THE DICTATORS: THE NEXT BIG THING EP

(REAL GONE MUSIC/EPIC RECORDS/SONY MUSIC; 2015)

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In a perfect world, the Dictators shoulda been the next Big Thing in rock and roll when their debut album, GO GIRL CRAZY, was released in 1975; instead Andy “Adny” Shernoff, Handsome Dick Manitoba and the rest were relegated to the bargain bin of what coulda been, with Ross the Boss Friedman showing up a few years later in a wooly mammath diaper as a member of Manowar. For whatever reason (the ridiculous – now legendary – cover shot may have done it, but such song titles – taken out of context by my then-sixteen year old brain – as “Master Race Rock” and “Back To Africa” could have played a part, as well), I never purchased that first album. I did, however, fall madly in love with the ‘Tators second release, MANIFEST DESTINY… to the extent that, before my shift at the local record store began, the other employees would try to hide the promo copy from me. I have, more recently, listened to GO GIRL CRAZY and thoroughly enjoyed it (MANIFEST DESTINY is still IT for me, though, as far as this band goes). In advance of an expanded Fortieth Anniversary edition of the first record, Real Gone Music – through the auspices of Epic Records – has released a six-song 10” red vinyl EP as a Black Friday special. And… there’s that ridiculous cover again, modified with a picture of Andrew WK, of which, more in the following paragraph.

The Dictators, 1975 (Ross the Boss Friedman, Stu Boy King, Handsome Dick Manitoba, Andy Shernoff, Scott Top Ten Kempner) (publicity photo)

The Dictators, 1975 (Ross the Boss Friedman, Stu Boy King, Handsome Dick Manitoba, Andy Shernoff, Scott Top Ten Kempner) (publicity photo)

The first three tracks (Side One) come from the GO GIRL CRAZY album (when Shernoff was the lead singer and Manitoba was the band’s “secret weapon”), but have been remixed and “re-imagined” by the previously mentioned Andrew WK. Though Andrew’s credits also say “over-produced,” the cuts – “The Next Big Thing,” “Two Tub Man” and “Weekend” – have more of a raw sound than the high-gloss sheen that Murray Krugman and – especially – Sandy Pearlman are so well known for. The final three tunes (you guessed it… Side Two) are early takes or unreleased songs from the Krugman/Pearlman sessions for the record. “Backseat Boogie” is listed on the cover sticker as a “newly-discovered recordingbut, the song – at least a version of it – appeared on a Norton Records compilation from 2007 called EVERY DAY IS SATURDAY. It’s a raucous piece of Stones or Dolls like trash with slightly over-modulated vocals from Andy, some truly over-the-top guitar from Scott Top Ten Kempner and Ross the Boss, with Ross laying down a biting, proto-metal solo. A heavy, extended bass/drums intro heralds an alternate take of “The Next Big Thing.” This version has an over-all heavier sound than the one that made it onto the original album, Shernoff’s vocals included. On this take, the tune is a massive gut-bucket shot of neo-punk. Finally, there’s a fairly straight-forward take of “Weekend,” minus the vocals. Shernoff’s bass-playing prowess really stands out on this instrumental take, which, oddly enough is the one immediately following the version used on the final version of the album. According to a new release listing for the 40th Anniversary edition of GO GIRL CRAZY, two-thirds of this EP will be featured… everything except Andrew WK’s remix of “The Next Big Thing” and the Instrumental version of “Weekend.” I gotta say, though, that I am particularly pleased with my little slab of vinyl.


THE GREAT CRUSADES/PLANEAUSTERS: SPLIT

(BOXING CLEVER RECORDS 7” single; 2014)

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Way back in the previous century, the Great Crusades released one of my favorite albums, 1997’s THE FIRST SPILLED DRINK OF THE EVENING. The record was filled with songs that were equal parts sloppy Rolling Stones rock ‘n’ roll, snotty Replacements punk, moody Americana and drunken Celtic reels, with Brian Krumm’s smokey Leonard Cohen cum Kris Kristofferson baritone delivering his own Dylanesque lyrics. Seventeen years later, the band still sounds wonderfully ragged on “Sometimes On Sundays, Too,” a love song that wouldn’t be out of place on something coming from Dylan himself. During the ensuing years following that first release, Krumm has continued to gargle with broken glass, giving him a voice that is a huskier (and more melodic) approximation of Rod McKuen. When he rasps the chorus, “There were parties every Saturday/At the house on Illinois Street/And sometimes on Sundays, too,” you may find yourself clearing your throat in sympathy. The music is a jangly, acoustic blast of what has been dubbed “rock-noir,” featuring a very hymn-like arrangement and orchestration. In short, “Sometimes On Sundays, Too” is every bit as sublime as anything from that first Great Crusades album.

The Great Crusades (Christian Moder, Brian Leach, Brian Krumm, Brian Hunt) (uncredited photo)

The Great Crusades (Christian Moder, Brian Leach, Brian Krumm, Brian Hunt) (uncredited photo)

The B-side of this special split single features frequent tour-mates and kindred spirits of the Great Crusades, Germany’s Planeausters. In fact, Crusader Brian Leach is listed as producer; he adds a nice bit of piano to the track, as well. “Wouldn’t Say It’s Over, But It’s Gone” also acts as the flip-side of the new-love tale of “Sometimes On Sundays, Too.” The tune has to be one of the most horribly effective break-up songs of all time. Musically, the track is a sleepy, languorous bit of shoegazing with some nice guitar work from Michael Moravek and an impossibly slow drum track from Per Ceurremans, one that sounds like it was played back at half-speed while the song was being mixed. “Wouldn’t Say… ” is my introduction to Planeausters, but I gotta say, if this cut is what this band is all about… gimme more. As the magnificent Boxing Clever Records branches out past the release of these exquisite split singles, moving into the realm of full-length albums, maybe a deal can be struck for the release of the latest Planeausters record. Make it happen, Jim!

Planeausters (Michael Moravek, Per Ceurremans, William Kollmar) (uncredited photo)

Planeausters (Michael Moravek, Per Ceurremans, William Kollmar) (uncredited photo)

The Great Crusades’ latest full-length is THIEVES OF CHICAGO, available at their Bandcamp page. As with all singles from Boxing Clever Records, this release is available directly from the label’s web-site; also available from the fine folk at Boxing Clever is a limited edition skate deck featuring the record’s cover art. Tell ‘em the Mule sent you!


KANSAS: MIRACLES OUT OF NOWHERE

(LEGACY RECORDINGS/KIRSHNER RECORDS/EPIC RECORDS/SONY MUSIC; 2015)

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It was forty years ago last year when a group of struggling musicians with an ambitious sound and an unassuming name released their first album, sending them on a ten year journey of self-discovery and musical dominance in a field generally considered the exclusive realm of rather high-minded and esoteric English bands. To celebrate, all six original members reconvened to reminisce about everything from those humble beginnings to their breakthrough albums, LEFTOVERTURE and POINT OF KNOW RETURN, and the singles those albums spawned – “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Dust In the Wind.” Those reminiscences are featured in a new documentary called MIRACLES OUT OF NOWHERE, which also includes input from Garth Brooks, Brian May and ROLLING STONE scribe David Wild, among others. This special package features that documentary on DVD (or Blu-Ray), as well as a specially curated CD that covers those first five groundbreaking albums, compiled by drummer Phil Ehart and long-time producer Jeff Glixman.

Though the documentary does feature snippets of songs and rare concert footage, it’s really more about the story, which is fine with me. And, even though the guys rarely appear together on camera, there are plenty of great stories to be heard. One of the best involves Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and how opening act Kansas thwarted his attempts to pull the plug on a particularly well-received set in their home state. When the guys do appear together, it’s on a bus, recreating their drives across the state from early in their career. There’s a certain sense of camaraderie, the type that everybody feels when you’re reunited with old friends after an extended period of time; the old problems and feuds are forgotten and things just naturally pick up where they left off before those things intruded. If you want to see a bit more of the guys discussing the old days together, there is a special edition release with an extra DVD of material of just that, available only from the band’s dedicated website if pre-ordered before the release date (March 16, 2015).

Kansas, circa 1973 (Phil Ehart, Kerry Livgren, Steve Walsh, Rich Williams, Robby Steinhardt, Dave Hope) (photo credit: DON HUNSTEIN)

Kansas, circa 1973 (Phil Ehart, Kerry Livgren, Steve Walsh, Rich Williams, Robby Steinhardt, Dave Hope) (photo credit: DON HUNSTEIN)

The CD intersperses dialogue from the documentary with the hits and some deeper cuts from the band’s first five records. There are, of course, the group’s two biggest successes, as well as several tracks that have become staples at Classic Rock radio. You’ll recognize the ones I mean as we discuss each track individually. Now, you may be asking yourself, why do we need to discuss individual tracks that are 35 to 40 years old? Well… a couple of reasons: I really didn’t get into Kansas until their sixth release, the live album TWO FOR THE SHOW and, while I was an avid consumer of music back then, I didn’t write reviews like this one. That second reason actually leads to a third reason for an in-depth review: Cuz I wanna and cuz I can (does that make it four reasons? But, then, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!).

Kansas, circa 1974 (Dave Hope, Rich Williams, Robby Steinhardt, Phil Ehart, Steve Walsh, Kerry Livgren) (publicity photo)

Kansas, circa 1974 (Dave Hope, Rich Williams, Robby Steinhardt, Phil Ehart, Steve Walsh, Kerry Livgren) (publicity photo)

The disc is fairly chronological, as it begins with material from KANSAS and ends with songs from POINT OF KNOW RETURN (stopping at each subsequent album in between), although each record’s offerings are re-sequenced from the order in which they originally appeared. That means that this collection starts with the sixth track on 1974’s debut release, “The Pilgrimage,” which is actually pretty standard Midwest rock ‘n’ roll from the period. Except, of course, for Robby Steinhardt’s violin. There is absolutely nothing about this tune that would lead you to believe that these guys would become the standard-bearer for American progressive music by the release of album number two. While “Can I Tell You” was Side one, Track one of the KANSAS record, this version was recorded live for DON KIRSHNER’S ROCK CONCERT. The weird thing about it was that there was no audience; the band was as shocked to discover that when they took the stage as I was when they told the story in the documentary… I mean, who knew? Anyway, “Can I Tell You” is Kansas with their prog roots starting to show and, it’s one of those tracks that you’re likely to hear on the radio when the DJ is sick of playing the hits. “Journey From Mariabronn” is eight minutes of progressive pomp, beautifully constructed and symphonic in its scope. This is the song that really had the other guys in the band standing up and taking notice of Steve Walsh’s vocal abilities.

Kansas, circa 1977 (Kerry Livgren, Phil Ehart, Rich Williams, Robby Steinhardt, Steve Walsh, dave Hope) (publicity photo)

Kansas, circa 1977 (Kerry Livgren, Phil Ehart, Rich Williams, Robby Steinhardt, Steve Walsh, dave Hope) (publicity photo)

Song For America,” the title track to the second record, sees chief songwriter Kerry Livgren upping his game. The ten minute piece strays a bit into Yes territory with its elegance and power, its intricate time signatures and arrangement. A straight forward rocker, “Down the Road” features a heavy Dave Hope bass line and some wicked duels between Steinhardt and guitarist Rich Williams (or, is it Livgren… or, maybe, both?). There is a section where guitar, bass and violin are playing in harmony that is absolutely magical! The prog-rockery was ratcheted up another notch with MASQUE and its centerpiece, the doublet of “Icarus” and “Borne On Wings of Steel.” The track features a pumping organ from Walsh and some heavy guitar riffs and solos, with the main solo sounding kinda like something that Steve Howe woulda played. With all of that happening, the highlight of the song is found with the amazingly tight harmony vocals. “The Pinnacle” is a majestic, symphonic number, with several musical and emotional levels… and, that’s just in the nearly three minute intro. Phil Ehart’s drums thunder and swell just below the vocals as the song continually threatens to explode in a rock ‘n’ roll fury but, sorta like something by ELP, it’s reined in right before everything blows. The tension, searching desperately for a release, is the driving force until the second, muscular guitar solo (at about the 7:45 mark), but that’s only a tease. The song is a great exercise in dynamics.

Kansas (Rich Williams) (photo credit: VICTOR PETERS); (Phil Ehart, Kerry Livgren, 2009) (photo credit: LAURIE LARSON)

Kansas (Rich Williams) (photo credit: VICTOR PETERS); (Phil Ehart, Kerry Livgren, 2009) (photo credit: LAURIE LARSON)

LEFTOVERTURE is where record sales finally caught up with the inherent talent of Kansas. This time out, Kerry Livgren’s songs, while not being overtly religious, are much more… spiritual, looking inward and reaching upward. Three of the first four songs on LEFTOVERTURE are presented here, beginning with “The Wall,” another slow, symphonic piece with great harmony guitars and a hymn-like keyboard coda. “Carry On Wayward Son” is THE song that Kansas will forever be remembered for. The release that never came during “The Pinnacle” finally arrives… in spades! With one of the most recognizable choruses and riffs in the history of music, not just rock, “Carry On…” still receives as much airplay as “Stairway To Heaven” or “Free Bird.” That middle section is stunningly powerful, with evocative organ and guitar solos. The song that gave this collection its name, “Miracles Out of Nowhere,” reaches Dennis DeYoung heights of pomposity, with welcome flourishes of late-period King Crimson (before they broke up the first time) mixed in during the instrumental break.

Kansas (Robby Steinhardt, Steve Walsh) (video still); (Dave Hope) (photo credit: DAVID CARSTENS)

Kansas (Robby Steinhardt, Steve Walsh) (video still); (Dave Hope) (photo credit: DAVID CARSTENS)

Point of Know Return,” from the album of the same name, is probably the most well-known number from Kansas’ early oeuvre that isn’t “Carry On…” or “Dust In the Wind.” A nifty bass line from Dave Hope underscores some fairly progressive keyboard, violin and guitar parts on what is pretty much another rather Styxian sounding rocker. “Dust In the Wind” is another brilliant, subliminally spiritual song from Kerry Livgren. The beauty of the piece – aside from the lyrics – lies in its simplicity. Stripped down to the vocals of Steve Walsh and Robby Steinhardt, the guitars of Rich Williams and Livgren and Steinhardt’s violin, it’s a beautiful, sentimental tune that all of the girls wanted to slow dance to at the end of the high school dance for years to come. The final track here is “Nobody’s Home,” another elegant ballad, highlighted by a delicate piano and a rousing finale. It’s an absolutely fitting end to a great look back at a band that, at the time, stood tall among the rock elite. Unfortunately, though the guys remain friends, there are no plans for a reunion album or tour. Too bad. I, for one, would love to see that old fire and passion rekindled… if only for little while.


THE ADORING HEIRS/THE MICRODANCE: SPLIT

(BOXING CLEVER RECORDS 7” single; 2014)

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There is truly something majestic about this “Deep Red” thing from the Adoring Heirs. It could just be the fact that the incomparable “Sir” Ian Baird sits atop the drum throne. But, let’s not discount the virtual tsunami of vibrant activity from guitars (supplied by Brian Merry and Joe Metcalf) and bass (that would be Rob Wagoner) and vocals (Wagoner again) that fight and strain to remain just above the surface of the sonic waves. The music of the Adoring Heirs has been called “arena rock for dive bars” and likened to the magnificently noisy Kansas City band, Shiner, and the working man’s supergroup, Bad Company… and, if that ain’t enough to convince you to consume, did I mention that the band’s drummer is Ian Baird? You remember when the Saint Louis music scene was relevant? No, I’m not talking about Miles Davis or Johnnie Johnson… I’m talking about the late ’90s, when major labels were ripping off (oops… I mean, signing) a band or two from the Lou every week? This band has that same sound… a Saint Louis rock and roll sound, with great vocals, powerful drums and, above all else, a funky bass sound that immediately identifies a group as a product of Saint Louis. The Adoring Heirs are a major reason why the Saint Louis music scene is suddenly relevant again and, we can all use a little relevancy in our lives. Right?

The Adoring Heirs, doing that which they do best, circa 2013 (Joe Metcalf, Ian Baird, Rob Wagoner, Brian Merry) (uncredited photo)

The Adoring Heirs, doing that which they do best, circa 2013 (Joe Metcalf, Ian Baird, Rob Wagoner, Brian Merry) (uncredited photo)

Hailing from London (which, as far as I can ascertain, is in some foreign country… California maybe), the Microdance encapsulate everything that has rocked and/or rolled since people have been keeping records of such stuff. Just when you think you’ve got their style pegged, they go and slip you a proverbial musical mickey, leaving you bleary eyed and dizzy; they deftly move from dreamy shoegazing to the heaviest of metals, wrapping it all in a psychedelic haze… all, by the way, in the same song. The oddly titled “Moopy Moop” is a stunning cacophony of noises, with muted drums and swirling guitars behind vocals that can best be described as whispered screams from frontman and chief songwriter, Alex Keevill, and Shona MacMillan’s haunting and alluring counter-balancing voice. I’ve always heard that there’s a strangely calming effect that overcomes a drowning person and, to me, that kinda sums up the wispy introspection of this track; “Moopy Moop” is almost ambient-sounding in its… I wanna call it “raging minimalism,” as dichotomous as that sounds. Call the music of the Microdance what you will, but just one listen will find you hooked.

The Microdance (Cheryl Pinero, Gavin Mata Hari, Tomas Garcia, Alex Keevill) (photo credit: The Microdance)

The Microdance (Cheryl Pinero, Gavin Mata Hari, Tomas Garcia, Alex Keevill) (photo credit: The Microdance)

The Adoring Heirs recently released a full-length called BEGINNING OF THE END OF DAYS, available at their Bandcamp page. The Microdance is nearing completion of their upcoming full-length, as well, featuring the latest iteration of the band, as shown above. This beautifully packaged limited edition split single is available directly from Boxing Clever Records and comes in two flavors, yellow and yellow/white, which is, indeed, the rarest egg; also available from the fine folk at Boxing Clever is a limited edition skate deck featuring the record’s cover art. Tell ‘em the Mule sent you!


156: TAKING A LOOK AT A MOMENT LOST

(CHONDRITIC SOUND CASSETTE EP; 2013)

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So… ya say that you were the only guy on your block (in your town?… in your state?) that bought Lou Reed’s METAL MACHINE MUSIC and actually played it more than once and – above all else – understood it? Okay, tough guy, have I got a release for you – the latest in minimalist metal from Adel Souto, a self-described “writer, musician and troublemaker,” whose musical nom de plume is 156. TAKING A LOOK AT A MOMENT LOST has a pots and pans, anvils and chains, everything-in kind of sound, very percussive in the best possible all-metallic way. This is the heaviest metal I’ve heard since “Weapon Training,” the opening track on Throbbing Gristle’s THEE PSYCHICK SACRIFICE in 1982!

156 mastermind Adel Souto (uncredited photo)

156 mastermind Adel Souto (uncredited photo)

Souto’s web-site (www.adelsouto.com) calls his 156 alter ego an “industrial junkyard outfit.” Okay… works for me. Whatever you wanna call it, TAKING A LOOK… is totally abrasive and gratingly beautiful. “Fading Images” starts things off with tinkling chimes, reverberated and phased into a ringing background drone, with a creep-inducing disembodied chant that may keep you up way past your bedtime. On “And the Crowd Calls For His Head,” the drone takes on the wail of a ship’s call horn, while the percussive impetus seems to be coming from finger cymbals and the hinges of large metal doors. “Expand and Contract” takes the previous track and ratchets the noise up to 11 before morphing into “Leaving Without Dinner,” a more sedate track, with chimes, gongs, cymbals and what appears to be rattling bones. For only the second time, the sound barrier is broken on “Blasting Away,” with what sounds like a kettle drum or large trash barrel crashing through the less-than-two-minute piece. “Compression” could be the same instrument but, as the name implies, run through a (possibly analog) sound compressor. The dynamics of the track lay within the silences. The final tracks work as sort of triptych of loud/soft/softer blasts of droning background noises and clangorous percussion. “The Midnight Hour (May Day)” sounds like metal-on-metal, run through that compressor with echo effects seemingly melting the “beats” together in a hypnotic dissonance. “About To Kowtow” is quieter and sounds very much like an anvil, a dishwasher and a metal sander vying for attention under an incessant headache-inducing whistle. “The Midnight Hour (All Souls Day)” is, perhaps, the quietest track here, starting with the sounds of what could be religious censers being lit by matches before erupting into a dive-bombing white noise cacophony of cicadas.

So, if you’ve got the guts for this kind of music (or if you’re an adventurous soul), you’d better get your order in fast… TAKING A LOOK AT A MOMENT LOST is released in a limited edition of 100 here: store.chondriticsound.com. Don’t dawdle!