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IDES OF GEMINI: OLD WORLD NEW WAVE

(NEUROT RECORDINGS; 2014)

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Listening to Ides of Gemini’s second full-length is like turning out the lights and watching one of those great Universal Gothic Horror classics like DRACULA or FRANKENSTEIN. You know that nothing’s going to hurt you, but you still find yourself looking over your shoulder or jumping at any little sound. The sound of OLD WORLD NEW WAVE is, at once, like nothing you’ve ever heard before yet reminiscent of everything that you’ve loved about music from… well, forever. “Black Door” is a throwback to the final couple of Plasmatics records with bludgeoning metal riffs and tough, anthemic vocals as Sera Timms seemingly channels the spirit of Wendy O Williams. The dirge-like and Sabbath-heavy rhythm section (Timms on bass; Kelly Johnston-Gibson on drums) of “The Chalice and the Blade” turns into a black-hymn grinder with appropriately atmospheric guitar from Jason Bennett. With a liberal dose of floor tom propelling the tune along, the vocals, lyrics and guitar stop just short of turning “Seer of Circassia” into a mammoth Gothic tune. “White Hart” features mystical, medieval Sherwood Forest lyrics with just enough echo on the vocals for a nice, creepy vibe. The primal beat underscores a classic metal guitar sound which eventually morphs into a fuzzy, feedback-drenched Neil Young-like riff.

Ides of Gemini (Sera Timms, Jason Bennett, Kelly Johnston-Gibson) (photo credit: DAVID LEE DAILEY)
Ides of Gemini (Sera Timms, Jason Bennett, Kelly Johnston-Gibson) (photo credit: DAVID LEE DAILEY)

May 22, 1453” is a pulsing, throbbing slab of Gothic perfection, with evil sounding guitar and a more prominent vocal than the rest of the album. This is by far my favorite song on the record. With more musical references to Plasmatics, “The Adversary” also tosses in a touch of Glenn Danzig for good (evil may be more apt) measure. Bennett’s guitar tone and style moves into a George Lynch/Dokken direction, giving the track a near anthem-like quality. “Fememorde” starts off with a snaky, kinda Alice Cooper groove that turns into a Siouxsie-goes-Goth riff monster. A primeval modality and an almost atonal vocal delivery seems to be direct dichotomies to the title and subject matter of “Valediction.” Those dichotomies add to the eerie charm of the song. The final tune, “Scimitar,” has very much of a rock and roll “sway” and tonality. Timms’ vocals come off as rather droney and disconnected… as they should. You don’t have to be a big fan of doom (or any other form of metal, really) or Goth or any of the artists that were evoked throughout this review to enjoy Ides of Gemini; you just have to like music… really good music! You get that in spades with this release. (OLD WORLD NEW WAVE is also available on vinyl from SIGE RECORDS.)

ANTI-MORTEM: NEW SOUTHERN

(NUCLEAR BLAST RECORDS; 2014)

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

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

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

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

DESERT WIZARDS: RAVENS

(BLACK WIDOW RECORDS; Italian import; 2013)

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I am not enamored with this band’s name. I find it rather odd, kinda like Justin Bieber. Fortunately, unlike the Bieb, the music of Desert Wizards is highly listenable and, ultimately, RAVENS is one of the more enjoyable genre records of the recent past. The Italian quartet (Marco Mambelli, Anna Fabbri, Marco Goti and Silvio Dalla Valle) excel at a style of early 1970s hard rock that is best exemplified by Alice Cooper (when they were a band). Primary singer Mambelli’s vocals are heavily accented, something that may put some off but, may I remind you of a guy named Klaus Meine? For a short period of time in the early ’90s, his band, Scorpions, was one of – if not THE – biggest hard rock bands on the planet. Don’t miss out on some really good music for something that is a minor barrier to overcome.

Freedom Ride” kicks things off in fine style, with riff-heavy psychedelic guitars and a beefy organ sound. The bridge builds from Mambelli’s bass before Fabbri’s churchy organ and Valle’s charging drums lead into the two wildly careening guitarists (Goti and Mambelli) who are seemingly soloing against each other. As the drums slow to a martial beat, the organ and guitars seem to swirl as Mambelli’s spoken word, Jim Morrison trance-like vocal trails to the end of the nearly eight minute track. The next tune, “Babylonia,” starts with a nice guitar part, with single notes. The pace picks up at about the 2:10 mark before exploding into a great solo a half minute later. The male/female vocals seem to break into dark angel/Holy angel parts. It’s kinda hard to tell for sure, though, as some of the lyrics don’t really translate well to English: “Between rivers, there’s a Holy river/Beyond grey and purple sky/Babylonia is so much dizzy/For your heart and for your mind.” Thankfully, the lyrical oddities don’t really detract from the song. There is what sounds like humming voices throughout “Back To Blue,” which seem to be very much at odds with the music. This creates a jarringly discordant dichotomy that is, no doubt, purposeful, as it is not entirely displeasing. The track is a slow burn until almost three minutes in, when everything comes into synch with a muscular guitar solo. A little over two minutes later, the whole thing tries to fall in upon itself. As for the vocals, they a quite dreamy and buried deep in the mix; in this instance, the tune probably would have worked better as an instrumental. “Blackbird” sounds like a continuation of the previous number, though maybe more fully realized. The piano at the beginning reminds me of Alice Cooper’s “Ballad of Dwight Fry” and this is certainly a better attempt at a ballad than “Back To Blue,” though the lyrics are very dark. In fact, the “Ballad of Dwight Fry” comparison continues in the lyrics: “I hear someone screaming/Confusion in my mind.” Fabbri takes the lead on organ during the instrumental before another cool guitar solo. This is probably the most progressive sounding tune on the album.

Desert Wizards (photo credit: PINO PINTABONA)
Desert Wizards (photo credit: PINO PINTABONA)

Dick Allen Blues” is the track where everything gels into a perfect miasma of rock ‘n’ roll bliss. The psychedelia-laced hard rock’s heavy organ is very much in the vein of early (Mach I, in fact) Deep Purple. There’s a strong Native American vibe on “Electric Sunshine,” both melodically and lyrically (minimal though they are): “Feed your head/Look at the sunrise/Feed your eyes.” The song also has a hint of Uriah Heep’s Ken Hensley with the slightly hypnotic organ, chord progressions and vocals. “Burn Into the Sky” features more forceful vocals, though they’re still muddied in the mix, which has me wondering if this is a compensation for the accent. The chunky riffing turns into a Sabbath-like bass heavy dirge somewhere around 2:50 – a very cool, atmospheric sound. There are also some very impressive wah-wah drenched solos before the song kicks back in at about 5:10. With a Gothic/Damned feel, “Vampire’s Queen” displays what may be the best lyrics on the record during the chorus: “Oh wake up, Lady Vampira/I need your poison as you need my blood/Take me down to the river of madness/Drag me to Hell, give me your bite.” The break comes along at about the three-and-a-half minute mark and, with a grand touch of menace, is head and shoulders above anything else on the album. Quite possibly the most fully realized song here. The Gothic theme continues with “Bad Dreams.” The piece starts with a fever-dream guitar signature, a lot like Alice’s “Halo of Flies.” A buzzing guitar, soloing throughout, adds to the swirling dementia. A cacophony of noise houses Vincent Price’s recitation of Poe’s “The Raven” before a more pastoral bridge that breaks down into a driving, frenzied terminus.

The CD version of the album features a bonus track, a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Childhood’s End” from the ONE OF MY TURNS tribute record. It’s a fairly faithful version that, while enjoyable, seems rather out of place here. Desert Wizards is a good band that could elevate their game – as Scorpions did – by hiring someone to help with English lyrics. You can pick up the CD version of RAVENS (as well as the band’s self-titled debut) from Amazon or from the Italian record company at www.blackwidow.it, but.. it ain’t gonna be cheap!

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.

CAPTAIN BEYOND: LIVE IN TEXAS – OCTOBER 6, 1973

(PURPLE PYRAMID RECORDS/CLEOPATRA RECORDS; 2013)

Captain Beyond LIVE IN TEXAS

Okay, since you asked, here’s my Captain Beyond story: When I was a youngster, I took the word “consumer” to (my father would say) stupid new heights as regards music. There was very little at this stage of my life that I would not buy, if given a chance. Well, I mean… country was obviously uncool! Disco had yet to rear its ugly, simplistic head… we were okay there! So… other than the obvious, what would cause me NOT to purchase an album? In the case of Captain Beyond, there were two reasons: first, I absolutely hated that name (although I thought that Captain Caveman was pretty cool, but that’s another story) and second, I thought that they had – quite possibly, the crappiest cover art I had yet beheld on an album. Be it known that I also consumed many a crappy album because I loved the cover art but, again, that’s another story. Anyway, I could not be swayed! I didn’t care that Rod Evans, the original voice of Deep Purple was in the band (personally, I was an Ian Gillan man). Didn’t make a bit of difference to me that a pair of refugees from Iron Butterfly filled the guitar and bass spots (wasn’t a huge Butterfly fan back then). And, even though I really liked the Edgar Winter Group, are you kiddin’ me? JOHNNY Winter? I think not!

Now, here we are 40 odd years (and you have absolutely no idea how odd!) later and I’m reviewing a (kinda) new release from the band with the unpurchasable moniker and album art. I say “(kinda) new” because this one has been around for a little while as a bootleg. Purple Pyramid (Cleopatra’s “old hippie music” label) has reissued the band’s first two albums, CAPTAIN BEYOND and SUFFICIENTLY BREATHLESS (the album for which this tour was in support) and has added a spruced up version of this live show to the pile. It definitely has a “bootleg” vibe to it, but I honestly think that’s because the master tapes are almost 40 years old. Despite the unwieldy (and totally generic) title, LIVE IN TEXAS is far from unlistenable; in fact, it sounds pretty good to me! There… I said it! Forget the name, forget the artwork; I totally missed the mark on Captain Beyond all those years ago. My only complaint this time is, “was the person responsible for coming up with album titles on vacation or what?” How about calling it DANCING MADLY ACROSS TEXAS or something equally pithy (heck, even a simple LIVE is better the long winded LIVE IN TEXAS – OCTOBER 6, 1973)? Ah… but, I digress (or is that regress?)! You wanna know about the tunage, right? Well…

Bobby Caldwell (uncredited photo)
Bobby Caldwell (uncredited photo)

From the first note of “Distant Sun,” the band (the aforementioned Rod Evans, drummer Bobby Caldwell, bass player Lee Dorman and guitarist Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt) is on, pounding their way through a solid, trippy (what else would you expect from a band called Captain Beyond?) set before ending with a nice version of the Hendrix gem, “Stone Free.” Along the way, there’s almost seven minutes of Rhino solo and another nearly 13 of Bobby Caldwell solo. It has been said that drum solos on a record are not only superfluous, but an egregious crime against humanity. I don’t agree. I happen to like a well done drum solo and Caldwell’s is among the best I’ve heard on record. Rod Evans’ voice is simply magnificent! Not in an Ian Gillan “Pictures of Home” kind of way. Or even a Rod Evans “Kentucky Woman” kind of way. The knock on Evans when he left Purple was that he couldn’t handle the new, harder style that the band was headed toward. This live performance, at least, shows that he was every bit as capable (if not as distinctive) as Gillan or Ian’s successors, David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes.

Rod Evans and Larry "Rhino" Reinhardt (uncredited photo)
Rod Evans and Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt (uncredited photo)

Evans retired from music after this tour and does not appear on the band’s 1977 album, DAWN EXPLOSION. He came out of retirement to hook up with a bogus Deep Purple in 1980. That lasted a few months before Ritchie Blackmore and the rest sued. Rod has gone underground and hasn’t performed or recorded since. A shame really, as he did have a great voice. Just listen to “Dancing Madly Backwards (On a Sea of Air)” or “Myopic Void” if you doubt that statement. Of course, both Lee Dorman and Larry Reinhardt have left this mortal coil behind, Rhino in January and Lee in December of 2012. They were, as witnessed here, musical forces to be reckoned with, as was Bobby Caldwell, who continues to play with his group, the Boulder County Conspiracy and has recently appeared on the new JD Blackfoot album, THE LEGEND OF TEXAS RED.

So now, the obvious question is, “If you knew then what you know now about the music of Captain Beyond, would you have consumed or would you have been hard-headed and (still) missed out on some great music simply because of a so-so name and bad cover art?” You know, I’d really like to think that, had I actually heard the music first, I’d have bought the records no matter what but… I was a knuckle-headed kid back then and I probably still would have passed. I’m a lot older and a little smarter now, which means I’ve got some catching up to do! LIVE IN TEXAS is a good place to start.

ANT-BEE: LUNAR MUZIK

(DIVINE RECORDS, UK; 1997) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULTS (UPDATE BELOW)

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The entity known far and wide (and just around the corner) as Ant-Bee is actually a mad genius named Billy James, who has managed to cozy up to an unimaginable group of rock stars, including Gong’s Daevid Allen, every member of the original Alice Cooper with a name other than Alice Cooper (including the late Glen Buxton), and a slue of ex-Zappa sidemen who occasionally go by the name “Grandmothers” (Bunk Gardner, Motorhead Sherwood, Jimmy Carl Black, Roy Estrada, and Don Preston, among others). James himself is sort of a rock everyman: He plays drums, guitar, keyboards, bass; he writes… music and books (he’s written or co-written books about/with Peter Banks, Michael Bruce, Grand Funk Railroad, and – his latest – Todd Rundgren); he produces and, occasionally, he slices and dices (just like Sean “P. Doh-Wah Diddy-Daddy” Combs, only with talent); he promotes other musician’s releases. And, regardless of the involvement of the ex-Mothers, he has a definite Frank Zappa sensibility toward songwriting, production, and arrangement. Listen, for instance, to the album’s opener, “Snorks and Wheezes,” with its bizarre time changes, obtuse vocals in a psuedo-doo-wop middle section, and Ruth Underwood-style percussion, and tell me that you are not having a late ’60s-early ’70s Mothers flashback.

“Child of the Moon” is a pretty straight take on the old Jagger-Richard B-side, with some nice orchestration and vocals. It also features some nice acoustic work. Later, James and his uber-minions give the same treatment to Mike Nesmith’s amazing psychedelic country hit, “Love Is Only Sleeping.” There’s a wicked guitar solo – performed by Roy Herman – that weaves its way throughout “Love Is Only Sleeping,” adding to the overall psychedelic feel of the tune. Again, like Zappa, compositions/ideas tend to run together. The triptych nestled between “Child of the Moon” and “Love Is Only Sleeping” wanders between lunatic rave-ups (with a couple of wild backward guitar solos – which always seem to sound more impressive than they probably are – and a percussive coda repeated from “Snorks and Wheezes” on “Blew a Banana Thru the Sun”) and introspective balladry (complete with harpsicord, gongs, and lilting vocals on “The One Who Is Gold”) and back again (“Silicone Hump,” an ancient Don Preston piece of Turtles-esque lunacy). The album’s centerpiece, “By-and-By I Touch the Sky,” is a composition in four parts, encompassing Harvey Bainbridge’s (he of Hawkwind fame) “The Swan and the Horseshoe” and Neal Smith’s (he of Alice Cooper fame) “The Platinum God” sandwiched between original James music. The nearly ten minute piece continues LUNAR MUZIK’s thematic make-up: Pretty, almost pastoral vocals interspersed with manic percussion and noisy rock guitar. Bainbridge’s part is an almost ambient synthesizer wash, leading back to the main theme before giving way to “The Platinum God,” which features the four ex-Coopers – Neal Smith, Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, and some trippy guitar from Glen Buxton, undoubtedly one of the last things he recorded before his death.

Ant-Bee/Billy James (publicity photo)
Ant-Bee/Billy James (publicity photo)

The album ends – much as it began – with songs running together, themes repeated and overlapping into each other. “Diva Gliss (Are You Sirius?),” which flows out of the final movement of “By-and-By I Touch the Sky,” is by Daevid Allen and features him on guitar; the tune leads – seamlessly – into “Tears That Fall Unto the Sky,” a return, as it were, to “By-and-By… ,” which leads into a Michael Bruce/Billy James composition called “Return of the Titanic Overture.” The piece features themes and pieces of music culled from the very first Alice Cooper album, PRETTIES FOR YOU. It, like “Tears That Fall Unto the Sky,” features Bruce’s guitar work. “Son of Snorks and Wheezes” closes the proceedings with an even more bizarre take on the opening track. It features most of the Grandmothers, with Jimmy Carl Black’s prominent Indian chants and attempts to extort money and beer from the producer. Boys and girls, this is the type of inspired lunacy that one could regularly expect to find in the record bins as the 1960s phased into the 1970s: Nearly virtuoso performances coupled with adventurous arrangements, melding rock with jazz, doo-wop, classical instrumentation, and big-band phrasing. Though the album has been out for awhile, it’s so hard to come by that I only recently acquired this CD-R copy from James himself and I just had to tell you about it. Oh, yeah… the album artwork is by some guy named Syd Barrett! (Check out Billy James’ “Web Bizarre” at www.ant-bee.com and, if you’re really nice to him, you may be able to pick up your very own copy of LUNAR MUZIK… before it’s too late!)

(UPDATE) Gonzo Multimedia’s reissue of LUNAR MUZIK was released in June 2014. For ordering information, check Billy’s site.