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REVIEW: Jethro Tull – The Very Best of Jethro Tull (2001)

JETHRO TULL – The Very Best of Jethro Tull (2001 Chrysalis)

Every fan had their first Jethro Tull purchase.  Mine was 20 years ago, with their newly released Very Best of Jethro Tull.  Why not?  I was working at the Record Store when a used-but-mint copy dropped in my lap for only $8 (staff discount).  It was only right of me to ensure it got a good home.

Unlike some “hits” compilations, this one didn’t strike with clusters of songs I wanted to focus on in the future.  Other compilations can do that.  For example I decided to hone in on the Brian Robertson Motorhead album immediately after hearing a double best-of.  With The Very Best of Jethro Tull, I liked it all equally.  I just wanted to get them all, with no particular priority.  It all sounded great to me.

The album is non-chronological and contains some edit versions.  “Thick As A Brick” is cut down from 44 minutes to just three — makes sense.  They chose the first three minutes, which are ojectively the best known.   Other edits are the single versions of “Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die” and “Minstrel in the Gallery”, while “Heavy Horses” gets a new edit bringing it from nine minutes to a more single-like three.  The songs span the 1968 debut This Was to 1995’s Roots to Branches.  Several albums are not represented at all, such as Benefit, A Passion Play, A, Stormwatch, Under Wraps, Rock Island, Catfish Rising, and J-Tull.com.  Justifiable?  That’s up to personal taste.  Several non-album singles are included instead, such as the well known “Living In the Past” and the wicked string-laden “Sweet Dream”.

The album has an excellent flow, only interrupted with the synth-y “Steel Monkey” from 1987’s Grammy-winning Crest of a Knave.  Preceded by the savage “Locomotive Breath” and followed by the tender picking of “Thick as a Brick”, it doesn’t fit in except as a speedbump.  If I may be so bold, I believe “Steel Monkey” was included simply because it would be odd not to include something off that controversial Grammy winner.

While I enjoyed all the songs, the one that stood out particularly strong was “Bourée”. I never heard Bach swing like that before! The diversity of this CD, spanning all styles of rock from progressive to blues to folksy. Yes, the flute can rock and Ian Anderson is the Eddie Van Halen of the instrument.

4/5 stars

#943: Irate With a Beeper!

RECORD STORE TALES #943: Irate With a Beeper!

There was once a time before we had our infamous “no questions asked” return policy.  In 1996, we were able to…shall we say, “express ourselves” more freely as managers of Record Stores.

We learned from the best, and we didn’t take kindly to someone trying to rip us off.   Some time in early September 1996, I received a call from T-Rev at his own store.  “Mikey,” he said, “Just a warning.  There’s a guy coming your way with the new Rush CD, that he wants to return.  Now I had a look at it, and it is just hacked.  There was no way he opened it like that.  I wouldn’t let him return it.  You’ll see what I mean when he gets there.  He’s this little short guy with glasses and short hair.  You’ll know him when you see him.”  A prepared myself for the Rush fan with Napoleon complex.

The new Rush album, Test For Echo, was received with mixed reactions.  We started seeing used copies early on, traded in by ordinary fans (albeit impatient ones) who simply didn’t like it.  T-Rev and I both thought it was a step down from Counterparts, while acknowledging that sometimes a Rush album needs time.  We liked a couple tracks, and disliked a few as well.  (“Dog Years” and “Virtuality” were on the shit list.)  We were not surprised to see people returning it, but Nerdlinger here was unique.

The little guy stormed in, straight up to the counter, and asked to return the Rush CD.  “I don’t like it,” he said simply.  I dutifully opened the case and, as T-Rev has warned, the disc was mangled.  Probably due to a car CD deck, which were common and had a habit of murdering discs.

“I’m sorry,” I began, “but I can’t take this back.  It’s seen some pretty serious use and it’s scratched up really bad.”  I didn’t know what else to say.  “I’m sorry,” I added lamely.

He was irate.  “‘Seen some serious use’?” he quoted back to me.  “How?  I just got it at your other store.  It’s a day old!”

Customers always asked “how” their CDs got scratched.  How the fuck am I supposed to know what he did with it?

“I don’t know how it got scratched up this bad, but they don’t come this way out of the shrinkwrap.”  I grabbed our store play CD to show him.  “See, this is one we just opened a few days ago and we’ve been playing it every day.”  He glared through his glasses at our copy.

He insisted he didn’t scratch it, that he bought it that way from T-Rev’s store and he wouldn’t return it.

I didn’t know what else I could say.  “Well, I showed you what they look like coming out of the shrinkwrap.”  Then, poking the bear just a smidge, I chided, “Did you drop it?”

“NO, I didn’t drop it!” he expressed in a mocking tone.  Knowing he was not going to get anywhere with me, he left.  And, much like many tenacious customers of his guilt-free mindset, he returned later that day on the night shift.  A time he assumed I wouldn’t be working.  But he didn’t get anywhere with the night staff.  They knew something wasn’t right about it and asked him to return when the manager is in.  So, like any douchebag worth his salt, he left a pager number for me to call the next day.

“Oh, joy” I said to myself upon seeing the note waiting for me.

I never called a beeper before.  I noted the occasion for its novelty.

A short while later, Nerdlinger stormed back into the store with his Rush CD.  He must have been so dejected upon seeing I was the manager.

And so for a second time I refused to return his CD, and he did the usual expected temper tantrum.  I’m never shopping here again, I’m telling all my friends, I’m this and you’re that.

And life got incrementally better, knowing I’d never have to see that fucking Nerdlinger again.

 

VIDEO: Mail Call! 6 CDs from Robert

I thought these six CDs had been lost in the mail. I am so, so glad to be wrong.

#941: Design Flaws – the CD Jewel Case

RECORD STORE TALES #941: Design Flaws – the CD Jewel Case

While CD has proven to be an enduring format (40 years old now!), its packaging has been, shall we say, less successful.  I’m not referring to the “long box” packaging that CDs originally came with, a disposable (but now collectible) piece of cardboard that served a couple different purposes.  It enabled stores to display their CDs in existing LP shelving, and it discouraged theft.  It also also created waste, and was phased out rather quickly.  However worse than that is the jewel case, the same damn jewel case we use today.

You are as familiar with the flaws of the traditional jewel case as much as I.  They have a number of common breakage points:

  1. The hinges snap off quite easily.  Hinges are commonly broken in shipping.  This is really a flaw inherited from its predecessor, the cassette jewel cases.
  2. A ring of plastic teeth holds in the CD in by the center hole.  Weak inner rings often came broken right out of the package.  This is a deadly flaw, because it leaves plastic shards underneath the CD itself, jiggling around and scratching the disc.  Plus the CD itself cannot be secured inside and moves around as well.  Ugly disc damage all but guaranteed.
  3. Also often broken during shipping are the little plastic tabs that hold in the CD booklet.  Not a fatal flaw, but an annoying one.
  4. All of this amounts to a tremendous amount of plastic waste when a broken CD case or component is discarded and replaced.

The music industry, driven by environmentally conscious artists such as Pearl Jam and Neil Young, thought to try the digipack as a solution to the packaging and waste problems of the jewel case.  This was only moderately successful.  While making CD packages such as Vitalogy out of paper did keep plastic out of the landfill, it did not help with longevity.  Unless extra care was taken every time, the CD would scratch itself coming in and out of its cardboard sleeve.  Many were eventually rendered unplayable.  And then you have plastic in the landfill again.  These paper sleeves were also prone to damage quite easily.  Shelfware, scuffs and rips are common.

Some decent packaging solutions worked well but never caught on, probably due to cost.  For example, look at the Super Audio CD (SACD) case.  Some regular CDs also came packaged in these “super jewel cases”, such as Queen remasters.  It features a much stronger hinge design and thicker plastic.  Not unbreakable, but certainly more difficult to break.  You can still crack them right across the front, but at least the jewel case will still function the way it was intended to:  holding the CD in securely without damaging the surface.

While there is nothing you can do about a CD case damaged in shipping, if you take a reasonable amount of care of your collection, you will end up with very few broken cases.  At least there’s that!

REVIEW: Jethro Tull – Stand Up (2 CD & DVD Edition)

JETHRO TULL – Stand Up (Originally 1969, 2010 2 CD & DVD Chrysalis Collector’s Edition)

Stand Up, from its wonderful cover art (including a fun Jethro Tull pop-out!) to the music in the grooves, is probably my favourite Tull platter. One basic reason is that it sounds like a transitional album, and I’m often drawn to those. It combines the remnants of the blues jams that they specialized in from the Mick Abrahams era (1968’s This Was), and their growing experimental side. It’s kind of the best of both worlds, and it always sounded great — even better on this new remaster.  Stand Up has since been remixed by the very talented Steven Wilson (2016’s Elevated Edition), but if you wanted a CD copy of the original unaltered mix, this 2010 edition is what you need.  (This mix is available on a DVD in the Elevated Edition, but not CD, and they each contain different bonus material.)

“A New Day Yesterday” has the task of opening this new era of Jethro Tull on LP, and it maintains the blues direction.  Then immediately, “Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square” brings on the hippy side, with bongos, psychedlic jamming and the world’s greatest rock flautist.  “Bourée” proves it, as he jams jazz-rock style along to J.S. Bach.  Only Tull can make Bach swing as they do on “Bourée”.  From the upbeat jamming “Nothing is Easy” to the exotic “Fat Man”, this album begins to open up Tull’s diversity.  “Reasons For Waiting” brings on a lush, orchestrated side of Jethro Tull that some would call pompous and others would call delicate and quaint.  But then they just flat out rock — with flute — on album closer “For a Thousand Mothers”.  It’s truly the first diverse Tull album, going from corner to corner to explore whatever their hearts desired.

The Collector’s Edition contains valuable bonus music aplenty.  The first disc alone doubles the length of the album.   It has every bonus track from the previous 2001 remaster, which are the A and B-sides of two standalone singles.  These are the swinging’ “Living In the Past”,  filler “Driving Song”, the powerful (with horns!) and awesome “Sweet Dream”, and my favourite, “17”.   It adds in a mono single mix of “Living In the Past” with some subtle differences.  Two BBC live sessions are included via four live tracks, including “Bourée”.  There are even amusing radio spots. And that’s just the first disc.

The second disc is an entire concert: Live at Carnegie Hall, New York, 4 November 1970.  This would make it a show from the Benefit tour, the album which followed Stand Up.  It includes songs from Benefit, such as “Sossity; You’re a Woman”.  It also previews the future Aqualung classic “My God”. It is, of course, a great live show…it’s Jethro Tull in their youth after all!  Hear Ian Anderson go nuts on the flute solo!

Another highlight is “Dharma For One”, stretched out to 13 minutes to include a bonkers Clive Bunker drum solo.  The wicked slidey guitar on “A Song For Jeffrey” is really hot on these tapes too.  By this time, John Evan had joined as Tull’s pianist which adds another dimension.  Check out the intricate work on “With You There to Help Me”.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough, there is a bonus DVD which contains a DTS 5.1 mix of the whole concert — audio only, however!  If you have the equipment to play it, then enjoy. I will usually resort back to the stereo mix on CD but the 5.1 mix offers some additional depth.

For “things you will only watch once” (or twice if you’re reviewing your collection), the DVD also includes a 45 minute Ian Anderson interview from 2010 to check out.  The split with Mick Abrahams is one of the most interesting parts though the story of the impasse is familiar.  It simply boiled down to styles, and Ian didn’t want to be limited to just one.  As such, he considers Stand Up to be the first real Jethro Tull album; the first to tentatively embark on their world-wide musical journey.  Of course Mick had to be replaced, and Ian discusses three guitarists that tried out, including you-know-who.  Martin Barre was chosen of course, given a second chance after a poor first meeting.

Barre’s furious solo work on Stand Up‘s blistering “We Used to Know” more than justifies the choice.

The packaging is gorgeous, coming packed in a thick, sturdy digipack.  Artwork like this deserves a proper showcase, and unless you buy an original LP, this is about as good as it’s going to get.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Suicide Star – Isolation (2021)

SUICIDE STAR – Isolation (2021)

If you are looking for something classic but modern, with lyrics that matter, then cease your quest.  Suicide Star’s debut called Isolation should be the salve that your soul is craving.  From the ashes of former band Step Echo, with new lead singer Rob Barton, this band is ready to kick 2021’s ass.

CD buyers get a bonus that streamers and downloaders do not — an intro before the lead track “I Survive”.  This intro, complete with air raid siren, explains the “suicide star” concept (with a shout-out to Neil DeGrasse Tyson).  It’s an explosive astronomy lesson!  Isolation is available now, just give the band a shout on social media and it’ll be in your hot little hands before you know it.

Opener “I Survive” is a positive start, with lyrics like “We’ve only just begun, this is the place where I wanna feel alive.”  Rob Barton’s got the pipes and the band has the heft.  Uptempo and heavy, this is the kind of rock we need right now.  The riff by seven-stringer Les Serran kicks, and bassist Aki Maris has the groove locked with drummer Brian Hamilton (also of Storm Force).  If you wanted something energetic and defiant this summer, here ya go.

The first video is for “Mercy”, another upbeat and catchy number.  Each one of these songs has hooks, both vocal and guitar, and “Mercy” just doesn’t let up.  “Have mercy on my anger,” sings Barton with intent.  Lots going on here lyrically, but framed in such a way that you can relate to the words in whatever way suits you.

After two sledgehammer tunes, the track “Suicide Star” delivers melodies that are more on the pop side, but with the heavy backing intact.  “Hold on, before you go too far, don’t you know who you are?  You’re a suicide star.”  Cannot get that chorus out of the skull!

The “power ballad” (if you will) is “Eye of the Storm”, but the emphasis is still on the “power” rather than the “ballad”.  It has a majestic guitar riff, and lyrics with some serious heart.  Barton sings ’em with passion, which is necessary when the band rocks this heavy behind.

Back to a tune with a classic metal vibe, “21 Guns” has kick and melody.  “Just say you will,” goes the unforgettable chorus, with some killer chords in behind.  Then comes the heavy “Follow” with a staggering riff, and Priest-like vibes.  The lyrics are fascinating and open to multiple interpretations.  It certainly could be about the last year!   “When the lie becomes the truth…”

“Love Me Like You Mean It” has a Darkness kind of riff; tremendous hooks.  This continues into “No Looking Back”, another lyric that could be about current times.  “I just roll with the changes,” sings Barton.  We can all relate to that.  The hooks don’t let up on “Fractured”, a more plaintive yet still heavy rocker.  The final track is appropriately titled “The Unknown” and concludes the album-length series of catchy vocals and guitar parts.

By the time you’re done the album, you’re still fresh to go in for a second listen.  There is enough going on in terms of guitars and lyrics that you’ll want multiple listens to drink it all in.

4.5/5 stars

Check out this interview by Deke and I with Rob and Brian from Suicide Star. Get an appreciation for the album and what it took to make it.

#890: Top Ten Most Annoying Things About Listening Stations

A sequel to #444:  “Can I Listen to This?”

RECORD STORE TALES #890: Top Ten Most Annoying Things About Listening Stations

Although it seems like dystopian fiction now, there was once a time when if you wanted to sample an album before you bought it, the best way was going to a store and asking to listen to it.

I imagine even today, people walk up to the counter at Ye Olde Record Store and ask to hear something before they buy it.  I am certain the demand is not like it once was.  We used to have six individual listening stations.  Granted, we were lucky if three or four worked at any given time, but when we first opened, we had six brand new players.  And they were busy.  On a Saturday, all six would be in use at once.  With a couple more people lined up waiting to jump in when one was vacated.

Here’s how it worked.  Pay attention, because some people just didn’t get it.

It’s actually pretty simple.  You just look around the store, grab a few CDs you want to listen to, and bring the cases to me to load them up.  All the discs were kept safely behind the counter.  All I had to do was load them up, and lay them out for you to hear.

All our players were five disc changers.  I would load up the first five of your selections, and lay down the cases on the counter.  “This is the order they are in the player.”  Then I would give them a quick run-through on the remote control.  Play, skip, stop, skip disc…I would ask them to ignore the rest of the buttons.

Annoying Thing #1:  People who don’t listen.

“Sir!  This player isn’t working.”

Because you ignored my instructions and hit the “program” button.  Now you’re in program mode.  Let’s get out of that, and just press play this time.

Annoying Thing #2:  People who help themselves.

There was nothing more startling than finding a customer behind the counter with you!  These people think the listening stations are like self-serve gas stations.  They’d go behind the counter and start looking for the CDs to load up themselves.  I’m really not sure what possesses people to think they can do that.  There’s a counter.  It has a front and a back.  We used to have a divider chain, but it ripped out years before.

Annoying Thing #3:  Using the remote to open the tray. 

You don’t need to open the tray.  You’re not helping by hitting the “open” button.  More than once, I was picking discs that were stored beneath the CD players.  I stood up, and “CRASH!”  Right into the now-open tray of a CD player.  Thanks for that.  I’ve definitely had them open up on me while I was walking past, too.

Annoying Thing #4:  Audiophiles.

Quoting a prior chapter:

“These headphones suck.  I can’t hear the nuances in the music.”  That was a real complaint.  Since there wasn’t much I could do about it, I explained that the listening stations were there just so you could hear a song and decide if you liked it or not.  Not much thought was given to hearing the nuances.  But this guy insisted he couldn’t tell if he liked a song without the “nuances”, so no sale was made.

Yes the headphones sucked, mostly from years of use.  Another issue is that all the headphones were run through a little tiny volume box that was custom made for us.  This volume control was the real problem.  Knobs went staticky, came right off… Maybe it wasn’t the audiophiles that were the problem, maybe it was the shitty volume knobs.

Annoying Thing #5:  Gross remote controls.

I think I cleaned those things every day.  I don’t know what people are walking around with on their hands, but those remotes got disgusting.  The listening stations were always solidly disinfected from headphones to remotes, but they somehow felt…gross to the touch.

Annoying Thing #6:  “Is there a way to plug in two headphones?  My friend wants to listen.”

No!  Stop asking!  Yes, it would be “cool” if we could do it.  The single-output volume boxes were bad enough.  Imagine putting two in there.

Annoying Thing #7:  Singers.

Yes, sometimes, people sang along.  It wasn’t frequent.  Other customers would turn and look.  Usually you’d just ignore it.  Only twice did I have to cut someone off for singing too loud.  Once was two girls singing “This shit is bananas!” along with Gwen Stefani.  Another was an angry kid who, quite frankly, was starting to scare me.

Annoying Thing #8:  Kids treated them like toys.  

Young kids get bored in music stores.  Trust me on this.  Some liked to climb on top of the stools, grab the remote control, and…you guessed it…open and close the trays.  They’d just mash their fingers on a remote and yell “HOW DOES THIS WOOOOORK?”

I wish I was making this stuff up, I really was.

Sometimes, mom or dad would ask me to put on a kids’ CD for them to listen to, to keep them occupied.  That I was happy to do.  As long as they didn’t play with the remotes, or God forbid, put them in their mouths.

Annoying Thing #9:  High maintenance listeners.

Sometimes you had to help people skip tracks.  You could even show them on the remote where the button is, and they’d still need help.  “Which disc am I listening to now?”  Well, it says disc 2 on the display, and I put the cases down here in order, so that would be Garth Brooks.  “Well it doesn’t sound like him!”  And that’s because you picked his Chris Gaines album.

Annoying Thing #10:  No limits.

You could come to the counter with 25 discs, and I had no choice but to let you listen to them all if you wanted to.  And you could take as much time doing so as you liked.  Some gentlemen (often fans of jazz or electronica or both, but always men) spent an entire morning glued to a listening station.  They only moved to go and look for more discs to listen to.

I won’t lie to you, listening station service was hard work when you have a guy like that in the store while you’re busy.  It takes time to retrieve all those CDs from behind the counter.  It takes time to file them back when you’re done.  And then I still have to re-file the cases out for display.  For you it’s one easy step — just pick the discs you want to listen to.  For me, it’s three steps.  Get the CD from its specific location, put the CD back when you’re done, and re-file the case.

Some customers thought they were being helpful by re-filing the cases for me.  All that did was create more difficulty, because now I had to look each one up in the computer to see where the CD itself is supposed to go.  And that wasn’t always easy.  You know, sometimes there are CDs out there with nothing to identify the artist or title.  At all.  And after serving the guy 25 discs, you’re not gonna remember what it was.


There are other miscellaneous things that used to bug me.  People who would treat you like a servant.  Working as a listening station jockey for an afternoon was a pretty thankless job.  Of course there are exceptions.  The exceptions aren’t the memories that stick in your head for 25 years!

 

 

 

#886: Hand Me Downs

RECORD STORE TALES #886: Hand Me Downs

It’s funny.  Though my music playback setup today is completely different from my first, even today there’s still one thing they have in common:  both setups featured hand-me-down audio components from my parents.  And I hope one of those components continues working forever.

In Getting More Tale #796: Improvisation, I explained that we kids of the 80s didn’t have the luxury to buy whatever stereo equipment we wanted.  We had to make due with what we had, and improvise.  And that’s exactly what we did.  When I first started collecting music, I owned it on two formats only:  LP and cassette.  The classic duo.  Compact discs existed only in Japan.  We hadn’t even heard of them.  All that existed in our world were the vinyl record and the compact cassette.  That’s all I needed to be able to play.

Around 1985, my parents realized they weren’t going to be listening to records or 8-track tapes anymore.  The living room needed to be renovated and there was no more room for that giant Lloyd’s stereo system.  The 8-track player didn’t work anymore, but it was a single unit combined with a radio receiver and amplifier, which still worked fine.  The Lloyd’s record player could still plug into it and play normally.  I snapped them up.  Only George Balasz and myself were lucky enough to have record players in our bedrooms.  Everybody else on the street had to use their parents’ systems.

Don’t get me wrong:  it didn’t sound great.  I took my parents’ hand-me-downs and plugged them into my Panasonic ghetto blaster, which essentially was both my tape deck and speakers.   Not ideal, but good enough for a 13 year old.  I recall the sound was rather tinny.  But it worked after a spell.  If my mom wanted me to tape her old Roy Orbison LPs, I could do that.  (Spoiler:  my mom really abused her LPs.)

I used that setup for many years.  The Lloyd’s receiver lasted seven more.  It finally blew a circuit in early ’92.  A few weeks later, I replaced it with a small, affordable preamp.  It didn’t have a lot of power, but it enabled me to continue listening to records.  Of course, that old Lloyd’s turntable wasn’t in the best shape anymore.  The needle had never been changed, and I had really abused that thing, playing records backwards and trying to make funky sounds.  It was cool though, because it had four speeds:  16, 33, 45, and 78.  I didn’t own any 16’s or 78’s.  But I could play them.  And I kept it for well over a decade.  I only replaced it when I did a complete stereo system overhaul in the late 90s.  T-Rev and I went to Steve’s TV, and I picked out new everything.  Canadian made PSB speakers, a new Technics dual tape component, a Technics receiver to go with it, and a brand new Technics turntable.  Good enough for me, who had been living with a Frankenstein system his whole life.

The only thing I didn’t need to buy was a CD player.  And this is the last piece of hand-me-down tech incorporated into my still-current system.  (I actually have two systems today:  my 7.1 setup in the main room with blu-ray, and my stereo “man cave” with all my analog stuff.)

I call this CD player “the Tank”.  It is a 30 year old Sony five-disc changer and I more or less confiscated it from them when I moved out.  Once they had a DVD player, I didn’t think they needed a CD player anymore, so I made the executive decision to liberate it.  It wasn’t exactly a covert operation.  The Sony had been in my bedroom setup for a while.  I liked a numbers of its features.  It had a fader!  I could fade tracks in and fade out, which was perfect for recording live albums.  The timer was also a nice extra — you could use it to monitor the time remaining on a track, or even album.  This was great for tape-making.  It was also painlessly easy to program.  So I stole the Sony!  When I moved out, I just said “I’m taking this CD player.”  Mom grumbled a bit, but…here it is.  I successfully abducted my parents’ CD player with no casualties.

I’m glad I did.  Though the five-disc gimmick doesn’t work so smoothly anymore, the Tank can play any CD I throw at it.  That might not sound like a big deal, but it is.  You’d be surprised how many CDs you’ll have problems playing in your computer today.  Some players, and many computers, still won’t play weird stuff like DualDiscs.  I have an old DualDisc by The Cult that will not play properly in any computer ever invented by mankind.  Even regular CDs can be weird.  I have a Cinderella disc (multiple copies even) that no computer from PC to Apple will play correctly.

So I need the Tank.  Just recently, I was listening to a fantastic live album by King’s X given to me by Superdekes.  The last song (an acoustic version of “Over My Head”) refused to rip to my PC.  I booted up the laptop and ran into the same problem, same spot.  I didn’t need to try a third computer to know that this would be futile.  Only the Tank could play my King’s X.  I examined the CD up close for damage and saw nothing.  (Good thing too as copies today run just shy of $100!)  Deke sent me a good disc (and thank you once more for that!), but CDs can be fickle.

No issue with the Tank.  I powered up the Sony, inserted the King’s X and played the song through.  No issues!  I got a good recording of it in Audacity and exported the audio into the King’s X album folder.  Seamless!

Thanks mom and dad for giving me, and in some cases, allowing me to steal your stuff.  I kept it all working — I even still have the remote!

REVIEW: John Paul Jones – Zooma (1999)

JOHN PAUL JONES – Zooma (1999 Discipline Global Mobile)

Three words:  “Bass”.  “Heavy”.  “Groove”.

Purchased at Encore Records a short time after its release, Zooma by John Paul Jones blew me away from first listen.  If you’re wondering who the heavy influence in Them Crooked Vultures really is, it was Jones this whole time.   Just listen to the title track on Zooma.  You could be fooled into thinking it’s a brand new jam by the Vultures, so heavy is it.

Zooma is an entirely instrumental solo album, featuring Jones on most of the instruments.  On drums is Pete Thomas.  Trey Gunn and Paul Leary drop in for some guest appearances.  Otherwise it’s largely the JPJ show and his 4, 10 and 12 string basses!  What a heavy sound they make.

The second track “Grind” (featuring Gunn on touch guitar) is contrasted by bright highs and the deepest lows of the 12-string bass, all within a killer groove.  This track could blow a subwoofer, it’s so bass heavy.  The next track “The Smile of Your Shadow” takes things down to the acoustic level, with instruments like bass lap steel, mandola and djembe.  It’s the most Zeppelin of the tracks due to its acoustic, quieter nature.  “Goose” brings back the heavy groove again, this time on a 10-string bass.  The drums have that Zeppelin kind of beat to go with it.

But Jones is so much more than just groove (and Zeppelin references in reviews).  “Bass n’ Drums” brings out his jazzy side.  Denny Fongheiser on drums this time, and John Paul keeping is single with just four strings this time.  But that doesn’t limit his pallette at all, as he plays in a combination lead/rhythm style.  That’s just the one track though — Jones is back to 10 strings and a maniacal groove on “B. Fingers”.  It’s sonic controlled chaos…with a beat.

As tasty as the bass and grooves are, Zooma is not an easy album to digest.  It’s big, it’s large, and the tracks tend towards long and jammy.  The longest is “Snake Eyes”, with bass lap steel, organ solos, and members of the London Symphony!  It’s easy to imagine “Snake Eyes” as a modern day Led Zeppelin number, and it’s moments like this that will make the Zep diehard weep for what could have been.  But it goes on a long time, including a long orchestral outro that sounds like a soundtrack.  Brilliant but not for those with short attention spans.

“Nosami Blue” bears some superficial resemblance to the intro to “Absolution Blues” by Coverdale-Page, but this is just because both have the same roots:  the blues.  Most of the work here is being done once more on a bass lap steel.  After a long freeform blues jam, the drums kick in and we get back into a groove.  It’s like two songs in one.  And that brings us to the final song “Tidal”, which a manic and exhaustive bass workout to take the senses to the final extreme.  It is bonkers!

As a quaint leftover from the 1990s, this disc is “enhanced”.  That part of the package no longer works, but judging by the contents in the readme.txt file, it was a digital catalogue for DGM records – Robert Fripp’s label.  It appears you could actually order CDs from their catalogue right from this program.

In the Record Store days, I was instructed to stop playing this album as some tracks were too heavy.  That’s both an endorsement and a warning to you!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Loudness – World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo (2019)

LOUDNESS – World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo (2019 Ear Music)

In an unfortunate twist of events, Loudness drummer Masayuki Suzuki was sidelined by stroke and could not perform on the Rise to Glory tour.  Ryuichi “Dragon” Nishida filled in beat-for-beat and appears on the live album World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo.  This 2 CD/1 DVD combo set is compiled from three days in Tokyo, with a bonus:  the DVD features one track with Masayuki Suzuki from the fourth day.  His performance on “Loudness” is as if there was nothing wrong with him, and he appears delighted to be playing live again.

Live in Tokyo is an energized performance, focusing almost entirely on early Loudness.  This being a hometown crowd, many of the songs are performed with their original Japanese lyrics.  1985’s Thunder in the East takes the early focus on disc one with the first six tracks all being sourced from the “big” album.  These tracks are intense, with solos by Akira Takasaki that melt the face.  Classic Loudness with jagged riffs and still-powerful vocals from Minoru Niihara.

Oldies abound.  Disc 1 also includes “Loudness” (the version with Ryuichi Nishida on drums) from the 1981 debut The Birthday Eve.  A slick, well-received version.  There’s also a punishing “In the Mirror” from third LP The Law of Devil’s Land, and the memorable “Crazy Doctor” from 1984’s Disillusion.

The second disc spotlights two lesser-known albums.  First is The Law of Devil’s Land from 1983.  The first five heavy numbers (including a second version of “In the Mirror”) all come from that platter.  This is the heavy proto-thrash that Loudness were peddling at the start of the 80s, and vicious stuff it is.  But not without hooks!  The last five originated on Disillusion, regarded by some aficionados as Loudness’ best.  From “Crazy Doctor” through the ballad “Ares’ Lament” and the finisher “Esper”, these are some great metal songs.

 

Impressively, the third disc (the DVD) highlights another batch of songs missed on the first two discs:  newer material.  “Soul on Fire”, “Go For Broke”, “Until I See the Light”, “I’m Still Alive” and a pair of instrumentals from the new Rise to Glory (2018) stand up to the earlier material.  The awesome “The Sun Will Rise Again” from the 2014 album of the same name rounds out the freshest material.  The new tunes are still heavy, riffy and melodic, but with a very slight modern edge.  “I’m Still Alive” goes thrash metal, but that’s part of Loudness’ origins.  Besides the return of Suzuki on drums for one song, the highlight of the DVD is a ballad.  After so many brutal songs, Minoru breaks out an acoustic guitar for an unplugged “Ares’ Lament”.  This is completely different than the version on CD 2, which was done fully electric.

Any classic band from the 80s or earlier, still trying to pull it off today, has the same question to answer:  How good is the singer?  Minoru Niihara is excellent.  As if no years have passed.  None of the material presents a challenge.

Considering the mixture of material over the three discs, Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo would be a suitable entry point for any rock fan wanting to check out Loudness.  You’ll get the hits from Thunder in the East, ample early deep cuts, and a sampling of quality new stuff.  Value for the money and time invested.

4.5/5 stars