Friday, December 30, 2022

Archive Review: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ Southern Accents (1985)

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ Southern Accents
It can certainly be said that Springsteen’s commentary on the plight of the working class in last year’s Born In the U.S.A. not only made him a populist spokesman, but also appealed to a common denominator among several million record buyers. An observation could be made, though, that the mini-dramas presented on Born In the U.S.A., stories of America’s industrial decline, the deterioration of its cities, and the omnipresent Springsteen triad of cars, girls, and rock ‘n’ roll have their roots firmly placed in the factory atmosphere of the Northeast and Midwest.

This sets the stage for Southern Accents, Tom Petty’s Dixie born ‘n’ bred proclamation of Rebel pride. Petty is an artist whose style and influences are similar to those of Springsteen, so it should come as no surprise that Petty would develop a work such as Southern Accents. At its best, Southern Accents is adventurous, insightful, and reflective of the Southern experience. Petty takes more than a few risks, though, which makes this perhaps his most flawed work.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ Southern Accents

One of the chances that Petty takes is in his unlikely paring with Dave Stewart of Eurythmics on three of the album’s nine cuts. Although Stewart proved that he held a fine grasp of pop stylings during his stint with the Tourists, you won’t find an inkling of this influence on these songs. Stewart’s presence as co-producer and songwriting partner seems to force Petty and the straight-rockin’ Heartbreakers into an unnatural mold. “It Ain’t Nothin’ To Me” is the first of these collaborative efforts. Although interesting, lyrically, the musical accompaniment is a confused, discordant mish-mash of blaring horns and misused instruments. Trying to emulate a Stax/Memphis feel on the song, Petty would have been better off asking Booker T for advice … this is easily the worst song that Petty has ever recorded.

“Don’t Come Around Here No More,” the initial single release and the second collaboration, is a much better song. Petty’s talents take over, with Stewart’s influence shading the performance only a bit (mostly with the unusual addition of a sitar, it would seem). The lyrics are sparse and tightly-edited, the music ethereal and Petty’s vocals brilliant. The third cut done with Stewart, “Make It Better (Forget About Me),” is mere filler … easily forgettable.

The strongest two songs on Southern Accents are the two Confederate anthems: “Rebels” and the title cut, “Southern Accents.” Petty illustrates that not everyone has forgotten (or forgiven) the insults paid on the South over a hundred years ago; certainly not the legion of fierce young men to whom fast driving and hard drinking help combat the day-to-day grind of deadening, hard-ankle jobs. Generations have been born with resentment burning in their blood, a fact easily recognizable to Florida-born Petty: “even before my father’s father, they called us rebels, while they burned our corn fields, and left our cities leveled, I can still feel the eyes of those blue-bellied devils, when I’m walking ‘round at night through the concrete and metal…”

Much of the South, now called the “Sun Belt,” has become the new playground of the rich. More and more, as modern day carpetbaggers try to remake the South in their image, from the “concrete and metal” down to the destruction of Southern culture, Petty’s pride in his heritage becomes a battle cry: “there’s a Southern accent, where I come from, the young ‘uns call it country, the Yankees call it dumb, I got my own way of talkin’, but everything is done with a Southern accent where I come from.”

Both cuts are powerful statements, echoes of a mindset shared by artists and the alienated in the rapidly-integrated (by Northerners) “New South.” The remainder of the LP’s material is solid, TP-brand rock, including “Spike,” a satirical poke at the nihilistic “punk” lifestyle and dress. Perhaps “Johnny Reb,” in his gray uniform and proudly-worn “stars ‘n’ bars” was really the original punk … the Civil War certainly did its part in creating an aura of angst and frustration south of the Mason-Dixon line, long before economically-bankrupt British youth rediscovered the feeling in ’76 and imported the trend to the states, casting millions of bored, upper-crust youth into a stylistic frenzy of strange hairdos and leather/chains/studs they bought with father’s Visa card. Daddy’s little boys and girls needed only to look into their own backyard to find the roots of this phenomenon.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Even with its flaws, Southern Accents is among one of the year’s best … Petty’s artistic experimentation and the strongly-worded feelings placed in these songs, though sometimes missing their mark, still represent the most ambitious attempt since the landmark works of Lynyrd Skynyrd in creating an identity and pride in Southern roots. (MCA Records, 1985)

Review originally published in the Summer 1985 issue of Anthem: The Journal of (un)Popular Culture
Buy the CD from Amazon: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ Southern Accents

Anthem Jukebox: Klaus Flouride, The Joneses, Laibach, The London Quireboy, The Screamin' Sirens, Too Much Joy, Terminal City Ricochet (1990)

Klaus Flouride's Because I Say So
Klaus Flouride – Because I Say So (Alternative Tentacles Records)
Rattling like a funeral dirge and frequently as nerve-shattering as a slipped dentist’s drill, ex-Dead Kennedy Flouride travels lightly down the darkened path of his unique and original musical vision. Containing over a dozen musical/poetic vignettes, Because I Say So stands proud in an experimental field that only a few brave souls (Brian Eno, Boyd Rice, and Jon Hassel come to mind) fear to tread. Incorporating nightmarish tape loops, mutant pop songs, obtuse and symbolic lyrics, and an improvised musical mish-mash, Flouride has created a disc that is highly recommended.

The Joneses – Hard (Atlantic Records)
“Life is a hard road full of mean women who need a little love” says the insert to Hard, and those words of wisdom sum up the entire listening experience that is the Joneses’ current elpee. Seventies-styled hard rock is the rule here; meaty, muscular songs full of ringing, raging guitars propelled by David Finnerty’s gravely, soaring vocals. The Joneses burn like a nineties cross between Bad Company and B.T.O.

Laibach – MacBeth (Restless Records/Mute)
Laibach are one of the most underrated and underestimated outfits treading not-so-lightly across the same experimental ground as the likes of Non, Psychick TV, and Current 93. Laibach does it with dignity and grace, creating a new classical music for a cyberpunk generation. MacBeth is grand, dark, and disturbing and well worth your investment.

The London Quireboys – A Bit of What You Fancy (Capitol Records)
Part of the current seventies rock ‘n’ roll revival which includes the Black Crowes, the Raindogs, and the Joneses, the London Quireboys will bring forth memories of vintage Rod Stewart & the Faces complete with grungy, ringing guitars; guttural, too much smoke-and-whiskey vocals; and a rocking, rollicking rhythm. Short on substance, long on style, and a lot of fun, the London Quireboys are destined to be today’s influence on tomorrow’s bands.

The Screamin’ Sirens' Voodoo
The Screamin’ Sirens – Voodoo (Restless Records)

Uncrowned Queens of Country Thrash, the Screamin’ Sirens have finally delivered a follow-up to their enchanting ’85 debut, Fiesta! The line-up has undergone a few changes since the last time out, with guitarist Rosie Flores striking out on her own for a solo gig, and other members falling prey to marriage and responsibility. Pleasant Gehman, the Sirens’ talented vocalist and songwriter remains, accompanied by the likes of ex-Pandoras bassist Miiko Watanabe and guitarist/songwriting partner Kathryn Grimm. Produced by Ethan James, Voodoo is all guts and fury, thirty-something odd minutes of ringing guitars, flying hormones, sweetly sung harmonies, smart lyrics, and sex appeal guaranteed to please. Seemingly all lace and frills and feminine beauty, the Screamin’ Sirens are all leather and steel when it comes to their music. These girls R-O-C-K with the big boys, so don’t you ever forget it!

Too Much Joy – Son of Sam I Am (Alias Records)
Too Much Joy are to much fun with their second effort, Son of Sam I Am. Four-chord power rock with lots o’ loud guitars, banging drums and such only serve to distract from the real attraction of the disc: the lyrics. Too Much Joy’s songs range from the sophomoric to the slyly satirical, their razor-sharp barbs unfailingly hitting their mark, whether they’re aiming at video hucksterism (“Hugo!”), new age mumbo-jumbo (“My Past Lives”), or life in general (my personal favorite, “Clowns”). Funny, stupid, witty, clever, cynical, and absurd this is a disc that deserves a place on your turntable.

Various Artists – Human Music (Homestead Records)
My buddy Gerard, the big cheese over at Homestead, won’t send me any more records ‘cause he’s still pissed off over a Sonic Youth review from years past, but he’d be glad to know that I plonked down a tenner for the label’s newest low-priced, liver-quiverin’ comp Human Music. Lotsa faves on here, from the scary nightmarish vision of Phantom Tollbooth to the abrasive pop of Happy Flowers, from New Jersey’s Yo La Tengo and their enjoyable reading of Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby” to the ever-enigmatic G.G. Allin. Also features Half Japanese, Live Skull, and Salem 66 among the twenty-five bands included on this two-disc set. Buy it and maybe Gerard will speak to me again in this lifetime...

Terminal City Ricochet
Various Artists – Terminal City Ricochet OST (Alternative Tentacles Records)

Don’t know about the film that this is based on, but it sounds like a real hoot, kiddies! Something ‘bout a city where rock muzak is banned, the Mayor is addicted to the power of teevee, and Public Enemy #1 is a rock ‘n’ roll star…hmmm, sounds sorta like Nashville, don’t it? Anyhoo, the soundtrack is a monster, with cuts from familiar folks like punk crooners D.O.A., the recently broken-up and sadly-lamented Beatnigs, NoMeansNo, and Evan Johns & the H-Bombs. Collaborative material includes a cut from D.O.A. and Jello Biafra, Jello teaming up with NoMeansNo, and Keith LeBlanc’s inspired musical accompaniment to Biafra’s spoken-word piece, “Message From Our Sponsor.” New folks (in these parts, at least) include I, Braineater, Gerry Hannah, and Art Bergmann, distinctive stylists all. An A+ rated soundtrack from A.T.

All reviews originally published in the Summer 1990 issue of Anthem: The Journal of (un)Popular Culture

Friday, December 23, 2022

Lost & Found: The Iron City Houserockers (1985)

The Iron City Houserockers
The Iron City Houserockers, photo courtesy of Cleveland International

The Houserockers – originally called the Iron City Houserockers – should be a superstar band. Their hard-driving rock ‘n’ roll style, sharper than a straight-razor and stronger than a concrete-hungry jackhammer, coupled with singer/songwriter Joe Grushecky’s street-level, dark-side-of-the-sidewalk lyrics create as potent a sound as has ever been heard in rock music. Here’ they are, though, stuck in Anthem’s ‘Lost & Found Dept’.

The Iron City Houserockers' Love's So Tough
The Iron City Houserockers hit the blacktop running in 1979 with their first album, a tasty lil’ sucker by the name of Love’s So Tough, an excellent introduction to their songs of blue collar life and love, angst and frustration. Grushecky’s voice goes beyond sandpaper in comparative quality, more closely resembling the bubbling molten metal so prominent in the band’s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania home. This initial recording finds the band missing the mark as often as not, but when their aim is true, the results are amazing: the bittersweet “Stay With Me Tonight,” the lovely “Dance With Me,” and the rockin’ “Heroes Are Hard To Find.”

The Houserockers didn’t miss a beat, giving us their underrated classic second album, Have A Good Time…But Get Out Alive. This is a vinyl cry of defiance, the Houserockers representing both a city and a culture, both sadly oppressed by the economic and urban decay destroying the industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest. The song titles sum it up and are as tuff & muscular as the tunes themselves: the title cut, “Don’t Let Them Push You Around,” “We’re Not Dead Yet.” This is the same populist common ground that Springsteen and John Cougar have found so much success with the past few year … the Houserockers were doing it five years earlier!

Have A Good Time… features two cuts that are among the most powerful and emotional ever recorded: “Old Man Bar” and “Junior’s Bar.” The young man in “Old Man Bar” hopes that none of his friends see him drinking beer in the old-timer hangout. Backed by only a sparse accordion and mandolin arrangement, the voice sees in the old men and their dashed hopes and dreams his own future. This creates a haunting conflict with his own aspirations, which is reflected in the song and its ending: “It’s true that I am younger now, but it’s very clear, that time is catching up with me I know…”

“Junior’s Bar” has our hero on the prowl, the band suddenly crashing in with guitars ringing as the voice looks for solace and escape, preferably with alcohol and a woman. The contrast between the two songs is pointed, but the continuity of the main character and his attempt to transcend his everyday grind creates a potent seven and a half minutes.

The Iron City Houserockers' Blood On the Bricks
Blood On the Bricks
, the third I.C. Houserockers LP, continued their forward motion. Produced by Steve Cropper, the sound is deeper and clearer, but the edge is still sharp. The band handles the familiar working class themes, throwing in a great Viet Nam vet story in “Saints and Sinners” and a tragic romance in “This Time the Night Won’t Save Us.”

In 1983, the band left behind their “Iron City” moniker, searching for a wider audience beyond the geographical limitations of the Northeast. Their first album as the plain ol’ Houserockers, Cracking Under Pressure was an overlooked gem. Currently, the band is playing the bar circuit, another obscure though talented buncha guys found only in the Lost & Found Dept.   

Review originally published in the ‘Lost & Found’ column of the Summer 1985 issue of Anthem: The Journal of (un)Popular Culture

Friday, December 16, 2022

Archive Review: Clarence Clemons & the Red Bank Rockers’ Rescue (1983)

Clarence Clemons & the Red Bank Rockers’ Rescue
Yep, here’s another of Springsteen’s ultra-talented E Street Band steppin’ out to release his own solo album; this time it’s the ‘Big Man’ himself, Clarence Clemons and his ass-kickin’ Red Bank Rockers and a hell of a first album titled Rescue.

Clemons has assembled an awesome band on this collection of R&B shouters, including several members of the New York “Music Mafia” such as Desmond Child (co-writer of three songs here), Ralph Shuckett (producer of Ellen Shipley, as well as this LP), and backing vocalists Ellie Greenwich, Ellen Shipley, Rouge (Miriam Valle, Maria Vidal, and Diana Grasselli) and, you guessed it, Bruce himself…

Rescue kicks off with a “Nutbush City Limits” clone, “Jump Start My Heart.” A bit of a filler, perhaps, but then the grooves jump up and grabs ya by the ear when they jump into “Rock ‘N’ Roll DJ,” a smoker. A nightmare familiar to all of us is covered in “Money To the Rescue,” side one ending with the jumpin’ single “A Woman’s Got the Power.”

A slow, powerful “A Man In Love” opens side two, moving into “Heartache #99,” a tune so funky, so soulful, the damn thing drips. Springsteen throws another original number on here with “Savin’ Up,” and the whole party ends with the honker “Resurrection Shuffle.” Clemons’ sax sings through Rescue like a bird in flight, and J.T. Bowen’s vocals match the material heart to heart.

It's amazing that the best music being made in American today is being made by the small, albeit talented Springsteen family (Bruce himself, Gary “U.S.” Bonds, Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, and the original Asbury Park party band, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes and, now, Clarence Clemons). If you want the best release by a new group in 1983, snatch a copy of Rescue. (Columbia Records, 1983)

Review originally published by Anthem zine, December 1983

Buy the CD from Amazon: Clarence Clemons & the Red Bank Rockers’ Rescue

Anthem Jukebox: John Fogerty, Humble Pie, Richard Thompson & Vanity (1985)

Humble Pie's A Slice of Humble Pie
John Fogerty – Centerfield (Warner Brothers)
John Fogerty is a legend. Period. His too-few years at the helm of the great Creedence Clearwater Revival not only showcased his considerable songwriting skills and his talent at interpreting other’s material (i.e. “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” from CCR’s Cosmos Factory), it also created an impressive number of chart hits that made CCR the primary American singles band. Ever. After Creedence broke up, Fogerty released a modest solo LP and then disappeared…
    After a hiatus of nearly a decade, Fogerty has returned to the recording arena with a real hell-broth of a rock ‘n’ roll album in Centerfield. One listen to these grooves and you’ll find that the wait was well worth it: “The Old Man Down the Road” is a Ronnie Hawkins-styled rave up; “I Saw It On T.V.” is Fogerty’s mini-history of the past twenty-five years; “Big Train (From Memphis),” is his Elvis tribute; there’s the romping and frolicking “Rock and Roll Girls,” and a half a dozen other prime cuts. Lyrically and musically, this is Fogerty at his best. Welcome back, John…it’s like you never left.   

Humble Pie – A Slice of Humble Pie (Compleat Records)
Yet another fine release in the Compleat Records series, A Slice of Humble Pie rescues the Pie’s first two albums, As Safe As Yesterday and Town & Country in their pristine, untouched original form. These early recordings, featuring the virtuoso guitar stylings of a young Peter Frampton and the bad boy zeal of Steve Marriott, illustrate a combination of talents that created a rough-edged, bluesy hard rock sound unlike few others. At their best, as on covers such as Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat” or originals like Marriott’s “Every Mother’s Son,” the primal Pie ran circles around the competition; at their worst, they could still play in the same league as any of the British blues-breakers of their day.

Richard Thompson – Across A Crowded Room (Polydor Records)

He’s been called the best-kept secret in rock ‘n’ roll for a good reason: Richard Thompson is a vastly underrated guitarist and a gifted singer/songwriter with a penchant for dark, haunting lyrics and ethereal vocals. Across A Crowded Room, Thompson’s second solo outing since the split over a year ago with wide Linda, is a musical memory of love gained (and lost); an accurate and insightful portrayal of emotions that we all have experienced. With recordings as meaningful as Across A Crowded Room, it’s a safe bet that Thompson won’t remain a secret long.

Vanity's Wild Animal
Vanity – Wild Animal (Motown Records)

As the first, though surely not the last mutiny from the Prince ship-of-state, Vanity dropped certain fame and fortune by leaving the set of Purple Rain, relinquishing her role to Apollonia in both the film and in the Prince protégé group Vanity 6 (who achieved Gold™ album status with their debut LP). I must admit, though, that the beautiful Ms. Vanity did alright in her film role in The Last Dragon, and that the pulse-quickening layout she posed for in Playboy certainly furthered her, ah … exposure (sorry). But as for her debut solo album, forget it! This shabby effort covers the same old tired ground, with Vanity producing enough orgasmic sighs and rising hormones to try the patience of even my jaded ears. Flaccid and flabby, Wild Animal couldn’t get it up with a pneumatic tire jack. Until they give this woman something real to sing, I’ll stick with my dog-eared copy of Playboy.

All reviews originally published in the Summer 1985 issue of Anthem: The Journal of (un)Popular Culture

Friday, December 9, 2022

Archive Review: The Rolling Stones’ Undercover (1983)

The Rolling Stones’ Undercover
Mick the Boneman, Keef, and all of da boys have been billed as the “Greatest Fucking Rock ‘n’ Roll Band In Da Whole Wide World” for so long that we tend to take da boys for granted. The truth is, the Stones are the most flexible band, perhaps, in the world; like a psychotic chameleon, they’ve survived twenty years at the helm of the biggest bunch o’ misfits playin’ the most dangerous game in town – that’s rock ‘n’ roll to you, mister, and they’ve kept up with the changes in time like nobody’s biznis…

So now it’s damn near ’84, the year of Orwell’s worth nightmare (by the way, go back and read the damn book again; I know you haven’t picked it up since English Lit 101 but if you’ve half a brain, it’s scare the bejeebies out of ya!); and the Stones, fer da lova god, release a song with a political statement like “Undercover of the Night,” proving for once and fer all that there is life after forty, ya know.
The rest of the album ain’t too bad, either, Bunkie! “She’s So Hot” sorta flows offa yer turntable and inserts itself into your own bad ear; the reggae-influenced beat of “Feel On Baby” will shake, rattle and roll yer wisdom teeth; while on side numero dos, such little pretties as da super-funky “Too Much Blood” lay chill on yer spinal fluid. All in all, pretty potent stuff from a buncha guys old enough to be some of you reader’s fathers. After twenty-something odd years that have spanned three decades, I think the Stones have earned any title they’re given. Undercover retains their crown… (Rolling Stones Records, 1983)

Review originally published by Anthem zine, December 1983

Buy the CD from Amazon: The Rolling Stones’ Undercover

Lost & Found: D.L. Byron, DB Cooper & Chuch Francour (1983)

DB Cooper's Buy American
D.L. Byron – This Day and Age (Arista Records)
I’ve found copies of this gem going for as low as 50 cents around town, so scarf it up if you get half a chance! Another artist unfairly labeled as a “Springsteen clone,” Byron manages to transcend this pigeon-holing with a non-stop rockers of an elpee. Ten tunes without a break, produced by Jimmy Iovine (who’s worked with John Lennon, Stevie Nicks, and Springsteen, among others), this mother cooks from start to finish. Byron also did a cover of “You Can’t Hurry Love” on the Times Square soundtrack and was responsible for co-writing “Shadows of the Night” with Rachel Sweet, which became a big hit for Pat Benatar. This was his only solo album, though, and worth ten times what you’ll pay for it!

DB Cooper – Buy American & Dangerous Curves (Warner Brothers)
After releasing an independent debut album on the Blue Collar label in 1980, DB Cooper (the band, not the infamous skyjacker…) released these two jewels – Buy American and Dangerous Curves – with a year of each other, promptly disappearing from the music scene altogether. Tis a shame, also, since these two vinyl platters contain more potential hit singles than any two Styx or Journey outings put together. A hard-driving mixture of power-pop and roots-inspired rock, these two albums are among those rare masterpieces to be discovered only in the … ‘lost & found’!

Chuck Francour's Under the Boulevard Lights
Chuck Francour – Under the Boulevard Lights (EMI America)

Another hot one here, boys & girls, Francour’s single solo album can also be found in your local bargain bins for next to nothing. One video managed to make it off this album and onto MTV, but only god (and the record company) know how. This is an excellent debut album nonetheless. Francour’s gruff, rasping sandpaper vocals treat the image-laden songs here with the desperation and respect that they deserve. The themes are familiar here, and as American as Mom and apple pie – street life, girls, cars, fights, and the never-ending grind of the working class. Under the Boulevard Lights is worth the price of admission if only for his priceless rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel.”

All reviews originally published in the ‘Lost & Found’ column of the Summer 1983 issue of Anthem: The Journal of (un)Popular Culture

Friday, December 2, 2022

Archive Review: The Jam’s Snap! (1983)

It’s a real disgrace, a downright cryin’ shame that a band as important, as influential, as seminal as the Jam never even came close to making a dent in the American music scene. The primary singles band of the seventies in England, it was at the very tail-end of their career that they saw any sort of recognition on this side of the Atlantic.

Snap! is a two-record compilation of the Jam’s best material over their all too brief lifespan, including many of their U.K. singles. Twenty-nine tunes collected here, all showing the band’s talents and upholding their reputation as the best English band since the Who. Side one begins with “In the City” and takes a quick, enjoyable run through “All Around the World,” “The Modern World,” and “News of the World,” among others.

Side two sees their inspired cover of the Kinks’ “David Watts” as well as their street-level rocker “Down In the Tube Station At Midnight.” “Going Underground,” “Dreams of Children,” and “That’s Entertainment” help fill out side three, while side four holds several jewels, including the Jam’s (only) American hit, “Town Called Malice”; their last studio release, “Beat Surrender”; and their fantastic Motown-inspired classic “The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow),” easily the best single of 1982.

The final judgement – Snap! is a great compilation, a necessity for any fledgling record collection, and a welcome addition to the hardcore fan’s collection, also. (Polydor Records, 1983)

Review originally published by Anthem zine, December 1983

Buy the CD from Amazon: The Jam’s Snap!

Bootleg Review: Manic Street Preachers' Street Preaching (1996)

Manic Street Preachers' Street Preaching
It’s been five years now since my trip to London, but I remember it like it was yesterday. The buzz on the street was for a band that many were calling a cross between the Sex Pistols and the Clash. The British music media was raising a clamor, as well, waxing ecstatic over the band. Intrigued, I spend most of that week trying to hunt down a handful of singles released at that time by the Manic Street Preachers.

Half a decade later, the Manic Street Preachers are one of rock music’s great “might have beens.” Hugely successful in the U.K. and throughout Europe and Japan, their blend of hardcore punk and British pop – or “popcore,” as it’s been terms – never quite caught on in the United States beyond a small audience. Just as their American label was about to release their third album, The Holy Bible, guitarist Richey James disappeared. Vanished, gone, dropped off the face of the planet altogether. That was a year or so ago and, to the best of my knowledge, he’s yet to be found.

‘Tis a shame, actually, given that there seems to be a minor Brit-pop fever spreading stateside what with bands like Oasis, Pulp, and Blur catching fire. Had their third album not been shelved, who knows what MSP might have achieved. There exists a handful of live discs from the band’s short-lived career. Street Preaching, on Italy’s Kiss The Stone label, is a fine documentation of MSP in a performance atmosphere. Culled from 1992 tours of Europe and Japan, Street Preaching includes many of the band’s early English hits like “You Love Us,” “Crucifix Kiss,” “Stay Beautiful,” and “Slash and Burn.” A few songs are included twice (“You Love Us” three times!), represented in slightly varying forms.

The performances captured on Street Preaching may or may not be typical MSP. This 70-minute disc does a fine job of showcasing the band’s electric appeal, however. Vocalist James Dean Bradfield’s charismatic delivery mesmerizes the audience while James’ guitar burns and blisters through every song. Bradfield’s onstage patter is kept to a minimum, so what is presented illustrates a swaggering, confident rock ‘n’ roll frontman. The Manic Street Preachers could have been a big band in the U.S. Luckily, we have Street Preaching, a musical snapshot freezing the band forever in time. Grade: A

Also on That Devil Music: Manic Street PreachersKnow Your Enemy CD review

Review originally published by R Squared: Rock ‘n’ Roll Kulture for the Masses zine, 1996

Friday, November 25, 2022

CD Review: John Lee Hooker's The Healer (1989/2022)

John Lee Hooker's The Healer
By 1989, blues legend John Lee Hooker was entering the final chapter of an impressive career that had endured for over 50 years. Hooker scored his first chart-topping R&B hit in 1948 with “Boogie Chillen”, and he visited the charts sporadically over the years with songs like “Crawlin’ King Snake”, “I’m In the Mood” (a Top 30 pop hit!), and “Boom Boom”. He’d recorded better than 100 albums over the course of his career, including collaborations with young blues bands like the Groundhogs and Canned Heat and guest appearances on albums by artists as diverse as Peter Townshend, Jim Morrison, John P. Hammond, and Miles Davis. Clearly, John Lee had little left to prove…

Enter Mike Kappus, a legendary artist manager and agent. Kappus became a licensed booking agent in 1970 at the age of 19, promoting shows while attending the University of Wisconsin. Moving to San Francisco in 1976, he founded the Rosebud Agency, signing guitarist Michael Bloomfield and singer/songwriter John Hiatt the first day he opened the doors. Over the ensuing years, Kappus was instrumental in launching the careers of artists like George Thorogood & the Destroyers, Robert Cray, and Los Lobos and he also worked with veteran music-makers like Muddy Waters, Albert Collins, Captain Beefheart and … you guessed it … John Lee Hooker. Kappus dabbled in record production as well, receiving ‘Executive Producer’ credits on albums by Hooker, Robert Cray, J.J. Cale, Duke Robillard, and Loudon Wainwright III, among others.

John Lee Hooker’s The Healer

Kappus helped launch the HART (Handy Artists Relief Trust) Fund for The Blues Foundation in 2000, providing financial assistance to blues musicians in need, and he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2014. As Hooker’s manager and agent, he envisioned a late-career “comeback” album by the 73 year old bluesman, assisted by some of the talents whose contact info stuffed his Rolodex. He found a like-minded ally in Stephen Powers, the founder and president of Chameleon Records, who he knew from his early days in Wisconsin. Chameleon had recently purchased the long-dormant Vee-Jay Records label and had reissued several of Hooker’s earlier Vee-Jay albums with some success so, after a little coaxing, Powers agreed to release The Healer.

Recruiting blues guitarist Roy Rogers from Hooker’s Coast To Coast Band to produce the album, Kappus enlisted eager volunteers like guitarists Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt, George Thorogood, and Robert Cray to join Hooker in San Francisco’s Russian Hill Recording Studios in September 1989. Hooker’s basic backing band in the studio was comprised of Rogers on guitar and drummer Scott Matthews, with members of Canned Heat and Los Lobos sitting in on some tunes. The album’s tracklist featured material from Hooker’s deep and wide song catalog, with the new title track co-written by the blues legend along with Santana, Rogers, and keyboardist Chester D. Thompson.

With Carlos’s guitar weaving a Latin-flavored tapestry of sound and the rhythm section establishing a strong rhythm with timbales, conga, and drums, the title track kicks off The Healer with a jazzy, exotic vibe that’s only enhanced by Hooker’s smoky, almost-muted vocals and Thompson’s nuanced keyboards. Santana’s mid-song solo soars out of the mix, the guitarist clearly enjoying himself (he’d enjoy a late-career revival of his own a decade later, with 1999’s Supernatural album). Hooker’s duet with Bonnie Raitt on “I’m In the Mood” earned the bluesman his first Grammy™ Award (for “Best Traditional Blues Recording”). The combination of the two old friends, a darkened studio, and an erotic vibe sizzles like steak on the grill, with sultry vocals and the red-hot coals of Raitt’s slide-guitarwork. Hooker originally released the song in 1951, enjoying a #1 R&B chart hit, but the ‘89 version is superior in sound and performance.

Hooker ‘n’ Heat

John Lee Hooker
“Baby Lee” was the B-side of Hooker’s 1956 R&B hit “Dimples” and, revisited for The Healer with Robert Cray on guitar, the performance is so laid-back that you can’t tell if it’s coming or going. The song’s strong rhythm overwhelms Hooker’s slight vocals, but Cray’s subtle fretwork rides along Richard Cousins’ fluid bass line to create a cool, bluesy ambiance. By contrast, Hooker and his old friends from Canned Heat (their 1971 collaboration Hooker ‘n’ Heat is a blues-rock treasure) raise a bit of dust with “Cuttin’ Out”. Henry Vestine’s guitar licks rip ‘n’ roar alongside Hooker’s spoken-sung vocals while the rhythm section of bassist Larry Taylor and drummer Fito de la Parra establish a swinging booger-rock groove. As icing on the cake, blues harp legend Charlie Musselwhite rages on the harmonica in counterpoint to the rhythm, making for an invigorating performance.

Hooker is backed by Los Lobos for “Think Twice Before You Go”, the entire band pitching in and creating a low-slung sound above which Hooker croons his vocals. With David Hildago’s accordion in the background, it really sounds like a Los Lobos cover of a vintage Hooker song, with the bluesman guest-starring on vocals … and that’s not a bad thing! Probably the oldest song on The Healer, “Sally Mae” was the flipside of Hooker’s first hit, “Boogie Chillen’”. He’s accompanied here by George Thorogood, who’s forged a decades-long career from his Hooker influences, but the guitarist plays it straight here, reverent to the material, garnishing Hooker’s smooth-knit vox rather than stomping on them.

“That’s Alright” defines the difference between the Detroit school of blues (i.e. Hooker) and the better-known Chicago style … the song establishes a strong, stuttering rhythm endemic to the Detroit style, courtesy of drummer Matthews and bassist Steve Ehrmann, and then layers on Rogers’ ringing guitar tones and Musselwhite’s mournful harp notes beneath Hooker’s moaning, droning vocals. Whereas Chicago blues often relies on an up-tempo swing with both rhythm and guitar, Detroit blues is heavier and more atmospheric, often as thickly-constructed as night in a Louisiana swamp. Hooker breaks out his National Steel guitar for the haunting “Rockin’ Chair”, the solo performance echoing the ghosts of the Mississippi Delta while displaying his fractured, jagged guitar style. “No Substitute” is in a similar country-blues vein, Hooker wielding a twelve-string like Big Joe Williams, while the previous “My Dream”, with Canned Heat’s rhythm section, is a soulful ballad that displays a more constrained side of John Lee’s talents.         

The Healer eventually sold better than a half-million copies, an unheard of number in the blues world, and it helped launch a roots-music revival that continues to this day. Quoted in British music critic Charles Shaar Murray’s John Lee biography, Boogie Man, Kappus states that “The Healer had a major impact on the entire genre of roots music. The door had been cracking open for years for roots music with George Thorogood and Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray, but here was an older artist, one of the originators, actually having success on the level of a contemporary rock star.” Recently reissued on CD and vinyl by Craft Recordings after being out-of-print for over a decade, The Healer was pressed on 180-gram vinyl at Quality Records Pressing with lacquers cut by award-winning engineer Bernie Grundman. Although the new reissue doesn’t include any bonus tracks (according to Murray, several tracks were recorded at the time and used on subsequent albums like Mr. Lucky), it’s just good to have this groundbreaking album available once more.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

If The Healer represented the final chapter of John Lee Hooker’s lengthy career, it was really just the opening paragraph. Using the album’s guest-heavy format as a blueprint, Hooker went on to write a hell of a closing for his story with subsequent albums like 1991’s Mr. Lucky (which included Santana, Keith Richards, and Albert Collins); 1992’s Boom Boom (with Jimmie Vaughan and Robert Cray); and 1995’s Chill Out (with Santana and Van Morrison), all of them produced by Rogers and overseen by Kappus. The Morrison-produced Don’t Look Back (1997) was Hooker’s final studio album, earning him his third and fourth Grammy™ Awards.

Hooker was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. He also received the Grammy™ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. Passing away in June 2001, John Lee Hooker went out on top, enjoying more than a decade of critical and commercial success (and long-overdue monetary reward) as well as numerous accolades and the respect and adoration of his peers. His career was often overshadowed by the successes of his contemporaries, but after better than half a century in the blues business, John Lee became a bona fide “overnight success”… and it all began with The Healer. (Craft Recordings, reissued October 28th, 2022)

Buy the CD from Amazon: John Lee Hooker’s The Healer

R.A.D! Short Cuts: Big Audio Dynamite, Omar & the Howlers, Skyclad, Steel Pole Bathtub, 'Mad Love' OST & Wailing Souls (1995)

Big Audio Dynamite's F-Punk
Big Audio Dynamite – F-Punk (Radioactive Records/MCA)
Big Audio Dynamite closed out 1994 with a contract-ending record for Sony that was truly terrible. Many thought that it might be the band’s swan-song, but here they show up a few months later with a new label, a new line-up, and F-Punk, a promising new album. Although F-Punk still doesn’t show the sparks of brilliance that B.A.D.’s early work did, at least former Clash axeman Mick Jones and company are headed in the right direction. “I Turned Out A Punk” is a hilarious lyrical testimony from Jones, one of the true survivors of the 1970s punk daze, while “Psycho Wing” is a tongue-in-cheek satirical look at society. B.A.D. delivers a fair cover of Bowie’s “Suffragette City” on F-Punk, and they close the album with the insightful “What About Love?”, which tends to ask as many questions as it answers. F-Punk partially redeems Big Audio Dynamite’s status in my eyes, but we’ll wait until we see that they do with their next album before passing judgement.

Omar & the Howlers' Muddy Springs Road
Omar & the Howlers – Muddy Springs Road (Watermelon Records)

There are a number of fine blues outfits wandering around the states these days, from ex-Nighthawks axeman Jimmy Thackery’s smokin’ posse to perennial W.C. Handy Award winner Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets. For my money, though, none of them hold a candle to the biggest, baddest rockin’ blues daddies of them all, Omar & the Howlers. Omar Dykes’ vocal growl is tailor-made for the sort of material he writes – laying down on disc like a half ton of whiskey-soaked gravel while the tight-knit Howlers kick out a nasty boogie. Muddy Springs Road is their latest, a rip-roarin’ collection of sweat, soul, and fire that sounds every bit like a hot Saturday night in a rural Mississippi roadhouse. Cuts like “Black Bottom,” “Hoo Doo Ball,” “Dangerous Man,” and the title cut are hard-rocking blues numbers, springing full-grown from the swamp with fat guitar riffs, howling harmonica lines, and swinging rhythms. If the blues are your thing, then you owe it to yourself to take a wild walk down Muddy Springs Road.

Skyclad's Prince of the Poverty Line
Skyclad – Prince of the Poverty Line (Noise Records)

With jangling guitars sounding a bit like your typical rock anthem from the likes of U2 or the Alarm, Skyclad’s “Civil War Dance” rapidly dispels such notions. Martin Walkyier’s tense, sandpaper vocals lead an assault of metallic guitars, pounding rhythms, and … yes … gently weeping violin. Skyclad is not just another mindless hard rock band, Prince of the Poverty Line mixing disparate elements of classic British heavy metal, hardcore thrash, and folkish lyrics with a left-leaning political orientation and the odd addition of Cath Howell’s tasteful violin fills. Although they tend to go over-the-top and fall into clichéd musical histrionics a few times too often for my taste, when they hit the mark – with cuts like “Land of the Rising Slum” or “A Dog In the Manger” – they hit the bull’s eye dead on with a perfect mix of lyrics and music.

Steel Pole Bathtub – Scars From Falling Down (Slash Records/London)
Once the bastard children of the indie rock scene – everybody acknowledging their talents but unsure of how to categorize them – Steel Pole Bathtub have made the jump to a larger indie and the big league distribution available to them. It doesn’t seem to have affected the band any, as Scars From Falling Down is one scary, menacing, bad-ass mofo of a record, just what you’d expect from this gang. Guitars fly every which way, vocals are screamed to the point of distortion, odd riffs sound like encoded messages from outer space … in short, all of the elements that make a great Steel Pole Bathtub record. Scars From Falling Down refuses to be pigeonholed or easily categorized, Steel Pole Bathtub choosing instead the more difficult path of blazing their own unique musical trail. Make the trip with them, you’ll be glad that you did…

Various Artists – Mad Love OST (Zoo Entertainment)
The latest trend in Hollywood seems to be the “alternative’ music soundtrack – put together a handful of hot bands and a few soundbites from any youth-oriented movie and watch the kiddies flock to their local vinyl emporium for the opportunity to thrown down a dime and a half on the “original motion picture soundtrack” from Bloody Egg Nightmare or some other such cinematic treasure. In this vein, the Mad Love soundtrack is better than most, not as good as others, compiling tasty tracks from folks like Magnapop, Throneberry, Grant Lee Buffalo, Madder Rose, and the always enjoyable Kirsty MacColl. On the other hand, though, I’d like to find the schlemiel that hand-picked these cuts and ask them just who the hell is Fluorescein, and why do we have to suffer through not one, but two miserable 7 Year Bitch cuts, and why they had to choose such a poor song from a good band like Rocket From the Crypt ... why?

Wailing Souls' Live On
Wailing Souls – Live On (Zoo Entertainment)

Wailing Souls, the duo of Lloyd “Bread” McDonald and Winston “Pipe” Matthews, have been stuck with a ‘cult artist’ tag forever, it seems. Album after album, they play to the same core audience, adding a few new listeners with each passing effort. Sure, reggae has never been a major commercial force, stateside – the Marley clan notwithstanding – and a lot of deserving artists like Steel Pulse, Burning Spear, or Bunny Wailer have failed to grab a significant U.S. audience. Although they all deserve another listen, it’s Wailing Souls that have a new album out in Live On, so it’s them which we’ll champion right now. Live On is a solid example of roots-reggae: a handful of island-flavored original reggae tunes complimented by a smattering of soulful covers like Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” or the classic oldie “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Good-Bye).” The constant Rasta themes of brotherhood and unity that are often present in reggae lyrics cut across all barriers of race, creed, and nationality and Matthews expresses them well, with a great deal of wisdom and insight. Live On shows, once again, that Wailing Souls stand at the top of the reggae world.

Reviews originally published by the R.A.D! (Review and Discussion of Rock ‘n’ Roll) zine, summer 1995

Friday, November 18, 2022

Archive Review: Eric B & Rakim's Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em (1990)

Eric B & Rakim's Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em
Rap music, more so, perhaps, than any other form or genre of popular music, relies heavily upon the personality of the artist and performer. The unthought-of commercial success of rap artists such as Ice T, Public Enemy, and Boogie Down Productions are driven by the image and peculiarities of the Iceberg, Chuck D, or KRS-One as much as their message. It is the consumer’s perception of this reality which tends to define the artist’s message and, in the long run, propel creativity. A mere handful of rappers are true innovators; most are pale imitators, at best or, at worst, tawdry parodies of the real thing relying on cheap sexual references and an outrageous image replete with gold chains, a big car, and other trappings of wealth.

Why intellectualize the meaning of rap music? Because rap, as a popular art form, is still growing. The creative and conceptual boundaries of rap music are still being defined and, by some like the aforementioned artists, expanded upon or destroyed in their entirety, replaced with a new model and message. Along among styles and genres, rap offers its artists the opportunity to experiment with sound and substance, to expand creativity both lyrically and musically, while still remaining a part of the commercial mainstream. It is into this vortex that come Eric B. and Rakim.

Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em, the duo’s third album, firmly places Eric B & Rakim alongside the true innovators in rap music. The two mesh together perfectly, delivering a unique sound which incorporates, musically, elements of rock, blues, jazz, and Latin rhythms to serve as an impenetrable wall of sound atop which to layer their breathless, nearly-non-stop rhymes. Rakim’s vocals are deep and dusky, words rolling off the tongue like machine-gun fire. The ten songs included here run the gamut from sociological insight and commentary to blatant braggadocio and crude sexual boasting. It is their original and fresh use of music and the pairing of instrumentation with vocals, with very little sampling evident, which set Eric B. and Rakim above the mass of ordinary rappers and makes the groundbreaking Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em a worthy follow-up to 1988’s Follow the Leader, winning the gifted pair their deserved share of commercial and critical success. (MCA Records, released June 19th, 1990)

Review originally published by Sound Shop’s Play Magazine

Radical Pizza Wax Works: Ice-T, Ice Cube, Haunted Garage, Kinetic Dissent, MC5 (1992)

Ice-T's O.G. The Original Gangster
Ice-T – O.G. The Original Gangster (Warner Reprise Video)
Sure, we all know that Ice-T is fly, the baddest rhyming rap mutherfucker on the scene. But T is also a socially conscious satirist and political commentator of the first order. T’s second full-length home video release, O.G. The Original Gangster, is a collection of two dozen music videos, various conversations and commentary, and miscellaneous footage all tied in with the recent Ice-T album release of the same name. You’ll find the sex rhymes and funky raps here, but what you’ll see the most is T’s brave socio-political insight on songs such as “The Tower,” “Escape From the Killing Fields,” “Body Count,” and the wickedly scatological “Ya Shoulda Killed Me Last Year.” Go get ‘em Ice!

The video also includes musical insight into Ice T’s unique streetside experiences, recounted in rhymes like “Home of the Body Bag” and “Midnight.” With the force of his lyrics, T manages to transport the listener to East L.A. and right into the face of the poverty and violence found there. As one of the elder spokesmen of rap, Ice-T has been instrumental in fighting censorship of the music as an art form, appearing on numerous teevee talk shows and on radio. In his music, as in life, T always walks it like he talks it … no bullshit, no compromise. The O.G. The Original Gangster video is the same way. Though it doesn’t do much in the way of furthering video as a musical art form, it does manage to present the powerful work of Ice-T, the artist, in a visual format. On that level, it succeeds quite well.

Ice Cube – Death Certificate (Priority Records)

Casual fans who may have discovered Ice Cube from Boyz In the Hood, believing him to be the proverbial “bad kid with good intentions,” have reacted with more than a bit of dismay since the release of Cube’s latest sides, represented by Death Certificate. Too damn bad, I say; if you’re silly enough to venture into these waters, then why worry about the tide. After all, Cube, one of the leading proponents of “gangsta rap,” has never shied away from controversy; this disc is no exception. With this collection of 22 righteous tunes, Ice Cube slings his razor-sharp lyrical barbs at his former bandmates in N.W.A. and their Jewish manager; he also comes down on women, other blacks, and even Korean grocers. To be sure, some of the hatred which flows from these rhymes seems a bit misplaced, and could be directed into a more positive milieu (see what Ice-T has done in this area, for instance), but Ice Cube remains one of the genre’s most outrageous, influential, and articulate spokespersons.

Kinetic Dissent's I Will Fight No More Forever
Haunted Garage – Possession Park (Metal Blade Records)

Next to these spud-boys, Gwar are a bunch o’ pansies and the Butthole Surfers mere choirboys. Haunted Garage are the new kidz on the (cell) block, thank you, tougher then leather, crankier than yer near-dead great grandpa, and nastier than a blocked rectum. Stinging guitars tossing out lightning-like riffs, guttural vocals spitting out tasteless, obscene lyrics, throbbing rhythms spelling out S-I-N … Haunted Garage deliver the goods, all blood ‘n’ guts ‘n’ questionable sanity spewing out bile and noise and Satan with a capital ‘S’! C ya in hell, kiddiez!!!

Kinetic Dissent – I Will Fight No More Forever (Roadrunner Records)
As commercial rock ‘n’ roll becomes wimpier and even more bland … music made for geldings by eunuchs … hard rock, heavy metal, thrash – whatever you want to call it – is putting balls back into the music. Poetry, too, as I Will Fight No More Forever will attest to. Taking their title from Nez Perce Indian Chief Joseph’s famous speech, Kinetic Dissent infuse the entirety of this disc with thoughtful lyricism and hard-rocking performances. Delivering tasty thrash with musical and lyrical depth which belies any pre-conceived notions of the genre, Kinetic Dissent place themselves firmly among the forefront of the underground rock scene that is making waves (and winning fans) worldwide.

MC5's Kick Out the Jams
MC5 – Kick Out the Jams (Elektra Records)

Tho’ I came to the Motor City a decade too late to be a part of the crowd who worshipped before the altar of the holy ‘70s trilogy of Iggy/MC5/Nugent, I did manage to hang out down at the New Miami (located in the infamous Cass Corridor of East Detroit) enough nights to see what influence they had on their children. With this CD reissue of Kick Out the Jams, you can relive those fabulous, acid-soaked early ‘70s nights at the Grande Ballroom (where this LP was recorded). The voice of the Midwest’s White Panther Party, managed by radical iconoclast John Sinclair, MC5 mixed the leftist political rhetoric of the times with a bone-crunching rock sound that was equal parts late ‘50s R&B and roots rock and 1960s-era psychedelia. This disc isn’t just a historical curiosity, though, but an important rock ‘n’ roll milestone. MC5 were one of the first ‘heavy metal’ bands around, mixing punkish attitude with loud, LOUD music. Along with other “oddities” of the era like the Velvet Underground and Iggy and his posse, MC5 can be considered a precursor to many of those who followed.

All reviews originally published in the ‘Wax Works’ section of the Radical Pizza zine, February 1992

Friday, November 11, 2022

Archive Review: Southside Johnny & LaBamba’s Big Band’s Grapefruit Moon (The Songs of Tom Waits) (2008)

Southside Johnny’s Grapefruit Moon
As a songwriter, Tom Waits seems to be undergoing a sort of popular revival these days. During the spring of 2008, actress Scarlet Johansson released her collection of Waits songs; produced by TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek, Anywhere I Lay My Head was a collection of textured fantasy-pop more akin to polished early ‘80s studio concoctions like the Cocteau Twins than to Waits’ gritty, world-weary portraits in sound. Sitek’s production removed too many of the sharp edges from Waits’ work, and I for one don’t believe for a minute that Johansson, who just began her singing career a couple of years back, was thoroughly invested and in love with the material … no matter how many hipster critics say it’s so.  

Southside Johnny & LaBamba’s Big Band’s Grapefruit Moon (The Songs of Tom Waits)

Now it’s Southside Johnny Lyons’ turn, and with Grapefruit Moon, the Asbury Park veteran takes a completely different tack on the Waits songbook. Backed by LaBamba’s Big Band, fronted by his New Jersey pal Richie “LaBamba” Rosenburg, Lyons has reinvented these Waits songs as grand jazzbo antiques with big band arrangements and lots of horns up front in the mix. Channeling both Duke Ellington and Woody Herman, Lyons’ gruff, slightly-worn voice sounds good on both the slow-crooned ballads and the album’s rambunctious up-tempo flare-ups, while the band’s overall excellent performance is integral to the success of the material. LaBamba runs a damn tight ship, and these boys are playing their hearts out … sounding uncannily like a white-suited-and-gloved throwback to a kinder, gentler era.

It’s the songs that matter, though, and Grapefruit Moon doesn’t duplicate any tunes from Johansson’s casual gaze through the Waits canon. Lyons digs a little deeper, reaching as far back as Waits’ 1973 debut album. The result is an interesting and eclectic choice of songs. “All the Time In the World” offers a forceful vocal performance, more closely resembling Lyons’ typical R&B stomp, while the band delivers a very cool and slightly atonal ‘60s-styled movie soundtrack sound that is complimented by Glenn Alexander’s ripping guitar solo.

“Tango ‘Til They’re Sore” comes the closest to mimicking Waits’ original version, with guttural vocals and discordant instrumentation, and the songwriter himself drops by for a duet on the lively “Walk Away And Start Over Again.” The two singers’ personal styles might be wildly different, but here they mesh together nicely, with sparse instrumentation, led by manic piano, supporting the song’s odd meter and syncopated rhythms. And so it goes, Lyons knocking each one out of the park, even oddball pitches like “New Coat of Paint.”

As a concept album, Grapefruit Moon works on several levels. Waits wrote solid songs; Southside Johnny wraps his voice around the material like a worn, slightly scratchy velvet blanket, and LaBamba and the boys carry the heavy instrumental load. For everybody involved, it’s win-win situation! (Evangeline Records, 2008)

Review originally published by Blurt magazine

Also on That Devil Music:
Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes’ The Fever
Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes’ Live In Cleveland ’77

Buy the CD from Amazon: Southside Johnny’s Grapefruit Moon

Book Review: John Dougan’s The Who Sell Out (2006)

John Dougan’s The Who Sell Out
The Who Sell Out is, undeniably, one of the legendary rock band’s most adventuresome yet lighthearted of albums. A tribute to the notorious pirate radio stations that operated off the coast of England during the mid-‘60s, The Who Sell Out mixes Pete Townshend’s uncanny ear for melody (songs like “Glittering Girl” and the Top Ten hit “I Can See For Miles”) with made-up jingles and fake radio commercials that echo the sounds then being heard by U.K. teens from stations like Radio London.

John Dougan’s The Who Sell Out

Author John Dougan attempts to dissect and analyze this classic album with his book The Who Sell Out, part of Continuum’s rightfully acclaimed 33 1/3 series of books. The result of Dougan’s efforts is a delightful trip in the wayback machine to the swinging ‘60s of London and a British music scene dominated by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, and the Who. Dougan sets the stage for the story with a personal recollection, talking about the differences between him and his father, not only in their musical preferences, but also in their relative degree of musical fanaticism. Whereas family and obligation caused his father to put aside music as an adult, the younger Dougan – not unlike many of us children of the ‘50s – became hopelessly addicted to rock ‘n’ roll, an affliction that the author has obviously carried to the present day.

It was his unquenchable thirst for new music … a trait also shared by many collectors and critics … that led Dougan to discover the British Invasion and, subsequently, the Who. In a strange twist of fate, however, it wasn’t until he was in his 20s that this hardcore Who fan finally added a copy of The Who Sell Out to his personal library. Such are the fortunes of the music fan, and when Dougan describes living in a “cultural backwater” in Massachusetts, many of us can identify. I remember living in a rural suburb of Nashville, my lifeline to the outside world consisting of copies of Creem magazine, dog-eared by constant reading, and the irregular packages of promo albums sent for review by my editor Rick Johnson at Sunrise.

Dougan lays the groundwork for the recording of The Who Sell Out by going into the history of the UK pirate radio scene with some detail. I find this aspect quite fascinating, the thought that a handful of illegal offshore stations like Radio London and Radio Caroline could have such a cultural impact is mind-boggling. There was nothing like this phenomenon in the United States – pirate stations stateside were erratic, disappearing frequently, and were greatly limited by America’s size and geography. Dougan provides interesting details on the history of England’s state-sponsored media, the BBC’s reluctance to embrace rock ‘n’ roll an important deciding factor in the creation and popularity of the U.K. pirates.

Dougan’s discussion of ‘60s-era art and art theory is equally fascinating, his exploration of the influence of these factors on Pete Townshend’s work ties together disparate snapshots previously provided by the band’s biographers like Dave Marsh and Richard Barnes. No artist lives in a vacuum, and Townshend was certainly no exception, and the opportunities to immerse one’s self in radical and thought-provoking cultural scenes during the era were seemingly endless. There was an almost unbelievable co-mingling of art and commerce in those days, unthinkable by today’s “alternative” mindset, but much of what we think of as classic works from the ‘60s were fresh, original and unabashedly commercial.

It was from this miasma of art and commerce that Pete Townshend conceived of The Who Sell Out. Townshend’s aim was not, as the album’s title implies, to actually “sell out” but rather to offer listeners, as Dougan describes it, “a celebration of the zeitgeist, a joyous reaffirmation of the discrete cultural elements that had defined British postwar popular culture and the Who as a pop art musical experience.” Townshend correctly found British pop culture to be less cynical and more positively-oriented than that of America, and it’s true that the British have, and continue to embrace a much wider range and diversity of cultural media.

Dougan recounts the creative and technical obstacles that were overcome during the making of The Who Sell Out and, sadly, tells of the album’s immediate commercial failure. A bit too cerebral, perhaps, for mainstream audiences, the album’s fortunes waned after the last chords of “I Can See For Miles” disappeared from the charts. Undaunted, the Who would go onto greater triumphs and tragedies but, strangely enough, The Who Sell Out continues to hang around, 40 years after its initial release. An intriguing and many-layered work of art, the album continues to win converts and influence people long after its “sell by” date has expired. Just as importantly, Dougan outlines how the album was a vital work, aiding the Who’s transformation from a chart-topping pop band into a legendary rock band.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

The Who Sell Out is a worthy addition to the 33 1/3 series. Dougan’s prose is lively and informative, his insights well-considered and crafted by spending most of a lifetime living with and considering this often overlooked album. His account of the cultural forces that helped shape Townshend’s work is immensely important in a historical context, and I can see myself referring back to this tome in the future. Unlike many of the well-written books in the 33 1/3 series, Dougan’s The Who Sell Out provides a textural framework that actually enhances the listening experience rather than merely supporting an album’s critical credentials. Dougan’s efforts made a fellow Who fanatic listen to The Who Sell Out with fresh ears, and for that I thank him! (Continuum 33 1/3 series, published September 15th, 2006)

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

Buy the book from Amazon: John Dougan’s The Who Sell Out

Friday, November 4, 2022

Archive Review: Warren Zevon’s Warren Zevon (2008)

Warren Zevon’s Warren Zevon
Forget all about Wanted Dead Or Alive, Warren Zevon’s uncharacteristic 1969 debut LP. The album shows none of the wit or caustic wordplay that Zevon would become known for, and is clearly an attempt by a young artist to make a play for success long before he’s ready to do so. The album deserves neither your time nor a place in your collection. Opt instead for Zevon’s self-titled 1976 follow-up, his true debut and, perhaps, one of the finest sophomore efforts in rock music. Warren Zevon, the album, also represents the beginning of an amazing rock ‘n’ roll success story.

By 1975, Zevon had spent nearly a decade in Los Angeles, doing session work, writing advertising jingles, performing behind the Everly Brothers, and occasionally writing songs for folks like the Turtles. What Zevon didn’t have was a record deal, or even the promise of one. Fearing that his career would never take off, he fled to Spain with his wife, taking up musical residency in a local bar owned by an American soldier of fortune. A postcard from his friend, singer/songwriter Jackson Browne, hinting of the possibility of a record deal lured the ex-pat musician back to the United States and California.

Warren Zevon’s Warren Zevon

The eventual result would be the brilliant Warren Zevon album. With an additional six-plus years spent honing both his songwriting craft and performing chops, Zevon entered the studio with seasoned veterans like multi-instrumentalist David Lindley, guitarist Waddy Wachtel, and saxophonist Bobby Keys. Friends like Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Phil Everly, and Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac provided vocal harmonies behind Zevon’s incredibly designed songs.  

Displaying the same sort of gonzo sensibilities as author Hunter S. Thompson’s best work, Zevon’s songs are filled with brightly-colored and finely-crafted characters from the seedier fringes of society. “Frank And Jesse James” is a finely-detailed tale of the Civil War vets turned outlaw gunfighters, Zevon’s fully mature vocals matched by spry, vaguely Western piano (think San Fran goldrush) and shotgun drumbeats.

The beautiful “Hasten Down the Wind” was covered wonderfully by Linda Ronstadt, but Zevon’s original version is equally considerate, with Phil Everly’s harmony vocals adding depth to Zevon’s deep purr as David Lindley’s slide guitar weeps openly. The boisterous “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” was also later covered by Ronstadt, but not like this. On Zevon’s version, Wachtel’s guitar rips-and-snorts and tears at the reins while honky-tonk piano blasts out beneath the singer’s half-mocking, self-effacing vocals.

The Dylanesque “Mohammed’s Radio” sounds a little like Jackson Browne, too, but the song’s contorted, colorful personalities and gospel fervor belie its anthemic nature. In many ways “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” presages Zevon’s notorious hard-partying lifestyle, while “Desperados Under the Eaves,” perhaps the best song ever written about Los Angeles, is haunted by the reckless spirits of Charles Bukowski and Hubert Selby, Jr. (yes, both were alive and well when the song was written, thank you, but they still had their otherworldly stank all over the song).

A bonus disc provided this reissue of Warren Zevon is chockfull o’ demos and other goodies for the fanatical completist. A solo piano arrangement of “Frank And Jesse James” is fine, but lacks the powerful drumwork of the final version, but the sparse arrangement given the alternative take of the junkie’s tale “Carmelita” enhances the song’s inherent loneliness and hopelessness. The second take of “Join Me In L.A.” evinces a looser, funkier vision of the song while a live radio performance of “Mama Couldn’t Be Persuaded” is a rollicking, joyful reading of the song that places the spotlight firmly on Zevon’s lyrics. Taken altogether, the second disc’s rarities provide some insight into Zevon’s early creative process.

Zevon would follow-up his self-titled sophomore effort a couple of years later, 1978’s Excitable Boy yielding the hit “Werewolves of London” and making the singer/songwriter a rock star. Over the following 25 years and a dozen albums, until his tragic death in 2003, Zevon would cement a legacy fueled by his unique talent and personality … and it all started with Warren Zevon. (Rhino Records, 2008)

Review originally published by Blurt magazine

Also on That Devil Music:
Warren Zevon’s Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School CD review
Warren Zevon’s Life'll Kill Ya CD review

Buy the CD from Amazon: Warren Zevon’s Warren Zevon

Book Review: Dave Van Ronk’s The Mayor of MacDougal Street (2005)

Dave Van Ronk’s The Mayor of MacDougal Street
He’s not a household name, although his influence on folk music falls just short of Woodie Guthrie and Bob Dylan. A charismatic performer and tireless champion of traditional folk and blues, Dave Van Ronk was one of the leading lights of the early ‘60s folk movement that was based in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

Dave Van Ronk’s The Mayor of MacDougal Street

The Mayor of MacDougal Street is Van Ronk’s infectious and friendly memoir. Written with help from, and completed after his death in 2002 by music historian Elijah Wood, Van Ronk spins tales and unravels yarns that document his evolution from a musically-obsessed high-school dropout to his role as a mover and shaker in the admittedly small, insular world of folk music. A self-taught musician, Van Ronk launched his career in the early ‘50s as a died-in-the-wool traditionalist, playing guitar and banjo in jazz and Dixieland bands in New York and New Jersey.

Van Ronk quickly figured out that this road led towards starvation, so he cast aside his “carefully cultivated jazz snobbery” and taught himself the finger-picking guitar style practiced by folk musicians. By mid-decade, he was a Washington Square regular, playing in the park with musicians like Barry Kornfeld and Dick Rosmini. His weekly (free) performances in the park led to marginally paying gigs in the clubs and coffeehouses around the Village and, eventually, to record albums and a fair degree of notoriety.

Van Ronk and Wald do an excellent job of capturing the gradual build-up, short “boom” period and eventual decline of the Village folk scene of the ‘60s. Van Ronk explains the importance and influence of leftist politics on folk music, the roots and history of the genre and introduces many of the major players. Along the way, he shares memories of talented musicians that he played alongside and those that he mentored (or those that mentored him). Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Odetta, Mississippi John Hurt, Joni Mitchell and Rev. Gary Davis are among those friends and colleagues Van Ronk talks about.

Van Ronk colors the Greenwich Village folk scene with many details and memories, discussing folk music publications like Broadside and Caravan that he wrote for, as well as the influence of visionaries like Moe Asch, Alan Lomax and Harry Smith on the genre. The style here is conversational and lighthearted, Van Ronk’s self-effacing humor and refusal to take his experiences too seriously making his memoirs an enjoyable and informative read.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

The Mayor of MacDougal Street is vital not only for those who love folk music, but also for those of us who enjoy music at all. The styles performed by Van Ronk – traditional folk and folk blues – are deeply intertwined with rock, rap and country music to the point where it’s difficult to separate them. Dave Van Ronk understood this musical cross-pollination decades ago and his career of almost 50 years is a testament to the enduring nature of folk music and its roots. (Da Capo Press, 2005)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™

Buy the book from Amazon: Dave Van Ronk’s The Mayor of MacDougal Street