limited edition

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

 

 

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: Metallica – Death Magnetic (Coffin Box)

METALLICA – Death Magnetic (2008 Vertigo Coffin Box)

“What don’t kill ya, make ya more strong!”

Like many bands these days, Metallica decided to release a boxed special edition of Death Magnetic to make a little extra cash.  And also like a lot of other bands, this “coffin box” edition was crazy expensive. To me the deciding factor wasn’t all the bells and whistles (and there are a lot of them) it was the inclusion of the exclusive CD Demo Magnetic. This disc includes 10 demo tracks, unfinished and otherwise unreleased versions of the final Death Magnetic songs.

There were only 2000 copies of this made, so if you didn’t pre-order, chances are you gotta pay the late tax.

Contents:

  • Death Magnetic CD (the digipack version, identical to the retail release)
  • Demo Magnetic CD
  • The Making of Death Magnetic DVD
  • Four imitation guitar picks (made of flimsy plastic, not actual guitar picks)
  • Exclusive T-shirt
  • Exclusive bandana
  • Backstage pass with lanyard
  • A card with a download code for a free show
  • Coffin-shaped poster

Death Magnetic is, unfortunately, one of the most famous victims of the Loudness Wars.  Why put time and effort into production only to drown it all out in the mastering?  Apparently the version of Death Magnetic that was used in the video game Rock Band 3 was mastered “normally”, and is far better.  This CD has punch though, I’ll give it that.

On its own the album is worth 4 stars.  Mastering aside,  It is an above-average collection of typical Metallica rockers. Gone are the nu-metal tendencies of St. Anger and that was the correct move. Clearly, Metallica were reaching back and trying to write riffs that sound like the late 80s and that’s also fine.  Metallica are not Dream Theater.  They do what they do, and they do it quite well.

Expect typical Metallica riffage, barking Hetfield vocals, the usual Lars drumming, some tasty solos from Kirk, and slamming bass from Robert.  That is what Metallica do.  It’s not a bad album and some of these songs are damned near as good as the old days.  You’ll love “Broke, Beaten & Scarred”, “That Was Just Your Life”, and “The End of the Line”.  A favourite song for sheer chorus reasons is “All Nightmare Long”. The demo version (called “Flamingo”) is also really decent.

If you’re a diehard Metallica fan, the kind who owns Fan Cans, then you’ll want this box set for the exclusive music. It’s sure to become a rare collectible.

4/5 stars

 

 

 

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Whoosh! (2020 Super Deluxe box set review)

DEEP PURPLE – Whoosh! (2020 Edel Limited Edition Collector’s Box Set)

Includes:

  • Whoosh! (CD and 2 x LPs)
  • The Infinite Live Recordings, Vol 2. (3 x 10″ EPs)
  • DVD – Live at Hellstock, Roger Glover and Bob Ezrin in Conversation

 


Whoosh!

Every Deep Purple album seems like the final album.  Maybe this one is; maybe it isn’t.  It feels like the band treat every album as seriously as if it was their last.  The cover art and music of Whoosh! takes us back to 1968 and Shades of Deep Purple.  The logo is similar, and there is a new version of the 52 year old first Deep Purple song ever, “And The Address”.

Opening with the lead single “Throw My Bones“, the album sets a mid-tempo pace from the start.  This is a lush, catchy groove with hints of classical and funk.  It began life during the Infinite sessions but was not finished until Whoosh!  Purple pick it up a bit on “Drop the Weapon”, a non-preachy appeal for cooler heads to prevail.  It has a similar vibe to the 1988 album Accidentally On Purpose by Ian Gillan and Roger Glover.  The immediate riffs and hooky vocals are bound to make this a favourite.

“We’re All the Same in the Dark” has a cool groove and a jaw dropping funky Morse solo.  Purple haven’t sounded this funky since Glenn Hughes was in the band.  Airey and Glover give it some heaviness.  “Nothing At All” sounds like a Morse composition, but his intricate classical-inspired interplay with Airey is sheer delight.  This could be the best track on Whoosh!, and contender for one of the best songs of the entire Morse era.  A massive chorus could help this one cross over on radio.  Though it’s a far different song, “Nothing at All” has elements that recall “Never A Word” from Bananas.  A regal-sounding crowning achievement.

“No Need to Shout” opens with the growl of a Hammond.  “Just a bunch a crap, you’re talkin’ out your hat!” sings Ian on a song featuring rare female backing vocals.  This is one of a few new Deep Purple songs that display a pissed-off attitude.  “I got your message loud and clear, the meaningless ringing in my ear.”  Add in a couple naughty words and you can tell Ian isn’t having any of it.  Cooler though is “Step By Step”, a very different kind of song with perhaps some lineage with “Vincent Price” from Now What?!  The haunting, ghostly quality of “Step By Step” sets it aside with a cascade of keyboard accents.

Purple start to boogie on “What the What” (a friendlier way of saying “What the Fuck”).  While Don’s hammering the keys, Steve stabs out with some tasty guitar twang.  If any song recalls “old” Deep Purple, it’s “What the What”, which could have been on 1973’s Who Do We Think We Are!  But that album completely lacks the joie de vivre of “What the What”.  Then Purple get heavy on “The Long Way Round” which just drives.  The keyboard solo is out of left field but is a spacey masterwork to itself.  There’s even a sly Black Sabbath callback — “I promised myself I would not get Trashed again.”  Then the song dissolves into a beautiful, quiet stream of notes.  This serves as a great lead-in to “Power of the Moon”, an excellent track previously heard on the “Throw My Bones” single.  It stalks prey in the cover of night.

Another heavy growl unexpectedly opens “Remission Possible”, an absolutely smokeshow of fretwork.  It’s a brief instrumental interlude just before the excellent “Man Alive”.  This track, enhanced by orchestra, sounds absolutely massive.  It has serious heft, but it’s not weighed down.  Ian is writing about some heavy themes and it will take deeper analysis of the album as a whole to decipher them all.  Roger Glover was very happy with Ian’s writing on the album, which takes a more contemplative tone without going heavy-handed.

The final side of vinyl begins with another instrumental, the aforementioned “And the Address” from Shades Of.  Deep Purple have occasionally re-recorded old material with new lineups, such as “Hush ’88” and “Bludsucker”.  This cut of “And the Address” has more momentum.  The only guy present who played on the original is Ian Paice, but Don Airey is a dead ringer for Jon Lord.  “And the Address” is one of the most enjoyable songs on Whoosh!, probably surpassing the original recording.

There’s still one track to go:  the “bonus track” called “Dancing In My Sleep”.  Safe to say it’s called a “bonus track” because it’s the most different of all the songs.  It’s an Airey conception based on a cool little techno beat.  Though it’s certainly not dance music, it does have one foot in that world and it’s a sheer delight to hear Purple stretch out into new territory 52 years into their game.

A seriously fine album this late in the career.  An album so fresh that it is hard to rate so soon.  But clearly a high point, with a band still exploring new ideas completely unafraid of what people might say.  In fact, a band who still has something to say.  Something worth listening to.

4.25/5 stars

But that’s not all of course.  Go big or go home.  Check out the rest of the box set’s contents in detail below.

 

 


The Infinite Live Recordings, Vol. 2

The previously released Infinite Live Recordings, Vol. 1 came out in 2017.  The concept behind the series is simple: pure live releases with no overdubs.  Vol. 2 comes from a show in 2017 on the Infinite Tour in Rio.  It is the big bonus in this box set, and present on a set of three beautiful 10″ coloured records.  72 minutes of live Purple — essentially, a double live album.

The opening thunder of “Highway Star” is robust on purple 10″ vinyl.  How these guys can still blast through it full speed is unknown, but they do it.  Mr. Gillan still gives it his all, which is not the same in 2017 dollars as it was in 1970 dollars, but still more than the average mortal his age.  Mr. Morse and Mr. Airey give each version of “Highway Star” a different feel, while Mr. Paice in the back is the only original member left from the 1968 lineage.  Sticking to Machine Head, Purple seamlessly go into “Pictures of Home”.  The old familiar groove of Mr. Glover is comforting warmth from the emptiness, eagles and snow.  Morse’s solo is a composition to itself, and then Airey gets to put his spin on Jon Lord’s classic organ solo.  Then it’s an unfortunate side flip as the band goes back to In Rock with “Bloodsucker”.  Gillian is more a verbal timekeeper than the screamer he once was, but the track is otherwise flawless and heavier than lead.  A more mainstream hit, “Strange Kind of Woman” flows from that, and relaxes the groove a bit.  Don Airey gets his first of two solos (this one organ) as the last track on this disc.

The action continues on transparent burgundy vinyl, and “Lazy”.  Morse’s signature string bending is the star of this show.  There are a couple different twists in this fresh version including a nifty Gillan harmonica solo.  Then it’s the only new song of the set, “Birds of Prey” from Infinite.  It’s weighty and worthy of its place.  Steve Morse is the Captain on this flight.  Gillan ends the track on a joke and then, after a side flip, introduces Don Airey’s keyboard solo including Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mr. Crowley”.  This diverse and fun solo goes into “Perfect Stranger” (no “s”?) which has steadfastly remained in the setlist ever since its 1984 conception.  Gillan is shaky but the Purple is solid.

The final vinyl, clear 10″ power, commences with “Space Truckin'” signalling the beginning of the end.  “Smoke on the Water” is the penultimate moment, slow and groovy after all this blazing rock.  Ian Paice has a couple nice moments on this one and Steve Morse’s stuttery solo is completely compelling.  One more side flip, and Purple end the set with their first hit “Hush” and the “Peter Gunn” theme.  Glover goes funky on this one with a bassline a little like “Another One Bites the Dust” in parts.

An entertaining and good live album, but one you won’t play often simply because Deep Purple have 846 live albums (exaggeration).

There is still more live material from the same tour in DVD form included in this box set.


Live at Hellfest

Next we have a double feature DVD:  A live show from Hellfest in 2017, and an interview session with Roger Glover and Bob Ezrin.  The Hellfest show has a much longer runtime with more new material.  They open the show with “Time For Bedlam” from Infinite. Ian doesn’t even attempt to sing it in tune, but we’ll always cut the guy some slack for still getting up there and givin’ ‘er.  The track has a “Pictures From Home” vibe, and the band look cool playing midday in shades.  Into “Fireball”, Ian Paice leads the charge as if it was 1971.  Don Airey has an Ozzy bobblehead on his keyboard!  Then it’s “Bloodsucker”, powered by Paicey.  “Strange Kind of Woman” is a nice melodic respite after a pair of piledrivers like that.  Ian ends this one with a bizarre freeform spoken word beat poetry bit, but with Morse shredding next to him.

The Jon Lord tribute from Now What?!, “Uncommon Man”, is heartfelt, and a solid track from their current era.  It sounds massive.  As good in quality is “The Surprising” from Infinite, something of an epic, and performed with full gusto.  Intricate symbol work by Paice.

After a brief pause, it’s on to Don Airey and “Lazy”.  A high speed workout like that merits something slower to follow, so it’s “Birds of Prey” from Infinite, a steady groove with dynamics.  Steve Morse’s solo takes center stage and it’s a melter.  “Hell To Pay” picks up the pace.  Not Purple’s most remarkable single, nor the best version, but nice to have in live form.  Airey’s jammy keyboard solo on this track is stellar, just as the sun starts going down.  Then he gets his own full-blown solo, with the Ozzy bobblehead there next to him during “Mr. Crowley”.  Roger Glover just watches from the side as Don goes to town through familiar melodies and themes.  The crowd eats it up smiling.

Don takes it into “Perfect Strangers” without missing a beat, and soon the rest of the band joins him.  This version has some stellar Morse guitar trickery.  The set is almost finished, with only “Space Truckin'”, “Smoke on the Water”, “Hush” and “Black Night” left to satisfy cravings for the classics.  Even at the end Paicey still brings that thunder.  “Hush” has the “Peter Gunn” theme attached, and “Black Night” brings the show to a massive finish.

It’s absolutely delightful watching Ian Paice play the drums, as he mouths along to every beat as if playing beatbox along to himself.  It’s fantastic and an expression of pure joy.

It’s not over yet.  The DVD has even more content.


Roger Glover and Bob Ezrin in Conversation

The DVD also includes the conversation with Roger Glover and Whoosh! producer Bob Ezrin.  This is another full 70 minutes of content.  Ezrin was involved with Purple from the jamming stage in Nashville and speaks in terms of “we”.  One of the biggest takeaways from this interview is a piece of wisdom from the late Jon Lord as told by Roger Glover.  Lord didn’t want to do more than two takes of a solo.  More than that, and he starting thinking too much.

The pair discuss the lyrics, the songs, the title (nicked from Faulty Towers), the playing, and more.  It’s lovely watching the pair just enjoy Steve Morse’s harmonics.  “Like capturing lightning,” says Roger.  Watching this portion of the DVD will enhance your enjoyment of the album.  It’s fun knowing what parts of the songs turned on the musicians and producer.  “Stretch out,” advised Bob.  And so Purple interpreted that as stretching it out every way.  “I wanna put the Deep back in Purple,” said Bob.  The boys also praise Ian Gillan’s focus, from eating right to meditating.  They even go back in time and talk about Glover’s joining of Deep Purple in 1969.

Ezrin particularly loved seeing magic unfold live before his eyes and ears, captured on tape.  He is obviously a fan of Deep Purple as musicians and as people.  Whether you can get into Ezrin-era Purple or not, there is real chemistry between band and producer.

You’ll probably only watch this conversation once, but you’ll be glad you did that at least.  There is so much knowledge and history to absorb here that all fans are advised to give the whole thing a spin.


Summing up

The box set itself comes with a cool black T-shirt with the “strolling dissolving astronaut” graphic.  This is the second album in a row with simple excellent art design for Deep Purple.  The astronaut recalls the music video for “Knocking At Your Back Door” from 1984.  He appears in numerous places in this set in different forms.  There are three art prints (two 12×12 and one 12×6), and of course all this music!  The vinyl copy of Whoosh! comes in a gatefold sleeve with credits and photos.  It sounds phenomenal with plenty of bottom end.  For lyrics, you’ll have to dig into the included CD copy.

Of course, if you don’t need all the extra live stuff and added goodies, you could just buy Whoosh! on CD, vinyl or download.  It’s frequently said that the benchmark for Purple is Purpendicular.  “Best album since Purpendicular,” fans often enthuse.  Whoosh! could be the best album of the Ezrin era, and is a contender for best of the Steve Morse epoch.  A serious fan will want the whole box with the three live 10″ discs.  They are beautiful to look at and sound good on the turntable.  Though the set is expensive, this is the kind of thing I’m willing to pay for.

4.25/5 stars for Whoosh!

4/5 stars for the box set

REVIEW: ZZ Top – Chrome, Smoke & BBQ (2003 limited edition BBQ shack)

ZZ TOP –  Chrome, Smoke & BBQ (2003 Warner limited edition BBQ shack version)

Though it seems an outlandish thought today, there was once a time when if you desired to hear original ZZ Top music, you couldn’t do that on CD.  You had to purchase original ZZ Top LPs.  In 1987, most of the original ZZ Top albums were issued on CD as part of the ZZ Top Six Pack, which featured remixed percussion to make them sound more like Eliminator and Afterburner.  Needless to say this was a very unpopular idea, though it didn’t stop the Six Pack from selling.  The original ZZ Top albums were finally given a CD reissue in 2013.  Until then, your best bet on compact disc was to buy the 4 CD Chrome, Smoke & BBQ anthology.

Because Chrome, Smoke & BBQ features original mixes and a helping of rarities, it still makes for an enjoyable listen and valuable collectible today.  The limited edition version came housed in a box like a little BBQ shack, but both have the same four discs of bluesy, greasy ZZ rock.  A well-assembled anthology can make for a great listen even well after its expiry date, and this is one such set.

Disc 1 of Chrome, Smoke & BBQ features three tracks from Billy Gibbons’ first band the Moving Sidewalks.  The guitar work is brilliant even in Billy’s youth.  These tracks are notably more psychedelic than ZZ Top.  The year was 1969, the same year as the first ZZ Top single “Miller’s Farm” / “Salt Lick”.  This early version of ZZ Top (credited as “embryonic ZZ Top”) was a transition from Moving Sidewalks and didn’t feature Frank Beard nor Dusty Hill.  Organ on a ZZ Top song is an unusual sound, and it’s quite prominent on “Miller’s Farm”.  It’s a pretty standard blues with the emphasis on the keys and with one foot solidly in 60s rock.  “Salt Lick” has a bit more of the mid-tempo ZZ groove, but the with the organ still part of the whole.  Chrome, Smoke & BBQ remains the easiest way to obtain this rare single.

ZZ Top’s First Album takes the spotlight next with three tracks including “Brown Sugar”, the first “real” ZZ Top track.  An impactful one it is, and so obviously ZZ Top.  It seems by the time the right three guys got together, the ZZ Top sound was born.  “Brown Sugar” is so essential to the ZZ Top sound that maybe the box set should have opened with it, chronology be damned!  Dusty’s pulse on bass is already present, and Frank’s sheer style adds some much needed character.  Then “Just Got Back From Baby’s” has the spare nocturnal blues that is a ZZ signature.

The next three ZZ Top albums – Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres and Fandango! are featured much more prominently with seven tracks apiece.  This part of the set is deep with essential music.  “Francene”, obviously “Francene”, the catchiest song during this part of history, is present and accounted for.  (Even in Spanish!)  For relentless groove, ZZ Top never nailed one as hard as “Just Got Paid”, slide guitar right in the pocket.  “Chevrolet” showed how they could just lay back.  For shuffles, “Bar-B-Q” got the spice you need.  “Sure Got Cold After the Rain” covers the sad, spare blues that Billy’s guitar can evoke.  The music goes on, and on:  “La Grange”, “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers”, “Heard It on the X”, “Blue Jean Blues”, “Tush”.  Though the songs in between are all excellent as well, it’s hard to ignore the hit power of these tracks.

Six tracks from Tejas feature on this set, still more than half the album.  The ZZ Top direction was gradually making tentative steps towards modernizing.  “It’s Only Love”, a bluesy country pop, sounds like something new.  They hadn’t left anything behind though, as told by the menacing “Arrested for Driving While Blind”.  It’s a cleaner, more studio-driven sound, as heard on “El Diablo” with its subtle overdubs and dynamics.  “Enjoy and Get it On” is a nice sentiment, with the slide all greased up and ready to go.  Two of the most interesting of the Tejas tracks are the quiet instrumental “Asleep in the Desert” and the twangy “She’s a Heartbreaker”.

At this point ZZ Top took a break to decompress after years of consecutive touring and recording.  The Best of ZZ Top came out during this break, but what was going on behind the scenes was to be far more important down the road.  ZZ Top’s image began its final evolution when Gibbons and Hill returned from vacation with matching full length beards. Their next album Degüello allowed the music to evolve as well.  Six songs from Degüello represent this period, along with a rare radio spot advertising the album.

ZZ Top’s cover of Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You” is iconic enough that many people probably assume it’s an original.  What was original was “Cheap Sunglasses”, a staggering hangover of a track — the new ZZ Top.  Same with “Maniac Mechanic”, a track so bizarre that you could mistake it for Zappa.  Meanwhile “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” has the laid back, cruisin’ ZZ Top vibe that fans always loved.  “A Fool For Your Stockings” showed that Gibbons could still play the blues, too.

Another six tracks from El Loco account for the last hits before the MTV generation took hold.  “Leila”, a 50s inspired ballad is clearly an experiment albeit a successful one.  As is the surf rocker “Tube Snake Boogie”, a track unlike any ZZ Top ever attempted before.  Another ballad, “It’s So Hard” is not out of place, with its roots in soul music.  “Pearl Necklace” has surf vibes but is most memorable for its dirty double entendre.  “Heaven, Hell or Houston” is even weirder than “Maniac Mechanic”.  It’s quite clear that ZZ Top were stretching out, while still maintaining a foot in their bluesy, rock and roll roots.

And then came MTV, the music videos, the car, and the girls.  The music was laden with sequencers and electronic percussion, but this unlikely combination is the one that really struck oil.  Black gold, Texas tea, and platinum records.  Eight tracks from Eliminator are included here, almost the whole album minus three.  Only “Thug”, “I Need You Tonight” and “Bad Girl” are left behind.  So you get all the hits, and then some.  “I Got the Six” had to be on here, a dirty but slick little favourite from the day.  “Dirty Dog” is a fun also-ran too, but didn’t need to be on a box set.

When ZZ Top found their successful formula, they really ran with it, right into the next album Afterburner.  As we know a sequel rarely tops an original, but the album still features eight songs, and this is where Chrome, Smoke & BBQ begins to stumble.  By featuring so many songs from this period, the box set is really unfairly weighted.  Surely another few tracks could have been included from ZZ Top’s First Album instead of so many from Afterburner and Recycler.  “Can’t Stop Rockin'” and “Woke Up With Wood” could have been dropped, but let’s keep “Sleeping Bag”, “Stages”, “Rough Boy”, Delirious, “Velcro Fly”,  and “Planet of Women”.  Around Afterburner, ZZ Top had taken their music to its most commercial extreme.  They decided to reduce, though not remove, technology on the third album of the MTV trilogy Recycler.  Notable from this period:  “Concrete and Steel”, “My Head’s In Mississippi”, “Give It Up”, “2000 Blues” and “Doubleback”.

ZZ Top switched from Warner to RCA for their next studio album 1994’s Antenna, and nothing from that era onwards is included.  There is still some more music on this box set to enjoy.  In 1990, ZZ Top recorded a cover of “Reverberation (Doubt)” by Roky Erickson for the tribute album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye.  Gratefully, this ZZ Top rarity is included here.  You can note the Recycler-era sequencers, but they compliment the psychedelic track nicely.  This is followed by the two “new” songs that ZZ Top recorded for 1992’s Greatest Hits.  “The corniest Elvis song ever” is “Viva Las Vegas”, sung by Dusty Hill, and overproduced to the gills.  Huge hit of course.  “Gun Love” is also included.

Disc 4 ends with six “medium rare” tracks.  Some are actually super rare.  These include a spanish version of “Francene” with Dusty Hill singing.  It sounds like thie audio could be taken from an actual vinyl single.  A live version of “Cheap Sunglasses” comes from a 1980 promo-only single, and it smokes.  Then there are some dance mixes from 12″ singles, easily the most skippable part of this box set.  None of these will be played regularly by you, the listener.  Especially not “Viva Las Vegas”.

The booklet included with Chrome, Smoke & BBQ is impressive on its own.  It’s packed with music and text, including a track by track commentary by the band.  “Seems like all our songs are about dicks and pussies,” says Frank Beard.

Limited edition box sets are fun to get while they last.  Chrome, Smoke & BBQ boasts its box shaped like a steel shack, including corrugated roof.  (It’s actually great because it doesn’t collect dust!)  Include the box, all four CDs are safely housed in individual jewel cases.  If you dig inside a little more you’ll find cut-out characters to add to your BBQ shack display.  You could scan and print these cut-outs yourself.  Enjoy a picnic table, ribs, sausages, cacti, and of course the guys from ZZ Top themselves (on a bike, or disembarked).  Also hidden in the box is an animated flip-book.  See the video below for a quick demonstration.

As with many box sets, tracklists could use a little tweaking and everybody will have their own ideas for how to fix that.  Perhaps instead of dumping all those remixes at the end, they could have been included chronologically so the set doesn’t end on such a…tepid concept as the extended dance remix.  The set could certainly use some balancing away from Afterburner and Recycler with more focus on the earlier stuff.  The exclusive rarities are adequate and appropriate for a set of this stature.  Not too few, not too many.  The ZZ Top completist will want this set for them and will still enjoy giving it a complete spin from time to time.

The regular edition will do nicely, but if you can find a complete limited version for a good price, don’t hesitate to snag it.

4/5 stars

#809.5: “Limited Edition” 2 1/2

A couple weeks ago, we looked at “limited edition” CDs once more.  Today, we follow up with a postscript reinforcing everything we discussed last time.

To recap:  Deep Purple have been issuing live albums from a recent “limited edition series”, but all is not as it appears on the surface.  As shown last time, the record company (Edel) couldn’t be bothered to even print the number of your limited edition on the sleeve, instead relegating it to a sticker.  That was on a copy of the second album in the series, Rome 2013.

Today I received my copy of the first release in the series, Newcastle 2001.  This is a track-for-track reissue of discs 5 & 6 of the 2001 Soundboard Series box set.  This time the discs have been “remastered” though there is surely nothing wrong with the original release.  They have also been numbered as part of a limited edition run.  Mine is copy #4222/20,000.

But wait!  Didn’t our friend Heavy Metal Overlord, who got his copy far earlier, have a higher number?

He sure did — #8616.  Proof that it doesn’t matter how early you order these things.  It will have little impact on the number you receive.  It’s also proof that there are plenty of copies to go around.  Confirmed:  you can take your time to order this “limited” release.

This time, however, I’m complaining about a little bit of false advertising.  There is a sticker on the front that says “only 2000 copies worldwide”.  A bit of a typo there.  20,000 is the correct number.  There’s quite a bit of difference between the two.  And we still don’t know if that is for CDs, or both CD and vinyl copies.

Once again, we state what should be obvious:  if the record companies can’t be bothered to get these “limited editions” right, then why should we care?

 

#809: “Limited Edition” 2

A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 188:  “Limited Edition”

 

GETTING MORE TALE #809:  “Limited Edition” 2

When we first discussed “limited edition” albums in 2013, we arrived at the conclusion that very few things truly are limited in any significant way.  Even Record Store Day has done little to change the view.  Yes, some Record Store Day items are really hard to get after the fact, but most sadly are not.  For example, Iron Maiden’s single for “Empire of the Clouds” can be found easily on Discogs.  71 copies available, ranging from $16 and up.  Yet strangely, something like Alice Cooper’s “Keepin’ Halloween Alive” is rarely seen under $50.  Releases like Cooper are the exception.  What we have learned in the intervening years is that nothing has really changed in the world of limited editions.  Most are not all that limited and can be found later on.  Others truly are rare, and you can’t really predict which will be which.

But we’re collectors here.  We don’t buy these things to sell later.  We buy them to have, appreciate and enjoy.  Sometimes to show off.

When something is limited and numbered, collectors enjoy comparing their numbers and seeing who has the lowest.  A friend of ours just scored a fairly low numbered Gene Simmons Vault which I think is pretty cool.  I have a bunch of numbered items, and I’ve posted some here.  It’s easy to see which are numbered because, hey, there’s the number right there on the back!  And according to the numbers I have one of the last copies of Deep Purple’s “Above and Beyond” single:  1934 of 2000.  Neat.  I just wanted the bonus track “Space Truckin'” live in Italy, but the numbers give us collectors the jollies.  It’s just a little added perk to the packaging.

When is a packaging perk not a packaging perk?  When it’s not on the packaging!

Deep Purple have been issuing “limited edition series” live albums recently.  Our good friend the Heavy Metal Overlord recently acquired the Newcastle set.  Limited to 20,000 copies worldwide, he got #8616, handily printed on the back.  He’ll always know which copy he got.

I was disappointed when I received my first Deep Purple “limited edition series”, which is Rome, the second one in the line (Newcastle being the first).  I ripped open my parcel from Amazon to find that the number wasn’t printed on the CD, but on a sticker affixed to the shrinkwrap!

What is the point of that?  Who, aside from nutbar collectors like myself, is going to keep the sticker?  Nobody, that’s who.  So again:  what is the point?  I’ll be one of the few people who knows what number mine is, if I manage to keep this sticker with its CD.  It seems stupid to provide that information as part of something you throw in the garbage.

It’s not going to be worth anything.  My number #1872 of 20,000 isn’t going to be worth more money than HMO’s #8616.  That’s not the point.  The point is a simple “why”?  HMO figures it was probably a manufacturing oversight, that it’s not printed on the sleeve.

It’s also worth pointing out that 20,000 copies is substantial for an archival live album from a band like Deep Purple.  It’ll be a long time before that pressing sells out.

Don’t be fooled into spending too much money on these things.  I have a copy of Newcastle on order; it’s not sold out.  You can often do well by seeing how the prices go, sitting and waiting for the right opportunity.  And don’t put too much significance into those numbers.  If the record company can’t be bothered to even print them on the sleeve, they can’t be that important.

REVIEW: Marillion – With Friends From the Orchestra (2019 2 LP set)

MARILLION – With Friends From the Orchestra (2019 2 LP set)

Marillion have released so much product at this point that it takes quite a lot to get me excited these days.  Whether it be live records, new albums, reissues, or re-imaginings of old songs, the last decade produced dozens.  Though the concept of With Friends From the Orchestra (new versions of old songs re-recorded with orchestra) left me cold, the finished product is surprisingly stunning.

The songs chosen are a mix of Hogarth hits and epics.  Each one is supplemented with a fully-integrated orchestra, upping the “wow” factor considerably.  Tracks like “Beyond You” have gone to a new level.  Previously mixed in mono (for that Phil Spector “wall of sound”) on Afraid of Sunlight, the explosive new version is three-dimensional.  Tracks that sounded incomplete, perhaps, in their original studio versions now seem fully fleshed out.  “Estonia” is a song that always needed some more vitality.  Elements that you didn’t realize were missing are now in their proper places.

The track selection is unexpected.  “A Collection” is an acoustic B-side, albeit one that gets periodic attention.  There are also a couple long-bombers.  “Ocean Cloud” is a side long epic, while “This Strange Engine” is twice as vivid as before.  As for “Seasons End”, it’s possible that 30 years later, the boys have finally laid down the definitive version.

Marillion With Friends From the Orchestra isn’t an easy album to categorize, but what it delivers are the most iridescent versions of these nine songs.  They’re not the most recognizable songs, but when you hear the end result you’ll recognize they were wise choices.

5/5 stars

 

#791 GUEST SHOT – The True Story of Thuss’s Vince Neil “Dragon Guitar” (by Thuss)

I get a lot of hits from people hoping to buy my stuff.  This one popped up recently in my search terms:

“vince neil dragon guitar for sale”

Several years ago, the Vince Neil “dragon guitar” by Washburn was on sale so I picked one up.  So did my buddy Thuss — except he did sell his.  This is his story of how it (eventually) went down.


 

GETTING MORE TALE #791:  The True Story of Thuss’s Vince Neil “Dragon Guitar”

BY THUSS

Lebrain and I had matching guitars for a while, that we both bought at the now defunct Future Shop.   They were on clearance and we got them for a really good price ($70 plus tax, originally $300 each, limited to 2500 pieces).  They were Washburn dragon guitars which were “autographed” by Vince Neil.  The only real autograph in the package was Vince Neil’s actual signature on the certificate of authenticity.  After a couple years I decided to sell mine as I never really played it anymore and had moved onto different hobbies.  

So I did what everyone else did, and put it up on Kijiji.  I wasn’t in a hurry to sell it so I put it up for more than double what I paid for it.  I had a few bites, but nothing serious until one guy from Toronto wanted it.  He was desperate for it!  But there was only one problem:  he didn’t drive.  First he came to me with an offer of triple what I paid for it if I delivered it to his house.  As I said I wasn’t in a hurry to sell it, so I answered no. 

I didn’t hear from him for a week or so.  Then he emailed back, and asked if I would meet him at the bus station downtown for what I was asking for it.  Again I said no, because I hate driving downtown and I didn’t want to pay for parking just to make a sale.

Again a week passed, and he emailed me back.  He said “OK”.  He’d take about six buses and meet me at my house and he will give me what I’m asking for it.  I said sure, and not surprisingly he never showed up. 

At this point I had another offer from a dad wanting to buy it for his son.  His offer was below what I was asking, but still well above what I paid for it.  I accepted, and when they came to pick it up, the son was so happy to have a guitar.  He was really excited to start playing, so I’m glad I sold it to someone who would appreciate it.  

I thought this was the end of the story but come a month later, the original guy emailed me and said one of his friends was going to drive out to my house so he could pick it up.  “Sorry,” I told him, “but I sold it to someone else.”

Guitar-guy immediately emailed me back, and he was pissed!  He told me he said he wanted it, and was going to pick it up, so why did I sell it to someone else?  I said it was almost two months since he first contacted me and I moved on and sold it to someone else.  Finally that got rid of him and I never heard from him again.  You meet some “interesting” people on Kijiji.  At least I didn’t tell him LeBrain had one too!

#723: A Tribute to James

GETTING MORE TALE #723: A Tribute to James

Anyone who reads these pages regularly knows what I’m talking about.  Good friends who also love music are crucial to an ever-growing CD collection.  When you have friends in different parts of the world, it’s even better.  Today we’re paying tribute to one such friend who has done so much for my music collection.  That man is Regina’s own James Kalyn.

Funny thing:  I’ve never met James.  I know James through mutual friend Aaron.  (Together, James and Aaron are The KMA.)  Aaron talked about this guy who loves Sloan and music in general, and figured we would get along.  Shit got serious when Sloan started releasing limited edition fanclub live albums and boxed sets.  James would pick up three copies each time:  One for him, one for Aaron and one for myself.  Thanks to James I’m a proud owner of things like the Twice Removed box set.

In addition to Sloan vinyl, James has also acquired for me a number of Record Store Day limited editions.  Sometimes I can’t, or just can’t be bothered, to go.  James has an “in” with his local record store guy, and often knows what they’ll be carrying and how many copies.  Last year he scored me Jimmy Page & The Black Crowes’ Live at Jones Beach.  I couldn’t find one locally, but his guy had it.  A few days later, I did too, packaged with care by James.

There are few things that James failed to find for me.  As a collector, I put a limited scope on what I’m hunting for.  If there is a release with exclusive music on a physical format by an artist I collect, then I want it.  In 2016, Alice Cooper released a very limited Record Store Day single called Live From the Astroturf.  This was a single from a special concert featuring the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper group:  Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, and Neal Smith.  Sitting in for the late Glen Buxton was Ryan Roxie from Cooper’s current band.  It was heartbreaking for me, but even James couldn’t get me a copy.  Prices on Discogs were insane.  I guess I would just have to do without it.

Unexpectedly, 2018 offered a surprise:  a full album release of Live From the Astroturf!  Not just two songs, but the full set!  I collect the music more than the releases, so I would be perfectly satisfied with this.  Guess what happened?

James came through!

It wasn’t cheap.  It was $80, but James tells me “there’s stuff inside” (a poster and a 16 page booklet).  Plus the record inside will be one of 12 random colours!  “Collect all 12,” says the ad on the front.  Let’s do the math on that.

12 x $80 = …holy shit.  $960 bones!  And that’s if the random inserted vinyl colours don’t happen to be the same.  You’d blow through a thousand bucks and more trying to collect all 12!  But somebody out there has done it, I’m sure.

I haven’t opened mine yet.  I’m just going to stare at it a while.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll open it.

Thanks James.  You are truly a man among men!

Recorded October 6 2015 at Good Records, Dallas

Tracklist:

  1. Caught in a Dream
  2. Be My Lover
  3. I’m Eighteen
  4. Is It My Body
  5. No More Mr. Nice Guy
  6. Under My Wheels
  7. School’s Out
  8. Elected

2018 Good Records