bernie marsden

REVIEW: Still Crazy – Soundtrack (1998)

Hosted by Vinyl Connection, it’s the inaugural…
LP stack white soundtracks – Version 2

November 1 – November 14

scan_20161024-4STILL CRAZY – Soundtrack (1998 Warner)

What a band Strange Fruit would be…if only they were real!

The film Still Crazy chronicled the tale of the fictional band, Strange Fruit.  The Fruit were led by brothers Brian and Keith Lovell (guitar and lead vocals respectively).  When Keith died, they carried on with new singer Ray Simms (Bill Nighy).  The inevitable internal tensions led to the band’s demise.  However in 1998 there was enough interest to get the band back together — minus Brian, who is assumed to have also died.  The surprisingly emotional film boasted fine performances from Nighy, Jimmy Nail, Billy Connolly, Timothy Spall and more.  The key however to any movie about a fictional band is to come up with a soundtrack of original material that sounds like it could be classic.  Still Crazy accomplished this.  You wish for Strange Fruit to be a real band, so good are the songs.

The ballad “The Flame Still Burns”, which in the fictional movie was written by bassist Les Wickes for the fallen Keith, is sung by Jimmy Nail in real life.  (The song was written by the team of Mick Jones, Marti Frederikson, and Chris Difford.)  This fine song is a perfect example of something that sounds like it must have charted somewhere many years ago.  In the film, this song is the cause of much tension between Les and Ray, who did not want other band members to sing lead vocals.  The beautiful thing about Still Crazy is that there is a tremendous amount of history to the band, most of which is not seen on screen, only felt through the actors portraying the memories.  Jimmy Nail sings another sorrowful ballad, “What Might Have Been”, and does a fine job of it.  It’s a lovely acoustic song with a little mandolin and another standout performance by Nail.  He gets a chance to sing an upbeat number with “Bird on a Wire” (not that “Bird on a Wire”).  This is a darn fine Wilburys-like rock tune.

To be clear, Strange Fruit are not a ballad band even though “The Flame Still Burns” is clearly that.  Strange Fruit are a rock band, and “All Over the World” is a prototypical set opener.  Bill Nighy would make a damn fine rock frontman, if he wasn’t too busy being a fine film actor.  It’s not about the notes he sings but the style in which is he sings them.  Nighy sounds like a veteran rock singer (and in the film, you believe it 100%).  The track “Dirty Town” has a nifty little riff reminiscent of “Layla”, but this track sounds more like 80’s Deep Purple, right down to a blazing guitar solo.   “Black Moon” verges on heavy metal.  If you’re wondering why it rocks so hard, it probably because of Michael Lee on drums.  It’s Purple, Sabbath and Cream all in one.  Nighy gets to be a heavy metal demigod on “Scream Freedom”, which was one of the funnier scenes in the movie.  The best Fruit tune might be “Dangerous Things” which plays in the movie like it’s one of their biggest hits.  This too has Michael Lee on drums, along with bassist Guy Pratt.  That’s some heavyweight talent, folks.

A movie with Billy Connolly in it is twice as good as a movie without (studies have shown).  A movie with Connolly singing in it is four times as good.  The traditional “Stealin'” is a fine fit for the Big Yin and his banjo.  There is even a great vintage-sounding rock track by Bernie Marsden (ex-Whitesnake) that is plenty of fun (“A Woman Like That”).   This is incidental to the main feature, which is the host of Strange Fruit tracks, but a nice inclusion.  Unfortunately the techno track “Ibiza Theme” doesn’t fit the disc at all and can be safely skipped by most listeners.

Admittedly, the Still Crazy soundtrack is more enjoyable if you have seen the film.  When I hear “Dangerous Things” I picture things that Nighy as Ray does on stage.  “The Flame Still Burns” is more powerful when you remember the friction it caused because of petty jealousies.   Regardless, these songs were all written and performed by professional musicians, and they do stand up as individual tunes.  Memorably so.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Whitesnake – Snakebite (album)

SNAKEBITE FRONT

WHITESNAKE – Snakebite (1978, released as both album and EP)

You gotta give David Coverdale some kind of credit for name-dropping two of his old Deep Purple Stormbringer classics right there in the first song on this album/EP, “Come On”.

“I’m just a SOLDIER OF FORTUNE,
Must be the GYPSY in me…”

Maybe David just wanted to remind people who he was, that this was not just some “new” band.  Either way, it’s a very solid outing, considerably more enjoyable than David’s first two albums as a solo artist.

SNAKEBITE FRONT BACK

Snakebite was originally a 4 song EP, under the name Whitesnake.  Over here in Canada, I knew it as a full album .  North America stuck on four of the better tunes from David’s solo album, Northwinds, and released it as an LP.

The EP, or side one of the album, was helmed by Purple producer Martin Birch.  He ensured a solid sound, and Coverdale & Whitesnake provided four solid tunes.

The aforementioned “Come On” sounds like a smoove Paul Rodgers prowl, and features three players who would stay through most of Whitesnake’s history: Neil Murray (bass), Bernie Marsden (guitar) and Mickey Moody (guitar). Track two, “Bloody Mary” is driven by a boogie piano, one of the best songs on the album.  My personal favourite of the album, anyway.  It’s just impossible not to move to this one.  David’s as naughty as ever in the lyrics:

“You know that Madam Palm and her five sweet daughters”
Couldn’t give her man what the doctor ordered”

Then Coverdale gets bluesy. “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City”, previously a hit for Bobby “Blue” Bland, ended up becoming Whitesnake’s live centerpiece.  On the original EP, it is the last track, its position swapped with “Steal Away”.  “Steal Away” is a another highlight.  Moody’s slide guitar is just pure awesome sauce.  The only thing I dislike is some really cheesy sounding electronic toms.

NORTHWINDSSide two of the LP had the earlier Northwinds material, produced by ex-Purple bassist Roger Glover. Although Mickey Moody plays on these songs, he’s the only future Whitesnake member present. The tunes are decent enough.  “Keep On Giving Me Love” was funky, like the kind of stuff Glenn Hughes was always trying to push on Deep Purple.  It’s not really outstanding until you get to the chorus.  “Only My Soul” however is a stand out. Coverdale has often done these incredible soul-searching pieces, such as Purple’s “Soldier Of Fortune”, and Whitesnake’s later “Sailing Ships”. This time out we’re treated to some very appropriate violin, and Glover on synth.  The side is rounded out by “Queen of Hearts” and “Breakdown”, the raucious rocker written about the final demise of Deep Purple.

Although David Coverdale seemed to still be searching for direction after leaving Purple, the Snakebite album (or EP, whatever you happen to own) is an enjoyable listen from front to back. Some material really showed what David was capable of, and he certainly would deliver in full in the future. Whitesnake diehards should not do without Snakebite, as it provides an interesting set of snapshots as to what Coverdale was up to, between his bouts of fame and glory.

TROUBLEThere are numerous options today to get this music.  Not only is the Snakebite album still in print on CD in North America, but you can now also find the tunes remastered.  The Snakebite EP has been added as bonus tracks to Whitesnake’s debut album, Trouble.  You can also get David’s solo album, Northwinds, remastered with bonus tracks.  Or you could just get ’em on original vinyl!  The choice is yours, but I think any Whitesnake fan would enjoy this Snakebite.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Come An’ Get It (Remastered with bonus tracks)

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WHITESNAKE FRONT

WHITESNAKE – Come An’ Get It (EMI 1981, 2007 remastered with bonus tracks)

Come An’ Get It is my favourite Whitesnake album.  Therefore it’s a bit of a surprise that I still haven’t reviewed it.  On the other hand it’s always nice to leave some goodies for later and cherish them, I suppose?

The first time I heard this album was in 1990.  I had ordered the cassette from Columbia House, and brought it with me on a trip to go visit my cousin and aunt in Calgary, Alberta.  I remember I brought two brand new (to me) albums with me from that Columbia House purchase; the other was School’s Out by Alice Cooper.  I ended up loving both, not a bad trip eh?  Driving through the mountains with “Lonely Days, Lonely Nights” by Whitesnake on the earphones was pretty fucking cool.

Come An’ Get It features this classic Whitesnake lineup, aside from David Coverdale himself:

  • Jon Lord – organ
  • Ian Paice – drums
  • Bernie Marsden – guitars
  • Mickey Moody – guitars
  • Neil Murray – bass

Basically, THE lineup of early ‘Snake.  In the liner notes, David says he finds this to be one of his most consistent efforts, and his favourite of the early band.

The incredible album kicks off with the flirtatious title track, Cov the Gov as cocky as ever, with this seasoned band behind him solidly grooving.  “If you want it, come an’ get it, I got something for you.”  And kids, I hate to break it to you, Coverdale’s “something” was not something innocent like candy or treats.

“Hot Stuff” is the second track, which changes up to a breakneck speed.  Lordy on the piano hammers away, keeping up with the furious pace of Paice and the 3 M’s – Moody, Marsden and Murray.  Another standout.

The single, “Don’t Break My Heart Again” is a bit more ominous, with Lord’s trademark Hammond organ carrying the song.  It’s a bit darker, a bit plaintive, David convincing us that he really is heartbroken, even though two songs ago he was begging some lovely lass to “Come An’ Get It”.  This is a standout song, with fantastically colourful solos and a memorable melody.  Shades of the Whitesnake to come.

The aforementioned blues, “Lonely Days, Lonely Nights” follows.  It’s this kind of song that David really sinks his teeth into.  Moody and Marsden throw in plenty of bluesy licks, Lord with his Hammond colouring the backdrop.  Once again, David will have you convinced that somehow, he really is lonely.  Lonely, even though the very next song talks about how much he loves “Wine, Women An’ Song”!

“Wine, Women An’ Song” is actually my favourite tune on the album.  Coverdale is as cheeky as ever:

“If I can make you smile, I will raise my glass,
But if you don’t like it, baby you can kiss my ass,
Yes indeed…
You can tell me it’s wrong, but I love wine women an’ song!”

This barroom piano bopper is irresistibly catchy.  I’ve always been a sucker for past piano tunes, that’s why I love Little Richard I guess!  David’s done a number of these over the years (“Bloody Mary”, “Bloody Luxury”) but this one is my favourite.  And that ended side 1.

WHITESNAKE INNER

Side 2 kicked off with one of David’s more philosophical songs, a style he also does well.  “Child of Babylon” starts slow and bluesy but soon becomes something a bit more menacing.  This is another triumph.  “Would I Lie To You” returns David to his cheekier side.  “Would I lie to you…just to get in your pants?  I think so,” winks Cov the Gov.  This is just a fun Whitesnake tune, catchy, danceable, tongues in cheeks (just not necessarily the cheeks of the tongue’s owner).

My least favourite song is the next one, the slightly funky “Girl”.  The liner notes compare it to Deep Purple; I don’t think so.  Yes, both bands forayed into funk.  I think Deep Purple did it better than this.  Much better is “Hit An’ Run”, which drives.  This song kicks.  David’s vocal is perfect, and there’s even a talk-box solo, and then a killer slide solo!  What more could you want?

The final song of the original album was “Till the Day I Die”, another one of David’s perfect philosophical album closers.  He seems to like to close his albums with tunes like this, or “Sailing Ships”, songs with some mood and thought to them.  “Till the Day I Die” is one of the best ever, a dramatic, sweeping number that goes from acoustic to epic in under five minutes.

Martin Birch produced Come An’ Get It, as he did many ‘Snake platters.  It has a workmanlike sound, powerful enough, sonically clear, with excellent performances.  Slide It In is more powerful in the long run, but this is a step on that road.

There are six bonus tracks to keep you satisfied after the main meal.  Think of this as dessert, as these are unfinished or rough mixes of album tracks.  There is nothing especially revelatory here, but as added value, it’s nice to have these bonus tracks.  There’s some unheard stuff here, such as Ian’s count-in to “Child of Babylon”, nothing mindblowing, just nice to have to fill out the CD.  Some alternate vocals, solos, and so on.

The liner notes by Geoff Barton are excellent, loads of photos, lots of text.  Coverdale shows up to offer his perspective, and illustrates a harmonious band firing on all cylinders.

Keep in mind that context is everything, especially when it comes to music.  I have powerful memories of this album.  For you, it might not be worth it, but for me:

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Cozy Powell – Over The Top (1979 Polydor)

Next in line of my reviews from Record Store Excursion 2012!  Check out the video below if you missed it.  This one bought at Sonic Boom Kensington.

MIKE AND AARON GO TO TORONTO

Let’s boogie!

The lineup is impressive enough:  Joining Cozy are Don Airey on keyboards/moog and Jack Bruce on bass.  Guitarists include Gary Moore, Bernie Marsden and Clem Clempson.   So, that’s all good.

But Over The Top starts with the disco-sounding “Theme I” (written by George Martin of all people).  There’s too much of Don’s dated sounding synth.  That continues into the next track, “Killer” featuring Gary Moore.  Don’s ray-gun keyboard are too much, although Gary is brilliant, and a highlight to the track.

Cozy expertly steps his way through every track,  sounding like nobody but Cozy.  But these cheesey keyboard anthems don’t lend themselves well to his style.  Too much disco, too much funk, too much boogie and not enough rock.  Jack Bruce is great, of course, very few can do what he does.  His bass here is articulate and precise but for me, too much jazz fusion and not enough anchor!

Most of this is progressive-based rock, but the dated synth echoes too many things that nobody really liked anymore.  The songs are not especially stiking, and Cozy doesn’t really go nuts until the final song, “Over The Top”.  The producer behind this mess?  None other than Martin Birch!

Best Song:  “El Sid” which has some groove and stomp to it, the keys are toned down while Jack plays some beautifully stretchy basslines, and Bernie Marsden throws in one of those bluesy solos that you know and love from early Whitesnake.  (Bernie wrote this one.)  Second best is “Sweet Poison” which has moments that smoke.

I dig the cover art with Cozy jumping his drums with his bike!  Sweet.

2/5 stars.  I think it likely that if Cozy were with us, hey’d probably regret the keyboard-saturated sound today.

TRACK LIST:

Side One – “Theme I”, “Killer”, “Heidi Goes To Town”, “El Sid”

Side Two – “Sweet Poison”, “The Loner”, “Over The Top”