rock and roll

REVIEW: Arkells – High Noon (2014)

ARKELLS – High Noon (2014 Universal)

Thank rock and roll for new bands like the Arkells!  I’ve been happily enjoying their singles for years.  I really fell in love when I saw the Hamilton band open the 2017 NHL Awards.  A starstruck Max Kerman (vocals) gleefully fist-bumped with Wayne Gretzky.  I knew I had to get one of their albums.  On vinyl!  I chose their 2014 release High Noon to be my first Arkells, for its unforgettable single “Leather Jacket”.

Kerman managing to keep his shit together on national TV with The Great One

High Noon was a sound choice.  “Leather Jacket” has been an earworm for a long time.  High Noon also has another sterling single, “Come to Light”.  Its basis is similar to Bowie’s “Modern Love”.  While there is no mistaking the year, the Arkells put a slick 80s slant on these songs.  Whether it’s in the beats or the keyboards, there is a love of 1980s rock here on High Noon.

There are numerous highlights and few forgettable ones.  Album opener “Fake Money” has a strong piano riff, a classic U2 vibe, and an anti-corporate attitude.  One of the catchiest, more summer-y fun tracks is ironically “Cynical Bastards”.  Good time upbeat rock with solid beats to shake your butt to!  “11:11” is primed for dancing .  Everyone will pick out their own favourites, because there aren’t any poor songs on this wax.  Check out “Crawling Through the Window” for a slower tune with all the integrity intact, or the strange Disco hop of “Systematic”.

A band can make or break based on the lead singer.  I really like the expressive and sincere singing style of Max Kerman.  He stands out from first listen.  It’s hard to say exactly what makes him stand out, but he certainly does.  A band to watch.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Aerosmith – Big Ones (1994)

AEROSMITH – Big Ones (1994 Geffen)

There is an informal rule that a band should have at least three albums out before they entertain the idea of a live or “greatest hits” release.  Aerosmith obviously had lots of albums out in 1994, but on two different labels:  Columbia, and Geffen.  Their 1994 best of, not-so-cleverly titled Big Ones, drew from only three Geffen albums.  Therein lies its weakness, though Aerosmith have often had issues trying to balance their classic and pop hit eras on compilations.  Big Ones is easily made redundant by later compilations, but how is it for a straight listen?

A long one:  73 minutes with lots of hits and perhaps a few too many ballads, although there is no denying their chart power.

Three songs were new to the majority of buyers.  “Deuces Are Wild” was a fine ballad, one of their best from this era.  It wasn’t entirely new; it was written for Pump and considered for Get A Grip before being released in 1993 on the Beavis and Butt-head Experience CD.  The other two were brand new recordings:  “Walk on Water” and “Blind Man”.  Fans who dug the heavy Aerosmith on tunes like “Eat the Rich” will enjoy “Walk on Water” as one of their harder rockers.  OK song, but long forgotten now.  Unfortunately “Blind Man” is just another ballad, this one similar to “What It Takes” from Pump.  It’s the better of the two new songs, but sadly another ballad is not what Big Ones needed.

Making this CD even less valuable to buyers, every single track is on the later album Young List: The Aerosmith Anthology (2001).   Even the three new songs!

Otherwise Big Ones plays much like a run-though of Aerosmith’s radio staples that you can hear on the FM dial just about everywhere.  Each and every big hit from the three massive Geffen albums is here.  How often do you need to hear “Crazy”, “Cryin'”, “Amazing”, “Janie”, “Rag Doll”, “Angel”, “Dude”, “Elevator” and the rest?  That is up to you.

Even the cover art is devoid of imagination.

2/5 stars

#561: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

GETTING MORE TALE #561: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

In November 1995 I was going through another breakup.   A big one — my first really serious girlfriend.  After some soul-searching, I thought this would be a good time to expand my horizons a bit, including musically.  By 1995, heavy metal music was not doing well.  It was on life support.  I wanted to check out other forms of rock and roll.

Working at the Record Store was the perfect environment for exploration.  Christmas 1995 featured a lot of store play for Oasis, who my co-working buddy T-Rev was a huge fan of.  Their new album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? was beginning to take off.  It also appealed to a metal head like me.  It had a bit of everything:  rockers, ballads, and hooks.  It was a breath of fresh air, and loud as fuck.  Grunge bands had dominated and carried with them cloudy skies for the early 90s.  Oasis brought back fun aspects of rock and roll, and were right in synch with the Beatles resurgence happening at the same time with the Anthology series.  Oasis were almost a poor man’s Beatles.

I mean, they really wanted to be The Beatles, didn’t they?

I got to listen to the CD a lot in store, but we had a long waiting list for used copies. Because of that it would be a few months before I was able to get my own copy of Morning Glory.  T-Rev was on top of things, and had been collecting Oasis singles.  Oasis had a knack for B-sides, and often saved their best tunes for singles.  This was rare; in 1995 it was unheard of to save good songs for single B-sides.  Oasis didn’t care and did it anyway.  My first Oasis purchase was actually the CD single for “Don’t Look Back in Anger”.  T-Rev made sure it was stocked, even though we rarely stocked any singles.

So “Don’t Look Back in Anger” was my first Oasis purchase ever.  Buying a new copy of the single was more expensive than buying a used copy of the album, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.  I dug the piano part ripped from John Lennon, and the bright melody with a hint of shade.  It really felt like an homage to the Beatles.  And the B-sides weren’t half bad either.  “Step Out” and “Underneath the Sky” were both top notch songs each with their own flavour.

The track that really sold the single for me was “Cum on Feel the Noize”.  T-Rev asked, “Why would they cover that song?”  I explained it was originally by Slade, not Quiet Riot.  Oasis’ version is more authentic to the Slade original.  The song was a perfect bridge between my heavy metal past and my Oasis present.

Oasis quickly became my favourite “new” band in 1996.  That was the year that we opened up the branch of the Record Store that I managed.  I thought Oasis would be a good band for store play, and while some customers enjoyed that, no staff members did.

Oasis did their part to keep the single alive in the 1990s.  They issued box set after box set, re-releasing their old singles to those who missed them the first time.  The coolest of these were the “silver” and “gold” boxes.  They were plastic hard-shell box sets, one for the Definitely Maybe singles and one for Morning Glory.  They included an interview disc (same one in both boxes) and made it easy to get caught up on Oasis’ CD singles.

These were good times.  Though a breakup with a girl was the trigger, Oasis was the remedy.  Some songs, like “Cast No Shadow” had me wallowing in my own pity, but it was hard not to feel good things with “She’s Electric” and “Roll With It”.  For that reason, although there may be better Oasis albums, What’s the Story remains the most personal to me.

TOP FIVE REASONS TO LIKE OASIS:

5) Lars says it’s OK .

4) They had a member (Paul “Guigsy” McGuigan) who looked like Mr. Bean.

3) Noel frequently refers to Liam derisively as “our kid”.

2) Wibbling Rivalry

1) Liam Gallagher’s unibrow.

MOVIE REVIEW: Accidental Courtesy (2016)

ACCIDENTAL COURTESY (2016 PBS)

Directed by Matthew Ornstein

I’ve done it, and you have probably done it too:  Getting in an argument online with a total stranger over racially charged politics.  We live in new times.  It’s the era of Trump, Trayvon, and Mike Brown.  We live in the years of racial profiling and travel bans.  Just when we think we’ve made amazing strides including the first black US president, we seem to be heading backwards just as fast.

Daryl Davis is a musician.  Most notably, he was the keyboardist in Chuck Berry’s band.  He’s played with B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Platters, and knows all the greats.  He’s a very talented but also intelligent and compassionate man.  Upon watching Accidental Courtesy, I wondered if music really is his first calling.  It seems that Davis’ true talents may just be sitting down and talking.  “When two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting,” says Daryl.

Although this movie is about a musician, it’s not about the music.  Music does play a small role.  The first time Davis experienced race-related hate, he was the only black child in an otherwise white marching band, and didn’t understand why things were thrown at him.  He thought, maybe they were playing the music poorly.  His parents had to explain to him, “They don’t like you because of the colour of your skin.”  Life was never the same after that.

Accidental Courtesy isn’t about his music career, but about what Daryl Davis has done with the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists.  Since 1990, Davis has sat with various members of the KKK, both high ranking and rank-and-file.  Very few people can rival Davis for his knowledge of the Klan’s history and practices, so much so that Klan members have even approached him to learn.  Over long periods of time, after truly and sincerely befriending Davis regardless of his race, 26 Klansmen eventually turned in their robes to him and gave up the Klan.

It’s bizarre to see men who don’t believe in the mixing of races show up at Davis’ wedding to a white woman, to celebrate with him.  His friendship with them trumped their belief system.  It’s strange to see a black man invited into a KKK home, and vice versa.  It’s certainly unusual to see a fully robed KKK wizard sitting and shaking hands with a black man, simply enjoying conversation and company.

In the film, Davis also sits with the Southern Poverty Law Center, who seem less moved by his “person to person” method of combating hate.  They prefer to use a bigger stick.  What was surprising is how much flak he took from representatives from Black Lives Matter in Baltimore.  Here, he was mocked by two dropout activists for “only” converting 26 KKK members since 1990.  What was especially shocking was that the Black Lives Matter reps refused to continue to the conversation.   To them, he was worse than a white racist; to them he betrayed the cause.  All these white supremacists were willing to sit down and shake hands with Davis, but Black Lives Matter gave him the most difficult time.  They actually got up from the table and berated and belittled him before cutting the conversation off completely.  He was even treated with more respect by the KKK leader who refused to acknowledge the holocaust and said that blacks should be grateful to whites for freeing them.  It’s troublesome to think on what that means.

Certainly not everyone approves of the methods of Daryl Davis.  But in this day and age of social media, it’s more important than ever to talk.  Not online, not on Facebook, Daryl advises.  In person, where people can get to know each other, see each others faces and expressions, actually get to know one another.  Talk to each other, instead of talking at each other.  In this film, Davis asks questions, but rarely lectures.  Davis’ technique is simply to ask what makes people tick.  “How can you hate me when you don’t know me?” is a good opener.  He finds out what makes them think the way they do.  There is always more to the story than appears on the surface.  There is always a root cause.

Some felt Daryl did more harm that good with his methods.  Some feel he has betrayed his own people.  But, as Daryl says in the film, whites and blacks and people of all races must share America together.  That’s why we have to talk and figure out how to co-exist.  If he could convince an Imperial Wizard to hang up his robes, that is one small step to making the world a better place.  Black Lives Matter and the Southern Poverty Law Center have their own methods.  That does not negate the inroads that Davis made, just by talking.

There doesn’t seem to be much accidental about Daryl Davis’ courtesy.  It’s all very much on purpose.  Davis has a rich tapestry of friends behind him, some of whom have given up on hate.  If they can, why can’t everybody?

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Just Push Play (2001 import version with bonus track)

scan_20170109AEROSMITH – Just Push Play (2001 Sony, includes bonus track “Face”)

“I don’t think we’ve made a decent album in years. Just Push Play is my least favorite.” – Joe Perry

The sad and depressing fact of the matter is, Aerosmith could have retired long before Just Push Play, and we would have lost nothing terribly valuable.  They’ve pandered for hits before, but never as blatantly contrived as Just Push Play.  It’s an embarrassing state of affairs that deserves every inch of scorn we’re about to unload upon it.

Hi-tech digital tracks written and produced with outsiders make up Just Push Play, a weak attempt to be young hip and cool when Aerosmith were anything but. Look at the sleek haircuts in the band photo. Only Joe Perry appears to know what band he’s in. The album was recorded with sterility. At no time were all five members in the studio together, according to Joe, and that’s exactly how it sounds.

If their heads weren’t in the clouds (coming off their biggest hit single ever) they might have made a rock album.  “Beyond Beautiful” is a close imitation, a robotic and stiff carbon copy.  Ballads like “Fly Away From Here” sound as if faxed in from the office.  These blatant attempts to repeat past glories are among the most offensive on Just Push Play.  It is true that one of Aerosmith’s first hits (“Dream On”) was a ballad.  That was a long time ago and a long way from being flat broke and banging out a song in the middle of the night on a piano.  These new ballads like “Luv Lies” and “Sunshine” are written specifically by hitsmiths in order to appeal to people who would not normally buy an Aerosmith CD.  The result is that they appeal to nobody.

As bland and unappealing as these forgettable ballads are, none are as offensive as the title track “Just Push Play”.  Nobody asked Aerosmith to do a rasta-hip-hop track.  The Run-DMC version of “Walk This Way” is the definitive Aero-rap, a masterpiece of serendipity and cutting edge ambition.  Aerosmith thought it was necessary to revisit that sound 15 years later, and once again the result is a blurry facsimile that pales in comparison.

“Jaded”, the first single, is a great Aero-hit, one of the few from this era of co-writers and collaborators.  Fortunately you don’t have to buy the album to get it, as there was a five track EP you could buy instead.  If you go that way, you can still enjoy a couple different versions of the charismatic single.  “Jaded” had the kind of chorus that Aerosmith used to be able to write in their sleep, but now apparently need help to do.

There were different bonus tracks for different regions.  US and Canada got nil, but Europe got “Face” while Japan received “Won’t Let You Down” and a bunch of other stuff including five live tracks from 1978 (California and Texxas Jams).  That 2 CD Japanese edition might be worth tracking down for the bonus material, but “Face” remained exclusive to Europe.  Is it worth it?  Actually…it might be.  “Face” is an acoustic track that sounds a bit like a B-side.  It’s closest to “Jaded” in sound, and sounds looser than most of the rest of the album.  It’s certainly not going to become a lost favourite, but if you find a copy at the right price, consider it.

Just Push Play deserves the dreaded Flaming Turd.

FLAMING TURDS

1/5 stars

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Death Before Suckass (2012)

scan_20161216THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Death Before Suckass – Live at Saratoga Winners (2012)

“No edits.  No overdubs.  No bullshit.”  No kidding!  There also also no frills, just seven songs and 30 minutes of rock and roll.

Death Before Suckass, recorded fall 1991, sounds like a crowd recording.  You can tell by the douchebag talking before the Horsemen’s set.  “You should see our drum kit!  It fuckin’ blows that one away!  $5000 Yamaha…”  Whoop-de-do, fucko.  Because no matter how much your kit costs, I doubt you could hammer on it as hard as Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery did on his.

Dimwit swiftly kicks things into motion, with “75 Again”, a screamy rocker that is about 9 out of 10 on the AC/DC scale of kickass.  Lead singer Frankie Starr’s voice was primed for screaming, and could do it better than most.  Without even a pause, “Hothead” follows up.  In a groove now, lead guitarist Dave Lizmi greases up his Gibson and lays down some beautifully fluid solo work.  In the realm of heavy bluesy rock and roll, few can touch Dave Lizmi.  Then rhythm guitarist Haggis takes out his slide for the single “Tired Wings”, soaking it in whiskey stained blues.  Frankie’s charismatic singing shares the spotlight with the biting licks.

frank-c-star-biting-licks

A non-album track that used to get some live play was “Can’t Get Next to You”, an AC/DC blues a-la “The Jack”.  There is a sloppy edit into “Wanted Man” but as Haggis says in the liner notes, there is nothing perfect about this CD.  “Wanted Man” comes close, with Lizmi again doing some really impressive playing on the six string.  The most familiar songs are the singles “Nobody Said it Was Easy” and “Rockin’ is Ma Business”.  The beat is a little faster, a little more intense for the stage.  The only tragedy is the fidelity of this CD does not capture the thunder.  You can hear it on the stage, but you cannot feel it shake the floor.  Too bad, because you can be assured it all but certainly did shake the floor.

And this leads to a quandry.  This album is packaged intentionally minimalist.  It suits the recording inside.  But it has hard to ignore that what is recorded inside is only 30 minutes, and costs $18 US plus shipping.  Yes, it definitely costs The Four Horsemen a lot to press up these independent discs, and they surely don’t make a lot of money on them.  Still, it is hard for the cash-strapped fan to justify that kind of money, unless you are a superfan.  And unfortunately, it is likely that only superfans will be able to appreciate Death Before Suckass as the valuable noisy treasure that it is.

3.5/5 stars

scan_20161216-2

COMPLETE FOUR HORSEMEN REVIEW SERIES:

1. NOBODY SAID IT WAS EASY (21ST ANNIVERSARY EDITION)
2. GETTIN’ PRETTY GOOD…AT BARELY GETTIN’ BY (1996)
3. WELFARE BOOGIE (21ST ANNIVERSARY EDITION)
4. DAYLIGHT AGAIN (21ST ANNIVERSARY EDITION)
5. LEFT FOR DEAD (1988-1992) (CD/DVD SET)

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!

img_20160924_061452

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 – Welfare Boogie (21st Anniversary Edition)

scan_20160918THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Welfare Boogie (originally 1990, 2009 Anniversary Edition with bonus tracks)

It feels right to review this re-released EP only after we have already discussed Nobody Said it Was Easy and Gettin’ Pretty Good at Barely Gettin’ By.  Until I met T-Rev at the old Record Store, I didn’t even know such an EP existed.  But he had it; an original copy purchased somewhere in the States before we met.  He taped it for me (same songs both sides) and that was the first I heard of the Horsemen’s 1990 debut EP.  I hunted high and low for another CD copy, but failed until this 2009 reissue.  Originally and simply titled The Four Horsemen, the reissued EP sports the new title Welfare Boogie, and five bonus tracks.

According to the liner notes, the band didn’t mind if they sounded a bit like AC/DC since “nobody is doing AC/DC anymore, not even AC/DC”.  The EP has the same raw and rough vibe of Powerage-era Bon Scott, but with a guy who can also scream like Brian Johnson.  “Welfare Boogie” itself works as an example.  It’s a basic riff, a rawk vibe, a shout-along chorus and a charismatic shrieker (Frank C. Starr).  This track and the laid-back rock and roll “Shelly” were both written solely by drummer Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery.  Dave Lizmi’s guitar solo is equal parts Angus Young and Ace Frehley.  The date might say 1990, but it sounds more like 1978.  “High School Rock N’ Roller” was written by founding member, Haggis (aka Kid Chaos aka Stephen Harris), who had finished a world tour with the Cult.  Once again, it’s easy to point at early AC/DC as the prime influence.  The one track that sounds more like punk rock (Dimwit was from D.O.A.) than AC/DC is “Hard Lovin’ Man”.  Starr might not have written it, but it’s clearly about him.  I have heard him reference his tattooed weiner before in a RIP Magazine interview.  (“It has eyes!” he seemed to beam with pride.)  The lyrics:

“I got heart of stone,
And a hand of steel,
Got a tattooed pecker,
And a Batmobile.”

“I”m a hard lovin’ man,” he boasts, before inviting “come here baby and see how hard I am.”  All this to the rock and roll blitzkrieg of a song so fast that it doesn’t even break the 2 1/2 minute mark.  The four tracks combined make for a grand little EP, not even 13 minutes long!  In and out, mission accomplished.  Thankfully the bonus tracks extend the experience for those wanting a little bit more action.

A cassette demo of “Rockin’ is Ma Business” demonstrates a work in progress as the band fiddled with the arrangement.  Comparing the final track to the demo, it sounds like it ingested a steady diet of coffee and gin before cranking it up to 11.  Always interesting to hear these early works in progress.  The bones are there but the meat is only being added.  “The Needle” is an unreleased song, a menacing night prowler with teeth flashing in the gloom.

“Born to Boogie” transformed completely between this demo and a later demo included on Nobody Said it Was Easy.  According to the liner notes here, this song eventually mutated again into “Can’t Stop Rockin'” from the album.  This track however is just a good time boogie with a bouncy riff lifted from “New York Groove” by Ace Frehley.  Then there is “Ain’t Telling Me”, a purely AC/DC stomp with a hint of Guns N’ Roses on top like a cherry.  Finally, a fun track called “Bring On the Girls” goes down like a round of tequila.  You can hear that the chords here later became “Moonshine” on the LP.  Even the bass line is identical, but this is a more party-hearty version of a fondly remembered deep cut.

This collection of songs was never meant to be more than a warm-up.  The main course was always intended to be the LP.  When a band is as good as The Four Horsemen were, the EP still impresses more than a thousand other bands’ proper albums.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By (1996)

scan_20160908THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By (1996 Magnetic Air)

The Four Horsemen seemed to burn the candle at both ends.  Before really even getting off the ground, they imploded, but not before dropping one of the greatest unsung records of the decade:  Nobody Said it Was Easy.  They had Rick Rubin, they had Def American, they had a guy that was in the Cult and another from D.O.A., and they had tours with the Black Crowes and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  They also had a volatile frontman who drove the band nuts and ended up in jail, and they just couldn’t make it last.

Founding member Haggis tried to give it another shot.  He reformed the band with a new singer named Tim Beattie, but ultimately the album was shelved.  It sounded like a completely different band, a southern soul band with nothing hard or heavy.  That’s not a bad thing:  the album Daylight Again was finally released in 2009, and it’s incredible (and we’ll get there soon).  Instead they folded again, but not for long.  Dave Lizmi and Frank C. Starr formed a new Four Horsemen, with Canadians Pharoah (bass) and drummer extraordinaire Randy Cooke.  With another Canadian, producer Rich Chycki, they forged a rare followup:  one as good as the original.

Slimmed down to a single guitar band, the new Horsemen sounded leaner and less AC/DC.  Frankie’s voice had changed and he was no longer screaming, and that also lessened similarities to AC/DC.  He had also become more expressive, while losing none of his power or character.  They opened the album with a southern flavoured “Still Alive and Well”, a Rick Derringer cover.  Considering the five year gap between albums, they couldn’t have picked a better opener.

The title track “Gettin’ Pretty Good at Barely Gettin’ By” goes deeper into the swamps of the south.  Lizmi takes out the slide, and who doesn’t love some greasy slide guitars?  This is an uplifting hard rocker, stating the Horsemen’s modus operandi:  “Well well, oh my my, what have we here?  Some good old fashioned music, lots of whiskey and beer.”  Lizmi wrote the lyrics for this album, but the words sound like Frankie’s.  It’s a celebration of rock and roll, proudly and loudly.

The third song in a killer triple threat of openers is “Drunk Again”, which sounds exactly like you hope it does: fast, upbeat, cocked and loaded.  Gotta love the female backing vocals, giving it a kick of soul.  The performance sounds live and authentic.  At one point, it sounds like Frankie cracks up chuckling right in the middle of a line.  “It’s been 40 days since I looked at my face…ah shit…”  This is the kind of music everybody needs for a serious rock and roll party.

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There are few more standout songs that have to be discussed.  First is “Song for Absent Friends”, one of the most emotionally bare tracks you’ll ever find from a band of this ilk.  Original drummer Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery, a Canadian punk legend, died in 1995 of a drug overdose.  “Song for Absent Friends” sends legitimate tingles up the spine.  You can feel the hurt.  But it’s not a funeral, it’s as much a celebration of Dimwit as the rest of the album is a celebration of life.

“And I know that you all are out there somewhere,
On a leave of absence from this place,
And I still have a place for you all,
A place around near me,
And your glasses will always be full.”

Then we have the blazingly fast drag race of “Hot Rod”, featuring the lyric “I got the hottest rod around,” ha ha. It’s that slippery fast guitar lick that knocks you out. But if you want a song that’ll knock some teeth out, with some biting lyrics, look no further than “Back in Business Again”. Frank sounds pissed!

“And we were headed for the top babe,
Way back in ’91,
Some record business scumbags took it from us,
Well they forgot my gun.
Well now we’re back in business folks,
I’ve come to claim what’s mine,
See we’re the Four fucking Horsemen,
Back for a second time!”

That’s nothing. Clearly, they were still ticked that they got dropped by the label in 1992. I don’t think Frank or Dave thought much of the latest wave of bands that were topping the charts in the early part of the 1990’s. Exhibit A:

“Now pay attention,
I got a little story here to tell ya,
It kinda goes like this.
You know I had a couple years off there babe,
To kinda take some time,
And I heard a bunch of whining, little wussy rock n rollers,
Complaining about how fame and fortune’s got them down.
I say we gather up all these little bastards,
Shove them back to their little nowhere town,
See I was born on this stage,
And I plan to stick around!”

Frank didn’t get that chance, either.

Before Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By was even released (by the Canadian label Magnetic Air), Frank was hit by a drunk driver while riding a motorcyle. He suffered massive brain trauma. He never woke from coma, and died four years later.

It’s almost absurd how much hardship fell upon this band, almost as if the fates decided that nothing would stand in the way of grunge. The Horsemen tended to end their albums with emotional epics, and this album ends with “What the Hell Went Wrong”. It’s a complicated question with many answers, but the bottom line is that the success the Four Horsemen had was inversely proportional to their talent.

In one of the strangest twists of an already twisty story, the masses finally heard the Four Horsemen when “Back in Business Again” was used in the movie G.I. Joe: Retaliation.  Completely out of context, but who cares.  The movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson made $375.7 million.  That’s a lot of people who got to hear a kick ass Four Horsemen track with theater quality sound!

Rest in peace, Frankie.  Rest in peace, Dimwit.

5/5 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).