Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ok, i'm a complete geek

But I'm watching American Idol and the song that judge Kara wrote for Adam and Kris is literally the worst song that anyone has sung on this show since the show has started. What horrific drek! Has she really written hit songs? That sounded like a sappy teenager wrote it - one of the most amateurish and aqful tunes ever written. Adam should have been embrassed to have had to sing that - what a waste of his talent! But just goes to show that he was able to rise above the terrible material to still give a good performance.
I just do not understand modern music!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Johnny Winter - Nothin' But the Blues

Johnny Winter is one of the bluesiest (and whitest) guitar players of all time. Although an albino, he has always been an authetic bluesman and has played with some of the greats, from Willie Dixon (on his debut record) through his work with Muddy Waters in the late 70’s/early 80’s and beyond. This is an extension of that work and Winter has an all-star cast playing with him here – Waters, James Cotton (harp), “Pine Top” Perkins (piano), Bob Margolin (electric guitar), Charles Calmese on bass and Willie “Gig Eyes” Smith on drums.

As the title states, this is strictly a blues album, with none of Johnny’s classic r’n’r numbers, played straight and simple, both acoustic and electric, Delta and Chicago styled. All good stuff, Johnny’s playing is hot as ever and you feel as if you are hanging in the same room as this talented bluester. Nothing is an immediately memorable standout, but it is all solid and is a great listen.

Few can play the blues like this man so any chance to hear him shine on his guitar is a joy for someone like me who loves to hear a 6 string sing. For any lover of the blues!

Althea and Donna - Uptown Top Ranking

This is highly unusual for me as I am not a fan of reggae by any stretch of the imagination – other than the white boy punk/pop versions ala the Clash or Elvis Costello. But somehow in the late 70’s I was exposed to these two women and their pop-reggae British hit, “Uptown Top Ranking” and have never forgotten it.

I finally found this CD and while it is not something that I would listen to constantly, it is a nice treat on a summer Sunday afternoon. Very fitting as we enjoy the warmth and a nice beverage.

Everything on this record is quite poppy, which makes it more accessible to a white boy like me than, say, heavy dub. Some lyrics are quite political, as they sing about Africa and no more war, but there simple love songs, songs for Jah, and one just about the music – “They Wanna Just” (“they wanna just reggae”).

No for everyone but much more listenable than many reggae groups and “Uptown Top Ranking” is still a classic summer song!

Lemmy - Damage Case

Everyone knows of Lemmy and his fantastic Motorhead, but the man was rockin’ for decades before he started that legendary group. This compilation shows the variety of music that Lemmy been involved with over the years, some of which will likely surprise anyone who is only familiar with Motorhead.

Opening with the Rockin’ Vickers – not his first band, but close to it – who supposedly created controversy by wearing dog collars in their live performances. The first cut is the surprisingly wimpy pop of their version of the Kinks’ “Dandy” – about as unlikely a number for Lemmy to be involved in as anything anyone could imagine! By contrast, the other two cuts included here are – I assume – more representative of the group. “I Don’t Need Your Kind” and “It’s Alright”, while poppy, are more similar to bands like the Birds or the Creation and are pretty cool beat numbers. In fact, the later was written by none other than Pete Townshend and was later revamped as “The Kids Are Alright”.

I was completely unfamiliar with Sam Gopol, a psychedelic, tabla-based conglomeration which was pretty fantastic, based on these two numbers. I am going to be looking for their full length release as I love this type of acid-drenched pop with wild guitars.

Next is the very logical step to Hawkwind, another psychedelic combo and the initial offering here is Lemmy’s lead vocals on his “The Watcher”, which wouldn’t surprise me if the idea was taken from the character in the Fantastic Four. This cut is mostly acoustic guitars and fairly quiet, though far from weak! Following this though is the metallic edge of “Silver Machine”, their hit in the UK (also sung by Lemmy) and an intense piece of space rock! Of course, he is highlighted on their version of his song “Motorhead” which named his famous group. This is a cool take on it, with sax throughout and even a violin solo! This was a crazy band!

Of course, his work with Motorhead is featured prominently here, though the compilers tried to avoid being too obvious and the tunes are interspersed with other collaborations. The title track is classic Motorhead and is as powerful as anything the group ever did. The band did break up briefly though and Lemmy joined the Damned just long enough to record an incendiary “Ballroom Blitz” with a rockin’ bass solo by the main man, which shows that he is as much punk as he is metal. “Over the Top” is credited to Motordam and while the liner notes oddly ignore this cut, I can only assume it is the Damned with Lemmy singing and is nicely vicious.

The extreme pop of “Don’t Do That” by the Young and Moody Band is another surprise, though I actually can’t hear Lemmy in here anywhere – either vocally or instrumentally, but apparently he is playing bass with a very different tone than usual.

CD 1 has several more Motorhead tunes – “Iron Horse”, “Born to Lose” and “Masterplan” as well as the terrific musical meet-up with Girlschool doing Johnny Kidd and the Pirates' “Please Don’t Touch” as Headgirl. There is also a very twisted “Stand By Your Man” with Wendy O Williams, which sounds about like what you would expect from those two reprobates in a studio together.

Motorhead starts off Disc 2 with the terrific “Killed By Death” and includes several others, including the unusually restrained “1916” and the tribute to the band “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.”. There are also a couple of heavy covers, credited to Lemmy alone, such as his take on Queen’s “Tie Your Mother Down” and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”, both of which are superior to the originals!

He joins forces with the Pirates’ Mick Green under the moniker Lemmy & the Upsetters for a punk rock take on “Blue Suede Shoes” and the slower (but not wimpy!) “Paradise”. Green’s playing has influenced damn near everyone on the British rock scene (his band wrote “Shakin’ All Over”) and he is as high energy as ever here.

Even more retro sounding is his work with Slim Jim and Danny B (I admit my ignorance – I don’t know who Danny is) on classics such as “Matchbox”, “Big Rover” and “Learning the Game”. Lemmy grew up when 50’s r’n’r and rockabilly was just starting to hit and he has never forgotten his love for these sounds. He plays acoustic guitar and sings (not exactly pretty, but effective), while the other guys flesh everything out.

Even Dave Grohl works with the man in Probot on a tune called “Shake Your Blood”, which is heavy enough to sound like a Motorhead rocker!

This is a great comp of the various stages of Lemmy’s career and is pretty damn great from start to finish!

The Who Live at Kilburn 1977

This was another discount find for me and I am certainly glad that I picked it up! The initial disc is of the live show that the Who performed specifically for the film The Kids Are Alright in order to include several songs in that movie that they did not have on video anywhere else. Recorded in 1977, Pete believes that he has something to prove to the new wave of punk rockers and is obviously drunk yet phenomenally animated and puts on one of his best performances ever!

The song list is great and everyone’s playing is solid. Keith Moon seems a little less confident than usual and is still visibly uncomfortable wearing headphones for the songs that have backing tracks, but he is still Keith and still better than a majority of drummers in their prime.

The sound and visuals are excellent and seeing the band in a relatively intimate environment in a treat, as anyone who is familiar with the footage in The Kids Are Alright could tell you. Well worth the price by itself but there is a second disc that, if anything, surpassed this first disc. While the footage has some technical issues, it showcases the Who at their ultimate finest – in 1969 at the London Coliseum, for their first live performance of Tommy. This is essentially the fantastic Live at Leeds song list and I don’t believe that the group was ever in finer form. In fact, because the guys were not happy with the footage taken of them at Woodstock, songs from this set were put into the Woodstock film instead!

Any fan of the Who will get chills and thrills watching this DVD – absolutely essential!

John Cale - Sabotage (Live)

I have been a huge fan of Cale since the days of the Velvet Underground and think that his solo records have been consistently strong, though they vary from delicately beautiful to cataclysmically crazed. This live record (from CBGB’s in 1979) of otherwise unreleased songs is a mix of these two sides of the man under a vague theme of mercenary soldiers. I was able to see this tour at the legendary Whiskey-a-Go-Go and can attest to the potency of this man’s performance. (Though his solo show at McCabes with just him on just piano or guitar is one of the most intense live experiences I have ever had.)

This record is filled with dark rock’n’roll with Cale’s twisted leadership showing through in every song. The opening “Mercenaries (Ready for War)” begins with a distorted bass line (John plays some evil bass lines on some of the tunes, but I don’t believe that this is him here) and some psychotic guitar lines and yet still manages to be immensely catchy and invites you to sing-along with “ready for war”. The build-up behind the countdown to his bloodcurdling shriek of “visibility zero” is truly outstanding!

The electric piano that starts “Baby You Know” is very Cale-esque and this has more cool guitar as it creates a dark and paranoid rock’n’roll song. I am pretty certain that Cale has picked up the bass (in addition to band bassist George Scott) for the wild hard rock ride of “Evidence”. This is a heavy rocker with a superb riff that I apparently unconsciously stole a number of years back. Excellent!

“Dr. Mudd” is still upbeat though slightly less intense and with female back up vocals by the oddly named Deerfrance, who is (also oddly) uncredited on the CD sleeve and who has apparently also worked with Tom Verlaine. Lyrically this continues the war theme with references to Hiroshima and the effects of the bombing of that city. I’m fairly certain that Cale is taking the guitar solo on this one and it is wildly sick and very different in tone from Marc Aaron’s nicely demented playing throughout.

John is absolutely playing lead bass on the utterly bizarre (though still phenomenal) take on Rufus Thomas’ “Walkin’ the Dog”. Kinda similar in feel to his dark version of “Heartbreak Hotel” on Slow Dazzle. Continuing in a dramatic and bleak vein is “Captain Hook”. This is almost cinematic in its scope and the percussion and lovely vocals from Deerfrance adds a nicely desolate feel. Slow and moving and memorable. And I love the line “by hook or by crook I am the captain of this life”.

Deerfrance comes to the forefront for the delicate “Only Time Will Tell”, not dissimilar to one of Nico’s songs for the Velvets. Truly pretty and Cale plays some fine viola for coloring. A total change of pace follows with the cacophonous interaction of the title cut. I love this – it is so majestically perverse and noise-filled and yet is a superb song. Classic Cale at his best!

The closer for the album was “Chorale” which sounds almost like a militaristic anthem, with its melody lifted from some sort of national anthem, its concentration on keyboard and vocal harmonies, but with some contrasting noise, as well and the drums which come in with a distinctly military beat.

The bonus tracks here are from the Animal Justice EP. “Chickenshit” is a fairly solid rocker with some bits of conversation interspersed with John’s lyrics. Apparently this references a live show where Cale chopped up a live chicken with a meat cleaver and the conversation is supposedly people’s reaction to this.

John adds his personal touches to Chuck Berry’s “Memphis”, aided and abetted by Chris Spedding and his wild guitar. The strangely titled “Hedda Gabler” follows and is one of Cale’s bizarre story ballads. This is very stripped down, with bare piano chords, some guitar effects and wind noise until the band crashes in, but it maintains its dirge-like rhythm throughout as it builds through its changes. He is always so compelling that he can make this type of thing work, though and this is quite effective.

“Rosegarden Funeral of Sores” sounds like it was written for Bauhaus, who later covered it. This just shows who was the original goth master!

If you like your r’n’r dark, twisted and psychotic and don’t mind moving from sparse to wildly rockin’, definitely check out Cale’s solo work and this terrific album!

Deep Purple - Fireball

I always felt that, despite some super strong moments, Fireball is one of the weaker DP Mach II records (in fact, probably the weakest) so I was surprised to find out that this came after the fantastic In Rock. I always put In Rock & Machine Head together as their two classics and because of their strengths I assumed that MH came right after IR. I can only imagine that touring on the basis of In Rock didn’t give them as much time to concentrate on their writing as they might have liked.

Unfortunately, I still do not have the extended CD version of this record, but since I’m in a Purple mood, I’m going to do this one now, but don’t be surprised at another post on this record when I get the other version!

Certainly, no one can fault the opening title track. This has the speed and ferocity of the best punk rock mixed with the classic Purple sound. If this doesn’t get you movin’ then you’re dead already! Right up there with their best, with a over-driven, fuzz bass solo, noisy breaks by the rest and one of Lord’s rhythmic excursions. Even the tamborine at the end is used to great effect! Pretty damn breath-taking!

Slowing down a little for the mid-tempo “No No No”, the band manufactures a beat similar to the later “Maybe I’m a Leo”. A cool rocker, but not a stand-out. One of my all-time fave DP numbers is next, though, the rockin’ “Strange Kind of Woman”. A super strong pounding beat propels this riff-rocker with plenty of heavy guitar/keyboard interplay. Ritchie’s opening lick is superb, too. This was another high point from Made in Japan where they extended the solo and Ritchie and Gillian had a cool “duel”.

Unfortunately, “Anyone’s Daughter” is completely forgettable – nothing at all to make this one stick in your head – a non-melody, painfully silly words, a slow pace and spectacularly uninteresting playing by everyone. It’s hard to believe that this line up of the group could ever be boring but they actually manage to achieve that here.

Better is “The Mule” with some power chords from Blackmore and a cool riff that he plays with Lord, but again the lyrics and melody are surprisingly feeble. This was mainly a showcase for Paice’s drum solo live and they seemingly didn’t think that it needed to really go anywhere other than to allow Ian to do some interesting rhythm work.

“Fools” has another good forceful beat and progression, though it does meander a little, as well. Ritchie has a chance to show off his “cello” effect by playing with sustain and his volume knob which is cool but goes on a bit long. Overall solid, though. The closer, “No One Came” has a reasonably effective backing, though not up to the usual DP standards and again, Gillians lyrics and melody are almost non-existent.

I am curious to hear the out-takes from these sessions and maybe read a bit more about the story of the songs, but this is not one of the best, regardless of the 2 extremely strong numbers. Completists should own it, but definitely not a good starting point or even highly recommended.

Deep Purple In Rock

I have raved about my love for the wild, noisy, heavy sounds of DP several times already, and I was thrilled to finally find a good price on the extended CD of this, the debut release of DP Mach II.

Coming off of the high from the original line-up’s massive hit, “Hush”, the members were none-the-less having personal issues and opted for some new blood. Pulling singer Ian Gillian and bassist Roger Glover from a relatively unknown band, Episode Six, DP created their most well-known and rockin’ line-up. Gillian’s unique voice came to define 70’s heavy metal and Glover was a terrific bassist and a gifted songwriter who immediately contributed to many of the great songs on this album.

The extended CDs of DP have been of universally high caliber and this is no exception. The sound and mix is, if anything, even better than the vinyl versions – which always had super tones all around. Adding a slew of bonus tracks makes this a wonderful find at any price.

This CD was a surprise right from the start as “Speed King” opens with an extended instrumental section that was left off of the American version – which is a crime as it is supremely beautiful noise! “Speed King” is, of course, their predecessor to “Highway Star” and damn near as majestically rockin’ as that anthem. A fantastic start to any record and a cool introduction to Glover’s riff writing! Dig the lyrical references to r’n’r history, also!

Somehow managing to meld intricate licks with a mid-tempo, head-banging groove, “Bloodsucker” shows off the group’s interaction and tightness while still rockin’! Stealing from It’s a Beautiful Day’s “Bombay Calling” for the basic chord progression of “Child in Time”, the band forms a dynamic and powerful showcase for Gillian’s shrieks and wails with many ebbs and flows and excellent playing throughout. Blackmore gives a stand-out performance on this take, which was often extended greatly in live shows and on their Live in Japan release. The rhythm section really cooks behind the solo break – Glover locks in with Paice to form one of the best bass/drum teams in heavy metal.

Back to the basic rock with “Flight of the Rat” which opens with heavy power chords from Ritchie and shows that while the band were all virtuosos, the songs were often based on fairly simple chords progressions that they expounded on. Blackmore throws in some wild riffs and even some harmony guitar lines. Not one of their most memorable, but a solid rocker with a terrific guitar solo and even some funky wah wah playing!

Another fantastic head-banging riffer is “Into the Fire” – powerful as hell, short and sweet, and certain to get you movin’! Paice’s drums slowly fade in to open “Living Wreck”, an anti-groupie tune with another rockin’ groove over which Jon Lord adds cascades of sounds from his ultra-rhythmic organ, sounding a little like Goldie McJohn from Steppenwolf.

There is plenty of terrific noise on this record and “Hard Lovin’ Man” opens with bounties from everyone. Ritche’s galloping guitar allows Lord to open up on the distorted and cacophonous keyboard while Gillian sings his single-entendre lyrics. Gillian is an incredible vocalist, but is certainly no poet – the words are, overall, the epitome of banal heavy metal. But, what teenager couldn’t relate to that?!

This makes the liner notes all that much funnier as the band talks about throwing together “Black Night” and how they purposely picked out nonsensical rhymes just to complete the tune. I, for one, never really noticed the difference between this and any of their other songs!! Anyway, this non-LP track was the single that the record label demanded from these sessions, though I don’t really see it as that much more commercial than anything else – other than the fact that they stole the main riff from the Blues Magoos hit “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet”! It’s a fine tune, but I don’t think it got any American airplay, though it helped to propel the new line-up into the spotlight overseas.

The bonus tracks start with a different take on “Speed King” with Lord on piano instead of organ, that was previously issued as a b-side to “Black Night”. The album version is definitely superior, with more energy and intensity, though this is cool in its differences.

I had never heard “Cry Free” before, which was left off of the album despite the band recording numerous takes. It’s not bad, but I don’t blame them for picking this as the one to exclude. “Jam Stew” is another unreleased number that has cool energy and apparently they planned on this being a complete song, but never put lyrics to it. The bonus version of “Flight of the Rat” is not very distinctive though – I don’t really hear much variation.

There is yet another mix of “Speed King” – Glover is obviously and justifiably proud of this tune – with the noise intro, but again, as with the final take of “Black Night”, not dramatically changed. Still cool to hear the Glover’s mixes and I think there are some additions to the solos, which are always cool.

Also included is a multi-paged booklet with the story of the transition & recording and tons of terrific early photos. The shots of Glover without his trademark hat and beard (both of which he seemingly has worn non-stop since) are almost worth the price by themselves!

This release is definitely right up their with Machine Head as the best of Deep Purple. Get this extended CD for all the fun extras!