Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Blues Magoos – Psychedelic Lollipop

Anyone who isn’t familiar with the keyboard-dominated, psychedelic powerhouse, “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet”, certainly needs to be! This huge hit is obviously known to anyone with even the slightest interest in 60’s music. The song propelled the Blues Magoos into the public eye and rightfully so – great tune, great playing, excellent guitar solo and a mix of garage, r’n’b and psychedelia made this a monster!

But the rest of the record is pretty freakin’ terrific too and any 60’s freak who hasn’t heard the whole thing needs to get this! There’s a wide variety here from psych rave-ups to moody ballads to out & out r’n’r!

“Love Seems Doomed” is depressingly hallucinogenic with spooky “wind” sound effects prophesying a relationship’s end. The Magoos then wake you back up with a wild version of “Tobacco Road” with extremely trippy and noisy rave-up sections throughout that almost go the route of the Velvets’ “Sister Ray” before returning to the meat of the song. They have a somewhat forgettable – though not entirely bad – ballad in “Queen of my Nights” before stomping out a white boy r’n’b romp in “I’ll Go Crazy”.

One of the strongest songs on this record, though, is “Gotta Get Away”, with its incessant beat and rapid-fire call and answer chorus and alternating “hey-hey-hey-hey” chants! Really, this ranks right up there with “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet” – truly amazing garage shouter!

They scale back the intensity a little for “Sometimes I Think About”, which is a minor-key ballad in kind of a “Summertime” style. The lyrics even have that feel – talking about southern summers and New Orleans. Nice stuff, though. “One by One” is a cool, Byrds-y pop tune with a swingin’ beat. They even do a minor-key (they dig the minor keys, which may be why I like them so much!) blues in “Worried Life Blues”.

The record closes with “She’s Coming Home”, a powerful rocker that never loses its urgency while it plays with dynamics, cool riffs and shouting pleas for his current girl to not make a big deal cuz he “real” girlfriend is coming home!

While not nearly as psychedelic as, say, the Electric Prunes, these cats managed to meld psych, garage and pop into a hip combination and made a must-have album!

The Remains - Diddy Wah Diddy

One of Boston’s most famous 60’s bands, the Remains had a hit with “All Good Things”, several regional hits, an appearance on the Ed Sullivan show and even opened for the Beatles on their last US tour! Despite or because of all of this, the band had broken up by the time their first album had been released. This record is a 19 song collection put out by France’s Eva Records and is a monster monument to their greatness, though, truthfully, I’m not certain if this is still available. If not, look for anything by these garage-pop masters!

Opening with a cool, bluesy guitar riff, “All Good Things” shows off all of the Remains strengths – solid playing, fantastic vocals and harmonies and super songwriting. One of their classics is “Why Do I Cry” – wow! A bompin’ groove, more amazing melodies, nice starts and stops and a cool rave-up. These cats proved that you didn’t have to be wimpy to be melodic and really set themselves apart from other “garage” bands by their superior songwriting. I do think that they could have been huge if they had stayed together – every tune here is top notch such as “Ain’t That Her” – a Beatle-esque minor key masterpiece.

They even do fun white-boy covers of r’n’b and blues tunes like “Mercy, Mercy”, “My Babe” and “Diddy Wah Diddy”. But they are at their best on their own tunes like the churnin’ “Time of Day” or their garage masterpiece (covered by the likes of the Unclaimed), “Once Before” – powerful, sharp, biting chords, cool harmonies, and “screw you girl” lyrics! Pretty much a perfect 60’s garage tune! And “You Got a Hard Time Coming” and “Say You’re Sorry” are right up there!

The band had another hit with “Don’t Look Back” and this gem was included in the original Nuggets album and therefore is one of their better known songs – and rightfully so! Really, this whole collection is rockin’ from the start to the finish with the wild build-up and rave-up in “Heart”. This band heavily influence most of the 80’s garage bands so anyone who loves garage – be it 60’s, 80’s, 00’s or any combination thereof – should own something by the Remains!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

R. Crumb Conversations edited by D.K. Holm

Crumb is not exactly rock’n’roll – in fact, he doesn’t care for most rock music past the initial burst in the mid-50’s – but he is obviously a counter-culture icon and deservedly so. He pretty much started underground comics with his Zap series and helped to open alternative press in general to “taboo” subjects such as sex and drugs and many other subjects previously kept under wraps.

This collection of interviews – something that Crumb loathes doing – spans the years from 1968 and his initial rise to fame to 2002 and his semi-retirement to a small town in France. A number of similar subjects are hit upon in nearly every interview, so that can be a bit tedious once you know what Robert’s answer will be, but there is a lot of interesting information here on the man as well as his wife and sometimes collaborator, Aline Kominsky-Crumb. There is even a timeline of major events of Crumb’s life provided.

Crumb never shies away from his eccentricities, perversions, infidelities, and just plain oddness in his work or these interviews. His passion for the music of the 20’s and 30’s is explored, as well as he disdain for much of current American culture and most people.

It is funny, though, that he is known for being somewhat of a misanthrope, even though he has a circle of friends that he regularly sees, even after moving to this French village. I don’t think that he is as nearly the loner that he perceives himself to be. I see the same thing in Bukowski’s writings – he would rail against the masses but then always hang out at crowded places and also go to and hold parties. Their need to mingle with other human beings far exceeds mine, for instance. I moved to a new city 5 years ago and have not made any friends here and don’t feel any need to. I have a wonderful wife and, of course, I have to work (though I would love a job that didn’t entail interaction with others), but otherwise, I have no desire for the company of other people. I like nothing better than going home, closing the door and ignoring the outside world. I love my family and the old friends that I have, but I certainly don’t need to communicate regularly with others. On the other hand, I do this blog, which is a form of communication, though a lot less intimate. But this is just an issue that I have with self-described misanthropes!

In any case, the book is a good, informative read and does explore Crumb’s career and personal life throughout the decades and it is a good companion to the Crumb movie.

Girlschool – King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents…

A high quality live recording of a 1984 show of this band with the classic line up of McAuliffe, Johnson, Weston and Dufort that shows that despite smoothing over some of their edges in the studio, live, these girls rocked hard and heavy!

I’ve already raved about this band in a couple of posts and this collection doesn’t have any surprise tunes, but the versions are all hi-energy, with great, loud guitars and – thankfully – no 80's keyboards! Songs like “Screaming Blue Murder”, “20th Century Boy”, and their cover of Slade’s “Burning in the Heat”, which suffered from polished production in the studio, really shine here.

Everything included on the CD is top-notch and makes me wish that I saw the band when I had a chance in the 80’s (though I think I was just too damn poor at the time). I would even recommend this as a starting point for anyone interested in the group – it’s that damn good!

The Jimi Hendrix Experience BBC Sessions

OK, everyone who knows me knows that Hendrix is one of the few gods that I have in my life. He was an utter genius who revolutionized the electric guitar and created methods of playing effects boxes and amplifiers as well as every piece of the guitar. There is no guitarist alive who doesn’t owe him a debt in one form or another. So, that said, take my raves with a grain or a barrel of salt!

But this 2 CD collection of the Experience’s BBC sessions is just phenomenal! While all of the recordings are not necessarily live, all of these versions are quite different from the studio takes and usually they are louder, looser, wilder and more fun! (Which is not to denigrate the originals in any way!)

All of the hits are here – “Purple Haze”, “Stone Free”, “Foxey Lady”, “Hey Joe”, “Fire” and tons more, but there are also a huge amount of otherwise unreleased (officially) tunes. There are wild versions of “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “Catfish Blues”, “Hound Dog”, “Killing Floor”, “Day Tripper” (legend had it that Lennon was singing backup on this tune, but apparently that is only legend) and even “Sunshine of Your Love” from the Lulu show instead of BBC radio.

Some of the real revelations are the alternative recordings of songs rarely played live such as “Burning of the Midnight Lamp”, “Love or Confusion”, “Spanish Castle Magic” and great jamming tunes like “Hear My Train A’Comin’” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”. The band is in top form throughout and while they occasionally are sloppily loose, is sounds like stoned-out, good-time fun rather than pure chaos.

The set comes with an extensive, full color booklet with plenty of rare photos, too. Absolutely essential collection for those who love the electric guitar!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Monster Magnet – Powertrip

I believe that I first learned about MM in their Spine of God era due to my pals, the Embryonics, being highly influenced by the group. Since the Embrys were so freakin’ good, I figured that MM had to be alright!

At the time leader Dave Wyndorf was a high priest of psychedelic drugs and even claims to have dosed an audience with LSD during at least one concert and explained that he wanted to make his viewers experience the equivalent of a bad trip! Even the recordings at the time were nearly out of control with a stoned mania that no other band was creating. Truly great, on-the-edge r’n’r!

This record came out years later and they had cleaned up considerably by this point. This is much more mainstream hard rock, but still wacky enough and drug-addled enough and with tons of loud guitars so that it still appeals to me!

Opening with “Crop Circles”, the guitars wail with tons of leads, heavy chords and some craziness about believing in crop circles. Then comes the star of the record – the chord-riffing classic, “Powertrip” with the incredibly memorable chorus of “I’m never gonna work another day in my life”! What teen – or damn near anyone of any age – couldn’t relate to that?! Cool dynamics, nice screams, wild lead guitar by Ed Mundel and plenty of head-banging power!

“Space Lord” has a hip, acoustic groove that sucks ya in as Dave sings some bizarre, space-age plantation lyrics and talks of being a “space lord motherfucker”. Bassist Joe Calandra rips a bass lick from the Shocking Blue (“Love Buzz”) for “Temple of Your Dreams” - a rockin’ tune in which Wyndorf intones “I’ve wasted enough of my time on the edge of forever and I’ve paid all the goddam dues that I’m gonna pay” and makes it freakin’ catchy! They understand the potency of repetition and the groove without resorting to monotony.

If your head isn’t banging while listening to “Bummer” then you must be deaf – it is damn infectious while railing against whiners of all sorts. I’ve often wondered what MM fans who are not comic book readers think about Dave lyrics – sure, they’re drugged out craziness at times, but there are so many comic references – EC, Marvel, etc – such as “Baby Gotterdamerung” and the call out to Captain America villain Modock – that non-comic-readers must just scratch their heads are chalk it up to stoner-speak.

“3rd Eye Landslide” rocks out trippy-ly with great lines like “cashing Satan’s check with my dick in my hand” and “the United States of who gives a shit”! There’s some 60’s psychedelic keyboard work on “See You in Hell” with groovy guitar lines intertwining around the melodies telling the tale of a zombie baby coming back to haunt the parents while, for no apparent reason, Dave rails that “your punk rock band still sucks anyway”!

A reprise from the first record, “Tractor”, has a cool building intensity and while it is a little slicker than the original, still has plenty of bad-trip mentality attached to it and is pretty damn ferocious! “Atomic Clock” seems to slow down time as you bang your head through molasses and Dave’s vocals go through the surreal pre-verb affects.

“Goliath and the Vampires” is a 4 minute, sound-effect laden ride showing just how closely related sex and horror is (and may cause your friends to beg you to turn it off) before resolving in the downright mellow – and even pretty – 60’s-sounding “Your Lies Become You”.

MM has gone through many changes in sound and personnel but Dave definitely knows how to write a song! This is more hard rock than the earlier punk/grunge/noise of Spine of God, but for those who don’t mind a little production this will blast your mind into another dimension!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Thin Lizzy – Live and Dangerous

In the mid-70’s, hearing any guitar-dominated music on the normally insipid AM radio was a blessing, so when “The Boys Are Back in Town” came blasting out, Thin Lizzy became a massive hit. Their Jailbreak album – with artwork by comic book artist extraordinaire Neil Adams – was a must-have and every aspiring guitarist marveled at the melodic twin guitar attack of Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham.

This live recording captures that fabulous line-up – along with drummer Brian Downey and, of course, lead singer/bassist Phil Lynott. The set list is dominated by tunes from their blockbuster, but also has some great songs from several of their other records.

While their hit is now over-played due to its appearance on some silly car ad, it is still a terrific song, as are most of these. Lynott could really tell a tale and capture a nice melody while still allowing the guitars to wail around him. This is commercial oriented hard r’n’r – not crazed punk or Detroit mania – but is great stuff and will get your head banging and your feet moving! And Phil was even hip enough to guest star on Johnny Thunders’ So Alone album!

The band is augmented on a couple of tunes by Graham Parker’s sax player and even Huey Lewis (pre-News) on harmonica! This collection pretty much captures everyone’s favorites – Jailbreak”, “Emerald”, “Cowboy Song”, their superb take on Bob Seger’s “Rosalie”, “Dancing in the Moonlight”, “Suicide” and many more.

Despite being a Lizzy fan since the days of “The Boys…” I hesitated on buying this record because I wasn’t sure of the line-up or of the song choices, but this is quality stuff from start to finish and different enough from the studio versions to keep your interest. This is a fine representation of an extremely talented 70’s hard rock band at its peak!

Steve E. Nix and the Cute Lepers, the Pink Spiders and the Horror Pops – Feb 20, 2008, the Canyon Club, Las Vegas

As I have lamented before, there is a dearth of good live shows here in Las Vegas, so when we saw this line up, we made it a point to go, even though it was a Wednesday night!

We’ve been big fans of the Briefs ever since we first saw them in LA playing in front of a small crowd but putting on a fantastic show! They sounded exactly like ’77 punk rock and also looked the part – skinny ties, duct tape, wild patterns and a fun attitude! We made it a point to see them any time they came back and became like-minded “band friends”.

The Cute Lepers are a continuation of the Briefs’ ethos with Steve E. leading the act as sole lead singer (as opposed to the Briefs), songwriter and lead guitarist. Backed by a 2nd guitar, bass, Chris Briefs on the drums and, surprisingly, 2 female backup singers, the group continues in the early punk/new wave vein with great tunes and a fun stage persona. We bought the two singles that were available and the songs are absolutely solid. They are on an extensive tour of the States for the next couple of months, so any fan of the Briefs and early punk in general should go out and support this incredible act! Check out their My Space page here.

I’ve found a couple of the Pink Spiders CDs and really enjoyed the songs, though I thought that the records were a little slick. I was hoping for a bit more energy and edge in the live setting, but was somewhat disappointed this evening.

Singer/guitarist Matt Friction was apparently quite sick and even augmented by a 2nd guitarist for the show, there was no real excitement. They didn’t even dress as well as their CDs would suggest. It wasn’t bad, but I was hoping for an improvement over the recordings and instead it was a bit of a let down. Hopefully, they are better when everyone is healthy.

It didn’t help anyone that the sound man for the Canyon Club was terrible and the sound seemed to get worse as the night went on. I’m not sure what it is about sound people who think that drowning bands in echo and reverb improve anything – and I’m as big of a fan of echo and reverb as anyone – but whoever was working the board this evening started bad and went to terrible as the night wore on.

By the time the Horror Pops went on, the sound was so atrocious that it was hard to make out what the band was doing. We knew nothing about this group when we found out about the show, but in looking for information on them, it seemed like they had some good tunes and weren’t mired in the psychobilly clichés that their image might suggest. But this night we couldn’t even tell what they were doing due to the sound. Too bad, as they definitely had a number of fans there and the drummer, at least, seemed to be a super nice guy – he started talking to me about the Briefs and Steve E due to the Briefs t-shirt I was wearing.

We have heard better sound at the Canyon Club, so I hope that this was an exception and not the rule for this place, as it is a nice space.

The show line up is pretty cool though and hopefully with better sound and healthier participants, this gig will impress people across the nation!

(PS - pix by me with a new digital camera that I haven't completely figured out yet so sorry for the poor quality.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Material Issue – International Pop Overthrow

Burdened by possibly the worst name of all time for a pop band (I literally laughed out loud when a friend turned me on to them - from the name I thought they were a DC hard core/straight-edge band) and a terrible, 80's new-wave look, Material Issue none the less produced some fantastic power pop and even had somewhat of a hit with "Valerie Loves Me".

International Pop Overthrow has since become a rallying cry for any pop scene around the world and unfortunately, the creator (Jim Ellison – guitar/vocals/songwriter) committed suicide before realizing that he influenced a generation of pop-sters.

I really fell in love with this band when I discovered them (thanks Lutz!) and dig all of their records (some more than others, of course) but this is one of the best. With the aforementioned "Valerie Loves Me" through the title track to ballad-y songs of unrequited love (where would pop be without them?) and even story songs, there is a rockin' consistency. A nice, heavy guitar sound (they even cover the Sweet and Thin Lizzy on other releases and make them sound like the originals!) and fantastic vocals means that they really understand that pop should have some power.

Any lover of this genre should look these cats up - quality song writing with genuinely clever lyrics and excellent musicianship and no wimpiness. There are hooks galore, memorable, sing-along choruses and a solid energy throughout. For those who like some real power with their pop!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bo Diddley - His Best - The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection

Damn, I’ve been listening to so many different things lately that I love but that are so different aesthetically and musically, that it's hard to write about them all and be even relatively coherent.

I was just been listening to a couple of hours of pop music and then I put on Bo Diddley! Wow! Not that there isn't a direct correlation between it all, but the primitiveness of Bo and the fierce edge and pure rawness of it all is pretty goddam diametrically opposed to the likes of DM3 and Material Issue, as great as they are.

When I saw Bo - probably for the first time in a live setting - on the TAMI show, I understood why white parents would be afraid to have their kids listen to this type of music! With the lovely Duchess by his side (on second guitar and shimmying hips) and his incessant "Bo Diddley beat" (how many people can lay claim to their own beat?!), and little lily white teenage girls screaming for him, I could see why parents would warn their kids not to listen to this music!

While Bo has become a r'n'r icon, he was definitely a blues man, and his songs like "I'm a Man" are blues standards that everyone has to know and play at some point. Songs like "You Don't Love Me" have wild blues harp and piano as well as the stock Diddley guitar beat and maracas.

Bo was a true originator and innovator and while his music is simplistic, there is a genius behind it all. He sang about himself - in the third person - more than many people (though that was somewhat of a blues persona), but while it is boastful, you don't feel that it is untrue.

Man, everything on this collection is pretty mind-boggling. You can see how he has influenced everyone - black and white, blues and r'n'r. The Pretty Things took their name from his song of the same title and his songs are some of the most covered no matter what color you are! Even the Dictators stole the line "bring it to Jerome" for their "Who Will Save R'n'R" single.

Everything on this collection is fantastic - from the original "Pills" that the NY Dolls covered, to "You Can't Judge a Book By It's Cover", “Mona” and “Road Runner” (all of which every band that ever existed (seemingly) did). There are a few semi-obscure numbers, but you would have to have never have listened to r’n’r to not be familiar with most of this collection.

This man is a true genius and every living person on this planet needs to own something by this man and this is a good place to start!

DM3 - Just Like Nancy 6 song EP

Australian band DM3, led by Dom Mariani, truly shows the modern world what power pop is supposed to be - superb melodies backed by loud guitars played with talent and passion. Dom has a gorgeous voice and is an incredible guitar player as well as a boggling songwriter. This EP is an Aussie release, and most of the songs have been released elsewhere in one form or another, but these are all terrific!

“Just Like Nancy (Girl in Boots)” is, of course, an ode to a female who reminds Dom of the "boots are made for walkin'" girl – a high compliment indeed! Anyone who has ever heard the DM3 knows what to expect – super catchy tune, great vocals, great backing and great production! Apparently, this EP is basically a CD single with “How Ya Feelin’” as the “flip side” and is more of the same terrific pop.

Filling this out is 4 live cuts which show that Dom is not just a studio phenomenon! His vocals are spot-on even while playing some clever and hip guitar parts. Included is the classic “One Time Two Time Devastated” (covered by the likes of the Excessories) which showcases Dom’s wild lead guitar work.

Everything that I have heard from this band is pretty much perfect power-pop, so if you have any interest in the genre, DM3 is a must! (Bomp! Records released a collection, Dig It the Most, in America, which may be easier to find for US residents than this release and is also high recommended.)

Girlschool – The Singles

A helluva collection from this rockin’ 80’s all-female band, with tons of their own great tunes and collaborations with the likes of Motorhead, Gary Glitter and Slade!

Starting with two tunes from their debut single on City Nik (?) Records, the girls sound young and snotty on “Take it All Away” and “It Could Be Better”. Produced like a late 70’s punk single, these tunes aren’t quite as heavy as the band would become, but still a super cool intro to the group and a couple of hot songs.

The follow up single, released prior to their debut album, contains their original, “Emergency”, which I always thought was a Motorhead song. Apparently, Motorhead covered this as a return favor to these chicks for covering “Bomber”. The sound is already much improved and this gives a real promise of the power to come!

There are a number of cuts from their terrific Hit and Run album as well as a couple from their debut, Demolition, plus some live tracks. This disc is absolutely fantastic from start to finish.

Disc 2 has some later stuff which I am not thrilled with due to 80’s production (“Breaking All the Rules”, “Like It Like That”, “Surrender”), though I do think that some of the songs sound better on this comp than on the original record (in the case of the Play Dirty cuts).

It starts with a roar on “Wildlife” – a great blast of a shouter. “Don’t Call It Love” is quite melodic, but still rockin’. There are a couple of alternative versions of previous songs, but they are not wildly divergent. A number of covers are featured as well - this comp includes the Headgirl single, “Please Don’t Touch” (originally by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates), takes on ZZ Top’s “Tush”, T Rex’s “20th Century Boy” (which sounds to me like a rawer mix than on the Play Dirty album), Slade’s “Burning in the Heat” (produced by Holder and Lea from Slade) and Gary Glitter’s “I’m the Leader of the Gang”, which has the man himself trading vocals with Kim on a high-energy version.

The set closes with a couple of early demos, bringing the comp around full circle!

While this isn’t 100%, even the tunes that I don’t love aren’t bad – they’re just not as good as the band is capable of. But the greatness far exceeds the mediocrity and this is a hot collection that is well worth the price!

PS – and yes, by following my reviews you can see (sometimes) how I go from one record to the next. The Hellacopters reminded me of Motorhead, which caused me to pull out the Stiff collections and also got me listening to my Girlschool albums again, which caused me to buy this collection. But sometimes it is arbitrary, as well!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Girlschool – Hit and Run and Screaming Blue Murder

As the premier all female hard rock band in the 80’s, Girlschool came off like a better looking Motorhead! (In fact, they shared management with Motorhead, did tours together and even recorded together.) Heavy guitars and lots of power! I am no expert on the band – in fact, I had to look up the names of the members – but I love these two records! The group even had hits in England, which is kinda amazing for an American to think about, because nothing this rockin’ made it on the radio out here! But, the songs are filled with hooks and they really could sing.

My versions of these albums are different from the track listing that I’m seeing online, so I’m assuming that mine are the American versions.

Hit and Run’s title track shows right away what the ladies were going for – group vocals, tons of guitars, hooks galore and great playing all around! “Watch Your Step” showcases just how damn good the drummer (Denise Dufort) was as they push the energy level up to 11! A supremely catchy, melodic guitar lick opens “Race With the Devil” and proves that they could meld heaviness and melody.

One of their best known songs is probably “Yeah Right” sung by bassist Enid Williams – a sassy tale of female teenage rebellion and drinking, highlighted by a pre-solo section telling off their harpish mother!

“Not For Sale” starts with more cool guitar riffage, a rockin’ groove similar to Motorhead’s “Stay Clean” and a chant-along “not for sale, not for sale” chorus. “Future Flash” has a similar “out to get you” chorus (no idea where the song title comes from) and is a great head-banger with a superb guitar solo!

Starting off with guitars that sound like a motor revving up, “C’mon Let’s Go’ makes perfect sense as an album opener (as it apparently was on the European version) and it flies down the road just like the car that they’re singing about! It’s frantic pace and call-and-answer chorus creates a wild ride!

The Hunter” (I’m not sure who is the predator and who is the prey in this tale, but sounds as sexy as it is scary) is followed by a blistering, high-energy “Kick It Down”. They close the record with another damn catchy number, “Take it all Away” that has more guitar pyrotechnics and fist-in-the-arm sing-along sections. The whole album is solid from start to finish!

Their members changed throughout the years, but there were some damn good players in this band – lots of extraordinary lead guitar on these records by Kelly Johnson who could certainly put many male guitarists to shame. Rhythm guitarist and singer Kim McAuliffe is the only permanent fixture for the band’s entire career, but they always had a solid rhythm section.

I believe that the follow up album was Screaming Blue Murder and it is another of my favorites! The line up was essentially the same with the exception of Gil Weston replacing Enid on bass.

It is immediately apparent that the mix on SBM is a little more polished than Hit and Run, which is a shame, but it’s still a pretty great album. Starting with the title track, they immediately hit you with their strong points – loud, flashy guitars, sing-along choruses and tons of hooks! I would prefer rawer production, but it’s a great opener and Kelly continues to show off her prowess as a lead guitarist!

“You Got Me” is not one of their greatest, but it has all of their trademarks and shows off Gil’s new bass tone in a short solo, which is a bit nastier than Enid’s. Gil introduces the Stones’ “Live With Me”, which was a hot idea for a female band to do, though – oddly - they do lose some of the sensuality of the original by rocking it up faster and louder. Damn cool high energy, though!

I guess that they really wanted to make Weston feel at home because in “When Your Blood Runs Cold”, they bring it down to the bass and drums again! “Hellrazor” (clever title!) sounds like they were listening to “Ace of Spades” before writing this. Heavy, but not as catchy as some of their tunes.

But they are positively poppy on “Don’t Call It Love”, though it still has an energetic beat. Giving a nod to Ted Nugent’s “Just What the Doctor Ordered”, “Take It From Me” still manages to be distinctly “Girlschool”. “Wildlife” does indeed have a wild guitar solo – noisy yet still melodic – along with some loud and catchy group vocals. The band does an odd, almost off-time instrumental (with some whispered words that are fairly unintelligible) on “Flesh and Blood”, which is not one of their best, though not bad – just not memorable.

A real surprise is a cover of ZZ Top’s classic “Tush” (which apparently is on Hit and Run in some versions). Always good to hear females taking the reign and turning a sexist song like this around! Nothing sexier than a woman looking for sex!

Blasting into the closer, “Turn Your Head Around”, they turn up the power and practically scream this number, but still manage to include melodic, sing-along choruses! Not an easy balance!

For lovers of bands like Motorhead (are there any other bands like Motorhead?) though not quite as sick and twisted as Lemmy and company! Still, this is great punky hard rock!

PS - The one other album of theirs that I have, Play Dirty, is very keyboard dominated and is nowhere near as good as these two, despite a nice cover of “20th Century Boy”.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sweat – The Story of the Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band by Joe Bonomo

I was very surprised when I discovered that this book existed and even more surprised to find it at my local library! Not that these hard working garage-heads don’t deserve it, but I’m impressed that a book publisher agreed.

Joe gives a basic background on all of the guys who all grew up with a love for music and with some basic artistic aptitudes – as well as a love of partying! A couple of big surprises came from saxophonist/harmonica-player Gordon Spaeth – one, I had no idea that before he joined the band he did time for involuntary manslaughter for a bar fight and two, that he passed away in 2005! I’ve been out of touch with these guys for decades, but I’m surprised that I never heard about that. Truly sad – he was a damn nice guy.

The info on the boys is all interesting - Keith's deep interest in garage and legendary, excessive parties (where the band as well as previous embryonic versions started), Peter and Marek's equal love for 60’s rock but combined with a fascination for the underground, extremely hedonistic disco culture (they loved to dance and thought of the Fleshtones as an updated 60's-styled dance band) and Bill's unusual past as a puppeteer!

After a stint with Red Star records (who also put out fantastic records by Suicide and the Real Kids) that didn't work out as planned (their debut album with the label didn’t come out for several years and then as a cassette-only release on ROIR), the boys hooked up with IRS records – a major label signing a garage band! The label released Roman Gods, the first full length from these wildmen – a terrific album which received rave reviews.

I met, played with and partied with these cats at this time (early 80’s) and they truly were a phenomenal live band and great fun and personable guys, also.

Bonomo has incredible stories of the recording of the second album, Hexbreaker, including outlandish drug usage by everyone, even the producer, and an outrageous budget of $80,000 (!) that they managed to surpass!!!! How they produced a record this sloppy and somewhat muddy sounding – though truly great! – for that amount is astounding! I guess that labels liked to waste money in the 80’s!

Unfortunately, they never caught on like other semi/pseudo garagey bands like the Go-Gos and the Bangles (both of which I would never have imagined hitting big when I first saw them – the Go-Gos were a punk band at first and the Bangles were covering Tom Petty! I loved them both, but I would never have guessed that the American public would have latched onto them like they did). But the Fleshtones certainly had all of the advantages that most bands can only dream of – major label, management, booking, touring with big name bands as well as on their own, traveling around the world, getting on a movie soundtrack, appearing in the Urgh! movie, appearing on American Bandstand, working with name producers, and on & on. They worked hard and I do not think that the lack of major success was due to the band (though possibly their over-the-top partying might have gotten in the way), but at least they can’t really say “what if…” as so many bands do. They tried their damnedest but something just didn’t click for whatever reason with the American public.

Another surprise in the book is that the Fleshtones as a whole are quite conservative politically – so much so that they drove Marek’s replacement, Robert Warren, to quit! I had no idea about this, but I suppose we talked far more music than politics in the early 80’s. Also, the guys are certainly no dummies and I normally equate smart with liberal, though I know that is my own prejudice.

After Warren, Fred Smith (Television) and Andy Shernoff (Dictators) sat in for a while before they found Ken Fox, a Canadian who played in several bands in the States, including Jason and the Scorchers, who remains with them to this day.

The guys gave up on the idea of making any real money off of record sales just as garage started to hit big again for the first time in 4 decades and the scene that they helped to reignite finally started catching on with a wider audience. Instead they finally decided to make records for themselves with sounds that they wanted to hear. Some worked better than others (More Than Skin Deep sounds light years better than the exceedingly trashy Beach Head) but with no illusions of grandeur driving them, they just set about to make the best music that they could.

Nowadays, they are older and somewhat wiser. Grey haired, with wives and kids, they still bring the rock to the people, but on a smaller scale, with shorter trips and to lesser crowds. They remain r'n'r beacons in the darkness of mainstream mediocrity.
Check out Joe's My Space page for the book for more info.

Friday, February 08, 2008

B-Movie Rats – Radio Suicide (Rank Outsider Records)

Finally! The long-awaited B-Movie Rats CD is out! Recorded way back in 2002, this album has languished since the band broke up later that year. Thankfully, they kept the faith, believed in the music, found a like-minded record label (run by ex-Lazy Cowgirls leader Pat Todd), patched up some grievances and with the release of this CD, they have even decided to play some shows again!

Aurally smacking you in the face right from the start is “Bad Rain in Texas”. Wow! Superb guitar tones, licks flying back and forth as Curt Florczak and Matt Lake trade off, Derek Christensen shows once again that he is one of the best r’n’r singers in L.A. and Bill Graves and Andy Baker show off bass and drum skills that prove how far these cats have come from their punk rock roots! Nice use of dynamics as they come down quietly and then blast back at you with insane power and energy.

“Flat on my Face” starts off like an AC/DC outtake that builds into a terrific rocker with a fantastic “rescue me from Motown” chorus. They pile this song with hooks and great background singing and just when you think that’s it, they throw in some more rockin’ guitar riffs just to take it even further!

The guys cool down with “Cold After Dark”, a nice 70’s-styled…well, not exactly a ballad, but a slow, moody, almost rootsy, almost bluesy tune. Graves intertwines his bass with the two guitars effectively and tastefully and, again, Derek’s singing really shines and shows his versatility. Really emotional guitar playing, as well. Both Curt & Matt are excellent throughout the record and while I thought their styles were pretty different when seeing them play live, they really blend and work together here as almost one package.

These two create an oddly dissonant riff for “Heaven” that is still catchy and they manage to find a cohesive and cool song with different parts that you probably would think shouldn’t work!

The title track is damn evil sounding and shows off more versatility by everyone. Again, truly original licks and clever guitar interplay and the band plays as a band – playing off of each other and each contributing to the whole. Pretty freakin’ cool!

“Simmer Down” explores more bluesy areas with some very nice slide playing. More slide guitar is highlighted in “Barcelona”, an ode to one of their favorite cities in Europe.

The closer is “Renegade”. Opening with a great guitar riff, building with an almost off-beat chord progression, it then explodes into a rockin’ number with group vocals, still more fine guitar work and tons of interesting changes. There’s another cool breakdown which blasts back in with an amazing scream ala “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.

Don’t expect hyper-speed punk rock like their first releases, but for those who love 70’s styled punk’n’roll, this is a must!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Stiffs Live and A Bunch of Stiffs

Stiff Records was a visionary label in the late 70’s that specialized in the punk and new wave scene in England. They had some brilliant marketers that came up with such memorable catch phrases as “if it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a fuck!” They also happened to put out some damn good music!

Stiffs Live is an early release and shows the communal efforts of the label-mates. Everyone tends to play in everyone else’s bands and the record ends with the entire troupe on stage at the same time for a crazed rendition of Ian Dury’s “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll”!

Nick Lowe is everywhere on this record and along with Dave Edmunds, was probably the most commercially successful artist on the label – at least until Elvis Costello took off. The album open’s with Lowe’s rousing “I Knew the Bride When She Used to R’n’R”, which Edmunds also recorded on one of his solo albums. “Let’s Eat” is a fairly hilarious ode to mastication that still manages to rock!

Another demented genius of the stable was Wreckless Eric, who also created twisted pop songs such as “Semaphore Signals” and “Reconnez Cherie”, the two fantastic tunes included here.

“Police Car” by Larry Wallis is more of a standard rock’n’roll song, but also one of my faves of this record. I never heard any other solo work by this maniac (that I can remember, anyway), but this is a stand-out and I wonder if anything else sounded anything like this. He did play guitar with the Pink Fairies, the original line-up of Motorhead and many others, as well as working as a house producer for Stiff.

Elvis Costello is represented by a wonderful rendition of Dusty Springfield’s “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”. A Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition, this heartfelt paen to lost love foreshadowed Costello’s work with Bacharach by decades! Costello and his newly formed Attractions do a rave-up take on “Miracle Man”, as well. I would love to hear the original Attractions running through the first album tunes – I saw them when This Year’s Model came out and they were fantastic, but I don’t distinctly remember the arrangement changes that they made. But if this is any indication, they really made the songs their own!

I don’t really know what made Ian Dury the character that he was, but he certainly was a unique individual! Quirky would be putting it mildly! He still knew how to write a pop song, though and “Billercay Dickie” and “Wake Up and Make Love to Me” are memorable and funny as hell! He even had hits in England, proving once again that they love their eccentrics!

A truly great live album of some of the biggest stars of this fun label!

A Bunch of Stiffs is a studio compilation that came out at about the same time as Live Stiffs and has many of the same artists, but a few new ones, as well.

Opening again is Nick Lowe, this time singing that “I Love My Label” – how could Stiff not put that out?! This is more of Lowe’s trademarked catchiness! Wreckless Eric provides an early version of “Go the Whole Wide World” – another one of his best.

“White Line Fever” was probably a number of people’s introduction to Motorhead when most people were not sure how to describe them! They weren’t quite punk, but were far more obnoxious than most “metal” bands operating at the time. The production on this is a bit lacking but the power and majesty of the band still comes through!

Elvis’s contribution is “Less Than Zero”, a slightly different mix from the My Aim is True album version. There are a couple of tracks from lesser known artists – Magic Michael (yes, that is what he calls himself) is a bit dramatic while singing his original “Little By Little” – he almost sounds like Tom Jones! - but it is a good song.

Oddly, there is an uncredited track at the end of side 1 – Graham Parker and the Rumour’s version of Dave Edmunds “Back to School Days”, which sounds like it is probably the album version.

Then there is Stones Masonry doing “Jump For Joy”, a pub-rock romp through the blues – nice but nothing too special. Following that is Dave Edmunds’ Phil Spector-styled production of Jill Read doing her best Darlene Love impression on “Maybe”. I don’t know if the liner notes are serious, but they claim that Jill disappeared after this recording and no one ever heard from her again! I still think that this may actually be Edmnds singing falsetto and I may be a fool for even considering the bizarre story.

Dave does his own take on Chuck Berry’s “Jo Jo Gunne” and proves again what a fantastic interpreter of 50’s r’n’r he is! He stretches out on the tune, but keeps the energy and the spirit of the original while making it his own.

The Tyla Gang sound a bit like they’ve listened to too much Bruce Springsteen, but it’s not bad. The closer is the goofy “Food” by the Takeaways – a Bob Dylan parody done by Lowe, Edmunds (on drums!), Sean Tyla and Larry Wallis. Funny, but beyond silly!

More proof that Stiff was a label dedicated to good, fun music in a variety of styles! Definitely for the lovers of the post-pub-rock crowd led by Lowe, Edmunds and Costello!

In a bizarre coincidence, Lindsay Hutton at The Next Big Thing just linked to a bunch of videos from this tour on his site - check it out!

The Fleshtones - Roman Gods and Hexbreaker!

Their first actual release, Roman Gods, was really the 2nd album that they recorded. Blast Off! was supposed to be released on Red Star Records previously, but that never happened and it wasn’t released until a couple of years after this as a ROIR cassette.

But Roman Gods is a damn amazing debut! Starting out with “The Dreg” you know what you’re in for right away! Cowbells, fuzz bass, fuzz guitars, a rockin’ beat, kinda buried vocals – this shows them at their garagey-est!

“I’ve Gotta Change My Life” is one of their many manifestos – keyboard driven, with group vocals and cool lyrics from singer Peter Zaremba about having a “master plan” and not backing down! Damn catchy too! More great riffs, stompin’ beats, starts and stops, a Yardbirds-styled rave-up and general coolness abound in “Stop Fooling Around!”

“Hope Come Back” actually sounds sorta romantic (apparently about guitarist Keith Streng’s then-wife) and gives another call and answer chorus. Then comes the star of the album – “The World Has Changed”. Wow! Great song, great arrangement, cool dynamics, nice harp riffs, heavy guitar tone – overall, just fantastic! I’m not sure whether the lyrics are for or against the garage scene that was starting at this time, but whatever it is, it all works! This was their first single from the album, backed with a phenomenal version of “All Around the World” with bassist Marek soulfully singing/shouting the chorus! It only proves that there is no justice in the world that this 45 never broke the band! That should have been a hit!

Side 2 of the album starts out with the ravin’, reverb-drenched “R.I.G.H.T.S.” with yet more wild call-and-response singing – they knew how to write tunes that the audience could easily sing along with! “Let’s See the Sun” is a throw-away pop tune and very unlike anything that the band ever did. I can only imagine that it must have been a misguided attempt at a “hit” that failed because it really didn’t have much to do with the group – one of the few songs of theirs that I don’t care for.

But they redeem themselves immediately with their 3rd version of “Shadow-Line”, another one of their greatest songs. I loved this song the first time that I heard them play it – super memorable guitar lick, shouted “heys!” and intelligent lyrics. I don’t think that any of the recorded takes really did it justice, though my fave is probably from the Red Star 2x5 compilation. This one is damn good, too, but a little slow – I heard the rumor that they were playing songs so fast in the studio cuz they were speeding that they made a concerted effort to slow it down and I feel that they went a little far.

“Chinese Kitchen” is a fine, though slightly forgettable instrumental, but that goes into a super version of “Ride Your Pony” that was taken as the second single from the record. They actually played it on American Bandstand, along with the closer title track, a mostly-instrumental, sax-driven, bass-popping, shout-along. This was one of the first of their communal songs that they would close the set with while walking off the stage and snaking through the audience and often out of the building!

Their 2nd album with IRS, Hexbreaker!, starts less than auspiciously with “Deep In My Heart” – good, but not great by Fleshtones’ standards. “What’s So New (About You)” though is a fuzz rocker with more chanting and is classic ‘Tones material, complete with caustic lyrics and some musical throw-backs to “The World Has Changed”.

A true over-the-top stomper is “Screamin’ Skull” with more fuzz drenched guitar, a progression reminiscent of “Stepping Stone”, a whacked-out solo and it sounds pretty damn drug influenced (supposedly the title is a nod to the amphetamines they were doing).

Saxophone player Gordon Spaeth gets to cut loose on the instrumental “Legend of a Wheelman” and then there’s Peter’s declaration of the Fleshtones’ intentions and independence in “New Scene”. This is damn energetic, even with some awkward-sounding stops, though the cool sing-along lines like “we’re hip, we’re concerned and involved” really make the song.

Their “Super Rock Sound” is highlighted in the somewhat Gary Glitter-ish title track, propelled by Bill Milhizer’s fantastic drumming and continues with Peter’s penchant for describing the band’s hopes, desires and demands all in one tune! This was another audience fave and if you weren’t moving while they were playing this, you couldn’t be human! “We always stay cool – we like it that way!”

“Right Side of a Good Thing” was a rare song of theirs that never really clicked with me – I think maybe it’s a little too poppy and trying too hard to be danceable. This was the song from this album that was used for a video, but I think the vid (they threw a party in LA and got everyone drunk!) is a little better than the tune!

Peter comes up with a great chorus in “Brainstorm” and then the band moves in positively moody territory on “This House is Empty” and creates a particularly powerful piece. “Want!” is pretty simplistic lyrically (for a change) but damn catchy, regardless!

They close this record with a “super rock” version of John Lee Hooker’s “Burning Hell” which they definitely Fleshtone-ize!

Despite my nit-picks, these are two terrific r’n’r albums and a couple of my favorites of the early 80’s. The Fleshtones remain one of the hardest working bands in music more than 30 years (!) after their inception. Buy whatever you can and see ‘em the next time they’re in your area!

I think that this is the official Fleshtones website, though i'm not certain.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Dream Syndicate

Oddly placed as part of the early 80’s emerging “Paisley Underground” scene (man, most people and bands despised that label!), the Dream Syndicate certainly had some 60’s influences but that was far from their only touchstone. There were also touches of punk rock and, most obviously, the Velvet Underground (even the band name is taken from an early project that John Cale was involved in), not only in Steve Wynn’s voice and lyrics, but in Karl Precoda’s Lou Reed meets Neil Young cacophonous guitar playing.

Whenever I hear this band I flash back on the early 80’s underground LA scene, with the amazing variety of bands and places to play. The DS played in lofts, parties and other unusual locations. They immediately garnered a following and remained successful throughout their career even through personnel changes, but the early band is definitely my favorite.

Their initial 4 song self-released 12” EP showed all of their strengths right away. Drummer Dennis Duck (ex-Human Hands) was a fantastic metronome – nothing flashy, but solid as a rock and playing just what the songs needed – and locked in with bassist Kendra Smith, who was simplistic but steady. Wynn’s guitar playing was also nothing fancy, but he wasn’t afraid to explore rhythms and interesting chord changes and he sounded great with Karl’s feedback and distortion riffs. They truly were a 2 guitar team that worked with each other, complimenting the other’s playing and creating a whole, with weaving interplay and not simply a strict rhythm/lead combo.

All of the songs on the EP are excellent, with their elements fusing together and highlighting Steve’s songwriting. Culminating with “Some Kinda Itch”, they show their propensity for exploring the songs both musically and vocally and not being afraid to stretch out and go for the intensity and passion. Damn fine stuff!

The album, The Days of Wine and Roses on Ruby Records, is slightly more produced, but still sounds like a superb band! Opening with “Tell Me When It’s Over” they show their use of dynamics as well as the continued guitar interaction. I have to say that I loved Karl’s playing and he was definitely one of my fave players from the early 80’s in LA. So, I may be effusive when writing about him! I know that the band was never the same after he left – Steve just didn’t gel together with any other players like he did with Precoda.

“Definitely Clean” is pretty high-energy, but still Velvet-y sounding. Kendra and Dennis open “That’s What They Always Say” showing how tight they were together and form the basic groove of the song that let Steve and Karl do their things over the top of this! “Then She Remembers” is almost out of control – loads of noisy riffs and Wynn basically tearing his voice out at the end! Steve gets to play a little more on “Halloween” and shows off his cleaner, vibrato-bar-heavy, dissonant licks.

A reprise of “When You Smile” from the EP opens side two of the album with Precoda’s screeching feedback over Steve’s quiet picking and singing – fairly reminiscent of VU’s “Heroin”. They did change up the song enough to deserve another take and Karl sounds like he is doing his best to strangle his guitar throughout! “Until Lately” is definitely one of the highlights of the record! Opening with a catchy bass riff the band then blasts in with power and distortion, but continues to bring it back down to the groove. Cool lyrics about someone going through some unnamed change in their life that builds and builds with harmonica fighting with the guitars and Wynn screaming and demanding more information from himself!

Letting the listener catch their breath, Kendra sings on “Too Little, Too Late” and displays a lovely voice – a little like a more melodic Nico! She was the first to leave the band – to form Opal – and that changed the dynamic of the band as her bass playing provided a solid, minimalist backdrop for the tunes and she had a good stage presence, as well. There is nice slide work from Precoda on this tune, also.

The album closes with the title track, which is another tour de force for the band and especially Wynn who actually takes a chord solo and stretches the song out for his improvisations.

While almost all popular music at the time was utter and total over-produced crap, the 80’s was actually a very exciting and creative time in the underground LA music scene, producing some of the best bands that the city ever saw! These records are another superb reminder of that time!

PS - According to Wikipedia, when Karl left the band, he did so to pursue a career in screenwriting! A real shame because he was a fantastically innovative guitarist and the later versions of the band, while interesting, never touched the original lineup in intensity or originality.

The Early Blues Roots of Led Zeppelin (Complete Blues Records)

This is actually a pretty great compilation, though I’m not sure how much it would appeal to Led Zeppelin fans. Everything on here is very early, acoustic blues, certainly nothing that average metal fans would necessarily appreciate.

These are the songs that influenced Plant and Page, though while Page obviously took things from some of the guitarists included here, the music that Zep created sounds nothing like this in any way, shape or form! In fact, if Plant had been a little more creative and wrote his own words, no one would have any idea that these songs had anything to do with Led Zeppelin’s recordings! But, I suppose it was a nice homage and gave some recognition to these early blues singers.

This comp leaves off the obvious songs – “You Shook Me”, “How Many More Times”, "Whole Lotta Love", etc – that people know are covers and whose originals are easily available. This concentrates on the early stuff – such as Memphis Minnie’s “When the Levee Breaks”, Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, Bukka White’s “Shake ‘em on Down” and Leadbelly’s “Gallis Pole”. There is plenty more here, also, with songs from Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson and Big Bill Broonzy, among others.

Again, while these songs were obviously influential to the Zep guys, don’t buy this thinking that you’re buying a heavy, electric blues comp. But for a good overview of acoustic blues from the 20’s through the 40’s, this is a great purchase!