Friday, September 20, 2019

SMILEY SMILE



Revisiting this often misunderstood disc requires equal measures of patience, open mind/ears and some understanding of the events that preceded the sessions. Ultimately, the listener may want to indulge in a dollop of "Mother Nature's Finest" to get in the head space of the gentlemen who recorded it. Not necessary, of course, though the Beach Boys were admittedly wreathed in smoke during this time, as were many of their contemporaries. Something to keep in mind when you first take in Smiley Smile.

The backstory here is critical. Without going too far down the proverbial rabbit hole, the project that the group was immersed in prior to this one needs to be addressed.

SMILE

A seemingly endless series of online write ups, audio reconstructions from fans, videos and books have been issued to try and capture the story of Smile. Brian worked tirelessly on this , with the intention of taking his compositions to another level. Aided and abetted by Van Dyke Parks, who wrote the lyrics, members of the famed Wrecking Crew and the vocals of his bandmates, this concept LP was intended to be his magnum opus. He shut down the sessions in the spring of 1967, refusing to do any further recording. Because it did not see official release at the time, Smile achieved legendary status in the intervening years. Certain tracks dribbled out on subsequent Beach Boys albums (including Smiley Smile), though they were reworked by the band.

Finally in 2004, a re-recording/release of the project itself was undertaken by Brian Wilson (as Brian Wilson presents Smile). This was followed in 2011 (with Wilson's blessing) by The Smile Sessions, which presented the project content as it would have been originally sequenced along with outtakes.

Back to summer, 1967

Smiley Smile is an important record for a number of reasons.

The Wilson brothers along with Mike Love and Al Jardine handle the instrumental parts as well as those impeccable vocals. With session players no longer filling these roles, the final product was far more of an actual group effort. They didn't exactly roll the clock back to 1962, setting up as they once had to capture a track, though democracy was (sort of) restored with production credits going to all five members.

This set also prefigured the "lo-fi", home recording movement by a few summers, with the bulk of material taped at Brian's home studio. In this instance, the final mix was light years away from industry standard. After the release of Sgt. Pepper, artists started down the path of lavish, big budget productions. The Beach Boys went in the opposite direction, which was a fairly bold move during this period. The decision wasn't calculated as much as it was born out of necessity, though it put them in the vanguard of the "return to basics" movement that would emerge in 1968.

JUST LISTENING AND RE-LISTENING...

Both sides of the vinyl version of Smiley Smile begin with songs that have elaborate production values. No surprise that both were originally tracked the previous year. "Heroes and Villains" was released as a single in July of '67 and "Good Vibrations" was a massive hit, topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic after it was issued in fall 1966. The rest of the disc is austere by comparison, utilizing spare instrumentation and emphasizing vocal harmony. Curiously, the sequencing of these tracks sets the listener up for a pay off that never happens. It almost seems that their placement is a deliberate cover for some of the offbeat insanity that follows. The prime source of the charm that oozes from the grooves here is quirky humor, with the "smiles" generated from both an innocent and subversive perspective. Are they pulling your leg? Sure, though we'll explore that later on.

Heroes and villains, just see what you've done now

There has been much conjecture around what iteration of "Heroes and Villains" should be considered as the definitive version. As mentioned, it was dangled before consumers as a trailer 45 that summer, charting respectably. That exact mix was chosen to open the album. The complexity of the vocal arrangement is stunning and it boasts one of Brian's most haunting melodies. Van Dyke Parks' lyrics are poetic, referencing the conflicts that took place between indigenous peoples of California and the state militia spanning the period of 1850 to 1880. The historical context is not explored in granular detail, but provides the background for a series of vignettes. Recording was a glacial process. Taking place at various times from the initial attempt in May 1966, going well into spring/summer of 1967, multiple mixes and edits were undertaken. Inscrutable as it is beautiful, the final outcome is sublime. What didn't make the grade was the yearning, majestic instrumental outro, which is a shame as it serves as a wonderful summation to a standout cut. (Wilson wisely restored this piece when he re-recorded it in 2004). The unexpurgated Beach Boys take is worth a listen, running nearly five minutes.



Transitioning from this to "Vegetables" is jarring, with an insistent bass line serving as the lone support to those ever-tight harmonies. The tune and lyrical subject matter is deceptively simple, but extremely catchy. Actual vegetables get chomped, with group chewing recorded for posterity. Brian also flies in a segment that had been done during the Smile dates toward the end. Harmless fun, yet damn near impossible to dislodge from the brain. Before you can name your favorite vegetable, we have seasonal change in the ultra-cool, slightly trippy "Fall Breaks and Back to Winter". Managing to sound light and ominous all at once, this interlude packages stacked harmonies that float over percussive noises with a squeeze box deployed to intermittently imitate the laugh of Woody Woodpecker. Setting the table for what follows, things manage to get stranger with "She's Goin' Bald". This bizarre confection starts off fairly straight with a narrative about a girl who quickly becomes "follicly challenged". The Eltro Information Rate Changer then provides a drastic pitch change of the "sha-na-na-na" harmonies midway through, which allowed them to achieve this effect without manipulating the actual speed of the tape. Taking a page from the Silhouettes 1957 hit, "Get a Job", there had to be a lot of spoiled takes and laughter in realizing this one. Savagely cutting the elfin doo-wop insanity dead, a spoken word passage takes over briefly before all is resolved in jazz guitar figures, with a final reminder to the girl that any remedies for her condition are futile.

You're too late mama
Ain't nothin' upside your head
No more no more no more no more


Indeed.

Side one closes on a gentle note with "Little Pad". Announced by a snippet of audio verité, the lads break down in giggles while gathered round the mic. Lyrically slight, the melody is sweet. Brian conjures the music of a time before rock and roll. Deftly strummed ukulele (courtesy of brother Carl) anchors this gem, with a wistful feel generated by the vocal. It finishes as one of the best of the pack. You need only listen.

Following the wayward journey of the first half to the run out grooves, you realize that this is nothing like Pet Sounds. Flipping the disc to start the second side causes a quick revision of that revelation. "Good Vibrations" is a stunning creation deserving of every scrap of praise. Nothing short of a master class in studio craft, it represents the genius of Brian Wilson in full bloom. Worth every penny and hour (reportedly 90 hours) invested over six months of work, it is the most recognizable Beach Boys classic.

Yet it doesn't belong here.

This beauty was a worldwide smash roughly a year before it was slated for inclusion on Smiley Smile. Polished and perfect, these vibrations are the antithesis of all that surround it, "Heroes and Villains" being the lone exception. Still ahead of its time, though not part of the author's (then) current head space. As it fades (gloriously), we are guided back to earth. "With Me Tonight" is a chant, held together by those iron clad vocal harmonies. The stripped down, repetitive approach is also evident in "Little Pad" and the closer, "Whistle In". Small wonder that it was Mike Love (and not Brian) who gravitated strongly toward the practice of Transcendental Meditation. These examples are redolent of chanting a mantra, focusing on a particular phrase to achieve a path to inner tranquility. For Brian, it may have been a musically therapeutic way of blocking out the noise of negative voices, keeping them at bay with positive self talk. The homestretch of this beguiling set is placid, with the exception of "Gettin' Hungry". This is by far the most disposable offering. By contrast, "Wonderful" lives up to its title in every respect, worthy of repeated spins.

All things considered, this LP was unfairly written off when it was made available to an unsuspecting public back in September of '67. Expecting another lush extravaganza a la Pet Sounds, disappointment quickly set in as listeners adjusted to these very quiet soundscapes. It is far better than its reputation would lead you to believe. Returning to the conversational marker concerning the "comedy" aspect of Smiley Smile, there are quite a few layers to be found in this cake. From the slide whistle interjections that punctuate "Heroes and Villains" to the “giggling” backing vocals of "Vegetables", having a laugh seems to be the dominant theme throughout. To wit: "Fall Breaks and Back to Winter" has the “haw haw” (sounds close to a dog bark) and the aforementioned Woody Woodpecker laugh. "Wind Chimes" sneaks in a subtle accordion ”laugh” at the 1:26 mark. There is also a deliberately "off" delivery of the "ting a ling" lines that are treated with heavy reverberation, which culminates in the ultimate audio prank. Those barely whispered lines as the song winds down move you to gradually increase the volume in an effort to catch everything. BANG! you then get knocked back in your chair as the opening of "Getting' Hungry" crashes in. Priceless. Add to this the “stoned” laughter at the beginning of "Little Pad" and the entirety of "She's Goin' Bald". Let's just say that it's surprising that they didn't plant a loop of Woody Woodpecker laughter to play insistently in the run out groove.

In my woody, I will take you everywhere I go...

Enough said. Time now to revisit your copy of Smiley Smile, if you happen to own one. While listening, know that there is an intelligent design to the madness that unfolds. Wilson didn't retire to his bedroom at this point. He was wide awake, involved and tuning in to a different creative wavelength.





Thursday, September 12, 2019

LIVE PEACE IN TORONTO AT 50



September 13th, 1969. The Rock and Roll Revival is held at Varsity Stadium in Toronto before a crowd of 25,000. Twelve hours of music is presented by iconic, first wave pioneers like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Representing the (then) current generation of bands are the Doors, Alice Cooper and Chicago.

John Lennon, who had not set foot onstage for a proper gig since Candlestick Park in 1966, was invited to attend. Insisting on performing, he brought Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann, Alan White and Yoko out for a rough and ready set that mixed oldies with a couple of new tunes. His appearance was unexpected, the audience erupted and a good time was had by all. The gig was filmed and professionally recorded. The resulting LP, Live Peace in Toronto, hit record stores just three months later.

It all happened a half century ago. Crank it up...

Thursday, August 15, 2019

IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR AT 40



New music from Led Zeppelin was eagerly awaited by their fan base in the summer of 79. Three years had passed since the issue of Presence and The Song Remains the Same soundtrack. They had not set foot onstage since the ill-starred US tour in 1977, which had been cut short due to the tragic death of Robert Plant's son, Karac. All group activity came to an abrupt stop as the once mighty dirigible lost altitude, floating gently back toward earth. At this point, it was uncertain that the quartet would ever regroup again. This was kept quiet as Plant took time to grieve with his family.

While they were away, the sonic landscape shifted. Punk, new wave, and pub rock offered back to basics, streamlined fare that hit listeners hard. Lengthy sets, interminable solos and spectacle were replaced by short blasts of adrenalin from groups that made up for in energy what they lacked in chops. Radio was dominated by disco, soft rock and pop. The dinosaur tag was slapped on those artists/bands that came to prominence in the previous decade and who were now considered out of touch.

How would Zeppelin respond, creatively, to these developments?

Their return to business would be a fairly glacial process, though the offer of free studio time that came from Abba members Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson would be too good to pass up. The now defunct Polar Studios was be no means conveniently located, though it did provide a new environment in which to work. Convening in the last months of 1978 to start the project, winter weather in Stockholm ensured that the players would be woodshedding without distraction. Despite this fact, certain indulgences were still impeding half the team, leaving them not quite match fit. (We'll insert a conversational marker on that point.) They soldiered on, finding their feet and rediscovering their chemistry as a functioning unit.

The contents of In Through the Out Door would serve to both delight and confound listeners on first pass. The key element common to all of their albums is clever sequencing. Page especially knew the power of an attention grabbing first track bookended by a dramatic closer. "In the Evening" would continue that tradition in grand style. Deploying a Gizmotron, Jimmy sets up a hazy, atmospheric drone that has a middle eastern flavor. Hypnotic as it is exotic, the minute long intro creates a spacey feel, building expectation of what's to come.

In the eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevening

Plant breaks the spell, leaving Bonham to kick down the door with authority. Over his four on the floor stomp sits an exquisite, rotating riff punctuated by dive-bombing whammy bar action. All perfectly complimented by the innovative synth touches of John Paul Jones. Page's solo is preceded by a brief, but glorious, noise explosion that he created by depressing the tremolo arm toward the body of his Strat as far as it could go before quickly releasing it. He references this trick in a 1990 interview with Guitar World magazine, stating that he wanted to shake up anyone listening to the tune and make them go, "what the hell was THAT?!?". There is even a quick nod to Clapton's figure from "Outside Woman Blues" in the outro passage to ice the cake. Outstanding work from all involved.

Now is an appropriate time to return to that aforementioned conversational marker. The material that follows can scarcely be described as "Quintessential Zeppelin". This is where devotees of the band who appreciated their "scorched-earth" approach to rock were puzzled. Similarly, if you were in search of acoustic fare there wasn't any to found. One main factor in the musical knuckleball tossed out here is that John Paul Jones had a larger hand in the writing than he had previously. He had also come into possession of a Yamaha GX-1, an analog polyphonic synthesizer organ that figured prominently in the overall sound. He stepped forward because Page had partially checked out, his contributions greatly scaled back in comparison to all efforts that had come before. He played brilliantly, though mainly to add color instead of being the driving factor behind these compositions. Be mindful of this as you listen.

"South Bound Saurez" is a light, piano driven piece that would have sounded more at home on an early Elton John record. Not a bad tune, though nothing that sticks in the brain or bears repeated spins. Zep aficionados were not seeking such detours nor were they hoping for the lads to suddenly morph into the Atlanta Rhythm Section. "Fool in the Rain" is far superior, boasting a strong melody that supports a clever narrative where the protagonist is so anxious about being stood up on an important date that he blanks on the agreed upon meeting place. Nifty 12/8 meter is employed, with the piano and bass playing slightly against it. The instrumental star of this piece is Bonham, who flawlessly executes a deep pocket groove that is worthy of every scrap of praise which has been heaped on it over the years. His technique is stunning. Percussionists can easily go to Youtube and marvel at his work on this cut in isolation. Cigar goes to Jones (with an assist from Robert) for the arrangement, featuring that cool, freewheeling samba breakdown. Plant nails his vocal, making this an absolute highlight. Again they aren't playing to type, though that doesn't matter when the song itself is so strong. Rounding out the first side is "Hot Dog", which is notable for Page's tricky riff, barrelhouse flourishes on the 88s from JPJ and comedic, cornpone delivery from Plant. His Elvis worship comes into play here as does Jimmy's love of the Sun Records sound. While this is a fine example of their versatility and ability to comfortably slip into another genre, the track is dispensable. "Wearing and Tearing" which had been committed to tape during these sessions, but left in the vault, (eventually released on Coda in 1982) would have been a much better fit.

Side two begins with the sprawling, proggy "Carouselambra". Dominated by the stabbing, icy synths of Jones, this multi part vehicle is interesting in places, yet it would have benefited from judicious editing as the running time outlasts the strength of the concept. Zep were rarely tedious with their studio work, the lone exception being made here. By contrast, "All My Love" is a triumph. Taking care with all possible loose ends, the lyric is a fulsome, heartfelt tribute to Plant's son. Out of tragedy, healing is achieved in creative expression. Beautifully sung, delicate guitar decoration is woven in seamlessly in with the keys. All is topped by a stately, classically influenced solo from JPJ. It is the closest that they ever came to a pop song and is another standout. Page was dismissive of this approach in later interviews, going as far to say that it really wasn't their style. He plotted with Bonham to ensure that their next project moved them squarely back into the hard rock camp. This would sadly not come to fruition. In Through the Out Door did close out in far more familiar, bluesy territory. "I'm Gonna Crawl" is soulful, nodding to the Stax sound. Plant pours some real emotion into the mic. And Jimmy? If the master doesn't bring you to the verge of tears with his expressive solo, you don't have a heart. It almost seems as if he is roused from a soporific state, taking the reins belatedly to remind us that his gifts are still intact. Ending on a single note from Jones that sounds like a musical question mark, there is a feeling of unfinished business hanging in the air for a moment. With that, the prodigiously talented aggregation that guided a generation on a magically mind-blowing, decade-long sonic journey took their final recorded bow. Pity was that no one realized it at the time. All future plans ended with the shocking death of Bonham the following year.

EPILOGUE: IN THROUGH THE OUTTAKES

Forty years have passed since the release of this often misunderstood LP. Points can be made for the fact that though it was uneven as a whole, they were at least making an attempt to expand their horizons, experiment with new technology and deliver an end product that was moving with the times. For better or worse, the synthetic layering (which seems woefully dated now) prefigured what was to come in the eighties. All four members of Zeppelin had large music collections, covering a broad range of styles. It should come as no surprise that they would add new colors to their creative palette. Commercially, the disc flew off the shelves of record retailers with alarming speed. Music executives of the era credited this platter with single handedly rescuing an industry that was flagging as the seventies drew to a close.

Page has been protective of their legacy, acting as curator over the years when it has come to the three R's of this iconic band: Remixing, Repackaging and Re-releasing. The 2015 reissue didn't yield very much in the way of aural goodies. Essentially, the second disc features an alternate mix of each song from the original set. It would have been nice to hear demos or tracks that never saw the light of day in any format. Even better, there is live documentation of a handful of these tunes that could have been cleaned up and offered for consumption. Only extremely hardcore fans would play the 2015 extras more than once. If you see a vinyl copy in good shape for five to ten bucks, grab it. No need to shell out anymore than that. There are six different cover photo variations out there as well, just to add to vinyl collectors fun. Happy hunting.

This gig from June 30th, 1980 is one of then best you'll hear as far as late period, live Zeppelin goes. Captured without a net in Frankfurt, they are firing on all cylinders. Far more solid than their Knebworth performances. One week later, they played their last show with Bonzo.


Monday, August 05, 2019

REVOLVER IS 53



Revolver was issued 53 years ago today. Here's my original review from 2009

Sunday, August 04, 2019

JOE ROBINSON: UNDERTONES



The fourth full length disc from Joe Robinson is the sonic equivalent of a cool breeze on a sweltering summer day. His estimable skills as a guitarist have drawn high praise from peers and audiences around the globe. This is merely one facet of his musical persona. All too often, a rare talent will appear on the scene with astounding instrumental prowess, mowing down listeners with dazzling displays of technical flash. Folks lend an ear, are duly surprised and move on to other business once the comet streaks by.

Undertones is aptly titled as it reveals multiple layers of gifts that are on display

Robinson wears a number of hats with ease. He produced and co-wrote all twelve tracks, topping each with melodic, soulful lead vocals. It is the strength of song craft which really catches the ear and those superb, fret board chops always support, though never overwhelm, what is presented. Playing in service of the tune is an art, which he executes with taste to spare. To give credit where it's due, Joe is brilliantly supported throughout by Pete Abbott (drums) and Anton Nesbitt (bass). They provide solid foundation work, jumping with ease from funk to pop to blues-inflected rock, leaving nary a blemish on this stunning set.

"Anything But Love You" has a stutter stop intro, quickly transitioning into straight-ahead power pop with a great hook. Opening strong, he follows it up with the punchy "Reputation" which features tasty rhythm playing by all members of the trio and is topped with a note perfect outro solo. Elsewhere, he hits home runs with radio-friendly fare ("Mindless", "Connection") and sharply satirizes the trappings of 21st century social media along with here-today-gone-later today trendiness ("Millennium Man").

Going deeper still, the narrative of "Snakeman" is truly jarring, ending up as one of the most beguiling creations in already impressive company. Brushed snare and jazzy comping provide the atmosphere, brightly lulling you into a false sense of security. The storyline is one that you could frame with a 180 degree twist that M. Night Shyamalan would offer up an appendage for. Delicate, ultra pro-playing from all involved (which is the rule here) culminates in a gorgeous solo that floats into the ear with the stealth of a cat burglar. If it was etched on canvas, this gem would be proudly displayed in the Louvre. Full stop.

It gets even better

Combining a clever, engrossing shaggy-dog tale from the road, impeccable acoustic finger picking and smooth vocal, "Let the Guitar Do the Talking" finishes as another highlight reel cut. Brevity being the soul of wit, the author makes his point with authority, leaving you wanting more. The closer, "Temagog", is pure poetry. Providing another pleasant surprise, this spoken word piece mixes autobiographical detail with peerless, free-form imagery. It is a wonderful epilogue to a record that takes you on an eclectic and ultimately very satisfying journey.

Undertones comes highly recommended. Meticulous production, top class playing/singing lift songs that are both thoughtful and incredibly catchy. Best of all, this is material that does not have an expiry date. He has neatly avoided the aural traps that contemporary artists have bought into in recent times. People will be discovering and enjoying this music for years to come. Count on that.

Here at home in the eternal now, you can support his work, purchase Undertones here and learn more about this talented musician via his website

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

JOE ROBINSON: MISSION VIEJO CIVIC CENTER JUNE 22nd 2019



The Lord of the Strings Concert Series has brought a host of top flight musicians to the stage to showcase their talents. President and founder Tim Johnson has been doing so since 2002, to the delight of Southern Californian music fans. On Saturday evening, he took up his usual role as master of ceremonies to introduce a performer who proceeded to dazzle the assembled crowd with two sets, featuring inventive original tunes mixed in with a variety of genre-hopping standards.

Water-droplet harmonics cascaded in waves over the audience, followed by complex chord voicing executed at the speed of light supported by bass-lines that seemed to be rolling off the thumb of the tastiest funk player. Floating over this were flawlessly picked melody lines interjected by mind-blowing solos.

All executed simultaneously, seemingly effortlessly, by one prodigiously talented individual.

Meet Joe Robinson...

While those of us witnessing this wizardry paused to pick our collective jaws from the floor and reattach them, Joe casually remarked that he was now "warmed up" and continued on with a virtual masterclass in guitar virtuosity. The combined skillsets of Lenny Breau, Chet Atkins, Tommy Emmanuel (who has championed and mentored Robinson), Merle Travis, Roy Clark and Roy Buchanan all figure in his wheelhouse. Add to this a pitch perfect tenor voice, topped off with a unique, melodic songwriting gift and you have an artist to be reckoned with.

None of this is surprising when you learn that he had logged 1000 plus gigs by the tender age of eighteen(!). The by-product of hard work and natural prowess was obvious to all who were lucky enough to be in attendance. Dashing off a highlight reel of jazz standards, pop, funk, country licks (and everything in between) "The Cannonball Rag" sat comfortably alongside "Misty", "Bye, Bye Blackbird" and his caffeinated version of "Classical Gas" which earned him top honors in the 2008 Australia's Got Talent competition. He also included Adam Rafferty's arrangement of Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely" as well as Tommy Emmanuel's reading of "Over the Rainbow". Both were sublime interpretations. Utilizing a loop pedal for certain tunes, he would lay down sweet rhythm grooves and then grab his Telecaster to obliterate the faithful with incandescent leads. For one selection, he played two guitars at once (picking hand on the acoustic, fret hand on the electric) in what he described as (paraphrasing here), "wrangling both instruments to perform a parlor trick that he never tires of."

Showmanship at its finest.

It must be noted that Robinson read the mood of the crowd quite well, pacing his set accordingly. The most impressive aspect of his stage banter was that he kept it light, humorous and never fell into the singer/songwriter abyss of over-explaining what he was about to do.

Let the Guitar do the Talkin'...

On top of his aforementioned abilities as a performer, his compositions reveal him to be an absolute wordsmith. Free of cliché and brimming with melodic hooks, the songs that he previewed from his new disc, Undertones, were spectacular. ("Anything But Love You", "Let the Guitar Do the Talkin'" and the very clever (hilarious) "Millennium Man"). I will be reviewing that album in full soon, so stay tuned. Other standouts were "Adelaide" and "The Ghost of al Capone", which was result of a dream he had. His storytelling on the latter has a concision and intelligence that draws the listener in, with nary a wasted word to be found. Concluding the evening with "Out Alive", he ripped a series of solos that brought the house to its collective feet. Generous with his time, he even did an encore after that. It was an incredible show, in an intimate venue with crystal-clear sound. My thanks to Nate and Scott for the invite, as all expectations were exceeded.

Deserving of every superlative, to truly appreciate his estimable talents in person, please check out Joe's website for upcoming shows. Highly recommend to all reading here to get out and see him, support the artist and purchase his music. Guaranteed that you will be entertained and inspired out of your skull.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

MINI REVIEW: OUTRIDER at 31




"There weren't any demos...Everything was basically made up in the studio, you see. I just play the guitar, don't I? That is my characteristic and it's my identity as you hear it. I suppose as far as this album goes, in a way it's almost like a back-to-basics album."


Interviewed for Guitar World magazine back in 1988 to promote Outrider, Jimmy Page certainly was no ordinary guitarist talking up his new disc. He was one of the most revered figures in rock circles. The eighties began with the promise of the first Led Zeppelin US tour since 1977 and the potential of forthcoming new music. All of that disappeared in an instant with the untimely passing of John Bonham. Shortly after, the surviving members announced that they had made a mutual decision to disband. Deep shock was followed by a retreat from the public eye. Page downed tools, reportedly not touching a guitar for a long period of time until he was approached to do the soundtrack for Death Wish II. This led to a reset for the gifted musician, who returned to live performance in 1983, joining Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton for the ARMS charity shows in the UK. Out of this experience, he also reconnected with Paul Rodgers who had recently left Bad Company and stood in for Steve Winwood when nine additional ARMS dates were booked in the US. Their collaboration in The Firm came next, yielding two albums and a couple of short tours before they called it quits. In 1987, he began work on the material for his solo debut.

OUTRIDER

Naturally, the nine tracks that appear on this record feature spotless fret-work from the star of the show, who tastefully deploys his guitar army and manages to properly scorch the clone groups that cropped up in that time period attempting to replicate sounds that he invented back in the late 60s. Looking at this from a vinyl perspective, side one leans toward hard rock while the flip downshifts to a more laid back vibe, with the blues taking center stage toward the finish line. Three lead vocalists lend their throats to the proceedings (John Miles, Chris Farlowe and Robert Plant). Amongst the heavy hitters, "Wasting My Time" and "The Only One" both leap from the speaker grills to instantly grab your attention. The former has sweet slide breaks and a catchy chorus while the latter has Plant presiding over a series of riffs that recall the vibe of their old aggregation. Jason Bonham acquits himself admirably throughout, forging his own style on the skins, particularly shining on "Writes of Winter".

“Emerald Eyes” is the absolute standout of the pack. Page masterfully blends acoustic twelve string and electric guitar with a shimmering tremolo effect. The melody is haunting, accented by those silky Pagean bends. Quite like old times.

Positively wigging out on "Prison Blues", JP throws down face melting solos with a twist. His great sense of dynamics allows for a build up in intensity before he takes it over the top. Great "off the floor", spontaneous feel.

If I cannot have your love, I'll sing the blues

Overall, this is a pretty decent platter. Those that rushed out to purchase it in the week it was released (yours truly being one of them) were presented with a sturdy set of tunes, highlighted by impeccable musicianship throughout. Anyone expecting the second coming of Zeppelin would have had a sharp adjustment of expectation. Hence, contemporary reviews were mixed.

The dissenting voices missed a few key points.

First off, Page wisely avoided the trappings of horrible eighties production that was all the rage at that point. No fake drums pushed up in the mix or dated synthesizers with everything drowning in reverb. Shelf life of the material extends exponentially as a result. While he nods to his past, there is no concentrated effort to turn this into Zeppelin Redux. His knowledge of how to get the best sounds to tape came from years of hanging around after playing sessions, watching the engineers and taking notes. A deep understanding of varying styles/genres of music also factors in, though he doesn't stray too far from the known path here.

Holding up well in 2019, it still stands as the lone title in his discography to be produced under his name. The subsequent tour undertaken in support of the LP exposed a new generation to his talents. If you see Outrider in any format, drag it home. You will be pleasantly surprised.