180 gram vinyl

#604: Heavy Vinyl is a Tactile Experience

GETTING MORE TALE #604: Heavy Vinyl is a Tactile Experience

Now that vinyl is back in a big way, you may have noticed more and more heavy vinyl in your local record store.  180 gram vinyl records are very popular, particularly for reissues.  You’ll notice the front cover stickers touting the weight, but what does this all mean?

As it turns out, not very much.  Heavier weight vinyl is a preference, but not one that particularly pays off in improved sound quality.

Typical records are pressed on 120 grams on vinyl.  It starts as vinyl pellets, which are melted and expertly pressed between two plates.  A record is plenty thick enough to accommodate grooves pressed into both sides.  Thickness is not the issue.  Sound quality depends on other factors much more.  Virgin plastic, not recycled, is preferred by connoisseurs.  The quality of the presses, the experience of the engineers, and of course the mastering of the music for vinyl are all critical.  Thickness, not so much.  The groove in a record depends more on surface area in order to get a good sound, and that comes from width.  Sound issues arise when a side of a record is so long, that the grooves need to be squeezed onto that 12″ diameter.  Then you lose clarity and distinction.  A thick record might cut down on vibration from the turntable, but a good platter will do the same job.

200 gram vinyl.  Notice the thick edge.

Heavy vinyl feels amazing in the hand. 180 grams or even 200 grams are very common today.  Like buying a heavy-duty vehicle, you feel the weight and sturdiness and associate it with quality.  Generally, you would be correct.  When a label presses a release on 180 gram vinyl, it’s often the case that this is some special reissue.  Perhaps it’s been specially re-mastered for vinyl, or manufactured in limited quantities too.  Sometimes these come in special gatefold packaging.  If the remastering is done well and not overdriven like a lot of modern releases, chances are you’ll be getting a good sounding record.

120, 180, 200 grams…how heavy can these things get?  Is there an upper limit?  I asked Gerald McGhee, vice-president of Precision Pressing in Burlington Ontario.  He also sings in Canadian band Brighton Rock.

“You can go higher.   200 is in vogue right now.  140 is standard,  and 180 is getting more traction, but very little difference in sound quality,” says McGhee.

In theory you could take vinyl to absurd limits, but what would be the point?  Maybe if you’re Blink 182, you could do a special 182 gram release.  (Make sure I get my cut for the idea if you do.)  If you as a consumer buy heavy vinyl, you’re doing it mostly because you enjoy it for reasons other than sound.  Perhaps you buy them because you are used to getting a good mastering job with such releases.  Perhaps, like me, you also enjoy the satisfying feeling of handling such a record.  Perhaps you just like to collect variations.  But if you are not one of those, you may just want to save the extra few bucks and buy a cheaper version.

 

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RE-REVIEW: KISS – Music From the Elder (1981)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 20:  

  Music From the Elder (1981 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remaster, 2014 Universal vinyl)

Kiss had gone as far as they could go in the pop direction that they travelled on Unmasked.  The band’s stature was in jeopardy.  The image was outweighing the music and they suffered their first member defection.  As discussed in chapter 18, Peter Criss was out, but he was replaced by an energetic young drummer henceforth known as Eric Carr.  His abilities put sounds in reach that the band weren’t able to do with Peter Criss.  The smartest move, albeit the safest, would be a return to the band’s hard rocking roots.  Songs were written and demoed, including “Don’t Run” (Frehley/Anton Fig), “Every Little Bit of My Heart” (Stanley), “Deadly Weapons” (Stanley/Simmons), “Nowhere to Run” (Stanley), “Feel Like Heaven” (Simmons) and an instrumental called “Kix Are For Kids”.

Based on what we know of these songs today, Kiss easily could have turned them into a classic sounding album.  Whether it be ego, fear, ambition or sheer hubris, Kiss scrapped the demos and aimed instead to shoot in another direction.  That is, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and manager Bill Aucoin changed direction at the protest of Ace Frehley.  Eric Carr had no say, being an employee.  Playing on the strengths of Kiss’ larger than life comic book image, Gene concocted a fantasy story that they wanted to turn into a concept album.  If that was successful, they could spin the album off into sequels, a tour and a movie.  And who else would be better to produce a concept album than Bob Ezrin?

The addition of Ezrin was another grievance for Ace Frehley.  It was Bob Ezrin who replaced him on 1976’s Destroyer album with Dick Wagner on “Sweet Pain”.

So a fractured Kiss went into separate studios to record the concept album.  Ace stayed in his new home studio in Connecticut and recorded his guitar parts there, painstakingly taking his time to get just the right crunch.  Much to his chagrin, Bob Ezrin used only bits and pieces of what he was sent.  Bob was dealing with a severe drug problem, and had isolated himself so that the only lines of communication regarding the album were Kiss and Bill Aucoin.  Nobody outside of the circle heard a note until they were done.  There was talk of a double album, but it made sense to do it one at a time…just in case it didn’t sell.  Hence the title, Music From the Elder.  Like Star Wars, this was meant to be only a part of the whole story.

A word about the running order.  When Music From the Elder was first released in North America, the story didn’t make much sense.  It was supposed to begin with the instrumental “fanfare” and then the acoustic strumming of “Just a Boy”.  Instead the record company shuffled the song order to start with something heavier:  “The Oath”.  But the concept never made any sense.  In 1997, Mercury released the Kiss remastered series, and restored the original intended track order.  They even restored a snippet of “lost” music, a Gregorian chant bit between the first two tracks.  The original Japanese pressing came with the tracks in the right order, but was missing one overall (“Escape From the Island”).  The Japanese version also came with a neat full cover obi with pictures of the band — something fans missed out on with the normal release.  (When fans did finally see pictures of the 1981 Kiss, they were taken aback by the modern hair and image.)  The current 2014 LP edition on 180 gram vinyl also has the restored track order.

The album begins quietly (and pretentiously) with strings and woodwinds of “fanfare“, credited to Ezrin and Stanley, and based on the melody of second track “Just a Boy”.  “Who steers the ship through the stormy seas?  If hope is lost then so are we.  While some eyes search for one to guide us, some are staring at me.”  The Elder is the tale of a reluctant hero known only as “the boy”.  He is the archetypal “chosen one” selected by the mysterious and powerful Council of the Elder.  “When the Earth was young, they were already old,” reads the liner notes.  He must face the evil Blackwell, but he can’t believe there is anything special about him.

Although “Just a Boy” is a deep cut loved only by those with Kiss infecting their blood, you can hear its charm.  It sounds nothing at all like Kiss, and its soft acoustics don’t even sound like a rock band.  Paul sings the chorus in an insane falsetto, which he also utilizes elsewhere on the album.  The powerful guitar solo is all his, and one struggles to hear Ace Frehley on the track at all.  “Just a Boy” is a good song, with structure and dynamics and thoughtful composition.  It isn’t something that could be performed well on stage, and the production leaves a muddy haze over the lead vocals.  It’s hard to hear 50% of Paul’s lyrics.  Fortunately, the 2014 vinyl reissue comes with something the 1997 CD did not:  a lyric sheet.  With that in hand, you can follow the story.

In fact, it must be recommended to listen to The Elder on vinyl at least once to fully appreciate the album.  Something about sitting there with a gatefold jacket open and following a story on a record sleeve works as a sort of time machine.  It’s truly an experience that you cannot feel with CD alone, and the only way to do that with the songs in the proper order is with the 2014 vinyl reissue.

Kiss have thrown obscure covers on their albums before, but it’s strange to see such a thing on a concept album.  “Odyssey” by Tony Powers fit the story at this moment, although nothing could sound less like Kiss.  It is a fully orchestrated song and it doesn’t even have Eric Carr on it.  Ezrin didn’t think he was getting the right vibe so he brought in Allan Schwartzberg who also played on Gene’s solo album.  “Odyssey” is as overblown and pretentious as a song can get, as if Kiss suddenly became the Beatles and this was their “Hey Jude” moment.  This many soft, un-Kiss like songs right off the bat is a good way to throw listeners, so the record label ended up moving it to side two.  Paul Stanley has disowned the song, but what Paul failed to appreciate is that though campy, “Odyssey” is also incredibly fun.  It has no place in the Kiss canon, but there it is, and it’s hard to forget that delightfully pompous orchestra.

The first appearance of the mighty demon Gene Simmons is “Only You”, a choppy and spare guitar number that is the first rock moment on the album.  It’s an attempt to be progressive and rock, and it more or less works.  It’s simple and blocky, but it shifts into a few different sections including a reprise of the “Just a Boy” theme.  Paul also guests on a verse as the boy character, questioning his destiny:  “I can’t believe this is true, why do I listen to you?  And if I am all that you say, why am I still so afraid?”  The Elder respond, “In every age, in every time, a hero is born as if by a grand design.”  In an interesting twist, Doro Pesche later covered this song with completely different lyrics.

According to their self-written Kisstory (volume 1) tome, Eric Carr expressed some doubt as to the band’s current direction.  In response Gene challenged him to come up with something of his own, so Eric provided the beginnings of “Under the Rose”, on which he also plays acoustic guitar.  “Under the Rose” became his first writing credit on a Kiss album, with Gene Simmons.  “Under the Rose” is soft/heavy, soft/heavy, and features an ominous choir on the chorus.  But through this, Ace Frehley’s presence cannot be felt.  Such an important part of the Kiss sound before, now relegated to the sidelines.  Ace had only one lead vocal on The Elder, a song based on a riff written by Anton Fig.  Their “Don’t Run” demo was re-written by Gene Simmons and Lou Reed, yes Lou Reed, to become “Dark Light”.  In context of the story, “Dark Light” warns of coming evil.  Ace’s presence is welcome, providing some much needed rock foundation and a brilliant guitar solo.  Unfortunately “Dark Light” is probably his weakest in his Kiss career, a disappointing followup to prior classics like “Talk to Me”, “Save Your Love” and “Shock Me”.

Lou Reed co-wrote the lyrics to the single “A World Without Heroes”, which originated as a Paul Stanley ballad called “Every Little Bit of My Heart”.  Reed came up with phrases like “a world without heroes is like a world without sun.”  These clicked with Gene and Bob Ezrin who completed the song.  Paul plays lead guitar on a somber single that, again, sounds little like Kiss.  Kiss had done ballads before and even had hits with them, but nothing like “A World Without Heroes”, one of their darkest songs.  Strangely, it ended up being covered by Cher.

At this point of the story, the boy agrees to fulfill his destiny and become the hero.  This happens on the most heavy metal song on the album, “The Oath”.  This is the track that opened the original released running order of the album, completely destroying any comprehensible plot.  You can still understand why they did this.  Its metal riff and impressive drums are the intro that the album really needed.  Paul sings in falsetto again:  “Now inside the fire of the ancient burns, a boy goes in and suddenly a man returns.”  The song was performed live once in 1982 on a TV show called Fridays.  Although the performance seemed sloppy and awkward, Ace burned up a couple wild guitar solos.  If this is the kind of material that Bob Ezrin cut from the album, it was a big mistake.

So the boy has taken the oath, and it’s time to meet the evil one. Gene and Lou Reed wrote “Mr. Blackwell” about the character, who doesn’t seem to be too worried about the discovery of the chosen one. “Here’s to the kid, a real man among men,” mocks Blackwell in the lyrics. (The song also contains the phrase “rotten to the core”, which was a song title Gene had been batting around since the mid-70s.) Musically, “Blackwell” is spare and revolves around the words. A bumping and thumping bass is the main feature of a song that is more words than music.

At the exact moment that you need Ace Frehley to come back and save the album, he does with the instrumental “Escape from the Island”. Co-written with Eric Carr and Bob Ezrin, “Island” delivers the thrills and action-packed guitar action. Because it’s an instrumental it’s hard to determine exactly how it fits the story, except it sounds like an action scene. Perhaps Blackwell launched a preemptive strike on the boy, who escaped. Ace’s guitar attacks the surroundings, chopping them down with fatally loud riffs.

The final song (on all versions of the album) is the single “I”. Gene and Paul split lead vocals on this Simmons/Ezrin song, but once again Eric Carr was secretly replaced on the recording by Allan Schwartzberg. The story is wrapped up with the boy now proclaiming he believes in himself and is ready to take on the evil. The end of the album, yes, but clearly intended as only the first chapter of something bigger. Gene spoke of a heavier sequel album called War of the Gods which would depict the conflict. Instead, “I” serves as the ending, and at least it’s a kicker. Like vintage Kiss, the riff and chorus meld into one fist of rock. The lyrics are suitably uplifting. “I believe in something more than you can understand, yes I believe in me!” That’s pure Kiss in a nutshell right there.

A short hidden track following “I” provides the only dialogue on the album (over a reprise of “fanfare“), although more was recorded. The hidden coda reaffirms that the Elder have found the right kid. “He’s got the light in his eyes, and the look of a champion. A real champion!”

There are two ways to listen to The Elder.  If you want the whole enchilada and would like to hear the story in its correct order, pick up a remastered edition of the album either on CD or vinyl.  If you’d like a more even listening experience that is the same as that of fans who dropped the needle on the album in 1981, then go for the original CD or vinyl release.  But if you’re a Kiss maniac, you simply must do it both ways.

Music From the Elder is a flawed album, mostly marred by sonic muddiness.  It has an uncharacteristic quantity of ballads and un-Kiss-like songs, so fans stayed away in droves.  What they missed was a decent concept album for Kiss, a band that never should have attempted a concept album in the first place.  Because the album failed to sell, Kiss’ ambitious tour plans were scrapped and the band stayed home.  Aside from the three songs played on the Fridays TV show (“The Oath”, “A World Without Heroes” and “I”), Kiss never played any songs from The Elder live until their 1995 acoustic Konvention tour.  The lack of a tour meant Kiss’ momentum was all but halted.  The new drummer that fans barely knew only ever played one show in North America!

A bigger problem was brewing, and that was a bitter and disenfranchised Ace Frehley.  Once again, fans were not aware of the problems brewing in Kiss, but The Elder was the last album Kiss Ace played on until 1998.  It was a repeat of the Peter Criss situation only two years prior.

If Kiss had stuck to their plan of recording a hard rock album again, perhaps things would have played out completely differently.  We’ll have a chance to check out some of the songs they were working on in upcoming chapters for they would not stay buried long.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

2/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  Some of my favorite records ever have been “concept” records.  Operation: Mindcrime, Misplaced Childhood, 2112, Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From a Memory, El Corazon; to name just a few of many.  When it comes to The Elder, my one sentence review of this album would simply be:  Some bands should not make concept albums.  Bob Ezrin came straight from The Wall to record this mess.  I read somewhere recently, and it may even have been in the comments here perhaps, but Ace Frehley hates this album.  Which completely makes sense considering he had been on such a roll until it halted with this record.  It’s kind of a hard album to break down individually, but some quick notes:

“The Oath” – Very chuggy heavy song.  I think the [domestic] album starts off with the best song.  Song begins as if it’s Manowar meets Kiss.  More reminiscent of Creatures of the Night than this record.  Perhaps some bombastic Tenacious D-like moments.

“Just A Boy” – Starts off like early ELP and first reaction is that Paul Stanley could never come close to singing this song again.  Solid song.  Overall I get a Wishbone Ash feel. 

“Dark Light” – As mentioned earlier, Ace’s roll slows down with a dull track.  I do like the guitar solo over the bongos though.

“Only You” – An even duller track that starts with Gene singing, and morphs into Stanley singing with some stupid effect on his voice.  Right producer, wrong band.   (That could be another one sentence review of The Elder)

“Under the Rose” – This clunker doesn’t flow for me.  Gregorian Monks?  Bah….

“A World Without Heroes” – I thought it was lame then and it’s only slightly less lame to me now.  Could have used more Lou Reed.

“Mr. Blackwell” – Funky novel track.  Dancy and quirky but one of the strongest songs on The Elder for me.  One of the only songs for me that has a great hook to it.  Unmasked this album is not.

“Escape From the Island” – Good solid rocker.  Great drumming.  This would have been a great live jammer, but I’m doubting they have ever played this live.   LeBrain?  [Nope]

“Odyssey” – WTF?  Was this Paul’s tryout demo  for Phantom of the Opera?  This song alone is an unforgivable sin, and just another reason why this album should have been aborted in the womb.

Favorite Tracks”  “The Oath”, “Mr. Blackwell”, “Escape From the Island”

Forgettable Tracks:  Take your pick….


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/26

#562.5: The Sunrise Returns

GETTING MORE TALE #562.5: The Sunrise Returns

I was very saddened when Sunrise records shuttered most of their stores nationwide, including my regular outlet at Fairview Mall.  Not so much when the HMVs started closing.  I haven’t spent any money at an HMV in years.  Recently, Sunrise announced they would be taking over several of the old HMV locations, including the one at Fairview mall.  Yes, Sunrise has finally returned to Fairview.

Sunrise re-opened a few days after Record Store Day in a case of bad timing, but they still had some RSD stock.  I set aside my Saturday morning to immerse myself in their inventory.  As expected they had plenty of vinyl, displayed front and center when you enter the store.  It’s a good selection of the usual suspects priced in the mid-$30s.  Their vinyl catalogue selection was much better than the same for CD.  Flipping through the Kiss LPs, they had 15 or so titles from the catalogue including some of the lesser known ones such as Carnival of Souls.  Then I flipped through Deep Purple on CD.  Disappointingly, they had five copies of the hits disc Icon, one copy of In Rock (standard edition) and one copy of The Very Best Of.  The same issue plagued many artists in the CD section:  five copies of Icon, but very few actual albums on CD.   This wasn’t the case across the board.  There was a healthy Metallica section and they had all the Oasis deluxe editions.  One deluxe that I was looking for was the four disc Black Sabbath Paranoid reissue, but all they had was the double CD (and 180 gram vinyl of course).

They staff were friendly and passed the test.  They approached me and asked if I needed help, I didn’t need to ask them, and they waited a reasonable amount of time.  Unfortunately their system isn’t quite up and running yet.  No inventory lookup.  But they tried.  You can’t judge a store too harshly a few days into their first week.  They had a promotional sale on:  Buy something on vinyl and get $5 off a T-shirt.  They had a lot of cool T-shirts, (a lot!) but if there is one thing I don’t need right now, it’s more T-shirts.  They even had brand new Star Wars turntables.  Star Wars turntables?

The one surprise I saw was in the Mr. Bungle section.  They had five copies of their legendary debut album, at a steal of $5.99 each.  Compare that with $21 on Amazon.

I hope Sunrise does well.  They made a few sales while I was there, and the store was never empty.  It was funny to listen to the people browsing.  “Is that a CD?”  “No, it’s a seven inch record.”  “NO WAY!”

Way indeed.  Welcome back Sunrise.

SUNRISE SCORES:

Four finds from four different genres.

Brant BjorkTao of the Devil CD – $18.99 (compared to $24.28 on Amazon.ca)

OasisBe Here Now 3 CD deluxe – $32.99 (compared to $31.45 on Amazon.ca)

KissMusic From the Elder 180 gram LP reissue – $32.99 (compared to $33.79 on Amazon.ca)

Steve Earle & the DukesThe Continental Club 7″ RSD 2017 single – $11.99 (not available on Amazon.ca)

 

 

REVIEW: Rainbow – Live in Munich 1977 (vinyl)

Thanks for joining me this week for my Deep Purple Project. I admit that this review is a bit of a cop-out. I got dreadfully sick with the flu a week ago and was not able to finish any more Purple reviews for this week. I pulled an old one out of the hopper instead. This is close to Purple,  — the Man in Black himself, and Blackmore’s Rainbow. This review is for music writer Victim of the Fury!

RAINBOW – Live in Munich 1977 (2013 Eagle Rock 180 gram 2 LP set)

Something about listening to classic rock with that rich, warm sound of pristine vinyl played on nice big speakers for the first time…is there anything better?  Dropping the needle on side A, let us begin the ritual of properly listening to a double live album.

This 180 gram was a birthday gift from my sis, knowing my love of all things Ronnie James Dio. Not to be confused with the double CD Live in Germany 1976, this freshly mastered concert was recorded in 1977 for German television.  Dio was one hell of a powerhouse, especially in 1977.  Live in Munich contains what must stand as one of the best Dio performances caught on tape.  This was caught just before the album release for Love Live Rock ‘n’  Roll.  “Kill the King” was a storming opening and the live recording is all but flawless.  If Rainbow could be faulted for anything at this point in their brief life, perhaps they played too many long jams on stage.  “Mistreated”, the Deep Purple concert favourite, is the first of these.  As usual for the Man in Black, Ritchie Blackmore himself, the song is almost 12 minutes in length when stretched out live.

Lets not get into comparing Ronnie James Dio to David Coverdale. There’s no point to that.  As with Black Sabbath, you either like Ronnie’s interpretation or you don’t.  Regardless is it drummer Cozy Powell who detours most noticeable from the Deep Purple original, doing a busier blast than Ian Paice did.  As for Blackmore, his solo spans the entire spectrum delightfully.  He fluffs it for a moment, only to immediately take control and keep going.  This is a brilliant version of a song we have heard many times.  Ritchie then takes center stage for a delicate workout to “Greensleeves”, before blasting into the Rainbow barnstormer.  Once again, this is probably the best live version on tape.

IMG_20151108_111910Flipping the record to side B, we are treated to Ritchie seemingly tuning his guitar…melodically…working his way into a lengthy “Catch the Rainbow” including classical interludes.  There’s more than a little “Little Wing” within “Catch the Rainbow”, which Ritchie plays into.  Bassist Bob Daisley sings the angelic backing vocals, proving why he has been such an integral member to so many bands over the years.  In fact this would have to be one of the strongest Rainbow lineups, period.  Keyboardist David Stone rounded out the quintet, and he is kept busy on “Catch the Rainbow”.  The brand new song “Love Live Rock ‘N’ Roll” is next, and a few people in the crowd indicate they may already know the song!  It is presented more Deep Purple in style (hints of “Black Night”), perhaps a bit more laid back with nice flashes of organ here and there.

The second LP has to shuffle the track order out of necessity.  “Still I’m Sad” is 25 minutes, so it must occupy all of side C, even though it was played after “Man on the Silver Mountain” in concert.  There is something about a side of vinyl that contains one monolithic slab of music in only one track.  It feels like a challenge, a solo-laden endurance challenge.  Once it starts rolling, it becomes one of the most intense versions of the song yet recorded by Rainbow.  Then it goes all over the place as pretty much every member has moments to shine.  It’s way too much and it’s way over the top and taxing even to the staunching rock fans.  It was 1977 and this is the way it went down!

Settling in for the final slab o’rock, side D is also daunting with two tracks of 15 minutes apiece. Purple’s “Lazy” is teased out, as part of “Man on the Silver Mountain”. Lots of soloing and noodling abound, and the big weakness with this period of Rainbow is that they thought we needed this much of it. The segue into “Starstruck” is way more fun. More solos and a frantic “Do You Close Your Eyes” ends the concert. Stone’s keyboard solo is cheesy fun, but overall this is another great over the top performance from Rainbow. You can hear a guitar destroyed at the end of it all.

Double lives are best experienced on vinyl, and pristine 180 gram records fit the bill perfectly. If you’re going to go double live for Rainbow, do it with Live in Munich.

4/5 stars

A
1. “Kill the King”
2. “Mistreated”
3. “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves”

B
1. “Catch the Rainbow”
2. “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll”

C
1. “Still I’m Sad”

D
1. “Man on the Silver Mountain”
2. “Do You Close Your Eyes”

REVIEW: Brant Bjork – Jalamanta (vinyl) New photos!

Hey all, hope you enjoyed our review from earlier today! ;)

The Brant Bjork review below is a rewrite of one that I originally posted July 6 2012.  I didn’t have a decent camera back then, and I’ve been aching to show some better pictures of how beautiful this record is.  I couldn’t resist revising the review itself either.  Enjoy.

 

BRANT BJORK – Jalamanta (1999 / 180 gram vinyl 2009 reissue)

I still remember the circumstances surrounding me originally getting this on CD.  As recounted in an earlier Record Store Tale, Tom and I were at a party.  We were listening to some sHeavy, and Tom mentioned the Brant Bjork solo album as another must-have.  Being a fan of Brant Bjork’s drumming from Fu Manchu, I ordered it without hearing a single track.  Tom attempted to describe it by calling it “a cross between Fu Manchu and surf rock.”  Interesting.

10 years later, when Bjork reissued it on vinyl, he added the UFO-centric Blue Oyster Cult cover bonus track, “Take Me Away”.  Automatic re-buy.  It doesn’t really sound like the rest of the album, but who cares?  It’s Brant Bjork covering Blue Oyster Cult.  But that’s not the only reason to re-buy Jalamanta.

What a beautiful record! The first thing you’ll notice is the new cover.  All black with the Brant Bjork skull embossed.  Beautiful.  Open it up to get at the booklet with all new photos. The booklet truly is a work of art. Remember when you used to buy an LP, and you’d sit down in front of your stereo staring at the pictures, trying to make out every little detail until the record was done? Brant Bjork takes us back to that time.

The cover page is what appears to be an awesomely greasy Mexican meal, and then the final page is the empty plate — a satisfied customer. Just like with this LP.  You can really get stuffed on the grooves and tones contained herein.  There are plenty of low-key, incessantly grooving instruments.  The music is simple, repetitive, but effective.  It’s not heavy, but it feels weighty nonetheless.

The lyrics are included.  Here’s an example, from “Automatic Fantastic”:

The man shakes me down, that’s why I’m broke. Rich man’s got all the green but it ain’t the kind you smoke. So we turn up the rock, and we roll it slow. We’re always flying high, and the ride is always low.

Musically, if you haven’t heard this album before, I don’t really know how to describe the songs.  Bjork plays almost everything himself, and the vibe is laid back.  He sings on every song but “Toot” which is handled by Mario Lalli (Fatso Jetson). He’s chosen to mix his vocals way back and emphasize the unadorned guitars and drums.  The mix is spare, quiet at times, loud at others, but always trippy. Imagine driving down a deserted highway on a hot summer night with the windows down. This is the soundtrack to that ride.

This is one of those album that sounds like it was just meant to be heard on 180 gram vinyl. There’s no sound like it in the world. I noticed a heck of a lot more bass, the bassline on “Lets Get Chinese Eyes” being particularly sublime. This album just sounds stunning now.

5/5 stars

  1. “Lazy Bones” – 1:29
  2. “Automatic Fantastic” – 6:59
  3. “Cobra Jab” – 3:18
  4. “Too Many Chiefs…Not Enough Indians” – 3:44
  5. “Sun Brother” – 4:45
  6. “Lets Get Chinese Eyes” – 4:45

  1. “Toot” – 5:58
  2. “Defender of the Oleander” – 7:53
  3. “The Low Desert Punk” – 5:20
  4. “Waiting for a Coconut to Drop” – 4:17
  5. “Her Brown Blood” – 4:16
  6. “Indio” – 4:15
  7. “Take Me Away” – 5:35 (Blue Öyster Cult cover) vinyl only bonus track

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Perfect Strangers Live (2013 2LP/2CD/1DVD set)

NEW RELEASE

DEEP PURPLE – Perfect Strangers Live (2013 Eagle Vision 2LP/2CD/1DVD deluxe edition)

Perfect Strangers Live, a new 2013 release of a 1984 recording in Sydney, proves many things but one of them is this:  The proverbial “vaults” must be an endless place where this band is concerned.  Year after year newly released archival recordings hit the shelves, all worthy of your hard-earned music budget dollars.  Perfect Strangers Live is available in multiple formats, but I chose to go with the deluxe 180 gram vinyl set, complete with 2 CD and single DVD versions included.  I bought this via the Deep Purple Appreciation Society, who I especially appreciated this time.  I ordered the set and it got lost in the mail.  After contacting Ann directly she posted another one right off to me which arrived safely to my delight.

IMG_20140217_082459It’s a beautiful beast of a package.  The heavy vinyl gives the set real heft, but it’s also a triple gatefold sleeve as well.  If you loved the reunion era of Deep Purple Mk II then some version of this set will be an obvious must for you.  You can buy it separately as a 2 CD set, a DVD, a 3 disc set, or go hogwild like I did with the vinyl deluxe set.  Hell if you’re really nuts for the band there’s a 3 LP, 2 CD Japanese version with extra goodies.   As to the version I own, the only disappointment comes in the way the CDs and DVD are housed in the set.  I hate spending a lot of money on a package that will absolutely scratch your CDs.  No matter how careful you are, something will get scratched and that’s a bummer.  So I ripped the CDs and put them away for good.

The music contained within is 100% worth your money and probably the best documentation of this era of Deep Purple.  There are other collections out there, most notably the 1985 recording In the Absence of Pink (Knebworth).  There was also the Highway Stars bootleg contained within the Bootleg Series box set.  This one tops the rest sonically.  The recording and mix are excellent.  You could easily mistake it sonically for a modern recording.  Everything is audible, including Gillan’s oft-buried congas.

Speaking of Gillan, the man was in absolutely stunning shape.  I don’t know why the band used backing tapes (quite obviously) during the screams on “Child In Time”.  Gillan’s live screams didn’t need the boost.  Somehow he keeps it going all the way to the 12 minute closer “Smoke on the Water”.  Gillan had just finished his stint with Black Sabbath, but he sounds infinitely better here than on any live recording I’ve heard with Black Sabbath.

It’s hard to pick a single MVP on Perfect Strangers Live, such is the dynamic of Deep Purple when firing on all five cylinders.  Certainly Ritchie Blackmore is a delight, projecting intensity and playfulness at every turn.  During “Strange Kind of Woman”, Blackmore treats the Australians to “Waltzing Matilda”.   On “Under the Gun”, he’s mesmerizing as he tortures his Fender.  Ritchie’s solo that closes a 15 minute “Space Truckin'” is among the most electrifying moments you will hear.  Jon Lord is as wonderful as ever on that same song, and of course “Child In Time”.  Not to go without mention are Glover and Paice.  Ian Paice is the little engine that would not quit; Roger Glover the anchor.

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Also important to mention are the “new” songs.  Deep Purple played more than half of their new LP including both singles:  “Knockin’ On Your Back Door”, “Perfect Strangers”, “Nobody’s Home”, “Under the Gun” and “A Gypsy’s Kiss” (preceded by a bluesy Blackmore jam).  Purple rarely played so much off Perfect Strangers at one time, and some of these versions are just scorching!  “Nobody’s Home”, possibly “Under the Gun” too, are superior to the album versions…even when Gillan forgets the words. (That’s kind of my favourite part.)

As for the DVD, it too looks and sounds amazing.  I don’t know what else is out there video-wise from this period but I haven’t seen anything better than this.   You know Blackmore and cameras, he’s often got his side to the camera, or he turns away just as they turn to him.  That’s the man in black, that’s the enigma.  It’s a great DVD, although Lord and Paice are often buried behind their instruments.  Lord goes from keyboard to keyboard, extracting different sounds.

The cherry on top is a 20+ minute tour documentary.  It’s a rare look at a time when Deep Purple was more or less getting along as well as they ever would!

I haven’t played the vinyl.  I haven’t decided if I will.  Let me know if you care enough for me to review the vinyl, and I’ll consider it as a possibility.  I’ll be honest, after struggling to get the records back in the sleeve after taking the photos for this review, I’m not eager to take them out again.

4.5/5 stars

More PURPLE at mikeladano.com:

DEEP PURPLE – “Above and Beyond” (CD and 7″ singles, Edel)
DEEP PURPLE – ”All the Time in the World” (2013 Edel single)
DEEP PURPLE – The Battle Rages On… (1993 BMG)
DEEP PURPLE – Collector’s Edition: The Bootleg Series 1984-2000 (12 CD set)
DEEP PURPLE – Come Taste the Band (35th Anniversary edition)
DEEP PURPLE – Deep Purple (1969 EMI, 2000 reissue)
DEEP PURPLE – Inglewood (2002 Purple Records/Sonic Zoom)
DEEP PURPLE – Listen, Learn, Read On (6 CD box set, 2002)
DEEP PURPLE – Machine Head (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition + vinyl + In Concert ’72 vinyl)
DEEP PURPLE – NOW What?! (2013 edel)
DEEP PURPLE – Perks and Tit (2003 Purple Records/Sonic Zoom)
DEEP PURPLE – Power House (1977 Warner Bros, Japanese import)
DEEP PURPLE – Rapture of the Deep (2 CD special edition)
DEEP PURPLE – Shades 1968-1998 (4 CD Rhino 1999 box set)
DEEP PURPLE – Stormbringer (35th Anniversary Edition)

REVIEW: The Black Crowes – Wiser For The Time (4 LP box set)

THE BLACK CROWES – Wiser For The Time (2013 4 LP box set, Silver Arrow/Megaforce Records)

I enjoy when bands do releases that are exclusive to certain formats.  In 2013 the Crowes put out this mammoth live album/box set, and let me tell you it’s gorgeous.  All it lacks is a booklet with pictures or liner notes.  I am otherwise completely thrilled with this release.  I’ve been on a Crowes kick these last few weeks, being drawn to the feel and impeccable musicianship of the band.  Wiser For The Time is largely acoustic, featuring mellow songs and arrangements spanning their entire career.  It also has plenty of electric rock, funk and blues.  It boasts 26 tracks and a running time of over 2 1/2 hours.  There was also a bonus 27th song given away for free last year, “Under A Mountain” taken from the same series of five New York concerts that comprise the album.

The Black Crowes pulled out all the stops.  From familiar hits such as “Jealous Again” to non-album obscurities like the scorching “Exit”, Wiser For The Time is treat after treat.  “Exit” in particular was a delicacy for me.  I had never heard the song before and was taken aback by its heavy groove.  And this is a song that has never been released on an album!?  Well, until now.  Even familiar songs like “No Speak No Slave” have new exciting moments, making the album a fresh listening experience.  Other songs like “Only Halfway to Everywhere” are extended to the 10 minute mark.

Covers?  Of the Crowes always surprise with interesting covers choices.  Here the biggest joy may be “Hot Burrito #1” and “Hot Burrito #2,” in sequence, by the Flying Burrito Brothers. That’s pretty hard core.  There were plenty of unfamiliar songs to me on Wiser For The Time.  Whether they are covers or Crowes obscurities I don’t know.  Regardless, I enjoy a good live album with unfamiliar material on it.  Who wants the same songs all the time?

SAM_0439Personal highlight:  “The Garden Gate” is my favourite song from 2009’s sprawling 2-LP Before the Frost…Until the Freeze.  I’m pleased that it made the album.  It’s every bit as good here as it was on Before the Frost.

But whether it’s the funky “Make Glad” or the extended jamming that makes up the end of “Tied Up and Swallowed”, there is not a dull moment on Wiser For The Time.  I solidly enjoyed the whole album.  I hope I can find the time to do so frequently in the future, but let’s be honest.  In our rat-race lives, few of us have the time to really spend time with an album anymore, particularly a 4 LP live box set.  And this isn’t a cheap set.  Sunrise had it for about $81, but Amazon were asking $73 with free shipping.  For those who can’t justify paying that much, iTunes have it too.  But these are beautiful 180 gram records, and iTunes can’t sell you the warmth that you will hear on a turntable.  Think wisely before buying.

4/5 stars

4 LP setIMG_00001630

  1. Cursed Diamond
  2. Sister Luck
  3. Smile
  4. Downtown Money Waster
  5. Hot Burrito #1
  6. Hot Burrito #2
  7. The Garden Gate
  8. Better When You’re Not Alone
  9. Darling Of The Underground Press
  10. Jealous Again
  11. Hotel Illness
  12. Thunderstorm
  13. Oh The Rain
  14. Soul Singing
  15. Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With YouIMG_00001632
  16. Exit
  17. No Speak No Slave
  18. Only Halfway To Everywhere
  19. A Conspiracy
  20. Title Song 
  21. My Morning Song/Stare It Cold
  22. Tied Up and Swallowed
  23. Make Glad
  24. Waiting Guilty
  25. She Talk To Angels
  26. Willin’

Free Download Bonus Track

  1. Under A Mountain

REVIEW: Thin Lizzy – Thunder and Lightning (180 gram vinyl with bonus 12″)

THIN LIZZY – Thunder and Lightning (1983, 180 gram Back on Black reissue)

I love this album, it was actually the first Lizzy studio album I bought, on vinyl, from Tom’s store way back in the late 1990’s.  I’ve always loved John Sykes from his work in Whitesnake and Blue Murder.

Thunder and Lightning is the final Lizzy studio album.  It’s definitely the most metal, but it’s not the best sounding one (gimme Black Rose for that honour). It just strikes that chord inside. You know how certain albums just click with you and you don’t know why? That’s Thunder and Lightning for me, but I think it reminds me of that general vibe of heavy metal music in 1983.  There are times it reminds me of Judas Priest.

This is the only album from the Lynott/Gorham/Downey/Wharton/Sykes lineup.  It is produced by Chris Tsangarides (Anvil, Judas Priest). Wharton and Sykes both scored songwriting credits, which may be why this album sounds so much more “metal”.  Wharton’s keys are not obtrusive.

Best track:   Gorham and Lynott’s “Bad Habits”. If there was one track that sounded like old Lizzy circa Johnny The Fox, it’s “Bad Habits”. It’s just a rock and roller of a song with killer lyrics.  Phil’s voice is noticeably a lot more raw, worn, but he works within his limitations as always.  His voice remains as expressive as ever.  In “Bad Habits” he sounds like he’s jonesing as bad as the title implies.

“Cold Sweat” is the one that Sykes co-wrote, and it is very metal, featuring his trademark guitar squeals and yet more great lyrics from Lynott. “I got a whole month’s wages, I haven’t seen that much in ages, I might spend it in stages, and move out to Las Vegas.”  Love it.  Sung by Lynott, those lines tell a whole story.

IMG_00000235_editReally, there’s not a bad song on this album. “This Is The One” has some relentless pounding drums courtesy of Brian Downey (one of the true greats). “The Sun Goes Down” is a slower one with a keyboard solo, very atmospheric. It reminds me of the similarly titled “Night Comes Down” by Judas Priest. “Holy War” is another relentless pounder with a message to be heard. Not a bad track to be found.

If I had any complaints it would probably be the mix/production which at times comes across as a bit too bombastic and 80’s.  I mean, it’s still Thin Lizzy, one of the classiest sounding bands ever.  Thunder and Lightning is pretty evolved in sound from a classic like Jailbreak, and that may or may not be to your taste.

Some vinyl and cassette versions of Thunder and Lightning came with four bonus live tracks.  They are actually from the Renegade tour and feature Snowy White on guitar instead of his replacement John Sykes.  Thankfully, the current Back on Black 180 gram vinyl release restores the rare 12″ bonus EP.  The four songs are “Emerald”, “Killer on the Loose”, “The Boys are Back in Town”, and “Hollywood (Down on Your Luck)”.  These are great tracks.  It also has a gatefold sleeve with lyrics inside.  It’s a very nice package.

I’ve heard that 2013 will see the release of more Lizzy deluxe editions, including Thunder and Lightning.  If that’s the case I will pre-order it as soon as I hear about it.  There are still several B-sides from this period that are not currently available, such as “Angel of Death”, “Still in Love With You”, and “Don’t Believe a Word” live, and a remix of “The Sun Goes Down”.  I don’t have these tracks, but it sure would be nice to get everything on one deluxe CD package, wouldn’t it?  You guys paying attention, Universal?

5/5 stars

LIZZY