rick rubin

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Nobody Said it Was Easy (2018 vinyl reissue)

THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Nobody Said it Was Easy (originally 1991 Def American, 2018 vinyl reissue with bonus tracks)

Though defunct for well over two decades, the Four Horsemen are like the gift that keeps on giving.  When they bit the dust, all they initially left behind were two albums and an EP.  Today there are a set of reissues with bonus tracks, live releases, and a “lost” second LP that was never released before.  In 2018, another handful of unreleased tracks came to light on a brand new vinyl reissue of Nobody Said it Was Easy.  This is the second reissue of the album now, the first (on CD) having three completely different bonus tracks (“She’s Got It”, “Homesick Blues (harmonica version)” and “Born to Boogie”).  The vinyl replaces those with a bunch more you didn’t have.

First, about the album Nobody Said it Was EasyWe reviewed it back in 2016 and stand by every word.  It was a shining beacon of rock n’ roll when it was in danger of drowning in a sea of grunge.  Rick Rubin gave the album an edgy, loud and crisp sound.  The band had a dirty vibe at odds with the Poisons and Motley Crues on the charts.  And they boasted one of the greatest unsung frontmen ever:  Frank C. Starr.  A real life bad boy, there was nothing phony about Frank, nor any of the Four Horsemen.  The nucleus was the man known as Haggis, ex-The Cult, ex-Zodiac Mindwarp.  His slippy-slidey guitars melded perfectly with the southern soloing of Dave Lizmi.  On bass was a chap named Ben Pape, but the secret weapon was drummer Kenneth “Dimwit” Montgomery.  This mountain of a man, a Canadian punk rock veteran, had presence and a deep Bonham-like beat.  The Four Horsemen couldn’t be touched by anyone in their field.  The 12 songs that made up Nobody Said it Was Easy sound derived in equal parts from early AC/DC and the American South, with a healthy dose of sleazy intent.

“My name is Frankie, let’s fuck up the place!”

The three singles are flat-out indispensable.  I wouldn’t want to live my life without “Rockin’ Is Ma Business” any more than I would want to live it without “Let There Be Rock”.  “Tired Wings” is a greasy southern revelation, while the title track has more hooks than a tackle shop.

As an added bonus, this package also includes the first Four Horsemen EP, Welfare Boogie.  It was available separately on a remastered CD with bonus tracks, but now you can get it on vinyl right here.  The four EP songs were pretty high octane.  “Hard Loving Man” remains a ridiculous highlight.  Tattooed pecker indeed!

Onto the unreleased tracks, of which there are six:  five songs and an interview.  All of these are exclusive to this LP; nowhere else.  The interview is a vintage road call from a humorous Haggis to a Calgary radio station, but it’s inconsequential at only 2:30 long.  (My copy of the second LP has the sides labelled incorrectly.)

Check out the original open-G tuning of “Tired Wings”.  It’s remarkable how changing the tuning made the difference between a good song and a great one.  Now it’s timeless.  Frankie did a completely different lead vocal on “’75 Again”, without the screaming (some of the guitar bits are missing too).  I think I prefer the screaming version when you hear them side by side.  An alternate version of “Can’t Stop Rockin'” is a different take, also without screaming (or backing vocals).  These versions that ultimately didn’t make the album are as well produced as the record, but ultimately it’s a matter of taste which you prefer.  It’s certainly startling to hear different versions after this many years.

“The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down” is an instrumental, recorded Christmas Day 1991.  This certainly foreshadows the direction the Four Horsemen would go on their “lost” second album, Daylight Again, which was more Band than AC/DC.  Finally it’s an extended 8:32 live jam on “Can’t Get Next to You”, a non-album rarity.  Another version can be found on the CD/DVD set, Left For Dead.  Dave Lizmi really gets to cut loose on this.

It doesn’t really matter which version of Nobody Said it Was Easy you end up with.  The original 12 track CD was 5/5 stars then and now, but which is best?  The remastered CD gives you unreleased tracks exclusive to the format, so there’s that.  This LP gives you even more, plus the original Welfare Boogie EP, but it is limited to just 500 copies.  Better act fast before it’s too late.

5/5 stars

MORE FOUR HORSEMEN:

  1. Record Store Tales #224:  Rockin’ Is Ma Business
  2. Welfare Boogie (1990 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  3. Nobody Said It Was Easy (1991 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  4. Daylight Again (1994 “lost” album – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  5. Gettin’ Pretty Good…At Barely Gettin’ By (1996)
  6. Left For Dead 1988-1994 (2005 – CD/DVD set)
  7. Death Before Suckass – Live at Saratoga Winners 1991 (2012 CD)

 

 

 

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REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Left For Dead (1988-1992) (CD/DVD set)

“You know, Sean Connery was the best Roger Moore they ever had.” — Frank C. Starr

THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Left For Dead (1988-1992) (2005 CD/DVD set)

“Nobody said it was easy…and they were fucking right!”

The final review in this Four Horsemen series is a valuable live album/DVD set.  The CD was put together from “a box of old tapes”, all from 1992 gigs (one of which was Toronto), and there are ample liner notes discussing the band’s history and the songs herein.  It’s a brilliant live set, loaded with energy and Frank C. Starr’s unmistakable charisma.  Every track sweats whiskey.  With an opening one-two punch of “’75 Again” and “Moonshine”, you know you’re in for an action packed ride.  “Moonshine” is particularly cool, because the album version featured an authentic over-the-phone lead vocal, but the live one is full-on.  Throwing in a couple extra screams, Frankie added the icing on the cake.  Man, we so miss Frank C. Starr.

It’s a noisy affair, which actually suits this band just fine.  It’s appropriate that a Four Horsemen live album isn’t an overdubbed and glossed collection.  What it sounds like is a live band in a tiny club.  All three of the Horsemen’s singles are included in live form.  The slide-drenched “Tired Wings” goes down a treat.  “Nobody Said it Was Easy” and “Rockin’ is Ma Business” are both electrifying; the latter especially so.  You don’t hear a singer with a voice like Frank’s very often.  He had the grit, the power and the ability, wrapped up in a rock star-sized bottle of Jack.  Frank Starr has to be one of the greatest unsung losses in modern rock.

And what a band behind him!  There is a constant and very hard-hitting beat at the back, courtesy of the man-mountain Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery.  According to the liner notes, Dimwit was a psychiatric nurse in addition to being a hell of a punk rock drummer.  The name Dimwit was clearly a joke, but there is a dark side.  The rigors of his work and the amount of care and emotion that went into it may have contributed to the depression and substance abuse that eventually took his life.  It’s sad really, but thankfully these live recordings exist.

One non-album cut is included in this set, a slow raunchy one called “Can’t Get Next To You”.  The AC/DC influences are obvious as this one is clearly in the musical mode of “The Jack”.   The fans wouldn’t have known this song, but Frank wants to see how many people know the album.  Introducing “Hot Head” he announces, “Let’s see if some of you fuckers actually went out and bought this shit!”…right before an equipment breakdown!  And it’s all there, documented for history.  Leaving in things like amp troubles makes for a more authentic listening experience.

All told, only two songs from the legendary first Four Horsemen record are not on the live CD:  “Can’t Stop Rockin'” and “Homesick Blues”.  Although unlisted, “I Need a Thrill” does contain the “Something Good” coda, just like the album.  It’s even longer, with some absolutely consummate playing from lead guitarist Dave Lizmi.  The low grade sound quality perhaps enhances the overall experience.  This was a dirty rock and roll band and that’s how the live CD sounds.  That seems right.  With almost the entire first album plus an unreleased song, any Horsemen fan worth his or her salt should probably get their ears on this.  But there is still the DVD to feast our eyes upon!

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Interspersed with rare footage and interviews, you get all the original Horsemen music videos, starting with “Rockin’ is Ma Business”.   The stark music video for “Nobody Said it Was Easy” is a previously unseen version with some risque shots.  An interesting clip from MTV has the band mistakenly called “Four Horseman”.  (Apparently it was Riki Rachtman’s first show.  But then MTV got the name wrong on a later episode too!  MuchMusic got it right though.)  A rare live bootleg of “Hard Lovin’ Man” is audio garbage but video gold.  “High School Rock and Roller” is a blast to watch, especially the moving mountain that was Dimwit on drums.  There is big stage action from October ’91, opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd (“’75 Again” and “Rockin’ in Ma Business”).   Perhaps most interesting are some rejected music videos that didn’t see the light of day.  An early version of “Tired Wings” (with a pre-fame Kate Moss) is pretty crap and rightfully hated by the band.  Better than this is a rare “Mexican version” of “Nobody Said it Was Easy”.  The intro borrows liberally from “The Old Man Down the Road” by John Fogerty, but it’s cool watching the band mime in a hot dusty town in Mexico.  Then there is a never before seen $2000 budget video for “Welfare Boogie” from the original EP.  This video was rejected by MTV because the band were “too ugly”.

DVD special features are sparse but cool.  There is an exclusive acoustic demo version of “Tired Wings”.  What a different spin this is!  In demo form it was a slow acoustic drawl, laid back with angelic band harmonies.  The lyrics and melodies are identical but the arrangement is completely different.  This is set to a nostalgic slide show of rare band photos.  There is also a band commentary track for the main feature (Haggis, Dave Lizmi and Ben Pape). Lots of laughs, memories and anecdotes.  And making fun of “Dave Lizmo’s” hockey stick-style guitar neck.   Mostly they poke fun of each other’s clothes.  It’s a lot of fun to hang out with the Horsemen.  The audio commentary track is a highly recommended shambles.

The CD/DVD set can be ordered straight from the band, and it comes autographed.  I think mine is signed by Haggis but I cannot be sure!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Nobody Said it Was Easy (21st Anniversary Edition)

Giddy up! Part one of a five part Four Horsemen series this week at mikeladano.com!


scan_20160907THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Nobody Said it Was Easy (originally 1991 Def American, 2009 Anniversary Edition with bonus tracks)

1991’s Nobody Said it Was Easy was one of the greatest rock albums to ever come from the grunge decade that you’ve never heard of.  The Four Horsemen were a multinational band, with Rick Rubin at the helm at the legendary Sound City studios, and one of the greatest rock star frontmen to ever grace the stage:  the late Frank C. Starr.

There could only be one Frankie.  But there was so much more to this band than just the singer.

There was Haggis, on rhythm guitar (ex-The Cult, formerly known as Kid Chaos).  He lent the album an AC/DC edge with simple rock and roll riffs.  Then there was Dave Lizmi, an uber-talented guitarist with a knack for classic tube-amp driven solos.  On bass was Ben Pape who provided the album with interesting and melodic basslines.  Finally, on drums, the man the myth the legend:  Kenneth “Dimwit” Montgomery.  A Canadian native as big as the mountains that spawned him, Dimwit was an absolute beast on the skins.  His brother Charles Montgomery would change his name to Chuck Biscuits and join Danzig.  Both brothers would spend time in the legendary Canadian punk band D.O.A.  Sadly, Dimwit succumbed to drugs and died in 1995.  What a gargantuan loss.  (He later inspired the Horsemen track “Song for Absent Friends” from their second CD.)

This album was preceded by an impossible-to-find four song EP (since reissued), so when it was released on Def American, it was the first time most of us heard the Horsemen.  And it was instant.  With three unforgettable singles, the Horsemen kicked out the jams.

“Nobody Said it Was Easy” was a hell of an introduction.  With a riff similar to those peddled by the Black Crowes a year before, but with a much harder edge, the track kicked every ass in the room.  Get into the groove and enjoy, because the party is just starting.  Frankie had a rock n’ roll voice, but when he let loose with his screaming, that’s when we knew he was special.  Able to sing with a Brian Johnson shred, the Horsemen really had an ace in their pocket with him.  Frankie was something else.  He took no prisoners and without him, the Horsemen just didn’t sound like the Horsemen.

There aren’t breaks between the songs, so “Nobody Said it Was Easy” goes right into “Rockin’ is Ma Business”, the heavier second single.  Louder, groovier and weightier, “Rockin’ is Ma Business” proves its point.  “And if it’s so good why am I still fuckin’ broke?” asks Frankie before Lizmi rips into another solo.  (That would be a question for the accountants, Frankie!)

The third (and some say the best) single was the slide-drenched “Tired Wings”.  With a southern Skynyrd vibe, “Tired Wings” is simply awesome.  I’m a sucker for a slide guitar, and there’s enough here to drown a cat. Haggis makes sure there is plenty to go around.

There could have been more singles, but the band hit the rocks when Frank was arrested and jailed for a year on drug charges. They were dropped by the record label, who stopped promoting the record. That effectively put the band on ice for several years, but that’s another tale for another review (or two).

T-Rev always pointed out the strength of the closing track, essentially two songs over eight minutes long, “I Need a Thrill/Somethin’ Good”.  The song reeks of cigarettes, booze and tired hotel rooms.  With organ and loads of Lizmi licks, it’s an epic track soaked in feeling.   T-Rev pointed out that the Horsemen seemed to like closing their albums with slow bluesy epics like this.  The next CD, Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By has a similar track called “What the Hell Went Wrong”.  Their long lost second album (finally available today) called Daylight Again closes with an 11 minute version of “Amazing Grace”.  That’s the kind of track this is.  It could only be an album closer.

This CD reissue has three bonus cuts from the original demo tapes.  I didn’t really want to trade up my old original CD copy of this album, but these bonus tracks made it worth while.  “She’s Got It” was written by Dimwit, and has a pure AC/DC riff like they used to write when Bon Scott was alive.  “Born to Boogie” is a rare Starr co-write (with Haggis).  This is a completely different song from the same-titled demo that was included on the EP reissue (Welfare Boogie).  It has a completely different riff, which is good because the original one basically sounded like “New York Groove” by Ace Frehley.  I prefer this version, the faster and more fun of the two.  Finally there is a different version of “Homesick Blues”, featuring a harmonica part by Tim Beattie.  The funny thing here is that Beattie later joined a reformed Horsemen as their lead singer!  It is he that recorded Daylight Again, before yet another version of the band would form and start recording with Frankie up in Canada….

But again, that’s another story for another review.  If you are one of the many rock fans who missed the Four Horsemen during their brief heyday, then this CD reissue makes the album easy to acquire.  The important thing is to get it!*

5/5 stars

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* But beware!  I know of at least one customer, Freddy, who purchased a defective copy of the original CD with Dwight Yoakam instead of the Four Horsemen! (Record Store Tales Part 224: Rockin’ is Ma Business)

For a review by 1537, click here  (It’s Dirty, It’s a Pity).

 

 

Blu-ray REVIEW: Sound City (2013)

“The internet’s cool for some stuff, but like many things, there’s no book store, there’s no music store, and there’s no Sound City.” — Josh Homme

SOUND CITY (2013 Roswell Films)

Directed by Dave Grohl

Uncle Meat persuaded me to see this movie, and I’m glad that he did.  He said it wasn’t optional; that it was a must and that I would love it.  So I bought it on Blu-ray, invited him over to co-review it with me, and we viewed it one afternoon after work in 5.1 surround.   Needless to say, Sound City was good.  So good that we never felt we could do it justice in a review, so I sat on my notes for over a year!  Having recently re-watched Sound City (directed by Dave Grohl) with Mrs. LeBrain, now I can finally finish what Meat and I started last year.

Van Nuys, California.  Sound City Studios, the legendary place where everybody who is anybody recorded.  Nirvana?  Check.  Fleetwood Mac?  Rick Springfield?  Tom Petty?  Check.  Slipknot?  Also check.  Neil Young recorded much of  After the Gold Rush there, after being enamored of the vocal sound that he got on “Birds”.  Keith Olsen learned his craft there.  It’s not much to look at on the outside:  according to producer Butch Vig, it’s “kinda dumpy”. On the inside, there’s booze and cigarettes everywhere.  Big room, huge floor. Lots of black magnetic tape.

Grohl narrates, personal anecdotes flow, then he steps out of the movie’s way.  Grohl has a nice visual style, a combination of close ups and wide shots with plenty of details to look at.  He infuses the movie with plenty of humour, sometimes at his own expense.  The film has two phases:  the first is a history lesson regarding the studio and the artists who created the hits there.  The second consists of Dave purchasing the studio’s Neve board, moving it north to his own studio, and recording a brand new album with the same legendary artists.  Pretty cool concept.

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The huge Neve console was built like a “brick shithouse” (Keith Olsen), or a “tank” (Neil Young).  Its original purchase price: bought for $75,175  in 1969 dollars.  A nice house at the time cost around $30,000!   The Neve was one of only four.  Combined with the room itself at Sound City, the drum sound you can capture is incredible.  The studio’s acoustics were not designed; it was a complete fluke.  It was originally a box factory that happens to sound magical.

As for that Neve console, it is of course entirely analog.  The one at Sound City was unique, considered the best sounding one. Rupert Neve tried to explain the electronics of it to Grohl in one of the movie’s more humourous scenes.  The very first song recorded on that board was “Crying in the Night”, by Buckingham Nicks.  This led directly to Mick Fleetwood hearing them while at the studio, and hiring not only the studio, but also Buckingham and Nicks!  Essentially, the modern Fleetwood Mac formed right there at Sound City. The studio’s success really began with Rumours.  Then, everyone wanted to record there.   As for Tom Petty?  It appears that Tom Petty pretty much spent his entire career at Sound City.  In fact one of the coolest scenes was an old behind the scenes video from the 1990’s.  Seeing Rick Rubin produce Tom Petty and being brutally honest was very interesting.

Rick Rubin to Tom Petty:  “Sounds like you’re aiming a little lower today than you should be.”

Along came the compact disc, and the infancy of digital recording.  Digital was the latest trend, and you could do new things with a computer that were harder to do on tape.  Sound City suffered during this time, as newer rival studios were on trend. Sound City was dead…but one album helped resuscitate it:  Nevermind.  Then came Rage Against the Machine, Tool, Slayer, Kyuss.  Analog tape and vintage equipment became popular again.  Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash recorded Unchained there with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  Nine Inch Nails combined the old with the new, by bring in their own computers to record on ProTools along with the Neve.

Unfortunately ProTools was heavy competition, and working with tape was so difficult by comparison, that Sound City finally shut its doors.  They just couldn’t pay the bills anymore, even after selling off their excess equipment.  Then Dave bought the board.  It is amazing to watch it taken apart, boxed up, reassembled and functioning in Seattle.  Regarding the sale of the board, Grohl says, “I think they knew that I wasn’t just going to bubble wrap it, and stick it in a warehouse.  I was gonna fuckin’ use it.  A lot.”

SOUND CITY_0001On November 2, 2011, reassembly of the board began at Dave’s Studio 606.  Then he invited all the original artists back to record a new album on it, produced by Butch Vig.  Regarding Stevie Nicks, in a memorable moment Vig says, “Fuckin’ A, that girl can sing!”  More artists arrive.  The Foo Fighters plus Rick Springfield create a monstrous sound together, a neat amalgam of their respective genres.  Lee Ving (Fear) is hilarious, and performs the fastest count-in of all time.  I discovered a new respect for Trent Reznor, a guy who uses the technology to create original sounds, but desires the warmth of tape.  It’s incredible to see him collaborate with Homme and Grohl.  It’s the sound of humans communicating with instruments.  And they wrote a pretty frickin’ cool song together.  Then, watching Paul McCartney writing “Cut Me Some Slack” with the surviving members of Nirvana is a moment that I’m glad was frozen in time.

Grohl:  “What can’t it always be this easy?”

McCartney:  “It is.”

The blu-ray bonus features include three additional performances: “From Can to Can’t”, “Your Wife is Calling”, “The Slowing Down”.  It was these bonus features that inspired Meat and I to add “Your Wife is Calling” (with Lee Ving) to our 2014 Sausagefest lists.  Our votes allowed the song to clock in at #64.  (The track was my #1.)

Sound City is a complete triumph of a music documentary.  It is the kind of music documentary designed for serious fans, not just passers-by.  I would welcome another movie directed by Dave Grohl with open arms.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – 13 (deluxe, Best Buy, all 5 bonus tracks)

BLACK SABBATH – 13 (2013 Universal deluxe, Best Buy, and Spotify editions)

Last year, Uncle Meat gave us his detailed review of Black Sabbath’s 13.  (His rating:  3.25/5 stars.  Check out his full review for the scoop on the first CD of this metal monolith.)  Having had almost a year to live with it myself, I think it’s time I got around to reviewing the songs he didn’t:  the bonus tracks!

The deluxe and Best Buy editions have “Methademic,” “Peace of Mind,” and “Pariah.”  “Methademic” is cool for being a fast-paced heavy rocker, something I associate more with a Dio kind of sound.  It’s a good track, good enough that Sabbath play it live.  Geezer’s got a serious groove going on with the bass part, and Brad Wilk is playing with furious drive.  You wouldn’t consider this song to be as good as any on the first CD of 13, but it’s a great bonus track.

“Peace of Mind” is of equal quality to “Methademic.”  This time Sabbath have gone back to doomy, but Ozzy’s vocal melody takes it to a special place.   All it’s missing is that looseness that only Bill Ward could provide.  It sounds so authentically Black Sabbath, but if you concentrate on the beat, you can hear that the loose swing of old is not there.  Having said that I enjoy “Peace of Mind” very much, especially when it picks up after the 2:15 mark.

My favourite of this trio of songs is “Pariah.”  It occupies a mid-paced groove which chugs along nicely.  Tony has a couple cool riffs in it, but once again Ozzy’s vocal seals the deal.  Tony’s guitar solo is icing on the cake.  I love when he has a chance to slow down and play bluesy, as he does here.

Japanese fans, and Best Buy shoppers have their own exclusive bonus track, and it’s the one with the best title:  “Naïveté in Black.”  You have to love that.  This smoker is similar to “Time Machine,” from Dehumanizer.  I don’t know why a song this good was left to Best Buy, because it’s better than the other three.  It’s definitely unique among the 13 songs for sounding more like Dio-Sabbath than Ozzy-Sabbath; perhaps that’s the primary reason.  Count me as a big fan of “Naïveté in Black.”

Finally even Spotify have a bonus track, which is “Dirty Women,” live.  This is with Tommy Clueftos on drums, from the same show as the recent Gathered In Their Masses live DVD (but not the CD).  I am fortunate enough to have an excellent quality copy of the song burned to a CD, the perfect final bonus track to 13.

But that’s not all folks.  With the deluxe box set edition, there’s a DVD as well.  There is a brief documentary about the reunion and recording of the new album.  There are quite a few humorous moments, but I do not consider this to be much of a bonus.  All this stuff is available for free on youtube.  I don’t value a physical copy of something like this as much as I value a physical copy of a song.

Best moment:

Fan – “I came all the way from Croatia!”

Ozzy – “Where the fuck is that?”

The deluxe set is large and very nice to look at, but I considered it sparse in terms of worthwhile goodies.  There are lots of large glossy photos, but they’re not up to handling repeatedly.  There’s a print of the “God Is Dead?” single art, a 2 CD set (minus “Naïveté in Black”), and 13 on double 180 gram vinyl LPs.  Everything is lovely and fragile.  There’s also far too much room in the box itself for everything, so things move around inside.  That’s a bit of a design flaw just to save on some extra cardboard packaging.

The Best Buy set came with a T-shirt, which I have kept in-package.  You can find pictures of both versions below.

4.5/5 stars (for 13 as a whole)

Best Buy:

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Deluxe:

 

 

 

REVIEW: Johnny Cash – American VI: Ain’t No Grave (2010)

JOHNNY CASH – American VI: Ain’t No Grave (2010 American Recordings)

Seven years after Johnny Cash passed, Rick Rubin released American VI: Ain’t No Grave. It is billed as the “final Johnny Cash studio album”. Listening to it is simply an awesome experience. It’s one of the finest of Johnny’s American Recordings.  I think my favourite is American IV: The Man Comes Around, but American VI is a contender.

Beginning with the dark, powerful “Ain’t No Grave”, Johnny is defiant. He does not fear death. “Ain’t No Grave” has more accompaniment than most of the tracks on this album, which are adorned only by the odd piano keys, steel guitar, or rhythm. Johnny’s voice is weak, yet that baritone is still so defiantly powerful. Even in illness, Johnny refused to stop making music, his aching voice a shadow of what it once was. Yet even that aching voice stirs powerful emotions through the music. Only Johnny could sing these songs the way he did.

Mortality is a common theme.  Other highlights for this listener included:

  • “Redemption Day”, a track written by Sheryl Crow and an upbeat number.
  • Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times”, lush with acoustic guitars.
  • “I Corinthians 15:55”, Johnny’s sole writing credit, taken from the Bible. Truly an inspiration. Johnny’s faith kept him going in those last days.
  • “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”, a song about a dream of world peace. Maybe Johnny was also imagining the place he thought he’d be after death took him.
  • “Aloha Oe”, an upbeat Hawiian melody, ending the album with the haunting words, “Someday, we’ll meet again”.

I know Rick Rubin lovingly produced these final six Johnny Cash albums, befriending the man and earning his trust. Knowing that, I trust that Rubin finished these songs the way that Johnny would have wanted them to sound.  Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench from the Heartbreakers are among the musicians involved.

IMG_00000581I do love what Rubin did with the packaging. A picture of Johnny as a boy on the front, a ghostly Johnny gazing through a window on the back, no song list on the cover. Inside is a booklet with a copy of Johnny’s handwritten lyrics to “I Corinthians 15:55”, a really cool touch. No liner notes. Rubin lets the music speak for itself.

All of the American recordings (which also included the fine box set Cash Unearthed, and 1998’s live VH1 Storytellers with Willie Nelson) will go down in history as some of the most important country recordings of our lifetimes. Personally I cannot think of another artist in any genre who was so prolific in his or her last days. The fact that these final recordings are so diverse, so strong, and so powerful are a testament to the Man in Black.

5/5 stars. Rest in peace Johnny.

Part 224: Rockin’ Is Ma Business

For a closer look at the album itself, check out 1537’s cool writeup!

RECORD STORE TALES Part 224:  Rockin’ Is Ma Business

In 1995, this guy I knew named Freddy was looking for more new tunes.  He’d been playing all the Gary Moore and Stevie Ray Vaughn that I could get him, but he wanted some rock as well.  Something a little heavier.

“Have you heard of the Four Horsemen?” I asked.

“Nope,” he answered.  “Who’re the Four Horsemen?”

The Four Horsemen were a great band.  They had a solid AC/DC vibe mixed in with assloads of southern rock.  They were an odd mixture of personnel, with members from Wales, America and Canada.  They featured ex-members of DOA and The Cult (Haggis), along with a charismatic unknown singer from Long Island who went by the name of Frank C. Starr.  They were a volatile band and the original lineup imploded, but there were also rumours of a reunion and second album.  (Sadly, drummer Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery passed away, and after recording the second album, Frank Starr would be close behind.)  They did manage to crank out a solid debut, helmed by Rick Rubin, called Nobody Said It Was Easy.*

Freddy was sold without hearing a single song, after I described how strong the debut was.  We had it stocked new for the low, low price of $14.99.  Freddy made his purchase and headed out.I was confident he would be satisfied.

A week later, Freddy returned.  He had a bone to pick with me about Nobody Said It Was Easy.

“It was good music,” he said, “But not what I was looking for.  You said it was more like AC/DC.  This doesn’t sound anything like AC/DC.  It’s more country.  I don’t know why you said it sounded like AC/DC.”

I was really confused.  How could you miss those AC/DC-isms?  The rock solid beats, smoking guitars, and screamin’ lead vocalist?  What Freddy was saying didn’t make much sense.

We talked for a while trying to make sense of each others’ side of the story, getting nowhere, so I asked him to bring the CD back in.  He did, and I put it in the player.  Sure enough, Freddy was right — but on a CD clearly labelled The Four Horsemen was music by Dwight Yoakam!  The voice was unmistakable.

How could this happen?  It was rare, but not impossible, for a CD to be manufactured but then labelled and packaged as the wrong album.  Dwight Yoakam was on Reprise, and the Horsemen on Def American.  Both labels were subsidiaries of Warner Brothers.  Obviously the CDs were also manufactured in a Warner plant, for this mix-up to happen.

I insisted that Freddy return the CD so we could make it right, but he didn’t want to!  He liked the Dwight Yoakam album and wanted to keep it!  I ordered him a replacement copy of Nobody Said It Was Easy, and he liked that one too.

A lot of people were surprised that a CD could end up with the wrong music or artwork (however you want to look at it) printed on it.  It was rare, but it could happen and did.  Fortunately Freddy was happy with both records!


*The Four Horsemen finally reached a wider audience in 2012, in the movie GI Joe: Retaliation. From their second album, “Back In Business” is featured completely out of context during a frantic action sequence. The lyrics of the song are clearly about getting screwed over by record labels and passing trends in music.

GUEST REVIEW: Black Sabbath – 13 (by Uncle Meat)

Uncle Meat is back to tell us about the new Sabbath — the standard 8 track retail version.  When I get the deluxe and Best Buy editions, I’ll do my own.  Until then, please welcome Uncle Meat for his insightful take on one of the most anticipated albums of the last 33 years.

BLACK SABBATH – 13 (2013 Universal)

What is your favorite Black Sabbath album?  How many times do you think that question has been asked over the last 30 years or so?  Before today, I would have said my personal favorite would be a tie between Volume 4 and Heaven and Hell (cop-out answer I know).   Expectedly, that has not changed after listening to the long-anticipated “reunion” album simply titled 13.  There is a case to be made that this is one of the most anticipated albums of all time.  So does this album live up to that hype?

Sabbath LogoThe true answer to that question lies within you as the listener of course.  Personally, I always find that something truly great will build momentum with every listen.   With that in mind, my first listen to 13 was one of pleasant surprise.  It has been a long time since Black Sabbath (or Heaven & Hell for that matter) has released something that I have connected with.   Even Dehumanizer, which I believe to be the last relevant Sabbath album, went in a direction that was not really what I wanted to hear from Black Sabbath.   My theory is that with Dehumanizer, they were trying to “reclaim the throne” so to speak.  Being overly heavy just for the sake of being heavy, and losing the diversity and groove that made them true rock royalty.  It appears Rick Rubin has brought back at least some of that old Black Sabbath magic.

Rick Rubin’s legacy is almost as iconic as Black Sabbath themselves.  He has been responsible for the re-birth of several artists such as Slayer, Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash et al.  The first thing that struck me about 13 was the bass sound.  Geezer has never sounded better and is hot in the mix, complimenting and adding to every track.  I also really like Tony Iommi’s guitar sound on this album.  More than a few times I found myself reminded of that classic Iommi riff sound.  Brad Wilk’s drums are great, and this could be nit-picking, but there is no doubt that Ward’s drum style is missed here on a few tracks.  Even Ozzy gets a passing grade here but I suspect that has a lot more to do with Rubin rather than a resurgence of Ozzy’s voice.  I was pleasantly surprised as well by the vocal melody lines on the album as a whole.

SABBATH CALM

TRACK 1 – “END OF THE BEGINNING”

The guitar parts in the verses paint an almost too-reminiscent picture of Black Sabbath‘s “Black Sabbath”.  But overall this track is strong throughout its 8:07 running time.  Definitely a great start to the album. Ozzy hits some notes at the end of this song that I find hard to believe even came out of the man. Steroids?

TRACK 2 – “GOD IS DEAD?”

I was not thrilled about this song when it was released prior.  Not that I dislike this song, just nothing special here to me. Next.

TRACK 3 – “LONER”

Good track.  They are somewhat ripping themselves off here to be honest, and that’s OK ’cause every band with longevity does it to an extent.  Main riff is VERY reminiscent of “N.I.B.”, and also Ozzy’s  “Alright now” and “Come on, Yeah!” made me genuinely smile.   Anyone remember Barry Horowitz?  Patting himself on the back?

BARRY PAT BACK

TRACK 4 – “ZEITGEIST”

More self-pilfering, this is the the “Planet Caravan” of the album.  Don’t particularly like that song to begin with. There are more strong vocals from The Madman here though.  But, still glad it’s the shortest song on the album (4:37).

TRACK 5 –”AGE OF REASON”

This track is in a tie right now with upcoming Track 7 (oh the drama!) as my favorite tune on the album.  Not only are the best riffs of the album on this song, I found myself loving the progressions here.  They remind me of the diverse song-writing on Sabotage, for example.  “Age of Reason” also contains a CLASSIC Tony Iommi solo.  This cannot be under-stated.  One kick-ass monster Tony Iommi solo!

TRACK 6 – “LIVE FOREVER”

The second shortest track on the album at 4:49, this is a good little song; and a great main riff on this track.  Very reminiscent of one of my favorite Sabbath songs, “Cornucopia” and even Brad Wilk seems to channel some Bill Ward in the open crash cymbal playing on this song.

TRACK 7 – “DAMAGED SOUL”

This is what we have been waiting for.  This is Sabbath being Sabbath better than all the bands that try, intentionally or un-intentionally, to be Sabbath.  [Wait until you see tomorrow’s story — LeBrain]  This is what I want from my Black Sabbath.  Doom meets gloom meets the blues.  There is something wonderfully sloppy about the guitar on this song.  Like a cross between Iommi and Keith Richards.  We even get some Ozzy harmonica in there.  Love the bridge in this song and the harmony vocals that come with it. The last third of this song is just lovely.  Yes… I said lovely. Check it out.  I must take back a proclamation made earlier in this review.  This is my favorite track on the album.  It’s that simple.

TRACK 8 – “DEAR FATHER”

The last track on the album is solid.  Once again there are some great drums on this song.  It builds momentum as well, getting more majestic as it goes along.  The last track on the album has a very fitting ending.  The track ends with the thunder, rain and tolling of the bell that started off their very first album 43 years ago.

The bottom line is this:  Black Sabbath have released a very relevant album in 2013.  I had my doubts if that was possible, and I am sure the presence of Rick Rubin was a big part of this being a very good if not great album.  Even without Bill Ward, there is life and inspiration within 13.  I find the ending of this album (hopefully) very fitting.  They have made an album which will be rightly recognized as something special, and this should be the end for Black Sabbath.  A glorious end indeed.

A solid 3 ¼ / 5 stars

Look for Mike Ladano’s upcoming review of the super duper extra-special royale deluxe version … containing several more tracks … coming soon.

Uncle Meat

BLACK SABBATH-13 SUPER DELUXE BOX

REVIEW: Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around (with DVD, 2003)

For Lara, and Rob.
CASH FRONT

JOHNNY CASH – American IV:  The Man Comes Around (2003 American)

I have published over 300 reviews here at mikeladano.com (use the search button on the top right to look up anything you want).  Yet, I still hadn’t got around to Johnny Cash!  That’s strange, because Johnny Cash is very special to me.

Everybody “says” they love Johnny Cash.  Many of them jumped on board when he died and became “cool” again.  Take Dandy, for example, a trend chaser who inked Johnny’s face on his arm a few months after he died.  But hey, if you’re on board now, that’s cool.  There’s plenty of room for everyone.

Johnny Cash was my first concert.  In Canada in the early 1980’s, Johnny had an endorsement deal with Canada Trust, where my dad worked.  Their brand new ATM machines were called Johnny Cash machines, and my dad even had some promotional Johnny Cash bills, a cool marketing gimmick.  He went to see Johnny, his idol, when Johnny came to town.  The first night of a two-nighter, my dad met him.  On the second night, he brought me along (I didn’t get to meet him).  Johnny modified his original concert opening by saying, “I’m Johnny Cash, 24 hour money machine” (in reference to the ATMs).  I still remember June kicking off her shoes!

The Man Comes Around is my favourite of the American Recordings, helmed by Rick Rubin.  It was also the last one released in Johnny’s lifetime.  It is, all at once, extremely powerful, morose, joyful, and catchy.  All filtered through Johnny’s unmistakable baritone, worn and weary but no less strong and expressive.  Like other American albums, it is a mixture of originals and covers, oldies and more recent fare.

The most well-known song on American IV was “Hurt”, the Nine Inch Nails cover.  It is remarkable by being so different, yet true to the spirit of the original.  I prefer Johnny’s take on it to Trent’s, truthfully.  “Hurt” is only one of many remarkable covers on this album.  Johnny and Fiona Apple tend “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, with quiet mellotron in the background.

My favourite song is Sting’s “I Hung My Head”.  I couldn’t believe the credits when I read that (having skipped Sting’s Mercury Falling album).  I thought for certain this had to be a new Cash original.  Lyrically, I was convinced this tragic tale came from the mind of the Man in Black, but I was wrong.  It’s a spellbinding song, painting a clear picture, and Johnny’s delivery is perfect.

“In My Life” is the favourite of Mrs. LeBrain.  She’s a huge Beatles fan.  We selected this song for the signing of the register at our wedding.  I received kudos on the musical selection from Tom Morwood and Jen’s Uncle Rick, who loved the Johnny.  While very different from the Beatles version, I think I can safely say I like both equally.

I’m not too keen on the Depeche Mode cover (“Personal Jesus”), but I don’t like Depeche Mode much.  I know some who think the cover is brilliant, so we’ll go with that.  Johnny and Rubin tranform the song into a dark acoustic stomp.

Other highlights include the classic “Sam Hall”, which Johnny also performed on his 1965 album, Johnny Cash Sings Ballads of the True West.  I love Johnny’s energetic delivery on this traditional.  We enjoyed this one at the record store, a lot.  “Danny Boy” is another from 1965 (Orange Blossom Special) that Johnny takes a second crack at.  This time it’s a more intimate affair without the backing vocals.  Johnny compensates with his rich storyteller’s voice, each flaw telling a story of its own.

Elsewhere, I love “Desperado”.  And that’s interesting because like the Dude, I hate the fuckin’ Eagles.

The album closes with “We’ll Meet Again”, the Vera Lynn classic.  I always think of Kubrick (Dr. Strangelove) when I hear this song.  So for me, I can hear a sly wink in “We’ll Meet Again”, a hint of humour, as if Johnny knew this would be the last song on the last album released in his lifetime.

HURTBut it’s not really the last song.  On my wishlist is the vinyl edition, which had two bonus tracks: Marty Robbins’ “Big Iron” (another personal favourite) and an exclusive version of “Wichita Lineman”.

My copy of the album came with a bonus DVD.  Nothing to get excited about, it’s just the music video for “Hurt”.  Granted that’s a great video, but the DVD is less special in 2013 than it was in 2003.  Now, everybody Youtubes.

Wow, I just used “Youtube” as a verb.

Anyway.  5/5 stars!

GUEST SHOT: 30 Albums that Uncle Meat Thinks You Should Visit (Or Re-Visit) Part 3

Meat is back for the final installment of his essential list:  30 Albums that Uncle Meat Thinks You Should Visit (Or Re-Visit).

Missed any?

Here’s Part 1.  

Part 2 is here.

And make no mistake, Meat wrote every word.  No messing around from me.  Enjoy!

PET SOUNDS   –  THE BEACH BOYS (1966)

When The Beatles released Rubber Soul in 1965, Brian Wilson heard something that inspired him to try and make his own masterpiece.  The result was Pet Sounds, which saw The Beach Boys discard their typical surf-inspired ditties and create an album that will always be a classic.  I remember when I first heard this album I was completely blown away that it was a 1966 album.  The overall sound of it is so full and rich, and it’s funny how everyone thinks The Beatles main influence for Sgt. Peppers was drug-related, and I am sure it was, but that classic would never have been without this classic album first.  Do yourself a favour and re-discover The Beach Boys by checking this out.

 

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE  –  QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE (1998)

There are a lot of people that think that the QOTSA album Rated R, is the band’s first release.  In all reality it is their third release if you count the Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age EP. However, it is a shame that this album has been somewhat overlooked.  I think it is by far their best album.  To gauge just how much I got into this album could never be measured.  For years, I stated that this album was my favorite album ever with distortion.  Now trust me I realize the exaggeration in that statement (I have since relented) but it doesn’t take away how brilliant I believe this album truly is.   This is a true collection of groovy rock songs, so much so that QOTSA could have titled this album exactly that.  I have not been a fan of the last few QOTSA albums, and frankly I wish they could harness this approach once again.  Check out the included track “Avon”.  An absolute air-drumming seminar at its finest!!

 

ROXY & ELSEWHERE  –  FRANK ZAPPA & THE MOTHERS (1974)

One of the albums previously on this list, Joe Jackson’s Big World, was a live album containing new material.  Considering the content of this particular album, that format was never more impressive or more challenging than Zappa’s album Roxy & Elsewhere.   From beginning to end, it’s hard to believe the complexity of what was happening onstage during these recordings.  From the colourful vocals of Napoleon Murphy Brock, to the guitar-fueled madness of Zappa himself, this is my personal favorite of all of Zappa’s recordings.  Songs like “Pygmy Twilite” and “Village of the Sun” are absolute genius.  The concert film of these recordings is STILL in limbo for whatever reason.  Included is a clip of the song “Montana”, recorded during these sessions but not included on the album itself.

 

 

SCENES FROM A MEMORY-METROPOLIS 2  –  DREAM THEATER (1999)

I simply couldn’t do a list like this without including Dream Theater.   I like heavy music and I like progressive music.  This band combines those two qualities perhaps better than any band ever has, and on this album its done to perfection.  This is your classic “concept album” and tells an interesting story that needs to be experienced.  But the true experience of this album is that it is a piece of song-writing and musical brilliance.  If you have seen Rush’s biopic Beyond The Lighted Stage,   you might recognize the now-familiar voice of long-time Rush producer Terry Brown (who also produced the vocals on this album).   The album sees John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy at their monster best and requires many listens to truly appreciate.  I am not a “Rolling Stone” magazine guy myself, but it does say something that in 2012 they named this album as the Number One all-time progressive album, beating out Rush’s 2112 and Yes’s  Close to The Edge.

THE ACTION IS GO  –  FU MANCHU (1997)

This album starts off with a bang, it also ends with a bang and actually this album is just one big resounding rhythmic bang.  After a few good, but not great albums (in my opinion), new drummer Brant Bjork was brought into Fu Manchu.  This would result in one of the greatest “Stoner-Rock” albums of all time.  This is literally the perfect driving album.  Sometimes you find yourself emulating driving just sitting and listening to it.   You can hear a huge Sabbath influence on this album, at least in the sound of the instruments and the driving low end.  Sometimes the vocals can leave a bit to be desired, but it is not really singing in the first place.  Almost sounds like a dude talkin’ to himself, which adds to the coolness of this album.  One of my favorite albums of the 1990’s indeed.

WELCOME TO SKY VALLEY  –  KYUSS (1994)

Somewhere around early 1995, I walked into a Sunrise Records where Tom (Tom has been mentioned many times in Mike’s blogs) was working.  At this point Tom and I only really knew each other from local concerts we would run into each other at.  The second I walked in he begged me to check out this Kyuss album on the listening station.  I remember the look on his face when I didn’t instantly “get it”.  Years later I had to bow to him and thank him for trying to open my eyes earlier.  No one knows how to set a mood quite like Kyuss.  The last album listed was Brant Bjork’s first album with Fu Manchu.  This album is the last Kyuss album featuring Brant Bjork on drums.  No coincidence here.  This man knows how to wash songs with a subtle intensity.  Check out the song “Demon Cleaner” sometime, with Josh Homme singing and see how Queens of the Stone Age were born.  This album has been listed as a major influence for many of the heavy metal greats of the day.

 

WHALE MUSIC  –  THE RHEOSTATICS (1994)

The Rheostatics are definitely one of my favorite bands of all time, and the artist I have seen live the most in my life.  Any band that calls their first album Greatest Hits obviously has a good sense of humour.  There really is no album that quite captures “Canadiana” quite like Whale Music.  Not to be confused with the later-released official soundtrack of the same name, this album ranges from the sweet to the insane.  Take the song “Queer” for example.  “Well the screen door is still broken, since you kicked your Kodiaks through it” and “I scored a hat trick on the team that called you a fuckin’ queer”, are lyrics that paint a Canadian portrait of everyday life.  I love this album and frequently re-visit it only to find it gets better with age.  Notable appearances on this album are Neil Peart on a song called “Guns” and The Barenaked Ladies (credited as The Scarborough Naked Youth Choir).   Included here is the amazing opening track.  Check it out eh ….

WHITE PEPPER  –  WEEN (2000)

Simply put, this is my favorite “Pop” album of all time.  I am not a Ween fan per se. I cannot say I have actually connected strongly with any of their other albums.  But when this album was introduced to me, it grabbed a hold of me and it will never let go.  First of all, the sound on this album is absolutely wonderful.  Second of all, the melodies on this album (with sprinkles of Ween weirdness of course) are something very reminiscent of The Beatles.  I have always tagged this album as their “Beatles tribute”, and it was pointed out to me by a friend that “The White Album? Sgt. Peppers?  White Pepper?”. Now I have not read that in fact that is what the name truly means, but I think that is a very good guess.  I have played this album for a few musician friends of mine and the result is pretty much the same across the board.  White Pepper  simply “hooks” you in, it is that simple. Check out the Trey Parker and Matt Stone directed video for “Even If You Don’t” included here.

 

UNCHAINED  –  JOHNNY CASH (1996)

I was working at the “Record Store Chain” Ladano blogs about when I was first introduced to this album.  It was instantly a revelation of what I do actually like about Country Music, and was the reason I became a fan of the older-style albums of the genre.   Not enough can be said about the genius of Rick Rubin.  The man who changed the careers of Slayer, The Beastie Boys and the Red Hot Chili Peppers got a hold of Johnny Cash and re-introduced him as the icon he always was.  Hiring Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers as the backing band for the second American Recordings Johnny Cash release was a stroke of brilliance.  The opening track “Rowboat” sees Cash cover a Beck song and make it his own.  “Sea of Heartbreak” is a melodic ass-kicker.  Everyone by now knows of the genius cover of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage”,  so good in fact that for a long period of time Chris Cornell refused to play it live stating “It’s not our song anymore.  It’s Johnny’s now”.  No album of this genre has ever sounded bigger, if not any genre.  A must have album.

VS.  –  PEARL JAM (1993)

This album had to be included on this list.  I understand that everyone looks at Pearl Jam’s  first album as this massive crowning achievement, but frankly I didn’t get it then and I really still don’t.  Their second album I think is the best album of their career and probably my favorite “Grunge” album ever.  Every song on this album is a classic to me and it does seem weird to call an album that was a Number One album on Billboard for five weeks straight “underrated”.  But I truly do feel this album gets overlooked and that’s a shame.  I find Ten to be kind of boring and redundant to be honest.  This album is still fresh to me.   I hope when it’s all said and done that this album is what truly defines them.