Sunday, May 30, 2021

The Rev sez "Paint It Black!"

The Reverend's Paint It Black!
The fifth and final collection of the Reverend’s personal archives, Paint It Black! is now available for order from Excitable Press and Named for the classic Rolling Stones song, Paint It Black! is a collection of over 150 rock ‘n’ blues album and book reviews penned by the “Reverend of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Rev. Keith A. Gordon over the course of his nearly 50 years as a rock critic and music historian.

From classic rockers like Bob Seger, David Bowie, and Frank Zappa to blues legends like John Lee Hooker and Stevie Ray Vaughan or punk rockers like the Dead Kennedys (and everything in between) if you love music, Paint It Black! is the cratediggers' guide to your next album purchases!

Order an autographed copy of Paint It Black! directly from the Reverend for $15.95 postpaid in the U.S. by using the PayPal button below. Canadian and European orders should be made through Paint It Black! is a 5.5” x 8.5” trade paperback, a respectable 356 pages and profusely illustrated with B&W album cover artwork.

Paint It Black! $15.95

Prefer to buy from Here's a link to the Reverend's Paint It Black! paperback (also available as a Kindle eBook)

Friday, May 28, 2021

CD Review: Alligator Records 50 Years of Genuine Houserockin’ Music (2021)

Alligator Records celebrates its 50th anniversary this year – no mean feat for a staunchly independent label – and they have good reason to be proud. The Chicago-based label has released a lot of great music in the five decades since that first Hound Dog Taylor record, and Alligator’s catalog of over 300 titles features some of the best and brightest roots ‘n’ blues artists that have traveled the backroads of America. 50 Years of Genuine Houserockin’ Music is budget-priced (three discs for under $30) anniversary box set offering up a whopping 58 songs and nearly four hours of music, taking the listener for an entertaining stroll through the label’s storied history.

Alligator Records: 50 Years of Genuine Houserockin’ Music

Disc one includes legends like the aforementioned Mr. Taylor (whose “Give Me Back My Wig” defined the label’s mission statement of “genuine houserockin’ music”); the great Koko Taylor (whose “I’m A Woman” puts Muddy in his place); and skilled guitarslingers like Albert Collins, Roy Buchanan, Fenton Robinson, and Johnny Winter, who explore a variety of styles. You’ll also find harp maestros Big Walter Horton and James Cotton, and much-beloved artists like Son Seals, Lonnie Brooks, Luther Allison, and Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women. Throw in some blues-rock jams by the Paladins, and honky-tonk piano-pounding by New Orleans legend Professor Longhair and you have a nearly-perfect 18-track album.

If that’s not enough to get yer motor revving into overdrive, disc two will melt your brain with incendiary tracks from talents like the late, great Michael “Iron Man” Burks, the always-rowdy Little Charlie & the Nightcats, and more harmonica wizardry from masters like Carey Bell and Billy Boy Arnold. Disc two showcases the label’s incredible diversity, mixing songs from soul-blues outfits like the Holmes Brothers and the Kinsey Report with performances by great singers like Janiva Magness, Mavis Staples, and the underrated Katie Webster. The legendary “Steady Rollin’” Bob Margolin is represented here, as are talented cats like Kenny Neal and Joe Louis Walker, and lesser-known but influential artists like Corey Harris and Michael Hill. Throw in some classic Zydeco from C.J. Chenier and a track from the innovative blues-rock outfit the Siegel-Schwall Band, among other fine performances, and you have 21 red-hot tunes that will torch your stereo speakers with pure flamethrower blues…

Still not enough for ya? Man, you drive a hard bargain…how ‘bout disc three and 21 houserockin’ tracks from skilled bluesmen and women like Marcia Ball, Billy Branch, Toronzo Cannon, and Roomful of Blues. There’s no shortage of skilled fretburners like Tinsley Ellis, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Selwyn Birchwood, and Coco Montoya to be found, and bands like Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials, the Nick Moss Band (featuring the extraordinary harp player Dennis Gruenling), Rick Estrin & the Nightcats, and Tommy Castro & the Painkillers are among the most popular (and hardest-working) blues gangs haunting your local juke-joint these past few years. Shemekia Copeland and Curtis Salgado are two of the most talented blues singers on the scene today, and you can’t overlook legends like Elvin Bishop, Charlie Musselwhite, and Guitar Shorty.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Altogether, 50 Years of Genuine Houserockin’ Music does a great job of documenting a half-century of Alligator Records’ irreplaceable and invaluable contribution to American music. The three-disc set includes a 40pp color booklet and provides the listener a veritable roadmap of the evolution of roots ‘n’ blues music over the past five decades. It’s a great sampler of the wealth of talent the label has to offer, and if you pick up this box set and don’t immediate order a dozen or so discs from the featured artists, I have to seriously question your taste in music…maybe you’d be happier with a shiny new Justin Bieber album? For the rest of us, there’s nothing but “genuine houserockin’ music” on the menu. Kudos to Alligator founder Bruce Iglauer and his staff for this incredible musical milestone! (Alligator Records, released June 18th, 2021)

Buy the CD from Amazon: 50 Years of Genuine Houserockin’ Music

Also on That Devil Music:
Bruce Iglauer - Bitten by the Blues book review
Alligator Records 45th Anniversary Collection CD review

Archive Review: John Hiatt & the Goners' Beneath This Gruff Exterior (2006)

John Hiatt & the Goners' Beneath This Gruff Exterior
As a recording artist, John Hiatt has never achieved much more than cult status. He has never sold a lot of records; certainly not as many as other artists have recording Hiatt’s songs. Over the course of almost thirty years, however, Hiatt has forged a career of quiet excellence, creating nearly twenty consistently solid albums and writing hundreds of remarkable songs that lesser talents will be recording for decades to come. Entering his fourth decade of writing and performing, Hiatt epitomizes the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, and if he never makes the Hall of Fame, it will be that institution’s loss.

Hiatt’s Beneath This Gruff Exterior is another fine effort on the part of the underrated songwriter and his top-notch band the Goners. For those unfamiliar with Hiatt’s creative “modus operandi,” he pens literate songs that are peopled with brilliant characters – losers and lovers, the lost and the redeemed. Hiatt’s rough, soulful vocals are kind of like a frayed blanket, scratchy and worn but warm and familiar. The music is a mix of roots-rock, Memphis soul, Delta blues, country, and folk, which is why Hiatt’s material lends itself so well to various interpretations. Beneath This Gruff Exterior showcases both Hiatt’s songwriting skills and the road-worn chemistry of the Goners. Hiatt is not a bad guitarist, but he smartly steps aside and lets maestro Sonny Landreth fill his songs with whiplash slide work and a hint of bayou swamp-rock instrumental gumbo. The seasoned rhythm section of bassist Dave Ranson and drummer Kenneth Bevins keep an admirable beat beneath the festivities so that the magician Hiatt can weave his lyrical tales.

The radio-ready "The Nagging Dark” rolls along like the runaway hearts of the song’s characters while “Circle Back” remembers the fleeting nature of friendships and family and the passage of time. “Almost Fed Up With the Blues,” fueled by Landreth’s red-hot picking, is a brilliant anti-blues blues song, the protagonist sick and tired of being sick and tired. Hiatt’s imagery on “The Most Unoriginal Sin” is nearly the equal of vintage Dylan, Landreth’s shimmering fretwork creating an eerie atmosphere behind Hiatt’s somber vocals, the song’s star-crossed lover doomed before the first chorus strikes. Beneath This Gruff Exterior may not be the hall-of-fame caliber talent’s best album, but it doesn’t fall far from the top. (New West Records, released December 15, 2006)

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

Also on That Devil John Hiatt - Crossing Muddy Waters CD review

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Friday, May 21, 2021

Classic Rock Review: Blind Faith's Blind Faith (1969)

Blind Faith's Blind Faith
Blind Faith was one of the classic rock era’s first ‘supergroups’, comprised of members of the chart-busting blues-rock band Cream (guitarist Eric Clapton and drummer Ginger Baker) and prog-rock pioneers Traffic (singer/keyboardist Steve Winwood) and Family (bassist Ric Grech). Growing out of informal jam sessions by Clapton and Winwood in the wake of the break-ups of their previous bands, Blind Faith was never really built to last. The same ol’ tensions that helped Cream crack-up surfaced again and Clapton’s artistic restlessness found him increasingly isolated while on tour, where he spent more time with opening act Delaney & Bonnie than his own bandmates.

Clapton jumped ship after the last tour date, hooking up with the aforementioned D&B and associated musicians that would later become Derek & the Dominoes. The remaining members of Blind Faith formed Ginger Baker’s Air Force but, after a single album with the mercurious drummer, Winwood rang up his former mates in Traffic and the re-formed band recorded its classic comeback LP, John Barleycorn Must Die. This isn’t to say that Blind Faith didn’t accomplish anything during their lone year of existence – the band’s much-ballyhooed debut concert was played in front of 100,000 fans in Hyde Park in London, and their self-titled debut disc would top the charts in both the U.S. and the U.K. They stirred up a bit of controversy as well over the artwork of the British release of the album, which featured a photo of a topless eleven-year-old girl. A bog-standard group photo graced the front of the U.S. album release.

Blind Faith’s Blind Faith

As successful as the album may have been commercially, it received mixed reviews at the time as rock critics like The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau and Rolling Stone magazine’s Ed Leimbacher slagged the band’s efforts. Regardless, the album has withstood the test of time as not only one of the best works of the classic rock era but also representing a creative highpoint in the musicians’ careers. Blind Faith, the album, only offers us six songs but they run a collective 40+ minutes, which was actually long for the vinyl era. Album-opener “Had To Cry Today” is a Winwood original that is indistinguishable from past and future Traffic tunes save for Clapton’s savage riffing and the band’s stunning instrumental jam, which extended the piece to almost nine minutes.

Winwood’s “Cant Find My Way Home” is one of three bona fide gems on the album, the band weaving an intricate, soulful combination of blues, rock, and jazzy prog with wistful vocals, elegant filigree guitar, and uncharacteristically subdued drumwork by Baker which, combined with Grech’s underrated bass playing, creates a melodic rhythmic backdrop for Winwood’s haunting vocals. A cover of Buddy Holly’s “Well All Right” brings a contemporary prog-rock complexity to the rockabilly legend’s three-chord pop, although Winwood’s lengthy piano solo breaks whatever spell the band had woven with the song.

Baker’s “Do What You Like,” which runs 15 minutes and dominates the album’s second side, is perhaps the only misstep here. The Afro-funk-flavored performance mirrors what the drummer would creatively expand upon with Air Force (and with his work with African legend Fela Kuti), but while it’s not without its charms, it wears out its welcome here with too much meandering. Two shorter songs would have been more effective. The album’s other two treasures can be found in Clapton’s “Presence of the Lord” and Winwood’s “Sea of Joy.” The former is an ethereal, Gospel-tinged number with gracious Winwood vocals and somber keyboards while Clapton lights up the instrumentation with a soaring, innovative, and appropriately-toned guitar solo. The latter song is in a similar vein, with deft guitarplay, a sympathetic rhythmic track, scraps of wiry fretwork and autoharp, and truly otherworldly vocals by Winwood.

Although Clapton disliked his short time with Blind Faith, his friendship with Winwood continues to this day, and both men are justifiably proud of the music they made together. Both have enjoyed solo careers of varying degrees of success, and both are Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductees (Clapton with The Yardbirds, Cream, and solo and Winwood with Traffic). Blind Faith was but one notable stop along the journey for two classic rock legends. (Polydor Records, 1969)

Buy the CD from Blind Faith’s Blind Faith

Blind Faith 1969
Blind Faith 1969


Classic Rock Review: The Alabama State Troupers' Road Show (1972)

The Alabama State Troupers' Road Show

Memphis music legend Don Nix made his bones as part of the Stax Records family tree. He wrote the blues standard “Going Down” which, although originally recorded by hometown boys Moloch, would find fortune in the hands of artists like Freddie King and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Nix hung around with talents like Leon Russell, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison and produced albums by folks like John Mayall and Albert King, so Elektra Records thought they had a hot property when they signed the Southern singer, songwriter, and producer.

When Nix’s label debut, 1971’s Living By the Days, failed to chart, however, Elektra started looking for another angle to break the artist. I’m not sure who came up with the “road show” concept (the CD reissue liner notes credit the label’s Nashville A&R director Russ Miller), but Nix jumped into the project enthusiastically, assembling a touring band that included regional talents like guitarists Wayne Perkins and Tippy Armstrong, pianist Clayton Ivey, and the “Mt. Zion Choir,” which included backing singers Brenda Patterson and Marlin Greene. The tour was designed to showcase Elektra label artists Nix, Jeanie Greene, and Lonnie Mack but, when Mack backed out at the last minute, Nix wisely recruited Memphis bluesman Furry Lewis to take his place.

As shown by the Alabama State Troupers’ Roadshow – a two-LP set pieced together from a pair of October 1971 shows in California – Nix’s inspired blending of Southern rock, blues, soul, and gospel music was decades ahead of its time (we call it ‘Americana’ these days). Lewis is provided the entire first side of the vinyl to spin his mesmerizing country-blues yarns, and those lucky bastards who paid $1.50 a ticket for the shows soaked in dynamic performances of gospel songs like “Jesus On the Mainline” and “Mighty Time” alongside furious rockers like “Asphalt Outlaw Hero,” “Olena” and, of course, “Going Down.” It’s an album entirely of its time, a timeless amalgam of American music that has only grown in appreciation since its release. (Elektra Records, 1972)

Also on That Devil Furry Lewis - Good Morning Judge CD review

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Friday, May 14, 2021

Archive Review: Kaipa's Angling Feelings (2007)

Kaipa's Angling Feelings
Relatively unknown in the states, even by fanatical prog-fan standards, and criminally unheralded by any critical benchmark, Sweden’s Kaipa has nevertheless been a Scandinavian musical institution for almost three-and-a-half decades. Formed in 1973 by guitarist and songwriter Hans Lundin, Kaipa provided a teenaged Roine Stolt with his first major band experience before forming prog-rock legends the Flower Kings during the ‘80s. The ‘70s-era Kaipa recorded a handful of albums for Decca that sold well for their time, and the band’s musical stock would continue to grow beyond its ostensible demise in 1982, subsequently influencing a generation of European musicians.

After an eighteen-year hiatus during which Lundin continued to make music and Stolt achieved a measure of fame and acclaim at the helm of the Flower Kings, Kaipa reformed in the year 2000. The band would find an entirely different prog-rock landscape in the new millennium. Although remaining a relatively small cult genre within the immense world of rock ‘n’ roll, prog-rock’s status and reputation had grown during the ‘90s, especially in Europe, and its influence could be felt in both mainstream rock and heavily in altering the direction of contemporary heavy metal. No longer overshadowed by hardcore punk, “nerf metal” and grunge, “prog” has enjoyed over a decade of increased sales and growing audiences that thirst for a transcendental musical experience.

Kaipa’s Angling Feelings

Since its reformation in 2000, Kaipa has released three studio albums, but it is with its ninth and most recent, Angling Feelings, that the band has cemented its place among the greats of progressive rock. First of all, Roine Stolt’s fingerprints are nowhere to be found hereabouts. Leaving the band to pursue his other numerous musical projects (including the wonderful solo album Wall Street Voodoo and various Flower Kings’ releases); Stolt is no longer a creative part of Kaipa. In many ways, this is a good thing – regardless of Stolt’s immense talents, his departure allows Kaipa to cast aside his shadow and pursue new musical directions.

No doubt, the band chases after some bold new musical thoughts with Angling Feelings, reinforcing their reputation as one of the most creative, energetic and invigorating outfits on the prog-rock landscape. With the addition of new guitarist Pers Nilsson (Scar Symmetry), composer and group leader Lundin has a new tool to work with, and he utilizes Nilsson’s considerable talents with remarkable results. The songs on Angling Feelings are built upon the normal prog architecture: the familiar keyboard flourishes, spry rhythms, sporadic interspersed vocals, and the electric improvisational nature of the music itself.

Path of Humbleness

With Angling Feelings, however, Lundin and band have expanded Kaipa’s sound – there are many passages that sound downright jazzy, mostly those featuring Aleena Gibson’s seductive vocals. Patrik Lundstrom (Ritual) provides the vocals for most of the material here, his warm voice and soaring vocals playing well off of Gibson’s breathless phrasing. There are elements of traditional Swedish folk interlaced within the songs, as well as hints of world music influences. “Broken Chords,” for instance, builds upon a simple, island-influenced rhythm with shimmering guitar and keyboards and Lundstrom’s strident vocals. “The Glorious Silence Within” dances out of your speakers like a sprite at Renaissance faire; the song’s intricate weaving of delicate instrumentation matched by an upbeat tempo and performance, with delightful vocal harmonies building a joyful chorus.

“Path of Humbleness” begins with an ethereal, far-away sounding intro leading into Gibson’s haunting vocals and a quiet cloud of instrumentation before filling out with a unique mix of Celtic traditionalism and soulful keyboard riffing. The title cut kicks off with a Wakeman-esque keyboard wash before descending into a maddening, chaotic clash of instrumentation and vocals that has its roots in the ‘70s-era sound of King Crimson but its feet firmly in the firmament of contemporary prog expectations. The song provides Nilsson with an excellent showcase, his nimble fretwork and trembling tone adding a vital new aspect to Kaipa’s sound, different from, but just as valuable as Stolt’s previous contributions.

The Rev’s Bottom Line

Whether you’re a fan of classic prog-rockers like Yes and Genesis or modern generation prog bands like the Flower Kings or Pallas, you’ll find a lot to like about Kaipa. If you’re a new fan recently discovering the joys of the prog genre, Kaipa’s Angling Feelings is a good place to begin your journey. With superb musicianship, charming vocal harmonies and imaginative song craftwork, Kaipa has successfully incorporated sounds both old and new, building a bridge between the ‘70s and the ‘00s. Enchanting and electrifying, Angling Feelings represents both the overwhelming potential and the very best aspects of contemporary progressive rock. (Inside Out Music, released 2007)

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

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Friday, May 7, 2021

Archive Review: Black Sunday's Tronic Blanc (2005)

Black Sunday's Tronic Blanc
Down around Memphis way, on a bluff high above the mighty Mississippi River, Alicja Trout is a one-woman, rock ‘n’ roll wrecking crew. An artistic triple-threat, Trout is an accomplished musician, an insightful producer and a successful independent businesswoman running her own Contaminated Records label and Tronic Graveyard recording studio. Trout earned her indie street cred as the guiding light of the Lost Sounds, a critically acclaimed art-rock outfit with garage-rock sensibilities; she’s since gone on to experiment in different musical avenues with bands as diverse as MouseRocket and the River City Tanlines. Don’t be fooled, however – as disparate as these bands may seem, they are nothing but different faces of the same brilliant artist.

Black Sunday has been billed as Trout’s first post-Lost Sounds project but in reality, like most of her work, it’s been a work in progress. Collecting tunes written and recorded from 2002 until 2004, Tronic Blanc is a perfect representation of Trout’s many different talents. She performs most of the instrumentation on the album, with friends adding drums or guitar to a handful of songs. More impressive, however, is that Tronic Blanc tends to incorporate a wider range of Trout’s songwriting interests than any of her other bands that I’ve heard.

From the new wavy, Gary Numan-influenced electronic paranoia of “This Heart Is Now Aluminum” to the hook-laden ‘80s pop stylings of “Next Girl Detour,” Trout experiments across the board with different sounds on Tronic Blanc. Although the results vary from song to song, Trout’s talents tie them all together and provide a continuity that is tough to achieve over a multi-year timespan. Most of Tronic Blanc skews towards electronic-tinged synthpop, although a few cuts – like the hard-rocking, guitar-driven “Torture Torture” – would be perfectly at home alongside many Victory Records “screamo” bands, albeit less abrasive and with more visible intelligence. “Good Dreams” is an interesting art-rock instrumental, classical piano layered above an electronic drone that would make Klaus Schulze green with envy.

Simply put, Alicja Trout is one of the most interesting and intelligent musicians working on the indie circuit today. Perhaps because Trout’s home base is Memphis she doesn’t get the ink that coastal-based indie artists garner. Her relative isolation from the industry has also insulated her from the battering winds of changing musical trends, allowing Trout to follow her own muse. Black Sunday’s Tronic Blanc delivers thought-provoking music, challenging without being heartbreaking, entertaining, intelligent and ambitious. Between Alicja Trout and her friend Greg Cartwright’s band the Reigning Sound, these two artists are making some great music in the Bluff City. (Dirtnap Records, released June 14th, 2005)

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