Monday, December 08, 2014

DENNY LAINE


True talent isn't always recognized by the masses. Ingenuity shouldn't toil in the long shadow of mediocrity, though this is reality for those who cut an individual path. With that in mind, the spotlight searches out (and locates) Mr. Brian Hines, who is better known by his adopted stage name, Denny Laine.

As a founding member of the Moody Blues, he first came to prominence singing lead on a tune that was previously recorded by Bessie Banks called "Go Now". He left the group in 1966. Most rock fans saw this multi-talented soul return to the spotlight when Paul McCartney asked him to join Wings in 1971, where he would remain until their dissolution in 1981.

While his term with Wings was indeed high profile, the material that he had recorded in the interregnum between leaving the Moodies and accepting McCartney's offer has largely gone unnoticed.

THE MISSING YEARS...

Laine formed the Electric String Band in late 1966, which included Trevor Burton (formerly of The Move) and drummer Viv Prince. Four classical players, Wilhelm Martin (violin), John Stein (violin), Clive Gillinson (cello) and Chris Van Campen (cello), were recruited to achieve his vision. Utilizing strings to play live, he also forged a sound that would be picked up in earnest by ELO when they formed out of the remnants of The Move in the early seventies. Though mainstream success eluded them in their short time as a functioning unit, they did manage to commit material to tape that was released in the form of two singles.


"Say You Don't Mind" was the first and it is extremely fine. Denny performed the song on early Wings tours, though you can hear the original 45 right here. As a record, it is definitely bathed in the psychedelic production values of 1967, though the tune is pretty strong. Laine's vocal is immaculate and the chord progression has some very intricate twists. John Paul Jones handled the string arrangement.



"Too Much in Love" was the second try, appearing in early 1968.



Curiously, there is more locked in the vaults from this timeframe. Produced by Denny Cordell, "Why Did You Come" was slated to be the third single but never saw the light of day. Thanks to their appearance on John Peel's radio program in October of '67, you can now have a listen. Similarly, another lost composition ("Guilty Mind") is presented from the same show. For those who are not acquainted with this phase in Laine's career, it would be a revelation to see these tracks re-mastered and brought into the 21st century marketplace. Better still if there were more quality gems from these sessions in the can, waiting to be dusted off and properly issued.





Opportunities missed, Electric String Band had a series of lineup changes before passing into the mists of time, with Laine disbanding them for good in February 1968.

While he is still plying his trade, recording and gigging, it is a shame that many more listeners haven't been exposed to his music. Deservedly, he should be recognized for his pioneering work from the late sixties.

Find out more about Denny Laine here

Sunday, November 16, 2014

JUDAS PRIEST



SIN AFTER SIN

Definitely brings back many hazy memories of high school. Occasionally, side one of this disc would be in rotation in my "soundtrack to pass out for the night routine". Worked like magic, too. "The Last Rose of Summer" provides a lush, soft landing pad for that gelatinous mass of chemicals and electric impulses, settled into a groove on the pillow as it ends your programming day.

It's a phenomenal song, with a touch of Hendrix and the peerless vocals of Rob Halford. Unfairly, it has often been panned as a "Rain Song" rip-off. Have a listen and see why it stands up.



Third album from the "metal gods" and it is a truly fine offering, balanced on the precipice of the sound that they would soon fully embrace and scorch many devoted eardrums with. Roger Glover's production is clean and punchy, playing up the strengths of all involved, with an attack that's fairly advanced for 1977. The group did have "exploding drummer syndrome" so the drum stool was filled here by nineteen year old Simon Phillips, who would go on to become a top class session man. His credits are astounding as is his work on this set.

Honed to perfection, the twin guitar mathematics of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing raise the game on a strong set of songs. "Sinner" and "Dissident Aggressor" are standouts, though, as with the bulk of their material, they rarely forgot to employ melodies with the mayhem. Those that have written them off really need to take another listen. Halford should get far more credit than he has, as he is a fantastic singer.

"Starbreaker" from Tokyo in 1978. Les Binks on drums. He was an excellent musician and writer but quit after only two years with the group. He didn't explode, though he takes a nice solo here.



What should have been the closing track? Their ingenious reworking of Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust". Worth mentioning that this song, inspired by Bob Dylan, is covered so well by a band that was named for one of his songs ("The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest")



Priest would soon undergo a wardrobe change and enter the 80's as a much heavier entity. "Sin After Sin" is an excellent piece of plastic and ranks with the best of their seventies releases.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

THE SOFT PARADE



Produced over months of arduous sessions, the $100,000 wet dream that became The Soft Parade was universally panned when it first appeared in 1969. Don't believe for a second that this is simply The Doors buried in "101 strings", though. Jim Morrison would slip into the vocal mannerisms of Frank Sinatra (in places), adding a crooner's voice to their most adventurous music to date. Imagine these tunes drifting from the radio of a '63 Pontiac Laurentian. Don't feel too bad about passing over this disc, as you had probably heeded the warnings of those critics and fans who just didn't care for the contents.

This is actually a very solid record.

Please, please listen to me children

Morrison's contribution is slight on this outing. Waning interest in the group dynamic, Herculean consumption of alcohol and various film projects claimed more of his calendar time than did the business of writing songs. When he did engage, some memorable imagery emerged ("Wild Child", "The Soft Parade"). Robbie Krieger stepped up to fill the compositional gap, though his lyrics were more conventional. Listeners who had become accustomed to the inventive wordplay that had heretofore graced their LPs noticed the variance, contributing to the split personality that presents itself here. You can easily pick out the Krieger penned material as all are augmented by strings or brass. Densmore and Manzarek were intent on bringing jazzier touches to the table, encouraging the experiments with an expansion of their soundscape. "Tell All the People" is heralded by epic fanfare. Reportedly, Jim took issue with the "Can't you see me growing/Get your guns" line, refusing at first to sing it. Sounding nothing like what had come before, this smart opener must have been quite a shock to those who were conversant with the first three albums. They offer a stripped down version here, filmed for "PBS Critique".



The main engine of the band is never sublimated by the layers, with "Touch Me" being the most successful integration of the two worlds. Curtis Amy's Coltrane-dipped sax freakout is stunning, powered by the core instrumentalists pushing the intensity well to the limit. "Shaman's Blues" and "Wild Child" are classic Doors, while "Easy Ride" is fun and slightly reminiscent of Elvis' Sun period.

Not enough mention is made of the tasteful instrumental contributions made by Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore. They sounded like no one else of that time period, with no nods to British psychedelia or the West Coast bands that had a decidedly multi-colored vibe. Darker themes were often explored without hesitation, which would long keep their music in the purview of subsequent generations.

Stylistically diverse, this collection probably threw off listeners looking for some revelation or profundity that Morrison must have hidden within the grooves somewhere.

YOU CANNOT PETITION THE LORD WITH PRAYER!!!!

Though you can return to this thoroughly enjoyable set regularly. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, it never wears out its welcome.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

VINYL REDUX

Seano over at Circle of Fits always turns out thought provoking, incredibly well written posts. This one is no exception. For all of you who have collected, worshipped and spun the black circle. Read and enjoy

Thursday, July 31, 2014

FORGOTTEN MUSIC THURSDAY-SKIP SPENCE'S OAR



Absolutely bare-bones, lovely, unfinished, ethereal, ragged, uplifting and heartbreaking all apply to Oar, the lone solo recording by Alexander "Skip" Spence. He was at the epicenter of the San Francisco music scene in the mid-sixties, playing drums on the first Jefferson Airplane disc and co-founding Moby Grape, who made a stunning debut album and then imploded with Spence in the middle of the fray.

It is not the function of this humble forum to make comment on the tribulations of individuals who saw rough times. Mr. Spence did indeed have more than his share of adversity, though it does not detract from his obvious talent. He was a musical "all-rounder' who could play just about anything that he picked up, a great performer and first rate songwriter.

The tale of how Oar was conceived and recorded is well worth your time, as is the album itself. Following six months of recovery in a mental health facility, Spence emerged with a desire to get his latest compositions on tape. There are many corners of the internet that you may explore to flesh out the rest of the story.

"Little Hands" was the opener...



Should you be interested, seek out this disc, keeping in mind that you are in for a challenging but rewarding listen. This is primarily because he followed his instincts and let the songs flow naturally with no attempts to pander to the prevailing trends of that era. These are the sketches of a great artist, who was not given the opportunity to reach a wider audience in his time, as he was a few steps ahead of the curve. Released with no promotional help in 1969 on Columbia Records, Oar sold a very modest amount of copies before being quietly removed from consideration for further pressing. All of this took place in the space of one year and this disc did not come back into circulation until it appeared on CD in 1991. Still considered a curio, this is forgotten music that subsequent generations have rediscovered (and covered).

Beck, Wilco and Leslie Feist cover "Little Hands", giving Mr. Spence some much deserved love. He would have likely been quite thrilled to hear this.

Record Club: Skip Spence "Little Hands" from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

SLASH AND THE CONSPIRATORS JULY 11TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST



Pure, unadulterated adulation greeted Saul Hudson and his mates as they appeared to dispense good will and face-melting solos to the thousands that had gathered around the Bell Stage last Friday evening.

Saul Hudson?

Slash!

With ever-present Les Paul slung low and leather "topper" balanced perfectly on his head, the fret-burning legend ripped an ultra-tight, 11 song set, abetted by his Conspirators. Leading off with "Ghost" from his 2010 solo disc, the band burned with the intensity of a blast furnace, though it was vocalist Myles Kennedy who was most impressive throughout. His operatic vox were nothing less than a masterclass in jaw dropping technique, especially as he tackled several Guns and Roses classics and didn't seem to break a sweat in doing so.

Highlights? Pretty much every tune, though "Anastasia" was noteworthy for some very tasty flamenco style runs that the star of the show played on a custom double neck. Throwing "Slither" into the mix (from Velvet Revolver) was an inspired choice, too.

Predictably, the opening salvo of "Sweet Child of Mine" elicited the most frantic response from the crowd. One guy's head actually exploded within seconds of hearing the intro.

But that's how it goes at these rock'n'roll shows...

Slash's fluid playing remains very fine and he seemed to gain energy from Kennedy's note perfect delivery. "Paradise City" closed out the proceedings, complete with flaming telepaths, apocalyptic riffing (courtesy of Sabbath's "Zero the Hero"), ten thousand killer bees performing the Minute Waltz channeled through the stacks and one hell of a finish.

Brevity being the soul of wit, the lads disappeared leaving everyone with a taste for more.

You are well advised to catch Slash and his devastating guitar tone in the act if he's in your neighbourhood this summer.

BLONDIE JULY 10TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST



Blondie always conjures up odd memories for me. When "Heart of Glass" was issued as a single back in 1979, my sister secured a copy of the 45, which was played endlessly. The B-side was a tune called "11:59". This is only significant because my main recollection of that song is hearing it drifting in from our living room while deathly ill in bed with a fever and hallucinating. The cast of The Beverly Hillbillies were all dancing wildly to the tune in the corner of my room. Granny played that cool keyboard solo and Ellie May sang lead...

Who needs TV when your brain is frying inside of your skull?

Celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2014, Blondie graced the Claridge Stage of Ottawa Bluesfest on Thursday night and played a spirited set, featuring music that spanned several eras with some surprise covers tossed in to keep things interesting. Deborah Harry, Chris Stein and Clem Burke are the only members left from their initial rise to prominence in the late 70's. Burke gets special mention here for his amazing energy behind the kit, with sticks twirling, launched high into the air and his devastating attack on the skins. He propelled the band in style, giving an added spark to the overall performance. Chris Stein virtually hid behind perpetual shades, taking his place close to the drum riser and holding down rhythm guitar. I would not have been shocked if he had unfurled a newspaper and taken the opportunity to get some light reading in as his bandmates carried on with the business of playing the gig.

At the centre of it all was Ms. Harry, still in great voice and capable of delivering the goods.

Opening with "One Way or Another", they quickly engaged the crowd who immediately responded euphorically. Wanting to avoid coming across as simply a nostalgia act, the focus turned to new material from their most recent disc, Ghosts of Download. Released in May, it didn't seem as if many in the audience were familiar with these tunes. Kudos to the group for sticking to the plan, though it seemed that those assembled started to disengage, despite a fantastic version of "Call Me" that was strategically placed amongst the contemporary fare. Speaking of which, I really enjoyed "Rave" and "Mile High" and will further investigate the new album.

Long before No Doubt and similar aggregations synthesized reggae/pop/hiphop/dance with rock, Blondie was exploring all of these avenues. "Rapture" is a classic example of this and when they played it, people started to become animated once again. They managed a minor coup by running it into the Beastie Boys' "Fight For Your Right (to Party)". This and "Heart of Glass" won back the faithful and they were called back for an encore. "Dreaming" was well chosen and had everyone dancing and pumping their collective fists in the air.

Great show by an iconic band.

No "11:59", though.

Monday, July 14, 2014

COLLECTIVE SOUL JULY 13TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST

Anthemic radio staples (and smoke from many left-handed ciggies) filled the air around the Bell Stage tonight as Collective Soul brought the 2014 edition of Ottawa Bluesfest to a rousing close.

People went absolutely nuts for these guys...

Atlanta's favorite purveyors of heavy pop took the stage with Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle" as their soundtrack. In what was a very astute move, they tore into two brand new tunes from their yet to be released, See What You Started by Continuing album (due out in 2015). Frontman Ed Roland addressed the crowd after they peeled off "This" and "Are You the Answer" (both solid, by the way) joking that, "we wanted a captive audience for the new stuff and wouldn't want to see you guys to run off and take a piss after we played the hits..."

On that score, they did not disappoint, following through with the crunching stomp of "Heavy". Pacing the set with all of the monsters that have garnered consistent airtime on rock stations over their twenty years as a recording entity, the volume of the crowd grew in proportion to that produced by the five musicians.

Highlights included "December", "Gel", "Better Now" and an intense reading of "The World I Know" which featured a huge sing-a-long section. Roland made special mention of the fact that "Gel" was the first one that they recorded "as a band" as opposed to the building of songs through arduous tracking in the studio. One big factor that really came across was how much fun the lads were having onstage. That translated to instant rapport with everyone in attendance and some fun detours like the brief drum interlude ("We hate drum solos, but we love our drummer, Johnny Rabb") and a snippet of Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open the Door" that gave everyone a chance to exercise their vocal chords.

Ultra-tight, melodic rock and pop, great harmonies and giant hooks kept the love flowing right up to the encores.

Then it became outright obsession

"Shine" featured a decorative piano intro (nice touch) before the band landed like a ton of bricks on a box of cupcakes on the riff. From my spot, close to the front/center stage, the screaming from the fans was unbelievable. It was pretty exciting to be absorbed in the electric current that ran through the masses. "Run" was the closer, with each member of the group abandoning their instruments, one by one, coming out front with Ed to say goodbye, leaving their singer to strum his acoustic and let everyone serenade him into the wings.

It was a fitting end to ten days of excellent music and showmanship.

For me, it was an absolute pleasure to be asked to document some fine and memorable sets over the last week.

In turn, I have to thank two very talented, professional photographers who diligently framed the festival through their own special lenses: Marc DesRosiers, whose work you may check out at frontpagenews.ca and Mark Horton at ehlistimages.ca

Huge thanks to all of you who actually take the time to stop in here and read my scribblings. I have some backlogged Bluesfest reviews to post. Stay tuned for Blondie, Slash, Third Eye Blind and more in the next day or so.