Friday, January 30, 2009

The Mooney Suzuki - Electric Sweat

This band burst out of New York in the late 90’s with a wild mix of Detroit rock, r’n’b, soul and hi-energy garage r’n’r. They are not 100% consistent, and their lyrics can at times be downright silly, but overall they have a great sound that gets ya movin’ and shakin’!

The title cuts bursts out with tons of flailing guitars – the lead player (Graham Tyler) is truly awesome - and insane energy. This moves into the fast and furious r’n’b of “In a Young Man’s Mind”, which could be heard on TV commercials a couple of years ago. With more than a nod to the Flamin’ Groovies comes the acoustic “Oh, Sweet Suzanna” that keeps a rockin’ beat movin’ throughout.

“A Little Bit of Love” is a high-speed bit of psych-pop with layers and layers of guitars that sounds as if it could have come off of the Wild in the Streets soundtrack. Power chords dominate “It’s Not Easy” and this is another well written tune with truly interesting musical and vocal sections. Tyler’s guitar is insanely over-driven to the point of madness, which makes it pretty damn beautiful to me!

Reminiscent of a number of different 60’s tunes – right down to the fuzz guitar – is “Natural Fact”. I can’t place anything right now, but it makes you think that you’ve heard this song before even on the first listen! They throw in a Hammond B3 for the instrumental “It’s Showtime Pt II”, making it sound like a modern cop from the MG’s, until they get downright silly with a kazoo solo! The ending is pure Fleshtones, circa “Hexbreaker”. Now that I think about it, these cats are generally a more hard-edged version of the “tones. The same r’n’b/party vibe but with noisier guitars.

An insistent stompin’ beat drives “I Woke Up This Mornin’”, givin’ it a feel like the Dave Clark Five on speed. The words are a little trite, but ya still can’t help singing along with the catchy group chorus. Their r’n’b ballad is “The Broken Heart”, with a early 60’s feel and sound. Singer Sammy James, Jr. does he best to sound sincere, but he always seems to be a little ironic or something, like this might all be a character. But they needed to end on a high, fast and loud note with the riffin’ “Electrocuted Blues”, a cacophonous and chaotic blues jam.

All in all, a rockin’ effort and a good mix of Detroit-styled energy and 60’s garage/r’n’b. Their releases vary in quality but they are all worth a listen!

Iggy & the Stooges - Raw Power

After the failure of the first two Stooges albums, Iggy took off to England, signed with Main Man, discovered guitarist James Williamson and, upon receiving a new record contract with Columbia, sent for Ron & Scott Asheton to come over to join the band – demoting Ron to bass. But, apparently there weren’t too many options for ex-Stooges at the time in Detroit, so they went for it. The result is this crazed record, yet another template for the late 70’s punk bands.

Produced and mixed originally by David Bowie, the sound was universally denigrated at the time of the release and in the 90’s Iggy finally took it upon himself to rectify this and remixed the entire record, which made a monumental difference! Hidden parts reappeared, endings were kept and the entire sound was stupendously louder! This is truly one of the most dramatic re-mixes I have ever heard!

Immediately, you are pummeled by high-energy power-rock with the anthem “Search and Destroy”, which has to be one of the most covered songs of all time! Williamson’s guitar – while I always thought the tone coulda used a little tweaking – is surprisingly complex when you really listen. Yes, he has multiple overdubs, but he is doing a lot more than it initially sounds like. This is absolutely wild r’n’r! I love the extra “heys” that were taken out of the original album mix, too!

Sounding truly dangerous is “Gimme Danger” which is dominated by an acoustic guitar, but is in no way wimpy – this just gives it another dimension. Of course, electric guitars come in after the first verse to add another layer of sound. Iggy moves from croons to threats during the course of the song and sounds as if he is going to give as much as he receives.

Pure mania abounds in “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell”, with Iggy’s voice as raw and ragged as you could imagine! James guitar(s) weave in and out throughout the entire song with a piercing edge and Scott & Ron keep a hi-energy pace behind it all. Sounding evily sexy with an addition of keyboards, “Penetration” has a number of background vocals and effects that were not heard on the first release. This is slower and not as nutz but still intense.

Side two opens with the other album anthem and title, “Raw Power”. Cool, pounding piano help to propel this one, which seems to be describing the Stooges’ sound. This has been imitated and ripped off innumerable times and it is still the best! If you don’t “feel it” as Iggy demands at the end then you have no rock’n’roll soul!

Similar to “Gimme Danger” in feel is “I Need Somebody”, with an amazing, winding acoustic/electric guitar line and hypnotic rhythm. Pop’s singing has a menacing edge that makes you wonder what he needs you for! He shouts out the countdown for “Shake Appeal” and if this doesn’t get ya shakin’, nothing will! Another cool, movin’ guitar lick sets the groove and the solo practically explodes out of the speakers as Iggy eggs James on!

A downright disturbing ending is the noise-ridden “Death Trip” that lets Williamson create clamorous walls of sound as Pop shouts, shrieks and demands to be “let loose on you!” James really sounds as if he is about to teeter off the edge on this one as Iggy rants on and cajoles someone with “I’ll strip you, you strip me, honey we’ll go down in history!”

This was the most well known of the Stooges albums, most likely due to the Bowie connection, so I’m sure that most anyone reading this owns this, but if you don’t have the re-mix, be sure to get it! The remastering makes this one of the loudest CDs of all time!

The Tell-Tale Hearts

The 60’s garage revival started even before the “new wave/punk” scene, with bands like the Droogs in LA covering and emulating garage bands with a modern twist. Of course, many of the punk bands covered 60’s tunes due to the similar aesthetics commingling the two genres. But it wasn’t until the (very) late 70’s/early 80’s that the modern garage scene really started with the likes of The Chesterfield Kings (NY), The Unclaimed (LA) and the Crawdaddys (San Diego). These three scenes in particular exploded in the mid-80’s and coming out of the wreckage of the Crawdaddies came the Tell-Tale Hearts.

The SD revival scene was based mostly on the white boy r’n’b of bands like the Stones and the Pretty Things and the TTHs were no exception. These cats had the talent and the drive to lead the pack, with their great musicianship and cool attitude. While many of the SD audience believed that bands had to look & sound a particular way and if they deviated at all (even to the point of not wearing suits) they were outcast, many of the bands, like the TTHs were more open to scenes like the LA explosion, which included more garage, psych and punk elements. This endeared the group to many of the LA bands, which – besides their terrific live show and songs, and being nice guys – certainly helped them to expand to the LA audience.

Bomp Records owner, Greg Shaw, saw the band and immediately signed them to his burgeoning Voxx label. This album is the result of that agreement and while the band has never been particularly happy with the production, this has become a legendary garage album – and rightfully so!

All of their elements come out right from the start in “Crawling Back to Me” – farfisa organ, clean guitar with fuzz leads, pounding drums, cool, walking bass lines, maracas galore and snotty vocals! They add harmonica to the mix in “That’s Your Problem” while maintaining the energy and garage-punkiness. Dynamics are highlighted in “She’s Not What Love Is For”, with varying degrees of intensity culminating in a wild guitar solo.

The Hearts were one of the first bands to re-discover the amazing Q65 and this album includes two of their tunes. “From Above” is a cool interpretation with enough uniqueness to keep it from becoming slavishly duplicated. Also, while far from being a ballad, this breaks up the tempo a little and adds another feel to the record.

Opening with a cool bass/guitar trade-off, (You’re a) Dirty Liar" then blasts off with a wall of fuzz into a r’n’b raver! This is certainly one of their wildest and most intense cuts. They do bring it back down for an organ section with a return of the intro trade off (I believe this was stolen from one of the Pebbles selections, but that doesn’t make it any less cool) which then builds back into the fuzz madness! Whew!

A more slinky, drivin’ number is “Me Needing You”, with a slower groove that pulls ya in. The other Q65 masterpiece is the hi-energy riff-rocker, “It Came To Me” which again, the Hearts do justice to – really incredible with its persistent, drivin’ drums and cool playing all around! Back to danceable r’n’b in “Come and Gone” – this is what the TTHs do best! They almost – almost – pull out a ballad in “Forever Alone”, but they can’t do an entire song passively, so the chorus builds to a fuzz rave-up each time! “Keep on Trying” is – comparatively – a little mellower, as well, but comes out as kind of a mid-tempo folk-rocker. Another garage-punker is “Losing Myself”, with more fuzz and plenty of screams! The record ends with “Won’t Need Yours” – not their most extreme, but a cool rocker with plenty of energy.

If you’re interested in the sounds of the 80’s garage revival, this is one of the prime starting points by one of the leaders of the movement! Great stuff through & through!

Live at the Rat compilation

Following in the wake of the live Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s albums came Boston’s Live at the Rat record, which might have actually surpassed those other albums in consistency, if not in historic importance. Sure, not everything is stellar here, but this actually captures some of the best Boston bands, whereas the NY records represented the second wave of groups who were not all great (though, of course, some were).

One of Boston’s best known underground figures is certainly Willie “Loco” Alexander and he opens this set with his ode to the club, “At The Rat”, which describes the music and debauchery that supposedly went on at this legendary nightspot. This is a bompin’, groovin’ blues-ish number and a fun way to start off.

A band called Susan (with no female members, as I recall) comes next with a more hard rock-ish “I Don’t Want to Know Your Name”. This has a darker sound, but is comparatively mainstream rock. Third Rail is also a mix of hard rock and new wave, with a moody tale of a drug/sex/s&m addict named “Rodney Rush”. Now that I think about it, this might be a precursor for TurboNegro, with its lead guitar-isms and lyrics about fisting! Yikes!

Ranting and raving with one of their wildest tunes is DMZ doing “Boy From Nowhere” (which a later garage band used for their name). This is classic, frantic DMZ – manic fun! My other fave comes right up with the Real Kids and their sublime “Who Needs You”. I think that this is one of their best songs and I was sorely disappointed that it was left off of the studio album. But, they had tons of excellent stuff so there was a lot to choose from! This is a pounding punker – less pop than some of their stuff – with perfect “fuck you” lyrics – as when Felice spits out “the best thing I ever did is get rid of you”! These cats shoulda been huge!

Boston was the hometown of Aerosmith and following in their footsteps was Thundertrain, a band that performed some great hard-rock/pop. I think that these long hairs must have influenced Van Halen in style and substance, right down to writing “Hot For Teacher” (a different song but the same idea) years before Roth & the guys. But, their offering here is “I’m So Excited”, which could have easily fit right in on the first Aerosmith record!

Willie Loco comes back with “Pup Tune”, which has the perfect intro lyrics, “I wanna sing like a Puerto Rican hooker, of yeah”. This has a repeating progression that builds and builds and lets Willie show just how “loco” he can be! Wonderful piece of perversity! Susan returns sounding sorta like Lou Reed’s band circa Rock’n’Roll Animal doing “Heroin” in “Right Away”, though the singer has a more heavy metal voice. The song is actually pretty catchy, just not very punky (if that matters!).

A band called Sass does a 70’s update of “Roll Over Beethoven” and calls it “Rockin’ in the USA” and it’s actually cool, in a Rick Derringer/Johnny Winter kinda way. Luckily, I like that kinda stuff! I guess this record really is a chronicle of the changes of the scene in Boston in the 70’s – some of the good, hard-rock hold-overs as well as the new guard. Hey, that song just faded out! Guess that wasn’t “live at the Rat”!

The second Third Rail offering is “Bad Ass Bruce”, apparently about a songwriter who steals from one band to give to another. One of the most original sounding cats on this collection is Marc Thor, who gathers musicians from several of the other bands for his hypnotic “Circling LA”. This comes off sorta like Jonathan Richman with a little more passion and a melody similar to Patti Smith’s “Kimberly” that builds into frantic chaos. Wonder what happened to him…?

One more time for Willie and his classic, piano-based “Keroauc”, that does have some nice, feedback-drenched guitar. The Boize are reasonably punky and funny with their ode to the obvious, “I Want Sex”. Hard-edged new wave comes in the form of the Infliktors’ “Da Da Dali” – these cats were pretty unique and managed to rock and be quirky at the same time!

Another DMZ tune didn’t make it on their studio album – possibly for lyrical content – is another punker, “Ball Me Out”. Short, fast and funny! Something that did make it onto the Real Kids’ album is “Better Be Good”, which was supremely appropriate for this compilation, as it is an exhortation to Boston to revive their music scene! This is even wilder than the great studio take!

More almost-Heartbreaker-esque rock from the Boize in “Easy to Fall in Love”. The Infliktors hard rock/new wave instrumental “Norris of the North” is really interesting, as well. I like these guys – again, where did they go, I wonder? Finishing up the collection is Thundertrain again with the self explanatory “I’ve Got to Rock” – and they do!

The comp is a mix of styles, as befits a big city scene that has produced as many diverse artists as Boston has. This might not be for everyone, but for those who can appreciate a variety of styles, this is pretty darn solid!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Led by “Mono Man” (Jeff Connelly), so named due to his infatuation with monaural records, DMZ was a 60’s-inspired troupe that mined these references to create a modern garage band. They did use a more current buzz-saw guitar attack, as opposed to a cleaner/reverbed 60’s sound, but while many “punk” bands covered one or two 60’s hits, these cats were playing and emulating Sonics and Chocolate Watchband tunes – something practically unheard-of at the time. They were definitely the precursors of the 80’s garage scene, which included Mono Man in a more traditional 60’s sounding group, the Lyres.

I know that some people complained about the production of this debut album, apparently because it was not raw enough, but I think that it sounds incredible. The guitars and drums are huge, the energy is damn near out of control and it sounds like they are blasting out right in front of you! Some of the other releases quite frankly sound a little wimpy to me in comparison due to the bad production.

“Mighty Idy” leaps out at you right from the start with Mono Man shrieking and the band flailing away at super speed. Simple, but damned effective and a monster intro to this band of wild men! The drums are just gargantuan and the guy doesn’t let up for a second – this is like the Sonics on steroids!

Mono Man’s keyboards show up in “Bad Attitude”, which is practically a one chord wonder! Still frantic in the extreme, with Connelly’s exhortations of “1,2..3,4, whoo!” pushing the band along. These guys are tight as hell and something this simple could have failed, but they pull it off mightily! Sounding again like a Sonics outtake is “Watch For Me Girl” with machine gun drums propelling this into the stratosphere!

Speaking of the Sonics, their “Cinderella” comes next, which is probably the first recorded cover of this fantastic rocker. They pull it off and again, Jeff gets to show off his keyboard skills and his convincing interpretation of Gerry Roslie’s scream!

The menacing “Don’t Jump Me Mother” sounds dark as hell with its pounding drums and repeated licks. Back to high speed insanity with “Destroyer”, which I always thought was about a robot that Captain America fought, but maybe that was just wishful thinking on my part. But the huge group vocals on the chorus are fantastic and this is damn near a recorded explosion!

Getting downright goofy for a couple of minutes, the keep a good backbeat going for the riff-rock of “Baby Boom”, while Mono Man sings things like “goo goo, ga-ga, baby boom”! Maybe he was taking after Willie Loco Alexander at this point! But back to the serious business of copping perfect 60’s garage-rock tunes with (Sonics counterparts) the Wailers’ “Out of Our Tree”. This has terrific stoned-out lyrics and lets Jeff wail out “out of our treeeee!”

Stealing an MC5 title, they create a psychedelic-surf instrumental in “Borderline”, a nice change of pace from the rest of the craziness. But, they are ultra frenzied in “Do Not Enter”, though this is not one of the stronger songs. The finish up with a Ramones-styled rave-up of the Troggs’ “From Home”. Most likely you wouldn’t know what the tune was by just listening but it’s still great and a fitting close to this wild r’n’r record!

I absolutely love this LP and its power and energy and sound! Shows what can be done by mixing the best of 60’s and 70’s rock’n’roll!

The Real Kids

I was lucky enough to have friends in the Boston scene in the late 70’s, so I learned about some of the fantastic bands that were popping up there. This was a strong scene with some truly inspired musicians that almost rivaled the NY scene.

One of the best of the bunch was the Real Kids. Led by John Felice, a former member of the Modern Lovers, these thuggish looking, long-haired reprobates created some superb power-pop/punk.

One of their most well known songs has to be the shoulda-been-hit, “All Kindsa Girls”. I actually think that the single version might have been a little better than the album cut, but this is a superb example of powerful, hi-energy pop and a wonderfully constructed song.

Not quite as monumentally catchy (though that would be tough!) but still great, is “Solid Gold”, another melodic raver. Ironically, next up is an update of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On”, which certainly does! Felice reminisces about the great Boston 60’s scene in “Better Be Good” and exhorts the town to try to emulate those times while he shows them how to do it!

More upbeat 50’s/60’s r’n’r in the love song “Taxi Boys” that John liked enough to use the title as a name of a future band. The band actually slows things down for a downright pretty ballad, “Just Like Darts”. This is far from wimpy, though and is a great song! But, back to the r’n’r basics in the frantic “She’s Alright” – high speed retro riff rock!

More pure power-pop in “My Baby’s Book”, a song in which the girl knows that the guy loves her and he’s “alright in my baby’s book”! Felice manages to not be saccharine at all as he talks about the girl forgiving his faults and keeps the song rockin’ and catchy as hell! Another rollickin’ 50’s song is covered in “Roberta”, with DMZ’s Mono Man on keyboards.

Showing his sense of humor in the riff-laden “Do The Boob”, John again decries the state of the local music scene with hilarious lines like “the guys are all faggots, the girls look like Lou Reed”. These cats had a real feel for r’n’r history as evidenced in their take on Eddie Cochran’s “My Way”. Ending with the oddly titled “Reggae, Reggae” (which has nothing to do with that musical genre), they create a wildly hypnotic pounder that is manic and a helluva way to close this terrific slab of Boston rock.

This is another classic 70’s album – a perfect mix of punk, pop and 50’s & 60’s rock’n’roll!
(PS - the image that i found - presumably from a CD reissue - is different from teh Red Star LP cover.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Television - The Blow Up

This is a record of a terrific early live show by this indescribable New York band. They appeared at the beginning of the punk/new wave movement, but really didn’t fit in with either description. I had read about these cats along with the other bands of the NY scene, but when I first listened to the album I thought – “wait a minute, punk bands aren’t supposed to have good musicians!” And these guys are damn good – Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd are inspired, creative guitar players, with truly unique sounds that really stood out among the Gibson/Marshall roars of most of the new bands. They fit in a little better with the Patti Smith Group (Tom & Patti were a couple at one point and Tom played on the first PSG LP) than combos like the Ramones, though the scene at the time was diverse enough that these bands could play together and enjoy each other’s styles.

Showing off the band’s homage to earlier 60’s bands, this starts off with a take on the Thirteenth Floor Elevators’ psychedelic masterpiece, “Fire Engine”. For some reason – maybe so they wouldn’t have to pay royalties – ROIR, the cassette label that released this, changed the title of this tune to “The Blow Up”. Regardless, Television takes this great song and makes it their own.

Naturally, as these recordings are from 1978, the band’s first album is represented more than anything else, but there are a couple of cuts from the second record (Adventure), including “I Don’t Care” (later changed to "Careful"), “Ain’t That Nothin’” and “Foxhole”, which are probably the best numbers from that release.

The variations on the themes of the other songs really make them sound fresh, even to someone like me who has listened to their first album hundreds of times. The solos and guitar interactions are striking and exciting and the dynamics of the band are impeccable.

A highlight is an unexpected, slow, moody rendition of Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” with plenty of superb guitar playing. This opens with a long instrumental interlude and it isn’t until Verlaine starts singing that anyone recognizes the tune and appreciates the personality put into this reading.

“Little Johny Jewel”, the band's first single, is a true musical odyssey with many twists and turns – so much so that you’re not sure if you’re still listening to the same song at points! The interplay between the guitars and the whole band is truly incredible and feels seamless and organic. It is rare when a band clicks like this and works off of each other and it can be magical when it happens. The sounds that Verlaine and Lloyd coax out of their instruments are pretty freakin’ amazing. Just great…

Two more extended excursions occur in their tour-de-force “Marquee Moon”, with its dynamics that move you along with it as the guys try to create more and more new sounds and their psychotic, hi-energy take on the Stones’ “Satisfaction” that gets so crazed that Lloyd de-tunes his low E string and bends it around the guitar neck!

While the sound quality isn’t stellar – these are club recordings from the 70's, after all – the performances are phenomenal and all fans of the band should own this!

Television - Adventure

Riding high off of the critical acclaim of their first release, Marquee Moon, but already suffering from internal friction, Television submitted their second album, which proved to be much weaker and ended up being their finale. While there are some strong tunes on this, there are also many forgettable pieces that are not overcome by the band’s instrumental prowess.

Sounds like an outtake from MM, “Glory” is a good opener – with Verlaine’s melodic riffs and even a catchy chorus. But while all of the Television elements are accounted for in “Days”, it just doesn’t stand up as one of Tom’s better tunes. Following though, is one of the album highlights, the slightly dissonant “Foxhole”, with its a-rhythmic rhythm but good band interaction, memorable chorus and dark themes.

Much more light-hearted is “Careful” (previously titled “I Don’t Care”), which came out shortly after the Ramones song of the same title, which was a lot more powerful, in intent as well as execution. “Carried Away” is a quite slow, uneventful tune.

Tom got to play with a theremin and keyboards on “The Fire”, another slow, moody piece that works as a spooky horror movie theme, but isn’t as arresting as it might have been. But, “Ain’t That Nothin’” comes back strongly and this is one of the better cuts off of this album. Closing is “The Dreams Dream”, a slow piece which meanders a bit and never really seems to go anywhere for me.

Unfortunately, this sophomore record does not live up to the potential shown in their fantastic debut. Some good spots, but there is not a lot to recommend on this.

Bomp – Saving the World One Record at a Time – Suzy Shaw & Mick Farren

After reading this great book, I realized that Bomp has been a part of my life for over 3 decades now – considerably longer than most people that I know! Greg Shaw was a true believer in r’n’r and despite any faults that he might have had, he did his best to bring his visions to the world through his writings and his records. Of course, he was helped by many people along the way, especially his ex-wife, Suzy Shaw, who continues the business to this day.

This book is a collaboration of excerpts from the zines, writings from Greg and other contributors and anecdotes from people involved, including many remembrances from Suzy.

Some of the most interesting segments for me comes at the beginning, with pieces from Greg’s original zine, Mojo Navigator, that he created with collaborator David Harris. I have never seen these and found the pieces written in the mid-60’s to be fascinating bits of r’n’r writing. There is the Grateful Dead talking about Big Brother’s “new singer” (Janis), Big Brother talking about 1st single ("Blindman" & "All is Loneliness"), club gigs in Chicago where no one knew them (maybe their first out of town gig), first recordings, and recording studios, a very long Country Joe & the Fish interview – apparently they were a local fave that never really reached the acclaim of their counterparts - and a cool Doors interview from just after the first record came out but before “Light My Fire” hit, talking about clubs, dances, ballrooms, etc – and drugs, which seemed to be the part that excited Jim the most. Mojo Navigator dissolved and Greg & Suzy left San Francisco, relocated to LA and moved on.

By the 70’s Shaw started Who Put the Bomp zine, along with the Bomp! label. Tales abound about these days and a number of articles are reproduced. Some of the reproductions are a little small and grainy, making it difficult for me to read with my lousy eyes. But, there are tons of super writings - the zine published the legendary “groin thunder” Lester Bangs amphetamine fueled lengthy (and ultra cool) Troggs rant. There are great articles on the Standells, the Runaways, the burgeoning punk scene, a cool bit about the early '70's “New New York” scene, which at the time meant Blue Oyster Cult and the Dolls!

A couple articles on Sky & the Seeds are included, which is especially appropriate as Greg got Sky to come to Shaw’s Cavern Club and sit in with just about every band that appeared there – sometimes whether they wanted him to or not! This is how many of the local scenesters appeared on the 80’s Sky record and how Redd Kross hooked up with him.

A British punk special is something I specifically remember from my pre-LA days, when I was reading any r’n’r zine I could get my hands on. Of course, Greg took up the flag for the new punk bands and there are plenty of articles on Blondie, the Ramones, the local LA bands (several of whom recorded for Bomp) and plenty more.

Also included are the lay outs for the last, “lost” issue #22, which they thought had disappeared. It’s a shame that this never saw the light of day before now.

My favorites sections are definitely Suzy’s recollections and behind the scenes commentaries. She understands and appreciates the importance of the business that she & Greg ran, but she doesn’t try to deify Greg – she brings up as many of his infuriating traits as his endearing ones. But, she is never mean, she is funny and factual and for someone who has been involved peripherally with Bomp at times (mostly through friends), the tales are revelatory at times, bring back memories other times and often just make me laugh!

One of Greg’s most annoying traits for Suzy was his avoidance of all aspects of the business side of the music business. But if not for this “fault”, he might not have helped Lee Joseph start up Dionysus Records in LA, which helped start my “career”, such as it was. While I never recorded for Bomp specifically, I did appear on a compilation or two, as well. Greg always encouraged bands and I will always appreciate his help.

For anyone who is interested in the evolution of r’n’r writing, fanzines and independent labels, this is a terrific read!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band - Meanwhile...Back in the States

The band and the record company made a terrible mistake in trying to commercialize the Boom Boom band in this, their second album. The production strips the group of the power they showed on their debut and their forays into unworkable genres are almost unlistenable. There are still some strong points, though.

A tribute to Boston was one of Willie’s first solo singles which was well known around town long before this album debuted with “Mass Ave”. As I said, this release does not have the massive guitar tones of the first record, but Severin is still a terrific player and locks in with Alexander to keep this rocker moving.

There are more quiet numbers on this album, such as “Modern Lovers”, which has a good chorus of “I love me and you love you, what else could modern lovers do”. I would expect more from a song named after one of Boston’s best bands, but while light weight, it is still a good song. Another ballad that is incredibly effective is “You Looked So Pretty When”. Romantic as hell and I don’t even mind the strings added to this.

“Pass the Tabasco” had Willie’s most risqué lyrics to date before the record company made him change “gourmet baby, I want to eat you but you give me the hives” to “kiss you”, which still makes some sense, but not quite as clever. This is a cool rocker, regardless of the censorship and we get more great guitar playing. This blends directly into “Melinda”, another upbeat number with the same energetic feel as “Tabasco”.

The oddly named “Hitchhiking” (the title seems to have nothing to do with the lyrics, as best as I can tell) opens with more Alexander naughtiness – “it’s like it’s hard on…me”. This is a propulsive rocker that would have sounded great with the first album’s guitar tone. A good mid-tempo tune is again unusually titled, “R.A. Baby” – this has a good, rockin’ groove.

The failed experiments are “Sky Queen”, a terrible disco number and “Bring Your Friend”, a reggae-influenced disaster. Sad that the record company (presumedly) foisted this stylistic crap on Willie. Even he laughs at the absurdity of this at the end of this song. The album ends with the dirge-like “For Old Times Sake”, which is not very memorable, either, though Severin still shows that he was a force to be reckoned with.

Disappointing after the greatness of the debut, but still not a bad effort.

Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band - first album

I was lucky enough to know people involved in the late 70’s Boston punk/new wave scene and got to see and meet some of the local stars, but I never got to see Willie “Loco” Alexander. This debut album is a fantastic document of an amazing band, though I’m told that they were even better and more guitar-centric in a live setting. As powerful and full as the guitar sound is on this record, I can’t even imagine how intense they must have been!

Willie shows his respect for the past in their version of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”, which, while turned into a Boom Boom tune, with pounding piano and massive guitar chords, still retains the emotion of the original. The band works together to create their own wall of sound for this one.

Guitarist Severin shows off his chops in the intro (and ending) to Alexander’s tale of Boston music in “Rock & Roll ‘78”. The rocker name checks a number of local groups and shows why Willie is known as “Loco”, with his punk-scat singing, such as his singing/chanting of “moo goo gai pan” as the song closes with Severin’s piercing guitar!

Their “Everybody Knows” is a downright lovely song detailing a breakup and is a bit quieter and slower. Back to the gargantuan guitar chords in “Look at Me” which alternates with walking blues licks to create a fine number. Especially effective is the accented “bam, bam, bam, bam” section towards the end.

Definitely one of my top Willie tunes is “Radio Heart” (isn’t it amazing how many good “radio” songs there are?). Immensely memorable, with a pounding beat and more terrific guitar – I wonder what ever happened to that cat? Powerful as hell and dig the band name checks during the fade!

More unique Willie lyricisms in “You Beat Me To It”, another heavy Boom Boom tune with slightly s&m overtones. A new wave riff rocker with another bizarre subject matter is “Hair” with a chorus “do the bald, do the ball-ed, do the bald” and lines like “throw your toupee away, it’s gonna be ok today!” How he manages to make this a sing-along rocker, I’ll never know!

A brontosaurus stomp feel dominates “Looking Like a Bimbo” with still more insanely huge, distorted and sustained chords. Severin’s lead playing is sublime, as well – fast and fluid and perfect for the song! A drawn out intro leads into the fast rock of “Home Is” (“home is where the hard is, home is where the soft is”). Most of Willie’s songs seems to be based around a catch phrase or a pun, but thankfully, he was able to write real music and make these funny, original, high quality rockers.

One of Alexander’s better known tunes is his ode to the Beat Generation, “Kerouac”. This is a piano-based ballad, but is still an effective and potent song that includes some tough guitar work. A class closer to a terrific album.

This madman rock’n’roller started in the 60’s in the Lost, was briefly in a later incarnation of the Velvet Underground, and worked with other acts before starting his solo career which continues to this day. This is one of his best works and is highly recommended, however it may be found.

The Seeds - Web of Sound

The second Seeds album shows the group still has its garage chops, but is also not afraid to experiment, even if it doesn’t always work.

Opening with a local single that didn’t break nationwide (though no good reason why it didn’t), “Mr. Farmer”, the Seeds show that they are as good as ever! Hooper has a dominant fuzz-keyboard sound (not unlike what the Velvets used on “Sister Ray”) on this psych-garage number that expounds on the idea of the band name.

One of their freakier tunes is “Pictures & Designs” which is a little oft-kilter and even reminds me a bit of the Mothers of Invention’s “Help I’m a Rock”. This is still a garage rocker though, despite its psychedelic moments and its reverb-crashing ending. A wild whistle introduces the almost one chord repetitive rock of “Tripmaker” which the group does its best to build into another “Pushin’ Too Hard”, which they don’t quite attain.

More disjointed is “I Tell Myself”, which just doesn’t work rhythmic-ly or melodically – Sky even sounds off key and a little too stoned on this one. They follow this with a psychedelic ballad titled “A Faded Picture”, not a highlight for me, especially as it drags on a little too long. A much better achievement is “Rollin’ Machine” with its bouncy rhythm and slide guitar accents.

Side two’s two numbers don’t quite live up to the Seeds potential, though “Just Let Go” is a pretty good rocker in the Seeds’ mold with a cool rave-up tacked onto the end. The last song is a 14+ minute long exploration called “Up In Her Room” that has a good beat and some cool licks here and there but not enough variation to warrant the length. Nice build up of intensity, though.
Nowhere near as strong as their debut, but still quality Seeds!

The Seeds - The Seeds

After listening to the Doors (and reading an article in my new Bomp book – more on that later), I naturally thought of their LA precursors, the Seeds, a band that started the singer/drums/guitar/keys-with-a-keyboard-bass band lineup. They were also garage-pop-psych band with some experimentation – nothing close to what the Doors ended up doing – but certainly an influence on Jim & the guys.

The Seeds were not extraordinary musicians, but they knew how to add just the right parts to a song and Sky was writing some exceptional numbers at this time. They were not simply one hit wonders, as the debut’s opener, “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” attests. This is a slow-to-mid-tempo tune that is supremely catchy and the guitar and keys add little accents around Sky’s melodies and moans. A great introduction to the band.

Stealing from themselves for “No Escape”, they create another 2 chord garage punker all too similar to “Pushin’ Too Hard”. Still great stuff though and proof that recycling was popular in the 60’s! Not afraid to “borrow” from other sources, as well, “Lose Your Mind” has the Bo Diddley beat and the melody from “Not Fade Away” and even has a short harmonica solo!

One of the album highlights, though, is the fuzz monster, “Evil Hoodoo”! This is an intense, mesmerizing number with a repeated riff that everyone expounds upon and jams over – including Sky on his harp – and never lets up for a second. This is boggingly powerful stuff! Freakin’ perfect and one of the most intense moments of the 60’s!

Another hypnotic lick is used in “Girl I Want You”, this time a little more mid-tempo, but still rockin’. Of course, the huge smash hit of the record is the ubiquitous “Pushin’ Too Hard”. You’d have to have lived under a rock for the last 4 or 5 decades to not know this garage masterpiece, but suffice it to say that once you’ve heard it (even for the zillioneth time) you will be singing it for days! Perfect guitar solo that is so rhythmic that it repeats underneath the lyrics without distracting! Genius!

Side two of the album began with “Try To Understand”, similar in feel to the album opener, but with plenty of unique melodic moments. There’s more than a tip of the hat to the Stones’ version of “Down Home Girl” in “Nobody Spoil My Fun”, but who didn’t steal from someone else, especially in the 60’s?! Employing a galloping rhythm and licks with a “Baby, Please Don’t Go” feel, “It’s a Hard Life” lets Sky rant on a bit and guitarist Jan Savage riff out.

The group uses a blues progression to build up “You Can’t Be Trusted”, but keyboardist (and snappy dresser) Daryl Hooper works with Savage to intersperse plenty of interesting sounds throughout this upbeat number. Daryl might not have been the incarnation of Beethoven (as I’m told an early PR agent suggested) but he did use a number of different tones throughout the recordings. “Excuse, Excuse” again is based on the 1,4,5 progression but keeps things open enough for everyone to add their two cents. Ending with a kinda weak walking blues, “Fallin’ In Love”, the band seems to be trying to show another side, but just leaves on a sour note.

But if you’re looking for one of the top contenders for 60’s garage stardom, the Seeds are your band!

The Doors - Morrison Hotel

I know that Morrison famously said of the LA Woman album, “we finally made a blues record!”, but this seems, in part anyway, to be an earlier attempt at this worthy goal.

Right from the beginning, one of their strongest blues-oriented outings is delivered, the incredible “Roadhouse Blues”. A perfect, simple blues riff, cool harmonica, pounding piano and great guitar playing all combine in this one. Add Jim’s lyrics like “woke up this morning and got myself a beer” and his blues-scat singing and you have a classic in the truest sense of the word! A rockin’ intro to a cool record!

Taking its title from their 3rd album, “Waiting For the Sun”, has ethereal moments mixed with powerful accents, all augmented with Kreiger’s slide guitar. His style is quite different from most blues players – using it more for melody than pure rock/blues riffs. This is darkly pretty…

There is an unusual combination of harpsichord with fast guitar riffs in “You Make Me Real”, an energetic rocker. “Peace Frog” is driven by a funky, wah-wah guitar figure making a good, danceable number, but it is not catchy enough to be completely memorable. Even less successful is “Blue Sunday”, a meandering, almost AOR-ish slow song that doesn’t seem to ever really go anywhere.

Again, the group puts together several seemingly inconsistent parts to create “Ship of Fools”, from guitar/organ licks to a jazzy middle section. Not exactly a pop song, but some interesting bits. Fuzz guitar starts out “Land Ho!” and keeps it movin’ but without a strong chorus, it is not as powerful as it could be.

A slow, stalking blues is performed in “The Spy”, with a groove that you can’t help but move along to. While not one of the better known songs, this is pretty excellent! “Queen of the Highway” is also a little disjointed – like the group had too many ideas and didn’t know what to do with them all so threw everything in a blender and hoped for the best! Obviously, this didn’t completely work out for them! The simpler tunes are the ones that work on this record.

Another insubstantial number is the quiet ballad “Indian Summer” but the closer, “Maggie M’Gill” brings everything back to the blues, with a heavy back beat, great guitar licks and a terrific melody. A perfect bookend to “Roadhouse Blues”!

Another flawed album, with some filler, but also some of their most potent blues-rockers.

The Doors - Soft Parade

This is one of the weakest Doors release, at least partially due to the inclusion of horns on almost every tune, whether appropriate or not. This works on some and on other songs they just sound schmaltzy.

Surprisingly, one number that doesn’t work in any way is the opener, “Tell All the People”. The horns come in and it sound like they are announcing a Roman leader rather than a Doors song and the cut just doesn’t deserve the pomp and circumstance. Considerably more successful is the album’s hit, “Touch Me”. Here, the horns work as accents to the beat and help build the intensity in a proper fashion. They add to the song rather than detract and do not dominate at all. Strings are added, as well, but also work within the framework and this is still a rocker. The sax solo at the end still has a r’n’r sound, too! And I found it especially hilarious that the band actually chants (albeit, low in the mix) “stronger than dirt” over the final accents, in a nod to that popular TV commercial.

Shifting gears totally is Jim’s “Shaman’s Blues”, which is a Doors-ian blues cut, with just the band playing – no outside musicians. Robby’s fuzz guitar slinking through the song is especially nice. I love the simplicity of the title “Do It”, but unfortunately, the tune doesn’t live up to the title, though it is good – just not as exceptional and revolutionary as the title might suggest.

“Easy Ride” is upbeat, but in an old-fashioned, almost vaudevillian, circus-y way. To me, it just sounds kinda goofy instead of rockin’. I do, however, think that the sinuous, sexy, blues-riffing of “Wild Child” is terrific. This is reminiscent of their take on “Back Door Man” – great stuff! The band is exceedingly schizophrenic in “Runnin’ Blue”, moving from a good, up-tempo, horn-infused rocker to a silly country hoe-down section. Luckily, the rockin’ sections are more prevalent but the hillbilly moments are jarringly bizarre.

The band creates a nice, acoustic ballad in “Wishful Sinful”, accompanied by strings. This works here as it is a softer number. This album’s exploration is “The Soft Parade”. This starts with Morrison’s “you cannot petition the lord with prayer” rant, moves into a short quiet piece, an odd, bouncy section and several other parts before winding up with a strong, r’n’r riff (even Morrison says “this is the best part of the trip” here) that Jim & the band jams over. This builds in intensity and forms a great tune – Morrison trading vocals with himself is particularly effective (a trick Patti Smith used effectively on her records).

Apparently, this album was a producer’s experiment with all of the additions of horns and strings – I’m guessing they were trying to be even more commercial, though I can’t imagine why, as they had already had several hits by this time. Maybe even the band was willing to try something new, which is commendable, but still, it doesn’t completely work. Not a high point of their career but still some good parts.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Doors - Alive She Cried

I believe that this is the band’s first posthumous live release and while it is not as strong and consistent as some of the others, this has some high points, as well. This includes some sound check recordings, such as the lascivious take on Them’s “Gloria” that opens this record.

“Light My Fire” is live in front of an audience and it remains pretty close to the original, outside of the solo sections. Ray throws in some beautifully discordant moments and plays with the themes from the record a bit more freely and Jim throws in some poetry in the middle but then they return to the meat of the song for the last verse and ending.

An unusual addition is a hyper-drive version of “You Make Me Real”, certainly not one of their better known numbers. They are just weird in this outing on “Texas Radio and the Big Beat” which loses most of its structure and becomes a slow, meandering recitation. But, “Love Me Two Times” is pretty solid and pretty damn close to the original.

Surprisingly, John Sebastian joins the group on stage on harmonica for the blues number “Little Red Rooster”. Kreiger’s unique style of slide guitar is highlighted on this one and Ray takes a solo but Sebastian remains in the background the entire time. Good, slithering take on this, though.

The finale here is supposedly the first song that Manzarek ever heard Morrison sing, “Moonlight Drive”. This is fairly straight-forward, as well. I’m not sure when these recordings were done, but either these were early takes before they started experimenting too much on stage or these tunes just happened to not be their “jam” songs! Still good stuff, though.

There are definite points of interest throughout this one, but not enough surprises to make it one of the better live releases by these cats. More for fans, I’d say.

The Doors - Waiting For the Sun

The Doors managed to have several hits after striking big with “Light My Fire” and the opener here, “Hello, I Love You” was this release’s smash! This is a fine rocker, with power chords and great melody. They have a nice, light tune in “Love Street”, which I really dig – good progression, cool playing and “summer of love” lyrics.

A lot darker is “Not to Touch the Earth”, with its simple lick and insistent beat. I always think of this as part of “Celebration of the Lizard” from Absolutely Live! Damn intense! A return to the melancholy is “Summer’s Almost Gone”, which actually sounds like Fall approaching to me! Lovely and sad…

But so you don’t feel too bad for Jim, next up is “Wintertime Love”, a respite from the cold of the outside world. The has an almost waltz-y feel, especially the “come with me, dance, my dear” section with Ray playing harpsichord. Nice.

A bit of live theater that didn’t completely translate to vinyl is “The Unknown Soldier”. This is actually pretty good and catchy other than the mid break with was used for a visual skit that they did on stage. Without seeing what they are acting out, it falls a little flat until they come back to the celebratory chorus.

Kreiger’s flamenco background comes to the forefront for “Spanish Caravan” with super playing and interaction between him and Manzarek. They meld this with r’n’r to make a uniquely interesting number. Another cool innovation is the accapella “My Wild Love” that has the group chanting behind Jim’s lead line in an American Indian fashion. This actually creates a terrific song.

Back to basic Doors’ r’n’r with the organ-driven “We Could Be So Good Together” – pretty poppy and this leads into “Yes, the River Knows”, both good, but nothing particularly special.

More than special though is this album’s closer, the political fuzz rocker “Five To One”, a fantastic monster! Pounding drums, heavy fuzz and Jim’s hopeful lines like “they got the guns but we got the numbers/gonna win yeah we’re taking over!” This is the band at their most rockin’ and at their subversive best! A terrific ending to a strong, varied record.

The Doors - Strange Days

I was just a little too young when this was first released and didn’t realize that this was the band’s second album – for some reason I thought it was a little later. But this has some great songs, regardless of when it was released.

Opening with the title track, this is a bit more psychedelic and advanced sounding than the more basic debut. Even the voice is treated with studio effects but this is still the Doors and though the dynamics change, it is a strong beginning.

Sounding both ethereal and somehow sexy, Morrison intones “You’re Lost, Little Girl” and “think that you know what to do, impossible, yes, but it’s true” to his nubile companion. Much more energetic is the riff-rocker “Love Me Two Times” – solid and upbeat with well-placed accents from Densmore. Yes, sex & death certainly main themes throughout Jim’s career!
“Unhappy Girl” is one of their less consequential pieces – not bad, just not outstanding. Aural waves of sound back up Morrison’s poetry on “Horse Latitudes”. You couldn’t really call this a “song”, but I dig the words and the feeling it evokes. Oddly, Ray claims that “Moonlight Drive” was the first song he heard from Jim but it didn’t appear until the second album. I guess they just had too many songs! This has a unique and varied rhythm but is a good, mid-tempo rock song.

I love “People Are Strange” with its eerie minor key chord progression from Kreiger and lyrics that could easily pertain to ostracized teenagers as anyone else. They manage to add a nice backbeat to this to keep it from being maudlin. Ray & Robbie work with interlocking riffs for “My Eyes Have Seen You”, another uniquely Doors-ian number. This moves from open-aired verses to powerful choruses with grace and ease. Well done!

Another more dream-like number is “I Can’t See Your Face in my Mind”, which is not one of their more memorable tunes. The group obviously thought about song order and suitably the last to appear here is “When the Music’s Over”. This is another piece that moves from quiet to massive, from fuzz and screams to delicate melodies. Robby’s dueling, twin guitar solo is especially impressive and demented sounding! Jim lyrical explorations are highlighted and accented by the band to great effect. Of course, everyone loved the “we want the world and we want it…NOW” portion! Nice build up to finish it off, also!

Maybe not quite as strong as the debut, but plenty of essential Doors songs here for the fans!

The Doors - The Doors

The Doors is another band that was a big part of my childhood, from the initial contact with “Light My Fire” through friends’ adulation of Morrison through the punk/new-wave scene’s reverence (in some circles) for the band. I do love the group but there are times when even I (who loves lots of literary rock) think that they go a little overboard. But there is also a lot of great r’n’r and madness that came from these cats.

Their first release was unimaginatively titled The Doors, but that’s about the only thing about the record that is unimaginative! From the band’s sound – with keyboardist Ray Manzarek in the foreground and bass playing done with a keyboard bass (an idea taken from an earlier LA garage group, the Seeds), guitarist Robby Kreiger being influenced by flamenco more than blues and drummer John Desmore having jazz roots – to Jim’s lyrics, this was something unusual and truly psychedelic!

The first song on their first record was a bit of a hit for them, the remarkably catchy riff of “Break on Through” – a concept that the band and Morrison continually attempted to do. I guess you could say that Jim finally succeeded, though not necessarily in the way he wanted to. In any case, this is a great tune, a super opener, and shows the band’s strengths, despite Jim being censored, as he was cut off in the mix and just says “she gets” instead of “she gets high”!

A nice driving, mid-tempo groove backs “Soul Kitchen”, a story of not wanting to leave the stage at the end of the night. Later LA punk band X covered this to great effect on their Manzarek produced first album. They quiet things down for the darkly melodic “Crystal Ship” – quite pretty. I know that on occasion people have denigrated Morrison’s vocal abilities, but I have always dug his sound and here he truly shines.

Kreiger’s almost off-tempo guitar riff propels “Twentieth Century Fox” – a terrific title! – and the band pulls this together into a solid rocker. As I’ve stated before, “Alabama Song” just doesn’t resonate with me, despite the lyrics being appropriate for Jim. But they redeem themselves with their massive hit, “Light My Fire”. I know that no matter who you are, you have heard this song, so no further discussion is needed!

Side two opened with my favorite blues cover from this band, Willie Dixon’s “Back Door Man”. This is pure, feral sex with a pulsing rhythm and Jim’s grunts, groans, yelps and cries of “the men don’t know but the little girls understand!” Fantastic! More lightweight is “I Looked at You”, a real pop tune but with a cool fake ending.

Downright spooky sounding is “End of the Night”, slow and ethereal with its minor chords and quiet keyboards and spectral slide guitar. Back to a rockin’, kinda “Break on Through” feel for “Take it as it Comes” – I love the movin’ riff and great playing all around.

Closing this record, fittingly enough, is “The End”, Jim’s Eastern-sounding journey through his id. Of course, they self-censored his Oedipal rant, but this is still a mysterious walk through thoughts of sex and death. Densmore is especially strong in his playing here – accenting all the right parts as Kreiger & Manzarek maintain the drone. Having never had any interest in seeing “Apocalypse Now”, I don’t have any visuals other than my own attached to this, which I think is for the better.

Not for those who aren’t willing to experiment with their music or those who only appreciate the majesty of basic garage and/or punk, but if you appreciate the power of the word and don’t mind musical explorations, this is fine stuff.

Johnny Winter - Second Winter

After my re-discovery of Johnny via his debut album, this was high on my want list and I was lucky enough to get this for Xmas (thanks, Melanie!). This was originally released as a 3 sided LP (side 4 was blank, which I’m certain confused many stoners who were listening!) and this collection has the entire record as well as a couple of bonus tracks and a 2nd CD of fantastic live material!

While still heavily blues-oriented, this release provided some more variety than the terrific debut record. But, Winter starts out with a version of “Serves You Right To Suffer” that is credited to “P. Mayfield” (I admit my ignorance – I’m not sure who that is) and re-titled "Memory Pain" which is definitely a rocked-up blues number. This sounds stylistically like one of Hendrix’s blues updates and Johnny’s playing is stunning throughout.

A JW original, “I’m Not Sure”, follows and it is a little more experimental, with Johnny playing an electric mandolin accompanied by brother Edgar on keys (harpsichord, I believe), making an extremely unusual and unique, chime-y sound. Very different and very cool.

Truly heavy and rockin’ is “The Good Love”, with the guitar’s distortion turned up and the wah-wah clicked on and again – to me – sounding a little Hendrix-y. Of course, he is my main touchstone for heavy blues, so take that with as much salt as you like! Winter definitely is his own man, though, and this sounds more like him than anyone else! Bassist Tommy Shannon is outstanding here and “Uncle” John Turner is rock solid!

Edgar is highlighted on piano and sax on a great, traditional sounding “Slipping and Sliding”, which gives Little Richard a run for his money! It is unmistakably Johnny when he jumps in on slide guitar though! Speaking of Richard, his churning, walking blues, “Miss Ann” is again augmented with Edgar’s expertise and his two main instruments. Keeping with the 50’s feel, there is a super-charged take on “Johnny B. Goode”, as well, that is right on the money!

As they leave the nostalgia behind, the band tears through Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” with Winter’s slide guitar taking front & center and giving a command performance! If anyone ever made up a compilation of the best and most original Dylan covers, this would certainly be in the top ten! Excellent!

Back to more traditional slide blues with the original “I Love Everybody”, a somewhat slower (though by no means dirge-y) example of his prowess. Returning to hi-energy blues in “Hustled Down in Texas”, with Winter updating his sound with wah-wah and a rollickin’ beat. Funnily enough, the second song after “I Love Everybody” is “I Hate Everybody”! You can’t say that the man didn’t have a sense of humor! This is presented as an updated jump-jive-blues, complete with horn section and organ! “Fast Life Rider” is a quality riff-rocker sets to a martial beat, letting Johnny show off with his wah-wah again!

The bonus tracks on this first CD include “Early In the Morning”, an organ-fueled upbeat blues and an instrumental cover of Ray Charles’ “Tell the Truth”, given a groovy, Booker T-ish feel.

There is a bonus CD included with an amazing live show from the Royal Albert Hall recorded in 1970 with Johnny’s band augmented by Edgar. The set starts out with the mid-tempo blues of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me”, setting the stage for the set with JW’s excellent playing and the band showing off their tightness and dynamic work.

Their take on “Johnny B. Goode” is even wilder than the studio version and Edgar is missing from this one – apparently he came on stage later as a guest, as opposed to sitting in for the entire set. There’s an insanely jumpin’ blues with “Mama Talk to your Daughter” with Winter’s guitar playing absolutely blistering and the group locks in perfectly with him and accents his solos with amazing power! Truly breath-taking!

They slow it down for B.B.King’s churning “It’s My Own Fault”, making it a tour de force for Johnny. “Black Cat Bone” gets them rockin’ again with a fast and furious slide monster which then leads into “Mean Town Blues” which is even more insistently bouncing, with Johnny and Shannon working together in unison before Shannon drops out and lets Johnny cut loose with a simple drum beat behind him. He manages to keep a full sound even in this minimalist setting. Eventually, the guys smash back in and bash away until Johnny ends it with some of his patented riffs.

Edgar then joins in for his wild rendition of “Tobacco Road”, which was made famous on his White Trash live album. I think that this is slightly shorter and a little less excessive than that version but it is still heavily rockin’ with plenty of work with band dynamics. It does include Edgar’s vocal/keyboard “duel” with himself, though!

The earliest known take of Edgar’s smash hit, “Frankenstein”, makes an appearance here and while the basics are here, of course it is different from the later cut, which included a synthesizer solo and other guitar parts. This does still feature Edgar on a second set of drums though for the percussion break!

Closing with a vocal rendition of “Tell the Truth”, this has a completely different feel than the studio one, even though Edgar still contributes some organ and a sax solo. Johnny is outstanding here, as well.

So, all in all, another superb addition to the collection of any lover of r’n’r-infused blues played by virtuoso musicians!

The Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat

I was a late-comer to the converts of the Velvet Underground – I didn’t learn about them until after Lou hit big with his David Bowie-produced Transformer album. Actually a friend turned me on to them (thanks, Kenne!) because he thought that my teenage, over-driven attempts at Hendrix psychedelia sounded more like Lou in the Velvets! In any case, once I discovered the first couple of records, I was blown away!

This, the band’s second record, shows some evolution from the debut. Nico has disappeared, apparently after affairs with both Lou & John Cale, and the band has become a separate entity and no longer part of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Inevitable. There is plenty of experimentation here still, but also more of a “band” feel – at least to my ears.

Opening with the iconoclastic title track, Lou writes a straight r’n’r tune – one that is twisted and drug-addled and performed by degenerates, but still a pure rocker, as was evidenced by the numerous later cover versions.

Following this, though, is 8 minutes of glorious noise in “The Gift”. In one channel John Cale recites a tale of stalker-ish love while in the other channel the band explores musical madness over a basic beat. This way you could either simply hear the story or, if you got bored with that, simply hear the feedback-drenched musical odyssey.

Cale weaves another narrative in “Lady Godiva’s Operation”, about a sex-change. The group churns along behind him and Lou plays some nice guitar parts in the tune without a chorus and Lou oddly interrupts Cale's vocals with a couple of phrases, for no apparent reason. Still, this manages to be a great, memorable piece of music.

Lou takes front & center again for a song of female sexuality (or frigidness), “If She Evers Comes Now”. This is quite melodic in both the vocals and the backing and is a superb, short tune.

Probably the masterpiece of the album is “Heard Her Call My Name” – pure high energy punk pounding with utterly crazed, feedback laden guitars accenting the line “then I felt my mind split open” and this is truly the aural equivalent of that! Scarily beautiful to the extreme! This is so gorgeous that it sends shivers down my spine!

Rounding out the record is the extended, organ-driven jam of “Sister Ray”, another wonderful noise-fest with Lou ranting about a girl who is “sucking on my ding dong” and that they “couldn’t hit it sideways”. At 17-1/2 minutes, I sometimes think this goes on a little long but at other times it seems like it should go on longer!

These cats were demented as hell, but managed to combine art with r’n’r and not be pretentious (at least not in a bad way!) and managed to influence almost everyone for the next several decades – and continues to do so! Anyone who is serious about their love for r’n’r needs this record!

The Velvet Underground and Nice - Andy Warhol

The Velvets’ connections with Andy Warhol have been well documented and was a mixed blessing for the band. While his name gave them publicity and got them this initial recording contract, his influence also locked them into certain preconceived notions and probably contributed to the eventual dissolution.

In any case, this debut combines some of their pure aural madness with true beauty and delicateness. An example of the later is the opening cut, “Sunday Morning”. This is a lovely ballad that if it had been recorded by a cleaner, less demented group, and with a more traditional singer than Lou, would most likely have been a hit. But, between the Warhol connection and lyrics about drug dealing and shooting up, the song and album was tainted by association.

New York’s brownstone tenements are the backdrop for “Waiting for the Man”, a tough tale of scoring drugs (though rumor has it that at one time Reed tried to convince people that it was about gay hustlers). This is two chord garage punk on dope – scary, dark and hyponotic!

Nico makes her first appearance on another beautiful ballad, “Femme Fatale”, a wonderfully crafted tune that actually has a catchy chorus – not something that Lou did often at this time! Using vaguely Eastern tones, drones and Cale’s viola, the group creates a whole texture with “Venus in Furs”. This is rather unstructured, but still terrific, with the slashing viola providing a rhythm and themes of S&M explored. It is truly boggling just how advanced this group was, considering that this was released in ’66 or so and no band has yet to compare with this, regardless of their many impersonators.

They lighten up a little for “Run Run Run”, a fairly basic rocker until it gets to the insane, screeching guitar solo that is simply sick! Love it! Nico is back for “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, which is a nice, drone-y showcase for her with more staccato, fractured guitar playing.

The most overtly controversial song was, of course, the blatantly titled “Heroin”. The country was barely adopting the idea that their kids were smoking pot or maybe occasionally taking a hit of acid and here comes Lou, with all the hip-ness of a spade jazz player, talking about the decision to stick a needle in his arm. There are no double entendres here – he comes right out and states it! It’s hard to marginalize just how ground breaking this was. And really, other than underground/punk bands, how many singers have been this literal about their drug use since? And to top it off, it’s a great song! Slow, droney and appropriately drug-like, there are dreamy lyrics among the tawdy realism and the song builds and releases its tension live waves. This is a true classic!

On a much lighter side, Reed steals from the r’n’b hit “Hitchhike” for the hook for “There She Goes Again”. The woman in question sounds like a hooker, but I guess the words could be taken in different ways. To my ears, though, it sounds like someone is enthralled with a prostitute in this simple and catchy r’n’r tune.

Again, Nico is given a pretty ballad with “I’ll Be Your Mirror”, with some excellent lyrics and a really nice call and answer at the end. Back to the dissonance and psychotic viola-playing in “The Black Angel’s Death Song”. I won’t pretend to understand what this is supposed to be about, but it is another wonderfully twisted aural statement.

Ending with “European Son”, an up beat number that seems relatively sane until a huge crash/growl/I-dunno-what explodes and Lou screeches into another solo that sounds like he is destroying his guitar instead of playing it! Magnificent!

Still far ahead of its time to this day, this literally mind-boggling debut showed all the aspects of the band that would appear throughout its career – the soft and the manic, the pretty and the cacophonous. Not for the weak of heart or those who like their rock packaged up nice and neat, but for those of us who love music that teeters on the edge of madness, this is a must have!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Dragons - Cheers to Me

Of all of the many fantastic Dragons’ releases, I believe that this and their debut are my two favorites. This continues their partying themes, their r’n’r attitude and their massive sound!

Opening with the ever-appropriate “Loaded” (considering their condition during most of the shows, which never detracted in any way), this blasts out with huge power chords, Kenny’s tasty licks and Mario’s tales of only feeling right when he is “loaded”. Superb production on this CD, too!

As much as I loved the earlier songs, the group’s songwriting has improved by this time, with more emphasis on Mario’s terrific melodies (never wimpy but always interesting and memorable), as on “I Don’t Mind”.

One of their most phenomenal tunes is definitely “Fade”, with the sublimely catchy and brilliant repeated line “I’d rather trip than slow down”. The band works with dynamics throughout but overall, this is supremely rockin’ and the lyrics continue with their theme of doing their best to please their woman but screwing up. “Embarrass you and care for you” is an apology that I’ve certainly had to make more than once while out with my better half! But, they are not willing to sacrifice their quest for heading for the edge of r’n’r just to not embarrass anyone else!

Tons of great r’n’r here – “In Between and Far Away”, “Je Suis” (with excellent dual guitar riffs), and the self-censored titled “Needs” with the sing-along line “I wanna fuck everyone – I wannawannawannawannawanna fuck” about connecting with an entire roomful of people all at once.

They rock through “Blackout” before creating a sensitive ballad in the oddly named “Bug”, not too dissimilar from a prettier “Lonely Planet Boy”. Returning to unbridled, upbeat energy with tunes like “Saturday Nite Ups’n’Downs”, “Red Fox Room”, and “Tiger Subtleties”, that again are obviously autobiographical.

Slowing down the tempo a little for “Campus Avenue”, without being wimpy in the least – this still has a good groove and swagger. “Losing Game” ups the ante again, while not becoming utterly frantic, and has some very hip guitar licks added. Exceptionally memorable is “2nd Afterthought” – great melody and plenty of riffing to go around!

Closing with “Back Where We Started”, a feedback laden monster and instantly recognizable as another perfect Dragons tune. This was a real rock’n’roll band!

Again, I highly recommend everything by these cats, but this is especially great!

The Dragons - Pain Killer

I was surprised to find that I had never written about one of my favorite r’n’r bands of the 90’s, San Diego’s incredible Dragons. I believe that I first heard them when one of my bands played with them in SD but since that date I’ve been a huge fan. Terrific Stones/Dolls inspired r’n’r given the Dragons unique stamp and played by some of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Sadly, they split up several years ago, but members are still out & about & rockin’ and they even did a reunion gig recently that I was unable to attend.

The band was never thrilled with the production and studio quality of this, their first CD (though there is a kinda repressed vinyl album with – I think – a slightly different lineup that came out previously but wasn’t very representative), but I loved it from the moment I first heard it! The songs are stellar throughout and the playing kicks ass!

Mario Escovedo comes from a long line of musicians, including a brother (Javier) in the fabulous Zeros, another brother with a solo career, an uncle who played with Santana, Sheila E and many more! He continues this fine tradition with this group in which he sings lead, plays guitar and helps write the songs. “Sometimes” is a cool r’n’r opener, but the hit of the album is certainly “High”. Extremely catchy, rockin’ beyond belief and a wonderful tale of being the gentleman who will get his girl high as well as himself! In a fair world, this would have been a massive hit, but life is rarely fair! Lead guitarist Ken Horne is mind blowing here, and he is one of the best to come outta the scene.

The band pounds out song after song in an intense Stones-as-punks kinda way, with clever rhythm accents (“Runaway”), plenty of fine lead playing and cool lyrics (“Pain Killer”), catchy riffs and cool melodies (“Who Calls My Name”) and NY Dolls references (“Too Much Too Soon”).

Bassist Steve Rodriguez sings lead for a out-of-control and wholy appropriate cover of Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation”, a staple of their live set throughout their career and pretty much their own manifesto!

Classic Dragons’ sound and themes are embodied in “Fuck Up”, a great rhythm-rocker with self-deprecating lyrics of a good guy trying to do the right thing but constantly screwing up (usually by being fucked up!). Very relatable!

The guys kept their titles short and sweet on this album, as the next few attest – “Train”, “Riser”, & “Confusion” – all solid and memorable rockers with drummer extraordinaire Jerrod Lucas holding everything together and propelling them along. They close with a nod to their heritage, Doug Sahm’s “Adios Mexico”, given plenty of punk rock energy and attitude.

There is no way to over estimate the quality of this band’s material and live act – they were certainly one of the highlights of the 90’s and beyond! All of their releases are highly recommended and if they ever reunite in your area, go see them for a real blast of a r’n’r experience!

the Stooges - The Stooges

I had heard about the Stooges repeatedly in the pages of Creem magazine, but I didn’t hear them for myself until almost the end of the second stage of their career (with James Williamson on guitar). I’m honestly not sure what I thought when I first dropped this onto my turntable but this has since become one of the records that I point to when describing what I consider to be rock’n’roll!

Iggy once said that some critics at the time complained about his almost monosyllabic approach to lyrics and it is true that all of the titles are pretty simple but he did manage to convey the desires, frustrations, annoyances and mundaneness of mid-west teenage life. Yes, this was simplistic, but in an almost hypnotic, trance-like way, that still manages to project the power and monotony of the suburban Detroit area in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Iggy wanted to create a white teenager version of the blues and in a way, he did just that.

Ron Asheton (RIP) starts the record with a wall of wah-wahed guitar and damn near creates a whole new genre. Repetitive power chords are accented with fuzz and wah to make up for his limited playing skills. “1969” is autobiographical at its best – “last year I was 21, didn’t have a lot of fun, now I’m gonna be 22, oh my and a-boo-hoo”! Maybe it’s not such a surprise that the band only had a couple of songs when they were signed (they were “playing” a blender and a vacuum cleaner on stage shortly before this recording) and most of this was written in the studio, but it does give it some immediacy. They didn’t seem to know how to end any of the songs and most of them simply fade out on a guitar solo. Kinda genius!

Massive fuzz chords and feedback introduce “I Wanna Be Your Dog” while drummer Scott Asheton and bassist Dave Alexander pound out the backing. Even producer John Cale gets in on it – obviously understanding the brilliance of the simplistic – by pounding out a single piano chord throughout the entire song!

The band certainly owed a debt to Jim Morrison and the Doors – particularly Iggy who took Morrison’s stage show to a self-destructive extreme by jumping in the audience, beating himself, starting fights with audience members and rolling in broken glass. Besides the live act, the band practically emulated the Door’s first album in cover design and even in song presentation. Hence, the last song on side one is their longest, slowest and most psychedelic. “We Will Fall” is the sound of a stoned and qualude laden mid-west teen who had played with Eastern tones and listened to the Velvet Underground! Cale adds some viola to this, as well, creating more texture.

Side two opened with the Kinks’ inspired “No Fun” with its repetitive chord riffs and pounding drums. The Sex Pistols covered this regularly and in fact, this is the last song the band ever performed together before they broke up. More amazing sustained feedback guitar takes this through the fade-out ending.

3 chords and plenty of noise describes “Real Cool Time” with Ron overdubbing leads on top of the entire song as Pop asks “can I come over tonight? / we will have a real cool time”. Who could say no?! Slower and moodier is the ethereal “Ann” with Ron’s wah-wah creating basic waves of tones over an open drum beat. Suddenly, Iggy shouts “right now!” and the group explodes into a massive slab of slamming guitars which continues until the fade! An unusual arrangement to say the least!

I think they evolved to 4 chords for “Not Right”, while Iggy keeps it as primordial as ever – “she’s…not right, I want something tonight, I want something alright, but she, can’t help cuz she’s not right”. This was punk at its most basic, long before anyone thought of it as a genre!

Dave Alexander rumbles out the intro for “Little Doll”, another mesmerizing noise fest! “Little doll I can’t forget, smoking on a cigarette” – beautiful! As with the others, this delves into more guitar psychosis bringing the album to an end as it began – with utter cacophony!

Funhouse is the “better” album but this is one of the most incredible testaments to the majesty of crazed, stoned musicians being let into a studio with tons of amplification! Wonderful stuff!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Elvis Costello - This Year's Model

This Year’s Model was the first recording with Elvis and his fantastic backing band, the Attractions. The musicians were particularly stellar, especially mind-boggling bassist Bruce Thomas, who formed a solid unit with organist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas. Their interplay with Costello has yet to be matched by any of his subsequent backing bands (that I’ve heard, anyway). This is far & away my favorite Costello release and is solid from start to finish.

The band comes charging out of the gate with “No Action”, and the guitar/organ combination has a terrific sound as they power through this rocker with Costello’s patented, pissed off lyrics. Pete Thomas creates a cool, unusual beat as the base for “This Year’s Girl”. The production on this record was particularly strong, as well, given each instrument the perfect tone. Everyone interacts to create a cool wall of sound on this.

I get another “film noir” feel in “The Beat”, with its spy movie rhythms and Bruce Thomas’ expressive bass playing. Another great line: “I don’t wanna be your lover, I just wanna be your victim”. Then comes one of the best of the bunch – “Pump It Up”, a bouncy groove with a crazy meandering bass line. Supremely catchy riffs and vocals and even a shout-along “Hey!” What more could you ask for? “She’s like a narcotic, you wanna talk to her, you wanna torture her” – Elvis balanced on the thin line of misogyny but never seems to cross completely – at least in my eyes.

He finally lets up on the ballad, “Little Triggers”, which I find to be one of the least successful from the record. As always, not bad, but so slow as to drag a bit without anything to really keep your attention. Back on track with his rip off of “The Last Time” with “You Belong to Me” – upbeat, with great ensemble playing and more perfectly jealous lyrics.

Another intricate arrangement for “Hand in Hand” works with dynamics and open space to make something really special and rockin’. Another highlight is the pseudo-reggae of “I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea”, this record’s “Watching the Detectives”. Again, this is noir-ish, with terrific riffs from everyone and an incessant rhythm that you can’t help but move to.

“Lip Service” is another solid rock’n’roller with an excellent, double entendre, sing-along chorus. It sounds like Costello was either perpetually being dumped or so jealous of other guys' attentions on his girls that the relationship wasn’t going to last long, as in the line in “Living in Paradise”: “you’re already looking for another fool like me”. You can still see the C&W roots of this song (see the bonus tracks of My Aim Is True), but the Attractions do imbue this with their own sound.

Pete just goes crazy on the drums in “Lipstick Vogue” and doesn’t let up for the entire length of the tune. This is a high energy blast that is really driven by the toms but the band works its magic throughout and Bruce even gets a semi-bass solo that builds until a break down to the jungle drums. That cat had some stamina! The sound grows back until it climaxes in a final, frantic chorus with shouted “heys!” behind Elvis (which are –almost - always a good thing!) Amazing arrangement!

The other slow tune here is “Night Rally”, which is my other least favorite. Just nothing special here, except for the bizarre line “get that chicken outta here”! But the album finished with the phenomenal “Radio, Radio”, which I think is one of his all time best songs! Energetic, catchy as hell, extremely fitting lyrics and cool licks. A breath taking end to a great record!

There is a bonus disc with this CD issue, as well, with tons of treats! “Big Tears” is an outtake from the album sessions and it has Mick Jones from the Clash on guitar, though his presence is a bit overwhelmed in the mix by the keyboards. A song from the soundtrack of Americathon (no idea!) is “Crawling to the USA”, which to me sounds a bit like Nick Lowe (never a bad thing!), though I always thought that Elvis, Nick and Dave Edmunds all were somewhat similar is writing styles. There are several acoustic demos (“Running Out of Angels”, “Greenshirt”, “Big Boys” – the later two later turned up on Armed Forces), electric solo demos of “You Belong to Me” and “Radio, Radio” (the arrangements are essentially there but the band added a lot to these tunes, naturally) and a phenomenal live version of the Damned’s “Neat, Neat, Neat” done super slow and spooky with the sax player from Ian Dury’s Blockheads. You can’t even tell what the song is at first – a super unique take on this! There is also a live cover of Dury’s “Roadette Song” with a similar feel and also with sax.

An alternative, full band version of “This Year’s Girl” is at supersonic speed – I think that Pete was popping purple hearts for this session! Conversely, “I Don’t Want to go to Chelsea” is slower to the point of practically plodding and the band contributions just aren’t quite as dynamic as on the “official” cut. Another “Stranger in the House” appears, this one from a BBC session, and again much slower but still quite effective.

Overall, this is the pinnacle of the legacy of the Stiff Records artists – a terrific album through and through and wonderful bonuses! Everyone should own this one!

Elvis Costello - My Aim Is True

I have been a fan of most of the Stiff Records artists since the mid-70’s and Costello was a big fave at the time. In fact, I met more than one friend simply due to wearing an Elvis button! His debut release was recorded with a studio backup band (Huey Lewis’ pre-News band called Clover) so it doesn’t have the “band” feel of his later works with the incredible Attractions, but there are some terrific tunes on this.

Opening with just Elvis and his guitar (he supposedly got the Stiff contract by busking in front of their offices!), the incredibly short and appropriately titled (for an intro song) “Welcome to the Working Week” is basic singer/songwriter r’n’r. Good start!

“Miracle Man” shows off his caustic lyrics and has a good groove, though I’m kinda partial to the Attractions’ later, frantic live version. In fact, I would love to hear all of these tunes done by his “real” band. They were phenomenal live and did superb interpretations of these tunes. He was a master lyricist already and could truly convey his frustrations and anger within a great tune.

He moves into more of a ballad territory on “No Dancing” and this is not one of the stronger cuts of this release. A bouncier beat is used in “Blame it on Cain” and the song is nicely crafted though again not one of the standouts. Following this is the song’s pseudo-hit, “Allison”. This is a true ballad, sweetly sentimental, melodic and lyrical. Slow, but excellent and supremely memorable.

There’s a groovy, almost soulful feel to “Sneaky Feelings”. More of a straight ahead singer/songwriter rock tune is “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” with the amazing line “I said I’m so happy I could die, she said drop dead and left with another guy”. “Less Than Zero” is the song that Elvis was supposed to sing on Saturday Night Live during the infamous episode where he switched to “Radio, Radio” at the last minute and f’k’d up their airtime. I do think he was right to say that this tune was not the correct one for US audiences. Good, but not exceptional.

My favorite from this record has to be “Mystery Dance”, an upbeat 50’s styled rocker about the mysteries of your “first time”. Wonderful teen angst lyrics and great playing. Back to mid-tempos for “Pay It Back”, again kinda r’n’b/soul-ish to my ears, anyway, but more singer/songwriter-y. My other album fave is definitely the caustic “I’m Not Angry”, where Elvis obsessively denies being pissed about being dumped for another guy. This is as close as he comes to hard rock, but is still classic Costello – just excellent!

I also dig the insistent beat in “Waiting for the End of the World” and Elvis’ Dylan-esque lyrics and phrasing. Great, pounding drums on this one! I think this is probably one of his most sing-along choruses, also. As I’ve said before, it seemed like their was a British law at this time that every new wave band had to perform a reggae-inspired song and luckily most of them were good ones. Costello’s is the film noir stylings of “Watching the Detectives”. Enough of his own personality is imbued in this tune that it doesn’t fall into derivativeness.

Not the pinnacle of his career, but certainly a fantastic document of one of the best songwriters of the late 70’s.

The CD release has an entire CD of bonus tracks, from demos to live versions to “honky tonk demos”. There’s a cool take on “No Action” that sounds quite different without the keyboards. “Living in Paradise” is turned into a country & western tune with a pedal steel guitar – needless to say, a bit of a change from the Attractions! Interestingly enough, though, the arrangements haven’t changed much, just the instrumentation. He was firmly in a C&W mood at this time as “Radio Sweetheart” and “Stranger in the House” (which Rachel Sweet did a fantastic version of) attests.

The incredible “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” from the Live Stiffs album makes an appearance here, showcasing the talents of the Attractions for the first time on this release. A phenomenal take on this! I believe that “Less Than Zero” is with the Attractions, as well, making it a groovy cut. “Imagination (Is a Powerful Deceiver)” is another MAIT outtake, a nice but not overly special ballad.

The “honky tonk demos” apparently are the solo recordings that Elvis made to show his songs. Extremely interesting from a songwriting point of view – great to see what changes were made to accommodate a full band. The rest of the demos did not make it to the final album, though, and are unfamiliar to me. Always worth a listen, though!

BTW, Costello has a new TV show on Sundance where he interviews musicians, sings and plays with them and has them perform live. Called Spectacle and it is pretty cool, even when the interviewees are not stellar (I just saw one with the Police, who I could care less about, but it was still interesting.)