Friday, August 26, 2022

Archive Review: Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Made Up Mind (2013)

Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Made Up Mind
The Tedeschi Trucks Band grew out of the 2010 summer tour dubbed “Soul Stew Revival,” which itself was planned as a way for the real life married duo of singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi and guitarist Derek Truck to spend some time together on the road with their family as opposed to launching solo tours. The Soul Stew Revival included members of each artist’s band as well as talented friends and, as time passed, it grew into the eleven-piece ensemble that makes up the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Revelator, the band’s 2011 debut album, dominated the blues chart for a couple of years with its inspired mix of blues, soul, gospel, and rock ‘n’ roll while Everybody’s Talkin’, a two-disc 2012 live set, picked up the slack on the charts when Revelator’s sales began to flag.

Now it’s 2013 and the Tedeschi Trucks Band returns after two years on the road with its second studio effort, Made Up Mind. While a lot has been made of the similarity of Tedeschi’s vocals to those of the great Bonnie Raitt, Made Up Mind brings another comparison to my mind, to the underrated Bonnie Bramlett and her late 1960s/early 1970s collaborations with her late husband Delaney. Much like Bramlett, Tedeschi wrings every bit of juice out of a lyric, and what is the Tedeschi Trucks Band but a modern-day conglomeration of talent like Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, with Trucks playing the role of both Delaney Bramlett and Eric Clapton?    

Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Made Up Mind

Made Up Mind opens with the title track, Trucks’ chunky guitar scrape accompanied by a funky, choogling groove and full, rich backing instrumentation. Tedeschi’s lovely voice kicks in, displaying her Etta James influences, the singer rolling with the groove and soaring above the fray when necessary only to trail off in favor of Trucks’ fluid, sizzling guitar solo. This is the kind of ready-made, radio-friendly jam that would have dominated the AOR airwaves in the early-to-mid-1990s but today it plays to a mainstream blues audience ill served by corporate radio.

“Do I Look Worried” takes the band back to an even earlier era, Tedeschi’s stunning torch-song styled performance creating a 1950s R&B vibe, as seen through a 1970s blues-rock lens, the sound reinforced by the band’s subtle, elegant use of horns in the background. The song’s lush instrumentation threatens to overwhelm the singer, Tedeschi nevertheless rising to the occasion, assisted by Trucks’ gorgeous guitar lines and stinging solos. “Idle Wind” is a pure 1970s construct, the sort of bluesy, folkie, acoustic rock hymn that many of us cut our eye teeth on back in the day, the song darkly imaginative, with a lovely use of Kofi Burbridge’s feathery flute runs and a soft layer of horns.

Calling Out To You


Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi
The throwback soul of “Part of Me” is delivered pitch perfect by the fine vocal interplay between Tedeschi and trombonist Saunders Sermons, who sounds like a young Curtis Mayfield. The 1960s soul ambiance is undeniable and, just in case you may not have caught the song’s reference point, Trucks kicks out his best Steve Cropper/James Burton guitar licks, spicing up an already enchanting performance. Tedeschi’s vocals on “It’s So Heavy” further underline the Bonnie Bramlett connection, the singer evoking no little emotion in an otherwise deceptively understated performance; Trucks’ accompanying solos are also appropriately muted, albeit with the strength of a rushing river.

Hands down, the most raucous tune on Made Up Mind, “The Storm” amps up Trucks’ rattletrap guitar riffs while the rhythm section cranks out a ramshackle juke-joint groove straight out of the Junior Kimbrough/R.L. Burnside playbook. There’s more at play here than a Mississippi Hill Country influence, however, Tedeschi throwing a little Memphis soul into her vocals while Trucks tosses off a golden jazz-flecked solo that invokes Luther Johnson as much as Luther Dickinson while Burbridge’s gospel-tinged keyboards ride shotgun before chaos descends at around the five-minute mark as Derek clearly loses his mind (speaking instrumentally, of course) and tears off a deadly swamp-blues solo mixing Duane Allman’s greasy tones with John Campbell’s Delta dirt. Providing a stark contrast, the album closes with the acoustic “Calling Out To You,” a fine showcase not only for Tedeschi’s vocal skills but also for Trucks’ six-string dexterity as the two record sans band for a charming and entirely intimate performance.   

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

The album’s songwriting is, admittedly, the weakest part of Made Up Mind, too many of the album’s tunes composed by committee and lacking a lyrical cohesion (several songs co-written by the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris). The best material seems to be that which echoes a singular voice, the title track, “Do I Look Worried,” and “Misunderstood” particularly standing out from the crowd. Whereas the size of the band may have created an obstacle in the instrumental composition of the material, the talents involved and the chemistry created by a couple years on the road has created an entertaining and musically exciting blend of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band has been accused of recording an album that is more “pop” than blues with Made Up Mind, and there’s no denying the mainstream appeal of these bright, shiny performances. It’s the band’s love of the music, however, that makes Made Up Mind a winner. This may not be your daddy’s blues, but this is a big tent that we’re all under, with plenty of room for newcomers, and Tedeschi Trucks Band is redefining rhythm and blues with a sound entirely its own... (Sony Masterworks, released August 20, 2013)

Buy the CD at Amazon: Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Made Up Mind

Archive Review: Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Everybody’s Talkin’ (2012)

Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Everybody’s Talkin’
On paper, it seemed like a perfect match – take the husband and wife team of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, surround them with nine talented musicians culled from their individual bands, put them in a studio and see what happens. Considering that Tedeschi and Trucks are two of the most popular, talented, and innovative artists on the blues scene today, expectations were high for the Revelator album. Nobody could have predicted what happened next, though. The album has spent over a year on the blues chart and won both a Grammy® and a Blues Music Award, while Tedeschi and Trucks also took individual BMAs.

Revelator was supported by a lengthy tour by the eleven-piece Tedeschi Trucks Band, several dates of which were recorded for Everybody’s Talkin’, a deluxe two-disc live set that is a real gift for the fans that climbed on board with the first album. In concert, the band stretches out on stage to jam on their signature blend of blues, rock, gospel, Southern soul, and funk music. While the two CDs here only offer up a mere eleven songs, every one of them is a revelation, with the well-chosen cover songs so perfectly meshing with the band’s original material that the listener would be hard-pressed to tell the difference if they weren’t already familiar with the song.  

Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Everybody’s Talkin’

The set kicks off with the Fred Neil-penned title track, a well-worn chestnut that was recorded by the great Harry Nilsson for the 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy. Since Nilsson’s up-tempo version first rode the airwaves to top ten chart success, the song has been covered in dozens of styles, from King Curtis’s jazz-tinged R&B take to Stephen Stills bluesy, guitar-driven version. Tedeschi straddles a line between the two, applying her warm voice to the Southern soul-flavored arrangement as the band creates a funky, fat groove behind her vocals, which capture the wistful nature of Neil’s original folkish lyrics. Trucks spices up the song with a tasteful, albeit short solo that cranks up the amperage for a big finish.

With a high energy level established, Everybody’s Talkin’ only soars higher towards the stratosphere from here. The hauntingly beautiful “Midnight In Harlem” is provided a (slightly) raga-styled intro with Trucks’ nimble fretwork at the fore before rolling into a mid-tempo performance that is dominated by Tedeschi’s languid, sultry vocals and Kofi Burbridge’s lively keyboard riffs. Another track from Revelator, the seeped-in-the-Delta “Learn How To Love,” is stretched out at better than twice its original length, the song dominated by Trucks’ fierce guitarplay, icy blasts of horn, the explosive  twin drums of Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson, and Tedeschi’s powerful, roaring vocals. Trucks’ scorched-earth solo a little more than three minutes in is strong stuff, indeed.

Bound For Glory

“Bound For Glory” is introduced by Trucks’ scrappy Mississippi front porch country-blues picking before sliding into a deep Southern rock groove. Bassist Oteil Burbridge is the band’s secret weapon, a talented fat-string player that provides a subtle but ever-present rhythmic foundation for the rest of the band build upon. Tedeschi’s vocals sound a lot like Bonnie Raitt here, soaring from a whisper to a joyous shout, while the performance itself evolves into a swaggering instrumental jam with Kofi’s slippery keyboard licks and a spry percussive backdrop leading the way.

While usually credited to Muddy Waters, the raucous “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” has become a hallowed blues standard, with versions recorded by everybody from Elmore James and Memphis Slim to Cream and Johnny Winter. Tedeschi and Trucks build off the James’ version here, the band delivering an energetic shuffle behind Trucks’ raging guitar and Tedeschi’s roaring vocals. Disc one closes out with an inspired take on songwriter John Sebastian’s “Darling Be Home Soon,” Tedeschi displaying her excellent emotional phrasing on the song’s wan lyrics, backing harmony vocals lending a sort of Stax/Motown gospel/soul vibe to what is a wonderfully moving performance.

Stevie Wonder’s Uptight

Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi
Disc two is slightly shorter that the first set’s 70-minute runtime, clocking in at four songs and three-quarters of an hour, but the performances are no less potent. The R&B gem “That Did It” is afforded a big band-styled performance with gospel revival fervor, Tedeschi channeling her inner Koko Taylor with fine soul-shouter vocals bolstered by her often-overlooked guitar playing, which lends great tone and texture to the Bobby “Blue” Bland classic. A finger-snapping cover of the great Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight” is delivered as a quarter-hour-plus long rant ‘n’ rave-up that mix soul and jazz with Oteil Burbridge’s scat-singing, Tedeschi’s fine vocals, Kebbi Williams’ manic sax, and some of Trucks’ greasiest slide-guitar playing on the record.

Another Revelator gem, “Love Has Something Else To Say,” is funked-up on steroids, cranked way up to eleven minutes on the back of the R&B drenched horns of saxophonist Williams, Maurice Brown’s trumpet, and Saunders Sermons’ trombone. The horns get to be a bit much for my tastes, a little too free-wheeling and bleating for these ears, but Trucks’ fluid solos are just the tonic you need, and Sermons’ sonorous vocals provide a fine counterpoint to Tedeschi’s sweeter tones. The Sam Cooke classic “Wade In The Water” provides a big finish to Everybody’s Talkin’, showcasing everything that is good and grand about this band. A gospel-blues tune with hints of swamp-blues malevolence and dark-hued lyrics, the band’s reverent vocal interplay is complimented by a claustrophobic instrumental arrangement and shards of broken-glass guitar and crafty percussion work that slips in beneath the radar.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

While the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Revelator provided fans of both Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks with a long-awaited musical collaboration, the album’s mainstream appeal has gone a long way towards bridging the gap between rock, pop, and blues fans across the globe. Everybody’s Talkin’ takes the band’s enormous musical chemistry one step further, showcasing an outfit at the top of its game and opening the door for break-out success. If you were lucky enough to catch the Tedeschi Trucks Band on tour, Everybody’s Talkin’ will be a fond souvenir of the experience, and if you missed them last time around, this live set will assure that you’ll never make that mistake again! (Sony Masterworks, released May 22, 2012)

Buy the CD from Amazon: Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Everybody’s Talkin’

Friday, August 19, 2022

Archive Review: Rancid’s Indestructible (2003)

Rancid’s Indestructible
There are punk bands, and then there is Rancid. Legendary among its peers, Rancid stands as both the de facto standard for the punk rock aesthetic and as a mirror used by other bands to measure their own commitment to the music. If Rancid’s last couple of albums played mostly to the band’s hardcore faithful, Indestructible is a return to the substance, if not exactly the style of the band’s semi-commercial breakthrough, …And Out Come the Wolves. The band has grown immensely through the past few years, its members dabbling in outside musical projects and suffering personal tragedies that would cripple lesser artists, the band members coming out on the other side of the veil of tears stronger and more dedicated to their craft than ever before.

Rancid’s Indestructible

On the surface, Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong’s betrayal by and divorce from his wife Brody of the Distillers informs Indestructible. The album is littered with little digs at Armstrong’s wandering ex, from “I’m ashamed now to say I even knew you” in the title cut to “Don’t worry about me, I’m gonna make it alright” in “Fall Back Down” to a half-dozen other thinly veiled references. But Indestructible is about much more than a failing marriage. The album uses the frailty of human relationships as a framework to discuss traditional male traits of loyalty, friendship and brotherhood and how staying true to these concepts pays off in the end. It’s pretty heady stuff for a “mere” punk band, but Armstrong has always been an intelligent, self-aware critic and a voice for the (mostly) working class punk community.

Although the Conservative right usually claims honor and loyalty as its exclusive domain, you’ll find more brotherhood among members of your average street gang than in any country club in America. With Indestructible, Armstrong and crew further the concept of punk band as street gang and, indeed, there’s little difference between the two. Both the street gang and the punk band are made up of aggressive young males, one usually defined by geography and the other by music. Their common experiences, whether a shared poverty or twelve hours a day driving down the highway in a van together, creates a bond that is difficult for outsiders to understand. Both groups provide extended families for its members, create their own language and iconography while a strong code of honor (or high artistic standards) provide a needed foundation.

But where does all of this sociological mumbo-jumbo leave Indestructible? Well, the album rocks with a fervor that few bands can manage, the chemistry of a decade spent together having forged a band that can turn on a dime, capable of expressing any musical idea that its members choose to push. There are precious few ska rhythms here, and fewer overt musical references to the Clash. Bassist Matt Freeman and drummer Brett Reed are arguably the best rhythm section in punk rock and guitarist Lars Frederiksen continues to grow as a player, elements of roots rock and bluesy flourishes creeping in at the edges of his blustery six-string assault. Armstrong is a wonderfully flawed vocalist, his warm drawl stretching out syllables and slurring words with an accessible patois of city slang and hip-hop inflection.   

Tropical London

Lyrically, the album’s title cut champions the healing power of rock ‘n’ roll and, name-checking Joe Strummer, lets slip the truth that as long as people listen to the music, the musicians who created it will never die in our hearts and in our memories. “Fall Back Down” champions the band as family, a self-contained brotherhood of equals that carry one another through heartache and tragedy. “Start Right Now” refers to the actions of our leaders, “a shill in a mask and a puppeteer,” and the effects these actions have on the average man while “Out of Control” describes the propaganda and lies that led us into the war in Iraq.

Punk Rock Royalty: Rancid
With “Django,” Armstrong uses a ‘60s-vintage spaghetti western as a metaphor for the emotional and physical baggage that people carry around with them. In the film, the lead character Django was your typical Eastwood-styled strong, silent type, dragging a coffin that contained a multi-shot Gatling gun across the old west from town to town. Many people do the same, carrying around their own “coffin” in the form of drug or alcohol addition or emotional and physical abuse. “Travis Bickle” uses another film reference, to Scorsese’s brilliant Taxi Driver, to describe the hopelessness and despair that exists on the streets of every city, no matter where you go while “Memphis” is a lively tale of life on the road.

“Tropical London” tackles the breakup of Tim and Brody directly, Armstrong sharing memories of his wife as honestly and with as little bitterness as possible. Similar to Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky,” the singer tries to turn the tables on the one who left, declaring “if you lose me, you lose a good thing,” tho’ the phrase rings hollow and in the end, the broken heart remains. “Stand Your Ground” is a heartfelt treatment of homelessness in America, a dirty little secret often ignored in the face of shallow flag waving and national saber-rattling. Indestructible closes with “Otherside,” written for guitarist Lars Frederiksen’s brother Robert, who died in 2001. It is at once both a tribute to a loyal fan of the band and a celebration of his life and of the music he loved. It is a potent closer and a hell of a rocker.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

With Indestructible, Rancid has upped the ante and delivered another career-defining album. Through various levels of success, the inner turmoil of the band member’s personal lives and suffering the rigors of the road, Rancid has managed to stay strong, stay independent and stay focused on creating great rock ‘n’ roll music. They have done so without compromise, creating a legacy that will live on long after the band ceases to exist. (Hellcat Records, released 2003)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2003

Buy the CD from Amazon: Rancid’s Indestructible

Bootleg Review: Rage Against The Machine’s Who’s On First? (1995)

Rage Against The Machine’s Who’s On First?
A current fave among tape traders and bootleggers, there are a number of Rage Against The Machine performances circulating among the collecting community. One of the better collections, taken from the band’s 1993 U.S. tour is Who’s On First?, released by the Hawk Records label in Italy. The songs compiled on Who’s On First? represent some of the band’s better performances, versions of “Bombtrack,” “Bullet In the Head,” and “Killing In the Name” offering extremely energetic musical and vocal gymnastics. 

Zach de la Rocha’s spoken rendition of Alan Ginsburg’s “How To Be Played On A Jukebox” is particularly potent, tying together the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and the Mafia in the world drug trade, fighting against democracy in Viet Nam and elsewhere under the aegis of multinational corporate capitalism. Underscored by darkly threatening instrumentation, it is a fiercely venomous rendering of the song.

Altogether, Who’s On First? runs nearly 50-minutes in length, offering a fine set of Rage Against The Machine’s most popular songs. With the band’s recently-released Evil Empire tracking quite well on the charts, a summer tour and guest appearance at Lollapalooza, Rage Against The Machine will continue to increase its fan base with a monstrous live persona. Until the inevitable live recordings from their upcoming 1996 tour start to appear, I’d heartily recommend Who’s On First? to the band’s rabid fans. Grade: B

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

Friday, August 12, 2022

Book Review: Pete Frame’s Even More Rock Family Trees (2012)

Music Journalist Pete Frame has enjoyed the sort of career that any music fan would give his or her eye teeth to experience. Frame was the founder of the British music magazine ZigZag, acting as the publication’s editor from 1969 through 1973, and again later from 1976 through 1978. He managed the English cult band Starry Eyed & Laughing, worked as an A&R man for the Charisma Records label and as press officer (publicist) for the legendary Stiff Records label.

Since 1979, Frame has made his living directly as a writer, contributing to publications like New Music Express, Melody Maker, Rolling Stone, and others. He has also been a producer on several documentaries for BBC radio, including tributes to Buddy Holly, Leonard Cohen, Elvis Presley, and Frank Zappa. Frame is best-known, however, not for his pen but rather for his penmanship, as the creator of intricate, detailed, and fascinating “rock family trees” that provide a genealogical history of various bands, right down to the names of individual members and what instrument they play.

Frame first began creating his rock family trees for ZigZag, putting together a chart on the Byrds for an issue in 1970, following it with a chart for British blues pioneer John Mayall a couple of issues later. By the magazine’s 21st issue, published in July 1971, Frame landed on the “family tree” format that he’s followed ever since, putting together a complex Al Kooper genealogy. These rock family trees have been used in the packaging of recordings by folks like Eric Clapton, Iron Maiden, Talking Heads, and many more, and were the basis for two six-part BBC television series during the 1990s that were narrated by the late John Peel.

Pete Frame’s Even More Rock Family Trees

Frame’s work has also been published in a number of books. The first Rock Family Trees collection was published in 1979, and a second book, Rock Family Trees, Vol. 2, in 1983; the two volumes later combined in 1993 as a single book, The Complete Rock Family Trees. Frame took the series in a different direction with 1997’s The Beatles & Some Other Guys, which covered in no little detail the British rock music scene of the 1960s, and followed it up a year later with the More Rock Family Trees collection.

After taking some time to put together the exhausting and entertaining The Restless Generation, a 500-page history of British rock in the 1950s, a decade of Frame’s work has culminated in the recently-published Even More Rock Family Trees. Since that first chart in ZigZag, Frame has created some 140 family trees tying together over 2,000 bands and artists. Today, as they were 40 years ago, Frame’s rock family trees are hand-drawn and notated on large 4’ x 3’ sheets of paper that are then scanned and reduced in size for publication. Sometimes a particular family tree is so crammed with details that a reader has to reach for a magnifying glass (or, for us old geezers, magnified reading glasses) to take it all in.

Absurdly-Annotated Genealogical Band Charts

Even More Rock Family Trees features 33 absurdly-annotated genealogical charts of various bands that were created by Frame from the 1980s through the 2000s, and while there is some overlap with previous collections, there really is precious little duplication between volumes. The over-sized book begins with a bare-bones history of England’s famed Creation Records label, outlining the connections between bands like My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fan Club, the Boo Radleys, and Oasis, among others. Another quite detailed tree examines the 15 different Jesus & Mary Chain line-ups, including information on the band’s recordings during the 1980s and ‘90s.

Frame doesn’t restrict his work to just British rock history. His “Grunge: The Sound of Seattle” digs deep into the roots of popular bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden, outlining the evolution of grunge from the early 1980s through the current superstardom of the Foo Fighters. Frame reaches back to his own youth for a chart on American R&B legends the Drifters, following the troubled band from its formation by singer Clyde McPhatter in 1953 to the hit-making, late-1950s Ben E. King years, through the final shadow of the band that gave up the ghost during the mid-1980s.

While Frame has a taste for the classic rock of the 1960s and 1970s, he’s not afraid to jump in and chronicle more recent bands like Suede or the Lyres. He’s at his most comfortable with the oldies, though, and his four-page extended Allman Brothers Band family tree is a thing of beauty for the hardcore fan. “Surf City Here We Come!” outlines the history of the Beach Boys, Dick Dale, the Surfaris, and other like-minded bands while his detailed outline of Fleetwood Mac ties together John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Rod Stewart, Chicken Shack, and Savoy Brown in a tree of many branches.

The careers of Elton John, Steve Winwood, Roger McGuinn, and Eric Clapton benefit from Frame’s keen eye and steady hand; ditto for Roxy Music, Rainbow, Fairport Convention, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, while Frame’s history of the Boston folk scene, augmented by quotes from artists like Geoff Muldaur and Amos Garrett, shines a light on a wealth of often overlooked musical talent. Only one chart in Even More Rock Family Trees wasn’t created by Frame, his acolyte Paul Barber putting together a fantastic timeline of jazz great Miles Davis’s live bands from 1955 to 1975.     

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Admittedly, Frame’s rock family trees books are for the diehard rock ‘n’ roll geek or OCD-inflicted music historian, but they’re also a heck of a lot of fun. For those of us who have spent untold hours peering through the cryptic credits of the albums and CDs that we’ve spent a lifetime collecting, trying to piece together the minutiae of our favorite bands and artists, Frame’s efforts seem downright Herculean.

Even More Rock Family Trees carries on the tradition of excellence begun by artist Pete Frame – and these rock family trees are, indeed, works of art – over 40 years ago. Be careful, though, ‘cause once you dig into one of these books, you’re going to lose hours at a time peering through the pages. (Omnibus Press, published April 1st, 2012)

Review originally published by Blurt magazine, 2012

Buy the book from Amazon: Pete Frame’s Even More Rock Family Trees

Archive Review: Steve Vai’s The Infinite Steve Vai (2003)

Steve Vai’s The Infinite Steve Vai
A long overdue anthology of superstar guitarist Steve Vai’s work for Epic Records, The Infinite Steve Vai is a steal of a deal for the uninitiated and/or curious, offering 32 tracks spread across two CDs at a lowball price of around $20 at most retailers. Although Vai’s legion of loyal fans will find little that is new here, the set does gather some odd strays from Vai’s musical canon, such as “Christmas Time Is Here” from a 1997 holiday collection or “The Reaper” from the 1991 movie soundtrack of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. “Feathers,” an instrumental recorded as a demonstration for Tone Works’ Pandora PXR4 portable digital recorder, was simultaneously released on Vai’s 2003 rarities collection Mystery Tracks Archives, Volume 3 on his own Favored Nations label.   

Steve Vai’s The Infinite Steve Vai

Otherwise the producers play it pretty straight, culling material primarily from Vai’s 1990 Epic debut Passion and Warfare (five songs), his 1995 release Alien Love Secrets (four songs), and it’s critically-acclaimed follow-up Fire Garden (four songs). A few live tracks are included from Alive In An Ultra World, although Vai’s work with Joe Satriani on the two G3 albums is overlooked and the criminally-underrated 1993 album Sex & Religion with Devin Townsend, T.M. Stevens, and Terry Bozzio is largely ignored here (one song).

To their credit, the producers have included a song from Vai’s one-album stint with Whitesnake, “Kittens Got Claws,” and a track from the guitarist’s mid-‘80s Alcatrazz recording, “Light Shade Of Green.” However, this career retrospective overlooks vital material from Vai’s lengthy tour-of-duty with Frank Zappa’s band or his work backing up David Lee Roth that made Vai a guitar hero during the mid-80s. Also ignored are odds-and-ends that could have rounded out a third disc for the set, session work with varied artists like Alice Cooper, Billy Sheehan and Public Image Ltd.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

These minor cavils aside, The Infinite Steve Vai does collect some fine work, showcasing the acclaimed guitarist’s amazing abilities as well as his penchant for improvisation and experimentation. Few axemen possess the skills to blend hard rock, heavy metal, jazz, and avant-garde guitar licks as effortlessly as Steve Vai. If you’re a newcomer to Vai’s talents, look no further than The Infinite Steve Vai as a satisfactory, if incomplete primer of the artist’s considerable musical history. The collection’s reasonable price and limited scope will provide a stepping stone to more ambitious and complete collections of the six-string wizard’s work. (Legacy Recordings, released 2003)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™

Buy the CD from Amazon: Steve Vai’s The Infinite Steve Vai

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Bandcamp Download of the Month: Old Town Crier's You

“Rock is dead!” is the tortured cry of dopey pundits and clueless label executives, proffered as an excuse for their own tone deafness, disregardful of the legions of loyal rockers roaming the American countryside with six-strings set on “stun.” Rock ‘n’ roll has lost its way, however, or at least lost the edge it once had as a medium for political commentary and reform. Although a few old-school survivors of the ‘60s like Neil Young and “Little Steven” Van Zandt still buzz and hum with righteous fury on vinyl from time to time, younger bands are afraid to take a political stance.

A lot of contemporary bands are looking for big dollar, “Big Rock Candy Mountain” levels of success, but a few are using their art as a catalyst for social change. “You”, a five-song digital EP and the second recording by Massachusetts outfit Old Town Crier, is a great example of rock ‘n’ roll being used to further a progressive political agenda that would benefit society. The EP’s title track is an infectious slab of guitar-driven power-pop with an energetic melody, cool vocal harmonies, and a stinging guitar solo that conceal some deceptively pointed lyrics. “Thin Blue Line” uses a throwback 1960s sound and Spector-esque production with chiming keyboards and crashing drumbeats to support its message whereas “Dawnland” is slower, more nuanced, evincing a shimmering psychedelic vibe with colorful guitars and gorgeous keyboards.

“Coal River Mountain” is an Americana-styled romp with wiry fretwork and a rhythmic sense of urgency (like a locomotive teetering down the track), a story-song set in the wilds of West Virginia with imaginative lyrics. The EP’s fast-paced five closes with “Radio On”, a clever, lofty pop-rock construct with hints of the Beatles, Big Star, and Harry Nilsson. Old Town Crier is the solo musical project of Massachusetts multi-instrumentalist Jim Lough, whose previous release was 2021’s five-song EP I’m Longing For You Honey In Middleboro, Mass. Recorded at The Fallout Shelter in Norwood, Massachusetts, You features Lough on vocals, guitarist Garrett Jones, bassist Alex Bilodeau, keyboardist Jenn Hwan Wong, drummer Avery Logan, and saxophonist Stephen Byth, who blows up a storm on a bonus live recording of “You”.  

A mere five simoleons for five rockin’ tunes is a better deal than you’re gonna get on anything you’ll find at Dollar General or Wal-Mart, so what are you waiting for? Buy it! All proceeds from the sale of the album will be donated to progressive Democrats running in key races, namely Christine Olivo (FL-26), Jason Call (WA-02), and Melanie D’Arrigo (NY-03), and if you have anything left after buying this Old Town Crier digital EP, consider throwing a few shekels to the progressive candidates in your area.   

You’ll find both of Old Town Crier’s EPs for sale RIGHT NOW on Bandcamp:

Friday, August 5, 2022

Archive Review: Katrina & the Waves’ The Original Recordings 1983-1984 (2003)

Katrina & the Waves’ The Original Recordings 1983-1984
Back in the day, around 1984 or so I’d say, my fellow rock ‘n’ roll fanatic Andy Anderson turned me onto a little British pop/rock outfit that had released a couple of fine albums in Canada. Led by Katrina Leskanich’s soulful vocals and former Soft Boys’ guitarist Kimberley Rew’s solid songwriting, the band had just released its stateside debut album. They hit Nashville as part of the band’s promotional tour, and with my industry connections and the sponsorship of Andy’s Nashville Intelligence Report zine, we scored an interview with the charming Katrina. We met in the attic loft of The Brass A, the dive club the band was performing in, our interview went quite well, Katrina signed some album covers and the show that night was incredible. The band subsequently scored one of the major hits of the ‘80s from its debut album, “Walking On Sunshine” lighting up the charts for months.

Unfortunately, the Waves’ first big hit pretty much turned out to be its last. Even though they would continue to record some fine music (their Waves album is vastly underrated), they would soon be steamrolled on the charts by cro-mags like Guns ‘N’ Roses, Motley Crue, and Poison as pop music took a decidedly aggressive turn towards nerf metal. Somewhere along the way, the band’s excellent two Canadian albums became obscure footnotes in Waves’ history. Thanks to Ralph Alfonso, a long-time champion of the band and the personable boss at Bongo Beat, these long-lost albums have been revived on CD for the first time. The two albums fit comfortably on one disc, the remastered tracks overseen by Kimberley Rew and released in observance of the 20th anniversary of the band’s first album.

Katrina and the Waves’ The Original Recordings 1983-1984

The Original Recordings 1983-1984 collects ten songs each from 1983’s Walking On Sunshine album and 1984’s Katrina and the Waves 2, updating the sound for the digital age from the best tapes possible but otherwise leaving the songs raw and unadorned. Capitol cherry-picked the best songs from these two Canadian albums, originally released by Attic Records, having the band re-record them for its American debut. These original versions are fantastic, however, with an immediacy and vibrancy that eludes the better-known Capitol versions. The Original Recordings 1983-1984 includes four previously unreleased bonus tracks, a 24-page booklet with exhaustive historical notes on the band, band interviews and more pictures than you can shake a stick at. A DVD accompanies this 20th anniversary release, featuring the 25-minute Live At Shepperton Film Studios video, documenting a 1983 “live-in-the-studio” performance of many of the band’s best songs and also includes the original live concert video for “Walking On Sunshine.”

Katrina & the Waves
It’s the music that does the loudest talking, however, songs like “Dancing Street,” with its staccato riffs and rave-up vocals sounding like a house party, or the original “Going Down To Liverpool” with its perfect sense of ennui, a slacker ballad a decade and a half ahead of its time. The original “Walking On Sunshine” is faster-paced that the Capitol version, a blurred dynamo of energy and joy while “Brown Eyed Son” is a 60s-styled musical romp with chiming guitars and lively vocals. Some of the band’s lesser-known tunes hit just as hard, songs like the rollicking “She Loves To Groove” offering proof of Katrina’s nimble vocal gymnastics. Or the blues/pop tune “Red Wine And Whiskey,” with Rew’s guitar shining brightly in the mix and its wonderful chorus, “we’d love to take you out tonight, but we haven’t got a dime.” “Mexico,” the bittersweet “Do You Want Crying?” and the spry, rockabilly-tinged “The Game of Love” are all overlooked gems, among the best rock songs of the '80s.

Of the unreleased bonus tracks, “That’s Just The Woman In Me” is a slow-paced, soulful Stax-inspired tear-jerker magnificently belted out by Ms. Leskanich. The band’s version of the classic “River Deep, Mountain High” leaves other covers of the song in its wake, evoking the spirit of Ike & Tina Turner’s hit, reinterpreting it as a revved-up rocker with wicked fretwork courtesy of Mr. Rew. A reverent, by-the-numbers cover of Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat” leads into an early live performance of “Walking On Sunshine,” a wonderful version of one of the decade’s best-known songs, the band’s spirit and onstage energy amplified and framed by the echo and spaciousness of the live recording. The band’s best songs are those written by Rew, whose deft hand at pop songwriting is easily the equal of such acclaimed tunesmiths as Marshall Crenshaw or Matthew Sweet.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

If they are only remembered for one song, the forever-frozen-in-time “Walking On Sunshine,” Katrina and the Waves have achieved a degree of musical immortality. After listening to The Original Recordings 1983-1984, however, I’d say that it’s time for music lovers to rediscover one of the finest pop/rock outfits that the ‘80s had to offer. With bands like Hot Hot Heat and other ‘80s-era revivalists garnering critical acclaim and radio airplay these days, perhaps it’s time to take another look at the recorded legacy of Katrina and the Waves and finally provide the band the respect it has earned. (Bongo Beat Records, released October 21st, 2003)
Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™