-cult-rock-radar that covering two albums from the band is probably still not enough (they rock folks, so check ‘em out!). Others albums covered by Ye Olde Metal: 1973 To 1975, from Status Quo’s Piledriver and Nazareth’s Loud ‘N’ Proud to Montrose’s excellent self-titled debut and the Dictators’ Go Girl Crazy! are simply essential, and Popoff’s interviews with well-spoken musicians like Manny Charlton, Dan McCafferty, Andy Shernoff, Dennis Dunaway, Ronnie Montrose, Sammy Hagar and all the others help put these classic slabs in context. A lot of the stories told here you won’t find anywhere else, and I’m glad that Popoff has carved them in stone for posterity.

Popoff may be a borderline rock fanatic, but he’s also a realist, and he understands that this entire Ye Olde Metal concept will appeal only to a similar fanboy mentality…thus the limited addition nature of each volume. This is damn important music stuff being documented here; the kind of nuts-and-bolts tales-and-trivia that rock historians take to like kittens to catnip (or rockcrits to Wild Turkey). Although Popoff’s normal writing style is interesting, informative and humorous, in these pages he sits back and allows each interviewee the latitude to tell their story as they deem necessary.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

If you’re crazy or just plain curious about this hardscrabble era of pre-metal rock music, Ye Olde Metal: 1973 To 1975 will provide more hours of fun-and-intellectual-frolic than almost anything that you’ll find on teevee these days. The rockers interviewed have lived life and lived to talk about it, their music-making and excesses infinitely more interesting to read about than anything members of Fall Out Boy or My Chemical Romance will ever have to say, now or in the future. Yeah, since the series is published out of Canada, the books are expensive…what with the dollar going down faster than a low-rent streetwalker at a Republican political convention…but they’re worth every penny for the dedicated follower of fashion. (Power Chord Press)

Buy the book direct: Martin Popoff’s Ye Olde Metal: 1973 To 1975

Review originally published by the Trademark of Quality (TMQ) blog, 2007 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Archive Review: Glenn Hughes' Music For the Divine (2006)

Glenn Hughes is one of those bona-fide rock ‘n’ roll leg¬ends that never seems to receive the credit and accolades that he deserves. His late ‘60s tenure with British rockers Trapeze resulted in three albums, including the band’s groundbreaking 1970 debut, Medusa. That album’s inspired mix of rock, funk, and soul would influence later bands such as Bad Company and Foreigner. His work as vocalist and bass player for Trapeze would move Hughes onto the next level of rock stardom when he replaced Roger Glover in Deep Purple.

Although his tenure with Deep Purple was brief, from 1973 until the band’s break-up in ‘76, Hughes’ presence helped breathe new life into the classic rock dinosaur. Purple’s 1974 album Burn benefited greatly from Hughes’ presence, the bassist providing a funky bottom line to the songs, his soulful vocals offering a fine counterpoint to those of bluesy shouter David Coverdale. This formula reinvigorated the band, Burn rising to number nine on the Billboard album charts. The band followed with the Top Twenty charting album Stormbringer later that year, and closed out this chapter of Deep Purple with Come Taste the Band in ‘75, American axeman Tommy Bolin replacing the departing Ritchie Blackmore for the recording. A live album from this era of the band was issued in 1976, featuring Coverdale, Hughes and Blackmore from a 1975 European performance.

Glenn Hughes’ Music For the Divine

If only for his work with Trapeze and Deep Purple, Glenn Hughes has earned his place in rock history. However, he has also enjoyed an impressive solo career that launched in 1977 and shows no signs of diminishing today, thirty years later. Throughout it all, Hughes’ enormous vocals have pounded out the songs in a series of collaborations with guitarslingers like Pat Thrall, Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, Pat Travers and Dave Navarro, among others. Hughes’ 2005 album Soul Mover was a career high among a lifetime scattered with such, but even Hughes has outdone himself with Music For the Divine.

Hughes had hooked up with drummer Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers for Soul Mover, and the two found an immediate kinship and chemistry in the way that the best bass players and drummers do. With longtime Hughes’ foil J.J. Marsh on six-string, and keyboardist Ed Roth, the four created a great musical dynamic for the songs on Soul Mover. The guys must have enjoyed the experience, because Hughes, Marsh and Smith reconvened in Smith’s Hollywood Hills home to record Music For the Divine. Released last year in Europe by Italy’s forward-thinking, classically-minded Frontiers Records label, Music For the Divine is just now making its way to these shores. 

Sadly, Music For the Divine is the album that the Red Hot Chili Peppers should have delivered in ought-six, all sweat and soul, muscle and grit. The album’s lead-off track, “The Valiant Denial,” is the sort of driving funk-flavored rock that the Chili Peppers once excelled at, Hughes’ voice rising above the mix like a phoenix reborn while the band choogles along behind him. “Steppin’ On” features razor-sharp guitarwork courtesy of Marsh, the axeman tearing off great big greasy chunks of meat while Smith beats out some of his most explosive rhythms in a decade.

You Got Soul

Glenn Hughes poster
“Monkey Man” is a more conventional cut, of sorts, smoothly gliding from one funky curve to another as Hughes channels Sly Stone’s vocals and the band lays down a solid groove. The song would make a great radio single, with an infectious rhythm, staccato guitar leads and fluid changes in direction that leave the listener breathless. “You Got Soul” revisits 1973 with a loping groove set down by Smith, Hughes reciprocating with his best Curtis Mayfield impersonation, Marsh with a driving, multi-layered and slightly phased chukka-chukka six-string vibe. “Black Light” is another funk-rock rave-up, a high-flying track guaran-damn-teed to get yer feet a tappin’ and your ass moving. Marsh’s guitar solo rips from one speaker to another, his nimble fingers tickling the frets with a reckless abandon.

Hughes is a much better songwriter than a lot of critics have given him credit for, and it shows on Music For the Divine. His lyrics are short and punchy, yet imaginative and weighty with distinctive imagery. Musically, as described by the songs above, Hughes and crew jump deep into the murky depths of funkytown, rockin’ the house like the roof’s on fire. It comes as some surprise, then, that the band decided to tackle the Moody Blues’ classic “Nights In White Satin” as the album’s lone cover. I suspect that Hughes has been carrying the torch for this one for some time now, his vocals a powerful maelstrom of emotion and emoting while the band mostly plays it straight behind him. Chili Pepper guitarist John Frusciante drops by to contribute a wicked guitar line behind Hughes’ vocals, the result adding a haunting element to the song’s already elegant veneer.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

You can’t spell “funky” without the word “fun,” and that’s what Music For the Divine sounds like. These guys obviously had a hell of a time recording these songs, and it shows. No label pressures, no commercial expectations, just a bunch of talented musicians getting together and jamming without a care. This looseness shows in the inspired performances of these grooves, making Music For the Divine as much fun to listen to as it probably was to make. Play it LOUD! (Frontiers Records, 2006)

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

 


Book Review: Martin Popoff's Ye Olde Metal: 1968 To 1972 (2007)

Martin Popoff's Ye Olde Metal: 1968 To 1972Writing about music is such a subjective thing that it often takes the perspective provided by at least a minimum of a dozen years to put a recording in its proper place. Given the ever-changing moods of the cultural zeitgeist, as well as the individual personal tastes of each reader, it’s a wonder that rock critics, the term itself an albatross of sorts – “music journalist” seems to be the preferred title these days, as if writing about music necessitated any real journalistic training – ahem, it’s a wonder that rock critics can agree on anything for much longer than lunch. Even the Reverend has listened to records that he raved about during, say, back in the ‘90s, and found them to be a shrill and bitter-tasting pill here in the new millennium.

Of course, a sort of consensus is eventually forged over much discussion, spilled blood-and-beer, and more tears than sweat, really, and thereby the coveted status of “Classic Album” is chiseled into stone for all time...or at least until some young jackass know-it-all comes around and states that so-and-so was really much better back in the day and takes a jackhammer to the whole mess. The safe bet, kiddies, is to steer clear of these rockcrit reindeer games and just listen to what you like...you know, like Dylan said, “don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters,” or something equally obtuse. Really, the lifespan of the “Classic Album” in the media-overdrive Internet age seems to spin faster than the revolving door at a celebrity rehab center, so why try pinning the critter to the mat?

Martin Popoff’s Ye Olde Metal: 1968 To 1972

Rock critic – and I use the term as an honorific rather than an insult – Martin Popoff has been around long enough to have seen and heard as much or more than the Reverend, and yet still remains in the trenches, knocking out CD reviews and even books with an alarming regularity. Well-known among heavy metal and hard rock circles, Popoff is the editor of respected metal mag Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles. Popoff is one of the undisputed masters of writing on the genre, and his interests and knowledge both range wide and far. His three book series, The Collector’s Guide To Heavy Metal, are essential reading for the fan; taken together they are an encyclopedic resource that covers thousands of album releases with ratings and critiques and no little insight.

Popoff knows his stuff, and he knows his audience, which is why his latest book project – a series titled Ye Olde Metal – is available only from the author as a private stock, limited-edition of 1,000 signed and numbered copies only. Each volume in the series will cover a specific time period, and through artist interviews, will tell the story of a number of classic metal albums. In a nifty little bit of graphic design, the books will share cover and spine graphics, the entire set representing a veritable encyclopedia of hard rock and metal albums. Popoff knows that the market for these tomes is limited to hardcore fanboys such as the Reverend, thus the limited and collectible nature of each book.

Grandfathers and Godfathers of Heavy Metal

Popoff recently made the first volume, Ye Olde Metal: 1968 To 1972, available through his web site and yours truly wasted no time grabbing up a copy. It’s well worth the money, for both the dedicated follower of fashion as well as the rabid collector. This first book covers the grandfathers and godfathers of hard rock and heavy metal, the obscure-yet-essential and highly influential bands that laid the foundation for decades of musicians to build upon. Among the bands covered in this first book are Blue Cheer, the MC5, Sir Lord Baltimore, Bloodrock, Warpig, Cactus, Mountain, Uriah Heep, Nitzinger, Dust, Humble Pie, Buffalo, Captain Beyond, and Trapeze. Each chapter of the book provides an in-depth overview of one important album from each band, the story told through interviews with the folks that made the music. Upon first glance, what impressed me the most about Ye Olde Metal: 1968 To 1972 is the line-up of bands and albums chosen by Popoff, which reads like a soundtrack to my high school years.

Living in a rural suburb of Nashville during the latter-half of the period covered by the book, the Reverend’s musical tastes were usually out-of-step with those of my more mainstream-oriented classmates, and heavily informed by Creem magazine and writers like Dave Marsh, Lester Bangs and, later, Rick Johnson. The proto-metal, riff-happy sounds of bands like Uriah Heep, Cactus, Mountain, and Dust made themselves at home on my cheap turntable, and of the fourteen bands/albums covered by Popoff, in 1972 I owned ten of them (and I own them all now after reading the book).

Popoff’s conversations with musicians like Mountain’s Leslie West and Corky Laing, the MC5’s Wayne Kramer, Jim McCarty and Carmine Appice of Cactus, or John Nitzinger of, well, Nitzinger are informative in spite of years of familiarity with the artists and their work, each chapter revealing new aspects of the album discussed. For bands like Bloodrock, Sir Lord Baltimore, or Dust that were listened to regularly, but for which little or no information existed in print at the time (long before the invention of the ‘net), the book often delivers lots of minor revelations. As for those artists that I didn’t even know existed until recently, like Warpig or Buffalo, the book provides a fitting introduction to their music (and prompted this reader to dig up copies of their albums).

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Throughout Ye Olde Metal: 1968 To 1972, Popoff’s writing is clear, knowledgeable and friendly, providing great insight into the importance of these artists and their work. It also takes a back seat to the artist’s own accounts, Popoff allowing these long-neglected titans of rock their say, documenting the story of each album in the musician’s own words. Even at 232 pages, the book is a quick read and as entertaining as it is informative. If you’re a fan of any of the aforementioned bands, curious about their work and legacy, or just a curious reader with a taste for hard rock cheap thrills, I’d heartily recommend that you check out Ye Old Metal: 1968 To 1972, this humble critic anointing the book with my highest honor…the Rev sez “check it out!” (Power Chord Press) 

Buy the book direct: Martin Popoff’s Ye Olde Metal: 1968 To 1972

Review originally published by the Trademark of Quality (TMQ) blog, 2007 

Friday, November 6, 2020

CD Review: Little Richard's The Second Coming (1972) & Lifetime Friend (1986)

The Legendary Little Richard

In 1970, rock ‘n’ roll legend “Little” Richard Penniman was more than a decade removed from his late ‘50s commercial peak. Recording for Art Rupe’s Specialty Records label with producer Robert “Bumps” Blackwell, the two men racked up an impressive string of hit singles between 1955 and 1958, songs like “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Lucille,” and “Rip It Up” that would influence a generation of artists to follow, from R&B giants like Otis Redding and James Brown to rockers like Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and the Beatles, among many others.

Although he hadn’t released an album of new material in three years (and hadn’t enjoyed anything resembling a hit single since 1958), Reprise Records signed Richard on the strength of his success at the time as a dynamic live performer. The singer would four albums for Reprise, including 1970’s Little Richard-produced The Rill Thing, which scored a minor chart hit with the socially-conscious single “Freedom Blues.” The following year’s The King of Rock and Roll, produced by Richard’s old friend H.B. Barnum, was met with critical disdain even while it inched into the upper-reaches of the Billboard album chart.

Undeterred, Richard returned to the studio in 1972 and recorded two more albums for Reprise – Southern Child, an uncharacteristic collection of Southern rock and country music, and The Second Coming, a more straightforward set of old-school rock and R&B. Both albums were produced by Richard’s former partner-in-crime, “Bumps” Blackwell, and featured a hybrid band combining R&B vets like saxophonist Lee Allen and drummer Earl Palmer playing alongside young turks like slide guitarist Michael Deasy and steel-guitar wizard “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow. Southern Child would be shelved by the label for over 30 years before finally seeing release in 2005 as part of a Rhino Records box set. Reprise instead chose to roll the dice with The Second Coming, which was immediately savaged by critics who were disappointed in the songs and complained of the album’s overproduction.

Little Richard’s The Second Coming

Little Richard's The Second Coming

Critical barbs aside, when viewed from the far-off distance of today, Little Richard’s The Second Coming (Grade: B) is nowhere near as bad as claimed at the time. Does the album hold another “Tutti Frutti” or “Lucille”? You know it does not, but the album does kick off with the raucous, no-frills rocker “Mockingbird Sally,” an unbridled romp that features one of Richard’s most over-the-top vocal performances, shards of 1950s-styled twangy guitar, dueling saxophones, and Richard’s most manic piano-pounding. “Second Line” is equally audacious, if not as effective, with Richard’s strutting vocals dominating above a funky, New Orleans-inspired groove that, while entertaining, eventually goes nowhere in particular but does allow the singer to reference a number of colorful characters in the meandering lyrics.

Richard switches gears with “It Ain’t What You Do, It’s the Way How You Do It,” an up-tempo number with a fervent soul undercurrent. The instrumentation is a bit busy, like Blackwell knocked all the players in a blender and hit ‘puree’…but it’s a fun tune nonetheless, with a sort of Southern rock vibe that can’t quite keep up with Richard’s energetic vocals. I can see the infectious semi-instrumental “Nuki Suki” becoming an FM radio hit back in 1972, the song displaying a funky, horn-driven rhythm and electrical instrumental dexterity easily the equal of what was being pumped out by Stax Records at the time.

“Rockin’ Rockin’ Boogie” is as close to his 1950s-era roots as Richard gets on The Second Coming, his vocals exploding above a tsunami of sea-horn saxophones and amphetamine ivories. By contrast, “Prophet of Peace” is a stab at appealing to the contemporary zeitgeist, Richard’s lyrical sermon delivered atop a manic soundtrack of clashing instrumentation that creates a bedrock groove beneath the singer. The lengthy, seven-minute R&B instrumental raver “Sanctified, Satisfied Toe-Tapper” closes out the album, wasting Little Richard’s immense talents as vocalist, but the song delivers such a liver-quivering good time that it’s hard to disregard.

Bonus tracks on this Omnivore Recordings reissue of The Second Coming include the Quincy Jones written-and-produced tunes “Money Is” and “Do It-To It” from the 1972 film $. The former is a red-hot slab of early ‘70s urban funk with a strong-as-steel Chuck Rainey bass riff, ‘chunka-chunka’ guitar licks, and Richard’s bold vocals while the latter is a similar contemporary construct with an even hotter bass line, more upbeat arrangement, great vocals, and some Latin-styled background percussion. Sadly, The Second Coming failed to chart and would represent the final album of the rock legend’s early ‘70s trilogy.

Little Richard left Reprise feeling that they’d under-promoted and under-valued his work for the label, and I can’t disagree since they shelved an entire album and seemingly ignored the rest. Two of his three LPs for the label (The Rill Thing and The Second Coming) are inarguably above-average efforts, and even The King of Rock and Roll, has some stellar moments alongside the chaff. Richard would record one more rock ‘n’ roll album during the decade – 1973’s low-budget Right Now! – with Blackwell at the helm but, by the end of the ‘70s, Richard’s substance abuse problems had spiraled out of control and he returned to the ministry to find some inner peace.

Little Richard’s Lifetime Friend

 

Little Richard's Lifetime Friend

Richard recorded a poorly-received Gospel album, 1979’s God’s Beautiful City, in Nashville for the Christian-oriented Word Records label to close out the decade. He recorded some backing tracks for his TV appearances during the early ‘80s, and released his autobiography, The Quasar of Rock and Roll, in 1984 to some acclaim. Little Richard returned to the studio in 1986 to record Lifetime Friend, his first album in seven years and a curious balancing act between Richard’s religious leanings and his secular past in rock ‘n’ roll.

Richard recruited with his old friend and touring band member Travis Wammack, who had played on The Rill Thing, to help make the new album. The rest of Richard’s studio band included bassist Jesse Boyce, drummer James Stroud, and keyboardist Billy Preston, working with producer Stuart Coleman in London. Lifetime Friend (Grade: C) kicks off much like The Second Coming did 14 years previous, with the rip-roaring “Great Gosh A’Mighty.” Written by Richard and Preston, the song’s R&B foundation is embroidered with blasts of sax, honky-tonk piano tinkling, and scraps of fluid guitar with backing singers providing a Gospel tint to the recording. The song was Richard’s first hit in years, peaking at #42 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart when released as a single after appearing on the soundtrack to the movie Down and Out In Beverly Hills.

Oddly, much of Lifetime Friend actually sounds like it could be from a 1980s-era Eddie Murphy movie soundtrack. “Operator” is a swaggering, high-rent, R&B tinged rocker with a funky groove, groovy harmony vocals, and a vamping soundtrack while “Somebody’s Coming” is a slight, pastoral performance that could easily play behind a film’s pensive moment. The title track is encouraging, but under-produced almost to the point where Richard disappears. Much better is the raunchy slice of Southern rock that is the Wammack co-write “Destruction,” which provides a brassy instrumental backdrop for Richard’s growling vocals.

Another Wammack co-write, “One Ray of Sunshine,” provides a fine showcase for Richard’s more nuanced vocals. It’s not quite a Gospel song, but Richard approaches it as such, providing the pop-soul tune with subtle, reverent vocals that float, gossamer-like, above a tentative drum-beaten rhythm and mournful saxophone cries. “Someone Cares” is another Gospel-tinted pop-rock construct that, provided a more dynamic radio-friendly production, may have appealed to mid-80s ears just the right way to have a hit. Richard’s passionate vocals are accompanied by a shuffling rhythm and a backing chorus but are mixed too low to truly be effective. Ditto for the otherwise enchanting “Big House Reunion,” a mid-tempo rocker with a firm rhythmic backdrop, swinging horns, and restrained Little Richard vocals.     

Coleman’s production of Lifetime Friend is plagued with the clich├ęs and idioms too-frequently found in 1980s-era recordings. Stroud’s drums sound tinny and are underserved in the mix, Wammack’s typical razor-sharp guitar is robbed of its bite, and even Richard’s usual crazed piano-playing is underrepresented in favor of his vocals, which are too-often overshadowed by the instrumentation. Although Coleman was an old hand at producing “legacy” artists, working with folks like Cliff Richard, Billy Fury, and Phil Everly, there’s too much production sheen shrouding these performances in mediocrity, and not enough electricity. Part of the problem may have been Coleman’s preference for recording the instruments individually to a click track, preventing any spontaneity in the studio. There are some good songs on Lifetime Friend, but even Richard’s vocals often seem subdued by poor arrangements and worse production choices.

The Omnivore Recordings Reissues

The Omnnivore Recordings reissue of Lifetime Friend includes two bonus tracks, including the single edit of “Operator,” which charted in the U.K. and condenses the song’s energy into a more percussive blast of musical amperage. An “extended mix” of the song, however, just highlights the flaws in Coleman’s production technique. Aside from the album’s one modest U.S. hit single, Lifetime Friend under-performed in an ‘80s music market tailor-made for comebacks (i.e. see Roy Orbison, Tina Turner, the Everly Brothers, et al) by old-school rocker and R&B shouters like Little Richard. Both of these CD reissues feature extensive liner notes by music historian Bill Dahl, who puts each album in context to the singer’s enormous legacy. While none of these Reprise albums offer anything as ground-breaking as Little Richard’s late ‘50s singles, they stand up to scrutiny decades after their release.

Little Richard recorded an album of kid’s songs (Shake It All About) for Disney in 1992, and one last album of rock ‘n’ roll – Little Richard Meets Masayoshi Takanaka – the same year, re-recording his old hits with the popular Japanese guitarist. Richard continued to tour the world throughout the ‘90s and early ‘00s, frequently appeared on TV, and recorded with artists like Elton John and Solomon Burke before illness and age sidelined the timeless rock ‘n’ roller. His legacy secure, Richard Penniman was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1984, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 (as part of its inaugural class), the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2015. (Omnivore Recordings, released October 23rd, 2020)

Also on That Devil Music: Little Richard’s The Rill Thing & The King of Rock and Roll CD reviews

Buy the CDs from Amazon.com:
Little Richard’s The Second Coming
Little Richard’s Lifetime Friend

The Blues Images 2021 Calendar Is Here!

Blues Images 2021 calendar
Old-school blues fans should already be familiar with John Tefteller’s annual Blues Images calendar. I’ve hung one of these invaluable date-keepers on the wall of my office for better than a decade and I always look forward to receiving the next year’s calendar each fall. For the newcomers among you, the Blues Images calendar features vintage advertising artwork from long-gone blues label Paramount Records that noted record collector and dealer Tefteller rescued from a dumpster over 20 years ago. Each year’s calendar preserves an immensely-valuable visual history of the early years of the blues.

The 2021 calendar is light on the sort of imaginative pen-and-ink artwork that graced previous year’s collections, probably a result of improved printing and reproduction technology in the late 1920s and early ‘30s, which allowed for more expansive use of photos. You still get these unique artistic takes in ads for songs like Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Pneumonia Blues” and Ramblin’ Thomas’s “Hard To Rule Women Blues,” and there are smaller photos of B&W advertising artwork reproduced in the empty squares on the grids for several months.

Since the calendar features more visual advertising for new records, blues fans get rare, not-seen-for-decades photos of both well-known artists like John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, Blind Boy Fuller, and Lead Belly as well as lesser-known bluesmen-and-women like Victoria Spivey, Buddy Moss, and Walter Roland. Each calendar page is also annotated with historical and biographical information about the featured artist, and each month also includes the birth and death dates of classic blues artists.

The Blues Images 2021 calendar cost slightly more than some cheap wall-hanger you’d buy from the mall or local bookstore, but for the hardcore blues fan, Tefteller packs a lot of value for the $26.95 (plus shipping) it will cost you. Each Blues Images calendar includes a full-length CD that features rare, impossible-to-find, and often one-of-a-kind tracks, many of them sourced from Tefteller’s extensive personal collection (which must truly be awesome).

This year’s CD features some mighty rare but entertaining cuts among its 23 tracks. “Peg Leg” Howell’s “Too Tight Blues” is a steamy slab o’ Piedmont-styled country blues from 1927 while blues woman Bertha Henderson sings a sordid tale of “Terrible Murder Blues” with guitar accompaniment from the legendary Blind Blake (circa 1928). I’m sensing a theme here as Walter Roland tells of “Cold Blooded Murder,” offering subtle piano blues from 1935 while the elegant fretwork of Buddy Moss graces a 1935 recording of “Undertaker Blues” (and he’s accompanied on second guitar by folk-blues legend Josh White!).  

Blues Images 2021 calendar sample
Whereas Tefteller plumbed the depths of the first decade of the blues (1920s) with previous calendars, now we’re inching into the 1930s with stellar performances. The previously-mentioned songs are joined by the familiar “Good Morning, School Girl” from the original “Sonny Boy” Williamson, recorded in 1937 with Robert Nighthawk and Joe Williams joining the harmonica wizard. The great Huddie Ledbetter (a/k/a Leadbelly) is represented by the haunting “New Black Snake Moan,” which takes full advantage of the singer’s ethereal vocals, and Texas blues legend Blind Lemon Jefferson showcases his six-string dexterity and high-lonesome vocals with a 1929 recording of “Pneumonia Blues.”

Tefteller jumps forward a couple of decades to 1950 with eleven red-hot, eyebrow-scorching performances by obscure blues pianist Lost John Hunter. These recently-discovered sides were originally recorded at the Memphis Recording Service (a/k/a Sun Studios) in Memphis, Tennessee and provide a first look at the piano-pounder’s talents on tracks like the sultry “Miss Thelma Mae,” the jaunty “Mind Your Own Business,” and the raucous “Lost John’s Pinetop Boogie,” a rollicking number that probably had ‘em hanging from the rafters in juke-joints on either side of the mighty Mississippi. Tefteller includes alternate takes among these eleven tracks, but there’s not a bad performance to be found.   

The performances on the CD, which include the songs from the original advertising featured on the calendar pages as well as related releases, have been remastered from the original 78rpm records using a digital process that was originally developed for the American Epic PBS series. Using original, 1920s-era sound equipment and pairing it with cutting edge modern technology, the “American Epic” process digitizes these rare sides, preserving them for posterity and making the sound on these antique shellac flapjacks really jump out of your speakers.

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

Sunday, November 1, 2020

New Music Monthly: November & December 2020 releases

It's the end of 2020 (thank Crom!) and new music releases begin to slow to a trickle over the next couple of months. That's not to say that there won't be some rad new tunes for us to chew on, though! Check out new albums by folks like Jules Shear, blues guitarist extraordinaire Duke Robillard, the Avalanches, and the Drive-By Truckers. If that's not enough, how about vinyl reissues of a classic pair of albums by Pylon, long-lost live sets by Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, and John Lee Hooker, and archival collections from Dave Alvin and former Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips to whet yer whistle?

Release dates are probably gonna 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 Amazon.com...it’s just that damn easy! Your purchase puts valuable ‘store credit’ in the Reverend’s pocket that he’ll use to buy more music to write about in a never-ending loop of rock ‘n’ roll ecstasy! If you're boycotting Amazon and don't have an indie record store close by, may we suggest shopping with our friends at Grimey's Music in Nashville? They have a great selection of vinyl available by mail order, offer quick service, and if you don't see what you want on their website, check out their Discogs shop!

John Lee Hooker's Live At Montreux 1983 & 1990

NOVEMBER 6
John Lee Hooker - Live At Montreux 1983 & 1990 [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Pylon - Chomp [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Pylon - Gyrate [vinyl reissue]   BUY!
SVT - Always Come Back [No Regrets w/bonus tracks]   BUY!
The Uptones - Get Outta My Way   BUY!

Swans' Children of God

NOVEMBER 13
The Cribs - Night Network   BUY!
Bob Marley - Uprising Live [3-LP vinyl reissue]   BUY!
Jules Shear - Slower   BUY!
Swans - Children of God [CD & vinyl reissue]   BUY!

Dave Alvin's From An Old Guitar

NOVEMBER 20
Dave Alvin - From An Old Guitar: Rare and Unreleased Recordings   BUY!
Cabaret Voltaire - Shadow of Fear   BUY!
Jimi Hendrix Experience - Live In Maui [2-CD/Blu-Ray]   BUY!
Duke Robillard & Friends - Blues Bash!   BUY!

Jon Anderson's Song of Seven

NOVEMBER 27
Jon Anderson - Song of Seven   BUY!
Hatebreed - Weight of the False Self   BUY!
Anthony Phillips - Missing Links I-IV [5-CD box set]   BUY!
Smashing Pumpkins - Cyr   BUY!
Various Artists - The Bath Festival of Blues & Progressive Music 1969-70 [3-CD set]   BUY!

The White Stripes' Greatest Hits

DECEMBER 4
George Thorogood & the Destroyers - Live in Boston, 1982: The Complete Concert [CD & vinyl reissue]  BUY!
The White Stripes - Greatest Hits   BUY!

The Avalanches' We Will Always Love You

DECEMBER 11
The Avalanches - We Will Always Love You  BUY!
Osees - Panther Rotate  BUY!
The Ready-Mades - San Francisco: Mostly Live 

The Drive-By Truckers' The New OK

DECEMBER 18
Kevin Godley [10cc] - Muscle Memory   BUY!
The Drive-By Truckers - The New OK   BUY!

The Bath Festival of Blues & Progressive Music 1969-70

Album of the Month: The Bath Festival of Blues & Progressive Music 1969-70 is a three-disc set commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic festivals, held in June 1969 and 1970 and promoted by Freddy Bannister. One of the earliest such events in the U.K. these two festivals featured performances by talents like Ten Years After, Blodwyn Pig, Taste, (early) Fleetwood Mac, Donovan, Steppenwolf, John Mayall, Canned Heat, Johnny Winter, the Byrds, Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, and many more! The standard three-CD set offers 35 stellar performances culled from the two festivals while a full-blown deluxe box set (show above) also includes reproductions of program booklets from both events, posters, and much more. Check it all out at Music Glue, which is also selling t-shirts and other authorized memorabilia from the festivals!