classic rock

REVIEW: Ratt – Invasion of Your Privacy (Part Two of The Atlantic Years series)

Part Two of Five

RATT – Invasion of Your Privacy (Originally 1985, 2020 reissue — The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set)

Going triple platinum on their debut album, Ratt had a lot of expectations going into a followup.  They resumed working with producer Beau Hill and didn’t change up much in their formula.  The result was a double platinum second record, another sales success.  But what about the tunes?

Lead track “You’re In Love” was chosen as a speedy, sleek, metallic and melodic single.  A step up in songwriting, “You’re In Love” packs power and horny Stephen Pearcy passion.  Wicked solo by Warren DeMartini.  The simple riff/melody combo was all the rodents needed to score a hit and a career highlight.  As an album opener, it revs the engine but it is also the fastest track you’ll get on Invasion of Your Privacy.

A tasty heavy riff opens up “Never Use Love”, a nice chugging album track.  Nothing here in terms of a memorable chorus, so strictly album filler.  Not road tape worthy without a decent chorus.  Great Robbin Crosby solo though.  Fortunately the slick first single, “Lay It Down” comes in for the save.  Take “You’re In Love” and slow it down to a sexy locked groove, and you get “Lay It Down”.  Pearcy was not one for subtlety.  “I know you really want to lay it down,” he beckons, and no points for guessing what “it” is.

Track four, “Give It All”, is a decent album cut, with the hooks and chugging Ratt N’ Roll style riffs that people expected.  A track with single potential, had they released another.  Another pretty good album track, “Closer To My Heart”, slows it down but not quite into ballad territory.  More like a slow dirge to close side one.

The second side opens on “Between the Eyes”, a disjointed tune that needs some tightening up.  Some cool hooks but nothing to tie them together into a song.  “What You Give Is What You Get” boasts a cool, tough little chorus and some quality guitar.  Great tune other than a misfitting pre-chorus.  It has a dark, foreboding vibe that Ratt rarely nail this well.   “Got Me on the Line” is a pretty solid deep cut, typical uptempo Ratt N’ Roll.  The solo in particular smokes.  “You Should Know by Now” is a bit clunky, but you can hear what they were going for.  They were trying for a big pop rock chorus, but they welded it to the wrong song.

Closing on “Dangerous But Worth the Risk”, the album comes to a strong ending.  It chugs along with that Ratt N’ Roll groove that embodies the sound of Motley Crue assimilating all of Hollywood California in a single night.  Though Ratt’s sound is not something as unique as they used to sell it as, it does have a niche.  It rarely squirms out of that niche.  Invasion of Your Privacy does not stray far from the debut, and doesn’t add any new wrinkles.  It’s the next batch of songs and all but equal in strength to the first batch.

Each CD in this box set comes with bonus material from singles, and this time it’s a single edit for “What You Give Is What You Get”.  The guitar solo is sadly trimmed by 20 seconds for the radio, but no problem hearing this cool song twice.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Styx – Cornerstone (1979, coloured vinyl reissue)

STYX – Cornerstone (Originally 1979 A&M, 2020 Universal red vinyl reissue – limited to 1000 copies)

With Cornerstone, Styx were on their fourth album in their most successful incarnation:  Dennis DeYoung, James Young, Tommy Shaw, and Chuck & John Panozzo.  Shaw was the newest member and a fierce creative force in songwriting, on guitar, and with his own lead vocals.  Styx had a string of hits with this lineup including Crystal Ball, The Grand Illusion, and Pieces of EightCornerstone would be their biggest yet.  Though imperfect, it’s loaded with memorable songs and dynamite performances from the poppy-pretentious-prog-rock quintet.

What a terrific song “Lights” still is, with that big fat keyboard lick and Tommy Shaw’s delicate lead vocal.  You can hear why the punk rockers sought to eradicate the likes of Styx and their contemporaries.  But Cornerstone went to #2 in the album charts, and “Lights” was one of the singles released in Europe.  It’s a song about performing on stage, something that most of us will never be able to relate to.  But there’s something in its sincerity that is just charming.  “Give me the lights, precious lights, give me lights.  Give me my hope, give me my energy.”

Another single follows called “Why Me” (which wasn’t intended to be a single, but we’ll get into that).  A head-bopping light rock delight.  One of those tracks where you say, “Yeah, decent song.”  You might forget about it later; you might forget which album it’s on.  But it’s cool, especially when a blistering saxophone solo hits the speakers.

The big hit is in the third slot:  legendary power ballad “Babe”, Styx’s only #1.  Its strength is its pure corniness.  Surely, it must have been corny in 1979 too.  Yet a word comes back to me – “sincerity”.  Dennis DeYoung sounds completely sincere singing, “Babe, I love you,” like he means it.  Indeed as I research the album, “Babe” was written for Dennis’ wife.  You can hear it.  And if I was writing a song for my wife, you’d find it corny too.

A natural follow up to this Dennis-fest is a solid Tommy Shaw rocker called “Never Say Never”.  One of those album tracks that couldn’t stand on its own as a single, but has a perfect slot on side one after the big ballad.  That is an important slot for any rock band’s side one.  You have to get the blood pumping and the circulation back into the extremities with something that has some pep.  Because before you know it, the side will be done.

And side one closes on an epic:  Tommy’s mandolin-inflected “Boat on a River”.  Shaw on mandolin, guitar and autoharp.  Dennis on accordion, Chuck Panozzo on double bass with a bow.  Although fully acoustic with no electric, “epic” is the best word to describe it.  Perhaps it is a precursor to the the current popular “sea shanty” trend.  Well, Styx did one in 1979.

Side two kicks off with a blast:  “Borrowed Time”.  It’s amusing to hear Dennis start the song by saying, “Don’t look now, here comes the 80s!”  But this fun romp will be almost completely forgotten when you are suffocated by “First Time”, one of the most syrupy ballads ever foisted upon us.  Too syrupy, though the string section is a nice touch.  And it would have been the second single, had Tommy Shaw not objected.  “Babe” was a smash, and so “First Time” was selected to follow it.  Tommy expressed concern at two ballads in a row for the first two singles, and threatened to quit the band over it.  Things got so nasty that Dennis DeYoung was briefly fired and then re-hired over the issue.  And thus “Why Me” was chosen as second single instead.  Probably for the best…though you never know.

What do we need now?  A James Young rocker!  “Eddie” is his sole writing and singing credit on Cornerstone.  And it rocks hard, James pushing the upper register of his voice.  You wanna talk deep cuts, well “Eddie” is one of the best.  Interestingly it’s also one of those songs where the verses are slightly better than the choruses.

The closing slot on Cornerstone is left to Tommy Shaw’s “Love in the Midnight”, an interesting choice, echoing the side one closer when it opens acoustically.  It is the most progressive of the songs, featuring an absolutely bonkers Dennis keyboard solo and suitably gothic “ahh-ahh-ahh” backing vocals within a section with odd timing.  Things get heavy and punchy.  Definitely going out with a bang and not a whimper on this one.

This transparent vinyl reissue looks and sounds nice. It’s a gatefold sleeve with lyrics, pictures, and moustaches.  Not as cheap as buying a vintage vinyl or CD…just a lot nicer to look at.

4/5 stars

 

 

RE-REVIEW: Ratt – Out of the Cellar (Part One of The Atlantic Years series)

Part One of Five

RATT – Out of the Cellar (Originally 1984, 2020 reissue — The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set)

Ratt’s first full-length Out of the Cellar was a multiplatinum smash.  The band didn’t come out of nowhere, with a successful EP already under their fur.  Though an undeniable commercial success, was Out of the Cellar that great?  Let’s listen with fresh ears to the recent reissue in The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set, and see if we can hear with objectivity what those rodents were up to.

The disorienting sound of backwards drums heralds in opener “Wanted Man”, an inventive way to make their introduction.  These Ratts were cowboys, although they wore too much makeup for the ranch.  A simple, slow, chomping riff is menacing enough while Stephen Pearcy growls though.  The capable harmonies of the band and especially Juan Crocier help nail the melodies that Pearcy alone can’t.  A great track worthy of a multiplatinum album.

“You’re In Trouble” is…less worthy.  Clunky bass, chaotic guitars.  But “Round and Round”?  Still as great as ever.  As regal as these rodents are ever likely to sound.  A keen sense of melody, rhythm and vibe mixed together with a sweaty Stephen Pearcy.  Brilliant solo work from Warren DeMartini, and perfectly layered harmonies under the production of Beau Hill.

A nice choppy guitar bodes well on “In Your Direction”, a slinky number that serves Stephen’s style well.  Square, head-bangin’ rhythm from Bobby “Da Blotz” Blotzer.  Decent song, but with only one trick.  “She Wants Money” is more fun, a fast upbeat blast on a familiar theme.  Robbin “King” Crosby on lead guitar here.

The second side opens “Lack of Communication”, a biting track just missing one key ingredient:  a decent chorus.  The saw-like riff smokes, the verses are great, but it never resolves into a definitive hook.

“Back For More” is a little disjointed but salvages it with a killer chorus.  Screamin’ Pearcy and the rodent choir give it the final polish.  Brilliant solo work here by Warren.  Then, one of the best non-singles “The Morning After” will leave you drenched.  It has a bit of a Quiet Riot vibe (Carlos Cavazo ended up in Ratt much later).  “I’m Insane” is mindless fun; just bad boy rock with the popular “I’m crazy” theme that their pal Ozzy was milking for millions.  Finally the album closes on “Scene of the Crime” which has a neat guitar hook that unfortunately is all but unrelated to the rest of the song.  Some cool melodies with the patented Ratt harmonies here.

The box set comes with minor bonus tracks on each disc.  This one has a single edit (3:46) of “Round and Round”.  No problem hearing “Round and Round” twice, but missing most of the solo?  Ugh.  Really bad edit.

Good start to the Ratt The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set, and better than memory served.  Rest in peace to Tawny Kitaen: the cover model on this album, the first EP, and the box set itself.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Coney Hatch – Live at the El Mocambo (2021 limited edition)

CONEY HATCH – Live at the El Mocambo (2021 limited numbered & autographed edition)

It only took four decades, but like a fine Chardonnay, time made it just parfait.  Coney Hatch’s first live album, recorded back in October 2020 at the legendary El Mocambo is, in a word:  perfect.

First, let’s define “perfect”.  “Perfect” doesn’t mean “exactly like the studio versions”.  Not when we’re talking about live albums.  It means there’s an exciting vibe, great songs, top-notch performances, and a band that sounds like they’re out for blood.  Coney sound as if there was no pressure — but they delivered their best anyway.

Four albums, 15 tracks, over an hour of tunes.  Live at the El Mocambo represents the entire career of Coney Hatch, including all your favourites like “Stand Up”, “Devil’s Deck”, “Monkey Bars”, and “Hey Operator”.  A couple great tunes from Coney Hatch Four (like “Marseilles”) prove that the Hatch lost nothing when they reunited a few years back.  While everyone will have their own highlights, “Wrong Side of Town” absolutely smokes.  The album is paced perfectly with more contemplative tunes like “She’s Gone” balanced out by bangers like “Boys Club”.  Lots of songs about “girls gone bad”, according to Carl.

Andy Curran discusses Live at the El Mocambo

The on-stage banter by Andy Curran and Carl Dixon is warm and humorous.  It’s clear that they appreciate where they are in their careers now, fortunate to have this amazing second run.  In the back, drummer Dave “Thumper” Ketchum gives us an idea of how he earned that nickname.  But let’s not forget the newest member, guitarist Sean Kelly, who proves why he is one of the most in-demand players you’re likely to hear these days.  His ripping licks on this record are hair raising.

Another strength is that these guys have lost nothing in terms of vocal abilities.  It’s all there.  How Carl hits the notes he does, is actually unknown to modern science.  Andy Curran has just as much expression as ever, the ying the Carl’s yang.  When the band sing together on a big chorus, it’s arena-ready.

The first 100 copies came signed by all four members, and with a Coney Hatch can cooler!  If that’s not an invitation to get your buzz on with this great album, I don’t know what is.  It’s done in true bootleg style:  plain white cover, with logo stamped on the front, and plain white labels on the records.  The track listing is on a separate insert.   The non-limited version is available for you to purchase so get on that right now!

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Pandora’s Box (1991)

AEROSMITH – Pandora’s Box (1991 Columbia box set)

Aerosmith were out of the gates fairly early into their career when their first anthology style box set was released in 1991.  They were still going strong, at the peak of their popularity.  Their career had two distinct eras marked by the record labels they were signed to:  first Columbia, and then a resurgence with Geffen.

There was also a long gap between Aerosmith studio albums.  Pump was released in ’89 but it took them four years to come up with Get A Grip.  While Geffen waited for Aerosmith to complete Get A Grip, their old label Columbia was allowed to release compilations.  In late 1991 they put out a brand new video for a remixed “Sweet Emotion”, although ironically the remixed version wasn’t included in the forthcoming Pandora’s Box set.  Regardless, there was a stop-gap.  November saw the release of Pandora’s Box just in time for Christmas, with three CDs of music, including a whopping 25 rare, unreleased, or remixed tracks.

Disc 1

They hit you right from the start with a rarity:  Steven Tyler’s “When I Needed You” from 1966 and his band Chain Reaction.  You can barely tell it’s the same singer, but this quaint number is a great opener for a box set with this kind of scope.  Basic 60s rock with a hint of psychedelia.  Onto the first album, it’s “Make It” with an unlisted false start — another cool touch.  “Movin’ Out” is a completely different take than the one from the debut.  It’s superior because it’s harder and more raw.  (Did Pearl Jam rip off part of the guitar lick for “Alive”?)  “One Way Street” is the album version, but an unreleased “On the Road Again” is a fun laid back jam.  Clearly B-side material, but it’s Aerosmith and light and loose.

A sax-laden “Mama Kin” from the first album is the first bonafide hit presented, and like most of the hits in the set, it’s the original version.  It is immediately obvious from the upbeat groove just why it was a hit.  Up next, it’s the slick “Same Old Song and Dance”, the heavy “Train Kept A Rollin'” and haunting “Seasons of Wither”, all from Get Your Wings.  Major props for including the underappreciated “Seasons of Wither” in this box as the song has never had the exposure it deserves.  According to the liner notes, it was written by Steven Tyler on a guitar found by Joey Kramer in a dumpster.  The fretting on the guitar was “fucked” but it had a special tone.  The tuning of that guitar “forced” the song right out of Tyler.

An unreleased live version of “Write Me a Letter” from 1976 is overshadowed by the song that follows it.  It’s the “big one”, the ballad “Dream On”, and usually the centerpiece of any side that it’s on.  The random placement on the second half of CD 1 is a little puzzling.  The title track “Pandora’s Box” follows, a dirty slow funk.

The first disc closes on a trio of rarities.  A 1971 radio jam on Fleetwood Mac’s “Rattlesnake Shake”  goes on for 10 awesome minutes and dominates the disc.  They swiftly follow that with “Walkin’ the Dog” from the same radio broadcast.  Finally, a slinky “Lord of the Thighs” from the Texxas Jam closes CD 1.  Two more Texxas Jam tracks can be found midway through CD 2, which is mildly annoying.

Disc 2

The second disc represents the musical growth of Aerosmith.  A massive “Toys in the Attic” builds on the past:  more energy, better production, more speed.  “Round and Round” is Sabbath-heavy, a sound the band rarely explored.  Only “Nobody’s Fault” (which comes later on this disc) stands as a heavier Aerosmith monolith.

Behind the scenes Aerosmith were suffering from drug-induced absences in the studio.  One day when Joe Perry and Steven Tyler were late, the core trio of Joey Kramer, Brad Whitford, and Tom Hamilton just  jammed.  The result is “Krawhitham”, a menacing unheard jam.  It’s a testament to the “other three” guys in the band and features some stunning playing even if the riff is a bit lacking.  This rough and ready track is followed by four slick Toys in the Attic hits in a row:  “You See Me Crying”, “Sweet Emotion” (the original mix), “No More No More” and “Walk This Way”.  Each song different, each song perfect.  “You See Me Crying” may be the most underrated Aerosmith ballad ever released.

Two more Texxas Jam tracks occupy the middle of disc two:  “I Wanna Know Why” and “Big Ten Inch Record”.  These jams are a blast, but why not bunch all the Texxas tracks together?  Next, “Rats in the Cellar” from Rocks has the same energy as “Toys in the Attic” but with a nastier bite.  “Last Child” is a remix, a slight one at that.  The bass sounds deeper.  An unreleased Otis Rush cover follows called “All Your Love”.  This electric blues is fully formed with a satisfying mix and could easily have made an album.  Why didn’t it make Draw the Line?  That album already had a cover, “Milk Cow Blues” (included here on disc 3) so it is unlikely they wanted two.  Did they choose the right song?

The aforementioned “Nobody’s Fault” is preceded with a snippet of the demo, called “Soul Saver”.  It truly is a monster of a track and one of the band’s few true heavy metal songs.  Nuclear holocaust is a perfect theme for metal, but Tyler’s lyrics are more thoughtful than many of his competitors.  His tormented vocal is one of his career best.  “Sorry, you’re so sorry, don’t be sorry.  Man has known, and now he’s blown it upside down, and hell’s the only sound.  We did an awful job, and now they say it’s nobody’s fault.”

“Lick and a Promise” is a necessary speedy shot in the arm.  Though “Adam’s Apple” is replaced by a live version from 1977, it is the sonic blueprint for a million bands that tried to copy Tyler’s sleazy antics.  Two Draw the Line tracks close the CD:  the title track itself (remixed), and “Critical Mass” .  Again the remix is slight.

Disc 3

The final CD is the decline, but not without plenty of high points.  (“High” points, get it?)  The first high point is a 1978 live version of “Kings and Queens”.  “Good evenin’ boss.  Been a long time coming,” greets Tyler to the hometown Boston crowd.  Live versions don’t usually surpass their studio counterparts, but this one might for its seasoned, raw vibe.”  Joe Perry’s backing vocals make it.

The previously mentioned “Milk Cow Blues” from Draw the Line is an upbeat shuffle, getting the blood pumping once more.  A snippet of a demo called “I Live in Connecticut” leads directly into “Three Mile Smile” from Night in the Ruts.  It allows you to hear how a tune evolves from an idea into a complete song.   You get to hear that again on “Let it Slide” and “Cheese Cake”.  If you love when Joe Perry pulls out his slide guitar, then you will love this pairing.  We’re well into the Aerosmith stuff that doesn’t get enough credit when it’s good.  “Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy)” is another unsung gem…and the liner notes will tell you exactly what a “Coney Island white fish” is.  The autobiographical “No Surprize” is pretty fine too.

The Beatles cover “Come Together” was one of the very few worthwhile tracks on the awful movie soundtrack Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Fortunately for Aerosmith fans, it has long been available on their 1980 Greatest Hits.  And it’s not the last Beatles cover on this box set.  But it’s the last real hit before the disc takes a serious detour.

“Downtown Charlie” is really ragged; punk rock energy with nobody at home in quality control.  It sounds like one of their “drunken jams” according to Joe Perry in the liner notes.  Wicked playing but no cohesion.  And then they split — Brad Whitford with Whitford/St. Holmes, and Joe Perry with the Joe Perry Project.  Even this is documented.  “Sharpshooter” by Whitford/St. Holmes is a box set highlight, even though it sticks out like a sore thumb by sounding nothing like Aerosmith at all.  This is straight hard rock, with Derek St. Holmes on lead vocals.  Though an astounding vocalist, he is the Antityler and the song does not fit in any way on the tracklist.  Too bad since it’s such a great track.  More at home is Joe Perry’s “South Station Blues” from I’ve Got the Rock N’ Rolls Again.  It’s preceded by an Aerosmith demo called “Shit House Shuffle”.  Aerosmith didn’t use the riff, so Joe did on his solo album.  It totally works with his lead vocal, though it’s a shame Aerosmith never used the idea themselves.  Another wasted jam, “Riff and Roll”, had potential as the kernal of a song, but Tyler’s voice is completely shot.  You can hear what they were going for.  It could have worked on Done With Mirrors had they finished it.

Aerosmith carried on in 1982 with Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay replacing Perry and Whitford.  The resulting album Rock In a Hard Place was inconsistent but not without some gems.  “Jailbait” doesn’t indicate anything was out of place, a worthy followup to frantic manic blasts like “Rats in the Cellar”.  But they only lasted one album before cooler heads prevailed and the classic lineup reunited.

With Perry and Whitford back again, Aerosmith began recording new albums for Geffen.  Columbia still released Aerosmith albums regularly, like Classics Live and Classics Live II.  A previously unreleased oldie from the Get Your Wings days called “Major Barbra” was included as a bonus on Classics LivePandora’s Box includes a second version of “Major Barbra”, a rougher alternate take.  It’s a full minute longer than the version of Classics Live, including harmonica solo.  Another track Columbia released was the classic “Chip Away the Stone” (written by Richie Supa), on 1988’s Gems.  This obscure single never had a proper album release until then, despite its awesome nature.  The Pandora’s Box version is an alternate version, with noticeably less piano in the mix.

The penultimate track is the unreleased Beatles cover “Helter Skelter”, dating back to 1975.  This one got a bit of airplay in 1991 when the box set was released.  It is undoubtedly rough but with suitably aggressive and heavy hitting groove.  The box set is then closed by “Back in the Saddle”, an apt way to describe Aerosmith’s career since.

But wait, what’s this?  “There now, ain’t you glad you stayed?” asks Steven Tyler after a few seconds of silence.  Why, it’s the hidden bonus track!  The unlisted instrumental was written by Brad Whitford and actually titled “Circle Jerk”.  It is very similar to the previous “Krawhitham” instrumental on disc two, but heavier.

Now, what about that remixed “Sweet Emotion” that was released to promote the box set, but wasn’t actually on the box set?  The remix was done by David Thoener and featured some structural changes.  The music video was a smash hit.  You could buy it as a standalone single, with “Circle Jerk” and another unreleased instrumental bonus track called “Subway”.  All three were re-released again as bonus tracks in 1994 on the massive Box of Fire.  The Thoener remix has been issued many times over the years on compilations and movie soundtracks.

There’s little doubt that Pandora’s Box was good value for the money.  For the fans who didn’t have the albums, most of the hits are included in studio versions.  The remixes are minor enough for them not to notice.  For the rest, the wealth of unreleased bonus material justified buying three CDs.  Unlike other box sets like Led Zeppelin’s four disc airship, Pandora’s Box is not designed to be an ecstatic listening experience from start to finish.  It is a study in early Aerosmith from the roots to just before the reunion.  It is the rise and fall, and still fighting to get back up.  It is uneven with mountainous peaks of spontaneous rock and roll chemistry, and also the tired struggle to keep producing music.  Much like its subject, Aerosmith, Pandora’s Box is a flawed portrait.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: The Black Crowes – Shake Your Money Maker (2021 deluxe edition)

THE BLACK CROWES – Shake Your Money Maker (Originally 1990, 2021 Universal deluxe edition)

How many times have you bought Shake Your Money Maker (31 years old but not a day over 20)?  This time the Crowes did it (mostly) right.  The last time they reissued this album in 1998, they added only two bonus tracks.  Now there are 25.  These include a whole disc of rarities called More Money Maker, and a homecoming live set from December 1990 with the original lineup and a sneak peak at new, work-in-progress songs.  All of this is worth your money to buy one more time.  Especially for the songs they were already road-testing.

Disc 1:  Shake Your Money Maker

Freshly remastered and sounding good.  Opening up with a rip of slide guitar, the Crowes made their southern bluesy roots known from the get go.  It was nothing like Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, or anybody else on the radio at the time, except maybe the London Quireboys.  They drew influence from the 70s:  Bands like the Stones and Skynyrd, as well as the old Mississippi Delta bluesmen.  Listen to Rich Robinson’s slide and dig in.  Chris Robinson’s bluesy drawl delivers a hell of a chorus.  “Twice As Hard” is perfect in every measure, and producer George Drakoulias captured it without messing with it.

Second in line is the debut single “Jealous Again”.  It sounds like the offspring of the Stones at their boogie-woogie best.  The noticable difference is the big drum sound wielded by Steve Gorman, the Crowes’ secret weapon.

Shake Your Money Maker is a well rounded album with a few piano based slow tracks.  The first ballad is “Sister Luck”, sort of prototype for the kind of things the Crowes would do in the future.  You want authenticity?  That’s Chuck Leavell on keys.

Back to the rock, “Could I’ve Been So Blind” kicks it with a shot in the arm and a great chorus.  Thing go slow again on the organ-based blues “Seeing Things”.  The wild thing is, the Crowes were just kids, but it sounds like they have years and years of pain to pour into these songs.

One of the most well known singles from Shake Your Money Maker was the old Otis Redding cover “Hard to Handle”.  A bit of a surprise to hear an Otis song on the radio, but we gladly took it.  The Robinson swagger on this one is enormous.  Back to rock, “Thick N’ Thin” begins with a car crash. Fast paced rock and roll with boogie woogie piano gets the feet moving, like the Faces on adrenaline.

One of the fastest songs gives way to the slowest one.  “She Talks to Angels” is the only one that technially deserves the tag “ballad”.  Acoustics guitars, organ, and Chris’ plaintive voice took it to #1 on the US “album rock” charts.  It’s still just as stunning today, with the feel still coming through.

Moving in for the close, “Struttin’ Blues” is relatively nondescript compared to some of the prior ass-kickers.  They save the most kick-ass for last:  “Stare It Cold”.  It starts as a standard Stones-y rocker, but then it picks up speed right to the end, brilliantly ending the debut album on a hell of a good impression.

Disc 2:  More Money Maker:  Unreleased Songs & B-Sides

This isn’t all the B-sides of course; the Crowes issued plenty of live tracks that you will have to track down the singles for.  This does collect the studio music that made it onto B-sides and bonus tracks, as well as far more serious rarities.  One of those is “Charming Mess”, a slamming unreleased track that easily could have been a hit.  Slippery guitars, bouncing piano, and a wicked chorus.  Early Crowes tended to keep things simple, and this a great example of their early charm, cranked up to 10.

The Humble Pie cover “30 Days in the Hole” is tight and clean.  Johnny Colt was an underrated bass player and you can hear it on this decent but underwhelming cover.  The original “Don’t Wake Me” is an also-ran, in the fast-paced category.  Great guitar work as always though, so always something to listen for.  The Lennon cover “Jealous Guy” always lacked something that the original had, but by turning it into a lamenting blues, the Crowes made it their own more than the other covers.  The original “Waitin’ Guilty” is a real treat.  Happier with twang, it was rarely played live, perhaps because it’s a bit of a departure.  A sweet, tasty, twangy departure.

The “Horn Mix” of “Hard To Handle” has been difficult to track down for years.  Here it finally is!  One thing not apparent when listening to it on a shitty radio — the bass really thumps on this remix.  With this version now finally widely available, it is the definitive mix.  Two acoustic versions of big hits are next:  “Jealous Again” and “She Talks to Angels”.  Stripped down to the very basics with no drums.  “She Talks to Angels” benefits very much from the bare arrangement, becoming something truly special.

This disc ends on a double treat:  Two early demos by Mr. Crowe’s Garden, the incarnation that preceded the Black Crowes.  “She Talks to Angels” is fully written but with a higher lead vocal melody.  “Front Porch Sermon” is more folksy than what we usually expect from the Crowes, at least until the later years.  Banjo is the dominant instrument.   The chorus is a dead ringer for Blue Rodeo.  Great stuff; let’s hope we get more Mr. Crowe’s Garden demos in the future.

Disc 3:  The Homecoming Concert:  Atlanta, GA December 1990

For many, this is the main feature of the set, and for good reason.  This era of the Crowes only lasted a short time and change is already evident.  The new material they were working on, and were already playing live, was different.  The band was also changing and soon guitarist Jeff Cease would be out of the lineup, replaced by Marc Ford.  This concert CD is one of our few chances to hear what Jeff Cease brought to the band.  They couldn’t have grown where they did with Cease, but as the lead guitarist on these rock and roll tracks, he’s perfect.

Chris Robinson is on fire, as evident on the stormin’ first song, “Thick N’ Thin”.  It’s an energetic version and that energy carries over into a new song called “You’re Wrong”.  It would later evolve into “Sting Me”.  The sound of Southern Harmony was starting to creep in and you get a lot more a  bit later into the set.  Although nobody sounds bored, the Crowes roll out the hit “Twice as Hard” next.  It could be one of the best versions out there, for Chris’ impassioned overblown vocal.

Favourites from the album are played one after the other:  “Could I’ve Been So Blind”, “Seeing Things”, “She Talks to Angels”, “Sister Luck”, and “Hard to Handle”.  Particularly powerful is “Seeing Things” though highlights are plenty through these tunes.  The Crowes also peppered their sets with non-album covers.  “Shake ‘Em On Down” (Bukka White) is unexpectedly followed by “Get Back” (The Beatles).  But really it’s just one extended jam on some familiar themes.

The real treat is a full 13 minute version of “Words You Throw Away”, the long jam that would one day evolve into a little hit called “Remedy”.  You can hear certain chords and rhythmic ideas that ended up in “Remedy”, and maybe also “Thorn in My Pride”.  It is however its own song, with some unbelievable hooks of its own that never made it into anything else.  Just lay back and enjoy all 13 minutes of musical nirvana.

Closing the set with “Stare It Cold” and “Jealous Again” can only be anticlimax after that workout.  What else could they do?

It’s very fortunate this live set was so well recorded, mixed and mastered for release.

In Conclusion

Though affordable, the 3 CD edition has skimpy packaging.  There is a small foldout with rare photos (and some really cool ones of Mr. Crowe’s Garden) but no real liner notes or other details.  It would just be nice to know more about where the rare tracks originated, or even the original studio album itself.  The album used to come with lyrics, but this comes with nothing.

Still the music more than makes up for up for the lack of packaging.  The top-notch live set is a revelation, and the bonus rarities are valuable and high quality.  You can’t say no to the music.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: The London Quireboys – “Hey You” (1990 cassette single)

THE LONDON QUIREBOYS – “Hey You” (1990 Capitol cassette single)

A curiosity unique to cassette.  The UK 12″ single for “Hey You” included a live “Hoochie Coochie Man” on the B-side.  It and the 7″ single also contained the album track “Sex Party”.  You could get these same tracks on the CD single, but the cassette went with a different route.

The A-side common to all is of course “Hey You” from the hit debut album A Bit Of What You Fancy. It sounds classic from first crash of guitar. The Stones-y Faces vibe is immediately apparent, and fondly recalls the summer of 1990 when the need for such a sound heralded in the Quireboys and Black Crowes.  It was completely unlike everything out by Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, and Warrant.  Its refreshing reliance on slide guitar still sounds great in the speakers, but the rasp of singer Spike is its most defining trait.

The first B-side is the roudy “Sex Party” from the album.  The boogie piano keeps it kickin’ hard.  But then the cassette goes its own way with two additional tracks.  They are severely edited versions of hit singles “I Don’t Love You Anymore” and “7 O’Clock”.  Both fade out prematurely just as the songs are getting awesome!

The whole thing repeats on both sides.  The idea is to give the kids incentive to go out and buy the album next time.  Save your allowances and buy the album to get the full songs.  Such teases!  Just as Spike is telling us what time it is, adding that it’s also “time for the party”, the song fades and the side ends!

Can’t realistically rate something like this very high.  While the two full tracks are both awesome, it’s hard to justify buying this tape today as anything other than a curiosity.  The cassette still sounds good after 31 years though!

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Bonham – Mad Hatter (1992 Japanese import)

BONHAM – Mad Hatter (1992 Sony Japan)

The first Bonham album in 1989 was a critic’s darling.  Produced by Bob Ezrin, it sold well enough and made plenty of year-end lists.  For the year 1989, it was a breath of fresh air compared to the Motley Crue, Bon Jovi and Def Leppard tracks dominating the airwaves.  Those who thirsted for the rarified air of Led Zeppelin got some of that with Jason on drums and the incredible Canadian Daniel MacMaster on lead vocals.  It was easy to imagine that “Wait For You” was a new Zeppelin single built for that year.  But every band has to grow, and where would Bonham take it?  Further down the Zeppelin road, or try and find their own identity?

Bob Ezrin did not return, and most of the followup album Mad Hatter was produced by Tony Platt, with the rest produced by Ron Saint Germain.  The band grew from the debut, establishing more of their own groove.  It was a more diverse and challenging platter.  Unfortunately, the album arrived in 1992, amidst the Pearl Jams, Soundgardens, Nirvanas and the rising tide of grunge.  Despite the strong single “Change of a Season”, the album tanked.

What an opener “Bing” is, a word that doesn’t seem to be in any of the lyrics.  At first, it has a very old school Zeppelin groove, akin to “Candy Store Rock” meets “Black Dog”.  But then it goes to a completely different place on the chorus.  The sonics are clearer and sharper than the debut.  Jason’s drums are huge as the should be.

Yet it’s the title track that really shocks the system.  Opening with a blast of horns, “Mad Hatter” goes one of the few places Zeppelin never went:  full-on funk with horns.  This would be the Tower of Power horn section.  It would be lazy to compare “Mad Hatter” to “Get the Funk Out” from a couple years past, as it has its own vibe.  Ian Hatton on guitar proves himself to be diverse talent with licks-o-plenty.

Another direction is explored on “Change of a Season”, the shoulda-woulda-coulda single that would have been huge a year or two prior.  The melancholy ballad was simply the wrong temperature for 1992. The gothic tone of the video was cool, but the video got zip for airplay.  It’s the backing strings (synth) and epic chorus that make this song.  It sounds less like Zeppelin and perhaps more like something from David Coverdale’s Reptile Emporium.

Another cool direction is explored on “Hold On”, a unique song with elements from multiple genres.  Funk, soul, progressive, blues, and even bluegrass.  This is followed by another song with epic overtones, “The Storm”, a six minute track that takes the Zeppelin influences to the craggy progressive peaks of another land.

Although there’s no side break on a CD, there are a natural place for it as you can pause for a breath before plunging into “Ride on a Dream”.  A breaknace pace and metallic riff make it unlike anything else on the album.  Perhaps a band like the Scorpions could do “Ride on a Dream”, but even Klaus would be challenged by the outstanding MacMaster lead vocal.  This plutonium-fuelled track would give anyone a run for their money.

But after all that drama, you need something a little more laid back.  That would be “Good With the Bad”, a jazzy piano ballad and the longest song on the album.   It doesn’t remain in ballad territory forever, going to the swamps of Florida where Savatage reside halfway through.  The comparisons are easy to hear.  Next, we go to a bluesy, funky blast of Zeppelin-flavoured ale on “Backdoor”.  Another cool tune with a different vibe from the others.  Things drag a bit on “Secrets”, which tries to marry the funky side with a “Kashmir”-scale chorus but doesn’t really follow through.

Moving on to the end, it’s “Los Locos” in second to last position.  This is a tender blues guitar/violin instrumental with dark piano accents.  That would be bassist John Smithson handling those wicked violin licks and a lot of the keyboards.  Perfect track for this spot, setting up for the closer.  It’s up to “Chimera” to take you out, and it does with a shiny upbeat vibe.  Although it’s probably sheer coincidence, it sounds a bit like Marillion circa the same period.

Lo and behold, that is not all!  The Japanese fans got a little bonus on their CDs called “Waste No Time”.  It’s definitely not an also-ran.  It has a heavy bass groove that isn’t like the other tracks on the album.  MacMaster really lets it blast on the chorus too.  Definitely Zeppelin vibes come solo time.

This album was available with two covers.  The majority of copies have the surreal Dali-esque landscape that you see here.  The alternate cover was plain white with just the new Bonham logo.  Which looks rather silly without the proper cover art for context.  That’s the cover that retailers such as Columbia House sold in the 1990s.

In 1994, Jason Bonham reconvened with Ian Hatton and John Smithson, but not Daniel MacMaster.  The new singer was Marti Frederiksen — yes, that Marti Frederiksen, the one that writes massive hits for everyone today.  The band took on a new modern grunge sound, and renamed themselves Motherland.  ☮︎ For Me was the pretentious name of that album.  As a sad final coda, Daniel MacMaster died too young at age 39 from a strep infection that he thought was a cold.

At least we can say that Bonham with MacMaster really did outgrow the Zeppelin tag by the second album.  Still a part of the DNA, but expressing itself more rarely.  It’s a shame about the timing of the album, because had it sold like the first one did, maybe we wouldn’t have had the Motherland debocle.  Mad Hatter is a pretty fine second album that does all the things that second albums should do.  Shame it was the last.

3.75/5 stars

REVIEW: ZZ Top – The ZZ Top Six Pack (1987)

ZZ Top – The ZZ Top Six Pack (1987 Warner)

What a strange time the dawn of the compact disc was.  Even at the end of the 1980s, vast catalogues of music had yet to be released on CD.  It was a hit and miss affair, with some early discs sounding wonderful and others sounding like a thin, tinny facsimile of the original vinyl.  The longer running time of CD was a bonus that many bands took advantage of, while other heritage groups were considering the ways they could re-release their music on this new format.

Before Jimmy Page took his first crack at remastering the Led Zeppelin catalogue for CD, ZZ Top took a different route.

Now, granted, ZZ Top’s music spans a longer time period than that of many of their rivals.  They’re also notable for starting the 1970s as a dirty raw blues and ending the 80s as clean space-age rock.  While this took them from one success to an even more massive one, it unfortunately meant that the ZZ Top camp felt it necessary to “update” their music for the CD age.  Make the catalogue sound more on an even keel with Eliminator and Afterburner.

And so the six ZZ Top albums that were so-far unreleased on CD were remixed:  First Album, Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres, Fandango!, Tejas, and El Loco.  Only Degüello was spared, having been released on CD earlier.

Apparently, updating the ZZ Top catalogue for CD was of “overriding concern” for all parties involved.  ZZ Top were aware that there were complaints about early CD transfers for classic albums.  The goal was “return to the original analog tapes and consider what steps were needed to render the music appropriate to  contemporary digital playback equipment without compromising integrity.”

The answer was none.  No steps were necessary.  The remixes were not what the old fans wanted to hear on their brand new CD players.  Rhythm tracks were updated with sequencers, drums treated digitally, and the whole thing came out sterile and flat.  Adding echo didn’t add depth.  Doing an A/B test with a remix vs. an original track makes you wonder why you even own the ZZ Top Six Pack.*  It just…doesn’t sound right.  Like a disorienting time displacement.

As of 2013, you can get all the original ZZ Top albums on remastered CD as they should have always sounded.

While it is nice to have six ZZ Top albums on just three CDs, and there is no denying the booklet is hot, you do not need the ZZ Top Six Pack anymore.  The charm of the originals is that they are a document of those hot Memphis studios where ZZ Top laid down the original tracks fast and dirty.  The remixes sound like a digital mixing board trying to tame a wild animal.  Wrong, and unnecessary.  “Francine” is actually awful.

The booklet is truly valuable (nonsense justifying the remix aside) and worth a point on its own.  The ZZ Top songs in and of themselves are always incredible, so they too are worth a point.

2/5 stars

* It was a gift from Kevin.  He also rates it 2/5 stars.  I asked him for a quote for this review.  All he had to say about the ZZ Top Six Pack was:  “I’m glad Mike took this crap off my hands.”  

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Big Trouble Comes to Toronto – Maple Leaf Gardens 10/31/86 (bootleg cassette)

DAVID LEE ROTH – Big Trouble Comes to Toronto – Maple Leaf Gardens 10/31/86 (bootleg cassette)

This cassette is a second generation, recorded from a buddy (with good equipment at least) in 1992.  My first bootleg.  It opens with a Van Halen-era interview with David Lee Roth about “precision rock”.  The crackle of original vinyl is audible.

A nice fade-in brings Steve Vai’s guitar to the fore, and then it’s wide open into “Shyboy”.  High octane, even though it’s just an audience recorded cassette with not enough volume on the guitar.  Without pause they rock into “Tobacco Road”. Gregg Bissonette’s toms a-thunderin’.  Vai certainly needs no help in hitting all the guitar hooks that he baked into the vinyl, just with more flair and energy.

Dave has never shied away from Van Halen hits or deep cuts.  “Unchained”, “Panama” and “Pretty Woman” are the first three.  The bass rumblings are unlike anything Michael Anthony played on the original.  The backing vocals are far more elaborate.  Like in Van Halen, “Unchained” is interrupted part way, but this time it’s so Dave can ask what you think of his new band!  Pretty hot.  After “Unchained” he stops to talk to a “pretty Canadian girl”.  “Panama” sounds a little odd with Brett Tuggle’s keyboards so prominent in the mix.  And it’s also way way way too long, with Dave trying to figure out who is reaching down between whose legs, but that’s Dave.  You don’t go to the show just to hear the music.  You go to see the whole schtick.  You put in the quarter, you gotta let the jukebox play the whole thing out.

“Pretty Woman” is zipped through fairly quickly (with one audience participation stop), going into Dave’s rabid “Elephant Gun” and the slick “Ladies’ Night in Buffalo?”  “Elephant Gun” features solos galore that would have been pretty awesome to see up close.  It sounds like there’s a vinyl side break before heading into “Buffalo”.  Vai’s guitar is the star here, in an extended solo backed only by Tuggle.  This turns into a dual bass/guitar call-and-answer.

When Bissonette starts on those tribal beats, you know it’s Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some!!”  This great version includes a drum solo.  Next it’s “On Fire” from the Van Halen debut.  Dave asks for the guitars to be turned up – we agree.  “On Fire” with keyboards and Vai noodling is a different animal.  After Dave’s original “Bump and Grind”, it’s time to flip the tape.

Side two opens with some of Dave’s acoustic strummin’, and a story called “Raymond’s Song”.  It’s just an excuse for him to say “Toronto” a whole lotsa times before introducing “Ice Cream Man”.  Which completely smokes.  Vai puts his own space-age spin on it, and Tuggle adds boogie piano, but this is one wicked version!

Dave’s solo track “Big Trouble” has plenty of atmosphere and fireworks for the Toronto crowd, but “Yankee Rose” is just nuts.  Nothing but the hits from here on in:  “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, “Goin’ Crazy!”, “Jump” and “California Girls”.  The heavy riff of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” sounds great in Steve’s hands, who doesn’t go too crazy with it.  Of course there has to be another long break in the middle (too many breaks at this point now).  This time it’s so Dave can get Stevie to make his guitar say “Toronto kicks ass, because the chicks are so fine”.  The rest of the songs are somewhat fluffy, the pop stuff, and rendered a little sweet with the added shimmer of Brett Tuggle.  “Jump” misses the deeper tone of Eddie’s Oberheim OBXA.

It’s worth noting that Roth closes with “California Girls”, not “Jump”.  His solo career is the point, not Van Halen, he seems to be saying.  This is the cherry on top.  Roth hands it to his new band several times in the show — he knew they had to deliver, and they did.  And he wants people to know that he has a band that can compete with his old group.

The show is complete,  and apparently Dave didn’t play “Just a Gigolo” on this tour.  The opening act in Toronto was Cinderella, supporting Night Songs.

Sometimes you wish Dave would get on with it and play the next song, but that’s only because this is a cassette bootleg being played on a Technics RS-TR272.  If you were there in Toronto on the Eat ‘Em and Smile tour, you’d be eating up every word Dave laid down.  He is the master of the stage.  Sure, it doesn’t always translate to tape but that’s the nature of Dave’s live show, isn’t it?  It’s precision rock — visually and audibly combined.

4.5/5 stars (for what the show must have been in person)