Friday, July 30, 2021

Archive Review: Poundhound’s Massive Grooves From the Electric Church... (1998)

Poundhound’s Massive Grooves From the Electric Church...
King’s X bassist Doug Pinnick steps out on his own with this self-produced solo effort under the “Poundhound” moniker. Pinnick’s musical influences are quite evident: Hendrix, George Clinton, Prince and, actually, King’s X, to name a few. Although Poundhound never really strays far from the style of music created by Pinnick’s full-time job, i.e. thundering rhythms, unexpected syncopation, nifty chord changes, and tasty six-string work, Pinnick nonetheless has forged a set of songs with a distinct identity of their own. I can’t see any King’s X fans being alienated by Massive Grooves, which reinforces King’s X’s credibility rather than diminishing it.

With Massive Grooves From the Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music (the album’s full and glorious title), Pinnick and his Poundhound mates explore the funkier sides of King’s X music (of which Pinnick is an integral part), creating, well, some “massive grooves.” The disc opens with a funky-cool space-jammin’ psychedelic rant reminiscent of Hendrix on Axis: Bold As Love. From there, the single word-titled songs explore a pleasant musical mix of P-Funkish grooves, metallic riffs and improvisational instrumentation. Although there’s not a bum track here, some songs work better than others do. Those that strike true – like the monstrous “Darker,” the effervescent spiritual booty-shaker “Jangle” or the ethereal “PsychoLove” – are fine songs, indeed.

Pinnick is a rare talent, a group player that contributes to making King’s X one of the most underrated outfits in rock ‘n’ roll today. As shown by Massive Grooves, he is also a visionary solo artist willing to explore the possibilities of the music and is quite a talented guitarist in his own right. Although he has made a career with his band, Pinnick’s Poundhound project shows that, for this artist, there’s also life alongside King’s X. (Metal Blade Records, released 1998)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 1998

Friday, July 23, 2021

Classic Rock Review: Gregg Allman’s Laid Back (1973)
The tragic death of his brother Duane in October 1971 had a profound effect on Gregg Allman, who would develop an often-times debilitating substance abuse problem in its wake. Although the Allman Brothers Band continued truckin’ after the loss of its founder, releasing the critically-acclaimed 1972 double-album Eat A Peach – which also included Duane’s last recordings – the album’s commercial success (peaking at #4 on the Billboard album chart and achieving Platinum™ sales levels) ensured that the ABB would attempt another bite of the apple. Frictions grew within the band, with singer, songwriter, and guitarist Dickie Betts often butting heads with band namesake Gregg over the band’s creative direction.

Gregg began thinking about exploring a solo career and, in late ’72, he began work on Laid Back, with friend and former bandmate Johnny Sandlin co-producing the album. Desiring to explore musical avenues apart from the ABB, Allman had Sandlin enlist a talented crop of musicians, including old friends like guitarists Scott Boyer and Tommy Talton (from the Southern rock band Cowboy) and keyboardists Chuck Leavell (a future ABB member) and Paul Hornsby as well as bandmates Jaimoe and Butch Trucks. The album’s eight songs featured four written by Allman, one Boyer composition, and a couple of choice cover songs that explored the possibilities of rock, blues, jazz, gospel, and R&B music (i.e. Americana).

The resulting mix of sounds on Laid Back found an audience not only among ABB fans but also with newcomers who appreciated Allman’s soulful vocals and the album’s “laid back” blend of instrumentation and melodic musical styles. The hit single was Allman’s “Midnight Rider,” probably as close to the ABB sound as the singer would get here, an eerie swamp-rock soundtrack resonating behind Allman’s haunted vocals. There are other solid moments here, though – the smoky late-night blues vibe of “Queen of Hearts,” which offers jazzy undercurrents; an inspired, up-tempo cover of the 1964 R&B hit “Don’t Mess Up A Good Thing”; and the gospel fervor of the traditional “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” – all of which drove the album to #13 on the charts, selling better than half a million copies. It also launched Allman’s solo career, separating him from his longtime band and ensuring a musical legacy of his own. (Capricorn Records, 1973)

Buy the CD from Amazon: Gregg Allman’s Laid Back

Archive Review: Shawn Holt & the Teardrops’ Daddy Told Me (2013)

Shawn Holt & the Teardrops’ Daddy Told Me
With his legendary father, Magic Slim, sadly passing away in February 2013, it was up to singer, songwriter, and guitarist Shawn Holt to pick up the torch and begin to make his own mark on the blues world. To call Daddy Told Me a debut album would be a bit too disingenuous – Holt toured with his father and the band for years, and his scrappy guitarwork can be heard on albums like Magic Slim’s Black Tornado – but it is a transitional recording nonetheless. 

Teaming with longtime Teardrops Chris Biedron on bass and drummer Brian “B.J.” Jones, Holt enlisted guitarist Levi William and family friend and Chicago blues guitar legend John Primer to put together Daddy Told Me. The results speak loudly for themselves, the album a wonderful collection of inspired versions of songs written or popularized by Magic Slim alongside Holt’s own well-written originals.

The title track draws upon Chicago blues tradition while still sounding contemporary, the band cranking out a deep, driving groove atop which Holt layers on his gruff, growling vocals on a tale of romantic turmoil as the guitars grind and howl. Holt’s “Hold You Again” follows a similar template, matching muscular guitar-driven blues with an unrelenting rhythm. By contrast, Magic Slim’s “Buddy Buddy Friend” displays a playful side to the band, with spry vocals and less bruising, more intricate fretwork. 

A cover of Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me” is an old-school delight, with John Primer’s swinging vocals and stinging guitar an undeniable pleasure while Holt’s “You Done Me Wrong” offers the perfect match of traditional and contemporary Chicago blues, whipsmart guitar and jaunty rhythms dragging the form into the 21st century. Bottom line: if you were a Magic Slim fan, you’re going to love Daddy Told Me! Grade: B+ (Blind Pig Records, released September 24th, 2013)

Buy the CD from Amazon: Shawn Holt & the Teardrops’ Daddy Told Me


Friday, July 16, 2021

Archive Review: Samantha Fish’s Black Wind Howlin’ (2013)

Samantha Fish’s Black Wind Howlin’
Guitarist Samantha Fish is a real up ‘n’ comer on the worldwide blues stage, a relative newcomer that nevertheless has a wealth of experience to her credit along with some globetrotting tours and a pair of albums with fellow distaff bluesers Cassie Taylor and Dani Wilde as “Girls With Guitars.” Fish released her Blues Music Award winning solo debut Runaway in 2011 and now, a couple years later, comes the all-important sophomore effort, Black Wind Howlin’

Working again with fellow Missouri native Mike Zito as producer, and featuring Zito’s Royal Southern Brotherhood bandmates Charlie Wooten (bass) and Yonrico Scott (drums) along with Zito (guitar), and harp player Johnny Sansone, Black Wind Howlin’ offers up ten electrifying performances, nine of them written or co-written by the talented Ms. Fish.

There’s so much that’s good about Black Wind Howlin’ that it’s hard to find a place to start the praise. “Miles To Go” is a hard-rockin’ blues tune that veers dangerously close to metal turf (think Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”), the song’s unrelenting rhythm, restless “life on the road” lyrics, and scorched earth fretwork making for an invigorating listen. By contrast, “Kick Around” could make Fish a lot of money in song-starved Nashville, the tune a near-perfect mix of blues roots, roots-rock, and twangy guitar courtesy of Mr. Zito while “Go To Hell,” written with Zito, features a monster stomp ‘n’ stammer rhythm, big drumbeats, Fish’s malevolent guitar, and guest Paul Thorn’s delightfully gravel-throated vox.

Sansone shines on “Sucker Born,” his wildfire harp offering a nice counterpoint to Fish’s smoldering vocals and stunning guitarplay and a cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talking” is delivered throwback style, with sultry vocals and swinging guitar and harmonica creating a dangerous vibe. Fish is a fine lyricist, imaginative and inventive while still learning the ropes, but it’s her amazing six-string skills that will enchant and hypnotize the listener. Don’t let her youth and gender fool you…Samantha Fish is genuinely bad to the bone, and only getting better! Grade: A (Ruf Records, released September 10, 2013)

Buy the CD from Amazon: Samantha Fish’s Black Wind Howlin’


Friday, July 9, 2021

Classic Rock Review: Mick Abrahams’ A Musical Evening with Mick Abrahams (1971)

Mick Abrahams’ A Musical Evening with Mick Abrahams
Mick Abrahams was Jethro Tull’s original axeman, splitting after Tull’s 1968 debut LP This Was over arguments with bandleader Ian Anderson concerning the band’s musical direction. Abrahams would go on to form Blodwyn Pig, a British blues-rock band with a heavy jazz undercurrent not unlike what John Mayall was pursuing at the time, releasing two albums with that band before hitting the solo circuit.

A Musical Evening with Mick Abrahams (often shortened to just Mick Abrahams) was the guitarist’s solo debut, a mixed effort that showcases his six-string skills while also revealing the gaps in his songwriting abilities. The album-opening “Greyhound Bus” offers an infectiously-funky rhythm with scraps of Abrahams’ guitar shining through the dense mix alongside Bob Sargeant’s keyboard riffs, while “Awake” presages prog-rock with its dark ambience, subdued vocals, and instrumental prowess. The fleet-of-foot “Big Queen” is similarly priggish, but with blues threads woven throughout similar to what Mountain, Bloodrock, and even Beck, Bogart & Appice would be doing a year or two hence.  

However, the album goes off the tracks with the curious, weak-kneed “Winds of Change,” which is too soft-edged for blues-rock, its psychedelic pretensions a few years past the “sell by” date. Abrahams’ “Seasons” partially redeems the album’s excesses; a more straight-forward rocker with blues and prog tendencies, there is plenty of ominous keyboards, razor-sharp fretwork, and exotic instrumentation beneath the gang vocals to fill the song’s lengthy 15-minute run time. While not the most auspicious of debut albums, A Musical Evening with Mick Abrahams offers a glimpse of the guitarist’s immense talents. Abrahams would take keyboard wizard Bob Sargeant and big-beat drummer Richie Dharma with him to the Mick Abrahams Band for a single LP the following year. (Chrysalis Records, 1971)

Buy the CD from Amazon: Mick Abrahams’ A Musical Evening with Mick Abrahams

Archive Review: Mick Abrahams' Hoochie Coochie Man (2013)

Mick Abrahams' Hoochie Coochie Man
Our friends at Secret Records in the UK have dug up this recently-discovered and previously-unreleased collection of songs by British blues-rock guitar legend and former Blodwyn Pig frontman Mick Abrahams. Hoochie Coochie Man offers up 15 tracks that were originally recorded circa 2003/2004 and were seemingly lost until now, the album joining the label’s growing catalog of rare and obscure Abrahams discs. 

Featuring ten Abrahams’ originals written or co-written by the guitarist, along with a handful of well-chosen blues covers, Hoochie Coochie Man represents Abrahams in fine form. From jump street, I have a major bone to pick with the album’s lack of musician credits...Abrahams is clearly singing with other artists on several tracks, there’s some fine harp work peppering a few songs, and there is some solid musicianship, but you couldn’t tell it from the sparse info provided. Next time around, let’s not keep this stuff secret, OK?

That said, Hoochie Coochie Man is an entertaining collection, rife with the kind of blistering fretwork that you monster fans of blues-rock guitar eat up, the party starting with the lively title track. Abrahams nails the Willie Dixon blues standard (by way of Muddy Waters) with a rollicking arrangement, scorching guitar, and somebody’s flailing harp raging away in the background. The instrumental “Sunday Drivin’” is the kind of six-string romp that Jeff Beck used to crank out circa 1968 or so, while Abrahams’ original “Roadroller” is a swinging jump blues-styled rocker with plenty of jazzy guitar pickin’.

A cover of the Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee gem “Cornbread and Peas” is delivered with hearty vocal harmonies, jolts of scrappy harp, and subdued but elegant guitar and the slinky “I Ain’t Never” displays a different facet of Abrahams’ talents, greasy guitar licks and a languid tempo approximating the Piedmont blues style quite nicely. Overall, Hoochie Coochie Man is a lot of fun, Abrahams not re-inventing the blues but offering enough of his own flavor to spice up the musical gumbo; docked half a grade for the lack of musician info. Grade: B (Secret Records, released November 5, 2013)

Buy the CD from Amazon: Mick Abrahams’ Hoochie Coochie Man

Friday, July 2, 2021

Book Review: John Kruth's To Live's to Fly: The Ballad of the Late, Great Townes Van Zandt (2007)

John Kruth's To Live's to Fly
There are two things that everybody seemingly agrees on in the pages of To Live's To Fly, John Kruth's excellent biography of Townes Van Zandt: first, TVZ was one of the greatest songwriters that country music has every known; and second, TVZ was one messed up dude.

For those unfamiliar with the man that many consider country music's poet laureate, Townes Van Zandt was born to a wealthy Fort Worth, Texas family whose roots reach back to the city's founding. Like most musicians of his generation, a 12-year-old Townes was mesmerized by Elvis Presley's 1956 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Afterwards, Kruth writes that "overnight, Van Zandt became completely obsessed with rock and roll." Having grown up on the country sounds of Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams, Van Zandt's new favorites were Ricky Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Everly Brothers. It was his father, however, who suggested that he begin writing his own songs, pointing the young Van Zandt towards his eventual destiny.

Van Zandt went to college, but he really wasn't one to attend classes, instead preferring to lock himself in his room, drink, listen to records, and play the guitar. The education he received wasn't what his parents believed it would be. Concerned about his drinking and wild ways, his parents had TVZ committed to a mental hospital in Galveston, Texas where he was diagnosed as "manic depressive" and received three months of electric-and-insulin-shock therapy. The impact this treatment had on Van Zandt is arguable, but it most likely contributed to his ongoing adult depression, alcoholism and mental instability.

He married, went back to college for a while, finally dropping out in 1964, ending up in Houston doing the only thing he had ever really wanted to do: sing and write songs. Van Zandt fell in with a like-minded crowd of singer/songwriters that included life-long friend Guy Clark, Mickey Newbury, and Jerry Jeff Walker. It was here that Van Zandt honed his performance skills and began displaying the songwriting skills that have made him a legend.

Over the next 30 years, Van Zandt would go on to record some two-dozen albums for a number of independent labels and write scores of songs, some like "Pancho & Lefty" or "If I Needed You" becoming significant hits for other artists. He moved to Nashville in 1976, but headed back to Texas in '78 and didn't record again for almost a decade. He landed back in the "Music City" just when his songwriting fortunes began to rise, and it was in Nashville that he died on New Year's Day, 1997.

The mystery of Van Zandt's appeal is easy to solve. A charismatic personality and performer, Van Zandt possessed a great charm and intelligence. By any standards, Van Zandt wasn't really a country artist...influenced greatly by bluesman Lightnin' Hopkins, his music is more a mix of twangy folk and country blues. His skill with the language, however, is pure poetry, his lyrics expressing intricate thoughts and emotions but flowing casually. His influence on songwriters crosses all musical genres, however, and it comes as no surprise that artists as disparate as Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Mudhoney, and the Cowboy Junkies, among others, have recorded his songs.

To Live's To Fly" offers an in-depth and, at times, depressingly exhaustive overview of Van Zandt's life, from childhood through his death. Kruth interviewed hundreds of Van Zandt's friends, family and fellow artists and paints a detailed portrait of both the man and the demons that plagued him for most of his life. Most of all, Kruth provides an understanding of the man through both his actions and his songs. (Da Capo Press, published March 5th, 2007)

Review originally published by Country Standard Time music zine 

Buy the book from Amazon: John Kruth's To Live's to Fly: The Ballad of the Late, Great Townes Van Zandt