Sunday, October 23, 2016
Fourth time around would best describe the prep that went into getting this time capsule to its present state.
THE BACK STORY
Capitol Records' Voyle Gilmore had the first crack with his team on hand to capture the Beatles Hollywood debut on August 23, 1964. Utilizing a remote sound truck parked several blocks from the venue, they plugged directly into the stereo board at the Bowl. Primitive equipment (3 track machines) mostly picked up gale force screaming that saturated the tapes, with VU meters constantly buried in the red. This exercise was repeated a year later, though technical issues with Paul's microphone on the August 29th show rendered it useless. The set on the following night turned out to be much better and was recorded without incident. Some work was done to prepare a disc for official release at that time. Unhappy with the overall sound quality along with their collective performances, the group vetoed the plan.
Phil Spector, following his work with the output from the Get Back sessions, was asked to do a similar salvage job on these concerts in 1971. His efforts never escaped the Apple vaults.
Overwhelming odds were in favor of the project simply being left for dead.
Enter George Martin and Geoff Emerick
In early 1977, the legendary producer and engineer were tasked with delicately transferring the original masters to 16-track tape for filtering, equalization, editing and mixing. Their major obstacle was finding a 3 track machine that actually worked. With much luck they did so, though it was barely functional. Cold air had to be constantly directed on it to avoid overheating and destroying the precious tapes. Their painstaking work paid off, bringing an exciting document to the masses. All four Beatles received a copy, though only Lennon rated it as fit for public consumption. (Harrison thought that it wasn't very good) Nonetheless, it was shipped to record retailers in May of that year, sailed to number one in the UK, number two in the US and sold over a million copies.
Contrary to myth, they were a solid live act. Caught in relatively decent form here, it is to their credit that there were no major train wrecks considering that they were playing to 17,000 screamers without monitors for reference. Highlights include "She's a Woman", "Things We Said Today" and Lennon laughing in the middle of "Help!", overwhelmed by crowd reaction (or nerves) Everything is taken at a much faster tempo.
Calm down, Ringo.
Cover art features a clever mock up of concert tickets that bear no resemblance to the originals. Here's what a lucky fan would have actually presented for admittance to the 1964 show.
In 1984, the official Hollywood Bowl set went out of print. The vinyl is easily found in second hand record stores and I still have my copy from the early 80s. Bootlegs are out there, too, if you want to hear all three concerts in their entirety. Hollywood Bowl Complete is a good one. (They even got the tickets right.)
For die-hard collectors, Capitol also released "In-Store Only" 8 -track tapes with five songs from the album to record outlets. These listening post promos are now nearly impossible to find.
When the Beatles catalog was repackaged for sale in CD format in 1987, Hollywood Bowl did not make the cut. Since that time, Apple has acted as curator to the most dissected, well loved and marketable collection of music in rock history. Everything from BBC sessions to the Anthology cutting room floor material had been dusted off and dangled in front of willing consumers in the nineties. The re-mastering of their work for the digital age was another massive roll out in 2009, yet this one remained under glass in the museum.
Fast forward to 2016
Giles Martin, with the aid of 21st century advances in recording technology, picked up where his father had left off four decades earlier. Take a moment to find out how this came together.
The general consensus is that the audio update allows the listener to properly hear bass and drums in the mix. "Ticket to Ride" is a completely different aural experience here as are "She's a Woman" and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy". Overall, the track sequence is identical to the 1977 issue, with four bonus tunes that are tagged on to keep things interesting for the casual fan. Hardcore collectors will likely view this as a missed opportunity to have all three concerts out there, though technical gremlins made certain performances unsalvageable. The energy (and volume) of the crowd still resonates even though over 50 years have passed. Their reaction gives the set an electric thrill, even as they threatened to overwhelm all attempts to preserve these shows for posterity. Very worthwhile addition to your collection.
Monday, September 26, 2016
Friday, September 09, 2016
Known for being deep in the pocket of universal groove, Booker T and the MGs were the legendary Stax house ensemble that powered countless hit records. They were not faceless session players, touring and releasing their own material ("Green Onions", "Time Is Tight") to great acclaim.
McLenmore Avenue is ideal for those who know the Abbey Road LP back to front and have wondered how it would sound in the very capable hands of this soulful quartet. Their interpretation is a model of taste. Jones and crew opted to rearrange the running order of some of tracks, weaving them into medleys that leave plenty of room for everyone to stretch out and display their chops. "I Want You (She's So heavy)" is a definite highlight of the pack, though their clever arrangements compel the listener to remain seated for the entire journey. It's that good.
How did I stumble across this gem?
In the early 80s, CBC Radio used the version of "Carry That Weight" found here to fill spaces before hourly news breaks. Researching the matter, I discovered who was responsible for this curious cover and eventually tracked down a copy of the disc.
The Beatles themselves contemplated going to Memphis to record in the mid-sixties, with Steve Cropper slated to produce, though the deal fell through due to the asking price for studio time. You can hear the by product of the Fabs fixation with the MGs in the "Rubber Soul" era outtake, "12 Bar Original", which basically rehashes "Green Onions" and wisely remained on the shelf until it was dusted off for the Anthology project.
Born out of a mutual admiration society, this is a classic that fans of both bands will appreciate.
Monday, August 22, 2016
On September 10th, DRLNG will be releasing a new single called Cobra, though they want you to check it out in advance.
"Cobra" casts a moody, esoteric vibe with an enchanting melody. Setting the table for more music to come in Fall 2016, the group will also be returning to live performance after a hiatus. The opportunity to recharge creative batteries has paid off. Visit their site for all the latest DRLNG news
Friday, August 19, 2016
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Millions of listeners in the UK had the pleasure to hear Joseph Bridge on the BBC recently. "Phyllis the Parking Meter Lady" was featured on Gary Crowley's program alongside the work of icons such as David Bowie, The Kinks, Elvis Costello, The Clash and Oasis. Sitting comfortably in lofty company, his music continues to be played around the world. Check out my review of his self titled disc
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Little late to the party with this one, though please take time out and listen to this enchanting tune from San Francisco based duo, Sugar Ponies. Clever arrangement, delicate playing and a very fine vocal delivered by Suzanne Kramer. Her partner in this project, Michael McGovern, is responsible for the aforementioned acoustic magic. Full marks to all involved for allowing the song to take precedence and highlighting the understated power of the singer. It is a gentle message that is unencumbered by the often overused, inhuman tools of digital recording software. Very easy on the ears in every respect.
Want to learn more about the Sugar Ponies? Leave this place now to check out their site
Thursday, August 04, 2016
Saturday, July 30, 2016
Multi-instrumentalist, singer, writer, arranger and young boy bearing arms is now just two years shy of earning a discount on his transit pass. Geddy Lee celebrates his personal new year today. Watch this prodigiously talented, humble gent tear up his Rickenbacker in a brilliant clip from 1981.
Thursday, July 07, 2016
In the spirit of celebrating those iconic musicians who are kicking off another spin around the sun in 2016, let's give a 76th birthday shout out to Ringo Starr.
He wants people to spread a simple message on his personal new year:
Peace and love to all!
Here is the title track from his second solo LP, Beaucoups of Blues, flown in all the way from 1970 to be with you today.
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Blue Oyster Cult returned to sunny California to play two oceanside sets on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This event was a milestone for my son, as it was his first concert. The weather was perfect, with a well behaved, engaged crowd ready to receive great sonic vibes from the pride of Long Island, New York. While the Bouchard brothers and Alan Lanier have long since departed, the current lineup supporting Don "Buck Dharma" Roeser and Eric Bloom are Jules Radino (drums, percussion), Richie Castellano (keyboard, rhythm guitar, backing vocals), and Kasim Sulton (bass, backing vocals). All of the new players are native New Yorkers and solidly complemented the main voices of BOC. We stayed for the first show only, which was stellar.
The focus was mainly on selections from their seventies releases, the lone exception being "Burnin' For You" which hit for them in 1981. I had hoped for "Black Blade" or "The Marshall Plan" that graced Cultosaurus Erectus, though they exhumed "ME 262" a deep track on Secret Treaties, which was an underground consolation prize. They nailed the acapella opening lines to "The Golden Age of Leather", the sound out front was pristine, with Eric Bloom giving a shout out to the assembled faithful and the "crazy motherfuckers" on the amusement park rides that loomed above. Highlights included the guys in the crowd that looked like they were on a date in 1979, the clever dude who waved a mini Godzilla at the band during "Godzilla" and the sea of cowbells that were produced by every second person on the sand a nano-second after Buck Dharma peeled off the opening riff of "(Don't Fear) the Reaper".
I would submit that you could never encounter a more cheerful reception to a song about our collective inevitablity than this...
Stretching out the visit from the tour guide to the other side with extended soloing from Roeser (who played brilliantly), they wound up with a big, stinky rock and roll finish and a promise of more excursions into the vaults during the second performance. As expected, the biggest response was reserved for this one, "Burnin' For You" and "Godzilla".
As the last note washed over the cheering throng, we gathered up our beach chairs and headed home. These guys are consummate professionals, still solid and well worth seeing if you are a fan. I was converted in the early 80s when I bought Cultosaurus Erectus on cassette. Last time that I caught them in the act was in November of 2001.
Their 2016 tour dates are all here
Set list (originating LPs are name checked for those who want to investigate further):
The Red & the Black-(Tyrany and Mutation)
Golden Age of Leather-(Spectres)
True Confessions-(Agents of Fortune)
Burnin' for You-(Fire of Unknown Origin)
ME 262-(Secret Treaties)
Buck's Boogie-(On Your Feet or on Your Knees)
(Don't Fear) The Reaper-(Agents of Fortune)
Thursday, June 16, 2016
50 years ago today, The Beatles treated UK viewers by appearing on Top of the Pops to promote their latest single, "Paperback Writer" and the underrated flip side of that record, "Rain". Both songs were quite a sonic leap forward for the quartet, who had spent that spring at EMI working on the groundbreaking Revolver LP, which would hit record shops in August 1966 as they wrapped up their final tour.
Half a century on, quality is the main reason that people are still listening to these innovative recordings.
The BBC tape of the TOTP appearance has long vanished, though they sent a video clip to Ed Sullivan that aired on his weekly program at that time which you can watch here
Sunday, May 29, 2016
Reaching higher with little regard for how the marketing team would be challenged in their effort to dilute the content and label it for mass consumption, Blonde on Blonde was the third in a string of very compelling LPs that cast Dylan in the role of a rock/blues performer and songwriter. His move away from the persona of "folk singer of topically driven lyrics with acoustic guitar" was a deliberate, smart way of dodging the sign that his followers attempted to hang on him in perpetuity. Bringing it all Back Home was the shot across the bow, delivering a message to his contemporaries/critics that rock, rhythm and blues had its roots in America. The British groups that had taken this music up in earnest were indeed carrying it back to the shores of the US in a slightly modified incarnation. Bob kidnapped this model, taking it home again, with the results filtered through his own howlingly free form, surrealistic lens. The game was raised on Highway 61 Revisited, capturing the man in full, snarling poetic sail.
The table was set for another grand statement, though Dylan had been seriously burning the candle at both ends. Riding a white tornado of stimulants, incessant gigging and destroying those in the press corps who dared ask ridiculous questions or set him up as spokesperson for any movement (real or imagined), he somehow found time to conjure material that would end up filling two records.
Shrink-wrapping the words, musical motifs and undiluted ideas of this fine set of songs as they were envisioned was a masterstroke. Peering out, unsmiling, inscrutable, from a blurred cover photo on the gatefold sleeve was the master of ceremonies himself. Undoubtedly, he would smirk subversively at the thought of all of the weed that would be divided up and rolled by countless listeners who used his visage as a makeshift tabletop.
Yes, but I would not feel so all alone...everybody must get stoned
It is easy to suppose that "Rainy Day Women 12 and 35" is simply an exhortation to wreath yourself and a few friends in fog of opaque smoke, occupying a room where conversation gets down to molecules, eventually working its way back to pointless laughter. Surreal sense of humour, joke trombone and a ragged party atmosphere infuse this carefully placed opener.
Was it an original statement for the time?
The Coasters explicitly expressed these sentiments on record in 1965, well before Bob. Ray Charles took the same tune (written by Ashford and Simpson) to number one on the R&B charts around the time that Blonde on Blonde hit the stores.
Dylan wanted the first-time listener to relax and take in a few subliminal messages as they eased into a comfortable spot to enjoy the songs that would follow.
1) Audiences were "stoning" him with a chorus of boos at all gigs after his Newport appearance in 1965 simply because he was playing with a band. Not just any band, but The Band who were then still The Hawks, minus Levon Helm who left for a bit because he couldn't stand the nightly jeering from the crowds.
2) Any free-thinker will eventually be stoned or put down by large, ugly and stupid mobs. Expect these dimwits to assemble and shout down what they don't understand with a fine mixture of ignorance and insecurity. Biblical stoning is also heavily implied.
3) Bob was really telling you much about the changes that he was undergoing. The angry, combative and sarcastic tone of his writing is almost completely missing in action here. He is plainly saying, "Don't take this too seriously, folks." Songs with a love or relationship theme are all over this set.
4)What else is going to come out of staying up all night in a deranged state? Get stoned!
With the mood set, our resident, red-eyed bard takes us on a journey that involves very little sleep, blues based romps, some R & B, pop hit singles, Tex-Mex, country-rock and his usual way with words.
Recently married and soon to become a father, there is a definite softening of the heretofore scathing, scattershot musical and lyrical destruction of faceless victims. In the place of scorched earth policy is a (slightly) muted version of the character assassin. Now using 12 bar blues with interpolations from his wheezy harmonica (or that of Charlie McCoy), he plainly asks if he can get some reciprocation for his commitment ("Pledging My Time") is chastened by the lover who freezes him out ("Temporary Like Achilles") and begs for the return of a partner ("Obviously Five Believers").
Early in the morning, early in the morning, I'm calling you to...please come home
In calling out vacuous, faddish worship of possessions over substance ("Leopard-skin Pill-box Hat") with a truly raging solo courtesy of Robbie Robertson, the author takes this one opportunity to use his caustic voice. Otherwise, Blonde on Blonde straddles the line between enigmatic verse and the aforementioned conundrum of being in love versus a truly loving partnership. There is no concept running through the grooves (Bob, feel free to correct me if you stumble upon this by accident) though the actual sound of the disc is quite uniform. Working outside of the blues motif, the "singles" take a direct approach to lust ("I Want You")and an attempt to unravel the mystery/complexity of the strong, intelligent female ("Just Like a Woman"). Flipping to a barrage of imagery, with some of his most insightful lines on display, we get the long form tracks. "Visions of Johanna", my personal favourite, is unfathomably majestic, sitting comfortably with the clever "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" and "Absolutely Sweet Marie". The most curious selection of the pack is "4th Time Around". Dylan had been acquainted with John Lennon since 1964, though it is this tune that rattled JL a bit when he first heard it. By admission, Lennon went through a Dylan phase after George Harrison brought "The Freewheelin'" LP into his wheelhouse. John wrote a series of Dylan-esque songs: "I'm a Loser", "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" and "Norwegian Wood".
Was this the fourth time around?
In typical, shaggy dog tale fashion, Bob stretches out his gentle jibe toward his English contemporary well past two minutes, parodying the melody to "Norwegian Wood", taking the narrative down another road entirely.
Lots of ink has been spilled about this fine set evoking those deeply quiet spaces that occur when most people are sleeping, with all night writing and recording sessions giving birth to most of the finished product. Mistakes are left in, the bleary eyed musicians brilliantly conveying the vision of the bandleader. None so perfectly than on the closing song, "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands". Nary a word nor a note is wasted in this eleven minute plus gem. Hypnotic, gentle and exploratory all at once, it builds tension with each passing verse, preparing the listener for a cathartic breakout that never happens. It could very well be his magnum opus. With that, the ride eases to a stop as the needle skids toward the runout groove, without any conclusion or neat summary offered. You can frame this work of art and drink it in any time you please. Very much in agreement with the suggestion of the "overnight feel" that Blonde on Blonde so vividly captured. This piece has been my soundtrack on overnight drives, when I needed something substantial to accompany the 100 mile stare into the lines marking the centre lane while allowing my passengers to sleep. I have played this record as a child who didn't understand it and have been fortunate to grow old enough to grasp what this gifted man was really getting at.
Mona Lisa must have had the highway blues, you can tell by the way she smiled...
Friday, May 27, 2016
Saturday, May 14, 2016
Following a very successful run of LPs with his partner, Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon entered the 1970s as a solo act. His first effort in this capacity was par excellence.
"No, I would not give you false hope, on this strange and mournful day."
Stylistically, the loping, reggae inflected "Mother and Child Reunion" opens this phenomenal set with a knuckleball. Coming on like an old spiritual, without alluding to any religious theme, there is something deeply familiar in the groove. The atmosphere belongs to Kingston while the author voices the lyric in a very staid manner.
Know where the words came from on that? You never would have guessed. I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown. There was a dish called "Mother and Child Reunion." It's chicken and eggs. And I said, 'Oh, I love that title. I gotta use that one.' I fell into Los Incas, I loved it. It's got nothing to do with our music, but I liked it anyway. The Jamaican thing, there's nobody getting into a Jamaican thing. Jamaicans have a lot of good music, an awful lot.
Cissy Houston leads the backup singers with soulful precision.
Los Incas provides the solo breaks in the acoustic-dominated tale of "Duncan", similar to the Andean touches that they had added to "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)." World Music was not in the purview of the majority of pop artists of the period, though it works well here. Brian Jones would have been proud. There are lines that are quintessentially Simon, intoned in a way that almost seems like he's passing on a secret.
Displaying an incredible economy with words, that concision is used to great effect in "Everything Put Together Falls Apart". Clocking in just shy of two minutes, the delicacy of the playing coupled with a lilting melody belies the darker message of the downside to taking pills. This is a tune to play for songwriters that have only a nodding acquaintance with subtlety. Arrangements are uncluttered, with a deliberate attempt to shun the big production job that colored Bridge Over Troubled Water. Very little augmentation is present and the focus is, rightfully, placed on the songs themselves.
"Run That Body Down" is my personal favorite, standing out from the pack. This song builds beautifully, supported by Hal Blaine's brushed groove and airy vibes, virtually lifting off when Jerry Hahn takes his tasteful, wah-wahed solo. Hinting at domestic troubles, he name checks himself and (then) wife Peggy, though any pointed references are gracefully sidestepped, leaving the listener to speculate as to what meaning is intended.
Butchered by countless guitar players during late night sing-a-longs, "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard" is one that everyone knows, sounding like it is being delivered with a wink.
What was it that mama saw?
Something sexual is what I imagine, but when I say 'something', I never bothered to figure out what it was. Didn't make any difference to me. First of all, I think it's funny to sing--"Me and Julio." It's very funny to me. And when I started to sing 'Me and Julio,' I started to laugh. I like the line about the radical priest. I think that's funny to have in a song.
Simon was ahead of the curve by employing exotic instrumental flavoring (inspired work by percussionist Airto Moreira) that manages to enhance the scattershot wordplay of this memorable song.
It's carbon and monoxide, the ole Detroit perfume, that hangs on the highways in the morning and it lays you down by noon...
Delicate chord progression, harmonium pad and jaunty bass harmonica (reminicient of "The Boxer") move "Papa Hobo" along. Nice vocal texture. Close-up to the mic, with no reverb. Stomping bass drum pushing violent acoustic slide work announces the arrival of "Paranoia Blues". "Whose side are you on?" asks the author as he moves from people talking behind his back to getting the shakedown by the customs man "in that little room" to someone stealing his chow fong.
Paranoia is just a heightened state of awareness.
Closing this flawless record is another sketch of a troubled relationship.
"Congratulations, seems like you done it again. I ain't had such misery, since I don't know when."
Ending with the question, "Can't a man and a woman live together in peace?" some beautiful electric piano by Larry Knechtel provides the soft landing. Meticulous in every way, I don't think that he has ever made a better record. Bigger commercial splashes would follow, though artistically, it was all done best here.
I viewed Simon and Garfunkel as basically a three-way partnership. Each person had a relatively equal say. So in other words, if Roy (engineer Roy Halee) and Artie said, Let's do a long ending on "The Boxer'", I said, two out of three, and did it their way. I didn't say, Hey that's my song, It wasn't until my own album that I ever started to think to myself, What do I really like?" On my own album, I learned every aspect of it has to be your own judgment. You have to say, wait a minute, is that the right tempo? Is that the right take? It's your decision. Nobody else can do it.
Left to his own devices, he would not disappoint.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Friday, April 29, 2016
Monday, April 25, 2016
When Prince started to grab the mass libido in the eighties, I didn't pay proper attention to what he was doing. Caught up a couple of years later, only to find the fingerprints of multi-faceted genius all over the music. "Alphabet Street" and "Hot Thing" are my two favourite individual tunes, though there is so much to explore. (The Black Album and Sign of the Times are great audio spaces to get lost in for awhile.)
If you pay attention to the message being sent, you gain greater insight into the person and their perspective.
This type of artistry is not commonplace and that voice will truly be missed.
Until next time...
If you pay attention to the message being sent, you gain greater insight into the person and their perspective.
This type of artistry is not commonplace and that voice will truly be missed.
Until next time...
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Can't think of a better way to celebrate record store day than paying a visit to Amoeba Records on Haight Street in San Francisco. Flipping through the bins, hunting for albums has been one of the great pleasures/obsessions in my life since childhood. It was truly fantastic to see multi-generational representation on display, especially with respect to those snapping up vinyl.
For a paltry $2.99, I replaced my long lost copy of Pete Townshend's 1982 solo LP, All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, a review of which you will find here
Also scored this 1959 classic.
Sincere thanks to those who actually take time to drop by and read these posts. Thousands of hours of listening time have inspired every word.
Sunday, April 10, 2016
Representing a massive creative step forward, Zep's fifth saw the "blues" subtly muted in favor of experimentation. There are one or two missteps into genre-hopping, though the other tracks make you forget about that.
Carrying the torch passed from power-trios-with-a-singer (their template being The Jeff Beck Group), Zeppelin upped the ante considerably. Having multi-instrumentalists who play everything equally well is especially fortunate.
Despite this, astringent sarcasm generally crept into any critical evaluation of this band while they were active. "A limp blimp" was one of many dismissals of "Houses of the Holy", however difficult that is to imagine.
Hindsight isn't just for breakfast anymore.
Key to the strength of these tunes are the impeccable arranging talents of Page and Jones, Bonham's rock solid foundations and the instrumental prowess of all three. Plant's singing shows greater maturity and style.
"The Song Remains the Same" stands as one of Jimmy Page's finest creations. Multi-part 12 and 6 string overlays do battle with the bass over an almost prog like series of time changes. Exquisite textures color "The Rain Song" which strongly echoes Tony Iommi's employment of mellotron string parts in "Laguna Sunrise". Hard rock detours into "Moody Blues" territory here, though it has an extremely warm vocal track with Page using a Gsus4 (D-G-C-G-C-D) tuning.
Dynamic performances lift "The Ocean" and "Over the Hills and Far Away", which gave guitarists iconic riffs to chew on in garages for years (that samplers could rip in 30 seconds.) "Dancing Days" remains my personal favorite with four on the floor Bonham kicking the ass of an odd chord sequence. Page's mid-eastern flavored refrain is the icing on the cake. While "The Crunge" is a fun James Brown tribute, neither it nor the lead-footed butchery that passes for reggae in "D'yer Maker" should have been included. These musical practical jokes would have been much funnier on "Coda".
Led Zeppelin pursued their craft while flying well below the radar, shunning the glare of the media spotlight. Letting the music take precedence over personality, they didn't even appear on the album jacket. Below is a photo of Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland where the cover was originally shot.
What the band had left on the cutting room floor from these sessions represents a huge missed opportunity. Had "Houses of the Holy" (song) and "The Rover" been substituted for the weaker cuts, it would have been a perfect disc.
It's still very fine.
Saturday, April 09, 2016
Friday, April 08, 2016
This mighty slab of mid-70s Aerosmith turns 41 today. Young, high and on a creative roll with their third (and best) album, no less than three tunes from this set remain on classic rock radio playlists. These sessions caught the band in an incredibly inspired mood. Opening with the scorching title track, there is an excellent balance struck between aggression and space in the most exciting three minutes that they ever laid down. Tom Hamilton's bass figures almost serve as a lead passage in the break, the drums are given a chance to breathe in the verses and the guitars cut like a dentist's drill. Steven Tyler nails every syllable.
Steering the proceedings toward an auditory version of a breather with "Uncle Salty", there is a definite, trippy late sixties feel achieved with great care taken to accentuate the chiming rhythm guitars. Topped with a jazzy drum pattern and oddly Beatle-like arrangement, it is one of their most underrated tunes. Back in high school, I swapped Def Leppard's High 'n' Dry cassette for this one and listened to it incessantly. Hands down, it's still my favourite Aerosmith track.
It's always a sunny day outside my window...
Boasting riffs that would make their authors cartoonishly rich, "Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion" ensured the immortality of this release, though the rest more than hold their own. Lots of tasty guitar interplay from Perry and Whitford makes "Adam's Apple" stand out (great lyrics, too) and "No More No More" is straight up rock and roll. There is even an unsolicited, two minute dick joke for collectors of 78s. What more can you ask for?
Enough stylistic variation is present to keep things interesting, yet it doesn't fly out of control. Definite cigar for Jack Douglas as the production is first rate. There is an adventurous aspect here that they wouldn't ever come close to approaching again.
Sunday, April 03, 2016
Cruelly reduced to a punch line by an SNL skit, here is a band that has received very little recognition despite a solid body of work. Striking gold in the summer of '76 with "(Don't Fear) the Reaper", Blue Oyster Cult gained extra momentum as a first rate touring act, though this good fortune would not survive the early 80's.
"Cultosaurus Erectus" catches them in a tricky period which saw their original style morphing into something much heavier. Producer Martin Birch, who had just finished Sabbath's "Heaven and Hell", helped guide them in this direction and brought a fresh approach to their quirky sound.
Sonically, this is an incredibly pristine record, with particular emphasis on the rhythm section in the mix.
The biggest payoff was bringing out guitarist Don "Buck Dharma" Roeser's inner gunslinger in the studio. One of the most underrated players in rock, he has plenty of room to shred throughout. "Black Blade" opens strong and hits hard with a twisted lyric by science fiction writer Michael Moorcock. (Tell me that you wouldn't dream up a demon-possessed, blood thirsty sword to take out everyone that made fun of your last name)
Massive walls of guitars blast out a huge riff in the bizarre, multi part "Monsters", which features seriously weird excursions into acid jazz. This track crystallizes all of the elements that made these guys great, yet doomed them in the accessibility sweepstakes. Stand out tune that must be heard to be believed.
Eccentricities in arrangement and lyrical themes are part of BOC's charm.
Songs involving strange phenomena ("Unknown Tongue") mix with shaggy dog tales ("The Marshall Plan") about a kid whose girl ditches him at a concert to chase the band. He exacts revenge by becoming a rock 'n' roll guitar god, whose blistering lead work supports inside jokes flying like beer bottles at a dive bar near closing time. Definite highlight.
Has anyone ever seen Eric Bloom and Jeff Lynne together in public?
Recovering from an identity crisis on "Mirrors" that had them veering onto the same path (at times) as The Cars, this album was a return to form, worthy of repeated spins to catch what might have slipped by the first few times.
Monday, March 28, 2016
Years before rock singers began to churn out their renditions of "standards" came this gem. This disc has long been a personal favourite. Recorded with minimal separation between himself and the orchestra, it is impossible to find words that pay proper tribute to a voice that defied gravity in its prime. Harry Nilsson ignored the advice of those around him when he undertook this endeavour. He knew that his effortless vocal delivery had an expiry date due to his commitment to cosmopolitan raving. His three and a half octave range is preserved for eternity here in technicolor. Never again would Nilsson sound quite like this.
Friday, March 25, 2016
The Wings Over America tour in the summer of '76 was much more of a highlight than this uneven LP would prove to be, yet there are a few very strong melodies etched into the grooves here. Today it turns 40. Release the balloons!
"Let Em In" sees a parade of McCartney relatives, the Everly Brothers and even Martin Luther show up on the doorstep. Lyrically silly, the tune is quite strong. Do me a favour, open your brain and let it in.
"The Note You Never Wrote" is perfectly delivered by Denny Laine, though penned by Macca. It is the best cut found on here by a country mile. "Beware My Love" and "Time to Hide" receive honourable mention as they also are easily likeable once lodged in the brain. "Silly Love Songs" has a killer bass line, though suffers from a lack of editing. McCartney gives a nod to Gamble and Huff in the arrangement. Philly soul afficionados will concur.
While not necessarily awful, nothing to write home about. Jimmy McCulloch gets another tribute to stimulants on record ("Wino Junko").
Joe English sings.
Linda does too.
If you find it on vinyl for a few bucks, it is worth the investment.
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Beware the Ides of March, for it was on this date in 1976 that KISS, grease-painted purveyors of loud rock'n'roll and anonymity, released their fourth studio disc to very receptive record buyers. Breaking through to a wider audience in the previous year with Alive!, the band was now poised to become even bigger. This required producing an album that was the sonic equivalent of the grandiose spectacle which they consistently brought to the stage.
Enter Bob Ezrin
Known at the time for his work with Alice Cooper, Ezrin is a world class producer who also brought skills as a writer, arranger and musician to the table. He has a writing credit on all but two of the tracks on Destroyer, pushed all group members to the limit during the sessions and helped to shape a tightly edited program of songs. In addition to the usual two guitar, bass and drum attack, orchestration, a full choir and sound effects now took their place in the mix. Opening with mundane clatter around the breakfast table, morning news patter in the background and the subsequent shift of the action to the car (with their own "Rock and Roll All Night" providing the radio soundtrack) a lone guitar hammers the now iconic two notes of "Detroit Rock City". With a shotgun snare roll, we're off to the races.
Unfortunately, there's a truck ahead, lights staring at my eyes...
That never ends well.
One of their most exciting slabs of rock, with twin lead, unforgettable guitar figure and Paul Stanley executing his most over the top (yet controlled) vocal, they now had a killer opener for their set. It remains part of their act to this day. Ending with a horrific accident, the screeching tires and twisted wreckage give way to the wailing sustained note that announces "King of the Night Time World". Ratcheting up the energy, this one showcases Peter Criss, who hits just about every thing in sight as he pushes the tempo. "God of Thunder" completes the trifecta of flame-thrower riffs, adding another live staple to the KISS experience. Gene Simmons plays up the demon persona to the hilt, though side one blows a tire with the closer. Combining egocentric lyrics, an orchestra and outright melodic theft (from Beethoven), the composition aspires to be something more than it actually delivers.
In the contemporary world of classic rock radio format, flipping your vinyl copy of this platter to the underbelly reveals three selections ("Shout It Out Loud", "Do You Love Me" and "Beth") that still see regular airing outside of their era, one of which created an unlikely pop hit single. From the moment Peter Criss crushed out a Pall Mall to step up to the mic and complete his vocal take on "Beth", the concept of KISS changed. Could you imagine John Bonham pushing Robert Plant aside in the middle of a Led Zeppelin gig to sing "Feelings"?
Go ahead, I'll wait right here
At any rate, this ballad helped carve a path that led from being "the hottest band in the land" to "the hottest band in the world". The anthemic punch of "Shout It Out Loud" and the closer, "Do You Love Me" keep electricity present in the project preventing it from sliding into easy listening territory. KISS would never record anything like Destroyer again, stripping back to basics for "Rock and Roll Over" and "Love Gun". Life would soon imitate art for the quartet as they expanded the ranks of the Kiss Army overseas, selling as many copies of this release as their first three combined. The group never claimed to be striving for high art, though they did benefit from the lessons learned in working with one of the masters in the studio. Definitely their most ambitious production.
Saturday, March 12, 2016
Wednesday, March 02, 2016
With so much fanfare around the 40th anniversary of Frampton Comes Alive, it is easy for the casual listener to overlook the artistic path that led up to that incredibly successful double set. Peter Frampton is a gifted musician, solid singer and writer, though it took some time for a wider audience to catch up and fully appreciate these attributes. Released in 1975, Frampton (the album) combined great melodies with some very tasteful playing, moving all of the final pieces into place before his career was launched into the stratosphere.
I can't believe this is happening to me...
Plying his trade from a tender age (playing in his first band at age 12), he went from leader of The Herd (which had chart success in England) to joining up with Steve Marriott as a founding member of Humble Pie in 1969, all while still in his teens. Four albums into this project, he left that band to go solo in 1971. Frampton carried on to craft three under appreciated LPs (Wind of Change, Frampton's Camel,Somethin's Happening) building a following by touring extensively to get his message out to the masses. His diligence would start to pay commercial dividends with the creation of his fourth disc.
Joined by the rhythm section of Andy Brown and John Siomos, Frampton wore virtually every hat, composing all of the material while handling lead vocals, lead/rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, piano, organ, talk box and kitchen sink. Most impressive is the fact that he wrote this stellar set in its entirety over a three week period.
I'm yawning, I've been up too long
Appropriately, a chorus of birdsong precedes the drum pickup that kicks off "Day's Dawning", with verses anchored by tastefully arranged piano and a bridge that really adds value to the overall tune. The avian choir remains just under the surface in the mix, returning at the end with a single volley from a rooster which is quickly shouted down by a non morning person. There is great confidence on display here, which pours from the grooves on "Show Me the Way". How was this not a massive hit upon first airing? Worth your time for the intro alone, the walk from D through Dmaj7th, Bm, Bb6 and C9 is then topped with that signature riff by way of the talk box. The chorus is quite impossible to dislodge from the brain, which is helped along by great harmonies. Definitely one of the highlights, though he runs up another near-single with the atmospheric "One More Time". Featuring an absolutely jaw dropping detour into a delicate solo that passes in an instant, the masterful blend of acoustic and electric guitar is to be commended. This goes for all tracks, as Frampton feels no need to assault the listener with a one-dimensional heavy guitar attack. When he does let loose a little on cuts like "Nowhwere's Too Far (for my Baby)", the six string fireworks are nicely bevelled with melody. This one actually calls to mind Big Star in feel, with his incredible guitar tone icing the sonic cake.
Arguably, there is no better showcase of his versatility than what you will encounter on this LP. The songs are tightly edited, production values are high and George Marino's final mix plays to the strengths of the artist. As it is with the best of work, side two gains momentum as it progresses, with the ubiquitous rock ballad, "Baby I Love Your Way"(the live version of which remains a radio staple to this day) giving way to the uptempo "Apple of Your Eye", pausing momentarily for a brief acoustic interlude ("Penny for Your Thoughts") that sets up the finale, "(I'll Give You) Money" which is my personal favourite of the set along with the aforementioned "One More Time". "Frampton" went gold, making a respectable showing in the charts at the time, though it has transcended the sounds of the decade in which it first appeared. The next part of the story is well documented, however, for those who are not acquainted with this record, it comes highly recommended as required listening.
Frampton is currently touring, presenting his songs in a stripped-down, acoustic format. Catch up here with the artist and his upcoming tour dates.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
For every person who has been captivated by the look, feel and sound of the guitar, this is an event that musicians and serious collectors alike will need to etch in their calendars. Invaluable is teaming up with Guernsey’s Auctions to present Guitars at Auction. If you don't know Invaluable, they are an online auction marketplace with new collectibleslike the guitars in this auction up for grabs every day!
Where and when?
February 27, 2016, 10am EST (Live Auction)
Bohemian National Hall
321 East 73rd Street
New York, NY, 10021 USA
Featuring 379 live auction lots of an assortment of almost impossible-to-find instruments, there will be several private collections on offer including approximately 20 instruments that come directly from jazz legend George Benson.
There will be live preview showings on February 25th and 26th, each running from noon to 6pm in advance of the big day. Here is a sneak preview of the most noteworthy auction lots:
Eddie Van Halen's 1982 Charvel Guitar
Estimated Price: $55,000 - $75,000
Eddie Van Halen’s 1982 Charvel, made for, owned by, and played by Mr. Van Halen himself, with 1982 video and other full documentation. Eddie Van Halen's iconic original black & white striped "Frankenstein" guitar (which he later modified in the late 1979 with an additional layer of red paint) was built from a body and neck he bought from Wayne Charvel and Lynn Ellsworth in the mid 1970s. Van Halen continued to purchase various parts from Charvel during the late 70s that he used to build guitars, and he even played a guitar built by Charvel based on the single-pickup design of his Frankenstein.
Stevie Ray Vaughan-Owned & Signed c. 1966-67 Fender
Estimated Price: $250,000 - $500,000
Stevie Ray Vaughan-Owned & Signed c. 1966-67 Fender Stratocaster. Serial#: 191460. Stevie Ray Vaughan owned and signed 1966-67 Fender Stratocaster in a three-tone Sunburst finish. The signature is broad and in gold ink, dated " '90," and also present on this guitar are some worn stickers; one group of stickers reads "SRV" and the other, located on the pickguard, is rather worn and faded but the word "Cobras" is visible. Vaughan played with Paul Ray and the Cobras in Austin, Texas from 1975 until 1977. This Fender's silver neck plate is etched in block letters "STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN DALLAS, TX." Paperwork inside the case with more of Vaughan's handwriting.
1966 Gibson LG-1 & Continental Music Company Guitars
Estimated Price: $125,000 - $175,000
1966 Gibson LG-1 & Continental Music Company Guitars, In Cold Blood. 1966 Gibson LG-1 Sunburst finish. This guitar was used in the movie In Cold Blood. They put a substance on the finish to keep it from reflecting on camera. Robert Blake gave the consignor this guitar in 2001. In 2002, the consignor produced a vintage guitar show in Las Vegas at the Hard Rock Hotel and this guitar was featured at this show. The newspaper article from Las Vegas in 2002 is a companying the guitar. Comes with modern case.
Check out all details on this great event here
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Thirty three years after its initial appearance, which was swiftly followed by commercial success (US and UK #1) and critical plaudits, the Tug of War LP has been given an aural update. Those that own an original vinyl copy may want to try an A/B comparison of both formats while simultaneously screening Caddyshack. Curiously, Judge Smails gets clocked in the pills just as "Get It" ends, with Carl Perkins' laughter timed perfectly to mock his agony.
Ted is dead man, miss him, miss him
Tug of War may have ended up as another Wings record in an alternate universe, though this progressed no further than a few rehearsals. CBS had recently signed Paul to a very rich deal with an advance of 14 million along with a few other perks. Their executive team wanted a retrospective Wings set, stacked with recent hits to offset the poor sales of Back to the Egg. McCartney offered to couple a mix of unreleased tunes with more familiar fare, provisionally titled "Hot Hitz and Kold Kutz".
This plan was given a thumbs down...
Shortly following this series of non-events, recent recruits Laurence Juber and Steve Holley were advised by their boss that their services would not be required in the short term. A legendary producer was now lined up to direct the proceedings, retiring Wings in favor of a solo project. Denny Laine would remain for a while longer.
Enter George Martin
This true gent was definitely the only person on the planet who could give direction to McCartney without causing the earth to split apart. Recording would begin in Martin's AIR facilities in London, later shifting to his Montserrat location with top flight musicians joining Paul to further enhance the songs that he had been working up. Never again would he attempt to create the illusion that he was "just part of the band." While he was closing a chapter on the previous decade, terrible news was delivered from New York in early December of 1980.
Dear Friend, how's the time?
Nothing less than global shock was felt following the murder of John Lennon. It is one thing for fans of his art to be upset, sad and move on. Quite another matter when that person was a mate, writing partner and someone you knew from home. Though never close following their nasty estrangement in the early seventies, relations between the two men did thaw a bit over time. When recording sessions resumed in 1981, Paul had people around him (George Martin and Ringo Starr) with whom he could share stories of times they had spent with their departed friend. You could include Eric Stewart and Denny Laine in that company, as they had all interacted in the sixties, occasionally sharing bills and getting well oiled together in smoky clubs that catered to nocturnal party habits of musicians in London during that era. The return to business carried with it the grim reality that he could never pick up the phone and reach out to his former bandmate ever again.
Opening with the sounds of an epic struggle that play through nearly half a minute, the title track announces itself gently with acoustic guitar supporting a lone voice. Setting the table for the eclectic mix of styles that are woven into the fabric of this set, the arrangement is punctuated with orchestral decoration as it builds to a majestic breakout of slightly muted electric guitar and drums.
In years to come/they may discover/what air we breathe and life we lead are all about/though it won't be soon enough/soon enough for me
Breaking back down to military snare, a brief bridging section yields to a repetition of the first verse and closes with strings that dissolve into the stuttering tom pattern that sets up "Take It Away" in random White Album fashion. Ringo and Steve Gadd share drum duties on this inventive, catchy tune, wisely chosen as the second single. Sonically crisp, with huge background vocals and a razor sharp horn section, this is a dazzling example of what kind of magic resulted when McCartney had a trusted advisor handling production decisions. Too often his solo work had suffered from a lack of dissenting opinion when it came down to what was allowed to pass quality control. Downshifting slightly, "Somebody Who Cares" is framed with exquisite acoustic guitar work (special mention goes to the note perfect solo) and an uplifting chorus. Stevie Wonder makes his first appearance on "What's That You're Doing" and while the groove is decent, Paul sounds like he is guesting on an outtake from Hotter Than July. While not bad, it isn't great either, overstaying its welcome by several minutes.
"Here Today" is sublime, closing the first side with a touch of class. This fulsome tribute to Lennon remains part of his live set. The second side of the disc is stylistically jarring, whimsical on "Ballroom Dancing", close to, though not quite rock on the lyrically clever "The Pound is Sinking" and sweepingly melodic in the grand, piano centric "Wanderlust", which gives Martin much to work with in terms of augmentation. All three tracks lift the proceedings, though none more so than the surprisingly strong "Dress Me Up Like a Robber" which has gained a position in my estimation as one of the most interesting compositions on the record. Back in '82, I was inclined to skip it, though now that viewpoint has mellowed with the passage of time. In contrast, "Get It" is hokey and should have been relegated to a fun B-side. Though "Ebony and Ivory" was a monster hit, impeccably sung by Stevie and Paul and well intentioned in its theme, it has not aged well. Is it a decent piece of pop song craft? Sure, though it doesn't hold up nearly as well as the others. My vinyl copy of Tug of War, purchased within a week of official release in the spring of 1982, holds great memories though it is with very different perspective that I listen in 2016. This is quite a strong collection with a very talented supporting cast, though there is still a sense that he could have put a bit more effort into what he had to say. Tug of War hits some fairly lofty heights from a purely musical standpoint, though that ambition is thwarted by throwaway lyrics that form the basis of "Get It" and "Ballroom Dancing". Weak spots aside, it is definitely the highlight of his eighties output. The follow up (Pipes of Peace) would prove to be a disappointment on many levels and much of it should have remained locked up.
The 2015 remaster is well worth the investment and sonically brilliant. The Standard Edition has an 11 song companion disc, which consists of demos that preceded formal recording sessions for the project and two B-sides ("I'll Give You a Ring" and "Rainclouds"). There are no huge departures from the arrangements that would grace the final product, though completists will be glad for their inclusion.
Saturday, February 13, 2016
Rainfall, thunder and the distant chiming of a bell herald those ominous three notes that kick off the first Black Sabbath album, which was released 46 years ago today. Recorded quickly in a 12 hour session, their pre-production prep was achieved by playing the songs nightly as part of a rigorous gigging schedule. At the time, guitarist Tony Iommi was criticized for pulling too heavily from the playbook of Eric Clapton (listen to his solo segments during "Warning") and the disc received little in the way of positive mention in the music publications of that era.
Ain't it funny how time slips away
Side one of this set is spotless, with signature guitar riffs, Satan, wizards and exceptional ensemble playing all present and accounted for. In truth, none of the group members pledged allegiance to anything more than making loud, energetic rock. The lyrical subject matter came out of group discussions about how people paid good money to be frightened out of their seats by horror films. It was left to Terry Butler (Geezer to his friends) to craft similarly scary scenarios to accompany their ponderous, inventive compositions. The best of these are the time-signature shifting title track and "Behind the Wall of Sleep", both of which retain their power and originality. The key here is that the material is captured live, without 150 takes to rob the end product of energy.
Side two features two covers ("Evil Woman", pulled as a single and "Warning", which tends to drag) and doesn't come close to the electric thrill created during the first stretch. Ozzy has yet to find his helium voice and sounds as if he hasn't completely cleared his throat at times, though he is excused because of the lighting speed in which this recording was executed.
For collectors, the UK vinyl version included "Evil Woman" and an elaborate gatefold sleeve. The North American release removed this tune, opting instead to insert its B-side ("Wicked World").
Excellent in many respects, "Black Sabbath" is the gold standard in what would soon come to be known as heavy metal. You can crank it up and enjoy right here.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
Les Claypool and Sean Lennon have formed a mutual admiration society, which began with some acoustic jamming while their bands shared the bill on tour last year. These explorations flowered into something more substantial, with the results being this very interesting collaboration. I took this track, Cricket and the Genie for a couple of spins and it is a decidedly pleasant surprise. Claypool plays bass, Lennon handles everything else including vocals on this tune. Deliberately strange, with shifting sand time signatures, full marks are given for ingenuity and some honestly crafty playing.
Underground sounds of 1973 shaking hands with 2016 and no apologies. If you are roundly bored with the homogenized sludge that is passing for music right now, then dig this. Very excited to hear more.
Monday, January 11, 2016
There is an endless river of ideas, sounds and pictures quietly flowing just a few feet above the heads of humanity. Those that are fortunate enough to be woken from a dead sleep and invited to dip their hand in this wondrous pool can retrieve invaluable gifts. It is how you assemble the information for presentation to others that counts. Imagine having the ability to glide along the surface in perpetuity, fishing out these treasures with ease.
"All the pictures I see are smiling at me, but today I'm somebody new"
True talent always finds a way to tap into this stream, penetrate the public consciousness with what they have found and remain there by consistently working on their craft. David Crosby has built a very successful career by raising his voice in song, harmonic brilliance and opinions that carry great insight, if you care to listen. Dividing his time amongst several very successful musical aggregations over the years (The Byrds, CSN, CSNY, C&N, CPR), has meant that the energies reserved for his own projects were often sublimated in favour of collaborative efforts. When listeners do get a record from him, it has always been quality over quantity.
His most recent solo release, Croz, is one of his very best.
Shamefully late to the table in picking up on this disc, it has quickly worked its way into my regular rotation. He is in quite good voice, per usual, though it is his facility with words here that bears repeated examination. Arrangements are sharp, featuring some spectacular detours from the main melodic theme, supported by a cast of impeccable players. Figuring prominently in this mix is his son, James Raymond. His composition, "What's Broken", leads off the set in style. Rhythmically active with slippery bass lines, a very clever turnaround into the chorus and the decorative guitar work of guest contributor Mark Knopfler, this is an strong opener. Floating over this soundscape is a perfectly executed vocal with those trademark harmonies providing the sweetener.
What's broken? Not a thing...
Keeping the pulse as this stunning track dissolves is the percussive intro to "Time I Have".
Life in the city is so densely packed, fear of each other is an accepted fact
Exploring an esoteric lyric that balances positive self-talk to counter what the writer observes in the often depressing actions of the entities that attempt to us hold back with fear mongering. Peace doesn't always win the day, though the melody is enough to coax even the most cynical individual toward that path. As it goes with the best of art, the true meaning is left open ended. Spend the time that you have wisely.
Highlights are plentiful on Croz, though "Holding on to Nothing" occupies top position in that department. Gentle acoustic guitar in an exotic tuning frames this jazzy piece, which is graced with a beautiful trumpet solo from one of the masters, Wynton Marsalis. There is a downbeat atmosphere created which is only slightly dispersed by the expressive horn, which evokes a similar mood to that with which Chet Baker cast over Elvis Costello's "Shipbuilding". The words convey a subtle sadness, saying much with great economy.
Sunny days can fool you/they can look wet with rain/even words from a friend/can bring back the pain
Another absolute stunner is the second James Raymond offering, "The Clearing". If you were hard pressed to find a musical equivalent of "ethereal". look no further. Personally, listening to this one provided the same familiar chills felt when I first heard Jeff Buckley's Grace. Crosby channels the emotion effortlessly. Lulled into a sense of where this might be going, the surprise comes in the outro as the soundscape shifts to prog in an instant with some deft guitar work underpinned by inventive, bass-heavy synth lines. Given a moment to establish a motif, the scene breaks back to a tapestry of shimmering acoustics. Listen for yourself.
There is strength in every note brought forth here ("Radio" has an uplifting chorus, while "Set That Baggage Down" is a confident reminder to keep looking forward, despite any wreckage that you may have caused or endured), though one more selection has to be called out for special mention, as it features the artist without a net. "If She Called" is delicately rendered, bewitchingly arranged for solo voice and guitar. A distant cousin of "Guinevere" (in feel only and without a harmony vocal line), the inspiration for this song apparently came from a group of prostitutes that he saw near his hotel in Belgium. This should have been placed as the last track, as it floors everything that follows it. Stellar in every sense of the word, as with everything you'll encounter here.
Deserving of every superlative, the overall result is the fruit of intensive and inspired labor. The hard and dirty work that goes into song craft is often dismissed by those who have never turned their own hand to it. In a contemporary musical culture that has produced "artists" who are unable to flip on a light switch in a studio, let alone define what key signature their latest hit falls into, it is very welcome to listen to a cohesive collection that genuinely has something to say. This is an album that anyone would be proud to sign their name to.
Support the artist and grab yourself a copy right here or from his website, where you will also find details on his upcoming west coast solo tour.
Saturday, January 09, 2016
As an apple-cheeked, chemically altered 15 year old, it was my duty to buy this cassette in the week it was released because CIRCUS magazine had been talking it up.
Remember CIRCUS? Remember talking?
Long before the iPhone surgically removed the need for personality from humanity, the sixth Van Halen album was released to an unsuspecting public on this date, 32 years ago. Listening to Ed's technically dazzling fretwork is always a sonic treat, though this gift overshadows his fine sense of melody. This element was sadly lacking in most all of VH's imitators, poodles balanced on their heads, filling every space with "oodily-oodily-oodily" solos that were woefully unsupported by any evidence of a tune. David Lee Roth in mid-air, Alex Van Halen with 1000 arms flailing and Michael Anthony's harmonies were all key ingredients in making this band something special, though they remembered to mix hooks with instrumental chops.
With a running time of just thirty-three minutes, the material on this disc claims your attention by virtue of its brevity and variance in approach. Ponder that for a moment. Heralded by futuristic strains squeezed from an Oberheim OB-X, run through a Marshall stack, the icy instrumental "1984" showcased the most recognized guitar slinger on the planet at that time...on keyboards! This theme ends before it begins, setting up the intro to the monster-number one hit single, "Jump". Curiously, this would be their only trip to the top of the pops. Emerging with a grin from behind the synths, Eddie treats the faithful to the first of many perfectly executed solos midway through exhortations to attempt an escape from gravity. His salvos are a keen reminder that this is still VH. "Panama" steers the record back into more familiar territory, with a highly caffinated Roth tearing up his vocal alongside very innovative riffing. Just as the party is taken down a few notches to allow Dave to ease the seat back. there is a full climb up the scale as the players build to a crescendo and go out blazing on the chorus. The two tracks that close out the first half of 1984 veer in yet another direction. "Top Jimmy" arrives in water-droplet harmonics, with trademark squeals in the background, only to morph into Dire Straits territory, kicking in on steroids. The whole affair is capped by Mike and Dave in harmony throughout. It is radically different from everything else on this stunning set. "Drop Dead Legs" features an embarrassment of riches in terms of guitar figures with Alex keeping everything in the pocket. Saving the best licks for last, EVH wanders into frenetic free form jazz as he peels off a sequence of devastating runs, creeping well away from all boundaries, hypnotically into the fade.
"Hot For Teacher" begins the back nine with a wall of drums and could very well be classed as quintessential Van Halen. Humor, hammer-on hysterics and nerve all dressed up in a gut-bucket blues shuffle taken at an insane tempo. This remains a staple on rock radio, with an energy that is still felt three decades on. The synth returns from the closet for "I'll Wait", which also provides a much softer landing pad after the roller coaster ride that precedes it. Sporting a chorus made for heavy rotation, it leans more toward pop than the others, keeping things fresh from a stylistic perspective.
My personal favourite is "Girl Gone Bad" which takes you on a jaw-dropping slalom course of bass runs, if you're able to listen past the full fledged assault created by Alex and Ed. Hold one of your tinnitus-damaged ears close to the speakers and you'll hear sheer finesse alongside the urgency, with a minor key hint of sadness in the breakdown. Atypical of Roth, this only lasts a moment, though the atmosphere is perfectly framed by a dynamic arrangement. There is a remarkable amount of control on display from everyone in the room, reading the mood of the piece perfectly. One of their best compositions. "House of Pain" dated back to the demos that they did in advance of their first album, though it was retooled for inclusion here. Shifting gears and time signatures, it keeps the pulse of the proceedings high right to the end.
All this in a half hour? All you can do is play it again. I wore out my copy doing just that back in the winter of '84.
"1984" was Roth's last full length album with his cohorts until A Different Kind of Truth in 2012, bringing the Diamond Dave with Van Hef-lin in the 80s era to a close.
Van Halen fans missed him, too, because he brought a truckload of personality and humour to the table.
Does it hold up in 2015?
You bet! All killer, zero filler.
This is a creative and commercial watermark for the group. Exuding confidence on all levels, it is consistent and remains very listenable well outside of the time in which it was conceived.