Friday, September 27, 2013

Soda and His Million Piece Band

Soda Gardocki is a Tom Waits-ian character that has moved back and forth between LA & Chicago (last I heard, his current location) and has released a couple of albums, this being his debut. He works with numerous musicians (hence the band name) and mixes up genres to create a sound that it truly difficult to put into words.

The opener here, "You Cheat", is a dynamic rocker with a simple riff and a smokin' sax that combines 50's r'n'r with Detroit high-energy. This is followed by an old-timey number, "July", complete with accordion, mandolin, banjo, fiddle and lord knows what else he pulls out of his million pieces. Hard to describe what he comes up with here - Tom Waits is an obvious influence, but without his Beat/Jazz touches or pure noise. "Mystery Song" brings in a multi-piece horn section to its speakeasy-sounding rhythm while "Liza Jane" (not the song that David Bowie did as David Jones in the 60's) is a swaying, sea-chanty-like, sing-along. Kinda similar, "Lakeshore" is a bit of a folk ballad, with a fine melody, showing the range in Soda's gruff but emotional vocals. Starting with some jazzy guitar, "Christine" then adds mandolin, more guitar, percussion and then an over-driven harmonica for a rollickin' blues/jazz/whatever hybrid that typifies the best of Soda's sound. "Dirty Old Town" is a sweet ballad with a nice descending progression led by guitar, accordion and fiddle, relating a tale - as best I can tell - of waking up from a drunken blackout in the gutter during a Chicago winter - making this death-defying feet sound practically romantic! Returning to the feel of "You Cheat", "Moonlight Drive" is an upbeat rocker with prominent sax, good dynamics, and a good layering of vocals and instruments. "Sinnerman" sounds like it could be a traditional, minor-key folk number and is given a good arrangement with somewhat sparse banjo-picking, slide guitar and Leonard Cohen-esque backing vocals. The proceeding end with a wild reading of "Who Do You Love", here titled "Cabbagetown Breakdown - WDYL" - certainly one of the most original arrangements of a Bo Diddley song that I've ever heard! Fantastically noisy and intense with crazed fuzz guitar - maniacal!

Fans of Waits would most likely dig this, but I think he has a wider appeal since Soda doesn't have Waits' early Beat persona or his later, eclectic wackiness. A really fine songwriter who has managed to create truly interesting and diverse arrangements.

The Jim Jones Revue - The Savage Heart

I truly love the first two albums by this band - not to mention the fantastic Black Moses and Thee Hypnotics that Jim Jones also fronted - so I am sad to say that this, their third release, is a bit of a disappointment. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but just not the manic blast of pure, joyfully noisy rock'n'roll that has gone before. Hopefully, they will return to their roots and I truly hope that they will come back to the US sometime soon so that I can experience them live.

This record opens strong with "It's Gotta Be About Me" with its heavy, descending riffs and power chords reminiscent of the best of Gary Glitter, with a dash of Alice Cooper and all mixed with the Revue's brand of punk'n'roll. The band is cooking here - Jones is still backed by Rupert Orton on lead guitar, Gavin Jay on bass, Nick Jones on drums, and they are joined by newcomer Henri Herbert on keys. This promising opener is followed by the equally hot pounder, "Never Let You Go", sounding like something from Burning Your House Down. Unfortunately, "7 Times Around the Sun", just doesn't quite work for me. Good concept on the call and answer verses but the song simply meanders and doesn't really build into a powerful statement - it's like this would be a good start of a song, but it needs a bigger chorus. Herbert gets to start off "Where Da Money Go?" and leads it into a good, 50's-style stomper with a hot solo by Orton. Things drag a bit again with "Chain Gang" - and I understand this conceptually and like the idea (chain gang rhythms), but it doesn't really go anywhere.

Maracas hiss the beginning of "In & Out of Harm's Way" that moves into a reserved, chugging rhythm but, as before, the chorus is lacking and doesn't enough differentiation, though there is a nice build up in dynamics with big, feedbacking chords that does save the song. Another 50's-themed rocker is "Catastrophe", that has a cool riff and enough groovin' energy to make a strollin' dance number. This sounds like something they would have taken to the edge on their previous releases, but remains more subdued here. Still, a good one! Also, somewhat restrained but with a cool start-n-stop, almost mechanical, chord rhythm, "Eagle Eye Ball" does burst into loud choruses - something that a few of the other tunes could use. Some wonderful, "Magic Carpet Ride"-esque noise opens "Midnight Oceans and the Savage Heart" but quickly disappears to make way for a 50's ballad that sounds like something from a David Lynch movie. An apt closer, but would have worked better if it was proceeded by high-energy madness.

I know that bands need to grow or else they stagnate, and after two albums of phenomenal material and some line up changes, I should give these cats a break, but they just set the bar so damn high. I'm glad I bought the record and it is good, but just not the masterpieces that came before. Let's hope that they really let loose again on the next one!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

recommended gigs

Thursday September 26 - The Lucky Cheats at the Goldmine Tavern in Henderson

Friday September 27 - the debut of Prophet Greene's Soul Machine - the Dive Bar with King vs Cash along with Wade Crawford and Country Trash

Saturday September 28 - Tiger Sex at Hellpop in the Arts Factory with Life's Torment, Deep Fried Orphans and Sounds of Threat
Saturday September 28 - Jinxemgood at LV Country Saloon

Tuesday Oct 1 - the Voodoo Organist at the Dive Bar

Thursday Oct 3 - Thee Swank Bastards - Wolf Theater

Friday Oct 4 - The Psyatics with Rev. Horton Heat at LV Country Saloon
Friday Oct 4 - Midnight Clover/Jinxemgood - Artifice
Friday Oct 4 - Lucky Cheats @ Mickey Finnz on Fremont

Saturday Oct 5 - the Mapes with Paul Collins' Beat! at the Dive Bar
Saturday Oct 5 - Lucky Cheats @ Mickey Finnz on Fremont
Saturday Oct 5 - Jinxemgood @ LV Country Saloon w/Wayne Hancock and Whiskey Breath

Wednesday Oct 9 - Tiger Sex at the Griffin

Thursday Oct 10 - Bogtrotters Union/Pietasters - Hard Rock
Thursday Oct 10 - The All Togethers at the Velveteen Rabbit

Friday Oct 11 - The Rosalyns - Dive Bar
Friday Oct 11 - Black Camaro at the Gold Spike
Friday Oct 11 - The All Togethers - Dillinger

Friday Oct 18 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down
Friday Oct 18 - The All Togethers at E-Strings

Saturday October 19 - Prophet Greene's Soul Machine at the Motor City with the Two Timers (Wade and Jeffrey from the Lucky Cheats) and the All-Togethers!

Friday October 25 - The Swamp Gospel @ The Neon Boneyard Benefit

Wednesday Oct 30 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Friday November 1 - Psyatics at the Double Down

Friday November 8 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Saturday Nov 23 - The Swamp Gospel at the Double Down
Saturday Nov 23 - the Obits and the Cosmic Beasts - the Beauty Bar

Wednesday Nov 17 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Friday Dec 6 - The Swamp Gospel at the Gateway Motel with the All-Togethers

What have I forgotten? Lemme know!

Gram Parsons - GP and Grievous Angel

In his all-too-short career, Gram Parsons became highly influential, though never realized any real compensation for his trail-blazing during his lifetime. He started with the International Submarine Band (some tracks are available on the 2-CD set of Sweetheart of the Rodeo), moved on to the Byrds and then the Flying Burrito Brothers (with fellow Byrd Chris Hillman) before going solo. After an aborted attempt at a debut, he spent some time with Keith Richards in France (adding his influence to the Rolling Stones music) before returning to America and creating two of what are now considered to be ground-breaking albums, now compiled on one CD.

Teaming up with Emmylou Harris to create some sweet country harmonies, Gram recorded his debut, GP, with studio session men, including folks from Elvis' early band, such as James Burton, and rockers like Barry Tashian (from the Remains!) and Rick Grech (from Blind Faith), among many others. He set about to create what he called "Cosmic American Music", a blend of C&W, pop, rock, soul and whatever else he could think of! While to my untrained ears this sounds pretty straight country, apparently at the time this was a pretty major revelation - combing the energy and rhythms of r'n'r with traditional C&W sounds. This is all pretty strong, but highlights for me include the beautiful ballad "She", the sax-driven C&W-mixed-with-r'n'b take on the J.Geils Band's "Cry One More Time", Emmylou Harris' vocals on George Jones' "That's All It Took", "Kiss the Children" with its similarities to "City of New Orleans", and Parsons' "How Much I Lied".

Grievous Angel was the follow-up and was released after Gram's untimely death from an overdose in Joshua Tree, which brought him legendary status. He again recruited session men (James Burton, again, among others) and Emmylou Harris (who, according to Wikipedia was supposed to get co-credit on this album, but Gram's wife didn't care for their relationship), to make more of his "Cosmic American Music". While he didn't have a lot of material going into this project, he still managed to create a strong, cohesive record. The (sorta) title cut, "Return of the Grievous Angel" was written in the studio and is a terrific song, with a wonderful melody that Harris harmonizes with to great effect. The ballad, "Hearts on Fire", was authored by non other than Walter Egan, who had the horrific hit in 1978 with "Magnet and Steel". Tom T. Hall (of "Harper Valley PTA" fame) contributes the upbeat country of "I Can't Dance", "Brass Buttons" dated back to Parsons' mid-60's folkie days, while "$1000.00 Wedding" had already been recorded by Gram in the Flying Burrito Brothers.

There are a couple of faux live cuts here: his raucous cover of the Louvin Brothers "Cash on the Barrel Head" and one of his songs from Sweetheart of the Rodeo, "Hickory Wind". There is a take on the Everly Brothers' "Love Hurts" (a couple of years before Nazareth had their hit with this) done as a quiet ballad, with more fantastic harmonies from Emmylou and very effective pedal steel playing. "Las Vegas" (co-written with Grech) owes more than a little musically to "Viva Las Vegas", but is still a cool, bouncy number about the city of sin. The finale is "In My Hour of Darkness" (credited to Parsons and Harris), a sad ballad with a big, chorale chorus.

As always with talents like this, his early death makes us wonder what he could have done with more time on this planet. As it is, we have to make due with what he left behind and that, my friends, is pretty darned special.

The Byrds - Sweetheart of the Rodeo

While I was always a fan of the Byrds sound, I was never a big enough fanatic to be an avid collector of their
music. I still only own a couple of their albums but as I have been getting more interested in country music, when I came upon this 2-CD set, I decided to pick it up. This is known as one of the first major rock bands' foray into C&W and this is the record that propelled Gram Parsons into the spotlight. Funnily enough, he joined the band just a few months before this was recorded and left before it was released. Still, his influence is mighty strong here.

Roger McGuinn's initial concept for this album was a history of American music, but Parsons soon steered it into a more direct country style, complete with some Nashville studio musicians and plenty of traditional instruments, such as pedal steel guitar, banjo and fiddle. Opening with Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Going Nowhere" (this album pre-dated Nashville Skyline, by the way), this is a perfect blend of their usual Dylan numbers and their C&W direction. There's some nice banjo picking and mellow fiddlin' in the traditional "I Am a Pilgrim" and Parsons' love of the Louvin Brothers brings their "The Christian Life" to the fold, with McGuinn taking lead vocals (though this set includes demos with Parsons singing). I'm not familiar with William Bell's "You Don't Miss Your Water", a soul number that is nicely transformed here and McGuinn does a terrific job with the sweet melody. Parsons gets his first official lead vocal in Luke McDaniel's "You're Still on My Mind", a very traditional C&W tune, complete with "an empty bottle, a broken heart" and fine pedal steel guitar. The first side of the vinyl album ended with Woody Guthrie's "Pretty Boy Floyd", here with guests on acoustic bass, banjo, fiddle and band member Chris Hillman on mandolin.

Side two of the vinyl opened with an original of Gram's, "Hickory Wind", sounding as much like an old, melancholy C&W song as possible while his "One Hundred Years From Now", is very much like the Byrds of old, with McGuinn and Hillman singing wonderful harmonies, with only the pedal steel giving it more of a country feel than a folk touch. Hillman takes the lead on Cindy Walker's "Blue Canadian Rockies", which is a nice enough country tune, but not one of the stand-out numbers. Parsons returns for Merle Haggard's "Life in Prison" and the album concluded, appropriately, with another Dylan cover, "Nothing Was Delivered", again giving old fans more of the sound that they are used to (though with a country orientation).

The bonus tracks on disc 1 starts with new drummer Kevin Kelley singing "All I Have is Memories", then includes a groovin' "Reputation" (which sounds like an old number, but I can't place it), a terrific take on the traditional "Pretty Polly" with nice electric 12-string work, "Lazy Days", a kinda countrified Chuck Berry and then three numbers with Parsons' original vocals - "The Christian Life", "You Don't Miss Your Water" and "One Hundred Years From Now", finishing with a radio spot for the album.

Disc 2 begins with 6 songs from Gram's previous group, The International Submarine Band, and shows why McGuinn thought that he would fit in with the Byrds, as they have a very similar sound, though definitely with a more countrified direction. They even do Buck Owens' "Truck Drivin' Man", a song popularized (to the rock'n'roll crowd) by the J. Geils Band on Blow Your Face Out (funnily enough, since Gram covers one of their songs on his solo album). These are all quite good, reminiscent of stuff like Michael Nesmith's country numbers. The rest of the CD collects demos, outtakes and rehearsal versions of the songs that appeared on the original album, some with Parsons' original vocals. Lots of repetition here, but cool insights to the evolution of the tunes.

Overall, I think that I prefer this record to Parsons' solo work, simply because there is more of a mix of genres here - bluesgrass, C&W, pop and rock - though his solo albums are strong and have obviously been highly influential in both rock and country fields. But here's where it all really started, so certainly something to own!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Crazy Chief & Thee Mapes @ the Motor City Cafe, Sept 21, 2013

This was a fun night of pretty divergent bands taking over one of my favorite dive bars in town, the Motor City Cafe. My band, the Swamp Gospel opened the show and was followed by the hard rockin' Crazy Chief, featuring Jesse and Roxie from local cool guitar shop, Cowtown Guitars. They've got a tight, heavy, Gibsons-through-Marshalls sound that calls to mind the classic 70's bands as well as (comparatively) more modern groups like Monster Magnet. Great riffage by guitarists Nick and Jesse, Dan and Roxie (drums/bass) form a solid rhythm section and singer Drew has a fine, rock'n'roll voice (I believe he also does a Doors tribute band, to give you an idea of his style) and the girls seem to find him easy on the eyes! Excellent hard'n'heavy rock'n'roll! Really looking forward to their upcoming single and vinyl album!




Local punk rock loonie legends, Thee Mapes closed out the night with their own brand of goofy, tasteless, good-time, old-fashioned punk rock with silly costumes and lots of mania. Singing duties are split between manic bassist Jason (in the monkey fur jacket and skull mask) and guitarist Kurt (the cowboy), while second guitarist Dave (the boy scout) and drummer Clay (in the wrestling mask) do what they can to hold things together. While lyrically the songs are as puerile as you could possibly imagine, there are some pop elements to the melodies, some interesting licks (I think that they can all play better than they want you to realize) and Clay plays some unexpectedly cool rhythms. They are known for making a complete mess of every club they play, but managed not to do that this night - let's see what they do when they gig with power-pop legend Paul Collins on Oct 5 at the Dive Bar!




Thursday, September 19, 2013

recommended gigs

Thursday September 19 - Crazy Chief at Vamp'd w/Jackyl and Dirty Paradise
Thursday September 19 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Gold Spike
Thursday September 19 - The Black Jetts at the Beauty Bar

Friday Sept 20 - Bogtrotters Union/Mass Distractors - Artifice

Saturday Sept 21 - The Swamp Gospel 2nd Anniversary show at the Motor City Cafe with special guests Crazy Chief and the Mapes!

Wednesday Sept 25 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Thursday September 26 - The Lucky Cheats at the Goldmine Tavern in Henderson

Friday September 27 - the debut of Prophet Greene's Soul Machine - the Dive Bar with Hopeless Jack and Handsome Devil along with Wade Crawford and Country Trash

Saturday September 28 - Tiger Sex at Hellpop in the Arts Factory with Life's Torment, Deep Fried Orphans and Sounds of Threat

Tuesday Oct 1 - the Voodoo Organist at the Dive Bar

Thursday Oct 3 - Thee Swank Bastards - Wolf Theater

Friday Oct 4 - The Psyatics with Rev. Horton Heat at LV Country Saloon
Friday Oct 4 - Midnight Clover/Jinxemgood - Artifice

Saturday Oct 5 - the Mapes with Paul Collins' Beat! at the Dive Bar

Wednesday Oct 9 - Tiger Sex at the Griffin

Thursday Oct 10 - Bogtrotters Union/Pietasters - Hard Rock

Friday Oct 11 - The Rosalyns - Dive Bar
Friday Oct 11 - Black Camaro at the Gold Spike

Friday Oct 18 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Saturday October 19 - Prophet Greene's Soul Machine at the Motor City

Friday October 25 - The Swamp Gospel @ The Neon Boneyard Benefit

Wednesday Oct 30 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Friday November 1 - Psyatics at the Double Down

Friday November 8 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Saturday Nov 23 - The Swamp Gospel at the Double Down
Saturday Nov 23 - the Obits and the Cosmic Beasts - the Beauty Bar

Wednesday Nov 17 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Friday Dec 6 - The Swamp Gospel at the Gateway Motel with the All-Togethers

What have I forgotten? Lemme know!

Kiss Mini Golf, Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Kiss Mini Golf opened a year or so ago but we hadn't had a chance to make it out to until last night. It's at 4503 Paradise Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89169, on the corner of Paradise and Harmon and it's open from 10:00 am until Midnight.

Appropriately, as soon as you walk in you are bombarded with Kiss music, Kiss memorabilia everywhere (lots of toys and such but some items that at least claim to be actual artifacts), a huge merchandise store (naturally!), extremely perky employees and lots of video and carnival-type games that you can play without paying for the golf itself. There are coupons online and locals get a discount anyway but the coupon can be used in conjunction with the locals discount. There is a wedding chapel (the first pic - this is Vegas, after all!) and a small room for private events along with the indoor golf. You play under black light and the course all glows and/or lights up. The props range from pretty cool to downright cheesy - the 2nd pic is "Gene" from an animatronic display of the band that moves if your ball goes into the right hole under the "stage", and this group is in the latter category.

So, visually, this is fun for fans and there is a lot of cheesy artwork on the walls of local celebrities in various stages of Kiss make-up, guitars, boots, or just "rockin' out". Unfortunately, the mini-golf itself was kinda disappointing. Almost no moving parts on any of the holes - the one exception is a guitar pendulum in the box flanked with boots pictured below - so you basically just need to hit the ball so that it goes around the display pieces. Maybe this is to make it easier for visitors who are most likely to be inebriated when playing? On the last "tee" you shoot the ball up "Gene's" tongue and if it goes in just right, you get rewarded with a cloud of stage fog!

This is a good time, but it certainly could have been a much better mini-golf experience with just a little more money invested.. Regardless, I'm sure that they will do well - there were hotel limos pulling in and out the entire time that we were there on a Wednesday night. Pull the discount tickets from online and check it out!









The Hellacopters - Cream of the Crap Volume 1

OK, I promise to stop talking about the Hellacopters (for a while, at least) after this one. I was just surprised to discover how many of their releases I never mentioned, despite them being such a prized group!

This is the first collection of rarities, compilation cuts, B-sides, split-singles and general "odds and sods" that the band released. Once the 'Copters started getting popular, their early outings, such as their first single, recorded in their practice room and pressed on blue vinyl (the songs appear here), were commanding such high prices (that, of course, the boys never saw a dime of) that few could afford to hear them. Being music lovers themselves, Nicke and the rest decided to rectify the issue with this CD.

This volume has that aforementioned first single ("Killing Allan", "Ferrytale" and Social Distortion cover "The Creeps") along with many others, from "Down Right Blue" and "Thanks For Nothing" with Scott Morgan and Daniel Rey to "Crimson Ballroom" with Turbonegro's Euroboy to their fantastic cover of "Gimme Shelter" with Peter Carlsson on harmonica to a wild take on Iggy's "I Got a Right" and much, much more.

Everything is pure, unadulterated, high-energy punk'n'roll at its best so you know you need it!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Hellacopters - Cream of the Crap Volume 2

Surprisingly, I have not reviewed Volume 1 yet, but this is another fantastic collection of B-Sides, cuts from split-singles, rare 45s and compilation cuts put together so that us loyal fans (who didn't get this stuff when it came out) did not have to shell out the big bux for the originals. Everything on here is top notch, with excellent originals, wild covers and very cool surprises.

I love that they pay tribute to the Swedes that laid the groundwork for them, the Nomads, by demolishing their terrific "Low Down Shakin' Chills". There are several guest singers throughout: Matt Mettelburger on the AC/DC-ish "It's Not a Long Way Down", Scott Morgan (Sonic's Rendezvous Band) on "Slow Down (Take a Look)" and "16 With a Bullet", and Blag Dahlia on the Dead Boys' "Ain't Nothin' To Do". Lots more interesting covers, like Love's "A House is not a Motel", Radio Birdman's "Time to Fall", the Misfits' "Bullet", Kiss' "All American Man", the Dictators' "Master Race Rock" and Black Sabbath's "Dirty Women", all given the 'Copters' treatment.

While this spans a good portion of their career, it is mostly rough'n'raw wildness - just the way I like the Hellacopters! You know I'm gonna say that you need this!

The Hellacopters - Rock and Roll is Dead

This was the last all-original release by the group (the final album was the covers-only Head Off) and while they were becoming more and more melodic and clean by this point, this is still a fine slice of Swedish rock'n'roll, despite the title!

Opening with a stolen Chuck Berry riff in "Before the Fall", the boys show the connection between 50's r'n'r and modern day punk'n'roll - things haven't changed all that much, in a way - it's still all about the passion and the energy. It's kinda hard to wrap my head around just how clean the guitars sound here, overall, but regardless, they manage to riff and wail throughout the tunes. Much poppier than most of their work, there are still some darker edges, like the minor-chords dominating "Everything's On TV" or the tale of addiction in "Monkeyboy" (with it's deceptively happy-pop melodies) or "Murder on My Mind". Almost all of the songs are fast'n'rockin', especially the out-of-control "Bring It On Home", which has some especially good lyrical twists ("give me god and the holy ghost, peanut butter and jelly toast") and a wild wah-wah solo. But, they do slow it down on occasion, such as for the 70's-styled ballad, "Leave It Alone", where they add some pretty female backing vocals. There are some humorous numbers, as well, such as "I'm In The Band", with its story of not being recognized by the bouncers as you're trying to take the stage, and "Nothing's Terribly New" with its spelling of "n-o-t-h-i-n, n-e-double-u". Lots more rockin', catchy tunes and riffage throughout this record, including the two bonus tracks and two video tracks. Nowhere near as intense musically as some of their other work, but I still pull this out more than most other bands, cuz the songwriting and the playing is still stellar. Get the early work first, but if you truly love rock'n'roll, you will most likely want to get everything you can find by these gents!

The Hellacopters - Disappointment Blues

This record of B-sides was originally released as a 10" mini-LP in 1998 and has since been reissued as a CD-EP in 2003 and judging by the prices I'm seeing for this stuff on Amazon, I'm glad I bought these EPs when they came out! This is more fantastic, early, Hellacopters' patented brand of punk'n'roll. Starting with "Long Gone Losers", you know what you're in for - Nicke's shrieking like a banshee while the band pummels and feeds-back behind him in a furious frenzy! "Oh Yeah, Alright!" is more mid-tempo, but still filled with screeches and huge power chords as Nicke sings about the Ramones (appropriately, since the chord progression and rhythm is basically stolen from them). "Heaven" is more melodic, but still maniacally fast (with each guitar taking cool solos) while their cover of Motorhead's "Speed Freak" is even noisier and crazier than the original! The title cut is reminiscent of Sonic's Rendezvous Band's "City Slang" - a song they regularly covered. Certainly not stolen from that song, but that kind of rockin' feel and a big, wailin' ending. Absolutely love the dueling guitar slides right before the main lead break! Huge, distorted guitars dominate "Ferry Tale" - the interaction damn near gives me chills cuz it's so noisily good - but it remains catchy with the great "what I can and cannot do" chorus. Probably the closest that these cats get to a standard punk rock song is "455SD", an ode to a muscle car, but they can't resist throwing in incredible guitar breaks, giving it the Hellacopters feel!

Again, you know if it's the Hellacopters, I'm gonna rave, but their early stuff is just damn phenomenal and this should be picked up if at all possible!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Hellacopters - Strikes Like Lightning / The Hellacopters & Gluecifer - Respect the Rock America

Not sure exactly where this CD-EP comes in the band's discography but the copyright date makes it right about the time, or right after, By the Grace of God and the sound here would seem to confirm that. Chips is again producing and the songwriting is very similar - 70's guitar rock with Nicke's particular brand of power-melodies. There's only 6 songs here - "Turn the Wrong Key", "Take Me On", "A View From Nowhere", "Blinded by the Light" (not the Springsteen song), "Fiends and Frankensteins". and "On The Line" - so the only issue you're gonna have with this is that it will be over way too soon. This seems to be somewhat of a sampler for the label (Psychout, leased to Sweet Nothing) so maybe this was before they signed to Liquor and Poker? Regardless, as usual, this is excellent rock'n'roll!

Respect the Rock America is an earlier release, recorded in 1998 with 3 or the 'Copters 5 songs including
original guitarist Dregen (who left for his other band, the Backyard Babies) and the other two with Lee Fett, who was replaced by Strings. Four of the tunes are covers, but damned cool ones, starting with their obvious influence, the MC5 and "American Ruse". This is a solidly powerful take on this classic, with, quite frankly, better production and punch than the original and with Nicke shouting "rest in peace, Sonic" rather than the original "rock 'em back, Sonic". A rather surprising cover is Lynyrd Skynyrd's record label rant "Working For MCA", but it works in their hands. There's no less than 6 guitar players credited on this one so you can bet that there are layers of cool leads here! Taking another cue from the MC5, Nicke attempts to tap into his inner soul side with Wilson Picket's "Man and a Half" and while this is rockin', it doesn't work quite as well as the others. Now, I love early Bob Seger, so I have no issue with anyone covering his work and this take on "Her Strut" kicks ass on Bob's terrific original, which might have had more swagger, but this has more pure energy. The one original here is their closer, "Doggone Your Bad Luck Soul", a fabulous, noise-drenched, slower number with lots of edge and guitar leads, licks and riffs moving in and out and round'n'round. Pretty damned fantastic!

Unfortunately, Gluecifer has to follow this carnage and are, frankly, left wanting in the comparison. Hailing from Oslo, Norway, they were more of a straight-ahead punk rock band and not nearly as creative or proficient as the mighty 'Copters. They have energy to spare, and the band is super-tight, but the songs just aren't quite there - not bad, by any means, but just not that step above that you would like from a great group, as opposed to simply a good one. Their songs here are "Gary O'Kane", "Shitty City", "My Card Says Typhoon Killer", "No Goddamn Phones" and "Going Down" - all solid, just not special.

The Hellacopters - By the Grace of God

Continuing with the "cleaner" side of the Hellacopters, By the Grace of God is still anther superior rock'n'roll record filled with high quality songs and lots of amazing playing!

Starting with a lonely sounding single piano note, the group explodes in with the title cut, and it's a helluva monster with catchy guitar licks, shouted "heys" and a memorable chorus - besides the prerequisite layers of guitars! I am always impressed with the quality of Nicke's songwriting and how he managed to be highly prolific and maintained variety within the genre - from the cool starts-n-stops of "All New Low" to the melodies in "Down on Freestreet" (where he makes "turn that damn thing down" a hook) to the Chuck-Berry-meets-Kiss riffs in "Better Than You" to the pop-ridden chord progression and melodies of "Carry Me Home" to the downright pretty piano work by keyboardist Anders in "Rainy Days Revisited".

"It's Good But It Just Ain't Right" is a pure r'n'r blaster and "U.Y.F.S." rivals it in intensity, but is also highly melodic. A little moodier, but with cool "hey, hey heys" and great riffs is "On Time" while "All I've Got" is another hard rocker with yet another stellar affirmation chorus ("won't - stop - give it all I got"). More of the same greatness in "Go Easy Now" before the somewhat cooly discordant (appropriately) "The Exorcist" and the album "officially" finishes with the rockin' "Pride" (with lots of wild guitar work). The CD has two bonus tracks - true punk'n'rollers, "Big Guns" and "Red Light" - and a couple of videos, as well as an electronic press kit, not to mention the fold-out CD case and booklet. Liquor and Poker Records did almost as great of a job on the packaging as the band did on the songs! Yes, I think you should own this!

The Hellacopters - High Visibility

I have always made my love for the Hellacopters well known - I believe them to be the best band of the last
couple of decades and true heirs to the Detroit rock'n'roll of the MC5 & Stooges - and while I will always be partial to the first two albums, I think that everything that they put out is fantastic. This was their fourth full-length release (after Grande Rock, where they first cleaned up their act, sonically) and it certainly has some of their classic songs. On this record they used producer Chips Kiesbye, from the great band Sator, and would continue to work with him for the rest of their career.

Chips knows how to get a great guitar sound, and Nicke & Strings try our some different tones on this record, while maintaining a great rock'n'roll edge. There are some darker tinges to songs like "Hopeless Case of a Kid in Denial" but go back to raisin' hell in the manic "Baby Borderline". Singer Nicke is never afraid of melodies and catchy choruses as the guitars wind in and out and keyboardist Anders gets his time in the limelight, as well. Love the feedback-laden "Sometimes I Don't Know" and bassist Kenny intro's "Toys and Flavors", a song that has tons of band interaction with plenty of keys and guitars riffin' and solo'ing on top of a damn catchy tune.

There's some really cool Kiss-styled backing vocals in "You're Too Good" that also has lots of other 70's rock touchstones while "Throw Away Heroes" concentrates more on the vocal melody, though there's still lots of energy and - of course - a great guitar solo! They do the closest that they get to a ballad in "No Song Unheard", with some nice lyrical lines ("sure would be great to have a clock with no hands") and complementary guitar licks. More 70's hard rock with "Truckloads of Nothin'" and "A Heart Without Home" with terrific, wah-wahed guitars intertwining.

The boys pull out acoustic guitars for "No One's Gonna Do It For You", though they waste no time in layering with electrics, as well. Still, it gives the song a different tone and feel. The pace returns to "manic/frantic" in "I Wanna Touch", which has some good Chuck Berry references, and then the record closes with two rockers, "Hurtin' Time" and "Envious", both with cool arrangements and guitar and vocal call-and-answer work.

I'm biased as I am a huge fan of these guys, but I think that everything that they did should be in the collection of every lover of loud guitars and punk'n'roll. Yes, the first two are the wildest and most out-of-control, but this is just a damned fine rock'n'roll album!

Black Joe Lewis - Electric Slave

I know how hard it is to keep putting out quality material and many incredible bands have had pitfalls after a debut that grabs people's attention, but this, Black Joe Lewis' third album, sounds even better than the first two! This adds more raw, punk'n'roll power to this electrifying soul dynamo to create a wild-edged masterstroke that builds on their earlier work (apparently, this is still the Honey Bears, though the name isn't on the CD) and takes it to the next rockin' level.

Electric Slave opens with a heavy, heavy, fuzzed-out garage punker, appropriately titled "Skulldiggin'", that includes some fine piano poundin' along with an incredibly nasty guitar solo! This is an amazing blend of bands like Thee Hypnotics, the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, but somehow keeping a bit of Lewis' soul identity in the mix (though that aspect is a bit buried here). Their "Young Girls" is a frantic romp in an early r'n'r/r'n'b groove, but with a punk pace making ya want to flail about uncontrollably!

I had to look this up, but "Dar es Salaam" is a city in Tanzania and literally means "the abode of peace". Not sure what Joe is singing about here, but the sound is more traditional Honey Bears territory - more soul/r'n'b and less raw power, but no less great, with a superb horn section augmenting the proceedings and the distorted guitar just a little more buried. Another cool mash-up of styles is "My Blood Ain't Runnin' Right" which has some Sly and the Family Stone touches with some melodies reminiscent of the Saints, when they used horns. Sounds odd, but as they make this their own, they build it into a wildly intense monster.

The sax in "Guilty" wails like McKay in Funhouse or Rudi Thompson from X-Ray Spex, with equivalent power from the rest of the band, while "Come to My Party" is a bit more traditional funk/soul and a groovin' dance number. They finally slow things down for the sultry "Vampire", with a feel not unlike "Fever" until it speeds into an out-of-control rave-up in which the drummer seems to be challenging the rest to keep up! "Make Dat Money" is a bit of a mid-tempo soul/blues riffer with some cool horn dynamics while "The Hipster" is these cats updating "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" and there ain't nothing wrong with that kind of high energy r'n'b! More rockin' funk in "Golem" and the whole she-bang closes with the maximum punk'n'soul of "Mammas Queen".

I love the first two Black Joe Lewis records, but I swear that this one surpasses them both! Great job!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Thee Swank Bastards - Huntridge Tavern - Friday September 13, 2013


I hadn't made it out for any Swank Bastards gigs for a while, but the Huntridge is a comfortable dive bar and I knew they weren't going to be starting their set at 2 or 3 in the morning (as they often do at places like the Double Down), so off I went!

Thee Bastards started around 10:30 and played two sets of their own brand of surfin' rock'n'roll with people yellin', dancin', adding new punchlines to their jokes and buying them drinks! Stellar guitarist Jesse Del Quadro led the cats through some wild, original, reverbed numbers aided and abetted by drummer John Holod and bassist Jeff Murphy (of the Bitters) sitting in for Shaun Coleman (and wearing a fake beard in honor of Shaun).

Don't really know of anyone else in Vegas doing this type of music and the Swankers do it right. Their originals are well-written melodies - not just a single riff repeated in a I-IV-V progression over and over - and they do clever covers, from a medley of spy themes to classics like "Pipeline" to a random Slayer song (I didn't recognize this, but so I was told). I ducked out as they were starting their second set, but they have been known to do a set's worth of Black Sabbath covers, as well!

Always a good time, the Bastards are a must see for fans of non-derivative surf-styled music ala LA's Insect Surfers or the Black Widows. Thanks to Huntridge manager Kate Alexander for having these cats perform for her birthday bash!


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Junior Wells - Best of the Vanguard Years

Junior Wells started playing harmonica as a young child and had his first band as an early teenager. Having
moved to Chicago from Memphis, he was too young to play in the clubs, so he busked in the streets with his band, who were eventually picked up by Little Walter when he went solo. Wells then took over Walter's spot in Muddy Waters' band and his notoriety was ensured.

In these recordings he is joined by longtime foil Buddy Guy, who does some fantastic playing, as well as legendary drummer Fred Below, along with a variety of bassists and, at times, even some horn players. These songs were all cut in the mid-60's as Junior was making a name for himself with the white college blues-loving crowd, who he wowed with his showmanship, r'n'b power and harmonica artistry. Included are some of his best-known numbers, such as "Messin' With the Kid" (which Steppenwolf stole from him), "Early in the Morning", "Checking on My Baby", etc., though there is some amazing playing in lesser known tunes such as the live "It's My Life Baby", "Vietcong Blues", the funky groove of "Shake it Baby", the humorous scat singing in "(I Got a) Stomach Ache" (and chicken pickin' git playing by Guy), and the previously unreleased Sonny Boy Williamson's "Shotgun Blues" and "You Know That I Know".

While I wish that this collection didn't lean so heavily on live cuts (10 out of the 18), everything is still high quality blues by a hot band led by a dynamic performer.

recommended gigs

Friday Sept 13 - Thee Swank Bastards - Huntridge Tavern

Saturday Sept 14 - the Psyatics and Double Down w/Machine Gun Kellys and Agent 86

Thursday September 19 - Crazy Chief at Vamp'd w/Jackyl and Dirty Paradise
Thursday September 19 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Gold Spike

Friday Sept 20 - Bogtrotters Union/Mass Distractors - Artifice

Saturday Sept 21 - The Swamp Gospel 2nd Anniversary show at the Motor City Cafe with special guests Crazy Chief and the Mapes!

Wednesday Sept 25 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Friday September 27 - the debut of Prophet Greene's Soul Machine - the Dive Bar with Hopeless Jack and Handsome Devil along with Wade Crawford and Country Trash

Tuesday Oct 1 - the Voodoo Organist at the Dive Bar

Thursday Oct 3 - Thee Swank Bastards - Wolf Theater

Friday Oct 4 - The Psyatics with Rev. Horton Heat at LV Country Saloon

Saturday Oct 5 - the Mapes with Paul Collins' Beat! at the Dive Bar

Wednesday Oct 9 - Tiger Sex at the Griffin

Thursday Oct 10 - Bogtrotters Union/Pietasters - Hard Rock

Friday Oct 11 - The Rosalyns - Dive Bar

Friday Oct 18 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Saturday October 19 - Prophet Greene's Soul Machine at the Motor City

Wednesday Oct 30 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Friday November 1 - Psyatics at the Double Down

Friday November 8 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Saturday Nov 23 - the Obits and the Cosmic Beasts - the Beauty Bar

Wednesday Nov 17 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Friday Dec 6 - The Swamp Gospel at the Gateway Motel with the All-Togethers

What have I forgotten? Lemme know!

Stax 50th Anniversary Celebration

Boy, the only reason that you wouldn't want this 2-CD set is if you already have all of the music included! This is a terrific set of Stax soul, just jam-packed with hits - too many to name them all, but stuff like "Green Onions", "I've Been Loving You Too Long", "Hold On, I'm Coming", "Knock on Wood", "Born Under a Bad Sign", "Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay", "Time is Tight", "Mr. Big Stuff", "Theme From Shaft", "I'll Take You There", "Respect Yourself" and a ridiculous amount more. Everything is top notch, groovy soul that if you don't already know and love, you will after hearing this! Not much more to say about this collection - you want, you need it, you should go out and get it now!

Carolina Chocolate Drops - Leaving Eden

Well, maybe I didn't have anything to worry about with the direction this ensemble was heading. This is their latest release (2012) and still has a terrifically traditional sound, even with the augmentation of new instruments. The music is again a mix of traditional numbers arranged by the band, a couple originals and some newer tunes by other folks.

The opening "Riro's House" uses what they describe as a fife-and-drum beat (just snare and bass drum by Dom Flemons, who also sings), giving an interesting rhythm to this banjo (played by new member Hubby Jenkins) and fiddle (showing off Rhiannon Gidden's prowess) tune. Gidden pulls out a 5-string gourd banjo for "Kerr's Negro Jig", which adds a cool tone to this jig. In "Ruby, Are You Mad At Your Man" Gidden's banjo playing is pretty exceptional, while Jenkins adds mandolin to Flemons' bones and new member Adam Matta's beatbox (which, thankfully, is not too prominent). Rhiannon excels vocally here, as well. There's a good mix of instruments and vocals on "Boodle-de-Bum-Bum" with 4-string banjo combined with cello banjo, jug, and mandolin.

Rhiannon's "Country Girl", an ode to her hometown, is another successful combination of all of the members' talents, with fiddle, banjo, mandolin, cello and beatbox (still don't understand this, but who am I to say). "Run Mountain" is very much mountain music with Dom Flemons' quills adding a nice touch. The title cut is a quiet ballad, with a bit more modern sound, while "Read 'Em John" is an acapella piece that they discovered from Alan Lomax's recording of the Georgia Sea Island Singers. "Mahalla" in an instrumental guitar/banjo piece originating from South Africa which is followed by "West End Blues", originally an instrumental by Etta Baker, but given words and melody by Giddens.

Another traditional fiddle stomper is "Po' Black Sheep", with banjo, bones and beatbox accompaniment, and "I Truly Understand that You Love Another Man" was first recorded at the same time as the original Jimmie Rodgers and Carter Family sessions by Shortbuckle Roarke and his family, and is similar in feel to the Carters.  An Ethel Waters song, "No Man's Mama", is an old blues done with guitar and banjo, with a feel of early vaudeville blues. "Briggs' Corn Shucking Jig" is another fun jog tune and the set closes with Rhiannon singing "Pretty Bird" acapella, letting us appreciate her exceptional voice.

Another really fun set of updated traditional mountain music. Nice that this music is bringing success to these talented folks and getting the attention that it certainly deserves.

Carolina Chocolate Drops - Genuine Negro Jig

I have just become aware of this African American group, which is an old-time string band ensemble from Durham, North Carolina, dedicated to the string band music of the Piedmont region of their home state. Their first release was back in 2006, but a friend (thanks, Kathleen!) just told me about them once my love for bluegrass/banjo/fiddle music was known.

Each of the three main members are all multi-instrumentalists, with Dom Flemons playing banjo, guitar, harmonica, kazoo and percussion, Rhiannon Giddens playing banjo, fiddle and kazoo and Justin Robinson on fiddle and autoharp and all contributing vocals. The sound is Appalachian-styled bluegrass with upbeat tempos, nice, southern harmonies, strummed banjos and bouncing fiddle lines. Most of the tunes are covers of older numbers (arranged by the group), but there are some originals, as well as interpretations of newer tunes, such as "Hit 'Em Up Style" (apparently a hip-hop song that I know nothing about, but they include a beatbox, which is an odd juxtaposition to the fiddle and banjo accompaniment) and Tom Waits' "Trampled Rose".

I really enjoy the old-time sound of the group here, and the title cut is quite an interesting melody and the percussion (hand claps, foot stomping and bones) add quite a bit to the melancholy feel of the tune. Rhiannon has a terrific voice, as well, with a feel of an old blues singer ("Why Don't You Do Right" is a real showcase for her talents), with a clear, sweet tone, though she can growl when the song requires it, as well. The gentlemen have fine voices, also, though not quite as distinctively stand-out as Rhiannon's, who at times reminds me of Maddy Prior from Steeleye Span on the more traditional cuts ("Reynadine", in particular).

This is a cool, new look at old-time, acoustic music. Reading about them on the internet tells me that there have been some member changes and they may be moving into a more modern direction, but this record is pretty great.


Friday, September 06, 2013

The Skirts - Look Up! and Smashing the Sky

I first became aware of Sacramento's The Skirts because of their drummer, Wendy Powell, had played with our pals the Groovie Ghoulies. Everyone thought that Wendy was sweet, super cute and damned talented, so we were interested to hear her all-female band.


Look Up! - nice title and cover - is a damned terrific slice of female punk-pop done right - lots of energy, clever melodies and harmonies and a fun time all around. This 1999 6-song release is all-too-brief but a great taster that would leave fans wanting more. This is what proponents of punk-pop mean when they defend the oft-abused label. The playing is all tight, and while no one person stands out, everyone locks together for the betterment of the tune - not to show off.


By 2002, the guitarists had changed and the sound became a little less pure punk-pop and more "alternative", for lack of a better term. Still quite energetic, but with more variety, some new guitar licks and a little more expansion in the songwriting. Lots of pieces will sound familiar but are hard to place - which, I suppose is the right way to do it. Still very melodic and catchy and still not highly technical - because the songs don't need to be (and shouldn't be) - but definitely a growth since Look Up! 

I missed their third album, Take Off!, but I'm sure it is worthwhile, as well. This was the kind of band that our old group The Excessories would love to play with (though now I don't remember if we did now) - so fans of female, rockin' pop should check out the Skirts!

Thursday, September 05, 2013

recommended gigs

Friday Sept 6 - Tiger Sex at the Double Down

Saturday Sept 7 - Thee Swank Bastards - the Dillinger

Wednesday September 11 - The Psyatics at Triple B with Calabrese
Wednesday September 11 - Thee Swank Bastards - Double Down

Friday Sept 13 - Thee Swank Bastards - Huntridge Tavern

Saturday Sept 14 - the Psyatics and Double Down w/Machine Gun Kellys and Agent 86

Thursday September 19 - Crazy Chief at Vamp'd w/Jackyl and Dirty Paradise
Thursday September 19 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Gold Spike

Friday Sept 20 - Bogtrotters Union/Mass Distractors - Artifice

Saturday Sept 21 - The Swamp Gospel 2nd Anniversary show at the Motor City Cafe with special guests Crazy Chief and the Mapes!

Wednesday Sept 25 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Friday September 27 - the debut of Prophet Greene's Soul Machine - the Dive Bar with Hopeless Jack and Handsome Devil along with Wade Crawford and Country Trash

Tuesday Oct 1 - the Voodoo Organist at the Dive Bar

Thursday Oct 3 - Thee Swank Bastards - Wolf Theater

Friday Oct 4 - The Psyatics with Rev. Horton Heat at LV Country Saloon

Wednesday Oct 9 - Tiger Sex at the Griffin

Thursday Oct 10 - Bogtrotters Union/Pietasters - Hard Rock

Friday Oct 11 - The Rosalyns - Dive Bar

Friday Oct 18 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Saturday October 19 - Prophet Greene's Soul Machine at the Motor City

Wednesday Oct 30 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Friday November 1 - Psyatics at the Double Down

Friday November 8 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Saturday Nov 23 - the Obits and the Cosmic Beasts - the Beauty Bar

Wednesday Nov 17 - Thee Swank Bastards at the Double Down

Friday Dec 6 - The Swamp Gospel at the Gateway Motel with the All-Togethers

What have I forgotten? Lemme know!

The Lucky Cheats/The Delta Bombers - The Griffin 9-4-13

It takes a lot to get me out on a weeknight, but a show like this would do it! Wednesdays are tough, but the Griffin manages to accomplish a good gig night with a comfortable back room with a decent PA and a nice space for the bands to play. I don't understand why they don't man the bar that is in the room and I wish there were some lights on the band (hence the reason why my photos are so dark), but still a good spot to party with a group in an intimate setting. And they have a happy hour right before the show starts!


The Cheats opened this night and anyone who has ever read this blog knows that they are one of my favorites bands in town these days. All terrific players, damn nice guys and damn great songs - originals and choices of covers! I think everyone partook in the happy hour before the set so they were appropriately alcohol-fueled, but this does not diminish their playing in the least - in fact, they were firing on all cylinders this night! The small room was packed with a rowdy bunch, drinkin' and shoutin' and dirty dancin'! Couple of rockin' new tunes were debuted, as well. Super fun!




After a quick change-over, the Delta Bombers appeared and the room got even more packed! Led by the powerful singer/acoustic guitarist Chris Moinichen, these cats ran through their blues-inspired rockabilly and the crowd loved every minute of it! Cool covers of "Smokestack Lighting" and "Run Through the Jungle" and there were a couple of Tom Waits-ian moments as Chris sang and played harmonica through a megaphone while moving through the audience. He knows how to work the crowd, who were all dancin' and boppin' and yellin' and drinkin'! The guys behind him were loosely swingin' and sounded on top of their game this evening. An encore was demanded and everyone went home sweaty and satiated!

A great night for downtown Las Vegas - hope we get more shows like this one!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy

I think that the first four Zep albums are thee albums to own, and this record is a bit uneven, but it still has some undeniably cool tunes, such as the opener, "The Song Remains the Same" - neat, 12 string guitar riff, with extra gits layered on to build a unique, Zep sound. I guess that this album is where they moved away from the metal-blues a bit and found their own footing. This certainly is reminiscent of previous LZ, with odd rhythms, lots of dynamics and multi-part tunes, but more melodic with lots of Plant's higher-register vocal tricks and less blues-driven.

"The Rain Song" is a 12-string ballad with Jones' providing Mellotron "strings" on this much more "composed" composition that is none-the-less not very exciting. Faring better is "Over the Hills and Far Away", which starts with Page's acoustic chord/riff and moves into a traditional, heavy Zep power-chord number. As I'm listening, though, I'm realizing that this whole record is a lot slicker than the early ones - I guess that is part of the band's evolution, but I always love the rawer edger more, personally.

This album definitely had the guys experimenting with different styles, as in the James Brown-influenced funk of "The Crunge" - fun, but not exactly stellar - and, I think they realize it is a bit silly, as they make a joke at the end. But I really dig "Dancing Days", with its semi-weird, half-step progressions and odd production techniques and sounds along with lyrics that are silly enough that you hope that it was a parody. The hit from this release was positively meant to be a joke, with the name "D'yer Mak'er" a real stretch of a pun on a punch line ("did you make her") and the faux reggae pop stylings. Really does nothing at all for me, other than maybe annoy me a bit!

There is a complete about-face in "No Quarter", a dramatically moody piece led by Jones' effect-laden electric piano and Plant's lyrics of bygone battles. While not a rocker, they work with their dynamics to create ebbs and flows in the somewhat watery, cinematic sound. Finishing with "The Ocean", this is another off-tempo riff-rocker, but it does rock and it includes a cool, acapella interlude before closing with a bit of a rave-up, sounding almost like a 50's rocker. Fun stuff.

Again, start with the first four albums, but this is still good, just not nearly as heavy and this will not blast your head against the wall. Guess you don't always need that!

Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin II

I thought I'd catch up with all of my early Zep's at once here. As I believe I already said, I assume that this is when the band first appeared on my radar - with their huge hit, "Whole Lotta Love". What a blast this was coming out the AM radio! Of course, the hit version was heavily edited to remove some of the wacky effects (Page using his Theremin, this time) and much of Planet's grunts and groans, but still retained plenty of power. And, of course, this was another stolen Willie Dixon song (at least they had good taste in their thievery!) which caused more controversy later. Page's lead coming back into the song, as well as the main riff, are pure classics, though.

"What Is and What Should Never Be" is another tune that alternates from quieter verses to harder choruses, but still retaining a sense of melody and dynamics. Another amalgamation of blues songs, "The Lemon Song" takes bits from Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor" as well as Robert Johnson's "Traveling Riverside Blues" and Albert King's "Cross-Cut Saw", and throws it all in the Zep mixer to come up with this bit of ever-changing blues rock. "Thank You" is an interesting, keyboard-led number, with Page adding 12-string guitar and layers of melodies to this semi-ballad.

Then comes the 1-2 punch of "Heartbreaker" and "Living Loving Maid" - two heavy stompers with huge power chords, riffs and leads, trademarked Plant bawdy lyrics, and dynamic starts and stops. These two tunes are so synced together on the album that it sounds weird if you hear one without the other. Great power-rock! "Ramble On" is a bit quieter and is the beginning of Plant's Tolkein lyric phase and Page gets in plenty of guitar effects, as well. Bonham gets his time in the limelight with the instrumental riff-rocker "Moby Dick". Now, drum solos are never a good idea, but are even worse when on a studio album. This was just a continuation of a really bad idea that probably started with "In a Gadda Da Vida". At least it doesn't drag on too long here and it moves directly into the quiet blues of "Bring It On Home" that again bursts into a big riff-rocker.

Yep, this is a classic of the genre - a monster of heavy-metal blooze!

Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin I

Rising from the ashes of the "New Yardbirds", Led Zeppelin sounds nothing like a brand new band on this
debut record. Of course, Page had played in and out of the studio for at least a decade by this time, as had bassist John Paul Jones, but Plant and Bonham were relative newcomers. Maybe that made them feel that they had to prove themselves - and that they do here!

Opening with staccato, pounding, power chords, the cats blast into the hard-rockin' opener, "Good Times, Bad Times", with Page letting loose like he has been caged up until now - flurries of notes fly all over this tune! They waste no time is showing their softer side with the mostly acoustic "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You", a pretty ballad written by Anne Bredon and taken from Joan Baez's version, but given the Zep treatment with lots of dynamic work, some studio effects and a heavy middle break. 

Their reputation as blues thieves originated with their uncredited use of  Willie Dixon's "You Shook Me", obviously taken from Muddy Waters' original, though given an update with heavy metal guitars and a cool keyboard solo from Jones, as well as harp work from Plant. Page's slide work here became the template for hard rockers using bottleneck ever after. "Dazed and Confused" was also uncredited, taken from Jake Holmes, who Page heard play it in a club in NYC (as I recall) and started using it in the Yardbirds before recording it here. Of course, this is quite different arrangement, though none-the-less the same song. This was the piece where Jimmy would let loose with his violin bow (an idea taken from the Creation's guitarist, Eddie Phillips) and Echoplex, creating wild sounds, before rockin' out with a more traditional, heavy solo.

Jones' keys add a nice touch to "Your Time is Gonna Come", a comparatively poppier number, with a big chorus and neat slide work. "Black Mountain Side" is a brief acoustic interlude with Page demonstrating his use of open tunings before the boys blast into one of their hardest numbers, "Communication Breakdown". 3 chords and tons of power! Another uncredited blues song was Willie Dixon's "I Can't Quit You Baby", originally done by Otis Rush, whose version was obviously used as the basis here, though, again, they add their own touches  and dynamics to create their style of heavy metal blues. Howlin' Wolfs' "How Many More Times" is again missing the proper writing credits but is nonetheless a powerful piece of hard-rockin' blues with an original middle break-down included. Once again, Jimmy pulls out the violin bow for some crazed sounds and effects - certainly this part was a far cry from the original blues! But, not content to rip off one artist, Plant includes a snippet from Booker T. & the MG's "The Hunter", as well! 

Lots of thievery, but lots of great riifs, hooks, and power here. Not something I listen to as often as I would when I was a teen in those pre-punk days, but still good stuff.

Joey Ramone - Don't Worry About Me

The news of Joey's passing was so sad that it was difficult to listen to this album, mostly cut during his illness, and with lyrics referencing his upcoming demise. Here he collaborated with long-time friend, producer and guitarist Daniel Rey (who appeared, uncredited, on many Ramones records) along with Andy Shernoff and with drum duties split between Marky Ramone and Frank Funaro. While not the Ramones, which, of course, was not the intent, this is some rockin' and quite touching music.

It's hard to stifle a tear when listening to Joey's take on Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World", done Ramones-styled. It's obvious that he wishes that he could continue to enjoy all that this crazy planet has to offer. His voice is remarkably strong here, as well. A song to himself, "Stop Thinking About It", is more poppy Ramones, while "Mr. Punchy" is silly pop, with goofy call-and-answer vocals. Many of the tunes sound like they could have come off of some of the later albums from his band, but with more personal lyrics - "Maria Bartiromo", "Spirit In My House", "Venting (It's a Different World Today)", "Like a Drug I Never Did Before", "Searching For Something" (probably the poppiest number on the record), and the hopeful "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)", with some of the saddest lyrics he ever wrote - "I want my life/it really sucks". He returns to his roots for a pretty straight reading (not that that's a bad thing!) of the Stooges' "1969" before closing with his message to his fans (cloaked in the guise of a love song), "Don't Worry About Me".

Some really strong songs here, with emotional and heart-wrenching lyrics. Everyone felt that the Ramones were "their" band and that the "bruddas" were "one of us" and it hurt when Johnny, Dee Dee and Joey were cut down far too young, but Joey seems to have touched us even more - maybe because he was the voice of the band, maybe because he was more social and outgoing and supportive of others. Long live Joey and long live the Ramones!

Merry Clayton - The Best Of

Up until now, Merry Clayton has been best known for her phenomenal contribution to the Rolling Stones' classic "Gimme Shelter". If this was all that she had ever done, this would be enough to go down in musical history, but, besides adding backup vocals for innumerable songs, Merry also had her own solo career. Unfortunately, she never quite hit, but she did create some fine music. This "best-of" CD compiles cuts from her two solo albums, as well as tracks from compilations that she has appeared on as well as the London Symphony Orchestra's rendition of "Acid Queen" from Tommy. Most of the material here was obviously picked to be familiar with the r'n'r crowd, but I don't know whether that was always a help or a hindrance. While her personal performances are stellar, it can be tricky trying to "one-up" a classic song.

But, she damn near does that with the opening cut here, Neil Young's "Southern Man". The lyrics take on a whole 'nother feel coming from a black woman and the musical treatment is a cool soul/funk. There is a clip of a live performance of this tune in the move 20 Feet From Stardom where the band is just cookin', and while this studio take isn't quite as intense, it is mighty fine. The Doors' "Tell All the People" works, as well, since the original was horn-oriented, Clayton simply brings out the soulfulness that was already inherent in the song. I'd dare say that this is one of the highlights of the collection.

James Taylor's "Country Road", while still quite good, seems a little more forced into the soul genre, while Carole King's "After All This Time" makes a nice ballad for Merry. Interestingly enough, her calling card song, "Gimme Shelter" doesn't work as well with Clayton taking the main lead vocal. It's almost as if she holds back here. Again, this isn't bad at all but it certainly does not equal or eclipse the original - or even some of the other covers that have been done. This is a disappointment, since we know what she is capable of with this material. Though, there is a story that she was pregnant when she cut the original and had a miscarriage after the session, so maybe she still had bad memories attached to the song at this point.

Bill Wither's adds "Grandma's Hands" and even though this isn't as strong as his hits, this is a good soul number which is followed by Goffin/King's "Oh No, Not My Baby", which is given a good, if traditional, reading. Carole King gets yet another track her with "Walk On In", which is a good pop groover. Merry does a fine job on "Bridge Over Troubled Waters", but, again, I think this suffers from being compared to the iconic original - whether you like it or not, it was so ubiquitous, and Garfunkel outdid himself vocally there, that it is hard to re-do. That said, there are some nice gospel touches here, especially as the backing choir comes in later in the take.

But, while "The Mighty Quinn" was a hit, as well, I really dig Clayton's gospel interpretation - this truly works and adds a lot to the number. There is a good gospel feel to Billy Preston's "Sho' Nuff", as well, and "Forget It I Got It" by Gary Wright and Jimmy Miller is a "Knock On Wood" knock-off, but with a good, funky groove. But, "Keep Your Eye On the Sparrow" is a bit more disco, so it kinda misses with me, despite some good sax work on it. The upbeat funk cover of Elvis' "Suspicious Minds" is fun although her take on Leon Russell's "A Song For You" really misses the mark - this is a beautiful, touching melody and somehow she just doesn't capture it. I can totally imagine her doing a devastating version of this, but sadly, she doesn't do it here. I think that my high expectations for this song makes this a low point of the set for me. She redeems herself with the energetically rockin' gospel of "Life Ev'ry Voice and Sing", though the symphonic rendering of "Acid Queen"doesn't quite hit - not really her fault, but after Tina Turner's rock'n'soul version, a string-laden take won't hit as hard.

Merry is a marvelous talent and it is truly sad that she was never able to step out and become the star that her voice deserves, but this is a nice collection of some cool work that she's done on her own.


Sunday, September 01, 2013

20 Feet From Stardom (movie)

This documentary on backing vocalists (those who stand in the back, 20 feet from the stars) is a compelling and touching and sad story of some truly talented people (mostly women, though a gent or two makes an appearance) who never got the breaks to move into the spotlight.

One of the earlier tales is of Darlene Love, whose voice launched a number of Phil Spector hits that were credited to other artists for one reason or another. Her story is particularly heart wrenching as she should have been a star but Phil had her under contract and didn't want her to step out front for reasons only he knows. She has since received acclaim for her talents, but it has come late in her career.

Others never really got even this amount of recognition. The fabulously talented and lovely Claudia Lannear, who worked with Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, the Stones, sang on the Concert For Bangeldesh, and much more, and was the crush of just about every young male in the 70's (she even appeared in Playboy) is now retired from music and teaching Spanish! Merry Clayton, who is the mind boggling voice on "Gimme Shelter" (and who did this take while being pregnant and with her hair still in curlers after being woken up in the middle of the night), did some fine solo work, but again, it never clicked with the buying public. A lot of this, I feel, is due to the fact that most of these women were not songwriters so they were completely at the mercy of their producers - for material as well as for musical direction. There are a number of others, most lesser-known, who either eschewed the limelight or simply never had a chance at all.

Many stars were interviewed here - Mick Jagger, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder - who share their stories and their respect for these women. Since they are now older and not quite as beautiful as they once were (nearly everyone in this film were stunners in their younger days) it seems unlikely that this will restart their careers, but hopefully, they will garner some long-overdue recognition.

Trevor and the Jones - the Beauty Bar 8-31-13


The Beauty Bar is not my usual stomping grounds due to the fact that it caters to a younger, DJ-driven crowd, rather than a r'n'r crowd, and when they do host live music, the DJ's still receive more respect than the bands. When bands play indoors (as they had to this night due to Vegas' monsoon season), the sound is usually far too loud and muddy - and the DJ's are even louder in between bands, so you get no respite - and when bands play outside, you are at the mercy of the elements. So, not conducive to a great r'n'r experience, though occasionally there are good shows.

This was my first time seeing Trevor and the Jones and I don't think that they felt they were at their best as they kept sparring with the sound man who kept asking them to turn down and they kept asking for monitors. Since they were playing first, the crowd was just drifting in and were not yet very receptive to TJ's psychedelic sounds.

I felt that they started fairly slowly myself, but about half way through the set, something clicked and it all came together in a mix of garage and psychedelia and pop. While not very interesting visually (again, maybe this is my age, but I think they could benefit from a little more style), the 3 guitar line-up (often with two 12 string guitars - shades of late-70's Flamin' Groovies!) blended together with the use of effects and various leads and riffs. I didn't catch anyone's names, but the main lead guitarist was also the main lead singer (though vocals and leads were shared) and was quite good at both. Towards the end of the set, apparently due to frustration with the club and the audience, this gent just dropped his arms to his side and stared into the audience as the other guitars took leads - a nice, psychotic Syd Barrett move.

Definitely want to catch these cats in a more responsive setting (though I have to admit that the light show that the club used this evening was fitting) - they have been getting good response in town so I'm sure they will be doing a lot more soon. Check 'em out!


Joey Ramone - Ya Know?

After my last few entries, I feel like I have to revive my "cool quotient" and who was ever cooler than Joey Ramone?!

I don't really know the story behind this album, but it seems to be a collection of demos and one-off tunes that Joey did with a bunch of friends, including his brother, Mickey Leigh and this marks his second posthumous solo album. Mickey appears on pretty much every song in one way or another, either simply vocals, or a multitude of instruments, including guitar, bass, and keyboards.

The festivities start with the Plasmatics' Ritchie Stotts' tune (co-written with Joey), "Rock'n'Roll Is the Answer", which was pretty much Joey's mantra and with some fun lyrical rip-offs from "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting"! Stotts has always been a highly underrated guitarist - cool solo here! "Going Nowhere Fast" easily could be a Ramones outtake, with Ritchie Ramone providing the beat and Ramones' producer Ed Stasium playing guitar & bass.

"New York City" references a number of other songs, though I can't put my finger on most of them, and has a veritable who's-who of the NYC r'n'r scene as guests - members of the Dictators, Steve Van Zandt, Holly Vincent, Genya Raven and Lenny Kaye! Wow! "Waiting For That Railroad" is actually an acoustic ballad with none other than Bun E. Carlos on "traps", along with Holly Vincent again adding some vocals and Stasium adding various other instruments, including an accordion - is that a first on any Ramones-related albums?

"I Couldn't Sleep" sounds to be like a tribute to "Real Wild Child" with brother Mickey playing most of the instruments, other than Pat Carpenter's drums. A punk-ish, 12-string folk-rocker in "What Did I Do To Deserve You?" - funnily, I tried to place what this reminded me of and it is one of my old songs! Doubt that was a big influence on them! Interesting and cool change of pace, though! "Seven Days of Gloom" seems to be a more metallic Ramones, with Ritchie again on the throne and Bun E. again on "traps" and Handsome Dick Manitoba adding backing vocals with Holly Vincent and Al Maddy.

More Ramones-isms in "Eyes of Green", with Bun E., Shernoff, and Stasium making appearances alongside Leigh. Holly Vincent alternates vocals and harmonizes with Joey on "Party Line" - almost a doo-wop/early r'n'r feel with a cool sax section by Arno Hecht. A slow, Phil Spector-like "Merry Christmas" (without the "wall of sound") is a neat alternative to the "official" Ramones release. "21st Century Girl" returns the Joey power-rock'n'roll, with a guest spot by Joan Jett and more of the usual crew.

The sadly-titled "There's Got to Be More To Life" has Jean Beauvoir playing all instruments - the man was the bassist for the Plasmatics, and also sang in the Flamingos (!), played with Steve Van Zandt and had a hit song in a Slyvester Stallone move, Cobra! Another unusual musical turn is "Make Me Tremble" with Andy Shernoff performing all the instruments, and creating an almost Caribbean Island feel, in a really weird way.

"Cabin Fever" is a bit more produced song, with more members of the Dics and with Stasium and Leigh providing keyboards, including mellotron and then the record ends with "Life's a Gas" - not the T.Rex song, but has similarities - a short, acoustic number with just Joey, Mickey and Ed.

While nothing here should be a huge surprise to any Ramones fan, this does show that Joey liked different variations on the themes that his main group explored. As with the first posthumous release, this is a solid collection of tunes - any fan should own!