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REVIEW: Jacob Moon – Under A Setting Sun (2022)

JACOB MOON – Under A Setting Sun (2022)

I’ve only helped crowdfund two things in my life.  I’m happy to say I picked a winning horse in both cases, the second being Jacob Moon’s new CD called Under A Setting Sun.

Although Moon is certainly a stunningly good musician, and his voice could be described as “angelic”, it’s his songwriting that really sets him apart.  Each song on the EP has a different flavour.  That being the case, they all share a certain light, an uplifting feeling that just makes you feel better after a listen.

The opening track “Live A Little” feels like a morning sunrise, with gently picked acoustics ringing clear, and a hint of slide shining from the shadows.  “Today we’re going to leave all those cares behind, and live a little” sings Moon, asking us to look at the stars above.  The message here is simple but necessary.  A brilliant song with a bright glow that will sound great in just about any setting.  It’ll go great on the porch this summer.

The familiar crunch of an electric guitar is joined by the moan of organ on “Tennessee”, a brilliant slow ride.  It has a vaguely southern feel especially when the slide guitar joins in.  “And the road has got the best of me, I thought I could be free yeah, like the winds in Tennessee,” sings Jacob as a soulful backing chorus joins in.  This one will sound great in the car on a country drive, guaranteed.

A unique acoustic song called “Miles To Go” has a gentle, breezy vibe.  A terrific song; you could imagine Jon Bon Jovi clenching his fists in jealousy that he didn’t write it.  It sounds in the pocket of mid-90s Bon Jovi when they weren’t afraid of getting a little more laid back on These Days.  The track sounds more lush as it goes, building to a nice resolution at the end.

If you’ve got the guts to call a tune the “Song That Won’t Leave You Alone”, it had better be catchy!  It’s actually about the creative process, but the title demands an actual song that won’t leave you alone.  The lyrics are fascinating but the chorus is really fantastic.  Great guitar work on this one as well, an absolute gem of a song.

“A Little More Time” is a quiet ballad, but backed with a strong drum beat.  The chorus is perfect.  Once again, a certain Mr. Jovi might be gnashing his teeth that he didn’t come up with this one, but that’s just pure speculation.  He couldn’t sing it like Moon does anyway.

The title track ends the album with a string-coated song that brings the vibe of the album full circle.  If “Live A Little” sounded like morning, then “Under A Setting Sun” brings the day to a close.  Whether that’s intentional or not, that’s one interpretation if you like.  Regardless, “Under A Setting Sun” wears an understated strength on its sleeve, based on the rhythm of the acoustic guitar.  The strings raise it to the clouds, dreamy and powerful.

2022 has been a year for strong releases already.  Add the name Jacob Moon to your list of must-hears.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Hard Skool (2022 CD, cassette, 7″ vinyl)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Hard Skool (2002 Universal CD, cassette, 7″ vinyl EP)

The first new physical music from Guns N’ Roses since 2008’s Chinese Democracy has finally arrived in the form of an EP!  Good enough; we’ll take it.  Beggars (and hangers-on) cannot be choosers.  Considering how scarce new Guns music has been since the early 90s, the new Hard Skool EP almost feels like manna from the gods.

There are six tracks in total spread over multiple formats:  two new studio songs, and four live.  The last of the live songs, “Shadow Of Your Love”, will ship in June 2022 on a club-only clear 7″.  The other five tracks are all out now.

To the disappointment of some, the two new songs are slightly old:  Chinese Democracy outtakes that have been reworked with Slash and Duff McKagan.  The duo have writing credits on “Hard Skool” along with Axl Rose and former members Robin Finck, Josh Freese, Tommy Stinson and Paul “Huge” Tobias.  Formerly known as “Jackie Chan”, this song comes closest to capturing the classic Guns vibe – think Illusions era GN’R.  Slash imbues the riff with his trademark snakelike style, and Axl is in full-scream mode on the powerful chorus.  The cowbell brings us back to the 80s a bit, but the experimental solo section is more modern.

The other new/old song “ABSUЯD” is much more Chi-Dem, and more divisize.  Formerly known as “Silkworms”, it was largely enjoyed by those who knew it from live bootlegs but thought it should have been on the album.  The keyboard intro has been axed, the riff emphasized and the lyrics slightly modified.  The main hook “What can I do, with a bitch like you?” has been replaced with a refrain of “Absurd!” The words are otherwise just as angry.  “Listen motherfuckers to the song that should be heard!” bellows Axl on the opening line.  “Parasitic demons sucking acid through your heart!”  I wonder who this was written about?  Vocally, Axl’s in the faux accent he utilized on “Down on the Farm” and you’ll love it or hate it.  Interestingly former keyboardist Chris Pitman, who was credited with songwriting on the original “Silkworms” version, no longer has a credit.  It is now credited to Axl, Slash, Duff and Dizzy.  Presumably the Pitman parts were chopped.  At the time of its writing, Pitman said: “It ended up being this incredible track that sounded like Guns N’ Roses 10 or 15 years in the future. It was so far removed from our other songs that we had to put it in this other place. Concept-wise, it didn’t fit with Chinese Democracy. We hope we will have other songs that match that kind of futuristic sound. It’s a really exciting track because it morphs into this crazy sound, but it was out so much in the other direction that we have to let time catch up with it.”  While that was true of “Silkworms”, the version known as “ABSUЯD” is more guitar-oriented.

The live songs commence with “Don’t Cry”.  Slash and rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus sound great together on this, but Axl struggles when the singing gets high at the end.  It’s a demanding song, and 1991 was a long time ago.  “You’re Crazy” on the other hand is really good.  Using the slower Lies arrangement, but played on electric, this version is like brand new.  A real cool addition to your GN’R library.

The third live track is exclusive to the 7″ vinyl:  “ABSUЯD”.  Not only do we get new songs on this EP, but we already get one in a live version.  Guns started playing “ABSUЯD” live in 2021 as a surprise before it was released on iTunes.  Axl’s voice is pretty strange here, sounding a bit muppet-ish.  (The screaming portion sounds like tape.)  This live track will take some getting used to.  It’s not that Axl’s voice is bad just…different than what you’re used to.

The 7″ vinyl came with a sticker while the cassette and CD versions come with no extras.  The CD is packed in a slipcase, and the cassette in a cassingle cardboard sleeve.  This got crushed a bit in the mail; a jewel case would have been better.

Completing this tracklist will be “Shadow Of Your Love (Live)” on an additional 7″ single, available only by joining a “Nightrain” membership on the official site.  The cheaper of the pricey packages gives you access to the usual online perks such as pre-sale tickets, but your only physical merchandise will be the vinyl, a sticker, and a pin.

The cover artwork includes an interesting visual clue.  On a school locker door, the classic Guns N’ Roses logo is stickered overtop a graffiti style logo reminiscent of Chinese Democracy.  Almost a metaphor for what these new songs are.

It’s encouraging that Guns N’ Roses have finally released something new, even if the songs are just reworked tunes from 20+ years ago.  Perhaps they’re clearing the decks before working on truly new material.  It’s all but certain that we will see more, and hopefully a longer release next time.  While some moments on the live tunes are shaky, and the new tunes were not as warmly received by some, the Hard Skool EP is wonderful to hold in hand.  New physical music from GN’R!  About time.

4/5 stars

 

All cautions made
Every chance was given
No effort spared to save what we had
All in good faith
I would not hesitate
To extend myself and lend you my hand

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

As tempers fade
And lies forgiven
No cause embraced could break what we had
In its place
A storm is lifting
I would’ve thought you could be more of a man

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

The Aftermath: Tim’s Vinyl Confessions Episode 351 with Tim and LeBrain

On Saturday Tim Durling, and I recorded a fantastic episode of Tim’s Vinyl Confessions about rare CDs that received loads of comments and questions!  Tim has been wanting to try going live for a while now, so Sunday morning we went for it with a followup show!

So, yes: That means this weekend there were three hours of Tim and I yammering about music!  But apparently they were a good three hours according to viewer feedback.  Here’s the “Aftermath” show that we did at 7:30 AM on a Sunday!  Loads of fun — I love mornings!


LeBrain Train Upcoming Live Schedule:

  • Friday February 18, 7:00 PM:  Top Albums from the Year 2000
  • Friday March 12, 7:00 PM:  Ten Year Anniversary of Record Store Tales
  • Friday March 26, 7:00 PM:  Two Year Anniversary of the LeBrain Train
  • Friday April 1, 7:00 PM:  The Prank Show featuring Michael Morwood and Chris Thuss

Tim’s Vinyl Confessions Ep. 351: Rare CDs with Mike Ladano

This morning I had a blast taping this episode of Tim’s Vinyl Confessions! Together we showed off some of our rarest CDs.  That’s part of the pleasure of being a collector:  sharing our treasure with you!

Thanks for having me Tim!  Enjoy this awesome two-hour extravaganza of digital rarities!

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.