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MAGGIE BELL –
Best Of
Angel Air 2008
The first comprehensive compilation of the first lady of the British blues.

When Maggie emerged from behind the wooden screen on a stage somewhere in the Deep South, in the mid-’70s, everyone in the audience gasped discovering she was white: quite an illustration of the Scottish singer’s ability to feel the blues. More a female version of her labelmate Paul Rodgers rather than Janis Joplin Bell’s always compared to, it’s a pity her career has yielded only three solo albums two of which are represented here to show all the gamut of Maggie’s long run. So the chronological order should have been dismissed to a greater effect of timeless continuity.

Start, then, with the “Comin’ On Strong” joyful, soulful statement and come down with the live rendition of another one, “Respect Yourself”, the latter seeing the singer reunited in THE BRITISH BLUES QUINTET with the writers of the former, Colin Allen and Zoot Money. As for the blues at their deliciously purest, Stax-shaped “As The Years Go Passing By”, from 1974’s “Queen Of The Night”, and lusciously lusty concert take on “Penicillin Blues” cover the terrain nicely, while FREE’s “Wishing Well” is reimagined as the finger-popping, yet reined-in, funky groove. All these, though, don’t overshade Bell’s own family jewel, “Suicide Sal”, the vaudevillian title track of her 1975’s LP. But there’s a harder edge on display, too, in “Danger Money” that Maggie took out on the Montreux stage in 1981 with her ill-fated supergroup MIDNIGHT FLYER (the full performance is on the bonus DVD) and the theme song from the popular TV series “Taggart”, "No Mean City", both synth-heavy and heavenly-voiced.

The great introduction to the great artist’s world, this, and possibly a primer for a new album, Maggie Bell’s first in 20 years. And maybe, on hearing this, Atlantic will open their vaults to release two really first albums of hers which never saw the light of day?

*****
 

PHIL CORDELL –
Hearts On Fire – Anthology
Angel Air 2008
Singer, producer, multi-instrumentalist and… Dan The Banjo Man: the many faces of emigmatic all-rounder.

“Not to stay the same” seemed to be the rule Phil Cordell lived by, and that’s perhaps not the best way to build a career in music, especially for the one who wasn’t keen on reinventing himself but eager to move on. Surprisingly, then, the man was a hit-maker – under many a guise. One of his chart-dents was “I Will Return”, 1971’s solemn slide-and-fuzz guitar instrumental released under the Springwater moniker, which sounds very poignant now as Cordell passed away in 2007 but is much more upbeat in 1985’s reggae remake – with vocals; many more, though, will recongize 1974’s “Dan The Banjo Man” that has no banjo at all yet gallops and wallops with some gusto.

But it’s not the novelties that lie in heart of this collection, rich on previously un-issued material, it’s elegant yet unassuming pop songs creeping into the listeners mind to resurface all through the day: such are the infectious disco groove of “Movie Star” and funky title track, or raga-tinged ditties “Pumping The Water” and “Red Lady” which can easily be mistaken for a long-lost George Harrison track. Cordell was consistent to the very end, soothing gloss of “Sooner The Better” feeling like a potential soundtrack of any ’80s summer, so it’s a pity that Phil shied away from the spotlight in the later years though he kept on recording nevertheless, which means there’s a lot to be discovered and enjoyed still.

*****
 

MIKE READ – Singles
Angel Air 2008
Radio voice, TV face, writing mind – and a composer of many facets. The real sound of Read.

Outside the UK, Mike Read’s most famous contribution to music is rapping on SLADE’s last big hit “Radio Wall Of Sound”, but the DJ’s dalliance with rock ‘n’ roll stretches back to the ’60s, and it’s not all as serious as his Sir John Betjeman albums. Operating under his own name and different bands’ aliases, Read’s been playing the chameleon game so well that ROCK-OLAS “Somebody To Love” sounds like a lost British Invasion smash and the gently upbeat “Have Your Own Way” finds Read waxing lyrical with a twist, whereas Micky Manchester’s “Have You Seen Your Daughter, Mrs. Jones” might have sprung from THE MOVE’s psych department. But then, TRAINSPOTTERS’ “High Rise” from 1979 comes close to THE CLASH ebullience and GHOSTS’ 1980’s “My Town” would have suited THE STRANGLERS but there’s no period English gloom there. Kind humor reings here, instead, “Beatles Lullaby” shimmering with The Fabs’ quotes without falling into pastiche, and “Are You Ready” calls everybody to cut the rug, but while one can attribute any of the songs to some other artist, the question is, What does the real Mike Read sound like?

****
 

ROBERT JOHNSON –
Close Personal Friend
Ensign 1978

re-issue Angel Air 2008

It’s only rock ‘n’ roll. Nothing wrong with that. Come on in his kicthen, then.

It takes some nerve to stick to your own name if you share it with the legend, but then only a young man of thick, if sensitive, nerve could audition in 1975 for THE ROLLING STONES haing played with the likes of Isaac Hayes and John Entwistle. Obviously, all of them were in need of no-frills chops that American guitarist called Robert Johnson provided with great gusto. Here, on his first solo album, plus the second one, “The Memphis Demos”, Johnson’s style comes even more distilled with all the influences proudly worn on the sleeve: the catchy twang of “Leslie” is built on the “Apache” melody, and Link Wray’s rumble scattered all over the good-time record.

It’s cheerily intense, gung-ho attitude set in from the opening “I’ll Be Waiting”, and as such perfect for the punk-bored times; the problem is that altogether the fun feels a bit strained and some of the ’50s-shaped songs outstay their welcome, while very ’80s funk of “Better Love” should have hit big. But dig deeper for the hidden subtleties to reveal themselves in between the lines of “Burning Love” and “Guide My Energy” and riff sharpness in “Jimmy Dean’s Back”, all supported throughout with excellent David Cochran’s bass work. For the most part highly enjoyable, this re-issue is very timely as its release precedes two new albums from Robert. He’s still got the nerve!

***1/2
 

Sir JOHN BETJEMAN
& MIKE READ –
Sound Of Poetry
Angel Air 2008
Much sought-after musical readings of poet laureate coming to mass attention.

It was too obvious an idea to not be successful when the popular British broadcaster felt inspired by the famous English poet to bend his lines to a tune. Where Mike Read excelled, though, was in roping in an impressive singing talent to deliver these lines. Easy on the ear, but with less stress on the text than it could have been, it resulted in two albums, “Poetry In Motion” and “Words & Music”, now for all to take in one package; yet it’s most alluring for the fans of the artists involved – and where else you can have Cliff Richard in one project with THE DAMNED’s Captain Sensible anyway? Often generic, if very pleasant, the music lifts off when a vocalist lends his or her, in the case of Annie Haslam going for “Hunter Trials”, character to a song. Yet while Donovan only employs his usual cooing in “Newest Bath Guide” and “Moira McCavendish”, Jon Anderson inhabits the etherial “Youth & Age” and Marc Almonds nails the sense of faux-gay drama of “Narcissus”.

Less impressive the drift becomes once the shadows of Dylan’s “My Back Pages” and The Fabs’ “Don’t Let Me Down” creep into, respectively, Richard Sharp’s “Pershore Station” and “Greenaway” that Paul Young brings forth. The several appearances of mariachi backing are quite incongruous too, unless the personality of Betjeman doesn’t leave the focus – but that hardly was a part of Read’s plan. On their own merit, though, the perfectly married poems and melodies imbue with romanticism the performances not only by celestially inclined Justin Hayward, Colin Blunstone and Gene Pitney who’s at his best in “Myfanwy At Oxford”, but also by the seemingly superficial Alvin Stardust and David Essex, the latter making “Myfanwy” a hit with a little help from Tchaikovsky. Having engaged even ever sarcastic Steve Harley and the rap over gospel choir backdrop, the album can become a soundtrack to a tender relationship. A good gift for your loving one.

****
 

DOC THOMAS GROUP –
The Italian Job
Angel Air 2008
From pre-HOOPLE to post-MOTT, the unlikely lads who never needed no doctor.

For every great band there are several not so great which are the roots of this great. And there were some combos on the Herefordshire’s grounds that, in 1969, became MOTT THE HOOPLE. The mutation had been going on for seven years, and the ensemble’s evolution included DOC THOMAS GROUP who yielded more recordings than their predecessors combined. No wonder, as the 1967 line-up boasted Pete Watts on bass, Dale Griffin on drums and Mick Ralphs on guitar; what they lacked was the original repertoire, not enthusiasm – here’s a lot of that bursting from standard rhythm-and-blues fare with quite an adequate instrumental front. In Stan Tippins, future MTH road manager, the band had a singer who didn’t shy away from delivering such demanding American numbers James Brown’s “I Got You”, THE VELVETTES’ “He Was Really Saying Something” or THE IMPRESSIONS’ “Talking About My Baby”, and in Sam Cooke’s “Shake” could give Rod Stewart’s version some good shivering.

Smart enough to cover “Just Can’t To Sleep” from THE KINKS’ debut LP, DOC THOMAS seemed unable to progress and come up with goods of their own, so in 1968 the guys reverted to their old moniker, THE SILENCE, which was in use three years earlier. The latter-day line-up was just a vocalist away from THE HOOPLE, yet it was 1965’s personnel that came back in 1990 to pick up where they left off. Sounding much more brilliant than before, the quintet laid down a full album – added on this CD, it closes the MTH’s fringe history… and closes in on Overend Watts as guitarist rather than bassist. A couple of original tunes by bassist Robert Fisher and singer Paul Jeffery flesh out a rumbling covers collection, the veterans excelling on Jimmy Reed’s “Shame Shame Shame” and THE FIREBALLS’ Link Wray-styled “Gunshot”.

If you feel like cutting the rug, this collection will do nicely; if you’re up for expanding THE HOOPLE horizons, this is essential.

***
 

THE KORGIS –
Something About The Korgis
Angel Air 2008
From English backwoods to the European plains, the bespectacled two wrap it up in caramel and go all emotional.

Six lines of lyrics, pining Lennonesque voice, plain synth backing… But is “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime” primitive? Not at all as it comes from two STACKRIDGE refugees re-shaping their future in electro-pop from the quirkiness of the past and hanging it all on the ever-intensifying arrangement. While most of that era’s music sounds dated now, what James Warren and Andy Davis did as THE KORGIS still feels contemporary thanks to raging emotions put into simple delivery, heartfelt words such as “I could change the world if I had you”, and deadpan seriousness that makes “This World’s For Everyone” dedicated to the hostages in Lebanon so hauntingly moving.

This compilation, plus the accompanying unplugged DVD, takes in tracks from all the four band’s albums as well as singles and 1978’s demos including “Boots And Shoes” but, no matter what year a certain song stems from, they flow caressing an ear as an endless stream of romanticism. And classicism, too – just listen to a harpsichord in the waltzy “It All Comes Back To You” which would have suited Davis and Warren’s former group as “Something About The Beatles” does now. With Andy having played on “Imagine” the album, they sure know something, as the harmonies and acoustic guitar of “I Wonder What Became Of You” suggest, yet it’s their own – and new member, John Baker’s – melodious gift that renders gentle, piano-driven “All The Love In The World” so irresistible. A gem among gems.

*****
 

STACKRIDGE –
Anyone For Tennis?
Angel Air 2008
Dear weirdos, would you come out to play? Most definitely!

Having completed the band’s re-issue programme, Angel Air picks up the cream from all the records – and what a nice bunch of songs these are even when out of the album context! Quintessentially English and quirky to the bone, STACKRIDGE have always stayed lyrical, and the opening instrumental “Lummy Days” comes on as the best possible overture taking in almost all of the ensemble main elements including jolly flute and poignant violin. The casualties of their own eclecticism, the only barrier between this fantastic music and commercial success, no surprise the musicians felt trapped and poured out their sweet bitterness in the “Fish In A Glass” march, while in “The Galloping Gaucho” Mutter Slater appears more than heroic and James Warren and Andy Davis’ circus fantasies flower wonderfully in raga-fied “Syracuse The Elephant”. There’s a rarefied, warm and kind, folky elegance in “Fundamentally Yours” and “The Road To Venezuela” and clever rock ‘n’ roll in “The Last Plimsoll”. A perfect melange to lose the game – and be revered now.

If you missed out on the "Purple Spaceships Over Yatton" collection, the time has come to grab it now, only under different title, and paired with DVD from the reformed band’s 2007’s concert. And then go back to investigate the albums context.

*****
 

MOTT THE HOOPLE –
In Performance
1970-1974
Angel Air 2008
The glittering bonanza of the diamonds in the rough that, unfortunately, never cut through. Time to open the chest.

Since their Island days no other label has done so much for MOTT THE HOOPLE as Angel Air. With the only live album released during the band’s lifespan, their reputation didn’t loom large, and these unlikely lads are remembered by many for the Bowie-penned career-reviving “All The Young Dudes”, and quite a few recalled them as a potent live proposition. But with the likes of DEF LEPPARD’s Joe Elliott singing hosannah to Ian Hunter-fronted ensemble and writing foreword for this collection, there’s always an interest, even though those whose investigation starts on studio albums – for the most part re-issued by Angel Air – might be shocked at finding rough gems under the proverbial glitter veneer. It’s only on-stage that these gems shone blindingly and thanks to Stowmarket’s label, THE HOOPLE’s concert life has been well-documented in the last years, and now four of the discs are re-packaged in a hard back box set with a 48-page book written by Keith Smith, editor of the MOTT fanzine “Two Miles From Heaven”, featuring rare photos from the personal archives of the former band members, which puts it all in the context.

Compiled under the watchful eye of drummer Dale Griffin and embracing all the band’s albums, with little by way of repetition, it serves as a vivid, indeed live, history of MOTT THE HOOPLE, the ensemble perfectly tuned into their times – note the covers of CSNY’s “Ohio” from 1970 and, briefly, Don McLean’s “American Pie” from 1974 chiming in unison (not literally, of course) with Hunter’s own “All The Way From Memphis” and “The Golden Age Of Rock ‘n’ Roll” – yet always prone to getting their kicks with the groovers such as “Walking With A Mountain” or the ’50s and ’60s smashes and, thus, transcending those same times. What may come as a revelation is that the Englishmen appear here as THE BAND’s Old World counterparts, and the Americana spirit feels as strong on the anthemic build-up of “No Wheels To Ride” as on the latter-day guitarist Ariel Bender’s country ditty “Here Comes The Queen”. The singer’s obvious Dylanisms aside, there’s much to enjoy on this journey, where the band’s lyrical side comes to the fore: later, in BAD COMPANY, Mick Ralphs never played “Ready For Love” with such subtlely and desperate abandon. More so, sometimes THE HOOPLE sounded in equal measure progressive and pre-punk like in “Thunderbuck Ram” with Overend Watt’s bass ramming the piece home; as for the glam, the 1972 Philadelphia gig has the sparkles in spades and Bowie the presenter joins in for his tune with his influence all over “Hymn For The Dudes” while his friend Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” also makes an appearance.

The playing as glamorous as it’s raw, the players as vulnerable as they’re brave, this box is as great an eye-opener as it’s ear-splitter. Play it loud and get transported right onto the stage and into the action.

*****
 

SAILOR –
Traffic Jam
Angel Air 2008
A concise history of the most spectacular and un-rock rock bands of all time. All aboard!

That’s quite an enigma, why in our times of ad predators hawking on any catchy piece of music there is they don’t lent their ears to the SAILOR songs which can gloriously accompany every image on Earth. The English band still ride the waves – the testimony to that lies in the DVD included in this “Sound And Vision” package – so it’s never too late to seize the opportunity, and this compilation offers the map to the ensemble’s journey. With their “alternative” history served on "Treasure Trove", it’s not the straight anthology, still, as the chronologic principle can’t be applied to the band so fully formed from the early ’70s start, and all of the songs here sound as if they belonged to a single era. From the duo called KAJANUS / PICKETT’s ringing “Changes” through the sparking live take on “Panama” to the quintessential SAILOR frivolity of “A Glass Of Champagne” and the Tchaikovsly-quoting anthemic “Perfect Time”, the music is as modern as it gets. Blame it on the rich vocal harmonies, the enigmatic instrument that is Nickelodeon, or the catchy melodies but, as Georg Kajanus, Phil Pickett and their compadres would put it, it’s your own soft spot the band just hit. And how one could go wrong with the “Girls Girls Girls” party call? Hey, PR gurus, all hands on deck!

*****
 

COLOSSEUM –
Reunion Concert 1994
Angel Air 2004-2008
The Magnificent Six gloriously move forward for a new lease of life – live.

Arguably, the most underrated British music institution on par with BLUES INCORPORATED and THE BLUESBREAKERS, the latter band’s alumnus Interview with JON HISEMAN‘s COLOSSEUM had originally lasted a little more than three years and broke up in 1971 to be fondly remembered thanks the highest level of the individual musicians who, together, upped it unbelievably. No less unbelievable it felt that in 1994, when the sextet triumphantly came back, the magic was still there. Unfortunately, there’s no CD-version of the Cologne concert in its entirety – it’s split over two different albums – yet Angel Air’s one has the best part, and this re-issue has a bonus DVD with the complete performance.

It starts with the optimistically rocking “Those About To Die” with Clem Clempson‘s guitar soaring over the solid bedrock of Dave Greenslade’s organ rippled by Dick Heckstall-Smith‘s sax each taking a solo in turn before the jazzy vibe gets tucked away for Chris Farlowe’s warble to stumble into the focus. The singer delivers his peculiar, meaty kind of blues in “Stormy Monday Blues” but this classic pales in comparison with “Skellington” driven with molten gold of Hiseman’s drums and Mark Clarke‘s bass. Clarke and Clempson provide blistering vocal harmonies in the brass-shiny “Tanglewood ’63”, while Greenslade’s vibraphone transforms Jack Bruce’s “Rope Ladder To The Moon” into a crystally spaced-out anthem – for the boogie piano solo to take things back down to Earth for the jolly romp of “Walking In The Park”.

Since then, sadly, Heckstall-Smith passed away, but COLOSSEUM are still in action, so salute the heroes and take part in this celebration.

*****
 

MO FOSTER –
Time To Think
Primrose Hill 2002

re-issue Angel Air 2008

Read the interview

You could call it ‘new age’, weren’t it deeply rooted in the music of old.

Partly inspired by a visit to the Southern Hemisphere, “Time To Think” isn’t hot and humid, but immensely warm as any great memories should be. And this music couldn’t be recorded any other way than live – over two consecutive days in July 1999, at St. Michael’s church in Oxford – and in the company of good friends with a collective CV reading like a rock encyclopedia, Mo himself the most renown of the bunch.

It’s not the reverend bassist, though, who comes first to the fore in the opening “It’s About That Time Of Day”, yet Ray Russell weaving acoustic guitar over Simon Chamberlain’s piano chords before the four-string bubble delicately breaks an almost classical lace into a breezy swing and then tastily leads a mighty, if relaxed, “Leo” – dedicated to Fender, of course. Two pieces in, everybody feels it’s there that a listener belongs, no matter if he’s not up for thinking of this effortlessness’ complexity, especially when Iain Ballamy’s sax, backed with a church organ, soars solemnly for “A Notional Anthem” or, coupled with Frank Ricotti’s vibes, brings forth the sunrise of “Omapere Dawn”.

But while “Waves II”, the only solo bass workout on the album, is deceptively serene as the Pasific itself, there’s enough grit in it as well: “Mangonui” jolts and jives lurching and careening like jovial WEATHER REPORT down on sedatives – framing the fire is an art, and cutting afresh a couple of tunes from the “Southern Comfort” album, too. With “Let’s Go On Somewhere” a heartfelt call for an easy walk in unison, you’ll hardly need much time to think before accepting the proposal.

*****
 

STONE THE CROWS –
Live Crows 1972-1973
Angel Air 2002-2008

Perhaps, the last document of the band at their peak, recorded weeks before Les Harvey was dead.

Montreux Festival has always been a place for many a great performance, and this one is no exclusion, having caught this magnificient British quintet at their deliciously rawest. Nobody knew then that by May Leslie Harvey, whose thick guitar slices drive this concert on, would be gone for ever. If not for the fatal electrocution, he may well have turned into a player of much large calibre. Harvey’s mastery of the instrument shines in “Love”, the band opting for the set comprised of material from the “Ode To John Law” album, more familiar to the audience than songs from the current “Teenage Licks”.

The set kicks off with highly jazzy “Friends”, an understandable gesture towards the venue and a great warm-up for the grooving combo and especially Maggie Bell, at first singing restrained to go thunderball as the tune develops. And when she breaks into “Penicillin Blues”, a stage highlight still to be recorded in a studio, on the wave of Ronnie Leahey’s roaring organ, there’s no question as to why American folks presumed the Scottish singer was black: a potion of soul in her delivery is immense, a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Danger Zone” the best testament to this, the group spreading their spell far beyond the blues base with Steve Thompson economical bass and Colin Allen’s thoughtful drumming. And then, in unprecedented manner, yet so fit for the event, the five delve into Dylan’s “Ballad of Hollis Brown”, a 21-minute sort of a tribal jam taking them to the limit of their strengths and poising on the verge of greatness which, sadly, wasn’t to be.

Previously released by Angel Air as “Live In Montreux 1972″, now it’s coupled with DVD with the next line-up’s show from 1973.

****1/3
 

CARL PALMER’s PM –
1PM
1980
re-issue Store For Music 2008
One of the world’s greatest drummer pretending to be a drum machine: nice, if pointless, attempt.

Don’t be misguided by the current photo on the cover, as inside is not a new Carl Palmer’s album but the one he recorded with a new band after the sad demise of ELP. For a drummer who always hits the right notes he went AWOL opting for a sharp pop music even though Palmer’s partners in crime were guitarist John Nitzinger and the former AUTOMATIC MAN singer Todd Cochran.

While opening “Dynamite” and closing “Children Of The Air” have a pleasant progressive ring to it, the problem is there’s virtually no Carl who keeps the simpliest of beats drowned in the overall plastic sound. Nothing wrong with it – “Dreamers” deserves to have been a Top 10 fodder and “You’re Got Me Rockin'” with its classy piano solo rocks indeed – yet it’s not what’s expected from the master drummer. There was no future for PM: still, the band’s direction goes a long way to explain how Carl Palmer ended up in ASIA where he’d be shining anew. On its own, it’s a precious curio – just.

***
 

OLIVER-DAWSON SAXON –
Re-Landed..Plus
2001
re-issue Angel Air 2008
The original double-engine all revved up – with nowhere to go.

Once upon a time, guitarist Graham Oliver and bassist Steve “Dobby” Dawson welcomed singer Biff Byford onboard, thus SAXON came to be, but later on the former two jumped the good ship that still is afloat, to drift apart and then join forces again in the SAXON of their own. Of course, this band play the songs they co-wrote which made them famous – and have all the rights to do so. And it’s the strength of the songs such as “747 (Strangers In The Night)” or “The Power And The Glory” and the sheer energy of the delivery that catch the ear on this collection of live recordings – just watch the companion DVD – even though John Ward’s vocals are too strained to convince he means it. That’s why smashes like “The Eagle Has Landed” and “Strong Arm Of The Law” fail to compete with their erstwhile selves. “Past The Point”, originally laid down by the ensemble’s previous incarnation, SON OF A BITCH, fare much better as well as three new studio cuts. It’s the edgy hitters “Nursery Crimes” and “One Sour Krout” that take this band into the new century with all the power and the glory and make this SAXON the entity of their own.

**1/2
 

RAY RUSSELL –
A Table Near The Band
Last Chance 1990,
Angel Air 2008
The British one-man jazz guitar institution goes for a candle-lit night out with friends.

1988 was a great year in the life of Ray Russell: having recorded with Gil Evans, the guitarist returned to the Montreux Jazz Festival stage that he graced five years earlier, again with Mo Foster on bass and Simon Phillips on drums, but with Tommy Eyre and Tony Hymas in Evans’ place. Later in the year, all these came into the studio to produce this, a great collection of the live-tested tunes.

Save for the murky, bittersweet “London Is Revisited” permeated with Gil’s brooding piano and Ray’s traffic-whistle guitar, it’s a cosmically light set introduced by the serene rumba of “Guadeloupe” where Russell’s gliding lines dance around Hymas’ synthesizers that give way to the transparent piano waltzing with Phillips’ delicate percussion before Iain Ballamy’s sax rips the bliss to speed it all up. “In Search Of Aliens”, meanwhile, sees the Foster-driven groove take Eyre’s jive into the progressive rock field for the main man to bounce off and burst into space and let his compadres soar free in pure jazz of “No Step”. After this, the elegiac “Snow” from the film “Colorado”, a Russell-Eyre duet, comes soothing, and the title track sees the candles sweet smoke settle down.

*****
 

DR. JOHN –
The Essential Recordings
Store For Music 2008
Mac Rebennack’s early sessions: as fine as they are, not essential at all.

A quick glance at the tracklisting reveals the title is deceptive: no “Gilded Splinters”, no “Iko Iko”, no “Mama Roux”. Still, there’d be none of this at all if not for what’s gathered here – the Sixties tracks that made the gravel-voiced ivory-tinkler the New Orleans’ finest. What with Dr. John’s originality, it shines from the off, Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina”, where Mac’s piano is buried in the brass-and-guitar gumbo, yet most of the cuts on offer just lack such an edge. The tracks like the proto-“Iko” “Just Like A Mirror” and “Go Ahead Go” only grate, and even the hazy “Zu Zu Man” and racous “New Orleans” feel just a bit more than a regular rhythm-and-blues fare. Fortunately, “A Little Closer To My Home” is a great late-night blues and “Did She Mention My Name” comes as an expected soul delight. All in all, good yet not necessarily listen.

***
 

GARY HUSBAND –
The Complete Diary
Of A Plastic Box
Angel Air 2008
Dedicating his debut to Sinatra, Davis and Zawinul, the great fusion drummer veers off to vistas open.

He knows how to kick a skin melodically be it with John McLaughlin, LEVEL 42 or Gary Moore but, as Jason Smith’s recent live recording reminded, Gary Husband’s as adept as a keyboard player, and his debut solo album is all about this. Recorded in 1989-1993 the bedroom way, with Korg M1 and the headphones, for 1998 release and now expanded to two discs to include all the material laid down around that time – now, sublime “Some Splintered Road Jazz” comes in all five parts – it shows the artist’s gentle underbelly and the 360 degree horizon.

The likes of percussive “Nightclub 1989″ and “Talking Traffic Light” may suggest there’s a drummer somewhere behind the lines, while there’s a shade of musique concrete spicing up the urban landscape of “View Through The Scaffold” which wouldn’t sound out of place on Husband’s friend Allan Holdsworth’s LP, and coloring the “England Green” dawn delight. One hell of a trip welcomes the faux avant-garde that is “Neon” or “Flashback”, the “Give Us This Day” solemn classicism, the “Deco” quirky lounge and the “Promises Promises” melancholy blues. There are much more sides to this wonderful box than just six.

****1/4
 

VARIOUS ARTISTS –
Guitar Idols
Store For Music 2008
Interesting idea horribly executed: all the singers got behind the axes.

At the first glance, the premise is good: to let great guitarists shine doing covers. The second look reveals the problem: the collection of tracks from various tribute albums lists only the six-stringers, not the rest of the rock elite who contributed their talents including – read, excluding – vocalists. The cover does mention Ronnie James Dio, and the veteran does stand out indeed on AEROSMITH’s “Dream On”, while nobody told his partner in crime, Yngwie Malmsteen, that a ballad hardly needs so many notes per second – Albert Lee’s graciously more economical on “Back In The Saddle”. Save for Johnny Ramone’s rumbling instrumental rendition of “Viva Las Vegas”, Pat Gilbert’s version of “Children Of The Grave” and Steve Lukather’s take on “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and a few other tracks, showing off is a commonplace here, what with the ’80s-’90s crop of players; that’s why Mick Taylor sounds so cool with THIN LIZZY’s “Jailbreak”.

Of course, Michael Schenker, Rick Derringer and Pat Travers cut it nicely with their own “Doctor Doctor”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hoochie Koo” and “Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights)”, but why miss out on Roger Daltrey’s name alongside Slash’s on Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy”? More so, Santana’s original recording of “Jingo” sticks out like a sore thumb here. Still, Ted Nugent rocks madly for “Tie Your Mother Down”. With all the great talent on offer, for the most part there’s nothing to idolise.

***1/3
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