Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Sonics • 8

Yes, "8." I have no idea what the significance of the title is*, but I do know why this release is significant: It's the first release of new music from The Sonics in decades! And while there's only four new studio tunes, there are six new live recordings from their recent European tour (you only get four on the 10" vinyl).

To see these guys live—even today!—is to experience rock 'n' roll the way it was meant to be. Their manic, loud, practically deprived performances are what it's all about. I imagine there's no need to "introduce" you to The Sonics, since you probably already know they were a Tacoma, WA garage band from the mid '60s who followed in The Wailers' footsteps, but took it a few steps further, into the grimy back alley of what we call rock. Their original tunes "Psycho," "Strychnine," and "Cinderella" were some of the best original rockers of the decade. (All three are performed live on this release.) So, now we have 8, a short, sharp, shocking piece of wax (or aluminum and plastic) with some new tunes. When I interviewed the band in late 2008 for the article I did in The Big Takeover**, Larry Parypa said they were planning on recording some new tunes but were worried that they couldn't find a producer who could do it as raw as they wanted. Well, it seems they got in touch with Jack Endino somehow, and though Jack only gets an engineer credit, and Larry himself is credited as producer, the record definitely has the raw power Parypa was after. That being said, there's a bit of high end lacking (and that may just be modern ear syndrome), yet the result is overall pretty pleasing. I mean, let's face it. Everyone looking forward to a record like this thinks to himself, "I bet it's gonna suck." But if you've seen them live recently (and they're playing a show on New Year's Eve in Olympia, WA), you gotta figure there's a good chance they could manage a respectable rekkid. And they have...

I like the new tunes on this, especially "Cheap Shades" and "Don't Back Down" (not The Beach Boys song), both sung by Jerry Roslie, and the other two aren't bad either (sung by latter day bassist Freddie Dennis). But it's the live tracks that everyone's most interested in. Well, they certainly deliver the goods, performance-wise. The sound quality's not what you might expect from a 2010 live recording, but then again, the "very good quality board tape" quality is definitely in your face and fills your ears. (Here I'll mention that the other live tracks on the CD are "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," and not on the vinyl, "Boss Hoss" and "The Hustler.") Kudos to Jim Anderson, Seattle soundguy extraordinaire, for not overdoing it, separating it on 24 tracks, or using modern post-production tricks to make it sound clean. Dirty is where it's at, folks, and The Sonics are dirtier than bands half their age. Hell, a quarter of their age!
3.5/5 (The Sonics Record Co.)
* Aha, could it be because there's eight songs on the record? Sure, but there's ten on the CD and that's what most people will buy.
** Issue #64, and available at their web site on the Back Issues page.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Who • Live at Leeds [40th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set]

It finally came the other day! A little over forty years after the concert was recorded at a "uni" in Leeds, England, The Who's legendary Live at Leeds is still hailed as one of the best live albums ever. Of course, when they finally put it out with the entire concert included (with the entire Tommy rockopera, even), it made it even greater. Now, they've released it in a be-all end-all edition that includes the double CD aforementioned, the original 6-song LP (on 180 gram vinyl), a 7" replica of the original UK (or is it German) single of "Summertime Blues" b/w "Heaven and Hell" (the latter of which was not on the original album), a hardcover 60-page book, and a vial of Keith Moon's sweat (that version already sold out).

The other big deal about this version of Live at Leeds is they released it with the entire concert from the next night, Live at Hull. Yes, I know... the title "Live at Leeds" is so iconic that "Live at Hull" sounds like a Rutles joke (and it is, sorta, since they claim that Dirk McQuickly put out a solo record called "(When You Find the Girl of Your Dreams in the Arms of) Some Scotsmen from Hull"). It's a great show, almost as good as Leeds, and they had to really do some work to make the first handful of songs presentable. Apparently, John Entwistle's bass was not recorded for the first five or six songs, and that's why the show was originally shelved. (They actually only listened to the first song or two at the time and decided the whole tape was bass-less so they passed on it.) But the shit they can do nowadays with a computer and a little gumption! They actually "flew in" the bass from the Leeds show and digitally maniupulated it to fit the performance at Hull. Man, I love technology! Sure, the show is pretty identical to it's way more popular brother, but it just goes to show that to have seen The Who in '69-'70 must have been like witnessing godhead incarnate. Of course I couldn't have appreciated it as well at the age of seven as I can now, or even when I first really heard the original album, probably 1980 or so, but listening to this amazingly awesome concert almost erases the memory of seeing them Moon-less at the Kingdome in 1982 (which is memorable primarily because it was the only time I got to see The Clash).

Now, you don't get all the little inserts that came with the original LP issue, though they are reproduced in the book, but you do get a pretty cool poster of Pete Townshend doing his windmill routine, and as I said, early pre-orderers do get a sample of Moon's sweat, which must have been prodigious considering how crazily-yet-brilliantly he plays during these concerts. Personally, I was hoping for a locke of Roger Daltrey's hair, but I guess the sweat will have to do. BTW, as great as I think The Who were, I still think "Happy Jack" is a pretty dumb song, despite the great music.
6/5 (Polydor/Universal)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Doors • The Doors [Mono Version]

Another Record Store Day Exclusive (for Black Friday, that is), The Doors' first LP, The Doors, has been re-released in a limited edition mono pressing. Previously only available in a vinyl box set from a few years ago (and its initial '67 release, of course), it's another great example of how songs can benefit from being mixed in mono.

The 180 gram audiophile pressing (made by the renowned RTI outfit) has the original Elektra catalog number and label, and is a godsend for those who've been trying to find a clean original pressing, let alone those who can't brave the typical $200 price tag you'd find on Ebay. I really like "Break on Through," which sounds like a different vocal take to me (though my hardcore Doors phase was over about twenty years ago so I could be high), "Alabama Song" sounds even more psychedelic since the carnival organ is equally in both speakers rather than primarily in one, and "The End" sounds easily as chilling in mono as it does in stereo. The drums in "Light My Fire" feel like they're being pounded a lot harder, too.

Maybe all this mono hype will convince Elektra or Sundazed or someone to release the first three Love albums in monaural...
4/5 (Elektra/Rhino)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bob Dylan • "The Times They Are A-Changin'" b/w "Like a Rolling Stone" (7")

Available as part of the under-marketed Record Store Day "Black Friday 2010" event, this Bob Dylan 45 showcases two songs from the Whitmark Demos box (side A) and from the Mono box (side B; best of CD reviewed below).

"The Times They Are A-Changin'" is a wacky little version, apparently a publisher's demo (what they used to use to transcribe the music/lyrics for sheet music), with somebody playing piano... and it ain't Al Kooper! The keys are so innocuous, you know it's gotta be some writer or accompanist who played along while Bob sang the tune with the best diction you've ever heard.

"Like a Rolling Stone" is the mono mix, which has more punch than the original stereo version, but lacks a bit in the excitement arena. If this 45 hadn't've come in a picture sleeve and on red vinyl (US-style big hole, too), you'd have to pass this one by. You still might...
2.5/5 (Columbia/Legacy)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bob Dylan • The Best of the Original Mono Recordings

Times are tough, times are hard, here's your f'ing Christmas card. There's no Christmas music on it, of course, but Bob Dylan's The Best of the Original Mono Recordings is definitely a gift, even if you gotta buy it for yourself. I almost didn't buy it, but decided "what the heck?" I can't afford the box set, which is comprised of Bob's first eight LPs from 1962 to 1968, so I thought I'd at least spring for this. (Nobody asks me what I want for Christmas these days, so I gotta take care of myself.)

I don't know the Dylan discography well enough to tell you how different these mixes are from the standard stereo ones, but I can tell you that, like The Beatles or The Stones in monaural, these tracks all feel much more forceful and in your face in mono than 2-channel. I also can't tell you whether the takes used for the mono pressings are the same ones as on the stereo releases (they don't mention it in the liner notes, by Greil Marcus). But "Subterranean Homesick Blues," "Like a Rolling Stone," "Tombstone Blues," and a dozen others all sound superior here. I wish they would have made this a 2CD set, 'cause now I might have to figure out a way to get the box set. Dang.
4/5 (Columbia/Legacy)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

John & Yoko, Plastic Ono Band with Elephant's Memory (et al.) • Some Time in New York City

Oh sure, I know what you're saying. You're saying, "Hey Gooch, I see you reviewed a bunch of those Lennon CDs there, but what about Some Time in New York City?" And you have proven how astute you are—I did, indeed, forget to include John & Yoko's 1972 release in my previous post. Well, forget isn't exactly true, because this often overlooked album, played by Lennon, Ono, the Plastic Ono Band with Elephant's Memory and the Invisible Strings (did I forget anyone?) is always there and yet rarely mentioned. When you start off an album with a song called "Woman Is the Nigger of the World," you're asking for trouble. But in '72 Lennon didn't give a shit whether he was asking for trouble or just your ear. He wanted to educate his fans and everyone else about what was going on in the world, so he decided to disseminate it the best way he knew how: in song.

Oh sure, I know what you're saying. You're saying, "Yeah, Gooch, okay. Premise accepted. But what about the quality of the album?" Well, well, well, mate, it's a mixed bag. First of all, it's the only album John & Yoko ever did where they're actually working and singing together, as band and wife. (You can't count Live Peace in Toronto because all Yoko did was sit in a bag and wail.) What's great about the record is it's pretty rockin' from beginning to end, "New York City" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" being the two most obvious rockers. The looseness of this record is also pretty cool, unlike any other record Lennon ever did. I think you could probably attribute Elephant's Memory with making this sound unlike yer typical Lennon. Lyrically, it leaves a bit to be desired. It feels like the words were written quickly and not really slaved over or edited to any degree, which may be part of the "here's what's happenin' today" vibe of the enterprise, but the seriousness of the songs is sometimes squashed by the lack of lyrical brilliance. On the other hand, you could look at it as Lennon's folk album, hinted at on "Crippled Inside" from Imagine and now delivered to your doorstep. You can choose to read any story you want (the lyrics are laid out like news stories on the cover), gloss over one, delve deep into another, or come back to one later as a different headline grabs your attention. Don't care about "John Sinclair"? Well, there's a story on "Angela" (Davis), "Attica State" (Prison), and much more.

Oh sure, I know what you're saying. You're saying. "But Gooch, I've been skipping over this album for years because I don't know much about it." And I say to you, why not pick up a copy now? If you don't want to shell out for the new reissue (restored to its original mix, thank you), pick up a used copy (this is its third time on CD) cheap. You may not have even been born in 1972 (I was nine), so it's all news to you. And there's some great music on this set, which includes a second disc of John, the POB and Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention recorded live for some added entertainment. Newspapers may be dieing, but Some Time in New York City will live on long after other living things have died.
4/5 (Capitol/Apple)

Monday, November 22, 2010

American Music Awards 2010!

Justin Bieber won Artist of the Year, Breakthrough Artist, Male Pop Artist of the Year, and his album won Best Pop Album. And old music fiends (some a lot like me) say there's no good music being made anymore!

John Lennon • Plastic Ono Band, Imagine, Mind Games, Walls and Bridges, Rock 'N' Roll, et al. [2010 Reissues]

Well, well, well. Here we have a new batch of remastered John Lennon albums, and this time the wife didn't remix them or do anything to mess with them. The ones that streamed out last decade were all right if you want to hear something a little different (I thought Rock 'N' Roll was worth remixing, and was made stronger by remixing), but really, you don't want these to be fucked with. That being said, some bonus tracks would be nice. You know, like contemporary B-sides, singles that didn't make an album, stuff like that. But I guess Yoko has heard enough complaints over the years, and this time she decided to leave things alone. Good on ya!

Plastic Ono Band is still Lennon's strongest album, and his first solo studio album, so it's kinda sad to think he didn't better himself after that. But at the same time, it's such an amazing LP that I'd doubt anyone could make a better effort. When you lay it all out on the line like John did with this album, it's gotta be like getting a big burden off your shoulders. You know? Like, okay, what do I do next? Imagine came next, in '71, and it's a sweet record, though nowhere near as powerful and focused as POB. Of course it was buoyed by the eponymous single, which truth be told, I can't really listen to much anymore. (And "All You Need Is Love," too. Perhaps my mind is trying to tell me something?) But "Crippled Inside" is still a brilliant folk rock workout, and "How Do You Sleep?" still feels as vitriolic as it did when it came out. And who can resist the photo of Lennon trying to hold back a pig, in mockery of Paul McCartney's Ram album photo?

Mind Games was another good one, again, no match for POB, but not too shabby either. "Mind Games" was a great single, and I can still remember how I felt when hearing it on the late great AM radio back when I was ten. Walls and Bridges came in 1974 and that one is one I really love, much more so than when I first heard it in the late '70s as a neophyte Beatles fan. I always loved "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night," with Sir Elton on piano and vocals, but it's the album's melancholy vibe that gets me. Sure, Lennon's kinda moping throughout (he was bestranged from Yoko around this time, hanging out with Harry Nilsson at the Troubadour in L.A. and getting tanked all the time), but there's a real feeling to this record that's not artificially bolstered by a "concept" or anything like that. It ends with John and his son Julian doing "Ya Ya," with the boy playing very rudimentary snare drum while dad bangs on the piano. That song appears in full band form on Rock 'N' Roll, the album of '50s era cover songs that Lennon cut in '73-'74 (released in '75) and which has always been a favorite of mine. There's something about hearing your idols take on the songs that helped form their mindset that is very appealing, and when they're done well (and different enough to warrant the doing of it in the first place), you can't lose. Like Bowie's Pinups, this is a solid page in the man's family album, even if it's not original songs.

Also reissued is Double Fantasy, which has been given the remix treatment (Double Fantasy... Stripped) but comes with both that and the original mix together in one package. Not too much is gained by backing off the strings and such, but Lennon's songs here are okay and you hear them in what amounts to demo form. And a couple of Yoko's tunes aren't bad either. I didn't bother with the Milk and Honey reissue (I'll wait to find a used copy), since the only real good song on there is "Nobody Told Me." And, of course, there are the boxsets and greatest hits compilations too. Yoko didn't get these all right (no "Move Over Ms. L." on any of 'em), and uses a live take of "Cold Turkey" (possibly it's the Live Peace in Toronto version?) instead of the single version on one of the compilations. (I didn't get any of these.) Again, I plead with you, Yoko: LET ME DO IT NEXT TIME.

That being said, I like hearing the albums the way they were meant to be heard, and I can even go along with the lack of extra cuts. I just kept my John Lennon Collection CD and the Lennon Legend 2LP compilation in order to make up for it. I listen to these when I'm down, really yin, and I don't know what I'm doing...
5/5 Plastic Ono Band; 4/5 Imagine, 3.5/5 Mind Games, 3.5/5 Walls and Bridges (Capitol/Apple)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

New Releases Update • November 21, 2010

THE FALL | Live at the Witch Trials [Deluxe Edition]
Their first—and to me, best—album gets the deluxe treatment 31 years after its original release. Live at the Witch Trials, which isn't a live album at all, was recorded in a day in 1979 and showcased the first of seemingly dozens of Fall lineups. This 2CD edition includes the Bingo Masters Break-out EP, a ton of BBC John Peel live tracks, and two live concerts.

XTC | Skylarking
Double vinyl and deluxe double LP versions of XTC's 1986 classic. This time Andy's made sure to supply the cover art the band originally intended (much more exciting, especially if you enjoy pubic hair on your album covers), and if you spring for the deluxe copy, lots of pictures and copious notes from Mr. Partridge and Colin Moulding themselves. The information I've seen doesn't confirm whether the tracklisting is the first version (without "Dear God"), the second one (with it but minus "Mermaid Smiled"), or a version which includes both. It doesn't appear that any of the stellar bonus tracks ("Extrovert," for one) are included. If vinyl's your deal, though, this ought to be pretty nice.

THE CLASH | The Clash [US Version]
Punk's best opening salvo, reissued on vinyl the way it came out in the boring old USA in 1978, almost two years after its UK release. The American version appeared after their second album, Give 'Em Enough Rope, because the import had been selling like the last gangbusters in town and Epic finally relented. The Clash had a very different track listing (it had "I Fought the Law," for instance, which was recorded long after the UK album had been released) and came with a 7" single that featured tracks from the band's then-latest single, "Groovy Times" and "Gates of the West." If you have the 1999 reissue, I'm not sure why you need this unless you just gotta have those two cuts on a 45.

THE WHO | Live at Leeds [40th Anniversary Edition]
If you think this is the best live album EVER, like me, then you may want to get this one. Not only does it come with the 2CD Leeds concert (as released in the most recent Deluxe Edition), it comes with the original vinyl LP (just six songs, but oh what songs!), a replica 7" single ("Summertime Blues" b/w "Heaven & Hell"), a 64-page hardbound book with photos, etc., AND a 2CD "Live at Hull" concert from the VERY NEXT DAY. Sure, Live at Hull sounds dull (I mean the title), but I bet the concert's a scorcher. Either way, the only Who fan I can think of who won't want this is Dick Rossetti, and that's because he can't stomach Tommy (which appears in its entirety, perhaps even twice)!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones • Rollin Binzer (director)

What makes a great concert film? Terrific music, for one. Great sound? Definitely. Interesting cinematography? Yeah. An historic event? Sure. And what makes a great concert film director? Someone who knows how to present the band, their music, and what it looks like on stage in a way that makes you want to see it more than once.

So who is this guy, Rollin Binzer? Well, he's the guy who directed Ladies & Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones. But I'm not sure he was the right guy for the assignment. This movie, now repackaged, remastered and remixed for 5.1 surround sound, has been out many times since the home video era began, and this time they even put it out on Blu-ray. A concert film about the Stones' classic Exile on Main St., it's certainly got great music. The performance of that music? About what you'd expect of Mick&Keefco in that era. The sound? It's alright—nothing to write home about. (Not that my parents would give a shit.) The cinematography is just okay. Not only would I decline to write home about it, I might even have bypassed the movie entirely if I'd heard that it was just a basic multi-camera shoot with nothing really special about it.

All of these gripes go a long way to answer the question: If it's such a dull, cookie-cutter concert film, why are they re-releasing it now? Well, duh. They just executed the marketing campaign for the reissue of Exile, so naturally they had to reissue the movie that went along with it. Can't miss an opportunity to milk the golden cow, now, can we? And what's more, as you'd excpect, there's an insert inside the case hawking official Rolling Stones t-shirts and the documentary DVD Stones in Exile, which tells all and sundry the story of how this magnificent, brilliant rock 'n' roll record was rendered. Well, I'll stand by the album as being a great one (though I like Sticky Fingers better), but I'm not a fan of this Blu-ray showcase for Rollin Binzer's vision of what made the Stones great. I'll bet my stepmom could've made a better concert film.
2.5/5 (Eagle Vision; DVD & Blu-ray)

Friday, November 12, 2010

David Bowie • Station to Station [Deluxe Edition]

The return of the son of the Thin White Duke...? Station to Station was one of the many times over his career where David Bowie sought to reinvent himself. In 1976 it was more rockin' than Young Americans, more soulful than Diamond Dogs, and even considered "modern" (whatever that meant then).

When I first came across this album (in the early '80s), I didn't really like much of it, save for "Golden Years," which upon release was the first record I was ever aware of that was by this "bisexual" guy Bowie. (In '74 I was eleven.) That single's always been one of my favorites, and over the years I've come to like most of the rest of Station to Station. "TVC 15" starts out with a Professor Longhair piano riff, and that barrelhouse vibe carries through the verses until you get to the chorus, which takes the tune into a very different realm. It's a successful transmogrification. "Stay" is a rock/funk jam that showcases the entire band, especially drummer Dennis Davis. Throughout the record, he, guitarist Carlos Alomar, bassist George Murray and pianist Roy Bittan back up Bowie with a muscular, sometimes tender sound that foreshadowed where DB would go with his music in the early Eighties. (Earl Slick also shows up here, as does "Warren Peace" on vocals, who if memory serves me, is Luther Vandross [?]) And "Word on a Wing" really captures that sweet, yearning thing that Bowie does so well.

This release, the third or fourth time Station to Station has been on CD, comes in a few different versions, ranging from the standard one CD to the absolutely over the top 5CD/1DVD/3LP box that only the richest, most trainspotting of Bowie's fans would buy. ($150!) I opted for the middle version, the 3CD one that has the original album on one disc, and then the oft-bootlegged 1976 Nassau Coliseum show on the other two. This live concert makes this the station from which to depart. The setlist is fairly imaginative for Bowie at this point, incorporating just the right amount of hits and other cool tunes, like "Waiting for the Man" (yes, the Velvets song), "Five Years" and "Life on Mars?" Almost the same band as on Station, these guys tackle Bowie's set with vim and vigor, and a few reinterpretations that make this show worth the ticket price.

Sure, we're all getting a little weary of these reissues—do we really need another rendition of a limited edition 7 CD box set of the Stooges' Fun House sessions?—but apparently they're almost the only thing keeping the major labels afloat these days. Still, the often nagginess (is that a word? well, it is now) of the thought "Do I really need this version?" that trails the purchase of such an endeavor can get to be taxing. But if music is the thing that floats your boat, then you need to keep that baby above water!
3.5/5 (EMI)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)? • John Scheinfeld (director)

One of the best music documentaries to come along in ages, Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)? shows all who see it just what made Nilsson the genius enigma he was. Director John Scheinfeld interviewed a zillion people who knew him (too many famous ones to note!), worked with him, were vexed by him, or just knew of him and put together a bio that is at once sad, ecstatic, melancholy, bewitching, and downright hilarious.

Nilsson, of course, was the guy who turned on The Beatles with his amazing voice and bizarrely unique yet totally accessible songs. He first came to prominence with his rendition of "Everybody's Talkin'," which became the theme song for the movie Midnight Cowboy, though he had already written the hit song "One," which became one of Three Dog Night's biggest tunes. Harry later took Badfinger's "Without You" to number one on the charts, wrote the near-novelty tune "Coconut" ("you put the lime in the coconut and drink it all up") as well as the crazed rockers "Jump into the Fire" and "You're Breakin' My Heart" ("...you're tearin' it apart/so fuck you"). His album Nilsson Schmilsson, produced by Richard Perry, won all kinds of awards, and the next one, Son of Schmilsson, nearly equalled that effort. Confounding pretty much everyone, he next did an album of pop standards (long before Linda Ronstadt and Rod Stewart used that concept as a career crutch) called A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night. By this time his crazy nightlife escapades were coming back to haunt him, and after some slightly sordid episodes with John Lennon and assorted rock 'n' rollers, his career slowly came to a halt. Eventually, he passed away at the young age of 53, partly forgotten and definitely missed.

This documentary, out on DVD courtesy of Lorber Films and Authorized Pictures, is so touching and vivid, you can't help but wish you had known the man. Liberal use of Nilsson's songs will make you want to snap up any disc you see with the bearded 'n' bereted one's likeness on it. Topping it off, the archival film of Nilsson with the London Philharmonic, the "video" for "Coconut" (with echoes of Ernie Kovacs' Nairobi Three), and countless more extras make this a movie to savor.
5/5 (Lorber/Authorized)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Badfinger • Magic Christian Music, No Dice, Straight Up, Ass

It's been almost twenty years now since the first time Badfinger's albums for Apple were released on CD, and nearly forty since they first came out on vinyl. That a couple of these are of the best power pop records EVER shouldn't be news to aficionados, but it may be for those who vaguely remember "No Matter What" or "Day After Day," the two biggest singles for the band Stateside. The four of them together make up the must-haves of a band who were the cream of the early '70s pop crop.

Made up of some Welsh and Liverpudlian musicians who had a Beatles jones, they started out as The Iveys and even released one album under that name for Apple, the Fabs' label. (Maybe Tomorrow, which only came out in the UK and Europe originally, was issued on CD in the early '90s.) Pete Ham, Tom Evans, Mike Gibbins and later member Joey Molland changed their name to Badfinger and carried out author Paul McCartney's instructions when he gave them "Come and Get It" and told them to record it exactly the way he did on the demo. That single charted high, and Apple put out Magic Christian Music, made up of some new Badfinger tunes as well as some that had been recorded and even released the year before by The Iveys. It's not a bad album at all, what with the rockers "Rock of All Ages" and "Midnight Sun," but it's weakened by the more mainstream pop tunes included via the Iveys.

Next up came No Dice, the album that spawned one of their biggest hits, "No Matter What," which every guitarist of my age has to figure out early on as a badge of honor. Here you get some great rockers ("I Can't Take It"), some nice folk-edged tunes ("Blodwyn") and the original version of a song that became a #1 for Nilsson, "Without You." If you think that song is too over the top in the emotion sweepstakes, well, you need to hear Pete Ham sing it the way he wrote it... pure and sincere with no schmaltz. No Dice is a brilliant record, but it's their next one that is a 5/5: Straight Up.

Straight Up is the one that every rock fan should own, with "Day After Day" and the less successful but mindblowingly awesome "Baby Blue" buoying up the hit side. Even without those two songs, this album is so brilliant it hurts! All sides of Badfinger show here to perfection, with "Sweet Tuesday Morning" (a tender little tune), "Name of the Game," "Perfection," and LP closer "It's Over."

Finally we have Ass. Their last album for Apple, and Badfinger's sayonara to the label that didn't quite deliver what a more put together one would have with a band of this caliber. Ass was kicked over to the label as it was winding down its non-Beatles roster, and was virtually unpromoted by Apple or its parent company, EMI. Too bad, because Ass is another amazing album. By the time it came out in 1974, Warner Bros. was promoting their new Badfinger record, their first for the label (and not too bad, either). Ham & Co. certainly had a sense of humor in naming the record, as well as in the cover artwork, but the songs are definitely solidly melancholy, which is kind of the overriding feeling you get when listening to Badfinger. I mean, they start the album with "Apple of My Eye," a Dear John letter to Apple, very sad and very pointed, and they end the record with "Timeless," a moody rocker with a lengthy ending that neatly closes the door on this chapter of Badfinger.

All four of these reissues feature some great bonus tracks, including demos that have never been released, but like all of these types of endeavors, these releases don't include all of the same extras that the last reissues did. So if you're a big fan you gotta keep both copies (or at least burn the stray extra tracks for safekeeping). Take it from a Badfinger fiend, these are the ones to have.
3/5 Magic Christian Music, 4/5 No Dice, 5/5 Straight Up, 4/5 Ass (Apple)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lynda Kay • Dream My Darling

Lynda Kay's debut country album, Dream My Darling, is one of those releases that feels like a record that got stuck behind the stereo console for forty years, only to be treasured once its existence was rediscovered. It's very Patsy Cline-esque, save for the syrupy strings and Owen Bradley backing singers that make Cline's records sound so dated today. Think of k.d. lang minus the kitsch (though Lynda does don some very serious wigs). Lynda's smooth voice stays that way most of the time, yet on occasion it just about cracks—in the good kind of way. The way that tells you she's singing her songs for real, like on "Ain't Good Enough" or "Graveyard Shift." She's joined by Billy Bob Thornton on "All I Ever Wanted," which is a pretty good song, though I'm not sold on BB's vocals. (I did like him as Mr. Woodcock though...)

The instrumentation, though, is right on the money throughout Dream My Darling, with just enough pedal steel and minimal violin (as opposed to fiddle), and the song selection is all originals. Which is a good move, Lynda, 'cause the songs are great and it keeps people like me from comparing performances of classic country discs with modern interpretations. Sure, we gotta trot out the comparisons for "in general" purposes, as above, but the dozen doozies on this disc make it stand out among the annual crop of copycat country chanteuses.
3/5 (Dreamphonic, available via LyndaKay.com)
Photo by Kevin Scanlon for L.A. Weekly

Paul McCartney & Wings • Band On The Run (Archive Series 2010)

When your team is losing 35-0 at halftime, it's time to turn to the stereogram. So I put on Paul McCartney & Wings' Band On The Run, the umpteenth reissue (albeit in "deluxe" fashion) of Macca's quintessential post-Beatles LP. Though I already had a CD reissue and the 25th anniversary reissue (which was released a year late) on both digital and vinyl media, I "needed" to get this one to add to McCartney's revered place in my LP patch. And though my purchase of this behemoth started a hailstorm of personal issues best left to the courts of the wondrous State of Washington, "that's just how true my love [is]" for this album.

Band On The Run was recorded amidst a hailstorm of issues for McCartney: his drummer and lead guitarist quit the band on the eve of their departure for Lagos, Nigeria, where McCartney decided to record the third proper Wings release; the studio in Lagos, though an EMI property, was substandard and in ill-repair; and McCartney's acne was flaring up. (Okay, I made up the last one...) And yet, this list of issues only aided in the completion of McCartney's greatest solo record, which spawned three top ten singles, including my all-time fave, "Jet," and "Helen Wheels" (which technically came out ahead of the album but was included on it here in the USA).

There's not a lot to say about this sublime record that hasn't already been said... But, let's say you're a newbie or a young 'un and you don't know a lot about it. Well, this was McCartney's proof that he could most definitely cut it without Lennon, Harrison and Starr. In fact, unlike his Beatle bros, he never featured his Beatlebuddies on his solo releases. It was his aim to put together a new band and to start from scratch, and though Wings got off to a less than stellar start, you can't argue with the greatness of their early singles like "Hi, Hi, Hi" and "My Love." (It's now 38-0.) Band On The Run was McCartney's earliest crowning achievement outside of Beatledom, and its greatness lives on unabated nearly forty years later.

That this release is on Starbucks' record label Hear Music is both comical and unsurprising. That McCartney would want to capitalize on reissue mania with an album that got the deluxe treatment barely a decade ago is also unsurprising, because this LP/CD/download is THE one to have if you have no others of his. And besides, you can buy the boring one-disc standard CD, the double CD+DVD, the 180 gram vinyl, or the deluxe 3CD+DVD plus hardbound book version. (Or you can just download it if you're one of those people...) Any guesses as to which version I chose?

I hope McCartney's partnership with Hear Music continues to spawn sweet archival reissues such as this. I'm told that Ram is coming down the pike, and that's one that could use an overhaul--it might just be the best album Wings didn't make (at least, in name). Ram on, Paul.
5/5 (Hear Music)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Special UPDATE for Mike Montgomery and Others Who Wonder Where I've Been

Here it is, the beginning of November, and I haven't made a new entry since August. Well, my life has taken some interesting turns in the last few months, and though I'm loathe to go into specifics here, suffice to say, I am now just about settled into a new apartment. I finally got the stereo set up, with the 5.1 surround working via HDMI.

I can finally get around to reviewing some stuff! On the horizon are reviews of the new Bowie Station to Station reissue, the McCartney & Wings Band on the Run deluxe edition, the Badfinger reissues on Apple, Elvis Costello's new one, and the BluRay of Ladies & Gentlemen The Rolling Stones.

Coming very soon — possibly as early as tomorrow — you will see some new reviews you can yiews...

Thanks for hanging on!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Peter Case • The Man with the Blue Post Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar

Our final archival review to celebrate "Peter Case Week." Next week I will post my interview with Peter, so stay tuned...

Three years later, Peter Case releases his second solo album. A stunning companion to Peter Case, Blue Guitar doesn't really cover any new ground. Producers J. Steven Soles, Larry Hirsch and Case employ the same arrangements and production that T Bone Burnett did on the last one, and the territory covered is quite similar.

"Charlie James" is a traditional tune delivered in a traditional manner, and is followed by a gem called "Put Down the Gun." Other great songs are "Entella Hotel," "Travelin' Light," and my favorite, "This Town's a Riot." Case performed a few of these last spring when he played the Central, and the only differences here are that the songs are backed by a full band, most of the time, and are recorded in beautiful digital stereo.

Again, nothing new has been unearthed here. Peter Case's songs are as strong as ever, as focused and unique as anything else he's done. If you liked Peter Case, you'll like this one, and if you didn't, you won't.
[what a cop out ending!—ed.] [perhaps I was edited heavily?—ed.]

(from The Rocket, Seattle, May 1989)
3/5 (Geffen)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Peter Case • Sings Like Hell

I heard it was only available in the L.A. area so I got a friend of mine to pick it up for me. You'd better make similar arrangements to get Sings Like Hell. Now whether you'll take that title as crummy or fucking brilliant is up to you. But I can tell you, being a professed Casehead [or is that "headCase"? – ed.], that this simple, acoustic CD captures the essence of Peter Case's art and lays it naked on the table for you to deal with. Every nuance of hope, joy and despair in the lyrics benefits from the stark setting of this mostly-solo disc. He tackles a baker's dozen [there's that phrase again – ed.] of blues and bluesy covers, from Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Matchbox Blues" (the basis for Carl Perkins' '50s rockabilly song), Jesse Winchester's "How 'Bout You," and the supremely rockin' "Walkin' Bum" by David Allan Coe. Records like this make it obvious why bozos like me place so much importance on music. Now then: Call up your friend or relative in California and get her to get you this. (If you don't know anybody there, try Case's "fan club"… Tell 'em the Free Press sent ya.)

(Washington Free Press, Feb/March 1994)

4/5 (Travelin' Light; reissued by Vanguard)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Peter Case • Six Pack of Love

Our unofficial Peter Case week continues with some reviews I wrote back in the '90s...

For me, a new Peter Case album is more than that, it's a promise fulfilled. Not just because it's been two years since his last record, and not because it's miles better. It's because Case has made an album that takes all the best elements from Peter Case, and all the vibrancy and energy that made his work with the Plimsouls so good, and comes up with a brilliant work that'll one day be his benchmark.

Six Pack of Love is a baker's dozen of pure pop songs, harkening back to the early '80s when Case and the Plimsouls made the LA "new wave" scene. Cuts here like "It's All Mine" and "Why?" echo the song structure that made "A Million Miles Away" the definitive wave cut. Then songs like "Why Don't We Give It a Go?" and "It Don't Matter What People Say" remind you he's forsaken a lot of the rootsy rock of his previous solo work for more straightforward arrangements. His songwriting is better than ever, though, so the loss is only on paper.

There's an undeniable Lennon-ness to this album (like the Plastic Ono Band yelps at the end of "Why?"), too, that not so much apes The Beatles as it adds a richness of passion that only the best pop music contains. This is due as much to Case's (perhaps) newfound vigor as it is to the fact that he uses the same band throughout Six Pack of Love, which adds a coherence that his previous solo efforts lacked. On these records sidemen were the order of the day (as great as many of them were/are) — they seem so solo. Here we get a tight, ace band featuring bassist Bruce Thomas, the ex-Attraction who helped make Elvis Costello's music a lot better than it might have been, and drummer Gary Mallaber, who's been with everyone from Steve Miller to Bruce Springsteen. If the names Miller and Sprinsteen make you shriek with ambivalence, forget about 'em! Stop by the store and pick up a Six Pack of Love. And when you ask yourself why Case's latest is also his greatest, conjure this horrid ad slogan into your brainstem: Why ask why?

(from The Rocket, Seattle, May 1992)
5/5 (Geffen)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Peter Case • Wig!

No, Peter Case isn't balding and trying out toupées. He's got a new solo album out, and it's a real corker (to use our Limey friends' parlance). After a 2009 that saw Case go through heart surgery without insurance AND the release of 4 Case-related albums (see The Nerves on this blog), the man recorded Wig! with DJ Bonebrake of X and some other friends. Just like most of his releases, it's very heartfelt without being corny or doomy gloomy.

Perched somewhere between his mostly-solo albums (Sings Like Hell, et al.) and his band records (Six-Pack of Love), Wig! has a very bluesy vibe, yet it doesn't use the usual 12-bar template. There's a gutsy, smokey room feel, yeah, but Case's lyrical observations, along with his band's punk rock pedigree, make for songs and arrangements that mark this for solo album of 2010. It opens with "Banks of the River" and its swampy guitar and piano intro, followed by the more Chicago-bluesy "Dig What You're Puttin' Down." If I told you there's a bit of a John Fogerty thing going on here, too, would it keep you from checking it out? I hope not, because it's just one of the many I could call up that span the album, yet this record is quintessential Peter Case. I read somewhere that this was a return to his Plimsouls past (and sadly I noted it in my new releases update a few weeks ago), and that couldn't be more wrong. The closest it gets to that is a remake of "Old Blue Car," which appeared on his first post-Plims LP. Wig! has a great feeling of hope to it, not in a hokey way, but in a more post-modern fragmented neo-traditionalist kinda way, like on "House Rent Jump" and it's side two counterpart, "House Rent Party."

In all, Wig! has all the elements that make a great Case for Peter. (Ah, crap, sorry about that.) Pick one up now...

In the next few days I'll be transcribing a short interview I did with Peter Case and it'll be up here before you can say, "Gooch, get goin'!" We spoke about the album, the accompanying tour (for dates, go here), and a few other topics.
4/5 (YepRoc)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Johnny Cash • With His Hot and Blue Guitar

In honor of the passing of my stepdad Dennis E. Blurton on July 13th, I hereby review this classic album...

Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar was the first LP Sun Records ever put out, and it's a veritable greatest hits collection of the Man in Black at his youngest best. Basically a culling of his first singles and some cuts that hadn't been issued yet, Hot and Blue Guitar is the album to judge all country records by, which means topping this one will be a feat of major proportions. "Cry! Cry! Cry!" was Cash's first 45, followed by "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line," which are three superb slices of mid '50s country, mixing blues, folk and primal rockabilly into a unique music that hadn't been heard before. Also on the record are "(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle," "Rock Island Line" (a traditional folk song), "So Doggone Lonesome," "Wreck of the Old '97" and a few more, all showcasing Johnny's different sides... his spiritual side ("I Was There When It Happened"), his dark side ("Doin' My Time"), his downhome "ah, shucks" side ("Country Boy").

The subjects Cash takes on on this record were the foundation for all that would follow in his storied career. Though he would later get more and less political, do full albums of gospel or spiritual records, and take cracks at things that were surely suggested by the record label (like his version of Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads) and not altogether successful, we all know that there will never be another Johnny Cash.

With His Hot and Blue Guitar
was in my stepdad's meager record collection, and when I was nine or ten he hired me and my stepbrother Dave to transcribe the songs on the album so he could play them on his old Gibson acoustic. Dave and I wrote out the lyrics as best as we could, definitely getting some of the words wrong, but having a great time. When we thought we had each one down, I typed it out on Denny's old typewriter. Eventually he wrote in the chords, or just played along to them, and David and I learned a few ourselves ("Folsom Prison Blues" being our favorite to play). We found the folder of all these songs in our dad's stuff last week, and it brought back lots of great memories. Here's to you, DB, for instilling in me the confidence to learn a song and then sing it in front of my friends and family. I owe you one!
5/5 (Sun; reissued by Varese Sarabande)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

R.E.M. • Fables of the Reconstruction (25th Anniversary Ed.)

'Twas a difficult album for R.E.M. to make, that's for sure. After the nonstop touring and promotion of their first two LPs and an EP, 1985's Fables of the Reconstruction was high time for the band to take stock of their assets and see if there was anything new they could do with them. What they came up with, along with producer/folk music icon Joe Boyd, was a moody album that made both the band and their fans feel gravity's pull. Another album of Murmur/Reckoning-ish tunes, produced by the team of Mitch Easter and Don Dixon, might have been a safe move, but on the other hand, laying down some quick 'n' dirty demos and then flying halfway around the world to record them properly might be a better way to do it.

In hindsight, Fables feels more like the introduction to their next album, Lifes Rich Pageant, than it does an addition to the foundation they had already laid down. You still couldn't understand half of what Michael Stipe was singing, but the music Bill Berry, Peter Buck and Mike Mills came up with made Stipe sound like an instrument, and that's what made this record so great. The multi-guitars, bass and drums, plus a horn section here and a string section there, were a harkening back to the '70s, when vocals weren't mixed so far in the front, yet the album was like nothing from that decade. Kudos to Joe Boyd (read his book White Bicycles for more about him and the era he came from) for doing it the way he did, in England instead of the States, and to R.E.M. for having the balls to jump off the bandwagon they'd soon find they created.

This 25th Anniversary edition has been remastered, and I'm still not sure if I like it better than the original vinyl or the first and second CD editions that came out, but I do like the presentation. Two discs come in a nice box that will stand out on your CD shelf (if it even fits), and there are four "postcards" and a huge poster (I think I had the same poster when the album first came out in '85), too. The second disc features 14 demos of the songs intended for the album, and that includes three that didn't make it. What's great about these demos is you can really hear the basic ideas for the songs, so you can make the leap to Boyd's eventual production and really appreciate the final LP. And what's more, you can understand most of what Michael sang! (There are a few tunes where he doesn't quite have the lyrics finished, though.) Unadorned they may be, but they're a valuable touchstone in trying for yourself to reconstruct the fables of the reconstruction.
4/5 (IRS/Capitol)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Katrina and the Waves • Katrina and the Waves [An Appreciation]

Those of you who already know me can blow me. 'Cuz I know what you're thinking: "I always knew he was a pop wimp." Well, I don't care what you say because I've always loved this band, even before they had that ubiquitous pop hit 25 years ago with "Walking on Sunshine," so there.

If there ever was a band with a sound that epitomizes what I'd call summer rock 'n' roll, this is it. Anchored by Kimberley Rew's muscular-yet-tuneful guitar and Katrina Leskanich's hard-edged vocals, Katrina and the Waves shot the band to #1 all over the globe. And though there was no followup hit as big as "Sunshine," the album had at least five (5!) tunes that could've should've been hits. The 1985 album, released on Capitol Records and somehow so hard to find on CD today, was made up of songs that first showed up on the band's two Canadian releases on Attic, Walking On Sunshine* (1983) and Katrina And The Waves 2 (1984). Some were re-recorded, some were bolstered by more guitar, horns or whatever, but almost all of 'em were brilliant. "Do You Want Crying?"—I can't believe this jangle rock power pop epic didn't make it to the top. "Red Wine and Whisky," another brilliant tune. Wanna slow it down some? Then try Katrina's blue-eyed soul on "The Sun Won't Shine." And don't even get me started on "Going Down to Liverpool," which most people know from the Bangles' first album (but which was written by Rew)! Of course, no album is perfect. There are a coupla tunes here that have some pretty silly lyrics, and I don't mean "fun" silly but more like "kinda dumb, really," such as "Machine Gun Smith," but when it comes along with quality hard pop like "Que Te Quiero," you should be willing to forgive a little.

If you wanna go back a ways, those two Attic LPs are available separately on CGB (a tiny US independent) and as a 2fer on Canada's BongoBeat. The first one contained a few great tunes that didn't make any of their Capitol releases, most notably "Brown Eyed Son" and "Dancing Street," while 2 had "Maniac House," for 1. They're a little thinner sounding, but you really get a feel for where the classics came from. And actually, if you wanna become a bona fide Waves scholar, you need to get Shock Horror! by The Waves (1983), recorded before they put Katrina's name on the marquee. Also out now on CGB, this 8-song EP had the first versions of "Liverpool" and "Brown Eyed Son," but also "I Caught the Milk Train" and "You Can't Stand Next to Judie." Rew was handling most of the lead vocals while Katrina sang along and played rhythm guitar, and the raw indie vibe is fully apparent and kinda kute. (The reissue CD has 4 bonus songs on it.) Finally, if Rew's songwriting really floats your boat, besides his more recent solo releases, The Bible of Bop (again, on CGB) features songs he cut with The Waves, The Soft Boys (who he played with prior to mega stardom) and even the dB's, such as "My Baby Does Her Hairdo Long," "Nightmare," and "Hey! War Pig."

Alright now, back to the beginning. Go ahead, throw all the insults at me you can think of. I don't care. I'll stand by my appreciation of Katrina and the Waves until the end of time, and I will listen to their records until that scarey man with the scythe comes knockin' on my door, because every time I hear "Walking on Sunshine" I can let go of every freakin' care I've ever had in the world and for three minutes just get carried away. And don't it feel good!

* Now called Katrina and the Waves, in order to confuse and amuse.
Katrina and the Waves (Capitol), 5/5; Katrina and the Waves (Attic/CGB), 3/5; Katrina and the Waves 2, 3/5; Shock Horror! 3/5; Bible of Bop, 4/5.

And for those of you who weren't around in the '80s, here's a bitchin' video of Katrina and the Waves lip syncing they're colossal hit, just to make you feel good!

Friday, July 2, 2010

New Releases Update • July 2, 2010

Peter Case | Wig! (Out now)
Peter Case, after a hiatus healing up from open heart surgery, returns to his Nerves/Plimsouls power pop roots with Wig!, a 12-tracker which includes "New Blue Car," perhaps a bookend to his solo track, "Old Blue Car"? Look for a review here soon.

Julian Cope | Floored Genius 2 [Deluxe Edition] (July 6)
An expanded version of the CD that featured a bunch of Cope's BBC recordings, this time there are 13 more, all handpicked by the man himself. The sessions span the years 1983-1991 and include never heard before tunes such as "Ballad of King Plank" and "The Mystery Trend" plus some tunes first put out by his band, The Teardrop Explodes. Speaking of which…

The Teardrop Explodes | Kilimanjaro [Deluxe Edition] (July 20)
THREE discs… Could be too many, but it looks like this Deluxo comes with a full disc of BBC sessions (many of the tunes from Kilimanjaro and the following album, Wilder, in very different arrangements), and a disc of b-sides and rarities, meaning you get their very earliest Zoo Records singles (very hard to find in any format).

R.E.M. | Fables of the Reconstruction [Deluxe Edition] (July 13)
A 2CD reissue with a bonus disc of demos, all previously unreleased (at least, legally) and including "Throw Those Trolls Away," which has never come out in any form. The albums are packaged in a special lift top box, and a poster and four post cards are also included. (The album is also being reissued as a standard, single LP.)

X | Under the Big Black Sun (July 13)
Porterhouse Vinyl continues their campaign to bring back all of America's best punk band's albums on vinyl. And this one, originally released on Elektra in 1982, is my favorite! The 180-gram reissue includes some of X's best-known tunes, like "Blue Spark," "Riding with Mary," and "The Hungry Wolf." If the pressing's as good as the one they did of Wild Gift, you better not miss this.