Tag Archives: Rockbeat

The Moving Sidewalks: The Complete Collection

Deluxe reissue of infamous 1960s Texas psych-blues

The Moving Sidewalks first came to wide attention outside of Texas with the inclusion of their incendiary 1967 single “99th Floor” on the second volume of the garage rock anthology, Pebbles. Tantalized by a liner note reference to “Bill” Gibbons and ZZ Top, fans tracked down the group’s album, Flash, and found – no doubt disappointingly to some – that the bulk of the band’s oeuvre favored heavy psychedelic blues-rock, rather than the organ, guitar and harmonica punk of “99th Floor.” Though part of the Texas scene, the Sidewalks leaned more to the electric blues of Jimi Hendrix (to which “Pluto – Sept 31st” clearly tips its cap) and Savoy Brown, than to the punk rock or Mouse and the Traps or the psychedelia of the 13th Floor Elevators.

The album’s been reissued before [1 2], including a few of the bonus tracks heard on this set’s second disc. What sets this reissue apart, aside from the crisp audio (mono on 1, 3 and 5 of Flash) and the involvement of Billy Gibbons, are non-LP singles, demos and alternate takes that provide the bridge from “99th Floor” to Flash. The three singles include “99th Floor” (also heard twice more in earlier form by the Moving Sidewalks’ predecessor, The Coachmen) and its B-side “What Are You Going To Do.” The band continued to flirt with garage even as it turned more heavily to the blues with the guitar-and-organ instrumental “Headin’ Out,” and their single for Wand (the bluesy “Need Me”) features the punkier “Every Night a New Surprise” on the flip. Their last single, a cover of the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” is either magnificent or Spinal Tapian, depending on your perspective.

The earlier tracks from the Coachmen (featuring future Moving Sidewalks Gibbons, drummer Dan Mitchell and organist Kelly Parker) include two earlier takes of “99th Floor” and three (including one instrumental backing) of the otherwise unrecorded “Stay Away.” The strummed guitar of the early “99th Floor” take gives it a hint of folk-revival, though the harmonica solo still has the sting of the garage. “Stay Away” is a tidy rocker with a surf influence, particularly in Gibbons’ tasty guitar breaks. The set’s packaging is top-notch, with mini-LP sleeves, disc graphics that reproduce the Tantara and Wand labels, and a thick 52-page booklet that’s stuffed with photos ephemera and liner notes. It’s all housed in a heavy cardboard box fronted by a period photo, wrapping a colorful bow around a real gift to fans of the Moving Sidewalks and Billy Gibbons. [©2012 Hyperbolium]

Todd Rundgren: Todd

Invigorating live run-through of Rundgren’s 1974 LP + interview

Following a trend chartered by Heart, Brian Wilson, Slayer, Lou Reed and dozens of others, Todd Rundgren has performed two of his albums live in concert. This DVD (and a separate CD) documents a September 2010 performance of Rundgren’s fifth solo release, the double-album Todd, in his hometown of Philadelphia. When originally released in 1974, Todd followed the direction chartered by A Wizard, A True Star, and pointed to Utopia’s heavier use of synthesizers. The track list mixed progressive-rock pieces and instrumentals with vocal pop songs, and following the delayed commercial success of “Hello It’s Me” (recorded in ’72, but a chart success in ’73), split fan ears between those who enjoyed shorter pop songs, and those who favored longer, more experimental productions.

Without any big chart hits as commercial tentpoles, the album works better in concert than it did on vinyl upon its release. The mix of progressive jams and succinct pop makes for a well-paced show, with the instrumental interludes punctuated by bursts of more easily digested melody and harmony. The material remains remarkably contemporary sounding, particularly the vocal arrangements. Rundgren is terrific, though his vocals are a bit low in parts of the stereo mix. The assembled band includes Jesse Gress, Greg Hawkes, Prairie Prince, Bobby Strickland and Kasim Sulton, and a children’s chorus is added for the closing “Sons of 1984.” There are a few minor hiccups in the staging (this was an early performance in a short tour), but the group is tight and hits some remarkable grooves, such as on “Everybody’s Going to Heaven.”

The 70-minute stage performance was augmented by laser lights and ornate costumes, and professionally taped with multiple cameras (though, disappointingly, in 4:3 rather than widescreen). The audio is available in both stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. The audience listens rapturously from start to finish, carrying the last song’s sing-along refrain for several minutes after the curtain’s closed. All that’s missing to make this a truly complete album performance is the experimental “In and Out the Chakras We Go (Formerly: Shaft Goes to Outer Space),” which was omitted from the tour’s set list.

The disc includes a 78-minute interview (part one of two; the second part to appear on an upcoming live DVD of Healing) conducted the night before the performance by super-fan (and sports commentator) Roy Firestone. Filmed in wide-screen before a live audience, Firestone takes Rundgren through his career via videos, photos, album covers, music snippets and Q&A. They alight on notable people, influences and accomplishments, and Rundgren is forthright (even dishy), full of interesting experiences and a natural storyteller. They’re an hour into the interview, having discussed Rundgren’s extensive work as a producer, before they even get to his own work. This is a terrific package for Rundgren fans, and whether or not Todd is one of your favorite albums, the interview alone is worth the price of admission. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

Todd Rundgren’s Home Page

Buck Owens and Susan Raye: Merry Christmas from Buck Owens and Susan Raye

Bakersfield country legend sings original holiday fare

Buck Owens was no stranger to holiday recordings, having released Christmas with Buck Owens and his Buckaroos in 1965 and Christmas Shopping in 1968. By the time of this album’s release in 1971, Owens was recording duets with Susan Raye, and riding the tail of their first three hits, this holiday album was released. Ten of the eleven tracks are originals, capped by Raye’s solo cover of Gene Autry’s “Here Comes Santa Claus.” The songs favor idealistic Norman Rockwell-styled holiday scenes, but there are a few mournful lyrics of missing fathers, absent lovers and tough economic times. Raye sings lower harmonies than Owens or Don Rich, making these duets satisfyingly distinct from earlier recordings of these titles with the Buckaroos. Fans should start their Buck Owens holiday collection with Christmas with Buck Owens, but when you’ve played it to death, this is a good addition to the carousel. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Jackie DeShannon: When You Walk in the Room

An American songwriting legend revisits her career highlights

It’s been more than a decade since listeners heard new recordings from Jackie DeShannon, and rather than writing new material, she’s chosen to reconsider the classics in her catalog. The good news is that the songs are terrific, DeShannon’s voice has aged well, and she finds compelling, new interpretations for the well-worn chestnuts. The less good news is that a few of the arrangements are undercooked, the tempos start to drag by album’s end, and the mixes don’t always lay the vocals fully into the instrumentation. It’s great to hear DeShannon singing, and to have these songs rethought by their author (alongside the new composition “Will You Stay in My Life”), but one might wish her co-producer pushed for a greater variety of approaches.

The album’s title track is its best, maturing the adolescent anticipation of DeShannon’s original into mature knowingness. Her earlier notes of youthful anxiety are transformed into hints of surprise as she lingers over the words and realizes the on-going strength of her desire. The stripping of ‘60s filigree from Marianne Faithful and Cher’s versions of “Come and Stay With Me” [1 2] turns the song from ‘60s pop into something fit for Linda Ronstadt’s early days, and that same Canyon vibe lives on in “Don’t Doubt Yourself Babe.” The latter smooths the Byrds’ jangly folk-rock (and DeShannon’s own folk demo) into engaging adult pop. Among the most startling transformations is DeShannon’s turn of the hyperkinetic “Breakaway” [1 2 3] into a definitive and dark ballad, and a bluesy take on “Bad Water” that strips away the Raelettes’ ‘70s-style soul.

DeShannon’s vocals are engrossing throughout, but the simplified arrangement of guitars, bass and light drums hangs “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” halfway between a stripped-down folk style and the original single’s memorable combination of horns, strings and backing vocals. The thoughtful approach to “Bette Davis Eyes” is undermined by a metronomic drum line, and by the time the album gets to “Needles & Pins,” the tempo feels tired. Each track provokes new interpretation as it’s stripped- and slowed-down from its iconic initial recording, but taken as a collection they hit only a narrow range of emotional notes. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Bad Water
Jackie DeShannon’s Home Page
Jackie DeShannon Fan YouTube Page

Buck Owens: Bound for Bakersfield

Buck Owens’ pre-Capitol sounds

Before signing with Capitol Records and pioneering new sounds in country music, Buck Owens recorded in the 1950s for Pep, and waxed a number of original demos. His earliest sides showed little of the invention and none of the electric sting he’d develop in his Bakersfield days; instead, the pedal steel, fiddle and piano are pushed to the fore, and Owens’ voice, though easily recognized, is drawn more directly from the lachrymose honky-tonk tradition than the unique, upbeat style he’d develop in the ‘60s. The lack of drums and harmony vocal also distinguish these sides from those he’s lay down with Don Rich and the Buckaroos a few years later.

From the start, Owens’ guitar playing and songwriting caught on; he developed a relationship with Capitol for session work, and his Pep rendition of “Down on the Corner of Love” was covered by Red Sovine and Bobby Bare. By the mid-50s his session work and his live dates at Bakersfield’s Blackboard club were expanding his musical vistas to contemporary pop, rock and R&B. In Elvis’ breakthrough year of 1956, Owens recorded the original rockabilly tune “Hot Dog,” but using the name Corky Jones to avoid offending the country faithful. Future Merle Haggard guitarist Roy Nichols added the twang, and the B-side, “Rhythm and Booze” sounds as if it were written for the Cramps to cover. Owens’ last single for Pep (“There Goes My Love”) continued his failure in the market, but its B-side, “Sweethearts in Heaven” was picked up by fellow Bakersfield resident Wynn Stewart.

Dropped from his label, Owens recorded a number of demos that were issued on the La Brea label in the wake of his later fame. You can still hear an old-timey honky-tonk sound in the piano, but the drums are starting to pick up steam, the bass is more full-bodied and the guitars borrow notes from the contemporary pop to which Owens had been exposed. Comparing the 1956 waxing of “You’re for Me” (originally titled “You’re fer Me”) with the 1962 Capitol hit single, you can still hear the song’s honky-tonk roots, but Owens’ vocal is more confident and the balance of piano, steel and guitars has a great deal more finesse on the remake. Some of these changes are no doubt due to Capitol’s studio and Ken Nelson’s deft hand as producer, but there was an overall shift in style that was all Owens.

Many of these tracks have been released before, including Audium’s nearly complete Young Buck: The Complete Pre-Capitol Recordings, and as part of Bear Family’s box set Act Naturally: The Buck Owens Recordings 1953-1964. But Rockbeat’s done a great job of consolidating the known pre-Capitol recordings, including alternate takes and demos, onto one affordable disc. This isn’t the place to start your Buck Owens collection (Rhino’s 21 #1 Hits: The Ultimate Collection or Time-Life’s All-Time Greatest Hits are good entry points, as well as reissues of classic albums such as Together Again & My Heart Skips a Beat, I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail and Carnegie Hall Concert), but once you’ve become a fan, this is a fine place to hear the firmament from which his Bakersfield invention sprang. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Rockbeat Records’ Home Page

Alberta Hunter: Downhearted Blues

An 85-year-old blues legend burns up the stage

Born in 1895, and having been an early blues innovator in the 1920s, Alberta Hunter became a living link to the jazz-age, and stars like Bessie Smith, Paul Robeson and Ma Rainey. In the late ‘50s she started a second career as a nurse, and mostly retired from music, but by the mid-70s she’d been lured back to live performance. In 1981 she recorded this live set at a New York cabaret called The Cookery. At 85, Hunter was still sharp-as-a-tack; not sharp for an 85-year-old, just sharp. Her sassy stage patter, interactions with the band and audience, and vocalizing are filled with percussive energy, knowing phrasings and deep experience and wisdom. Singing with accompaniment from Gerald Cook (piano, arrangements) and Jimmy Lewis (bass), Hunter covers standards that she wrote (and as she noted, was still collecting royalties on) as well as a selection of standards from other authors of the great American songbook. This same set was issued by Varese Sarabande in 2001, and is now returned to domestic print by the Rockbeat label. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]