|Thirty three years on since their inception, the Dublin foursome still can thrill. A wonder, indeed.
It would be so tempting to say that Bono, deep in the politics for the benefit of the poor, has drawn his colleagues into the poor music waters, but fortunately, that’s no the case. Having abandoned the Rick Rubin-steered recordings, with not a little help from – and songwriting credits shared with – Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois – the band came up with one of their best records to date. The previous decade’s experiments, echoing in “FEZ-Being Born”, have caught up with U2’s roots now, to bring forth the majestic, if ethereal, folk of “White As Snow”, and slick, yet infectious, rock ‘n’ roll that is “Get On Your Boots”.
These stand out but chime in perfect harmony with almost orchestral splendour of “Unknown Caller” and typical Bono’s anguish in the title track which sounds a bit uncertain; it’s no coincidence that the lines on the cover are part of the box rather than the photo on the booklet’s first page – which means the horizon’s clear. So is the love ode “Magnificent” that starts like a tango and tunes in to the heartbeat, the group giving their regard to the ’80s while The Edge grafts in a blissful, poignant solo. The same enchanting delicacy blooms in “Moment Of Surrender”, where the voice sails on Adam Clayton’s bass waves and Larry Mullen Jr’s percussion ring.
Yet what starts on a merry note finishes with an ambience-backed recitative of “Cedars Of Lebanon”. Still, if Bono turned to the politics – if it’s politics – only near the finale, the four may be forgiven.
BO DIDDLEY –
|Mojo root and hot foot powder – where the blues mutates into rock.
Of all the old bluesmen, Bo Diddley was the most primeval, the genre’s African roots chiming in his Twang Machine guitar and the hoodoo magic oozing out of groovers such as “Who Do You Love”. The master revered both by his peers and the new, rock crop, it all comes together in this performance taped in 1985 in California and previously released on video.
The talent gathered here includes Ronnies Wood and Lane, the latter already too weak to play bass that is handled by Rudy Sarzo and John Lodge, with drums ensemble comprised of Mick Fleetwood, Carmine Appice, Mitch Mitchell and Kenney Jones, while Carl Wilson adds some guitar and John Mayall tinkles the ivories – all on-stage at the same time. But that’s, of course, Bo who’s presiding and ruling the den, self-aggrandising himself in most of the songs, and sounding much more convincing than Chuck Negron who starts the brass-shining “I’m A Man” where the definitive article would have been much more appropriate. And the man had all the rights to be definitive in the “Bo Put The Rock In Rock ‘n’ Roll” bop as there’s an obvious link between “Hey Bo Diddley” and the Chuck Berry-delivered “My Ding A Ling”. Energy raging into the red and the baton passing around in the closing “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music”, adorned with Bobby Key’s sax solo, there’s the alchemy in action!
|A gulp of fresh air from the time capsule; a hair of the metal dog.
From today’s perspective, not all the ’80s poodle metal bands were bad, some of them – MOTLEY CRUE or BON JOVI to name but two – pedalled strong stuff: big infectious choruses tagged to sharp riffs. ALIAS, formed in 1990 by the HEART and SHERIFF splinters, navigated the similar course, it’s just that the times were a-changing and grunge bug set off, so their discography has been boasting only one record – until now. “Never Say Never”, then, is the fittingly-titled second outing, laid down in 1992 yet sounding fresh and refreshing these days when music changed gear again.
The opener, “Woman Enough”, packs enough swagger and, while at 58 minutes the album nearly outstays its welcome, there’s many delectable moments such as the amazing swamp blues dive of “The Warden” and the lyrical flight of “How Much Longer Is Forever”. Elsewhere, the emotional tension of “Pleasure And Pain” with Steve DeMarchi’s soaring guitar solo, and acoustic, strings-and-harpsichord adorned “Give Me A Reason To Stay” fall the right side of cheesy which can hardly be said of the “Play Me A Song” stadium chant and the “Bare Necessity” AOR sleeze that singer Freddy Curci would re-cut solo along with some other songs presented here in their original form. Unlike this, the bare nerve of “Diamonds” can send shiver down the most hardened rocker’s spine. Never say never, indeed.
|The last glamorous flight of the glittering dudes – across the Pond and back, down in flames.
With some of the tinsel peeled off and some of the force having jumped ship – in other words, with the hoopla gone – the MOTT part of the band carried on nevertheless. On-stage they were much more impressive than on the record, and here’s the testimony, the first ever concert collection from the vaults of the keyboardist Morgan Fisher, starting tellingly with “Storm” where the newcomers, singer Nigel Benjamin and guitarist Ray Majors, give another dimension to the classic, hooks-and-chorus heavy HOOPLE sound that the ensemble catch up with on the classic “Rock ‘n’ Roll Queen” and “All The Way From Memphis”. Meanwhile “The Great White Wail” opens up a new, proggy cosmos where PAVLOV’S DOG meets URIAH HEEP, and “She Does It” chugs along like a groovy train driven by Overend Watts’ bass and Dale Griffin’s drums and oiled with Fisher’s boogie piano.
The vocals sound a bit too frontal yet the recording’s quality pales before the excellence of the performance: the “no such thing as rock ‘n’ roll” sentiment of “Career” comes off as theatrical drama, then, as well as the cover of (wrongly credited) THE DOORS’ “Love Me Two Times” incorporating the “Love Story” theme. Cheesy – but magnificent!
|When stars align it’s a sight to see – or hear some celestial boogie.
From sweet pop music to sharp hard rock, Rick Derringer’s been on a great journey for more than four decades and made many a great friend along the way. Some of those are here, on the audio track of an old video, much bootlegged but in pristine sound quality now, a quintet of heavy guests who appear earlier in the evening joining the main man’s ensemble on the “Hang On Sloopy” grand finale, his first Number 1, which links the show to the opening salvo of “Easy Action”. Chuck Berry a clear guitar influence, it comes as no surprise that “Oh, Carol” is given a speedy airing, but the charge takes peak with Rick’s own signature tune, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hoochie Koo”.
Not that he’s less cutting on Karla DeVito’s “Is This A Cool World, Or What” alluringly voiced by the lady herself, on the soulful “Lady” where Derringer masterfully takes Jeff Beck’s former place alongside Carmine Appice and Tim Bogert or on the predatory “Cat Scratch Fever” with Ted Nugent himself coming to the party. The tension grows fast and, once Southside Johnny pours in harmonica into Eddy Boyd and Big Joe Turner blues classics, there’s a mercurial rise in the pulse. If Rick’s sidekick Alan Merrill added his “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” that would have been overkill, really, and stating the obvious. With the incendiary “Party At The Hotel” the Ritz is brought down anyway.
SBB – Iron Curtain
Metal Mind 2009
|Polish veterans look back into the dark past to burst into future.
The closer the band’s 40th anniversary the better Jozef Skrzek and his comrades become, wine-like, and this time they come out all majestic, short on words and long on the music. It explodes into you ear and soothes the pain with the title track’s reverie where Apostolis Anthimos’ guitar sheds the tear over the leader’s Hammond swell until the serenity grows anthemic. Settling down, like a tide, in lyrical “Camelele”, it creeps then into your soul like a blissful comedown in “Gory tanczace” (“Dancing Mountains”) but never more so than in the samba-hued rhythm section interplay, driven with Gabor Nemeth’s tom toms, of “Blogoslawione dni” (“Blessed Days”). The memories of the time past flow on and on and turn from sweet to bitter, if not hurtful, in the closing Latin throb of “Dopoki zyje matka jestes dzieckiem” (“While your mother lives, you are a baby”). The repeated listens make “Iron Curtain” a grower, and when Skrzek declares, in Polish, “Believe, we still have strength”, you gotta do so!
KING EARL BOOGIE BAND –
|Still alive, British blues aristocrats lay it on the line.
Hard to believe but this ensemble, having formed in 1972 and never stopped going, released only one album, so this one makes the veterans’ discography twice as long. What’ve they been doing? Playing, and here’s the document of the band letting loose on-stage in 2005. There’s no Paul King now who started it all with Colin Earl when the two grew tired of MUNGO JERRY yet the line-up rock on with guitarist Dave Peabody’s material giving a kick to such classics as “What’d I Say”. His instrumental “Blue Slate Slide” comes close to Peter Green’s masterpieces while Earl’s filigree piano and ex-STATUS QUO John Couglan’s deliberately simple beat underpin slide solos of incendiary opener “Money To Burn” and do the strut in Larry Williams’ “Slow Down” to set any foot tapping. The pace gets even more unleashed with the fuzz of “Matchbox” turning hoodoo in Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” where chorus rises to a mesmerizing incantation and then resolves in the “Big Road” acoustic blues weaving. The pull is irresistible!
MORLEY HAYDEN HAINES –
|Poet laureate in waiting goes all the way to fusion and back – Ra.
They’re a rare breed, great poets crossing over to music, and with only a couple of names springing to mind, Jonathan Morley, an Eric Gregory Award winner who researches T. S. Elliot’s stamp over Carribean literature at the University of Warwick, stands closer to Gil Scott-Heron rather than Leonard Cohen. His lines chime with jive, so Morley teams up with guitarist and composer Si Hayden and drummer Ben Haines to deliver them in style. Cue this album, a companion piece to “Backra Man” the book (note the singular as opposed to the plural in the record’s title), a jazzy experience which starts creepingly with Hayden’s piano rippling over Haines’ shadowy cymbals and Morley’s gloomy voice reciting strange images.
It resonates on many levels when the “Da Da dada dada” sets alliteration apace in “For Lee Miller”, spanky bass brings funk into the “Loki’s song” Gothic texture, and baroque country picking paints the “grass glares white” picture of “Spon”. The music feels as strange as the poems but one fits the other perfectly. “Backra” means the evil white man, and this fusion of poetry and sparse melodies seems sinister indeed, yet it’s not aggressive at all, save for the Rasta talk of “Sistah” that sounds melodius even without ragged accompaniment, whereas the “Duskfall” lace is pure elegance and “Iberian Baroque” gently takes a listener on an Indiana Jone-like adventure to the Indian pyramids. That’s where the whiter shade of face re-appears. Haunting!
|One wonderful mystery: the fairies can sing, you know.
It’s a bit of oxymoron in the psychedelic optimism of the band’s name contrasting their debut album’s title yet there’s no contradiction in the music composed by Wojtek Szadkowski, one of the Polish prog scene stalwarts. Calling his SATELLITE friends to arms to back a lady singer called Robin and himself providing drums, keyboards and acoustic textures, the main man draws deep from the emotional well and pulls you in from the off. All is down to the throbbing atmospherics where synthetic layers come melded with riffs that are so tasty for the silence which makes the guitar slither and meander – live, it must be fantastic! Sometimes, like in “Open Your Eyes”, the groove almost switches into a dance mode, yet overall mood is velvety dark. There’s no fantasy but melodies sound both creepy and cryptic crawling into the very soul with the meaty Hammond and silky Moog of “Close” and the “Fool” life-affirming sonic vignettes. The effect feels mesmerizing – in “Maybe” it’s as if Jim Morrison’s spirit possesses the chanteuse – and with every new spin those Elysian fields embrace you more and more.
ALEX MAGUIRE SEXTET –
|Getting inebriated has never been so delicious, so drink up this potion and hum a tune for a hangover.
The pupil of John Cage and Howard Riley, Alex Maguire knows the meaning of silence between the notes too well to let his sparse playing loose the listener’s imagination before setting his fingers to gallop across the keyboard. That’s how it goes in “Psychic Warrior” which opens this album, recorded live in October of 2007 in the company of creme de la creme of Belgian fusion masters: in fine romantic fashion brass glides over the the main man’s piano and, in “John’s Fragment”, the organ, leading it into scintillating blues-inflected march. Then, there’s the echoes of it in the Eastern-flavored and deliberately dissonant in places “Theresa’s Dress”, which resolves into almost classical ivory-and-bass dance of “Pumpkin Soup”. The flow of it all is hypnotyzing – never more so than in “Saturn” where Robin Verheyen’s sax explores the inner cosmos rather than outward space, but this way the aural rings swirl around your very head. It’s a very soft trip, topped with a great reading of Elton Dean’s “Seven For Lee”, and is highly recommended to embark on. Barking beautiful!
CARLO LITTLE ALLSTARS –
|The beat of the Little man’s big heart echoing down the years.
Carlo Little was the quintessential ’60s drummer with a great style and a small ego; perhaps, that was why so many of his peers found him such a loveable chap and possibly it was the reason that Carlo left music once that glorious decade had been over. Surprisingly, then, that, rediscovered in 1998 selling hotdogs, Little was back with a band of his own – ALLSTARS, named in honor of the British blues godfather Cyril Davies’ band the veteran played with. But the drummer’s friends were real stars who in 2001 helped their friend record this collection of chestnuts which remained in the vaults until after Carlo died of lung cancer, in 2005. So here’s his legacy.
There’s a certain doomed charm in starting the album with “It’s All Over Now” that shows how little effort and how much fun was put in the project and that, over the years, the drummer had lost none of his power – just listen to his tom tom work on “Mystery Train” which shines through Alex Chanter and Jeff Beck’s guitar solos and Long John Baldry’s juicy voice. The singer is also on what is arguably the most English take on the New Orleans hoodoo incantation of “Iko Iko”, made very playful by Geraint Watkins’ accordion. Elsewhere, Art Wood takes the equally gruff lead on “Midnight Special”, here very un-prison-like, with his younger sibling Ron adding some nice licks as he does on “Country Line Special” that has ex-PROCOL HARUM Matthew Fisher trade his organ for the driving boogie piano. Yet whatever amount of talent is onboard, it’s Carlo Little’s backbeat the backbone of it all, even if it’s as simple as on the easygoing drummer-penned Chuck Berry-ism that is the title cut.
And that’s what the man didn’t – he never stopped rockin’. So put your gladrags on and rock on… but where the remaining five tracks from the sessions?
|Good-time old-school hard rocking – with panache, edge and gusto.
Where others apply some make-up to cover the breaches in their music, HEAVEN’S BASEMENT go all the way to the core to make their sounds glitter and breathe. And there could be no better introduction to the UK quintet’s oeuvre than this six-shooter mini-album, with “Tear Your Heart Out” riding high on the urgent riff and Richie Hevanz’s glam-patented voice which turns very soft when his compadres slow down the grind. But though “Fear Of Getting Off” is a surefire hit, sometimes the melodies feel a tad generic. Still, nobody can deny the appeal of the “Graduation” harmony web and not admire Sid Glover and Jonny Rocker guitars’ ringing on “Saint Routine”. Which means forget your bloated GUNS N’ ROSES and MOTLEY CRUE – there’s a new crop thrive. On to the full-scale album now!
SOFT MACHINE – Drop
|The precious missing link in the Machinists’ history. “No entry” point for the uninitiated, the trove for the dedicated who want to be listening.
That was the shortest-lived line-up of the Canterbury giants who found themselves in the deep end of things when Robert Wyatt left and the band needed a drummer with an equally imaginative swing. Cue Phil Howard, a potential replacement from the year before; having played with Elton Dean, he firmly took to the stool in September 1971 and held the position till February 1972. During the stint he contributed to both the live shows and studio sessions which resulted in the “Fifth” album – well represented here, the only concert document of this configartion of the quartet.
The angular beauty of this performance secures the ensemble’s reputation as audacious experimentalists much better than other concert recordings that leaned over to either jazz or progressive rock. “Drop” isn’t like them at all, pulling in different directions from the rippling “Neo Caliban Grides” to the ripping “Pigling Band” while somehow gelling into a jelly-like whole. Thus, the title track comes dripping with brooding fusion splashes yet turns into the mildly wild beast, high on synth, and even the ever-melodious “All White” sees Howard and Hugh Hopper’s bopping bass in the eye of the storm where Mike Ratledge’s Fender Rhodes shines and Dean’s sax goes all lightning. In such a surrounding, “Out-Bloody-Rageous” sprawls out like a plush, if a bit creepy, carpet, and the drum solo that is “Dark Swing” feels rather innocent. Quite an experience!
GMT – Evil Twin
|Look in the mirror and double-check if it’s really you, suggest these geezers. Dee Snider nods approvingly.
They aren’t GREEN DAY, they’re old and ugly for today’s standards, but GMT did find their audience’s G-spot and rub it nicely. Those who doubted the British trio would retain the level of intensity set in 2006 with "Bitter & Twisted" should run in fear now for the veterans do deliver… without delivering the listener from evil, of course. Unleashing their Mr. Hyde in the title cut and stating that “heavy metal [is] punk in the heart” – and that’s in fact been Carmine Appice and Interview with JOHN McCOY‘s MO for many years – in “Punco Rocco” which is voiced by Torme’s DESPERADO compadre Dee Snider over madful tom-toming from Robin Guy, the band serve adrenalin in buckets. This time, though, it’s deliciously spiked with some curry in the form of tabla and sitar and spiced up on two tracks with bassist and guitarist’s chum from GILLAN times, Colin Towns’ cosmic synthesizers. Not that it infected the album with the seriousness bug, what with the finale speedy romp titled and depicting “The Humours Of Mr. McCoy”; the bite comes with the stormy sprawling blues of “Perfumed Garden” and the acoustic buzz offsetting the meaty riffs in hippy-licking “Jonny (sic!) Sitar”. So don’t stroll with Dr. Jekyll-like long face – go dual!
|Psychedelic fairy tale gets dusted off rubbing off magic dust.
One of many pre-prog ensembles of the late ’60s, FIRE eluded the oblivion thanks to what now is considered a masterpiece: their 1970’s album "The Magic Shoemaker", a rare if naive song-cycle which has never been glorified as rock opera. Because it wasn’t, even though the singing guitarist Dave Lambert spun a cohesive storyline. Maybe it was this dim light that made the record gain momentum over the subsequent years and made its makers reunite to come up on stage in Surray in the late 2007 to perform the record in its entirety – and lend it a new lease of life.
Now the songs do breathe from the faux-orchestral ring of “Overture (To A Shoemaker)” to the “Happy Man Am I” joyful resolve via the infectious harmonies of “Flies Like A Bird” and the “Tell You A Story” drums-and-bass heavy march which defy the notion that, out of the band, only Lambert who composed it all has been playing ever since – in THE STRAWBS. There’s still a powerful pull in the chorus hook of “Only A Dream” and the hypnotic rockabilly groove of “War” making up for some tracks that wouldn’t work of out context and some that come dangerously close to the popular songs of the period: doesn’t “Shoemaker” follow the tracks of “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion”? But here’s a period charm at play, and everything sounds very fresh. Which means the album has stood the test of time being revered ever so rightfully.
MARTIN ORFORD –
|Going backwards is a conservative yet steady way to move forward.
Look at the insert once the disc is removed: there’s a dead end in the woods – nowhere to go but into the wild. That’s how it is for Martin Orford. Having left IQ in 2007, the versatile keyboard player concentrated on his second solo album, a follow-up to 2001’s "Classical Music And Popular Songs", but once this work has been finished, he decided to leave the music for good. Such is Orford’s disillusionment with the business in the Internet age of consumerism.
Not that the times creeped into “The Old Road – maybe the “unashamedly retro and proud of it” sentiment is only an emotion after all, as the harmony guitar which Martin opens the album with sounds rather futuristic set against the majestic organ. “Grand Design” is progressively grand, indeed, with its tired urban panorama, Biblical allusions, Apocalyptic march and the auteur’s unassuming voice that keeps it all firmly grounded. Which means, the “fantastic” characteristic concerns not the themes but melodies and playing, with a star-ridden line-up including John Wetton lending his bass and voice to a few cuts – “The Time And The Season” the most easy-rolling rock song on offer – yet one of the main surprises here is Orford’s mastery of guitar. Of course, there’s a classical piano composition, the elegantly jiving “Prelude” to the Arcadian pessimism of the title track with a built-in anxiety alerter and a morris dance. And then “Endgame” states that “ray of hope is gone”: too sad. Too sad if Martin Orford closes the door. But wouldn’t it be delicious to go into the wild and get back someday?
THE JOHN DUMMER BLUES BAND –
|The artifact from the British crossroads time with Graham Bond flying from the tangent to blow it.
That was an era when glam was king not gloom, but for drummer John Dummer the blues had always been any color he liked his band to get dressed in. They dabbled in folk and in witchcraft, yet in 1973 everything started to dissolve, so impressive line-up notwithstanding – the original guitarist Dave Kelly returned from FOGHAT to play and sing the lead and former MUNGO JERRY pianist Colin Earl joined in – the results of the group’s four-day stand in Rockfield Studios didn’t produce quite an album.
These are fine songs, from the country roll of “Short Haul Line” and “LA Lady” to the “Who’s Foolin’ Who” elastic funk and the “Keep It In My Mind” creepy joy; however, there’s no completeness to the whole. The ensemble’s blues roots rear their heads in Elmore James-like “Goin’ Home” to rock the juke and let the great Graham Bond do his Magick trick – possibly the last one recorded – on the sax, and boogie sound aplenty here. The musicians clearly had a good time laying it all down, and the good time is to be had while listening to the record. Just don’t call it an album.
BRIAN WILSON –
|Time has stood still for this man. Or has this man been frozen in time just like the cover oranges? It’s juicy, still.
Brian Wilson’s a genius – or was it back in 1966, at the point of “Pet Sounds” and before “Smile” made him crack. On the rise again for several years now, since he revived the latter project, there’s a Wilson magic at play again as if it was 1967 still. The wonder of the album – shot through with Louis Armstrong’s title perennial – is in the real-ness of what’s going on there. Brian shows no sadness for the times past – he’s not reminiscing but sees everything ever so clear, while realizing that a lot has changed in LA over the last 40 years. In “Oxygen To The Brain” the veteran readily admits he “wasted a lot of years, life was so dead” and, in “Going Home”, that “at 25 I turned out the light… but now I’m back”.
As “Midnight’s Another Day” goes, “there’s no morning without ‘u'”, and there’s no mourning, indeed. The sunny mood of the artwork and the spirit so sincere, in deceptively primitive “Forever She’ll Be My Supergirl” and the sparking “Morning Beat” the artist doesn’t imitate his young self but rejuvenates, picking up the song he cut off back in the carefree years. Yes, the song – the album being a tightly knit suite with part of the narrative written by Wilson’s old compadre Van Dyke Parks. So if the time’s stood still, it produced a charming, harmony-rich still life of great soulfulness.
BORIS SAVOLDELLI –
|Welcome to the tower of song when all is voice and voice is all.
When it comes to the a cappella architecture in the realm of popular music the obvious reference points would be such harmony kings as Brian Wilson and Bobby McFerrin, but once the layers of this album’s opener, “Andywalker”, flow in, one instantly recognizes the Apenninian progressive style. It takes some concentration to notice there’s no other instruments involved save for maestro Savoldelli’s vocal chords, and even the title track and the Mex-country of “Mindjoke” embellished with Mark Ribot’s lines can be heard without the guitarist’s contribution. The multi-tracked voice is dancing around – in “Circlecircus” it’s sun-speck-like, in “Bluechild” it’s gospelly spectral. Yet there’s a lot of soulfulness in the hectic “Crosstown Traffic” and the croon of “In The Seventh Year”, a present to Boris from the old jazz guard, Mark Murphy. Overall, it’s a mindbending and extremely sensual experience that’s impossible not to love.
JAMES TAYLOR –
|Will the veteran swallow anything evil? What lies behind the blue eyes?
Look at this frank face and clear eyes. Can this sweet man do anything bad with good songs? Of course, no! Especially now, when James Taylor celebrates the 40th anniversary of his debut album. That’s probably why the six-time Grammy winner decided to become another victim of the covers-mania and recorded songs written – for the most part – before 1968. Nothing wrong with that but the gist is not in not-spoiling the classics yet in lending them your own personality. And it’s there that the veteran gloriously fails.
The problem lies in keeping too close to the original versions – but THE TEMPTATIONS did the mellifluous “It’s Growing” much better. Still, the change for the sake of change brings no use either: if the emotionality of the “Hound Dog” delivery is measured against Elvis’ take on it, the Big Mama Thornton’s belter will make one end of the scale and Taylor’s reading the other. Which doesn’t diminish the value of “Covers” where everything is made with love, and it’s hard to not be drawn in the “Not Fade Away” or “(I’m A) Road Runner” drive; more so, one can’t wish better accompanists than Steve Gadd, Michael Landau and the like.
The fans of Jimmy Webb and Leonard Cohen may not share the sentiment, as James considerably flattens “Wichita Lineman” and “Suzanne”, but the Americana aficionados will love this album, what with the graceful dance of John Anderson’s “Seminole Wind”, the only track here written when Taylor was already a superstar. Big artist made a big work.