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.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

PROCOL HARUM WITH THE NAC ORCHESTRA JULY 10TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST



Everyone should be reminded on a regular basis that they are exactly where they should be in their current position in the cosmos. This writer experienced that very sensation in glorious technicolor on Thursday night. Having mixed up the start times of the acts for the evening, I rushed to the festival grounds, only to arrive well ahead of schedule, though just in time for Procol Harum.

Quickly securing a spot up front, the next hour brought an almost indescribable joy that I am still drawing upon days after the event.

Lee Hayes' Vox Choir and the NAC orchestra flanked the group as they strode onto the Bell stage. Gary Brooker looked the proper English gent/elder statesman as he took his seat at the piano. Acknowledging the applause with a polite wave, he led his mates into "Homburg".

Before the superlatives flow, it's worth pointing out that the orchestral accompaniment was designed to provide the exact feel of their uniformly excellent album, Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, which was originally released in 1972. Having spun my vinyl copy at top volume many times, I could not believe my luck in being parked directly in front of the real thing.

Brooker is still possessed of a soulfully powerful voice, which soared over the collected instruments with great ease. Complimented by a perfect sound mix, the lovely melody of the opener was akin to crepuscular rays breaking through the clouds. "Simple Sister" came next, with strings and choir pushing it to another level. In a moment of self-depreciation, the singer/keyboardist talked of a time when his group, "rode in style to gigs, dined on the finest food and drank expensive wine. Now it's McDonalds and the bus." With that, the opening strains of "Grand Hotel" filled the air. Far from having a soporific effect on the adoring crowd, the beauty of the augmentation to the five piece band band was actually uplifting.

All hands on deck, we've run a float,
I heard the Captain cry.
Explore the ship, replace the cook,
Let no one leave alive...


Almost on cue, a pair of gulls floated above the stage as a note perfect rendering of "A Salty Dog" began to take shape. Majestic in execution, the epic tale from the pen of wordsmith Keith Reid came across quite literally as the music of vast horizons. Nothing short of a convoy of arriving UFOs could have prepared the audience for what followed. In place of the familiar Hammond organ intro to "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was the orchestra, faithfully reproducing this classic piece. When Brooker stepped in to sing the opening lines, the crowd erupted. This treatment was a masterstroke in arrangement, brought home forcefully when the quintet joined and steered the song back to more familiar territory.

As exhilarating as this was, Procol Harum saved the best for last.

With heartfelt thanks to all who had given their time and attention, Mr. Brooker raised his head, nodding toward the NAC conductor to strike up the startling wall of sound that heralded the closer, "Conquistador". Rounding out an impeccably timed set with an unbridled explosion of energy, the concert grounds were held in the grip of something magical that a more stripped down group of players would not have been able to match. Simply put, this was nothing less than the aural equivalent of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries", specially crafted by a very ambitious rock group and delivered with class to astonished group of Bluesfest attendees. Despite witnessing some very fine talent through the past week, this was far and away the most memorable show for me.

Grand in scale and substance, Procol Harum's presentation was by far the most ambitious undertaking of all.

Important to note that picture used here is the work of talented photographer, Mark Horton. His eye for detail is astounding and his photos have been featured in top publications around the world. Check out ehlistimages for more examples of his work.

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE-JULY 8TH OTTAWA BLUESFEST

Torrential rain did not deter fans of Queens of the Stone Age, who waited patiently in front of the Claridge Stage for skies to clear. Following a short delay, the band counted off "You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar but I Feel Like A Millionaire" under the friendly arc of a double rainbow. This natural phenomenon was the perfect "feel good" complement to a spectacular performance. Leaving no dead air, they next dove headlong into "No One Knows", which pumped crowd adrenaline exponentially. This was a wise selection early on, being one of their most recognized tunes. Josh Homme had a mandate to initiate the faithful with selections from last year's Like Clockwork disc, though they smoked and burned in familiar territory first.

"My God Is The Sun" was the first of five songs from the latest album to be unleashed in their 15 song set. This sentiment was doubtlessly shared by those patient souls who had braved the rain. Noteworthy here is the genius of the writing, as their material comfortably welds strong melody with scorching heaviness. The group harmonies in support of Homme's lead vocals were tightly deployed amidst the maelstrom of sonic power that the quintet delivered. These guys spread a highly contagious case of head-banging that resonated out from the stage, across Le Breton Flats and into the living areas of nearby residents. I wouldn't be surprised if these people downed tools, started kicking over furniture and playing air guitar in their living rooms.

This one goes out to all the ladies

By the time that "Make It With Chu" was rolled out, there was a mass of vertical movement all around. It was also announced that bassist Michael Shuman was celebrating his birthday which garnered an ovation and a raucous, shambolic rendition of Happy Birthday from the audience. Homme had very kind words to offer to the organizers of Bluesfest, advised the crowd to keep their day jobs and mused that, "now it was time to just go with the flow..."

Only a comatose individual would have failed to pump their fist into the air as "Go With the Flow" and "A Song For the Dead" destroyed everyone in attendance, the latter featuring a huge drum crescendo. This is the soundtrack for apocalyptic invasion. Still vital, creative and one of the highlights of the live, 2014, Jimi Hendrix Ottawa Bluesfest Experience, this was a most stellar show.

If Queens of the Stone Age happen to be in your area code this summer, steal the money for tickets and get out and see them.