Archive for the ‘rawk’ Category

Album Review: Hedersleben — Die Neuen Welten

Friday, August 29th, 2014

According to our friends over at Wikipedia, krautrock is defined as “a form of rock and electronic music that originated in Germany in the late 1960s, with a tendency towards improvisation around minimalistic arrangements.” Though the style had its adherents in the 1970s – famed tastemaker/DJ John Peel among the most well-known of them – the style never caught on in a commercial sense outside Germany.

But the style – hypnotic, pulsing, almost tone-poem music – never went away. Julian Cope went so far as to write a book about it, 1995′s Krautrocksampler: One Head’s Guide to the Great Kosmische Musik – 1968 Onwards. And thanks in no small part of Cope’s championing of the music made by groups such as Amon Düül II and Faust, krautrock has persisted right into the 21st century.

The music of Nik Turner (late of Hawkwind) lends itself especially well to a krautrock approach, especially in a live setting. So it’s no surprise that beginning around 2013, Turner enlisted the able aid of an outfit naming themselves after a city halfway between Hanover and Berlin. Hedersleben features the guitar work of Nicky Garratt, the British musician best known for his work in seminal punk group UK Subs. American drummer Jason Willer also played in UK Subs with Garratt, and Bryce Shelton (from San Francisco) plays bass with Hedersleben. Keyboardist Kephera Moon is also from San Francisco. All of this may make you wonder what exactly is the German connection to this band. Good question; the answer lies within their music and their overall sonic approach.

The band does a bit of shape-shifting: when they record or perform with Turner, they’re sometimes billed As Nik Turner’s Hawkwind. When backing Swiss musician Joel Vandroogenbroeck, they’re the current-day lineup of psychedelic band Brainticket.

But when they play their own music – the largely instrumental examples of which are showcased on Die Neuen Welten (The New Worlds), Hedersleben have a personality all of their own. With Moon’s Ray Manzarek-like organ work out front, the dreamscapes of tunes like “Zu Den Neuen Welten” and “XO5B” take their time to unfold. The densely-layered music floats along; Shelton’s bass lines weave their way under the textures in a way that sometimes feels like Gary Wright‘s Moog bass circa The Dream Weaver. Garratt’s often heavily-treated guitar soars above the mix in a decidedly non-punky fashion, and Willer’s spellbinding drum patterns evoke warm memories of Nick Mason circa A Saucerful of Secrets.

Kephera Moon makes extensive use of synthesizers: Mellotron-sounding samples recall early Tangerine Dream, and gurgling analog synth sounds show that she understand the intelligent uses to which synths can be applied; the synthesizers are never used as mere “sound effects.”

Garratt’s lead guitar is a highlight of “On the Ground (Safe and Sound),” in which he solos over a chugging one-chord vamp. As with most of the band’s work, vocals (here little more than the whispered/chanted recitation of the song’s title) are mostly used as a textural element, rather than to convey anything like a story. That role is left to the music.

Garratt’s acoustic guitar underpins some stinging lead guitar overdubs on “Nomad World (Dreamstate).” It’s the gentlest tune on the disc, and some chanted ahhh-style vocalizing from Kati Knox adds to the dreamy vibe made explicit by the title. The faraway-sounding “XO5B” feels like a Pink Floyd jam from the More/Obscured by Clouds era; Garratt’s fret-buzzing guitar and Moon’s celestial organ work are the track’s highlights.

The five-track album closes with “Tiny Flowers/Little Moon,” at once the most conventional and most accessible tune on Die Neuen Welten. With standard signing (again courtesy Knox) and recognizable lyrics, here Hedersleben sounds of a piece with bands like The Black Angels. A vaguely sunshine-pop texture lends the tune an air not unlike the rare pop-leaning moments of The Velvet Underground and Nico. Moon’s delicate piano work – occasionally punctuated by guitar stabs from Garratt – ends the album on an extended, reflective note.

Though there are no Germans on the album; though it was recorded in Oakland, California; , though it veers close to tuneful rock in places; Hedersleben’s Die Neuen Welten is highly recommended on its own merits.

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Album Review: Rog & Pip — Our Revolution

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

I’ve just stumbled upon what sounds like the greatest album Sweet ever made. The thing is, most of the tunes on Our Revolution have gone unreleased – or have been available only on one-off, Europe-only 45rpm singles – since 1974. Oh, and one more thing: none of the guys that gave the world “Little Willy,” “Fox on the Run” and “Love is Like Oxygen” are on these tracks, and the hit production team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman had nothing to do with the recordings.

And this newly-released album is credited to the duo Rog & Pip. In fact, other than the location (merrie olde England) and the era (the first half of the 1970s), Our Revolution has nothing to do with Sweet. So of course a bit of explanation is in order.

Philip “Pip” Whitcher left hit-making group The Sorrows to form a songwriting team with guitarist Roger Lomas. Whitcher’s involvement with The Sorrows predated Don Fardon, the singer who fronted the band for the hit “Take a Heart” (most easily found today on the essential 4CD Nuggets II: British Empire and Beyond). Lomas had been an early member of the group as well. But by the 70s they wished to strike out on their own, and while the fruits of their labors earned them next to nothing in fame nor fortune, the dozen songs now collected as Our Revolution will leave fans of stomping, good-time hook-laden 70s- style hard pop wondering why Rog & Pip weren’t as big as Slade or any of the era’s other glam-rocking hit makers.

Rog & Pip may have had a musical personality of their own, but there’s no mistaking the fact that everything about “Why Don’t You Do What I Want?” screams Sweet: the insistent beat, the shouted lead vocals and high backing voices, the fuzz-laden guitar, the direct and simple sentiments expressed in the song’s lyrics.

“My Revolution “ is even better, sounding to all the world like a cross between T. Rex and Uriah Heep (less the organs and histrionics). First-pumping and head-nodding are near-involuntary reactions to the rocker. “Rock With Me” adds some assured harmonica work, expanding the duo’s sound in interesting directions while staying well inside the format: “Come on and rock with me!” exhorts Pip while the tune chugs along, full-tilt. The phase-shifting riffage of “Evil Hearted Woman,” plus some guitar-and-bass lockstep work and nimble drumming may remind listeners of Deep Purple, or perhaps of an uncharacteristically upbeat Black Sabbath.

And speaking of Sabbath, on “Gold,” the band slows things down to the sludgy pace favored by Birmingham’s finest; the result is reminiscent of The Open Mind (“Magic Potion,” also on Nuggets II). For “Doin’ Alright Tonight,” it’s back to the stomping boogie, with some nice staccato riffage enlivened by – you knew it was coming – cowbell. When the band sings the tile lyric, you’ll find yourself singing along in a shout (mirroring the lead vocal) or perhaps in a helium-voiced pitch (along with the backing singers). The Free-style lead guitar breaks are icing on the cake.

Rog & Pip won’t have won any awards for subtlety or originality with tunes like “A Little Rock ‘n’ Roll,” but the hard-rocking tune – in the mold of a Mud or even Suzi Quatro – remains fun indeed. The snaky, vaguely sinister “Hot Rodder” ranks as Our Revolution‘s most subtly-rendered tune, but if subtlety is your taste, best keep moving past this in-your-face set of tunes. “It’s a Lonely World” slows things down and sounds like a cross between The Marmalade (once again, check Nuggets II) and Jimi Hendrix‘s “Hey Joe.”

“Why Do You Treat Me Like That?” is in many ways a retread of “Why Won’t You Do What I Want?” but then since Rog & Pip didn’t hit pay dirt with the original tune, one can’t blame them for rewriting it in hopes of success (however futile). “From a Window” is not a cover of the Lennon/McCartney obscurity, but is instead a heavy riffer that ranks among Our Revolution‘s strongest tracks. It also moves beyond the glam style toward something heavier, all while keeping the tune built around insistent licks, a (one would have thought) sure-fire recipe for success.

Alas, it was not to be. The heavy “War Lord” combines the Black Sabbath aesthetic with the bubblegum sensibilities of Sweet, and the result is another ace tune. But none of Rog & Pip’s efforts got them anywhere, and their association ended by 1977. The liner notes that accompany this 2014 release tell the story in exacting and engrossing detail; lots of photos (the performing lineups, the rare singles and picture sleeves) make an very good package even better. Though the band’s “revolution” was not, in the end, widely broadcast, the discerning retro-minded rocker should not be without Rog & Pip’s Our Revolution.

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Never Had It Better: A Chat with James Lowe of The Electric Prunes (Part Two)

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Continued from Part One

Bill Kopp: In 2012 I wrote a blog entry in which I suggested that Syd Barrett may have – consciously or otherwise – nicked the intro of “Are You Lovin’ Me More (But Enjoying It Less)” for Pink Floyd‘s “Astronomy Dominé.” The two are too similar for it to be coincidence, I think. And it’s well established that Barrett was listening to a lot of American music, having admitted to being inspired by the riff of Love‘s version of “My Little Red Book” when he wrote “Interstellar Overdrive.” So although the Electric Prunes weren’t active for a very long period back in the 60s, the band’s influence outpaced its record sales. Do you hear the sound and approach of the Prunes in bands that would come after?

James Lowe: I think what it probably was, most of all, was is that “Are You Lovin’ Me More (But Enjoying It Less)” was a really weird sounding record. So I think that we got thrown in the weirdo category when we were actually pretty normal. I can see why the music of that time became a sort of turning point, because things were going electronic. And with stuff going backwards and sliding around, maybe that was there at the right time. I like that record. A lot of people don’t like their hit records; I love it.

BK: Also in 2012, Real Gone Music put together a complete singles collection of the band’s Reprise releases, The Complete Reprise Singles. The thing that made it special was hearing the mono versions of all of those songs. On the first couple of albums, what degree of input did the band have regarding things like arrangements, mixes and so forth?

JL: We did all the arrangements. And I did the mixes with Dave Hassinger, mostly. People have asked that before, about mono versus stereo. The first mix was always the mono mix. Because some people had stereo; some didn’t. So you’d sort of be making a stereo mix for a few people. But the mono mix was the thing that went on the radio. At American studios, we’d make a mix of something, and then we’d go out, transfer it to the car, and sit in the car and listen to it on the radio. Mono was very important. I know why a lot of people collect it, because it does sound different.

BK: It’s much punchier; if it sounds good through a crappy little car speaker over AM radio, it sounds good.

JL: Amen!

BK: That said, the stereo effects are cool. But I still prefer those mono mixes.

The songs on WaS: were they written expressly for an album or is the album a sort of collection of material you had floating around, and you just decided that now was the time to put something together?

JL: We had some things floating around. This was the album Mark and I were putting together before he died. There were some things that we had already recorded, and some things that were partially finished. And there were other things that we had sketched out, that hadn’t been completed yet. So WaS is sort of a compilation of all those things. And I think it represents what Mark and I would have done for the final album if he hadn’t checked out.

BK: I’m impressed by just how – dare I say – authentic sounding the new album is. In the age of ProTools and digital recording, it’s paradoxically, I think, more difficult to make an album that has that particular sonic quality of the mid to late 60s. I think you succeeded. What did you do special to make that happen?

JL: I think that a lot of the things that make it sonically the way that it is have to do with this: we always did everything through the amplifiers. On our recordings, when we wanted to get an effect, we’d get it with the amplifier. Rarely did we really use the studio devices to create an effect. So a lot of the stuff on disc is just the way we really did, trying to – for example – take a Fender Reverb amp and do something weird with it. And I think that makes a difference; there’s a certain kind of warmth to my ears. I like digital stuff, but this is kind of a combination of those things.

BK: I would think also that if you’re achieving the sounds that way in the studio, it’s going to be that much easier to recreate those sounds live onstage.

JL: It does, yeah. It at least gives you a handle to hang the stage act upon. So there’s nothing so abstract that you could never play it.

BK: What’s coming up as far as live dates in the near future for the Electric Prunes?

JL: I don’t know; I was hoping that you were going to tell me! We’re hoping to go to Europe. We keep getting these adventures offered to us, but the hardest part is to get people off the couch and to come out to a show and see the band. People always tell us, “Hey, I had no idea you were in town!” And I think, “Why not? Why wouldn’t you know?” It seems that people would rather hang and watch Netflix than they would go down to some place and see an old band play.

More information about the band and their new album can be found at http://www.electricprunes67.com/

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Never Had It Better: A Chat with James Lowe of The Electric Prunes (Part One)

Monday, August 25th, 2014

In that heady summer of 1967, one of the songs that captured and embodied the zeitgeist was “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night),” a fuzzed-out psychedelic miniature masterpiece by the trendily-named Electric Prunes. While the original group managed only to squeeze out two albums – the debut LP titled after the hit single, and Underground (both released in 1967) – before surrendering to their producer’s vision, an approach in which their participation was minimal to nonexistent, they left behind a number of excellent tunes.

Serious fans of the band often dismiss Mass in F Minor and the two albums that followed it as not being part of the band’s true canon. But those early tracks, including numbers like “Get Me to the World On Time” and “The Great Banana Hoax” displayed a vibe that was as at times as dark as The Doors, but yet seemingly also possessing of a more good-timing disposition.

Bassist Mark Tulin and guitarist/vocalist James Lowe were the prime movers in that original lineup, and after a decades-long hiatus, the pair reactivated the Electric Prunes for the 21st century. A pair of studio albums – California (2004) and Feedback (2006) – showed that the group had new material in the vein of their 60s work, and their live shows displayed their onstage fire to a new generation.

Tulin passed away in early 2011, but by the time of his death, a new Electric Prunes album had already gotten started. Lowe and the rest of the band finished the material, released in 2014 as WaS. Recently, I spent some time in conversation with Lowe, discussing the new material, the old songs, and the forces that have helped the music of The Electric Prunes to endure for so many years. – bk

Bill Kopp: When Lenny Kaye‘s original and influential 2LP Nuggets compilation first came out on Elektra in the early 70s, how aware were you of it and the fact that “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night” was on it?

James Lowe: I wasn’t aware [of it] at all. I didn’t know; I had no idea. In fact my son told me about it…I don’t know what year it was; years later. He said, “Do you know you’re on Nuggets?” And I said, “What’s that?” Here’s the thing: I didn’t tell anyone I had been in that band. I was doing commercials and films and stuff, and nobody knew me as the guy in The Electric Prunes. So nobody would bother to mention it to me.

BK: The first time I recall seeing your name was on liner notes for Todd Rundgren‘s Runt album; you engineered it, right?

JL: I engineered Nazz, Nazz Nazz, Nazz III, Runt, The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, Someting/Anything…we did a bunch of albums together.

BK: So in the period during which the Electric Prunes essentially went inactive, and up until when you reactivated the group around 2000, what were you doing musically?

JL: I had a commercial production company, so I was doing corporate image films and stuff like that. Other than underscoring those things, I wasn’t doing any music projects.

BK: When you did reunite around the turn of the century, what was it about that particular time that made it right?

JL: A guy named David Katznelson from Warner Brothers wanted to release an album of our stuff from the 60s. And we couldn’t figure out why he did; we didn’t think anyone would want to buy it. He seemed so knowledgeable and involved, that we just sort of surrendered ourselves to him. So we made a compilation called Lost Dreams. And that reinstilled my interest in music. I had gotten Mark Tulin on board when they called me to do it. And with both of us sitting there listening to these old tracks after all those years, we thought that we didn’t sound that bad! I gotta be honest: it wasn’t bad.

BK: The liner notes the new album, WaS, are sort of cagey about whether this is the end: “Maybe the last we will ask you to support.” With Mark having passed, are you keeping your options open, or is this really the end?

JL: Well, to be honest with you, the band – the guys we’ve been playing with for the last seven or eight years – these guys really like playing, and they’re interested in still performing. So…I”m not sure if we’ll do any more records; we’ve got some stuff in the can, enough to do some more records. But these guys wanna play. And I wanna play, too. I’ve been playing this stuff for the last year, year and half while we recorded it. But it’s also a lot of fun to go out and play it for people.

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Hundred Word Reviews for August 2014, Part 4

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

This set of five 100-word reviews focuses on new music, some of which is from familiar names; others might be new to you. All are worthwhile and enthusiastically recommended.


Murali Coryell – Restless Mind
This son of legendary fusion guitarist Larry Coryell is charting a musical path quite different from his dad: he plays tasty blues with a clear melodic rock sensibility and a well-developed playful sense of humor (see the Sammy Hagar-ish “Sex Maniac”). Fans of Robert Cray and Eric Johnson will dig this well-produced (but not slick) album. Not as fiery as Steve Ray Vaughan, this guitarist prefers the slow burn. The disc features a nice cover of Marvin Gaye‘s “Let’s Get it On.” Bonus points to Coryell for titling his album with a sly reference to one of his pop’s records.


Worldline – Compass Sky
Compass Sky is the kind of music they rarely make any more. Worldline creates alluring melodies with that hint of melancholy you might find in a Pink Floyd record (or a Porcupine Tree CD). Brian Turner‘s synth lines don’t aim to dazzle as much as they help carry the song along, and Andrew Schatzberg‘s strong vocals bear the influence of most any great band of the 70s you can think of, but they’re more classic (in a good way) than retro. The record’s strong start to finish. They’re from my hometown (Asheville) but sadly I’ve yet to see them live.


The Verve Pipe – Overboard
I can almost hear you thinking, “weren’t these guys a 90s band?” Yes: they scored a few chart singles in the second half of that decade, but haven’t charted since 2001. As is too often the case, the music is better than the chart performance suggests. While the album artwork is derivative (Storm Thorgerson? Bill EvansUndercurrent?), the music is fresh. Only leader/producer/songwriter Brian Vander Ark remains from the 1990s lineup. Their breezy, heartland-styled rock is vaguely reminiscent of fellow midwesterners Semisonic; the melancholy “Crash Landing” is nearly anthemic in its arrangement, but there’s lots of varied texture throughout. Recommended.


Global Noize – Sly Reimagined: The Music of Sly and The Family Stone
Sylvester Stewart didn’t fare too well on his most recent comeback/self-tribute, but there’s no denying the strength of his 1967-73 material. This aggregation, put together by producer/keyboardist Jason Miles, shows the enduring power of Stone’s songs, interpreted here for modern audiences by a long list of players. The marquee names here are Family Stone drummer Greg Errico (on four cuts), Nona Hendryx (lead vocal on three cuts), Roberta Flack (sultry vocals on “It’s a Family Affair”) and – for the young folks – turntablist DJ Logic. Sly Reimagined is the next best thing to the originals, and that’s saying something.


Ian McLagan & the Bump Band – United States
Former Small Faces and Rolling Stones keyboardist Ian McLagan told me about this forthcoming album last year when I interviewed him about the Small Faces box set. Long having relocated to Austin TX, London-born McLagan shows influence of American musical forms more than British ones. A New Orleans flavor is shot through his bluesy tunes; using the widest interpretation of the term, the music on United States can reasonably be termed Americana. Mac’s always-engaging keyboard work (acoustic and electric pianos, organ) are the highlight but never steal the show: this really is a band, not some guy with faceless sidemen.

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Hundred Word Reviews for August 2014, Part 3

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Five new releases are the focus of this clutch of hundred-word reviews.


Analog Son – Analog Son
The name might conjure mental visions of a synthesizer outfit, but the sounds that this duo-plus-friends (guitarist Jordan Linit and Josh Fairman on bass) produces is some fresh and uptempo funk. Seven of the ten tracks are instrumentals that satisfy on multiple levels: there’s plenty of hot soloing and musical interplay, but both groove and melody are deftly woven into the mix. The studio guest list includes members of The New Mastersounds and Dumpstaphunk among others, but Analog Son never sounds like a jam. Linit wrote or co-wrote all the tunes, and was involved in the horn arrangements as well.


Wishone Ash – Blue Horizon
Wishbone Ash are one of those hard-working second-string bands who never quite hit the big time. Enjoying some chart success in the early 1970s, the band has gone through myriad lineups – both John Wetton (King Crimson, Asia, UK) and Trevor Bolder (David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars) have passed through the band’s ranks. Today only Andy Powell (guitarist on the group’s more than two dozen albums) remains. The group’s sound is radio-ready, making their lack of high profile success more perplexing. Fans of melodic meat’n'potatoes rock with hooks, appealing vocals and twin lead guitars shouldn’t let Blue Horizon go unheard.


Focus – Golden Oldies
On one hand, it’s mystifying that a band that’s been around forever would record new versions of their best material: aren’t the originals still available? (Yes.) Do the arrangements differ wildly from those originals? (No.) But considering that the 2014 lineup of Focus features only two members of the classic lineup – leader and multi-instrumentalist Thijs van Leer and drummer Pierre van der Linden – it makes some sense to show that a band now fitted with a pair of young axemen can still play the intricate, jazzy, loopy prog that has always been the band’s trademark. Surprisingly, refreshingly fun.


The Bamboo Trading Company – From Kitty Hawk to Surf City
A breezy, laid back and highly polished sound reminiscent of early 70s Beach Boys is the chosen style of this aggregation. And in fact Beach Boys connections abound on this song cycle about a cross-country biplane journey: Matt Jardine (son of Al) is one of the vocalists; Mark Linett mastered the recording; Randell Kirsch and Gary Griffin used to back Jan & Dean. And Dean Torrence himself guests on the so-odd-you-gotta-hear “Shrewd Awakening.” The production and arrangements are intricate but not overly fussy, reminiscent of that other former Beach Boy, the one who had a sandbox in his living room.


Marshall Crenshaw – Red Wine
The fourth in Crenshaw’s excellent series of EP releases follows the same format as the previous three. As his website succinctly describes it, Red Wine “features a new song (‘Red Wine’), a cover (James McMurtry’s ‘Right Here Now’), and a new take on an old Marshall classic (‘Hey Delilah’).” The title track features a spare arrangement in support of Crenshaw’s characteristically evocative vocals. The reverb on those vocals here and there will transport listeners back to Crenshaw’s self-titled 1982 debut. Electric sitar on “Right Here Now” is a delight; the stripped-down reading of early 90s “Hey Delilah” is ace too.

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Hundred Word Reviews for August 2014, Part 1

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Some familiar names and some true obscurities are highlighted in this, the first of five sets of five capsule reviews. This week I’ll review 25 albums, arbitrarily limiting myself to exactly one hundred words each.


Gene Rains – Far Away Lands: The Exotic Music of Gene Rains
Exotica – that early 60s genre featuring wide-panned stereo, vibes, “jungle” percussion and all manner of whoops, bird calls and such – was a big seller; the genre’s two primary exponents were Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. The lesser-known Gene Rains cut three albums that are in the same league; all are long out of print and rare. This new compilation from Real Gone Music collects the best from those LPs, and adds an excellent new liner note essay from Randy Poe (and a lovely cheesecake cover featuring MeduSirena). This disc should be considered essential for fans of the genre.


Pete Seeger – Sing Out America! The Best of Pete Seeger
There seem to have been at least sixty compilations that have attempted to provide some sort of overview to the musical legacy of folk master and American treasure Pete Seeger. Some are long out of print; other remain available. Well, here’s another one. Sing Out America! features fifty tracks, variously credited to The Almanac Singers (an aggregation that also included Woody Guthrie), The Weavers, and Seeger solo. One can’t assail the quality of the music herein, but lack of liner notes and/or discographical info (recording date?) means that this set is a great listen, but unsatisfying as a historical document.


Peggy Lipton – The Complete Ode Recordings
Those of a certain age remember Peggy Lipton as a star of TV’s The Mod Squad (“One black, one white…one blonde!”). But they may well be surprised to learn Lipton had a recording career. And unlike some artists-turned-singers (see: Clint Eastwood), the recordings Lipton released on her self-titled 1968 LP and a handful of later singles show her to be a commanding vocalist. The nineteen tasteful Lou Adler-produced sides (including four previously-unreleased songs) owe a lot to the Laura Nyro school. Lipton composed a number of the tunes, and they hold up nicely alongside readings of classics like “Stoney End.”


Eric Clapton – Behind the Sun
Some insist that Eric Clapton should have hung up his guitar after 1970′s Layla and Assorted Other Love Songs. Clapton didn’t often rock very hard after that (the brief Cream reunion notwithstanding). This 1985 album – newly reissued on SACD – has its rocking moments, though it more often veers toward breezy, easy listening. Behind the Sun is easily identified as a product of its era: Simmons drum sounds abound; prominent synthesizer sounds are equally dated. In places it’s reminiscent of Roger Waters‘ 1984 The Pro and Cons of Hitchhiking (on which Clapton played). Not bad, but definitely not great.


Various Artists – Chicago Bound: Chess Blues, R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll
England-based Fantastic Voyage has carved an excellent niche in the world of compilation albums. Their thoughtful collections have provided tidy surveys of long-lost music, more often than not from the USA. The legendary Chess label was home to a staggering list of classic artists, and this 3CD set brings together some of the best sides from artists including Sonny Boy Williamson, Chuck Berry, and Muddy Waters. It also highlights the work of lesser-known acts including J. B. Lenoir (“Eisenhower Blues”) and Bobby Saxton (“Trying to Make a Living”). Chicago Bound is up to Fantastic Voyage’s typical high level of quality.

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Album Review: The Move — Live at the Fillmore 1969

Thursday, August 7th, 2014


Here’s another case of a long-circulating bootleg finding official release (see also: yesterday’s review of an Iron Butterfly live set). The Move were big in the UK, but went largely unknown in America. At least, that is, until they shifted personnel a bit and rebranded themselves as Electric Light Orchestra.

The band certainly knew all about America, though. Many years before its inclusion on Lenny Kaye‘s influential Nuggets compilation, The Nazz‘s “Open My Eyes” was a staple of The Move’s live set. Though the group had an impressive string of hit singles, on this night in 1969 at San Francisco’s Fillmore, they chose to open with a tune released two years earlier (to no great sales) by the Philadelphia group featuring a very young Todd Rundgren. The Move’s excellent live version does overextend the excellent tune just a bit, however.

On this recording – sourced from low-generation copies of that circulating tape* and/or subjected to some expert sound clean-up – The Move turns in exciting covers of Tom Paxton (“Last Thing on My Mind”) and relatively obscure art-prog group Ars Nova (“Fields of People,” included on The Move’s 1969 Shazam LP). The Carole King and Gerry Goffin tune “Goin’ Back” gets The Move treatment as well. The sound isn’t quite up to standard release quality on this 2CD set, but the music is good and important enough to give the audio quality a pass.

The band were big fans of American rock: their sets often included The Byrds‘ “So You Want to Be a Rock’n'Roll Star” and Moby Grape‘s “Hey Grandma,” though neither were performed on this Fillmore date. Rick Price‘s super-heavy bass lines and Bev Bevan‘s drums presage the approach used by Black Sabbath, but Carl Wayne‘s lead vocal plus Roy Wood‘s keen harmony vocals add a pop sensibility that leavens the heaviness. “Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited” is perhaps the best example of all of the Move’s strengths in a single tune: gentle guitar parts, a capella vocal harmonies, and thunderous backbeat; the song’s suite-like character may remind some listeners of The Who‘s “A Quick One (While He’s Away).” They also manage a clever juxtaposition of a classical theme (you’ll recognize it) into the tune, before doing such things was (for a time) a de rigeuer part of rock performance. The Move manage to convey power and subtlety onstage without the use of keyboards or acoustic guitar.

The Move’s set closes as it began, with another Nazz cover: this time it’s “Under the Ice,” from Rundgren’s group’s then-current Nazz Nazz LP. The tapes as circulated among collectors purported to document a set from October 1969. As presented on this official set, the recording features additional performances of “Don’t Make My Baby Blue, “Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited” and “The Last Thing on My Mind,” plus a contemporary recording – more than ten minutes in length – in which drummer Bevan recalls the ’69 tour.

Completists note: If you have the bootleg version of this tape, you might want to hold onto it: most copies include a live version of The Move’s Tchaikovsky-meets-psychpop classic, “Night of Fear” that’s not found on this new official set.

Live at the Fillmore 1969 is highly recommended to anyone who appreciates late 60s hard rock, British variant, done with a deft combination of panache and excessive volume.

* A quote in the liner notes suggests that vocalist Carl Wayne was in possession of the original tapes.

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Album Review: Iron Butterfly — Live at the Galaxy 1967

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

There’s been a spate of previously-unreleased live albums released of late; this week I’m focusing on five of them. The first, a 1975 set by Magma, offered way-out music and excellent sonic quality. The second, a 1980 Captain Beefheart set, showcased equally strange (but quite different) music in terrible audio quality. Today’s entry features much more accessible music, from psychedelic -era heroes Iron Butterfly, in sound quality that falls somewhere in between the previous two.

In 1967 Iron Butterfly were still several months away from recording and releasing their classic “In-a-gadda-da-vida,” so listeners who give Live at the Galaxy 1967 a spin won’t hear that tune. What they’ll find instead is a club gig heavy (ha) on tracks from the band’s debut LP Heavy which hadn’t even been recorded at the time of this set.

In addition to the hypnotic “Possession” (featuring Doug Ingle‘s husky vocalizations atop a lockstep riff that is equal parts his Vox organ and Danny Weis‘ fuzztone lead guitar), perennial closer “Iron Butterfly Theme” and “Gentle As it May Seem,” the set offers up a few standards along with some tracks that wouldn’t surface until the band’s third LP Ball (the excellent “Filled With Fear,” “Lonely Boy”). The lineup that is documented on this set wouldn’t remain together long enough to tour behind their debut album; buy that point in the band’s lifespan, Ingle had recruited new players to join him and drummer Ron Bushy.

Live at the Galaxy 1967 seems to be a soundboard recording (albeit an nth generation dub of one); between tracks, when Ingle addresses the crowd, his voice is clear and distinct. But when the band all launches in (this seems to have been an extremely loud performance at the band’s regular Hollywood hangout), Ingle’s vocals are largely obscured by the instruments. His Vox survives the onslaught, however: his simple but effective keyboard riffage rises above the thunder of the bass, guitars and cymbal-heavy drumming. The recording has circulated for years among bootleg collector circles; I’ve had a copy going all the way back to the days when we traded cassette dubs. It’s likely that this official release was sourced from one of those unknown-generation tapes.

Iron Butterfly’s music has often been described as riffs in search of songs: as exemplified on this recording, the band often hit its mark. While the vocals can’t easily be followed, the tunes never meander; built around solid and memorable riffs and allowing space for effective solos, tracks like “It’s Up to You” (a good tune they’d never release) make their point in rather economical fashion. Ingle introduces “Gloomy Day to Remember” (which is quite reminiscent of The Blues Magoos) as another of the band’s original tunes; it, too has gone unreleased in any form until now.

As a document of the band’s earliest incarnation, replete with songs you won’t hear anywhere else, Live at the Galaxy 1967 is recommended to fans of the band as well as to fans of that particular brand of 60s psych that bridges the gap between heavy and poppy.

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EP Review: The Fauntleroys — Below the Pink Pony

Friday, August 1st, 2014

I can’t find the specific quote I’m looking for at the moment, but there’s an entry in Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia (the original 1969 edition, not the lousy and lifeless early 70s update edited by Ed Naha) in which the author predicts the rise of one-off collaborations between established music. Again, I can only paraphrase, but Lillian Roxon cites the artistic freedom inherent in such temporary musical unions.

The whole concept didn’t catch on in rock to quite the degree Roxon predicted (though it was and remains a fundamental principle in jazz, where “groups” often assemble for a single project and then dissolve and move on). But when it does happen, the results can be impressive, and do fall in line with Roxon’s predictions.

The Fauntleroys are the latest example of an ad-hoc group made up of established artists. This alt-rock supergroup (there, I’ve said it) features Alejandro Escovedo (The Nuns, Rank and File, substantial solo work), Ivan Julian (Richard Hell and the Voidoids, excellent solo work, and production for such greats as Richard Barone and The Fleshtones), Linda Pitmon (Miracle 3, The Baseball Project) and Nicholas Tremulis* (Candy Golde, and yet more stellar solo work), all coming together to record and release the six-song EP Below the Pink Pony.

Each of the quartet’s straightforward melodies comes wrapped inside a slashing, barbed-wire arrangement that conveys danger, and a sort of elegant scuzziness, a streetwise beauty that will feel familiar to fans of these players’ back catalogs. Their collaborative approach to songwriting – working from snippets and building the tracks in Julian’s NYC studio – means that the songs have the fingerprints of all four members on them, rather than sounding like the work of one member backed by three others. Below the Pink Pony is, then, the antithesis of something like The Beatles’ white album.

That said, Tremulis’ powerful and commanding lead vocals gives him what sounds like a slightly larger role in the finished product. Pitmon’s backing vocal on “(This Can’t Be) Julie’s Song” and others balances things out a bit, though. Julian’s snaky guitar slashes and Escovedo’s distorted, buzzing guitar work mesh together to convey a sense of peril, even when the lyrics lean (slightly) toward the positive and uplifting.

The production finish on the album is spiky and rough, and one senses that’s exactly as the four musicians hoped it would be. The balance between studio polish and first-take vitality is perfect. And the best news about The Fauntleroys is that – unlike what Roxon described in 1969 – the group has plans to tour and release a full-length album. I’ll be keeping an eye and ear out for that one, as should you.

* I’m still waiting for Tremulis to paint my house as promised (inside joke).

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