Saturday, October 1, 2022

Short Rounds: Buzzcocks, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Charlie Daniels & Friends, Will Hoge, The Pretty Things & Walter Trout (October 2022)

Buzzcocks' Sonics In the Soul
New album releases in 200 words or less…

BuzzcocksSonics In the Soul (Cherry Red Records U.K.)
British punk/new wave legends Buzzcocks built their reputation on Pete Shelley’s caustic, insightful lyrics; Steve Diggle’s livewire fretwork; and an overall melodic, high-octane pop-punk sound that became influential far beyond the band’s modest record sales. Since reuniting in 1989 after an eight-year hiatus, Buzzcocks has been firing on all cylinders, Shelley and Diggle ensuring that they remained a vital creative outfit and not a ‘nostalgia’ act. With Shelley’s death in 2018, the band’s first album without its charismatic frontman had to be a daunting challenge to record. Diggle proves with Sonics In the Soul that there’s still gas left in the Buzzcocks’ tank. Flanked by longtime bassist Chris Remington and drummer Danny Farrant, Sonics In the Soul is essentially a Diggle solo album, but one sporting the crucial ‘fast ‘n’ loud’ Buzzcocks sonic ethos. Diggle’s voice takes getting used to, and his attack-dog guitarplay pales somewhat by the loss of Shelley’s counterpoint. But songs like the locomotive “Manchester Rain” or the riff-littered “Bad Dreams” display a fierce creativity and musical deftness matching or surpassing the band’s previous post-millennial albums. Extra credit awarded for “Don’t Mess With My Brain”, a rifftastic stomped that blends typical Buzzcocks’ lyrical wit with stunning instrumentation. Grade: A-   BUY!

Creedence Clearwater Revival's At The Royal Albert Hall
Creedence Clearwater Revival – At The Royal Albert Hall (Craft Recordings)

Just as CCR’s enormous success as a “singles band” (nine Top 10 singles in four years) often overshadowed their album-making prowess, so too did it obscure their strength as a live outfit. As proven by 2019’s long-overdue release of Live At Woodstock, and this recent At The Royal Albert Hall, Creedence was a white-hot live band, each performance bristling with fire and brimstone. This is the first release of the April 1970 show*, which straddles Willie & the Poor Boys and the upcoming Cosmo’s Factory, but the setlist is well-balanced across albums and includes all the “classic rock” radio hits – “Fortunate Son”, “Born On the Bayou”, “Proud Mary”, and “Travelin’ Band” – as well as gems like “Midnight Special” and an extended “Keep On Chooglin’” jam among its dozen tiki-torches. A few deep cuts stand out, notably their bluesy cover of “The Night Time Is the Right Time”, which is closer in spirit to Ray Charles’ version than to Nappy Brown’s original; the riotous, punk-fierce B-side “Commotion”; and the swamp-blues fever of “Tombstone Shadow”.  It’s a shame that no CCR live LPs were released during their heyday (Live In Europe was a posthumous release) as Creedence was a helluva performing outfit. Grade: A+   BUY!  

* The Royal Albert Hall Concert album was released by Fantasy Records in 1980 to cash in on the band’s lingering reputation, but mistakes were made and the tapes used were actually from a January 1970 show at the Oakland Coliseum. Fantasy recalled the album and reissued it months later as The Concert – same cover, same concert, different title…  

Charlie Daniels & Friends' Volunteer Jam 1, 1974:
Charlie Daniels & FriendsVolunteer Jam 1, 1974: The Legend Begins (Blue Hat Records)

Southern Rock had been around for a half-decade by the time that Charlie Daniels held the first ‘Volunteer Jam’ at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville. It could be argued, however, that October 4th, 1974 was the day that Southern Rock burst into the mainstream, the first of 21 total Volunteer Jams held over the next 47 years, the event eventually outliving its creator. That entire 1974 show has never been released commercially (two live songs from the concert were included on the band’s 1974 Fire On the Mountain LP). Aside from Daniels’ crackerjack band, the performance includes “friends” like the Marshall Tucker Band’s Toy Caldwell and Paul Riddle and the Allman Brothers Band’s Dickey Betts and Jamie Nichol. The twelve-song tracklist skews heavily towards CDB’s upcoming Fire album, including the Top 30 hit “The South’s Gonna Do It”, and is fairly indicative of the talented band’s set at the time. Daniels was a skilled multi-instrumentalist, keyboardist/singer “Taz” DiGregorio could have fronted his own band, and guitarist Barry Barnes was the CDB’s secret weapon. Honestly, you either love Southern Rock and the 1970s-era CBD or you don’t; but for fans, this set is long-overdue document of a talented, hot-shit band. Grade: A   BUY!

Note: With this new CD, six of the first seven Volunteer Jams have been released on vinyl/CD, with 1976’s self-titled Volunteer Jam album comprised of a handful of performances from the 1975 Murfreesboro TN event. Jams III (1977) and IV (1978) were condensed onto a single double-LP set, while VI (1980) and VII (1981) received single-disc releases. The landmark 1979 (V) jam has never been released, although the show featured the reunion of Lynyrd Skynyrd for the first time since the 1977 plane crash that killed several band members; the event also included guests like Toy Caldwell and George McCorkle from the Marshall Tucker Band, John Prine, Link Wray, and the Winter Brothers Band, among many others. I was there and it was a pretty explosive moment when the surviving Skynyrd members hit the stage … so when will we see the show on CD?

Will Hoge's Wings On My Shoes
Will HogeWings On My Shoes (Edlo Records)

Nashville’s Will Hoge has long drawn inspiration as a lyricist from the late, great John Prine but, with the album-opening “John Prine’s Cadillac”, he picks up the songwriting legend’s mantle with an exquisitely-drawn story-song that offers up brilliant lyrical imagery while also serving as a reverent tribute to the fallen troubadour. It’s just the first of an album’s worth of fine material on Hoge’s Wings On My Shoes, and if the singer/songwriter has moved slightly away from his earlier power-pop, jangle-rock sound to a rootsier, Americana sound, it hasn’t lessened his poetic acumen or energetic delivery. Gorgeous love songs like “It’s Just You” and “The Last One To Go” are brimming over with romantic yearning while story-songs like “Dead Man’s Hand” and “Queenie” draw from the Prine/Guy Clark school of penmanship. The wonderful, nostalgic “Ain’t Like It Used To Be” is about my former hometown, contrasting the old, rural town with the new, upscale city while “Whose God It This?” is wickedly satirical, its humorous narrative hitting the MAGA bullseye. Each performance is infused with soulful vocals, ringing guitars, and a big drumbeat; if this is the sound of “new country,” then I’m all in… Grade: A   BUY!     

The Pretty Things' Live At the BBC
The Pretty Things – Live At the BBC (Repertoire Records U.K.)

Even if relatively obscure stateside, the Pretty Things were one of the better bands from the British Invasion and they enjoyed a lengthy career that spanned six decades and a couple dozen albums, right up to the tragic passing of longtime band frontman Phil May. The material included on this six-disc box set was originally broadcast by BBC radio and although a lot of it has been previously-released on a handful of collections, this compilation is the last word on the British rocker’s hometown performances. Live At the BBC packs a lot of energy and vitality into its six discs, which offer performances from as early as an October 1964 appearance on the ‘Saturday Club’ show through a July 1975 performance for legendary British DJ John Peel. There are a lot of stops in-between over the decade-plus documented here, capturing the band in its various guises, from R&B shouters to psychedelic pioneers to hard rockers. Sure, there’s a lot of duplication of songs from various shows, but where else are you going to hear turbo-charged live takes on great tunes like “SF Sorrow Is Born”, “Religion’s Dead”, “Belfast Cowboys”, “Defecting Grey”, “Rosalyn”, and “Singapore Silk Torpedo”, among many others? Grade: A+   BUY!

Walter Trout's Ride
Walter TroutRide (Provogue Records)

At 70 years old, Walter Trout still performs with the energy and creative vitality of an artist half his age. The life-scarred blues veteran has been treading the bricks for nearly 50 years at this point and with Ride, his 30th album, Trout proves that there’s a lot of life left in the old road dog. The guitarist is always looking for ways to challenge himself musically, so Ride showcases Trout’s songwriting and instrumental skills in a variety of blues-based styles. Album-opening “Ghosts” is a hauntingly-brilliant (pun intended) blues-rock flamethrower while the biographical title track echoes the jazz-flecked, guitar-happy Southern rock vibe of the Marshall Tucker Band. Trout’s underrated skill at balladry is on display with the lush “Follow You Back Home” and the emotional “Waiting For the Dawn”, which offers up some of Trout’s most evocative six-string solos. Blues-rock fare like “High Is Low” (featuring Trout’s overlooked harmonica skills) and “Better Days Ahead” feature the guitarist at his incendiary, guitar-slinging finest while “Leave It All Behind” is a classic rock-styled raver complete with raging hornplay and heavy guitar. Altogether, Walter Trout’s Ride continues a string of excellence that began with 2008’s The Outsider and continues unabated to this day. Grade: A   BUY!
Previously on That Devil
Short Rounds, July 2022: Shemekia Copeland, Jade Warrior, Gwil Owen, Prince & the Revolution, Sour Ops, Supersonic Blues Machine & ‘Heroes and Villains

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

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