Saturday, December 29, 2012

THE BEATLES LIVE IN ATLANTA AUG 18 1965


Just a few days into their second US tour, The Beatles rolled into Atlanta to play to 34,000 people. Opening the trip with their famous Shea Stadium performance to an estimated 56,000 screamers, not a note could be heard over the din.

Atlanta Stadium would be different because of one key factor: Baker Audio, and its Georgia Tech-educated boss, F.B. “Duke” Mewborn. Mewborn handled sound for the show, and his set-up included something that every bar band uses today but was unheard of in the mid sixties.

Monitors

“There were no monitors anywhere else on earth at that time,” said Red Wheeler, a legendary Atlanta rock and roll sound man, now living in Vidalia.

Aiming speakers back toward microphones just wasn't done because of the shrieking feedback loop that would ensue. Mewborn got around this by employing cardioid mics which had a restricted pattern that rejected ambient sound coming from the sides or below. For special events at the stadium Baker had included four Altec 1570 field-level amplifiers, each cranking out about 175 watts of vaccuum tube-powered juice, or about 500 watts in all. These he used to power two stacks of Altec A7 speakers, each with 15-inch woofers.

Never before had the Beatles been able to hear what they were playing onstage. The show includes a couple of between-song remarks from both Paul and John concerning the sound. They were probably pleasantly surprised at having a frame of reference in terms of what was being projected out front. Despite this luxury, the age of modern sound technology in large venues was still a few years away. The degree of shoddiness with which the group had to cope with for these big gigs would never be tolerated today. It certainly influenced their decision to quit touring the following year.

The Atlanta show is a step down in fidelity from the Hollywood Bowl tapes but it is an interesting listen. As with all of their shows from this period, the crowd noise is on par with a 747...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

PRESENCE


According to Greek mythology, Achilles was dipped in the river Styx to make him immortal. His mother held him by the heel, however, leaving it vulnerable. Paris would pierce that weak spot with a swift, deadly release of a poison arrow from his bow (guided by Apollo), mortally wounding him. In another version, he was killed by a knife to the back (or heel) by Paris. A great battle raged around the dead Achilles. Ajax held back the Trojans, while Odysseus carried the body away.

Claustrophobic, foreboding shifts between Em9th and F#m(add b6)slowly creep into the stereo image under a fog courtesy of Page, fading into proper sonic focus before the haze is pierced by Bonham's single, authoritative crack on the snare.

This is not a polite tap of the conductor's baton on the rostrum. It is an urgent call to attention. What follows is a brilliant, uneasy 10 minute journey that could very well be their finest moment on record. "Achilles Last Stand" is the centerpiece of a most under-appreciated disc.

Something is wrong, though.

Hitherto, Zeppelin long-players were extremely diverse in terms of style, mood and arrangement. Each member deeply understood dynamics and their telekinetic musical interplay was a key factor in how they successfully put across ideas to a wide audience. Keyboards, acoustic guitars and synths were always welcome. For every "Communication Breakdown" or "Heartbreaker" there was a soft landing pad to be found, with tracks like "That's the Way" or "Going to California".

Presence would do away with this. Prospective listeners applying the stylus to vinyl, encircled by a cloud of opaque smoke would find no soothing "Bron Y Aur" to counterbalance heavier motifs. John Paul Jones stretching out on keyboards? Nowhere to be found.

Without augmentation of any sort, the musicians conveyed the unspoken intensity of the delicate, difficult circumstances that clouded the sessions. Robert Plant and his wife were in a car crash while on holiday in Greece which shattered his leg and ankle. Instead of touring the US, Plant and Jimmy Page wrote the material for Presence, recording in Munich, Germany with Plant confined to a wheelchair.

Page outdid himself, overdubbing a dozen guitar tracks. Jones was a one man, low end orchestra on 8-string bass, while Bonham contributed a relentless foundation with fills that defied gravity.

"There were basically two sections to the song when we rehearsed it. I know John Paul Jones didn't think I could succeed in what I was attempting to do. He said I couldn't do a scale over a certain section, that it just wouldn't work. But it did. What I planned to try and get that epic quality into it so it wouldn't just sound like two sections repeated, was to give the piece a totally new identity by orchestrating the guitars, which is something I've been into for quite some time. I knew it had to be jolly good, because the number was so long it just couldn't afford to be half-baked. It was all down to me how to do this. I had a lot of it mapped out in my mind, anyway, but to make a long story short, I did all the overdubs in one night ... I thought as far as I can value tying up that kind of emotion as a package and trying to convey it through two speakers, it was fairly successful. To be honest with you, the other guys didn't know: 'Has he gone mad? Does he know what he's doing?' But at the end of it, the picture became clear. It was like a little vignette, every time something comes around."

Plant's clever references to the mythical Atlas were doubly interesting as the the Atlas mountains had loomed large in his recent travels and also could be perceived to hold the heavens in place. Relating his own injury to the plight of the mythical Achilles showed that his sense of humor was still intact. The overall effect of this piece of music is stunning. Setting the bar quite high as an opener, the remaining cuts are somewhat overshadowed.

One thing that sets Presence apart from the rest of the Zep's output is that its contents have not saturated the playlists of classic rock radio, which is a definite plus.

For the uninitiated, there is certainly nothing bad etched into these grooves. Elements of past LP formulas are present in that you have a slow, minor key blues ("Tea For One") a muscular, rock arrangement of 1920s blues("Nobody's Fault But Mine") and an epic (the aforementioned "Achilles Last Stand"). Sprinkled in between, there is a detour into quasi-funk syncopation ("Royal Orleans") and Page's fixation with the music that so inspired him as a teen in the "Sun"-drenched "Candy Store Rock". Plant musters his best Elvis vocal mannerisms, though despite his "all-rights" there is a certain vibe in the music that contradicts this.

Then there's the matter of The Object...


Whether you're having a family dinner at the yacht club or simply trying to communicate telepathically with one of your kids, this decorative piece is sure to compliment all occasions.

Lots to dig here if you are a guitarist. Whammy dive bombing on "For Your Life", the "Tea For One" solo and the tasty breaks in "Hots on For Nowhere" all shine brightly. Cynicism creeps into the lyrics in spots, which certainly hadn't been a factor before. There is a slight feeling of having been there and done that groupie. Do what thou wilt transitions into the law of diminishing returns without warning and the sun comes up, yet again, on an all too familiar scene.

Whiskers!

Speed is the operative word in the case of Presence. Takes were captured quickly and left alone. Recording and mixing purportedly took a mere three weeks. It is an interesting snapshot, hastily glued into the Led Zep scrapbook. One worth taking in, nonetheless.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

RIP RAVI SHANKAR


Another great musician moves on to the next incarnation.

Sitar virtuoso Pandit Ravi Shankar was the Eddie Van Halen of his genre and his hands moved at blinding speed over the instrument. He was a product of the Maihar gharana (school) of Northern Indian classical music which was founded principally by the sarod maestro Ustad Allaudin Khan in the Madhya Pradesh state of India. A sitar can have 21, 22, or 23 strings, among them six or seven played strings which run over the frets. Ravi used the Kharaj-pancham sitar (which has seven played strings).


Through his association with George Harrison, he became world famous in the mid sixties. His was not a shallow pursuit of the limelight by any means. While he was prodigiously talented, musical expression was tied to deep spiritual beliefs.

This was his life.

Practicing for hours each day, it would have been unthinkable for him or his fellow students to go before an audience without having first put in the 10,000 hours required to be great.

Great is an understatement when it comes to his genius.

Shankar was one of a kind. Thanks to him, a large part of the western world has been turned on to the shimmering beauty of classical Indian music.

Here he is with Ali Akbar Khan, August 1971 at the Concert for Bangladesh, performing "Bangla Dhun". Again, it was at his urging that George Harrison took up the task of putting together a benefit to provide relief for refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), following the 1970 Bhola cyclone and the civil war-related Bangladesh atrocities.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

LENNON


32 years have passed since John Lennon left the planet for parts unknown. Like so many before and after who actively encouraged people to live peacefully, he would probably be frustrated by the continuing state of aggression that still clouds so many areas of the world. Perhaps he would look back and laugh at the wilder aspects of his public life, forgetting the rougher bits. Time may have also allowed him to mend fences with those he had fallen out with. Music? Good or bad, he would have made some more. The Anthology series would have also had a wild card in the pack to weigh in on all things Fab.

Per my own ritual at this time of the year, there will be a few adult beverages and some quality time spent with selections from his rich discography.



Thursday, November 29, 2012

DARK HORSE


Today marks the 11th anniversary of the passing of one George Harrison from the Material World into the next dimension. Still missed here by many.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

BURTON CUMMINGS AT MASSEY HALL


Friday night is a good rock'n'roll night, so here's some straight-ahead, no-brainer rock'n'roll music from the Guess Who days...

Burton Cummings has written some of the most thoughtful, melodic music ever to be unleashed on an unsuspecting public. Possessed of prodigious gifts as a singer, multi-instrumentalist, band leader and composer, he returns to the commercial arena with his latest offering, Massey Hall.

Capturing the excitement of live performance at a venue known for its fine acoustics, Cummings and his band deliver definitive versions of these songs. Better yet, this is not a nostalgia trip nor is there any sense that the star of the show is phoning it in. Newer tunes like "Above the Ground" shine just as brightly as the gems from the Guess Who era or his early solo work.

What you will quickly discern as you listen to this disc is just how damn fresh everything sounds.

His phrasing as a vocalist is impeccable. This is where he leaves a good deal of his contemporaries in the dust in terms of ability. The 21st century crutch of pitch correction software isn't needed when you bring a rare gift to the stage and present it to an audience. Sonically crisp with energy to spare, everything here works like a Swiss watch.

Highlights?

"Hand Me Down World" is particularly grand, giving Kurt Winter's prescient take on legacy items that we leave for the next generation additional weight. It is a pristine rendition that manages to best the original from the Share the Land album. "Stand Tall" is another exceptional moment, though the same can be said for every selection here. Personally, I'm glad that he included "Star Baby" in the set list. Beautifully executed in all respects, Massey Hall is a must own for anyone who fears for the impoverishment of truly great live music.

Performing without a net, Burton Cummings continues to amaze and this release is deserving of every superlative. Don't have it yet? Grab it here




Monday, October 29, 2012

LED ZEP THE SECOND


Leaves are falling all around, It's time I was on my way.
Thanks to you, I'm much obliged for such a pleasant stay.
But now it's time for me to go. The autumn moon lights my way...


Fall of 1969 saw a string of incredible rock albums unleashed within a span of two months (Abbey Road, Arthur, Let It Bleed, Hot Rats, Willy and the Poor Boys, Ummagumma to name a few) Led Zeppelin added a monster to this distinguished list when their second album was issued in late October.

43 years gone...

Have been listening to them a lot of late. Watching the leaves being plucked from the trees by chilly autumn winds always conjures images of Zep II. Here's a re-run of my review from 2009

Just because.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

LONG TIME COMING


Pleasant surprises abound with this collection of very well crafted tunes, courtesy of Rod Delcourt and Wendell Wilson. You are well advised to first go to this link and take up their generous offer to download the disc, free of charge. This is akin to leaving precious gems on the front lawn for the taking.

What will you find here?

Exceptional melodies, well defined, country-folk tinged songs that are sonically sharp and very easy on the ears. Special mention goes to the warm recorded sound of acoustic guitars as well as the great vocal blend of the duo.

Pristine in every way, "It's Only Love" is framed by impeccably picked acoustics with the world weary authority of the lead vocal wrapped in sweet harmonies. Subtle, earthy tones echo the work of the late, great Gene Clark. High praise indeed, though this is a standout track.

Invention colors the set, in terms of how guitar figures are plotted ("Lost", "You Said") though they never lose sight of the hook. More importantly, the iron clad harmonies always tie things together neatly and they have a well-honed sense of presentation. None of the material on Long Time Coming overstays its welcome, with all possible loose ends taken care of in the overall mix. Thoughtful lyrics only serve to ice the cake.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable listen in all respects. You will not be assaulted by miles of over-playing or self-indulgence. On the contrary, the sounds will gently work their way into your head, begging to be played again. It is a pity that more mainstream artists are not following the lead of indie acts in getting away from the clanging, artificial noise of the digital realm. This disc is a quiet reminder of just how powerful raw talent can be as opposed to the button-pushing trappings of software-driven "product".

Do yourself a favor and put Long Time Coming at the top of your playlist.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

CHUCK BERRY AT 86


Rock 'n' roll poet, guitarist, singer, legend.

He has had his share of personal troubles, career peaks/valleys, legal hassles and has a well-founded reputation as being "difficult" to work with. Despite all of this, the guy is a survivor, still doing gigs (!) and is one of the founding fathers of rock as we know it.

Chuck Berry was born on this date in 1926.

May he duck-walk into his nineties!





Sunday, October 07, 2012

ABACAB: GENESIS REINVENTED


For Genesis fans who discovered the band as it had emerged in the early seventies, the departure of Peter Gabriel is considered to be an event from which the group never fully recovered. While the quintet made some great music, the level of acclaim for their efforts was restricted to a much smaller audience at that time. Emerging from the background, drummer Phil Collins stepped into the open lead vocalist slot, sounding not unlike Gabriel early on. Contrary to what their detractors had to say, the musicians' creative continuity remained intact and their commercial fortunes increased.

Within two years, guitarist Steve Hackett also made his exit.

AND THEN THERE WERE THREE

Showing no sign of distress, the trio of Banks, Rutherford and Collins closed out the seventies on a high note, making two albums that certainly rank amongst their best. For touring purposes, they were augmented by two gifted players, drummer Chester Thompson and guitarist Darryl Stuermer. A shift away from long form pieces began at this point, with Collins now taking up more of a share in the writing duties. Coming together to devise a follow up to Duke in 1981, there was one prevalent theme that dominated the sessions.

Change

Several factors led them down the path that would influence the making of their eleventh disc. All three men had recently indulged in solo recordings, each enjoying the opportunity to stretch out and do something outside of the expected. Surprisingly, Collins would score in a big way with the Face Value LP and the single "In the Air Tonight".

Phil had also played on former bandmate Peter Gabriel's third release(self-titled like the first two, distinguished by "melting face" cover art), thus forging the infamous gated drum sound, abetted by Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham. Both this innovation and Padgham would figure prominently in the next phase of their development.

Seemingly energized by their recent extracurricular endeavors, they now regrouped to jam and quickly discovered that they were fed up with sounding like...Genesis.

What happens to a band when they no longer wish to play to type?

ANOTHER RECORD

Any sonic reference to what they had done previously now went out the window. Even the design chosen for the sleeve was a 180 degree turn from the past, consisting of random blotches of color.

Abstract-acab!

Catchy melodies, in-your-face drums, horns, icy synthesizers, repetitive riffs on loops and drum machines all took center stage. The result was entirely worthwhile with a few concessions to those who favored their progressive ideas ("Dodo/Lurker") but served to underscore their growing commitment to a more straight ahead pop/rock format("Abacab", "No Reply At All").

Tony: "We tried to make our writing process ... more straightforward. So we got rid of the big choruses and the keyboard solos aiming to hone everything down.“

Phil saw another aspect: "From Duke on, we wrote more as a unit. On Abacab, we brought in one song each and after that there were no individual songs. This gave Genesis a genuine reason to carry on besides the solo careers."

Balancing "art" with accessibility would see a lot of their older followers check out in disgust. Many more flocked to the band, digging the new direction. Had they not moved forward, Genesis probably would have called it off at this point. No less than four singles were issued, with the title song charting high on both sides of the Atlantic. "No Reply At All", with a nimble Rutherford bass line that saw him running high up the fretboard where the air gets thin, also had a super strong hook line supported by the razor sharp Earth, Wind and Fire horn section. Radio loved it, providing maximum airplay.

Of the remaining two 45s, "Keep It Dark" rides high on a memorable guitar figure, underpinned by Collins' relentless, steady thump which was itself was looped and supported by clanging percussive effects. It is the lyric that deserves special mention, as it is one of the most fully realized in the set. Concerning a man who is abducted by aliens, he cannot reveal where he went or the wonders he saw for fear of being ridiculed. Instead, he invents a story that he was kidnapped for money and let go when he's found to have no great fortune to extract. An excellent song in every respect. Spent quality time with ETs? Keep it dark, mate.

"Man On the Corner" prefigures the eventual transition of Phil Collins from prog-rock drummer/vocalist to one of pop's biggest hit-makers of the 1980s. Heralded by a simple drum program and keys that provide the refrain immediately, this hidden gem from side two builds to an emotional crescendo before it fades.

You also get a glimpse of the treacle-laden ballads that Collins would soon churn out with regularity, assuring him massive mainstream success and cries of "sellout" from the old guard. All of this was still a couple of years away for Phil, though.

Abacab still found room for multi-part works that took a strange turn. Witness the rich, keyboard driven fantasy of "Dodo/Lurker" with the sublime bordering on nonsense for subject matter and a treasure trove of inventive organ and synth wizardry from Banks. All is nicely balanced, with Collins affecting some odd vocal mannerisms. "Me and Sarah Jane" is another one that stretches out, replete with a multitude of chord, key signature and timing shifts, yet there is still a terrific melodic sense at its core. For anyone who might think that any of these selections ("Abacab" included) run long, I invite you to velcro yourself to a chair and sit through "Supper's Ready" or "The Battle of Epping Forest" from the Gabriel era. The lads are pretty concise here by comparison.



One point on which Genesis devotees from any era could find common ground on is the sheer existence of the lone clunker here, "Who Dunnit?" It is an excruciating ear-worm which in no way should have been allotted 3 minutes and 25 seconds of space to annoy prospective listeners.

Curiously, they did have a few tunes in the can from these sessions which could have been readily substituted. Instead they were packaged the following year as part of the 3 X 3 EP.


That cover remind you of anything?

Two EP cuts, "Paperlate" and "You Might Recall" would have greatly enhanced the finished LP, with "Who Dunnit?" making for a nice joke B-side instead.

That all being said, Abacab was a pretty brave move for these guys. Quite calmly, they resolved to turn their back on the legacy they had built, raise a giant middle finger up to all and make a record that truly pleased them. There is no middle ground here. Some crowds roundly booed the material when they first played it live. As previously mentioned, others flipped and swore off the band for good. I was introduced to this one through a friend who gave me a very clean cassette version that he made from his older brother's vinyl copy. It made a huge impression on my then 14 year old brain, right from the opening crash into the hypnotic title track. This is art/rock with pop leanings at its finest. Has it held up well?

You bet!



POSTSCRIPT

It must be stated that their partnership with engineer Hugh Padgham paid handsome dividends in terms of how sharply defined their sound became. Padgham had worked with XTC and The Police, bringing with him a fresh energy into the recording sessions. Drums to the fore in the mix to make them sound more vibrant was but one of the tricks that made the new stuff seemingly leap from the speaker grills. He would remain an integral part of the team for their next two projects, both of which were wildly successful despite dwindling artistic merits.

For those who like to dig deeper, there is a great bootleg (Abacab-Complete 2nd Edition) that captures material excised from the final master, including a third section to "Dodo/Lurker" called "Submarine".

By the way, what the hell is an Abacab?

Let's allow Mike, Phil and Tony the final word on that.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

THE KINGSTON SPRINGS


The Kingston Springs have just independently released their debut full-length album, aptly titled, The Kingston Springs, TODAY. To hear the album in full, stream it on Soundcloud.

Check out the first single, "Lowest of Animals". The track was inspired by the Mark Twain essay, "The Lowest Animal", and features Nashville gospel/soul singer LaShanda Evans on background vocals. It's a great tune. Another highlight is "Weight of This World". Overall, I'm really digging everything that I have heard so far.



So where can you purchase The Kingston Springs?

It is available online through iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, Zune, Rhapsody, Bandcamp ,etc.) and at select record stores today. The album is also available to stream on Spotify.

The band performed at Starry Nights Music & Arts Festival this past weekend in Bowling Green, KY with Cage the Elephant, The Whigs, JEFF The Brotherhood, Manchester Orchestra, and more. The Kingston Springs are opening for Trampled By Turtles at Lightning 100's upcoming Live On The Green, this Thursday, October 4 in Nashville, TN. The band will also perform at CMJ in New York City on October 19.

Current tour schedule is below, with more dates being booked:

Sept 28 - Midpoint Music Festival - Cincinnati, OH
Sept 29 - Starry Nights Music Festival - Bowlling Green, KY
Oct 4 - Live on the Green - Nashville, TN
Oct 5 - High Watt (Marcus & Colvin Soundland Showcase) - Nashville, TN
Oct 9 - JJ's Bohemia - Chattanooga, TN
Oct 10 - Preservation Pub - Knoxville, TN
Oct 11 - The Basement / Graveyard Tavern - Atlanta, GA
Oct 12 - Georgia Theater - Athens, GA
Oct 13 - Fall for Greenville - Greenville, SC
Oct 19 - Official CMJ Showcase @ Fat Baby - NYC
Oct 22 - Brooklyn Bowl - NYC
Oct 25 - The Evening Muse - Charlotte, NC
Oct 27 - The Satellite Bar & Lounge - Wilmington, NC

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

LORDY, LORDY...


Black Sabbath Vol. 4 was released on this date, forty years ago.

Hit it, fellas!



The disc itself is a great listen and has long been a personal favorite of mine. Not sure how much I had to drink when I originally wrote this review but you can read it here.

Enjoy!

Worthy of mention: I have a Korean vinyl copy of Vol. 4 that sports a blue monochrome cover photo of Ozzy, instead of the familiar orange. No gatefold either.

I'm sure that everyone who reads this useless bit of trivia will sleep fitfully tonight.

Except for insomniacs and people who harbor extreme feelings of guilt about disturbing acts from their past.



Monday, September 17, 2012

ACE FREHLEY


Meet Paul "Ace" Frehley, rock guitarist and former cosmopolitan raver. Back in the early 1970s, he and three friends had testified against some pretty high level bosses of the Cosa Nostra. To guarantee their safety, they were drafted into a music group that would sell truckloads of records and become world famous.

This sounds preposterous! How would such a plan involve anonymity?


I knew that you would ask.

The catch is that their faces would be covered in full makeup at all times, thus preventing them from being discovered. Real names would never be used. It was the perfect plan with no one ever suspecting that these iconic characters were part of the witness protection program.

They just needed a name.

KEEP IDENTITIES SUPER SECRET was a tad too long for most marquees, so they settled on KISS...

Pretty good story so far, huh?


THE TRUTH

From their debut in 1974, KISS played straight ahead rock and roll, with no pretension involved. Combining larger than life stage personas with instant anthems made the kids go crazy and the KISS Army grew steadily. Becoming a brand as much as a band, they were a marketer's dream. 1978 would be the year of apotheosis for our grease-painted heroes. Two double albums (Alive II and Double Platinum) were issued in addition to four solo discs. Eight slabs of vinyl in one twelve month span!

Market duly flooded, this bit of KISStory brings us to the matter at hand.

ALL ACES

Ace Frehley had written a select few songs that found a home on their releases up to that point. Gene and Paul dominated the writing and along with Peter Criss, handled the majority of lead vocal duties.

So how would the Spaceman fare in the solo sweepstakes?

His offering outsold the other three by a wide margin.

Whether or not you are a fan of KISS shouldn't really enter the equation here, as this is an extremely strong set of tunes. Frehley tastefully handles just about every instrument, with the exception of drums. Dave Letterman's own Anton Fig admirably took care of that role, joined by bassist Will Lee on three tracks. The lyrics generally amount to tales of drinking ("Wiped Out"), driving at top speed ("Speeding Back to My Baby"), snorting coke ("Snowblind") and more drinking/drugging ("Ozone"). You need only read his biography No Regrets to confirm that he was merely chronicling his own wild, extracurricular activities during this period.

The words themselves are not the selling feature as they just capture highlights of the never-ending party. What is most impressive are the melodies and meticulous arrangements. This is a timeless motherfucker of a rock album, with a narcotic thrill injected into every note that metastasized during the process of its creation. Frehley wisely played to his strengths, deploying harmonized riffs against shimmering acoustic guitars, shifting time signatures, fret-slashing solos and very catchy hooks.

Surprisingly, he even cracked the top twenty singles chart when his cover of Russ Ballard's "Back in the New York Groove" got "forty-fived", attracting much radio play.

Considering the importance of the occasion, Ace stepped up to the mic with a degree of confidence. Personally, I would compare his distinctive singing style to that of Joe Walsh. Within the boundaries of the Eagles, Walsh would consistently upend the over serious Henley and Frey when handed a lead vocal. When Ace was given a spot to sing, his personality came across in identical fashion. Both enjoyed the excesses that rock stardom dumped on their respective lawns, liked a good laugh and kept a virtual "wink and a gun" present in their voices.

Can't beat a sense of humor, nor can you argue with a sick mind...

Bowing out with an instrumental, Frehley gives you a few minutes to contemplate the quality of the previous eight selections before deciding to listen again. Given the fact that everything is tightly edited with no filler, it's a safe bet that you will. Frehley had likely been sitting on some of these tracks for a bit. It is to his credit that he was able to properly document the party in progress without falling into the trap of overproduction and special musical guests. He would sporadically release some decent material after his departure from KISS, though nothing as solid as this.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

LED ZEP-CELEBRATION DAY


Good news for Led Zep fans!

As you may have heard, Led Zeppelin has been posting on their Facebook and Twitter accounts about a huge announcement coming today.

On December 10, 2007, Led Zeppelin took the stage at London ’s O2 Arena to headline a tribute concert for dear friend and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. What followed was a two-hour-plus tour de force of the band’s signature blues-infused rock ’n’ roll that instantly became part of the legend of Led Zeppelin. Founding members John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were joined by Jason Bonham, the son of their late drummer John Bonham, to perform 16 songs from their celebrated catalog including landmark tracks “Whole Lotta Love,” “Rock And Roll,” “ Kashmir ,” and “Stairway To Heaven.”

The film of Celebration Day will see a worldwide theatrical release by Omniverse Vision on 1,500 screens in over 40 territories on October 17. The theatrical screenings will follow premieres in London , Los Angeles , New York , and other major cities. Tickets for the public screenings will be available on September 13 via ledzeppelin.com.

Celebration Day will then be available in multiple video and audio formats on November 19 (just in time for Santa) from Swan Song/Atlantic Records. Specific product details will be announced soon.

LED ZEPPELIN: Celebration Day
Track Listing:

1. Good Times Bad Times

2. Ramble On

3. Black Dog

4. In My Time Of Dying

5. For Your Life

6. Trampled Under Foot

7. Nobody’s Fault But Mine

8. No Quarter

9. Since I’ve Been Loving You

10. Dazed And Confused

11. Stairway To Heaven

12. The Song Remains The Same

13. Misty Mountain Hop

14. Kashmir

15. Whole Lotta Love

16. Rock And Roll


Monday, September 10, 2012

SHADES OF PLAY


Taking up the guitar requires commitment and a passion for the instrument. Shades of Play is a fantastic new e-book that is perfect for beginners. It will also inspire those who already have a few chords down to build upon their existing skill set.

The Joy of Discovery

Bill Dubois and Mark Kuta have designed a smart, easy guide to the rudiments of the six string that combines instruction with insight and humor. The authors are naturally empathetic to the novice player, sharing their own motivational tips and tricks to keep the process of learning fresh. I had the great pleasure of contributing the foreward to this fine project. After years of playing, there's still so much to know and immense satisfaction when your technique improves.

Shades of Play is available now as a download through itunes and can also be purchased at Amazon.com

You can also check out the Shades of Play Facebook page.

Keep your fingers moving!

Monday, September 03, 2012

TIMOTHEOS-NEW DISC


ARRAKIS

Arrakis is the latest release from Timotheos, comprised of fourteen ambient music tracks inspired by Frank Herbert's 1965 sci-fi novel, Dune. Arrakis is the desert planet which is home to the spice "melange". the most valuable substance in the universe.


Timotheos
sets you up with a sonic companion piece to the rich fantasy world that Herbert so expertly created. There is much invention in these soundscapes, so take care to enjoy the textures. Combining austere, slow burning creations with busy synthetic outings, there is also heavier fare as the sudden guitar attack/feedback of "A Fold In Space" bears out. Feel free to revisit the book with this music as your guide.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

FORGOTTEN MUSIC THURSDAY-ILLEGAL STILLS


Following the creative triumphs that Stephen Stills had with his first solo albums, plus the excellent Manassas double set in 1972, he experienced a slight dip in commercial fortunes.

Bearing the weight of wearing too many ten-gallon hats (writing, production and financially carrying the operation), he dove into sessions for the second Manassas album. Down the Road did not have the spark of its predecessor and the group quietly disbanded.

After that, he rekindled his musical relationship with Crosby and Nash for a huge tour in 1974 (with Neil Young on board to put the Y back in the law firm), though the promise of a new record by the reunited quartet was blown out of the water due to battles in the studio. Allegedly, Stills took a razor blade to the master tape of "Wind on the Water", arguing with Nash about a single harmony part. Crosby and Nash decamped, returning to work as a duo.

New material was in short supply. Cocaine fueled Stills at this point, very nearly undoing the gifted musician. He certainly wasn't alone in his indulgences, however, the impact of the drug upon his creativity was negative.

Consequently, the follow up to Stephen Stills 2 took shape in piecemeal fashion over a period of several years. Featuring a staggering cast of contributing musicians, the tepidly received "Stills" was issued in June of 1975. Undaunted, "Stephen Stills Live" hit the marketplace at year end while he continued work on his next studio project.

1976 saw music trends shifting toward flabby soft-rock, watered down disco and a boatload of generic pop. The revolution had come and gone, with those left to fly the freak flag that had caught its first breeze in the sixties out of their element.
Business concerns overrode the constructs of the hippie dream, as state of the art, 48 track studio facilities cranked out product, performed in an antiseptic manner by faceless session crews. Passion, spark and energy were carefully edited out of final mixes in a vain attempt to attain recorded perfection.

Where would he fit in this equation?


Illegal Stills boasts a stripped down lineup, which is a plus. While production values are high with a fair amount of polish, the playing remains cohesive and inventive. Very much a collaborative effort, former Spirit guitarist Donnie Dacus plays the role of right hand in the process. Critics didn't quite warm to the final result, which is strange as the ingredients of this mason jar featured his familiar stylistic approaches (Latin flavored beats, blues, acoustic driven pop). The real reason for their indisposition was likely that there simply wasn't enough Stills etched into the final platter, though I'll touch on this point later.

Opening strong, "Buying Time" has Stills weaving lyrics around the theme of failed Nixon/Ford era economic policies. The music hits a deep groove with the rhythm section driving the tune (bassist George "Chocolate" Perry was a key addition to the band). When vinyl ruled, it was important to grab the listener as soon as the needle hit the playing surface. Incredibly infectious, the hook is vaguely reminiscent of "Love the One You're With".

Employing peerless vocals accompanied by immaculate acoustic guitar, "Stateline Blues" is another potent track. The LP version adds muted bass and drums with some slide to ice the cake.

Stating his business quickly, in a voice infused with world-weary soul, he nails it live on a tour stop in early '76.

Brevity is the soul of wit.




"Soldier" could have easily been lifted from the first Manassas LP. Melodic with a spicy, salsa-inflected bedrock and a "should have been a single" chorus, the block harmonies tie it all together. Doesn't overstay its welcome either. In a similar vein, "No Me Niegas" continues his love affair with Latin music, paying tribute with a subtle ease in a genre where many musicians fear to tread. Going to the well for a cover, Stills curiously chose "The Loner" out of the Neil Young songbook. The crew opts to attack it uptempo, though the arrangement lacks Young's signature bridging riff that separates verse and chorus. He takes liberties with the pre-verse guitar figure, too. Young fanatics may take exception to the tampering but it makes for an interesting listen, despite the differences.

What can be said about his partner in crime here?

Dacus has his share of fine moments ("Midnight in Paris", "Closer to You") bringing a smooth vocal delivery to his compositions and trading tasty licks with the boss. While talented in his own right, you get the feeling that he lacks the charisma/grit of the star of these sessions. Yet Stills depends on him to prop up his ideas, filling in the blanks where needed. Insert conversational marker here!

Closing out with straight ahead rock, "Circlin'" borrows its piano figure from Bad Company's "Run With the Pack" which was released just a scant two months prior. Illegal Stills indeed...

Now some fairly decent arguments have been put forward with regard to the merits of this record. There are some standout cuts, it is fairly well crafted and the playing is pristine enough to eat dinner off of. Despite these high points, it still lingers in the bin marked as "forgotten music".

Why?

When the proverbial second shoe clunks to the floor, we find Stephen Stills turning in work that is stellar in places and augmented by a junior partner in others. By no means are the contents poor. When inspired to take the wheel, he drives masterfully. It just seems that he dozed off for a bit in the back seat for parts of this project when he wasn't feeling particularly switched on. The lack of a hit single didn't help, either.

Remember kids: You can lead a horse to water, but the cow must get milked...


That being said, Illegal Stills contains enough intoxicants to make it worth drinking from. If you're a fan, find an inexpensive vinyl copy to enjoy.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

ROLL UP!

Magical Mystery Tour was the third Beatles movie, built up to be the television event of the 1967 Christmas season.

That was until people actually watched it.

Originally screened on BBC 1 in the UK on December 26, 1967, the film clocked in just shy of an hour. Though it was shot in color, the "Beeb" broadcast was in dreary black and white.

Reviews were decidedly unkind.

BBC 2 gave it a whirl in its intended color format a few days later, but the damage was already done. The music fared much better with the public. I didn't quite rate it as their finest hour (the original six song EP).

Plans to televise MMT in the US quickly went up in smoke. No proper North American theatrical release happened until the mid seventies and even that was limited. VHS copies began to surface in the eighties, long after it had pretty much gained status as a cult item. More folks had read about it than those who had seen this rare bit of Beatle history. By the nineties, both a laserdisc (1992) and DVD (1997) version hit the marketplace, coupled with The Beatles Anthology series, further raising the visibility of this former curio.

Here we are in 2012 and the Mystery Tour has been polished up/restored for worldwide DVD and Blu-Ray release on October 8th! The collectors edition may just be the version that I scoop up.




"Ladies and gentlemen, what you are about to see is the product of our imaginations and believe me, at this point they are quite vivid"


Nice PR talk track, Paul. "Mystery tripping out of our fucking minds on LSD" is more like it.

To be fair, while MMT is not Oscar worthy material, there are flashes of brilliance. Aunt Jessie's dream sequence is sadistic, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band performance with the stripper is bizarre (Viv Stanshall's Elvis inflected vocal is insane) and the visuals that accompany the soundtrack are pretty cool. How about that Busby Berkeley homage for the big finish?

Hey, the Bonzo's tune, "Death Cab For Cutie", even provided a shitty contemporary band with their name. So it's win-win!

There is a hint of the whimsy that the Python troupe would eventually bring to television, though it lacks the cerebral, comedic structure within the silliness. Containing a few laughs, two exceptional tunes ("Fool On the Hill" and "I Am the Walrus") and some wild editing, it is worth a look.

Don't you want to see this film now? Living in the golden age of YouTube allows for a sneak preview. Pack a bowl before you do, as everything will make much more sense.

Should you also happen to own a vinyl copy of MMT, grab it and hold the front cover up to a mirror.

A phone number will magically appear in the stars that spell out BEATLES.

Dial it up. I double dare you!

The person who answers will be waiting for your call...

Friday, August 17, 2012

BLADE OF GRASS- NEW VIDEO



Blade of Grass have an excellent new video for "Who You Gonna Run To". It's one of my favorite tunes by the duo, soon to become yours. You can support the guys and purchase this and three other selections from their Radio Sampler EP.

Great new music is out there, waiting to be discovered.

Check out their Facebook page to find out the latest on Blade of Grass.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD



BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD AGAIN

Constructed from fragmented sessions where the original five members rarely shared the same studio or any common ground, it is a wonder that the second Buffalo Springfield LP exists. Out of chaos, in-fighting and a large cast of contributors came their finest record.

Neil Young and Stephen Stills often had very different ideas about the creative direction of the group. Frequently clashing, their contributions to the set were mostly recorded separately. There were instances where they would chip in on instrumental or vocal parts for one another, though it was the exception rather than the rule.

Young's driving opener, "Mr. Soul", would be one of the few cuts where the quintet laid the track down together. Dewey Martin and Bruce Palmer come off like the Stax house rhythm section, pushing the beat while the guitars do an unmistakable variation of the "Satisfaction" riff. Purposefully vague, the lyrics seem to be an uneasy
reflection of the author's love/hate relationship with audience expectation.

In a while will the smile on my face turn to plaster?

Typically, Neil has avoided any analysis of the song. Like the majority of his work, it has held up quite well. The remake that he did 15 years later for Trans is nearly unrecognizable. He has expressed regret for adding further guitar overdubs to the original version. Stills had advised him that it was done. Young messed with it some more, yet he did not improve upon the initial take. This would be a lesson that he would take to heart soon after he had started playing with Crazy Horse: Get it down and move on.

Melodic sense and a sure touch with a tune benefit Stills' offerings. "Rock and Roll Woman" is the best of the pack in this vein and points in the direction of CSN (with David Crosby himself involved in backing vocals and co-writing). "Bluebird" is another standout, judiciously pared down from over eight minutes of extended jamming. It would become a highlight of their live shows with Stills/Young guitar wars adding to the excitement factor.



Country rock is spotlighted in Ritchie Furay's jaunty, "A Child's Claim to Fame", which was a veiled shot at Neil Young and his less than stellar commitment to the Springfield. James Burton adds dobro to this fine blueprint for the material that would comprise the first Poco album. Every selection on this disc brings with it a seismic shift in style. Another element that brings variety is guitar texture, which is utilized perfectly throughout. Just listen to the distorted, harmonized lick that kicks off "Hung Upside Down". Further evidence comes with the chiming acoustics on "Rock and Roll Woman" and the over-driven, angry frown of a note that cuts across the beginning of each verse of "Everydays". The soloing is mad, untamed.

In terms of return for effort, the thirty days of recording and mixing that eventually gave birth to "Expecting to Fly" were well spent. Written by Young and arranged by Jack Nitzsche, this stunning exercise bears the stamp of a Brian Wilson soundsscape filtered through Neil's special lens. Sunrise is evoked by that long opening note that flowers into a burst of strings just as the other instruments stumble in to support the verse. Nitzsche deserves special mention for bringing all of the components together that make this one so compelling. Geniuses working in tandem.

"Broken Arrow" is another haunting tune which loses points only for the overly cluttered, "kitchen sink" production job. Stills' harmonies on the chorus are stellar but some of the effects/tricks that precede each verse detract from the beauty of the melody. In the wake of Sgt Pepper, many ambitious recordings began to flood the market. This is a case where a re-think and some restraint would have been welcome. (especially that cheesy Take Me Out to the Ballgame organ snippet). There has been much conjecture about the meaning of the words, which some have construed as a rumination on major events up to that point in the sixties. Unfathomable is how I see it. To Native Americans, a broken arrow is a symbol of peace.

In retrospect, it's fairly easy to say that the main writers were charting the course for their own future projects. "Again" definitely benefits from the strong work that they turned in. Dropping "Sad Memory" and "Good Time Boy" to add another of Young's compositions would have added value to the overall presentation. Despite critical acclaim, commercial impact was slight. How this quietly beautiful work escaped record buyers at the time is a mystery. Perhaps if the personalities involved had worked harder to achieve a united front, they could have captured a larger audience.

Regardless, Buffalo Springfield Again stands as one of the premier releases of 1967, easily the equal of anything that was unveiled during that pivotal year.

Friday, August 03, 2012

KINKS AT THE BBC


August 13th is a date that fans of The Kinks should be truly excited about as it marks the release of Kinks at the BBC. This will hit the market in two formats: Five disc plus DVD box set and a stripped down, two CD package.

The Kinks were a top class British Invasion act who had a huge impact on both their contemporaries and subsequent generations of groups. At their peak, they were overshadowed by the giants of the era. The BBC sets will remind listeners of why they were so important.

More info, including track list can be found here

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

CROWDED HOUSE



TEMPLE OF LOW MEN

Popular music took an extremely unfortunate sonic detour into technocratic mediocrity in the eighties, with the advent of digi-crap, synth pads and annoying drum sounds. Worse still was the gratuitous amount of reverb that most of the productions of that period were drowned in.

Talentless dolts that never would have made it past a hailstorm of flying beer bottles toward the stage became liberated from such pesky tasks as playing their instruments, singing on pitch and in most cases, crafting a decent song. Crass commerce won the day, with dumb, day-glo videos distracting listeners from the fetid stench emanating from their speaker grills. This is really where things went horribly wrong with the so-called “music biz”, creating a very nebulous and disparate atmosphere that allowed many pretenders (all apologies to Chrissie Hynde) to clog the charts with more garbage than ever thought possible.

Thankfully, there were artists that chose to eschew the trappings of prevailing trends, writing and producing music that would escape the gravity of the era in which it first appeared.

If you asked me to bet on an individual who would make the top of the class as a contemporary pop tunesmith, I’d tell you that the smart money would be on Neil Finn.

Cutting his musical teeth as part of his older brother Tim’s band (Split Enz), Finn flowered as a writer, penning several of the group’s hits in the early eighties before that aggregation’s rotating lineup sputtered out. Following the Split Enz farewell tour, he and drummer Paul Hester joined forces with bassist Nick Seymour to form The Mullanes in 1985. Relocating to LA, Capitol records encouraged them to change their name to Crowded House. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” connected as a hit single from their self titled first LP in 1986, though it took some time before radio discovered it. Lucky it was, as listeners were treated to well crafted, edgy, melodic pop which owed a debt to the golden age of mid-sixties mixed with Finn's own particular vision.

Dark shadows loomed over the subject matter of his compositions for the immaculate follow up disc, Temple of Low Men. Forced to capitalize on the momentum gained from their first outing, Neil delivered under pressure.

Breaking the sophomore jinx has proved difficult for many bands, as the old saying rings true.

You have your whole life to write your first record and little or no time to produce the second one.

Produced by Mitchell Froom, who also contributed on keyboards, the disc contains none of the grating synths or clangy drum noises that were all the rage in the late 80’s. The decision not to obfuscate the end results with the shallow sounds of that time period proved to be wise, ultimately giving the material a much longer shelf life. Instead, great care was taken to capture warm, stripped down takes from the three instrumentalists (four with the addition of Froom) who played with taste and restraint, always in service of the song. All selections are thoroughly engaging with nary a note going to waste in the entire program.

Gelling as a trio, the musicians create an intimate soundscape, augmented by Froom's atmospheric parts. Spooky vibes permeate the opener ("I Feel Possessed"), with icy retro keyboard textures sweeping over a choppy, stop-start beat in the verses that perfectly complements the sentiments expressed in the lyric. Describing the claustrophobic element of an all consuming relationship succinctly, even when the musical tension snaps in the hooky chorus, the ominous fact remains.

I feel possessed when you come round

Touches of cynicism and introspection are everywhere, with the listener getting a sense that the author of these lines could be expressing serious doubts about newfound success, partnerships and a host of other possibilities. This desultory, minor-key unease is leavened by truly great melodies for which Finn has a natural touch. Humor, however black it may be here at times, is the other crucial ingredient in the successful blend of personalities within Crowded House. Paul Hester was generally the ringleader when it came to the infusion of silliness onstage or alleviating the "serious quotient" that often makes obligatory promotional interviews fairly joyless for entertainers.

Their skills at putting their material across in a minimalist fashion served them well.



"Kill Eye" comes across almost as a bizarre, lost White Album cut. Chord changes swirl over a dense, insistent pulse rife with extraneous noise. Easily one of the more experimental journeys taken on this sometimes nervous soundscape. Just as you think you're headed in one direction, the ride jolts abruptly and peels into a 180 degree turn. "Into Temptation" is an unsettling exploration of human weakness, painted so vividly that it caused the author's wife at the time to question the inspiration. The arrangement features mellotron parts flown in from twenty years in the past. They join soft acoustic guitars and brushed snare in a triumph of aching economy. To me, this ranks with Squeeze's "Tempted" and Lennon's "Norweigan Wood" in terms of evoking the raw emotion of remorse in the wake of infidelity.

Or something like that.

You laugh at yourself while you're bleeding to death

Chalking up another tale rife with bitter wit, "Mansion In the Slums" presents some of the most sarcastic lines on the album, though it is done with such melodic aplomb that they sneak by on first spin. Meditating on the age old traps of greed and ego, there is no preaching involved. The dark undercurrent is subtle, yet the message is delivered.

Who can stop me? With money in my pocket. Sometimes, I get it free. The best of both worlds.

The laughs just keep on coming, though it wins my vote for the stand out in a class of high achievers. "Better be Home Soon" scored as a single, though the enticing melody and heartfelt plea for the return of a love interest is tempered with dismissive ultimatums involving the fact that the author is "right" and may decide to bail even if the object of their desire does come back.



Strong contributions from everyone involved makes the hard medicine go down fairly easily. "Never be the Same" and "Love This Life" provide real bite without ever straying into turgid, humorless territory. One thing that floored me at the time was the lack of impact that Temple of Low Men had in comparison to its predecessor. They had joked about titling it as "Mediocre Follow Up" or "Krakatoa", though it is nothing less than a spotless ten songs. Quietly beautiful song craft doesn't always translate into mass success. Fairing respectably chart-wise, it certainly deserved much more of a response from record buyers at that time.

Brimming with invention and energy, the music has aged remarkably well, sounding every bit as fresh as it did when I first picked it up. There is something substantial lurking beneath the surface of every cut. Highly recommended listening.

Monday, July 30, 2012

TIMOTHEOS


The Mourning Star EP

Timotheos has just released a new EP of ambient music that he is generously offering as a free download. Let the carefully layered sound textures lead you along previously uncharted introspective paths.

It is waiting for you on his Facebook page

In the meantime, a small sample to enjoy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

FORGOTTEN MUSIC THURSDAY-DRAMA


DRAMA

Given the set of circumstances that surrounded the recording of the tenth Yes album, its title could scarcely be more appropriate.

Following a brief hiatus from recording they returned and managed to produce two discs in the late seventies (Going For the One and Tormato) with the same lineup. Wrapping up a world tour in 1979, it seemed reasonable that Anderson, Wakeman, Howe, Squire and White would regroup to work on new material to usher in the new decade.

Attempts were made to do so, though creative sparks did not fly.

Exit Anderson and Wakeman...

Yes without the signature vocals of Jon Anderson seemed unthinkable. Over a twelve year period players had been fired, replaced, had quit, rejoined...but the singer?

Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes of The Buggles were unabashed admirers of the prog rock legends. Replacing the departed, the unenviable task of filling Anderson's shoes fell to Horn. To hardcore followers this was sacrosanct. Opinions were naturally divided when Drama was originally released in 1980, though it was given a much warmer reception in the UK than in America.

Trevor Horn probably still drops to the ground in a fetal ball when thinking about the tour in support of the LP.

Nevertheless, the passage of time reveals this to be quite a good record. Squire wrapped his harmonies around those of the new recruit (abetted by Howe) giving the illusion that Jon had indeed contributed to the sessions. Close inspection reveals otherwise, though the revamped quintet catches fire, tracking with a harder edged approach. Everyone acquits themselves admirably, obviously inspired by the adoption of fresh ideas.

Six tunes were spread over two sides of the original vinyl version. Highlights are "Tempis Fugit", "Into the Lens" and the sprawling "Machine Messiah". The remaining tracks are certainly inoffensive, though not spectacular. You can hear the sonic metamorphosis taking place that would result in the first Asia project and the formation of "Yes-West". These developments would see many long time listeners turn away in disgust, while younger devotees came on board in their place. This was still a couple of years away, though.

Back to 1980.

White and Squire lock in furiously, the latter soloing with abandon in the middle of "Machine Messiah". Downes utilized the most contemporary synth voicings in very imaginative ways, without sacrificing technique. His nimble fingers effortlessly match the scale burning of Howe and Squire. Howe's style and guitar tone are radically transformed as he leans heavily on a more metallic sound. While it isn't quite "metal", it is a far cry from the more delicate, jazzy runs that he had previously favored.

With so much going for it, the disc still languishes in the cut-out bin of forgotten music. When an established act deviates from the expected stylistic framework, there is usually mutiny amongst the faithful. To many, Anderson was simply irreplaceable and that sealed the fate of this incarnation of Yes. Revisiting Drama definitely has its share of rewards, as the playing and production are solid. Perhaps those who had hitherto ignored this one might now listen with a more mellow viewpoint (hey, it's been 32 years!) and discover its charms.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

YES


THE YES ALBUM

Imagine the shock that listeners must have experienced upon first getting acquainted with this record.

Stratospheric vocals arched over playing that was as muscular as it was dexterous. The future had arrived in the form of a progressive rock mothership, which deposited a musical payload that left a blast-crater five miles wide.

It's still smoldering some 40+ years after the event...


Although they have their share of detractors for various reasons (Anderson’s soaring tenor for some, the sheer length of the material for others) their strengths far outweigh any perceived faults. The Yes Album contains some of the most beautiful noise that they ever committed to tape.

One key change in the lineup sealed their fate. Guitarist Peter Banks made his exit (was elbowed out) following Time and a Word, replaced by Steve Howe. Radically altering their sound, greater commercial fortunes were now close at hand.

As time wore on, a revolving door would be necessary to facilitate the comings and goings of players.

Perpetual Change...


Melody in song construction is a big key as to why this became their breakthrough. There is a virtual minefield of hooks embedded in every cut, with an underlying intelligence that draws in the listener rather than seeming calculating or exclusive. Opening with authority, "Yours Is No Disgrace" is a long form piece that takes you on an exhilarating ride. Anderson is tracked with bloodhound like precision by Chris Squire's harmonies. Squire further amazes by practically attacking his Rickenbacker bass with edgy, rollercoaster runs. For all of this, the lyrics do stretch the definition of inscrutability to extremes at times. Perhaps Anderson was more concerned with scansion that pleased him rather than the actual words themselves. He has suggested that this was written with an anti-war theme in mind.

I think that there was likely a pile of dope around to "help".

Yesterday, a morning came / A smile upon your face / Caesar's Palace, morning glory / Silly human, silly human race...



Bruford seals his place as a premier drummer, madly inventive but still tasteful. Tony Kaye anchors it all with extremely intuitive keyboard flourishes. I have to state that I much prefer the material here to what was conceived for the follow up (Fragile). There is greater consistency in that even a minor effort like "A Venture" is far more satisfying than similar fare from the next LP ("We Have Heaven")

How(e) about that new kid on guitar?

Bringing a heady mixture of classical, jazz and Chet Atkins into the fold, Howe perfectly compliments the group dynamic. "Starship Trooper" contains extraordinary passages. Those ethereal descending runs that color the "speak to me of summer" section, the dead stop which ushers in virtuoso acoustic fingerpicking and the hypnotic, phased "Wurm" outro all amount to a masterclass in just under 10 minutes. This man is perpetually overlooked when those frustrating "best guitarist" lists are drawn up, which is unbelievable considering his estimable talents.

"I've Seen All Good People" remains the most accessible slab of multi-part wonder in the set, earning a slot in classic rock play lists, where it is still heard regularly. Borrowing a phrase from John Lennon, the message of peace is sincere with a seductive melody and a riff that Jimmy Page could almost claim as his own in terms of style. They really should have closed out the disc with this one as it has much more visceral impact than the more sedate "Perpetual Change". No need to quibble, as both are more than worthy.

All of the most impressive qualities of this exceptional band are present on The Yes Album. Epic compositions are nicely beveled with enough stunning detours to give the listener variety, with the indulgences muted (for the most part). Both sides are broken up by breezy interludes that hold interest and clear the sonic palette before the next substantial course. Overall, a great place to begin your journey into their discography. Undeniably, one of the most stirringly creative, accomplished bands in the universe.

People are still struggling to catch up with them.

Monday, July 16, 2012

GOODBYE TO JON LORD


Jon Lord: classically trained pianist, composer and co-founder of Deep Purple has passed away today at age 71. His writing credits include some of Purple's best known songs, including "Smoke on the Water", "Black Night", "Strange Kind of Woman" and "Child in Time". Breathtaking assaults on the Hammond B3 became a signature, placing him squarely at the center of the prog-rock movement as it began to take shape in the late sixties. He pioneered rock and orchestral fusion with his Concerto for Group and Orchestra, first performed by Deep Purple with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1969.

Blues, jazz, symphonic pieces...his range was stunning, extending to many genres. His session work was also extensive.

Sadly, our culture currently seems to be celebrating the anti-musician, with dancing idiots in headsets conveniently bypassing the 10,000 hours of practice traditionally deemed necessary before taking the stage. The performances captured below serve as a reminder of his great talent.

Lord was a gent, legend and a craftsman. Today the music world has lost one of the true masters.







Saturday, July 14, 2012

LADY MONDEGREEN



Mondegreen: the term for misheard song lyrics that give rise to new words or meanings.

Sylvia Wright coined it in an essay she had written for Harper’s in 1954, recounting a frequent mishearing of a lyric from a Scottish ballad called “The Bonny Earl O’Moray”

As a child, Wright heard the words as:

Ye highlands and ye lowlands
Oh where hae you been?
Thou hae slay the Earl of Murray
And Lady Mondegreen


Of course, Lady Mondegreen existed only in her mind, for the correct line reads, "slay the Earl of Murray and laid him on the green." To this day the "mondegreen" has been used to describe all misunderstandings of this type.

Here are a few classics:

“Secret Asian man”

“Chicken to ride”

“’Scuse me while I kiss this guy”

"There's a bathroom on the right"

"Slow walkin' Walter"

Feel free to share your own interpretations in the comment section.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

THE KINKS FIFTH



SOMETHING ELSE BY THE KINKS

Occasionally, I turn off the old Victrola and actively search for new music. While there are lots of great artists/bands out there doing interesting stuff, much of it never finds a home on mainstream radio. What does get marketed is often devoid of ideas and barely tied to a tune.

Rinse, lather, repeat…verse, pitch corrected chorus, verse...

Remember when radio had room for a wide variety of sounds/great songs?

Something Else By the Kinks is filled with them.

1967 witnessed an explosion of rock music that was outrageously bent and filtered through a prism of drug induced “experiences”. Many writers of the era saw pot and psychedelics as useful tools to enhance their creativity, with some successfully taking their listeners on wondrous sonic journeys. Others under this same narcotic spell managed little more than self indulgent, pretentious attempts at profundity which should have been left on the cutting room floor. The Kinks steered well clear of “happenings” in the year of flowers and beads, opting instead to focus on making great records.

Disclaimer: If you approach this album expecting "You Really Got Me" or "All Day and All of the Night" type stuff, you will be disappointed.

The ability of the quartet to lock in and let the riffs steer the ship was merely one facet of the band’s personality. This template would inspire countless imitators, with each subsequent generation increasing the decibel count. Their previous effort (Face to Face) took a giant step away from the power chords that initially made them such an important band. Virtually all of the material here (“Love Me Til the Sun Shines” excepted) was constructed with a more subtle approach in terms of style and arrangement. Augmented only by occasional brass or keyboard parts, Something Else sounds like nothing else released in the year of grandiose productions. This in itself has given these lovely melodies a life outside of the time frame in which they were created.

Opening strong, "David Watts" ingeniously deploys the note that follows “so” repeatedly, for maximum impact:

Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa


Serious rock criticism at work here!

Primarily inspired by a bi-sexual, former officer who became obsessed with Dave Davies, the tune is driven along by Mick Avory in suitable military fashion, though it is piano based, leaving the guitars muted. The hook is infectious as is the energy generated in the performance.

“And all the girls in the neighborhood /try to go out with David Watts / They try their best but can’t succeed"

Indeed...

Further surprises came with the emergence of Dave Davies as a writer. His “Death of a Clown” is a definite highlight, holding its own amongst the compositions that brother Ray brought to the table. Combining the surrealism of Dylan's wordplay with a truly eerie but enjoyable turnaround (listen to that backing vocal courtesy of Ray's ex-wife Rasa), the sing-a-long chorus sealed its place in the UK top five during the summer of '67. Ray did contribute to this one, to give credit where it's due.

Won't someone help me to break up this crown?




Elsewhere, Dave's other two offerings ("Love Me Til the Sun Shines" and "Funny Face") bring a bit of a balance to the disc and in the case of the the former, an uptempo rock piece to open side two. The BBC radio version of this one is faster with some dexterous drum breaks toward the end courtesy of Avory.

Reality, the stock in trade of Ray's vignettes, features prominently as a theme throughout. Whether he is imagining missing the female companionship of the girl who joined him for the daily, most English ritual of taking tea ("Afternoon Tea"), musing about the drudgery of working class life, punctuated by the small reward of rolling your own ("Harry Rag") there is a sense of sadness behind some of these creations. “Lazy Old Sun” sonically demonstrates this aspect of "down", yet showcases Ray’s depth as a wordsmith. “That Lucky Old Sun”, a popular tune from 1949 (Louis Armstrong and Frankie Laine both had success with it) has a lyrical theme that finds the singer bemoaning all of the toil and struggles that life brings, “while that lucky old sun has nothin' to do /But roll around heaven all day”. Whether Davies projected this subconsciously or not, his old sun is depicted as “lazy” for not casting its glow upon him. Incorporating sun worship into the mix, he is as quick to praise our solar orb as he is to chastise it.

“I don’t mind/To spend my time/Looking for you/For you are my one reality/When I’m dead and gone/Your light will shine eternally…”

The song’s most clever line shows him to be well ahead of many of his contemporaries in terms of wordplay.

“When I was young/My world was three foot, seven inch tall/When you were young/There was no world at all…”

Lethargic music complements the mood of the lyrics perfectly, with tumbling drums at half speed, droning keyboard parts and a stoned lead vocal. The overall sound drifts close to certain tracks from Their Satanic Majesties Request which also qualifies it as “Stoned”. Certainly the closest that R. Davies ever came to emulating the psychedelic experience on record.

Disappearing sunshine only adds to the air of melancholy that pervades throughout. Endings take precedence over beginnings. As the long happy afternoons of the summer of love began to shorten, bowing to the inevitable change that would usher in chilly fall evenings, this beautiful set was brought to the marketplace.

End of the Season

On a side note, if the brilliant "Autumn Almanac" had been included on the original release, it would have been a coup. I cannot think of a better fit with an album that is positively redolent of Fall.

(Kick off "Tin Soldier Man" and "No Return" to bring in this track and "Wonderboy" and you have a perfect 10.)

Nothing could have followed "Waterloo Sunset", wisely chosen as the closer. Originally titled "Liverpool Sunset", Davies intention was to create a tribute to the Northern port city, cradle of the "Mersey Sound" that spawned the Beatles and their Liverpudlian contemporaries. This approach was dropped, though it would be interesting to find out how this would have sounded had he followed his initial train of thought. The focus is shifted instead to the lonely observer ("but I don't need no friends"), who watches the lovers (Terry and Julie) meet at Waterloo Station. Pure poetry at its finest, working within the bounds of a melodic pop masterpiece.

Much has been written about this gem, so it's best to simply appreciate it.



Pity that people roundly ignored an album of such quality when it was originally released. It unfairly missed the charts and sank commercially. This was due in part to the fact that no attempt was made to run with fashionable themes of the day. Fortunately, the fullness of time has revealed the subtlety and ingenuity behind these songs. Ray Davies was ahead of the curve-audiences would simply have to catch up. Had they listened a bit more charitably, they would have realized just how strong this LP was.

One of the top five Kinks records, without question.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

FORGOTTEN MUSIC THURSDAY-TIME FADES AWAY



TIME FADES AWAY

Released as a document of the ill-starred 1973 tour with the Stray Gators, this is a very nervous record.

I like it a lot.

"My least favorite record is Time Fades Away. I think it's the worst record I ever made - but as a documentary of what was happening to me, it was a great record. I was onstage and I was playing all these songs that nobody had heard before, recording them, and I didn't have the right band. It was just an uncomfortable tour. It was supposed to be this big deal - I just had Harvest out, and they booked me into ninety cities. I felt like a product, and I had this band of all-star musicians that couldn't even look at each other. It was a total joke."

Out of print on vinyl and still not available on CD are the top two reasons that this rough gem is filed under forgotten music.

THE SETUP

"Harvest" was a huge hit, "Heart of Gold" went to number one and Neil was riding high following his work with CSNY and Crazy Horse. The next logical step was to bring the mellow, back porch sounds of his recent LP on a lucrative tour. Heavyweight players from the "Harvest" sessions were drafted, though one member of the band didn't make it past rehearsals.

Danny Whitten was Neil's right hand in the first incarnation of Crazy Horse on second guitar and vocals. He was talented but headed down a path of heavy substance abuse, leading Neil to dump Crazy Horse for awhile. Whitten was invited to join the new touring outfit based on word that he was in the process of straightening himself out.

He wasn't.

'We were rehearsing with him and he just couldn't cut it. He couldn't remember anything. He was too out of it. Too far gone. I had to tell him to go back to L.A. 'It's not happening, man. You're not together enough.' He just said, 'I've got nowhere else to go, man. How am I gonna tell my friends?' And he split. That night the coroner called me from L.A. and told me he'd ODed. That blew my mind. Fucking blew my mind. I loved Danny. I felt responsible. And from there, I had to go right out on this huge tour of huge arenas. I was very nervous and . . . insecure.'

Casting a pall over the tour, the negativity would only be exacerbated with disputes about money and a set of brand new songs that Young wanted to try out and record live.



Switching to a Gibson Flying V that refused to stay in tune, blowing out his voice (Crosby and Nash were brought on board late in the tour to help with vocals) and pissing off fans in packed stadia at every stop by presenting sets of unfamiliar material were all events that marred Young's 90 day trek.

The result was worth it.



Making no attempt to be cuddly, rough edges are left in, capturing things on the fly. Real, though not radio-friendly, Young would be frustrated with his audience and their inability to move with him. Opening with a pounding, uptempo country raver that introduces "fourteen junkies, too weak to work" down on "pain street", the subject matter stands apart from what his contemporaries were singing about. It was the antithesis of the sunny California, singer-songwriter trip which was then in vogue.

Canada features in the lyrics of the title track and "Journey Through the Past", which boasts a great melody and had been around in his set for some time before seeing official release on Time Fades Away. (you can hear it on the BBC session and the Massey Hall gig from 1971). A gentle song that catches the author in a reflective mood, it provides a softer contrast to the junkies on pain street. This was one of three solo piano spots on the disc, each offering a quiet musical snapshot.



"LA' is one of my favorites on the set, with a haunting refrain ("LA... city in the smog..uptight...") and creeping steel part (courtesy of the late Ben Keith) that comes closest in feel to the material on Harvest. Too many artists in the "alt-country" genre have based their sound completely on this musical model, though they fail to create the same mood. (weak songs, little originality) "Don't Be Denied" is autobiographical in tone, covering being beaten up in school through to jumping the border and helping to form Buffalo Springfield. There's an excellent version of it with CSNY at Wembley at the close of their 74 tour. The riff is simple, but effective when married to the pleading nature of the chorus.



"Last Dance" folks, but no one was dancing when a very drunk Young was screaming at the audience in Cleveland ("Get up!!") and making ungodly noise on his out of tune Flying V. That particular performance doesn't show up here, though I kind of wish that it did. Turgidity reigns: this one could have been edited to make room for another cut. Young always had songs in his back pocket and set lists from this tour reveal tunes that are unreleased to this day ("Sweet Joni" being a case in point.)

While it was not greeted warmly by fans or critics, charting outside the top 20, it's an important release. Never before had a major artist put out a live disc, comprised of all new material, with nary a hit single to be found.

Imagine the balls that it took to present this to the record company.

Now it's quite sought after and opinions have since (of course) been revised, though you won't see it released on CD anytime soon. The sonic problem with "Time Fades Away" is stated on the LP label: "This Recording Was Mastered16-Track/DirectToDisc (acetate) by Computer."

The multi-track master tape was recorded/mixed LIVE, leaving little room for remixing tape hiss, bad notes and crowd noise. To reassemble the album, someone would need to sort through fifty or so ¼" and/or 2" multi-track reels and "a few" cassettes. Finding the right version by date would be easy enough, but at what stage would the mix be at? Raw recording? Truck monitor mix? Mono PA monitor recording?



Right.

Best just to snag it on vinyl, as I did when my cassette copy finally died.