blues

REVIEW: Little Caesar – Little Caesar (1990 cassette)

LITTLE CÆSAR – Little Cæsar (1990 DGC cassette)

I missed their first EP, Name Your Poison.  None of the local record stores knew who Little Caesar were, but rock magazines like Hit Parader were already tootin’ their horn.  When their major label debut Little Caesar hit the shelves, it was none other than Bob Rock in the producer’s chair.  “Chain of Fools” was selected for the lead single/video, which was probably a mistep.  It did show off Little Caesar’s knack for crossing Skynyrd’s southern rock innards with soul, but a more mainstream rocker like “Down-N-Dirty” would have been less of a shock to the uncultured longhairs of 1990.

Soulful blues rock was all the rage in 1990, with the likes of the Black Crowes and The London Quireboys hitting the charts.  Was Little Caesar just one too many bands?  They didn’t have the impact of the other two, though they certainly stacked up in the quality department.  Lead howler Ron Young’s lungs are enviable, with a southern gritty drawl and authenticity to go.*  The rock continues through “Hard Times”, which puts out a killer street rock vibe, able to tangle with any Hollywood competition.  “Chain of Fools” serves to show off Young’s limitless talents, but as a hard rock adaptation, falls shy of their original.

Diversity points are earned for a stellar ballad called “In Your Arms”, delivering on a solid soul vibe.  Young’s voice is the focus, revealing depth track after track.  There’s a darker turn on “From the Start”, foreboding but with anthemic chorus.  The first side’s closer puts you in a “Rock and Roll State of Mind” with a harmonica-inflected blues burner.

Gotta big monkey and he’s on my back,
It’s warmer than China, it’s better than crack,
It’s burnin’ like fire, it’s takin’ my soul, yeah,
So damn addicted to rock ‘n’ roll.

You may as well call this one my theme song.  The history of rock is delivered in under five minutes.

White boys stole it back in ’55,
Turned in to disco in ’75,
Said it all started with “Blue Suede Shoes”, yeah,
For years brothers called it just rhythm and blues.

Tell it how it is, brother!

Money can’t buy it ’cause it can’t be sold,
If you say it’s too loud, then you’re too fuckin’ old.

Flip the tape.  “Drive it Home” takes the car/sex metaphors to a dirtier level.  On, Ron, I bet you’d like to drive it home!  Another dusky ballad called “Midtown” changes the mood and the groove.  A ballad with balls and a banjo?  Then, “Cajun Panther” is its own descriptive, but the slippery guitar will hook you right in.  Greasy slidey goodness from Creedence county.  The next song, “Wrong Side of the Tracks” is actually closer to the mainstream and doesn’t stand out amongst more unique material.  Unique like “I Wish It Would Rain”.  It may be another ballad but its southern flavouring make it clearly different from anything on the radio in 1990.  “Little Queenie” nails the soul-rock vibe one last time, going out in style, but also with a song that doesn’t really sound like a closer.  Perhaps a little song shuffling would have put “Little Queenie” in a better spot to showcase its strengths.

Sonically, since this is a Bob Rock production, you already know what it sounds like.  It’s a big sounding album that captures the band in top shape and presents them in an appropriately dressed frame.  It’s a 12 track album and although that was becoming the norm, Little Caesar would have been a more effective debut if it were 10 songs, focusing on the ones that made it unique.

3.5/5 stars

 


* Tragically, Ron Young was killed in 1991 by a time-travelling Arnold Schwarzenegger, in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. **
** Fake News.  But he was in the movie and did get his ass kicked.

#782: Eliminated Headlight Restored

A sequel to #760: Eliminated Headlight

I saw Eliminator was now a one-eyed cyclops car. A headlight came off and was nowhere in sight. It’s gone. If it had simply fallen off, it would be on the shelf, next to the car. I only had two suspects. One of the two was more credible, while the other claims to know nothing. I know it was my dad!

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #782:  Eliminated Headlight Restored

The old cottage bedroom isn’t the safe storage space it used to be!

For over 30 years, my old Monogram model kit of ZZ Top’s “Eliminator” car sat undisturbed.  The shelf it occupied was shared by a stunningly beautiful red Ferrari Testarossa, some old books, and several Lego battle droids.  Eliminator’s structure held sound, with only minor repairs needed over the years to keep it intact.

Then one day in 2019 a headlight went missing.  We didn’t need a confession to know that my dad did it while puttering around!

I thought the story was over, but a few weeks ago my dad said to me “I found your headlight”.

What?  Did it just fall behind the bed?

“No, I got you a new one!”

Right on, thanks dad!  Did you find an old model kit on Ebay?

“No, I saw a brand new one at the hobby store and picked it up for you!”

I couldn’t believe my luck!  But what are the chances the kits are the exact same?  Could I simply swap out an old headlight for a brand new one?

Turns out, I can.  Both kits are 1/72 scale, and though the new one is made by Revell instead of Monogram, they are identical.  Revell actually bought out Monogram in 2007, so they must have acquired these old molds and reissued the exact same kit.

Opening the kit and seeing the exact parts, I found myself at a crossroads.  I did a good job back in 1987-88 when I built my original Eliminator.  There are some things I would change; I would have painted the red engine block to be more accurate if I had another crack at it.  And now I do.  Or, I could just glue the new headlight onto the old car and leave it be.

Pros to building a new car:

  • Fixing mistakes I made as a kid, like the engine colour.
  • A higher budget, better tools, access to more paints.

Cons:

  • Possibly screwing up and wrecking a new model kit.
  • I hate, hate, hate water decals.
  • Realising I’m not as good at this as I used to be.

“You know my hands aren’t as steady as they used to be,” I told my dad.

“Fuck your hands!” he responded.

I turned to my mom and asked if she just heard what he told me to do.  She did and said I should write about it.

Betcha didn’t expect that’s where this story would go at the start!  I neglected to take my father’s advice, but vowed to tell the tale in my own way.

The end.

 

 

The ZZ Top Eliminator Project will continue in Summer 2020.  What would you do with the model kit?  Let us know in the comments below.

 

#760: Eliminated Headlight

GETTING MORE TALE #760: Eliminated Headlight

As children, we were told many stories of what being a kid was like in the 1940s and 50s.  The greatest toy was Mecanno.  (My dad’s Mecanno #7 set was a treasured possession.)  Movies were 12 cents on Saturdays, and you could stay as long as you like.  (Once my dad went to go see Red Rider with his pal Jerry Irwin.  He stayed for four — well, three and a half — showings.  Then his father phoned the theatre looking for him, as he was supposed to home a long time ago!  Boy did he catch hell at home!)  One thing my dad always emphasized to us was how sad he was that all his childhood toys were gone.  His little brother wrecked some, and his dad threw out the rest.  He says they’d be priceless today.  All gone; somewhere in a Guelph landfill.

When kids move away from home, they don’t take everything with them.  Things like old toys get left behind.  That’s how my dad lost all his stuff.  I had trust in him that the same wouldn’t happen to me, and my sister.  The number of times we had to hear about his lost toys, his Mecanno #7 set, and all that stuff…I assumed he wouldn’t do that to us.

I assumed incorrectly.

A few months ago my sister was over at his house, went down into the basement to look at the board games…our old childhood board games…and they were gone.

We found some of them in a storage bin, but the rest had been thrown out.  That included my copy of Chopper Strike, a turn based combat strategy game that came with intricate little pieces and a massive two-level board.  I bought it at a garage sale for a couple dollars in the early 80s.  It was complete.  The game came with an army of plastic jeeps and helicopters.  The copters had rotating blades, and the jeeps had moving anti-aircraft guns.  Lots of easily lost components.  Rare for an such an old game (1976).  We played it over and over and over again as kids.  I thought it would remain safely stored at the old house.  It cost over $50 to replace it with a complete one again (thanks, Mom).

At least my dad saved some of the obviously valuable games, like our original Star Wars and Transformers.  Everything else from Admirals to Careers ended up in the trash, lost forever.  Feeling bad, my mom bought my sister a new Careers game on Ebay (and replaced my Chopper Strike).

I thought that was it.  I thought the point was made.  I thought our possessions were safe again.

Wrong again.

Some of my old model kits are at the cottage.  The cottage is a great place to build a model.  My ZZ Top Eliminator kit has safely lived at the cottage for 30 years.  A few years ago I took it out, dusted it off, and secured a few loose pieces with glue.  The last time I saw Eliminator, it was fine.

This time, I noticed a few things on my shelves had been moved.  When I returned them to their proper places, I saw Eliminator was now a one-eyed cyclops car.  A headlight came off and was nowhere in sight.  It’s gone.  If it had simply fallen off, it would be on the shelf, next to the car.  I only had two suspects.  One of the two was more credible, while the other claims to know nothing.  I know it was my dad!

“You can always pretend it was in an accident,” said my sister.

I used to think my stuff was safe in the hands of my dad.  Now I realize I need to keep valuables far, far away from him!

REVIEW: Wild ‘T’ and the Spirit – Love Crazy (1991)

WILD ‘T’ AND THE SPIRIT – Love Crazy (1991 Warner)

I can’t believe it took me 28 years to hear this album. Wild ‘T’ (Tony Springer) got the nation’s attention in 1991, with his Arnold Lanni (Frozen Ghost)-produced debut album Love Crazy.  Before that, he was making a living (and a name) as a Jimi Hendrix tribute.  He was itching to be himself and Love Crazy was born.

MuchMusic was all over the big singles, “Love Crazy” and “Midnight Blues”.  Tony Springer (originally from Trinidad) peddled in a hard rocking blues sound, more authentic than most of his 1991 contemporaries.  A big blast of horns on “Mean Mean Mama” gives his blues a little bit o’ soul.  The album is entirely original and much is co-written by Lanni.  The guitar tone is greasy and drenched in pure feel.  Lanni is known for getting a nice crisp sound, as heard later with King’s X and Our Lady Peace.

Though Love Crazy is a really good collection of blues both slow and heavy, it’s Springer’s guitar that many will want to hear up close.  Shortly after this he was drafted by an English artist named David Bowie to be his new guitarist.  He must have been enamoured with the tone of Wild ‘T’.  Even if guitar isn’t your thing, dig into the horn hooks of “Yvonne”.  Or the upbeat “Shotdown/Spellbound”.  It’ll put some pepper in your strut today, guaranteed.  The whole album is laden with good tunes and snappy, tight grooves.  You can play air guitar, or just dance.  Up to you.

I could have gotten this album numerous times out of the ol’ Bargain Bin for about three bucks.  For whatever reason it never seemed like a priority.  Then along came my VHS Archives and my rediscovery of the epic track “Midnight Blues”.  I had to get the album, and I didn’t want to wait.  I paid a little more than I could have just to get it right away, but it was worth it.  I had an old girlfriend back in ’94 who thought I shouldn’t listen to the song “Midnight Blues” because it would make me depressed.  Well, fuck you!

4/5 stars

#699: Brief Encounter

On the dark days, you just need to find things to cheer you up.

This past weekend, caring for Jen’s mom in the hospital, I had a chance encounter that lasted just a few moments, but gave me something else to focus on.  “Mum” was staying in a very nice wing of a veteran’s hospital.  It was filled with retired war heroes, but also regular people who were fighting their final battles with cancer.  You can always sense the grief in the air.  It weighs down like a heavy, thick antiseptic mist.

Sunday morning we were making our way to see Mum, with other families to see our loved ones.  Walking in front of us was a tall guy carrying a guitar.  It was in a road case, which jumped out at me.  Most guitar hobbyists don’t need one, but professionals do.  He looked like a dressed-down star.  He held the elevator door open for us.  We got in and I had a closer look at his road case.  There was a laminated tag with his name on it, which I recognised immediately.  For his privacy, I won’t say who he was, but I Googled him to verify.  Sure enough, the guitarist in front of us was the guy who came up in my Google images search.

Seven solo albums stretching back 22 years.  12 more album releases as a sideman, for some pretty big names.  If I said them, you’d recognise them.  He has played on Leno, the Oscars, and the Grammies, and he also opened for two of my favourite bands (one of which, Deep Purple, is in my Top Five).

I didn’t bother him.  He was there for the same reason we were.  It would have been disrespectful for me to invade his privacy.

I did, however, stream some of his music on my phone.  Later on, I heard him down the hall, playing blues licks for his loved one.  It was an awesome, awesome sound.

My only real wish was, it would have been nice if Mum was well enough to come out into the hallway to listen.  Mum loved all kinds of music, including the blues.  But she was too sick.  We played some George Harrison in her room, instead.

I talked about this brief encounter all day.  I guess I was a little starstruck.

In the end, the bluesman did more than play some licks for his loved one.  He didn’t know it, but he helped me out too.  Thank you, bluesman.

 

The Big Lebowski radio, tonight!

I will be LIVE at 12:30 AM (ET) Saturday morning with Robert Daniels on VISIONS IN SOUND. Tune in on your dial to 98.5 or internet to CKWR!  You folks in the UK can tune in as you enjoy some morning java!  Join Us THIS Saturday 12:30-2:30am (ET).

This Week On Visions In Sound – The 20th Anniversary Of The Big Lebowski – Drop in to see what condition your condition is in this week as this week we celebrate the 20th of the Coen Brothers cult classic The Big Lebowski. We will also be live on Facebook!

I’m a bit of a fan of both the movie and its excellent soundtrack.  My movie review can be found here.  Check out my cool Lebowski ID and swag!

 

 

REVIEW: Rich Robinson – Got to Get Better in a Little While (10″ EP)

RICH ROBINSON – Got to Get Better in a Little While (2016 Universal 10″ clear single for Record Store Day)

This really pretty record (a single or an EP, who cares?) was found on the Taranna 2016 expedition with Mr. Books.  It’s apparently a Record Store Day exclusive from April 2016, although I had no problem getting this one for $16.99 in October.  This my first purchase of anything by Rich without his brother Chris.  Knowing the Black Crowes, I was fairly certain it wouldn’t suck.  I was still surprise to see on the back, an ad for not one not two not three but FOUR Rich Robinson “Expanded Editions” on CD and LP!  Who knew?  Not this guy!

“Got to Get Better in a Little While” is a Derek and the Dominoes cover, apparently one that Crowes used to do regularly, as does Rich.  You have to hear this if you like bluesy rock that produces pure smoke from sheer musical chemistry.  Yes, Clapton is God and the original can’t be touched, but a real jackass could easily make this song sound like shit.  Rich does the opposite, and it sounds as part of his musical being.  There’s some deep bass that just cuts through, and this goes on for eight and a half minutes of jam session heaven.  Just bop along.

The second side has two Rich originals.  Greasy late night blues is on the menu.  “Look Through My Window” sets a scene of steamy Tennessee dusk.  Brilliant stuff for any fan of slippery slidey guitars.  Then an acoustic/electric tune called “Falling Away” closes on a first light of a quiet dawn.  Great tunes, both, making up a tidy little 16 minute EP.  Or single.  Whatever!

The vinyl itself is clear and thick.  The package doesn’t say anything about clear vinyl, but you almost expect clear or coloured when you buy these limited editions.  It looks lovely spinning with its green label.  Great little EP, reasonably priced for the collector and fan.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Too Slim and the Taildraggers – Blue Heart (2013)

TOO SLIM and the TAILDRAGGERS – Blue Heart (2013 Underworld Records)

I first became aware of Tim “Too Slim” Langford when he and the Taildraggers played Kitchener Blues Fest 2013.  I heard them on the radio and immediately called in.  My comment was that it sounded like “dirty ZZ blues”, and that’s still a suitable description.  Gravelly vocals, references to the “muddy Mississippi”, and bluesy electric guitar licks definitely put them in that category.  The Blue Heart album was recorded in Nashville but this is electric blues!

Whether you like it blastin’ loud (“Wash My Hands”) or slow & miserable (“Minutes Seem Like Hours”), Too Slim has something for the electric blues fan in you.  There’s some honkin’ harmonica on “Blue Heart” to go with the greasy guitar.

Mixing rock and blues is a very precise science. Too much rock and it turns to cheese. Too Slim has a recipe here that works. Blue Heart is a great sounding CD, crisp and edgy.  The song titles say it all.  “When Whiskey Was My Friend” is a colourful title that should paint a picture of what it sounds like.  Dig into the energy, feel the pain and rock your blues away.

Best track:  “If You Broke My Heart”.  Blazing hot and cool as ice!

3.5/5 stars

This was a 200 word review in the tradition of the #200wordchallenge.

REVIEW: Rik Emmett & RESolution9 – RES 9 (2016)

Had I got it in time, this album could have made the Top Five of 2016 list.

scan_20161231RIK EMMETT & RESolution9 – RES 9 (2016 Mascot Music)

Rik Emmett had a long productive career as 1/3rd of Triumph, but he has rarely looked back.   Post-Triumph he has released a steady stream of jazz, rock, blues and acoustic music, sometimes revisiting Triumph songs in re-arranged form.  Finally the ice thawed and Triumph successfully conquered Sweden Rock.  In 2016 Rik released RES 9, a new rock album with his new band RESolution 9.

RES 9 is in fact a time machine.  Dial up track 1.  You will be transported back to 1990 with the rock boogie of “Stand Still”.  This is a spiritual sequel to “Drive Time” from Rik’s first solo album Absolutely.  Then punch track 2.  “Human Race” (not a Red Rider cover) could have been a single from 1986’s The Sport of Kings.  With Alex Lifeson guesting on guitar, Rik and the band tapped into the hookiness of 80’s Triumph, but with a modern integrity.  When you hit up track 3, you will find yourself in the future.  Accompanied by fellow Canadian James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Rik turns in a modern rock anthem with “I Sing”.  Big and uplifting choruses preceded by mellow verses are built for radio.  LaBrie’s vocals are the perfect compliment.  Without a shred of hyperbole, “I Sing” is absolutely one of the best songs Rik’s ever recorded.

The bluesy soul ballad “My Cathedral” gives Rik a chance to show off his impeccable chops.  His tone — unbelievable!  Moving on to “The Ghost of Shadow Town” effectively dials up 1976 in the time machine, with a dark heavy Zepp-ish blues.  “When You Were My Baby” continues down smoove blues street, throwing in some jazz licks.  “Sweet Tooth” is turn down a brightly lit side avenue, a sweet treat indeed.

A hard Triumph-like vibe permeates “Heads Up”, another fine hard rocker for the radio.  “Rest of My Life” adds the jangle of acoustic guitars to the rock and roll mixture, creating another fine concoction just begging to be a hit.  Things toughen up with the pure rock power of “End of the Line”, featuring the returns of LaBrie and Lifeson.  The sheer star power of all these Canucks in one studio must have driven the temperatures well below freezing.  Still the track smokes, and if you’ve ever wanted to hear Emmett and Lifeson go head to head, then wish no more.

But it is not the end of the line.  Back to the future, we have a bonafide Triumph reunion featuring the full trio of Emmett, Gil Moore and Mike Levine.  This long awaited reunion happens on the bonus track “Grand Parade”.  The genuine surprise here is that it’s not a hard old time hard rocker, but a thoughtful and musically deep blues ballad.  It strikes me as appropriate that this much anticipated track sounds nothing like old Triumph.  That was, after all, a long time ago.

With RES 9, Rik has re-established his rock credentials.  Whether he does another album like this is beside the point.  RES 9 is the point; a damn fine album indeed.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Daylight Again (21st Anniversary Edition)

scan_20160919THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Daylight Again (2009 21st Anniversary Edition)

Haggis was itching to make some music again, but not with Frank C. Starr.  When the original Horsemen split in 1992, Haggis cut off contact with Starr, and the two never spoke again.  Instead Haggis hooked up with a singer and harmonica player named Tim Beattie, who did some mouth organ on “Homesick Blues” from the first LP.  Tim could sing too, with a slight southern drawl as a contrast to Starr’s AC/DC shred.  Guitarist Dave Lizmi and bassist Ben Pape were not interested in rejoining the band, so Haggis brought in two new members:  Rick McGhee handled the guitar leads, and Duane D. Young held down the bottom end.  Dimwit Montgomery flew down from Canada to complete the lineup.

It wasn’t to last long.  Even without the explosive Starr, the volatile band began to melt down shortly after writing a batch of new, soulful rock tunes.  Rick McGhee quit.  Dimwit too; Les Warner ex-of The Cult came down to record the drums.  Even Dave Lizmi came back briefly, but left after recording an album’s worth of demos.  Lizmi was replaced by a new guitarist named Mike Valentine before it all hit the wall again.

The album that became Daylight Again was recorded in 1994 (with Lizmi) and shelved.  According to Haggis, the fate of the band was “an inevitable outcome.  We had evolved to the point of being unrecognizable from the group that had been signed five years previously.  We started out as card-carrying members of the Bon Scott fan club, and ended up sounding like the house band at an Arkansas chicken ranch.”  The label lost patience and dropped them.  Haggis quit music completely, while up in Toronto, Lizmi decided to give the Horsemen one more try….

Daylight Again wasn’t intended for release as-is.  These are cassette and DAT recordings, cleaned up as much as possible for CD.  Hiss and noise are part of the deal, so buyer beware, this is not the gloss of a Rick Rubin production.  You can taste the rawness; not even blue-rare, just pure raw blues unfettered by mixing consoles.  The sound is modified by banjos and pedal steel.  The location is somewhere in the deep south.  You can feel the humidity in the rehearsal space and sense the hot tube amps humming away.  Somewhere in between the Allmans and Skynyrd, the Horsemen found some inspiration from old grooves.

You can even find a little funk (“Trailer Park Boogie”) among the blues, soul, folk and rock influences.   These traditions are given a boost with a touch of gospel.  Nowhere is this more obvious than the closer, an 11 minute jam on “Amazing Grace”.   Each Horsemen album ended with a long, emotional song of epic quality.  It was “I Need a Thrill/Somethin’ Good” on the first LP, and “What the Hell Went Wrong” on Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By.  “Amazing Grace” trumps both in the emotion and time categories.  It’s also Beattie’s best performance on the album.  The guitar melodies are just sublime.

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Daylight Again is an incredible, albeit unfinished album.  Some arrangements sound fluid and not quite there yet; it’s a flawed gem of a recording.  The thing about the blues is that it has a timeless quality.  You can’t nail this album down to a specific period because the blues are eternal.  Whether it’s Beattie blowing away on some harmonica jams, or Lizmi’s pure feel, there are loads of tradition to dig into on this album.

As discussed in a previous instalment of this series, Dave Lizmi formed a new Horsemen lineup himself shortly after the Haggis/Beattie version disintegrated for good. With Frank C. Starr back in the saddle, Lizmi’s Horsemen released the “official” second LP, Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By.  However, Daylight Again pre-dates those recordings by almost two years and showcases a “lost” period in Horsemen history.   The 2009 reissue does a great service by finally bringing this lost LP to light.

4/5 stars

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