Monday, November 24, 2008

Tom Waits - Small Change

I discovered Tom Waits in the mid-70’s and was immediately drawn to his jazzy, beat-generation trappings, his unassuming manner and his story-telling. I was just learning about jazz at the time and he always had great musicians who could impart the right feel to any of his songs. He seemed to me to be the aural equivalent of Kerouac and his ilk.

He is so prolific that I honestly did not know how many albums he released by this point, but this is his fourth, coming right before Foreign Affairs and the classic Blue Valentine.

This record starts with the quiet piano ballad “Tom Traubert’s Blues”, which is accompanied by strings and references “waltzing Mathilda”, oddly enough. This is a pretty classic Waits opener though.

Things change drastically for “Step Right Up” – which highlights be-bopping acoustic bass at its best, with clever lyrics about close out sales and street hustlers performed scat-like. I actually know of a company that used the lyrics of this song as an ad for one of their sales, which impressed me a lot at the time!

Back to a sorta jazzy/lounge-y piano tune in “Jitterbug Boy”, an ode to Chuck E. Weiss, who seems to have gotten far more fame via other people’s songs than from his own! Another nice song, though. He continues in this vein for “I Wish I Was in New Orleans”, which has a passing resemblance (though is considerably more somber) to the old traditional number, “I Wish I Was in Dixie”.

“The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)” is a hilarious story of a nightclub performer explaining his predicament to the customers. Tom does manage to make both himself and his piano sound a bit inebriated! He really was a fine entertainer and could easily hold your attention by himself.

A truly great, moody blues tune is “Invitation to the Blues”. Waits really shines on this type on number – his voice is perfect for the blues and is full of emotion and feeling. The saxophone adds a nice feel, as well.

“Pasties and a G-String” is subtitled “At the Two O’Clock Club” but I always pictured Tom hanging at the Ivar Theater with this recitation of the charms of some of the girls set to the backdrop of a strip club drum beat. Truly fun and funny and these tunes keeps the album from being too depressing!

He’s back at the lounge-y story-telling with “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart”. He was a terrific piano-oriented singer/songwriter. He heads in a full-on film noir direction for “The One That Got Away”. You can just picture the sax player standing under a streetlight as Tom tells the tales of the down and out in Los Angeles. He was a helluva narrator and lyricist.

“Small Change” continues in the same vein – another jazzy story told in an extremely cinematic way with excellent sax playing setting the mood. Waits gives you a real feel of the neighborhood and the inhabitants as he recounts this robbery gone wrong. If you ever want to know what the lower regions of Los Angeles was like, just give a listen to early Waits!

He closes with another solo number, “I Can’t Wait to Get Off Work”, which everyone can relate to, especially those in the low paying jobs and crappy neighborhoods that Waits is describing on this album.

Not exactly r’n’r, but great, emotional jazz/blues songwriting with superb Beat Generation lyrics. Exceptional!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

how utterly silly

Vatican forgives John Lennon for Jesus remark
I am astonished that anyone still thinks that this was a controversial remark in any way. He was stating a simple fact and not denigrating anyone or any religion at all. It's not like he did anything that actually requires forgiveness.

People's lack of comprehension really does annoy me...

Friday, November 21, 2008

The J. Geils Band – Blow Your Face Out

The J. Geils Band always shined in a live setting – to this day they are one of the top live acts I have ever seen – and after the success of Full House, there was never any doubt that they would release another show document once they had a chance. I had the privilege of seeing the group on this tour and can attest to their majesty! This is a fantastic record of the band at the height of their power and (in my opinion) with some of their best material.
Ravin’ up the audience right from the start with a bluesy, stompin’ intro, they move into the shufflin’ “Southwide Shuffle” to get the party started! They sound like they’re having a good time and want to bring everyone into the groove with them. The breakdown to “you got to do it, got to do it” is damn near a demand of the audience and everyone seems like they’re ready to join in!

They keep a funky groove going with “Back To Get Ya” which makes it impossible to sit still. Magic Dick gets to show off in this one, as does Geils. The dancin’ rhythms continue in Jr. Walker’s “Shoot Your Shot”, with fantastic dynamic work from the whole group.

Wolf tells a funny story in the liner notes regarding “Musta Got Lost”. He claims the famous rap intro was originally spontaneous and after this album came out he had to listen to the recording to re-learn it because people were requesting the intro! It is great, fun and funny and was a fine piece of theater when I saw them. Wolf literally never stood still for the entire show, and even on the intros he would pace back and forth while rantin’ and rappin’. The song itself is also great with a mid-tempo beat, a sing-along chorus and terrific ensemble playing.

Surprisingly, they do a version of the Supremes “Where Did Our Love Go”, though maybe it shouldn’t be surprising as they are in Detroit! This is done in a blues-rock fashion, with Geils’ slide playing taking the spotlight, but the arrangement is not that different from the original.

Personally, I could live without the country song, “Truck Drivin’ Man”, but I know that others really dug this. It definitely stands out from the rest of the set! Wolf does another cool intro for “Love-itis” which brings the band back to solid ground – bluesy, stompin’, catchy hard rock. I love the tough guitars and the lead trade-offs between Dick and Geils. Even Johnson gets in his licks on this one!

The group does a couple verses of “Lookin’ For a Love” as a slow ballad before moving into "(Ain’t Nothing But a) Houseparty”. When I saw them, they did do this intro, but they moved into a rave up version of the tune to satisfy those of us who loved their first hit. But, I suppose since that appeared on Full House, they didn’t feel the need to reprise it here. “…Houseparty”, of course, is another raver and is even more intense than the studio version. Truly a party condensed into a few minute tune!

Another groove-driven r’n’b blast is “So Sharp” which moves directly into ode to the city they were in, “Detroit Breakdown”. This is another good time, up-tempo rockin’ celebration! I love the extended ending that brings in the audience on the “yeah,yeah,yeah,yeah” chanting. I can picture Wolf dancing and bouncing on his mic stand on this one! Oh yeah, another super piece of theater was at the very ending where they do a sharp stop and the whole band froze until they came back it to blast out the finish. They knew the power of performance!

The mood goes darker for the ethereal “Chimes”, another one of my favorites. Excellent piece of songwriting that allows everyone a chance to stretch out a bit and play with dynamics. Exceptional solos from everyone on this one!

Albert Collin’s instrumental “Sno-Cone” follows and brings everyone back into the rockin’ blues groove and gives Wolf a chance to catch his breath. They follow this with the first song from their first record and one of their first originals, “Wait” – another fun blues-rocker.

A Stax-soul-shouter is given the J.Geils treatment in Eddie Floyd’s “Raise Your Hand”, which was certain to get the audience involved, as well. They do one more slow song, “Start All Over” which just winds people up even more over their then-hit “Give It To Me”. This reggae-influenced tune does jump, but it’s a bit poppier than some of my faves from the group. There’s a rockin’ jam at the end and a call and answer section which closes the record with a bang.

Full House is still the best, but this was another full-tilt blast of J.Geils energy!

The J. Geils Band – Sanctuary

Anyone who has ever read this blog knows that I am a huge JGB fan and this record is another one of the highlights of their career. But then, I love all of the 70’s records, so it’s hard to be objective.

I think this is a bit of a crossover from their solid blues leanings to more of a pop band, but with great tunes. “I Could Hurt You” is pretty pop oriented, but still sounds like J. Geils, especially in the guitar and harp solos. A strong, mid-tempo number with a memorable chorus.

The hit off of the album was “One Last Kiss”, though I guess I wasn’t listening to much radio at the time as I don’t remember hearing this though apparently it broke the Top Forty. This is a minor key piece of bluesiness and emotionalism with excellent instrumental embellishments, such as Geils’ super guitar lines. Again, Magic Dick shines on the harp – his virtuosity is unmatched on his weapon of choice. The entire band works together, though, to create a moody masterpiece.

They switch gears for an r’n’b/pop tune, “Take it Back”. Apparently, this was released as a single as well, but did not chart as high as “One Last Kiss”, despite being considerably more poppy. A good, upbeat tune.

The title track is one of the best here, though. Pounding piano, absolutely vicious harp playing and wild lyrics from Wolf combined with an incessant beat and group vocals make up a movin’ and groovin’ number. Everyone plays terrific on here, from the rhythm section of Stephen Jo Bladd and Danny Klein to Seth Johnson’s keys to Geils perfect, wailing guitar! Breath-taking!

They mellow out for a piano ballad in a minor key in “Teresa”. Nicely done, and Wolf’s singing is particularly intense and heart-felt, but for me it’s not really one of their best. But, they come back in excellent form with the aptly-titled “Wild Man”. Tough and rockin’ with heavy guitars, strong beat and another fantastically distorted harp solo. Bladd adds some poppin’, funky bass lines – a precursor to the slap bass predominant in the 80’s.

“I Can’t Believe You” is a slower, emotional r’n’b number, with enough power from the band to keep it from being ballady. A nice change of pace. But they do another piano-dominated ballad in “I Don’t Hang Around Much Any More”. A good song with a full sound making the backing almost orchestral.

I believe that my fave, though, is the closer, the superbly rockin’ “Jus’ Can’t Stop Me”. High-energy stompin’ starts this off, and when the chuggin’ guitar and harp join in, this just takes off and never lets up! As hot as anything they ever did – this is real, good time rock’n’roll played by some of the best! Incredible!

As I said, this isn’t as traditional as some of their other records, but as long as you can appreciate their blending of styles, this is a terrific slab of r’n’r!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

T.Rex - The Slider

Following the huge phenomenon that was Electric Warrior was no mean feat, but in England Marc Bolan had been a star for a while and continued to have a number of hit singles for years to come. Unfortunately, in America T Rex was a one hit wonder and despite the quality material on this album there was not another chart topper over here.

Opening with “Metal Guru”, all the classic T.Rex elements are here – his distorted electric guitar, delicate voice, groovy beat and fantastic backing vocals by Flo & Eddie. This is the definition of glam rock – hand-clapping rhythms, cool guitars and great, sing-along vocals!

The other side of T.Rex is evident in the next tune, “Mystic Lady” – acoustic guitars and string accompaniment. Bolan could always manage to write a slow acoustic piece without it necessarily being a ballad. Good stuff!

Marc pulls out a rockin’, fuzzed out guitar riff for the basis of “Rock On” and it is indeed very rockin’ in a Rextacy sort of way. He rarely gets too raw or raucous or wild, but always keeps a nice rhythm as he does in “The Slider”. This does seem to just slide along and sucks you in. There is plenty of sexual innuendo in way Bolan delivers the chorus – “when I’m sad, I slide”.

Back to the 50’s styled riff-rock for “Baby Boomerang” – more updated, glittery pop rockabilly! “Spaceball Ricochet” is another acoustic piece, ala “Mystic Lady”. They come back with another heavy riffer in “Buick Mackane”, a great head-banger of a tune!

The biggest hit of the record is “Telegram Sam” and deservedly so! Similar in feel to “Bang a Gong”, this rocks with a great guitar tone, good melody and a supremely catchy chorus. Certainly another highlight of the 70’s!

The slower “Rabbit Fighter” is accented by bursts of cool electric guitar showing that while no virtuoso, Marc was a real player as well as songwriter. Happily upbeat is “Baby Strange”, a truly good-time number. Quite poppy yet still with loud guitars. He seems to be jumping back and forth as “Ballrooms of Mars” is another acoustic-driven song but again with a fine electric solo.

Back to the heavy electrics for “Chariot Choogie” that also employs a cello on the repetitive riff for added emphasis. There’s also a fascinating backwards guitar lead on this one. The vinyl ended with the quieter “Main Man”, a more melancholy ballad, making it a change of pace from the rest of the joyful record.

The first CD of this 2-CD reissue contains to bonus tracks. The first, “Cadillac”, is a stripped down rocker – just pure Bolan r’n’r without all the extra production techniques. “Thunderwing” is another swingin’ rocker, in the same vein as “Baby Boomerang”. This CD closes with “Lady”, which is driven with chunky acoustic chords and is a simple, catchy, fun tune.

The second CD is billed as the “alternative Slider”. This is all demos and basic tracks for the actual album without all of the production work, backing vocals and strings. Quite interesting and shows that while Marc could carry the group without the extra fanfare, the production sweetening is a large part of what we consider the T.Rex sound.

Though much of America missed out, this was a peak of the British Glitter era!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Johnny Winter - The Best of

I got this CD because I dug the first Winter album so much and I couldn’t find anything else out here in Vegas and was dying to hear some more vintage Johnny! This is a fine selection of some of his best and most well known songs.

Opening with one of his signature rockers, “Rock’n’Roll Hootchie Koo”, the Rick Derringer penned 70’s masterpiece, you learn right away what this is all about – wild ass blues influenced r’n’r. Rick did a phenomenal version of this song, as well, but this is what most people know Johnny for. While he was primarily a bluesman, he had no problem blasting out blistering r’n’r when he wanted!

Unfortunately, the booklet included in this CD, while displaying some rockin’ photos, does not list the albums that the tunes are taken from. These are all early tracks, though, as he moves back and forth from blues to rock. Several are taken from the wonderful debut album and more have the same 1969 recording date, which points to Second Winter.

There’s a terrific “Johnny B. Goode” with brother Edgar pounding the piano doing his best Johnnie Johnson impression. Robert Johnson’s “Come on in My Kitchen” shows Johnny’s acoustic talents and includes Jeremy Steig’s flute, which works a little better than “Too Much Seconal” from Still Alive and Well. This song had not been released for a couple of decades and it’s good that it was finally able to see the light of day.

“Rollin’ and Tumblin’” is damn near maniacal and performed at break-neck speed. He takes on Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” and truly makes it his own with his highly original slide playing. Little Richard’s “Miss Ann” is given a jumpin’ & jivin’ reading, complete with Edgar’s keys and sax filling out the sound. There are a couple of extended live blues that give Johnny a chance to stretch out and show what he is capable of. Johnny and Rick even do some dueling guitar workouts, which is something that all guitar players should hear!

I will probably end up going back and purchasing all of the albums that these songs were originally released on, but in the meantime, this is a great collection and a super introduction to this guitar hero.

Ron Wood - Ronnie, the Autobiography

I’ve wanted this book for a while and finally got a copy (thanks, Jorg!). I’ve been a fan of Woody’s since the days of the Faces and subsequently discovered his many other endeavors and have always been impressed by his style and skill. This is his autobiography and he writes in a casual, easy-to-read and entertaining fashion.

Of course, he starts with his childhood and his musical (and alcohol-fueled) family, including brothers Ted and Art, the latter who played with Blues Incorporated, who practically started the blues phenomenon in England and later formed the Art Woods. Woody started early and formed the Birds while still a mid-teen. This is especially admirable considering the quality of his songwriting at this time.

From here he moved to the bass in order to join the Jeff Beck Group along with Rod Stewart, who he had already become friends with. This band toured America several times and was managed by Peter Grant. Ronnie includes an extremely bizarre anecdote in which he claims that Peter put together the “New Yardbirds” (later Led Zeppelin) and asked him to play guitar! Of course, in everyone else’s reality Page put together the band and this is so well known that it seems odd that the editor let Woody leave this story in the book.

I thought that he was skipping his time with the Creation, but it turns out that he only played guitar with them for one tour while he was out of Beck’s group for a short time. I always assumed that the Jeff Beck Group was much later than the Creation, but so many of these bands overlapped times and styles that it is hard to keep track.

Of course, from there he formed the legendary Faces with Rod and the remaining Small Faces (after Steve Marriott left the band to form Humble Pie) and eventually joined the Rolling Stones.
I’m more interested in his early days, but by now he has spent probably 3 times longer in the Stones than in all of the other bands combined, which is why so much of the book concentrates on the more recent times.

Funnily enough, his chronicle becomes less interesting after he joins the Stones. Sure, he has money problems (mostly due to bad decisions), housing problems, drug and alcohol problems, and a concurrent art career, but none of this is told quite as compellingly as his youthful days.

Still, Ronnie seems charming and likable and this is a casual, fun read telling us his life story to date. Definitely recommended for lovers of 60's and 70's r'n'r.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Jeff Beck Group – Beck-ola

Although this album was recorded as the group was on the verge of breaking up (with vocalist Rod Stewart and bassist Ron Wood plotting their defection to the remnants of the Small Faces, who will shorten their name to the Faces and go on to 70’s r’n’r glory), the band still plays with incredible tightness and continues to define late 60’s/early 70’s heavy blues rock, with an emphasis on “heavy”!

Adding drummer Tony Newman and (officially) keyboardist extraordinaire Nicky Hopkins (to make them stand out a little from the rest of the blues rock, guitar-centric bands at the time), the Jeff Beck Group demonstrates what this genre could really sound like in the right hands.

Opening with a manically heavy version of “All Shook Up”, Nicky shows that he is a full fledged member of the group, as the rhythm section work together better than ever and Rod’s voice is in fine form. Beck’s guitar is still the star, though – absolutely perfect tone and superbly creative playing. He doesn’t use any effects but still forms a wide variety of sounds from his Les Paul and Marshall. This record could be used as a textbook for guitar techniques!

As Beck says repeatedly in the liner notes, the band was going for “heavy” and that is what they achieve in “Spanish Boots”. Newman does his best Keith Moon impressions here as Beck pummels his guitar with power chords and then moves to absolutely subtle licks. Then, almost out of nowhere, Wood seems to force a bass solo into the song before the whole thing fades out!

“Girl From Mill Valley” is a divergence from their formula and is actually a pretty piano ballad written by Hopkins. But they return as forceful as ever with their rendition of “Jailhouse Rock” – even Wood’s bass is kicked into overdrive. I do wish that they had more interesting material to work with, but Beck continues to astound me with his playing! Even Hopkins gets a high-energy solo here! The instrumental segments are phenomenal as they pump it up more and more until they just have to fade out.

The original “Plynth” is more great heaviness and a groovy song with wacky breaks played with real precision. This band knew how to play together, even if it was on its last legs! Newman slams his cymbals mercilessly in “The Hangman’s Knee” as the band forms another blues rocker with still more Beck guitar pyrotechnics.

Opening with a riff that Hendrix dug enough to cop for “In From the Storm”, “Rice Pudding” continues to showcase Beck’s immense talents as the band jams through different changes. After several minutes of crazed pounding, the band mellows out and Hopkins creates a nice backdrop for Jeff who lets his slide sing over the top. They return to the rough’n’ready riffing to end out the tune.

The CD release has several bonus tracks, including a version of B.B. King’s “Sweet Little Angel”. They treat this pretty straight, although Beck’s guitar continues to be bogglingly raw and raucous. He shows that he really knows his blues licks, though.

“Throw Down a Line” is a demo that the producer was hoping could be a single. Beck kinda denigrates is as a pop tune, but it is a pretty good song with a nice beat. Actually this sounds like something that Rod might have done on his own later in his solo career.

The final two bonuses are different versions of “All Shook Up” and “Jailhouse Rock” – basically the same arrangements with some different instrumental flourishes.

While not as consistent as Truth, Beck-ola is still a great piece of phenomenal guitar playing and truly heavy blues rock.

Jeff Beck – Truth

Jeff’s first solo album (the backing band was later known as the Jeff Beck Group) shows that he was still a strong contender and a force to be reconned with.

Beck revives and updates his hit with the Yardbirds, “Shapes of Things” with a Who-like backing and crazed and massively heavy guitars. Rod (Stewart) gives this a fine reading, as well. Possibly even better than the original!

The group basically creates modern blues rock with their take on “Let Me Love You”. Beck and Stewart interact with the melody and Jeff’s guitar playing expounds on what Clapton had been doing with the Bluesbreakers and Cream and takes it to an entirely different level. Between the two, they defined guitar sounds for decades to come.

A truly magical moment descended upon these blokes as they recorded “Morning Dew”. There is no other word to describe the sounds that they made here. Sheer beauty as the band integrates and works together as few can. The song is a lovely piece to start with and Stewart was never better than he was in this rendition. As the dynamics build, Nicky Hopkins adds piano and Beck’s wah-wahed guitar adds layers of tones. This is precision work, not simply beating the listener over the head. Absolutely one of the best songs of the ages!

Before Page had the idea to do this for the first Zep album, this band did a vicious and noisy take on “You Shook Me”. Hopkins’ keys are in the forefront for a good portion of this, but Beck manages to coax some obnoxious tones from his Les Paul. Truthfully, Zep’s take is even more raucous but this is damn rockin’.

I actually do not care for their version of “Ol’ Man River”, despite Keith Moon banging on Timpani throughout. I do dig “Greensleeves”, though – I’m a sucker for medieval melodies!

Back to what they do best in “Rock My Plimsoul”, which is “Rock Me Baby” under a slightly varied title. Jeff is in excellent form here and gives a top notch solo. “Beck’s Bolero” is more original as it updates this traditional melody and creates a loud guitar psych instrumental that blasts off into pure mania at the end!

There is a faux live track in “Blues De Luxe”, with overdubbed audience sounds, though it does appear that it was recorded live in the studio. Hopkins plays some bluesy piano and he and Jeff have some nice interplay on this slow number.

I think that “I Ain’t Superstitious” is the band at its finest – great arrangement and dynamics as Jeff and his wah-wah talk and yell at us as he explains the blues. Couldn’t be better!

I don’t think that Beck’s playing was ever better than it was here – he plays the blues with real creativity and originality and forces some beautiful noise from his strings. Absolutely essential for lovers of heavy blues guitar done right!

Bubble Puppy – A Gathering of Promises

Bubble Puppy was a Texas psych-rock group that set out to be one of the first combos with twin lead guitars. These cats are the bridge from garage/psych to fantastic hard-riff-rock! This CD comes in a nice fold out cardboard sleeve, but has almost no information on it, which is a bit disappointing. But, apparently, this was the band’s only full length release, which is a shame because they had some real promise (no album title pun intended).

This release begins with their 1969 psych hit, “Hot Smoke and Sasafrass”, a freakin’ amazing combination of psych-pop and Blue Cheer inspired riff-rock! Rod Prince (formerly of the incredible Bad Seeds) and Todd Potter duel it out with their twin lead guitars while bassist Roy Cox and drummer David Fore (later of punk rock band D-Day and co-author of their “Too Young to Date”) alternate between smashing the hell outta their instruments and providing a groovy churning beat. This truly deserved to be a hit!

They slow down to a blues-inspired pop tune in “Todd’s Tune” – nice guitar work underpinning a strong melody. This builds in intensity to a real powerhouse of a head banger and again highlights the super strong rhythm section. A wonderful guitar solo progresses as Fore attempts to demolish his drum kit – manic!

More twin harmony guitar work opens “I’ve Got To Reach You” which then settles into a slower, moody piece that sounds a bit like Hendrix’s famous instrumental jam that appeared in the Woodstock movie. But, this moves into other directions and forms truly original and creative chord and melody changes. Pretty exceptional songwriting at work here with the inclusive of a number of influences. More cool guitar soloing as the song extends into a slightly jazzy instrumental – the two guitars really do interact nicely.

“Lonely” has a faint similarity to “Journey to the Center of Your Mind”, but has its own personality and some super fuzz guitar playing. The solo bridge section sounds like it came from something off of Easy Action, while the guitar wails and wallows in its fuzziness. Man, the more I listen to these guys the more I dig ‘em!

The title track follows and is a quieter number relying on Byrds-like 4 part harmonies and picking guitars, proving that they could do folk-rock as well as hard rock! Quite pretty.

Quick paced licks and drum beats start out “Hurry Sundown” but it remains a lovely psych-pop number, at least until the solo, which overlaps a lead guitar on top of fuzz riffs. This has a bit of a folk-rock feel to it, as well – maybe even Jefferson Airplane overtones. More creative instrumental sections ends the number.

Prince and Potter continue to form interesting instrumental melodies for “Elizabeth” and the band is tight as can be on the changes throughout this freak-beat number. Again, they build the intensity of the closing solo section to create a powerful work of noisy beauty!

“It’s Safe to Say” is a short, quiet electric ballad with more terrific harmony work and subtle guitar leads. This is followed by “Road to St. Stephens”, which again is somewhat reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane with it guitar picking and harmonies.

Funnily enough, the album finishes with “Beginning”, once more showcasing super twin fuzz guitar work and a creative use of feedback. Another amazing psych rocker!

This album is a revelation to me! I wish that I had discovered more than the hit long ago – I absolutely love this record!

Status Quo - Dog of Two Head

Status Quo is best known in America for their terrific 1967 psychedelic hit “Pictures of Matchstick Men”. In England they have an entry in the Guiness Book of World Records for the most singles that have charted in the UK (over 60)! This 1971 record falls between their heavily psych period and their hard rock/boogie years and as such it incorporates a little of each genre. This is not a very cohesive record, with songs ranging from silly novelties to true hard rock greatness.

I actually do not know too much about the band, but I’m getting more and more interested in late 60’s/early 70’s guitar explorations and picked this up to see what the Quo had to offer.

This record opens with a fairly straight blues rocker titled “Umleitung”, which, according to Babelfish, means “bypass”. Not sure what that is about, but this is a 7 minute blues guitar jam. Not bad, but not the most dynamic opener.

Bizarrely, this is followed by an extremely short (51 seconds) bit of “Nanana (Extraction)”, a novelty folk ballad and something that is better off left at that length. On the other hand, “Something’s Going On In My Head” is a good riff-rocker and one of the better tunes on the record. Good melody, upbeat, catchy riff – all in all a fine rocker!

“Mean Girl” opens promisingly enough with heavy power chords and then moves into a jumpin’ pop-rocker. A little trivial overall, sounding like an attempt at the charts, but still entertaining. Apparently, there was some kind of in-joke with “Nanana (Extraction)” as is makes another appearance here and only becomes more annoying as you hear it again. I have the feeling that someone was stoned and laughing their ass off about this.

This is followed by “Gerdundula”, which begins with a nice “I Feel Fine” bit of guitar feedback and then turns into a bouncy piece of celtic-psych! I actually like this oddity quite a bit, though it is hard to describe. It reminds me of an Irish jig with some slight psychedelic production techniques. Really nice melody, too – all very clever and original sounding. I think this has turned out to be one of the highlights of the record.

They create a melodic boogie-blues riff-rocker in “Railroad”, with a churning beat, catchy licks and a poppy chorus. An acoustic guitar and harmonica bridge comes out of nowhere and then there is another sharp turn into a very heavy, pounding blues rocker. This almost seems like they had several segments of songs and just threw them all together. Not super coherent.

But, “Someone’s Learning” is the best of the bunch and a 7 minute journey through loud guitars riffs, merciless beats and still a damn cool melody. They do play with dynamics throughout to keep your attention and the solo section has several changes but rages on with real intensity and nice twin lead guitar work that damn near pierces your brain! It all abruptly comes to a halt with a return to the quiet intro and an then an even more intense powerhouse verse. Really strong from start to finish. Too bad more of the record isn’t like this.

Then, as if to really piss you off, they return yet again (!) to “Nanana”, this time in its entirety of 2-1/2 minutes. Someone must have thought that this was hilarious, but I don’t get the joke.

I want to hear more of this long-lived band, but this release is definitely inconsistent despite its high points.

Johnny Winter - Still Alive and Well

I think that this was the first Johnny Winter album that I ever heard so it still has a special place in my r’n’r heart. While some of his earlier works are strictly blues outings (not that that was a bad thing!), this record offers more variety and shows the many sides of Johnny and his cohorts.

Aided and abetted by the fantastically talented Rick Derringer (who also worked with Johnny’s brother Edgar when not engaging in his own successful solo career), Johnny benefits from Derringer’s writing skills as well as his production help.

Johnny’s prefect tone blasts out of the speakers as he starts his own take on “Rock Me Baby”. His style is so fluid and effortless it is almost hard to digest at times – it just seems too damn good! But despite fighting with his heroin addiction for years, this record shows Johnny at his peak (in my opinion) vocally and instrumentally. This is superb! He even gives a nod to Hendrix’s version here and there.

Dan Hartman was a member of Edgar Winter’s band and wrote their hit “Free Ride” and his songwriting is showcased in the hard-rockin’ “Can’t You Feel It”. This has a little bit of a blues feel – I think that is inevitable in Johnny’s hands – but is overall a great piece of 70’s head-banging, joyful, hard rock! I defy you to try to keep still while this is playing!

Acoustic guitars come out for Rick Derringer’s “Cheap Tequila”, a nice ballady tune that gives Johnny a chance to prove that he can do more than sing the blues. Derringer was writing terrific songs at this point and this is another great one. Rhythm section Randy Jo Hobbs on bass and Richard Hughes on drums really work together on this and give it some power and nice nuances. Derringer puts in a pretty electric solo and even Todd Rundgren shows up on mellotron!

The first thing that comes to my mind as “All Tore Down” pummels the stereo is “heavy”! Pounding blues rock with a massive amount of power! Johnny writes his own “Rock & Roll” as a “La Grange”-styled blues rocker. Nice energy, exceptional slide playing throughout and, yes, quite rockin’!

Winter takes on two Rolling Stones tunes on this outing, the first being “Silver Train”. As much as I love the Stones, I think that he has pulled out the definitive version of this one. Superb hi-energy, great arrangement, plenty of guitar, fine piano (by Mark Klingman) and Johnny’s sassy singing. A truly wild ride! Damn near the epitome of rock’n’roll!

He takes it down a notch for the country-esque “Ain’t Nothing To Me” (strangely uncredited on the album). Derringer adds atmospheric pedal steal guitar to this tale of drunkenness, lust and murder – the perfect components for a country song! I’m not a big country fan, but this is a great, well-written tune and is given the perfect treatment.

One of Derringer’s best ever songs (right up there with "R’n’R Hootchie Koo”) is “Still Alive and Well” and a prefect vehicle for Winter. Johnny shouts out “come on, let’s do this fucker” and then the group just destroys this riff-rocker! No, this ain’t subtle, but this is fantastic r’n’r! Similar in feel to “…Hootchie Koo”, this was made for JW, down to the somewhat scarily apt lyrics. This is what people are talking about when they rave about 70’s rock’n’roll!

Johnny writes his own acoustic blues (he plays dobro and mandolin here) in “Too Much Seconal”. Oddly, a flute is given the solo spot and that detracts from the song for me – it just doesn’t really seem to fit, though I know that flute was used in the early blues days.

While I don’t know if this version of “Let It Bleed” tops the original, Winter again makes it his own as a hard-edged blues-rocker. His mastery of the slide guitar is evident as he creates another drivin’ masterpiece!

Again, this record is more 70’s rock than traditional blues – though, of course, it is extremely blues-based – but for those who love blues power mixed with amazing 70’s hard rock, check this one out! As Johnny says at the end “goddammit, did that get it or what?!”

I finally got a CD of this release and it has two bonus tracks on it, covers of Little Richard’s “Lucille” and Dylan’s “From a Buick Six”. These were basic tracks recorded for this album but Winter never got around to overdubbing the lead guitar! Funnily enough, I didn’t even notice this on my first listen!

“Lucille” is turned into a rhythm guitar workout and shows how tightly this band worked together, as the bass and drums work around Johnny’s lead. The break actually sounds like a rhythm solo – you almost don’t even miss the blistering lines that you know Winter had in mind for this.

This man was a big Dylan fan and he emulates the original chugging rhythm in “From a Buick Six”, while still making it sound like a JW song. Their singing styles are similar, though Johnny is more guttural blues as opposed to folk, but the phrasing comes natural. I do miss the lead guitar on this one, though, especially with the fantastic slide additions he put in “Highway 61”.

I’ve become a huge Winter fan recently and this record still blows me away!

Johnny Winter - Johnny Winter

I have owned a beat-up vinyl version of this album for a while but for whatever reason it never really connected with me. However, when I got this expanded CD, I was blown away! Absolutely terrific r’n’r/blues played by one of the masters. Johnny’s guitar playing is phenomenal throughout, whether it is blistering electric blues or acoustic slide played with the authenticity of Robert Johnson. This debut showcases a talent that had obviously learned from the greats and one of them, Willie Dixon, even makes an appearance here!

Tommy Shannon opens the record with a groovy bass line that Winter adds to and then “Uncle” John Turner kicks in on the drums and you have an uptempo r’n’r/blues number ("I'm Yours and I'm Hers") that has Johnny dueling with himself with wild guitar lines that merge and fight and get you moving right from the start! JW’s tone is a mix of the old and new and his style is his own – blindingly fast when he wants to be, but still maintaining a subtlety at times and his slide tone is impeccable. What an intro to this artist and his band!

“Be Careful With a Fool” is a more standard blues cover – mid-tempo and groovy and another exercise is crazed guitar riffing by Winter. He plays with speed yet with real precision and each note counts and makes sense, even when it is almost impossible to follow him. The recording is done basically live (some overdubs here and there, of course) and shows what a tight group this was and how well Winter could fill out the sound and carry the load.

Having studied Robert Johnson’s open-tuning slide playing, JW demonstrates what he learned in “Dallas”, an original that sounds like it easily could have come from King of the Delta Blues! Really mind-boggling in its authenticity!

I cannot imagine what Willie Dixon and harpist Walter “Shakey” Horton must have thought when they were asked to sit in on a session by this albino Texan guitar player, but “Mean Mistreater”, a slow, traditional blues number, must have dispelled any qualms that they might have had. Winter is in fine form, but allows Horton to shine and Dixon’s acoustic bass gives the number a solid ground. This was just the beginning of Johnny playing with and helping out older blues masters.

He steals from “Rock Me Baby” for “Leland Mississippi Blues”, and even acknowledges this in his lyrics. But, that continues the old blues tradition of “borrowing” songs that you’ve heard other people do.

“Good Morning Little School Girl” is propelled as a jump’n’jive number with brother Edgar’s horn arrangements giving it r’n’b accents. Great mix of styles! Robert Johnson’s “When You Got a Good Friend” is given a faithful, acoustic rendition, which in itself is pretty amazing! Winter really did his homework here! He is at home on acoustic guitar or dobro as he is on his Gibson Firebird.

Edgar’s r’n’b/soul influences come to the fore with “I’ll Drown in My Own Tears”, which he arranged as a Ray Charles-styled tune, with piano dominant and a full horn section. This allows Johnny to show what he can do vocally, and he really does have a nice, raw, r’n’b tinge to his voice.

Returning to stripped down blues for the vinyl closer “Back Door Friend”, Johnny also overdubs some classic blues harp, showing that he was no slouch on that instrument, either! Primitive and real, down-home Southern blues. Whew!

This CD re-issue comes with several bonus tracks, starting with the jumpin’ slide blues, “Country Blues” aided by Edgar’s pumpin’ piano. The acoustic slide number “Dallas” is reprised with the band backing him – a simple acoustic bass and basic drum beat that adds a nice feel.

The last bonus is a cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Two Steps From the Blues”, another more “urban” feel, with full horn section and keys – again I think more of Ray Charles than of down’n’dirty blues for these numbers, which is certainly not a bad thing! This does show Johnny’s versatility!

All in all a spectacular debut from one of r’n’r’s legendary guitarists! A must for any lover of rockin’ blues!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

horribly sad

Drummer for Jimi Hendrix found dead

PORTLAND, Ore. – Mitch Mitchell, drummer for the legendary Jimi Hendrix Experience of the 1960s and the group's last surviving member, was found dead in his hotel room early Wednesday. He was 61.

Mitchell was a powerful force on "Are You Experienced?" the 1967 debut album of the Hendrix band. He had an explosive drumming style that can be heard in hard-charging songs such as "Fire" and "Manic Depression."

The Englishman had been drumming for the Experience Hendrix Tour, which performed Friday in Portland. It was the last stop on the West Coast part of the tour.

Hendrix died in 1970. Noel Redding, bass player for the trio, died in 2003.

An employee at Portland's Benson Hotel called police after discovering Mitchell's body.

Erin Patrick, a deputy medical examiner, said Mitchell apparently died of natural causes. An autopsy was planned.

This band was one of the biggest influences on my life.
This is incredibly sad...

Nazz – Nazz Nazz

The second album by Nazz is cleverly titled Nazz Nazz and continues in the same vein as the debut release – psych-pop concentrating strongly on melodies and layered harmonies on top of a great band.

This record doesn’t open with anything as supremely powerful and catchy as the first album’s “Open Your Eyes”, but “Forget All About It” is a bouncy, pop tune with an irresistible beat and memorable chorus.

Hammond organ dominates “Not Wrong Long” (funny title and concept for the lyrics!), with Beach Boy-esque harmonies washing over you during this extremely short song! “Rain Rider” opens with a sound and chord sequence that makes me think that Rundgren was listening to the Small Faces’ “Song of a Baker”. This is very similar to that bit of mod-psych-pop. Good call-and-answer section, too.

There is a real melancholy feel to the slower “Gonna Cry Today”, but it retains Todd’s penchant for lovely melodies. “Meridian Leeward” is just a little too overtly psychedelic, with its goofy lyrics about being a pig, and is one of their weaker numbers.

One of their heaviest numbers ever is certainly “Under the Ice”. This is practically proto-heavy-metal, though still extremely melodic. Thom Mooney really shines on the drums here as he lets loose throughout. While these cats never let themselves go completely, this is one of their wilder rides. Todd has some fine moments on guitar, as well.

Obviously referencing McCartney, “Hang On Paul” is very Beatles-esque in a “Say It’s Your Birthday” kinda way. An up-beat and fun frolic that shows that Todd could cop other people’s styles seemingly effortlessly and still make a real song. Well, the liner notes of this CD tell me that I’m wrong and this was written about Todd’s previous manager, Paul Fishkin. Regardless, the Beatles influence is undeniable.

“Kiddie Boy” is a boppy, horn infused, old fashioned boogie-blues accented with fine guitar from Todd. Fairly innocuous overall. Moving back into a pure rock sound is “Featherbedding Lover”, which comes across as an almost head-banging number. One of their toughest and least poppy tunes – good, heavy blues-rock! Switching gears again is the pretty pop-ballad, “Letters Don’t Count” with its inter-weaving vocal lines.

Clocking in at 11minutes, 15 seconds, is the tour-de-force, “A Beautiful Song”. This is the bands attempt to blend all of their influences into one cohesive whole. Starting out with a horn-driven, r’n’b-ish instrumental section which turns into a more psychedelic jam. This then changes to a blues-rock guitar segment before the vocals finally come in on a psych-pop number. There’s another turn into a hi-energy guitar piece as the song comes to an end. A little schizophrenic, but still good stuff.

I think that first album is a little more consistent and has the better songs overall, but this is still a great piece of psych-pop-rock!

Mott the Hoople – Mad Shadows & Brain Capers

When I first heard the first Sex Pistols single, my initial reaction was, “hey, these guys sound like early Mott the Hoople!” These records are the ones that I was referring to – this is true proto-punk heavy metal! Yes, Ian Hunter’s Dylan-esque tendencies show their face now and again, but overall, these are very hard rockin’ records!

Mad Shadows, their second release, opens with the massive “Thunderbuck Ram”, a Mick Ralphs offering. Starting with a truly pretty guitar/piano interplay, Ralphs then slams into huge power chords and the energy never stops! This is another MTH classic – crazed, on-the-edge r’n’r as it should sound! Each band member really works together to create the whole. Love it!

You need to take a breath after that madness, so Hunter’s “No Wheels to Ride” comes as a relief. But, while quieter overall, this song does build into what was later called a power ballad, though unlike most of those, this is actually a good song! Mick has a strong guitar solo, as well.

Hunter gets a little heavier with “You Are One of Us” with its big chords and inclusive group chorus. It is also incredibly short! It barely gets started before it is gone! But, then they move into another of their toughest tunes and a live fave for years to come, “Walkin’ With a Mountain”. This is Ian’s take on piano-driven 50’s r’n’r and in the fade out it gives kudos to songs like “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” while Mick wails on his guitar.

There true ballad on this record is “I Can Feel”, a piano, orchestra and choral tour-de-force. Ian’s sensitivity and honesty is undeniable, but quite frankly, I prefer when the band rocks!

Ralphs comes back with the mid-tempo “Threads of Iron”. Good guitar parts and a somewhat darker chorus compete with poppy verses until it ends with a terrific, wild, extended guitar/piano jam! This turns out to be the best part of the song!

More introspection in the album’s closer, “When My Mind’s Gone”, another piano ballad. This is strong and emotional and lets Ian show off in this solo enterprise. Actually a nice ending to the record.

As I discovered recently, Wildlife came between Mad Shadows and Brain Capers, but I think that MS & BC are close companion pieces in a very similar mode. If the rockers were separated and put into one compilation, these songs could easily fit in with the recent crop of punk’n’rollers like the Hellacopters, TurboNegro, etc.

Brain Capers opens with the wonderfully named “Death May Be Your Santa Claus”. Organist Verden Allen co-wrote this blistering number with Hunter and this is one of their best! Super heavy organ and guitar fights for dominance and we are the winners! Totally insane hi-energy at its best! The band integrates wonderfully, the song is damn catchy and it rocks like crazy! Whew!

Oddly, they cover a tune by 50’s rocker, Dion, in “My Own Back Yard”. Nice melody in this slow-to-mid-tempo number that grows a bit as the band comes in and everyone adds their own two cents to the mix. One of their best covers is “Darkness, Darkness”, written by Jesse Colin Young for the Youngbloods. Ralphs sings this one in his light, delicate voice and the quiet verses contrast with the with incredibly heavy chorus sections. This turns into a powerhouse solo section that crashes out of the speakers before moving into one last, very strong verse and ending jam. This definitely out-does the great original. Amazing!

“The Journey” is a musical journey as well as a lyrical one. Starting as a quiet ballad, this builds into one of their toughest numbers, with a massive wall of sound. They come back down to start building all over again – nice aural waves! Again, everyone works together to make this a true masterpiece.

The band creates a pop-rocker with “Angeline” – extremely melodic, but with a good, rockin’ beat. I definitely prefer this to the mellower version from the live album a few years later. I dig the band interaction here and it sounds as if they are truly enjoying themselves while they play. Allen writes a Hunter-esque song, “Second Love”, a ballady tune that is augmented by a horn section as it intensifies. The horns actually give this a nice flavor – somewhat Stones-y, with a Sticky Fingers kinda feel, which is interesting as that was almost the name of the Mad Shadows record before the Stone co-opted it.

Another of their superb rockers is the Hunter/Ralphs collaboration, “The Moon Upstairs”. This damn near defines heavy rock – more huge guitar & keyboard chords as Ian practically screams on top of the roar! Magical stuff – cool lyrics, wild sounds, great changes! This epitomes everything that I love about MTH!

I think that someone was listening to Frank Zappa when they titled “The Wheel of Quivering Meat Conception”, credited to Hunter & Stevens, this is another concept ala “Wrath’n’Roll” – Stevens obviously just let the tape roll as the band jammed out on the fade out of “The Journey”. Terrific ending to this raucous record, though!

Bowie definitely cleaned up the band and their sound for the All the Young Dudes record and while I am a huge fan of that sound, these early record are raw and psychotic and really define 70’s rock’n’roll. Get ‘em if you love your music teetering on the edge of madness!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Mott the Hoople – Mott the Hoople and Wildlife

Mott the Hoople made a name for themselves as a live act and while their albums, especially these early ones, are quite schizophrenic, moving from singer Ian Hunter’s quiet ballads to guitarist Mick Ralphs’ wild rockers (I am generalizing – they both wrote in both styles), I believe that they are known best for the wild r’n’r. The group had existed with another singer under the name Silence, but their producer convinced them to bring in Hunter with the idea of creating a band that sounded like Bob Dylan fronting the Rolling Stones.

The self-titled first album leans heavily on other people’s material, though they do a great job interpreting the songs and making them their own. Opening with their fairly manic take on the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”, they prove that they have the power to shake and move you! Interestingly enough, this is presented as an instrumental, though they also recorded it with Ralphs’ singing. Not sure why they went with this one, but Ralphs’ guitar shines (as well as the rest of the band, especially organist Verden Allen) instead of his voice.

“At the Crossroads” was written by Doug Sahm (from the Sir Douglas Quintet and “She’s About a Mover” fame) and is a bit of a countryish folk rocker with Hunter doing his best Dylan impression. If anything, Ian has even a bit more of a growl to his tone than Bob does and in these early albums, his voice is a bit harsher than it became later.

They even cover Sony Bono with “Laugh at Me”, which sounds almost like an outtake from Bringing It All Back Home in Ian’s hands and with Allen’s organ tone. This just shows that Bono really was a fine songwriter! The record’s first original tune is Hunter’s “Backsliding Fearlessly” with shamelessly borrows from “The Times They are a-Changing”. A good song, but the similarities are undeniable.

Among their greatest early numbers is definitely Mick’s “Rock and Roll Queen”, one of the top riff-rockers of all time! This is also probably the first anti-groupie song! Ralphs really didn’t seem to care for these women, as he also wrote the scathing “Whiskey Women” for the Wildlife album. In any case, the slags were quite the muses for him as “RnR Queen” is one of the best songs he has ever written. High energy, catchy as hell, great solo and pure, perfect hard rock!

The extremely oddly named “Rabbit Foot and Toby Time” follows and is another cool Ralphs instrumental. This blends seamlessly into “Half Moon Bay”, a collaboration between Mick & Ian. Mixing their two styles, they come up with a more original sound – working with dynamics, they move from somewhat quieter sections to true heaviness.

Finishing off the album is a song credited to producer Guy Stevens called “Wrath and Roll”, which is simply an edit of the band jamming out the ending of “You Really Got Me” after the fade out! I guess it was credited to Guy because it was his idea, but it was the band’s music!

I always thought that Wildlife was the second album, but Mad Shadows actually falls between the two. But, Mad Shadows and Brain Capers go so well together, that it really seems odd that they weren’t recorded right after each other. But the first four albums were all released between 1969 and 1971, so they were all pretty close together.

Wildlife starts off with another Ralphs’ rocker, “Whiskey Women”. Power chords abound, but Mick sings a truly catchy melody, as well. After a couple of verses, they move into a tough riff-rocker with a fine, fierce organ solo.

Hunter seems to have a more romantic view of the ladies of the road as he wrote a tender ballad to the “Angel of Eighth Avenue” that he picked up in New York on their first tour. Mick bounds back in with “Wrong Side of the River”, an almost Neil Young-ish tune (who was a big enough influence on them that they covered “Ohio” shortly after it came out). This tune mixes cool guitar/key licks with quiet, almost country-ish melodies. Good stuff!

Hunter returns with a string-laden ballad in “Waterlow”. Nice and pretty, but not one of my personal faves. One that is a fave is their take on Melanie’s (the folk singer, not my wife!) “Lay Down”. I really dug her pre-“Brand New Key” folk songs and this one is given the Mott treatment – Hunter’s rasp and the full band pounding out the beat with cool backup singing. This is definitely a highlight of their early days!

By far the most country-rock influenced song Mott ever tackled is Mick’s “It Must Be Love”, complete with pedal steel guitar. Well written, but an oddity even for this band! I could imagine them thinking that this would be commercial, especially at the time, but it didn’t do anything for them.

Ian has another softer number in “Original Mixed Up Kid”, a precursor to his other autobiographical tunes like “Ballad of Mott the Hoople”. This also has a little bit of a country feel. Again, not bad, but not the best direction for this group. “Home is Where I Want to Be” is basically a Ralphs’ pop tune. Another number that is not very representative of the overall sound of this band.

They end with a live take on Little Richard’s “Keep a-Knockin’”, which shows how crazed their live shows were at the time. Updating this 50’s rocker as a hard rock number and throwing in Rolling Stones references and bits of other oldies seems to have really brought down the house for these cats! Good fun!

While not the best MTH LPs (in my opinion – those are Mad Shadows/Brain Capers and All the Young Dudes/Mott), these records show the evolution of the band and have some great songs. Well worth owning!

You Tube has lots of great videos, including "You Really Got Me", "At the Crossroads", "Keep a-Knockin'", and "Rock and Roll Queen".

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Zombies – Greatest Hits

The Zombies were one of the top 60’s British invasion bands with a unique sound based on Rod Argent’s electric piano. All of their elements are highlighted in their phenomenal first hit single, “She’s Not There” – great pop songwriting, intricate drumming with an unusual beat, superb vocal harmonies and Rod’s cool keyboards. The really did have a sound of their own and they had some of the best tunes of the 60’s!

Not everything on this CD is truly their best and “Don’t Cry For Me”, while a good pop tune, is far more conventional than their big hits and really not super special. “I Can’t Make Up My Mind” is a little more Zombie-like in feel, but still a bit inconsequential.

They do a better job on “You Make Me Feel So Good”, a more interesting pop number. Oddly, the follow up to “She’s Not There”, “Tell Her No” was not a hit in England, though it still scored big in America. I can’t imagine why the Brits snubbed this as it is supremely catchy with its “no,no,no,no,nononono” choruses and patented Zombie sound. A truly fantastic smash!

A nice minor key tune is “The Kind of Girl”, with interesting harmonies and cool dynamic work. Colin Blunstone was a fantastic singer with an unmistakable style and the backup vocals always blend perfectly.

Bassist Chris White was a fairly prolific song writer but unfortunately, I like his songs less than Argent’s. Not bad, but Rod is obviously the one who created their sound. “Leave Me Be” is another good, but not great, pop song.

But, “Sometimes” is great, with its intricate melody and jumps from almost ballad territory to up-tempo beat music. Colin shows how he can shift his voice from one extreme to another in a short breath! Another rockin’ number is “It’s All Right With Me” – great, energetic r’n’r with cool guitar and keyboard breaks and a half tempo bridge. Clever, fun stuff!

This set then showcases a couple of White’s best numbers – “I Don’t Want to Know” and “I Love You”. The former is a creative pop tune with some interesting instrumental segments and tempo changes. “I Love You” was another smash in the states and rightly so! White got it right this time – this is perfect Zombie material! Minor key melodies, another unusual drum beat from Hugh Grundy, a super Argent solo, and Colin sounding damn near desperate when he pleads “and I don’t know what to say!” Couldn’t be better!

Rod turns in a lesser song in his Brit-beat “Indication” – nothing special here though the repetitive ending is interestingly hypnotic. White’s “Nothing’s Changed” is a fairly bland ballad. But then they return with their biggest hit ever, the posthumous “Time of the Season” from their psychedelic album, Odessey and Oracle. This deserved to be a massive tune – another unique rhythm, incredible harmonies and melody, perfect keyboards and a fairly indescribable breathy background vocal that becomes part of the rhythm section. Just magical…

This set concludes with “Imagine the Swan” from the final album and it is a bit of a let down after “Time of the Season”. It is somewhat of an overblown ballad with overdone production and a sound that is more middle-of-the-road pop than Mersey-beat. This could easily have been left off of this collection and I doubt that much of anyone would have cared.

Regardless, the Zombies were a terrific band with some incredible songs and this is a good compilation or some of their biggest hits.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Mott the Hoople – Two Miles From Live Heaven

I’ve been a huge Mott fan since they first hit with “All the Young Dudes” and the fantastic album of that same title. When I discovered their earlier works, while Hunter led them through some Dylan-esque folky territory, I found out that they were also one of the heaviest and noisiest bands around! Brain Capers and Mad Shadows in particular have some incredible moments.

So, I have been grateful for the previously unreleased material that has been uncovered in the CD generation. There have been a number of eye-opening live recordings of very good quality popping up lately and this is another great one! I never got the chance to see them – which I will eternally regret – but by all accounts they were a boggling live act.

This release covers a number of years and tours and is accompanied by a terrific booklet with plenty of info and some fantastic photos that I had never seen before. These cats had a wild r’n’r image and some phenomenal clothes!

This 2 CD set concentrates on live shows with Ariel Bender/Luther Grosvenor, Mick Ralphs replacement, but while I far prefer the studio albums with Ralphs, these live cuts are all quite strong.

There are songs covering their entire career here, and some previously unreleased tunes, all of which are terrific! Not the place to start for novices to the band, but for fans, this is highly recommended!

Deep Purple - Who Do We Think We Are

The final studio album released by Deep Purple Mach II (Gillian/Glover edition) is remarkably consistent, considering that the band was about to break up. Coming after 3 progressively more successful albums (In Rock, Fireball and Machine Head), WDWTWA was not as big of a smash as the previous release, but still had a terrific single and it is very strong, overall.

Opening with “Woman From Tokyo”, this album’s hit, the group proves that they are still writing amazing songs and are working together as well as ever! This is a wonderful hard rock/pop tune – melodic, catchy as hell and still very rockin’! You would never know that the band was on its last legs. Ian Paice drives the song with his snare snaps (he is one of the most under-rated drummers in r'n'r - just amazing!) and the rest of the band creates a huge chord riff – super memorable hard rock!

“Mary Long” is about as political as the band ever got, with Gillian ranting about a conservative British politician who hated rock’n’roll. “How did you lose your virginity, Mary Long? When will you lose your stupidity, Mary Long?” Pretty succinct!

Similar in feel to the previous album’s “Maybe I’m a Leo” (though more energetic) is “Super Trouper” – good, heavy riff-rock! They move into high-octane r’n’r for “Smooth Dancer” – fast and wild, this one reminding me a bit of “Fireball”. Damn near frantic, but still maintaining their sense of melody and including a great organ solo by Jon Lord!

Another fine example of heavy metal riff-rock is “Rat Back Blue”. This has a very hip, funky groove and cool interplay between Lord and guitar maestro Blackmore. Killer keyboard solo again on this one! The band creates their version of heavy blues in “Place in Line”. Far from classic blues, but definitely that feel as they jump into different tempos throughout the song while letting Blackmore strut his stuff.

Closing with a moodier, slow-ish number, “Our Lady”, they still emphasize the heaviness but continue to make sure that there is a “song” there. This one is borderline poppy! Good stuff!

Maybe not quite as great as Machine Head, but damn close!

Humble Pie - Smokin'

This is probably the Pie’s most successful album, at least in the States, despite the fact that Peter Frampton had already left the band for his solo career and had been replaced by Clem Clemson.

Opening with “Hot’n’Nasty”, you know you’re in for a soulful good time! Marriott’s fantastic r’n’b growl blends perfectly with the funky groove, Hammond organ and girl backup vocals. Great, great work!

“The Fixer” continues in the same vein – funky and fantastic riff rock with Steve’s amazing singing giving it a heavy-metal Ray Charles feel (if that makes any sense at all!). They move into ballad territory with “You’re So Good For Me” which is overall a quieter number, but still has the fabulous female backup singers on the choruses giving it a soulful feel.

They do a hip job of updating “C’Mon Everybody” and making it there own as a hard rock number. The addition of some cool licks and group vocals really makes this feel like a party! Steve revives an old-timey blues tune in “Old Time Feelin’” and it does have that! Barrelhouse piano and blues harp mix with acoustic guitar for a nice session.

Of course, the highlight of the record is the incredible “30 Days in the Hole”. Opening with accapalla singing of the chorus (which sounds beautiful!) they move into the heavy classic! Fantastic beat, super melody, funny vocals about NewCastle Brown (ale) and coke and an amazingly simple and supremely catchy chorus. Perfect from start to finish!

The Pie turns the old classic “Road Runner” into a slow, funky, organ-dominated groove, instead of the upbeat r’n’b number of the early 60’s. Definitely different, but definitely swingin’! Starting with dueling guitars, “I Wonder” is a guitar-centric heavy blues – the kind of song you would expect from Humble Pie! Lots of cool soloing and plenty of Steve’s bluesy wailin’!

The record closes with “Sweet Peace and Time”, another highlight of the record. Great, massive guitars reign over a head-banging beat while Marriott gives his all! Riffs, licks, wails and growls dominate and define “heavy”! A perfect ending to this pounding slab!

Far from subtle, and while I like many shades of the Pie, this is where I think they are at the top of their game – head-banging hard rock’n’soul with no regrets and no apologies. Not for everyone by any means, but if you dig over-the-top 70’s rock, this is for you!