REACTA: REFRACTION

(ALARIC RECORDS; 2014)

Reacta cover

Reacta is a… let’s call ’em an alternative prog rock band, shall we… hailing from a small town in Mexico called Aguascalientes. They started a couple of years back as an instrumental project, but have taken their intense fusion of sounds (rock, jazz, ambient, pop) to a whole other level since adding American lyricist and singer, William Merritt Hendricks to the fold. To say that this band’s musical style and influences are hard to pin down is a huge understatement. I guess that, to some people, saying that REFRACTION is simply good music just won’t cut it. They wanna know who Reacta sounds like. Well, good luck with that one, chum. Each of the ten songs, while offering a coherent whole, has so many things happening that just when you think, “I’m hearing a bit of the Edge’s guitar style here,” the entire vibe changes and you’re thinking, “The vocal phrasing kinda reminds me of Adam Levine.”

The opening track, “Lost,” is a gently rocking ballad with a smooth Maroon 5 vibe and a guitar part that is vaguely reminiscent of Big Country’s Stuart Adamson. “Back Home” continues the alternative pop feel, featuring swirling guitar textures and powerful drumming. The one comparison I’m getting is, again, a mish-mash of current and classic artists: Bruno Mars (with better lyrics) fronting early U2 or NONSUCH-era XTC. The track segues into “Puzzles,” which offers a more muscular sound, while maintaining the Bill Nelson/Robert Fripp sonic washes. The rhythm guitar is a staccato chatter throughout, which gives the tune a kind of heavy jam band feel. The Adam Levine reference comes in again while, musically, I’m hearing an Incubus influence.

Reacta (uncredited photo)

Reacta (uncredited photo)

With “Stay Here,” the U2 connection returns, at least lyrically and melodically. The guitars and keyboards interact well here, more as tonal effects as opposed to specific notes. This device is prominently displayed over the course of the album’s 54 minutes. The drumming is, again, very powerful and dynamic. The centerpiece of the entire disc is the 12 minute long “Complication.” An electric piano leads into a strident, anthemic first section. A powerful, heavy middle bridge leads into a funkier groove before transitioning into a kind of prog rock rave-up. There are at least four stylistic markers before (at about the 8:40 mark) the song morphs into a loopy, pastoral ambient soundscape. The track is rather schizophrenic, but the several disparate pieces actually make for an enjoyably cohesive whole, making it one of my favorite tracks from REFRACTION. “Skyscraper” is another slab of Maroon 5 style alternative soul funkiness, with power chords aplenty dominating the choruses.

City of Lights” has that light and easy groove of the perfect summer windows-down, radio-up car tune. If the powers that be at Alaric Records are listening, save this one as an end of May single release! Until then, this album version will have to keep us warm through these colder-than-usual winter months. “Sound of Drums,” the first single, is another feel good anthem, though I’m not too certain as to the meaning. Apparently, it’s… an odd ode to the perfect drummer? The lyrics and melody line are easy and memorable, making a perfect sing-a-long song. The track also features an exceptional guitar solo in a sea of great solos. A dirty display of pure hard rock power kicks off “Last Train” before the artsier (almost jazzy) musical leanings are introduced. The vocals, like the music, are more forceful. If I had to compare the track with anything… maybe a more melodic, less grating Limp Bizkit fused with the more jam band like tendencies of Incubus. Uh… so there’s no mistaking what I’m saying here, this is more a stylistic comparison: This tune is more accomplished than anything LB ever produced. The final track, “Storyline,” offers a strange casio-cum-calliope rhythm and a sleepy, laconic vocal. A very nice way to end a thoroughly enjoyable debut.

Reacta (publicity photo)

Reacta (publicity photo)

Id like to say that Reacta needs to find that niche sound that will hold them in good stead with a certain stylistically like-minded group of fans. However, I think the fact that they can’t be so easily pigeonholed will enable them to cross genre lines and become an across the board success. There aren’t too many of those around these days. I just wish that somewhere (a web-site, an album cover, something) they would give us more info on who is in the band and who does what!


PSYCH-OUT CHRISTMAS

(CLEOPATRA RECORDS; 2013)

psych-out christmas cover

I can’t listen to Christmas songs anymore. Not the cutesy ones like “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “The Christmas Song” or “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”; not the Carols heard in church like “Noel” or “Away In a Manger.” I just can’t do it! I ain’t no Scrooge… I’ve done my share of caroling and was even a member of my church choir (okay, so I was asked to leave because I started singing the Hoyt Axton song when we did “Joy To the World”), but it just is not happening for me anymore. Why? It mostly stems from the absolute mindless inundation of the “holiday spirit” from, basically, the end of September through New Year’s Day. As an example, I was shopping for Halloween candy (something I usually put off ’til the last minute, but in an odd act of responsibility, I was about three weeks early) in a large box store (the Mart with all the Wals… you know the one) and, walking past one of those goofy inspirational music kiosks, I heard – I kid you not! – “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Seriously? Christmas songs the first week of October? You can understand, then, my trepidation regarding this new holiday offering.

Iggy Pop (photo credit: JEAN-PAUL GOUDE)

Iggy Pop (photo credit: JEAN-PAUL GOUDE)

But… guess what? I like it! I really like it! It isn’t as dark and menacing as, say, CLAWS (the twisted 1980 macabre masterpiece by Morgan Fisher’s Hybrid Kids) or anything produced by that stable of demented kiddies over at Disney, but it does have an underlying sense of… let’s call it familial claustrophobia, shall we? The songs are fairly standard Christmas fare, but tweaked just enough to give the listener a rather ominous vibe. The set starts off with a piece of warm and fuzzy lunacy, the opening track from Len Maxwell’s 1964 bizarro A MERRY MONSTER CHRISTMAS album. From there, we’re treated to some of today’s best psychedelic and space rock bands (with a few surprises tossed into the mix) waxing musical over the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ or the birth of Sol (for the pagans among us) or over that jolly elf favored by capitalists the world over, Santa (that last one, I suppose, works for everyone else, too). Anyway, I suppose that’s my lummoxed way of saying that you don’t have to celebrate the Christ Mass to enjoy this record… just grab your favorite – uh – whatever and give her/him/it a big ol’ smooch under the mistlethumb and dance like you’re in the mud at Woodstock!

Quintron and Miss Pussycat (uncredited photo)

Quintron and Miss Pussycat (uncredited photo)

Elephant Stone’s version of the Beatles’ “Christmas Time (Is Here Again)” is as trippily poppy as you would expect from such a high-end pairing. We are off to a great start here! “It’s Christmas Day” by the Cosmonauts is an odd jangle-pop thingy, kinda like an utterly drunken Tom Petty fronting the Byrds… so, it’s got that goin’ for it. The first “traditional” Christmas hymn follows. However, “Silent Night,” as performed by synth-puppet show duo, Quintron and Miss Pussycat, is anything but traditional. The beloved tune (in instrumental form) is hardly recognizable and is more psychotic (in a bossa nova sort of way) than psychedelic. I’m not too sure that this one belongs on a compilation like PSYCH-OUT CHRISTMAS, but I’m glad it is… I would have hated to miss hearing it! Hailing from Sweden (where we swiped a lot of their Solstice “rituals” and turned ’em into our Christmas “traditions”) is Dark Horses, weighing in with “Jul Song,” an original that totally oozes psychedelia, from the guitars to the vocals to the (if not indecipherable) vaguely incomprehensible lyrics. It could be that the meaning was lost in translation, but it really doesn’t matter; the beauty of the piece as a whole makes it a favorite.

Sleepy Sun (Photo credit: CHLOE AFTEL)

Sleepy Sun (Photo credit: CHLOE AFTEL)

Sleepy Sun’s take on “What Child Is This,” with its creeping bass line and minimal, plodding instrumentation and “sold-my-soul-to-Satan” type vocals from Bret Constantino, introduces a new kind of not-unwanted menace to the proceedings and, when the guitar duo of Evan Reiss and Matt Holliman kick in, they drive the tune to new psychedelic heights. A cover of Suicide’s “No More Christmas Blues” from the Vacant Lots is over almost before you know it. It offers a bouncy little synth riff and an airily (or is that “eerily?”) tripped out vocal. It’s a fun track (but then, aren’t all Suicide tunes?) but pales in comparison to the surrounding offerings from Sleepy Sun and Sons of Hippies. It’s somewhat fitting that, regardless of the apparent thematic disconnect (although, as is pointed out in the press release, Christmas is indeed “the season of loving”), these Hippies should cover a song by a group of Zombies. Hippies front-woman Katherine Kelly sums up the song best: “’Time of the Season’ was fun to cover. We replaced the organ parts on the original Zombies version with layers of distorted guitar leads and gave the drums an eerie, echoed intro. The PSYCH-OUT CHRISTMAS compilation is unique and spooky and we wanted to be part of that vibe.” Sons of Hippies aren’t currently one of my favorite bands for nothing and this spectacularly atmospheric cover is just more evidentiary proof of that statement (double negatives aside).

Eli Cook (photo credit: REED RADCLIFFE)

Eli Cook (photo credit: REED RADCLIFFE)

With “Santa Claus,” the Fuzztones offer the first dose of overtly “traditional garage psychedelia,” with the obligatory farfisa organ, the dirty guitar sound (you know what I mean, like it’s being played through a blown amp) and a vocal that sounds like it was recorded with 1960s studio equipment. In short, all of these aspects make “Santa Claus” another favorite. Eli Cook”s “Christmas Tears” has a great bluesy stroll vibe, with Cook doing an awesome approximation of Hendrix channeling the great bluesmen of the past, both vocally and on guitar. The song also features a piano part that would have made Johnnie Johnson (the REAL “King of Rock and Roll”) proud. The Movements’ take on “Little Drummer Boy” is all swirling guitars and synths and a disjointed, ethereal vocal from David Henricksson. The one thing the song doesn’t have is… drums! Which just makes the thing all the more spooky and enjoyable. Quintron and Miss Pussycat are back (the only act to appear twice) with a more traditional vibe (or, at least, a more recognizable one) on “Jingle Bell Rock,” which clocks in at just under a minute-and-a-half. Candy Store take on Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” with their version of “Frosty the Snowman,” from a 1969 album called TURNED ON CHRISTMAS. The similarities between this anonymous studio concoction and Ronnie and the other girls is amazing, but then that’s what these “knock-off” acts were supposed to do – sound as much like the originals as possible so the record label (in this case, Decca) wouldn’t have to pay licensing fees to someone else. Anyway, it’s still a fun song.

Psychic Ills (publicity photo)

Psychic Ills (publicity photo)

Psychic Ills’ “Run Rudolph Run,” while remaining relatively true to Chuck Berry’s 1959 classic (even the vocal phrasing sounds like Chuck), muddies and sludges things up with enough over-modulated surf guitar to make Dick Dale blush. Tres Warren, the Ills’ guitarist and vocalist says of this recording: “I always liked ‘Run Rudolph Run’ because it was a song that I’d actually want to listen to regardless of what time of year it is, and Chuck Berry is as mythical as Santa Claus in my mind.” Somewhere, Don Ho is frolicking in his grave, listening to the echo-laden Hawaiian Christmas offering from Dead Meadow, “Mele Kalikimaka.” The band’s laconic approach is perfectly attuned to the odd vibe of this collection. The only thing missing is a ukelele! Another bizarre track from 1969 follows. It’s “Here Comes Santa Claus” (though it’s listed as “Jingle Bells” on this record and on the original, MERRY CHRISTMAS PSYCHEDELIC SOUND) by Korean instrumental gods, He 5. It’s really rather indescribable, which – I guess – is the entire point of PSYCH-OUT CHRISTMAS. After doing some checking, I did find this band’s version of “Jingle Bells” (the whole of their above named album is available on YouTube) and it is AWESOME! At a smidge under twelve-and-a-half minutes long, the traditional song morphs into “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida,” including a lengthy drum solo before shifting again to the Stones’ “Paint It Black” and then back to “Jingle Bells.” Probably the strangest, creepiest track on this entire compilation is the last, a fairly literal take on “White Christmas” by everyone’s favorite (latter day) Stooge, Iggy Pop. Mister Osterberg’s nearly gutteral baritone and morose, funereal reading of the Irving Berlin classic is sure to keep the kiddies up, fearing ghosties and hobgoblins will be coming down the chimney instead of the dude with the bag of toys. Ah, yeah… I guess Christmas music ain’t so bad after all.


BLACK OAK ARKANSAS: BACK THAR ‘N’ OVER YONDER

(ATCO RECORDS/ATLANTIC RECORDS/WARNER MUSIC GROUP; 2013)

2013_Back_Thar_n_Over_Yonder

Those wild men from the hills of Arkansas are back. Well… sorta! Half of the original Black Oak Arkansas have reunited (with a few old friends and more current members) to record five new tracks for BACK THAR ‘N’ OVER YONDER. The album also features 10 unreleased tracks, produced by the legendary Tom Dowd and recorded during the band’s hey-day of 1972-1974. That means that the most successful and well-known incarnation of the group (with Harvey Jett playing guitar and Tommy Aldridge on drums) is featured prominently in the final two-thirds of the disc. Of course, what would BOA be without the vocal stylings of Jim “Dandy” Mangrum? I gotta tell ya, boys and girls, the man can still deliver that distinctive gutteral growl, nearly 45 years after the band’s debut album!

Black Oak Arkansas (uncredited photo)

Black Oak Arkansas on stage in 2013 (uncredited photo)

The new tracks are rather reminiscent of the group’s three MCA albums (the awesome X-RATED and better-than-average 10 YEAR OVERNIGHT SUCCESS and BALLS OF FIRE), eschewing the raunchier sounds for a more balanced, more streamlined sound. Think “Strong Enough To Be Gentle” (the band’s last single to chart, in 1975) or “Fistful of Love” (a duet with Ruby Starr, featuring members of BOA, as well as Starr’s Grey Ghost, including the dominating – some would say “over-bearing” – keyboards of Marius Penczner). If all you know of Black Oak Arkansas is HIGH ON THE HOG and RAUNCH ‘N’ ROLL LIVE, this newer, gentler version may take some getting used to, but the band’s MCA output ranks among my all-time favorite albums and are well worth checking out. But… you’re not here to read about the distant past (except for the unreleased early ’70s material featured on this new release). So… back to those new songs, huh?

Black Oak Arkansas, 2013 (George Hughen, Johnnie Bolin, Jim "Dandy" Mangrum, Rickie Lee Reynolds, Hal McCormack) (uncredited photo)

Black Oak Arkansas, 2013 (George Hughen, Johnnie Bolin, Jim “Dandy” Mangrum, Rickie Lee Reynolds, Hal McCormack) (uncredited photo)

Plugged In and Wired” is reminiscent of and references one of the band’s best tunes, “When Electricity Came To Arkansas.” Track two, “Sweet Delta Water,” is one of those swampy ballads that Mangrum and co-founding guitarist Rickie Lee Reynolds do so well. “15 Million Light Years Away” is in the same vein, but kicks up the tempo a bit. The band (original members Mangrum, Reynolds, and bassist Pat Daugherty alongside longstanding guitarist Jimmy Henderson and current members, former Grey Ghost bassist George Hughen, drummer Johnnie Bolin, and guitarists Buddy Church and Hal McCormack) mashes the raucous and melodic styles together to fine effect on “I Ain’t Poor.” The “reunion” closes (a deluxe downloadable version of the album features one more new tune, the rather disposable instrumental, “G Wiz”) with a nice cover of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.” It should be noted that original guitarist Stanley “Goober” Knight was planning to be a part of the reunion, but died before the recording sessions began.

Black Oak Arkansas, circa 1976 (Stanley Knight, Pat Duagherty, Tommy Aldridge, Jim "Dandt Mangrum, Rickie Lee Reynolds, Jimmy Henderson) (publicity photo)

Black Oak Arkansas, circa 1976 (Stanley Knight, Pat Duagherty, Tommy Aldridge, Jim “Dandy” Mangrum, Rickie Lee Reynolds, Jimmy Henderson) (publicity photo)

As cool as the new material is, it’s the archival stuff that will most excite die-hard BOA fans. Here’s how these lost tracks found their way out of the void: Upon the death of producer Tom Dowd in October of 2002, his daughter came across what amounted to a holy grail of unreleased material. These 10 tracks (13 on the deluxe edition) were part of that stash. So, in no particular order (other than chronologically), let’s look at what coulda been. For me, studio recordings of three of the group’s most-loved live tunes make BACK THAR… a must have. “Gigolo” is the first and is every bit as loud and snotty as the well-known RAUNCH ‘N’ ROLL version. Later on, we have “Hot Rod” and, like “Gigolo,” it sounds as good as the live version. The final piece of this triumvirate is “Up, Up, Up,” which somehow has gained a couple of “Up”s since 1972. Again, the studio version rivals the live version, even to the point of featuring a three minute plus Tommy Aldridge drum solo. I know it’s been done before, but an in-studio solo by the guy at the back of the stage is a pretty ballsy move! The fact that it’s interesting and listenable is certainly a testament to the talents of both Aldridge and Dowd.

Black Oak Arkansas, 1976 (Pat Daugherty, Rickie Lee Reynolds, Jimmy Henderson, Jim "Danady" Mangrum, Stanley Knight, Tommy Aldridge) (publicity photo)

Black Oak Arkansas, 1976 (Pat Daugherty, Rickie Lee Reynolds, Jimmy Henderson, Jim “Dandy” Mangrum, Stanley Knight, Tommy Aldridge) (publicity photo)

Jim Dandy and the boys were never afraid of a challenge and prove it by covering one of the Glimmer Twins most well-known songs, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” It ain’t Devo, but it is an enjoyable romp through a classic (as it was, even in 1972). The last of the five 1972 recordings is a song called “Evil Lady,” a tune that has a bizarre bubble gum kinda vibe. When the harpsichord starts a-pumpin’ at the beginning (provided by Harvey Jett?), all I can think of is “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies. It ain’t bad, though… just a little weird coming from the Black Oak guys, especially Mangrum.

Black Oak Arkansas with Ruby Starr, 1976 (screen capture from THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL)

Black Oak Arkansas with Ruby Starr, 1976 (screen capture from THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL)

Well, the band must not have found the sound too weird for them, because one of the two holdovers from 1973, “Dance To the Music” has the same type of groove going, with some really cool backing vocals and a nifty slide guitar featuring throughout. This is a song that Reynolds really wanted to use back then and was excited to be able to add it here. I fully understand his excitement; the song isn’t standard BOA fare (at least, it wasn’t for that era), but it shows a promise of things to come, as well as highlighting the fact that the guys were not the lunkheads that most members of the press made them out to be. As much of a genius as Tom Dowd was, I can’t believe that he didn’t push for the inclusion of this song on HIGH ON THE HOG or STREET PARTY. It had “hit single” written all over it. The song that did become the band’s biggest hit, the LaVern Baker cover, “Jim Dandy,” has been re-mastered to isolate the vocals of Mangrum and Ruby Starr at the beginning. It’s a cool concept, but the vocals sound compressed and Ruby’s voice is way down in the mix. The full band kicks in after a minute or so and the vocals seem to even out. Had Atco Records followed this one up with “Dance To the Music,” the band’s career may have taken an entirely different trajectory.

Black Oak Arkansas and Ruby Starr, 1976 (Tommy Aldridge, Pat Daugherty, Jim "Dandy" Mangrum, Marius Penczner, Ruby Starr, Jimmy Henderson, Stanley Knight) (publicity photo)

Black Oak Arkansas and Ruby Starr, 1976 (Tommy Aldridge, Pat Daugherty, Jim “Dandy” Mangrum, Marius Penczner, Ruby Starr, Jimmy Henderson, Stanley Knight) (publicity photo)

The three remaining tunes are from 1974 sessions for, I would assume, the STREET PARTY album. “The Snake” has a swampy, creepy-crawly Jim Stafford thing happening. This is classic Jim Dandy, all snide innuendo and tongue-in-cheek wordplay. “Legal ID” is a tune that could well be the precursor to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “What’s Your Name,” though it’s subject matter has been written about by more artists than you can shake an angry parental fist at, including Uriah Heep, Jim Croce, Sam Cooke, Aerosmith, Angel and the Police, to name a few. “Summer Swing” is a gentle little number that really does evoke the images that the title implies. Over all, there are far more hits than misses on BACK THAR ‘N’ OVER YONDER, and not just for all of us nostalgic old farts with fond memories of DON KIRSHNER’S ROCK CONCERT, THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL and AMERICAN BANDSTAND. The music presented here – both old and new – is every bit as good as much of what the latest batch of rockers has to offer. I’d go for the standard version, though, as the four “bonus” tracks really don’t add anything necessary to the album (although the eight minutes of insanely politically incorrect studio banter-cum-embryonic song “Arby’s (I Want a Woman With) Big Titties” did have me giggling like a 12 year old).


DUST: HARD ATTACK/DUST

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

Hard_Attack__Dus_512f0ab80fb49

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.


ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RENAISSANCE MAN: THE GREG KIHN INTERVIEW

Greg Kihn is a man of many talents, as you’ll see as you read this interview. For nearly an hour, Mister Kihn reminisced on his life, his family, his music career, his radio career, his writing career, his new book – RUBBER SOUL, the Beatles, Bret Michaels’ sex appeal, Sammy Hagar’s sexual prowess and Willie Nelson’s appendage. So, strap in, boys and girls… this is Greg Kihn uncut and unfiltered. The conversation took place over the phone on August 29, 2013, a few days before the release of RUBBER SOUL. My apologies to Greg for the delay in posting this but, computer glitches have been kicking my butt for the past several weeks. To paraphrase some dead guy named Bill… “Read on, McDuff!”

Greg Kihn (publicity photo)

Greg Kihn (publicity photo)

THE MULE: First of all, RUBBER SOUL. Awesome book. It’s really intriguing and it’s actually a really nice, fun read. How did you come up with the idea… obviously, a coming of age story. But there’s also murder, foreign intrigue and… the Beatles.

GREG: You know, it all came to me after I had interviewed Ringo. It was back when he was on tour with his All-Starr Band. So I had the privilege of Interviewing Ringo and I asked him, “Where did the Beatles get their records?” You know, in the early days, you couldn’t buy this stuff in Liverpool. They didn’t have import shops and so forth. He said, “You know, we got ’em from Merchant Marines that were traveling back and forth from the States to Liverpool.” Liverpool’s is a big port town, obviously. And these guys would come back and bring all the latest records from the States with ’em and you had to know a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy so that you could get your hands on these rare American 45s. They normally wouldn’t come out for six to twelve months over there… if they came out at all. A lot of ’em never made it out. So, that gave me the idea for this character, Dust Bin Bob, who’s a young guy… a young and penniless guy just like the Beatles when they started. He’s got a booth at the flea market in Penny Lane and he’s getting these American 45s from Merchant Marines and he’s selling them at his small stall at the flea market. One day the young Beatles walk by… this is years before they made it and they see these records and they flip out. They become life-long friends with Dust Bin Bob because he furnishes them with music for their whole career; suggesting songs, turning them on to things. Of course, that became their early repertoire and, really, the backbone of their sound.

RUBBER SOUL cover

RUBBER SOUL cover

You know, it was… that was really interesting because I didn’t expect that answer. But it gave me the idea for Dust Bin Bob. “Dust bin,” by the way, is English for “trash can.” So… kinda like “Trash Can” Bob because he’s got a stall at the flea market, he’s rummaging through trash cans. Obviously, they’re all poor; this is years before they made it. And it just gave me the idea for a story. You know… “How do you become life long friends with the Beatles?” Well, obviously, you gotta be their age and start out with them before they become famous and help ’em out by giving them the records. So, they become life long friends, all through Beatlemania and it climaxes in the Philippines with the assassination attempt by the Marcos regime on the Beatles.

Now, a lot of this stuff was based on interviews. I got to interview Pete Best, the original drummer for the Beatles. He told me all about the Hamburg days. I got to talk to Ringo. I even got to talk to Paul and I got to talk to their driver, Alf Bicknell, who really had some hair-raising stuff to say about what happened to the Beatles when they got to Manila. It was just nuts. But, I don’t wanna give to much away! You gotta read the book, man!

THE MULE: Oh, absolutely!

GREG: It’s unlike anything that you’re probably going to read in years. I know it’s unlike any other Beatles book because it’s Beatles fiction.

THE MULE: Exactly. So, the character of Dust Bin Bob is, basically, a composite of… I would guess… the Beatles’ persona as well as the people that provided the music to them early on.

GREG: That’s correct. You know, it was a composite character, which is always fun when you do a guy like that. What I was able to do – once I created the character – I was able to fit my story over actual events in the Beatles’ lives. There’s lots of juicy tidbits in there about the Hamburg days, the early days at the Cavern, and you see it through their eyes, through the eyes of Dust Bin Bob. And, really, it’s a unique… I’ll tell you, it came to me after the Ringo interview and once I got this far, I asked everybody where they got their records and, you know what? They all had the same thing to say: Merchant Marines coming back from the States. So, I thought, well that just helps me bolster my character of Dust Bin Bob. And, I’m telling you, everybody that’s read the book so far has loved it! It’s just completely unique and different. You don’t really have to be a Beatles fan because it’s a murder mystery, too.

THE MULE: Exactly! And, that’s the one thing… you say that a book is a page turner and this one, literally, is. It keeps you engaged and intrigued from the first sentence to that final sentence. So, kudos to you, my friend.

GREG: Hey, that’s why… You know what? I really appreciate it because when you read it, it’s as much fun for the reader… I had so much fun writing it! Though it was fun, I didn’t really do that much research. I know… All this stuff was already inside my brain and based on a couple of interviews. Some things write themselves. I couldn’t wait to get home every day to work on the book. It seemed like it was just writing itself. The story was just bigger… It seemed like I was just channeling the story. Every day, I’d get home from the radio station and I’d just write for two or three hours and the thing was just writing itself. It was like I had a ghostwriter in my brain! It may have been the ghost of Stuart Sutcliffe. I don’t know.

THE MULE: Could be. Or was it John and George, also, you know? Who knows?

Greg Kihn (publicity photo)

Greg Kihn (publicity photo)

GREG: Oh, I agree. I gotta tell you, Darren, I’ve been really… I don’t know if you know my story but, back around last September, I got fired from KFOX, where I’d been for 17 years, doing the morning show. Of course, that’s devastating when you’ve been doing something that long. But, that was a good kick in the pants! I’m really glad that happened now, because I really made good use of my time. In the last six months, I wrote and published RUBBER SOUL; I’ve got a brand new internet radio show that’s up and going, which you can find it at gregkihn.com. It’s really good. We put out a show every day; of course, I’ve got the Kihncert coming up… a big bash that we do out here in California. This year we’ve got Bret Michaels for our headliner and then the Greg Kihn Band and the Tubes. It’s gonna be a fun, fun concert.

But, you know, the cool thing is Bret Michaels draws beautiful women. Women love this guy! When you go and look out into the audience, you are going to see nothing but hot looking women. You’re gonna see a lot of leg, you’re gonna see a lot of leather, you’re gonna see a lot… probably a lot of tattoos. I’m really looking forward to it this year. He really does… I really haven’t known guys that drew women before. When we were… We did a tour with Rick Springfield. That guy drew incredible, beautiful women to every gig. In fact, it was 99% women at every gig! I’m kind of expecting that this year at the Kihncert. Of course, all that information can be found, for anybody that would want to travel… it’s gonna be a hell of a party! It’s all at gregkihn.com. It’s one stop shopping there, Darren.

THE MULE: Yeah. You’ve also… to spread a little bit more info here, you have re-released all of the Bezerkley albums? Is that true?

GREG: Yeah. You know, I got ’em back, man. It took me years and years. I’ve been working on this for, like, the last 15 years and one by one, I got every album back. Believe it or not. Some I bought… you know, I paid for; some I had to sue… I had to sue Universal to get a couple of the albums back; some of ’em were just outright released to me. So, we’ve putting together all of the albums. And, I’m one of the few musicians… I know Todd Rundgren’s the other one… who owns all of his own stuff. So, that means that I can put out my own greatest hits packages. And, what we’ve done, we’ve released the entire catalog over the last 12 months or so… every album, in order. You can go to iTunes, download all that stuff. Then we put together a BEST OF BEZERKLEY package, which I think is one of my favorite albums of all time because I hand picked every song. There’s, like, one song from every album and it’s got all our greatest hits on it. The nice thing about that was, I got to do liner notes and I include in a little booklet with lots of pictures of the old days and how the band looked and little stories about each song and how we recorded it.

Greg Kihn Band: THE BEST OF BERZERKLEY cover

Greg Kihn Band: THE BEST OF BERZERKLEY cover

You know, I’m older than dirt. My first album came out in ’76. I’ve had a hell of career, man! Eighteen albums all total, in 18 years; I had a bunch of hits, with “Jeopardy” and “The Breakup Song.” Then, I got into radio and did that for 17 years straight. Held down the number one spot in the morning, so you know that’s a toughy! No less than San Francisco, which is a major market… the whole Bay Area there. Definitely, the odds are a jillion-to-one that I could have done that.

So, I started writing books in there somewhere and now, I’ve got this new book out and I’m thinking this could be a best seller. It’s certainly got all the earmarks. And all of the reviews have been great. So far everybody’s loving it. Wouldn’t it be cool… I mean, I’m not gonna make the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but I’m gonna definitely make a whole bunch of little Hall of Fames. I’m in the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame. I got fired the same week I was inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame. I’d already won the ratings war but, you know how it is, man… it’s all the bottom line and you work for these companies… you know… you take your chances. I’m not bitter about it. In fact, I think we had a great run. I’m very happy to have 17 years on the air and what it did was set me up really comfortably. I’m workin’ for myself and it’s a lot of fun.

THE MULE: Plus, you have the time to do all this other stuff.

GREG: Yeah. That was the key. When you’re doing a morning show, you’re getting up at four, you’re going to bed at nine… you don’t have time to do anything else. Really, you don’t have time for anything. What time you do have, you’re pooped… you’re ready to take a nap. So, you know, suddenly I had all that time and I really fell right into writing the book. In fact, I’m about one third of the way through the sequel to RUBBER SOUL right now and that should be coming out next year around this time.

THE MULE: Really? That sounds awesome. Is this going to be another book… Is it gonna be just Dust Bin Bob or is it gonna continue the Beatles theme?

GREG: Yep. It’s going to be the continuing adventures of Dust Bin Bob. I don’t wanna let the cat out of the bag but, it’s, like, the next chapter in Dust Bin Bob’s life. It’s real exciting. Once again, he’s involved in a murder mystery. It’s a lot of fun. You know, I gotta tell ya, life’s been pretty good to me so far. It’s just a little complacent being on the radio and, now, it’s nice to be out there doing stuff… You know what we’re going to do next? The audio book to RUBBER SOUL. We’re going to follow this up… because the book comes out on September 3, which is Tuesday. That’s the actual street date for the book. So, I’ll be doing a bunch of book signings and promotions all around California. But, then I’m going to start working on that audio book here in my own little studio. I have no idea how long that’s gonna take. You know what I did? Dig this, Darren… I got a guy to help me, ’cause I’m reading this and there are a lot of parts that require Liverpool accents. I got this vocal coach. This guy does a great Liverpool accent and he’s going to coach me on all the Liverpool parts so, when I do it, it’s an authentic Liverpool accent. So, all of that stuff’s here and I wouldn’t be doing any of this… It looks like I’m going to continue to enjoy life. I really love being footloose and fancy free and working on what I wanna work on.

THE MULE: So, let’s stay with the books for a little bit. This is not the first book that you’ve written.

GREG: That’s correct. This is actually my fifth, right? Yeah… it’s my fifth. My first book was HORROR SHOW, which came out in ’96. That was my first novel. And, that was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for best first novel. I was very flattered. We’re trying to get… Here’s another thing that I’m going to be doing in the next year. We’re trying to get funding to make a movie of HORROR SHOW. I wrote a script for it and it’s just a really crazy horror movie. I just think it would be a lot of fun. So, that may be something that we’ll be doing a year from now.

But, HORROR SHOW… the second one was BIG ROCK BEAT. No… I’m sorry. The second was SHADE OF PALE. BIG ROCK BEAT was the third one and that was the sequel to HORROR SHOW. And then, MOJO HAND was the fourth one, which was the sequel to BIG ROCK BEAT. So, I tend to do things in sequels. I mean, once I get some characters, I like to transform through their lives to see what’s going on. So, I’ve done that multiple times and that’s going to be fun doing it with Dust Bin Bob because this guy leads an incredible life.

THE MULE: Oh, yeah! The adventures in RUBBER SOUL are really phenomenal and, you know, you start reading a book like this and you think, “Aw, man! That’s pretty impossible!” But, I think, maybe by you introducing real people into the story and into the plot, I find it pretty plausible. I mean, some fairly weird things happened to the Beatles.

GREG: Oh, yeah. Well, they certainly lived an exciting life.

Greg Kihn Band, circa 1977 (Steve Wright, Dave Carpender, Greg, Larry Lynch) (publicity photo)

Greg Kihn Band, circa 1977 (Steve Wright, Dave Carpender, Greg, Larry Lynch) (publicity photo)

THE MULE: Yeah, there’s no doubt about that! Also, let’s talk a little about the music again. The Greg Kihn Band now features your son, is that correct?

GREG: Yep. My son, Ry, plays lead guitar in the band and he’s phenomenal. He started off as a student of Joe Satriani when he was in the band. He’s got a little touch of Joe in him. That kid can play. He’s graduating with a guitar master from Cal Arts and he went to the Berkley School of Music in Boston so, he’s… Actually, unlike his old man, he can read music and he’s legit. The kid can play any style. Now, having him in the band ’cause he grew up watching all the great guitar players we’ve had in the band… we had Joe Satriani, Jimmy Lyon, Greg Douglass, Dave Carpender… we’ve had great guitar players and he grew up watching these guys! So, he knows how everybody played each solo and he’s been in the band now for awhile so, he’s real comfortable. I tell ya, I’m very proud. When I’m onstage, It’s an extra kick for me to look over there and I see my son. I’m really proud of the way that kid plays. You know, he gets a lot of standing ovations for a lot of his solos. It’s fun! I gotta tell you… I’m a proud papa!

Also… here’s another thing: I’m a grandfather now. My daughter had got two sons. They’re four and one-and-a-half. Now, these kids are both lovin’ the guitar! They love to play with grandpa on the guitar. We got them all kinds of toys… you know, various musical instruments. I’m tellin’ you, give us about 15 more years and we’ll have three generations of kin in the Greg Kihn Band. Wouldn’t that be a kick? We’d probably teach Nate how to play keyboards, we’ll teach the other one how to play bass and we’ll have a great time!

THE MULE: It’ll be like the Partridge Family, almost.

GREG: Yeah! There you go. Life is good. You know, I think part of it is, you just gotta kick back, enjoy life and not work so hard and grind your face into the wall. You know what I mean? You just gotta enjoy life and take things as they come. You gotta have… as a guy once said, “You gotta have rubber soul.” The title of RUBBER SOUL comes from a conversation that John Lennon is having with Dust Bin Bob. And, he says, “What do you think the human soul is?” I think the measure of a man is how you bounce back from adversity. You know? ‘Cause everybody feels good when they’re doing good but, when you’re bouncing back from adversity, and there’s a lot going on, you’ve got to have a rubber soul to bounce back. And, John goes, “That’s brilliant!” and writes it down. Of course, they used it for that album title years later.

THE MULE: There’s a lot of stuff that you put into the book that is really – you know – like I said, it’s very, very believable. Even though, upfront, you’re telling us Dust Bin Bob is a fictional character, this whole thing is fictional… you know, some of this stuff with the Beatles really happened but these are fictional accounts. But… reading something like that, you think, “You know what? That is a conversation that John Lennon could have had with anybody. That topic could have come up and, it’s very believable. So, “What are we gonna call the album?” “Oh. How about RUBBER SOUL?” It works!

GREG: Yeah. Exactly. And a lot of the stuff, little things like that… Like, did you know that, originally, they were called Long John and the Silver Beetles? And that they changed their names to Paul Ramone and George was… Well, they all had different names.

THE MULE: Yeah. His was Carl Harrison, right? After Carl Perkins.

GREG: Yeah, that’s right… Carl Harrison. By the end of the first year, they got back to their old names and they changed the group to the Beatles with the B-E-A and Dust Bin Bob goes, “That’s the dumbest name I’ve ever heard. You guys’ll never make it with a name like that!”

THE MULE: Yeah. I mean… it really is just – like I said before – it’s a fun read! It’s a good read. It’s a page-turner, because it is exciting and, you know, it feature’s some people that just about everybody on the face of the planet has a feeling about.

GREG: I agree. And, it was really fun working with them because they are so famous, we know so much about John and George and Paul and Ringo. We know these guys. They’ve been part of our lives for so long and, I don’t… This book, like I said before, wrote itself, man. It was real easy.

THE MULE: Obviously, you’ve already told us that Dust Bin Bob will make a… will have a sequel. Do you look forward, maybe, to any other books featuring different musical artists?

GREG: Well… As a matter of fact, I do. I’ve been making notes for probably two or three books down the line. I have always been fascinated with the life of Hank Williams – Hank Williams, Senior… the original Hank Williams – and I’ve got some notes on an idea for a book called THE DEVIL AND HANK WILLIAMS that I think will be a hell of a good read. All about Hank makin’ a deal with, you know, the Prince of Darkness and then trying to get out of it for the rest of his life. Of course, he died on his way to a gig in 1953. A lot of people thought, “Hey, the Devil came to reclaim ol’ Hank,” ’cause he had a hell of a career. He was only, like, 27 when he died. It’s ridiculous.

THE MULE: Yeah. Was he even that old? I was thinking he was even younger, but I… you know, I could be wrong. I mean, I’ve been wrong before.

GREG: Yeah, I’d have to check that. But, there’s so much about Hank and I thought, “You know, here’s a guy… “ and I was gonna draw a parallel to Paganini, go all the way back to the FAUST thing. And, it really is a retelling of the FAUST story. But, back in the 1800s, people thought that the great violinist Paganini had sold his soul to the Devil. Another claim… People claimed that in concerts, they could see the Devil over his shoulder, guiding his fingers; that he played these insane things that only he could play. And, I thought, “You Know, that’s kinda like Hank Williams.” The Devil was looking over Hank’s shoulder the whole time and the poor guy suffered his whole life. I think there’s a great novel in that so, I’ll probably be working on that next year.

THE MULE: Sounds good. I’m in, man! Whatever you write, I will read!

GREG: (Laughs) That’s what I love to hear!

THE MULE: You write it, I’ll read it.

GREG: I’m trying to start this new genre. You know how Tom Clancy writes techno-thrillers and John Grisham writes the legal thrillers… I’m trying to write music thrillers, trying to spark a new genre here. And, I like the fact that I use historical… you know, it’s like historical fiction. It’s like you’re writing about… Abraham Lincoln, or something. You can write about these historical characters because, really, all you’re doing is taking facts and adding your story to them.

THE MULE: Yeah… exactly. You know, a lot of people were kind of upset about ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER or whatever the heck the name of it was…

GREG: Exactly. You know, here’s another thing… Another thing, I’d like to say this because I think it’s important. I’ve always treated the Beatles with respect. I mean, I love them, they are a part of my life, they’re talented, creative people. I think that a certain amount of respect… that was the trouble with …VAMPIRE HUNTER. Really… that’s so disrespectful of, you know, Abe Lincoln. The whole thing, I find it repugnant. I always try to treat my guys with respect. All I can say is… I think what goes around, comes around and a lot of it is just having good karma.

THE MULE: Yeah. Anything new on the music side of things? Are you still writing…

Greg Kihn onstage (photo credit: BR COHN)

Greg Kihn onstage (photo credit: BR COHN)

GREG: Well, we have the Kihncert coming up and we’re starting to rehearse. Yeah, I’m starting to write songs again after years of not writing hardly anything. And, we may going back into the studio maybe this winter. Right now, I’ve got so much on my plate, I’m not gonna have time. But, we just leased a beautiful warehouse in Martinez, California… which is where I’m talking to you from now. We’ve got one room set up like a radio station and we’re doing the internet show from there. We’ve got the other huge studio room with 20 foot ceilings there. We’re going to change that to a recording studio and, we’re going to have the band rehearsing in there. Then, as we get… as we come up with the material, we’ll cut it right here. You know, there’s a lot on my plate and there’s going to be a lot on my plate as time goes by but, I tell you, man… I’d rather be working than not working, you know?

THE MULE: Yeah. You know, it sounds like you’ve got some things mapped out there and you are definitely keeping busy!

GREG: (laughs) You’ve got to, man! It’s what… It keeps you young, it keeps you moving, man! I’ve got to wrap it up here in a second. Let me just end this with a little story that happened to me a couple of months ago. I was at a big charity gig at a winery out here in Napa. Sammy Hagar and Joe Satriani were there and the Doobie Brothers were there. We were all backstage, yakkin’ away… talkin’ and I was bragging to Sammy. And, you know, you don’t brag to Sammy! First of all, the guy could buy and sell all of us… twenty times over! He’s got more money than God. He told me he’s got more money than he can spend from his tequila thing. So, anyway, I’m sitting there, kinda bragging to Sammy: “Hey, Sammy, you know, I’m a Grandpa now! Got two kids, got two grandsons! Two grandsons, four and one-and-a-half!” And, he looks at me and he goes, “Hey, man, we’ve got children younger than my grandchildren!” And… I’m thinking, “Wait a minute, that means that you’ve boned your wife in the last… twelve months?” I thought to myself, “Wow! That’s impressive!” His own kids are younger than his grandkids! That’s insane! It shut me right up. Sobered me right up! You can’t brag to a guy like that. He’s still got bullets left in the chamber… I was blown away!

I just read on the air yesterday a funny poem by… you should look this up on the internet… it’s a funny poem by Willie Nelson and it’s called, “I’ve Outlived My Pecker.” He’d just turned 75 and it’s this poem about how it used to get him trouble and he was proud of it and now it’s just hangin’ there. It’s really funny but, you know, in a way, it’s kinda true. I mean, when Sammy told me that, I didn’t know what to say except, “Well, Sam, you got me beat, buddy!” I don’t think I could go out there and have babies at my age, at this point in time. Not that I’d want to but, apparently, he’s still bumpin’ ’em out and he’s older than me and you! Anyway, that guy is amazing!

So, I’ve got to wrap it up, Darren. Anything else you want to ask me in closing?

THE MULE: No… We’re just talking about www.gregkihn.com. You’ve have the radio show that’s on there. RUBBER SOUL is coming out on September 3. That’s next Tuesday. You have all of the Bezerkley albums that have been released over the last few months, actually. The Kihncert… when is that again?

GREG: October 12 in Morgan Hill, California and it’s gonna have me and Bret Michaels and the Tubes.

THE MULE: Sounds awesome! Thanks for the time.

GREG: Hey, thank, Darren! Great interview, too.

THE MULE:Take care, Greg. Thanks.

So, there you have it. Again, my apologies to Greg for the delay but, I guess – as the old adage goes – better late than never, huh? Greg’s a great guy and a real character. It was an extreme pleasure to just let the tape roll and see where his stream-of-consciousness, kamikaze approach to an interview would lead next. If you haven’t done so yet, go to Greg’s site (or any of the usual places) and pick up a copy of the coming-of-age, murder and espionage thriller, RUBBER SOUL, starring the Beatles. You will not be disappointed! It really is as good and as fun as I said. Obviously, the Beatles, their likenesses and their voices are so familiar to most of us who are of a certain age and I was really having fun reading the book, imagining the voices of John, Paul, George and Ringo actually saying their lines. All right, Greg, I’m ready for that sequel!


GHOST AND GOBLIN: SUPERHORRORCASTLELAND

(SELF-RELEASED; 2013)

ghost and goblin cover

Over the past couple weeks, I find myself thoroughly enamored with this record. Ghost and Goblin (the duo of Nicholas DiMichele and Spencer Synwolt) bring completely original ideas to themes introduced by such disparate auteurs as the Misfits, Alice Cooper, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Damned. They have built upon the objective of providing the soundtrack to the coolest, creepiest haunted house/funhouse attraction in the world, tossed their lot in with true masters of the genre and have immediately elevated themselves to those same lofty heights. I know, I know! There are those among you who will dismiss the seemingly over-the-top hyperbole as a disingenuous attempt to garner favor (and free stuff), but I truly find myself liking SUPERHORRORCASTLELAND more and more with each listen. So… “Nyah!” to you.

From the haunted house intro (“SUPERHORRORCASTLELAND”) into the creepy vibe of the first song (the pairing clocks in at just over ten minutes of metallic bliss that borders on industrial), “Rust Golem,” you know that this is going to be as fun and spooky and intense as the album title implies. The slightly breathy, slightly echoey vocals are amazingly effective here. “Step inside the machine/All your sins will be wiped clean.”

Ghost and Goblin (publicity photo)

Ghost and Goblin (publicity photo)

Who’s There” continues the haunted feeling (literally and figuratively) with some powerful guitar work and a frenzied refrain of “I’m scared” repeating through the final minute of the song adds a certain manic intensity to the already sinister tone. An oddly placed Flaminco-style guitar solo only works to heighten the creep factor. “Skeletons In the Closet” reminds me of some of Alice Cooper’s early solo work, particularly “Some Folks” from the classic WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE. The tune begins with an organ piece worthy of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA before the main section kicks in with a cool Rhumba/Samba/Tango (I know it’s one of those, I’m just not up on my ballroom dance terminology) feel. The PHANTOM… organ returns toward the end of the song only to be supplanted again by the main musical theme to end the track. With “Rust Golem,” this is definitely one of my favorite songs here.

Look At the Clouds” is the first “real” song, eschewing the horror themes and echo for a funky, psychedelic vibe, intoning the Purple One himself, Prince, especially the stylistic approach to the vocals. Tacked on to the end is the minute long “Ultra Puzzle Song,” which sounds like an extensions of those short pastiches of sound and lunacy used by Frank Zappa to thematically tie the SHEIK YER BOUTI songs together. I wonder if the song title may not be a nod to Zappa and that album. “Magic Missiles” brings us back to the major album theme. It’s a harpsichord instrumental that would have brought a smile to Lurch’s face and had Gomez and Morticia tangoing madly through the graveyard. “Blood Beach” has a very eerie Joy Division new wave thing happening. Is that the ghost of Ian Curtis swinging to the beat?

Ghost and Goblin (uncredited photo)

Ghost and Goblin (uncredited photo)

On the surface, “Low (Bringin’ Me Down)” seems an anomaly. As the name implies, the song’s lyrical content is a downer, though the feel is more one of melancholy than spooky. The lone guitar throughout lends to that sense of melancholia and the addition of accordion (or is it a hurdy gurdy?) in the final section is nice, prompting a comparison to early 16 Horsepower. The metallic crunch is back for the doublet, “Fleshcraft”/”The Transfiguration.” Atmospherically, we can again harken back to Alice Cooper, as well as Rob Zombie and old Hammer Studio horror movies. These two lead back into a tarted up reprise of “Low (Bringin’ Me Down),” with a heavy, fuzzed-out guitar replacing the acoustic of the main song and histrionic screams and wails replacing the lyrics, bringing everything back around to the beginning. Have I mentioned yet how much I like this record? Visit the band’s Bandcamp page (ghostandgoblin.bandcamp.com) to listen or to purchase a limited edition vinyl pressing of SUPERHORRORCASTLELAND. Your ears will thank me.


ANDREW LEAHEY AND THE HOMESTEAD: SUMMER SLEEVES

(SELF-RELEASED EP; 2013)

Andrew Leahey

So… here’s what I know about Andrew Leahey and the Homestead: the band features a Virginia-bred, Nashville-based singer/songwriter named Andrew Leahey. Apparently, a guy named Phil Heesen plays lead guitar. There may or may not be a guy called Ben Willson appearing on piano and Fender Rhodes. There you go… that’s it. This EP is less than 20 minutes long; I spent over three hours trolling on-line for information about who played what. Amazingly enough, the site with the least amount of useful information is Leahey’s own – www.andrewleaheymusic.com. Go figure! Anyway…

Andrew Leahey (publicity photo)

Andrew Leahey (publicity photo)

That’s the only thing I can find to complain about with the music (and nameless musicians who performed it) on SUMMER SLEEVES. The music of Andrew Leahey and the Homestead can best be described as Heartbreakers (the Tom Petty variety, not the Johnny Thunders variety) style countryfied rock ‘n’ roll, sometimes a little more rock, occasionally a little more country (or country rock or country pop or alt country or Americana or whatever this style of music is being called at this moment in time). SUMMER SLEEVES features four songs, each with a decidedly different stylistic approach and all of them likely to get stuck on repeat in your head.

Little In Love” is the most overtly rock tune here, with an acoustic guitar (by Leahey, I’m guessing) marking rhythm under a fluid electric lead (Heesen, no doubt) and a solid slide solo. Though Leahey’s vocal delivery is rather reminiscent of Tom Petty, his voice is smoother, without the nasal twang that Tom is known for. The swirling Fender Rhodes diving in and out of the mix is very Benmont Tench-like and, thus, heightens the Petty reference. “Don’t Make Me Sad” starts off a little more uptempo than “Little In Love,” but not much. Don’t expect any overt shredding from the Homestead, as MOR rock and poppy alt country is where this band plays best. I would not be in the least surprised to hear this song on a rock, country, or alternative radio station; to my ears, it fits comfortably within the parameters of any of those genres.

Andrew Leahey and the Homestead (uncredited photo)

Andrew Leahey and the Homestead (uncredited photo)

The most “country” sounding track is “Waiting On a Plane.” It delivers all of the standard country features: a pedal steel guitar, brushed drums, a swinging one note bass line and a honky-tonk style piano pumping rhythm. The “story” aspect of the lyrics only adds to the overall country vibe. “Who Wants an Easy Love” starts like a slower, slightly more country version of John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over.” The melody persists throughout, but the tune actually sounds like three very distinct songs – a virtual suite, in the tradition of “A Quick One While He’s Away” by the Who. The second “impression” (to steal – oops, I mean, “borrow” – some terminology from classical music and Emerson, Lake and Palmer) falls more toward the rock end of things. The instrumental section that draws the seven minute epic to a close reminds me of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends,” with its organ swells and a nice guitar solo weaving its way throughout. On the band’s Facebook page, they note that “Who Wants an Easy Love” is “the closest to a love song” you’re going to find on SUMMER SLEEVES. I humbly disagree. Love is all over this thing! From love lost to love unrequited to love unwanted, I think that – for better or worse – this is a collection of love songs. And a darn fine one, at that!


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.


SONS OF HIPPIES: GRIFFONS AT THE GATES OF HEAVEN

(CLEOPATRA RECORDS; 2013)

sons-of-hippies1

Sons of Hippies are exactly what they sound like… sorta. First off, I’m fairly certain that one of ’em ain’t. I’ll go out on a limb and call it now: Katherine Kelly was never anyone’s son. Second, they borrow from the early psychedelia of the ’60s, the hard rock of the ’70s, the New Wave of the ’80s and everything that came before and after and in between. By my estimation, that’s around 60 years of rock and roll to draw from and, while the Sons’ songs can be said to sound like a certain band from a certain period in time, they have a sound that can best be described as… well, Sons of Hippies. I kinda like bands that sound familiar and, at the same time, completely new and original. So, for purposes of this review, I’m gonna give you as many musical reference points as I can to convince you that this trio is the real deal.

The album kicks off with “Forward,” a swirling piece of mid-tempo, mind-melting Hawkwind-ish spacey psychedelic goodness. “Mirrorball” features a peppy little guitar signature that continually threatens to explode into a ravaging solo. The only things that ever really explode are the multi-layered vocals on the chorus. That’s okay, though, because those vocals add a quirky vibe to what would otherwise be a rather pedestrian attempt at a Widowspeak type pop tune.

SONS OF HIPPIES (Katherine Kelly, Jonas Canales, David Daly) (publicity photo)

SONS OF HIPPIES (Katherine Kelly, Jonas Canales, David Daly) (publicity photo)

Dark Daisies” kinda sounds like a Sabbath tune for the very latest century – if Sabbath hadn’t already given us a number one album full of those things – with an ominously heavier-than-thou guitar riff and equally heavy (steady, never showy) drumming. As the song progresses, the heaviness morphs into an Ian Kilmister-era Hawkind sorta space groove. Now, that’s cool! Ms Kelly’s voice has a Susannah-Hoff-filtered-through-Siouxsie-Sioux quality through-out the album, a comparison that immediately jumps out on the next track. “Rose” is a trippy Bangles style power pop tune and the album’s second single, with a bloody, awesome video to accompany it (it’s sure a shame that MTV isn’t any longer because this one would play great there). GRIFFONS AT THE GATES OF HEAVEN doesn’t get much better than “Rose.” It may be the perfect Sons song.

Sounding a bit like classic Dick Dale surf tunage, “Spaceship Ride” adds solid vocals and a crunchy-sounding chorus leading into an echo-laden guitar solo, the first time that any musician really busts out of the quasi-laid back late ’60s vibe. “Man Or Moon” continues to kick-up (and mix up) the tempo with another solid drumming job from Jonas Canales and a nifty descending bass line from David Daly. Again, Katherine Kelly adds a nice solo and some cool Annabella Lwin like vocals. “Magnets” is another fine – if rather unimaginative – tune. The vocals are, as always, top notch but, overall, this may be the weak link in an otherwise highly enjoyable album.

SONS OF HIPPIES (uncredited photo)

SONS OF HIPPIES (uncredited photo)

Blood In the Water” wanders through all of the musical territory mentioned before, adding a sweet Monster Magnet heavy space feel to the proceedings. Canales and, especially, Daly have seemingly found the muscle that’s been missing from some of the other tracks. Of course, Kelly adds another great solo. “Whatever We Spend” has a neat New Wave-y sound with a very Siousxie-esque vocal performance from Katherine. Odd – dare I say – hippie lyrics add to the strange, circular vibe of the music. “Minute x Minute” brings the chunky, heavy leads of “Dark Daisies” back into play. Solid vocal and drum performances help propel the song toward its raucous end, 2:40 later.

A snaky, sinewy sitar lead features on “Animal Battle” before slamming headfirst into a wickedly arrogant guitar. The song plays out as another killer slice of Hawkwind/Monster Magnet space rock. The final track is “Cautionary Tale.” It is, I suppose, the album’s power ballad. It features another strong vocal performance, underpinned by great guitar work and solid backing from the rhythm section.

SONS OF HIPPIES (uncredited photo)

SONS OF HIPPIES (uncredited photo)

In the late ’90s, there was a band called Medicine. The more I consider it, I’m kinda reminded of them as much as anybody when I listen to Sons of Hippies. The one thing that I remember about that band was how awesome they were live. I’ve never seen the Sons play, but I have a feeling that the songs from GRIFFONS… would be absolutely killer in a live setting! I can’t wait to find out.