Friday, July 15, 2022

Short Rounds: Shemekia Copeland, Jade Warrior, Gwil Owen, Prince & the Revolution, Sour Ops, Supersonic Blues Machine & 'Heroes and Villains' (July 2022)

Shemekia Copeland's Done Come Too Far
New album releases in 200 words or less...

Shemekia CopelandDone Come Too Far (Alligator Records)
One of today’s finest singers in any genre, Shemekia Copeland has been on an impressive roll, delivering three consecutive career-making albums, the last two working with Nashville producer/musician Will Kimbrough. Third time’s a charm, Copeland returning to the Music City to collaborate with Kimbrough again on Done Come Too Far, which features talented friends like Sonny Landreth, Cedric Burnside, and Aaron Lee Tasjan complimenting the steady backing of bassist Lex Price and drummer Pete Abbott. The results are pure magic (again). Copeland blows the doors down with the defiant “Too Far To Be Gone,” her powerful vocals soaring atop Landreth’s serpentine slide-work. The African-flavored “Gullah Geechee” ties Delta field hollers to their deeper roots while the Cajun romp “Fried Catfish and Bibles” is a sheer delight. Socially-conscious songs like “Pink Turns To Red” are turbocharged by Copeland’s awesome, pissed-off, pummeling vocals while a cover of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Barefoot In Heaven” adds a blues tint to the Americana gem. The heavyweight title track is fueled by Copeland’s fierce voice and Burnside’s mesmerizing fretwork. Closing with her father Johnny’s “Nobody But You,” Copeland cements her blues bona-fides with blistering intensity. What are you waiting for; go buy it! Grade: A+  BUY IT!

Jade Warrior's Last Autumn’s Dream
Jade Warrior – Last Autumn’s Dream (Esoteric Recordings U.K.)

The third album from British art-rockers Jade Warrior, 1972’s Last Autumn’s Dream found the relatively obscure (stateside) band exploring much the same musical turf as fellow 1970s-era proggers King Crimson, Family, or Gentle Giant, but with loftier intent, more reliance on English folk traditions, and seemingly less of an eye on rock stardom. Which is to say that it’s every bit as interesting and multi-textured as any other prog-rock album released the time, its tracklist jumping from the pastoral, classicist beauty of “A Winter’s Tale” to the bristling, angry hard rock of “Snake,” and right back to the darkly-atmospheric ambient nightmare tones of “Dark River,” all in the course of a quarter-hour. That’s not even mentioning the exotic instrumentation, whiplash time signature changes, and oblique lyrics that inhabit each performance like a hallucinogenic fungus. Guitarist Tony Duhig and percussionist Jon Field were bandmates in 1960s psych-rockers July (their self-titled 1968 LP is a psych classic), and their combined vision drove Jade Warrior to maddeningly-delightful heights of creativity. The band’s self-titled 1971 debut may rock harder, and their sophomore effort, Release, is artier but, with Last Autumn’s Dream, they found the sweet spot in the eye of the hurricane. Grade: B   BUY IT!    

Gwil Owen's The Road To the Sky
Gwil Owen – The Road To the Sky (self-produced)

Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Gwil Owen is one of the many talented outsiders looking in on Nashville’s mainstream music biz, a DIY lifer making music on his own terms. The Road To the Sky is Owen’s follow-up to 2020’s excellent Flying Dream, and it follows a similar vein with touches of rock, country, and Little Feat-styled funk. Owen is accompanied here by talented friends like multi-instrumentalist Joe McMahan, keyboardist Tony Crow, and bassist Dave Jacques, and it shows in the grooves. “When the Songwriter’s Gone” displays a few Springsteen-esque flourishes within its loping backroads vibe and gorgeous guitarplay while “Ghost Town” rocks with brilliant poetic imagery. “Change” relies on minimal instrumentation and Owen’s gritty, twangy vocals (think Delbert McClinton) and the haunting, bluesy “Murder” reminds of Tom Waits. Owen uses a pre-recorded guitar coda from his late friend David Olney to fittingly punctuate the beautiful ballad “She Does It All With Her Eyes.” Owen is a gifted story-teller and a charismatic lyricist with an ear for melody and the ability to create deceptively-complex and lush soundscapes. An adventuresome, old-school tunesmith in the vein of Olney or Guy Clark, Owen is an artist worth your time to discover. Grade: A   BUY DIRECT!

Prince and the Revolution's Live
Prince and the Revolution – Live (NPG Records/Sony Legacy)

If you’re a Prince fan (and who isn’t?), don’t let the nearly $40 price tag of this swanky set deter you from jumping, headfirst, into the deep end of the pool. Documenting an especially electric 1985 performance in Syracuse NY, Live offers 20 dynamite songs across two CDs and a Blu-ray disc with 5.1 surround sound, as well as a groovy 24-page color booklet with liner notes and rare photos. Prince and the Revolution were 93 shows into a 98-show tour in support of the chart-topping, thirteen-million-selling Purple Rain album and they’re firing on all cylinders. Prince’s trademark blend of psych-drenched guitar rock, slinky funk, and sizzling soul was on full display on a “greatest hits” setlist that includes crowd-pleasers like “1999,” “Little Red Corvette,” “When Doves Cry,” and a mind-bending, expanded reading of “Purple Rain” showcasing the Purple One’s justified ‘Guitar God’ status (and the band’s tight-knit musical chemistry).  There’s nothing here from Around the World In A Day, which was released a month after this show, but there are plenty of choice cuts from 1999 and Purple Rain alongside the deep cuts, making Live an invaluable snapshot of Prince and the Revolution at the peak of their powers. Grade: A   BUY IT!

Sour Ops' Deep Fake
Sour OpsDeep Fake (Feralette Media)

Nashville rockers Sour Ops break up the crushing monotony of reality with another id-tickling album, Deep Fake, a collection guaranteed to scratch whatever musical itch is currently plaguing your fever-dream cerebellum. Ringmaster Price Harrison leads his crackerjack band through ten high-voltage, hair-raising performances that range from the bright, buoyant power-pop of “Navy Blue” and the jagged satire of the dark-hued “Doomsday Prepper” to the pop-metal edge of “Texas Punk 66,” which wears its gorgeous guitar tone like a magic cloak. The title track is a fierce mid-tempo rocker with brilliant lyrics about fleeting celebrity that is combined with stunning, chaotic fretwork while “Another Letdown” turns a keen eye towards modern society with 1960s-styled psychedelic pop and vintage ‘70s muscle car rock overkill, resulting in a bloody good time. The insightful “I Followed You Down” explores the dangers of falling prey to a cult of personality while Deep Fake closes its too-short 30-minutes with “Fall Into the Sky,” a shimmering, ethereal love song with yearning instrumentation. With Deep Fake, Sour Ops has moved beyond the obvious Replacements/Stooges/Cheap Trick references to truly find their own musical voice, one that masterfully blends everything that came before into something unique, personal, and entirely stunning. Grade: A+   BUY DIRECT!

Supersonic Blues Machine's Voodoo Nation
Supersonic Blues MachineVoodoo Nation (Provogue Records)

Supersonic Blues Machine is the trio of bassist Fabrizio Grossi, guitarist Kris Barras, and journeyman drummer Kenny Aronoff, the band showing itself to be a well-oiled, high-performance engine of destruction with Voodoo Nation, their third studio album (and the first to feature Barras, a British fretburner in the Rory Gallagher tradition). As with their first couple of blues-busting albums, Voodoo Nation offers up an inspired blend of blues, rock, and funk all delivered with no little heart and soul. Also as with previous LPs, they invited a slew of blues-rock axe-manglers along for the ride, with talents like Eric Gales, Ana Popovic, Joe Louis Walker, Kirk Fletcher, and Sonny Landreth jumping into the rumble seat. King Solomon Hicks brings a Hill Country vibe to the sonic-grind of “You and Me” and “Devil At the Doorstep” benefits from Gales’ fluid tones and imagination. Popovic is an underrated gem whose duel with Barras is pure blues-guitar heaven while the Supersonic guitarist lights a wildfire with the inspired “Too Late” and its Leadbelly licks. The title track is a swamp-rock masterpiece with swagger, stunning fretwork, and a dark-hued ambiance. Supersonic Blues Machine ain’t your grand-pappy’s blues, but they could be yours. Grade: B   BUY IT!

Heroes and Villains
Various Artists – Heroes and Villains: The Sound of Lost Angeles 1965-68 (Grapefruit Records U.K.)

From pop, rock, and proto-Americana to blues, folk, and psychedelia, there’s no denying that the mid-‘60s L.A. music scene was bursting at the seams with creativity and vision. Leave it up to those madmen at U.K. archival label Grapefruit to document the history of this influential era. Heroes and Villains collects a whopping 90 (!) tunes on three CDs in a nifty clamshell, the accompanying guidebook offering comprehensive liner notes and rare photos. The “usual suspects” to be found here, well-known chart titans like the Monkees, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Steppenwolf, Sonny & Cher, and the Mamas and the Papas, among others, but not always the songs you might think you’d find. There are oddities like the Mothers of Invention and Captain Beefheart; talented obscurities like Tim Buckley and Ruth Friedman; and cult rockers like Love, Kaleidoscope, and Merrell Fankhauser’s various bands. Where the box set really shines, though, is with the too-cool unknowns like the Rose Garden, Children of the Mushroom, the Laughing Wind, or the Chyldren, et al. There’s a lot of meat on these discs, a myriad of musical possibilities and styles, more than a few of which are guaranteed to satisfy your musical needs... Grade: A   BUY IT!

Previously on That Devil

Short Rounds, December 2021: Calidoscopio, Deep Purple, Tom Guerra, The Specials, The Wildhearts, Sami Yaffa & 'I'm A Freak Baby 3'

Short Rounds, September 2021: Marshall Crenshaw, Crack The Sky, Donna Frost, Mark Harrison & the Happy Tramps, Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram, the Rubinoos, and Jon Savage’s 1972-1976

Short Rounds, June 2021: The Black Keys, the Bummers, Michael Nesmith, Greg “Stackhouse” Prevost, Quinn Sullivan, and the Vejtables

Short Rounds, April 2021: Peter Case, The Fortunate Few, David Olney & Anana Kaye, Sour Ops, Joe Strummer, and the Thieves

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