rarities

REVIEW: Max the Axe – Bodies of Water (1995 cassette)

MAX THE AXE – Bodies of Water (1995 independant cassette)

This has to be one of the rarest items I own.  I have acquired the only remaining cassette copy of the first Max the Axe release, a five song tape called Bodies of Water.  In a rare move, the cassette had the bonus track rather than the CD.  Back in 1995, Max the Axe didn’t have a drummer so the drums on this release are programmed.  That lends it a streetwise but quaint mid-90s nostalgia.

Opening intensely with “Hard Drive”, Max the Axe’s music defies genres from the first track.  Heavy sludge riffs, flute, saxophone, a keyboard orchestra!  Lead vocals on this track by Pam Hammond leap beyond expectation as she bellows powerfully over the complex track.  You get more sax (courtesy Rockin’ Randy Harrison) on “Where’s Pablo?” featuring Mickey Straight on lead vocals.  This has a cool, dirty street vibe groove.

The  cassette bonus track “Guns To Iran” is dead center, and features “Max the Swinging Axe” on distorted lead vocals.  Pure metal on electronic steroids.  I’m immediately reminded of “Manic Mechanic” by ZZ Top, but a thrash metal version.

“I’m Glad Now” has another singer, Tim Rolland, and a completely different vibe.  Straight noctural, memorable melodic hard rock with a growly singer.  But then the screamer “Fair Ophelia” ends the cassette on a seriously heavy note.  Pam Hammond and Max the Axe return on vocals, assaulting the ear with aggressive heaviness.  Max does the metal grunting while Hammond sings in classic screamin’ metal style.

This is good stuff and surprisingly well preserved 25 years later.  Max’s sharp jabs of guitar solo adrenaline still rock the speakers with intended impact.  Maybe the Axe will remaster and reissue his early tunes so the rest of you can hear them too.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes (1994 Japanese version)

BLACK SABBATH – Cross Purposes (1994 EMI Japan)

Cross Purposes catches a lot of crap from fans, and maybe it is the softest Sabbath, but it ain’t bad.  The Tony Martin era was unfairly derided when he was the singer in Black Sabbath.  “Only Ozzy or Ronnie — no Tony!” complained some fans.  Well, we had Ronnie for Dehumanizer and that didn’t last.  Tony Martin was probably always the backup plan in case things went south with Dio.  It is said that Tony Martin recorded his own set of vocals for the Dehumanizer album in case Dio left abruptly.  It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that Tony Iommi called up Martin when Dio did inevitably walk.

Ronnie brought drummer Vinny Appice with him, which meant Sabbath were replacing two members.  In a genius move, Iommi snapped up ex-Rainbow heavy-hitter Bobby Rondinelli.  Bassist Geezer Butler stayed put, but not without regrets.  He would later say that he thought they were recording an album for a new band, but that Iommi decided to use the name Black Sabbath.  This seems hard to believe given that Iommi always returned to the Sabbath name in the past.

Tony Martin & Bobby Rondinelli

Whatever the case may be, Cross Purposes was met with mixed reactions when it was released in 1994.  While some welcomed the return of a classic sounding band, others called them irrelevant in the face of grunge.  Indeed, Sabbath were accused of copying the style of Alice in Chains on “Virtual Death”, featuring a double tracked vocal similar to the Seattle band’s trademark sound.

True as that may be, there is no question that opener “I Witness” sounds like no band other than Black Sabbath.  From Iommi’s squealing guitar shrieks to Geezer’s slinky bass, only one band sounds like this.  Yes, on the surface Tony Martin sounds like Dio, but that sells him short.  Dio has more grit, while Martin takes it smooth.  “I Witness” is one of those blazingly fast Sabbath openers, and Rondinelli’s massive snare sound just kills it.  I’ve always enjoyed how Black Sabbath worked their name into certain lyrics, like “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”.  Here, Tony Martin (an underrated lyricist) refers to the “pilgrims of Sabbocracy”, a word that doesn’t seem to exist outside the Black Sabbath pantheon.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons this album was poorly received is that two of its best songs are ballads.  People forget that Sabbath have many classic ballads — “Solitude”, “Changes” and “Born Again” come to mind.  “Cross of Thorns” is a vocal workout for Martin that darkens the sky and shakes the seas.  An acoustic riff begins the journey, but it transforms into something bigger and more dramatic.  It also includes one of Iommi’s most memorable guitar solos from his entire career.  Special mention goes to late keyboardist Geoff Nicholls who provides much atmosphere for this dark burner.

“Psychophobia” is an interesting song; not the most memorable but with a tricky riff that’ll get the heads banging.   The middle section exactly halfway into the song is outstanding.  It’s also a gas to hear Martin singing “It’s time to kiss the rainbow goodbye”.  A sly jab at Dio?  Fans will probably always see it that way.  But then comes “Virtual Death”.  Its possible grunge inspirations stick out like the sorest of thumbs on side one.  This slow song drags too long.  The whole “virtual reality” trend was well worn out by 1994, so that did not help matters much.  Fortunately the first side redeems itself with a resounding closer called “Immaculate Deception”.  The beguilement here is that the song seems like trudge at first, until Rondinelli puts it in turbo on the choruses.

Side two opens with the second ballad (more of a blues really) called “Dying For Love”.  This is reminiscent of “Feels Good to Me” from the Tyr album.  Interestingly, Geezer’s bassline sounds like the one Bob Daisley played on “The Shining” in 1987.  (Geezer was around when “The Shining” was written, possibly under the name “No Way Out”.)  It must be said that, as great as Tony Martin is on this song, it would have sounded out of this world had Dio sung it.

“Back to Eden” is a skipper.  Nothing particular wrong with it, just not as good as other tracks.  We resume on the single, “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle”.  A keyboard opening gives way to a killer Iommi riff, one that sticks in your brain for days.  Top it off with an excellent chorus and this track is a winner.  Shame it never had a chance as a single.  “Cardinal Sin”, like “Back to Eden”, isn’t much to talk about, though it does have a cool keyboard line.

The standard album ends on “Evil Eye”, a song that incredibly came about through an unlikely 1993 jam with Eddie Van Halen.  Van Halen laid down a solo, but the band weren’t recording properly.  According to Tony Martin, the Van Halen recording is simply too poor in quality to release.  I don’t think fans would mind, but that is wishful thinking considering they couldn’t even give Eddie a writing credit due to contractual wranglings.  This song just grinds, like a mountain over the aeons.  Tony Martin wails on the chorus, and Tony Iommi lays down several minutes of guitar licks that may or not have been inspired by Van Halen’s original solos.

A big thanks must go out to Harrison the Mad Metal Man for locating this Japanese printing of Cross Purposes that you are looking at.  A Sabbath collection that began in earnest back in 1992 was finally completed in 2020.  The bonus track here is “What’s the Use”, a song that doesn’t quite sound like the rest of the album.  The short choppy Iommi riff sounds more like Judas Priest than Sabbath, but it’s a welcome addition because it’s unlike the usual.

Had Cross Purposes come out under a different band name (something anonymously 90’s…like, I dunno, Carpet or something) with “Virtual Death” as the single, who knows what might have happened?  Probably nothing, because just as there were too many glam rock acts in the late 80s, the 90s were choked to the gills with alterna-bands.  A Japanese copy is expensive to come by, so don’t hesitate too much if you find a gently used domestic CD in the wild.  The album is, of course, out of print.

4/5 stars

 

Saturday Live Stream: 6:00 PM E.S.T – No Theme, Just Stream!

No theme, just stream!  Stuff planned for this week:

  • Oddball releases
  • New arrivals
  • Cassette singles
  • Coffee
  • Special guests
  • Pants optional

Weather and technology permitting, I may do this live stream outdoors.  Change of scenery!

6:00 PM Eastern Standard Time.  Facebook:  Michael Ladano

 

Live Stream – More Vinyl & Special Guests – Saturday May 9

Pardon the technical difficulties, we had some audio lag and some viewers experienced frozen video. I think we pushed the limits of what Facebook and our own bandwidth could handle.

The best live stream of the series so far is available for you to watch below! We went for 90 minutes and featured so much vinyl your head will spin. We also had three special guests joining us: Dr. Kathryn Ladano, Uncle Meat, Scotty P, all local legends in their own rights!

Saturday Live Stream: 6:00 PM E.S.T – Part 2! – Favourite Vinyl & Free Discussion

MORE VINYL!  MORE CHAT!  MORE COFFEE!

Last week was a lot of fun, wasn’t it?  Let’s continue!  Starting at 6:00 PM E.S.T., I’ll be going live on Facebook.  We’ll catch up with some general chit chat and then we’ll delve into another batch of my favourite records. This time I’ll include 7″ singles and cherished oddball releases.

In music news we have some tragic deaths and new releases.  Have you heard the new Rolling Stones single “Living in a Ghost Town”?

Let’s talk about this and more tonight at 6:00 PM Eastern Standard Time.  Facebook:  Michael Ladano

Saturday Live Stream: 6:00 PM E.S.T – Favourite Vinyl & Free Discussion

YOU SPEAK, WE LISTEN!

Someone last week requested that I cover my favourite vinyl on the next live stream.  At the same time, I received some feedback that going back to a discussion format like the early streams might be fun.  I’ve decided to do a bit of both.

For today’s live stream, starting at 6:00 PM E.S.T., I’ll be talking about some of my favourite records.  Why are they some of my favourites?  We’ll get into that and more.  But we’ll start with some free discussion about whatever you want.  How are you holding up now, two months into this crisis?

I read an interesting comment about new music during the crisis.  “I’d prefer not to get any new albums at this time,” went one comment, “because I don’t want to always associate that music with this time.”

Let’s talk about this and more tonight at 6:00 PM Eastern Standard Time.  Facebook:  Michael Ladano

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

Live Stream – My Favourite Box Sets – Satuday April 25

What would you like to see featured next week?  Leave your feedback below.


 

Saturday Live Stream: 7:00 PM E.S.T – My Favourite Box Sets

Wanna see stuff from my collection?  All you have to do is ask.  This week the request was “Let’s see your favourite box sets”.  I’ve rounded up a few for show & tell.  I will go live on Facebook April 25 at 7:00 PM Eastern Standard Time. (If you missed last week’s live stream, Rare Box Sets, you can watch it here.)

The subject matter this week is My Favourite Box Sets.  Most of these you have seen on my site already but we are about to take a closer look.  I’ll be live for roughly an hour with these awesome box sets.  Rob Daniels from Visions in Sound will be going live after I’m done so I’ll be jumping over to catch his show!

Join me tonight at 7 PM E.S.T. for some rock and roll shenanigans!  Facebook:  Michael Ladano

Live Stream – Rare Box Sets – Saturday April 18

 

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