WARDRUNA: RUNALJOD – GAP VAR GINNUNGA

(INDIE RECORDINGS; reissue, 2014; original release, 2009)

Wardruna cover

Let’s just get this out of the way upfront. It IS okay to play favorites when you’re a music writer. I wouldn’t believe ANYONE who says they like everything the same; we all have our favorites. And while anyone bold enough to write about music or art in a public forum better at least be open-minded, it is normal and human to be drawn to certain things more than others. A whole host of factors determine one’s personal aesthetic and predilections, and these generally change as you grow older. So I just wanted to say all this by way of explaining my delirious response to the Norwegian group Wardruna. I’m well known for loving Scandinavian music, especially what comes out of Norway and the rustic forests of Finland. I also tend to love anything that’s weird and unclassifiable, and I am an avowed ambient music fanatic. So, imagine how enthralling it must be for me to encounter this Norse trio, who are plenty weird, plenty ambient, and absolutely committed to their quest to conjure up a sound that evokes old Viking mythology, the darkness along ancient rocky shores, and the fiery passions of a people so tied to a beautiful, cold, mountainous land far away that nothing else matters except their homes, their families, their lifestyle and their surroundings. The sound of this recording is not “unearthly” per se, although some may call it such. What it IS, though, is wild, untamed, eerie, primal, awe-inspiring and deeply mysterious. Parts of it sound like bits of the score from the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (it’s well-known that composer Howard Shore drew from Norse mythology for some elements of LOTR), parts are reminiscent of Dead Can Dance (only superficially, though) and most of it is rich in the traditional folk stylings of Norway’s boundless musical past.

Wardruna performs at Vikingskipshuset (The Viking Ship Museum) in Oslo  Norway, 2010 (photo credit: wardruna.com)

Wardruna performs at Vikingskipshuset (The Viking Ship Museum) in Oslo Norway, 2010 (photo credit: wardruna.com)

So, who is behind this spellbinding sound? Let’s meet them, shall we? The chief visionary is Einar Kvitrafn Selvik, who apparently writes everything and plays most of the instruments, along with his deep-register vocalizing. Lindy-Fay Hella is the woman in the group, and she contributes amazing, much needed female vocals. And Gaahl is credited on vocals and “conceptual contributions.” This GAP VAR GINNUNGA project is part one of a planned trilogy about runes. What’s that, you ask? Let’s just quote right from the group’s website here: “The ongoing RUNALJOD trilogy is a musical rendition of the 24 runes in what is often referred to as the Elder Futhark. Some of the recordings are done outdoors in places or under circumstances of significance to each rune. Wardruna primarily use old and historical instruments such as primitive deer-hide frame drums, kraviklyra, tagelharpe, mouth harp, goat horn, lur and more. Non-traditional instruments and other sources of sound like trees, rocks, water and torches are also used.” Are you better prepared now, listeners? Well, I doubt it, because no description is truly apt for the mighty, immersive, sonic grandeur this trio has forged. And lemme tell you, “forged” is a better word than something as bland as “recorded.” You don’t sit down and “record” stuff like this. You sculpt and chisel it out of the very foundation of your SOUL, using materials tied more to the earth than anything the average musician picks up. The vocal incantations, drones, ancient horns, percussive THUMPS and thoroughly mysterious other instruments take you to another time, another place, a dreamscape so far away from your normal reality that you can’t believe it exists out there. This is a history lesson without the names or events, a trip to an exotic place without having to drive, fly or sail, an experience in unbridled passion without having to touch or question the motivations of your partner. Wardruna are making living, breathing, stirring musical art that anyone with even mildly adventurous musical taste should revel in. It’s unforgettable, music that is at one with the ancient power of nature in a manner unattainable by most recordings.

Wardruna (Lindy-Fay and Kvitrafn) (publicity photo)

Wardruna (Lindy-Fay and Kvitrafn) (publicity photo)

And listen, picking out individual song titles is not particularly relevant in this case. It’s all of a piece, one track flowing into the next. The titles are in Norse anyway: “Hagal,” “Bjarkan,” “Jara,” “Laukr,” et cetera. Speaking of “Laukr,” by the time I got to that eighth track, I was already so deliriously grateful for what this group had laid down for us that I knew the kind of review I was going to write. This music renders most adjectives inadequate. Wardruna have power, majesty, the singular intent of all the best art, the confidence that what they are embarking on is more than worthy, and the musical skill to capture the organic ebb and flow common to the best listening experiences. This stuff isn’t for you if you only like pop or rock and roll. But if you liked being STIRRED, haunted and enthralled by music and the mysteries of life, check out Wardruna. You will NOT forget what you hear. Oh, and Norway? You keep raising the bar SO high for interesting aural creations, what are the rest of them out there gonna do? Not your problem, though… just keep on being beautiful, provocative and wildly yourself, dear. Some of us appreciate you a ton, and we’ll see to it that only the most DESERVING get to experience your secrets.


HELDON: ALLEZ-TEIA

(SUPERIOR VIADUCT/URUS RECORDS/DISJUNCTA RECORDS; vinyl only reissue, 2014; original release, 1975)

HELDON cover

No matter how much you follow music, no matter how well you think you know a certain genre, you can always be surprised by something previously unfamiliar. I am a long-time devotee of ambient and electronica, always have been, but somehow Heldon escaped my notice. The French prog-tronica pioneers made a clutch of well-received discs in the ’70s, and founder Richard Pinhas has released a ton of discs under his own name since then, as well as various collaborations with Merzbow, Pascal Comelade, John Livengood and others. But until this reissue of their amazing 1975 album, ALLEZ-TEIA (their second effort), I’d never heard of either Heldon or Richard Pinhas. That’s a shame, ’cause this is amazing, hypnotic stuff. In the early to mid-’70s, new and powerful sounds were beginning to permeate the fields of prog and electronica. With European artists such as Can, Neu, Kraftwerk and Cluster changing the sonic landscape, the possibilities for modern music expanded a hundredfold. Brian Eno and Robert Fripp blew more than a few minds with their static early ambient explorations on NO PUSSYFOOTING and EVENING STAR, and that’s a good starting point to talk about the music on ALLEZ-TEIA. The opening track is even called “In the Wake of King Fripp,” showing the group’s reverence not only for Fripp’s early innovations on guitar, but his continuing sojourns with King Crimson, obviously one of the most important progressive bands of that era. Another track,”Moebius,” is undoubtedly named after Dieter Moebius, one of the founding members of German electronic pioneers Cluster.

Heldon (Richard Pinhas and Georges Grunblatt) (uncredited photo)

Heldon (Richard Pinhas and Georges Grunblatt) (uncredited photo)

That Fripp and Eno sound, particularly as heard on EVENING STAR, is overtly referenced here; no attempt is made to hide how much Heldon loves the evocative but sometimes brittle sound Fripp conjured, especially when Eno got ahold of those repetitive tape loops and put entrancing layers of twinkly synths below them. In “Omar Diop Blondin,” anyone but the most avid Fripp connossieur would guess it was the maestro himself playing here, so close is the patented Frippertronic sound to what’s going on; the song, in fact, is dedicated to the pioneering ambient duo. But Pinhas starts playing this hypnotic little 5 or 6-note repeating sequence that the showier electric guitar glides and buzzes above in flashy style, and then something genuinely unique results. I’m surprised by how nostalgic this stuff makes me for an era long gone. The 12-minute “Fluence,” a slowly building classic of ’70s sequencer/synth trance, has an organic purity to it that sucks you right in; it never calls too much attention to any of its components the way a lot of overproduced similar stuff of later decades tended to do. And “Saint-Mikael… ” (the title is actually much longer than that, but I’ll spare you from the unwieldiness of it), probably the penultimate track here, is just smashing, an intimate close dance between guitar and ambient synth that truly wants to make you float away in relaxed ecstasy. The surprising switch to dual acoustic guitars at roughly the 7-minute mark is wondrous; in fact, Heldon’s use of acoustic guitars on a few tracks is evidently something of a rarity in their early recorded work.

Heldon (Georges Grunblatt and Richard Pinhas) (uncredited photo)

Heldon (Georges Grunblatt and Richard Pinhas) (uncredited photo)

One thing’s for sure; this music deserves to be heard. Pinhas and company had not only the chops, but the understanding of what makes trancey instrumental music work: the mood created, the graceful interplay of the instruments (so important when you’re dealing with technology that can be cold or overly detached sounding), and good editing instincts. This isn’t a long album, and it’s actually quite a breezy listen; even non prog-tronica fans could enjoy it. Nor does it sound dated, even though its references are mostly from decades past. ALLEZ-TEIA is highly recommended for any fans of that early ’70s electronic music genre; it’s a work of great, to use a word King Crimson loves, discipline. And for me, an Eno and ambient fanatic, this disc was a genuine revelation. It’s something I look forward to hearing multiple times, and I definitely don’t always say that about reissues like this.


DONATO DOZZY: DIMENSIONS

(MENTAL GROOVE RECORDS 12” vinyl EP; 2014)

Donato Dozzy Dimensions

This EP is a reissue of a 2006 recording by the multi-talented Italian DJ and techno producer who has released a plethora of works on many different labels, and is known for an interest in the trippy, psychedelic side of electronica (a style combining acid, techno and ambient). Rather than boring you with facts about Dozzy’s two-decades-plus long career, I’ll just describe these two tracks, which are fairly representative of at least the stuff I have heard by him: hypnotically repetitious, danceable (if you’re into that), and somewhat edgy. Most listeners of techno, ambient techno, or name-that-subgenre of electronica don’t care what the instrumentation is, only the result matters. What you want in this kind of music is something that serves up a potent groove, builds an atmosphere, and engages other parts of your anatomy than just your footsies.

Donato Dozzy (uncredited photo)

Donato Dozzy (uncredited photo)

These two tracks succeed in doing just that. “Gol” is the more interesting piece, with a pinging synth in the foreground, steady mechanized percussion, and percolating sonics moving in and out of the mix. The central groove is a strong one here; this is a ride you WANT to take. Halfway through, the ambient washes become pronounced and rather evocative, adding aural color in a way that complements the danceable tempo. This would be just about a perfect track for a ride to the store about three miles away, and its consistent edge makes it pretty damn engrossing. “Fazah,” a slightly shorter track, commences with some nice neo-tribal rhythm programming, wiry undercurrents laced with periodic crashes and whizzy sound effects, and ghostly, ambient pads that punctuate the mix just often enough to diversify the texture. Which is good, because the beat turns 4/4 dancefloor stomp pretty early on, and that’s fine if you wanna dance but would grow tedious if those other sounds weren’t there. At any rate, this EP is a nice, economical burst of energy that demands little but serves up just the tasty, tantalizing techno tidbits you didn’t know you were craving. This kind of music is sometimes best experienced in immersive but reasonably timed chunks like this, and as such, DIMENSIONS is, well, of just the right dimensions to please most casual electronica buffs.


PAUL MCCARTNEY ARCHIVE COLLECTION

(HEAR MUSIC/CONCORD MUSIC GROUP; 2014)

Wings Venus and Mars coverWings At the Speed of Sound cover

The PAUL MCCARTNEY ARCHIVE COLLECTION continues with the release of two mid-’70s offerings from Wings, which by this time had gelled into more than a group of sidemen for Paul and Linda: VENUS AND MARS, a record that I dismissed out of hand upon its release for whatever sophomoric reason that was rattling around in my then 16 year old cranial cavity, and WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND, which is probably my favorite post-Beatles album from the McCartney camp. The WINGS OVER THE WORLD tour and the WINGS OVER AMERICA record were in support of the VENUS AND MARS release and, upon further examination of that spectacular live set, I’ve been forced to reevaluate VENUS AND MARS. Luckily, the Hear Music label (by way of the Concord Music Group) has given me that opportunity. As with every release in the series, these albums are released in a few different configurations (CD, vinyl, two CD/DVD and a special CD/DVD version housed in a book with a ton of extras). Everything being equal, we’ll examine the double CD and DVD versions of both albums here.

I listen to a lot of music. A lot of music. That includes quite a few digital CD remasters of analog vinyl originals. For the most part, I can’t really tell the difference or, if I do notice a difference, I find that I prefer the original, warmer analog sound. However, the two latest additions to the PAUL MCCARTNEY ARCHIVE COLLECTION are nothing less than an aural revelation. I understand that speaking in terms of dimensions, it’s a spatial thing but, the only thing that came to mind as I listened was, “Great googley-moogley! Sir Paul has somehow discovered a process to make his music three-dimensional!” No kidding… the vocals, the instruments, everything is so vibrant and crisp and nuanced. The horns and guitars literally jump out at you, as do the backing vocals… you can practically count the layers and name each voice in the mix. This is the sound that all other remasters should aspire to (uh… you know what I mean). Individually, this is what you can expect:

WINGS: VENUS AND MARS

(original release: CAPITOL RECORDS; 1975)

VENUS AND MARS Deluxe Edition

VENUS AND MARS Deluxe Edition

On VENUS AMD MARS, Paul McCartney was determined to show that Wings really was a band: Multi-instrumentalist Jimmy McCulloch was added to front-line performers McCartney and long-time collaborator, Denny Laine; drummer Joe English was brought in to give the rhythm section – Paul and Linda – a more cohesive sound. This is still very much Paul McCartney’s show, but the contributions from the others add dimensions to the sound that had been missing. The record kicks off with the title track, which works as a nice acoustic intro to “Rock Show,” one of McCartney’s rockingest tracks ever. The slide work of Jimmy McCulloch and piano of special guest Allen Toussaint add just the right touch. “Love In Song” has a kinda spooky vibe and some great orchestration; it’s one of three tracks with Geoff Britton on drums (nasty drunk McCulloch basically said, “It’s me or him,” and the die was cast). With Paul doing a pretty good Rudy Vallee imitation, “You Gave Me the Answer” is a fun approximation of 1920s speak-easy music. “Magneto and Titanium Man” has the band showing their geek side with a couple of lesser known Marvel Comics villains (in the form of Titanium Man and the Crimson Dynamo); the tune is a lilting kind of pop thing with a very nice guitar part from Denny Laine. “Letting Go” is an atmospheric, horn-driven rocker with a funky groove. The track features Britton on drums and a killer guitar solo through to the fade. “Venus and Mars” is back in a fuller version that has added some cool sound effects (either keyboards or guitar – or both). “Spirits of Ancient Egypt” is a pumping rocker with a great bass line (go figure, huh?), some creepy backing vocals and a sweet backward guitar. Maintaining the same groove and feel of the previous track, McCulloch’s “Medicine Jar” has Jimmy rocking out on a tune that was probably Geoff Britton’s last gasp as a member of Wings. Denny Laine’s sweet, bluesy guitar informs “Call Me Back Again,” which has a slow, funky Stax thing happening. “Listen To What the Man Said” was the big hit single from VENUS AND MARS, with guest spots from guitarist Dave Mason and Tom Scott on sax. It’s one of McCartney’s sappiest tunes, but exceptional playing all the way around (including the woefully underrated Linda McCartney) saves it from the dregs. The couplet of “Treat Her Gently” and “Lonely Old People” is a one-two punch of sap but, again, there’s just something about the playing that saves it (Paul’s piano, in particular). It’s kind of a “When I’m Sixty-Four” song about the McCartneys’ everlasting love. Even today, though Linda’s been gone for more than 16 years, it’s obvious that Paul’s love for her was – and is – everlasting. A short instrumental track, a cover of the CROSSROADS soap opera theme by Tony Hatch, fills out the groove of side two.

VENUS AND MARS (Paul McCartney) (photo credit: LINDA MCCARTNEY/photo copyrighted: PAUL MCCARTNEY)

VENUS AND MARS (Paul McCartney) (photo credit: LINDA MCCARTNEY/photo copyrighted: PAUL MCCARTNEY)

The second disc is where things get really fun and interesting. With everything working to perfection, “Junior’s Farm” is one of McCartney’s best non-album singles. The track has great pumping bass, a cool fuzzed-out rhythm guitar and a spectacular McCulloch solo. “Sally G,” the B-side of the single, is a nifty, lilting tune with pedal steel guitar and a fiddle… kinda like a barn dance hoedown. Sounding like the instrumental sister of “Sally G,” “Walking In the Park With Eloise” adds horns, banjo and washboard to the mix (and… is that an old soft shoe in there, as well?); the tune was another non-album single. Its B-side, “Bridge On the River Suite” is another grooving instrumental that coulda been the theme song from one of those rock and roll exploitation films of the early-to-mid-sixties. The B-side to 1985’s “Spies Like Us” single, “My Carnival” is an old time rock ‘n’ roll stroll (think Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill”) with a buoyant acoustic bass (played by Denny Laine, at least if the accompanying video isn’t lying), some purposely sloppy backing vocals and a lot of hand claps, whoops, hollers and whistles throughout. The previously unreleased “Going To New Orleans (My Carnival)” is a continuation (or a re-imagining) of the last tune with the added highlight of a “walking piano,” heightening the similarities to Fats Domino and other New Orleans music greats. “Hey Diddle” is a fun, pumping, previously unreleased reel, complete with penny whistles, saws and fiddles. “Let’s Love” is a minor key piano piece. I totally understand why it has remained unreleased up to this point. The next two tracks come from the 1974 documentary, ONE HAND CLAPPING, which didn’t see an official release until 2010. There’s a harder edged version of “Soily,” an unreleased track that the band used as an encore during the WINGS OVER THE WORLD tour; the other tune is the old chestnut “Baby Face,” which retains the playfulness of the 1926 intent. “Lunch Box/Odd Sox” was the B-side to 1980’s “Coming Up” single. It’s an instrumental with a very urgent sound that takes on a weird vibe with the eventual domination of the synthesizer. As the name implies, “Fourth of July” evokes a warm summer night, watching fireworks on a blanket with your baby. Yeah, the previously unreleased song is sappy and a little goofy and probably goes on a bit too long but, it’s still a nice acoustic departure. Parenthetically noted as an “old version,” a different (demo?) take of “Rock Show” has a ballsier sound with the bass standing out more than the final album cut. McCartney’s solo vocal actually works better than the album version, too. The single edit of “Letting Go” closes out the bonus audio. It’s about a minute shorter than the album take and features a different mix.

VENUS AND MARS (Wings: Jimmy McCulloch, Joe English, Denny Laine, Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney) (photo credit: LINDA MCCARTNEY/Photo cpoyrighted: PAUL MCCARTNEY)

VENUS AND MARS (Wings: Jimmy McCulloch, Joe English, Denny Laine, Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney) (photo credit: LINDA MCCARTNEY/Photo cpoyrighted: PAUL MCCARTNEY)

There’s some fun video stuff on the bonus DVD. First, there’s a behind the scenes look at the recording of the gang vocals for “My Carnival.” The piece shows Denny Laine slapping away at an acoustic bass. “Bon Voyageur” shows the band dancing and mugging in New Orleans, being interviewed on a riverboat, partaking in the fun and games at Mardi Gras and on the riverboat, where they perform with the “house band,” the Meters. A black and white documentary of the rehearsals for the WINGS OVER THE WORLD tour, “Wings At Elstree” features rather spotty sound but, the thing is nearly 40 years old. Also on display are the improbably large bell-bottomed pants sported by Denny Laine. The final, loopy kinda nostalgia is a TV commercial for the VENUS AND MARS album, which shows the band goofing around in a backroom of a bar somewhere… at least that’s what it looks like to me. None of this stuff is really necessary; however, it is fairly entertaining as little windows of the 1975 version of Wings.

WINGS: WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND

(original release: CAPITOL RECORDS; 1976)

WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND Deluxe Edition

WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND Deluxe Edition

On WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND, the McCartneys, Laine, McCulloch and English were more determined than ever to recast Wings as a democratic group, not just Paul McCartney’s backing band. Each non-Beatle member had one lead vocal (Denny had two), with McCulloch and Laine both contributing one song. It may not seem like all that big of a deal, but even that slight bit of variety managed to move the record to the top of my post-Beatles Paul McCartney list (it has since been supplanted, but that’s a story for another review). Oddly enough, regardless of the lyrics and vocal delivery (both kinda syrupy sweet), “Let ’em In” probably has more in common with something from THE BEATLES (the record with the white cover) than any other tune from McCartney’s solo career to that point. The arrangement is exceptionally tight, right down to the ramshackle sound of the drum fills. “The Note You Never Wrote,” which features a Laine vocal, has a very progressive, post-Denny Laine Moody Blues sound that turns into a slow, languid bluesy kind of a torch song; the tune definitely suffers from an identity crisis… it just doesn’t know what sort of a number it wants to be. “She’s My Baby” sounds like Paul’s homage to the Bee Gees; an instance where everything just comes together, producing the perfect pop tune. A lot of people thought that the passion and urgency of McCartney’s vocals left at around the same time he left his old band but, with “Beware My Love,” it appears that he has found that old fire once again. The guitars are great and Linda’s backing vocals add just the right touch. This is one of Paul’s best solo tracks. Jimmy McCulloch was always seen as the hot-shot young rocker but, guitar solo aside, “Wino Junko” is a fairly ponderous, gauzy thing that belies the song title. “Silly Love Songs” is one of McCartney’s most derided tunes, with its sappy sentimentality and disco production qualities ans prchestration; honestly, though, it’s not a horrible track. It’s one of those songs that gets stuck in your brain-pan and won’t go away for days. Simply stated, “Silly Love Songs” is a declaration of devotion to Linda, as well as a snide aside to John Lennon and the press. “Cook of the House” is a chugging boogie tune with Linda on lead vocals. Too many people spent too much time on Linda’s supposed lack of talent; this song shoulda shut ’em all up. It’s a fun little number and she sounds great on it; it’s actually one of my favorite numbers on the record. Denny is back on lead vocals with “Time To Hide,” which he also wrote. The song is more of a throbbing rocker than “The Note You Never Wrote” and Laine sounds far more comfortable with this type of tune. The number features a nice, somewhat adventurous horn chart and McCartney’s bass work shows why he is one of the top four or five players ever. “Must Do Something About It” is a gently rocking track featuring Joe English’s vocals. Joe displays that smooth delivery that served him so well when he left Wings for a solo career in Christian Rock. Paul returns with “San Ferry Anne,” which is permeated with a weird, rather hypnotic vibe. The song also features a jazzy horn section that seems almost counter-intuitive to the overall feel of the track, which makes it all the more appealing. “Warm and Beautiful” closes out the original record, a piano ballad that eventually adds some very nice accompaniment in the forms of a string quartet and McCulloch’s Hawaiian-influenced slide.

WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND (Paul McCartney) (photo credit: LINDA MCCARNEY/photo copyrighted: PAUL MCCARTNEY)

WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND (Paul McCartney) (photo credit: LINDA MCCARNEY/photo copyrighted: PAUL MCCARTNEY)

The bonus audio tracks aren’t as numerous or essential as those offered on VENUS AND MARS. They’re mostly throw away demos with a couple of really awesome jewels tossed in. The first demo is Paul sitting at a piano, working on the lyrics to “Silly Love Songs.” It also features Linda on backing vocals. The demo of “She’s My Baby” is very much more of the same, with very tentative (almost mumbled) scratch vocals. “Message To Joe” is a 20 second memo to Joe English, run through a vocoder and is totally useless. “Beware My Love” is another demo, this time a little more fleshed out. The former drummer for Band of Joy stops by to rev up an already great number. By the way, in case you were wondering, Band of Joy’s drum stool was filled by a guy named John Bonham, who went on to have some success with the New Yardbirds… oh, what could have been! “Must Do Something About It” is Paul’s demo version of the song. This take features a nicer groove and a better mix than the album version. Had they used the backing tracks from this version with Joe’s vocals, the result would have been impressive. A piano demo of “Let ’em In” features Paul’s kinda scatting sratch vocals… very much a work in progress. The final demo is a short, instrumental snippet of “Warm and Beautiful.”

WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND (Denny Laine, Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, Jimmy McCulloch, Joe English) (photo credit: CLIVE ARROWSMITH/MPL COMMUNICATIONS)

WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND (Denny Laine, Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, Jimmy McCulloch, Joe English) (photo credit: CLIVE ARROWSMITH/MPL COMMUNICATIONS)

The video material is a little weak, as well. Actually, it isn’t much different than the stuff from the VENUS AND MARS bonus DVD, there’s just… less. First up is the official promotional video for “Silly Love Songs.” It’s your standard issue video from those early days of the medium: The band doing goofy stuff and mugging for the camera, the band backstage and, of course, the obligatory performance shots. “Wings Over Wimbley” is raw footage, shot documentary style of the band’s final WINGS OVER THE WORLD shows, a three-night run at Wembley in London. There’s a lot of backstage stuff, parts of a press conference and a meet and greet (and, is that John Peel in line there?) interspersed with bits of film and music from the band’s soundchecks. For what amounts to a music video for “Warm and Beautiful,” “Wings In Venice” features the band, the crew and the city preparing for a huge outdoor show. One thing that I noticed in watching all of these little vignettes of Wings from both DVDs is that Linda McCartney was always shaking a mock fist at the camera and getting all motherly with stuff like, “I have a bone to pick with you, mister” or “This is the second time I’ve had to warn you, little mister.” I mention this only because from everything I’ve ever read or heard about Linda is that she was the most loving, forgiving person you’d ever want to meet; just look at the footage… she can’t keep a stern look on her face to save her life. I think I understand how Paul could have loved her so completely.


GEORGE HARRISON: THE APPLE YEARS, 1968-1975

(CAPITOL RECORDS/UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP, 7 CD/1 DVD Box Set; 2014)

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For whatever reason, the quiet Beatle’s solo records always seemed to get the short-shrift in the good ol’ US of… with, not only fans of the Fab Four, but with the critics, as well. I guess a lot of people found the albums a little… patchy. That’s a fallacy that persists still, maybe because George wasn’t as outrageous or outspoken as John Lennon (comparatively, his solo material and career was wildly more uneven); wasn’t as “Aw, shucks” self-effacing as Ringo Starr; wasn’t as readily accessible as the Pop Meister General (some would say, the Schlock Meister General), Paul McCartney. He was just… well… George. Honestly, some of the criticism can probably be traced back to George’s first two solo records and, maybe, his embracing Hinduism at a time when such spiritual enlightenment was not readily accepted by America’s Christian majority. This beautifully produced set (including a hard-bound book) should go a long way in dispelling the belief, by some, that George Harrison’s music was somehow… less. Here, we’re going to examine each of the records singularly and on their own merits, beginning with…

George Harrison, 1967 (photo courtesy of and copyrighted by THE HARRISON FAMILY)

George Harrison, 1967 (photo courtesy of and copyrighted by THE HARRISON FAMILY)

WONDERWALL MUSIC (1968)

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Somewhere out there, there exists a movie called WONDERWALL, starring the beautiful Jane Birkin as, somewhat fittingly, Penny Lane. Birkin was probably best known for being a scenester and, generally, for being a scantily clad (if clad at all) scenester; she famously appeared nude with an equally nude Brigitte Bardot in a bedroom scene for a 1973 movie called DON JUAN (OR IF DON JUAN WERE A WOMAN) (I know that most of you men are currently away, Googling the movie title for pictures of that scene… I’ll be here when you get back). But… I digress! As there was a movie called WONDERWALL, it seems only fitting that there should be a WONDERWALL soundtrack. And, there is.

George Harrison WONDERWALL MUSIC (photo credit: ASTRID KIRCHHERR/photo courtesy of and copyrighted by GEORGE HARRISON ESTATE)

George Harrison WONDERWALL MUSIC (photo credit: ASTRID KIRCHHERR/photo courtesy of and copyrighted by GEORGE HARRISON ESTATE)

WONDERWALL MUSIC, aside from being that soundtrack, is an historic piece of musical history: Not only is it the first solo album by George Harrison, it is the first solo album by ANY Beatle, as well as the first release on the lads’ own Apple Records imprint. Even more history-making is the fact that George doesn’t play on the album; he’s credited with writing, arranging and producing only (kinda like John Williams on his numerous soundtrack albums). However, several experts on the Beatles and their music (including Bruce Spizer in his book, THE BEATLES SOLO ON APPLE RECORDS) cite Harrison as providing guitar and mellotron, as well as mentioning appearances by Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and Peter Tork (yes… THAT Peter Tork!). The album was recorded at the end of 1967 (and released a full year later, about a month before the movie opened), so George’s work here is heavily influenced by Indian music, into which he had immersed himself after a trip there earlier in the year. There are more than a few of the traditional, droning Indian ragas on display here and, even within the more Western-oriented rock music (credited to the Remo Four), it’s an integral part of the mix (the lone exceptions being the aptly titled “Cowboy Music” and the langorous, piano-driven gypsy love theme, “Wonderwall To Be Here”). Most of the tunes don’t really stick around to be too annoying and too interesting (12 of the original 19 tracks are less than two minutes each), but a couple of those shorter numbers, I wouldn’t have minded to see fleshed out a bit (“Red Lady Too,” “Guru Vandana” and, a track purported to feature either Clapton and Harrison or Clapton alone, “Ski-ing,” which couples with a much more traditional Indian piece called “Gat Kirwani”). Of the longer tracks, “Drilling a Home,” with its jaunty, playful tin-pan alley sound and “Dream Scene,” which is studio deviltry from Harrison – taking three distinct pieces (recorded in London and Bombay), splicing, dicing and looping them together, with various instruments dubbed over the top. You’ll get a very definite “Revolution 9” vibe from the track, which was apparently recorded some months before the Beatles recorded their trippy sound collage. WONDERWALL MUSIC may not be as readily accessible as some of George’s later albums, but it is still quite listenable. Which isn’t bad, considering that, by all accounts, the movie it provided the soundtrack to was virtually unwatchable.

The Remo Four WONDERWALL MUSIC (publicity photo)

The Remo Four WONDERWALL MUSIC (publicity photo)

Of course, then, there are the bonus tracks, because… well, there are always bonus tracks, right? The Remo Four provide “In the First Place,” a wholly Western, mildly psychedelic George-as-Beatle track (which features an odd, very wobbly piano sound, compliments of Tony Ashton). It’s the only true vocal number recorded for the soundtrack and could very well have been a hit single if it had been released in 1968. “Almost Shankara” is a spry, bouncing Indian tune. I could imagine this one popping up in some period movie, as a sheik brings in dancers to entertain his dinner guests. What I’m guesing must be the original, instrumental version of “The Inner Light” completes the trio of bonus tracks. Without Harrison’s vocals, it almost sounds like a completely different song than the version first heard as the B-side to the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” single.

ELECTRONIC SOUND (1969)

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Barely six months after breaking ground with WONDERWALL MUSIC, the quite Beatle is back with another, even more experimental album of solo music. The music on ELECTRONIC SOUND was so experimental, in fact, that it barely even touched the outer fringes of what was then considered music (even by drug-addles hippies), forcing Apple Records to create a subsidiary label – Zapple – just to release it (as well as John and Yoko’s UNFINISHED MUSIC NUMBER 2: LIFE WITH THE LIONS). I guess when you’re a Beatle, though, people give you a bit more latitude than if you were one of Freddy’s Dreamers.

George Harrison ELECTRONIC SOUND (uncredited photo)

George Harrison ELECTRONIC SOUND (uncredited photo)

Thirty-five years later, though, and music’s kinda caught up with George. Listening to the two long tracks (“Under the Mersey Wall” is almost 19 minutes long; “No Time Or Space” comes in a tad over 25 minutes) in a world that has since brought us such obnoxious oddities as Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber and music by such outre artists as Throbbing Gristle, the Residents and Tangerine Dream, the album sounds pretty darn good. So, what, exactly was going on in the mustachioed dome of Beatle George that prompted the recording of these noisy soundscapes? Well, as we are all wont to do when we get a new toy, we wanna play with it; George was no different. Having acquired a Moog III synthesizer, he fully intended to put it to use. The first piece, “Under the Mersey Wall,” is the better of the two tracks. It’s more cohesive and, as befits George, is a little more pastoral. When the piece was over, I wasn’t even aware that I’d been listening for over 18 minutes. The second piece is another animal all together. While I generally like the skrees and electronic farts of such music, I found it hard to listen to; at one point, I actually thought that the track must be close to being over, only to discover that there was barely seven minutes gone.It ain’t awful, it just seems to stay a bit too long. Interestingly enough, an electronic innovator and musician named Bernie Krause claims that “No Time Or Space” is actually him teaching George the ins and outs of the Moog III synthesizer. Krause further claims that he didn’t know that he was being recorded until the album was released. The album credits do read, “Recorded in California; with the assistance of Bernie Krause,” so there is some validity to the fact that he did at least work with George in some capacity on the track. I’m guessing that these two numbers were the only ones created/recorded for the album, as there are no bonus tracks on the new reissue. That really doesn’t matter, though, if you’re into this very early, psuedo-Krautrock stuff.

ALL THINGS MUST PASS (1970)

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Harrison’s third album is, for all intents and purposes, his first proper solo album, filled with the sort of tunes that one would expect from a now-former Beatle. The album was a sprawling three-record set, comprised of (mostly) unused songs written for latter-day Beatles releases. George has been quoted as saying of the set, “I didn’t have many tunes on Beatles records, so doing an album like ALL THINGS MUST PASS was like going to the bathroom and letting it out.” While the record may not be perfect, it’s hardly filled with disposable (or flushable) material… though there are those that would question that remark as regards the third record’s “Apple Jam.”

George Harrison ALL THINGS MUST PASS (photo credit: BARRY FEINSTEIN)

George Harrison ALL THINGS MUST PASS (photo credit: BARRY FEINSTEIN)

By the second song, “My Sweet Lord,” it’s obvious that this is going to be a special album. Released as the lead single from the record, the tune marked another milestone: It was the first solo Beatles single to reach number one in both the US and the UK (it topped the charts worldwide). The production, a joint effort between George and Phil Spector, is everything that John Lennon had hoped for when he and Spector began work three years later on what would eventually become the ROCK ‘N’ ROLL album. The sound of ALL THINGS… is as sparkling and vibrant as one would expect from a Spector production, highlighted by Harrison’s airy vocals and brilliant slide guitar work. And, of course, as mentioned elsewhere, being a Beatle (or, by this time, ex-Beatle) does have its advantages; George had the cream of the crop to pick from, as far as musicians to help bring the record to fruition: Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker, Dave Mason and Alan White (the former Plastic Ono Band and future Yes drummer) all make appearances alongside, seemingly, a cast of thousands. The album has plenty of now-familiar highlights, including “What Is Life,” the loping Bob Dylan tune, “If Not For You,” the light country lilt of “Behind That Locked Door,” the Dylan-esque paean to adoring fans, “Apple Scruffs,” the strident, almost giddy pop of “Awaiting On You All,” and the rocking “Art of Dying,” which seems to be the inspiration for the BAND ON THE RUN tune “Missus Vanderbilt.” As far as the “Apple Jam” segment, it is exactly what it sounds like: Harrison jamming with Clapton, drummer Jim Gordon, bassist Carl Radle and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, the players that would go on to become Derek and the Dominos. As a piece of rock history, I suppose it has a place here but, as I was never a big jam band kinda guy, these tracks don’t get much playing time around here.

George Harrison ALL THINGS MUST PASS (photo credit: BARRY FEINSTEIN)

George Harrison ALL THINGS MUST PASS (photo credit: BARRY FEINSTEIN)

There are bonus tracks – the same five (demos, alternate takes and a totally disposable 2000 remake of “My Sweet Lord”) that have been on most CD reissues since the remastered version from 2001, which brings me to my primary problem (the only problem, really) with this version of ALL THINGS MUST PASS: I don’t like the sequencing. I don’t really care for bonus material showing up in the middle of things; I would much rather see such things nailed to the end of the original album. I have a couple of fixes that would have worked better for me: First, the first two albums fit nicely onto one CD (trust me, I’ve done the math), which leaves the looser “Apple Jam” material of the third record and the bonus tracks for a second, shorter CD; second, you put the first three sides of the original on disc 1 and the final three (with bonus material) on disc 2, allowing for a more even distribution (time wise) of the material. I would probably opt for the first solution, for exactly the reasons stated; it just makes more sense to me.

LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD (1973)

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After two albums of experimental music and the three record set ALL THINGS MUST PASS, which was comprised mostly of songs left over from his time in that other band, as well as the enormous undertaking that was the Concert For Bangladesh relief effort and a world tour, our George was ready to get back to the business of making (new) music. It took nearly three years to follow up ALL THINGS… with the spiritually upbeat LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD. Although the album is highly enjoyable and features a few exceptional tunes, the strain of filling an entire album alone shows. The one consistent running throughout the record’s eleven tracks is the exceptional guitar playing; George has always flown under the radar, talent-wise, because he was surrounded by players like Eric Clapton and Dave Mason or the overpowering personalities of McCartney and Lennon in the Beatles but, the fact was: George Harrison was one of the best guitarists on the face of the planet, mastering and artfully playing in any style the song and the arrangement dictated.

George Harrison LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD (uncredited photo)

George Harrison LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD (uncredited photo)

The opening track, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth),” a great song with a hopeful message – and reminiscent of “My Sweet Lord,” both melodically and lyrically – was another number one single for George. Possibly the best tune on the album, “Sue Me, Sue You Blues,” is a murky, stomping rocker with a swampy slide slithering through out and a great boogie piano over it all. The lyrics are a reaction to the various legal actions taken by the four Beatles, their various management teams and shared holding companies (Apple Records and Apple Corps among others). It stands as one of the meanest (in the nicest kind of way) lyrics ever written by George Harrison. Other stand-out numbers include the pumping title track, the beautifully lilting acoustic love song, “Be Here Now” and the majestic “Try Some, Buy Some,” highlighted John Barham’s soaring orchestration. Overall, the set does tend to an awkward sameness, but is saved by George’s imaginative guitar work and vocal sincerity.

George Harrison LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD (photo credit: MAL EVANS)

George Harrison LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD (photo credit: MAL EVANS)

The bonus tracks are the two B-sides from the 2006 reissue, “Miss O’Dell,” from the “Give Me Love… ” single and “Deep Blue” from the “Bangladesh” single. As an added bonus, the A-side of that single is presented for the first time anywhere since the 1992 reissue of Apple’s THE BEST OF GEORGE HARRISON package. I must admit that though there are fewer bonus cuts here than on ALL THINGS MUST PASS, this is definitely the better selection, particularly “Bangladesh.”

DARK HORSE (1974)

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With DARK HORSE, George is back in the saddle (so to speak), after a busy year touring, writing and recording, all the while producing several outside projects. The wear and tear was showing, as George fought a worsening bout of laryngitis that drastically affected his vocals. The record may actually give some an indication why George never had more than a couple of songs on the Beatles’ albums; DARK HORSE ain’t all great, but…it ain’t all bad, either. It definitely has problems. This is an instant where Harrison may have been better off staying away from the studio, giving himself time to heal and to write a few more songs to choose from; a writing partner may have helped at this juncture in George’s career, as well. But, having said all of that, let me add that the stuff that works tends to work very well.

George Harrison DARK HORSE (uncredited photo)

George Harrison DARK HORSE (uncredited photo)

The record starts strong with “Hari’s On Tour (Express),” a complex instrumental that coalesces funky rock and boogie woogie with a little country honk with some “smooth Jazz” horns over the top. There’s a very odd, virtually deconstructed cover of the Everly Brother’s “Bye Bye, Love, apparently a shot at Eric Clapton and George’s ex-wife, Patti, who both inexplicably appear on the album. I gotta be honest: That one is hard to listen to. These, on the other hand aren’t: “So Sad,” a jangly Wilbury-esque mid-tempo rocker; “Ding Dong, Ding Dong,” a moderately rocking, rather nonsensical song that mysteriously gained an additional “Ding Dong” in the three days since the song was released as a single; the title track, also released as a single, is a solid rocker, with George’s voice sounding very ragged, which actually helps here. There are moments on the other four tracks where you’ll think, “Okay, that sounds pretty cool.” The problem is, those “Oh, wow!” moments aren’t sustained for the entire song.

George Harrison DARK HORSE (photo credit: TERRY DORAN)

George Harrison DARK HORSE (photo credit: TERRY DORAN)

Things are a bit short on the bonus material, but one, a strong acoustic demo of “Dark Horse,” has never been released and, the other, “I Don’t Care Anymore,” the B-side to the “Dark Horse” single in the States and the flip of “Ding Dong” just about everywhere else, is seeing its first CD release. Both are worth a listen.

EXTRA TEXTURE (READ ALL ABOUT IT) (1975)

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So, maybe, in retrospect, a layoff to recover from laryngitis wouldn’t have been a good thing. EXTRA TEXTURE (READ ALL ABOUT IT) sees George morphing into a Vaudevillian version of James Taylor. There is probably a really good album between DARK HORSE and EXTRA TEXTURE… because, again, there is gold amongst the dross.

George Harrison Extra Texture (photo credit: HENRY GROSSMAN)

George Harrison Extra Texture (photo credit: HENRY GROSSMAN)

The first UK single from the album, “You,” is a strong opener, with a ’60s American pop music vibe featuring horns and that charging Motown percussion sound. “This Guitar (Can’t Keep From Crying),” the first US single is a “sequel” to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and, despite the goofy name, features some nice piano and an awesome slide solo from George. It’s probably most evident here than any other track on the record that Harrison is suffering some lingering effects of his illness. For whatever reason, George invisioned himself a soul crooner on “Ooh Baby (You Know That I Love You),” aiming for a smooth Teddy Pendergrass or Smokey mid-’70s soul vibe. Needless to say, it doesn’t work. At all! The sound of “Tired of Midnight Blue” moves between an archetypical soft rock piano thing and a bluesy, hand-clapping guitar groover with the bass laying down a funky underpinning that is hard to ignore. There are some good ideas floating around in there which would probably make a couple of pretty decent songs. As they are, “Tired of Midnight Blue” is just a jumbled mess of missed opportunities. “Grey Cloudy Lies” comes on sounding like a slowed down, more somber mix of “Hey, Jude” and “Let It Be,” the doleful tone creating one of the most memorable songs on the entire record. One of the better tracks, album closer “His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen)” is a heartfelt ode to George’s long time pal, Larry Smith of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. It’s a goofy, jiving number that brings back memories of the fun-loving atmosphere of the Beatles’ A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and HELP! Movies and features Legs himself, doing his Doo-Dah thing.

George Harrison EXTRA TEXTURE (uncredited photo)

George Harrison EXTRA TEXTURE (uncredited photo)

The sole bonus track is a “reconstructed” demo, originally offered to Dave Stewart in 1992, a reiteration of “This Guitar (Can’t Keep From Crying).” It features George’s acoustic accompaniment and vocal tracks, Stewart’s overdubbed guitar from ’92 and, from a session in 2002, drums from Ringo, guitar from George’s son, Dhani (of which, more later) and vocals from Kara DioGuardi were added. On the whole, this version is superior to the original, as it features a stronger vocal performance from George and heavier, more substantive backing. Harrison’s solo on the original and Stewart’s here… well… it’s a toss up; both are of the finest kind. Had the majority of EXTRA TEXTURE had this sound (or, at least, a close 1975 technological approximation), it may have fared better over the years.

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The exclusive DVD features plenty of archival material, most of which seen (and heard) before as bonus material on various reissues of the individual album. It’s kinda cool to have them all in one place, though. The highlight is, of course, a new seven-and-a-half minute feature called (what else?) “George Harrison – The Apple Years,” lovingly directed by George’s wife, Olivia. While all of the albums are housed in extravagant replicas of the original sleeves, the DVD is cradled in a beautiful book with new essays and rare images.I can’t honestly say that this DVD is worth the price of admission alone but, as you can’t get it anywhere except THE APPLE YEARS, 1968-1975 box set…

Dhani Harrison (uncredited photo)

Dhani Harrison (uncredited photo)

The entire project, meant to complete and compliment THE DARK HORSE YEARS, 1976-1992 set released in 2004, was overseen by George’s son, Dhani, and ably assisted by Olivia. Dhani comments: “I am so happy that what we started a decade ago by releasing THE DARK HORSE YEARS… is now complete with the release of his first six albums as THE APPLE YEARS… .” Dhani spearheaded a premier group of engineers as the music was digitally remastered from the original analogues. Each album is released individually, as well, with the upgrade in sound, for those fans who already have one or more on CD already or for the casual listener who may not want to jump in with both feet on such a huge package.


THE GUN CLUB: FIRE OF LOVE

(SUPERIOR VIADUCT/RHINO ENTERTAINMENT/SLASH RECORDS/RUBY RECORDS; reissue, 2014; original release, 1981)

The Gun Club cover

When Chris D (Desjardins) started Ruby Records (ostensibly to release his own Flesh Eaters music, though the label eventually released influential albums by the Dream Syndicate, Lydia Lunch and the Misfits), the second release was FIRE OF LOVE by the Gun Club. The album has become the standard-bearer of the LA punk scene’s rockabilly revivalists (even outstripping the mighty X as the best example of the genre). It is one of those albums that has very rarely (if ever) gone out of print; now the amazing Superior Viaduct label has reissued the original eleven-track record (re-mastered) on vinyl and CD. If you’ve missed out on FIRE OF LOVE over the past 33 years (or, if like me, you were bone-headed enough to dismiss it out of hand when it was originally released), you’ve been given a reprieve from the divine beings (or, maybe, demonic beings would be more apt) of rock and roll. So… why should you care now? As wildly erratic as Jeffrey Lee Pierce was during his troubled life, the song cycle (playing out like a concept album or a bizarre operetta) on this first Gun Club album stand as one of the greatest (and most cohesive) collections of Los Angeles roots punk… ever.

The Gun Club, 1981 (Terry Graham, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Ward Dotson, Rob Ritter (photo credit: ED COLVER)

The Gun Club, 1981 (Terry Graham, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Ward Dotson, Rob Ritter (photo credit: ED COLVER)

Album opener, “Sex Beat,” is everything that rock and roll should be: Liberal doses of sex and drugs with just the right amount of Carl Perkins style hillbilly music, Johnnie Johnson (the REAL king of rock ‘n’ roll) rhythm and blues, Jonathan Richman-like vocal peculiarities and Robert Johnson haunted hoodoo honk. The band’s cover of Son House’s “Preaching the Blues” (itself a variation on Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues”) adds a sense of urgency via Pierce’s manic howls and Ward Dotson’s slide guitar work. If there could ever be anything like a balls-out ballad, “Promise Me” is it. It features a heavy bottom end, provided by the Bags’ Terry Graham and Rob Ritter and an eerie, haunting vibe, courtesy – once more – of Ward’s slide. “She’s Like Heroin To Me” comes off like a ragged marriage of early Pretty Things nastiness and Elvis Presley’s nascent rhythm and blues sides. Pierce’s voice is thin, almost delicate, on the track adding a vulnerability that’s far too real for comfortable listening. Percolating and throbbing, “For the Love of Ivy” is Jeffrey Lee’s take on the Johnny Cash murder song (with a weird BONANZA theme song rhythm). He yelps and howls through such telling lyrics as, “I’m gonna buy me a graveyard of my own/And shoot everyone who ever done me wrong/I’m gonna buy me a gun just as long as my arm/And shoot everyone who ever done me harm.” The tattered vocals and dirty, repetitive guitar riff make “Fire Spirit” a highlight, though there are many who would tag it as either a weak demo or a throwaway track added to pad the album. Listen again and dig a bit deeper… you’ll see why it’s a true high mark on a decidedly brilliant record.

The Gun Club's Jeffrey Lee Pierce, 1983 (photo credit: DAVID ARANOFF)

The Gun Club’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce, 1983 (photo credit: DAVID ARANOFF)

Side two opens with “Ghost On the Highway,” crashing the Johnny Cash versions of Stan jones’ “(Ghost) Riders In the Sky and Ervin T Rouse’s “Orange Blossom Special” into a frantic rockabilly stomp. “Jack On Fire” seems to be the most fully-realized song on the album, with its memorable, stinging guitar lead from Dotson, bouncy rhythm and Pierce’s vocals, for once, not seeming to be completely at odds with the music. It isn’t that the vocals are unlistenable (or even bad, at all), it’s just that Jeffrey Lee’s voice sometimes has a disconnected feeling, which makes for a more adventurous listen. Terry Graham’s martial, chugging drumming highlights “Black Train,” another murder song about a man trying to escape the law and his past. The black train has long been associated with death and Pierce’s howls play into that scenario; the question is, however, is the train taking him to Hell for his crime or is he trapped with the spirit of his victim? As the tune melds into “Cool Drink of Water,” we may have our answer. Sounding like a hillbilly dirge, with a plaintive slide guitar snaking over the top, the odd yodeling style of Jeffrey’s virtually incoherent vocals deliver such ominous lines as, “I ask for water and she gave me gasoline” and “I asked the conductor, could I ride the blinds?/Son, buy your ticket, for that train ain’t none of mine.” The thing is a masterpiece of creepiness. “Goodbye Johnny” sounds like Jonathan Richman fronting the Blasters. Lyrically, it is the final chapter in a tale of infidelity, violence, murder, revenge and ultimate retribution, tying together all of the thematic threads woven throughout the previous ten tracks.

The Gun Club's Jeffrey Lee Pierce (photo credit: ANN SUMMA PHOTOGRAPHY)

The Gun Club’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce (photo credit: ANN SUMMA PHOTOGRAPHY)

The cohesiveness mentioned above is made more remarkable by the fact that two different producers worked on the album: Chris D himself (producing the first two and the final track on side one, as well as the first two tracks of side two) and Tito Larriva (the remaining six songs). The five tracks produced by Desjardins generally have a fuller sound, but the entire album bristles with an unbridled passion and a creepy horror vibe that’s just too impressive to pass up… again!


AMON DUUL II: DUULIRIUM

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

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

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

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

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

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


FLESH EATERS: A MINUTE TO PRAY, A SECOND TO DIE

(SUPERIOR VIADUCT/RHINO ENTERTAINMENT/SLASH RECORDS/RUBY RECORDS; reissue, 2014; original release, 1981)

SuperiorViaduct_SV051_TheFleshEaters_AMinuteToPrayASecondToDie_26c61fe2-b3fc-438b-b1ca-1ce26e835485_1024x1024

In the late 1970s and early ’80s, Los Angeles (and, in truth, most of California, from San Francisco and south, to San Diego) was a particularly fertile environment for musicians… Punk was just coming into its own in the City of the Angels, permutating into its various sub-genres: Rockabilly (as exemplified by X and the Blasters), Hardcore (bands like Black Flag and Dead Kennedys led that charge), Goth or Horror Punk (Christian Death and True Sounds of Liberty – TSOL – spearheaded that style, adding even darker elements to a Misfits-style sound). There were others, of course… and then there was Flesh Eaters, the musical vision of acerbic poet Chris D (Desjardins), an amalgam of everything that was happening in the punk scene, circa 1981. Chris’ dark outlook and seemingly anti-social personality made being a Flesh Eater an adventurous (torturous?) affair and players came and went on a fairly regular basis.

Flesh Eaters (Dave Alvin, John Doe, Chris D, Steve Berlin, DJ Bonebrake, Bill Bateman) (photo credit: SCOTT LINDGREN)

Flesh Eaters (Dave Alvin, John Doe, Chris D, Steve Berlin, DJ Bonebrake, Bill Bateman) (photo credit: SCOTT LINDGREN)

By the time Chris D had written what would soon become his greatest musical achievement, his Flesh Eaters were a veritable super-group of LA punk musicians: guitarist Dave Alvin and his Blasters cohorts, drummer Bill Bateman and sax-man Steve Berlin (who would go on to greater fame as a member of Los Lobos); John Doe and DJ Bonebrake, from X, played bass and various percussion instruments, respectively. These men were (and are) all well-respected musicians in their own rights, but when they convened to record A MINUTE TO PRAY, A SECOND TO DIE, the stars aligned to produce a 37 minute blast of punk perfection. The original album was released on Desjardins’ own Ruby Records before it was enfolded into the Slash Records stable. This latest re-release comes from the esoteric Superior Viaduct imprint (which is also reissuing the second Ruby Records release, the Gun Club’s debut album, FIRE OF LOVE) and is available in glorious vinyl and a limited CD release. So, as I’ve waxed (somewhat) poetic about the record, I’m sure that, like Bugs Bunny, you’re wondering, “What’s all the hub-bub… bub?”

Flesh Eaters live (John Doe, Bill Bateman, Dave Alvin, Chris D, Steve Berlin) (photo credit: DAVID ARNOFF)

Flesh Eaters live (John Doe, Bill Bateman, Dave Alvin, Chris D, Steve Berlin) (photo credit: DAVID ARNOFF)

Side one starts strong with “Digging My Grave” as Chris’ controlled rage vocals add to an already disjointed, ominous feel. The primary instrumental impetus comes from Berlin’s sax and Bonebrake’s marimba… yeah, you heard right: Marimba, an instrument very rarely heard in rock music at all, forget about the Gothic punk stew that A MINUTE TO PRAY… offers up. There are a couple of beautifully discordant sax squonk solos from Berlin that add just the right vibe. “Pray ’til You Sweat” is highlighted by a very cool guitar signature from Dave Alvin and a typically dismal lyric from Chris D: “You gotta stop riding the brakes/You gotta stop robbing the cradle/Cock the gun, pull the trigger/What you got is one dead singer.” As the name implies, “River of Fever” is a fever dream of horror and depravity; and, aren’t those the best kind? Quite possibly the truest punk song on the album, the tune is an exercise in speed and precision, with a chorus that laments (or glories in… you’re never quite sure with Desjardins), “My hands are folded across my chest/My hands are folded and I’m at rest.” “Satan’s Stomp” was recorded live-in-studio, with a slightly cavernous sound, which works well on this particular track. Bateman and Doe (with an assist from DJ Bonebrake, no doubt) propel the tune forward with minimalist approaches on guitar and sax for accompaniament. The chorus is punk-fast with the majority of the nearly six minute song feeling more like a New Orleans jazz funeral until everything collapses into a deconstructive crescendo of noise before the drum and bass coda return for the final 40 seconds. Halfway through, and… what an amazing slab of pure, raw, rock and roll savagery!

Flesh Eaters (Chris D, DJ Bonebrake, Dave Alvin, John Doe, Steve Berlin, Bill Bateman) (photo credit: SCOTT LINDGREN)

Flesh Eaters (Chris D, DJ Bonebrake, Dave Alvin, John Doe, Steve Berlin, Bill Bateman) (photo credit: SCOTT LINDGREN)

What is, arguably, the most melodic tune on the album opens side two. “See You In the Boneyard” is a total ebb and flow of power and aggression, a Judas betrayal of remorse and condemnation, with lines like: “You see something different/When it’s time to carry a cross.” “So Long” is kinda like something from Rank and File or Doe’s and Bonebrake’s other band, X. Chris D’s vocals continue to be a raw nerve croak, sounding creepy and rather threatening, especially here, where the theme seems to be – at the very least – murder or – more likely – murder/suicide. Or gardening… the song could be about gardening. A John Doe/X leftover from 1977, “Cyrano de Berger’s Back” is a retelling of the love triangle of Christian, Roxane and Cyrano’s proboscis. Where the original X demo (which finally saw the light of day on Rhino’s LOS ANGELES reissue in 2001) was bright and somehow happy, this version is as dark and bleak (and wonderful) as the rest of the record. The lyrical content (and, maybe the vocals a bit, as well) of the seven minute long (!) album closer, “Divine Horseman,” puts me in mind of another street poet, Jim Carroll; however, where Carroll’s poems/songs were dark around the edges, Desjardins’ seem to be black from the core out. The song starts with a rather noirish sax passage that leads straight into a strident, punk-cum-metal Alvin guitar riff. Pounding drums from Bill Bateman and that insistent guitar never falter throughout as the bass and sax add interesting textures along with the marimba and maracas. The lyrics are very horror-themed but, at least in my mind, closer to ROSEMARY’S BABY, “Let’s have a baby with the Prince of Lies” than what the final lines reveal: “I still love you/I know what you are/Loup Garou.” Like Michael Landon always said, “You gotta love a good werewolf in love story.” And, you gotta love an album as ground-breaking as A MINUTE TO PRAY, A SECOND TO DIE. Records like this don’t come around every day or, for that matter, come back around every day so – as I’m wont to say: “Go ye forth and consume!” Both configurations are available at the usual places, my favorite of which is a staggering beast commonly referred to as a “record store.” You can also remain disconnected from all human interaction and order it directly from www.superiorviaduct.com.


DUST: HARD ATTACK/DUST

(LEGACY/KAMA SUTRA/BUDDAH/SONY; 2013)

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Oh, how I loved Dust the first time I heard the awesomely epic (or was it “epicly awesome?”) “From a Dry Camel” on the radio in the early ’70s! Unfortunately, I only had two choices when it came to actual record purchases (I’ve always loved the serenity of a small rural community, but I sometimes had to give up certain things – like a vast sea of vinyl for my music fix): the local Radio Shack (which didn’t do too bad supplying some of the more obtuse music that I craved) and a Woolworth’s in a town 20 miles away (I was occasionally surprised by some of the things found in the bins there). So, it was somewhere around 1978 when I actually found and bought myself a copy of the band’s self-titled debut album and their second offering, HARD ATTACK (for 99 cents each, in a cut-out bin!). Ah, the memories that those pristine slabs of sound brought me! Now, through the graces of the fine folk at Legacy, those memories are rushing back, with the reissue of both albums on one CD.

Oddly, HARD ATTACK features first here, followed by DUST. I guess it makes a certain amount of sense as, in my opinion, the first album was the stronger set. It rocked a little harder, while HARD ATTACK was a more refined collection, with better production values, softer song structures and melodies that bordered on Rundgrenesque pop. Now, don’t misunderstand me here. Both albums are good, but DUST is just a cut above.

HARD ATTACK (original album cover with FRANK FRAZETTA artwork)

HARD ATTACK (original album cover with FRANK FRAZETTA artwork)

The “Pull Away”/”So Many Times” doublet opens HARD ATTACK and the difference between this album and the first is immediately obvious: this is a band who, through becoming more familiar with the studio process and more adept at the art of the song, are stretching limits beyond the sludgy confines of the psychedelically meandering “From a Dry Camel.” Marc Bell (who, if you didn’t know, would grow up to become Marky Ramone a few years later) propels the song(s) forward at near breakneck speed while vocalist/guitarist Richie Wise (who was well on the way to becoming the Richie Wise half of the famed Kenney Kerner/Richie Wise production team who helmed the first two KISS records) found a nice Nazzy pop groove to play over Marc and the thundering bass of Kenny Aaronson (who has played with just about everyone, though the time he spent in the band Derringer may be my favorite), stepping out of that pocket to offer a couple of sonic-speed solos. “Walk In the Soft Rain” is more of the same style of melodic pop played at rocket-like velocity and, actually, is a better tune than the first pair. “Thusly Spoken” is the band’s attempt at a hippie ballad with spiritual imagery that falls well short of the mark. The melody and the playing are fine, but the lyrical content make it rather laughable by today’s standards (well, by any standards actually, though it must have sounded awesome to the drug-addled brains of high school and college aged kids back in 1972).

Dust (Richie Wise, Kenny Aaronson, Marc Bell) (publicity photo)

Dust (Richie Wise, Kenny Aaronson, Marc Bell) (publicity photo)

Things are back on track with the riff-heavy “Learning To Die,” the only song from the sophomore release not to feature a Kenny Kerner/Richie Wise songwriting credit (Kerner shared credits with Kenny Aaronson). This one song probably had as much influence on up-and-coming metal bands of the mid-to-late ’70s (I think of Judas Priest, in particular) as anything by Black Sabbath or Budgie. “All In All” continues the pummeling, though the lyrical content isn’t as dark. “I Been Thinkin’” is the second attempt at a ballad on HARD ATTACK, this time with considerably better success. Aaronson’s pedal steel and dobro work coupled with the laid-back vibe of the (unfortunately) short piece gives it a nice country feel that should feel out of place, but doesn’t. Wise’s everyman vocal delivery adds the cohesive thread that ties the tune to the more aggressive sound that Dust was best known for. Richie has stated that the only reason he ended up singing was because the other guys couldn’t sing at all. Now, nearly 45 years after DUST was released, I can’t imagine another voice on these tunes. The instrumental, “Ivory,” follows and – in a glimpse of things to come – features a very Ramones-like drum intro. The tune allows each musician to shine. Aaronson underpins everything with a solid, heavy bass sound while Wise punctuaties the proceedings with a beefy rhythm track and some wicked soloing; “Ivory,” however, belongs to Bell. If it wasn’t, this should have been the song that the band used to showcase Marc’s abilities in a live setting. I mean, it’s almost a drum solo as it is.

How Many Horses” mixes early rock ‘n’ roll piano (courtesy of guest Fred Singer), some folky guitar playing and singing and Aaronson’s dobro and slide guitar to create another rather country sounding tune. It’s kinda like the country-tinged stuff that the Stones were doing about the same time (with considerably less polish and sounding all the better for it). The crushing, heavy vibe returns on the next track, “Suicide.” The song is, basically, a rough draft suicide note to a former lover, in which the author lays forth several options for his self-inflicted demise. After hanging and poison are discarded, he tries, “Electrocution I thought would make me a star/I stood in the rain with my electric guitar.” You may be disturbed by the subject matter, but you gotta admit that the lyrics are pretty awesome. Kenny Aaronson offers up a nice little bass solo about half way through. “Suicide,” for me, is the high mark on HARD ATTACK. “Entrance” closes out the second album (and the first half of this collection), a 26 second classical guitar solo that I wouldn’t have minded seeing expanded and further explored as a full-blown Dust tune. Ah, what could have been!

DUST (original album cover)

DUST (original album cover)

DUST, the band’s 1971 debut, kicks off with “Stone Woman,” a fine, rocking tune to start a career with. Kenny Aaronson immediately makes it known that he is a musical force to be reckoned with, supplying not only bass but slide guitar to the proceedings. “Chasin’ Ladies” is one of the few times on either album that Richie Wise truly shines. I want everyone to understand that while Richie was a fine singer and a more than competent guitar player, he was never a flashy frontman, allowing Aaronson and Marc Bell to take the accolades. So, the chugging guitar leads, crisp solo and multi-tracked vocal performance really highlight the (intentionally) downplayed talents of the reluctant Wise. Richie chose instead to focus on his songwriting abilities and to hone his production skills, both of which would serve him rather nicely in the years following the HARD ATTACK album. “Goin’ Easy” offers a standard blues riff, with more flawless bass, slide and dobro work from Aaronson. The song leads right into the charging “Love Me Hard,” with Marc and Kenny pushing each other into near punk rock speeds, even during the slower, acoustic guitar break. That thrashy melodic middle section leads into a manic instrumental breakdown, with cymbals crashing, drums and bass thundering and a guitar solo that can only be described as “belligerent.”

Marky Ramone (Marc Bell) with the Misfits on the 2001 VAN'S WARPED TOUR (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Marky Ramone (Marc Bell) with the Misfits on the 2001 VAN’S WARPED TOUR (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

A gong signals the start of the classic “From a Dry Camel.” The track is highlighted by the sonorous bass of Kenny Aaronson and the unique guitar tone used by Richie throughout much of the track’s nearly ten minutes. Bell’s drumming is, for the most part, understated and subdued, as befits the near-dirge like tempo of the song. There is no denying his powerhouse approach, however, especially on the long instrumental passages. If you’re looking for a comparison, I’d have to say that the song “Black Sabbath” (do I really need to tell you who performs that one?) was probably a starting point for the sound of “From a Dry Camel.” The subject matter, lyrically, may be worlds apart, but the musical vibe is as close as you can get. “Often Shadows Felt,” with its languorous pedal steel, lilting bass lines and shimmering guitar, is the sole ballad from DUST. It definitely shows a maturity in songwriting from the Kerner/Wise tandem (who wrote all of this first album except the final track), which would become more evident on later projects. The final track is a Kenny Aaronson-penned instrumental called “Loose Goose.” It’s highlighted by an instantly recognizable bass riff and could very well have been the template for “Flying Turkey Trot” from REO Speedwagon. As “Loose Goose” charges to its end, it is evident that DUST remains one of the true masterpieces of American hard rock and, coupled as it is with HARD ATTACK, is well worth adding to any collection.


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.