Tag Archives: Blues Rock

Coven: Blood on the Snow

Third and final album from misunderstood one-hit wonders

Though now remembered for their remake of the Original Caste’s “One Tin Soldier,” this Chicago-bred band initially gained renown for the controversy that had previously sunk their commercial opportunities. Led by vocalist Jinx Dawson, the Coven was arguably the first rock band to adopt occult symbology, inverted crosses and the hand-thrown sign of the horns, and their 1969 Mercury debut, Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls, included a thirteen-minute “Satanic Mass.” Ahead of their times, they were tripped up by growing public anxiety about cults, and when an Esquire magazine suggested a false connection between the band and Charles Manson, the group’s fortunes quickly collapsed; albums returned, shows cancelled, and their recording contract dropped. Had their debut (which was reissued digitally by the band in 2015, and more recently on vinyl by Real Gone) been their epitaph, they would have earned an interesting niche in rock ‘n’ roll history. But there was more.

Resettled in Los Angeles, Dawson was tapped to cover the Original Caste’s 1969 anti-war song as the theme for the film Billy Jack. Recorded with studio musicians and an orchestra, but credited to Coven, the single rose to #26 in 1971, and netted Jinx and a newly formed Coven a record deal with MGM. Their eponymous album included a band version of “One Tin Soldier,” which itself charted in 1973 and again in 1974, cementing the group’s popular identity as a one-hit wonder. At the same time, the group had moved from MGM to Buddah where they released this third and final album. By this point, the public connection to their occult beginnings were lost in the sands of time, and neither the controversy that had originally derailed them, nor their one-off movie hit could lift them back into the mainstream.

By the time this album was released in 1974, Coven was playing catch up with the more calculated occult references others had built into heavy metal. Produced by Shel Talmy, the album features a variety of hard rock, glam, and pop that was closer to the mainstream than the blues-rock theatricality of the group’s debut. “This Song’s For All You Children” suggests radio-friendly Todd Rundgren, “Lady-O” has strings and touches of country in the piano and vocal melody, and “Don’t Call Me” resounds with the punk energy of the Dolls. But there are also traces of the band’s early days in the blues rock “Hide Your Daughters,” the progressive “Lost Without a Trace,” and “Easy Evil,” and the closing title title track.

In 1974 Buddah was likely focused on the success of their marquee act, Gladys Knight & The Pips, and reintroducing Coven to AM (which was by then was only lightly speckled with BTO, Bad Company and Grand Funk) would have been difficult. FM had long since forgotten the controversial genesis that might have made the band interesting to the underground, and even an experimental music video couldn’t reignite interest. All of which is a shame, as Dawson remained a powerful vocal talent, and many of the songs are catchy and played with style. Pop music acclaim has always been  a fickle reward based on a supernatural alignment of circumstances, and the stars didn’t align for this third and final album. Reissued with the original album’s gatefold cover, this is a nice souvenir of a band whose momentary fame overshadowed the charms of their catalog. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Mount Carmel: Get Pure

MountCarmel_GetPureOhio power-trio riffs on heavy ’60s and ’70s blues-rock

This Ohio power-trio’s got the riffs, chops and swagger to make you wish for a triple bill at the Agora. Rock may no longer be popular music’s prevailing tide, but Mount Carmel’s heavy bottom end, powerful drums and scorching lead guitar sound like a day hasn’t passed since Cream, Grand Funk, Rory Gallagher, Blue Cheer, Ten Years After, Mountain and others ruled the hard rock roost. Even with tasty guitar solos, the songs are concise (only two weigh in at over four minutes) and the playing is tight. Matthew Reed fronts the band without overdoing the machismo, and his guitar playing is supported by a solid rhythm section that features his brother Patrick on bass and James McCain on drums. There’s a hint of hippie-jam in their instrumental passages, but no twenty-minute Fillmore excess – at least not in the studio. If today’s popular music doesn’t have the muscle and grit to get you moving, this is one to check out. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

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Blue Cheer: Rocks Europe

BlueCheer_RocksEurope1960s hard rock innovators rock hard live in 2008

Few knew what to make of Blue Cheer when they released Vincebus Eruptum in 1968 and their outrageously electric cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” climbed into the Top 20. Amidst a music scene that had grown louder and harder in the aftermath of the Summer of Love, Blue Cheer was harder and louder than anything around them. They took rock music to 12, pasting together the hardest, loudest bits you might have heard from The Who or Jimi Hendrix into a sustained scrum of growling, feedback-heavy guitar, thumping bass, pounding drums and howling vocals. Many listeners simply didn’t know what to make of this new sound, but by album’s end, which included a weighty cover of Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm,” it was clear that this power trio was launching something completely new.

The group waxed and waned for the next forty years, sustaining innumerable lineup changes, but mostly retaining its thunderous rhythm section of founding bassist-vocalist Dickie Peterson and early drummer Paul Whaley. Peterson provided the group’s foundation through thick and thin, dropping out only very briefly in 1975, and it was Peterson and Whaley, along with guitarist Andrew “Duck” Peterson, who recorded this 2008 live set for the German television show Rockpalast. This lineup had been together off and on since MacDonald joined the band in 1988, and had been playing together steadily since 1999. Peterson passed away the year after this set was recorded, but as this recording shows, the band retained their pummeling sound to the end, and the rasp in Peterson’s voice added patina to their heavy psych-blues.

The eighty-three minute concert features many of Blue Cheer’s touchstones, including “Summertime Blues,” its flipside “Out of Focus,” Allison’s “Parchman Farm,” and a rendition of “Doctor Please” that stretches the eight-minute original into a twenty-five minute odyssey. The set list also includes three titles (“Babylon,” “Just a Little Bit” and a cover of Albert King’s “The Hunter”) from the band’s second album, Outsideinside, and two (“Rollin’ Dem Bones” and “I’m Gonna Get to You”) from the trio’s 2007 release, What Doesn’t Kill You. Rainman’s 2013 CD issue of this concert replicates the soundtrack of the 2009 DVD, and includes the DVD’s bonus studio track “Alligator Boots” along with the previously unreleased “She’s Something Else.” [©2013 Hyperbolium]