CABARET VOLTAIRE: #7885 (ELECTROPUNK TO TECHNOPOP 1978-1985)

(MUTE RECORDS; 2014)

Cabaret Voltaire album cover

In the days of our youth (to quote that Bob dude from the New Yardbirds), we were continually in search of the next new and exciting sound (thankfully, unlike our hairline, that hasn’t changed!). Somewhere around 1980, we became enamored of an English synth-pop group called Cabaret Voltaire (after the famous Zurich night spot), via their excellent second album, THE VOICE OF AMERICA. In the next couple of years, they also released the exceptional RED MECCA album and an equally impressive double 12” set called 2X45. We thoroughly enjoyed (and continue to do so) these three slabs of influential music, at the forefront of a genre that also included Throbbing Gristle, Soft Cell, Depeche Mode and others but, as is our wont, we were soon off, exploring new musical boundaries once again. Now, thanks to Mute Records and founding Cab (and sole remaining member), Richard H Kirk, we have a purposely concise collection, highlighting the prime years of the band’s output. With #7885 (ELECTROPUNK TO TECHNOPOP 1978-1985), Kirk has taken a backward glance at some of the shorter recordings (in fact, the longest track, “Animation,” clocks in at around 5:40) from the band – compiling single tracks, radio edits and well-chosen album tracks – to give old fans and newcomers alike a taste of the growth and diversity experienced by the Cabs during that six year period.

Cabaret Voltaire (publicity photo)

Cabaret Voltaire (publicity photo)

The set starts with two tracks from the first Cabaret Voltaire release, the four track EXTENDED PLAY. Both “Do the Mussolini (Headkick)” and “The Set Up” feature industrial beats, a heavily processed vocal and stinging guitar, a sound that was instrumental in ushering in the post-punk era of rock music. The next three tunes exhibit the punk side of the Cabs: “Nag Nag Nag” is one of the great punk singles of all time; “On Every Other Street” is a killer track from the original trio’s first full-length, 1979’s MIX UP, a primitive punk stomper with snarling vocals; “Silent Command” is a dancey, jangley, dubby, happy single release from the same year… kinda like “This Is Radio Clash” or any of the other dub offerings from that band. A track from THE VOICE OF AMERICA follows. “Kneel To the Boss,” is an oddly minimalist dance track with moody, disjointed vocals. The single, “Seconds Too Late,” is slower, moodier and more repetitive than anything presented so far and, it’s the better for it. “Landslide,” from the RED MECCA album, has a slinky Eastern European or Asian feel that is very appealing (you can check out the entire RED MECCA release, too, as Mute has recently reissued it in a new vinyl edition). 1982’s 2X45 gives us the hard funk of “Breathe Deep,” complete with horns and a guest appearance by drummer Alan Fish.

The second half of the disc is mostly 7” mixes or radio edits, starting with “Just Fascination.” It’s got a creepy Aphex Twin sort of vocal thing going on… kind of breathy and menacing. The synth and bass are particularly menacing here. Following is a radio edit of “Crackdown,” which features a repeating, syncopated drum pattern and almost whispered vocals. The synth and bass are more spongy on “Animation,” a mood lightening dance track. The next two songs, “The Dream Ticket” and “Sensoria,” feature a rather hyper dance club vibe, reminding me of Thomas Dolby’s brilliant “She Blinded Me With Science.” From 1984, “James Brown” is exactly what you think it should be: A sweaty groove with horns and a funky wha-wah guitar thing happening down in the mix. DRINKING GASOLINE featured four tracks, each running over eight minutes. Two tracks, “Kino” and “Big Funk,” were whittled down for radio consumption. They’re both suffering from disco overload but, as the name implies, the latter is funkier and more adventurous, sorta like “Rockit” by Herbie Hancock from a couple years earlier. “I Want You” is a stylistic hybrid. Think Spandau Ballet meets Duran Duran. The final cut, “Warm,” comes from the 1985 record, THE COVENANT, THE SWORD AND THE ARM OF THE LORD (retitled, simply, THE ARM OF THE LORD for obvious reasons in the US). It is a rather unremarkable tune from a rather unremarkable release. We understand that Mister Kirk wanted to be representative of every phase of this period in the group’s career, but #7885 could have done without this last one. This really is a good introduction to Cabaret Voltaire. After checking it out, we strongly suggest that you delve further into the three releases mentioned in the first paragraph, as well as EXTENDED PLAY. They are, indeed, the pinnacle of experimental, post-punk bliss from the group.


ANTI-MORTEM: NEW SOUTHERN

(NUCLEAR BLAST RECORDS; 2014)

COVER ART

The members of Anti-Mortem are, on average, 21 years old. That’s really nothing special… rock and roll has always been a young man’s (or woman’s) game, even though some of those youngsters have grown up and continued to excel at their chosen craft. What is special is that, on their debut release, these five Oklahomans have the sound and the chops of a much more experienced band. We can, perhaps, give a nod to veteran producer Bob Marlette for the sound but, the music and lyrics are all Anti-Mortem. And, even though there is a certain cohesiveness to the record, these guys wear their influences like a badge of honor: Classic 1970s hard rock, late 1990s new American metal, Southern Rock and dirty Blues all have played a part in making this band what they are. “Words of Wisdom” kick-starts the album with some nu-metal downtuning and a Classic Rock vibe. Toss in liberal doses of snotty Alice Cooper style vocals and a touch of Molly Hatchet Southern Rock arrogance and that, my friends, is what Anti-Mortem is all about. The title track cements the sound. It has a chugging Rob Zombie-like Southern stomp with a swampy Zakk Wylde kind of guitar thing happening. The chorus, “New Southern, I live this way/Going straight to Hell on a rainy day/New Southern, cuz I live this way,” is the basic theme of the album and credo for the band. “100% Pure American Rage” sounds like it coulda been an outtake from Alice’s BRUTAL PLANET album… about a bunch of kids saying “enough is enough.” There’s a line that goes something like, “This devil’s going to make you pay,” which sounds like a warning shot to those who seek to do us harm, all in the name of their “God.” But, the message is actually a quite different and very simple one, as highlighted in the video for the tune: “Choose your weapon!” The next song, “Hate Automatic” offers a similar sentiment, this time directed at a more homegrown kind of terrorist: The bullys, the kids that bring assault rifles to the playground and the classroom.

Hitting like a more intense Shinedown, “Black Heartbeat” is a vicious break-up song with a definite Southern groove dominated by Levi Dickerson’s solid drumming. “I Get Along With the Devil” is a rampaging, Metallica-on-steroids groover, highlighted by some awesome guitar work throughout, provided by Zain Smith and Nevada Romo. A Black Label Society kind of slow-cooker, “Path To Pain” features another onslaught of grinding, stinging guitars and what may just be Larado Romo’s best vocal performance. “Wake Up” is more of a mid-’70s hard rock thing, filtered through the grunge of Alice In Chains and the swamp boogie of Black Label Society’s early stuff.

Anti-Mortem (Levi Dickerson, Navada Romo, Laredo Romo, Zain Smith, Corey Henderson) (photo credit: CLARK DEAL)

Anti-Mortem (Levi Dickerson, Navada Romo, Laredo Romo, Zain Smith, Corey Henderson) (photo credit: CLARK DEAL)

Ride of Your Life” has a horror feel… musically, it falls somewhere between Rob Zombie and the Michale Graves era Misfits. The tune features one of the more memorable riffs I’ve heard in a while and a really cool breakdown leading into a buzz saw of a guitar solo. I’m not exactly sure how to read “Stagnant Water.” It’s either about a murder or a suicide, revenge or blessed relief. The over-all lyrical message is, “Everybody has demons to face and a breaking point that sends them over the edge.” It definitely has some of the best imagery on the album. A “life on the road,” hookers ‘n’ musicians in heat song, “Truck Stop Special” kinda reminds me of SCREAM DREAM era Uncle Ted. The guitar even has that sweet tone that Ted is known for, especially on the solo. Finally, everything that you love about ’70s Southern Rock and late-’90s alternative and metal music is encompassed in one killer four-minute-and-fifteen-second track called “Jonesboro.” It is the perfect closer to a very strong debut album. (There’s also a bonus cover of Mister Big’s “A Little Too Loose,” which I haven’t heard… I’m not real sure which version it’s on.) I’m expecting great things from this group in the future. I’ve said this many times before and it bears repeating here: “Go ye forth, mine brethren (and sisterns?) and consume!”


FROM A DARK PLACE: THE PAUL HOUGH INTERVIEW

PART 1: AN INTRODUCTION

The Human Race

The son of director John Hough, Paul Hough, like his father, has a rather dark palette from which he works. This rather frightening visionary focus has given life to some of the most depressing (and bloodiest) world views in the past decade plus. From the plight of a suicidal amputee in the music video, “The Enemy,” by Fozzy to the brutal reality of extreme backyard wrestling in THE BACKYARD to the new movie, THE HUMAN RACE, Paul has taken the universal themes of suffering and man’s inhumanity to man to new heights. Yet, in all of this pain and misery (and exploding heads), there is a subtle beauty that focuses on some of the more enjoyable aspects of the human condition. These aspects – unquestioning friendship, love, hope, belief in a higher calling, religion in all of its varying forms (Muslim, Christian, et cetera) – tend to make the grotesquerie more palatable… even enjoyable.

The school, the house, and the prison are safe. Follow the arrows, or you will die. Stay on the path, or you will die. If you are lapped twice, you will die. Do not touch the grass, or you will die. Race… or die.” That is the startlingly simple premise of THE HUMAN RACE. Eighty people, all who were unlucky enough to be occupying the same city block, are struck by a blinding white light (was it God? A priest, who is seen offering comfort to a homeless – junkie? – woman believes that they are in Purgatory) and transported to an undisclosed area and given the instructions above. Through two flashback vignettes, we meet three of the 80, survivors of their own personal hells: Veronica (Brianna Lauren Jackson), a young woman who has lost her family to a particularly aggressive form of cancer only to find out that she, too, has been stricken. She curses God for his cruelty. Flash forward to her doctor’s office where Veronica is told that her cancer is in total remission. She looks to the heavens and gives thanks, only to find herself a part of this macabre race; Eddie and Justin (Eddie McGee and Paul McCarthy-Boyington), two soldiers who meet for the first time on an Afghan field of battle. Eddie has, basically, been blown apart, his left leg is gone and Justin is determined to save him. Justin drags Eddie into a cave and using his own body, covers him to keep him warm until they can be rescued. Back in civilian life, they both work with underprivileged or disabled youth. Other “racers” include a pair of deaf friends (Trista Robinson and T Arthur Cottam), a Tour de France bicyclist (played by Cinderella drummer Fred Coury), a pregnant woman, the priest and homeless woman mentioned earlier, a Korean War (?) Marine vet with a walker, three vicious BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD types, a self-absorbed, Better-Than-Thou yuppie type, a young girl and her little brother… in other words, people from every walk of life, representing every facet of the social, racial, political and religious spectrum. Any more information than what I’ve already given would ruin the movie for you; let’s just say that, “THE HUMAN RACE takes more twists and turns than I thought possible for a film of this kind, especially one that runs less than 90 minutes.” The plot, script, acting and visuals all work together perfectly to present a stunningly moving look at the foibles and fallacies that make up the human condition. The following interview with writer/director/producer Paul Hough offers insights into his career, his journey to make this movie and the film itself.

PART 2: AN INTERVIEW

Director Paul Hough (uncredited photo)

Director Paul Hough (uncredited photo)

THE MULE: Hey, Paul, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about your new project.

PAUL: You’re welcome, Darren, it’s a pleasure.

THE MULE: So, let’s start at the beginning. Your father is famed director, John Hough, who had a penchant for the gruesomely horrible… maybe the only person to ever work for both the legendary Hammer Studios and Disney. How has his work influenced you, particularly in the making of this brutal new film, THE HUMAN RACE?

PAUL: My dad has a career that doesn’t focus on one particular genre but got those Disney films because of the horror movies he made. Disney wanted someone who could bring something dark to Disney. He taught me early on to make sure I said something when making a film, to have a point of view. Not necessarily overtly but to bring something that was me to it. He taught me also to try and make everything as interesting as possible when shooting and taught me how to cover things from the best and most unique angles.

THE MULE: This isn’t – so to speak – your first rodeo, but it is your first feature length, scripted endeavor. Can you give us the breakdown of your short films and the extreme wrestling documentary, THE BACKYARD?

PAUL: I did a short called THE ANGEL, which can be found on YouTube with Eddie McGee and Celine Tien (both from THE HUMAN RACE) and did a music video, also with Eddie, for Chris Jericho’s band, Fozzy (called “Enemy” – also online). In that, you can see quick glimpses of Fred Coury and Luke Y Thompson, who also appear in THE HUMAN RACE. I met Luke after he wrote a good review of THE BACKYARD (he is a film critic, currently working for THE VILLAGE VOICE). THE BACKYARD was about kids who wrestle in their backyards, using weapons such as barbed-wire baseball bats, staple guns and nails. The documentary focused also on their parents, who were more than often supportive and were high school teachers, principals, doctors and nurses.

THE BACKYARD poster

THE BACKYARD poster

THE MULE: THE BACKYARD is every bit as violent and as bloody as THE HUMAN RACE, but everything was real. Did that make things harder for you, knowing that these guys were really hurting themselves and each other? Did their brutality, in any way, affect the way you approached THE HUMAN RACE?

PAUL: It didn’t really make it hard because I wasn’t the one getting hurt. And they were going to be doing this whether I was there or not. While I was shocked at a lot of what I saw, I found it an amazing sub-culture which I enjoyed being immersed in. There was an incident in Modesto which was scary because these really tough guys (presumably from a gang) had seen some of the kids fighting in the street and lighting each other on fire – and were super unhappy about it. It was very unexpected and there was a lot of tension. I thought it could have got really ugly – but, luckily didn’t. And there was another incident in England, where a 15 year old blades and cuts himself with a razor blade. He wouldn’t stop bleeding as I’m doing the interview and it was hard then, as to whether I should keep filming – but I did, since there were other adults off-camera who attended to the situation. It’s funny – in THE HUMAN RACE, there is a lot of blood. And in THE BACKYARD there was a lot of blood. And the reality is, when I see someone bleed, it makes me ill. I hate the sight of blood in real life. But I was comfortable with the blood in THE HUMAN RACE because I knew it was movie blood, and comfortable with the blood in THE BACKYARD because it, too, seemed like movie blood to me because I was watching it from behind a camera.

THE MULE: You wear many hats for this project: Producer, director, writer… I understand that you even had a hand in the visual effects end of things. Do you have a favorite part of the creative process? How does writing for yourself differ from writing a script for another producer or director?

PAUL: I wore many hats out of necessity – not out of desire. If I had my choice, I would only direct. Maybe write and direct – but my main focus is on taking a compelling story and making it happen on camera. Unfortunately, due to circumstances, I had to produce this, edit this, do FX for this. I had to write something that was practical enough for me to shoot. When writing for someone else or for a budget, I think you have more freedom.

THE HUMAN RACE (Brianna Lauren Jackson) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Brianna Lauren Jackson) (publicity still)

THE MULE: The title of the movie works on – at least – three different levels. The first two are quite obvious from the beginning; the third is revealed in the final 15 or 20 minutes of the film, with a twist ending that kicked the whole thing up a notch for me. Without giving anything away, when you came up with the idea, did you start with one level and find that the others played well into what you wanted to say, or was it a simple case of coming up with a great play on words for the title and working from there?

PAUL: I started with the ending of the movie before anything else – and the knowledge that I wanted Eddie McGee in it. I think the idea of running then came next since I love to torture Eddie in everything we do together – and what better than to put him (a guy with one leg) into a marathon-type race. The title of the movie came then, as I was writing other aspects of the movie and just fit perfectly.

THE MULE: Aside from the obvious horror/sci-fi aspects of the film, there are also several underlying themes that are woven into the fabric of THE HUMAN RACE: Religion is a big one; racial and economic divides; sex, I guess, is unavoidable in any circumstance. Was the purpose of introducing these themes to draw the audience away from the larger theme, allowing for a greater impact at the end of the movie?

PAUL: A lot of the movie is from the characters’ points of views and you don’t really know where you are – along with them. They are people from all walks of life who express their different views. Certainly, because of the blinding white light it gave a path to introduce Christianity. Once I had that in – I wanted somewhat balance by introducing a Muslim. Overall, however, all of these themes and the conflict of these themes is both a reflection and representation of the human race and the struggles it has with itself.

Side note: one of my favorite critical reviews of the movie is this one: www.myhorribleidea.com/the-human-race-2013

THE HUMAN RACE (Gabriel Cullen) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Gabriel Cullen) (publicity still)

THE MULE: Making this movie was a very slow process. Can you take us through the various stages and give us a little insight into why it took so long to complete?

PAUL: It took over four years to make. We started to shoot for seven days, then stopped due to lack of money. A few months later, I saved up some more money, so we could shoot for two more days. Then we’d shut down again until I could raise more money – so months would go by until we could shoot for a few more days. I’d never recommend to someone they shoot a movie this way but… it was the only way I could get this movie done.

THE MULE: Given the time lapses between shooting, was it hard for you to maintain continuity? Most of the cast are adults, which may cause some small problems (weight change and the like), but there are two children who play small but important roles. How did you handle those growth spurts and physical changes that kids go through?

PAUL: The kids’ stuff wasn’t a problem at all – all of their stuff was shot at the same time. But otherwise, it was difficult, but I made all the actors responsible for their own continuity. There is one scene, however, that I had to shoot before I lost a location and Eddie’s hair was super short compared to the rest of the movie, so I had to shoot it from a super low angle just to disguise his haircut. It’s weird having to make choices like that – but when you’re making a movie you can’t anticipate or plan everything and have to adapt as you go along.

THE MULE: The set-up for the first death was ingenious. It was one of many unexpected swerves throughout the movie. It was so unexpected that I have to ask: Was it planned from the start or did other factors – scheduling and budget issues, perhaps – cause a change in direction?

PAUL: No, this was planned. I wanted a character that you really like – and then kill her off – in the same way Hitchcock killed off Janet Leigh in PSYCHO.

THE MULE: Obviously, with 80 people forced to participate in this “event,” you couldn’t possibly flesh out the character of each and every one but, the several that were more than just extras all seemingly had a back story, allowing the audience to identify each with a label: Hero, Villain, Victim. How did your vision of each main character play into the casting? Did any one audition cause you to rethink any of those roles and adjust the script accordingly?

PAUL: One of my favorite characters in the original script was a huge guy called the Blob. I just couldn’t find someone large enough for this role – and then when I did find an actor who was close – right before filming, he (inexplicably for the movie) went on a diet and… didn’t look like a Blob anymore. His part then got cut from the movie when he no showed on a particular day. That was incredibly frustrating but, again, is something I just had to deal with. I wrote the movie around a lot of actors I actually already knew and some were friends who started off as extras and then got promoted into bigger roles as the movie went along.

THE HUMAN RACE (Fred Coury and Paul McCarthy-Boyington) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Fred Coury and Paul McCarthy-Boyington) (publicity still)

THE MULE: One of the primary characters is played by Fred Coury. Even though you’ve worked with musicians before, on videos by the bands Pitbull Daycare and Fozzy (the latter also featured Eddie McGee), Fred is more out-front in an acting capacity here. How was he to work with? Was this his first acting gig?

PAUL: He was actually fantastic to work with – and a really amazing actor. Being a rock star, he has a great confidence that shows through on screen. After the shoot, he told me he had quit acting but I hope one day he’ll return to it.

THE MULE: You worked with Eddie McGee and Celine Tien, one of the youngsters, previously on the short, THE ANGEL. Were their parts for this movie written with them in mind or was it just a lucky coincidence that they both ended up in the cast?

PAUL: Both written with them in mind. In THE ANGEL, the Grandma was Celine’s real Grandma. In THE HUMAN RACE, her brother character is actually her real brother. I hadn’t seen her for a few years s,o while I wrote the role for her in mind – I still needed to audition her. Originally, there was only one kid in the script – but when she came to the audition, she turned up with her brother – who I thought was fantastic – so I made the role two kids rather than one.

THE MULE: Honestly, I wasn’t familiar with Eddie McGee, but when I found out that he was a cast member of the game show BIG BROTHER during its first season, I didn’t hold out much hope for this movie. I’m happy to say that I was wrong. The guy’s got chops… leading actor, action/adventure/sci-fi/horror chops. How did you become acquainted with Eddie and, based on a few things that I’ve read elsewhere, how did he become the “go-to” guy on your projects?

PAUL: Yeah, his being on BIG BROTHER has not been a good thing for his acting career. The only good thing is that he didn’t become a “reality star” per se – since his season happened before the whole reality boom. I’m hoping, going forward, that he’ll become Eddie McGee from THE HUMAN RACE and that his BIG BROTHER past will become that – a thing of the past. I met him while I was looking for a double-leg amputee for the Fozzy video. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to do the role – since most people found the character I wanted (ie: a disabled suicidal person) not suited for them. Eddie shared the same philosophy and beliefs of myself and taped an audition for me. He got the role and… I hope to work with him now on everything I do. He is an amazing actor and we’ve gone through a lot together. When you find someone as good and as brilliant as he – then he does certainly become your “go-to” guy.

THE HUMAN RACE (Trista Robinson) (publicity still)

THE HUMAN RACE (Trista Robinson) (publicity still)

THE MULE: Speaking of projects, what’s next up for Paul Hough? In a bit of a spoiler, THE HUMAN RACE left itself open for a sequel. Will there be one?

PAUL: I’d love to do a follow up to THE HUMAN RACE and already have a script written – but it will depend on how successful this film is first. I’m off to Korea in a month, working on a new dark thriller which I hope will be my next project…

The film debuts in limited theatrical release and on Video-On-Demand and iTunes on June 13, 2014. Comparisons to the apocalyptic Japanese bloodbath, BATTLE ROYALE and the Young Adult book/film series, THE HUNGER GAMES (among others) are unavoidable but, THE HUMAN RACE is, in my humble opinion, not to be missed.


SAVING GRACE B JONES

(NEW FILMS INTERNATIONAL/ARC ENTERTAINMENT (115 minutes/Rated R), 2014; Original Theatrical Release, 2011)

Saving Grace B Jones_2D

The instant I saw the title, I knew that SAVING GRACE B JONES was going to tug at the heart strings. It does. The first thing that usually comes to a guy’s mind when he sees those words is: “Chick Flick.” However, I gotta tell you, that definitely is not the case with this movie. Actress Connie Stevens (HAWAIIAN EYE and a butt-load of TV and movie appearances) acts as director, executive producer, co-writer and narrator on what turns out to be a thrilling – and, yes, heartbreaking – tale of a perfect Central Missouri family driven to the brink of desperation by a confluence of events that they have no control over. Without giving away too much, here’s the plot of the “inspired by a true story” film:

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Tatum O'Neal (publicity still)

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Tatum O’Neal (publicity still)

Set in 1951, Rylee Fansler portrays 10 year old Carrie (Stevens narrates as the adult Carrie). Already traumatized by the death of her mother, she becomes even more withdrawn and noncommunicable after witnessing a brutal stabbing. Her father makes the decision to send her to a small rural town called Boonville to spend the summer with an old Army buddy and his family. As Carrie settles in with Landy and Bea Bretthorst (Michael Biehn and Penelope Ann Miller) and their free-spirited daughter, Lucy (Evie Louise Thompson), she seems to be putting the gruesome memory behind her. She and Lucy even tag along when Landy travels to Oklahoma to bring his sister, Grace (Tatum O’Neal), home to live with the family. Grace had suffered horrible injuries when she was hit by a truck on her wedding day in 1935. The grueling recovery process drove Grace over the edge and she had spent the past sixteen years in a mental institution or, as they were commonly called then, an insane asylum. An underlying concern, hinted at throughout the movie, is a seemingly Biblical rain that constantly threatens the town, close to the Missouri River.

There are also hints of the abuse that Grace has had to withstand as a patient in the institution… all in the name of healing. Piper Laurie appears, in a delightfully wicked turn, as the asylum’s director, Marta Shrank. She is of the opinion that anyone ever admitted to such a place can never be released, as they are a threat to themselves and those around them (a sentiment, by the way, shared by most of Boonville, including the pious Reverend Potter): “… the best doctors and judges we have said that people who come here will never be right again. Maybe the doctors are smarter than you and me.” She isn’t very fond of her charges or of the two children that have accompanied Landy Bretthorst to bring Grace home and, with one of the best lines in the movie, she declares: “Tommy, it’s been so many years since I’ve seen children. They’re almost like little people, aren’t they?”

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Evie Louise Thompson and Rylee Fanser (publicity still)

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Evie Louise Thompson and Rylee Fansler (publicity still)

Grace’s homecoming isn’t the smooth transition that Landy envisioned. Things are complicated by the fact that her groom lives across the street from the Bretthorsts with his pregnant wife. The rains continue to fall intermittently adding to the feeling of isolation, as Landy is constantly called away to help with sandbagging at outlying areas. However, both Lucy and Carrie have found a kindred spirit, as they grow close to the troubled woman. In one particularly poignant scene, Grace and Lucy are sitting on the roof of their porch (apparently, a sanctuary for both). Grace opens up a bit about her life, saying, “I wonder if anyone will ever know why I existed? I am crazy, you know.” She tells her niece about some of the things she did in her youth, concluding with the insightful line, “It’s funny… the hard thing about being crazy is, you don’t get to do crazy things anymore.” This tender moment, of a completely lucid Grace interacting with one of the few people in her life that doesn’t judge her, is – literally – the calm before the storm. She’s still fighting her demons but, the one person who may be able to help her is too busy to see how much she needs him. Everything comes crashing down for Grace and the family after a tragic accident that…

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Connie Stevens, Evie Louise Thompson, Rylee Fansler and Tatum O'Neal (publicity photo)

SAVING GRACE B JONES: Connie Stevens, Evie Louise Thompson, Rylee Fansler and Tatum O’Neal (publicity photo)

But, that would be telling! From this point forward, the narrative takes on a considerably darker tone. Relating the events of the last half of the film would ruin an excellent movie if you haven’t seen it. So, just let me add these few thoughts: The acting throughout is top notch and – I could make some crack about her family and upbringing here – Tatum O’Neal displays, for the first time in a long while, the skills that made her the youngest person to ever win an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress for 1973’s PAPER MOON). Penelope Ann Miller, as the harried sister-in-law, also delivers a solid, low-key (for the most part) performance. SAVING GRACE B JONES skillfully addresses the stigma that the mentally ill continue to face today, with a forthright depiction of the patient, as well as the problems and decisions faced by the family that loves them, while still managing to incorporate an exciting secondary story. Guys, don’t be afraid of this flick; it will actually hold your attention to the end. You may want to have a box of tissues handy, though.


NIKKI LANE: ALL OR NOTHIN’

(New West Records; 2014)

NikkiLane-AllOrNothin-ADA

On her sophomore release, Nikki Lane steps up her game with the help of producer (and primary songwriting partner for ALL OR NOTHIN’) Dan Auerbach. The record is filled with plenty of girl power tunes, a couple of “get-even” tunes and even a submissive, “Stand By Your Man” kinda tune; all of them with a sense of fierce urgency that tells you that Ms Lane is not to be trifled with! In short, this ain’t no Taylor Swift fluffy pop country; she’d kick Taylor’s butt! Heck, she’d probably win an over-the-top-rope wrestle royal with Lucinda, Courtney, Miranda, Christina, Neko, Exene, Beyonce and just about any other Diva you could name (except those Blues ladies… nobody messes with them!) That estimation is borne out on the opening track, “Right Time,” a snotty (in a good way) girl power song with a twang and a pedal steel guitar. There’s no doubting who’s in charge with lyrics like, “It’s always the right time/To do the wrong thing.” “Good Man” is a cowgirl group thing, with Spector-ish “Wall of Sound” drumming and glockenspiel a-plenty. It features a more refined vocal twang and restrained pedal steel. The girl group comparison continues with “I Don’t Care.” The song comes off the starting block like “London Calling,” but the vibe quickly coalesces into something closer to the early, angry Elvis (the only Elvis that matters, not the dead fat guy). The organ, acting as more of a percussive instrument, propels the song forward as much as the bass or drums.

You Can’t Talk To Me Like That” is a languid, plaintive country ballad. Aside from a great vocal from Nikki, the track also features an organ part that reminds me of Al Kooper’s work on Dylan’s HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED. And, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. With a PETER GUNN or a private eye movie soundtrack kinda vibe and a cool Tijuana Brass horn chart, “Seein’ Double” is all atmosphere, something rare for that kind of music. On “Love’s On Fire,” producer Auerbach joins Nikki for a real live, honest-to-goodness June and Johnny, Tammy and George, Dolly and Porter country duet. The song begins with minimal accompaniment but, a little over a minute in, it turns into a full blown country barn burner. “All Or Nothin’” is what the First Edition would have sounded like if Thelma Comacho or Mary Arnold sang lead instead of Kenny Rogers. It has a chugging rhythm with great percussion, organ and guitar, particularly the psychedelic solo that plays through to the fade. A driving rock beat and plenty of drawl and twang make “Sleep With a Stranger” a good “get-even” tune, with snark-laced lyrics like, “This would be a good night/To sleep with a stranger.” Lucinda and Neko would definitely approve. The snaky guitar and pedal steel leads add to the snide charm of the track.

Nikki Lane (photo credit: CHUCK GRANT)

Nikki Lane (photo credit: CHUCK GRANT)

Man Up” is another hard-edged empowerment song: “You better get off your ass/You better man up/Or I’m gonna hafta be/The one that gets tough.” It’s kinda like the traditional country that was making the rounds and gaining popularity in the late ’70s and the early ’80s, but with tougher lyrics and more adventurous instrumentation. Jason Pierce (J Spaceman of Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized) is the co-writer on “Out of My Mind.” The tune has more in common with Pierce’s Spacemen 3 work, but with a solid pedal steel lead and a plaintive vocal from Nikki. Fiddle, piano and acoustic guitar add to the lilting country feel. The next track, “Wild One,” would not sound out of place on the first New Riders of the Purple Sage album, with the pedal steel referencing Jerry Garcia’s playing on that record. The rolling bass and nice organ sound highlight an understated vocal performance… a performance which is almost staid compared to the rest of the record. “Want My Heart Back” is a great update on the early ’60s pop sound, with piano, guitar and echoey drums (requisite tympani included) that are reminiscent of the Cascades’ “Rhythm of the Rain.” While ALL OR NOTHIN’ is an upgrade over her excellent WALK OF SHAME debut, the best material here is the stuff she co-wrote with Dan Auerbach. Hopefully, this is a creative team that will stay together for a while. With Lane and Auerbach together, I’m not sure how much better we can expect record number three to be, but I sure can’t wait to find out!


THE WHIGS: MODERN CREATION

(New West Records; 2014)

whigs-modern-creation

The Whigs are back! Five albums and three bass players into a twelve year career, the Athens, Georgia trio are showing no signs of slowing down; in fact, they rock as hard (or harder) than they ever have. “You Should Be Able To Feel It” kicks off MODERN CREATION in fine fashion. It is, quite simply, the best kind of power pop/punk with a little dose of twang thrown in for good measure… think Artful Dodger or the Replacements. Julian Dorio’s drumming is powerful and rock steady, while Parker Gispert offers up enough chunky power chords to fill an hour on any Classic Rock radio station. The chugging, percolating “Asking Strangers For Directions” has a more menacing vibe with Clash-like drumming propelling the song forward. The track has a very bottom heavy feel and the guitars are featured more as texture than anything else, until a wicked sounding phased-out solo. Not as radio friendly as the opener, but it’ll definitely show up on plenty of personal playlists. The guitar on “The Particular” has a definite metal tonality, while the whole thing has a rather minimalist, stripped down feel. Timothy Deaux’s bass playing in this setting is particularly intriguing. For comparison’s sake, imagine Tony Bourge-era Budgie filtered through early Everclear (Gispert’s vocals even sound a bit like Art Alexakis).

The Whigs (publicity photo)

The Whigs (Julian Dorio, Parker Gispert, Timothy Deaux) (publicity photo)

Hit Me” is a funky, jangling hybrid of everything that made you love music in the first place. It’s the first single from the album and one listen will tell you why. If handled right, “Hit Me” could become a sleeper radio hit for the summer. In a similar vein, the chiming guitar, vibrant production and elastic bass of “Modern Creation” makes it another radio friendly number. The witty lyrical content is of a type that would make the studious gents from Eve 6 envious. “Friday Night” is a snotty punk song, with vocal nods to Billy Idol and the aforementioned Everclear frontman. Alternating between a plodding drone and a pop metal charge, “She Is Everywhere” has me contemplating a joint writing effort by Pete Townshend and the Oakland, California post-metal tribe, Neurosis. While that may seem like an odd combination, the Whigs pull it off spectacularly.

Too Much In the Morning” sounds like one of those late ’90s alternative rock songs that may have prompted Dorio and Gispert to say, “Let’s start a band.” It’s a neat ballad with a charging bridge and chorus section that really elevates the song to another level. With a bouncey melodicism, “I Couldn’t Lie” is the kind of gently rocking song that Phil Lynott would sneak onto every Thin Lizzy album, a bit too heavy to be called a ballad and a little too poetic for a hard rock workout. One of the highlights of MODERN CREATION is the literate, well-conceived lyrics. “The Difference Between One and Two” continues the exceptional wordcraft, enhanced by powerful performances from the rhythm section and an almost stately guitar part, which is quite reminiscent of a Link Wray stroll. The band’s schedule has them delivering an album every other year and, while I would certainly like to have more, if the wait between releases continues to yield music of this quality, I’m happy with that. The guys are currently touring in support of MODERN CREATION. Upcoming dates can be viewed at www.thewhigs.com.


GREAT LIVE ALBUMS (20)

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, starting with number 20, here’s the first in a series of reviews presenting 20 live albums that you should check out:

(20) WINGS: WINGS OVER AMERICA

(CAPITOL RECORDS; 1976)

wings over america

To say that the original release of WINGS OVER AMERICA was a behemoth may be overstating things… but, just barely! It was a beautiful thing to look at and – in a time before gargantuan box sets were an industry norm – the three record set (enclosed in a true masterpiece of design by Hipgnosis) was one of the biggest (and, at nearly two hours, one of the longest) releases ever.

WINGS OVER AMERICA inner gatefold painting by JEFF CUMMINS

WINGS OVER AMERICA inner gatefold painting by JEFF CUMMINS

The band (drummer Joe English, guitarists/bassists Jimmy McCulloch and Denny Laine, keyboardist Linda McCartney and her husband… I think his name might have been Lester, but I’m not sure… wonder whatever happened to him?) comes out of the box rocking hard with a medley of “Venus and Mars,” “Rock Show” and “Jet.” Despite the many comments regarding Linda’s musical and vocal abilities, she was – in my humble estimation – just as integral a part of the group as Laine, McCulloch or English… heck, I even like the songs she sang lead on! Anyway, with the aid of a four man horn section, Wings proved from the get-go that they were there to play. Following a great take on “Jet” is another track from BAND ON THE RUN, the bluesy “Let Me Roll It.” Then it’s back to the VENUS AND MARS material with “Spirit of Ancient Egypt” and McCulloch’s “Medicine Jar,” a pair of tunes that had me reevaluating the merits of said album. Side two opens with a stunningly effective version of McCartney’s solo song, “Maybe I’m Amazed,” featuring some awesome, tasty guitar from McCulloch. Another slow blues – and another tune from VENUS AND MARS – follows. “Call Me Back Again” features more solid guitar work and a nice horn chart. When Paul announced this jaunt (as part of the Wings Over the World tour and his first live dates in the States since 1966), the burning question was, “Will he play any of those old songs?” The rabid fans got their answer very early in the set, as a pair of lesser (by comparison) Beatles tunes – “Lady Madonna” and the dreamy “Long and Winding Road” – were given the Wings treatment. The hyper-kinetic theme to 1973’s James Bond flick, LIVE AND LET DIE closes out the second side of the set, with McCartney pulling every cliché from every musical genre he could access at the time he wrote the song.

Wings: Linda and Paul McCartney (photo credit: BOB ELLIS)

Wings: Linda and Paul McCartney (photo credit: BOB ELLIS)

The second album (side three, by the way things were figured way back then) starts off slow, melody wise, with one of the gentler tunes from BAND ON THE RUN, the French dancehall vibe of “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me),” coupled here with a nice, lilting cover of Paul Simon’s “Richard Cory,” itself an adaptation of a late nineteenth century poem about a suicide. Vocalist Denny Laine changes the last line of the first chorus to “I wish I could be… John Denver.” The acoustic set continues with another song from BAND… , “Bluebird” before dipping into Paul’s back catalog once more, with a trio of classics: the country-tinged “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” a rather funky “Blackbird,” and what may just be the perfect ballad, “Yesterday.” A record flip (yes, kiddies, to get from side three to side four, you actually had to physically turn the thing over!) and it’s back to the electric stuff and another dose of VENUS AND MARS music, with the ragtimey “You Gave Me the Answer,” which is followed by McCartney’s paean to a few of Marvel Comics’ oddest villains in “Magneto and Titanium Man.” Denny is back on lead vocals reprising his hit with the Moody Blues, “Go Now.” It’s a nice, bluesy number enhanced by the horn section. It’s rather unfortunate that the best song on the RED ROSE SPEEDWAY album was “My Love.” It’s even more unfortunate that McCartney deemed the slow schmaltz worthy enough to perform live. Side four closes out with the rollicking “Listen To What the Man Said,” highlighted by Thadeus Richard’s clarinet.

Wings: Jimmy McCulloch and Paul McCartney (uncredited photo)

Wings: Jimmy McCulloch and Paul McCartney (uncredited photo)

Side five introduces the new album, WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND, starting with the goofy pop of “Let ’em In,” one of two big hits from the record. Laine’s sinuous “Time To Hide” kicks up the rock ‘n’ roll again before the other big hit, “Silly Love Songs,” gets an early airing. I know that a lot of people cite this song, in particular, as proof that McCartney’s post-Beatles work was schmaltzy pop crap, but I’ve always liked it. So sue me, ’cause I think this version is pretty darn fun! Rocker Paul returns on “Beware My Love,” one of his more muscular forays into the realm of hard rock. Throughout WINGS OVER AMERICA, Paul, Jimmy and Denny had been switching back and forth between guitar and bass (and, occasionally, piano) but, the imaginative bass work (and the tone) on this side is all Paul and, for that reason alone, is the highlight of the set. Paul continues on bass on the final side with “Letting Go” another VENUS AND MARS rocker. “Letting Go” is followed by what is probably McCartney’s most well-known post-Beatles tune, “Band On the Run.” The bass (McCartney again) is quite prominent and the guitars, drums and Linda’s synthesizer cut through at times, but the song sounds thin somehow. It’s still a great rocker. The encores, “Hi, Hi, Hi” and “Soily,” sound better. The guitar interaction between McCulloch and Laine is possibly the strongest of the entire album, with McCulloch on slide and Laine playing a double neck. Paul McCartney wanted to prove that this wasn’t just his Wings, but a cohesive unit of five very talented musicians. I’d have to say that they definitely proved his point with the Wings Over the World tour and the WINGS OVER AMERICA album, which is why it’s one of the 20 best live albums ever.

The most recent release of WINGS OVER AMERICA came in 2013, with standard two CD and three LP versions, a Best Buy version with an extra CD of eight songs recorded at San Francisco’s famed Cow Palace and a sprawling box set featuring all three CDs, as well as a DVD of a television special called WINGS OVER THE WORLD and four books.


ROMAN REMAINS: ZEAL

(HOT RECORDS; 2014)

Roman Remains album

Roman Remains is the electro-industrial pop side project of Leila Moss and Toby Butler of the Duke Spirit. With a sound that draws from the vanguard of the multiple genres that form the basis of their music, Butler and Moss weave an elegant and mysterious veil throughout their eleven track debut, ZEAL. The duo uses an old-school industrial base of such groups as Gravity Kills and God Lives Underwater (both bands that are much-loved and much missed by this scribe), augmenting that with an updated electronic sound that leans heavily on the pop sensibilities of (recent tour mate) Gary Numan and a voice that isn’t too dissimilar to Siouxsie Sioux. Mixing everything together, the result is something new, relevant and distinctly original.

Roman Remains (publicity photo)

Roman Remains (publicity photo)

The first track, “This Stone Is Starting To Bleed,” has that Gravity Kills vibe, while also reminding me somewhat – and I really hate to make this comparison – of the pop tendencies of Brian Warner, minus his “shock-for-shock’s-sake” lyrics and persona. The song also introduces an Arabic theme to the music, which is repeated throughout the album, adding to the mysterious feel. The poppier side of the music drives “Tachycardia,” a song whose melody wouldn’t seem out of place on a tune by Britney or Shakira, even if the lyrical nuances would be lost on either (well, maybe not Shakira… she seems to be fairly intelligent but, you get my drift). “Nest In Your Room” features an ominous, slightly ghoulish lyric (“Hold a thousand mirrors up to your nose/Comb your hair with the scent of a rose”) as the guitars and synthesizers buzz into a hive-like drone. This one definitely has the underlying menace that has always been present in Numan’s music. A dark, Gothic ballad, “Agrimony,” features uncharacteristically gauzy vocals from Moss amidst a minimalist backdrop, the various parts morphing into a very creepy whole.

Apoidea” ups the machine quotient, with more bleeps and wheezes and a heavily synthesized percussive track. With everything kind of going off at once, the tune sounds very disjointed but, a closer listen shows it to be a calculated risk amongst the other, more “standard” tracks. The next track, “Thirsty As a Truck,” has a calliope-like rhythm alongside an odd guitar signature and lyrics to match. “Gazebo” is a slow burning, taut ballad. The beautiful vocals and chiming guitar adds to the mesmerizing tension of the track. The Arabic influences are more prominent on “Influence and Atlas,” which features strong Middle Eastern percussion. The guitars and vocals also evoke the sound and feel of the region’s music. The occasional odd (as in, out-of-place) synth bloop actually distracts from the potential power of the track. A minor complaint for an album of such musical and lyrical depth.

Roman Remains (uncredited photo)

Roman Remains (uncredited photo)

There’s a sort of sexy menace that permeates “Animals.” The track is a fairly solid mash-up of Creatures-era Siouxsie vocals (not to mention the Budgie-style berating of several percussion instruments), some “clanging” guitar chords and a strange, modernistic take on traditional Hip-Hop. “Vulture Bird” starts with a serious horror movie minor key introduction and things just get weirder and more violently ominous as it moves along. Along with “Nest In Your Room,” this is probably my favorite (at least, as I’m writing this). A throbbing synthesized bass line and a pumping-heart drum beat, again, takes “It End In Other Ways” to a dark, dark place, a modern equivalent of the Gothic Darkwave music that all the hip young ghouls danced to in the graveyard a few years back. There are a lot of comparisons to be made but, in the end, ZEAL is emphatically, above anything else, a Roman Remains album. I, for one, can’t wait to hear their next progression.


OUR LAST ENEMY: PARIAH

(ECLIPSE RECORDS; 2014)

Our Last Enemy album

I gotta be honest here, boys and girls: I have not listened to industrial metal since… oh… the late 1990s or there-abouts, when Fear Factory was tearing it up, in the studio and on the road. Having said that, I gotta be honest about something else: I absolutely love Our Last Enemy’s new album! Now, I don’t know how much this has to do with my liking the record so much, but it is produced by former Fear Factory bassist Christian Olde Wolbers. There are FF references and head-nods (head-bangs?) aplenty, alongside healthy dollops of Type O Negative, Black Sabbath, Ministry, Korn, Alice Cooper and Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society. That, of course, means that aside from the full-throated growls of Oliver Fogwell (how apt a name is that?) and Matt Heywood and the down-tuned guitars of Bizz Bernius (of Genitorturers fame), there is plenty of metal, hard rock and just plain ol’ rock tossed into the mix to make things truly interesting.

Our Last Enemy, 2013 (publicity photo)

Our Last Enemy, 2013 (publicity photo)

PARIAH is a loose fitting concept album. The “Pariah” is a poor soul who somehow finds himself reborn at the center of great upheavals throughout history, sometimes as a mere witness, other times as the epicenter of whatever crisis happens to be unfolding. This chaotic theme is played out very well – musically and lyrically – by the apocalyptic Australians. For 13 tracks (and three remixes… of which, more later) the often crushing musical feel compounds the sense of misery (and hope for redemption) related in the lyrics. So, let’s take a look at the high points of a very fulfilling album, shall we? The first few tracks are standard industrial metal, but gain points for a few things. “Devour the Sun” is basic pummel-you-into-submission metal with some very cool “horror movie” keyboard accents. The glass-gargling vocals take some getting used to but, by the end of the track, you can tell that they are a major asset to the ongoing success of this band. By the second tune, “Wolves of Perigord,” the concept emerges, full-blown. This song, in particular, showcases the percussive side of Our Last Enemy. Seemingly every instrument – including the guitars – is used as a percussion instrument. Drummer Zot Cillia thunders his way through the track, as he does throughout the disc. The music kinda takes a back seat as the vocals move the story along on the lyric heavy “10.000 Headless Horses.” A creepy, atmospheric video for the tune has been produced by the Blackley Brothers (check it out below). Some biting guitar jabs open up the instrumentation on “Internus Diablos Verni,” giving the song the feel of a heavier Guns ‘n’ Roses. The whole vibe, however, is sorta reminiscent of Black Sabbath… without sounding anything like them. A kinda stun guitar sound (rather like Zakk Wylde) gives “Low” an odd hair band air to it. As always, the vocals and keyboards (provided by Jeff Ritchie) are exceptionally spot on. “Carrion” has a funky sort of Red Hot Chili Peppers thing happening at the start and introduces a synth pattern that wouldn’t have been out of place in Gary Numan’s “Cars.” The pace, quality, and diversity of the music continues to pick up.

The Fear Factory factor comes into play on “Pariah BC,” which also features a disjointed vocal melody that reminds one of Alice Cooper’s late ’80s/early ’90s work (“Poison,” anyone?). There’s more Fear Factory comparisons on “Don’t Look Now,” as Fogwell vocally channels Burton C Bell. The rest of the band adopt a cool Deftones stance. “Pariah AD” is all Type O Negative/Black Sabbath gloomy, doomy stuff… which is awesome! An added bonus is the guitar solo, with a lot of single, bent notes that sounds a lot like “The Ballad of Dwight Fry” from the Coops. “Decoy” is, quite simply, heavy, abusive and stifling. There’s an awesome groove to “What You Say,” with synched melodies from guitar and voice. It also has that big, chanting monks sound that Sabbath used to great effect on more than one occasion. “Ants In the Farm” starts with a nifty, spongy sounding bass line and evolves (de-evolves?) into another FF-like song, with heavy doses of Korn tossed in. The boys saved the best for last. “Into the Light,” with its atmospheric, mostly whispered lyrics (’til at least mid-song). It also features a great, reverb-drenched guitar coda, adding to the funeral dirge menace. Bizz’ guitar takes an exceptionally cool hard rock turn toward the end of the song, echoing to a great sounding piano outro (as these types of songs often do).

Our Last Enemy, 2014 (publicity photo)

Our Last Enemy, 2014 (publicity photo)

And, there you have it… a feast for metal-heads and industrialists the world over. Well… except for… the three “bonus” tracks. Anybody who has ever read one of my reviews over the last 20 years will know that I am not a fan of remixes. Especially remixes of brand new songs. I’m one of those hard-headed people who thinks that if you liked the original version well enough to release it, why mess with it? Anyway, the remixes are for “Internus Diablos Verni” (by Mortiis… I actually kinda like it), “Devour the Sun” (by Angel from Dope Team Cybergeist… uh… yeah… not so much) and “Pariah AD” (by Divine Heresy’s Travis Neal, it’s called a “Karloff Mix” and plays up the horror movie keyboards… I guess it’s okay but… it’s still a remix, right?). For me, that makes 13 (the originals) up and three down (the remixes) but, I guess, if you are into remixes, then that truly is a bonus for you.


BILL NELSON: GETTING ACROSS THE HOLY GHOST

(COCTEAU DISCS/ESOTERIC RECORDINGS/CHERRY RED RECORDS/PORTRAIT RECORDS; reissue 2013, original release 1986)

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I fell in love with Bill Nelson, his songwriting, his voice and his guitar playing in 1977, with LIVE! IN THE AIR AGE, the fantastic live release from his then-current band, Be Bop Deluxe. In the early ’80s, I rediscovered Bill through a pair of commissioned works for the stage – DAS KABINETT (THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI) and LA BELLE ET LA BETE (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST), both for the Yorkshire Actors Company – and 1982’s THE LOVE THAT WHIRLS (DIARY OF A THINKING HEART); the second commissioned piece was released as a bonus record with THE LOVE THAT WHIRLS… and stands in stark contrast to the album proper’s poppy New Romanticism. I eventually discovered Nelson’s Red Noise project during a trip to the used record bins at a local shop; I initially passed on those releases as virtually every review I read at the time called it – and I’m paraphrasing here – “A disappointing attempt at electronic dance music.” Anyway, after Red Noise, finding a new Bill Nelson record in the hinterlands of Illinois became an effort in futility; now, nearly thirty years after Red Noise, comes the expanded edition of one of the man’s most well-received records, GETTING ACROSS THE HOLY GHOST (called ON A BLUE WING in North America and Australia). The new edition features a remaster of the original ten-song UK version of the record, as well as a second disc featuring the two EPs culled from the same recording sessions: WILDEST DREAMS and LIVING FOR THE SPANGLED MOMENT.

Bill Nelson (photo credit: SHEILA ROCK)

Bill Nelson (photo credit: SHEILA ROCK)

There seems to be a vague theme running through …HOLY GHOST… , a theme that reminds me of Sunday mornings in a small country town or village. “Suvasini” is a short, introductory ambient piece with a nice jazzy guitar running throughout; it leads into “Contemplation,” which features a snaky kind of guitar, some mid-’80s poppy keyboards and a slinky bass line (courtesy of Iain Denby). Bill’s voice has always been sort of an acquired taste; here, he straddles the stylistic line that falls somewhere between David Bowie and Bryan Ferry. The song itself is very poetic and lyrically dense (as in, a lot of words). The only part I find objectionable is a sax part that tends to ruin the feel of the whole track. “Theology” is closer to the esoteric near-rock of some of Be Bop Deluxe’s more experimental stuff. The number rather reminds me of solo John Foxx or, maybe, a type of Enoesque Ambient rock. Preston Heyman adds an industrial (as in, machinery) percussion thing that is very cool. There’s more of that industrial sound happening on “Wildest Dreams,” a happy kinda tune that also tosses marimba into the percussion mix. You know, I really like Nelson’s more experimental pop stuff but, I gotta say… I really miss his exceptional guitar playing on some of this material; 1980’s style keyboards just don’t do it for me, though there is a great violin solo from Peter Greeves. “Lost In Your Mystery” could have been an outtake from Bowie’s LET’S DANCE sessions. The music has a very Asiatic (in reference to the Continent, not the band) and pre-programmed (it all sounds synthesized) texture and feel; it’s a very laid back song with an equally laid back vocal from Bill.

In its original form, you could listen to those first five songs before being forced to flip the record over to hear the rest of the music. That’s the way I’ve chosen to review the first disc of this reissue, picking up here with the music on Side Two. “Rise Like a Fountain” comes across as an Adrian Belew/King Crimson kind of thing… if Crimson were an ambient band. Iain Denby chimes in with a great (fretless?) bass part, plus… there’s an actual guitar solo (short though it is). There’s an unfortunate BEVERLY HILLS COP/Harold Faltermeyer synth vibe (sorry, folks… great movie, horrible theme song) happening on “Age of Reason.” Nelson’s vocals are pretty good but, I’m not sure they actually save this thing, especially once the Clarence Clemons-like sax bleats (provided by William Gregory and Dick Morrisey) come in. Simply stated, the tune comes off as nothing more than dance music for left-footed mathletes. “The Hidden Flame” continues the dance floor goofiness, though some nifty processed piano and some funky lead guitar somewhat negate the damage. As always, Bill’s vocals are a highlight, as is the stinging guitar solo toward the end. “Because of You” is up next. Now, this is more like it: Great guitar, great lyrics (“Nailed to the cross of love/Because of you”), funky bass; this number could easily have worked as a Power Station song. The album ends with “Pansophia,” a very short (less than a minute) nylon-string guitar solo laced with minimal processed piano and ambient noises. So, in the harsh reflective light of nearly three decades, the first half of GETTING THE HOLY GHOST ACROSS fares much better than the second half, though there’s enough meat on the bones to enjoy this rather dated blast from the past, mostly because… well… Bill Nelson!

Bill Nelson (LIVING FOR THE SPANGLED MOMENT)

Bill Nelson (LIVING FOR THE SPANGLED MOMENT)

And, so, we’re on to the second disc of this collection as we ponder the question: What would a “Deluxe Edition” (or reissue of any kind, really) be without “bonus material?” That material usually manifests as a vault-clearing effort to delve into the artist’s psyche at the time of the recording of the feted release. Thankfully, the minutia that practice entails is eschewed for a more slim-lined package that includes the two EP releases associated with the 1986 album… a total of eleven tracks. Even though the sequencing here is kinda wonky, for the purposes of this review, our exploration will begin with the music from the first of these releases, LIVING FOR THE SPANGLED MOMENT. Following the first cut from the later WILDEST DREAMS record, the seven tracks from …SPANGLED MOMENT – five of which were issued as part of the original English cassette version of the …HOLY GHOST,,, record – follow in sequence. It should be noted that this release is more of a “mini-album,” clocking in at a little less than a half hour. “Heart and Soul” is another synthesized, mid-tempo dance tune, featuring sax and clarinet solos from Ian Nelson. This is probably as stuck-in-your-head catchy as you’re likely to hear from Bill Nelson. Nelson’s minimalist approach to guitar-playing is once again the touch point for the title track, which is awash in various keyboard texturing, a slinky bass part from Denby and another Morrisey sax solo; the track is… okay… just not great. Though brighter in tone, “Feast of Lanterns” comes off feeling like an extension of the main album’s “Pansophia.” This longer investigation of that tune’s themes features some backward guitar alongside some well-placed harmonic guitar swells and ambient keyboard for a little added atmosphere. The result is quite a pretty piece of music.

Bill Nelson (publicity photo)

Bill Nelson (publicity photo)

Illusions of You” has a nice band vibe, very happy and bright. Bill’s guitar is more prominent here than elsewhere, which is a welcome sound; everything seems to come together on this track… except for Ian Nelson’s sax solo, which somehow seems terribly out of place here. With an almost somber kinda Peter Gabriel feel that belies a sprightly Denby bass line and Nelson’s vibrant vocal performance, “Word For Word” is a slow-build non-ballad. A neat Spanish guitar solo gives way to one of Bill’s trademark ambient electric guitar solos. “Finks and Stooges of the Spirit,” besides having one of the greatest titles ever, is quite possibly the best tune from this period of Nelson’s career. It’s an electronic rocker, with a dense instrumental bed menacing just below vocals that border on the dispassionate (think Gary Numan). Since I’ve been a little hard on him, I must compliment Ian Nelson’s woodwinds; they are an integral part of this wall-of-sound production. Bill’s reverb-drenched solo leads into a short duet with Ian’s clarinet, which really adds to the (intentionally) disjointed feel of the number. Like the closer to Side One of the original LIVING FOR THE SPANGLED MOMENT release, “Nightbirds” closed out Side Two – and, indeed, the entire record – in similar fashion: It’s another short ambient soundscape, this time featuring Iain Denby on bass. For pure atmospheric effect, it certainly does a nice job, as it leaves the listener yearning for just a bit more.

Bill Nelson (WILDEST DREAMS)

Bill Nelson (WILDEST DREAMS)

Now, back to the top, with the “Wild Mix” of the WILDEST DREAMS’ title track. You know how I feel about remixes… don’t like ‘em. However, this one seems to have a little more of that industrial percussion that Preston Heyman brought to the original album version, as well as a more prominent bass line and… wait! Is that an extended violin solo from Peter Greeves? Okay… I may actually prefer this version to the one found on GETTING THE HOLY GHOST ACROSS. “Self Impersonation” (or, “Self Impersonisation,” as it was originally titled), which crops up after “Nightbirds,” is another ambient thing with some heavy percussion aspects (this time, by Bill himself, who plays everything on this cut) and just enough soloing and noodling throughout to remind us that Bill Nelson coulda been a big shot rock star guitarist. Up next is another version of “Wildest Dreams.” The single mix is basically the album track cut by a few seconds and featuring a more vibrant high-end (for airplay, doncha know?). It doesn’t sound too bad, removed, as it is, from the entirety of the album. “The Yo-Yo Dyne” is another keyboard and percussion piece, with a cool pipe organ thing happening. Once more, this is all Bill, all the time. The song has an odd, Reggae feel to it – not that Reggae is odd, just in this setting. A nice way to end the record, I suppose, but a tad too repetitive to be allowed to go on for five minutes. As mentioned above, this may not have been my favorite period in Bill Nelson’s career, but there is enough meat on the bone to intrigue.