Saturday, May 30, 2015

David Ackles - David Ackles (1968 us, splendid tight folk rock)



Along with Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, Harry Nilsson, and some others, David Ackles helped widen the definition of contemporary singer-songwriters in the late 1960s. This was a group of performers open to incorporation of many non-rock pop and theatrical influences into their work, and not based in folk-rock, like so many of the other early singer-songwriters were. Nor were they conventional rock or pop singers. Somehow, nonetheless, they recorded albums that were marketed to the rock audience. Of all the names mentioned above, David Ackles is certainly the most obscure, even if his quartet of albums won him a cult audience that included Elton John and Elvis Costello.

David Ackles, his self-titled 1968 Elektra debut, was an unusual effort even by the label's own high standards for introducing original talents. Ackles's dark, brooding songs and low croon-rumble of a voice delivered cerebral lyrics painting the everyday adventures of misfits and their struggles to find meaning and spirituality. What could have been overblown in other hands was given a stately dignity by the stoicism, vacillating between determination and resignation, of Ackles's vocals and observations. Far more than any of his subsequent albums, the record's arrangements were tailored for rock ears, with ethereal psychedelic-tinged guitar and organ that weren't too unlike those heard on other Elektra LPs of the time, such as Tim Buckley's early releases.

Ackles's path to a record deal was about as strange as it could be for a late-1960s underground rock artist. Unlike virtually every other such performer of the era, David had virtually nothing in the way of either a folk or rock resume, or even professional experience as a solo live performer. Already in his early thirties, his principal background was in musical theater. He had met David Anderle in the theater department of the University of Southern California, where the two Davids had gone to school together. Years later, Anderle was working at Elektra Records' west coast office, and Ackles did some demos for his old friend.

It's still unclear whether the original intention was for Ackles to write songs for others, or to record him as a solo artist from the start. Before his death in 1999, Ackles told author Mark Brend (in the book American Troubadours), "My intention was to have lots of other, much better singers record my songs...I believe the truth is that [Elektra president] Jac Holzman couldn't interest any other singers on his label in recording my stuff, so was forced into offering that chance to me." To the recollection of Ackles's widow, Janice Vogel Ackles, "David Anderle called him and said he wanted David to write some songs 'cause he remembered how talented he was, or something to that effect. I think David Ackles's understanding initially was that they were interested in him as a songwriter, and then when he did some demos, everybody said, 'Well, I don't know who else is gonna sing this material. I think it's really your stuff, and you should do it.' I remember David Ackles telling me that once he submitted the material, he didn't think he was going to record it. He thought that they were going to farm it out to other people, so it came as a big surprise to him."

When Ackles first played his songs for Elektra, "I probably had some trepidation, 'cause David was very much involved in musical comedy music, which I hated," Anderle admits. "Then 'Road to Cairo,' 'Down River,' and these things just knocked me out. I realized he was writing those kind of songs, instead of the little musical comedy things he was writing in college. When David played the songs, I believe Russ Miller and I took him into the studio and cut some demos with him. Russ was running Jac's publishing company at the time. We played the demos for Jac, and Jac certainly gave the okay to proceed [with the album]." Anderle, not even a producer at the time (though he'd go on to produce many albums over the next couple of decades, including Judy Collins's Who Knows Where the Time Goes), and Miller would be co-producers for David Ackles.

The album's backing was supplied by musicians who had been in the Electric Flag and Iron Butterfly; guitarist Doug Hastings had been in the Daily Flash and, briefly, Buffalo Springfield. (Most of them would go on to play in the late-1960s Elektra rock band Rhinoceros.) "I remember what a bitch it was making that first album," says Anderle. "We used him and his piano as a bed, and added instruments afterwards. I'm not even sure if he cut anything with a band. We might have cut some of the things with the boys playing, but I remember working really hard matching stuff up after the fact. It was a lot of overdubbing, making stuff fit in, and it gave it a really interesting feel. It didn't sound like anything else." Though Ackles had never recorded with rock musicians or even done any solo live shows, Anderle maintains the singer-songwriter was comfortable being the showcased solo recording artist: "He was very adaptable and so full of music anyway. He went into it like a fish in water."

Standout tracks included "Sonny Come Home," which was something like the film The Swimmer set to music in its disconsolate tale of a disastrous attempt to go home again; "Down River," in which Ackles sounded just a bit like a counterpart to fellow grim balladeer Scott Walker; and the six-minute "His Name Is Andrew," with its quasi-religious tone and elegiac organ. Certainly the most popular tune, inasmuch as any David Ackles song could be said to be popular, was the first-person drifter narrative "The Road to Cairo," covered in Britain by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger, & the Trinity (as their non-charting follow-up to their UK Top Five cover of Bob Dylan's "This Wheel's on Fire").

Anderle "never could understand why that wasn't a hit," and Ackles even put a French-language version on a B-side of a 1968 UK Elektra single. According to Anderle, "Somebody thought that David would have a shot in France, because of the nature of Charles Aznavour and the French ballad singers. Jacques Brel, I think, was the person that was mentioned. I think Elektra figured he would have a shot internationally, so he did the French version of the song." It didn't catch on in Europe, and David Ackles wasn't a hit anywhere, though like all his albums it was a success with critics. The pattern continued on his second album, Subway to the Country, in which he began to shift from rock to the more theatrical and orchestral foundations of his artistic vision.  
by Richie Unterberger
Tracks
1. The Road To Cairo - 5:16
2. When Love Is Gone - 3:20
3. Sonny Come Home - 2:59
4. Blue Ribbons - 4:37
5. What A Happy Day - 2:14
6. Down River - 3:57
7. Laissez-Faire - 1:36
8. Lotus Man - 2:49
9. His Name Is Andrew - 6:11
10.Be My Friend - 4:48
All songs composed by David Ackles

Musicians
*David Ackles – Piano, Vocals
*Michael Fonfara – Organ
*Douglas Hastings – Guitar
*John Keliehor – Percussion
*Jerry Penrod – Bass
*Danny Weis – Guitar

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Friday, May 29, 2015

Space Opera - Safe At Home (1970-78 us, spectacular psych prog rock. 2010 issue)


It’s quite a challenge for me to write a good, subjective review on these guys.  I’ve been a big fan of their music for some time now, probably since the first time I heard the opening chords of “The Viper” from Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit and Greenhill’s 1968 album, The Unwritten Works of Geoffrey, Etc - I was hooked.  That album was more of a collection of studio experimentation/tracks whereas Space Opera (1973) was conceived as an actual album – the band played lots of live festivals/gigs during the Space Opera years.  

The Space Opera LP shares many of the same characteristics that made the WCD&G album so enjoyable but in place of psychedelia (or psych pop) are the more structured, studied sounds of a good progressive rock band.  It’s a classic record too, very different from the majority of  “progressive rock” and “country-rock” albums being released at the time.   Not many unknown groups who release one album in their lifetime have this many quality tracks lying around the cutting room floor.  Therefore, I was shocked and excited to find out the release of these early demo tracks from the group’s prime years.

Space Opera are closer in sound to latter day Byrds or more distantly, Moby Grape.   They had a knack for mixing blues, rock n roll, country, folk, and psych/progressive rock into something that still sounds fresh today and uniquely American (they were from Texas).  Space Opera’s guitar sound leans towards the jazz/progressive end of the spectrum.  Also, some of the tracks like the trippy reprise of ”Singers and Sailors” feature vibes and David Bullock’s trance-like flute work.  The Exit 4 (named after Exit 4 studios) demos are the first 9 tracks (approximately 40 minutes) of this album, cut in 1970/1971, before Space Opera’s self title debut.  

While the remaining 6 tracks, cut between 1975-1978 are very solid and musical (check out folk-rock gem “Snow Is Falling”), the Exit 4 demos are the real meat of the Safe at Home project.  Exit 4 should have been Space Opera’s debut album.  Both “Country Max” (their most popular song) and a heavily phased “Over and Over” make appearances on the Exit 4 album albeit in very good, early versions.  The remaining cuts are unique to this compilation and are nearly the equal of anything on Space Opera - these cuts sound like finished tracks rather than demos.

Every track is strong and worth multiple spins.  The album leads off with ”Singers and Sailors/Father,” a tough bluesy hard rocker  with spiraling guitar leads and gutsy vocals.  This track segues into the excellent “Journey’s End.”  This cut has a country folk intro that eventually morphs into soft, tuneful rock that would have been fine radio fodder.  The guitar playing throughout is outstanding.  These guys were intelligent musicians that could have played any style well.  Space Opera also knew how to balance out their instrumental prowess with quality songwriting.  

Check out “Psychic Vampire”, another creative gem, which is similar to “Journey’s End” in it’s mixture of soft progressive sounds and fluid, expressive guitar work.  Songs like “Marlow” and “Fly Away” show off the groups country and folk origins (with interesting chord progressions) and are no less potent than the aforementioned tracks.  All in all, Exit 4 (and Safe at Home as a whole) is a superb album by one of America’s great lost bands.
by Jason Nardelli
Tracks
1. Singers And Sailors/Father (Scott Fraser, David Bullock) - 3:25
2. Journey's End (Phil White) - 5:11
3. Fly Away (David Bullock) - 5:08
4. Singers And Sailors (Scott Fraser, David Bullock) - 4:24
5. Country Max (David Bullock) - 3:15
6. Unless I'm Gone (Phil White) - 4:50
7. Marlow (Scott Fraser) - 4:00
8. Over And Over (Scott Fraser) - 6:24
9. Psychic Vampire (Phil White) - 3:54
10.Bells Within Bells (David Bullock) - 3:00
11.Still Life (David Bullock) - 4:19
12.Caledonia (Scott Fraser) - 3:37
13.Snow Is Falling (David Bullock) - 4:26
14.Play It Rough (Phil White) - 3:30
15.Squeeze Play (Scott Fraser) - 4:27

The Space Opera
*David Bullock - Flute, Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals
*Scott Fraser - 12 String Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
*Phil White - Guitar, Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
*Brett Wilson - Drums, Percussion

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Jay Bolotin - Jay Bolotin (1970 us, spectacular jagged folk rock)



I was totally enchanted the moment I heard this. Granted, I was flying blind at the time, given that I was listening to a CD sight unseen which had been lifted completely at random from the current review pile; but nevertheless Bolotin’s voice leapt out at me immediately, and the exquisitely understated guitar work sent tiny shivers up my spine. There was a slight tinge of disappointment when I unearthed the cover, read up on it and discovered that this isn’t in fact a contemporary recording - but then, I long ago gave up hoping to hear new artists with genuinely distinctive vocal phrasing and one foot planted firmly in the psych-folk camp and the other in jazz and vaudeville (the last was arguably Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, and that was back in 1990 or so)

The story goes that Jay Bolotin’s eponymous debut album was released in 1970 on the major label subsidiary Commonwealth United Records. The collection of sad, low-key introspective ballads were written in New York city, a long way from home for the 20 year old Kentucky native; the songs are haunted by images from his family and childhood. A band was assembled for him consisting of  Kenny Lyon on Bass and Mark Taber on Piano and Harpsichord, both of who were even then veterans of Providence, Rhode Island music scene; Bobby Mason (of the Fugs) on drums and percussion, and David Mowry on guitar.

You can almost taste the yearning in his voice, but unlike (say) Leonard Cohen there’s a warmth and Southern resonance to it, and it’s little surprise that at the time he was championed by keen eared artists such as Kris Kristofferson. The arrangements are sympathetic yet unfussy, with just voice and guitar when that's all that's called for, plus electric bass, keys and drums when the mood requires it - plus less common touches such as harpsichord, celeste and miscellaneous percussion.

‘It’s All in That’ is arguably the strongest song on here – very much in a similar mould to David Ackles’ ‘Road to Cairo’, and the equal of it in terms of sheer originality. The opening ‘Dear Father’ will also pull you in and hold you close, with a visceral immediacy which pervades the whole album.

Obviously here at the Terrascope we have an affinity for both Kentucky and Providence given the Terrastock festivals we have staged there, but the mental sparks and flickers that this album ignites don’t end there. Fans of Tom Rapp and Pearls Before Swine and in particular, the aforementioned late lamented David Ackles will want to check this out immediately. 
by Phil McMullen
Tracks
1. Dear Father - 5:53
2. Jimmy's Got a Music Box - 3:41
3. It's All In That - 5:00
4. Pretty Burmah - 2:48
5. Trinketman - 2:36
6. You Are a Woman  - 4:18
7. For the Love of a Summer Evening  - 2:48
8. I'm Not Asking You - 4:10
9. For Kristy - 3:35
10.Winter Woman - 6:36
Words and Music by Jay Bolotin

Musicians
*Jay Bolotin  - Vocals, Guitar
*Ken Lyon  - Bass
*Bobby Mason  - Drums, Percussion
*David Mowry  - Lead Guitar
*Mark Taber  - Keyboards, Celeste, Harpsichord

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Hoi' Polloi - Hoi' Polloi (1972 us, excellent folk jazzy prog rock)



Hoi’ Polloi’s only self-titled private press LP is a true lost gem.  Record Collector Magazine referred to this album as “a buried treasure” while Acid Archives writer Aaron Milenski said of the album, “Here’s proof that great finds are still out there awaiting us.”  Family Vineyard reissued this strange but engaging album on vinyl and digital download.

The group, which hailed from Richmond, Indiana, mixes various early 70s pop/rock styles (CSN&Y styled singer songwriter pop, country rock, power pop, folk rock, progressive rock, lite psychedelia) into an appealing whole.  Hoi’ Polloi was recorded at Earlham College during spring break using two stereo deck tapes.  Album opener “Who’s Gonna Help Me” sounds like a lost Emitt Rhodes track – this is radio friendly and highly accomplished pop for a self released disc.  The folk-rock tracks such as “Stories,” “Devil Song,” and “Old Bootstrap” are the group’s greatest strength as they are tuneful and finely crafted pieces of music – how was this excellent band overlooked? Other winners are the acid soaked but brief “Last Laugh,” the progressive harpsichord instrumental “Sid Stoneman Gets Scaled,” and the catchy singer songwriter styled “15 Miles To Mexico.”

While influences are easy to spot, Hoi’ Polloi had a unique quirkiness and strong sense of musicianship that keeps this music original and fresh.   They were a group that could sing, write and play better than most major label acts of their time.  There are no rough spots or dull moments to be found on this very entertaining set, which is highly recommended to fans of early 70’s pop rock.
by Jason Nardelli
Tracks
1. Who's Gonna Help Me? (Charles Bleak) - 3:34
2. Old Bootstrap (Bruce Wallace) - 4:23
3. 7 Deviations (Charles Bleak) - 1:06
4. Last Laugh (Bruce Wallace, Dan Mack) - 1:35
5. Hoi' Polloi Peeks Out (Hoi' Polloi) - 0:45
6. Instead Boogie (Ace Corrector) - 1:38
7. Satisfaction Guaranteed (Bruce Wallace, Dan Mack) - 5:52
8. It's A Nice Day (Charles Bleak) - 2:09
9. Devils Song (Bruce Wallace, Dan Mack) - 3:18
10.Sid Stoneman Gets Scale (S. Stoneman, Vince Lash) - 2:40
11.15 Miles To Mexico (Dan Mack) - 2:45
12.Stories (Dan Mack) - 2:16
13.I Used To Think (Bruce Wallace) - 1:26

Hoi' Polloi
*Dan Mack - Acoustic Guitar, Vocals
*Bruce Wallace - Organ, Piano, Electric Guitar, Electric Bass, Vocals
*Charlie Bleak - Drums, Piano, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals
*Ace Correcto (Denny Murry) - Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals
*Sid Stoneman - Electric Bass, Conga Drum, Piano, Vocals, Harpsichord
*Betsey Wallace - Vocals
*Dennis Dietzel - Saxophone
*John Caldemeyer - Saxophone
*Chris Blasdel - Trombone
*Jan Rieman - Cello, Vocals

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Dave Mason And Cass Elliot - Dave Mason And Cass Elliot (1971 uk / us, remarkable delicate folk rock, 2008 remaster)



Ostensibly a Dave Mason solo album, this became one of his finest when he was coupled with Cass Elliot, a stroke of genius. Elliot's involvement is, while not suspect, somewhat limited. Although she provides excellent background vocals, she tends to get a little lost in the harmony stack. Nevertheless, this is a great moment for her too. The album, though, is propelled by Mason's awesome songwriting talents, and tracks such as "On and On," "Walk to the Point," and several others bear this out. 

His guitar playing is some of his finest recorded work, especially the epic "Glittering Facade," where he layers acoustic and electric guitars with a scintillating effect. Elliot's "Here We Go Again" showcases her ability as a great lead vocalist, and Paul Harris provides some excellent keyboard and string arrangements, providing a glimpse of the fine work that was to follow in Stephen Stills' Manassas. Overall, this was a highly underrated album, but in the end, it is also one of the finest from the '70s. 
by Matthew Greenwald
Tracks
1. Walk To The Point (Dave Mason) - 4:01
2. On And On (Ned Doheny) - 3:36
3. To Be Free (Dave Mason) - 3:37
4. Here We Go Again (Cass Elliot, Bryan Garo) - 2:50
5. Pleasing You (Dave Mason, M. Juster) - 3:03
6. Sit and Wonder (Dave Mason) - 3:31
7. Something To Make You Happy (Dave Mason, Cass Elliot) - 2:18
8. Too Much Truth, Too Much Love (Dave Mason) - 3:52
9. Next To You (Bryan Garo) - 2:31
10.Glittering Fa├žade (Dave Mason) - 4:45

Personnel
*Mama Cass Elliot - Vocals
*Dave Mason - Vocals, Guitars
*Bryan Garo - Bass
*Russ Kunkel - Drums
*Paul Harris - Keyboards, Strings
*Leah Kunkel - Vocals

1970  Dave Mason - Alone Together (Japan remaster)
1972  Dave Mason - Headkeeper (SHM-CD 2010 remaster)
1973  Dave Mason - It's Like You Never Left
1976-77  Dave Mason - Certified Live / Let It Flow (2011 double disc edition)

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Pirana - Pirana-Pirana II (1971-72 australia, marvelous psych prog rock with blues and jazz touches, 2002 remaster)



Critics have pigeonholed Pirana as mere Santana clones, and while comparisions are understabdlble and the influence of Santana is obvious, this arguably did the group a considerable disservice. Its dynamic and rhythmic performance at the definitive Sunbury music festival in 1972 drew inevitable comparisons to the Latin-rock champions of Woodstock, due in no small measure to their superb performance of Santana's "Soul Sacrifice". But there was much more to Pirana than that facile categorisation allows

Let's acknowledge, then set aside for a moment, the band's obvious debt to Santana as their early musical template. Beyond that, we can hear examples of fine, melodic songwriting -- mainly from keyboardist Stan White on the first album, but consummately taken over by guitarist and vocalist Tony Hamilton on the second -- that displays a diversity of influences while still keeping the band's innate individuality. It's a bit like their contemporary peers, Sebastian Hardie or Sherbet, who also had a hard time living down copious (and mostly bogus) comparisons while they tried to forge an original path.

For a start, Tony Hamilton's guitar was never less than wonderful. He sang commandingly, with soul, atop Jim Yonge's fluid drumming, supported by the anchorage of Graeme Thompson's throbbing bass. Keyboards were vital to the Pirana sound, and Stan White and his successor, Keith Greig, provided rich Hammond organ reinforcement for the overall feel of the band.

In Pirana, members came and went, but it is essentially the core band comprising Duke-Yonge, Thompson, Hamilton and Greig (who replaced Stan White after the first LP), who made the records and sustained the bulk of the band's performing tenure, and must be most remembered as the definitive entity. Hamilton, Thompson and Yonge were all ex-members of Gus & The Nomads, a 60s R&B/pop band fronted by "the wild man of Sydney rock" Gus McNeil. Gus was executive producer on Pirana's debut album, and several others including the legendary A Product Of A Broken Reality for Company Caine, Greg Quill's early solo recordings (including the  Fleetwood Plain). Gus also set up his own publishing company, Cellar Music, which (besides Pirana) also handled publishing for Mike Rudd, Greg Quill, Ross Wilson and Gulliver Smith.

Pirana's first recordings were as the backing group for Greg Quill's 1970 solo album Fleetwood Plain. They signed to Harvest in 1971 and issued two singles. Here It Comes Again (May) was reputedly the first local single released in stereo, and can still be found on Raven's Golden Miles compilation CD; the same month they toured nationally as support band on the historic package tour by Deep Purple, Free and Manfred Mann's Chapter Three. Their second single was "I Hope You Don't Mind" (Nov.) Late in the year Stan White left to join pop band The Going Thing, and he was replaced by Keith Greig.

In concert they were always regarded as a top-drawer act; they went down a storm at the inaugural Sunbury rock festival, and their live version of Santana's "Soul Sacrifice" earned them a track on the Sunbury '72 album. EMI issued their second LP Pirana II in November 1972, by which time Richard McEwan had replaced Hamilton on guitar. Andrew James replaced Greig in 1973 and Phil Hitchcock replaced Graeme Thompson on bass in 1974. The band continued to work on the dance and pub circuit, but they didn't record again, and they eventually broke up in late 1974.

Duke-Yonge (aka Jimmy Tonge) went on to work with Corroborree, the Anne Kirkpatrick Band and Bullamakanka and in the late 1970s Keith Greig was a founding member of The Brucelanders, who went on to considerable acclaim in their later incarnation as The Reels (minus Keith).
by Paul Culnane
Tracks
1. Elation (Stan White) - 9:27
2. Sermonette (Stan White) - 5:54
3. Time Is Now (Tony Hamilton) - 6:28
4. Find Yourself A New Girl (Stan White) - 3:58
5. The River (Stan White) - 4:32
6. Easy Ride (Stan White) - 3:45
7. Stand Back (Tony Hamilton, Stan White) - 10:10
8. Pirana (Tony Hamilton) - 6:33
9. Then Came The Light (Tony Hamilton) - 3:57
10.I've Seen Sad Days (Tony Hamilton) - 6:11
11.Persuasive Percussion (Hamilton, Yonge, Thompson, Hitchcock, Greig) - 0:55
12.I've Got To Learn To Love More Today (Tony Hamilton) - 2:18
13.Jimbo's Blow (Hamilton, Yonge, Thompson, Hitchcock, Greig) - 1:01
14.Thinking Of You (Tony Hamilton) - 8:00
15.Here It Comes Again (Tony Hamilton) - 2:52
16.Move To The Country (Tony Hamilton) - 2:58

Pirana
*Stan White - Keyboards
*Keith Greig - Keyboards
*Jim Duke-Yonge - Drums
*Tony Hamilton - Guitar
*Graeme Thompson - Bass
*Richard McEwan - Guitar, Vocals

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Graham Parker And The Rumour - Howlin Wind (1976 uk, splendid pub guitar rock, bonus track edition)



For most intents and purposes, Graham Parker emerged fully formed on his debut album, Howlin' Wind. Sounding like the bastard offspring of Mick Jagger and Van Morrison, Parker sneers his way through a set of stunningly literate pub rockers. Instead of blindly sticking to the traditions of rock & roll, Parker invigorates them with cynicism and anger, turning his songs into distinctively original works. "Back to Schooldays" may be reconstituted rockabilly, "White Honey" may recall Morrison's white R&B bounce, and "Howlin' Wind" is a cross of Van's more mystical moments and the Band, but the songs themselves are original and terrific. 

Similarly, producer Nick Lowe gives the album a tough, spare feeling, which makes Parker and the Rumour sound like one of the best bar bands you've ever heard. Howlin' Wind remains a thoroughly invigorating fusion of rock tradition, singer/songwriter skill, and punk spirit, making it one of the classic debuts of all time. 
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Tracks
1. White Honey - 3:32
2. Nothin's Gonna Pull Us Apart - 3:20
3. Silly Thing - 2:53
4. Gypsy Blood - 4:36
5. Between You And Me - 2:24
6. Back To Schooldays - 2:53
7. Soul Shoes - 3:13
8. Lady Doctor - 2:50
9. You've Got To Be Kidding - 3:28
10.Howlin' Wind - 3:56
11.Not If It Pleases Me - 3:11
12.Don't Ask Me Questions - 5:38
13.I'm Gonna Use It Now - 3:11
All songs written by Graham Parker

Personnel
*Graham Parker - Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Fender Rhythm Guitar
*Brinsley Schwarz - Guitar, Hammond Organ, Vocals
*Bob Andrews - Lowrey Organ, Hammond Organ, Piano, Vocals
*Martin Belmont - Guitar, Vocals
*Steve Goulding - Drums, Vocals
*Andrew Bodnar - Fender Bass
*Stewart Lynas - Brass Arrangement
*Herschel Holder - Trumpet
*Dave Conners - First Tenor Saxophone
*Brinsley Schwarz - Tenor Saxophone
*Danny Ellis - Trombone
*John "Viscount" Earle - Saxophone
*Paul Bailey - Guitar
*Dave Otway - Drums
*Paul Riley - Bass Guitar
*Noel Brown - Slide Guitar, Dobro
*Dave Edmunds - Guitar
*Ed Deane - Slide Guitar
*Stewart Lynas - Alto Sax

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Albert King - I'll Play The Blues For You (1972 us, impressive blues funk soul, 2012 bonus track remaster)



It's not as if Albert King hadn't tasted success in his first decade and a half as a performer, but his late-'60s/early-'70s recordings for Stax did win him a substantially larger audience. During those years, the label began earning significant clout amongst rock fans through events like Otis Redding's appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival and a seemingly endless string of classic singles. When King signed to the label in 1966, he was immediately paired with the Stax session team Booker T. & the MG's. The results were impressive: "Crosscut Saw," "Laundromat Blues," and the singles collection Born Under a Bad Sign were all hits. 

Though 1972's I'll Play the Blues for You followed a slightly different formula, the combination of King, members of the legendary Bar-Kays, the Isaac Hayes Movement, and the sparkling Memphis Horns was hardly a risky endeavor. The result was a trim, funk-infused blues sound that provided ample space for King's oft-imitated guitar playing. King has always been more impressive as a soloist than a singer, and some of his vocal performances on I'll Play the Blues for You lack the intensity one might hope for. As usual, he more than compensates with a series of exquisite six-string workouts. The title track and "Breaking Up Somebody's Home" both stretch past seven minutes, while "I'll Be Doggone" and "Don't Burn Down the Bridge" (where King coaxes a crowd to "take it to the bridge," James Brown-style) break the five-minute barrier. 

Riding strutting lines by bassist James Alexander, King runs the gamut from tough, muscular playing to impassioned cries on his instrument, making I'll Play the Blues for You one of a handful of his great Stax sets. 
by Nathan Bush
Tracks
1. I'll Play The Blues For You (Jerry Beach) - 7:19
2. Little Brother (Henry Bush, J. Jones, Clifton William Smith) - 2:49
3. Breaking Up Somebody's Home (Raymond Jackson, Al Jackson, Jr., Timothy Matthews) - 7:19
4. High Cost Of Loving (Jones, Hamlett) - 2:56
5. I'll Be Doggone (Warren Moore, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Tarplin) - 5:41
6. Answer To The Laundromat Blues (Albert King) - 4:37
7. Don't Burn Down The Bridge ('Cause You Might Wanna Come Back Across) (Jones, Wells) - 5:07
8. Angel Of Mercy (Homer Banksm, Raymond Jackson) - 4:23
9. I'll Play The Blues For You (Alternate Version) (Jerry Beach) - 8:44
10.Don't Burn Down The Bridge ('Cause You Might Wanna Come Back Across) (Alternate Version) (Jones, Wells) - 5:13
11.I Need A Love - 4:29
12.Albert's Stomp (Albert King) - 2:18
Bonus Tracks 9-12

Musicians
*Albert King - Guitar, Vocals
*The Bar Keys And The Movement - Rhythm Section
*The Memphis Horns - Horns

1968  Albert King - Live Wire/Blues Power (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab)

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

B.B. King - Completely Well (1969 us, blues funk soul masterpiece, 2012 SHM Remaster with extra track)



Completely Well was B.B. King's breakthrough album in 1969, which finally got him the long-deserved acclaim that was no less than his due. It contained his signature number, "The Thrill Is Gone," and eight other tunes, six of them emanating from King's pen, usually in a co-writing situation. Hardliners point to the horn charts and the overdubbed strings as the beginning of the end of King's old style that so identifiably earmarked his early sides for the Bihari Brothers and his later tracks for ABC, but this is truly the album that made the world sit up and take notice of B.B. King. 

The plus points include loose arrangements and a small combo behind him that never dwarfs the proceedings or gets in the way. King, for his part, sounds like he's having a ball, playing and singing at peak power. This is certainly not the place to start your B.B. King collection, but it's a nice stop along the way before you finish it.
by Cub Koda
Tracks
1. So Excited (B.B. King, Gerald Jemmott) - 5:35
2. No Good (Ferdinand Washington, B.B. King) - 4:37
3. You're Losin' Me (Ferdinand Washington, B.B. King) - 4:55
4. What Happened (B.B. King) - 4:43
5. Confessin' The Blues (Jay Mcshann, Walter Brown) - 4:57
6. Key To My Kingdom (Maxwell Davis, Joe Josea, Claude Baum) - 3:20
7. Cryin' Won't Help You Now (Sam Ling, Jules Taub, B.B. King) - 6:25
8. You're Mean (B.B. King, Gerald Jemmott, Hugh Mccracken, Paul Harris, Herbie Lovelle) - 10:01
9. The Thrill Is Gone (Rick Darnell, Roy Hawkins, Arthur H ."Art" Benson, Dale Pettite) - 5:27
10.Fools Get Wise (Live 1969 NYC) (B.B.King) - 2:40

Personnel
*B. B. King - Guitar, Vocals
*Hugh McCracken - Guitar
*Paul Harris - Piano, Electric Piano, Organ
*Gerald "Fingers" Jemmott - Bass
*Herbie Lovelle - Drums
*Bill Szymczyk - Producer
*Bert "Super Charts" Decoteaux - String And Horn Arrangements

1967  B.B. King - Lucille (MFSL ultra disc) 

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Friday, May 15, 2015

White Witch - White Witch (1972 us, fine glam prog rock)



Having previously played in Noah's Ark, The Outsiders and The Soul Trippers, lead guitarist Buddy Richardson pulled White Witch together in the early 1970s. A series of auditions saw the band gel around the talents of Richardson, bassist Beau Fisher, singer Ronn Goedert, keyboardist Buddy Pendergrass and drummer Bobby Shea.  A steady stream of tours attracted a small cult following and the attraction of Capricorn Records which signed the band even though they lacked any type of management agreement. 

Bass player Charlie Souza and keyboard player Buddy Pendergrass were both veterans of The Fabulous Tropics, a band that scored an American number 1 with 'Take The Time'. Souza had also performed as part of the Gregg Allman band on his 'Laid Back' album, Florida's Bacchus and With Cactus. White Witch also inducted drummer Bill Peterson, another ex-Bacchus man, for 1973's 'Spiritual Greetings'.

Vocalist Ron Goedert later cut a solo album. Souza later joined Tom Petty, Galeforce and Fortress. He has also been a member of Sly And The Family Stone and worked with ex-Santana man Leon Patillo.

Souza and Pendergrass reactivated The Fabulous Tropics in 1999. Ron Goedert passed away on 16th July 2000.
Tracks
1. Parabrahm Greeting/ Dwellers Of The Threshold (Beau Fisher, Ronn Goedert, Buddy Pendergrass, Buddy Richardson, Bobby Shea) - 3:04
2. Help Me Lord  (Ronn Goedert, Buddy Pendergrass) - 3:07
3. Don't Close Your Mind  (Ronn Goedert, Buddy Pendergrass) - 6:45
4. You're The One   (Ronn Goedert, Buddy Pendergrass) - 3:03
5. Sleepwalk (Ronn Goedert, Buddy Pendergrass) - 4:27
6. Home Grown Girl (Ronn Goedert, Buddy Pendergrass) - 3:05
7. And I'm Leaving  (Ronn Goedert, Buddy Pendergrass) - 3:00
8. Illusion  (Ronn Goedert, Buddy Pendergrass) - 5:11
9. It's So Nice To Be Stoned  (Ronn Goedert, Buddy Pendergrass) - 3:54
10.Have You Ever Thought Of Changing?/ Jackson Slade  (Ronn Goedert, Buddy Pendergrass) - 3:55
11.The Gift (Beau Fisher, Ronn Goedert, Buddy Pendergrass, Buddy Richardson, Bobby Shea) - 1:45

The White Witch
*Buddy Richardson - Guitars
*Robert Shea - Drums
*Ron Goedert - Vocals
*Hardin Pendergrass - Keyboards
*Loyall Fischer - Bass

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Noir - We Had To Let You Have It (1971 uk, astonishing prog afro rock, digipack issue)



Released in 1971 on the Dawn label, this is the only known album from the British progressive group. Barry Ford was a member of Clancy in the mid-seventies, and Merger in the late seventies. It's a low-key release with above average guitar work. A melt of soul / r'n'b / rock / blues rock formula, with minor incursions into jazz and hints of proto-prog. 
Tracks
1.Rain - 9:27
2.Hard Labour - 5:24
3.Beggar Man - 5:06
4.In Memory Of Lady X - 6:57
5.How Long - 6:27
6.The System - 7:19
7.Indian Rope Man - 3:36
8.Ju Ju Man - 3:56

Noir
*Tony Cole - Keyboards
*Barry Ford - Drums, Vocals
*Gordon Hunte - Guitar, Vocals
*Roy Williams - Bass

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

World Of Oz - The World Of Oz (1969 uk, wonderful colorful sunny baroque psych, 2006 remaster and expanded)



The World of Oz were a British psychedelic pop band that enjoyed a short string of successful singles in Europe. Between those major charting records in Holland and a lot of good press at home, the release of an album was planned -- yet they managed to throw it all away with an unexplained split. All four original members -- Tony Clarkson (bass, vocals), David "Kubie" Kubinec (organ), Christopher Robin (guitar, piano, vocals), and David Reay (drums) -- hailed from Birmingham, and had been parts of that city's burgeoning pop/rock culture for varying amounts of time. Clarkson had several years' experience playing in various bands, and had also performed on the European continent. 

Kubinec had spent two years working mostly in Germany as a member of the Pieces of Mind, doing a mixture of R&B and soul. Reay and Robin (real name Christopher Evans) had played in a band called the Mayfair Set, working in Germany for a year before returning to Birmingham late in 1967, where they broke up. The pair decided to form a new band, and Kubinec and Clarkson were recruited through advertisements in musician magazines. In January of 1968 they formed the group, the "Oz" name and imagery fitting in with the trippy ambience of the late '60s.

They decided that while Birmingham's club scene could provide work, it didn't offer the kind of prospects for a recording career that they had in mind, and so they headed to London. Their songwriting ability got them snatched up by Sparta Music. And for a manager, they had no less a figure than Barry Class, who was best known for his most successful client, the Foundations (of "Build Me Up Buttercup" fame). Class lived up to his last name by setting the group up in a luxury apartment on Park Lane, in London's exclusive Mayfair district, long a fashionable locale for movie stars and theater performers seeking to put on a big front in their lives. It made for a fair amount of press access and good press, as well as impressing various record company executives, accustomed to dealing with up-and-coming bands living in near squalor. 

Between the quality of their songs, played at impromptu auditions or the gigs Class was able to get them, and the gimmick of their high-profile digs, the band received serious overtures from several record companies, including Pye. But in the spring of 1968 they signed with Deram Records, the progressive pop imprint of English Decca. Wayne Bickerton, who headed Deram, thought enough of them to personally produce this new act, and his enthusiasm was more than enough to seal the deal. He even approved and budgeted the use of a 33-piece orchestra accompanying them on one of Kubinec's songs, "Muffin Man," at their first recording session.

"Muffin Man" was issued as a single in England and on the Continent in May of 1968 (and a little later in the United States). A catchy tune with great hooks, instrumental as well as vocal, and a trippy, nursery-rhyme-like ambience, it somehow managed never to chart in England. According to Kubinec in an interview on the psychedelic site Marmalade Skies, things began coming apart when Class accompanied the Foundations on a tour of America and left the World of Oz in the hands of a deputy who immediately cut back on the promotion budget for the group and the single. In trying to save a few shillings, he cost them the momentum they'd been working for months to build up, and the single just lay there. 

The key moment, in his view, was missing a chance to do the single on Top of the Pops. However, the record did reach the Top Ten in Holland, sold reasonably well across Western Europe, and also managed to get some positive response in the form of radio play in the United States. Three months later came their second single, "King Croesus," which also made the Top Ten in Holland, and got to number 126 in the Cashbox charts late that fall in America. Additionally, despite the fact that they hadn't charted a single in England, the group's sound -- a light, harmony-based psychedelia similar to the Bee Gees and records like "Barker of the UFO" -- and Class' clout got them as much work as they could handle and more. The band lasted through two more rounds of recording sessions in 1968, through November of that year, and even got a third U.S. release, for "The Hum-Gum Tree" b/w "Mandy-Ann."

An album seemed a next easy step, but things weren't right within the band, and Kubinec and Reay were already gone -- for reasons no one has ever explained -- by that last set of recording sessions, replaced by Geoff Nicholls (guitar, organ) and Bob Moore (drums), respectively. The group soldiered on, under a rather awkward shadow -- Deram Records already had a finished album in the can and a February release date, and that record was coming out, despite the fact that it featured two key members who were already gone from the lineup. Meanwhile, the World of Oz had another modest hit in Holland, "Willow's Harp" b/w "Like a Tear," early in 1969. The new lineup made it as far as appearing on the televised rock & roll showcase Beat Club in Germany and other, similar programs in Holland, and on the cover of pop magazines in the Netherlands. Finally, another U.K. single, of "The Hum-Gum Tree," was due out, but then was canceled. That, apparently, was the final straw for the reconstituted band, which broke up in May of 1969, a year after the group's recording career had begun.

The World of Oz LP was released on schedule and disappeared without creating a ripple on the charts, on either side of the Atlantic. The album cover was a very strange one -- it featured visual representations of the last lineup of the group, which was understandable but also strange, as they were hardly heard on the record inside. The cover design was an especially ornate affair, utilizing characters from L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz universe, which, according to Kubinec, also included representations of their manager, and even annotator Jonathan King, while the back cover had images of Bickerton and arranger Mike Vickers. As a psychedelic artifact, musical and visual, that LP and the cover were serious collectors' items for many years. It was bootlegged on CD sometime in the late '90s, before a legitimate re-release from Repertoire Records showed up in 2007, concurrent with a mini-LP-packaged CD in Japan.

Given relatively easy availability at last, the album reveals a prodigiously talented pop/rock band, nothing earth-shattering given what they and Class and Bickerton were aiming at, but with a lot of unrealized potential residing in those songs. And the singles "Muffin Man" and, better still, "Like a Tear" reflect a tuneful, trippy psychedelic pop sensibility, somewhat similar to the early Bee Gees -- in addition to appearing on The World of Oz, they have been anthologized on various psychedelic collections. 

In the years following the World of Oz's demise, David Kubinec did a solo album on A&M Records about a decade after the original group's signing, while Reay became a recording executive. Both Kubinec and Clarkson have since enjoyed long careers in music, right up to the present day. Nicholls, though a later member of the group, did rather better in music than any of the others in the band, however; after a stint with Quartz, he joined Black Sabbath for a long stint as their keyboard player.
by Bruce Eder
Tracks
1. The Muffin Man - 2:39
2. Bring The Ring - 3:05
3. Jackie - 2:49
4. Beside The Fire - 3:08
5. The Hum-Gum Tree - 2:21
6. With A Little Help - 3:18
7. We've All Seen The Queen - 2:33
8. King Croesus - 3:10
9. Mandy-Ann - 2:59
10.Jack - 2:28
11.Like A Tear - 3:11
12.Willow's Harp - 2:08
13.The Muffin Man (Single Version) - 2:31
14.Peter's Birthday (Single Version) - 2:55
15.King Croesus (Single Version) - 3:11
16.Jack (Single Version) - 2:28
17.The Hum-Gum Tree (Single Version) - 2:20
18.Beside The Fire (Single Version) - 3:08
19.Willow's Harp (Single Version) - 2:08
20.Like A Tear (Single Version) - 3:10
Music and Lyrics by World Of Oz

The World Of Oz
*Christopher Robin - Vocals, Guitar
*Tony Clarkson - Bass
*David 'Kubie' Kubinec - Guitar, Organ
*David Reay - Drums
*Geoff Nicholls - Organ
*Rob Moore - Drums

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Frumpy - All Will Be Changed (1970 germany, remarkable heavy psych prog rock, 2008 remaster with extra tracks)



No other artist has had as lasting an influence on German rock music as Inga Rumpf, daughter of a sailor and a tailoress from East Prussia. The vocalist grew up in Hamburg's St. Georg district with the music of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry. Her smoky, bluesy voice, influenced by icons such as Mahalia Jackson and Nina Simone. fills fans all over the world with enthusiasm to this day. Her seemingly limitless stylistic range has rightfulty earned Inga Rumpf a reputation as Germany's no.1 rock vocalist.

Inga Rumpf's career began in 1965 with a folk act called City Preachers, who soon had a considerable following thanks to their mix of folk, blues, country, gospel and jazz. She recorded three albums with the group and continued to use the name after a disagreement with founder O'Brien Docker and a subsequent fundamental line-up change. Along with bassist Karf-Heinz Schott and organist Jean-Jacques Kravetz, she was supported by the young drummer. Udo Lindenberg. In spring 1969, Lindenberg was replaced by Carsten Bonn, who insisted on a tougher direction. This led to the foundation of Frumpy m 1970, the name having been discovered by the musicians in a CBS record catalogue. 

Frumpy soon sparked Phonogram's interest, and Rumpf and Co. were sent to the label's own studios in Hamburg and Hilversum to record their debut album. All Will Be Changed. "The record company had been impressed by our live shows and wanted us to record the LP in the same style. That's why we recorded everything live," Inga Rumpf recalls. "We didn't have much time anyway, that's why one week between two shows had to be enough for the whole production."

All We Be Changed saw the band gear their music to established international sounds, but they immediately found their own style thanks to the ever-present drone of a Hammond organ and Rurnpf's unique voice. They initially worked without a guitarist, allowing keyboardist Joan-Jacques Kravetz to rotate the powerful Leslie rotor. In the beginning we were happy enough as a quartet. I played and composed exclusively on an acoustic guitar," explains Rumpf. "It was only later that we began to write songs that called for a guitar."

The national press initially eyed Frumpy with the typical skepticism of that time towards anybody who made rock music on German shores. *"Long live boredom. We can only hope that Frumpy are serious about the whispered promise, 'all will be changed*, toward the end of the record, because a total musical change would definitely be called for," Sounds magazine concluded in 1970, unable to acquire a taste even for Inga Rumpf's soulful, husky voice. Hardly one year later.  Rumpf was voted best German female voice in the same magazine.

Unimpressed by such ambiguities Frumpy continued lo work on their career, appearing. among other venues, at the legendary Pans Olympia and the Lyceum in London, one of Hie most important British clubs, and embarked on a 50-show German tour. Rumpf: "To start off with, we played every club, disco, cultural event and festival where people still knew us from our City Preachers era. This changed as soon as the audience felt our musical identity.

We even moved the crowds opening for Spooky Tooth and other British groups and soon developed into a top act ourselves." Yet the musicians did not gain riches, which Inga Rumpf takes in her stride; "Occasionally we went homo without being paid or with an IOU because the promoter had run off with the cash. But I didn't need a lot in those days. I was only interested in singing, songwriting and composing,"
by Matthias Mineur
Tracks
1. Life Without Pain (Inga Rumpf, Robert Coules) - 3:48
2. Rosalie Part I - 6:03
3. Otium (Jean Jacques Kravetz) - 4:22
4. Rosalie Part II - 4:12
5. Indian Rope Man (Richie Havens, Joe Price, Mark Roth) - 3:20
6. Morning - 3:23
7. Floating Part I (Inga Rumpf, Robert Coules) - 7:41
8. Baroque (Jean Jacques Kravetz) - 7:36
9. Floating Part II (Inga Rumpf, Robert Coules) - 1:23
10.Roadriding - 4:023
11.Time Makes Wise - 2:52
All compositions by Inga Rumpf except where indicated
Bonustracks 10-11

Frumpy
*Inga Rumpf - Guitar, Percussion, Vocals
*Rainer Baumann - Guitar
*Carsten Bohn Bandstand - Bass, Drums, Percussion
*Jean Jacques Kravetz - Keyboards, Mellotron, Organ, Percussion, Piano, Saxophone, Spinet
*Karl Heinz Schott - Bass

1971  Frumpy - Frumpy II 
1972  Frumpy - By The Way

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Frumpy - Frumpy II (1971 germany, tremendous heavy prog rock)



Inga Rumpf's Frumpy was among the most startling bands on the entire German rock scene of the early '70s, an act so diametrically opposed to the Krautrock boom beloved by critics elsewhere that first impressions of their music always leave listeners scratching their heads. 

If Frumpy has any role models, it is a collision between Meddle-era Pink Floyd and a less-precocious Uriah Heep. Frumpy 2, unsurprisingly their second album, features just four tracks, but all are soaring slabs of emotive guitar and keyboards, deeply progressive of course, but unquestionably pop as well. Even at a shade over ten minutes, "How the Gypsy Was Born" sounds like a hit single, while the churning Hammond organ brings Deep Purple to mind in full on "Black Night"/"Woman From Tokyo" mode. Rumpf herself, meanwhile, has a range and depth comparable to Curved Air's Sonja Kristina, with an emotive strength which seems all the more remarkable when you remember that English is not her native language. 

The shifting, complex "Take Care of Illusion" brings the best out of her in every way imaginable, while the lengthy instrumental break during the closing "Duty" allows her bandmates to shine with equal aplomb. The guitar and keyboard solos and duels which take place above the tumultuous rhythms are as spectacular as anything else in the genre. But even while you're sitting slack-jawed in awe, it is very difficult to play favorites. 

Frumpy, like Rumpf's Atlantis after them, has antecedents aplenty, and their influences peep out behind every corner. But the manner in which they've been sewn together owes little to any Anglo-American role models and little to any Krautrock basics, too. Quite simply, Frumpy 2 is the prog album you'll be returning to long after the others have all dulled into wallpaper.
by Dave Thompson
Tracks
1. Good Winds (I. Rumpf) - 10:08
2. How the Gypsy Was Born (J. J. Kravetz, I. Rumpf) - 8:49
3. Take Care of Illusion (J. J. Kravetz, I. Rumpf) - 7:35
4. Duty (J. J. Kravetz, I. Rumpf) - 12:14

Frumpy
*Inga Rumpf - Guitar, Vocals
*Rainer Baumann - Guitar
*Carsten Bohn Bandstand - Bass, Percussion
*Jean Jacques Kravetz - Keyboards
*Karl Heinz Schott - Bass

1972  Frumpy - By The Way

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Catfish - Get Down (1970 us, magnificent raw folk blues rock)



Catfish has been called an “American folk blues hero” and has been a mainstay on the American Blues music scene for three decades now! He has twenty four albums to his credit, comprised almost totally of original material. “Catfish Blues” and “Like A Big Dog Barkin’” on the Wildcat label.

Catfish found his calling early on. While growing up in Detroit, he was sneaking into Motown Records Hitsville studio to catch the Four tops and the Supremes and grooving to R&B and Blues while his contemporaries gravitated to the Beatles. In the late 1960’s he formed the Catfish Band and led them out of Detroit into national prominence.
Tracks
1. Catfish (Bob Hodge, Mark Manko, T. Carson) - 3:49
2. The Hawk - 4:31
3. No Place To Hide (Bob Hodge, Mark Manko) - 4:42
4. 300 Pound Fat Mama - 7:56
5. Love Lights - 5:33
6. Coffee Song - 1:35
7. Tradition (Bob Hodge, Mark Manko) - 3:26
8. Sundown Man - 3:32
9. Reprise: Catfish/Get High, Get Naked, Get Down (B. Hodge, M. Manko, T. Carson) - 9:43
All selections written by Bob Hodge unless otherwise indicated

Personnel
*Bob "Catfish" Hodge - Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
*Mark Manko - Guitar
*Harry Phillips - Keyboards
*W.R. Cooke - Bass
*Jimmy Optner - Drums

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Canned Heat - Hallelujah (1969 us, stunning hard delta blues rock, remaster and expanded)



Canned Heat was one of the most remarkable Blues Bands in the 60's era. Basically an electrified Country Blues and Boogie band, they created two pop hits that were arguably a direct descendent of the old Skip James vocal style. Now don't get me wrong, when I say "pop" hits, I don't mean they made any commercial concessions like strings or anything. Both of the songs, "On The Road Again", and "Goin' Up The Country" were both compelling and progressive blues arrangements.

Like many great bands, Canned Heat could be two different bands depending on who was singing and leading the arrangement, and when the lead guitarist, Henry Vestine played a solo, sometimes a third one that flew off into an abstract psychedelic Delta. The two singers were Bob Hite and Alan Wilson. When Bob was on, the band was a hard rocking Blues band that often did rock and roll. With Alan, an electric country blues band that featured his great falsetto (similiar to Skip James) and often mysterious sounding slide (one could say Faheyesque). He was also probably one of the most underrated harp players of all time.

Canned Heat records could be uneven, particularly their first, and that was more due to unfamiliarity to the studio. Live, they were as hot (and sloppy) as a blues band could get. Listen to their live version of "Bullfrog Blues" on the Monterrey Pop Festival soundtrack and you'll see what I mean. Their next one, "Boogie With Canned Heat", showed the needed adjustments, and also produced their first hit, "On The Road Again". It's a good blues record, and featured their first extended boogie (and still their best), "Fried Hockey Boogie".

A later release also took boogie to the utmost 60's extreme and built from an acoustic start to full tilt over two entire sides of a double record set. It's not easily found these days, but worth a listen, as it also contains their next hit, "Goin' Up The Country" which added a flute to the boogie (one wonders why it hadn't been done before, it sounds so perfect). Later on, a series of rather quick records appeared, like their "Live In Europe", a poorly recorded one that I'm not sure they wanted released. However, it's not my purpose to discuss such recordings, as they did produce more than a few good sets.

One of those was "Hallelujah" released on their own Liberty label. It didn't contain any of their hits, but as an album, it's the most consistent except for maybe the "Future Blues" release. "Hallelujah" is basically one great blues song after another, in an impressively eclectic set. It opens with a classic sing-along blues shuffle, "Same All Over", featuring one of the best Hite vocals ever. It's an opener that sticks in your mind long after listening.

Hite isn't the one the average fan associates with the band as he didn't sing on either of the two earlier hits, although later on he sang the hit cover of "Work Together". However, without him, the band wouldn't have had nearly the depth it had. Bob was the gruff, low voice, with an obvious sense of humor and plenty of grit. A perfect balance to Alan's higher pitched vocal style. It's his voice that makes "Same All Over" more than your average shuffle.

Wilson pipes in next with the uptempo, and eerie "Change My Ways", a complex boogie with a sense of dynamics one doesn't normally see in, say, a Chicago outfit. It's also a total change in mood. It opens with a great organ and drum opening, then moves into what would be a prototypical Wilson boogie, with interesting tempo changes and bridges (the hallmarks of a classic Wilson number).

These interesting arrangements were due to the diverse blues both Hite and Wilson had been exposed to. Hite was a legendary blues record collector, with one of the most extensive collections ever, and Wilson did a few projects with John Fahey, playing slide on some early Fahey releases ("Transfiguration Of Blind Joe Death" being one). One can discern a Fahey influence in his slide approach.

Hite follows Alan with "Canned Heat", which is similiar to "Canned Heat" by Houston Stackhouse. It's a slower song, but with a very interesting sense of tempo. Almost atmospheric, or at least as much as an old blues song can be. "Sic 'Em Pigs" boogies in next, and it's a still hilarious boogie that perhaps sounds dated in it's anti-police message, that given the Rodney King incident, is still timely. It's a song that could have become a bit self-righteous in tone, but Hite gives it just the perfect amount of sarcasm and humor to make it work. It's a song I can't imagine anyone else doing so perfectly, actually.

The side continues with a hard charging shuffle called, "I'm Her Man", which also features piano and organ by Mark Naftalin. The Heat rhythm section, Larry Taylor on bass and Fito de la Parra, drive this arrangement hard, yet never break into rock. As a result, it's a shuffle that cooks, spiced up with some great leads by Vestine.

Alan ends the side with "Time Was", a slower number that has a good sense of movement, with some good tempo changes. Once again, a good number made great by a great band. "Do Not Enter" opens side two, and it's a viciously powerful, rocking medium tempo blues, sort of like angry Bo Diddley. Wilson's harp tone is incredibly full, and while he didn't specialize in the instrument, was always more than your average harp player. His ideas tended to stress tone and feel as opposed to speed, and one thing you could always say about a Wilson solo; it always sounded just right.

Wilson's harp opens the next cut, "Big Fat", an old Domino song. If there was one singer who could do a Fats number, it was Hite, and it's done here as a great rocking shuffle. A waltz time "Huautla" follows, opening with Wilson's harp, and moving into a group jam, done over a bongo and conga beat. It sounds much better than it reads, believe me. It then moves back into waltz time, and ends.

A strange Wilson rocker comes next, with Chuck Berry guitar being mixed with a blues shuffle, and like most Wilson numbers, comes together in a way that's always hard to describe, except that he clearly knew what he was doing and was able to reconcile the influences. The number ends with some hard rocking soloing by Vestine. I should mention a bit about Vestine at this point. He was one of the wildest guitar players in the blues, earning the tongue-in-cheek remark by Hite in "Fried Hockey Boogie", which ran "Are you really experienced?" in an obvious reference to Hendrix.

One might think that Vestine was actually a rock player who played the blues with the band as any other gig, but his blues credentials ran quite deep. He, along with John Fahey (and another whose name escapes me) were the ones who tracked down Skip James and brought him out of retirement in the 60's folk era. Also, many of his solos were extrapolations on blues tonalities, albeit loud extrapolations. Also, in the regular blues arrangements, his guitar playing was always on target. You don't hear his name very often when great blues guitar players are discussed, but in my mind, it was arguable that at a minimum, he was very underrated.

Larry Taylor went on to play bass in many sessions for other artists, the most notable being part of John Mayall's "Turning Point" era band. Also, he did work for artists as diverse as Leo Kottke and Freddie Roulette. His partner in the rhythm section, Fito, never got famous outside of the band, but then, he was already in a famous blues band, and I guess that's all anyone really needs, right? Well, I have digressed a bit, but it seemed like a good time for a band intro...

The record ends with the band, with the addition of Mark Naftalin on keyboards, playing a very low down slow blues called, "Down In The Gutter, But Free". It's a great one, and just a bit overdone, like all good lowdown slow blues should be done.
by Al Handa
Tracks
1. Same All Over (Canned Heat) - 2:51
2. Change My Ways (Alan Wilson) - 2:47
3. Canned Heat (Robert Hite,) - 4:22
4. Sic 'Em Pigs (Robert Hite, Booker T. White) - 2:41
5. I'm Her Man (A. Leigh) - 2:55
6. Time Was (Alan Wilson) - 3:21
7. Do Not Enter (Alan Wilson) - 2:50
8. Big Fat (The Fat Man) (Dave Bartholomew) - 1:57
9. Huautla (V. Wolf) - 3:33
10.Get Off My Back (Alan Wilson) - 5:10
11.Down In The Gutter, But Free (Canned Heat) - 5:37
12.Time Was (Single Version) (Alan Wilson) - 2:34
13.Low Down (Canned Heat) - 2:30
14.Poor Moon (Alan Wilson) - 2:43
15.Sic 'Em Pigs (Single Version) (Robert Hite, Bukka White) - 1:54

The Canned Heat
*Bob Hite - Vocals, Harmonica
*Alan Wilson - Slide Guitar, Vocals, Harmonica, Whistling
*Henry Vestine - Lead Guitar, Bass
*Larry Taylor - Bass, Guitar
*Fito De La Parra - Drums
Additional Personnel
*Ernest Lane - Piano
*Mark Naftalin - Organ, Piano
*Javier Batiz - Group Vocals
*Skip Diamond - Group Vocals
*Elliot Ingber - Group Vocals
*Mike Pacheco - Bongos, Congas

1967-73  Canned Heat - The Very Best Of
1968  Canned Heat - Livin The Blues (Akarma edition)
1971  John Lee Hooker And Canned Heat - Hooker 'N' Heat
1970 Canned Heat - Future Blues (Remaster and Expanded)
1970-73  Memphis Slim Canned Heat Memphis Horns - Memphis Heat
1971-72  Canned Heat - Historical Figures And Ancient Heads
1973  Canned Heat - One More River To Cross

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Friday, May 1, 2015

Koko Taylor - What It Takes / The Chess Years (1964-72 us, amazing vocals, fantastic electric chicago blues, 2009 remaster and expanded)



It could be argued, without raising too much of a sweat, that Koko Taylor was the greatest female blues singer of all time. The undisputed Queen of Chicago Blues, Taylor was a big-voiced blues shouter in the vein of Big Mama Thornton. She was an even bigger presence on the modern blues scene, staying active nearly until her death in mid-2009. Taylor won more W.C. Handy/Blues Music Awards than any other female artist, and she continued to light up stages and knock out appreciate audiences, remaining vital and electric until the final days of her lengthy career.

Although much of Taylor's better-known and award-winning material was released by Alligator Records, who signed the singer in 1975 after the demise of Chess Records, Taylor's larger-than-life reputation was earned for the dozens of songs and handful of albums that she recorded for Chess over the course of the previous decade. Taylor started her career with Chess in 1964, and hit the big time a year later when she took the Willie Dixon-penned classic "Wang Dang Doodle" to #4 on the R&B charts, eventually selling over a million copies of what would become her signature song. The hit single would open doors for Taylor, who saw demand for her dynamic live performances skyrocket.

Taylor's What It Takes - The Chess Years originally appeared on CD in 1991 as an eighteen-song compilation of the singer's best work for the label, including several previously unreleased (at the time) songs. Reissued in 2009 as an exhaustive twenty-four-track history of Taylor's eight years with the label, this limited edition version adds six rare "bonus tracks" to fulfill every Koko Taylor fan's desire.

More than a retrospective of Taylor's immeasurably influential Chess Records years, What It Takes also provides a capsule history of the label itself. Taylor's recordings feature legendary musicians like harpist Big Walter Horton, pianist Lafayette Leake, guitarists Buddy Guy and Matt "Guitar" Murphy, rhythm wizards Jack Meyers (bass) and Fred Below (drums) and, of course, bassist/songwriter/producer Willie Dixon

Without discounting the talents of the musicians assembled behind her, this is Koko's story, and nobody could grab a song and spark life into it like Taylor. "I Got What It Takes," from which this collection takes its name, was Taylor's first Chess single. A bruising, slow-rolling blues shouter, it announced Taylor's arrival on the Chicago blues scene with little subtlety, powerful vocals, tasteful Buddy Guy fretwork, and Big Walter's mesmerizing harp tones. "Don't Mess With The Messer," which landed in 1965, is more of a R&B styled dance number with nimble rhythms, but Taylor's fine vocals are nearly lost in the mix.

Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle" was Taylor's first smash hit for Chess, and sounds just as forceful today as it did in '65. This is one of the greatest Chicago blues songs ever, with Dixon sharing vocals, great guitar interplay between Guy and Johnny "Twist" Williams, and blastin' saxes to clean out any leftover wax from your ears. The soulful "(I Got) All You Need," from the same session, is an R&B rave-up that shows a more playful side of Taylor's voice without sacrificing any strength or bluster. The menacing "Insane Asylum" is one of the best duets between Dixon and Taylor, with stomping, screaming vox laid atop Lafayette Leake's imaginative pianowork.

The spry, up-tempo "Fire" is a fast-paced bluesy rocker with raucous vocals, mid-1960s period saxplay courtesy of Gene Barge, and a rollicking soundtrack with robust rhythms from an unknown bassist and drummer. A live recording dating from 1972 has the great Muddy Waters joining Taylor onstage for an electrifying performance of "I Got What It Takes," the two charismatic singers swapping verses, both turning in smoldering performances. The six additional "bonus tracks," comprised largely of forgotten singles and B-sides, do a great job of fleshing out an already impressive set.

Taylor's original "What Kind Of Man Is That?" shows some songwriting skills, but it's her vocal performance - sultry and growling at the same time - that knocks the song out of the ballpark. Throw in Horton's wailing harp and downplayed guitarwork by Guy and Robert Nighthawk, and it’s a wonder that this one wasn't a hit. A cover of J.B. Lenoir's "Good Advice," with well-timed horns framing the vocals, and a shuffling beat, sounds like the best R&B music you've ever heard coming out of your car radio while "Tease Your Man," from 1971, is an underrated gem. A great performance that stands where blues and soul music intersect, Taylor has great control over her vocals, which range from a quiet storm to a raging hurricane. Louis Satterfield's fat bass lines drive the rhythm, while Joe Young and Dennis Miller swap some jazzy guitar licks.

Koko Taylor was a one of a kind, old-school blueswoman who infused every performance with style, emotion, and power, and it's safe to say that there won't be another one like her to come along anytime soon. What It Takes - The Chess Years should be a required addition to every blues fan's listening library, representing not only some of Taylor's best work, but the sound of Chicago blues during the often-overlooked era of the 1960s. More than a mere collection of two-dozen ear-pleasing songs, this is also Taylor's musical legacy. 
by Reverend Keith A. Gordon
Tracks
1. I Got What It Takes - 3:08
2. Don't Mess with the Messer - 2:45
3. Whatever I Am, You Made Me - 2:28
4. I'm a Little Mixed Up (Betty James, Edward Johnson) - 2:42
5. Wang Dang Doodle - 3:01
6. (I Got) All You Need - 2:18
7. Love Me - 2:48
8. What Came First the Egg or the Hen - 2:28
9. Insane Asylum - 4:22
10.Fire - 2:35
11.I Don't Care Who Knows - 2:13
12.Twenty-Nine Ways to My Baby's Door - 3:13
13.Blue Prelude (Joe Bishop, Gordon Jenkins) - 3:32
14.I Need More and More - 2:44
15.Um Huh My Baby (Harold Barrage, Willie Dixon) - 3:52
16.Bills, Bills and More Bills - 2:52
17.Let Me Love You Baby (Willie Dixon, James Ingram) - 2:48
18.I Got What It Takes (feat: Muddy Waters) - 6:24
19.What Kind Of Man Is That? (Koko Taylor) - 3:02
20.Blues Heaven (Willie Dixon, Dick LaPalm) - 2:21
21.Tell Me The Truth (Johnnie Mae Dunson) - 2:03
22.Good Advice (J. B. Lenoir) - 2:27
23.Separate Of Integrate - 3:06
24.Tease Your Man - 4:20
All songs by Willie Dixon except whre indicated

Personnel
*Koko Taylor - Vocals
*Willie Dixon - Bass, Vocals
*Muddy Waters - Vocals
*Gene Barge - Tenor Sax
*Fred Below - Drums
*Bob Crowder - Drums
*Dillard Crume - Bass
*Al Duncan - Drums
*Rufus Grume - Guitar
*Buddy Guy - Guitar
*Donald Hankins - Saxophone
*Big Walter Horton - Harmonica
*Clifton James - Drums
*Lafayette Leake - Keyboards, Piano
*Jack Meyers - Bass
*Dennis Miller - Guitar
*Matt "Guitar" Murphy - Guitar
*Dave Myers - Bass
*Louis Myers - Guitar
*Robert Nighthawk - Guitar
*Louis Satterfield - Bass
*Sunnyland Slim - Piano
*John Williams - Guitar

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