Reviews42

 
ERIC BELL –
Lonely Nights In London
Angel Air 2010
The first album in a dozen years for the best living Irish axeman.For Eric Bell, the THIN LIZZY connection has been both a blessing and a curse, as it’s the blues, not heavy funk, that his heart is at. Less flashy than his soul brother Rory Gallagher to whom the guitarist dedicated his previous record and with whom he shared a love for the power trio format, Bell flourishes when a certain rootsiness is at play. And while in this case the PLANXTY-arranged folk tune “Taimse Im Chodladh” sends the album off into the ether, it’s the standards, “Shake Your Money Maker” (with its “The Rocker” intro) and “Hoochie Coochie Man”, that the veteran aligns his own earthly compositions with.

So if “Belfast Blues” or “On The Road Blues” show Eric steeped in, accordingly, white and black tradition, the opener “You’re My Only Woman”, where Bell lays down a boogie riff and sings in unison with his filigree-painting instrument, sees the master lift off from the Albert King blueprint into the world of his own. The live feel prevails here in the telepathic interplay of the band and the leader’s applying different techniques to his battle axe – from the slide glide to the volume knob twiddling to insert the “La Marseillaise” quote into the swampy brew and on to the elegant acoustic ride through Johnny Winter’s “Dallas”. But if one pines for “Whiskey In The Jar”, the familiar approach is all over the magnificent title track, with “Me And Technology” ramming the rootsy message home again. A warm and cozy record to keep you company when you’re lonesome.

****1/2

 
BEPPE CROVELLA –
What’s Rattlin’ On The Moon?
MoonJune 2010
Subtitled “A personal vision of the music of Mike Ratledge”, the ARTI E MESTIERI maestro pays an elegant homage to the SOFT MACHINE stoker.With pizzazz provided by Robert Wyatt and Elton Dean, it had always been Mike Ratledge laying down the shiny rails they ran their engine on. In the three and a half decades since leaving his band the keyboardist kept low profile, so when another piano man, Beppe Crovella, latched onto the idea to interpret his compositions, all there was was the MACHINE classics. The idea per se came from the MoonJune mastermind who named his label after another SOFT piece, and “Leonardo’s E-Mail”, a part of two addtitional suites, the Crovella-penned “…Before The Moon” and “…After The Moon” that complete this album, reveals the Eureka process brilliantly – from a thought to enlightenment. Yet, the focus is on the first ten tracks which see the Ratledge’s oeuvre wildly re-imagined.

Employing an impressive range of instruments including Hammond and Mellotron, Farfisa and Fender Rhodes as well as grand piano but no synthesizers, the Italian maestro embarks on impressive journey that, from the grandiously anxious “Tarabos” to the predatory, snake-like meander of “Slightly All The Time”, effectively makes the originals’ little more than tentative landmarks. Here, “The Man Who Waved At Trains” flags towards vintage multi-layered prog rock with a folky undertow, while “Chloe And The Pirates” ripples with the jazzy minimalism of drops in a tsunami. At the same time, “Out-Bloody-Rageous” drifts serenely on the piano waves but then ups the electric charge yet stays afloat, whereas “Hibou, Anemone And Bear” explodes into space where the low frequencies swing the ship.

The closing “Moon Geezers” dedicated to Elton Dean and Hugh Hopper, the Machinists who are no longer with us, sets a new value level for Mike Ratledge who’s still on Earth and continues to inspire, but ultimately, this record demands no knowledge of his legacy to be revered. It’s Crovella’s talent that’s all over it.

*****

 
CONSORTIUM –
13th Hour
Angel Air 2010
Four decades on since their big hit and 30 years after they left the scene, the British band return to action.It’s all down to Angel Air: after the label released CONSORTIUM’s previously unissued “Rebirth”, recorded in 1975, the group found previously unknown respect and reformed – not to play the nostalgia circuit but to expand their discography with another album. “13 Hour” is out when the veterans celebrate the 40th anniversary of their sole hit, “All The Love In The World”, which has been re-cut to fit in the new context and features its author Geoff Simpson, the band’s former member, on organ. More so, the lucky find of old tapes allowed the ensemble to add their fresh parts to the drums of John Parker who died in 2001 and preserve integrity on three songs.

One of these, the 7-minute “Where”, is an opener that, after a powerful riff and a slice of church organ, rolls sweetly only to build the tension once again on the wave of twin-guitar rage of Brian Parker and Mock Ware and Robbie Leggat’s multi-faceted voice, all going well in tune with the Orwellian, heavy progressive atmosphere. Lucifer presiding over the epic title track, there’s a light of a different kind, still, what with an Elton John quote in “Sad Girl” and “Lady Doctor” grooving very U.F.O.-like, with a ’70s-shaped panache, whereas “Evolution” would have been a hard rock classic, if released back in the day. Now, the album feels like a stately ghost from the past, fleshed out gloriously and very much alive for all to marvel at.

*****

 
HOLDCELL –
7 Heavy Grins
Holdcell 2007
Muscular funk with delicious inflections from Georgia, USA, the young guns rocking and rolling their joint.The humor seeping from the very title of the Atlanta trio’s debut album, the music inside is exactly what it suggests: hard-hitting but exhilarating. “Holdcell” the track lays it all out with a chorus hook and a catchy riff shaped like bricks knocking you on the head to present you with a sweet vertigo, while “I Mo Time” shows the Hackney brothers, singing bassist Evan and guitarist Lee, know how to flex their funk and weave some harmonica blues into the bubbly fabric, and drummer Chuck Smith can be possessed when he’s battering the kit.

“South” written on the group’s collective sleeve – never more so than in the brass-splashed ring of “Withhold The Faith” – there’s more to their brew, though, “El Gallo” making it across the border where the mariachi trumpet and acoustic guitar glare gloriously above the meaty bottom end. This one’s a surefire hit that, sadly, never dented the charts, the stylistic range expands even more with the “Sad Dwellings” tasty reggae, yet at the same time it’s hard not to be gripped by the more traditionally raging swagger of “Ring” or “Ride”. There’s much to savor here, grinning or not, so jump in for the fun – headlong.

****4/5

 
MEDICINE HEAD –
Radio Sessions
1971-1977
Angel Air 2010
John Peel’s favorite duo come out of the BBC vaults – starkers but proudly tall.These days not having a full line-up is a fad thing, just ask Jack White. Back in the day, it was different which doesn’t prevent John Fiddler and Peter Hope-Evans from making as much pleasant noise. They had a huge live reputation, and that’s the way this band should be listened to: stripped bare and with no overdubs. That’s what endeared them to John Peel’s heart and made the duo welcome guests at the Beeb for quite a long time, way beyond the early hits. One of those is 1971’s “(And The) Pictures In The Sky”, a delicious slice of pop rock with a strong backbeat, that kicks out the collection to a nice start to let the rest in on the slide guitar lick, until another early cut, the tremulous ballad “His Guiding Hand”, recorded for the radio as late as 1977, closes it all on the high note.

In between them, there’s a lot of rhythm-and-blues – slow as 1973’s Delta-wet “Rainy Day Blues”, one of three songs on the CD that never made it to a studio, fast as “To Train Time” with the harmonica inducing frenetic response from the crowd, and heavy as “Walkin’ Blues” – the genre where one player is enough but two charge the drift immensely as if to justify the title of another MEDICINE HEAD’s live anthem, “One And One Is One”, also present here. Some of the tracks on offer, like 1972’s “Only To Do What Is True” with its deliberate Dylanisms, feature a fuller line-up, but those pale in comparison with the six-minute garagey romp of “Medicine Pony”, riding on dirty, overdriven guitar and mad harp, or almost glam stomp of “How Does It Feel?”. Such a diversity and timespan encompassing the band’s classic years gives “Radio Sessions” not only the historic value but also the satisfation factor.

****1/2

 
NEAL MORSE –
So Many Roads
Radiant 2009
Three discs charting the premier neo-prog master’s long journey in some long hauls – and then some. With Neal Morse, “epic” is the keyword, be it with his famous bands or solo, so this 3CD set comes as no surprise; what’s surprising, though, is how smooth these three and a half hours, recorded in October 2008 on European stages, run. Starting in a lifted mood with SPOCK’S BEARD’s “At The End Of The Day” and dramatically moulding TRANSATLANTIC’s “Stranger In Your Soul” with “Bridge Across Forever” for a grand finale, Morse feels no need to minimize the scope of such large tapestries as the riveting “So Many Roads” from his last studio album, “Lifeline”, off which the master presents three more cuts, including its vertiginous title track, here. And vice versa, it’s makes for a fantastic listen, when the whole albums, “Testimony” and “?”, are compacted into free-flowing medleys riding the wave of Elisa Krijgsman’s diamond-bright guitar.

Neal’s spirituality manifests itself across all the discs, never more so than in these two suites, and that what renders the intrinsic prog foibles – like the almost sterile instrumental prowess on SPOCK’S “Walking On The Wind”, which provokes a lot of cheering anyway – Morse’s group’s forte, while the vocal harmonies in “Author Of Confusion” show the ensemble’s real sensibility. No less expressive, still, are “That Crutch”, the shortest songs on offer, sung to a sole acoustic accompaniment, and equally transparent “We All Need Some Light Now”, from TRANSATLANTIC’s lore, where the audience joins in for the chorus. In places, it’s this infectious. But overall, there’s no better mapping of the artist’s adventurous journey.

****1/2

 ahoora
AHOORA –
Awkward Diary
Zirzamin 2010
Read the interview
The beat of freedom in their hearts: cut the Persian rug to progressive metal from Teheran.Hailing from USSR, this scribe knows the liberating power of rock ‘n’ roll, and with bands like this in Iran – banned but still existing – there’s hoping the evil regime will fall some day, the sooner the better. Yet to judge AHOORA by the circumstances rather than the trio’s music would be a great disservice to the group whose third album is a lesson in stylistic restraint set against emotional expression; likewise, to agree with the band’s own definition of their style as metal would be a one-dimensional exercise. So no cheap thrills here, especially with “Crimson Baby”.

It’s all serious from the moment Milad Tangshir’s guitar frills start swirling around electronic beat of “Masks & Balefires” to stress Ashkan Hadavand’s statement, “God and nothing have a lot in common – nameless and dead”, swamped in dub-like buzz. Elsewhere, “Drizzle Knight” unfurls the grounds where both SLAYER and PET SHOP BOYS fans could meet to enjoy the “Unattended” assault and the murky yet camp dance atmosphere of “Closure”. “Free As A Man” flows in and out in the same seductive, black velvet manner but then, “Perfect Day” introduces an accordion-and-piano waltz to this heady mix, and the album’s title comes alive in all its comfortable angularity. The finishing stroke is the riff-laden “Egoless” which, on the ice piano ride, rams the freedom call message home making “Awkward Diary” a notebook to cherish.

*****

 
PO90
(PARALLEL OR 90 DEGREES) –
Jitters
Omegatunez 2009
The seven-year hiatus turning into the itch, the unlilkely prog heroes return in a murky mood.The zigzag on the cover a pale part of the “Dark Side”-like spectrum in the booklet and shortening of the band’s name might suggest the ambition tamed yet the music proves otherwise. Having hit some celestial notes with THE TANGENT, Andy “Diskdrive” Tillison called his old gang back in town, but “Jitters” doesn’t picks up where 2002’s “More Exotic Ways To Die” left off and sends the signal of today’s more turbulent times. It’s heavy and heady, with Dan Watt’s guitars setting the anxiety into the listener’s heart from the word go, and its wah-wah’s and the house beats on the opening “Interlude” indicate there’ll be no compromise further on.

And there isn’t. The viscous “Standalone” is an ocean which has forgotten what tranqulity felt like, with the main man’s piano bringing glimpses of brighter past, and acoustic thread of “Entry Level” offers a way out of the prevailing techo space. But while the funk textures throughout hint on life lurking in a computer code, it’s the lush harmonies and instrumental interplay of “Backup” that bear the pure prog balm. What comes as a major surprise, though, is a threatening basing of the rocking “The Dock Of The Abyss” on Otis Redding’s “The Dock Of The Bay”. That’s where the jitters begin and end. A solid work with a rarefied joy in it.

***

 
OSADA VIDA –
Uninvited Dreams
Metal Mind 2009
Another progressive rock band from Poland. Not your regular imagery morass, although there’s nightmares aplenty.With three tracks off the seven on offer boasting “dreams” in their titles and two taking a “mare” in, plus a black pillow on the cover, the concept nature of this quartet’s debut album is obvious. And if it feels a bit trite, the music initially, like in the title track, seems to ram the familiarity home too, from the generic heavy prog battlefield, but hang on there for a little while, and the deceptive triviality is blown away like cobwebs to turn into a feast of taste once it reaches the “Neverending Dream” finale.

Slowly but surely, Bartek Bereska’s funky guitars and singer Lukasz Lisiak’s greasy bass engage in a fantastic ball not unlike that of UK in their foursome period – in the epic of “Lack Of Dreams”, which starts off with Eastern motifs and ends with a beautiful synth solo, Lisiak’s a dead ringer for John Wetton – with jazz inflections never far away. Yet the most raging 10-minute “Childmare (A Goodnight Story)” slips onto the metal terrain before the instruments one by one shoot off into the fusion eye, and Rafal Paluszek lets rip on the piano and organ, while “Is The Devil From Spain” pitches its acoustic charms in the flamenco camp to show the band’s formidable possibilities. The OSADA VIDA’s dreams are well worth pursuing!

****

 
MANDALABAND –
BC – Ancestors
Legend 2009
A new art from the old vessel: the ancient ensemble shake off the sand of time to put in an hourglass.While some leave music business for pastures completely new, Dr. David Rohl’s career as a noted Egyptologist has been a continuation of what he did in MANDALABAND. But the scientist seems to have never forgotten his music past, and now the ancient history manifested itself in this, the band’s third, album. It picks up where 1978’s “The Eye Of Wendor” left off to paint the portraits of the pre-Christ mythological heroes and form the first part of the project to be completed with “AD – Sangreal”.

Here, Troy Donockley’s Uillean pipes usher in the grand symphonic tapestry embroidered with Ashley Mulford’s guitar streams runnning through Woolly Wolstenholme’s keyboard plains; the two veterans, together with Rohl and drummer Kim Turner, are vestiges of the old line-up, yet there’s enough young progressive rock blood to make “BC” the very modern record verging on the edge on new age and world beat. Thus, if “Karum Kanesh” soars most dramatically in the ambient high where the choir vocals fill the rarefied air, and “Roots” is a toned-down beautiful ballad, the trance-inducing “Eden” sends David’s monotone voice over the glacial surface where electricity chases an elusive acoustic thread.

Elsewhere, the searing, if light, vibe of “Solomon The Wise” brings on the Mediterranean mood, while “Ozymandias” and “The Sons Of Anak” with their house rhythm may fare well on an Ibiza lounge dancefloor. Yet if the anthemic “Akhuyawa” enters the JETHRO TULL territory cautiously, the lyrical “Nimrod” borders too uncomfortably with GENESIS’ classics, and at 68 minutes the album outstays its welcome a bit – which doesn’t diminsh the sheer boldness of the project.

***3/4

 
MORAINE –
Manifest Density
MoonJune 2009
Dense the Seattle string-plus-drums qintet’s music is, but the title could also be read as “Manifold Intensity”. With his many diverse connections, including collaborations with such worlds apart as Klaus Schulze’s, Cui Jian’s and Hector Zazou’s, when Dennis Rea strikes on his own terms, the results are classically progressive. Thus, “Save The Yuppie Breedeing Grounds”, the first track on the guitarist’s new band’s debut, pitches its bedouin tent on the KING CRIMSON terrain where Alicia Allen’s violin and Ruth Davidson’s cello float over thumping drums while electric instrumentarium provides an exciting base for this trance-like creation whose shadow lasts until the riff-spiced “Middlebrau” grand finale.

In between, the urgency steps aside for synapses to get loose, but anxiety never goes away and the precipice of cacophony is felt at all times – never more so than in vertiginous “Uncle Tang’s Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” which sounds as awkward as it is named. Still, the title track packs all this drama into an almost symphonic piece, but at the same time it’s where the rock edge of MORAINE is at its sharpest, while almost pure guitar fusion of “Nacho Sunset” and the folk motif of “Disillusioned Avatar” bring a good dose of fresh air into the album’s constant swirl. It’s confusing in the midst of it yet the dizzy effect is worth every minute of the ride.

****

 
ASIA –
Live In Sao Paolo
Store For Music 2009
The supergroup still rocking more than the sum of its parts – who, in solo mode, are no less superb.The reformation of original ASIA cause such a stir that a stream of official, band-approved bootlegs was more than welcome. It’s a bit surprising, perhaps, given there is a, so to say, more official release of the quartet’s concert, “Fantasia: Live in Tokyo”, and the ensemble’s decline to improvise – which may seem strange, what with all the players’ progressive past, but justifiable in terms of their collective pop destination. That’s not to say, ASIA lack energy, as the sheer force of John Wetton‘s bass plucking in the opening “Time Again” and the vocal harmonies pins a listener to the wall. Starting with this centerpiece of the band’s 1982’s eponymous debut, this show, taped in Brazil in March 2007 (not 2008, as the cover has it), takes in all of the album, plus the best moments of its follow-up, “Alpha”, and features one composition per musician from their previous groups.

Whether ASIA’s approach works when it comes to the KING CRIMSON and YES’ pieces is a moot point, but Steve Howe’s guitar makes ELP’s staple “Fanfare For The Common Man” spicier, and Wetton’s voice enlivens THE BUGGLES’ “Video Killed The Radio Star”. Still, none of it equals the impact of the booming “The Heat Goes On” and the bolero-shaped “Cutting It Fine”, where Geoff Downes‘ keyboards and Carl Palmer’s drums reign supreme, or the hushed tones of the acoustically-laced “Ride Easy” and “Don’t Cry”.

A great concert, yet strictly for collectors; of more interest are other Store For Music’s ASIA recordings with a different set list.

****1/2

 
CALIBRE ZERO –
Inmune
STF 2009
The Apocalyptic horsemen from Madrid unleash their melodic wrath.Spanish metal somehow escapes most of the headbangers, so with the first sounds of “Yo Digo Bien”, the quartet’s second album’s opener, it becomes clear that in conquistadors’ language the genre gets quite brutal. But the title means “I Say Good”, and it is good, the heavy rock ‘n’ roll delivered with a reckless abandon and rather straight: no blunt growling, no compressed drums. Miguel Lazaros’ guitars shine on most of the Devil’s dozen tracks here while his brother Ricardo’s vocals often come too frontal and drown the instrumental Jaggernaut, yet in the sparse “Habla La Guerra” and the SABBATH-influenced “Silencio” his chanting voice impressively complements the compact riffage.

The music bears the weight of the world concerns, that’s why “Marcas Y Heridas” and “Ya Es Tarde” buzz with a worrisome excitement. The sludgy title cut finishes this strong work to leave one’s head humming nicely. The next album should take the band to the big time.

***

 
LEO SAYER –
Live In 1975
Store For Music 2009
Making one feel like rocking, the thunderhead gives it his all. And that’s only the start of the hitmaker’s rise.In 1975, the third year into his career that was to span over three decades, Leo Sayer was riding high. With only two albums but three Top 10 hits under his belt, the artist had all the reasons to be excited, and effervescence is all over this concert tape. Including most of Leo’s then current LP, “Just A Boy”, it starts with the contemplative “Giving It All Away” that gave the record its title, goes off with a bang of the yodel-enhanced “The Show Must Go On”, and never slacks in between the bookends.

On the opener and in “Train” Sayer’s voice may sound boyish, indeed, yet the singer’s accompanied with a fine group featuring the great Chris Stainton whose keyboards oil “In My Life” and lead the boogie “Oh Wot A Life”, so “Oh what a band” from the vocalist is more than deserved. But if the energy level is high throughout, it’s thanks to Leo’s command of the stage and the audience, no matter whether he’s delivering such smashed as “Long Tall Glasses”, awashed with slide guitar, and the acoustic romp that is “One Man Band” or regular album tracks like the “Another Time” gospel. The only live album from the classic era Sayer, “Live In 1975″ is indispensable.

****3/4

 
JETHRO TULL –
Live At Madison Square Garden 1978
Chrysalis 2009
See the DVD
A live concert in support of a live record is where a band bloom like madness in the spring.It’s a bit of a paradox. When a touring band can have a well-deserved downtime if not after the release of a live album? But then, what’s the best way to promote such a record if not going on stage and pulling all the stops? For JETHRO TULL, there was no question, though, for as fine as their studio works are, it’s before the audience that the ensemble really exist. “Bursting Out”, commited to tape in May and June 1978 and released in September, remains one of the best concert documents of rock era yet, while representing the band’s show, it takes in the best performances from several nights, whereas this CD comes from a single New York matinee played in October. Which means, it’s rougher – even more so, because that Madison Square Garden gig was broadcast overseas in real time and, thus, fraught with logictic difficulties. Still, tightly edited and stripped of the visuals preserved on the accompanying DVD, it makes for a gripping listen.

What suprises the most here is how heavy the group, first and foremost associated with the flute, are in the guitar department. Not only the razor-sharp “Aqualung” but also the opener, “Sweet Dream”, chugs under Ian Anderson‘s belligerent voice on a roll of Martin Barre‘s pounding riff and a piquant sprinkling of John Evan’s piano. Yet then, with no detriment to the weight, these instruments change position in the finishing salvo of “Locomotive Breath”, driven by the keyboards and supported with the six-string safety net. Sometimes it’s even twelve-string, if you count the leader’s acoustic in the folk passages, be it the always-fantastic “Thick As A Brick” with its majestic baroque – and, finally, the first flute solo spot, twenty minute into the show – or the pastoral lull of “One Brown Mouse”. And while “No Lullaby” may sound a bit flat, Tony Williams’ bass puts a spice in it, and the master class in a reed-singing technique including “God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen” makes the piece a clarion call to action.

On with the action, all the broadcasting turmoil notwithstanding, everything’s marked with elegance here, especially “Heavy Horses” – lighter than usual, it nods towards the disco times with a brilliant Barriemore Barlow’s drumming that ranges from four-on-the-floor beat to the jig and the cymbals rustle – and the ensemble harmonies of “Songs From The Wood”. But to end it all with an anthemic “Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll, Too Young To Die” would be too elegant and pretentious for JETHRO TULL, what with the preceding craziness of “Dambusters March”, so with the skew coupling of “My God” and “Cross-Eyed Mary” the band bow out in style they have rarely demonstrated ever since, which makes this album a unique document.

****4/5

 
ERIC BURDON –
Recorded Live 1974
Store For Music 2009
The Animal runnning wild yet running deep: a snapshot of a great artist in the harsh times.Previously available only as a bootleg – hence the wrong titling of a couple of tracks here, on its long-overdue official release – this recording, starting with the rage of then-unissued “Stop”, catches Burdon at one the most difficult points of his career. In 1974, the singer delivered the brilliant "Mirage" which remained in the vaults for 25 years, though the heavily funky “Jim Crow” and the sharp blues of “Ghetto Child”, the most intense performance taped at Denver’s Ebbets Field on October 17th, come from that album to show the psychedelic expanse Eric had arrived at after his collaboration with WAR in 1970.

There’s a new found freedom in the most powerful reading of THE ANIMALS’ first single, “When I Was Young”, while “House Of The Rising Sun”, vice versa, turns into a ruminative madful lament, and all the songs ring more truthful from the mouth of 33-year-old than from the youngster the Animal was ten years before. Now, Burdon lets himself and the band breathe, adding only a few lines to the originally instrumental “Sun Secrets” from his latest eponymous LP, and “It’s My Life” comes shaped like a light romp here. Which means, with permanent self-reinvention afoot, this record allows a peek into the real greatness of highly underestimated artist.

*****

 
SLADE –
Live At The BBC
Salvo 2009
A flying sircus of a different kind, the people’s band making the waves before a tsunami comes.Rounding off their fantastic series of SLADE’s re-issues and previously hidden gems, Salvo has raided the Beeb treasure chests to show the then-fledgling quartet still unseen, still detached from their colorful image, yet already radiating the same rainbow spectrum everybody knows them for. It’s everybody’s band that SLADE wanted to be from the off, that’s why there’s some strange, if popular, covers choices here, including FAIRPORT CONVENTION’s “It’s Alright Ma, It’s Only Withcraft” and the fellow northerners MOODY BLUES’ “Nights In White Satin” which required ten violin overdubs from bassist Jim Lea. Not that this not-so-live-in-the-studio approach could tame the foursome’s energy oozing out in spades from one of their early originals, “My Life Is Natural”. Of course, the power accumulates as the band find their high-platform feet, making the “Let The Good Times Roll” smash more than a hopeful metaphor, and goes wham bam once “Slayed?” has shaped the quartet definitively in 1972, the year this collection ends at.

From 1973-1974, there are four radio jingles using the pre-recorded backing tracks, so they don’t count, really, but paint the picture whole.The double-disc compilation begins in 1970 with the “toughest group of the British scene” introduction to DELANEY & BONNIE’s “Coming Home” which exposes the country side of “the skinhead set” SLADE were at the time and serves, with Dave Hill’s slide guitar and the ensemble’s tight harmonies, to demonstrate the versatility the band possessed from the very start. Here, “Know Who You Are” sounds much more convincing than on a studio single and rams its title home, yet pales in comparison with the atomic sludge of “Gudbuy Gudbuy” and the hurricane-like “Get Down And Get With It” which, in turn, isn’t in the same league as its concert version on the second CD.

Recorded in August 1972 at London’s Paris Theatre, more than a half-year after “Alive!”, the entire show easily tops the live album with the inclusion of such hits as “Cuz I Luv You” and “Look Wot You Dun”. Live, Noddy Holder’s vocal attack and Don Powell’s battery gain the magic not possible at the Beeb’s Maida Vale Studios’s space. With rarities like “Man Who Speaks Evil” from 1971 that saw the vinyl release as B-side only a year later, the quartet’s earliest recording “Wild Winds Are Blowin'”, from 1969, and some covers that didn’t make it onto a platter, all on the first CD, this is a real good-time feast the kind of which haven’t been heard since The Fabs left the stage. Now, it’s obvious who their entertainment crown went to.

*****

 
GRIMLORD –
Dolce Vita Sath An As
Trident Harmony 2009
Not as grim as it may seem but rather sweet as the title suggests.The Wroclaw trio GRIMLORD serve up their second album that exposes both the band’s strengths and weaknesses. With the title track throwing a listener slap bang into the fairground’s patina-tinctured picture before the battery smashes the autumnal feel to bits, there’s enough lure in Barth la Picard’s guitar and keyboard tunes. Yet for the most part the ensemble follow the current heavy metal blueprint too close to unleash their inner melodic beast and expand the limited – Lukass’ drums come too compressed too often – dynamic range. Its full extent is hinted on in the acoustic thread and the bottom end exposure of the catchy “When The Heads Are Going Down”.

Undecipherable lyrics are part of the genre’s package as well, so on more than a half of the tracks the threesome discard the vocals altogether, and where they are the voice gets lost anyway. But of these instrumentals, only “Dissolution Of Eternity” sounds like a whole composition in its own right rather than a backing track in the SABBATH-MAIDEN vein. Still, there’s always a promise and a pleasure in the album, so the next one should be a real treat.

**1/2

 
JOE BECKER –
Hot As Love
Joe Becker Music 2009
The guitarist extraordinaire shapes some things to come.If the title suggests both Hendrix and Bolan, there’s enough grit and glitter on Joe Becker’s second solo album and its memorable title track. 2006’s “Short Stories” revealed his talents to the hordes who can’t stand a zillion-notes-per-minute approach without compromising his virtuosity, while “Hot As Love” sees the master pay allegiance to the blues.Becker knows his way with the roots genre too well to align the opener “Times Change” along Chicago lines and oil the six-string attack with a piano which Joe plays no less good and proves it in the almost orchestral “Don’t Look Back”. He pitches in some tasty covers alongside original pieces. But if Delbert McClinton’s “Back To You” holds no surprises in its Texan heart, save for the “Superstition” riff, Becker’s re-imagines COMMODORES’ “Nightshift” and THE CHI-LITES’ “Oh Girl” as instrumental groovers as harmonious as their vocal prototypes. In the same vein, MARMALADE’s “Reflections Of My Life”, the only track with vocals on the offer, has a poignancy and nostalgic joy to it.

This means there’s no showing off there, so even guesting Todd Duane tones down his solo on “Season In Hell”, but in “TC-270″ Becker rips it to shreds – acoustically as Rory would have done it. And when, to round the album off, Joe Becker states, “I Learned The Blues”, you’ve already believed him.

****

 
BEPPE CROVELLA –
Pianovagando
MoonJune 2009
A study in briefness which borders on greatness but never gets across.Prog rock keyboard players are famous for their excess when it comes to solo but the ARTI & MESTIERI maestro tried a different approach by not stretching a single idea but cramming as much as possible on a record: 57 pieces in under 76 minutes. The result isn’t stunning even though mostly the melodies are beautiful, and it’s impossible not to fall under the spell of the “Mexicali” humid dance or the poignancy of “Prime Tristezze” or “Gianfranco”, but the acoustic piano lends so much possibilities for developing a tune, whether improvising or not, that cutting it too short – cue the grand “Valzer Del Tempo” or 41 seconds of opening “Birth” – may feel like a butcher’s work.

Crovella isn’t a virtuoso, technique-wise, in the vein of Wakeman and he gravitates from modern classical to jazz yet rather often hangs on the middle, while there’s enough Brubeck in “Studio” and “Aura”, and “Rivido” shapes up a curious waltz figure. Save for pastiche such as the Fred Astaire-dedicated “Feet In The Air”, it’s a pleasant listen, sometimes augmented with a rain or sea sound effects, yet in places the substance seems thin on the variety ground. Breaking from the “bits and pieces” mode would have suited these compositions much better.

****

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