Friday, May 24, 2024

Archive Review: Ed Pettersen and the High Line Riders’ Somewhere South of Here (1997)

Ed Pettersen and the High Line Riders’ Somewhere South of Here
In the “style-over-substance” environment of the ’90s, songwriting has taken a back-seat in importance to image in rock ‘n’ roll. There’s still a slew of gifted wordsmiths wandering around the musical horizon – towns like L.A., Austin, and Nashville are awash in singer/songwriter types who’ll never get the time of day from the major labels. It’s just that in this day and time of marketing strategies and multi-Platinum sales expectations, the songwriter is simply not needed. Which makes it all sweeter when one runs across a talent brave enough to buck the odds like Ed Pettersen.

A true roots-rock craftsman, Pettersen still believes in the power of music to tell the story...and Somewhere South of Here is full of stories. From the modern outlaws of “Run Away” to the hopeless romantic of “What A Little Love Can Do,” Pettersen spins tales of love and loss, hope and betrayal. Collaborations with ex-Del Lord Scott Kempner are additional joys, while Pettersen’s rendition of Kempner’s “Listening To Elvis” is reverent as well as timely. You’ll find nothing fancy on Somewhere South of Here, just exceptional songwriting and tasteful, no-frills musical accompaniment.

With strains of rock, folk and country providing a solid base to work upon, Ed Pettersen and the High Line Riders have delivered a wonderfully unassuming effort with substance that will be around long after the styles have changed. (Tangible Music, 1997)

Review originally published by Thora-Zine, Austin TX

Archive Review: Tiger Army's Early Years EP (2002)

Tiger Army's Early Years EP
Tiger Army has built a solid following on the strength of a number of singles, two well-received albums, and a hell of a live show. Hewing closer to the “psychobilly” style of the Cramps than to the trendy, whitebread rockabilly rebels of the late ‘80s, Tiger Army take the sound further out on a limb than either Brian Setzer or MTV envisioned, returning punk to its rebellious late ‘50s roots with energy and imagination. The band’s Early Years EP collects a half-dozen odds-and-ends from 1996/97 and offers them on CD for the first time so that fans of the band don’t have to fork over hard coin to collect the original vinyl.

A rollicking cover of “Twenty Flight Rock” and the punkish originals “Temptation” and “Jungle Cat” are taken from the out-of-print Temptation EP while an ultra-cool cover of the Misfits’ “American Nightmare” and early demo versions of the boring “F.T.W.” and the Dick Dale-influenced “Nocturnal” round out the Early Years EP. The cranked-up, amped-up sound of Tiger Army is that of Gene Vincent on steroids or Eddie Cochran on white crosses roaring down Route 66 in a fast car with a blonde on his arm and Johnny Burnette on the radio. If you haven’t already made an investment in one or both of Tiger Army’s full-length albums, the budget-priced Early Years EP will serve as a fine introduction to the band. (Hellcat Records, 2002)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2002

Tiger Army photo courtesy Hellcat Records
Tiger Army photo courtesy Hellcat Records


Friday, May 17, 2024

Archive Review: Discharge's Discharge (2002)

It seems like Discharge has been around forever and, in a sense, they have. One of the lesser-known and sorely overlooked of British punk’s “Class of ’77,” Discharge was one of the first outfits to blend hardcore punk and heavy metal, becoming a huge influence on American thrashers like Metallica and Anthrax in the process. This self-titled disc is the band’s first release in six years and the first recording since the original band line-up reformed in 1997.

All of this is well and good, you say, but does the music kick yer arse the way that vintage Discharge did? Every bit as much, chucko! Cal, Bones, Rainy, and Tez cook up thirteen unrelenting, uncompromising punk rock brushfires on Discharge. Bones’ axework shreds the strings like a cat toying with a mouse while Cal gargles with broken glass to achieve the proper guttural vocal tone. Lyrically, the band follows pretty much the same anarcho-leftist tact as fellow Brits Crass or Icons of Filth, backing their words with music that is as subtle as a Molotov cocktail and as potent as a lightning strike. If you want to witness the stuff that punk legends are made of, look no further than Discharge and the aural onslaught the band delivers on Discharge. Not bad for a bunch of geezers, eh? (Sanctuary Records, 2002)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2002

Archive Review: Marah's Float Away With the Friday Night Gods (2002)

For its third album, Philly’s favorite sons Marah traveled to Wales to try and find an artistic identity that would distinguish the band from the legion of heartland heroes who have followed in the quarter-century since Springsteen made working class rock cool again. Float Away With the Friday Night Gods proves that you can take the boy out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the boy as songwriter David Bielanko uses the same brilliant urban imagery as Springsteen or Joe Grushecky, imbuing his songs with a smoldering passion.

Musically, however, Marah has turned its back on the “young soul rebels” vibe that worked so well on 2000’s Kids In Philly album. Eschewing long time studio foil Paul Smith in favor of producer Owen Morris has resulted in a messy, conflicting mix that robs the band of its soulful intimacy, replacing joyful reckless abandon with a too-bright Britpop-flavored clash of vocals, instruments and production gimmickry. If Kids In Philly served as a giant critical and creative leap forward for Marah, Float Away With the Friday Night Gods represents an artistic backsliding. It’s not that this year’s effort is all that bad an album; when compared to Marah’s previous efforts, however, it’s obvious that the band set the bar too high the last time out. (E Squared/Artemis Records, 2002)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2002

Friday, May 10, 2024

Archive Review: Paul Krassner's Iron Lives! (2002)

Paul Krassner's Iron Lives!
During his lengthy career as a counterculture gadfly, Paul Krassner has worn many hats. The original underground publisher, Krassner founded his satirical journal The Realist in 1958, the zine mixing alternative journalism with social commentary and wild-eyed satire. Appearing sporadically over forty years, The Realist inspired and influenced several generations of writers, musicians and comedians. Along with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Krassner formed the Yippies in the ‘60s and he has had significant friendships with counterculture legends such as Lenny Bruce, Ken Kesey, and Timothy Leary. Krassner served time as the editor of Hustler magazine, has freelanced for a number of publications, authored several books and, during the past decade, has forged a career as a stand-up comedian and spoken word artist.

Irony Lives! is Krassner’s fifth collection of comedic observations, recorded early in 2002 in front of a live audience in Los Angeles. Befitting his long-standing reputation as a social commentator and general pain-in-the-ass for the powers that be, Krassner’s material is topical to the extreme. From the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks to corporate clowns like Enron, Krassner leaves no sacred cow untouched, waxing intelligently on politics, religion, the Internet, and society as he rapidly blends personal experience and personal observations into a lyrical flow. As a comedian, Krassner doesn’t have the TV-bred timing of today’s young laughmongers, his delivery falling into a conversational style influenced by ‘50s-era iconoclasts like Lenny Bruce or Mort Sahl.

Krassner does possess vast insight and razor-sharp wit, however, his material relying less on the quick punchline and more on a thought-provoking intelligence and a keen eye for absurdity. Irony Lives! is a valuable collection, Krassner’s intellectual musings especially welcome in the ever-repressive times in which we live. (Artemis Records, 2002)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2002

Archive Review: Paul Krassner's Brain Damage Control (1997)

Paul Krassner's Brain Damage Control
An American treasure, Paul Krassner is the subversive, irreverent publisher of The Realist, Yippie founder, 1960s icon, and long-standing champion of free speech. After close to half a century of intellectually tilting at windmills in the best Quixotic manner, what’s left for a madman to do? Taking a page from former pal Lenny Bruce’s playbook, Krassner has turned his satirical eye towards stand-up comedy, resulting in this second Mercury release, Brain Damage Control.

As a comedian, Krassner leans towards the 1950s-styled Bruce/Sahl school of social commentary, with bits like “Ebonics Lesson” and “Spin Doctors” taking aim at the hypocrisies of modern politics and society. Although humorous and topical, such observations are ultimately dated, losing their punch as they age. Krassner is at his best when telling stories of his illustrious past, such as with “Conspiracy Trial” and “Larry Flynt,” or while sharing the difficulties of parenthood in “Teenage Daughter.”

Brain Damage Control is a fine introduction to Krassner’s unique sense of humor for the uninitiated, perhaps leading the laughing listener to subsequently search for one of Krassner’s books or copies of The Realist. In a popular culture run amok, nobody has skewered more sacred cows than Krassner – have a hamburger and entertain yourself with some Brain Damage Control. (Mercury Records, 1997)

Review originally published by Thora-Zine, Austin TX, 1997

Friday, May 3, 2024

Archive Review: Living Colour’s Live From CBGB’s (2005)

Living Colour’s Live From CBGB’s
I remember seeing Living Colour perform during its 1989 tour in support of the band’s debut album. I had seen the band once before, prior to the release of Vivid in 1988, but this 1989 show at the infamous Exit/In club in Nashville would become the stuff of legend. Since I had met them once before and had interviewed both the band’s extraordinary guitarist Vernon Reid and excellent drummer Will Calhoun, my friend Mark S. and myself hung out with the band backstage after the show. Reid and I discussed music; cyberpunk sci-fi writers like Bruce Sterling and William Gibson and horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. The band members were genuinely friendly, intelligent, talented and obviously on their way “up” in the music world…and they put on a hell of a live show.

Living Colour’s Live From CBGB’s

By the time Living Colour would play Nashville again the band would blow up big-time. Vivid would go platinum, selling over a million copies – quite an accomplishment for an African-American hard rock band that every record label in the world passed on. The band was all over MTV at the time with its video for the raging “Cult of Personality” and would subsequently walk off with a pair of Grammy™ awards. The release of Time’s Up in 1990 along with a couple of high profile tours would solidify the band’s superstars-in-the-making status. Unfortunately, the band’s commercial fortunes would quickly diminish and, with only three albums under their collective belts, Living Colour became one of the casualties of grunge and the Seattle scene. The band would break up not long after the 1993 release of Stain.

If any live recording could capture the band’s onstage energy and chemistry, they would have been even bigger stars than they already were. Sadly, the band never released a live album during its initial run, something that might have revived its prospects and found Living Colour a wider audience. Although Live From CBGB’s comes along about a decade-and-a-half too late, it’s definitely a case of “better late than never” for Living Colour fans who have been living with seedy bootleg tapes of live performances for 15 years. This particular show, a homecoming of sorts for the band, was captured live at the legendary CBGB’s in the Bowery in New York City in December 1989, between the releases of Vivid and Time’s Up.

Cult of Personality

From the album’s tracklist and relatively brief hour-long running time, I’m guessing that Live From CBGB’s doesn’t include the band’s entire performance from that night. There are only four songs featured here from Vivid, including the set-opening “Cult of Personality” and the somber “Open Letter To A Landlord.” Almost half of the live album features songs from the yet-to-be-released-at-the-time Time’s Up, the band obviously showcasing songs from its upcoming album. Two new cuts make their debut here while the band’s relentless cover of Bad Brain’s “Sailin’ On” is a hard-to-find obscurity.

Although a lengthier performance might have made for a hardcore two-CD set, Sony chose to release this version so we have to live with it, which isn’t too difficult. The band is red-hot throughout these songs, Reid’s six-string pyrotechnics tearing through the smoke and heat of the club while frontman Corey Glover’s powerful vocals punch through the darkness with fire and passion. Some of the band’s best songs are represented here, from “Information Overload” and “Cult of Personality” to “Funny Vibe” and “Love Rears Its Ugly Head.” Of the two previously unreleased tracks, “Soldier’s Blues” offers some tasty guitar shuffles, Hendrix-inspired riffing and Calhoun’s jazzy drumbeats while “Little Lies,” a tortured ballad spotlighting Glover’s vocals, sounds out of place until it kicks into overdrive.

Overall, the band’s performance on Live from CBGB’s is simply explosive. Reid’s incendiary guitarwork, informed by his avant-garde jazz training, still sounds groundbreaking today; nobody currently playing can match the underrated Reid’s style and innovation. Glover was a soulful vocalist of some range and heart while the rhythm section of bassist Muzz Skillings and drummer Calhoun were one of the finest in rock at the time, providing a solid bedrock for the dueling frontmen.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Unfortunately, no matter how good it is, Live From CBGB’s is unlikely to draw new listeners to the phenomenal, hard rocking Living Colour sound. If this set had been released in 1991 or so, perhaps its impact would have provided the band with a stepping stone to greater things. In 2005, however, with Living Colour considered yesterday’s news by young audiences, a “classic rock” band at best, Live From CBGB’s will appeal mostly to existing fans. Young music lovers wanting to know what all the hype was about could do worse than checking out Living Colour live. (Sony Legacy Records, 2005)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2005

Also on That Devil Music: Living Colour’s Vivid CD review

Archive Review: Nivana '69's Cult (2012)

Nirvana '69's Cult
Way back, in the pre-grunge mists of Merry Ole England, there was a band called Nirvana. No, not that Nirvana – years before Kurt Cobain was born, and while he was still in diapers, this British outfit was wowing critics with a unique musical vision that mixed folk-influenced rock ‘n’ roll with elements of psychedelic pop, jazz, classical, and even baroque chamber music. Comprised of Irish musician Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Greek composer Alex Spyropoulos, Nirvana turned quite a few heads, wowed a handful of British music critics, and sold a bucketload of records – literally, however many records could fit into a large-sized bucket. Yeah, that few...

The buzz around Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos caused Island Records founder Chris Blackwell to sign the pair, and with a bevy of professional studio musicians and a small orchestra, Nirvana recorded 1967’s The Story of Simon Simopath, what is widely considered to be the first bona fide “concept album,” the odd couple beating such world-renown acts as the Who, the Kinks, and the Pretty Things to the punch. Although the band’s music was exceptionally difficult to perform live, Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos pieced together a touring band nonetheless, opening for bands like Traffic and Spooky Tooth, resulting in a subsequent minor U.K. hit single in “Rainbow Chaser.”

Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos would record two more albums together, 1968’s All of Us, which was similar in sound and scope to their debut, and Black Flower, an allegedly difficult recording which Blackwell refused to release. That problematic third Nirvana album finally saw limited release in 1970, but by 1971 the pairing had run its course, with Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos splitting amicably. Campbell-Lyons would release two more albums under the Nirvana name before launching a solo career that fizzled out in the mid-1980s, when he reunited with Spyropoulos and re-launched Nirvana, the pair making new music well into the 1990s.     

Imagine young Master Cobain’s surprise when Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos filed a lawsuit against him and Geffen Records in 1992 for the appropriation of their band’s name. A rumored large cash pay-off allowed Cobain’s crew to continue using the Nirvana name, while Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos kept on trucking, virtually unknown in the United States, but evidently keeping a sense of humor about the whole affair, even recording a version of Cobain’s “Lithium” at one point.

By the time of the Seattle Nirvana’s commercial ascent to the peaks of stardom, the British Nirvana’s first two original albums had become a sort of Holy Grail of 1960s psych-rock collectors, fetching handsome prices on eBay and elsewhere, leading to a rash of CD reissues, some legitimate and some questionable, that only spread the band’s myth even further. Since many of these CD reissues of Nirvana’s The Story of Simon Simopath and All of Us were import discs, the band still remains a bit of an obscurity here in the U.S., notable mostly to the sort of hardcore collector type that will spend hours digging through crates to find that one album by Gandalf, the Millennium, the Left Banke, or Kaleidoscope to add to their teetering stacks o’ wax. Credited to Nirvana ‘69, Cult is a long-overdue CD compilation of early material from the British Nirvana, offered on these shores for what may be the first time.

Enquiring minds want to know, does this 1960s-era Nirvana live up to the hype spread around by the collectors’ community for the past three decades? Well, the short answer is, yes and no. Only the simple-minded and/or clueless would really believe that Nirvana ‘69 sounds anything like Cobain’s world-beating trio, so those of you expecting some sort of earth-shaking, proto-grunge cheap thrills can dash off to Pitchfork and see what new band you’re supposed to download this week. As for the rest of you, throw out any preconceived ideas you may have about psych-pop, British folk-rock, or any of that because, the truth is, Nirvana sounds both like nothing you’ve ever heard before and, curiously, like a lot of what you already love. If you’re a fan of such 1960s-era fellow travelers as the Zombies, Love, or the Left Banke, you’ll probably dig Cult nearly as much as any album by those folks.

To say that Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos had a grandiose musical vision is to put it mildly, and as shown by the nearly two-dozen tracks collected on Cult, the only limitations on the pair’s immense musical ambition seemed to be the restrictions of the studio itself. Cult includes seven of the ten tracks from The Story of Simon Simopath and nine of twelve from All of Us (the album’s actual title is too long for even me to recount here), as well as a handful of single B-sides, and even a new song in “Our Love Is the Sea.” While the bulk of Cult is pleasant enough psychedelic pop – a mind-bending musical garden that the Reverend only walks through a couple times a year – there are rare flashes of brilliance here that certainly justify the band’s legend.

Island Records definitely missed the boat by only issuing a pair of singles from the first Nirvana album, as I count four red-hot slabs from The Story of Simon Simopath that had a puncher’s chance to hit the U.K. charts hard circa 1967. In an era where singles were the currency of commercial pop music, it was almost malpractice to throw only one single into the marketplace. The band’s album-opening “Wings of Love” is a wistful little romantic number chock-full of poetic imagery, sweeping orchestration, a lovely melody, and odd little instrumental rumblings here and there which raise it about your normal “Summer of Love” fare. “Lonely Boy” would have made another rad single, the melancholy vocals clad in baroque-pop trappings with a dash of background harmonies, and an overall whimsical vibe.

“Satellite Jockey” is simply brilliant, reminding of both the Kinks and the Move, but pre-dating the Electric Light Orchestra with a complex pop melody welded to a classical construct. The album’s actual single, “Pentacost Hotel,” is a charming, elfish song with the sort of soft/loud dynamic that Cobain would later use to sell millions of records. This Nirvana slaps cascading instrumentation and orchestral finery onto a psych-pop framework with great results. The band’s only charting single, 1968’s “Rainbow Chaser,” would later be included on their sophomore album, and while it shows slight artistic growth over the aforementioned material from their debut, it doesn’t stray far from the classical-pop hybrid blueprint they used on that album. With swirls of orchestral instrumentation, the melody here is somewhat more syncopated, with wan vocals lost amidst the washes of violin and cacophonic percussion.

Curiously enough, “Tiny Goddess” was actually the band’s first single, but wasn’t included on the first album. I’m not sure why, because the song’ s ethereal arrangement, thundering percussion, flowery lyrics and vocals, and dazzling instrumentation fit like a glove with that album. Perhaps with a stronger melody “Tiny Goddess” might have delivered the band’s first hit. There are a couple of other high points from All of Us included on Cult, including the up-tempo “Girl In the Park,” a spry pastiche of late 1960s pop/rock and sunshine pop that hides its symphonic foundation beneath lively vocals and a strong melodic hook. “The St. Johns Wood Affair” is a catchy little number that blends jazzy flourishes with an unusual arrangement, sparse instrumentation, and a few surprising musical twists and turns before it’s all over.

Of the B-sides, etc to be found on Cult, they don’t detour much from the material from the main albums, although both “Life Ain’t Easy” and “Darling Darlane” both stand out, the former a hauntingly beautiful ballad with a lush orchestral background and melancholy vocals, the latter a mid-tempo romantic pop song that melds scraps of 1950s-era rock (think Gene Pitney) with a 1960s psychedelic sensibility (more like the Bee Gees than the Beatles). As for the “bonus tracks” on Cult, “Requiem for John Coltrane” is an unexpected outlier, mixing lonesome jazzy hornplay with odd noises and overall sonic chaos unlike anything the band had previously recorded. “Our Love Is the Sea” presents the 2012 version of Nirvana; benefiting from modern production and improved studio tools, the song builds upon the band’s 1960s legacy to deliver a fantastic bit of musical whimsy.    

The British Nirvana never found the fame and fortune that their later stateside namesakes did, but they were nonetheless influential far beyond their meager commercial returns would suggest. The making of the band’s first two albums involved a number of talents that would benefit from the experience of working with Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos to go on to bigger and better things. This list includes producers Tony Visconti (David Bowie, Marc Bolan); Jimmy Miller (The Rolling Stones); and Guy Stevens (Mott the Hoople, The Clash) as well as studio engineer Brian Humphries (Traffic, Pink Floyd) and musicians like Billy Bremner (Rockpile).

All in all, if you’re a fan of 1960s-era psychedelic pop, you’re going to love Nirvana, and Cult is a fine introduction to, if not a substitute for, the band’s near-mythical original albums. (Global Recording Artists 2012)

Review originally published by Blurt magazine, 2012

Friday, April 26, 2024

Archive Review: Graham Parker & the Rumour’s Live In San Francisco 1979 (2010)

Graham Parker & the Rumour’s Live In San Francisco 1979
By 1979, the angry, hurried punk-rock spewed out by such “Class of ‘77” grads as the Sex Pistols, the Damned and others had begun to give way to the more considered, diverse, and admittedly softer-edged “new wave” sounds that would dominate the early 1980s. Also, by this point, Graham Parker, as angry a young bloke as any of his punkier musical brethren, had found near universal critical acclaim with his first three studio albums – Howlin’ Wind and Heat Treatment in 1976, Stick To Me in 1977 – that would be unaccompanied by any semblance of real commercial success.

Plagued by lack of promotion and label mismanagement for his albums – Parker would write the song “Mercury Poisoning” around this time about his label – and overshadowed by the commercial emergence of the similarly angry young artist Elvis Costello, Parker swung for the fences with his 1979 album, Squeezing Out Sparks. Working for the first time with producer Jack Nitzsche after making three albums with musician Nick Lowe, Costello channeled all of his piss-n-vinegar energy, emotion, and frustrations into songs like “Discovering Japan,” “Local Girls,” “Passion Is No Ordinary Word,” and “You Can’t Be Too Strong.” Squeezing Out Sparks would become Parker’s best-known, and most successful album, topping 200,000 copies sold and inching itself into the Billboard magazine Top Forty.

Graham Parker & the Rumour’s Live In San Francisco 1979

As Parker remembers in the liner notes for Live In San Francisco 1979, management put him and his band the Rumour on tour shortly before the March 1979 release of Squeezing Out Sparks and kept them out on the road, on two continents, for almost ten months. One of the early stops along the way was a two-night gig at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco in April, the second night of which was recorded by local radio station KSAN-FM for on-air broadcast.

This is the show that would later be used by Parker’s label for a promotional album titled Live Sparks that culled San Francisco performances of the ten songs from Squeezing Out Sparks, tacked on a couple of songs from a live broadcast on WXRT-FM in Chicago, and would be quickly sent out to radio stations to help provide momentum for Parker’s tour and album sales. The limited-edition, promo-only vinyl quickly became a coveted collector’s item, but would later become redundant in the CD age when included as a second disc on the 1996 reissue of Squeezing Out Sparks.

Live Sparks only told part of the story, however, while Live From San Francisco 1979, released by archive specialists Renaissance Records with its online partners It’s About Music, recreates a longer tale. Featuring a twenty-song performance by Graham Parker & the Rumour as recorded by the radio station, Live From San Francisco 1979 provides a valuable document of the band’s reckless live energy and Parker’s frenetic vocal pace. Whereas the sound on Live Sparks was always suspect – thin and full of echo – it has been markedly improved here, albeit at slightly less than studio quality. While portions of this performance have circulated among fans as bootlegs for years, none to my knowledge have ever included it in its entirety.

Squeezing Out Sparks

Parker performs his Squeezing Out Sparks album almost in its entirety on Live From San Francisco 1979, supplementing those performances with a healthy dose of material from his previous three studio discs. Kicking off with a crash-bang reading of “Discovering Japan” and slipping into a fast-paced version of “Local Girls,” Live From San Francisco 1979 jumps into an urgent performance of “Thunder and Rain” that includes some stellar fretwork from guitarists Brinsley Schwartz and Martin Belmont, Graham’s strident vocal gymnastics, bombastic drumbeats from Steven Goulding, and just beneath the surface, some great keyboards and special effects courtesy of Bob Andrews.

After ramping up the audience with three subsequent barn-burners, Parker & the Rumour deliver a swaggering look at “Don’t Get Excited” that befits the song’s syncopated electricity before launching into the pub-rock-flavored romp “Back To School Days.” A piano-led, tongue-in-cheek boozy roll in nostalgia, the band cranks it out here like Friday night at the local watering hole and their life depends on winning over the crowd. The aforementioned “Mercury Poisoning,” spit out here with all of the venomous intent of the original studio version, is one of the best songs written about the music biz. Directly targeting his former record label and its feeble attempts at promoting his music, Parker’s nimble wordplay is matched by an infectious chorus and kicked out with a punkish fervor of clashing instruments and angry vocals.

The older material easily fits in between the newer songs here, the band’s innate chemistry allowing it to change gears quickly from the swinging R&B rave-up “Heat Treatment” to the rockabilly-tinged “Clear Head” and the hard-rocking “Saturday Nite Is Dead.” The band’s cover of the Jackson 5 gem “I Want You Back” has always been one of my personal favorites, Parker’s reverent vocals doing a great job at expressing the romantic longing and loss of the original song. This live version is pretty cool, a little faster-paced than some performances, but Parker’s vox are still top-notch and the accompanying guitars bring just enough Steve Cropper/Stax Records flavor to mimic the Motown sound. Live From San Francisco 1979 closes with the anarchistic “New York Shuffle,” the song’s pub-rock vibe complimented by a little rockabilly guitar, honky-tonk-styled piano, and more than a little punkish intensity.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Live From San Francisco 1979 documents a road-weary Graham Parker & the Rumour that climb the Old Waldorf stage and kick out the jams with reckless aplomb anyway. The collection is a hell of a lot of fun, mixing Squeezing Out Sparks with the earlier material, and both Parker and the band sound absolutely energized by the loud-n-rowdy audience. More than anything, the album showcases an artist that never quite received the commercial pay-off that his passionate, intense, and entertaining music should have gotten. Luckily we have recordings like Live From San Francisco 1979 to remind us of just how damn good Graham Parker & the Rumour were back in the day. (Renaissance Records/It’s About Music, released ‎October 25th, 2009)    

Review originally published by the Trademark of Quality (TMQ) blog, 2010