LAKE STREET DIVE: BAD SELF PORTRAITS

(SIGNATURE SOUNDS; 2014)

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The four-piece Lake Street Dive would be as comfortable on-stage at a big Country show as they would be at a small Jazz club; they would fit in equally well with old-school Soul or Rock ‘n’ Roll and would even find (or gain) ardent fans on a Warped Tour stage. On their latest release, BAD SELF PORTRAITS, the immediate point of distinction – as with everything that has come before – is the voice of Rachel Price. While Price is the obvious focal point, the musicians behind her are responsible for putting words in her mouth: drummer Mike Calabrese; guitarist, trumpeter and founding member Mike “McDuck” Olson; bassist and primary songwriter (at least on this album) Bridget Kearney. The diverse sound of Lake Street Dive can most easily be traced by the geographical history of the four members: Olson hails from Minneapolis (home of Prince and Husker Du); Calabrese calls Philadelphia home (Philly Soul, anyone?); Kearney is from Iowa (as was/is Big Band leader Glenn Miller and metal extremists Slipknot); Price comes from just outside Nashville (the one in Tennessee… you know… “Music City”). This huddled mass melted into the New England Conservatory pot in Boston.

Lake Street Dive (Mike Calabrese, Bridget Kearney, Rachel Price, Mike Olson) (publicity photo)

Lake Street Dive (Mike Calabrese, Bridget Kearney, Rachel Price, Mike Olson) (publicity photo)

BAD SELF PORTRAITS kicks of with the title track, a very cool Motown vibe and vocals that have a throwback appeal – think Norah Jones channeling Ronnie Specter… kinda thick and sultry. “Stop Your Crying” is very much in the same vein: girl group pop for the next century with backing vocals that are best described as… uh-hum!… “Supreme.” The next tune, “Better Than,” has a distinct Buckingham-Nicks/Fleetwood Mac groove, with a syncopated percussion pattern, a medley line and backing vocals that are quite Stevie-esque (Nicks not Wonder, in case you didn’t get the previous reference), and a very churchy sounding organ. Bridget Kearney (who wrote this one, the equally infectious title track and three more of the 11 songs here) also adds a very nice acoustic bass line. “Rabid Animal” is a wicked girl group/Carole King-Brill Building tune with a punchy rhythm and a tack piano driving toward its abrupt end.

Lake Street Dive (Mike Calabrese, Rachel Price, Bridget Kearney, Mike Olson) (photo credit: JARROD MCCABE)

Lake Street Dive (Mike Calabrese, Rachel Price, Bridget Kearney, Mike Olson) (photo credit: JARROD MCCABE)

You Go Down Smooth” is a kind of dirty blues, featuring a standard George Thorogood guitar riff. There’s a great horn chart that gives the number a grand, Big Band feel, which is accentuated by some jazzy, charging drums and excellent backing vocals on the chorus. The funky soul of “Use Me Up” features a snappy percussion pattern but, it’s the slapping bass line, with just enough resonance, bounce and spring in the strings to give it a nifty ’30s Jazz vibe. “Bobby Tanqueray” is a cool mix of modern alternative rock guitar parts, loopy, out-of-left-field bizarro stage production lyrics and an odd sci-fi/fantasy siren (the mythological chicks, not the noisey, wailing warning devices) sound (is it a synthesizer thingy… is it a theremin… is it a human voice?) that really kicks this one up a notch on my “like-o-meter.” Believe it or not, “Just Ask,” reminds me of something from Paice Ashton Lord (a Deep Purple off-shoot), with a heavy organ sound, a beefy guitar sound and a funky groove.

Lake Street Dive (Bridget Kearney, Mike Calabrese, Mike Olson, Rachel Price) (publicity photo)

Lake Street Dive (Bridget Kearney, Mike Calabrese, Mike Olson, Rachel Price) (publicity photo)

Seventeen” is probably the rockin’est track, with a driving, crisp Southern Rock guitar sound and almost tribal drumming from Calabrese. The male/female duet vocals adds another dimension, reminiscent of the sound Dale Krantz and Barry Harwood brought to their duets with the Rossington-Collins Band. The chorus and the rhythm of the track are of the variety that gets stuck in your head, on perpetual rewind. A loose, random feel permeates the percussion heavy “What About Me,” giving it a funky, rollicking late ’60s feel. The church choir chorus and New Orleans-style guitar and drums adds to the almost sloppy party atmosphere, kinda like a Big Easy funeral procession during Mardi Gras. The final track, “Rental Love,” clocking in at just over two-and-a-half minutes, is as close as this record gets to a ballad. The instrumentation is – once again – crisp and imaginative but, Price’s vocal performance raises the track to another level… something more than a standard Rock/Pop/whatever ballad.

BAD SELF PORTRAITS is short by today’s standards, a few seconds shy of 40 minutes. You get so lost, however, in the little nuances (lyrically, vocally and instrumentally) of the album that you don’t realize the brevity… you just know you want to hear more. I’m well aware that we’re barely a quarter of the way through the year, but I’m gonna be hard pressed to find many more deserving releases for a spot in my “Best of 2014” list.


FIREHORSE: PILLS FROM STRANGERS

(SELF-RELEASED EP; 2013)

Firehorse - Pills From Strangers

Firehorse is, essentially, the vehicle which singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Leah Siegel uses to drive her tunes. This short (seven songs in less than 27 minutes) release is an odd conglomeration of indie rock and pop excess – think Lady Gaga channeling Liz Phair with a dash of Pink for just the right dose of snottiness and a dollop of Tom Waits for just the right amount of strange. All of this is over a new wavey, synth-fueled bed that brings to mind the good (Gary Numan) and the bad (Peaches, referenced here just to keep the band honest and making a concerted effort not to swerve in that direction) of the genre.

PILLS FROM STRANGERS is the follow-up to the band’s 2011 debut, AND SO THEY RAN FASTER… and features the same players (Siegel, drummer Brian Wolfe, bassist Tim Luntzel and guitarist Steve Elliot) with the addition of keyboardist/programmer Mendeley Wells, whose presence is felt immediately on the quirky opener, “Bloodstream,” with its bizarre, blippy synthesizer coda that could be majorly annoying. Toss in a delivery of the line “Get in my bloodstream” that immediately conjurs up visions of Mike Myers and “Get in my belly!” and the song comes very close to tanking in a disastrous, Peaches kind of way. But, you know what? It works, thanks in part to several other attributes, including the lyrics. A fun way to kick things off!

Firehorse's Leah Siegel (photo credit: WILL O'HARE)

Firehorse’s Leah Siegel (photo credit: WILL O’HARE)

The new wave synth pattern and drumming are the real highlights of the throwback sound of “Good,” a nifty little number that has that certain something that makes it immediately appealing, if not exceptional. “Wave” is the first song on the disc that would actually prompt me to buy the thing. Again, a bouncy new wave vibe turns into the perfect setting for Leah Siegel’s Siouxsie Sioux-cum-Kate Bush vocal delivery. The first two and a quarter minutes of “Any Other Day,” with Leah’s soulful gospel inflections and a choir behind her totally makes the tune work. When the full instrumentation is introduced, the transition to the rather menacing final minute is quite a fine piece of musical structuring. Really nice!

The metallic clang and sparse percussion of “Scarecrow” transforms the tune into a minimalist nightmare. Siegel’s lyrics and voice are perfectly menacing. Without a doubt, this is the single most impressive song on the record! Though not as overtly ominous as the previous track, “Walls” keeps the quality high and the instrumentation stripped to a bare minimum, with a nice acoustic lead driving the tune. “Fool” maintains the minimalist feel going with a strange funk vibe, evoked more than anything by Leah’s vocal performance… kinda like a soulful Nikka Costa thing filtered through Prince at his most funky purpleness. I do like this record, but… I can’t help wondering what an entire album of material like the last three… make that four… songs, ’cause “Any Other Day” has the same less-is-more ambiance that seems to propel Leah’s vocals to whole new level. PILLS FROM A STRANGER is available at the usual download places and at the band’s website, thisisfirehorse.com. Physical copies of AND SO THEY RAN FASTER… are also available from their site. Go ye forth and consume, my brethren and… uh… sistren!


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.


WHEN PIGS FLY – SONGS YOU NEVER THOUGHT YOU’D HEAR

(A2X RECORDS/XEMU RECORDS/AORTA RECORDS; 2002) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULT (UPDATE BELOW)

 

When Pigs Fly

“Hey… let’s make a record!” “Yeah! Awright! Let’s get some really cool songs to put on it! How about Peter Gabriel’s ‘Shock the Monkey?’ That song rocks!” “But… we can’t afford to stick a Peter Gabriel song on there with our budget. Unless… ” “Okay. I hear what you’re saying. Don Ho rocks!”

“Huh? Run that one past me again? Don Ho… ‘Shock the Monkey’… I don’t get the connection, dude,” you say. Well, Slappy, give a listen to this hipper-than-hip collection and get yourself a clue. WHEN PIGS FLY… takes a bunch of really cool tunes and a bunch of really strange performers, dumps ’em all into a blender and gets… well, some strangely cool covers! They ain’t all masterpieces and, truthfully, a lot of ’em aren’t even that big a stretch to imagine the couplings. A lot of people may be upset to find that, though the collection was done with a nod and a wink, these versions are – for the most part – dead serious artistic restylings.

Ani DiFranco (publicity photo)

Ani DiFranco (publicity photo)

On the first track, “Unforgettable,” the unlikely duo of Ani DiFranco and Jackie Chan (yup… THAT Jackie Chan) displays chops that will surprise more than a few folk. Now, seriously, we all knew that Ani is in possession of an ample set of pipes, but her vocals on this American standard are amazing! And… who knew that Jackie could croon? Well, apparently the vast majority of his homeland, as he is one of Hong Kong’s biggest musical stars. He will probably never be confused for Nat “King” Cole, but he can certainly hold his own. We’re only one tune into this eclectic array of singers and songs and the pigs have definitely left the runway!

Devo (uncredited photo)

Devo (uncredited photo)

Devo deconstructs Neil Young’s “Ohio” next. Here’s one of those tunes that really isn’t a huge stretch: The guys of Devo are Ohians (from Akron, of course) and, if memory serves, a couple of them may actually have been enrolled at Kent State in 1970. This version belches, whistles, and throbs, in typical Devo style. Though Mark, Jerry, and the others never step out of character, the tune’s original vehemence and anti-war sentiment still comes through. “Call Me,” by the Box Tops is… different. Blondie’s huge electro-dance hit is turned into… well… a Box Tops song, with funky Memphis horns and a patently dispassionate Alex Chilton vocal. What can be said about the Connells’ version of Cypress Hill’s “Insane In the Brain,” especially while I’m rolling on the floor in hysterics? First of all… Holy crap! I hate this song! However (and you knew that there was gonna be a “however,” didn’t you?), these North Carolinians make the song palatable, in a repugnant sort of way… i.e.: Like a train wreck or a gruesome accident, you just can’t turn away. I guess that’s what Cypress Hill’s all about, anyway. And the Connells capture that perfectly.

Don Ho (photo: BEN MARGOT-ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Don Ho (photo credit: BEN MARGOT-ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The centerpiece of this collection is Don Ho. As mentioned above, the Hawaiian of indeterminate age covers the improbable “Shock the Monkey.” You wanna laugh… I know you do. And that’s alright, but I’m betting that once you hear the track, you won’t be laughing anymore. The man who brought us “Tiny Bubbles” delivers a dead-on version of the classic Peter Gabriel tune. His voice is surprisingly strong, rich, and raspy, with just enough creepiness to sell the song. Maybe it’s time for a Rick Rubins career makeover for Mister Ho. I’m not suggesting that Rubins could recreate the success that he experienced with Johnny Cash or Donovan, but I would certainly like to hear what he could do with Ho. Though 75% of these tracks are homespun creations, the brainchild of executive producer Cevin Soling, the next track is more than a decade old. The criminally over-looked Roy Clark turns in an amazing vocal performance on a song made famous by the one and only “Satchmo,” Louis Armstrong. While no one can possibly hope to come close to Armstrong’s funky growl, Clark’s smooth-as-silk voice lends a sense of pathos to “What a Wonderful World.”

Oak Ridge Boys (publicity photo)

Oak Ridge Boys (publicity photo)

Billy Preston approaches Duran Duran’s “Girls On Film” like he approaches anything he does: He attacks it and makes it his own. The thumping bass and funky guitar and drums probably has the guys in Duran Duran saying, “See… that’s what we wanted it to sound like!” Preston’s pumping organ and throaty vocals add to the vibe, stamping the tune with the “Official Cool People’s Seal of Approval.” Cy Curnin delivers a creepy, David Bowie like vocal on the Fixx’s version of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” The song, originally performed by Nancy Sinatra, is about empowerment; this version turns it into a misogynistic song about control. One of my favorites from the collection. Another one of those pairings that really isn’t that far of a stretch is the Oak Ridge Boys covering Kansas’ mega-hit, “Carry On My Wayward Son.” The religious overtones of the tune plays well with the Boys’ gospel roots, and the harmonies are so tight that you can totally forgive lead singer Duane Allen for his shortcomings (minimal, though they are) in delivering a rocker like this.

T Rex gets the garage treatment with the Neanderthal Spongecake’s version of “Bang a Gong (Get It On).” The Spongecake is fronted by our erstwhile leader, Cevin Soling and their deliciously trashy version is the best since the Power Station covered the thing somewhere in the final quarter of the last century. I’ve done a little checking and, as far as I can tell, these guys had a full-length release in 1996 (or there-abouts) and have been quiet on the recording front until this solitary track. Hey, Cevin… we all love Spongecake, dude! How ’bout some more? And, now, we’re 11 tracks into a 12 track collection and we finally run into a duffer. Herman’s Hermits take a whack at Billy Idol, offering a rather tepid version of the former Gen-Xer’s “White Wedding.” Now, I have nothing against Peter Noone and, in fact, his vocals actually hold up fairly well. However, having said that, I’m not real sure who the other Hermits are, but I’m guessing that they’re a group of studio musicians… and it sounds like it. The music is as sterile and lifeless as anything that Toto (a group of professional studio musicians, in case you didn’t know) ever recorded.

Lesley Gore (publicity photo)

Lesley Gore (publicity photo)

If Don Ho didn’t shock you (no pun intended), then the final track will. Like most music lovers, I know that you’ve lain awake at night, wondering whatever happened to pop princess Lesley Gore. Well, sleep well tonight, my friends… she’s been laying low, waiting for just the right song for her comeback. And that song is… “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” That’s right… Lesley takes one of AC/DC’s most infamous tunes and, adding her own special touches, turns it into a rollicking pop ditty, complete with horns, handclaps, pumping organ, dirty piano, and a slutty “girl group” chorus. This is, without a doubt, the coolest AC/DC cover I’ve ever heard (yeah… I know there aren’t that many, but even if every album ever released featured an AC/DC cover, this would probably still be at the top of the heap)! If you wake up screaming and in a cold sweat remembering Celine Dion’s horrendous version of “You Shook Me All Night Long,” this one will cure the night terrors… at least until that evil Canuck opens her trap and yodels again!

UPDATE: WHEN PIGS FLY… is still available at all the usual download places, like iTunes and, if you’re looking for a physical copy, the original web-site, www.pigsflycd.com is still up and running. You can also listen to individual tracks there.


SCORPIONS: COMEBLACK

(LEGACY/SONY; 2012)

Comeblack

At the tail-end of a 40-plus year career, German rockers Scorpions offer COMEBLACK, a cover album. Kinda. Seven of the 13 tracks are actually re-hashes of some of the band’s best known tunes, including ”Wind of Change,” one of the top five worst songs ever written – if not THE worst! I guess, now that there are two versions (not counting live) of this suck-fest on record, it officially drops “Born In the USA” out of the top five. No… wait. That’s really not fair, is it? Actually, it is a top five non-Springsteen turd. So, figure up how many songs your Boss (he ain’t mine… if he were, he owes me a heck of a lot of back pay!) has written and THEN you start counting from there. Which means that this second version of “Wind of Change” has, in reality, knocked Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” out of the top five non-Bruce stinkers. Of course, “Wind of Change” has competition right here on this album with “Still Loving You” and “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” although neither stoops to the levels of heiniousity that particular ditty reaches. But, I guess hammering these things out on a nightly basis during the endless “farewell tour” has kept James Kottak gainfully employed for the last four or five years.

Scorpions (Marc Theis)

Scorpions (photo credit: MARC THEIS)

Alright, having gotten that off my chest, I must say that I used to really like Scorpions, at least ’til MTV found them. Two of my favorite Scorps songs, “The Zoo” and “Blackout” are both here, as well. So, it ain’t all bad! Plus, the other six songs are pretty okay. The cover of Soft Cell’s cover of Gloria Jones’ “Tainted Love” is a fun, if rather odd, choice. But it works. There are also covers of Marc Bolan’s T Rex track, “Children of the Revolution” and “Across the Universe” by the Beatles. Steve Mariott’s Small Faces get play with “Tin Soldier.” “All Day and All of the Night” by the Kinks and the Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” finish the set. These Teutonic takes on some of the most well-known songs of the rock era don’t add anything special to the originals, but then, I don’t think they were intended to. Like so many other bands who’ve been in the game for a good long while, Klaus Meine, Rudolf Schenker and the rest just wanted to say “thanks” to some people who inspired and enabled them to do what they love. I guess that’s one of the most confounding things about COMEBLACK: If you wanted to do a covers album, why revisit your own career (the originals are on several hits packages and feature prominently on a few live albums) for over half of the album? I would have liked to hear the guys cover the Who, the Doors and, for some reason, I think that they would have tore things up with a version of the Amboy Dukes’ “Journey To the Center of the Mind.” And, hey… “Dancing Queen” by ABBA! That would have been AWESOME!

If you just have to own versions of the seven “original covers” by the current band of Scorps and want a fun second half’s worth of “inspirational covers,” then, by all means, COMEBLACK is for you. I just wanted (and expected) a little bit more.


AMBROSIA PARSLEY: I MISS YOU, I DO

(SELF-RELEASED DIGITAL EP; 2012)

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This is what Elvis (the dead, fat one) would sound like if he were a lot younger, a lot hipper, a chick and not dead. The latest from former Shivaree front-woman Ambrosia Parsley, I MISS YOU, I DO, offers a divine taste of her next full-length, WEEPING CHERRY. Listening to the five songs, it’s easy to understand why the thing was originally going to be called FOUR FUNERALS AND A WEDDING.

The first track, “The Other Side,” features a teen-angsty ’50s kinda vibe, but with bigger drums (think Phil Specter’s Wall of Sound) and a fuzzy, tremelo-laced guitar leading the charge. Ambrosia’s sweet voice almost gets lost in the bigness of the musical backing. Nonetheless, a great opener!

A gloomy, plaintive minor key piano backs Ambrosia to start “Whispering Pines,” an elegantly doom-laden little number. Eventually, a church organ, bells, acoustic guitar and bass join in. As a male counter-vocal enters at about the 2:30 mark, the song hits a third, separate feel – somehow more crushing and claustrophobic than the first two.

Ambrosia Parsley (publicity photo)

Ambrosia Parsley (publicity photo)

Nighttime” is a duet of sorts, featuring the same male voice (sorry… wish I had names to go along with voices and instruments, but all I have is music!) from “Whispering Pines.” Even though the music (featuring guitar – both acoustic and electric, piano and eventually, drums and bass) and vocals sound breezy at the start, by the time Ambrosia sings “Get me outta here/Get me outta here/I hate it here/Get me outta here,” a phobic paranoia settles in. The creep factor is high on this one which, even at only two-and-a-half minutes long, makes it an instant favorite around here.

With more loud guitars and drums, “Losing the Holiday” offers a more “modern” feel to the proceedings. Again, Ambrosia’s vocals are nearly lost in the din during the chorus. She does shine through brightly on the verses, in which a sense of hopelessness and loneliness and a certain tired resignation are evident. The fact that these songs are presented with an almost lighthearted airiness makes the underlying tone of despondency that much more ominous. This is GOTH music without the black backdrops and eye-makeup.

The Answer (Tim and Becky’s Wedding)” is supposed to be the happy song, but with lines like “When my hands are tied and my hair’s a mess” and “There’s no chance at all, I confess/The answer’s yes,” the picture painted is of a victim succumbing to her tormentor (rapist?). The song again hearkens back to that ’50s teen drama sound (almost a doo-wop feel, except for the presence of instrumentation).

I MISS YOU, I DO has definitely whetted my appetite for more. Bring on WEEPING CHERRY!