Saturday, July 26, 2008

Eddie Izzard at the Pearl, Palms Casino, Las Vegas

Though Eddie Izzard is a comedian and actor, he is still about as rock'n'roll as you can get. A self-described "action transvestite", he publicly dressed in women's clothing (though he no longer does his stand up in this fashion) and make up while waxing philosophically on everything from religion, evolution, his upbringing, girls, politics and whatever else came into his mind. He is highly intellectual while still hilariously funny.

In this show he did all new routines (at least new to us) and was absolutely hysterical! He has toned down his fashion sense, but was still classically stylish in jeans, a striped shirt and a apparently classic tuxedo jacket with tails.

His set was at least an hour & 1/2 and talked about politics - asking us to vote for Barack so that we don't have to pretend to be Canadian while traveling - and religion (he is not a believer) and referencing old skits randomly, by simply referring to squirrels or giraffes, motorboats, "join or die", and many more.

He does compliment his audience several times on their intelligence, which is interesting in that it implies that we wouldn't understand his intellect if we're weren't smarter than the average person, and it also makes an "us and them" with the outside world.

In any case, Eddie is at least as funny as he has ever been and we laughed outloud throughout the show! Absolutely see him if you ever have a chance!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sacred Miracle Cave

SMC was a late 80’s/early 90’s L.A. “supergroup” made up of members of the Lazy Cowgirls and Clawhammer led by singer Betsy Palmer. Betsy has a cool, rockin’, sexy voice and gives a good edge to these heavy/noisy tunes filled with loud guitars.

There are a number of cover songs on this CD, which is not surprising since they weren’t a “real” band, but the opening song, “Salvation”, is a surprise as it came from fellow local band, Crowbar Salvation. Great tune, cool lyrics and that band was fantastic, as well (and incredibly underrecorded), but still unusual to cover a pal’s band.

“I’ll Remain” has a definite Velvet Underground feel, with quiet, finger-picking overlaid with a feedback drenched guitar. The oddly named “Motor Takes To Sink” starts as a pretty, melodic piece before kicking into high gear with guitarist Chris taking over the vocals with his raspy singing complimenting the edge of the tune. This shifts back and forth throughout the song and makes it one of the most interesting of the set as it blasts into a wild, distorted solo.

The band cleverly covers Bill Withers’ excellent song, “Ain’t No Sunshine” and is actually fairly true to the original, other than using electric instead of acoustic guitars and including a crazed lead guitar section.

Moving into twisted and heavy psychedelia with “The Tub Was White”, the band continues to combine melody with mania. Then there’s a real ballad in “The Ghost of Elizabeth Shaw” before their self-descriptive “Heavy Black Noise”, another duet between Chris and Betsy that has nods to the more avant-garde screech and wail of some of Patti Smith’s early works.

“Cosmic Jimi Link” is cacophonous, dissonant, clamorous and damned beautiful! Gawd, I love crazed guitars fighting it out with each other! SMC creates another lovely tune in “Sister Blue” before it is all washed away in waves of power and distortion. Opening with backwards guitars, “Liquid in Me” is pure psychedelia and probably more Hendrix-y than “Cosmic Jimi Link”.

This all culminates in a libidinous romp through the Troggs’ already sex-drenched “Summertime”. Layers of guitars wash over you as Betsy breathlessly moans the lyrics “it’s oh so good, it’s all so fine”. Pretty freakin’ genius!

I was a huge fan of Chris in Clawhammer (one of the best twin guitar attacks to come out of LA) and of the Cowgirls and with Palmer’s vocals, this is a resounding mix of everyone’s influences that truly works as a fantastic, psyche-noise-guitar masterpiece!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

T.Rex – Electric Warrior

Combining pop, glamour, rockabilly, folk, Dylan and hippie poetry, Marc Bolan formed T. Rex out of his acoustic Tyrannosaurus Rex duo and basically created the glam rock genre. This album was probably the most popular of that sound in the US due to the massive “Bang a Gong” single, though Bolan and many others had countless glam rock top-forty singles in the UK.

This was his first fully electric record and while it has a complete band and a fine, rockin’ groove throughout, it still shows plenty of his folk influences. In fact, according to the liner notes, the basics were still recorded acoustically and then the electrics were added on top of that. So, Marc is concentrating on the song itself, but the band and the overdubs create the glitter groove.

“Mambo Sun”, the opener, is a good example of this. A solid beat is maintained throughout the tune, but it is almost laid back. There is plenty of electric guitar added to give it that updated rockabilly feel, though. On “Cosmic Dancer” he does revert almost completely to acoustic guitars backed with strings. So, he wasn’t completely ready to shed that persona yet!

So, is there anyone who has not heard “Jeepster” or waited in anticipation for his ending hiss “…and I’m gonna suck ya”?! This is updated rockabilly to a “T” – so much so that bands have done a medley of this and Elvis and no one noticed the transition! In fact, when someone I knew in the 70’s discovered Gene Vincent, the first thing he said was “I just found this guy who sounds just like T.Rex!” Great stuff!

Marc shows off his electric playing on “Monolith”, though, again, this is pretty quiet overall with great backup vocals from Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman (from the Turtles and later Frank Zappa and Flo & Eddie). Apparently, one of the band members had just broken up with a girlfriend, so Marc wrote “Lean Woman Blues” in his honor. This is a pretty standard blues progression, but with Marc’s fairly fey vocals, it would never be mistaken for Muddy Waters! Once again, Marc updates a genre and makes it his own!

Ah, and then the masterpiece of the session and T.Rex’s biggest (and only) hit in the States, “Bang a Gong”. More updated 50’s guitar playing, a super rockin’ beat, cool, obscure lyrics, a catchy chorus and one helluva song! Of course, everyone’s heard this and knows how amazing it is, so I don’t have to say so! Extra hipster points for the “Little Queenie” reference at the end (“meanwhile, I was still thinking…”).

“Planet Queen” is a little more laid back but still a cool r’n’r tune with a nice chorus and a funny Flo & Eddie “gimme your daughter” fade out. Marc creates a romantic ballad with “Girl” that producer Tony Visconti complimented with a nice horn section. He basically combines “Jeepster” and “Bang a Gong” for “The Motivator” and the result is another happening 50’s-styled, catchy tune. This also includes some neat percussion from his almost forgotten partner, Mickey Finn.

The last couple of songs are quite a contrast – the pretty, uplifting “Life’s a Gas” and the (rare for Bolan) downright angry “Rip Off”, which, unsurprisingly, is the most aggressive song of the batch and is quite rockin’ and ended the album in a wash of feedback.

This CD has 6 bonus songs and an interview. There are a couple of ballads – “There Was a Time” and an acoustic version of “Planet Queen” but also a couple of his best singles – “Raw Ramp” (with the classic line “woman, I love your chest, I’m just crazy about your breasts”!) and “Hot Love” (with a fabulous “la,la,la,la,la,la,la” ending) – terrific tunes! “Woodland Rock” is pure rockabilly with Bolan’s mystic lyrics and “The King of the Mountain Cometh” sounds like Jody Reynolds or something though again with Marc’s distinct touch and some great guitar playing.

Another major highlight of the 70’s and the bonus tracks make this release pretty damn essential.

Tricky Woo – The Enemy is Real

I really dig a lot of Canadian band Tricky Woo’s sounds, but I never knew that they started out as a fairly trashy garage band as this 1998 CD (their second) shows. Their more current records are more hard rock/metal oriented, but this has out & out 60’s steals (such as the Sonics’ rip-off on “Let Us Sing”). Overall the feel is a lot like early Mooney Suzuki though maybe even rawer and punkier – maybe even like the Dwarves when they were crossing punk with garage). They even add horns on the manic “Fever”, so they were willing to try different things! I prefer their later releases – they are still manic, but with better sound, songs and playing. But those who like cacophonous, low-fi, screamin’ garage may dig this CD more. Though the ending of the last song is obviously intentionally annoying with several minutes of a screechy pseudo-Asian-folk-song.

BTW - this is one of the worst covers of all time, and that includes anything seen here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tricky Woo – First Blush

This 2005 release shows how far this band has evolved since the noise-fest of The Enemy Is Real. They are now more of a 70’s hard rock band – though with punk’n’roll sounds, as well.

Their opener, “Pink Thunder”, is so 70’s that is almost sounds like Ram Jam’s version of “Black Betty”! Heavy guitars and damn near a boogie beat! But don’t think that’s a bad thing! These guys rock!

The title cut has a bit more of a garagey edge to it, though in a modern-day vein rather than an over-the-tops Sonics/Swamp Rats vein. They do have cool vocals, a memorable chorus and killer guitar leads! Guitar licks almost overwhelm “Lover Don’t You Lie” – melodic lines swirl all over the damn place before the band settles into a groove and come out with a catchy tune! There are even twin guitar harmony leads in the song that are reminiscent of Thin Lizzy! (Though that may just be because I’ve been listening to them lately!)

Vocals and guitars scream through “Born in the City” to the point where they almost lose touch with reality, but then they bring everything together with a solid instrumental interlude. Freakin’ hard to describe, actually, though they manage to pull it off!

I do think that they sound like a heavier, punkier Thin Lizzy on “Living in the Danger Zone” and again, they manage to still come up with a catchy chorus. “Rat Feathers” is maniacal chaos that reminds me a bit of Celebrity Skin doing their wilder versions of Sparks-styled wackiness. These just may be my touch stones though – the band might be thinking something completely different, but I dig the insanity of it all!

The band sounds like they’re channeling Rainbow in “Mistress of the Mountain”, right down to the closing acoustic interlude! Then they pull out a Black Sabbath rip for “We Are the Vampires”, which is damn appropriate! “Mechanical Flowers” seems to be their version of a Redd Kross (Neurotica-era) take on the 70’s, though it is incredibly brief!

The closer, “Dirty Business” seems to grab just about everything from 70’s hard rock and throw it into a Kiss blender (Kiss makes those now, too, don’t they?) and still manage to sound like Tricky Woo!

This is a wild bash of 70’s hard rock, pseudo-speed-metal and punk that still manages to be fun and catchy!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Undertones - The Undertones

One of the second wave of UK punk bands, the Undertones came from Ireland and took England by storm with the eclectic combination of punk, pop and (some) 60’s garage (listen to the cheesy/hip organ sounds). With the incredibly unique and odd voice of Fergal Sharky, the band had an unusual, but great, pop sound! These guys were undoubtedly a huge influence on the punk-pop of the Dickies and their equally bizarre sounding singer, Leonard.

This CD contains their first album – though with a different cover than I have on my album and I don’t know which is the American or English release (oh, per the liner notes, the record was released twice) – along with no less than ten bonus tracks! What a deal!

Basically, if you dig 70’s pop-punk, you will love this record! Simple but clever tunes and arrangements with cool, melodic guitar pieces, solid playing and plenty of youthful enthusiasm from these teenagers! This contains the punk hit (well, in England, anyway), “Teenage Kicks” (which DJ John Peel loved so much that he literally has a quote from the lyrics on his tombstone!) along with such classics as “Male Model” , “Jump Boys”, “Here Comes the Summer”, “Get Over You”, “Jimmy, Jimmy” and plenty more.

The bonus tracks are more of the same and also show their garage roots with their cover of the Chocolate Watchband’s “Let’s Talk About Girls”.

This is a great CD of some of the best poppy-punk from the 70’s! Definitely for the fans of bands like the Buzzcocks and new groups like Green Day who got all their ideas from these cats!

Backyard Babies – People Like People Like People Like Us

I was a bit hesitant to pick up this new BB record because I was less than impressed with the last release that I got, but when I saw it was produced by Nicke from the Hellacopters, I thought I would give it a chance.

And this is damn good! The title song sounds similar to something the Supersuckers would have done in their hey-day – short, simple with a big chorus and even bigger guitars! “Cockblocker Blues” seems to have a nod to the Stones in the title, but musically is sounds more like later Zeppelin in the almost a-rhythmic, but rockin’, main riff and dynamics. I’d be surprised if that wasn’t what they were going for here.

“Dysfunctional Professional” harkens back to the sound of Total 13 while “We Go a Long Way Back” sounds similar to the Lords of the New Church’s “Russian Roulette”, which is not a bad thing! They slow things down for “Roads”, but it is still an electric, though melodic and almost ballad-y.

Back to the classic BB punk’n’roll and a play on other band’s titles with “Blitzkrieg Loveshock” which leads into the head-banging rhythm of “The Mess Age (How Could I Be So Wrong)”. “I Got Spades” is more of a punk-pop tune with gambling metaphors and then “Hold ‘em Down” is a rawer, power-punk and one of the cooler tunes from this record. This also lets guitarist Dregen add a little more and he should never be held back! He’s a fantastically wild player and should be running rampant throughout the record, but is unfortunately, subdued for the most part.

Another fast rocker is “Heroes and Heroines” which maintains a melody as it careens across the speakers and does let Dregen loose for another short burst of aural lightening, though this is far too short. They speed it up even more for “You Cannot Win” which has more cool riffin’ while still maintaining their Swedish Social Distortion sound.

Rounding out the record is “Things to do Before We Die”, a mid-tempo, poppier tune that does have another nice Dregen solo. Not their best and this leaves the record on just an ok note, rather than blasting out something like “Hold ‘em Down” to make us want more.

But, overall, this is a solid release and a return to the feel of early Backyard Babies.

Paul Revere and the Raiders – Greatest Hits

The Raiders were one of the great garage groups of the 60’s who managed to hit the big time (unlike their local cohorts the Sonics and the Wailers) with a string of Top Forty singles and plenty of TV coverage as the house band for Where the Action Is, a Dick Clark presentation.

This set opens with their take on the ubiquitous “Louie Louie”. While the Kingsmen were able to wrest the hit for this song, the Raiders had the last laugh with their long-running, chart-topping career. This sounds a bit less like the kegger-party that the Kingsmen hosted but is still tougher than the average Raiders tune.

But this is followed with the amazing “Louie – Go Home”. Wow! Rhythmic keyboards, ultra-cool guitar lick, harmonies, then, with a scream, the band launches into a raga-rock section before returning to the main theme! Creative as hell and still a remarkably catchy tune.

Their stomper, “Steppin’ Out”, is a garage monster – edgy vocals, group chorus, double time break, anti-war/anti-unfaithful-chick lyrics and a Yardbirds-styled rave-up ending! And then they pump it up another notch with the fantastic “Just Like Me”! A super 4 chord progression with Marc Lindsay practically breathless on the verses and almost screaming on the choruses that features a rockin’ guitar solo from Mike Smith and a frantic call and answer ending.

We’re given a breather on “Melody For An Unknown Girl”, basically an old-fashioned sax instrumental with unbearably corny opening (and closing) recitation by heart-throb Lindsay. But then they smash back in with the incredible “Kicks”! An unfashionably anti-drug themed tune, this is still a superb garage-pop song with a groovy 12 string guitar lick and memorable, sing-along choruses.

“Hungry” is in the same vein – a simple, pounding progression not unlike “Just Like Me”, but with intricate instrumental coloring, positively dirty-sounding lyrics that builds into a loud bridge/solo section before the repeated ending. Excellent hit song!

The band goes off on a tangent for “The Great Airplane Strike”, apparently their attempt at a Dylan-esque tune. Fun and funny, but not super special. But then they are back with a vengeance with “Good Thing”! This is pure Raiders once again – fine, full backup vocals (this time giving a nod to the Beach Boys “Good Vibrations”), simple, rockin’ progression and a super catchy melody.

“Ups and Downs” is fairly pedestrian and unmemorable with unneeded horns added. This leads into the “Legend of Paul Revere”, an entertaining biography of the band, though again, musically, it is not up with their best. These two songs ended the vinyl on an uninspired note.

But this CD has 4 bonus tracks, including “Action”, their theme song for the Where the Action Is TV show. This is a pretty swinging tune, though it is a little theme-song-y and a bit more Beach Boys than Raiders.

Speaking of TV, this also includes their take on “I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone” that is where the Monkees’ got their arrangement, but this is certainly rawer and more garage-punk. They were pure garage when they wanted to be!

“Him or Me – What’s It Gonna Be” is yet another hit for these cats and again shows their ability to mix vocal harmonies with fuzz-rock. Fairly slick but still rightfully hitting the Top Forty yet again.

This collection ends with “Peace of Mind”, which the liner notes describes as psychedelic-soul, which is reasonably accurate, though as white garage boys, it isn’t completely convincing.

But overall, this is a terrific CD with some of the best Top Forty garage-rock from the ‘60’s!

The Faces – A Nod is as Good as a Wink…to a Blind Horse…

Rod and the Faces first came to my notice when “Stay With Me’, from this essential album, came blasting out of the radio at me in the early 70’s. This band continues to be incredibly influential and they left behind a mighty body of work.

This record starts off with Ron Wood’s superb sounding, chunky guitar on “Miss Judy’s Farm” before the band explodes in a burst of energy. They mix 50’s r’n’r and Stones-y swagger with their own drunken exuberance to create a style that has been copied countless times, but never equaled.

As much as I like Ronnie Lane and his bass playing, his songs have always been a bit weaker to my ears that the other tunes on the Faces records. “You’re So Rude” is no exception. It tells a funny tale and a nice blues-rock groove, but doesn’t go much of anywhere. The band plays well, though and puts in some nice lines throughout.

The band was never afraid of ballads, but always did them with real feeling, such as “Love Lives Here”. Ian McLagan’s organ is highlighted on this and Wood’s guitar playing is restrained and melodic instead of nasty and distorted. Rod Stewart proves that he can sing from the heart as well as from the gut.

The big difference between the Faces and Stewart’s solo albums is the inclusion of Lane’s tunes. “Last Orders Please” is another one and again, nothing objectionable here, but just not as strong as the others. Especially when the following tune is the huge hit, “Stay With Me”, the frantic tune about the groupie that wants to over-stay her welcome. Fantastic playing by everyone on this one, with everybody getting a chance at brief spurts of brilliance. This is the epitome of great, fun 70’s rock, with drummer Kenny Jones kicking it into high gear at the end.

Starting side two of the album was one of Lane’s best tunes, “Debris”. This is a sweet, melodic ballad with some great harmony vocals by Rod. I wish that Lane had been able to write more like this one.

The group shows its admiration for 50’s r’n’r with a nice cover of “Memphis, Tennessee” before moving into “Too Bad”, a rocker about the band not getting any respect and apparently getting turned away from a gig.

Closing with “That’s All You Need”, Wood gets to show off his slide-guitar prowess as he as Rod perform the first verse by themselves before the band kicks in. This also has the patented Faces’ “chunk”, it allows Ron to let loose and show off a bit before ending with a memorable, repetitive chorus.

I can’t really imagine any rock’n’roller not being familiar with the Faces, but if you want one of their best, this is the one to get!
For more on the Faces, check out their web site (i think this is the official one).

Free – Molten Gold – the Anthology

I found this 2 CD set at a bargain price at Las Vegas’ only real record store left (Zia Records) which, while it doesn’t have many obscure items, does have some deals when you look.

I’ve been a fan of this band since their fantastically rockin’ hit “All Right Now”. I’ve been listening to them even more lately and this set really crystallizes just how good this band was at blues-based rock. Yeah, this might not be considered “cool” these days, but it is some damn good music.

Paul Rogers is well known for his terrific, bluesy vocals and his work with the likes of Bad Company, the Firm and even Queen. He has long been known as one of Britain’s best vocalists and was considered for both Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Drummer Simon Kirke joined him in Bad Co. and bassist Andy Fraiser was a fine songwriter and player, though he never managed to achieve the fame he realized in Free. Guitarist Paul Kossoff was not super flashy, but had such a personal style that even Eric Clapton asked him how he created his sound!

This collection includes songs from each of their releases, from their first album through the semi-reunion album (after Kossoff and Fraiser left, though Kossoff appears on several songs), Heartbreaker.

There are tons of great blues-based heavy tunes here, from the opening track of “I’m a Mover”, their classic interpretation of “The Hunter”, the riff-rock of “Woman” and lots more. Of course, “All Right Now” is included (which the liner notes says was written in about 10 minutes after a gig when they realized they needed an uptempo closer!) as well as some of their more mellow songs. The set closes with their much-covered “Wishing Well” and the title track of their last record, “Heartbreaker”.

This is certainly not for everyone, but for those who appreciated 70’s blues-based rock, this is a super collection.

Ultravox! - Ultravox!

Overshadowed by their subsequent success, it seems that few people know that the sound on the first Ultravox album is as much garage-y, guitar-dominated new wave/punk as their future sound was synth-driven. It may come as a surprise that, although this does have arty and maybe even pretentious moments, this is a rockin’ record!

The opening cut, “Saturday Night in the City of the Dead” is a perfect example of this. Kickin’ off with Warren Cann's frantic drum beat, the guitars kick in with a slashing tone (by Stevie Shears), blues-y harmonica appears and vocalist John Foxx intones almost as if he was covering “Subterranean Homesick Blues”! This is a far cry from synth-pop and New Romanticism!

Showing their admiration for Roxy Music in “Life at Rainbow’s End”, there is still heavily distorted guitars behind Foxx’s Ferry-like singing. Billy Currie’s keyboards come a little further to the forefront, as well. This is definitely a little more arty but still quite energetic.

“Slip Away” is highly Roxy-sounding – not at all surprising due to Eno producing this record. Here the keyboards do dominate but the rhythm remains and Shears still manages to enhance everything with some well placed licks.

Foxx does move firmly into art-rock with his ode to emotionlessness – “I Want to be a Machine”, complete with atmospheric violin playing from Currie and assembly-line sounding bass from the original Chris Cross. This ends with almost gypsy-like violin arpeggios building to a cascading conclusion.

Y’know, in ways I do miss the vinyl albums and the pacing they provided. “…Machine” was a fitting ending to side one of the vinyl and pausing to turn the record over gave you a minute to let everything sink in before moving on. CDs really have a whole different way of listening to them and certainly a different pace. There had to be a distinct ebb and flow for vinyl that discs don’t have, for better or worse. For us old folks, this really makes for a different listening experience.

Anyway, I digress… “Wide Boys” comes next and blasts back with a biting guitar riff and Foxx’s distorted vocals. This is definitely back to punk-pop with an arty edge rather than pure art-rock. This has a catchy chorus and nice harmonies – should have been a single!

The band creates an almost Carribean feel for “Dangerous Rhythms”, which again has more of a keyboard presence but also a driving bass line from Cross. Cross again is featured in “Lonely Hunter” with practically a slap-bass line, long before that was commonplace! Foxx never loses the melody throughout these varied experiments and once again, Shears has some super-fuzzed guitar lines that wind through the tune.

But absolutely my fave song of the band is the exquisite “The Wild, The Beautiful and The Damned”! Opening with power chords and Currie’s violin stating the riff that the guitar then builds upon and adds to. Foxx comes in with one of his best melody lines and wild, twisted lyrics, while the group pounds behind him and both the violin and guitar trade off lines. The guitar solo is a masterpiece of feedback and distortion that fits perfectly in the progression. They bring the tune down dynamically before smashing back in with fierce power chords and repeated choruses and still more great guitar playing! Wow!

The album quiets down to end with the keyboard tune, “My Sex”, which gives Foxx the chance to sing such lines as “my sex if often solo” as well as much more obscure lyrics. Very new-wave!

Overall, an excellent outing and it is unfortunate that this sound did not propel them to stardom, because I could certainly live without the future synth-driven Ultravox (without the exclamation point)!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

David Bowie - Space Oddity

Before becoming the glam master and leader of the Spiders From Mars, David drifted between genres – starting as a mod before moving into the hippie folk movement, which was still quite evident on this record. This is definitely a transitionary phase between his hippie persona and his glam-rock alter ego.

Much more of a folk album, this still has hints of things to come. He does have a full band, but not the fantastic Spiders From Mars and not even Mick Ronson. This record is quite mellow all the way through. This is not to say it is bad, but do not expect Ziggy-era rock.

Of course, most everyone knows his hit “Space Oddity” and the rest of the album is all in this style. Acoustic driven, this is nicely crafted with super vocals and melodies and some appropriate embellishment by the other musicians.

Some highlights include “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed”, “Janine”, “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud” (which remained a live mainstay), “Good Knows I’m Good” and the dramatic “Memory of a Free Festival”.

This was my final purchase to complete my 70’s era Bowie collection. While the next 4 records are the classics (Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Alladin Sane), Bowie can always be counted on for some nice moments. Known for being a chameleon, this is the folk-rock version of Bowie.

Mott the Hoople - the Hoople

With the album title emphasizing that this is the follow up to the success of Mott, the band highlights this concept with “The Golden Age of Rock’n’Roll” – a mix of “All the Way to Memphis” and “Honaloochie Boogie”. Good stuff and a nice start to the renovated MTH. New guitarist Aerial Bender’s (formerly Luther Grosvenor from Spooky Tooth) first solo is a short, twisted, whammy-bar noise fest – cool stuff and quite different from Mick Ralphs.

“Marionette” starts as another Hunter keys-n-strings tune that changes often – heavy guitars, saxes, weird, chanting backing vocals – a very strange ride! The following, “Alice” is also a little disjointed. I’m not sure if Ian just got a little wackier with his songs or if the band just wasn’t jelling as it had in the past.

They try to get back to their old sound a bit with “Crash Street Kidds”, but as good as Bender is, he doesn’t have Ralphs’ massive guitar sound. “Born Late ‘58” is more successful and is quite a raver, in the “Drivin’ Sister”/”Jerkin’ Crocus” style. Good stuff!

Hunter dedicates another ballad to his wife in “Trudi’s Song” and unfortunately, “Pearl’n’Roy (England)” is fairly forgettable. I had forgotten just how many ballads were on this record and “Through the Looking Glass” is another one, this one with choirs and orchestration.

Luckily, the album closes on a high note with “Roll Away the Stone”, an energetic and fun tune with fine guitar licks, a sing-along chorus, nice backup vocals and even a sense of humor.

The loss of Mick Ralphs really devastated this band. They still had some good moments, but they lost all of their momentum and soon dissolved. A sad ending for a fabulous group.

Mott the Hoople - Mott

This follow up to the block-buster All The Young Dudes shows the Hoople at the top of their game – great songs, great playing and great self-production. What a shame that it was all about to fall apart.

But, what a record! Opening with the piano-pounding “All the Way to Memphis”, Ian laments the problems of touring (expounded on in his cool tome, “Confession of a Rock Star”). This was definitely an extension of Dudes – loud guitars, honking sax and keyboards propel this hi-energy romp, making it another Mott classic!

“Whizz Kids” is pure Hunter – a little more eclectic (though still rockin’, in its way) but the band makes it their own. Ian creates a ballad in “Hymn for the Dudes”, complete with faux-strings and female choruses, and is almost cinematic in feel, though it does build to a loud climax.

Back to more a more standard r’n’r song with “Honaloochie Boogie”, a super number with some lyrical nods to the enthusiasm of the 50’s. One of their finest is the fierce ode to frustration, complete with a mock inter-band fistfight, called “Violence”. Fine Mick Ralphs guitar playing highlights this number, while the chorus is augmented with violin from Graham Preskett, giving a play on words to the song’s title.

“Drivin’ Sister” is another pure rocker, co-written by Hunter and Ralphs, similar in feel to something like “Jerkin’ Crocus” from the previous record. Driven (so to speak!) by Ralphs’ excellent guitar – which sounds amazing throughout the album – this is MTH as a fun, uninhibited r’n’r machine!

This is immediately contrasted by the “Ballad of Mott the Hoople”, called by bassist Overend Watts “sad and pessimistic”. Truly autobiographical with insightful lines about the band (organist Verden Allen had left by this record, Overend truly was a r'n'r star and drummer Buffin is mentioned for his "childlike dreams") and the unforgettable phrase “rock’n’roll’s a loser’s game, it mesmerizes, I can’t explain”. An epic Hunter melancholy song.

They change right back with Ralphs’ fantastic “I’m a Cadillac” – not quite as frantically rockin’ as some of the other tunes, but a phenomenal song filled with melody (sung by Mick), superb guitar lines and a wonderful chorus – “loving you is hard enough, loving you is strange”. Ian may have been the brains and the focal frontman of the group, but I think Mick was the musical soul. The song morphs into an echo-laden showpiece for Ralphs and displays how emotional his playing could be.

One of my favorite acoustic Mott songs is certainly “I Wish I Was Your Mother”. Sweet, heart-wrenching and with a terrifically melodic mandolin played by Mick. Honestly, I’m not sure what Ian really wants in the lyrics of this song, but it is one of their most emotional tunes and a fine closer.

This CD has several bonus tracks, including the b-side to the “Honaloochie…” single, “Rose” and demos of “Honaloochie” (much slower and less complete but with different instrumentation) as well as a song called “Nightmare”. Completing the set is an almost sloppy live version of “Drivin’ Sister” which is pretty damn fun.

Certainly one of the best bands - who did have a phenomenal look and style - and one of the best albums of the early 70’s!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Saints – Eternally Yours

The Saints faced ridicule and ostracization from the punk community by daring to put horns on the opening track of their follow up to the much acclaimed (I’m) Stranded album. Punk was supposed to have a formula and if you veered from that thin line, you were asking for trouble! Of course, many people did so and went on to great success, so I suppose the Saints were pioneers!

In any case, this is a fantastic opening song and now widely considered a classic that has been covered probably more often than “(I’m) Stranded”! Great lyrics about commercialism and tons of energy equal an exceptional tune!
They lose the horns on “Lost and Found”, but certainly not the power and fury – this is what punk is supposed to sound like – fast and wild, but still real songs! Yes, it’s a fine line to walk, but it separates the gems from the drek.

“Memories Are Made of This” has the audacity to use acoustic guitars (gasp!) as the main rhythm instrument, but is still an uptempo punk song. Nice use of aural coloring here. They are back to basics for “Private Affair” – trade-off vocals, but otherwise stripped down to the bone. Acoustics pop up again for “A Minor Aversion”, which is pretty similar to “Memories…” Well written songs, though.

Bouncing back to pure punk rock angst is the cleverly titled “No, Your Product”, which may even exceed the greatness of “Know Your Product”. This is pure genius – biting commentary, soaring guitars that help build the furor, lyrics of defiance and self reliance ("there’s no thought that isn’t mine – completely”) all built into a memorable tune. The energy doesn’t let up until the final explosion. Just phenomenal!

“This Perfect Day” is simpler but still a terrific statement. They basically create r’n’b-punk with the frantic, harmonica driven “Run Down”. The band pokes fun at themselves and their countrymen with “Orstralia”, which brings back the horns. These never distract and really do add to the flavors of the songs. Clever stuff…

More back and forth with the basic “New Centre of the Universe” and then the more acoustic “Untitled” – both cool numbers. Referencing the first album with “(I’m) Misunderstood” in both title and song structure, this is a powerhouse of a tune and up there with their best.

The album ends with the supremely silly, “International Robots”, one of the goofiest songs ever recorded and oddly covered by the Muffs! I guess they just wanted to show that they had a sense of humor – that or they were wasted out of their minds with the tape started rolling!

This is a fantastic representation of early punk rock and it shows just how good this genre can be!

The Jam – This is the Modern World/ All Mod Cons

I found this single CD of the band’s 2nd and 3rd album at a reasonable price on Amazon – the only place I have seen these album combinations. This release has the cover artwork from both records as well as liner notes and even a couple of bonus tracks. Well worth the money!

The Jam’s second album, This is the Modern World, is a continuation of the band’s Who-flavored power-pop-mod-punk. Strong stuff, with great melodies and harmonies and some real intelligence behind it all.

The title song really does explode out of the speakers in a Who-like frenzy – a perfect start! “We don’t need no one to tell us what’s right or wrong!” More than punk – this is teenage angst at its best!

“London Traffic” is as frenetic as its subject, but still with harmony “oohs” keeping it from being all power and no pop. More Townshend-like chords populate “Standards”, while Paul Weller gets more political than Pete normally ever did. An actual ballad, “Life From a Window” is downright pretty but still has bursts of energy and is one of their more memorable tunes. “The Combine” is also extraordinarily melodic and highlights Weller’s Rickenbacker guitar tone.

Bassist Bruce Foxton wrote several of the songs here and “Don’t Tell Them You’re Sane” might not have the most sing-along melody, but has a great, edgy theme that all too many of us could relate to! Short, sweet and to the point, “In the Street, Today” is a quick burst before the poppier “London Girl” and its “lalalala’s” and odd lyrics.

More pure pop for punk people in another ballad-y tune, “I Need You (for Someone)”, shows their Beatle-esque influences. “Here Comes the Weekend” starts almost darkly – apparently reflecting the drudgery of the workweek – before climaxing in a joyous chorus. I hadn’t realized quite how many quieter songs Weller put on this record until I started to take it apart – “Tonight at Noon” is a ringing ballad and is another sweet and extremely catchy song.

The band then tears into their obligatory r’n’b cover, this time a convincing “In the Midnight Hour”. The record closed with “All Around the World”, which is right up their with their best mod-punk classics and a perfect bookend to “This is the Modern World”.

This CD release includes Foxton’s single “News of the World” with its rallying cry of “power pop!” Not their best, but a nice addition to this set.

I swear, it was years – if not decades – before I realized where they got their next album title, All Mod Cons. I had no idea that it was a British housing term! But, discovering that meant that it made a lot more sense and was actually cleverly funny. This purposeful British-ness certainly kept them from being more popular in America though, as happened to their heroes the Small Faces and Kinks.

The title cut, though, is a catchy, bass-driven mod-pop tune and a fine starter to their 3rd release. “To Be Someone” is also quite melodic – Weller definitely concentrates on more tune than power for this album. A darker, slower number, “Mr. Clean” sounds ominous, though I’m not sure who Paul is talking about.

This time out, instead of covering an r’n’b songs that the original mod bands would have covered, they cover the Kinks “David Watts” and in doing so, shine a light on a relatively obscure Davis classic.

Their quietest song to date, “English Rose” is a beautiful tune exposing Weller’s dedication to his country. This is his first fully acoustic performance and it is so romantic that it was dedicated to my (British heritage) wife-to-be during our combined bachelor/ bachelorette party!

More pure pop for “In the Crowd” before it turns into a feedback/backwards-guitar laden psychedelic ending. Side 2 of the album opened with a very Kinks-y “Billy Hunt” before moving into “It’s Too Bad”, another Beatle-esque song, complete with “She Loves You” references. “Fly” is a more complex composition, with multiple sections, from simple acoustic guitar to “Away From the Numbers” power-chord cops.

Harkening back to In the City, “The Place I Love” is pure early Jam, with catchy guitar licks and power chords and was nicely covered by Flop in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Continuing in this vein is “”A” Bomb in Wardour Street” with its jagged chords that play off of the drums and Weller’s Townshend-styled antics. The album closed with another complex, multi-part narrative in “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight”. It is a little disjointed, but it does come together at the end with a catchy chorus to make it memorable.

This CD collection ends with a bonus track of “The Butterfly Collector”. This is another moody piece that foreshadows some of Weller’s later works. Prominent keyboards demonstrate the obvious changes from his earlier work. Interesting, but quite different from the manic punk that he had been known for.

All in all, two great albums from this legendary band.

After I had written this, I realized that I had already done a briefer piece on the first 2 albums here.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

does anyone really care about this has-been?

Scalpers ask $1,500 for free Bon Jovi concert
Shit, I wouldn't take free tickets! Who would want to see this hack these days (or ever)?
Of course, the article says that people were asking that much for tickets, not that anyone was buying them!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Steppenwolf - Steppenwolf

Considering the number of their most famous songs that are packed into this debut record, it is understandable how the band became so popular so quickly! Besides the ubiquitous “Born to be Wild”, this includes “Sookie Sookie”, “The Pusher” and “Everybody’s Next One”.

(See my review of their greatest hits record for more on these songs.)

Some numbers that casual listeners may not be overly familiar with includes the homage to Chuck titled “Berry Rides Again” – an amalgamation of lyrical and instrumental licks from the r’n’r innovator that actually works as its own tune. They then create a psychedelic blues with their take on “Hoochie Coochie Man” – great Mars Bonfire guitar on this!

“Your Wall’s Too High” is a cool, mid-tempo garage rocker while “Desperation” is an organ-dominated blues-y tune. They delve into psych-pop with “A Girl I Knew”, which is a little disjointed, but has some more fine guitar work. They’re downright poppy with “Take What You Need” that moves along at a nice pace and jumps back in after a fake ending.

The record closes with the political “The Ostrich”, which is a high-energy rocker with plenty of cool playing by everyone. This is another tune that was good enough to stand up to their hits, but was probably too overtly political to get much airplay.

Again, I’m a huge fan of this group so I am hardly objective, but this is a fantastic debut that displayed some of their best songs and also showed inklings of their future classics.

The Rolling Stones – Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out

This live album shows the Stones at their peak, with great songs and wild audience adulation (without the unadulterated mania shown in Got Live If You Want It), but also shows some of their weaknesses. Make no mistake, this is a great record, but it does show that some of the songs’ strengths are from the terrific studio production.

This is evidenced immediately on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. Like I said, this has rockin’ energy, but the tones of the guitars are not as strong as on the recording. Of course, there is a lot more going on than just 2 guitars, bass and drums on the single. Regardless, this is still one of their best songs ever and a great start to this set.

They keep the rave-up going with their updated version of “Carol” with Keith showing off his Chuck Berry riffs before moving into their lascivious “Stray Cat Blues”. Oddly, this might even be played a little slower than the studio version, but it builds with a nice intensity with Taylor’s guitar leads as Mick invites sweet young things up to his room.

Their arrangement of Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain” is emotional and strong, with biting slide parts. “Midnight Rambler” takes on a new life from the album version and while we miss the visuals of Jagger pounding the stage with his belt, this is still wild stuff.

“Sympathy For the Devil” is virtually a different song in this live setting, considering the different instrumentation (no congas or acoustic guitar) and the lack of backing vocals. Pretty great, though, and another cool, extended solo from Keith.

Another favorite song of mine is “Live With Me”, which I think excels in the live setting and may even be better than the studio one. Stripped down, with raw guitars and rocked up a bit, this is another testament to their talents. Their second homage to Berry is “Little Queenie”, which sounds positively filthy coming from Jagger & company.

Once again, “Honky Tonk Women” is quite a change from the record – both in Richards’ licks and even Mick’s words. It definitely has a rockin’ groove, though!

The set closes with “Street Fighting Man”, which definitely is rocked up, less restrained and more Taylor-lead-centric. A cool ending to a fine r’n’r record.

Hearing this album for the first time was actually pretty thrilling for me in that it showed the “greatest rock’n’roll band in the world” as loose – even sloppy – and not a band that copied their own recordings. This was pretty liberating for a teenager learning to play guitar. I realized that maybe I didn’t have to play note-perfect Jimmy Page/Eric Clapton leads to play in a band. So, thanks guys – for a superb record and a lesson in r’n’r!

the Rolling Stones - Goats Head Soup

I have never paid a lot of attention to this album, seeing it as the beginning of the Stones’ decline, but it actually has some damn fine songs on it. Not their best, to be sure, and a bit uneven, but still well worth having.

“Dancing With Mr. D.” starts with a cool groovin’ riff that does get ya movin’ – even if you don’t want Mr. D. to be your partner! The next couple of tunes are a little forgettable – not terrible and not even as bad as some of their later stuff, just nothing special and certainly not what Jagger/Richard are capable of.

But the interestingly titled “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” – presumably named to keep it from being confused with any of the other “Heartbreaker” songs prevalent at that time (GFRR, Free, etc) – redeems them with a rockin’ pop single that hit the charts with cool minor chords and a sing-along chorus. Good stuff!

Of course, an even bigger chart-topper was the acoustic “Angie”. Rumored to be about David Bowie’s wife, this is actually one of their better ballads. Sweet, romantic lyrics and nice acoustic picking. They change the pace dramatically with slide-rocker “Silver Train”, a great tune with a strong chorus and cool playing all around and great interplay between the guitars and piano. Johnny Winter did a terrific version of this on his Still Alive and Well album, also.

There’s a flashback to Exile on Main Street with “Hide Your Love” – not dissimilar in sound and feel to something like “Stop Breaking Down”. “Winter” is soul/ gospel inspired tune, but not super special, though it does have some fine guitar playing. Listening to it some more makes me think it is a successor to “Moonlight Mile”.

GHS closes with their infamous “Star Star”, a song deemed so indecent that the actual title (“Star Fucker”) couldn’t be printed on the label or album cover. This is actually a damn catchy, sing-along song that the Dragons (from San Diego) rocked up even more than the Stones did! Still, this isn’t just a gimmick – it’s a great closing r’n’r song!

Again, not the best album of their career, but still plenty of quality highlights throughout!

White Bicycles - Making Music in the '60's by Joe Boyd

Boyd has a long history of working in the music industry, not as a musician, but as a producer, tour manager, booker, club owner and more. His story moves in many directions as he interacts with various artists from different genres.

Starting his career in jazz circles, Joe managed to work with some major stars in jazz and blues as he arranged and managed tours and festivals for these legends. He then moved into the folk scene in both the States and in England and helped to introduce the members of the Lovin’ Spoonful before getting involved with the Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention (and various members) in England.

The book covers his many moves and does so in an entertaining and easy-to-read fashion. Boyd has a wide variety of tastes and keeps the reader interested as he moves from scene to scene and country to country. He started the infamous UFO club, which had Pink Floyd as its initial house band. He produced Nick Drake and tells many a tale of this tortured soul. He produced “Dueling Banjos” and was so sure of its uncommerciality that he didn’t even put his name on it. Of course, it went on to become his only #1 hit. He also produced Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis” and even worked on the terrific documentary movie, Jimi Hendrix. He even owned the famous footage of Hendrix playing acoustic 12 string!

Oddly, considering the book’s title, he had little interaction with the band Tomorrow, other than booking them at the UFO club.

Most books on the 60’s music scene are based on the musician’s perspective. This gives another view of this wild and exciting time!

Kiss - Hotter Than Hell

Long before they got sappy with “Beth”, Kiss was almost an underground metal band that was more closely linked with the New York Dolls than the Top Forty. When I first saw them on In Concert on the early 70’s, I was knocked out! All dressed in leather – none of the spandex/satin they later adopted – breathing fire and spitting blood while wearing outlandish makeup – these were the successors of Alice & the Dolls! And the songs were cool, simple, melodic r’n’r tunes!

A number of the cuts from this, their second record, appeared on the first Kiss Alive! album, such as “Got Too Choose”, “Parasite”, “Hotter Than Hell”, etc. But I think that some of my favorites are the more obscure numbers.

“Goin’ Blind” is about just what you think it would be about and is a minor-key, quite melodic song with one of their most interesting chord progressions ever. This is certainly not “Rock’n’Roll All Night”, but is a well written tune. Of course, Gene is as lecherous as ever with lines like “I’m 93, you’re 16”, but it wouldn’t be Kiss otherwise! Nice lead work from Ace, also.

My other fave from the record is Ace’s “Strange Ways”. This is a ponderous, brontosaurus of a riff that gets your head banging (albeit, somewhat slowly!) and has a fantastic, overdriven, effect-laden solo. Why this didn’t become one of their more famous numbers, I’ll never know.

This is certainly not their best album, but I love the early records and the highlights on this make it essential for Kiss fans!