John Custer

REVIEW: Corrosion of Conformity – “Seven Days” (1995 promo single)

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY – “Seven Days” (1995 Sony promo CD single)

COC’s landmark album Deliverance spawned three singles, the least known of which was “Seven Days”.  The promo CD single contains a rarity that makes it worth tracking down.  It’s not expensive, and thanks to online stores not hard to find.

Deliverance is a heavy album even with a few slower songs on board.  “Seven Days” is one such track.  A slow, heavy dirge can often make for a good single.  This CD has two versions, the full-length album cut and a shorter single edit with a truncated fade-out.

The special track here is a “jam box tape” of “Fuel”, a track that was as yet unreleased.  COC recorded it properly for their next album, Wiseblood.  This early version is an identical arrangement, but way way more ragged.  Pepper sounds like James Hetfield on this one, but it has far more balls than the Metallica song of the same name.  Total smokeshow.  This is the proverbial “song you buy the single for.”

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Corrosion of Conformity – Deliverance (1994)

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY – Deliverance (1994 Sony)

Gre-ea-easy!  That’s how the molton hot guitars sound on this landmark album.  Greasy, in the most complimentary way.  Six-stringers Woody Weatherman and Pepper Keenan have a way of making their guitar licks sound slippery and heavy at the same time.

Corrosion of Conformity (“COC”) did something really smart when they set out to record this album.  After the departure of bassist Phil Swisher and singer Karl Agell (who both turned up later in Leadfoot), they promoted Pepper Keenan to lead vocals, and brought back founding member Mike Dean on bass.  Pepper scored a hit for COC last time out with a lead vocal on “Vote With a Bullet”, so it was a logical move.  As for Mike Dean, his punk roots and busy bass are important to the sound of this band.  Dean was also COC’s vocalist from time to time in the past, and gets a lead vocal once again on the title track.

The resulting album Deliverance is 14 tracks (give or take an instrumental or two) of heavy, dirty metal they way they make it in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Pepper’s vocals lent them a southern edge.  Metallica are fans — Pep auditioned for them on bass when Newsted left the band.  (What a sound Metallica could have had, with James Hetfield backed up by Pepper Keenan on vocals!)

Regardless of who’s singing or playing, COC nailed all 14 songs.  None of the proverbial “filler”.  This is one hell of a trip, an album that demands to be listened to from start to finish, no skipping.  John Custer’s crisp and chunky production brought out the metal side more than ever.


“Help me Jesus, help me clean my wounds. He said he cannot heal that kind.”

Check out the choppy riff on the single “Clean My Wounds”.  The song is a tour-de-force, a textbook example of all the right ingredients.  The riff is outstanding, but the verse and chorus melodies slay.  Drummer Reed Mullin has a spare groove, but he knows exactly when to accent it with some heavy hitting.  The multi-tracked vocal in the chorus (“Knock it down!”) is the perfect fit, but the Lizzy-ish guitar solos are an additional layer of perfection.

Another key track, “Albatross” is too heavy to be a ballad so let’s call it a dirge.  You can hear what Mike Dean brings to the table — a slinky, Geezer style of bass that provides subliminal melody.  “Albatross” flies on the wings of a strong melody and heavy performance.  It has a vibe similar to “Outshined” by Soundgarden but more mournful.

The aforementioned instrumentals are integral parts of the album.  Remember how a Black Sabbath album had key instrumental bits, usually introducing another song?  That’s what COC do here.  “Without Wings”, a dark acoustic guitar figure, leads into the heavy-as-fuck “Broken Man” exactly like a Sabbath song.  Later on, “#2121313”, an electric guitar piece, is joined directly onto “My Grain”.  “Mano de Mono”, another acoustic piece, is basically the front end of “Seven Days”, a mid-paced groove single.

Speaking of “My Grain”, it’s the most punk rock track, but even so it features a kickass bass solo!  Other noteworthy tracks include the wah-wah inflected title track (Mike Dean on vocals).  Jittery, jumpy riffs dominate “Señor Limpio”, another blistering blitz.  Finally there is “Pearls Before Swine”, the slowest and bluesiest of the tracks and a seriously heavy closer.

Corrosion of Conformity have made some good (albeit very different) albums over the years, but like many bands they have a clear peak.  That is Deliverance, the one perfect album they made.

5/5 stars

VHS Archives #67: Cry of Love – “Carnival” unplugged + interview (1994)

What a brilliant band, Cry of Love were! Audley Freed is a hella talented guitar player; don’t forget that he did a stint with the Black Crowes. The band visited MuchMusic in 1994 to play live and acoustically.  Erica Ehm interviewed the guys on the Saturday Start Me Up program.

Check out this amazing version of “Carnival” from their first and best album Brother.

REVIEW: Cry of Love – Brother (1993)

CRY OF LOVE BROTHER_0002

CRY OF LOVE – Brother (1993 Sony)

He wasn’t in the Black Crowes for their heyday, but fans unfamiliar with Cry of Love may remember Audley Freed as the Crowes’ second guitar player, from By Your Side to their first breakup. Upon hearing this CD, his debut album with Cry Of Love, you will understand why the Crowes tapped him to replace Marc Ford.  I loved this album so much that I place it on my “Most Unrightfully Ignored Albums of the 1990s” list, with the comment that “Audley Freed plays his Fenders like bluesy butter.”

In 1993, I fully hoped and partly expected Cry of Love and Brother Cane to end the domination of grunge rock, hand in hand!

Cry Of Love not only had the awesome, tubey guitar sounds of Freed but also (for this album, anyway) an excellent little known singer named Kelly Holland. Sounding like a cross between Chris Robinson and Joe Lynn Turner, Holland had pipes to spare and knew how to use them with soul.  What a powerful throat.  At the time I used to say, “If only I could sing like Kelly Holland or Joe Lynn Turner!”  I only discovered while writing this review that Holland died last year at age 52.  Hard living and alcohol took their toll on a singer who never achieved the fame that he had potential for.

Hopefully Mr. Holland was very proud of the one album he made with the band.  Every track on this album is a live-sounding standout, with very few audible overdubs. Production by John Custer (Corrosion of Conformity from their hometime of Raleigh, North Carolina) is spot on.  With a bluesy band like this, you want clear and crisp, yet with the illusion of a live rehearsal.  The album delivers on that, with the power one expects from a modern recording. The guitar tones in particular are stunning. With a chilly, round, and natural sound, Freed proved that in the 90’s you didn’t have to downtune.

There are a lot of favourites on Brother.  The first single “Peace Pipe” was killer.  I can’t get enough of that bopping bass line and irresistible chorus.  The second single “Bad Thing” wasn’t bad either, but the opener “Highway Jones” was really awesome.  It has a blurringly fast blues riff that just stuns.  On the mellow side of the blues, there is the soulful (and mournful) “Carnival”.  Excellent lyrics on that one too.  I saw them perform it acoustically on MuchMusic in the 1990’s.  Still have that on VHS tape, too.  Then there’s “Too Cold In The Winter”, which makes use of Freed’s chilly tone to full effect. You will have your own favourites, but I think “Peace Pipe” will grab you no matter who you are.

After this album, Holland departed to be replaced by Robert Mason (Lynch Mob, currently in Warrant) on the second album, Diamonds and Debris, which destroyed half of what made this band unique. While they still had Freed, it’s just rare to hear a singer of Holland’s caliber, and Mason is just a tad generic. At least at that phase of his career.  That album isn’t nearly as memorable as Brother.

So: Brother, an excellent lost gem of an album, may be relegated to the footnotes of the Black Crowes’ biography. It’s a shame, because I think it’s up there with some of the best albums the Crowes have never done. Of note: I also own two CD singles, for “Bad Thing” and “Peace Pipe”, which also had two non-album studio tracks on it.   Those, and some live cuts on “Bad Thing” are worth checking out if you crave more of the original Cry of Love.  I’ll review those another day.  Rest in Peace Kelly Holland.

4/5 stars