Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Motorhead - No Remorse

It seems to me that it took me a while before I owned anything by Motorhead other than compilation cuts, but this compilation sure made a believer out of me!

Consisting of both greatest hits and rarities, this collection truly is some of the best that this band had to offer!

Opening with – of course – the classic “Ace of Spades” and Lemmy’s monsterous bass chords, you know that there’s no escape from the madness for the next hour & ½ or so! Their theme song, “Motorhead”, follows and explains why Lemmy was kicked out of Hawkwind and why he was lumped in with the new punk crowd before basically creating his own genre. I actually first heard this song on an early “punk” collection.

There is something truly demented about someone who looks like Lemmy singing about “Jailbait”, but it is still a hard-rockin’ song! “Stay Clean” has an ultra-cool riff and even a bass solo! “Killed by Death” is surprisingly catchy, considering the subject matter, and has some great guitar playing on it. They move into hardcore before hardcore existed with “Iron Fist”, though again, it has a memorable chorus! One of their poppiest riffs appears on “Dancing on your Grave” of all things!

Lemmy’s ode to himself, “Snaggletooth”, is a psychotic romp through power chords and Lemmy’s mirror! Crazed high energy and a wild ending of multiple key changes over a wildly soloing guitar!

There are several homages to decades gone by on this comp as is the cover of “Louie Louie” with prominent organ! Any time that someone does this classic, you never know if they are doing it tongue in cheek, but I think that Lemmy just wanted to show what a great song this is!

Stealing the riff from ZZ Top’s “Tush”, the band still manages to make “No Class” their own. I understand that on the CD reissue, there is another version of this song with Wendy O Williams on it, but I haven’t heard that.

“We are the Road Crew” is an amazing stream-of-consciousness rant about the “glories” of touring. Damn fine number that pretty much anyone who has ever been in a band can relate to (whether or not you’ve actually had a road crew!). The explanation that I’ve heard for the long stretch of feedback in the solo is that the guitarist fell over drunkenly while recording and they left it in! Pretty genius and appropriate for the theme!

Covering the Birds’ cover of the r’n’b number, “Leaving Here” is another nod to Lemmy’s youth and another crazed, high-energy rocker! But then there’s the masterpiece of the collection – “Locomotive”! The intro is one of the sickest and most extreme double-bass drum pieces I’ve ever heard and thrusts you into a song that is truly “faster than a speeding locomotive”! Tremendous power and playing all the way through!

Girlschool (a fantastic 80’s all-female metal band with at least a couple of great albums) teamed up with Motorhead for a few songs and two are included here. “Please Don’t Touch” is the terrific old Johnny Kidd and the Pirates tune and is given a sassy, sexy, dirty twist by these combined maniacs! The other collaboration is “Emergency”, though with just Lemmy singing, it is hard to really notice the extra personnel, but still ultra-hip.

There are more cool moments on this set but suffice to say that this is an excellent introduction to this band of reprobates with several otherwise unavailable tracks and the CD set seems to have even more.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Hellacopters - Grande Rock

Showing their devotion to the MC5 yet again by using the name of the Detroit band’s rock-home (the Grande Ballroom) in the album title, the Hellacopters prove that they have nothing to hide!

This record is truly the start of the clean-up of the band. This is not to say that they lost any of their intensity, but along with the loss of guitarist Dregen to the Backyard Babies, the group lost some of the over-the-top ear-splitting cacophony of the earlier records.

Grande Rock opens, not altogether surprisingly, with snippets from some of their influences, including stage raps from Kick Out the Jams, before kicking in with the guitar riff to “Action de Grace”. Immediately the production difference is noticeable and the guitars sound more like Kiss from Dressed to Kill than the MC5 or Stooges. Not that this is a bad thing – just very different from the previous 2 albums and a big surprise to some of their legions of fans!

There is another nod to the ‘5 in the opening riff to “Alright Already Now” (funny that the first two titles reference songs from the ‘copters first two records) which is basically “Rocket Reducer” from KOTJ. The two-guitar team is as strong as ever on “Move Right Out of Here”, which still sounds like it could have come from one of the earlier albums, but just not as clamorous.

The guitar work-outs on “Welcome To Hell” are positively ecstacy-producing! The keyboards become more prominent and especially jump out in “The Electric Eel Index”, but the guitars remain the masters! This song even includes a genius pick-slide duel! Amazing!

“Paul Stanley” has nothing lyrically to do with the Kiss singer, but apparently the progression is stolen from one of the tunes on Paul’s solo album. It has more superb guitar soloing, though! “Angel Dust” is originally done by Venom, though the ‘copters make it their own here and has some incredible banshee wails from Nicke!

Another of my fave Hellacopters’ songs of all time is “The Devil Stole the Beat From the Lord” – phenomenal lyrics and a rockin’ tune, with more Dressed to Kill references. There’s still more of the MC5 in “Dog Day Morning” and then “Venus in Force” is almost organ-dominated, which is unusual for these guys!

“Lonely” continues the Kiss rips, but has a very cool call and response vocal line and, of course, riffin’ guitars, which also sound a bit like Ace Frehley here!

The record closes with “Renvoyer”, which is a reprise of “Action de Grace” and invites the listener to start the record all over again, which I’m sure that many people did! It is hard to get enough of this band!

I believe that Nicke and his fellow guitarists (Dregen and Robert/”Strings”) are some of the best guitarists of the last couple of decades (though I would include a couple of LA string manglers such as Jonathan Hall and Tony Fate, as well) and I could listen to almost anything that they did and be blown away. I can’t fault musicians for expanding their horizons and trying new things. I would be thrilled if they made a dozen albums that sounded like Paying the Dues, but even these cleaner records send chills up and down my spine!

The Hellacopters - Super Shitty to the Max and Paying the Dues

I’m kinda astonished to note that I haven’t written more about this incredible band as they are by far my favorite group of the last couple decades! I know I’ve written a couple of posts positing my belief that these cats are the bastard sons of the MC5, which is the highest compliment I can give anyone! They managed to do everything I ever wanted to do in music – and more – and are probably the sole reason why I can no longer listen to any recordings that I’ve ever done – my stuff just can’t compare in any way, shape or form and this shows me what I should have been doing!

They blasted out of Sweden with “(Gotta Get Some Action) Now!” on their debut album, Super Shitty to the Max. Gawds and Demons! Wild riffs (basically a more manic take on Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic” lick) and more energy that you could dream of, tons of feedback, screams and yet, a catchy song! Yes, there are punk influences, but more pre-punk, Detroit sounds that are taken to an extreme – if you can imagine that!

This is a crazily noisy record – I’ve heard that they purposely recorded on a broken recording deck and then fed the entire mix through a distortion box! I have no idea if that is true, but it sounds like it!

The two guitars never let up – solos and licks fly extremely fast and furious and both Nicke and Dregen are masters of their instruments! You can’t even catch your breath between songs – “24th Hell” and “Fire Fire Fire” are gone before you realize it, and then there’s “Born Broke”, a showpiece that really came to life in a live setting, where they played more with dynamics and even more guitar interplay than is on this studio version. This shows how much their learned from geniuses such as the MC5 and the NY Dolls – that regardless of how great your playing is, the guitars need to play together and this set the standard for the future line-ups of this band.

They then go even more over the top with “Bore Me” which is literally shrieked out by Nicke who sounds damned pissed off about being surrounding by dullards! It’s almost a relief when they do a cover of the NY Doll’s classic, “It’s Too Late”!

The tempo is slowed down for “Tab” but is certainly no less intense. This is still a wild guitar romp filled with beautiful noise! “Random Riot” is another live fave and is so damn fast and furious that it is hard to even take it in before it disappears but it is almost like a hardcore version of the Clash’s “White Riot”, in a weird way (at least to me!).

“Fake Baby” had fans chanting along with the “you don’t know!” chorus every time they played it, also. As much energy as the records have, their live sets were even crazier!

The whole record is incredible and closes with the oddly titled, “Sprock in my Rocket”. The dissonance on this cut could empty a room or at the very least, annoy the hell out of your neighbors! I played this at work one day and a teenager pop-rap listener screamed for me to turn it off because it was torturing him! What better endorsement could you ask for?!

A mind-boggling initial blast and these cats would be legends even if this was their only release. But they did so much more!

Some people thought that the Hellacopters had cleaned up too much on Paying the Dues, but this is still a clamoring, jarring ride that jumps out of the gate with “You Are Nothin’” – showing that they have lost none of their attitude! I suppose the sound is slightly cleaner, but the cacophony is still everywhere and the guitars still fight for supremacy on every tune!

Certainly, no one could claim that “Like No Other Man” was anything less than manic! “Looking at Me” – an obvious play on MC5’s “Looking at You” – is another catchy tune with more heavy guitars. Then “Riot on the Rocks” explodes out of the speakers! I don’t think that any hard core bands could play any faster and still these loonies manage to fit in clever guitar solos!

The sublime and very-simply titled “Hey” follows and is one of the masterpieces of this band’s career! An amazingly memorable chord progression, sing-along lyrics, a break down to the super tight bass and drum duo of Kenny Hakansson and Robert Eriksson and then it erupts back into the chorus with shrieks from the throat and guitar of Nicke! No way that I can describe how fantastic this song is – you just gotta hear it!

What could possibly follow that? Well, none of than Sonic’s Rendezvous Band’s near-perfect “City Slang”, which the ‘copters do supreme justice to! I never got to see the band with Dregen, but I did see their first American tour with guitarist Strings and they encored with this with Wayne Kramer guesting and it was one of the most indelible rock moments of my life! I never wanted it to end! Sonic’s fans will notice plenty more nods to this band throughout the Hellacopters’ career, rightfully acknowledging their heavy influence.

An early example of the importance that keyboards would play in their career is shown in “Soulseller”, which also shows off their skills with dynamics. “Where the Action Is" is another insane chant-along, “Twist Action” is a high-energy blast and then they slow things down a little with “Colapso Nervioso”, which is like this album’s “Sprock in my Rocket”.

This slab of wax closes out with the aptly titled “Psyched Out and Furious”, which is pretty much a mission statement for these wildmen!

In my opinion, this groups consists of the reigning gods of r’n’r who have resurrected the ghosts of the Detroit madmen and grafted the power of punk onto those spirits and saved rock music for the last couple of decades. So, I am not exactly unbiased in my praise! But if you’re looking for the best high energy lead guitar mania you can imagine, look no further!

Supagroup - Rules

This New Orleans-based r’n’r outfit is a modern-day AC/DC, complete with loud rhythm guitars, terrific riffs and silly lyrics about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll! Damn swell guys too!

The band is led by the Lee brothers, Chris and Benji (lead vocals and lead guitar respectively, though they both share both duties), who claim to be nephews of Bruce Lee, which I can neither confirm nor deny. But they rock with the ferociousness that Bruce fought with! Bassist Leif Swift (nice guy who loaned me his amp and even his bass at times! Thanks, Leif!) and drum-master Michael Brueggen are a ridiculously tight rhythm section that holds the wildness together!

Opening with a reprise of “Ready to Go” from their first album, you know from the start what you’re in for – catchy riff-rock about groupies and rockin’! These cats are all about having FUN – getting high, playing in their band, having sex – and they want the audience to join in on the high jinx and high times, as well! I guess they’re an update on the New Orleans theme, “let the good times roll!” If you’re not smiling and bouncing in your seat right away, then I’m not sure that you’re human!

The lyric theme continues throughout songs such as “Let’s Go (Get Wasted)”, “Hot Times” and “It Takes Balls”. This isn’t poetry here! But it is awesome, sing-a-long r’n’r – they sure do know how to write a hook!

They are not a one-trick pony, though. There is variety here, as with the slower tempo and addition of keyboards on “I’m Gonna Change”, but the intensity remains.

The remainder of the record rocks accordingly – as I said, there is variety, even some slide guitar and blues licks - and the whole CD is dedicated to decadent fun! Not for those who take their music too seriously, but definitely for those who want to have a good, rockin’ time!

Howlin’ Wolf – His Best – Chess 50th Anniversary Collection

Another undisputed master of the blues and one of the most intense singer/performers ever to exist! Pretty much every modern musician in the world has covered his tunes at some point but no one could match this legend! As he himself says, he’s “300 pounds of heavenly joy”!

Most of the Wolf’s releases can be recommended, but this is a great place to start. There are a few of his lesser-known tunes, but most of his hits are included. “Evil” is one of the many songs that have been covered by innumerable artists, though probably most famously by Cactus and Monster Magnet. “Smokestack Lightning” has also been done more times that can be counted and its riff has also been stolen for even more tunes! Wolf gives his patented howl on this song and it’s a raw, wild performance.

“Who’s Been Talkin’” has a hypnotic groove that really pulls you in and is followed by a song made famous by Cream, “Sitting on Top of the World”. Cream actually stayed pretty close to the original, for a change, but the Wolf’s treatment is pretty damn genius.

One of my all-time favorite Wolf tunes is “Wang Dang Doodle”, which is like a full-blown party condensed into one song! This has also had more covers that I could possibly mention, but Koko Taylor has a fantastic version and, believe it or not, the Pointer Sisters did a wild take on this, as well!

Man, the hits on this compilation just keep coming! “Back Door Man” – what can be said about this masterpiece of sneaky sex?! The Doors' version is pretty damn classic, but here the man truly sounds like he’s creeping around and that you would be damn sorry if he snuck into your back door (no butt sex jokes here! I really don't think that is what this song is about!) because he sounds like he could steal your woman without even trying!

“Spoonful”, “Shake For Me”, “The Red Rooster”, “I Ain’t Superstitious”, “Hidden Charms”, “Built For Comfort”, “Killing Floor” – whew! How could one man be responsible for so much greatness?!

I’d be pretty amazed if anyone wasn’t familiar with this man’s work, so I would think that it would go without saying that you need to own at least something by this legend! This is a super collection of some of his biggest hits!

Rose Tattoo

Rose Tattoo, another Australian hard rock band in the vein of their pals AC/DC, are possibly the ugliest r’n’r band ever! This could be why they never achieved more notoriety and fame, especially in the US. They look like soccer hooligans who would rather kick your ass than sing you a song – especially singer with the appropriate sobriquet Angry Anderson!

Frankly, I discovered the band due to other groups covering their tunes – such as the B-Movie Rats and Nashville Pussy. I always liked AC/DC but never thought that I needed a sound-alike band, as well!

But, while they are similar, these are not copiers. The most noticeable difference is the fact that the RT sound is highlighted by the slide guitar of Peter Wells. Very distinctive and very cool!

As with AC/DC, not all the songs are winners – I’m particularly under-whelmed by the “story-song” with spoken lyrics, “The Butcher and Fast Eddy”. But when they’re good, they’re loud, vicious, raw and rockin’! “Rock’n’Roll Outlaw”, “Nice Boys”, “Remedy”, “Bad Boy for Love”, etc are all supremely heavy and yet still catchy.

But lest you think they have no heart, they actually had a semi-ballad with “Stuck on You”, though Angry’s savaged voice hardly makes it quiet and overall it sounds like his tongue is firmly in his cheek.

I picked up the import version of this record with 8 bonus tracks, including live takes of “R’n’R Outlaw”, “Bad Boy for Love”, “R’n’R is King” and “Suicide City”. Studio extras include that humorous “Never Too Loud (for r’n’r)” and the surprisingly serious song about soldiers titled “Fightin’ Sons”.

Fans of the B-Movie Rats (in their less frantic modes) and Aussie hard rock like AC/DC should find plenty to enjoy here!

I found an updated website for the band and it looks like they are still rockin'!

Monday, January 28, 2008

AC/DC – Maximum Rock & Roll by Murray Engleheart and Arnaud Durieux

I picked up this massive tome at the library on a whim and it seems to be a good, exhaustive biography of this r’n’r band whose career has spanned more than 35 years!

The book opens with a brief history of The Easybeats, which featured George Young, older brother to Malcolm and Angus Young of AC/DC. It gives a good overview of their success and gives the groundwork for the influence that George and partner Harry Vanda had on the burgeoning Australian rock scene. Their influence was wide-ranging and covered most of the major acts of the 60’s and 70’s especially, of course, AC/DC, who they produced and mentored. Having an older brother who was a successful rock star and kept his hand in the music business certainly helped the younger band, as well!

Malcolm and Angus both picked up the guitar at a young age and both played in several of their own bands – with varying degrees of success and notoriety – before joining forces. By the time they decided to work together, each brother was known as guitar virtuosos and, due to similar tastes in music, had bands that played music like the Stones, Jeff Beck Group, Jimi Hendrix, etc. It is somewhat surprising to hear that each brother was capable of imitating some of these major players considering how simple and stripped down their band became. Some people even say that Malcolm was the better lead guitarist but he was also a visionary and leader who saw a strict separation of duties as a good PR move. Malcolm remained the concept man and Angus became the wildman lead guitarist. It is pretty rare to find a rocker who is willing to keep his ego in check for the betterment of the band!

Once finding a reasonably stable line-up, the new band started taking the country by storm! They played constantly, performed on TV regularly, recorded and had hits in their native land before moving on to conquer the world!They first stop was England, and they happened to land just as the punk movement was starting out. While it is funny to think about this now, at the time they were lumped in with this genre at first – basically because this happened to any new rock band (the Police and Tom Petty were called punk at first also!). This was probably more of a draw back than anything at the time, but they soon overcame that!

The story continues with the many ups and downs of their career before they became established. It seems like it really was "a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll"! After an initial burst, their popularity slowed and they had to build up an audience all over again, for some reason. But they made plenty of high powered friends - besides the contacts that the Easybeats had made years before, AC/DC made pals with everyone from Cheap Trick to Ted Nugent to Kiss, who all helped them with important gigs.

One funny point that reoccurs in the book is that the authors truly seem to think of Bon Scott as a "street poet" and they reference his "poetry" repeatedly. While he had some clever/silly hard rock lyrics that were simple enough to fit into the fairly simple rock backdrop of the band, this was hardly poetry and the authors really are stretching with that point!

So, after their years of struggling, they really hit in America with a double dose of the live record - If You Want Blood - and Highway to Hell (which American record execs were scared to issue with this title, funnily enough).

With these releases they became gold record selling stars. They knew that their next record would be even bigger and better and had just started pre-production on it when tragedy struck - singer Bon died, supposedly from alcohol poisoning. Considering his legendary tendency for partying, this took many by surprise, especially when the coroner said he only had a 1/2 bottle of whiskey in him! Hell, I've drunk more than that on a quiet night! Very strange...

But they knew that they couldn't stop...

After considering unreachable names such as Steve Mariott and Noddy Holder, management suggested former Geordie singer, Brian Johnson and the rest is history!

Although the authors go to great lengths to assure that they did not want a copy of Bon, I honestly can't tell the difference in the two singers - I thought that they were looking for someone who sounded as close to Bon as possible.But they continually emphasize the differences, which I don't really hear.

Of course, Back in Black turned into their biggest hit despite or because of the emotions running high during the recording and while Bon remains a legend, Brian is the man who sang their greatest hits.

Oddly, Dirty Deeds hadn't been released in America prior to this and of course, the record company changed their mind when they saw the dollar signs looming. So for new fans whose first AC record was Back in Black, their new purchase was one with the previous singer!

Doubly oddly, when the song “Dirty Deeds” was released in Europe, some people thought that Bon's "36-24-36" was a phone number rather than the obvious, but the book claims that someone in America thought so, as well, even though American numbers are 7 digits! No explanation to that is included which makes it sound more like an urban legend!

Well, I’m telling the whole story here, but basically the book covers the rest of their career, from the follow-up massive hit, For Those About to Rock, through their present day entry to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame and continued success. While no record is as legendary as Back in Black, they continue to sell huge numbers and fill arenas and don’t seem ready to stop!

A good read on a subject that shows that it pays to keep it simple and just rock!

i'm so old-fashioned - i still like to own music

Music industry weighs giving away music

CANNES, France - After years of fighting the Wild West of freely downloaded music, the mainstream music industry welcomed a former desperado to their annual schmoozefest Monday, highlighting the difficulty of their search for a solution to plunging CD sales.

And that solution might be: give music away legally and find another way — such as advertising — to make money.

Participation was down at the annual MIDEM music business conference at the seaside resort of Cannes, reflecting the failure of digital music sales to make up for crumbling revenues and the billions of dollars being lost to music piracy — illegal downloads outnumber the number of tracks sold by a factor of 20 to 1 according to industry body IFPI.

I still want to be able to hold something in my hand that has artwork, band information, etc. Of course, i'm a collector and an old guy, and i still like LPs!
Of course, downloading music has its pluses, but what if your computer crashes? I actually own everything that is on my iTunes.

Generational differences, i guess....

I have no idea how the record industry is going to stay in business like this though - they can't make any serious money with advertising that i can imagine. It sounds like this could be bad for music-making in general, but we'll see....

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Black Sabbath – Past Lives

Since BS never released a live album during their original incarnation, this collection is here to rectify that omission!

Recorded over several shows during their 70’s hey-day, this double-CD set includes monster versions of some of their most famous songs, as well as a few obscurities – ranging from their first album through Sabotage.

Because they were a ridiculously tight band of great musicians, some of these tunes are so similar to the studio originals that there is almost no need for a live take! Even Tony’s solos are true to the album! But, there are some nice additions to some of the songs.

Of the songs on the first disc, besides some addition heaviness and speed on some numbers, the biggest change is Iommi’s solo spot on “Wicked World” – just a little freer and not so much of a recreation of the first record. Funnily enough, this segues into an unlisted version of “Supernaut” from Volume 4 before delving into a drum solo, another Iommi blast and returning to the original theme.

Disc 2 blasts open with an intense “Hand of Doom” before moving onto later tunes “Hole in the Sky”, “Symptom of the Universe” and “Megalomania”. There’s a stomping “Iron Man” and then Tony gets to show off some more as an intro to their theme song, the evilly and eeriely heavy “Black Sabbath”. Several more cool older tunes, and the set closes with “Fairies Wear Boots”.

While it’s nice to hear what the band sounded like live, there is so little variation from the studio versions (which I’m sure some audience members appreciated) that this set is pretty much just a “greatest hits” package! Good for what it is, but not essential.

Bobby “Blue” Bland – the Definitive Collection

While Bobby’s biggest hits were more soul/pop oriented, he still identifies himself as a blues singer and he certainly had that aspect in his tunes.

The first number in this collection, “I Smell Trouble” is also one of the most straight-ahead blues on this CD and is a good indication on how strong Bobby was in this genre. “Further Up the Road” is still quite blues oriented, but is already starting to get a little more big-band/pop flavored. He goes all the way to pop/r’n’b territory in “Little Boy Blue”, though he does keep his blues growl in his voice as he sings – I guess he truly was a cross-over artist!

He does do a nice, organ-dominated, minor-key blues with “I’ll Take Care of You” which then goes into a string dominated ballad, “Lead Me On”. Apparently, he did not want to be pigeon-holed!

One of my favorite Bland songs here is the fantastic “I Pity the Fool”, covered by none other than David Bowie in the 60’s with his band, the Mannish Boys, and, of course, is where Mr. T. got his trademark line. Great, great, r’n’b/soul shouter!

Also included is definitive take on T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday Blues”, which became a big hit for Bobby and is probably the version that most people think of when they think of this tune. Nice, T-Bone flavored guitar playing and Bobby’s distinctive edge to his voice make this another classic.

Yet another hit for Bobby is the r’n’b smash, “Turn On Your Love Light”, which is a jumping horn number that is followed by the sound-alike “Yield Not To Temptation” – the record company was clearly attempting to duplicate the success of “Love Light”!

The majority of the balance of this comp is ballady-r’n’b numbers, though he still goes into blues territory now and again, as on “Chains of Love”. “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” and “I Wouldn’t Treat a Dog (the Way that you Treat Me)” are both solid, strong soul numbers. Closing is a duet with none other than B.B.King on a song that he made famous, “Let the Good Times Roll”. Apparently, B.B. started out with Bobby before heading out on his own!

Overall, nice stuff, if you’re a fan of his “Stormy Monday Blues” and “Love Light”, but don’t go in expecting hard-core blues. Still, a good overview of Bobby’s prolific career.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cream - BBC Sessions

I’ve always liked these BBC session releases for the oddities and different takes of tunes that they provide and this CD is no exception. Drawn from sessions as early as late-1966 to the beginning of 1968, this collection shows off all of their various sides!

Opening with 2 of their most un-Cream-like tunes, “Sweet Wine” and “Wrapping Paper”, the uninitiated might wonder if they picked up the wrong CD! “Sweet Wine” is a fine pop song, but “Wrapping Paper” is a terrible vaudeville-parody that is pretty worthless and mind-boggling that they thought to release it as their first single. But, then the band kicks in with their real strengths on their take on “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and this is what people expect from this band! Great, energetic, updates blues power!

“Steppin’ Out” is a super instrumental guitar workout that was previously only released on their live album and this goes into a hot, but pretty straight-forward, take on Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads”. “Cat’s Squirrel”, though, is given an extended treatment and I’m sure is closer to what they were doing with the tune live at the time.

“Traintime” is Jack Bruce’s spirited, intense harp number recorded years before their “Wheels of Fire” live version and is a wild romp that sounds like it is trying to catch up with a roaring locomotive!

While all of the songs have been released in one form or another throughout the years, it’s nice to hear these variations. Clapton references classical works in his solo in “I’m So Glad”, which he dropped before recording the studio version, apparently. “Lawdy Mama” was originally recorded for Disraeli Gears but was scrapped after they recorded a much slower (and essentially unrecognizable) version, added new words, and created the terrific “Strange Brew”.

There’s plenty of great stuff on here – “I Feel Free”, “N.S.U.”, the afore-mentioned “Strange Brew”, “Tales of Brave Ulysses” (the album version credited with being the first recorded use of the wah-wah peddle, though its use is very basic here – nothing like the flights of fancy Hendrix would take on it!), “We’re Going Wrong”, a fine version of Eric Clapton’s hero, Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” and plenty more.

Showing off their spontaneity and writing abilities, “Politician” was written in the BBC studios to fill out a session that they were doing! It’s a little sloppy and a bit faster than the “real” studio version, but the meat of the song is definitely there.

Overall, no real revelations here, but nice alternative versions for Cream fans.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

T-Bone Walker – The Very Best of…

T-Bone Walker is another legend whose name I have heard bandied about for decades, but never knew very much about him or his music. I know that he was a big influence on Jimi Hendrix – both his playing and his wild stage show (many of his antics were taken directly by Hendrix – playing behind his head, with his teeth, while doing splits, etc) – but I never really knew what he sounded like.

This is a great collection of his tunes and it shows just what a super player and singer Walker was. The overall sound is much more jazzy/big-band than raw blues (though that is displayed, as well) and his tone is very clean, but man, what a player!

“Bobby Sox Blues” starts out with the big band sound, but “Mean Old World Blues”, while including a horn section, is pretty straight ahead blues with some amazing guitar licks! He croons through several numbers here – this is definitely not a raw blues comp! – but on “Hypin’ Women Blues” he is revvin’ it up with a jump’n’jive tune that he augments with proto-r’n’r riffs that certainly gave Chuck Berry some ideas!

As I said, this music is definitely not plantation blues or even Chicago Blues and I could imagine that I would have been disappointed as a teenager listening to this and hoping to hear semi-Hendrix-y guitars. But it is still phenomenal music!T-Bone’s original “Stormy Monday” is featured here and his voice caresses the melody as he plays some sweet guitar lines – really amazing and easy to see why this became his biggest hit and his trademark song.

“West Side Baby” is a slow blues, but a real guitar workout for Walker and showcases his mastery of accents and melody – in his voice and his instrument! Then he breaks out all the stops in the jumpin’ instrumental “Strollin’ With Bones”! I truly cannot imagine what this must have sounded like at the time – electric guitar itself was a fairly new instrument and this man throws out a dizzying array of notes that must have boggled the minds of the uninitiated! Wild stuff!

Some of these tunes just reach out and grab me – such as “Tell Me What’s the Reason”. I can’t really say why, other than it’s another jivey, up-beat number with more great playing! “Papa Ain’t Salty” continues with this – besides his obvious talent, he has an undefinable “something” that raises the bar on his music.

Just as I was about to write that “Play On Little Girl” is a more standard blues issue, I saw that this was recorded in Chicago in the 50’s for Atlantic and stars other legends such as Junior Wells on harmonica and Jimmy Rogers on guitar. Quite a departure from his earlier, more “urbane” recordings, but one that more modern blues enthusiasts will relate to – as are “T-Bone Blues” and “How Long Blues”. The comp closes with “T-Bone Shuffle” which is more of a return to his earlier sound and is another hot jumper!

All in all, a must for lovers of great guitarists and great blues and big-band music – as long as you don’t try to pigeon-hole your artists!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jimmy Reed – The Best of the Vee-Jay Years

I never knew much about Jimmy Reed other than the ubiquitous “Big Boss Man” and “Bright Lights, Big City”, but this man is another true blues genius and cross-over artist.

I’m currently reading a biography on the man, as well, (Big Boss Man, The Life and Times of Bluesman Jimmy Reed by Will Romano) and never knew the extent of his hits, his influence and even all of the songs that he has written that have been covered by millions of other bands.

This seems to be a solid collection of some of his biggest tunes. Of course, there is the afore-mentioned “Big Boss Man” and “Bright Lights, Big City” – both of which you’d have to have never listened to music in the last 50 years to be unfamiliar with. But there are so many other songs that I didn’t realize were his.

“I Ain’t Got You” is an early one that nearly every band in the 60’s and 70’s covered (two diverse groups just off the top of my head are the Animals and Blue Oyster Cult! And, of course, the Yardbirds with Eric Clapton recorded the version that most rockers are probably familiar with) and as simple as Jimmy’s music is, there are nuances here that I’ve never heard in any other version. There is a brilliance to his simplicity. His guitar playing is rudimentary and while his harp playing is more complex than you would expect considering that he was playing it in a rack while playing guitar, he is not a virtuoso. But man, could he write and he had the right feel for each song!

Another tune covered more times than anyone could count is “Ain’t That Loving You Baby”, which became his tag line and answer to just about anything, according to the biography. (Apparently, if someone got mad at him, he’d just say “ain’t that loving you baby?”)

He moves into almost doo-wop/ballad territory with “Honest I Do”, which you may be familiar with from the Rolling Stones version. “Baby What You Want Me To Do” also has countless remakes – from the Shadows of Knight to Wishbone Ash! – but the funny anecdote that is told in the book is that Jimmy never sings that line – he instead says something like “baby why you want to let go” – and his producer changed the name! He probably misunderstood what Reed was singing as everyone else has through the years!

There’s plenty more on this compilation – as I said, some of which I’m told were hits, though I couldn’t vouch for that – and it is solid through and through. The Jimmy Reed sound was a slow-to-mid-tempo dance groove and the fact that he was able to write so many memorable tunes around this base is a testament to his talent!

Alice Cooper - Killer

As the middle release of the magnificent trio of albums (Love it to Death and School’s Out bookending this one), Killer is one of the top LPs of the 70’s! Coming off of their smash hit, "(I’m) Eighteen", the Alice Cooper band was at their peak as they were recording this monster!

Opening with the incredible “Under My Wheels”, which leaps out at you with screeching lead guitars right from the top, you know this is gonna be a wild ride! Their hit for this album, “Be My Lover”, is next and is fun, funny, sexy and catchy as hell – and even has a faux May West impersonation at the end just before drummer Neil Smith drops his sticks! Great sounds, great lyrics (“she asked me why the singer’s name was Alice, I told her ‘listen baby, you really wouldn’t understand’”) and a great tune!

The esoteric “Halo of Flies” shows more of their “spy movie” influences, with James Bond-influenced lyrics and multitudes of changes – from high energy to cinematic. They move from spy movie to western in “Desperado”, a spaghetti western with their own unique twists – such as “I wear lace and I wear black leather” – not your usual cowboy hero!

Another wild blast of energy is expended with “You Drive Me Nervous”, teenage angst taken to the extreme with nerve-racking guitar fills and non-stop rock! Definitely one of their under-rated masterpieces!

Michael Bruce and Alice update the Beatles with “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” but with topics that the mop-tops never tackled, such as “you can pull my leg or anything” and “you could be the devil, you could be the savior”.

“Dead Babies” is their sick joke set to music and the centerpiece of their stage show at this time. As he sang about a baby overdosing, Alice would stab baby dolls with a sword and then be taken away (during the finale “Killer”) to be hung on their gallows! The record came with a fold-out calendar with a great photo of Alice after this climax. “Killer” tells the tale of the trial and execution and is still remarkably musical (as some of their later pieces that were basically backup music for the stage show lacked).

Absolutely essential piece of near-perfect 70’s rock!

The J. Geils Band – Ladies Invited

This 1973 release from the fabulous J. Geils Band did show a growth from their basic blues/R’n’B background, but still reflects plenty of their influences and is still a terrific record!

“Did You No Wrong” opens with an R’n’B feel, but definitely with more of a pop aesthetic to the sound. “I Can’t Go On” is a syncopated minor key plea with their standard trademarks, such as a great Magic Dick harp solo and fine keys by Seth Justman, but with “Lay Your Good Thing Down”, they are back into their groove – a danceable raver that would get you movin’ no matter what!

“That’s Why I’m Thinking of You” is a slow ballad but “No Doubt About It” is energetic in almost a be-bop kinda way, with cool guitar lines, starts and stops and a fine beat.

The whole band is in top form for this entire record. Magic Dick shows the lessons he learned from the greats such as Little Walter, J. Geils is a master of blues guitar, Seth Justman rocks the keys, and Daniel Klein and Stephen Jo Bladd form a rock-solid rhythm.

They run through a few changes in “The Lady Makes Demands”, from keyboard ballad, to mid-tempo r’n’b to a final semi-rave-up. But, “My Baby Don’t Love Me” is a truly uncharacteristic slow ballad – not one of their best. They get silly but in a fun way with “Diddyboppin’” another syncopated beat that highlights Peter Wolf’s DJ-rhyme/raps.

The energy returns with “Take a Chance (On Romance)” – a fine R’n’B workout – and then comes the closer, the sublime “Chimes”. This is their finest piece of moodiness and a stand-out from their Blow Your Face Out live record. This is a slow, minor-key tune that builds into a keyboard-dominated chorus before dropping back for the verses. The tension continues throughout, as Magic Dick comes in with an over-driven harp solo followed by some fantastic lines by Geils. Definitely not standard J. Geils fare, but still amazing.

All in all not their best effort, but I love pretty much all of their 70’s albums and this one is no exception!

Sonny Boy Williamson – His Best – the Chess 50th Anniversary Collection

Anyone who is familiar with the New York Dolls knows Sonny Boy from his original version of “Don’t Start Me Talkin’”, which the Dolls covered – maniacally – on Too Much Too Soon.

Sonny Boy was one helluva singer and an especially amazing harmonica player, who influenced pretty much every player who followed – certainly all of the major stars name-checked him. His songwriting is terrific too and a majority of the tunes on this collection are his (which is somewhat of a rarity among blues compilations). As with most blues, there’s overlapping songs, such as his “Born Blind” essentially being the same as Mose Allison’s “Eyesight to the Blind” and “One Way Out” has had several authors and titles. But Sonny Boy puts his distinctive sound and style on them all!

Reaching the height of his career in his 50’s, he was still known as a hard-rockin’, hard-drinkin’, foot-stompin’ blues master blowing away folks half his age. Damn inspirational to this old man…

More fantastic blues from another legend!

sad - R.I.P. Vampira

Maila Nurmi, TV's Vampira, dies at 85

LOS ANGELES - Maila Nurmi, whose "Vampira" TV persona pioneered the spooky-yet-sexy Goth aesthetic, has died, coroner's officials said. She was 85.

Nurmi died Thursday afternoon at her Hollywood home, Los Angeles County coroner's Lt. Fred Corral said. The cause of death has not been determined, Corral said.

Nurmi created her Vampira character — reminiscent of Charles Addams' spooky New Yorker cartoons — to host horror movie broadcasts on KABC TV in Los Angeles in 1954.

With darkly mascaraed eyes and blood-red lipstick, Nurmi appeared each week in her revealing black dress and slinky fishnets to introduce such films as "Revenge of the Zombies" and "Devil Bat's Daughter."

"The Vampira Show" was canceled after about a year, but Nurmi remained a cult figure among B-movie buffs and is thought to have inspired the vampish Morticia Addams on "The Addams Family," which premiered about 10 years later.


Friday, January 11, 2008

The Essential Otis Rush – the Classic Cobra Recordings 1956-1958

Another batch of 50’s recordings, but this is much slicker and fuller – a more jump’n’jive, boogie-woogie blues with a complete band augmented with horns – certainly not plantation blues!
Fine stuff, though, starting with “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, which is where Led Zep got the idea for “their” song of the same name. Willie Dixon wrote and played on a number of tunes, as well as other Chicago greats such as Little Walter, Odie Payne and many more.

There are plenty of straight-ahead blues numbers, such as “Groaning the Blues”, “She’s a Good ‘Un”, “It Takes Time”, etc, that showcase Otis’ fine guitar playing. When the horns are added to the mix, it takes on a bit of a BB King flavor to my ears – like “Checking on my Baby” – but there’s nothing wrong with that!

Rush also explores more minor-key arrangements and even different rhythms, which add to the complexity and variety of his blues. There are plenty of upbeat, swinging boogies, and his fine voice is balanced with lots of cool guitar licks.

Again, a little more polished than some of the other bluesmen of the time, but still great tunes!

Lightnin' Hopkins - Lightnin' and the Blues

Initially recorded in 1954 and released in 1959, this album is surprisingly modern sounding blues and boogie. This is stripped down, though, even when Hopkins has players behind him, the sound is really all about his superb electric guitar tone and terrific, gravely voice.

To me, this sounds like an updated version of a lot of the solo, acoustic players from the 40’s, with the guitar plugged in, turned up, reverb set to high and with minimal accompaniment.

Lightnin’ isn’t a super flashy guitarist, but has a full tone and plenty of fine riffs that slink in and around the words and help him to tell his tales.

I’m reminded of a somewhat more complex John Lee Hooker and the hypnotic, trance-like grooves that Hooker creates are here – right down to occasionally hearing Hopkins’ foot stomping in time to the music! But there is a variety, it still sounds original, and it seems that Lightnin’ had a few more tricks and licks up his sleeve and wasn’t afraid to show them off!

Not as close to r’n’r as some of the other mid-to-late 50’s bluesmen, this is blues as we white folks grew up thinking of it – real, raw, emotional and wild! Great, great stuff!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes Live at the Greek

Definitely only for fans of Led Zeppelin but I was impressed by the quality of this concept and this 1999 recording. The Black Crowes do an exceptional job backing up Jimmy and his playing is top notch throughout. Before listening, I didn’t think that singer Chris Robinson would be able to compete with Robert Plant, but he is excellent – very similar without directly copying. The versions of the songs are closer to the studio takes than Zeppelin ever did and the expanded instrumental background really fills out the sound while not detracting from Jimmy’s wild soloing.

The Zep tunes encompass pretty much their entire career and added to that is a great collection of cool covers. One funny stand-out is “Shapes of Things to Come”, which uses the Jeff Beck Group arrangement from the Truth album as opposed to the way the Yardbirds played it during Jimmy’s tenure with the band. A great homage to another superb guitarist whose band some say was the template for Led Zeppelin.

Funnily enough, of all of the Zep tunes included on here, “Stairway to Heaven” is not one of them, which I, for one, did not miss and in fact, did not even notice until thinking about it!

Don’t look for any Black Crowes songs here – I believe that I read that there was some sort of record company restriction that stopped those from appearing – but besides the Zep, there are some nice blues covers, such as “Mellow Down Easy”, “Shake Your Money Maker” and a super version of Fleetwood Mac’s (from when they were a blues band, not from their wimpy-pop era) “Oh Well”.

Again, don’t buy this if you don’t like LZ, but for those who do, these are some of the most faithful live renditions ever recorded and some terrific extras, as well!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Blues Masters: The Very Best of Albert King

Albert King is yet anther legend that I never knew very much about. Of course, I was familiar with his name, his overall sound and (naturally) his fantastic “Born Under a Bad Sign”. But I never really realized just what a phenomenal and original guitar player he really is! I think I tended to consider him to be another B.B. King stylist and while he has some similar features, he has his own style – punctuated by sweet, sustained, bent notes – that truly mark him as a genius player and an inspiration to many rock legends!

This collection starts off with a couple of fine tunes – “Let’s Have a Natural Ball” and “Don’t Throw Your Love On Me So Strong”, but it is really his work for Stax in the mid-60’s with Booker T and the MGs backing him up that really takes off!

There’s some good variety in this collection, from the instrumental “Overall Junction” to “Oh, Pretty Woman” ( a groovin’, minor-key blues, not the Roy Orbison number) to the funky "Crosscut Saw” to the a-fore-mentioned “Born Under a Bad Sign”, but all solidified by Albert’s fluid guitar lines.

He has a couple of “talking blues”, such as “Cold Feet” and “Blues Power”, which are not my faves, but his guitar work is still so good throughout that you can’t dislike it.

He had a couple more R’n’B hits with “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” and “That’s What the Blues is All About” and rightfully so, as they are swinging numbers!

There are several Albert King collections out these days and they’re all pretty solid, but if you’re a fan of superb blues guitar, definitely pick up one of them!

The Best of Slim Harpo

You’d have to be pretty much ignorant of r’n’r in its entirety to not know Slim’s classic, nasally- sung “I’m a King Bee”, if not from the original, at least from the Stones’ cover early in their career.

As a testament to his songwriting, a number of his other tunes have been covered over the years (by the Stones and many other bands), including “Got Love If You Want It”, “Rainin’ in my Heart”, “Baby, Scratch My Back”, and the rollicin’ “Shake Your Hips” (which I believe was also the inspiration for ZZ Top’s “La Grange” besides being included on Exile on Main Street). The oddly titled “Te Ni Nee Ni Nu” has a fun, swingin’ groove in his Louisiana “swamp blues” style, giving a nod to the local zydeco genre.

His slinky, sliding grooves are credited for the inspiration for the funk pioneered by the likes of James Brown, but he will always be known as another of the blues greats that inspired the birth of r'n'r!

Elmore James – Shake Your Moneymaker – The Best of the Fire Sessions

Elmore is yet another incredible blues slide-guitarist who had a terrific string of hits, most of which are included on this great collection.

Of course the title song, along with “Dust My Broom”, is known to just about any person living in the modern world, and deservedly so! James has a wonderful electric slide tone, obviously influenced by legends such as Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. His songwriting is top-notch and he has a wonderfully emotive and distinctive singing voice that lends itself to pleading as well as demanding!

He runs the gamut of jumping numbers like “Shake Your Moneymaker” and “Stranger Blues” (The Nomads did a nice cover of this one) to the slow blues of “The Sky is Crying” (an R’n’B hit for Elmore) to the hypnotic groove of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”.

There is some repetition here as the records companies then (like now) always ask for more of the same, but it’s all good stuff, played and sang with a cool intensity.

Another great collection!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Escaping the Delta – Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues by Elijah Wald

This book has a very interesting thesis – basically that the traditional bluesmen that are enshrined by so many (including myself and the author) were really “performers” and the fact that they are known as bluesmen is primarily due to the songs that they were “allowed” to record, not necessarily what was in their repertoire.

It’s a concept that should be obvious when thinking about it, but growing up at a time when record companies have created strict genres, it certainly never occurred to me. Although these musicians may or may not have loved the blues, many of them were paid entertainers who played what the people wanted. In the days before a performer was classified by their specific speciality this would mean that they might play Broadway musicals, country and western, pop tunes, and just about anything else that would be requested. Some “bluesmen” interviewed for this book actually claim that they preferred other styles of music but got pigeon-holed by the record companies or simply were capitalizing on what was then a popular style of music. He theorizes that some of the “real” players may have simply been copyists that would be looked down upon in this day and age and as hopping on a band wagon!

Wald also mentions that there was a lot more racial crossovers than we may think, as well. Even though many businesses were segregated, music was color-blind and many groups could be interracial which would add to the blurring of racial divides in musical styles. Apparently, early on, it was not necessarily unusual to find a black fiddler or a white blues singer or any combination within a group.

Elijah includes this information to give us more of a background and an understanding of the times that Robert Johnson was living in. While he agrees that Johnson was a genius, he concedes that many of his contemporaries may not have thought so, and for good reason! Not that he wasn’t a great player, singer, and songwriter, but taken in context of the times, without the mythos that has grown around him, many probably thought of him as simply another traveling musician.

All this is used as a basis for his extensive overview of Johnson’s recorded works, including possible origins of some of his tunes (including similar songs and artists that he most likely was familiar with) along with an attempt to give us an idea of how the songs were perceived at the time.

After running through all of the recorded songs Elijah spends the last couple of chapters exploring the changes that blues music went through after Johnson's death.

He gives lots of interesting information but never pretends to be anything but subjective with his ideas and freely admits to some of the shortcomings that have brought about the blues stereotypes that exist to this day.

All in all this is a compelling read, especially for someone like me who loves the music but doesn't know a lot of the background and how everyone and everything relates.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Mississippi Fred McDowell - Heroes of the Blues

I have another MFM collection that has never really hit with me (though I will have to go back and check it out again now) but this collection is truly fantastic!

A farmer who didn't make a career out of his music until he was in his 60's (in the 1960s), he was discovered by Alan Lomax in 1959 and recorded throughout the next decade.

These songs sound like they easily could have been done in the 30's and have a real "down-home" sound to them, not unlike greats such as Charley Patton, Son House or Robert Johnson.

His acoustic slide playing, while not overly complicated, has a terrific tone and feel and is a perfect compliment to his voice. The tunes sound almost religious at times and you can imagine him getting lost in the sounds and bringing the audience along with him!

Probably the best known song on here is "You Gotta Move", which the Stones covered almost to a "t" on "Sticky Fingers". The rest though, are equally terrific and this collection - and from what I've heard, this entire series - is well worth it for lovers of blues.