Friday, March 25, 2022

Archive Review: Motörhead’s Inferno (2004)

Motörhead’s Inferno
Motörhead has been this “legendary heavy metal band” for so long that even many critics have overlooked the metal icon’s overall importance in the grand scheme of things. Frontman Lemmy Kilminster’s roots are in typical ‘60s-era British R&B, but it’s when he joined prog-rockers Hawkwind that things began to get interesting. As bassist for the space-rock outfit during the early ‘70s, Lemmy perfected both his bottom-heavy instrumental style and his songwriting skills. 

When kicked out of Hawkwind for a myriad of offenses, Lemmy formed Motörhead as an outlet for his aggressive hard rock vision, equal parts British biker culture, pre-punk punk rock attitude, and heavy metal thunder. Over the course of dozens of albums, Lemmy and Motörhead’s ever-evolving line-up managed to affect punk, heavy metal and thrash unlike any other artistic influence.

Motörhead’s Inferno

For almost thirty years, Motörhead’s musical blueprint has been consistent and consistently powerful: Lemmy’s gruff vocals spitting out lyrics above a massive slab of feedback-driven guitar riffs and thunderous drumbeats. Inferno, the band’s latest, doesn’t stray far from the formula. The blistering “Terminal Show” kicks off the disc, a futuristic tale of woe set to a speed metal soundtrack that careens out of control approx. Thirty seconds into the song, guest axeman Steve Vai’s razor sharp leads standing in counterpoint to Phillip Campbell’s percussive riffs. From here, the pace never diminishes, drummer Mikkey Dee’s merciless rhythms driving the songs forward while Lemmy’s bass bludgeons the listener and Campbell’s six-string work punches with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

The only surprise on Inferno, perhaps, is the acoustic “Whorehouse Blues,” an overt reference to the influence of traditional blues (and British blues-rock) on Motörhead’s metallic sturm-und-drang. Inferno is both timeless and out-of-time, Lemmy serving up uncompromising rock ‘n’ roll field-tested by better than a quarter-century of hard roadwork. In Campbell and Dee, Kilminster has the band he’s always wanted, the iron fist inside the tattered leather glove. Like most Motörhead albums, Inferno is dominated by themes of sex, death, power and the near-mystical aesthetic of rock ‘n’ roll. The songs roar like a wolf at the door and scream louder than Dante’s nightmares, Motörhead an anachronistic thorn in the side of the music business, the rude guest that refuses to leave the modern rock party.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

You won’t hear Inferno on the radio, but its importance will be felt five or ten years from now when the kid who discovers Motörhead through this album forms the next Metallica or Nirvana. In the end, Lemmy won’t be remembered so much for the remarkable simplicity and strength of his music but for the young musicians who continue to be influenced by the uncompromising honesty and anarchistic spirit that is Motörhead. (Sanctuary Records, released June 22nd, 2004)

Review originally published by the Community Free Press (Springfield MO)

Buy the CD from Motörhead’s Inferno 


Friday, March 18, 2022

Archive Review: Muddy Waters’ Soundstage: Blues Summit In Chicago, 1974

Muddy Waters’ Soundstage
In July 1974, Muddy Waters was chosen to host the inaugural episode of Soundstage, the beloved live concert series broadcast by PBS stations around the country for thirteen subsequent seasons. Waters was the first in a long run of talented performers to appear on the acclaimed TV show, and he brought some friends with him, resulting in what the producers called a “Blues Summit In Chicago.” The King of Chicago Blues brought along his Queen, the phenomenal Koko Taylor, and a full suite of acolytes and admirers, including Junior Wells, Michael Bloomfield, Johnny Winter, Buddy Miles, and Dr. John, among others.

Muddy Waters’ Soundstage Blues Summit In Chicago 1974

After a solid performance of Waters’ “Blow Wind Blow” that’s interrupted by introductions, the show gets down to business with a sizzling take on “Long Distance Call.” Muddy is in fine voice, belting out the lyrics with perfect timing and emotion, accompanied by Wells’ icy harp and Bloomfield’s twangy guitar licks, with Pinetop Perkins banging the piano keys. Singer/songwriter Nick Gravenites joins Wells on his signature “Messin’ With the Kid,” the pair ripping the roof off the sucker with an energetic performance, Bloomfield’s wiry solos underlining a smiling Wells’ lively vocals.

Waters returns to the stage for a raucous read on his “Mannish Boy,” the band delivering a white-hot groove for Waters to croon above while Winter and Bloomfield swap licks. Taylor is joined by Willie Dixon for a romp through “Wang Dang Doodle,” guitarist Phil Guy receiving a well-deserved spotlight while Koko outshines her male colleagues with an electrifying performance. With his usual modesty, Johnny Winter introduces “Walking Through the Park,” leading the band on a livewire cover of the Buddy Guy tune featuring three dueling guitarists and Wells’ raging harp play.

An extended take on Waters’ “Got My Mojo Workin’” literally has the audience on its feet as everybody hits the stage. Wells offers a freight-train solo, Winter lays down a finger-blistering lead, and Pinetop hammers the keys alongside Dr. John. There are other solid performances here, ten in all for this first Soundstage release, the DVD a definite “must have” for any old-school Chicago blues fan! (Legacy Recordings, 2015)

Review originally published by Blues Music magazine, 2015

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Archive Review: ZZ Top’s La Futura (2012)

ZZ Top’s La Futura
Over the past decade, ZZ Top – that little ol’ band from Texas – has largely relied on their electrifying live show to push their career forward as it enters into its fifth decade. The trio of guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill, and drummer Frank Beard has been together since the beginning and the band’s 1970 debut album, a raucous amalgam of blues and rock that took both genres into new territory. They would build on that sound with subsequent landmark releases like Rio Grande Mud and Tres Hombres, reaching their commercial peak with 1983’s Eliminator.

The band has been absent from the studio for much of the 2000s, though, ZZ Top’s last studio album also the fourth release under a reported $35 million deal with RCA Records. When 2003’s Mescalero met with diminished commercial returns, however, the band was left in the hinterlands without a label deal, and save for a couple of well-received live releases – including Live In Germany 1980 – ZZ Top has done much of their talking from the stage. Changes were afoot, however, and around 2008 the band broke with long-time manager Bill Ham and signed with producer Rick Rubin’s American Recordings, the result being La Futura, the band’s first studio effort in over nine years.

ZZ Top’s La Futura

Four years in the making, La Futura takes ZZ Top recklessly into the future while unashamedly drawing upon the band’s storied past. Gibbons and gang delve into a bit of what Chris Thomas King calls the “21st century hip-hop blues” for the album-opening “I Gotsta Get Paid.” The song is based on a 1990s track by Houston rapper DJ DMD (“Lighters”), and the ZZ crew dirty it up a bit with some Rio Grande mud, drawing out the groove to a monolithic drone while Gibbons’ guitar screams and stutters like James Blood Ulmer’s Harmolodic blues. More of a greasy Texas blues-rock vamp than anything remotely hip-hop, it’s an interesting and edgy direction for the aging greybeards in ZZ Top. By comparison, “Chartreuse” is a mid-tempo boogie-blues tune firmly in the band’s wheelhouse, a rolling, rollicking beat punctuated by Gibbons’ fuzzy, frenetic guitarplay.

La Futura also takes ZZ Top onto new musical turf with the emotionally-raw and darkly elegant ballad “Over You.” Co-written with roots ‘n’ blues musician and songwriter Tom Hambridge, “Over You” is a slow-paced, smoldering, and heartfelt ode that levels Gibbons’ rough-throated, heartbroken vocals over a swelling crescendo of sound. His fretwork here evokes the best of every blues guitarist that comes to mind, but especially Albert King for its raw strength, and Otis Rush for its understated beauty. Gibbons’ shaky, slightly distorted tone adds to the mournful resonance of his solos. Revisiting the twelve-bar blues of their youth, “Heartache In Blue” is a torrid, mid-tempo rocker with Hound Dog Taylor roots, Gibbons’ torn ‘n’ frayed vocals complimented by rolling blasts from James Harman’s harmonica and his own switchblade guitar notes.   

Big Shiny Nine

Another Hambridge co-write, “I Don’t Want To Lose, Lose You,” treads similar lyrical ground, but with a bigger, bolder sound, the double-tracked machine-gun guitars reminding of the band’s Tres Hombres era, Gibbons’ blustery vocals backed by a choogling rhythm (think “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers” on steroids) and sonic blasts of razor-sharp guitar licks. “Flyin’ High” sounds more like the Eliminator ‘80s, but with less emphasis on synthesizer hum, the song copping a melody from a vaguely-remembered minor hit of the era and embroidering it with classic rock chops – soaring guitarplay, riffs that circle back around on you, a mean-as-hell backbeat, and a heavy bass line.

The trio visits Nashville for a cover of country-folk duo David Rawlings and Gillian Welch’s “It’s Too Easy Manana.” Much as they did with the aforementioned rap song, ZZ slaps layers of bluesy grime and grit onto the song like cheap paint at Earl Scheib. Slowing down the pace to a dinosaur plod, texture is provided by Gibbons’ electronically-enhanced guitar sound, a big drum blast, and world-weary vocals. It’s a great performance that bears repeated listens. Ditto for “Big Shiny Nine,” possibly the best…or at least the most fun…song on La Futura, a blues-rock romp from the 1970s with flamethrower guitar and driving rhythms. Gibbons’ guttural, growling vocals (think Howlin’ Wolf with a cold) are matched only by his jagged git solos and the song’s fluid groove. Down ‘n’ dirty in the pocket for “Have A Little Mercy,” the band closes with another throwback to the early ‘70s, the song bringing to mind “Waitin’ For The Bus” but with a slightly-funky, slow-boiling groove and shards of deep-cutting, raw-boned guitar.           

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Bringing a fresh perspective into the studio in the form of producer Rick Rubin – the first person not named “Gibbons” or “Ham” to sit in that chair since 1970 – has paid off in spades for ZZ Top, the band delivering its most inspired work since 1983’s Eliminator, and possibly its most blues-oriented album since Tres Hombres, nearly 40 years ago. The band has never strayed far from its Texas blues roots, but the synthesizer overkill that characterized its chart-topping tunes of the 1980s has been dialed back to a mild buzz, allowing Billy Gibbons’ joyful guitar playing to dominate the performances and lead the band back into the blues-rock spotlight. (American Recordings, released September 11, 2012)

Buy the CD from ZZ Top’s La Futura

Friday, March 11, 2022

Archive Review: Roy Buchanan’s Live At Rockpalast (2012)

Roy Buchanan’s Live At Rockpalast
Roy Buchanan is probably the best guitarist that you’ve never heard. Although he found a modicum of success with the twelve albums he released during his lifetime, two of them achieving Gold® sales status (a heady accomplishment in the 1970s), his influence reaches far beyond the meager commercial returns of his work. The “Master of the Telecaster” provided inspiration for fellow guitarists like Jeff Beck, Gary Moore, Danny Gatton, and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, among others with his heady brew of blues, roots-rock, R&B, and country music.

After an amazing string of eight studio and a single live album recorded and released during the brief space of nine years, by 1981 Buchanan was burned out. The vagaries of the recording industry, and his labels’ attempts to conform his talents to a saleable commodity had left him disgruntled and disillusioned. The guitarist would virtually disappear for a spell, taking a four-year hiatus to re-think and re-charge his batteries. Lucky for us, Alligator Records’ Bruce Iglauer convinced Buchanan to return from his self-imposed exile, giving the guitarist artistic control in the studio that would result in some of the best recordings of Buchanan’s career.

Roy Buchanan’s Live At Rockpalast

Live At Rockpalast is taken from a February 1985 performance by the guitarist and his band for the popular German TV show Rockpalast, and would mark Buchanan’s return to music…and what a return it would prove to be! Buchanan’s performance here, prior to the recording of his Alligator debut When A Guitar Plays the Blues, shows an artist and musician back in fighting form and shaking off the ring rust. Leading a band that included (seldom used) singer Martin Stephenson, keyboardist John Steel, and bassist Anthony Dumm – all members of U.K. pop/rock band the Daintees – as well as drummer Martin Yula, Buchanan cranks through a baker’s dozen of original blues-flavored roots-rockers and favorite covers, much to the delight of the enthusiastic German audience.

The set kicks off with the spry “Thing In G (Short Fuse),” a funky instrumental romp that sounds not unlike some of the material Stevie Ray Vaughan would be vamping on a couple of short years later. While the band provides a supple rhythm, Buchanan embroiders the song with his red-hot fretwork, the guitarist firing on all cylinders as he throws in sly blues, jazz, and rockabilly references throughout the four-minute firecracker. Buchanan’s subsequent take on Booker T & the M.G.s’ classic “Green Onion” is unlike any you’ve ever heard…while the band offers up a standard take on the song’s keyboard riffing and swaggering drumbeats, the guitarist stomps all over tradition with his wild-ass flamethrower solos, which bounce off the arrangement like a madman careening off the walls of his rubber room. It makes for an energetic and unpredictable performance, and a heck of a lot of fun.

Blues In D

Buchanan was well-known and revered for his ability to fuse blues, rock, and country music into an earthy, organic sound, and nowhere did he ever do it better than with “Roy’s Blues (Roy’s Bluz).” An intricate instrumental backdrop frames the almost whispered, briefly spoken lyrics as Buchanan’s fretwork ranges from low-key blues and roots-rock to jagged shards of angular jazz licks and twangy, barbed-wire country tones. It’s not blues as we know it, but it’s breathtaking nevertheless, the song stretched out to ten minutes by Buchanan and band so that by the time he hits the crescendo almost six minutes in, when the raucous vocals fly out of nowhere, you’re left exhausted.

By contrast, Buchanan’s instrumental “Blues In D” is a more traditional blues shuffle, with the guitarist showing his mojo hand through a number of passages throughout the song. Above a standard Chicago blues bass/drums rhythm, Buchanan tacks on an incendiary display of six-string pyrotechnics, emotion pouring from his fingertips in a performance that is pure instinct and adrenalin. He takes much the same tack with songwriter Don Gibson’s “Sweet Dreams,” Buchanan’s mournful, tear-jerking solos echoing the song’s heartbreak lyrics, adding a bit of blues hue to this instrumental take on a beloved country classic.

Foxy Lady

Like just about every other guitarist that came of age during the 1960s, Buchanan was touched by the incredible sounds that issued from the instrument of the late Jimi Hendrix. Buchanan’s take on Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” – the song a garage-rock standard first hit big by the Leaves in 1965 and later adapted by Hendrix as the Experience’s first single – skews more towards Hendrix’s vision in this performance. Although Stevenson’s vocals are unremarkable, it’s Buchanan’s mangling of his instrument that draws your attention, his solos incorporating scraps of blues, rock, and some otherworldly sounds that even Jimi couldn’t reach. The following version of Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” soars even further into the stratosphere, the vocals overshadowed and hidden beneath Buchanan’s unbelievable, high-flying guitar and the muscular rhythmic soundtrack provided by Dumm and Yula.

Buchanan’s “Messiah (Messiah Will Come Again)” is provided a truly ethereal performance here, the song’s unlikely fusion of blues and rock with classical music overtones unique to Buchanan’s particular experience and perspective. His haunting guitarplay here is elegantly beautiful and tragically dark, the guitarist wringing every bit of energy and emotion from his fretboard. The mood is heightened greatly, however, by the upbeat “Night Train,” a rockabilly-tinged instrumental with a ramshackle framework that rocks and rolls like the wheels on a freight train. Buchanan closes Live At Rockpalast with “Wayfaring Pilgrim,” another haunting instrumental that showcases his immense abilities, great tone, and masterful blending of musical styles.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

The 1985 release of the acclaimed When A Guitar Plays the Blues represented the beginning of a fertile period of Roy Buchanan’s career, the guitarist quickly recording 1986’s Dancing On the Edge and the following year’s Hot Wires before his tragic death in 1988. Returning to the trenches after a four-year break, Buchanan sounds recharged, revved-up, and ready-to-roll on Live At Rockpalast. There are few live documents of this unique and influential guitarist available, and this one is well worth your hard-earned coin. (MIG Music, released March 6, 2012)

Buy the CD from Roy Buchanan’s Live At Rockpalast

Friday, March 4, 2022

Archive Review: Nick Lowe’s Jesus of Cool (1978/2008)

Nick Lowe’s Jesus of Cool
Nick Lowe has been making great music for so long that we often take him for granted. Over a career that has spanned nearly forty years, Lowe has released around a dozen albums of consistently entertaining and adventurous songs that venture into sounds of pop, rock, country, and all things in between.

As member of early ‘70s pub-rock pioneers Brinsley Schwarz, Nick Lowe earned a reputation as a snappy songwriter with a skill for turning a phrase. The band’s roots-rock sound never caught on far beyond the streets of London and Camden Town, however, and Brinsley Schwarz broke up in 1975 after recording five now highly-collectible albums. The independent spirit of Brinsley Schwarz, combined with the band’s part in convincing British pubs to feature live music, paved the way for the back-to-the-basics movement of punk rock and helped spawn the legendary class of ‘77 that included the Damned, the Clash, and the Sex Pistols.

Nick Lowe’s Jesus of Cool

Lowe had a direct hand in shaping both punk and new wave, working for Stiff Records as a producer on important and influential records from talents like Graham Parker, Wreckless Eric, Elvis Costello, the Pretenders, and the Damned. During this post-Brinsley period, Lowe also toured the U.S. as part of Dave Edmunds’ band, opening for Bad Company. Lowe released an initial single – “So It Goes” – on Stiff in 1976, and would subsequently launch his solo career in earnest in 1978 with the release of Jesus of Cool, a whip-smart collection of pop-rock gems that welded contagious melodies with Lowe’s often-demented lyrical tales.

Because the album’s original British title was considered too “edgy” and controversial for the United States, Lowe’s debut album was released stateside under the wonderfully descriptive title Pure Pop For Now People with different sequencing and songs. Under either title, the album won no little amount of critical acclaim. Although it has sadly been out-of-print for better than a decade, this situation has recently been remedied by Yep Roc Records. The label has reissued Jesus of Cool in a 30th anniversary edition with its original schizo cover art and track sequencing, with a wealth of bonus material and a swanky package that includes a nifty annotated booklet with liner notes and lots of photos. The entire package folds out into a cool stained-glass cross-type thingie in keeping with the whole “Nick Lowe is the Jesus of Cool” theme.

Pure Pop For Now People

What has made Jesus of Cool a cult favorite for three decades, though, is the undeniably entertaining music contained within. Lowe’s talents aren’t contained by any single pigeonhole, and musically the songs here run the gamut from the hard-edged martial minimalism of the anti-industry “Music For Money” and the twisted ‘50s-styled rock ballad “Little Hitler” to the whimsical casual vandalism of “I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass.”

The swaggering “Shake And Pop” features a Jerry Lee-styled piano-bashing as its musical signature, while the song’s lyrical doppelganger, “They Called It Rock,” is an equally breathless exploration of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, supported this time around by a rollicking rhythm and stabs of Duane Eddy-styled guitarwork. “So It Goes” is a popish new wave roller with an infectious chorus and a bit of vocal gymnastics by the good Mr. Lowe. The finely-crafted power-pop construction and lighthearted vocals of “Marie Provost” barely cover the dark humor of the song’s sordid subject matter. “Nutted By Reality” offers up a funky bass groove and lively rhythm before dropping into an unlikely bit of McCartneyesque pop surrealism. A live version of “Heart of the City” is a driven slab o’ rootsy rock with squirrely guitar, rapidfire vocals, and a perfect bash-and-crash drumbeat.

There are a number of gems thrown in amidst the ten bonus tracks afforded this deluxe edition of Jesus of Cool. The uber-groovy instrumental “Shake That Rat” is a Dick Dale inspired walk on the beach while “I Love My Label” is a delightfully tongue-in-cheek observation of recording industry expectations. The Phil Spectorish “Halfway To Paradise” is an understated, ‘60s-style flight-of-fancy with delicious harmonies and lofty instrumentation. The fan-tastic “Rollers Show” is a fab slice of teen-beat adoration for the Bay City Rollers, delivered with a Britpop beat and a heart of gold. An original take on the classic “Cruel To Be Kind” is faster-but-slighter than that found on Labour of Lust, but no less fetching with its beautiful pop sheen.   

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Beneath all of the bluster and genius, however, Jesus of Cool is a wonderfully concise collection of songs that evince as much anger and vitriol as anything recorded by new wave’s “angry young men” like Graham Parker and Elvis Costello. Unlike either of those talented artists, however, Lowe – a veteran tunesmith with better than a decade of performing and recording beneath his belt – learned how to mask his venom with a spoonful of sugar. The result is a timeless classic of true rock ‘n’ roll music – intelligent, witty, clever, angry and, most of! (Yep Roc Records, 2008)

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

Buy the CD from Nick Lowe’s Jesus of Cool