Posts Tagged ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’

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

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Ultimate – Greatest Hits and All-Time Classics

Monday, November 19th, 2012

3-CD overview ofAmerica’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band

As a band whose albums, singles and live performances were equally exciting, it can be argued that Creedence Clearwater Revival remains the greatest group in American rock ‘n’ roll history. Whether stretching out a psychedelic jam of “Suzie Q” or “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” or packing everything they had into the 2:21 of “Bad Moon Rising,” their synthesis of rock, country, blues, and southern soul was riveting. Their hit singles still leave listeners reaching to turn up the volume, and their albums harbor dozens of lesser-known, but no less terrific covers and Fogerty originals. In a six-album stretch from 1968’s eponymous Creedence Clearwater Revival through 1970’s Pendulum, the quartet never faltered – dropping dozens of hit singles and revitalizing well-selected covers with iconic guitar riffs and vocal turns that hook your ear as readily today as they did forty years ago.

The CCR catalog has seen its fair share of reissues, with a box set in 2001, individual album remasters in 2008, and in 2009 a mono singles collection, vintage live concert and a covers collection. And then there are numerous tributes and an endless array of karaoke discs. Fantasy’s latest reiteration of the core catalog is a three-disc set that goes beyond the hit singles, but not as far as the box set. It’s a better introduction than a single disc, and with the inclusion of album and live tracks, a broader look than the two volume Chronicle set. The set is delivered in a tri-fold cardboard sleeve with extensive liner notes by Bay Area music historian, Alec Palao. Among his insights is the astonishing fact that CCR never scored a chart-topping U.S. single; Green River and Cosmo’s Factory each topped the album chart, but their peak singles, “Proud Mary,” “Green River” and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” topped out at #2.

Perhaps it’s fitting that the longevity of the group’s legacy is broader than hit singles. The set’s first two discs sample from the group’s seven original studio albums, including four Fogerty-piloted tracks from the swansong, Mardi Gras. Disc three collects live performances from 1970-71, recorded in the Bay Area and across Europe; all were previously issued on either The Concert or as bonus tracks to the 2008 album reissues. The live mixes are necessarily rawer than the studio recordings, but they’re full and punchy, show off the band’s tight ensemble playing and demonstrate how well CCR’s material translated to the stage. This is a great set for listeners who haven’t upgraded their Chronicle LPs to CDs, those not ready for the box or album reissues, or younger listeners that need to have the waxy buildup of contemporary pop removed from their ears. [©2012 Hyperbolium]

David Cassidy: Gettin’ it in the Street

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

David Cassidy’s third and final post-teen idol album for RCA

In the two years after David Cassidy walked away from Bell Records and his career as a teen idol, he recorded three albums for RCA. The first, The Higher They Climb, found success in Europe and spun out a pre-Barry Manilow hit recording of Bruce Johnston’s “I Write the Songs.” Cassidy’s second album for RCA, Home is Where the Heart Is failed to chart, as did the pre-release singles from this third album. RCA planned and then shelved the album’sU.S. release, though apparently copies were pressed and warehoused, as they began showing up in cutout bins three years later.

The album’s track list is an eclectic lot, including the autobiographical title tune (featuring the guitar playing of Mick Ronson), the boozy original “Rosa’s Cantina,” a cover of Harry Nilsson’s “The Story of Rock and Roll,” and a tune co-written by Cassidy, producer (and America founding member) Gerry Beckley and head Beach Boy, Brian Wilson. The latter, “Cruise toHarlem,” has the hallmarks of a mid-70s Brian Wilson tune, with a chugging rhythm and sophisticated vocal arrangement. The album closes with Cassidy’s original “Junked Heart Blues,” sung in a clenched voice that brings to mind Boz Scaggs.

Cassidy sings with terrific emotion throughout, including a duet withBeckleyon “Living a Lie,” but his more sophisticated and soulful pop-rock couldn’t find a place in the market. One has to wonder whether the “David Cassidy” name was still overshadowed by his earlier fame, making it difficult for listeners to accept him as a bona fide recording artist. The music he made fit well with the commercial mainstream of ‘76-77, but despite his artistry, chart success was not to be. Real Gone’s reissue includes the album’s original nine tracks, clocking in at thirty-four minutes, and features liner notes from Michael Ragogna. [©2012 Hyperbolium]

David Cassidy: Live!

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

A multitalented teen-idol tears it up live in 1974

In 1974, David Cassidy was on top of the world commercially, but near the end of his run of mainstream fame. He was a talented musician trapped in the body – and career – of a teen idol. His aspirations were starting to exceed what his fans and critics would freely allow him to grasp, and unlike the Beatles, who successfully retreated from the stage to studio, Cassidy’s attempts to grow beyond the confines of his Partridge Family-launched solo career led to artistic accomplishment, but not broader commercial success. 1974 marked the tail end of his pop-idol ride, and the frenzy surrounding his live appearances, as evidenced by the crowd’s non-stop hysteria, was as highly-charged as ever. Cassidy didn’t know it at the time, but it would come crashing down at tour’s end, when hundreds of fans were injured and one, Bernadette Whelan, was killed by the crush of a concert crowd. Cassidy retired from touring at the end of that year, and after a three-album stint on RCA, he put his public music career on a decade-long hiatus.

What’s truly impressive about his live album is that with the craziness still running full tilt, Cassidy was able to deliver a live performance that was both exciting to his youngest fans and artistically satisfying to those able to listen past the pre-teen pandemonium. He was (and remains to this day), a fetching singer and dynamic showman. He had a terrific ear for material that fit his voice, that played well on stage and with which he could do something interesting. His raucous cover of Leon Russell’s “Delta Lady” is worth hearing, and he leads the band in stretching Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth” into a soul groove. Even better is a Beatlemania-worth cover of “Please Please Me” and the rock ‘n’ roll medleys that close the set. Cassidy whips the crowd into a lather with covers of Mitch Ryder’s mash-up of “C.C. Rider” and “Jenny Jenny,” and rips through five early rock classics capped with his own his hit single, “Rock Me Baby.”

Cassidy comes across as truly enthused to be performing, and though the rising tide of fame may have drown some of his artistic dreams, he maintained enough control to craft a live set in which he could invest himself as a performer. The band is hot, and though the fans scream throughout the entire show, the music isn’t compromised. There’s real chemistry between Cassidy and the musicians, each feeding off the other’s energy, and both feeding off the crowd. The recording quality is good, though by no means state-of-the-art for 1974; no doubt the original producers thought of this as something to market, rather than something to preserve. Still, Cassidy’s magnetism, artistry and showmanship, and the high quality of the band’s playing come through louder and clearer than anyone might have expected in 1974.  [©2012 Hyperbolium]

Janis Martin: The Blanco Sessions

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

The original rockabilly filly heats up her final session

If you’re going to cut a rock ‘n’ roll record – a real rock ‘n’ roll record – dropping eleven tracks in two days is the way to do it. Get everyone in a room, run ‘em through the songs once or twice and let it fly. It doesn’t need polish and pitch correction, it needs abandon and raw energy, and rockabilly singer Janis Martin had the latter two in spades. Recorded only a few months before she passed away, these sides find Martin’s voice deeper than her late ‘50s work as “the female Elvis,” and though she no longer had the tone of youth, she still had the fire. Longtime friend Rosie Flores (who’d coaxed Martin into the studio to sing on 1995’s Rockabilly Filly) pulled together a talented band of Austin-based musicians and produced this album of retro-rockabilly in 2007. It’s taken five years to get it released, but it was well worth the wait.

The sessions proved a fitting farewell as drummer Bobby Trimble and upright bassist Beau Sample goose the rhythms as all-star guitarist Dave Biller and pianist T. Jarrod Bonta sling themselves around the vocals. At  67, Martin was still connected to the verve of her teenage years, and prodded by the band – particularly Trimble’s backbeats – she really belts out the tunes. The material is a connoisseur’s collection of R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly and country, reaching back to the early years, as well as touch on revival material, like Dave Alvin’s “Long White Cadillac.” Backing vocals fromFloresand a guest duet with Kelly Willis (added in 2011) fill out a terrific final chapter in the career of a genuine rockabilly star. [©2012 Hyperbolium]

Janis Martin at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame
Rosie Flores’ Home Page