Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Short Rounds: Miller Anderson, The Heartsleeves, The Nervous Eaters, Old Town Crier, Orang-Utan, Roxercat & Bob Weir (March 2023)

Miller Anderson's Bright City
Stuff I’m listening to this month…

Miller Anderson – Bright City (Esoteric Records, U.K.)
Scottish guitarist Miller Anderson was part of the British blooze boom of the late ‘60s and while he’s best known for his tenure with the Keef Hartley Band (four LPs from 1969-71), he also played with Savoy Brown, Chicken Shack, and Dog Soldier during the 1970s and ‘80s and recorded with mates like Ian Hunter, Jon Lord (Deep Purple), and Dave Cousins (Strawbs). Anderson has also pursued an on-again, off-again solo career that began with this 1971 album, Bright City. Although ostensibly a bluesman, Anderson displays a deft hand here at several genres, like the proggy Goth of “Alice Mercy (To Whom It May Concern),” which carries its Procol Harum influences nicely, and ends with a folkie vibe that could easily pass for an Incredible String Band jam. The album’s title track offers a dreamy soundscape in the best British folk tradition, with a lofty string arrangement and Anderson’s filigree guitarplay.   

Bright City isn’t flawless, however…“The Age of Progress” is an underproduced trifle with tinny harpsichord and soulful backing vocals, the song never really picking a lane and sticking with it. “Grey Broken Morning” is a little too jazzbo for my tastes, crossing lanes into middle-of-the-road turf with syrupy instrumentation and treacly backing vox. Much better is the nearly eight-minute, fiercely-rockin’ “Hight Tide, High Water,” which fits all of its kitchen sink styles together into a singular, impressive performance that leans prog-rock but masterfully incorporates elements of blues, funk, and hard rock all fueled by Anderson’s nimble fretwork and a fluid line. Friends and former bandmates like guitarist Neil Hubbard (Juicy Lucy), bassist Gary Thain (Uriah Heep), keyboardist Mick Weaver (Wynder K. Frog), and flautist Lyn Dobson (Soft Machine) contribute to the album, but Bright City is otherwise a showcase for Anderson’s often-underrated six-string skills. Grade: B-   BUY!

The Heartsleeves' So Far, So What
The HeartsleevesSo Far, So What EP (self-produced)

Nashville’s Scott Feinstein has been kicking around the scene for so long that it’s easy to take the guy for granted. A member of popular local 1980s-era rockers Shadow 15, this recently-released five-song EP represents the first new music from Feinstein in memory. Clocking in at a too-short fifteen minutes, the tunes on So Far, So What nevertheless smack you in the face with what feels like an hour of high-octane, ultra-energetic rock ‘n’ roll and power-pop. EP-opener “Angie” is a ramshackle rocker with roots in the Replacements and absolutely no glass ceiling, with delightfully-discordant guitars and bold drumbeats courtesy of Music City veteran Brad Pemberton. “Things” follows a similar blueprint, tho’ maybe even rowdier, with a melodic edge partially driven by Feinstein’s fine vocal performance and stunning Bob Mould-styled six-string overkill.

The underlying melody of “Understanding Jane” is carpet-bombed with pulse-pounding, explosive, smothering instrumentation – a gleefully wicked, groove, indeed! – while “The Warning” swerves a bit, with ubiquitous local talent Jonathan Bright taking over the drum stool. Bright brings a different tempo to what is a more considered, but no less powerful rocker, but the EP closer “Hate” hits the auditory canal like Trent Reznor dropping acid with Timothy Leary, the performance a virtual chokehold of flexed muscle and tense sinew with tortured vocals and devastating instrumentation that lingers. It’s quite a stylistic departure from the previous songs, but also a showcase for the immense and often-overlooked talents of Scott Feinstein and fellow travelers. In the wise words of my pal Jeffersün Jëbëdiah Schmützig Schanchëz, “BUY IT! You can thank me later…” Grade: A   BUY!

The Nervous Eaters' Monsters + Angels
The Nervous EatersMonsters + Angels (Wicked Cool Records)

Beloved Boston rockers the Nervous Eaters – whose hard melodic sound has more in common with, say, the Del Lords than with the Sex Pistols – were ‘one-and-done’ with a single 1980 Elektra Records album recorded by an unsympathetic producer (the better-suited Ric Ocasek was proposed by the band but rejected by the label); ultimately underpromoted to death by a clueless label. The band has soldiered on with founder, singer, songwriter, and guitarist Steve Cataldo carrying the torch through various incarnations and indie LPs like 1986’s Hot Steel and Acid. This 21st century version of the Nervous Eaters was formed in 2018 by Cataldo and a brace of Boston rock veterans, who recorded Monsters + Angels during the pandemic year. Released by Little Steven’s Wicked Cool Records, the foursome cranks through ten red-hot tunes that are guaranteed to scratch your rock ‘n’ roll itch. If FM radio wasn’t such a barren landscape of spineless cretin programming, Nervous Eaters tunes like the hard-rockin’ “Tear Me Up” or the throwback power-pop of “Superman’s Hands” would be dominating the airwaves. If guitar-happy, harmony-rich, big beat classic rock is your jam, you owe it to yourself to (re)discover the Nervous Eaters. Grade: A   BUY!   

Old Town Crier's A Night with Old Town Crier
Old Town CrierA Night with Old Town Crier (self-produced)

Old Town Crier is the solo musical project of Middleborough, Massachusetts multi-instrumental talent Jim Lough, who has a pair of fine previous EPs under his belt. I wrote last year about You, a benefit EP raising funds for progressive political candidates. The results were so successful that Lough decided to release a full-length live album, A Night with Old Town Crier, with half of the proceeds donated to The Pine Street Inn, a charitable organization located in Boston with the worthy mission to end homelessness. Joined by talented young musicians like guitarist Garrett Jones, bassist Alex Bilodeau, keyboardist JennHwan Wong, drummer Avery Logan, and saxophonist Stephen Byth, Lough and band run through eight rockin’ tunes that could have just as easily been recorded in the early ‘70s as in the early 2020s.

Old Town Crier pursues a throwback sound that is famously diverse with a contemporary feel and nary a shred of musical revisionism. Reminiscent of such genre-blending, melting-pot bands as the Charlatans and Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, Old Town Crier mixes rock, classic R&B, blues, jazz, and Americana in a huge cast iron cauldron and lets it boil over for our entertainment. For instance, “Before You Came Along” displays elements of 1950s-styled rock with period R&B, Lough’s soulful vocals accompanied by honky-tonk piano licks and blasts of icy saxophone. “Come Home Caroline” offers a more measured performance, cool blue sax providing a jazzy intro to a heartfelt love song with plaintive vocals and gorgeous instrumentation while “Della May” reminds of Leon Russell with its bluesy, jazz-flecked piano, loping bass lines, and mournful sax with Lough’s effective heartbreak vox the icing on the cake.

My fave performance on A Night with Old Town Crier is the jubilant “Everybody’s Somebody’s Baby,” a jaunty rocker with an old-school vibe and shades of jazzy ‘60s R&B. It’s just a great, up-tempo love song with simple yet brilliant lyrics, rampaging saxophone, big beat drums, and an overall “feel good” finish to the album. If you’d like to hear some fun, finely-crafted, and excellently-played music and support a good cause at the same time, head on over to Bandcamp and check out A Night with Old Town Crier. Grade: A   BUY! 

Orang-Utan's Orang-Utan
Orang-Utan – Orang-Utan (Sommor Records, Spain)

From musical trailblazers like John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Cream to one-shot wonders like Killing Floor and Black Cat Bones, England in the late ‘60s was wall-to-wall with blooze bands grasping at the brass ring. Orang-Utan (née Hunter) were one such outfit, a talented bunch o’ young punters who got a raw deal, literally drawn up in a back-alley by a fast-talkin’ producer-cum-label impresario, resulting in this lone self-titled album released in 1971*. There’s a lot of promise in these tunes, which fall into a psych-blues groove fueled by Mick Clarke’s imaginative fretwork and drummer Jeff Seopardi’s ahead-of-his-time songwriting chops. But there’s also a presage of skillful progginess that suggests a future evolution of the band’s sound that would never be. R.I.Y.L. Cactus, Mountain, The Groundhogs, et al. Grade: B+   BUY!

* Due to its obscurity and stateside-only release,
Orang-Utan, the album, has long been a mid-priced collectible; an original vinyl copy in good condition will run you $50 or more. This 2022 CD reissue will cost you much less, and is the only authorized reissue of the album after decades of dodgy releases that didn’t pay the band a dime in royalties.

Roxercat's Pearls EP
RoxercatPearls EP (9 Dog Records, digital release)

When I reviewed The Fortunate Few: The Rock Opera a couple of years ago, I mentioned that Nashville rock veteran Price Jones left the singing on the album’s songs to the capable hands of Ryan Greenawalt and Talisha Holmes. This evidently struck a chord with the talented singer, songwriter, and guitarist as, for Jones’ latest project with her new band Roxercat, she’s taken back the microphone with happy results. Collaborating again with legendary jazz guitarist Stan Lassiter and bassist Bill Francis, with various guest musicians pitching in, the six-song EP Pearls offers up gems of shimmering, gorgeous, guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll.

The title track is a lovely, poetic song rife with imagery built around Lassister’s fluid guitar lines and Jones’ yearning vocals. “Crime” adds a bit of funk to the EP’s rockin’ framework, with Jones’ playful, buoyant vox doing the heavy lifting alongside a foot-shuffling, booty-shakin’ rhythm. “Baby I Tried” is a more traditional love song with guitar lines that perfectly capture the song’s emotions, Jones’ heartbroken lyrics backed by soulful harmony vocals, while “I Changed Today” highlights Lassiter and Francis’s jazz roots with a complex soundtrack that includes a few hard rock riffs and some funky Booker T-styled keyboard flourishes, atop of which ride Jones’ defiant vocals. The instrumentation is top-notch throughout the six songs on Pearls – creative, imaginative and, at times, edgy and adventuresome while Jones’ lyrical chops are as strong as ever.

As they were released digitally rather than in physical form, it’s hard to actually buy these tracks – only two songs are available from Amazon – but trippy, too-cool videos for four of the EP’s six songs are available on the Roxercat website and YouTube, and you can stream the entire Pearls EP on services like Spotify and Apple Music. The Rev sez “check it out!” Grade: A     

Bob Weir's Ace
Bob WeirAce [50th anniversary edition] (Rhino Records)

Although Grateful Dead singer, songwriter, and guitarist Bob Weir wasn’t the first of the band’s members to release a solo album (Jerry Garcia’s Garcia beat him to the punch by a few months), Weir’s 1972 debut Ace was nevertheless the better-received of the initial Dead bandmember’s solo efforts, establishing Weir’s status as a standalone talent and Garcia’s creative equal. Although the core members of the band (Garcia, bassist Phil Lesh, drummer Bill Kreutzmann, and keyboardist Keith Godchaux) contribute in the studio, Ace is undeniably Weir’s show, the guitarist singing and co-writing all eight of the album’s songs (five of ‘em with hippie lyricist and Dead friend John Perry Barlow), several of which would subsequently become enduring staples of the full band’s nightly set list.

Nor is it a major surprise that a lot of the songs on Ace follow a similar roots-rock, country, and blues blueprint as the Dead’s 1970 American Beauty LP, Weir seemingly expanding on musical ideas he originally had for songs like “Sugar Magnolia.” There are a lot of great songs on Ace, from familiar tunes like “Mexicali Blues,” “One More Saturday Night,” and “Playing In the Band” (all also performed by the Dead) to overlooked gems like “Black-Throated Wind” and “Looks Like Rain.” This 50th anniversary reissue has been expanded to two discs, the second comprised of a 2022 live performance of Ace by Weir & Wolf Brothers with guests like Tyler Childers and Brittney Spencer. While the second disc is entertaining, revisiting the songs with younger albeit equally-talented musicians, there’s no denying the magic and immediacy of the original Ace, which launched Weir’s solo career and remains the best album the Grateful Dead never released. Grade: A   BUY!

Previously on That Devil

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

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

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