Eric Bell

REVIEW: Dedication – The Very Best of Thin Lizzy (1991 North American version)

REVIEW:  Thin Lizzy – Dedication – The Very Best of Thin Lizzy (1991 Polygram North American version)

It might not be the best introduction to the most underrated classic rock band of all time, but it was my introduction. Dedication was a 1991 Thin Lizzy compilation that was buoyed by the unreleased song “Dedication” which was released as the radio single.  There’s nothing wrong with the “new” track, except it wasn’t supposed to be a Thin Lizzy song.  Phil Lynott recorded the song in 1985 for his new band Grand Slam.  Scott Gorham and Brian Downey replaced the original instrumentation leaving Phil intact.  And that’s fine.  “Dedication” sounds slightly unfinished but it also sounds like what Thin Lizzy might have been doing had they carried on.

These kind of extra songs usually get spotlighted at the front of the album, or left at the end to whet the appetite.  On Dedication, it goes last, leaving the compilation to ascend in chronological order.  Is that the best way to approach listening to Thin Lizzy?  While many sets go that route, it leads to a very uneven playing experience.  Early Thin Lizzy was much more folksy, and dare I say it, just not as good.  It certainly had some excellent tunes, and some of the better ones are showcased here.  “Whiskey in the Jar” is an actual folk traditional, rocked up and made unforgettable by that Eric Bell guitar hook.  That’s followed by the firecracker “The Rocker”, just shy of three minutes but every one of them shockingly great.

Original guitarist Eric Bell left the band after three albums due to exhaustion, and the band was beefed up to a four-piece with Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham taking his place.  It took a while for the albums to really catch up with the talent.  On CD it’s a lot of slow material before we get to the more rocking stylings of the Thin Lizzy that you know and love.  From 1974’s Nightlife we have “She Knows”, “Still in Love With You”, and “Showdown”.  A lot of ballads and blues and not a lot of fire.  The guitar work is sparkling but the songs are not yet as astounding as they would yet become.  Another ballad, “Wild One” from Fighting (1975) is one of the best of the batch.  It is bookended by two rockers, “Fighting My Way Back” and the Bob Seger cover of “Rosalie”.  Both are tracks you don’t want to live without.

Part of (but only part of) Phil Lynott’s genius was bringing Gorham and Robbo (and later others) together as a unified guitarmony duo.  The next batch of classics really hammer this home.  “Jailbreak”, “The Boys are Back in Town”, “Cowboy Song” and “Don’t Believe a Word” are the embodiment of what people think of when they picture Thin Lizzy.  The driving beats, the hooks, the dual solos, the poetic lyrics — it’s all there in what might be considered Lizzy’s peak era.

Brian Robertson left the band shortly after, and doesn’t appear on “Bad Reputation” or “Dancing in the Moonlight”, but Gorham picked up the slack in the studio and rendered these as two more stone-cold classics.  “Bad Reputation” covers the driving side of the band while “Dancing in the Moonlight” is funky, light romantic storytelling.  Truly excellent songs even without Robbo.

The Gary Moore era follows with “Do Anything You Want To” and “Waiting For An Alibi”, two more excellent Lizzy classics from the underappreciated album Black Rose.  Moore lasted only for one album, and his successor Snowy White for two more.  Snowy is only heard on one track here (“Chinatown”) and the man that replaced him (John Sykes) is heard on none!  So another failing of the Dedication album is a sudden drop-off at the end, leaving out important songs.  “Chinatown” is excellent at least, but so is “Hollywood” and “Renegade”, yet they are not here.

Yes, too many songs were left off Dedication because you couldn’t get ’em all on a single CD.  Johnny The Fox (possibly their best record) is an album that isn’t given enough time here, along with Black Rose.  And to have no Sykes?  Unjustifiable.

Fortunately the last song “Dedication” is better than expected, sounding like Thin Lizzy 1991, beefy and tough.  It doesn’t sound like Lizzy ’75 or Lizzy ’83.  But it does sound like Lizzy because Phil Lynott’s voice tends to do that.  Scott Gorham does a decent job of replicating all the guitar excitement himself (he’s had to do it before).  The track, written by Lynott and Grand Slam guitarist Laurence Archer, had one of those guitar hooks well suited to the Lizzy canon.  Gorham and Downey did it justice enough.

Dedication is not enough Thin Lizzy but it’s enough to get your feet wet.  Although it’s a slow starter it will eventually get you interested enough to try more.  It worked for me and it’ll work for you.

3.25/5 stars

REVIEW: Thin Lizzy – Vagabonds Kings Warriors Angels (2001 box set)

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LIZZY VAGABONDS BOX_0001THIN LIZZY – Vagabonds Kings Warriors Angels (2001 Mercury 4 CD set)

This is one of the best boxed sets that I own. Of course, it’s not a complete collection of rarities. Such a thing does not exist, the Lizzy catalogue is so labyrinthine with EP’s, singles, and Phil’s solo projects. It takes a scholar just to keep it all straight. This set however does include a very generous slice of rarities, including one rare exclusive. It also includes pretty much every Lizzy hit and album cut you could want. Everything from my own obscure favourites (“Hollywood”, “The Sun Goes Down”) to the biggest hits (“Jailbreak”, “The Boys are Back in Town”) are on here.

The set is divided into four discs, each one reflecting a phase of Thin Lizzy. From the Eric Bell power trio years (was “power trio” even a phrase back then?) to the final Phil single “Nineteen” (famously covered by Bad 4 Good), there is no era of the band overlooked. The liner notes are also excellent, with lots of photos and text, and detailed credits.

The rarities and B-sides are pure gold. It’s also important to remember that in Lizzy’s day, non-album singles were the norm.  Many of those singles are crucial tracks.  “Randolph’s Tango”, with its intricate flamenco solo, is one.  The storming “Little Darling” is another necessity.  I love the reggae of “Half Caste”. How hard it must have been being Phil Lynott growing up. “The boy ain’t black, the boy is brown,” goes the painful lyric. “Sitamoia” (written by Brian Downey) is a ferocious tornado as only Lizzy could do. “Sugar Blues” is a live jam blast, featuring the underrated Snowy White doing what he does best: the blues.

IMG_20141109_085733Most of the B-sides and rare tracks have since been released on the various Thin Lizzy deluxe editions.  Not necessarily in these versions though.  One track you won’t find on a deluxe edition is “Song For Jimi”, originally from a magazine flexi-disc.  This track features a reunited original Thin Lizzy with Eric Bell, recording in 1981!

With complete honesty, there isn’t one single track I would have changed on this set. I think of all my favourites (Lizzy, solo, and otherwise) and check to see if they’re on here. “Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed”? Check. “Massacre”? Check. “The Rocker”? Check. “King’s Call”? Check. “Fool’s Gold”? Check. “Romeo And The Lonely Girl”? Check. “Dancing In The Moonlight”? Check. In fact the only thing I can think of that’s missing is the posthumous “Dedication”, but it’s arguable that it doesn’t belong, since it has a sort of early 90’s sound and was finished by Gorham and Downey on their own.

I wish Thin Lizzy became as big a name as some of their contemporaries, such as Zeppelin, Aerosmith, or Purple. They certainly had the musical chops, they had a multitude of influences and variety of sounds (all Lizzy though), and of course they had the unequaled lyrical talents of Phil Lynott. A poet like Lynott will never come again. Let’s celebrate his life, even though it’s too late for him to celebrate with us.

5/5 stars

CO-REVIEW: Funky Junction – Play a Tribute to Deep Purple (1973)

AN INTERNET FIRST:  LeBrain and the Heavy Metal OverloRd have combined forces to bring you our very first co-review!  We have chosen the rare album album by Funky Junction — a little known outfit better recognized under the name Thin Lizzy!  Perhaps you have heard of them.

For the purposes of this review, LeBrain will be in black and HMO will be in blue.

FUNKY JUNCTION – Play a Tribute to Deep Purple (1973 Damont)

HMO: I like a challenge. Ever since hearing about Mike’s “Holy Grail” list of rarities I’ve been determined to find some for him here in Scotland. Given that I’m Scottish, this obsession with Holy Grails probably makes me Sean Connery to his Indiana Jones. Or something like that. At any rate, I’ll be calling him “Junior” from now on. I saw this record in Glasgow’s Missing Records and, knowing the hidden Thin Lizzy connection, I emailed Mike to see if he had it. He replied that it was on his Holy Grail list! Ya dancer! On closer inspection, however, the shop-copy looked too scratched to be worth even the £2.50 asking price. But the discovery gave me hope that I might find a better copy for him online… and here it is!

LeBrain: The band on the front cover wasn’t them. Their names appear nowhere on the LP packaging. All we’re told on the record jacket is that Funky Junction “are an exciting new group that has the pulse of today.” But for all intents and purposes, Funky Junction was Thin Lizzy:

Phil Lynott – bass guitar
Brian Downey – drums
Eric Bell – guitar
Benny White – vocals
Dave Lennox – keyboards

Since Phil Lynott couldn’t sing Ian Gillan’s high notes, and since Thin Lizzy didn’t have a keyboard player, the band hired members of another Irish group called Elmer Fudd to record the album, which they did in one day!

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“Fireball” is one of my favourite Deep Purple tracks. Even though Eric Bell referred to singer Benny White as an “Ian Gillan” clone, I don’t hear that at all. A Rod Evans clone, perhaps. “Fireball” is largely based on the drums, so we’re in safe territory here. Brian Downey is one of the few drummers who could give Ian Paice a run for his money in 1973. Not a bad cover I suppose, if you’re eager to hear was “Fireball” would have sounded like with Rod Evans singing.

Totally agree with you on the singer. The guy is so Rod Evans he was probably wearing gold lamé trousers while he was singing this. It’s an ok version in a “pub covers band” sort-of way. Brian Downey’s drumming is impressive, Phil’s bass solo… not so much.

“Dan” (credited to the German business man, Leo Muller, that conceived of and financed this project) is brief guitar instrumental. It’s supposed to sound like “Danny Boy” in a Hendrixian style, and I suppose that’s the right ballpark. Eric Bell fans will dig it, but as a song…next!

I like Eric’s tone here but it’s a lazy arrangement: just playing the melody and wanging his bar every now and again. It’s definitely the most Lizzy-esque song here though.

Funky Junction settle into a light groove on “Black Night”. This is a pretty faithful cover. What I like about this performance is Eric Bell’s way of improvising his own guitar solo within the style that Blackmore set for this song. The organ solo however is pretty caveman by comparison to Jon Lord. Pretty stock cover.

I’m actually fairly impressed by how faithful this one is, and a good approximation of the sound too. Eric Bell and Brian Downey are still the classiest acts here but it doesn’t have anywhere near the edge of the Purple original. Still, one of the more enjoyable outings here.

I like that I can hear Phil Lynott’s personal bass style on “Palamatoon” but the lame keyboards sound out of place on this album. I don’t know how to describe this instrumental original except to say that, as usual, Eric Bell’s soloing is a highlight.

It’s cool to hear Phil on this. His bass line reminded me of “Little Girl in Bloom” a bit. It’s just a shame that this tune is so bad. It’s like Emerson Lake and Palmer but pissed as farts. John Peel once described ELP as “a waste of talent and electricity”. He was wrong. But this song definitely is.

“Strange Kind of Woman” is pretty limp. Once again, if you were eager to hear this Purple classic performed by a Rod Evans clone, this is the one. Downey and Bell are the highlights of a pretty dull performance.

I’m finding the Rod Evans factor to be one of the more interesting aspects of this. If it wasn’t so workaday you could almost imagine these are some long-lost Deep Purple sessions from before they gave poor Rod the heave-ho. But apart from the “what if?” fantasising… dull.

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Side two commences with the Deep Purple Mk I hit, “Hush” (actually a Billy Joe Royal cover). I find this one irritating. The singer’s enunciation bugs me. Deep Purple decided to anchor their version with a long keyboard solo. Unfortunately Funky Junction struggle to make their solo as interesting.

I think I liked this one more than you, Junior. This and Black Night are the two best Purple covers here. Not very inspiring on record but if they were playing it live at a pub I think I’d get into it. Benny sounds totally at home here, finally giving it the full, glorious Rod Evans. Probably with bouffant hair and a frilly shirt now too! Gaun’ yersel’ big man!

Even though we all know “Rising Sun” is a cover of “House of the Rising Sun” (a traditional), here Leo Muller takes songwriting credit! I hope he enjoyed what little royalties he earned from the meager sales of this LP. This is another instrumental cover, with a snooze-inducing ending.

Cheeky scamp that Leo Muller, eh? I’m surprised he didn’t just change his name to Traditional and watch the money flood in. Nice sound and a decent performance on this song but mostly goes in one ear and out the other.

I appreciate that Funky Junction chose to retain that noisy, messy intro to “Speed King”. I’m afraid that of all the songs, “Speed King” suffers the most from the inadequate singer. Fortunately the Lizzy guys are talented enough to play the tune properly.

Everything we’ve mentioned previously seems to work against them on Speed King. The caveman keyboards, the tameness. And the poor Rod Evans impersonator sounding like all your worst Karaoke nightmares (but with the added embarrassment of those trousers). It’s cool that they included the noisy intro (I think Leo Muller wrote that) but this is the worst Purple version here by a good margin.

“Corina” closes the album, a vocal track credited to Muller. It’s a cool blues that fits in with a Deep Purple Mk I vibe. I don’t mind this track too much. It’s nothing special but at least it’s not overshadowed by a superior Deep Purple version.

An OK boogie. It’s still making me think of pubs mostly. The lead guitar is the best thing about this one.

2/5 stars. Recommended primarily to fans of Eric Bell.

2.5/5 stars. I agree with Mike but I’m going to throw in an extra half-point because I thought the Rod Evans impersonator was a hoot.

  1. “Fireball” (Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord, Ian Paice)
  2. “Dan” (Leo Muller)
  3. “Black Night” (Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord, Paice)
  4. “Palamatoon” (Muller)
  5. “Strange Kind of Woman” (Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord, Paice)
  1. “Hush” (Joe South)
  2. “Rising Sun” (Muller)
  3. “Speed King” (Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord, Paice)
  4. “Corina” (Muller)

REVIEW: Thin Lizzy – Thin Lizzy (2010 remastered edition)

THIN LIZZY – Thin Lizzy / New Day EP (2010 Decca, originally 1971)

Nothing against early Lizzy — I do like Vagabonds of the Western World. On this one, Lizzy’s first ever wax, they had not yet evolved into the dual guitar duelers that they were to become. A trio with Eric Bell, Brian Downey and Philip himself, the evolution of Lizzy is similar to that of Deep Purple. Both bands had to overcome three sleepy early albums with a prototypical lineup before they became the rock gods that they were destined to be.

Thin Lizzy includes a few good songs, my favourite being “Ray-Gun”. However, I must reiterate that this is a sleepy album. The component parts are all fine — great guitar work, great drumming, interesting riffs and lyrics scattered here and there. They never quite coalesce into memorable songs, except on spare occasions.

In fact, the bonus tracks on this CD version of Thin Lizzy are actually superior to the album itself! Their first single, “The Farmer” is better than most of the album tracks.  The cool thing is that “The Farmer” was recorded when Lizzy were a quartet with Eric Wrixton on keyboards.  Notably, “The Farmer’s” B-side, “I Need You”, is absent and I don’t know where else you’d find it.  It’s not on Lizzy’s excellent Vagabonds, Kings, Warriors, Angels box set either (although “The Farmer” is). Bummer.

NEW DAY EPThe New Day EP is here in its completion, containing some great songs. The mournful ballad “Dublin” and “New Day” are both great songs. Interesting is “Old Moon Madness”, a workout that sounds like Thin Lizzy meets Captain Beefheart without the growling vocals. “Things Ain’t Working Out Down At The Farm” is the final tune from the New Day EP, another decent track. What’s with Phil’s obsession with farmers? “Return of the Farmer’s Son” is another song title on the album itself….

The CD is closed by four remixes from the 1977 album The Continuing Saga of the Aging Orphans, where Gary Moore and Midge Ure overdubbed new guitar and keyboard parts to modernize the songs. These remixes are generally preferred by me to the original versions. I would love a proper reissue of The Continuing Saga of the Aging Orphans, as a handful of its tracks have yet to be issued on CD.

Not the greatest album. The bonus material is superior.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Thin Lizzy – UK Tour 75 (2008)

UK TOUR 75 FRONT

THIN LIZZY – UK Tour 75 (2008 Major League Productions)

This album was recorded 21 November 1975, in Derby, England.  Why it was recorded, for what purpose, and how it came to be released in 2008 are a mystery to me.  But this good sounding live album has liner notes provided by drummer and original member Brian Downey, so that makes it seem official-ish enough for me!

In 1975, Thin Lizzy (consisting also of Phil Lynott, Brian Robertson, and Scott Gorham) had yet to release Jailbreak.  This live album serves as an interesting reminder of a time when Thin Lizzy had yet to break out with some serious success.  They were on the verge and you can hear the confident, competent band ready to take on all comers.

Thin Lizzy sails from classic to classic, effortlessly, and these songs are indeed classics.  “The Rocker” sounds as great as ever, a song that will never get old.  (I remember seeing a four-piece called The Meligrove Band cover this one in Kitchener, Ontario in the early 2000’s.)  Lizzy were turning the corner from their earlier folksy beginnings and had galvanized themselves into a solid hard rock band.

“Fighting My Way Back” has always been one of my favourite Lizzy songs, and they open with this energetic number.  “It’s Only Money” grooves like it never did on the Nightlife album.  Downey plays a thundering tribal solo during a ferocious “Sha La La”.  “Derby Blues”, also released on the recent Jailbreak deluxe edition, is an early take of “Cowboy Song”.

My favourite track is “Little Darling”.  According to Brian, they dropped this song from the set forever shortly after this recording.  It was an early non-album single from the Eric Bell era, accompanied by horns in its studio guise.  Live, it’s explosive.  (You can get the studio version on the Vagabonds of the Western World deluxe now.)

The packaging is decent.  It comes in a sleeve-style case with a nice booklet inside.  I don’t feel ripped off by the packaging the way I have with other semi-official official live albums in the past.

4/5 stars