Posts Tagged ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’

Led Zeppelin and Little Richard

Saturday, November 12th, 2016

Led Zeppelin borrowing from Little Richard, perhaps by way of Ritchie Valens.

Velvet Crush: Pre-Teen Symphonies

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

VelvetCrush_PreTeenSymphoniesThe genesis of a rock classic

Although Paul Chastain and drummer Ric Menck recorded a number of singles as Choo Choo Train, Bag-O-Shells and The Springfields, they first came to wider notice as Velvet Crush with 1991’s In the Presence of Greatness. Critics and fans latched on, but it wasn’t until they released 1994’s Teenage Symphonies to God, with U.S. distribution by Sony, that they made their biggest splash. Three years and a change of producers (Mitch Easter replacing Matthew Sweet) between the two albums left a gap bridged by a few singles and an EP. The post-album afterward yawned even wider as the band mostly parked themselves, recording with Stephen Duffy, and didn’t re-emerge as Velvet Crush until the release of 1998’s Heavy Changes.

Omnivore’s sixteen-track collection helps fill the gaps, offering up Teenage-era demos and live performances. The first eight tracks cherry-pick demos previously released on the out-of-print Melody Freaks. Included are early versions of six album tracks, plus the otherwise lost “Not Standing Down,” and a cover of Three Hour Tour’s “Turn Down.” For listeners whose neurons have been organized by repeated spins of Teenage Symphonies to God, the demos provide an opportunity for renewal. You know these songs, but then again, you don’t. The pieces are there – lyrics, melodies and guitars – but not the final polish; but what the demos give up in nuanced construction they redeem in initial discovery. It’s the difference between a candid snapshot and a posed portrait – they each say something about the subject, but they also say something about each other.

Mitch Easter helped the band wring more out of their songs, and while the demos provided templates for the master takes, the album cuts provided the same for the live performances. The eight live tracks, recorded in a November 1994 opening slot at Chicago’s Cabaret Metro (and previously released on Rock Concert), show the band to be a ferocious live act. With Tommy Keene added as lead guitarist, the band goes all out to win over the crowd with their thirty minute set, and as Ric Menck said, “we got ’em by the end.” No small feat, considering they were opening for the Jesus and Mary Chain and Mazzy Star. The live set includes numbers from both Teenage Symphonies and Presence (“Window to the World” and “Ash and Earth”) and a closing cover of 20/20’s “Remember the Lightning.” This is a terrific companion to Teenage Symphonies, and an essential for the album’s fans. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Willie Nile: World War Willie

Saturday, April 9th, 2016

WillieNile_WorldWarWillieNew York rocker on a roll

Last we saw Buffalo, NY rocker Willie Nile, he’d stripped himself of his six-string, and sat down for a more introspective turn at the piano for 2014’s If I Was a River. The declarative rock ‘n’ roll of his recent albums gave way to a more conversational style, both between Nile and the piano, and between Nile, the piano and their listeners. Though only a temporary detour, it proved a valuable addition to Nile’s catalog, and a resting spot to gather himself for another album of highly-charged rock. Now into the latter-half of his 60s, Nile hasn’t lost a thing; one has to wonder if there’s an album in his attic whose music is aging away, Dorian Gray style.

Nile’s rock ‘n’ roll was bred in the 1970s, as a fellow traveler of those who fused the resuscitating spark of punk rock with a reverence for the roots of rock ‘n’ roll and blues. He’s played alongside Springsteen and the original panoply of CBGB acts, and the true-believer banner he hoisted with his 1980 debut still flies just as freely in his fourth decade of music making. Rock ‘n’ roll isn’t mere entertainment for Nile, though it’s certainly entertaining; more deeply, Nile shares Springsteen’s view that music is a redemptive force, and in Nile’s capable hands, it’s an emotional contact sport.

The album opens with a line drawn from teenage years to elder statesman, but it’s nearly superfluous to say in the wake of Nile’s unwavering commitment to rock ‘n’ roll. Rock isn’t Nile’s avocation or occupation (or even pre-occupation), it’s a fundamental tenet that leads to the only halfway tongue-in-cheek “Grandpa Rocks.” And Grandpa does rock. Hard. But he also takes it down to a knowing ballad for “Runaway Girl,” with lovely castanets (courtesy of Patricia Vonne) that echo Mink DeVille channeling the Brill Building. He breaks down to the blues for “Bad Boy” and the humorous social critique, “Citibank Nile,” and free associates a Dylan-esque catalog of unusual companions for the title track.

The free-spiritedness continues with the rockabilly “Hell Yeah,” and Nile’s love of all things music comes in a pair of tributes: Levon Helm is remembered in the original “When Levon Sings,” and fellow New York rocker Lou Reed in the album-closing cover of “Sweet Jane.” The latter builds to an anthem, and rings especially true as Nile sings “me, I’m in a rock ‘n’ roll band.” Thirty-six years after his debut, that membership, both in his exceptional band and in the larger brotherhood of rock ‘n’ roll, still seems to fulfill Nile’s deepest need. Lucky for us, he’s willing to share his personal fountain of youth. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Willie Nile’s Home Page

Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas: All-Time Greatest Hits

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

BillyJKramerWithTheDakotas_AllTimeGreatestHitsRiding the Beatles’ wake

Few British Invasion acts rode the Beatles coattails better than Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas. Not only were they managed by Brian Epstein and signed to the Parlophone label under the direction of George Martin, but more than half of their chart hits and several of their album tracks were penned by Lennon & McCartney themselves. And among the many L&M compositions, which included “I’ll Be on My Way,” “Bad to Me,” “I’ll Keep You Satisfied,” “From a Window,” “I Call Your Name” and “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” only the latter two were released by the Beatles. But even with this British dynamo in their corner, the group reached out to America for several hits, including the Brill Building’s Mort Schuman (and his eccentric co-writer J. Leslie “Pumpkin Juice” McFarland) for “Little Children.”

Varese’s concise, 32-minute collection (featuring an 8-page booklet with excellent liners by Jerry McCulley) includes all seven of the group’s U.S. and U.K. hits plus a handful of album tracks, non-charting singles and the shelved L&M tune “I’m in Love.” It’s a fair sampling of the group’s wares, stretching from their 1963 cover of “Do You Want to Know a Secret” through their last hit, a fine take on Bacharach and David’s “Trains and Boats and Planes.” Among the riches delivered by the British Invasion, the group’s recordings weren’t the most revelatory, but with such strong material to draw upon, a sweet lead voice and talented instrumental backings, they remain quite charming. There are deeper helpings and album reissues of the group’s catalog to be had, but for many, this taste will be just right. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Billy J. Kramer’s Home Page

Little Richard: Directly From My Heart

Friday, June 12th, 2015

LittleRichard_DirectlyFromMyHeartSolid 3-CD set of seminal mid-50s sides and mid-60s comeback

It’s hard to believe, but Little Richard’s key sides – “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Rip it Up,” “Lucille,” “Jenny, Jenny,” “Keep A-Knockin’,” “Good Golly Miss Molly” and others – were recorded in only seventeen months, between September 1955 and January 1957. This will particularly surprise fans who first heard the original releases stretched out another eighteen months, through July 1958. Part of that schedule was due to the natural tempo of radio play and the singles charts, but a larger part was a byproduct of Richard’s late 1957 exit and subsequent hiatus from secular recording.

In the Fall of 1957, at the very height of his fame, Richard stepped out of the rock ‘n’ roll spotlight to devote his life to God and record gospel for End, Mercury, Atlantic and Coral. He returned with a one-off secular single for Little Star in 1962, recorded briefly for Specialty in 1964 (scoring a minor hit with “Bama Lama Bama Loo”), and returned full-time to rock ‘n’ roll with Vee-Jay from mid-64 to late-65. Richard’s stay on Vee-Jay included a number of royalty-recovering remakes that seemed more to imitate his earlier self than break new ground, but there was also new material and contemporary covers that found the showman’s vitality and ingenuity completely intact.

Specialty’s three-CD set cherry-picks Richard’s brilliant initial recordings of the mid-50s and his return to rock ‘n’ roll in the mid-60s. The set includes hits and B-sides that show off his initial failure to find an original sound, the spark lit in 1955, his inimitable string of hits, and his 1960s reworking of his own creation. Most startling to this day are the early hits he cut at Cosimo Matassa’s J&T studio, backed by the finest players in New Orleans. The morning session produced R&B that failed to differentiate itself from his earlier work for RCA and Peacock. But his off-the-cuff lunchtime rendition of the raunchy “Tutti Frutti” turned producer Bumps Blackwell’s head and was quickly spun into gold.

In short order, Richard laid down the most famous portion of his catalog, garnering radio play, chart hits, international tours and feature film appearances. But just as quickly as his fame came, he stopped it cold in its tracks with an October 1957 decision to abandon rock ‘n’ roll. Specialty managed to extend Richard’s chart presence with patched up demos of “Keep A-Knockin’” and “Ooh! My Soul,” the 1955-6 recordings of “True Fine Mama,” “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Baby Face,” and Little Richard singles continued to pour out of Specialty for another year. But only a 1955 recording of “Kansas City” even grazed the charts, bubbling under at #95 in 1959, and Richard all but disappeared from popular music.

To be more nuanced about his first morning session, there are several highlights among what might otherwise have been pedestrian R&B sides. Richard croons movingly on “Wonderin’,” Alvin “Red” Tyler’s sax adds muscle to “All Night Long,” and Justin Adams’ guitar solo is an unexpectedly raw delight on “Directly From My Heart.” By the time Richard swings into “Baby,” you can start to feel it in his vocals, but the jump to “Tutti Frutti” is really a full quantum leap. Richard’s opening “wop bop a loo bop a lop bom bom” turns everything up several notches, and the band – particularly drummer Earl Palmer – ignites.

Over the next few months Richard built on the invention of “Tutti Frutti,” reinventing its opening call for “Heeby-Jeebies Love,” taking emotional pleading to a new level with “True, Fine Mama” and “Shake a Hand,” lighting up the band’s New Orleans second-line on “Slippin’ and Slidin’ (Peepin’ and Hidin’),” and laying down the rock ‘n’ roll templates “Long Tall Sally,” “Ready Teddy” and “Rip it Up.” The band’s cool groove on “Lucille” contrasts with Richard’s unrestrained vocal, and he sets the studio on fire with his signature “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and the awesomely salacious “The Girl Can’t Help It.” By 1957, even the straight blues of “Early One Morning” succumbed to the edgy power of Richard’s singing.

Richard’s 1964 full return to rock ‘n’ roll found his fire stoked by the gospel he’d been recording. His televised live set for the UK’s Granada transitions seamlessly between secular and gospel material, and his recordings showed new sparks. 1964’s “Bama Lama Bama Loo” has more of a go-go rhythm than his earlier work, and “Poor Boy Paul” has a light Calypso undertow for its novelty chorus lyric. Moving to Vee Jay, Richard spent considerable time re-recording his hits in an attempt to regain royalties he’d signed away in 1957. This set sidesteps those re-recordings in favor of new material and covers that find Richard tackling songs from Leadbelly, Larry Williams, Fats Domino and others.

Though the Vee Jay performances aren’t as incendiary as the mid-50s Specialty sessions, there’s some great material here that shows Richard still expanding his reach. Among the more notable sidemen in his 1964 comeback sessions was reported to be Jimi Hendrix, whose guitar is said be be heard on several tracks, including a cover of Don Covay’s “I Don’t Want What You Got But It’s Got Me.” More definitively documented is the electric violin of Don “Sugarcane” Harris on the blues “Goin’ Home Tomorrow.” Richard successfully reaches back to rock ‘n’ roll’s roots for “Money Honey,” “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” “Blueberry Hill,” and “Short Fat Fanny,” but also rocks contemporary material, such as Nilsson’s “Groovy Little Suzy” and Alvin Tyler’s “Cross Over.”

Richard’s originals during this period included “My Wheels They Are Slippin’ All the Way,” “Dancing All Around the World” and the wonderfully funky “It Ain’t Whatcha Do (It’s the Way How You Do It).” Richard seemed to be searching for his place in the musical landscape of 1964, singing rock, soul and orchestral ballads, and even swinging brassy updates of the Platters’ “Only You” and Dean Martin’s “Memories Are Made of This.” Unfortunately, with Vee Jay crumbling amid financial malfeasance (not to mention the loss of the Four Seasons), and the British Invasion washing up on American shores, there was little mainstream chart action and no commercial comeback for Richard’s records.

And that lack of notice is a shame, as Little Richard was still in top form in 1964. Vee Jay managed to release two full albums before dribbling out the remaining material over the following decade. Specialty’s three-CD set provides a good selection of the label’s seminal mid-50s recordings and Vee Jay’s comeback material, and represents a way-station between single-disc hit anthologies, the foundational original albums Here’s Little Richard and Little Richard Volume 2, and the all-in Specialty Sessions box set. The 36-page booklet includes liner notes from Billy Vera, and plenty of photos, but is sorely missing session dates and personnel listings. The tracks are all mono, except for stereo on “Bama Lama Bama Loo” and “Dancing All Around the World.” [©2015 Hyperbolium]

The Budrows: No Bad Whiskey EP

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Budrows_NoBadWhiskeyFoot-stompin’ cigar box rock ‘n’ roll

It’s hard to explain this trio’s music better than they explain it themself: foot-stompin’, cigar box rock ‘n’ roll. Based around Jason Farthing’s cigar box guitar and bass drum, and Jesse “El Gato” Boden’s harmonica and flute, the trio is fronted by the vocals, washboard and tambourine of Farthing’s stepdaughter Macarena Rivera. The result lands somewhere between juke joint blues, the lo-fi stomp of Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs, and the Woodstock-era sounds of Canned Heat and Sweetwater. Rivera brings a solid shot of sass to the EP’s title song, but shows a more vulnerable side on “Prove Me Wrong.” Boden sings the relentless “Devil’s On My Side,” and the closing duet “Never Coming Back” evokes the spirit of Richard and Mimi Farina. The EP’s raw guitar, smooth flute and hand percussion are complemented by Alan Deremo’s bass and Hannah Glass’ violin, and though the guests fill out the trio’s basic sound, it still remains 100% true to its foot-stompin’ Saturday night roots. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

The Budrows’ Home Page

Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition: Dark Night of the Soul

Friday, March 7th, 2014

JimboMathus_DarkNightOfTheSoulOutstanding album of rootsy, blue rock ‘n’ soul

Squirrel Nut Zippers founder Jimbo Mathus actually never strayed far from the blues of his native Mississippi. Just as the Zippers were taking off in the late ’90s, he recorded an album of Delta blues, ragtime and jug band music in honor of Charley Patton, and in financial support of Patton’s daughter (and one-time Mathus nanny), Rosetta. Following the Zippers’ initial disbanding in 2000, he toured and recorded with Buddy Guy, set up his own studio, and began a string of albums that explored the many Southern flavors with which he grew up. In 2011 he waxed Confederate Buddha, his first album with the Tri-State Coalition, and explored various shades of country, soul, blues and rock ‘n’ roll.

The band’s third album knits together many of the same musical threads, but in a finer mesh than the debut, and with an edge that leans more heavily on rock, blues and soul. You can pick out moments that suggest the Stones (and by derivation, the Black Crowes), but a closer parallel might be an older, grizzled version of Graham Parker, as Mathus sings his deeply felt, soulful declarations and confessions. There’s a confidence in these performances that suggest songs workshopped for months on the road, but in reality they were developed over a year of casual studio time, and nailed by Mathus in demo sessions and by the band live in the studio. Mathus connects with these songs as if they’re extemporaneous expression, and like the best slow-cooked ribs, the exterior may be lightly charred, but the heart remains tender.

Listeners will enjoy the swampy southern rock and hint of Hendrix in “White Angel,” Memphis soul (and a lyrical tip to Lou Reed) in “Rock & Roll Trash,” and the Neil Young-styled fire of “Burn the Ships.” Matt Pierce’s and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s guitars are featured throughout, with scorching electric leads answering Mathus’ vocals. The album turns to country for the moonshiner story “Hawkeye Jordan” and Casey Jones (the railroad engineer, not the Grateful Dead song) is given an original spin in “Casey Caught the Cannonball.” Mathus covers a lot of ground between the love song “Shine Like a Diamond” and the addict’s lament, “Medicine,” but it’s the album’s unrelenting rock ‘n’ soul intensity that will both will keep your undivided attention. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Jimbo Mathus’ Home Page

The Rolling Stones: Charlie is My Darling

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

RollingStones_CharlieIsMyDarlingThe Rolling Stones at their 1965 peak

Filmed on a two day Rolling Stones tour of Ireland in September 1965, Peter Whitehead’s fifty-minute documentary garnered only limited showings before being shelved. In 2012, ABKCO returned to the source material to restore and expand the film to sixty-five minutes, releasing it as a single DVD and a five-disc box set that included the DVD, a Blu-ray, an LP and two CDs.  The second of those CDs featured thirteen live tracks from the tour’s concerts, recorded at the peak of the Stones first incarnation. Those tracks are now being released as digital downloads, augmenting the meager selection of commercially released early live performances, such as 1964’s T.A.M.I. Show and 1965’s UK EP Got Live if You Want It.

Included among the tracks are many icons of the Stones early live set, including covers of Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” Bo Diddley’s rave-up “I’m Alright,” Hank Snow’s “I’m Moving On,” Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster,” Allen Toussaint’s “Pain in My Heart,” Bobby Troup’s “Route 66,” Jerry Ragovoy’s “Time is on My Side,” and two Jagger/Richards’ originals, “Off the Hook” and “The Last Time.” The latter was the Stones’ first hit single of 1965, but by the time of their Irish tour, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (which is included on the box set’s first CD) had already topped the U.S. chart and was just about to peak in the UK.

The mono recordings are surprisingly listenable, given the state of mobile recording in 1965. These tracks don’t have the presence or instrumental separation of live albums made a decade later, but Jagger’s vocals are seated nicely into the mix, and the guitars, bass and drums are all legible. Better yet, the screaming crowd adds electricity without often overwhelming the music. The only thing that would be better is for the live tracks from the box set’s first CD to have been added here; at only 28 minutes (and as a digital collection with no physical length limitation), there’s plenty of room. Stones fans will want to see the documentary, but will also need the audio tracks for more regular rocking. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

The Rolling Stones’ Home Page
ABKCO’s home page

Willie Nile: American Ride

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

WillieNile_AmericanRideNew York rocker continues his hot streak

At 65, Willie Nile sings with the perspective of age but the fire of someone a third his years. He’s leapt over long gaps in his recording career with his rock ‘n’ roll heart still beating strong, and starting with 2006’s Streets of New York, he’s spun out a remarkable string of albums. It’s as if the first twenty-five years of his career (starting with his self-titled 1980 debut) were just a warm-up for this latter-day outpouring of music. His latest album is charmed; having started as a fan-funded Pledge Music project slated for independent release, the funding goal was reached in four days, and pledges topped out at three-times the initial target. But before the album even hit the market as an indie, it was picked up by the Sony-distributed Loud & Proud.

The most vital rock ‘n’ roll has traditionally been the province of callow youth. The unleavened zeal of the young experiences everything in the immediate and ranks them as zeros or ones; there are few intermediate ratings and no view toward the horizon. Their downs are the end of the world, and their joys are the next big thing. By the time they’ve developed the personal history to give their experiences context, they’re saddled with sufficient life baggage to obscure the immediate moments. In contrast, there are many musicians who age gracefully, deepening their music over time, but few who manage to retain the passion of their early years amid spouses, children, mortgages and other accoutrements of middle age. Neil Young’s done it, Bruce Springsteen too, and Willie Nile may have topped them both with his latter-day vitality.

Though he’s clear of youth’s blind enthusiasms, Nile remains a stalwart optimist. He writes anthems that invite the listener into the rock ‘n’ roll fraternity to dance, sing along or just feel the energy. Even when he takes it down to the mid-tempo acoustic shuffle of the title track, the awe in his voice resounds with the excitement of discovery. Nile’s written many love letters to his adopted home, but the Big Apple’s opportunities are particularly near and new in “Sunrise in New York City,” and the details of “Bleecker Street” could only be cataloged by someone who’s become a native. The album’s lighter moments include the rockabilly swing of “Say Hey” and the irreverently imagined “God Laughs,” each perfectly paced within the track list.

Nile’s sunny disposition might seem Pollyannaish, were it not so genuine. Down and out, he makes plans for better days on “If I Ever See the Light,” the somber “The Crossing” looks forward from a new shore, and his cover of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” resounds with benediction rather than sorrow. The album’s one moment of real tension is the sociopolitical “Holy War,” in which Nile purges himself of the anger that breeds in the shadow of religious extremism. One might read this song as literal criticism of fundamentalist terrorism, but it could also attach allegorically to intra-American culture wars. As on his previous outing, Nile is ably supported in the main by his crack road band and his unabated belief in rock ‘n’ roll, each of which set the album flying. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Willie Nile’s Home Page

Wayne Hancock: Ride

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

WayneHancock_RideJuke-joint swing, twangy honky-tonk and hot rock ‘n’ roll

Wayne Hancock’s been making great albums since he introduced himself with 1995’s Thunderstorms and Neon Signs. His vocal similarity to Hank Sr. hasn’t abated a bit in the subsequent eighteen years, nor has his fealty to the basic elements of Williams’ brand of twangy honky-tonk and haunted sorrow. But Hancock is more a man out of time than a throwback, and though his music takes on a nostalgic tint amidst Nashville’s contemporary style, he makes the case that the sounds he champions are timeless. He sparks terrific performances from his guitarists (Eddie Biebel, Tjarko Jeen and Bob Stafford), steel player (Eddie Rivers) and bassist (Zack Sapunor), and he sounds happy to be singing,l even when he’s singing the blues.

Hancock’s spent the past few years touring, riding his Harley and getting divorced. The latter has turned his music into an essential salve, and though he sings “it’s best to be alone than be in love,” he’s more likely to pine than actually swear off romance. The album opens at highway speed as Hancock tries to outrun his heartache with an open road, a full throttle and dueling electric guitar solos. He’s soon again singing the blues, low-down and alone, but the tears in his voice can’t disguise the pleasure he gains from vocalizing his troubles, a pleasure shared with anyone who gives this album a spin. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Wayne Hancock’s Home Page