Friday, May 26, 2023

Reissue Reviews: The Unclaimed & The Vipers (2023)

The Unclaimed's Under the Bodhi Tree
The Unclaimed – Under the Bodhi Tree LP (Teen Sounds Records/Misty Lane Music, Italy)

The Unclaimed were one of the great lost bands of the 1980s garage-rock revival. Formed in Los Angeles in 1979 by singer, songwriter, and guitarist Shelley Ganz after he’d dropped out of UCLA, a chance meeting with musician Sid Griffin led (indirectly) to the formation of the Unclaimed. After a couple years spent treading the boards, Griffin and Ganz were at odds and ol’ Sid absconded with the band’s bass player, Barry Shank, and formed the Long Ryders, a beloved cult band that were leading lights of the L.A. “Paisley Underground” along with Steve Wynn’s Dream Syndicate and Matt Piucci’s Rain Parade. Ganz regrouped with new musicians, but the Unclaimed never really got off the starting line, represented today, as they are, by a pair of 12” EPs, one full-length album, and appearances on a bunch of compilation platters with names like Battle of the Garages (Voxx) and Garage Sale (ROIR). That lone Unclaimed album, Under the Bodhi Tree, has its own tale to tell; released in 1991 by the German Music Maniacs Records label, it was recorded and released under the band name ‘Attila + The Huns’, a pseudonym for the Unclaimed.

Under the Bodhi Tree sat on the shelf for five years before its 1991 release (and rapid disappearance), but it’s recently been rediscovered, recovered, and reissued on black wax with three bonus tracks by Italy’s Teen Sounds Records, Misty Lane Music’s reissue label. It’s a real gem, too – these guys couldn’t have sounded more like a bona fide ‘60s-era garage-rock if they’d stepped out of an Electric Prunes nightmare. Unclaimed frontman Ganz had a resounding ‘young, loud, and snotty’ voice, a cross between Sky Saxon and Scott Morgan, and in guitarist Dan Valentie he had a righteous string-bender who played like Duane Eddy on steroids and tequila. Bassist, keyboardist, and backing vocalist Lee Joseph (future founder of Dionysus Records) and drummer Scott Forer provided an imposing rhythm section.
As such, songs like “Well, It’s True,” with its trembling guitar licks and circular riff, the eerie exploitation film vibe of  the instrumental “Village of the Giants,” or the shambolic “Great Mystery,” with its whiplash arrangement and tuff-as-nails vox, leap out of your speakers and grab you by the medulla oblongata. Ganz eventually disappeared from the music scene altogether, while various Unclaimed alumni moved onto another revivalist outfit, Thee Fourgiven, before scattering to the four winds...but they left us a single, über-cool LP to remember them by! Grade: A-   BUY!

The Vipers' Outta the Nest
The Vipers – Outta the Nest (Teen Sounds Records/Misty Lane Music, Italy)

Hailing from the “Big Apple,” NYC’s The Vipers were one of the pioneering bands of the 1980s-era garage-rock revival. Outta the Nest, their 1984 debut disc, shows that they had the chops, attitude, and proper schooling in garage-psych-freakbeat styles to finesse their sound to a groovy pastiche that drew on the past even while looking towards the future. Singer Jonathan Weiss possessed a fine set of pipes, his vox snarling, snotty, and sneering but channeling just enough pop enthusiasm to avoid sounding menacing. David Mann and Paul Martin’s chiming, ringing guitars support the arrangements and jangle at just the right time while the rhythm section of bassist Graham May and drummer Pat Brown drive the beat forward impressively. All of the band members provide vocal harmonies, and several of the guys are multi-instrumentalists, so Outta the Nest is afforded a sprinkling of keyboards, harmonica, harpsichord, and bongos to fatten and deepen the album’s sonic imprint.

Reissued on vinyl in 2022 by our friends at Teen Sound Records in Italy, Outta the Nest sounds fantastic, while the co-production by Blondie/Patti Smith Group cohort Ivan Kral, is wonderfully crystalline, capturing the sort of instrumental nuances that heighten the listening experience. It’s the songs that count, however, and the Vipers’ delivered some good ‘uns for Outta the Nest, from the infectious pop-rock of “Tellin’ Those Lies” or the ominous, psych-drenched “Medication” with its cool organ riffs, eerie vocals, and wiry guitar licks to the locomotive Yardbirds doppelganger “Ain’t Nothin’ Like Her” or the blues-tinged, up-tempo title track. The Teen Sound reissue includes four bonus tracks – fewer than the 2000 Cavestomp CD reissue but more than on my original vinyl copy – including the epic instrumental “Now I Remember,” which showcases the band’s skills nicely. If you haven’t heard the Vipers before, you should glom onto ‘em now...RIYL The Chesterfield Kings, The Miracle Workers, or The Cynics. Grade: A   BUY!

The View On Pop Culture: Mick Jagger, Radiohead, Stevie Ray Vaughan, MOJO 1000 (2002)

Mick Jagger's Goddess In the Doorway

As the highly visible frontman for rock hall-o-famers the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger has an artistic identity that rivals any in popular music. Yet most of Jagger’s solo efforts have been designed to distance the artist from his legendary image. As shown by Goddess In the Doorway (Virgin Records), Jagger’s fourth solo album and his first since 1993, distance isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Recording with a veritable “who’s who” of contemporary hitmakers like Lenny Kravitz, Rob Thomas, Missy Elliott, and Wyclef Jean, Jagger has delivered a high-spirited collection of radio-friendly tunes that are as far away from the Stones as Mick can get. A literal buffet of musical styles, Jagger mixes dance tracks, reggae rhythms and slashing rock riffs on outstanding cuts like “Visions of Paradise,” “God Gave Me Everything” and “Brand New Set of Rules.” Although nothing on Goddess In the Doorway will make you forget the Stones, Jagger’s latest is an earnest effort towards a modern sound with tracks that are fresh and lively.  

Virtually ignored by the British rock press at the time of their 1993 debut album, England’s Radiohead would later be crowned the saviors of rock ‘n’ roll by an enthusiastic music media. About the time of their coronation, though, the band released an album of experimental electronica titled Kid A, completely confusing fans and critics alike. Radiohead’s I Might Be Wrong (Capitol) is an eight-song mini-album of live recordings, collecting performances of songs from Kid A and its more rock-oriented artistic bookend, Amnesiac. Mixing electronic rhythms and rock riffs, I Might Be Wrong captures the best of both the albums it draws from. Sort of like an authorized bootleg, the sound quality varies and performances are stitched together haphazardly, resulting in a disconcerting ambiance that is at once both alluring and maddening. The disc closes with the enchanting and bittersweet “True Love Waits,” an unreleased gem that hints at Radiohead’s possible future direction.

When Stevie Ray Vaughan took the stage at the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 17, 1983, few watching could have expected the subsequent events his performance that night would inspire. The relatively unknown Stevie Ray and his seasoned band delivered a red-hot set of Texas blues to an indifferent and hostile audience. Sitting in the crowd that night, however, was a thoroughly impressed David Bowie, who provided an artistic “coming out” for Vaughan by later using the six-string wizard on his highly-successful Let’s Dance album. Jackson Browne, who also witnessed Vaughan’s incendiary Montreux performance, provided free studio time for SRV and Double Trouble to record their debut album, the ground breaking Texas Flood.

With a pair of critically acclaimed, best-selling albums providing his credentials, Vaughan recreated the blues-rock genre and kick-started a blues revival that continues today. Two years after his Montreux debut, Stevie Ray returned to the festival stage as a conquering hero. This time, the young guitarist delivered another smoking set to a far more receptive crowd than previously. Both historic performances are paired on Live At Montreux, 1983 & 1985 (Epic/Legacy), a scorching two-disc set that showcases Vaughan’s considerable live chops and further cements his legacy as one of the greatest guitarists ever.

Listening to these two live performances – one as a brash, youthful guitarslinger and the other as a maturing, confident artist – one can hear strains of Vaughan’s artistic lineage, masters such as Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, and Lightning Hopkins. You’ll also hear signature songs such as “Pride and Joy” and “Texas Flood,” refined from show to show, performed alongside such gems as “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” and a cover of Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child.” Much of the material on Live At Montreux, 1983 & 1985 is previously unreleased, the set complimented by extensive liner notes and rare photos. Vaughan’s accidental death in 1990, while on the verge of even greater success, robbed the music world of an incredibly gifted guitarist. If you’re unfamiliar with the brilliant blues-rock of this legend, these inspired Montreux sessions serve as an excellent introduction to Stevie’s world.        

England’s Mojo magazine has long enjoyed a reputation among rock cognoscenti as the journal of note for pop music. Not as trend-driven as most of the British music press, Mojo mixes contemporary artists and historical perspective to deliver a consistently entertaining and informative read. It was based on the magazine’s rep that I coughed up the $11 for MOJO 1000, an odd-sized, 172-page paperback sub-titled “the ultimate CD buyer’s guide” by its publisher. The scope of the guide is breathtaking, offering up capsule reviews and cover pictures of hundreds of albums in the rock, soul, blues, country and other genres as well as brief overviews of significant artists such as the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Johnny Cash.

Better executed than similar attempts by American counterparts such as Spin magazine or Rolling Stone, the MOJO 1000 nevertheless overlooks many significant works. Although I can accept the book’s Anglo-orientation – Mojo is a British music magazine, after all – some of the most glaring omissions need redressing. The country music section is long on current “alt-country” artists and ignores talents like David Allan Coe, Guy Clark, and Loretta Lynn in favor of dubious CD choices from Beck and the Jayhawks. The reggae section omits influential artists such as Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff while Joan Baez is completely missing from the folk listing. Despite its flaws, MOJO 1000 is a heavy read, offering the veteran record collector and neophyte alike a load of information. I expect to use the guide quite a bit during the next year or so, or at least until they publish a “Mojo 1200.” (The View On Pop Culture, January 2002)

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Album Review: Pete Berwick's The Damage Is Done (2023)

Pete Berwick’s The Damage Is Done
A multi-talented man of the media – singer, songwriter, actor, and novelist Pete Berwick comes to his ‘Outlaw County’ credentials honestly, the Chicago native serving his time in Purgatory (i.e. Nashville) during the Music City’s late ‘80s/early ’90s indie rock boom. Berwick was a man without a country in many ways, however, as the major labels’ narrow vision only saw room for two Gnashville twang-bangers (Jason & the Scorchers, Webb Wilder), completely ignoring Berwick’s songwriting skills and onstage charisma. Not that those other guys were undeserving of their big-league status, but there should have been one more artist on that alt-country Mount Rushmore circa 1990 or so…

Pete Berwick’s The Damage Is Done

Berwick returned to the Windy City and, undeterred by trends, continued to tread the boards with an impressive catalog of releases that includes bona fide country-rock shit-kickers like Just Another Day In Hell and Ain’t No Train Outta Nashville. For his seventh album, The Damage Is Done, Berwick returned to Nashville (or nearby Tullahoma, actually…) and turned the clock back to his 1980s cowpunk roots. Although it has its more traditional country moments – as “traditional” as a born ‘n’ raised rebel like Berwick can get, anyway – much of The Damage Is Done is an unhinged, unbridled, and utterly brilliant rock ‘n’ roll album. The first couple of songs on the album, “She Ain’t Got Me” and “Finger Down My Throat,” burn with the anger and white-phosphorus energy of anything Black Flag or the Dead Kennedys every cranked out, true blue “cowpunk” with the emphasis on “punk,” and we’re all the better for it.

After all, who needs another treacly Music Row release with safe-as-milk lyrics penned by committee; passive, inoffensive production; and music straight from the 1970s performed by aging session drones? Berwick has pulled off a keen trick, indeed, recording a contemporary country album that captures the piss ‘n’ vinegar spirit of early Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings while still managing to channel more righteous anger and angst than a dozen generic SoCal punk rock poseurs. Berwick’s lyrical skills still shine through on songs like the bluesy blue-collar anthems “Time Clock On the Wall” or “Don’t Know How,” but it’s when he truly cuts loose with the evangelical fervor of songs like “You’ll Get Used To It” or the monster title track the that the creative venom shotguns out of your speakers like a firehose.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Berwick’s voice has aged into a dangerous weapon, his raw, whiskey-gutted vocals imbuing each performance with pain and penitence you only earn through decades of hard-won experience. Ashley Argo’s backing vocals provide a sweet counterpoint to Berwick’s sandpaper vox, and Charlie Bonnet III’s flamethrower guitar licks rage through the mix like molten metallic slag. Multi-instrumentalist (and album engineer) Dave Summers picks up the slack with bass, drums, keyboards, and some guitar, and the entire quartet displays an enormous musical chemistry throughout The Damage Is Done, delivering what was needed to support Berwick’s unique vision and performances. As such, Pete Berwick has delivered another career tour de force with The Damage Is Done. If you like your country music with a little rock ‘n’ roll edge, or you like your rock music with a little country twang, you’ll find a lot to like in The Damage Is Done. Grade: A   BUY!

Friday, May 19, 2023

Archive Review: Chris Barber Presents Lost & Found, Vol. 1 (2008)

Chris Barber Presents Lost & Found, Vol. 1
In a nutshell, here’s the amazing story behind the Lost & Found CD series. Since the early 1950s, Chris Barber has been one of the movers and shakers in the British blues and jazz worlds. The Chris Barber Jazz and Blues Band performed over 10,000 shows during the past 50 years, and the band has made thousands of recordings. Barber also played a significant role as a concert promoter. During the 1950s and ‘60s, Barber brought dozens of American blues artists to the U.K. and Europe to perform on the continent for the first time, often backed by his band.

Lost & Found, Vol. 1

Many of Barber’s shows were recorded for posterity, but the tapes were lost during the 1970s and remained undiscovered until recently. Barber had decided to restore one of the vintage American cars that he owns, and while digging through his storage warehouse, he found the long-lost original tapes for some of these unique shows. Remastered to achieve the best sound possible from the old tapes, these previously unreleased classic performances are documented by Barber’s Lost & Found series. This first volume features Sister Rosetta Tharpe and folk-blues duo Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

One of the best-known the Sanctified gospel singers, Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s popularity during the 1930s and ‘40s equaled that of many of the era’s secular stars. Tharpe often performed and recorded with jazz bands, appearing with legends like Benny Goodman and Cab Calloway. Acclaimed as a powerful singer and innovative guitarist that mixed gospel with blues and pop, Tharpe’s showmanship was second to none, and musicians like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Aretha Franklin have cited Sister Rosetta as a major influence on their work. Brought to England by Barber for a full-fledged tour, her performance here is from a December 1957 show at The Free Trade Hall in Manchester.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe with The Chris Barber Band

Tharpe’s “Every Time I Feel the Spirit” is a wonderful example of old-school gospel-blues, Tharpe’s joyous vocals soaring above the Chris Barber Band’s jazzy, raucous instrumentation. If anything, “Feed Me Jesus” is even more powerful, Tharpe’s unaccompanied vocals rising and falling as the spirit moves her, creating an incredibly mesmerizing effect. Another solo performance, “Didn’t It Rain,” shows Tharpe’s incredible range and phrasing, her jazzy vocals be-bopping across the lyrics, creating their own rhythm. Barber’s band wraps its instrumental soundtrack behind Tharpe’s vocals on “Peace In the Valley,” horns jumping in counterpoint to the singer’s transcendent highs.

The temperature in the Manchester Trade Hall certainly rose a few degrees with the upbeat “Down By the Riverside,” which brings a tent revival fervor to the performance. With her guitar in the lead, Tharpe delivers an engaging reading of the gospel standard “Old Time Religion,” Barber’s horns blowing mightily behind her finely-tuned vocals. Singer Ottilie Patterson joins Tharpe for the jazzy, New Orleans-flavored “When the Saints Go Marching In,” the two women swapping equally impressive vocal performances. To the crowd’s approval, the two singers break into a reprise of “Old Time Religion” as the band plays them offstage. During her performance, Tharpe introduces nearly every song, and her interaction with the audience is both intimate and endearing, the crowd obviously responding to her humor and warmth.

Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee

Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee are two of the more interesting of the early Piedmont bluesmen. Blind since his teen years, Terry learned the harmonica from his father, and turned to blues music to make his living. Through the years, Terry performed with Blind Boy Fuller, recorded with folk legends like Woody Guthrie, and forged a significant acting career that saw him perform on both television and the Broadway stage. McGhee overcame childhood polio to become a respected blues singer and guitarist, and also enjoyed success as an actor on Broadway and in films, and built a significant body of work as a solo artist as well. The two first performed together in 1941, their musical relationship extending over 30 years. The duo’s Lost & Found performance was recorded in April 1958 in Manchester.

Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee begin their performance with the Leadbelly classic “Midnight Special,” Terry blowin’ the harp, McGhee on guitar, and both of them singing in unison to great effect. “Climbin’ On Top of the Hill” is an old blues music standard, a re-working of “Sittin’ On Top of the World” with a similar melody, but featuring McGhee’s unique picking style, punctuated by blasts of Terry’s harmonica. “Fox Chase” is an antiquated chestnut passed around by harp players, Terry rolling out scampering notes in between whoops and hollers as McGhee adds running commentary.

The two run through a number of traditional folk and blues music standards. “John Henry” has the two trading verses, singing together on the choruses, throwing in short, sharp shocks of harmonica and guitar. “Worried Life Blues” is a textbook example of country blues, McGhee strumming the guitar and singing in a rural drawl as Terry scatters notes across the song like seeds in a freshly-tilled field. Perhaps their best-known song, the love song “Betty and Dupree” is also Terry and McGhee’s defining moment, the bluesmen knocking the listener down with strong vocals, low-key but elegant fretwork, and perfectly matched harp playing. They finish their set with a pair of gospel songs, the Chris Barber Band joining Terry and McGhee and providing excellent accompaniment.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

For listeners expecting loud, compressed, lifeless digital-quality sound, you’re not going to find it here. Sourced from 50-year-old tapes literally rescued from obscurity, Lost & Found is mixed a little lower than what modern audiences expect, with a bit of theater-hall echo, and definitely hot highs and resounding lows. What you will find, however, is altogether inspiring, transcendent performances from Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Ottilie Patterson, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and, of course, the Chris Barber Band. An invaluable historical document, Lost & Found, Vol. 1 presents these classic gospel and blues artists in their prime, preserving these wonderful performances for generations to come. (The Blues Legacy/MVD Audio, released 2008)

The View On Pop Culture: The Best Music of 2001 (2001)

The Dictators' D.F.F.D.


As certain as the return of the swallows to Capistrano, late December sees the average arts critic sharpening their pencils and firing up their word processors in anticipation of creating endless lists of the best movies, music or whatever of the year in question. Your humble pop culture scribe is certainly not above such an exercise in futility, but rather than merely bore you with a mundane “top ten” list of the best music of 2001, I’ve broken my selections down into categories. Music comes in different flavors, after all, with each having its own qualified “best of” artists. Therefore, for your consideration, here is a list of those worthwhile recordings that have spent the most time on the Reverend’s stereo during the past twelve months.


The Dictators’ D.F.F.D. (Dictators Multimedia) The toughest rock ‘n’ roll band in the land reunited in ‘01 and came roaring back with D.F.F.D. (which stands for Dictators Forever, Forever Dictators), their first studio album in twenty-five years. For those of us who care, it was worth the wait. When “Handsome” Dick Manitoba asks “who will save rock ‘n’ roll” you know that it’s no rhetorical question; when he sings “I wish Sgt. Pepper had never taught the band to play” you know that the battle lines have been drawn. High-energy, humorous and politically incorrect rock ‘n’ roll as only the Dictators could deliver – welcome back, guys!   

Lars Frederiksen & the Bastards (Hellcat Records) Frederiksen’s self-titled solo debut doesn’t stray far from the raucous sound that made his full-time band Rancid the most popular punkers on the continent – but then again, why should it? With Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong at the production helm, guitarist Frederiksen delivers a solid effort, frankly biographical songs recounting his reckless youth in Campbell, California while a steady, guitar-driven musical uproar holds down the bottom line beneath the vocals. The most engaging punk rock record of the year, delivered with heart and soul and passion.    

Ozzy Osbourne's Down To Earth

Ozzie Osbourne’s Down To Earth (Epic Records) I almost chose System of A Down’s excellent Toxicity as the best of this category, but another spin of Ozzie’s powerful solo effort convinced me otherwise. The sophomore effort from SOAD is a solid album, but with anarchic guitar-slinger Zakk Wylde back in his corner, Ozzie has never sounded better than he does on Down To Earth. Ozzie answers his critics and addresses the future with a monster set of songs grounded in Wylde’s uncompromising six-string madness. Without Ozzie, there would be no nu-metal movement currently toppling the charts; yet with one swift blow, Ozzie manages to show pretenders like Staid, Static-X, and their diaper-metal brethren how its done.  

Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft (Columbia Records) Dylan celebrated his sixtieth birthday this year with a magnificent set of songs that sound like they could have been recorded forty years ago. Mixing elements of folk, blues, rock, and country in a way that nobody has ever before achieved, Dylan comes across as the harbinger of some new style of music. With his dark, apocalyptic lyrics, the humble Mr. Zimmerman evokes memories of Charley Patton, Leadbelly, Blind Willie Johnson, and the hellhounds of Robert Johnson. Love and Theft is simply an incredible recording, and one that is certain to become as influential to the “Americana” genre as Dylan’s musical idols – many of whom are quoted in these grooves – were to him.

Paul Reddick & the Sidemen’s Rattlebag (Northern Blues Music) With Rattlebag, their fourth album, this highly underrated blues outfit manages to incorporate damn near the entire history of the blues into sixteen rollicking songs. Reddick and the Sidemen have enough rock chops to boogie with the best of them but they also have a firm grasp on the artistic demons that drove hundreds of young men out of the Mississippi Delta and north towards the promise of a better life. The sixteen songs on Rattlebag mix rural blues, the Chicago sound, Texas six-string wizardry and New Orleans R&B into a thick musical gumbo that will satisfy your soul even while tickling your lobes.

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band’s Live In New York City

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band’s Live In New York City (Columbia Records) Sure, the sequencing is terrible and the last minute decision to tack on extra songs makes this entire two-CD set a confusing mess but the live performances it captures are top-notch. In their prime, nobody could touch Springsteen and the E Streeters onstage (and I’ve seen hundreds of bands try); as shown by this CD compilation and accompanying HBO special, the boys from Asbury Park still know how to rock ‘n’ roll with a fervor unmatched by artists half their respective ages. Worth the price of admission, if only for the blistering three-guitar attack of “Youngstown” or the haunting sentiment of “Land of Hope and Dreams.”

The Yardbirds’ Ultimate! (Rhino Records) The Y-Birds receive a lot of lip service from critics such as myself, and for good reason. They may not have been the first British blooze-rock ensemble to dance across the musical horizon, but they were one of the best, yielding three world-class guitarists in Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. Comprised of hit singles, obscure B-sides and live tracks, this two-CD retrospective shows why the band’s mix of classic blues and three-chord rock is so revered thirty-five years after the fact. (The View On Pop Culture, December 2001)

Friday, May 12, 2023

Archive Review: Goose Creek Symphony’s Head For the Hills (2009)

Goose Creek Symphony’s Head For the Hills
Decades before the term “Americana” was created so that the cool kids could listen to country music without seeming, well…uncool…the good fellows of Goose Creek Symphony were rockin’ the early ‘70s with their unique and invigorating elixir of hillbilly blues and country-rock, what Gram Parsons once wisely called “Cosmic American Music.”

Problem is, sitting comfortably somewhere between the Flying Burrito Brothers and Uncle Tupelo didn’t fly too high, commercially, during the Nixon/Ford years, and after releasing a handful of spectacular albums that never grabbed the ears of few beyond their rabid tho’ small fan base, Charlie Gearheart, Paul Spradlin and crew called it quits around 1978 or so. Thankfully, sensing that the musical currents were changing, the Goose got back together in 1990, and they’ve been creating new fans ever since with sporadic touring and recording.

The point where the Goose was cooked, if you will, was in 1974 when Columbia Records made literal pate out of the band’s fourth album, Do Your Thing But Don’t Touch Mine. Saddling them with an unsympathetic (and evidently first-time) producer rather than let the band produce themselves as they had been, Goose fans considered this to be the weakest of the band’s works, and when it went nowhere fast, the label dropped ‘em quicker than…well, I don’t really need to make this analogy, do I?

After its “one and done” experience with Columbia, Goose Creek Symphony retreated to Vancouver B.C. to record their fifth and, for a while, their final album, Head For the Hills. The story here gets murky, and not too many folks even whisper the truth up in the back hills of ole Kentucky, but evidently the album would be released and copies pressed up, but few seemed to have made their way out of the label’s warehouse. Although not really a “lost album” like the Goose’s The Same Thing Again, which was shelved before it got to the pressing plant, Head For the Hills suffered a slow death nonetheless.     

The truth is, there’s nothing on Head For the Hills that departs from the Goose’s tried-and-true formula. Reissued by the band itself a decade ago on CD, this new “special edition” reissue of Head For the Hills features pristine remastered sound, spiffy new cover artwork courtesy of Chris Kro, and it restores a song – “Workin’ For the Devil” – that was on the original vinyl but dropped for the earlier CD release. Since the band’s tasty interplay of acoustic and electric guitars, ragin’ fiddles, and vocal harmonies wasn’t broke in ‘75 when they recorded Head For the Hills, they didn’t work too hard to fix it. Although Goose Creek’s mix of twang-and-bang was a couple of decades ahead of its time, the ensuing years have proven that their trademark sound has held up remarkably well against the ever-changing face of popular music.

Opening with the traditional “Goin’ Down the Road,” the band establishes its intent with a laid-back and uber-twangy performance that creates the country equivalent of Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” (fence of sound?), with plenty of guitars and fiddles driving the mix. Gearheart’s anti-industry “Number One Gravy Band” lampoons rock star excess with some rather ribald admissions and an outright challenge for the audience to listen to some “down home music.” The “Pretty Mama/Hey Good Lookin’“ medley successfully welds Gearheart’s original romantic-rocker with a cover of fellow traveler Hank, Senior’s sly hillbilly come-on. The Goose pulls off a similarly ambitious pairing with “Head For the Hills/Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” matching Gearheart’s humorous satire of the “back to the country” movement with the Carter Family’s original country-gospel anthem. The lost track, “Workin’ For the Devil,” is a good ole-fashioned, tear-jerking cheatin’ song worthy of the Louvin Brothers, while the up-tempo “People Like Me” is the sort of inclusionary “feel good” number that the Goose’s closest modern doppelganger, Bonepony, would jam on.    

Methinks that Goose Creek Symphony long ago made peace with the fact that they’d never be chart-toppers or world-beaters, and that’s OK. All these guys ever wanted to do was make music that people would enjoy, and although it probably wouldn’t have made any difference back in the day had Head For the Hills received the distribution it deserved, the fact that this timeless music is flying high again is good enough for long-time fans of the Goose. (Bo Records, released October 1st, 2009)  

Review originally published by Blurt magazine, 2009

Also on That Devil Music: Goose Creek Symphony’s The Same Thing Again CD review

The View On Pop Culture: The Reverend's Last-Minute Gift Guide (2001)

John Hiatt's The Tiki Bar Is Open


If you’re reading this you’ve got a week – maybe just a few days if you’re late picking up the VIEW – before Christmas hits you square between the eyes. If you’re having trouble figuring out exactly which pop culture relics to give as gifts to those special people in your life, have no fear. The good Reverend of Rock ‘n’ Roll is here to provide you with the 4-1-1 on your last-minute gift buying. Of course, each and every CD/DVD/book reviewed in this column during the past few months would make a magnificent gift, but with this being the season of giving, I’m going to be a little more specific in my recommendations. When the recipient of your holiday cheer beams with appreciation at the gift you’ve just given them, just remember that you read it in the VIEW

If you’ve listened to pop music at all during the past twenty years, chances are that you’ve heard John Hiatt’s influence, whether you knew it or not. A superb songwriter and storyteller, Hiatt has enjoyed hit records of his songs by Bonnie Raitt, Roseanne Cash and Eric Clapton and B.B. King. As an artist, Hiatt has consistently delivered some of the most interesting and original music being made today. The Tiki Bar Is Open (Vanguard Records) is Hiatt’s latest, an eleven-song collection of finely crafted songs that are intelligent, literary and passionate. Hiatt’s soulful vocals are matched by the sharp-edged instrumentation provided by guitarist Sonny Landreth and sympathetic production from Jay Joyce, a gifted musician in his own right. If your wife laments the loss of the modern-day troubadour, this is the gift for her.

FOR YOUR SON, THE METALHEAD: Sure, you have no idea what these nu-metal bands like Staid, Drowning Pool, or Mushroomhead are singing about, but your 15-year old son does. Surprise him this year with some classic heavy metal from one of the genre’s graybeards, Ozzie Osbourne. Ozzie’s slammin’ Down To Earth (Epic Records) reunites the metal godfather with slash-n-burn guitarist Zakk Wylde for a collection of songs that would warm the cockles of even the most hard-core metalhead’s heart. Ozzie’s involvement and influence on the current crop of nu-metal crusaders through his annual “Ozzfest” tour has reinvigorated the future Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall-of-Famer. Down To Earth is the most interesting and energetic work that the Oz has done in years and Wylde’s six-string has never screamed louder. After your teen spins this disc a couple of times, he’ll be asking to borrow your old Black Sabbath records.

Swag's Catch-All
Last year she discovered and embraced the Beatles with the same fervor that teenage girls did thirty-five years ago. There’s a world of pop/rock out there for her to experience, bands like Swag thankfully weaning her away from the Backstreet Boys. This ersatz “supergroup” was created by members of such country-leaning outfits as the Mavericks and Wilco as well as pop chart-toppers like Sixpence None The Richer and Cheap Trick. The resulting collaboration, titled Catch-All (Yep Roc Records), is a delightful blend of sixties-influenced, British invasion-styled rock with Beatlesque harmonies and top-notch songwriting courtesy of talents like Jerry Dale McFadden, Robert Reynolds, and Doug Powell and guests like Bill Lloyd. Think the Who, the Zombies, Badfinger, and the Beatles and you’re in the right artistic ballpark. If you’re lucky you might still score an original print of this CD, sure to become a collector’s item. Due to a legal misunderstanding, three cuts on Catch-All with Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson will be replaced with Swag songs featuring Todd Rundgren, certainly no slouch in the pop/rock department himself.  

FOR YOUR DAD, THE WISE GUY: Although not a “made man” himself – he’s an accountant by trade – your dad is nevertheless obsessed with the mob. As such, you have just one choice for a “gift your father can’t refuse.” The four-DVD box set The Sopranos: The Complete Second Season (HBO Home Video) presents all thirteen episodes from the second season of this award-winning drama along with select audio commentary from episode directors and a couple of featurettes. With this DVD set, your pappy can enjoy the company of Tony Soprano, Uncle Junie, Paulie Walnuts, and their mob pals all year long.

FOR YOUR BROTHER, THE BEATLES FAN: He’s got all their albums, on both vinyl and CD, all of the memorabilia, the tell-all books, even the bobbing-head dolls – so what do you get for the number one Fab Four fan? Might I suggest springing for Beatles Gear (Backbeat Books), a hefty tome that is sure to send any Beatles’ aficionado into spasms of delight? Written by noted Beatles authority Andy Babiuk and based on interviews with band members, studio engineers, producers and anybody else who ever came in contact with John, Paul, George and Ringo, Beatles Gear provides a chronological accounting of the band through its instruments. This 250+ page coffee table book presents a fascinating history of the band, beginning with its early roots as the Quarrymen in the fifties through their 1970 break-up. It includes dozens of color and B&W photos of the band on stage and in the studio as well as photos of the guitars, drums, amplifiers and other gear that were used to make the music that still sounds as magical today as it did 30+ years ago. (The View On Pop Culture, December 2001)

Friday, May 5, 2023

Archive Review: Goose Creek Symphony’s The Same Thing Again (2008)

Goose Creek Symphony’s The Same Thing Again
If you’ve never heard of the Goose Creek Symphony – and most folks haven’t – well, here’s the truth. While Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar were scampering around in Pampers™ and playing with wooden blocks, Charles Gearheart and the Goose were fusing country and rock sounds like nobody else, plumbing the depths of hillbilly, folk, bluegrass, and rock music almost two decades before any of that “No Depresssion” stuff became tres chic. Goose Creek’s unique country-rock hybrid had an earthier, more organic sound than just about anything coming out of Nashville circa 1971-74.

The Same Thing Again is the great lost Goose Creek Symphony album, with songs recorded during sessions in 1973 and ‘74, the proposed album shelved after the band’s break-up, and forgotten until a couple of years ago. Unlike Goose Creek’s Head For the Hills, which was actually pressed on vinyl and allowed to die a slow death in the label’s warehouse back in ‘76 (since reissued by the band on CD), The Same Thing Again never made it past the cassette-tapes-for-friends stage.

Dunno if it would have met with a kinder fate than any of the band’s earlier albums, but The Same Thing Again is a near-seamless pairing of reckless country soul and good-times hippie-rock vibe. Larry Collins’ Okie blues tune “Tulsa Turnaround” – recommended to the band by Waylon Jennings – is reinvented here as a fiddle-fueled rave-up. “Too Much of A Good Thing” is a classic country-funk Goose Creek story-song with typical down-home morality. “Just Another Rock & Roll Song” mixes exotic Caribbean rhythms with no-frills ‘70s-era guitar-rock, while the title track is a slow-paced country waltz with smart biographical lyrics and some damn fine pedal-steel.

The Same Thing Again includes a bonus DVD that features music videos for “Tulsa Turnaround” and “The Same Thing Again,” both pieced together with still photos and vintage live footage, while the mini-film “On the Bus ‘73” shows Gearheart and the Goose riding down the backroads of America in their Silver Eagle bus, music intercut with band interviews and home movies of the band at play. Of Goose Creek Symphony, well, as my old granddaddy used to say, “that’s some real poop-punting music!” (Bo Records, released April 12th, 2008)

Review originally published by Blurt magazine, 2008

Also on That Devil Music: Goose Creek Symphony’s Head For the Hills CD review

The View On Pop Culture: Dan Bern, Jimmie Vaughan, Ray Wylie Hubbard, George Carlin (2001)

Dan Bern's New American Language

Being called the “Next Bob Dylan” has usually proven to be the kiss of death for young artists, an albatross that can’t be shaken off. When labeled with the “Dylan” tag, singer/songwriter Dan Bern has been known to quip that he instead thinks of Dylan as “the next Dan Bern.” It’s this unique perspective and tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that has made Bern one of the most original artists toiling away in the musical wasteland these days. With his latest album, New American Language (Messenger Records), Bern displays a maturity in his craft that places him head and shoulders above skilled wordsmiths like Ike Reilly or Peter Yorn.

Working with a full band, Bern fleshes out his typically sparse, folk-influenced sound with a fury, songs like the hilarious and thought-provoking “Alaska Highway” managing to name-check Leonardo DiCaprio, Eminem, Britney Spears and Keith Richards in its rollicking verses. It’s with his lyrics that Bern leaves his mark, whether singing of talking to God (the introspective “God Said No”), artistic trials (“Turning Over”) or media overkill (“Tape”). Bern weaves politics, pop culture, spiritualism and romance into his priceless songs, delivering throwaway couplets that might have you scratching your head yet remembering his words days later. In the end, Bern admits in the title song of New American Language that “I have a dream of a new pop music that tells the truth, with a good beat and some nice harmonies.” With his own work, Dan Bern is making strides towards creating that “new pop music.”

Jimmie Vaughan's Do You Get The Blues?
As a founding member of Austin, Texas blues-rock heroes the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jimmie Vaughan’s distinctive guitar style was often overshadowed by the accomplishments of his brother, the legendary Stevie Ray. As a solo artist, the elder Vaughan’s work has often been unfairly compared to that of his brother, regardless of their differing styles. The talented Jimmie has never hidden from his brother’s legacy and talent – when I met him during the early eighties, complimenting him after a red-hot T-Birds’ show, Jimmie heartily exclaimed “you should hear my little brother play!”

To Vaughan’s credit, the recent Do You Get The Blues? (Artemis Records) sounds nothing like his brother’s well known work. Offering a healthy mix of Chicago and Texas-styled blues and soul, the eleven songs on Do You Get The Blues? serve as a wonderful showcase for Jimmie Vaughan’s own amazing brand of six-string pyrotechnics. Ranging from the mellow, almost jazzy “Don’t Let the Sun Set” to the rocking “Robbin’ Me Blind” or the smoky “Power of Love” (with vocals by blues temptress Lou Ann Barton), Vaughan’s solo work is a portrait in emotion and energy. Not the most innovative contemporary blues artist – these days, I’d have to award that accolade to Paul Reddick – Vaughan is nevertheless an entertaining performer, a throwback to a simpler era when the music did the talking and audiences were mesmerized by giants like Lightning Hopkins, Muddy Waters, and Otis Rush.

Another talented Texan, Ray Wylie Hubbard, is as obscure a legend as you’re likely to find these days. A country artist with about as much in common with Nashville as the Rio Grande and the Alamo, Hubbard is the last in a long line of Lone Star troubadours that began with Bill Neely and includes Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. With Eternal and Lowdown (Rounder Records), Hubbard offers up another fine collection of poetic narratives, intelligent and literary story-songs that tell a tale and often hide a moral of some sort among their lyrics. With a voice as stark as a desert cactus and as grizzled as a wind-beaten tumbleweed, Hubbard populates his songs with saints and sinners, gamblers and outlaws, true believers and hopeless romantics, the words punctuated by music that is pure Texas soul. If the antics of mass-produced cowboys and cover-girl cowgirls has got you longing for some good old-fashioned, poop-punting music, you owe it to yourself to check out Ray Wylie Hubbard’s Eternal and Lowdown.

Ray Wylie Hubbard's Eternal and Lowdown
A linguistic craftsman with a keen eye for political and social trends, no other critic or commentator comes close to the caustic humor and biting wit of George Carlin. A four-DVD box set, The George Carlin Collection (MPI Home Video), offers five of the twelve performance specials that Carlin has created for HBO. On Location With George Carlin was his first, from 1977, recorded with some technical difficulties in the early days of cable television. This performance sets the stage for observations and bits to come, with George Carlin Again! (1978), Carlin At Carnegie (1982), and Carlin On Campus (1984) showing the gradual evolution in Carlin’s art, a transformation from hippie humorist to insightful social commentator.

Carlin must be seen to really be appreciated – bits heard on CD pale next to these on-screen performances. An extremely physical comedian, Carlin rolls his eyes, contorts his face and uses his hands and body to express a thought or deliver an idea. His wit and inventiveness are unmatched by contemporary comics looking towards a sitcom deal. All four of the HBO specials captured on these DVDs provide timeless humor. Each of these performances is also available on individual discs while a fifth HBO special – a compilation of Carlin’s personal favorites – draws from the four other shows for those who only want to experience the highlights of these performances. For the true fan, though, it’s well worth the money to spring for the whole enchilada, The George Carlin Collection documenting an important era of this great comic’s career. (The View On Pop Culture, November 2001)

Friday, April 28, 2023

Archive Review: Ian Siegal’s Man & Guitar (2014)

Ian Siegal’s Man & Guitar
British singer, songwriter, and guitarist Ian Siegal is a treasure, a talented wordsmith with a keen eye for traditional blues styles as well as a skilled interpreter of classic blues music. The British Blues Awards Hall of Fame inductee and multiple award-winner isn’t afraid to work outside of his comfort zone, either, as evidenced by raw-boned albums like 2011’s The Skinny and 2013’s Candy Store Kid, both of which were recorded in Mississippi and produced by Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars and featured guests like Luther Dickinson, Lightnin’ Malcolm, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and others.

Siegal is unaccompanied on Man & Guitar, which documents an October 2013 solo performance by the bluesman at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England, recorded (and, presumably, broadcast) by the BBC as part of the London Bluesfest. Man & Guitar is a lively, loving appreciation of blues music in all its glory, a mostly-original set of ten songs with a few tracks of between-song storytelling. Siegal evinces a natural charisma, and his joy in the performances is quite evident. Whether he’s growling like Howlin’ Wolf on the Delta-dirty “Mortal Coil Shuffle,” channeling Charlie Patton on the legend’s “Pony Blues,” or belting out an original like the powerful “Falling On Down Again,” Siegal imbues each performance with emotion, passion, sweat, and tears. One of the 21st century’s most talented bluesmen, Ian Siegal is entertaining, illuminating, and thought-provoking all at once. Grade: A (Nugene Records, released June 10, 2014)

Buy the CD from Amazon: Ian Siegal’s Man & Guitar

The View On Pop Culture: Wendy Carlos, Blind Pig Records 25th Anniversary (2001)


Although not often credited as such, Wendy Carlos was a major innovator in the field of electronic music. Her groundbreaking efforts directly influenced such subsequent genres as ambient music, New Age, techno, and electronica, all of which depend heavily on the synthesizer as a lead instrument. Carlos studied musical composition at Columbia University under Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Leuning. While working as a studio engineer in Manhattan, the young classical music enthusiast met up with Dr. Robert Moog, an innovator himself and the inventor of the Moog Synthesizer.

Carlos recognized the synthesizer’s potential and recorded her first album with the instrument in 1968. Switched-On Bach (East Side Digital) proved to be a remarkable showcase for the largely unknown electronic instrument. Her electronic recreations of fugues and concertos, although scorned by classical purists, was a big hit with the mainstream audience, winning three Grammy™ awards and becoming the first classical recording to be certified Platinum™ for one million units sold. A digital recreation of Bach’s “greatest hits,” Switched-On Bach transfers to compact disc with great clarity and resonance.

Carlos followed her debut with a couple of similar classical reconstructions, which would receive lukewarm response. She would hit a homerun again in 1971 with her original score for the Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange. Also reissued by East Side Digital, the project would show the roots of an evolution in Carlos’ sound, the soundtrack mixing electronic interpretations of Beethoven and Rossini with original compositions that sounded like nothing before (or since). These instrumental interludes were the first shots in a musical revolution that would yield such influential electronic artists as Larry Fast, Kraftwerk and Neu. Carlos would also use this album to introduce the Vocoder voice synthesizer into popular usage.

Carlos would continue her sojourn into what would later be called “New Age” music with the brilliantly realized 1972 release Sonic Seasonings (ESD), a two-album set of “environmental” music. Using natural sounds combined with subtle electronic flourishes to compose suites for each of the four seasons, the album paved the way for dozens of musical imitators. This 2-CD reissue also includes Land of the Midnight Sun, a previously unreleased project from 1986 that extends and builds upon the suites composed for Sonic Seasonings, serving as a sort of artistic bookend for this important and often overlooked work.

Wendy Carlos's Clockwork Orange
Better than a decade later, Carlos would again revolutionize electronic music with 1986’s Beauty In the Beast (ESD). A masterful and disturbing hybrid of digital sound, classical composition and traditional music from around the world (Tibet, Bali, Africa and East Europe), the project redefined electronic music as a medium rather than a style. The most difficult Carlos album to listen to, with unusual tunings and cacophonic rhythms, Beauty In the Beast is nevertheless worth the effort, the album a musical revelation that would subsequently inspire artists such as Brian Eno and David Byrne to mix world music with electronic pop.

Carlos continues to record sporadically. A pioneer in sound reproduction, Carlos has worked with various software developers and is well known as a sound engineer. Unlike many artists who have no input over their early work, Carlos was intimately involved with the production of these reissues; her background in engineering and electronics no doubt valuable in coaxing the best sound possible out of tapes created by what is now ancient technology. Other Wendy Carlos titles in the East Side Digital reissue series include 1969’s classical collection The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, 1984’s Digital Moonscapes, and Tales of Heaven & Hell from 1998. All of the reissues feature crystal-clear 20-bit remastering and are enhanced with content available via computer. More information on Wendy Carlos can be found online at

I remember living in Detroit back in 1979, haunting local clubs like the New Miami to hear performances by rockers like Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, Destroy All Monsters, and the Romantics. If you wanted to hear the blues, though there was just one place to go – the basement of the Blind Pig Café on South First in Ann Arbor. The club drew all the major league heavyweights of the blues world; they put out records too, on their own Blind Pig Records imprint. The first Blind Pig album I remember buying was by roots rocker Steve Nardella and I’ve spent a lot of cash on records from the Blind Pig folks since then.

Blind Pig Records 25th Anniversary Collection
A quick glimpse at the line-up of talent for the double-disc Blind Pig Records 25th Anniversary Collection shows exactly how the label managed to extract so much of my coin during the past quarter-century. The 35-song retrospective of the label’s history includes material from such blues legends as Arthur Adams and B.B.King, Muddy Waters, Snooky Pryor, Johnny Shines, Pinetop Perkins and James Cotton as well as contemporary mainstays like Tommy Castro, Jimmy Thackery, and Mitch Woods.

The collection also includes the contributions of fresh, young blues talents like Popa Chubby, Deborah Coleman, Joanna Connor, and Big Bill Morganfield. A third disc included with the set is a CD-ROM that includes interviews and performance videos that can be watched on your computer screen. Did I mention that the set sells for the price of a single CD? Blind Pig Records has been able to stay atop of the blues game for twenty-five years and this anniversary collection is a fitting tribute to the label’s vision and integrity. (View From The Hill, October 2001)

Friday, April 21, 2023

Archive Review: Dave Mason’s Future’s Past (2014)

Dave Mason's Future's Past
Dave Mason, the former Traffic co-founder and acclaimed solo artist delivers his first album in umpteen years (well, since 2008’s 26 Letters 12 Notes), Future’s Past a collection of old, and sometimes antique material from across the singer, songwriter, and guitarist’s five-decades-long (and counting) career. The thread that ties this disparate group of eight songs (only eight?) together is that Mason either had a hand in penning them (most with Traffic bandmates Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi) or wrote them himself, the lone stand-outs being the obligatory Robert Johnson song and a cover of “Good 2 U” by Common Sense’s Nick Hernandez that Mason recorded on his previous album as well. While Future’s Past isn’t going to set the charts on fire, it’s a pretty good album overall. Of course, some of this material has withstood the test of time, Mason’s reading of Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” building upon the original – less busy, perhaps, but with a more soulful tint to the performance, less proggy and more of a deep groove, with Joe Bonamassa adding a bit of six-string texture.

Mason’s “World In Changes,” from his 1970 debut album, is provided a languid reggae rhythm to go with his stuttered vocals, while “As Sad and Deep As You” offers some beautiful, exotic Spanish guitar and a classic rock vibe wide enough to drive a semi through. Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen” is modernized somewhat, but the Delta-bred hoodoo still shines through, and Mason’s vocals and fretwork alike are joyfully spot-on, supported by Bob Corritore’s wailing harmonica. The album’s only new track, “That’s Freedom,” is a brilliant rocker, an old hippie’s lament if you will with clever pop culture references and a dark underlying message. Mason’s voice hasn’t changed much since the 1960s, and it’s still the warm instrument it’s always been throughout the songs on Future’s Past. It’s Mason’s guitar that speaks the loudest here – bluesy, complex, invigorating, and imaginative. His fretwork has always been Mason’s most overlooked attribute, coming up as he did in an era that can boast of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, et al. As shown by Future’s Past, Mason can still ride with the best of ‘em. Grade: B+ (Something Music, released May 13, 2014)

Buy the CD from Amazon: Dave Mason’s Future’s Past

The View On Pop Culture: Los Straitjackets, Witness U.K., Alice Cooper, Moses Avalon's Secrets Of Negotiating A Record Contract (2001)

Los Straitjackets' Sing Along with Los Straitjackets

It’s an established fact among experts in these sorts of things that Los Straitjackets have long been the coolest psychotronic surf guitar band in the known universe. Clad in Mexican wrestling masks, these mutant offspring of an unholy marriage of Dick Dale and Joey Ramone have kicked out four incredible albums of surf-garage-rockabilly instrumentals since 1995. With album number five the fantastic foursome hit upon a novel idea – why not add vocals to the songs?

They do just that on Sing Along with Los Straitjackets (Yep Roc Records), enlisting the help of accomplished vocal technicians like Raul Malo of the Mavericks, Leigh Nash of Sixpence None The Richer, Dave Alvin, Allison Moorer, Exene Cervenka of X, and many others. The result is a glorious collection of cover tunes, Los Straitjackets providing the power and various singers contributing the finesse to classic rock, pop, and country material like Roy Orbison’s “Down the Line,” Jessi Colter’s “I Ain’t the One” and Scooter Davis’ “The End of the World.” Guitarists Danny Amis and Eddie Angel blaze like a house afire while beatmeisters Peter Curry and Jimmy Lester hold down the bottom line behind folks like the Rev. Horton Heat, Big Sandy and Nick Lowe. The hippest CD you could buy this year, Sing Along with Los Straitjackets cements the reputation of these maniac musicians as the baddest surf-rocking daddios ever!

The recipients of the biggest British music press hype since Oasis recorded their first demo tape, Witness U.K. have lived up to every compliment thrown their way. With their second album, “Under A Sun” (MCA Records) they seem to be poised to break through to a stateside audience unaware of the furor the band has created in their homeland. Treading the same introspective folk-rock vein as R.E.M., who Witness U.K. is often compared to, the band also incorporates influences as diverse as Tim Buckley, Van Morrison, and Neil Young into a distinctive sound. Beautifully crafted songs like “Here’s One For You” and “Dividing Line” feature singer Gerard Starkie’s powerful and engaging vocals. Delicious harmonies, multi-layered guitars and a dense rhythmic undercurrent match the band’s thoughtful lyrics. Radio-friendly, intelligent, and charismatic, “Under A Sun” shows that Witness U.K. is much more than the typical British pop band.

Alice Cooper's Dragontown
Rock legend Alice Cooper never really went away, you know – he’s been busy recording albums, performing live and inspiring dozens of lesser artists. Like many aging rockers, the major labels want nothing to do with Cooper, who still commands a sizeable following even if he can’t move the multi-Platinum™ numbers that a copycat like Marilyn Manson can. The five families’ ignorance is our loss, however, ‘cause with the indie effort Dragontown (Spitfire Records), Cooper delivers his best solo effort since Welcome To My Nightmare. Dragontown kicks off with the unrelenting “Triggerman,” an ultra-cool tune that, in a better world, would dominate FM radio. From there Cooper jumps into a collection of songs that portray a rock ‘n’ roll purgatory where Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Elvis Presley rub elbows with disgraced nuns and psychotic soldiers in tunes like “Sex, Death And Money” and “Disgraceland.” Cooper’s theatrical style and macabre vocals are perfectly suited for the nightmarish imagery of his lyrics while unrelenting instrumentation both cuts wide swaths of destruction and jabs precisely like some manic musical sword duel. After thirty-plus years, Alice Cooper still creates music that is both hypnotic and horrifying, Dragontown proof for young metalheads that the old dog still has a few tricks up his sleeve.

Every youngster who has ever picked up a guitar or a drumstick has dreamed of achieving fame and fortune playing music – “following that rock ‘n’ roll star” as songwriter Threk Michaels has called it. Out of the thousands of bands that begin this sojourn, some will manage to make a name for themselves on the regional bar circuit while a mere handful ever get the chance sign a recording contract. Without exception, though, every single one of these superstar wannabes is at a disadvantage when dealing with even the smallest of labels. Secrets Of Negotiating A Record Contract (Backbeat Books), the second book by pseudonymous author Moses Avalon, shows that the label always holds all the cards.

An award-winning engineer and producer, Moses Avalon has a unique perspective forged by almost two decades experience in the music biz. If his excellent first book, Confessions of A Record Producer (Backbeat Books) blew the lid off the industry’s dirty little secrets, his latest effort deciphers the various pitfalls, loopholes and booby traps found hidden among the dense legalese used in the typical recording contract. Avalon offers segments of real contracts, explains what the provisions mean in real life and offers an analysis that is educated, informative and tempered by a great deal of experience and humor. Working with several music industry lawyers, Avalon has created the first blueprint available for musicians to negotiate their contract with knowledge and insight. Heed the Reverend’s warning – if you are a musician, no matter the genre – you should carry a copy of Secrets of Negotiating A Record Contract with you until you know it like you do your instrument. Get it now! You’ll thank me later... (View From The Hill, October 2001)

Friday, April 14, 2023

Book Review: Chuck Eddy's Rock and Roll Always Forgets (2011)

Chuck Eddy's Rock and Roll Always Forgets
Over the past 15 or 20 years, music criticism has become both ubiquitous and mostly disposable. The evolution of this once-hallowed literary endeavor can arguably be traced to the criticism of classical composer George Handel by his contemporary Charles Avison in 1752, although it would be modern scribes like Dave Marsh, Lester Bangs, Paul Williams, and Greg Shaw, among others, that would define and develop the dubious art form known as “rock criticism” during the 1960s and ‘70s.

As writing about music evolved beyond the milieu of handmade zines and poorly-distributed magazines, it would eventually become known as “music journalism,” and album reviews and artist interviews could be read everywhere from syndicated columns and glossy mainstream publications to small-town newspapers. Until recently, many big city newspapers usually had one, if not two writers working the “entertainment beat,” talking about music and such. Not coincidently, the downfall of music criticism can be traced somewhat to the advent of the Worldwide Web, which allowed anybody to be a publisher, and everybody to be a critic, albeit without editors and whether or not they had writing chops, or even a faint knowledge of music history whatsoever.

Now the Reverend has a vested interest in this unfortunate evolution of music criticism, what with being an old-school rockcrit who teethed on Marsh and Bangs and Metzger, and who mentored under, perhaps, the greatest of the early rock ‘n’ roll wordsmiths – the one and only Rick Johnson. But the Rev is no aging Luddite blaming all the publishing industry’s ills on the gosh danged Internet. While the web has definitely upset the traditional applecart as far as music magazines go, it has also enabled low-budget, high-quality media outlets like Blurt to exist.  

But even among the glut of online music zines and personal blogs, a few intelligent voices have managed to rise to the top like cream, writers like Jim DeRogatis, Martin Popoff, Fred Mills, and Chuck Eddy managing to bring new insight and perspective to an increasingly noisy critical realm too often overwhelmed by static and poorly-formed opinions expressed in too-brief reviews. Eddy, in particular, has distinguished himself as a critic to be reckoned with, both as music editor at the Village Voice and as a contributor to such publications as Creem, Rolling Stone, and Spin, among others. Eddy has also penned a couple of highly-entertaining tomes of music criticism and theory – The Accidental Evolution of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the controversial and often hilarious Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe, which made a strong argument for the inclusion of recordings by funk-soul diva Teena Marie.

Eddy’s latest book, Rock and Roll Always Forgets, is sub-titled “a quarter century of music criticism” and, as such, it collects essays and reviews chosen from throughout Eddy’s 25 years as one of America’s most entertaining and annoying music critics. While it suffers slightly from a lack of an overall concept as his previous books, Eddy has broken everything down to thematic chapters, such as “Predicting The Future,” in which he illustrates the futility of predicting where music is going by using his own past statements, and “Alternative To What,” where Eddy questions the often-mindless pigeonholing of music through reviews/essays on the Ramones, Big Black, SST Records, Nirvana, Marilyn Manson, and others.  

Much of Rock and Roll Always Forgets is entertaining and thought-provoking as only Eddy can achieve. Chapters tackle heavy metal (Metallica, AC/DC, Def Leppard); hip-hop (Sir Mix-A-Lot, Just-Ice, Spoonie Gee); and pop music (Debbie Gibson, Pet Shop Boys) as well as offering perspective on the racial aspects of soul and rap music with fascinating pieces on Eminem, Kid Rock, and the aforementioned Teena Marie. Most of this stuff is well-written and insightful, offering a unique perspective and personality that few music critics are wont to reveal these days. Eddy’s willingness to champion genres often ignored or outright disdained by the typical rock critic, such as metal and rap, is legendary, but he also displays a deft hand at writing about pop and even vintage music.  

Still, it’s easy to find evidence of middle-age dementia creeping into Eddy’s work. His complimentary reviews of contemporary Nashville floss like Mindy McCready, Toby Keith, and the horrible Big & Rich, among others, may read well, but they also provide cause to suspect Eddy’s critical credentials. Sure, Eddy has covered glossy pop like Michael Jackson and the Spice Girls before – and done so without a hint of irony or patronizing opinions – but his dismissal of “pseudo-traditionalist hypocrisy” as the “country party line toed by most rock critics” as an excuse to wax ecstatically about Montgomery Gentry is pure D bullshit.

Like whatever music that you wanna like, Chuck, but the Reverend is old enough to remember when Jon Rich was trying (in vein) to become a rock star in Nashville and Toby Keith was the punchline to a Music Row joke. Country music really was better back in the day of Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings and David Allen Coe, and its current persona as 1970s-era singer/songwriter lite-rock with twang is a slap in the face to those that came before. That’s not a party line to be drawn in the sand, that’s just reality. Coe might be one ugly sumbitch, but he can sing circles around today’s crop of country stars relying on Pro Tools and image consultants to get over with the suburban housewives that buy their records. Don’t try and sell us sour milk and claim that it’s aged whiskey…

Eddy’s critical flights of fancy notwithstanding, he’s a solid writer of no little wit and humor, and if we readers (such as yours truly) can agree to disagree on some of the dreck that he immortalizes in Rock and Roll Always Forgets, we can all find middle ground. As music critics go, Chuck Eddy has always been a bit of a provocateur, and his tendency to risk ridicule with absurdist or unpopular critical stances is what has always made him an engaging and intelligent writer. Rock and Roll Always Forgets certainly includes its share of those questionable moments, but it’s also an entertaining and informative look back at the past quarter-century of popular music. (Duke University Press, published August 10th, 2011)

Review originally published by Blurt magazine, 2011

The View On Pop Culture: Beatiful Creatures, Buddy & Julie Miller, BadAzz Mofo zine, The Terminator DVD (2001)

Beautiful Creatures
Beautiful Creatures


A full-blown ‘80s rock revival is right around the corner, loyal readers. As such, it’s no longer “passe” to enjoy hard-rocking, hard-partying MTV bad boys like Motley Crue or Poison. L.A.-styled “glam metal” is back in vogue, the first shot of nostalgia fired in the form of Beautiful Creatures. The band’s self-titled debut Beautiful Creatures (Warner Bros. Records) opens with a guitar riff straight out of the Mickey Most playbook, dropping the listener through a cultural rabbit hole and onto the Hollywood music scene circa 1985.

Appropriately enough, an authentic L.A. glam band shouter – former Bang Tango frontman Joe LeSte – fronts Beautiful Creatures. Add a couple of fine young guitarists in the form of DJ Ashba and Anthony Focx, both weaned on Metallica and Black Sabbath, match them with an explosive rhythm section and you have a first rate wrecking crew. Beautiful Creatures reminds me a lot of the underrated and influential early ‘80s band Hanoi Rocks. Like those Finnish glamboys, BC rocks as hard as a hailstorm, filling their debut with everything an appreciative headbanger could ever want. From radio-friendly rock (“Ride”) to the obligatory power ballad (“Wish”) to guitar pyrotechnics (“Step Back”), Beautiful Creatures manages to raise the roof with reckless abandon. With LeSte’s soaring vocals and twin guitars that slash like a sabretooth’s eyeteeth, Beautiful Creatures bring the sheer joy and spirit of rocking loudly to tunes like “New Orleans” and “Blacklist.” It’s an impressive debut from a band that is probably a year or two ahead of their time.

Buddy & Julie Miller
Although both Buddy and Julie Miller have enjoyed critically-acclaimed careers as singers and songwriters, the pair’s self-titled Buddy & Julie Miller (Hightone Records) is the first album this talented husband-and-wife duo have created together. Julie Miller is best known as a folk artist, with half-dozen albums to her credit during the past decade. Buddy Miller has kicked around since the late sixties, working with folks like Shawn Colvin and Jim Lauderdale and most recently as guitarist for Emmylou Harris. As songwriters, the duo has placed cuts with country artists like the Dixie Chicks, Brooks & Dunn and Lee Ann Womack.

For their first album together, the two have drawn heavily on Julie’s considerable songwriting skills, exploring such musical paths as traditional country (“Little Darlin”), edgy blues (“Dirty Water”) and Steve Earle-styled roots rock (“The River’s Gonna Run”). The handful of cover songs they’ve chosen are priceless, from Richard Thompson’s bittersweet “Keep Your Distance” to Dylan’s winsome “Wallflower.” Julie’s sweet, high-pitched vocals are matched by Buddy’s twangy growl, the differences between the two singers oddly effective. Buddy is an excellent guitarist, bringing a great deal of emotion and passion to his playing while Julie’s charisma shines through every song. A favorite of the alt-country crowd, Buddy & Julie Miller are a unique pairing, their first album together a wonderful display of talent and hard-won experience.

Hollywood may crank out its big-budget blockbusters, but a lot of movie fans still prefer low-budget morsels like The Warriors or The Evil Dead. David Walker’s excellent BadAzz MoFo zine covers the “Blaxploitation” film beat, Walker and his small staff doing an invaluable job documenting the mid-seventies phenomenon of films like Shaft and The Mack that reflected and helped define African-American culture at the time. Issue #6 of BadAzz MoFo offers interviews with actors Glynn Turman (Cooley High) and Antonio Fargas (“Huggy Bear”) and singer/actor Corey Glover (Living Colour). The zine also includes an insightful article on the fondly remembered Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids cartoon, an informative guide to the DVD format and more movie reviews that you can digest in one sitting. An entertaining and well-researched publication, BadAzz MoFo delivers a much-needed perspective on an often-overlooked facet of pop culture. Check them out on the web at  

The Terminator
Long before Titanic became the highest-grossing movie of all time, director James Cameron was just another graduate of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures who was chasing hard coin in Hollywood. At the time of its 1984 release, The Terminator (MGM Home Entertainment DVD) was a low-budget sci-fi long shot that ended up paying off big-time for both Cameron and star Arnold Schwarzenegger. A chilling tale of a post-apocalyptic future in which machines rule the planet, Arnie plays a killer robot sent back in time from 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (played to perfection by Linda Hamilton), the would-be mother of the future savior of mankind, John Connor.

The film’s special effects and action sequences are still breathtaking, the DVD’s improved digital picture and sound jumping right out of your screen and speakers. Special features like a director’s commentary and a pair of documentaries make this a nice set for fans, and if this “special edition” DVD of The Terminator isn’t quite as nice as last years T2 set, it’s a welcome addition to the fan’s film library nonetheless. Watch closely for fleeting pre-fame appearances from Bill Paxton and David Hyde Pierce! (View From The Hill, September 2001)