DOYLE: ABOMINATOR

(MONSTER MAN RECORDS; 2013)

Abominator

I guess it’s time I come clean. I wasn’t a big fan of the original Misfits. I’m really not sure if it was Glenn Danzig’s vocals or the… uh… crappy production; I’m tempted to go with the latter, as I was rather fond of Samhain and Glenn definitely hooked me with the gloomier-than-thou Danzig. The first Misfits album I owned was the 1997 “reunion” offering, AMERICAN PSYCHO, with Michale Graves replacing Danzig. It was also around this time that I got to know Jerry, Chud and Doyle. I liked those guys and I liked that version of the band. After Graves, Doyle and Chud left, I got to know returning drummer Robo, former Black Flag guitarist Dez Cadena and, of course, Marky Ramone. Any time I can hear anything new from ANY of these Misfits, I’m a happy camper. Must I say it? I must! I must! He’s ba-ack! I am ecstatic that Doyle has risen from the grave with a new band and a new record, ABOMINATOR.

Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein (photo credit: LOKERSE FEESTEN)

Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein (photo credit: LOKERSE FEESTEN)

The title track opens the album, a punk/metal hybrid that’s all buzz-saw riffs and doom-laden lyrics. When Alex Story intones, “You will pray for death,” you can almost hear the spirit of Vincent Price laugh and add, “Indeed!” Mister Story sounds a bit like Rob Zombie on “Learn To Bleed,” a thundering Black Label Society style metallic blues with impossibly heavy double bass drum action from everyone’s favorite Abominable Doctor, Chud. “Dreamingdeadgirls” is the best song about necrophilia since “I Love the Dead” in 1973 (although Frank Zappa’s “Dead Girls of London” a few years later comes close). The vocals have a watery, compressed quality that works very nicely in this context and the chorus is a cool, retro “Teen Angel” sort of vibe.

With a buzzing, stinging guitar that hovers just below the pain threshold, “Headhunter” is a bass heavy (compliments of former Graves bassist, Left Hand Graham), chunky blast of grinding metallic bliss. For some utterly insane reason, “Valley of Shadows” reminds me of something that you might hear from Warrant. It manages to rise above thanks to a better bottom end, darker lyrics and harsher vocals. “Land of the Dead” is akin to Danzig’s metal onslaught. In other words, it’s almost oppressively heavy and scary.

Doyle's Alex Story onstage (uncredited photo)

Doyle’s Alex Story onstage (uncredited photo)

Cemeterysexxx” has all the boys and ghouls (sorry… I just couldn’t resist) heading out to the graveyard because “Making love with the dead is the only time I really feel alive.” Doyle incorporates a unique trick into his solo by using tonalities (as opposed to notes); you just don’t hear that kind of thing in this type of music and it works quite well as a result. Doyle’s stinging guitar punches over a slow burn, down-tuned Alice In Chains type of affair carries the first half of “Love Like Murder” before it kicks into early Misfits punk overdrive. This is one of the better tracks from any Misfit (current or former) that I’ve heard in quite awhile.

Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein (uncredited photo)

Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein (uncredited photo)

Mark of the Beast” features a creepy, atmospheric intro, while the drums have a certain cool swing to them, turning what could have been a rather pedestrian metal slog through the mire into something much more interesting. “Bloodstains” is the song where Doyle finally breaks free of the restraints, reminding us why we’ve missed him so much. The tune is like a sick zombie boogie wonderland. Coming off like a perfect hybrid of Graves-era Misfits and Danzig’s riff-heavy metal, “Hope Hell Is Warm” is the perfect way to close a very fun record. Don’t stay away so long again, Doyle… we need you to scare us back into shape! ABOMINATOR is available as a standard CD and download from all of the usual suspects. A double vinyl version (with a bonus song, “Drawing Down the Moon”) is available exclusively at the band’s web-site, officialdoyle.com.


GREAT LIVE ALBUMS (18)

Live recordings have been a part of the music industry since day one of the crude technology of the earliest devices. In fact, since there were really no studios available for recording purposes, all of those early “records” were “live recordings” in the strictest sense. However, the live album, as we now know it, is a completely different animal. That animal came into its own in the rock era and exploded with the release of ALIVE, a 1975 album by KISS, (a career making release with an overabundance of what has come to be known as “studio sweetening”), and FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE in 1976 (also hurtling “the face” and former Humble Pie guitarist to superstardom). With the unprecedented success of Peter Frampton’s fifth solo release, everybody and their brothers were releasing these documents of their latest tours (sometimes used as stop gaps between studio albums; sometimes used as a means to gain an artist’s release from a record label contract, commonly referred to as the “contractual obligation” record).

A lot of people don’t like live albums. I’m not one of those. Some of my favorite records were recorded on the road. Here’s a list of 20 live albums that I think are the best. These records are all official releases, not bootlegs… that’s a whole other list (and one you may see somewhere down the line, as well). I had a hard time keeping this list to 20 (it started out as a “Top10”) and, I’m sure that your list would look very different from this one. But, that’s what makes these things so much fun, right? So, here’s number 18, the next in a series of reviews presenting 20 live albums that you should check out:

(18) STATUS QUO: LIVE

(CAPITOL RECORDS/EMI RECORDS; 1977)

Status Quo Live US cover

So, this was a hard one. Among all of the live albums that I love and listen to the most, this spot came down between three great records: LIVE BULLET from Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Rory Gallagher’s STAGE STRUCK and this one, my first extended listen to (The) Status Quo (aside from the 1968 psychedelic masterpiece, “Pictures of Matchstick Men”). With PHOTO-FINISH and TOP PRIORITY, the single record STAGE STRUCK album from 1980 comes from my favorite period of Rory Gallagher’s career and, with killer songs like “Shin Kicker,” “Wayward Child” and “Brute Force and Ignorance,” it’s hard to overlook on this list. As far as LIVE BULLET goes, this is truly the one that put Bob Seger over the top nationally and side three of the 1976 double album (“Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” “Heavy Music” and “Katmandu”) may just be the single most perfect live side ever released. But, then, why LIVE, a little heard release from a little heard (take it easy, Europe… I know that these guys are huge there… in America, not so much) boogie band from the UK? Well… it’s a really good, rockin’ set and… this is my list! You don’t agree, make your own list. Besides, where do I draw the line? I mean, what about other great live albums that didn’t make my list? What about UNLEASHED IN THE EAST, IF YOU WANT BLOOD… YOU’VE GOT IT, ROXY AND ELSEWHERE, LIVE RUST or WAITING FOR COLUMBUS? It’s definitely a tough call on my part but, don’t just pass this one over; give it a listen… you just may find yourself as big a fan as I am.

Status Quo (John Coghlan, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster, Francis Rossi) (uncredited photo)

Status Quo (John Coghlan, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster, Francis Rossi) (uncredited photo)

The Status Quo began their career as a psychedelic pop group, garnering a top 10 hit in the UK and a top 20 hit in the States with their first single, “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” Even though they experienced moderate success in England and Europe, by their third album (1970’s MA KELLY’S GREASY SPOON), they had dropped the Paisley sounds (they’d already become merely Status Quo the previous year, dropping “The” from their name), going for a rougher boogie sound; even then, it wasn’t until 1972 and album number five, PILEDRIVER, that they really started to roll, hitting number five on the UK charts. By the time LIVE was recorded, in October 1976 at Glasgow’s Apollo Theatre, the boys had a number two album and three number one’s. LIVE is Status Quo at the top of their game and on fire, ripping off blistering song after blistering song.

The Quo kick off the set with “Junior’s Wailing,” an old Steamhammer tune from 1969 that the boys covered on MA KELLY’S… . It’s a straight on, chuggin’ boogie stroll and a mission statement, declaring to all that this band means business. A coupling of the first two tracks from1974’s QUO album follows, with John Coghlan’s pounding backbeat taking no prisoners, even offering up a cowbell heavy mini-solo coming out of “Backwater” and leading into “Just Take Me.” The guitars (provided by the powerhouse duo of Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi) get a bit funky on “Just Take Me,” particularly the solo. “Is There a Better Way,” the lead track from the then seven month old BLUE FOR YOU album, is probably the best known Status Quo tune here in the US (outside of “Pictures of Matchstick Men”) and it’s as heavy as anything by that other group of boogie merchants, AC/DC… in fact, it could be the best AC/DC song that Bon and the boys never recorded. It’s highlighted by a booming bass from Alan Lancaster and a swirling organ from the newly-minted fifth member of the band, Andy Bown. It is, to these ears, boogie perfection. Side one closes out with a 1970 English single (which was added to a completely deconstructed and rebuilt American version of MA KELLY’S GREASY SPOON), “In My Chair.” It’s another strident stroll, with a cool Link Wray guitar figure and solo. Upon its release as a single in ’70, it just missed the top 20 on the English charts, a rather surprising thing considering that the previous single, “Down the Dustpipe,” reached number 12. Or, maybe not so surprising, as the British record buying public seem to be far more fickle than here in the States but, they like what they like.

Status Quo (The Frantic Four: John Coghlan, Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

Status Quo (The Frantic Four: John Coghlan, Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

On side two, we’re introduced to 1975’s ON THE LEVEL via “Little Lady” with its Chuck Berry stomp and “Most of the Time,” which starts off with a country boogie sing-along before the band kicks in. There’s another great guitar solo (there always is, isn’t there?) as the bottom end is awash in a sea of Coghlan drum rolls. “Most of the Time” may be as close as the bulldozing Quo came to producing a ballad during this, their boogie heyday. “Forty-Five Hundred Times” comes from the group’s widely overlooked (though chart-topping) 1973 offering, HELLO; I’m not really sure if the intro’s a joke or not, but they say that “here’s something… one of those albums that we get really tired of… ” before heading into a massive (nearly 17 minutes) roiling, solo-filled rendition. The song and the lads seem to pick up steam at about the seven-and-a-half minute mark, leading into an epic guitar duel between Rossi and Parfitt, with a lot of interesting interaction going on underneath from Lancaster and Coghlan. With the several time changes, and as I’m not familiar with HELLO, other than this and the other two tracks from it played here, this could be the band’s way of giving the fans a little bit of every song on the album.

Status Quo (Blue For You: Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster) (photo credit: BOB YOUNG ARCHIVES)

Status Quo (Blue For You: Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster) (photo credit: BOB YOUNG ARCHIVES)

Roll Over Lay Down” is the first of those other two HELLO numbers. It opens side three and features a kind of undulating, rolling vocal style (I know that description makes it all as clear as mud but, once you hear it, you’ll understand what I’m talking about). The boys take a fairly standard blues riff and ratchet up the power-chording to great effect. As the song’s feedback ending crashes into the heavier “Big Fat Mama,” the vocals sound like a beautiful meshing of the Tygers of Pan Tang’s Jess Cox and little Johnny Osbourne of Sabbath fame. The charging tempo and hot-rod fueled bass could very easily be a prototype for the forthcoming New Wave of British Metal. It’s a fun song from the PILEDRIVER record and a definite highlight in a live setting. Barely affording the crowd a chance to catch their breath, the band rips into the final HELLO tune, “Caroline,” which is highlighted by great work from the rhythm section – including Parfitt’s rhythm guitar – and one of the strangest drum solos I’ve ever heard before jumping into Quo’s homage-paying tribute to Chuck Berry, via Berry’s own “Bye Bye Johnny,” the album closer from ON THE LEVEL. The track turns into an audience participation affair, as they’re led through the chorus of, “Bye, bye/Bye, bye/Bye, bye, Johnny B Goode.” The only disappointing thing about the tune (and, indeed, most of LIVE) is that you just know that Andy Bown is in there somewhere, adding that Johnnie Johnson boogie-woogie piano to the mix; either he’s simply overpowered by the guitars or he’s been buried in the mix for some insidious reason.

Status Quo (On the Front Line: Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

Status Quo (On the Front Line: Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

Rain,” only the second song from the new BLUE FOR YOU album, opens side four. This might be my favorite Quo song of all time, featuring one of their best riffs and great sing-along lyrics. A couple of tracks from PILEDRIVER, the first and last songs on the record, brings the final side of LIVE to a rousing close. Fan (and band) favorite “Don’t Waste My Time” chugs along, eventually crashing into a killer 14 minute take of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.” The percolating groove is punctuated by powerful performances by Coghlan and Lancaster, as well as tour manager Bob Young, joining in on harmonica. The chugging middle section is given over to the animated crowd , a traditional Irish jig (I think it’s called “Paddy O’Brien’s.” You know… it’s that leprechaun thing) and a snippet of the Johnny Kidd and the Pirates chestnut, “Shakin’ All Over,” before returning to the Doors tune to finish off the set. If you aren’t familiar with Status Quo or want to relive those glory years of the band, LIVE is the perfect place to start.

Status Quo (Live At the Apollo Theatre in Glasgow, 1976: Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi, John Coghlan, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

Status Quo (Live At the Apollo Theatre in Glasgow, 1976: Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi, John Coghlan, Alan Lancaster) (uncredited photo)

The original American release of LIVE also featured the group’s then-current single, “Wild Side of Life” backed with “All Through the Night,” as a free insert. The latest version of LIVE that I’ve been able to confirm is from 2005. It features a slightly different running order, keeping it in line with the actual set lists from those three nights in October 1976.


LOUDER THAN WORDS

(ARC ENTERTAINMENT/IDENTITY FILMS (93 minutes, Rated PG-13); 2014)

LOUDER THAN WORDS

For me, ambivalence is not an option for a film like LOUDER THAN WORDS; either I like such fare very much or hate it vehemently. I knew that the script was based on a true story which, depending on the screenwriter, the director, the principal stars and – yes – the subject matter, could signal disaster or thought-provoking, uplifting confirmations about life, family and the inherent good within each of us. The first few minutes of LOUDER THAN WORDS had me leaning toward disaster… to the point that I nearly hit the “stop” button on the remote. But, I hung in and, thankfully, was rewarded with story about life and death and family dynamics that seem, in some part, to reflect each of us.

LOUDER THAN WORDS (David Duchovny and Hope Davis) (publicity still)

LOUDER THAN WORDS (David Duchovny and Hope Davis) (publicity still)

So, is LOUDER… perfect? No, the movie definitely has problems, which I’ll address shortly. First, though, here’s the basic gist of the story (no spoilers here, as the story has been well documented): John and Brenda Fareri (played by David Duchovny and Hope Davis) are a well-to-do couple devastated after the loss of their 13 year old daughter, Maria (Olivia Steele-Falconer), to a rare strain of rabies. Maria, a vibrant and loving child, was the glue that held the Ferari family unit together. John – always the thoughtful, quiet one – seems to become more insular and withdrawn, alienating Brenda and their other children (from Brenda’s previous marriage), triplets Stephanie, Michael and Julie (Adelaide Kane, Ben Rosenfield and Morgan Griffin), each grieving in their own fashion and wondering why the man they call Father has abandoned them. At one point, one of the girls tells her Mother that she fels like things are back to the way they were before John became a part of their family: Like they didn’t have a Father. John gains focus when he decides to build a new children’s hospital to better serve the needs of the whole family and to make the kids feel – if not at home – a little more comfortable about their hospital stay. Of course, everybody thinks that John has driven off the rails somewhere, including city leaders, rich friends and the consultant (Bruce Komiske, played by Timothy Hutton) he hires to help bring his dream to fruition. An eventual kitchen showdown between Brenda and John allows both to vent and gain a modicum of understanding of the pain the other is feeling. From there, it isn’t a great stretch to bring Brenda and the three kids on board and start the ball (and donations) rolling. The previous despair is replaced by a sense of hope and a desire to help others in the Fareri’s situation.

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Olivia Steele-Falconer) (publicity still)

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Olivia Steele-Falconer) (publicity still)

The film is narrated by Maria, who is initially seen riding her bicycle on a beautiful fall day (or, maybe, she’s in Heaven). I originally found this premise a bit dubious, to say the least but, as the story progresses, it seems somehow natural that she would be the one to tell this story. LOUDER THAN WORDS encompasses approximately seven years, boiled down into a compact 90-minute package; and, therein, lies the bulk of my problems with the movie. Sometimes it just seems too much like watching MTV on speed for its own good. The film bounces back and forth between past and present, generally via family remembrances, with too many quick cuts and edits and little “black-out” vignettes meant to move the story forward as quickly as possible. Producer Anthony Mastromauro says, in the “behind the scenes” bonus feature, I think any time you’re telling a story that spans a number of years, the non-linear structure can work in your favor.” Or not, sir. While I did find the movie engaging and the story a great affirmation of life, I would very much have preferred a more traditional, linear telling (which the film does revert to eventually) and, maybe, about another 30-minutes to flesh out a few of those frustrating vignettes.

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Timothy Hutton, Hope Davis and David Duchovny) (publicity still)

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Timothy Hutton, Hope Davis and David Duchovny) (publicity still)

Some of John’s flashback sequences are akin to Agent Mulder’s search for his sister (and the truth, which is out there… or so we’re told) in THE X FILES. And, now that I think about it, the hospital where Maria dies kinda looks like one of those draped-in-shadows secret government facilities that Scully and Mulder would occasionally find themselves searching for that truth. As is often the case with a death in the family (particularly a young child), the survivors each handle the loss in their own way. The Fareri family’s coping mechanisms may seem a bit over the top, but… try to put yourself in their shoes (heck, you may have been in those shoes yourself once). I haven’t lost a child, but I watched my Mother go through it twice; it’s a pain that never goes away. So, anyway… the kids are suitably sullen; Brenda is devastated, confused and angry… in that order; John is, first, zombie-like, then, inconsolable and, finally, driven. With Bruce Komiske on board, John and he begin to knock on the doors of the wealthy and the powerful. At one point, a consultant mentions that the best way to build a new hospital is by putting a donor’s name on the building; John steadfastly declares that the hospital will bear his daughter’s name. That is the attitude that has his family and friends, at first, questioning his sanity and, later, joining him in the fight to give these children and their families a state-of-the-art facility, as well as a sense of hope.

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Ben Rosenfield, Hope Davis, David Duchovny, Morgan Griffin and Adelaide Kane) (publicity still)

LOUDER THAN WORDS (Ben Rosenfield, Hope Davis, David Duchovny, Morgan Griffin and Adelaide Kane) (publicity still)

Duchovny’s performance is understated, sometimes to the point that he appears to be mumbling his lines; he very rarely raises his voice, but when he does, it’s with authority and passion. The sincerity in the faces and eyes of Duchovny, Davis and Hutton are real. In the “behind the scenes” documentary, they each declare how much they believed in this story and how much they believed that it was one that should be told… standard quotes for any actor about any of their projects. This time, though, that same sincerity is in their eyes. They aren’t just giving lip service, they really mean it. Rosenfield, Kane and Griffin play the lost and hurting triplets as if they’re walking through a very bad dream; and, that’s exactly what it feels like, especially when you feel like you’ve lost your parents, too. Olivia Steele-Falconer, at times, seems to be in over her head and overreaching to compensate but, when it’s all said and done, she delivers a moving performance. The Fareri family were all involved in the production of LOUDER THAN WORDS and, I couldn’t imagine how hard that must have been, particularly when they would see this little girl playing their daughter and the uncanny resemblance to Maria.

LOUDER THAN WORDS (The Maria Fareri Children's Hospital; Maria in inset) (uncredited photos)

LOUDER THAN WORDS (The Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital; Maria in inset) (uncredited photos)

So, I told you that it wasn’t perfect and I stated my reasons for that assessment. If you don’t feel the same way I do about the editing style and non-linear storytelling, then by all means, you should check out LOUDER THAN WORDS. It truly is a story that had to be told.


AMON DUUL II: DUULIRIUM

(PURPLE PYRAMID RECORDS/CLEOPATRA RECORDS; reissue 2014, original digital release 2010)

1808

Approximately a decade-and-a-half after their last true record (new material, rather than collected works or decades-old live tapes), and even longer since the involvement of a majority of the original driving forces within the group, Amon Duul II returned in 2010 with BEE AS SUCH, a self-released downloadable album harkening back to the beginning… experimental and trippy sound pastiches with transcendently hippie-chic lyricism. The original plans for the album included a physical release shortly after the digital files were posted; that scenario never materialized… until now, as the Purple Pyramid arm of Cleopatra Records has finally released the retitled DUULIRIUM on vinyl and CD. Rather like the debut of their forebears (the communal-minded Amon Duul), BEE AS SUCH seemed to be recorded as one long jam session and then edited and cut down into four separate and highly distinct tunes. I mention that because the individual tracks tend to start and end either in the middle of a note or a piece of lyric; even if it appears that the splices fit together seamlessly (as with the first two cuts), when you try to edit the two songs together, it just doesn’t work.

Amon Duul II, circa 2009 (Renate Knaup-Krotenschwanz, Jan Kahlert, Chris Karrer, John Weinzierl, Gerard Carbonell, Lothar Meid) (uncredited photo)

Amon Duul II, circa 2009 (Renate Knaup-Krotenschwanz, Jan Kahlert, Chris Karrer, John Weinzierl, Gerard Carbonell, Lothar Meid) (uncredited photo)

The disjointedness starts at point zero of the first track, “On the Highway” (originally called “Mambo La Libertad”), as the track seems to pick up right in the middle of a lyric. The song itself is all weird, hippie redux, but is not unappealing in the least. The vocals, which I assume are by Chris Karrer and Renate Knaup-Krotenschwanz, comes across as a rather sloppy (though, again, not unappealing) duet between Don Van Vliet and Edith Bunker (the character, not Jean Stapleton, who actually had a great voice). As off-kilter as this assessment makes it sound, “Mambo La Libertad” gets the record off to a great start. The track ends mid-drumbeat, with the second cut picking up somewhere later in the same beat; “Du Kommst Ins Heim” is total mind-warping Krautrock of the highest order. Continuing to mine a plethora of vocal styles, the (again, an assumption on my part) male part comes across as David Byrne, circa early Talking Heads. The same vocals that sounded like Edith are here, too, but much more… in tune, while spastic yodeling, operatic yowls and squalling cat mewls mingle with the odd violin scrape. We actually dig this one muchly as it totally epitomizes the word “trippy.”

Standing In the Shadow” finds Nina Hagen and Mac Rebennack vamping their way through a wicked, groove-based improvisation, fronting a Germanic Funkadelic with Lothar Meid (in the role of Bootsy) funkin’ things up on the bass guitar, while John Weinzierl adds some insane Bernie Worrell style synthesizer effects. At less than eight-and-a-half minutes, “Stil Standing” (the cut’s original title) is the shortest track on DUULIRIUM/BEE AS SUCH. In contrast, the final piece clocks in at nearly thirty minutes; listed on DUULIRIUM as two separate entities, “Back To the Rules” and “Walking To the Park,” the songs were presented under the title “Psychedelic Suite” on the original digital files of BEE AS SUCH. A mindnumbing crawl of a slow tune, “Back To the Rules” occupies the first ten-and-a-half minutes of this musical beast. Standing as a stark example of gaunt minimalism, the oddly languid pace manifests itself as a definite plus rather than a minus; the musicians almost break free at the 8:45 mark only to be reined back in by the burdensome art-damage of the whole thing. The final minutes of the piece does pick up the pace, though not much, as bassist Meid and percussionists Danny Fichelscher and Jan Kahlert drive the tune toward a real psychedelic work-out leading into a bizarre little interlude before heading full-bore into “Walking To the Park” at around the 18:30 mark. Suddenly, a leisurely stroll (a virtual Thorazine shuffle) becomes a frenzied run, perhaps as the couple in the narrative realizes that the park may not be the safest place to be. There are some great guitar runs during this section of the track, really the first time either Weinzierl or Karrer have exploited the instrument to its fullest extent on the entire record. Likewise, Knaup-Krotenschwanz delivers the album’s best performance here, falling somewhere between early Toyah Willcox, mid-period Kate Bush and latter day Marianne Faithfull. Twenty-six minutes may seem a tad like overkill but, if you’re patient, you’ll be rewarded with what is an epic masterpiece of the genre that has come to be known as “Krautrock.”


JENNY LEWIS: THE VOYAGER

(WARNER BROTHERS RECORDS; 2014)

the-voyager-extralarge_1400524976639

Jenny Lewis literally grew up in front of America. She was only nine years old when she made her first television appearance (in the TV movie, SUBURBAN BEAT). The first thing I ever saw her in was the 1989 big-budget Shelley Long (of CHEERS fame) comedy, TROOP BEVERLY HILLS; it wasn’t a huge part for Jenny, but it was obvious that she had that something special… even at 13 years old. As she got older, she was showing up less on the screen, slowly transitioning to a career in music. In 1998, she formed Rilo Kiley, a band who were destined to become indie darlings. She released an album with the Watson Twins in 2006 and her first true solo album, ACID TONGUE, in 2008. After the release of I’M HAVING FUN NOW, an album recorded with her boyfriend, Jonathan Rice, Jenny’s life headed into a rather drastic downward spiral. Her father passed away at the end of 2010 and Rilo Kiley broke up a few months later. These two events led to intense bouts of insomnia and emotional upheaval. As a coping mechanism, Jenny began writing again. Now, almost three years later, we finally have THE VOYAGER, a cathartic, thought-provoking collection that, through the shimmering sound, a very vulnerable soul is laid bare.

Jenny Lewis (photo credit: AUTUMN DE WILDE)

Jenny Lewis (photo credit: AUTUMN DE WILDE)

THE VOYAGER is produced, primarily, by Ryan Adams, it’s the team of Lewis and Rice who helm the folk/dance opener, “Head Underwater.” The song has a certain ebb and flow and the sparkling production perfectly highlights Jenny’s vocals. “She’s Not Me” is sort of an ’80s pop/R and B thing that would have demanded a video which would have been placed in heavy rotation on the MTV. Even though the tune has a smooth and easy feel (no doubt like the other woman in the song), it’s basically a smackdown by a scorned lover. Speaking of videos, “Just One of the Guys” (check it out below) features Jenny and a bunch of her friends (including Anne Hathaway, Kristin Stewart and Brie Larson) playing dress up and trying to mimic typical macho men; obviously, they don’t even come close but, then, maybe that’s the whole point. By this point of the album, a certain thematic thread seems to developing: Jenny Lewis, now heading toward 40 (geez… how old does that make YOU feel?), is starting to hear the ticking of her biological and reproductive clock. Amongst the psuedo-psychedelic country vibe of the Beck Hansen-produced song are the lyrics, “There’s only one difference between you and me/When I look at myself, all I can see/I’m just another lady without a baby.”

A different kind of psychedelia (“A slippery slope/Mushrooms and coke”) seems to drive the next track, “Slippery Slopes.” The guitar has an almost metal feel which offers an odd juxtaposition with Lewis’ silky smooth voice. “Late Bloomer” is a rockin’ country thing with lyrical allusions to Lou Reed’s “Walk On the Wild Side,” without the cross-dressing and transgender references (as far as I can tell, anyway). The third and final non-Ryan Adams produced (it’s another by Jenny and Johnny) song, “You Can’t Outrun ’em,” is a weird, watery sounding piece with bizarre Gothic country overtones.

Jenny Lewis (photo credit: AUTUMN DE WILDE)

Jenny Lewis (photo credit: AUTUMN DE WILDE)

The New You” is quiet little rocker with lyrics that conjure images of a person trying to find themselves or, worse, a person in complete denial regarding their own identity. The tune segues into “Aloha and the Three Johns,” a song with an intriguing bass line, a shimmering guitar and an unreasoning disdain for Hawaiian songs. Jenny’s voice is particularly crisp and punchy on the track, another one of those retrospective things about relationships and fear of commitment. The intro to “Love U Forever” features a take on one of the greatest riffs of all time: That infamous Dave Davies (and, yes, it IS Dave, not Jimmy Page… how do I know? Well, Dave once told me, “Don’t you think that if I could blame Jimmy for that piece of crap, I would? It was me. All me.”) guitar signature from “You Really Got Me” actually repeats throughout the song, generally as a bass riff. The tune also features a great vocal melody line, as well. It may be my favorite track on the record. “The Voyager” closes the album. It’s a rather dreamy thing about getting to the place you want/need to be in your life (no geography involved) with minimal instrumentation. It’s gauzy feel is the perfect album closer. I guess misery begets beauty, but I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Even if it did result in another record like THE VOYAGER.


NEIL YOUNG: A LETTER HOME

(THIRD MAN RECORDS/REPRISE RECORDS/WARNER BROTHERS RECORDS; 2014)

Neil Young A Letter Home cover

I’m into nostalgia. Everybody knows that about me. I hang onto stuff from my youth, still think of lost loves and memories from decades past, and made much of my music career from writing about the inescapable march of time. So, I am perfectly comfortable (if melancholy) looking back, although I can’t stay in that state. Neil Young seems to be the same way. Although he is known for always putting his attention into the project he’s doing NOW, and his recent patenting of the PONO high-tech audio system is about as modern as you can get, Neil has bouts of unpredictable, intense nostalgia. Albums like A PRAIRIE WIND and HARVEST MOON, as well as his ARCHIVES series and its many included live recordings, all reveal an artist keenly aware of his past and given to visiting it rather often. But A LETTER HOME is something else again: A headfirst dive into the very sound of the past, featuring songs recorded in a refurbished 1947 Voice-o-Graph recording booth, something Jack White (whom Young struck up a friendship recently) had at his Third Man headquarters in Nashville. Apparently, this thing is barely big enough to accommodate one musician and his guitar, but Neil was fascinated by the concept, and decided without much chin scratching to make an album this way. He chose a selection of all covers, mostly songs he grew up with in Canada and a couple of others by fellow artists he met later, and proceeded to sing these numbers like they belonged to him alone. It’s a pretty revelatory piece of work by this rock legend, showing his true “heart of gold” at work.

Neil Young (publicity photo)

Neil Young (publicity photo)

The scratchy, primitive sound may put some off, but the key word here is nostalgia. Forget about everything you know regarding modern sound and equipment, and take this journey. It’s a deeply touching one. The record begins with Neil talking to his Mom in the great beyond, and this may conjure forth a tear or two if you are like me, in the category of people who recently lost their moms. “Be sure to talk to Daddy again,” Neil advises, a comment on the bitter divorce Neil’s parents went through when he was a child. He then launches into Phil Och’s poignant classic, “Changes.” Young has often spoken of Ochs as one of his musical heroes, and he wrings every bit of emotion and intimacy out of this; if you didn’t know it was an Ochs song, it would sound just like something Neil himself wrote, right down to the melody and repetitive nature. Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country” is also nice, but must bow meekly to the magnificence of the next track, Bert Jansch’s “Needle of Death.” This is possibly the highlight of the record, and the longest track at nearly 5 minutes. Beginning with Young whistling not such a merry tune, the track is literally spine-tingling, with its evocation of a “troubled young life” derailed by drugs. If you know anything at all about the losses Neil himself endured because of friends who died from drugs and his outspoken comments on the matter many times, this song is overwhelmingly personal, ghostly and gut-wrenching. It isn’t just the highlight of the record, it’s one of the most haunting performances Young has ever rendered, Voice-o-Graph or not. It took me awhile to recover from the experience of listening to this. Jansch, a guitar hero of Young’s, died not long ago himself; I was lucky enough to see him open for Neil on a tour a few years back.

Fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot penned a couple of the tunes Young chooses to cover here, “Early Morning Rain” and “If You Could Read My Mind.” Both of these are pretty revelatory, as Young not only gets the timeless feel and romantic angst of these compositions, he gives a fresh spin to both. The former is jaunty but in a way that preserves its underlying sadness; the latter is surprisingly pleasurable, because we’ve all heard Lightfoot’s version way too many times through the years on the radio, and it’s nice hearing Neil give it his spin. The short take of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” is also warmly engaging. Young is clearly focused 100% on these performances. Sometimes in the past, he has made recordings where you suspect he’s not fully into it, or is just doing something to be perverse or throw off his fans (or in a notorious case in the 80s, his own record label). But there is no doubting Neil’s conviction here, and that’s the key to this record: he MEANS it, man. And Young at the peak of his performing and emotive powers is a singular force, and is definitely enough to offset the primitive nature of the recording, which features only voice, guitar, piano and harmonica.

Neil Young (publicity photo)

Neil Young (publicity photo)

With the time-bending beauty of the previously mentioned tracks, more modern-sounding songs like Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and Bruce Springsteen’s “My Hometown” suffer a bit by comparison, although Neil does make the latter sound like something very much applicable to his own youth. Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe,” begins with another spoken word message to Neil’s mom, about how he and Jack “rediscovered a lot of the old songs we used to listen to in Grovenor.” Lilting piano adorns this, with the lyric about finding “a way to leave the past behind” emerging as perhaps the key line on the album. And the lovely Ivory Joe Hunter ballad “Since I Met You Baby” oughta be in a film or something. It’s a bar room soundtrack here, with pensive rumination underlying what is, ostensibly, a simple love song. In this unique audio setting, something emerges from the recording that is captivating, and actually, profoundly sad in these days of crazy violence and technological dependence. Young is giving us an artifact, a shelf of memories, a reminder of a more innocent time in the evolution of art and entertainment when things cast a different kind of spell and had people marveling. Not even this record is likely to do that for most people, because the world is a different place now. And that’s kind of a shame. Because A LETTER HOME is a deeply stirring document, and just like the death of handwritten letters themselves, it deserves to be successfully delivered to the much-missed party on the other end.


LULLABY

(DVD, Digital and Video-On-Demand; AVENUE PICTURES/ARC ENTERTAINMENT (117 minutes/Rated R); 2014)

LULLABY

I’m gonna let you guys into my life and my head and my heart for a little bit. I’m a sensitive guy… no, really, I am. Movies like this one touch me. I shed a tear or two watching LULLABY. Why? Good story, good acting? Partly, but the main reason is this: The underlying premise of the movie is something that is very near to me (I can’t say “dear” because… CANCER SUCKS!). In a span of approximately 10 years, I lost my father, my sister and my brother to cancer. My brother-in-law, a couple of beloved uncles and an aunt, too, during that same period; my sister-in-law succumbed to liver failure, as well. In the middle of all of that, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. I act as her caregiver… I’m the only one left. I watch her die a little bit more each day. I’ve spent far too many days in hospital rooms and funeral homes and I know that I’ve got more of both in my future. Look… I’m not complaining. I’m just using my experiences as a reference point for a review of the movie, LULLABY. Knowing these things may help you understand (at least a bit) where I’m coming from in regards to this film.

LULLABY (Garrett Hedlund) (publicity still)

LULLABY (Garrett Hedlund) (publicity still)

Garrett Hedlund leads a strong ensemble cast as Jonathan, the wayward son of a well-to-do family. LULLABY is a bitter-sweet coming-of-age story for Hedlund’s character. Jonathan is coming home after several years; his cancer-stricken father has decided to end his suffering. In short, the father (brilliantly played by Richard Jenkins) is – according to the statutes of the State of New York – committing suicide, with the assistance of his well-meaning doctor (Terrance Howard in a small role that amounts to no more than a couple of short cameos… what Howard does with those cameos speaks to the power of, not only his talents, but those of the entire cast). Jonathan reluctantly returns, telling his mother (Anne Archer), “He’s been dying for twelve years!” and asking, “Why is this time any different?” When she explains his father’s plan, Jonathan, enraged, storms out of the room. Taking refuge in the hospital’s stairwell, he lights a cigarette (he seems always to be getting into trouble for smoking in places where it’s prohibited… the film opens with him lighting up in the airplane restroom and, later, he walks into the hospital lobby and lights another smoke… both scenes are actually pretty funny) and practices a little primal screaming. He soon discovers, however, that he isn’t alone; a couple of flights above is a young woman who, like his father, is dying of cancer. Meredith (Jessica Barden) is a wise-beyond-her-years high school senior who hides her pain and fear behind a tough facade; when she asks for a cigarette, Jonathan gives her a look. “What? You gonna tell me that it’ll kill me?” Through his interaction with Meredith, the troubled musician is humbled and begins to look inward at who he is and what he’s become. There are several scenes between the pair that some may call “schlocky,” but they are so sweet and gentle that you can’t help but be touched.

LULLABY (Garrett Hedlund, Anne Archer, Richard Jenkins, Jessica Brown Findlay and Daniel Sunjata) (publicity still)

LULLABY (Garrett Hedlund, Anne Archer, Richard Jenkins, Jessica Brown Findlay and Daniel Sunjata) (publicity still)

Other key elements leading to Jonathan’s growing up involves an ex-girlfriend (another small but pivotal role, played by Amy Adams), his “I’m way too good for this” sister, Karen (Jessica Brown Findlay), who is struggling with her own demons. She files an injunction to stop her father from going through with his plans and comes unglued when he tells the family that he gave all of his money to charities and other causes. There’s a great scene where she comes clean to Jonathan, growing up a bit herself. The mother, Rachel, goes through several stages of grief, alternately being the strong woman holding the family together as she always has or completely falling apart, railing against the situation, her husband and God. One of Robert‘s last requests is to bring his family together for the traditional Passover Seder, performing the ritual early because he won’t be around at the Passover and because this is the first time in seven years that his whole family has been together. The scenes in the hospital’s chapel are powerful, heartwarming and… funny. You’ll understand when you watch. I should mention Jennifer Hudson as the in-your-face, tell-it-like-it-is nurse who first confronts Jonathan as he enters the hospital lobby, lighting a cigarette. She’s featured prominently in another heart-wrenching episode with Robert and Jonathan.

LULLABY (Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard) (publicity still)

LULLABY (Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard) (publicity still)

So, I know that I’m kinda skating around a lot of important stuff here, but I hate to be one of those guys that give away every detail of the movie. Ultimately, all I can do is recommend that you watch LULLABY with a box of tissues on hand. The subject matter and some strong language may be too intense for the young’uns, but it could open up a dialogue with junior high school aged kids (and older) who may be going through (or will eventually experience) similar situations. I told you at the top of this piece about my experiences. Obviously, they weren’t nearly as dramatic as those of the Lowenstein family, but they left there marks. LULLABY isn’t the type of movie that opens up old, painful memories; rather, it brought back some feelings that are really just under the surface: warm, happy memories of the people I love. And… okay… some sad ones, too. I honestly don’t believe that there’s a day that goes by that I don’t think about picking up the phone and calling my Dad or my sister or my brother. If you’ve lost someone close, you know what I mean. One of the most jarring aspects of LULLABY is Richard Jenkin’s make-up. As Robert becomes weaker and nears the end, there are moments when I could see my father’s face, sallow and small (he was always so much bigger than life to me), but with a peace that came from the knowledge that his pain and suffering was at an end and he was going home. That alone was worth the price of admission.


BLOUSE: IMPERIUM

(CAPTURED TRACKS; 2014)

blouse-imperium

Three-piece band from Portland, Oregon, a town that produces great bands consistently. Vaguely lumped into a category called “dream pop” cause it’s, well, dreamy and sometimes evocative and features an alluring female voice (in this case, that of Charlie Hilton). Catchy hooks, lyrical phrases that jump out of the mix and sometimes stick with you (like the repeated refrain “Are you one of us?”on the title track and “I’ll give you something for the pain” from “1000 Years.”

Blouse (photo credit: TonjeThilesen)

Blouse (photo credit: TonjeThilesen)

That’s a lazy short review of Blouse’s second release so far, and probably as much as most people would want to know about this trio. But actually, it’s worth elaborating just a little. It’s worth saying that Blouse are sounding good to me on a sunny afternoon when I’m loaded down with worries, with my attention divided, and decisions that I don’t feel like making. Cue the sonic narcotic! IMPERIUM hits me as a kind of pleasant, melodic, vaguely nostalgic jangle pop that doesn’t make me work too hard. Sometimes I don’t MIND when a record challenges the shit out of me, and I have to think about what its intentions are. And other times, damn it, I just want the thing to sound good right away, to quickly justify its existence, in other words. Hilton, producer/multi-instrumentalist Jacob Portrait and bassist Patrick Adams have obliged with a rather lush (reminiscent, actually, of the BAND Lush), shiny sound on these 12 tracks that is unpretentious and sometimes downright stirring. I pretty much instantly took to the off-kilter ’80s-retro psych-out of “Eyesite” and especially the Scandinavian-style emotional immediacy of Hilton’s voice on “1000 Years,” the melancholy “Capote” and the straightforward love plea, “Trust Me.” See the Swedish bands Club 8 and the Concretes for reasonable corollaries.

A Feeling Like This” gives you, or at least it gave ME, a feeling like that… a memory of some past new band I liked and got excited about when I heard them for the first time. Hilton half sings, half speaks some of her lyrics in a most beguiling way on this track, and you can only hope to be the inspiration for this sort of feeling in a significant companion sometime in your life. The rockingest song is “Arrested,” which is all REM-style forward motion, with a layer of shoegaze woven in organically. Hilton sometimes sounds a little detached on tracks like this (not that it doesn’t feel right for the music), and maybe even somewhat samey if you’re seeking cafeteria catharsis. But in their own way, Blouse manage to diversify the sound from track to track – an unexpected bit of echo here, some discordant mixing flourishes there. And “Happy Days,” one of the most atmospheric, compelling tracks, hints at the eccentrically majestic heights this band might be capable of. “I have stars in my eyes,” sings Hilton, and this kinda thing might land her on the soundtrack to an arty European film. But vulnerability and worry are underneath this swirl of sound somewhere. “There is no shelter from this storm/Nothing in nature can keep my body warm,” our chanteuse complains on “No Shelter,” and although she offers a temporary solution in the next verse, she’s definitely all up in her mind here. But that’s okay, the music is still kinda soothing, and it got me out of MY mind. Blouse ON, angst OFF. A little IMPERIUM can’t cure what ails ya, perhaps, but it can push it into the distance. That’s more than most records do, so thanks, kids!


GREAT LIVE ALBUMS (19)

Live recordings have been a part of the music industry since day one of the crude technology of the earliest devices. In fact, since there were really no studios available for recording purposes, all of those early “records” were “live recordings” in the strictest sense. However, the live album, as we now know it, is a completely different animal. That animal came into its own in the rock era and exploded with the release of ALIVE, a 1975 album by KISS, (a career making release with an overabundance of what has come to be known as “studio sweetening”), and FRAMPTON COMES ALIVE in 1976 (also hurtling “the face” and former Humble Pie guitarist to superstardom). With the unprecedented success of Peter Frampton’s fifth solo release, everybody and their brothers were releasing these documents of their latest tours (sometimes used as stop gaps between studio albums; sometimes used as a means to gain an artist’s release from a record label contract, commonly referred to as the “contractual obligation” record).

A lot of people don’t like live albums. I’m not one of those. Some of my favorite records were recorded on the road. Here’s a list of 20 live albums that I think are the best. These records are all official releases, not bootlegs… that’s a whole other list (and one you may see somewhere down the line, as well). I had a hard time keeping this list to 20 (it started out as a “Top10”) and, I’m sure that your list would look very different from this one. But, that’s what makes these things so much fun, right? So, here’s number 19, the next in a series of reviews presenting 20 live albums that you should check out:

(19THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND: LIVE

(ATLANTIC RECORDS; 1975)

the_sensational_alex_harvey_band-live

To say that Alex Harvey was a haunted, damaged soul may be an understatement. It has been well documented that he never really recovered from his brother Les’ onstage electrocution while a member of Stone the Crows. Alex blamed himself because he introduced his younger brother to Maggie Bell, which led to the two forming that band. Alex hid his pain with alcohol and by becoming the jokester, leading his new band, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, as it winded its way to success via their high-powered, glam-tinged Vaudevillian stage show. I came to the show late, as far as SAHB (as they were called, because… well, their full name does not exactly roll trippingly off the tongue) was concerned… three albums into their joint career (Alex had been performing in various bands since the late ’50s; the other guys – of which, more later – were a band called Tear Gas, who released two albums before hooking up with Harvey). The very first time I heard (and saw) the group was on some late night concert thingy some time in 1974. I was, to say the least, blown away! I remember going on the hunt for anything by the band and, living in Podunk USA, the best I could do was special order a copy of the then-new album, THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM. And that brings us to the fabulous LIVE album, recorded on May 24, the last night of the group’s 1975 English tour. LIVE was, unfortunately, a single record (around 45 minutes in length; about half of the actual show), at a time when double live albums were de rigueur. But, oh, what a record it was!

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (Chris Glen, Hugh McKenna, Zal Cleminson, Alex Harvey, Ted McKenna) (uncredited photo)

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (Chris Glen, Ted McKenna, Zal Cleminson, Alex Harvey, Hugh McKenna) (uncredited photo)

The record starts with a brief “Fanfare (Justly, Skillfully, Magnanimously)” followed by a creepy, Glaswegian voice welcoming the audience, “Good evening, boys and girls. It’s a gas to be here… I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to my band. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.” Way better, in my mind, than, “You wanted the best, you got the best!” A pumping keyboard (organ, synthesizer or… ?) and shaker from Hugh McKenna introduces the lascivious “Faith Healer,” before Ted McKenna (Hugh’s cousin), Chris Glen and Zal Cleminson join in, on drums, bass and guitar, respectively. This is as good a place as any to mention that Cleminson is an exceptionally gifted and expressive guitar player with a style and tone that – like Queen’s Brian May and REO Speedwagon’s Gary Richrath – is immediately recognizable; the mime face paint and modified jester’s outfit alongside his rubbery facial expressions only add to the effect. When Alex growls the first line of the song, “Let me put my hands on you,” it is evident that his motives are far from noble. While the focal point of the stage show may rest more on the antics of Zal and Chris, it is quite obvious that this is, in fact, Alex’s band. Hugh introduces the next tune, as well, with a pretty, soft electric piano. As Harvey steps to the mic, he introduces “Tomahawk Kid” as a song “inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson.” The TREASURE ISLAND and KIDNAPPED pirate references abound as the percolating rhythm leads to a great harmony duet between synthesizer and guitar; I’m not really sure that I’ve ever heard anything like it, but I do know that I like it! Zal doesn’t do a whole lot of soloing (which, of course, one would expect from a lead guitarist… especially live), but his lead, rhythm and fill work are masterpieces nonetheless. With the band adding “Yo-ho-ho” backing vocals on the chorus, the song catches fire and draws you into the story. The first side ends with the “Vambo” section of “The Hot City Symphony,” complete with Alex reading from “The Book of Vambo,” delivering a litany of heroic deeds that Vambo Marble-Eye, a being who is “like a cross between Santa Claus and Spider-Man,” is responsible for. There is a manic middle section, which features Alex spray-painting “Vambo Rools!!” on a brick wall to the back of the stage (if you’re unfamiliar with SAHB’s live show, you’ll have to trust me on that) and, yes… that is a frenzied guitar solo from Cleminson. It is a masterful performance, a touch above the studio version from THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM, but Alex and his boys saved the best for side two.

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (uncredited photo)

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (uncredited photo)

The band was promoting a new album, TOMORROW BELONGS TO ME and, while a few tunes from that release were played on the 1975 tours, only one made the LIVE record: “Give My Compliments To the Chef.” It’s an ominous tune with a heavy bass riff and a moody piano leading to the first line, delivered in a sad and resigned fashion: “Mother, dear, did you hear/How they are teaching me to do the goosestep?” The song is a wicked, veiled reference to a certain menu item… SOYLENT GREEN, anybody? The tune starts slow but, by the second half, Alex has worked his band into a lather, driving them hard to the finish. If you listen closely, you can hear him panting during the applause after. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band were always known for their use of the well-chosen cover tune. The point is proven on a wild, waltz-like take of the Tom Jones hit, “Delilah.” The version used on LIVE was so powerful that it was released as a single itself and became the group’s biggest chart success. Again, Hugh’s keyboards seem to lead the band, though the others, especially Zal, do have their moments. The slow middle section features (again, you’ll have to take my word… no… wait… just check the video evidence!) Cleminson and Glen prancing across the stage in an approximation of a waltz, leaving Alex to his own devices amid a pile of mannequins. His vocals are weird and menacing, made more so by the backing vocals by the others. The album finale is another cover, the Leiber-Stoller chestnut, “Framed.” Harvey’s intro, while sticking fairly close to the original, is classic: “I’m walking down the street, minding my own affair/When two policemen grab me and I’m unaware/They said, is your name Alexander/ And I said, well, why sure/They said, well, you’re the cat that we been lookin’ for/But I was… FRA-MUH-DUH!/I never done nothin’!” SAHB’s version has a hard rock/glam feel, with some great boogie piano running through it and… guess what?… another awesome solo from Cleminson. The second “monologue” from Alex is a garbled mess… mostly because he’s wearing a pair of panty hose over his head. As the band kicks it back into high gear, Mister Harvey begins to plead his case to the audience. He asks them if they believe him, if they are on his side. “Do you believe me? No? You don’t believe me? The concert is canceled!” He pits the audience against the band, blaming them for all of his woes and emerges victorious, slamming into one of the more bombastic finishes ever recorded. I would certainly like to hear the complete, uncut concert but, I find it hard to believe that they could ever improve upon the sequencing and pacing of this one record; it’s that good! And, that’s why it sits at number 19 on my list of great live albums.


WISHBONE ASH: BLUE HORIZON

(SOLID ROCKHOUSE RECORDS; 2014)

Blue Horizon

All through the 1970s – my formative years as a music lover – my brother managed a trucking terminal a few miles from an MCA Records pressing plant. Naturally, all of their product shipped through that terminal. And, just as naturally, there were instances where some of that product was damaged. This product basically fell to my brother to do with as he saw fit. So, what does that story have to do with Wishbone Ash? Well, Wishbone Ash’s US label was Decca, an imprint of MCA. The first time I heard the Ash was when my brother brought an impressive stack of vinyl for my consumption: The Who, Elton John, Budgie, Neil Diamond, Blues Project, Blue Mink, Mose Jones and… the first three Wishbone Ash albums (just to name a few). Holy Batcrap, Commisioner Gordon! I had slipped into my own blissful state of musical Nirvana! Thanks to my brother, Mike, I eventually owned every Ash record up to THERE’S THE RUB (they jumped ship in the States to Atlantic Records for two albums before returning to MCA) and I loved every one! That kinda makes me a “lifelong fan.”

Wishbone Ash (Joe Crabtree, Andy Powell, Bob Skeat, Muddy Manninen) (photo credit: TIM ASSMANN)

Wishbone Ash (Joe Crabtree, Andy Powell, Bob Skeat, Muddy Manninen) (photo credit: TIM ASSMANN)

Like those two Atlantic releases and all but a select few since, this new Ash album is a hit or miss affair for me. It ain’t horrible… in fact, once you tally the points, there are more hits than misses. “Take It Back” opens the proceedings. A track that is very much in the vein of the Laurie Wisefield era, it features the trademark harmony guitar sound, a solid vocal from Andy Powell and fiddle from longtime associate, Pat McManus. Reverting to the band’s blues roots, “Deep Blues” has the aggressive sound of the group’s first album. The song has a great blues riff and some finest-kind soloing from both Andy and Jyrki “Muddy” Manninen. “Strange How Things Come Back Around” is another Laurie-sounding tune with some odd, Frippian guitar synchopations. I’m not too sure about those backing vocal “la-la’s” during the slower bridge sections… they seem to drag the whole thing down. There’s a fade in/fade out right before the instrumental break leading into the solos that completely transform the number into a kind of Tommy Bolin era Deep Purple funk thing. While there is certainly an air of the familiar, this is not your standard Wishbone Ash song and, actually, is rather enjoyable because of it.

One of the few misses, “Being One,” sees the Laurie Wisefield love-fest continuing. Unfortunately, Powell delves into two of the group’s weaker albums (NEW ENGLAND and LOCKED IN) for inspiration. The song has a slow, funky sort of groove which, eventually, morphs into a progressive jazz piece… with all of the trappings that the term connotes. Powell’s silky voice provides a welcome tension to the rough riffs and hard edges. “Way Down South” is a lazy, laconic (as the name implies) Iain Matthews/Fairport Convention style folk number. The tempo picks up during the instrumental section, with Bob Skeat’s deep, emotive bass leading the way into another nice solo. The tune isn’t awful but, at well over six-and-a-half minutes, it’s just too long for it’s own good. Next up is “Tally Ho!” Now, this is more like it! This is the Wishbone Ash I fell I love with way back when, the progressive folk banner flying high. There are moments that recall “Leaf and Stream” from the legendary ARGUS and, the solos in the middle section are quite effective in context. My only complaint is this: Andy’s vocals are a little weak here; this is one instance with the latter-day Ash where the vocals of either Ted or Martin Turner would have worked better. Speaking of vocals, Manninen makes his debut on lead with the dirty blues of “Mary Jane.” His voice is a little rough but, a welcome change from Powell’s (I really am a fan of Andy’s voice… it’s just that over the course of ten tracks… well, you know, variety and spices and such). The tune features some very nice harmony guitar work and a couple of slide solos.

Wishbone Ash live, circa 2009 (uncredited photo)

Wishbone Ash live, circa 2009 (uncredited photo)

After mentioning the refreshing change of pace from Andy’s vocals on the last track, he delivers what may be his two best vocal performances on BLUE HORIZON. “American Century” features an aggressive “FUBB” like intro before settling into a PHOENIX or ARGUS progressive groove. The drums of Joe Crabtree keeps a mid-tempo rhythm going, while Skeat’s charging bass propels the tune forward at a faster pace, creating a brilliant musical dichotomy. “Blue Horizon” is definitely a “song” in the strictest sense, with powerful lyrics and atmospheric vocals on display over the pure musicianship of the players (the hallmark of Wishbone Ash). That isn’t to say that the musicianship is sub-par; far from it! The guitars seem a little louder and each solo sends the tune into a different place, stylistically. The first has a James Bond/mystery vibe happening while others have a majestic, almost Floydian feel. Eventually, everything kicks into a more Ash sounding instrumental section, with Tom Greenwood adding some nice organ flourishes. The ARGUS song, “The King Will Come,” is evoked with “All There Is To Say.” It’s another pretty, Cletic folk tune, with guitars and lyrics reminiscent of that earlier number. Pat McManus adds some very nice fiddle and bazouki for a more folky feel. If you’re a long time fan, BLUE HORIZON will fit comfortably next to the rest of your Wishbone Ash albums, though it may not get as much play; if you’re new to the band, I think that you’ll find the album a refreshing change from a lot of today’s music and will, ultimately, lead you to seek out those earlier albums.