rock music

#920: Wild in the Streets – Helix – Center in the Square, Kitchener, 1987

RECORD STORE TALES #920: Wild in the Streets
Helix – Center in the Square, Kitchener, 1987

We simply could not wait to see our first real concert.

As soon as the date was announced, we got tickets:  Helix with a band called Haywire opening.  Center in the Square, downtown Kitchener.  We were second row mezzanine.  Bob and I were so psyched to finally see our first real rock concert.

We wanted to bring a banner that said “HOMETOWN HELIX”.  We dreamed big.

Helix were hot on the road for their new album, Wild in the Streets.  We’d seen the video and knew what their stage show was going to look like.  The stage set played on the brick wall artwork from the album cover, with two ramps on the sides, that resembled the “fangs” in the Helix logo.  We thought those ramps were absolutely badass.  We couldn’t wait to see Brian Vollmer slide down mid-song,

We were not interested in Haywire — too pop.  The two girls in front of us were obviously Haywire fans.  They had the shirts and were going nuts for singer Paul MacAusland.  Bob and I didn’t think much of him, especially when he laid down flat on his face on the stage.  “That’s his stage move?” we questioned.  Bob liked the guitarist, but I wanted to hear some “real” rock, not this.

A kid from our school, Brian Knight, was there in the loges on the side.  He boasted the next day at school that Helix were not that good; he had seen better.  Ironically he later went on to roadie for Helix.  He could be seen in the 1991 MuchMusic special Waltzing with Helix.  He was also acknowledged in Brian Vollmer’s book Gimme An R, albeit his name was misspelled “McKnight”.  Sadly, Brian passed away this year.

What Brian claimed was simply untrue.  It might have been our first real rock concert, but it was a hell of a first.  We didn’t know a lot of the songs but we knew the hits and some of the deep cuts from Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge.  They certainly played everything we wanted to hear, including the new single “Dream On”, “Wild in the Streets”, “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'”, “Rock You”, “Heavy Metal Love”, “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”, “Kids are all Shakin'”, and “Deep Cuts the Knife”.  They also played a new tune that we found amusing.  It went, “Bend over and kiss your ass goodbye” (“Kiss It Goodbye”).  Fritz Hinz took a drum solo, and turned around and shockingly revealed his bare bottom with nothing but a jock strap.  We laughed – we were easily entertained!

The highlight of the show was when Vollmer climbed the loges, and then ran all the way across the mezzanine, right past our noses!  We could hardly believe it.  Bob reached out his hand but Brian didn’t slap it.  I simply made a fist, like “right on man”!  It was amazing how we’d been watching this guy climb up, and then make his way in our direction…and then he ran past and it was over in a second!  Before we knew it he was on the other side, and climbing back down to the stage again.  We knew he had a reputation for climbing on top of things and doing somersaults, but we sure didn’t know that was going to happen when we bought our tickets!

Helix didn’t make as much use of the side ramps as I thought they would, but they did put on a hell of a show.  Doctor Doerner played that big doubleneck that we wanted to see so bad, and of course the “Wild in the Streets” guitar.  We got to see all their stage moves and tricks, and yes, the women in the audience were unlike any we’d ever seen before outside of a video.

We got all the songs we wanted, plus a few we didn’t know like “Dirty Dog”.  They put on one of the most energetic shows that I’m ever likely to see.  It was the MTV/MuchMusic era and all we had seen before were music videos.  The quick cut-and-paste editing of a music video is hard to compete with.  Helix had to work hard on stage, and they went above and beyond that night.

Not a bad “first”.  What I did notice was that Vollmer’s voice sounded thinner than on album.  I wondered if all concerts were like that?  I couldn’t believe how deaf I was afterwards!  Both of us were experiencing this for the first time.  It was a strange sensation and we must have been yelling in the car the whole way home, when my dad came to pick us up.

We couldn’t stop talking about Helix for days.  Weeks.  They didn’t really have to win us over; they were hometown heroes to us.  Instead Helix just cemented our loyalty.  It is said that a great rock show can change a life.  In this case, it simply affirmed everything we had hoped.

Rock Candy reissue

REVIEW: July Talk – Pray For It (2020)

JULY TALK – Pray For It (2020 Sleepless Records)

You can’t put July Talk in a box.  As soon as you do, they’ve climbed out the top and are exploring the ground around them.  “I wanna be transformed,” sings Pete Dreimanis and Leah Fay on the first track.  And their wish is made true by their efforts.  The melodic pleasures of 80s pop rock hits shines through on Pray For It.  Less screaming, more whispering.  No fear to just let the melody breathe.

The pulse of synth on “Identical Love” creates a dusky atmosphere, punctuated by quiet sax.  Only the vocals of Peter and Leah easily identify it as July Talk.  A quiet and melodic hit, “Identical Love” pulls at the heart while setting a mood.  Following the 80s template, “Good Enough” has an upbeat summery vibe, sounding like a sibling to hits you remember from youth.

The first emphasis on guitar comes with a cool, spare riff on “Life of the Party”, but the direction remains the same:  a synth backbone, with a quiet understated arrangement. Leah Fay’s vocal is the melodic anchor of this excellent slow burning track with bonus riff.  Peter takes center stage on “Pretender”, showcasing his rougher lower voice.  This time the arrangement is traditional rock band stuff with guitars, bass and drums jamming as they do.  Then it’s back to a more electronic atmospheric style on “Pay For It”, augmented by piano and breezy, humming sounds.

Unexpectedly “Pay For It” perfectly sets up the soul singin’ of “Champagne”.  Guest vocalists James Baley and Kyla Charter deliver on this one, with an undeniable hook and legitimate soul.  The massive melodic majesty of “Champagne” makes it a clear album centerpiece (and it just so happens to occupy the center slot in the track listing).

A light, quirky “Friend of Mine” sounds like something that originated in the 1960s if not for the reference to “my mother in the next room, gambling on computer screens”.  But this gentle duet lies in the shadow of the smashing “The News”:  pure pop rock perfection sung solely by Leah Fay, with timely lyrics.  “Gimme context, without context everything is true,” sings Leah.  It’s truly a remarkable song.  The crashing guitars and chiming chords that July Talk have kept in reserve until now are well served by a perfect song.  Vocals, lyrics, melody, and arrangement come together in a flawless 3:39.  Listen carefully to the voices in the noise, meticulously mixed in as part of the pleasure.

Headlining the closing three songs, “Governess Shadow” is one of the singles, and has an upbeat Bosstones-like vibe only without the horns.  “See You Thru” has a haunting quality, like closing time at the bar, while somebody’s mopping the floor and putting the chairs up on the tables.  Then the album closes on the digital heartbeat of “Still Sacred”, almost a coda to the whole thing.

There’s a sense of painstaking assembly to the songs on Pray For It.  The impression is that a lot of time and inner soul went into the arrangements.  Each song sounds like it was meticulous assembled.  Maybe that’s a bi-product of a band with two vocalists singing lead simultaneously; maybe the music has to be arranged meticulously.  July Talk are hands-on when it comes to details like their artwork, music videos and performances.  It makes sense the same attention to detail would be in the bones of their songs as well.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Pandora’s Box (1991)

AEROSMITH – Pandora’s Box (1991 Columbia box set)

Aerosmith were out of the gates fairly early into their career when their first anthology style box set was released in 1991.  They were still going strong, at the peak of their popularity.  Their career had two distinct eras marked by the record labels they were signed to:  first Columbia, and then a resurgence with Geffen.

There was also a long gap between Aerosmith studio albums.  Pump was released in ’89 but it took them four years to come up with Get A Grip.  While Geffen waited for Aerosmith to complete Get A Grip, their old label Columbia was allowed to release compilations.  In late 1991 they put out a brand new video for a remixed “Sweet Emotion”, although ironically the remixed version wasn’t included in the forthcoming Pandora’s Box set.  Regardless, there was a stop-gap.  November saw the release of Pandora’s Box just in time for Christmas, with three CDs of music, including a whopping 25 rare, unreleased, or remixed tracks.

Disc 1

They hit you right from the start with a rarity:  Steven Tyler’s “When I Needed You” from 1966 and his band Chain Reaction.  You can barely tell it’s the same singer, but this quaint number is a great opener for a box set with this kind of scope.  Basic 60s rock with a hint of psychedelia.  Onto the first album, it’s “Make It” with an unlisted false start — another cool touch.  “Movin’ Out” is a completely different take than the one from the debut.  It’s superior because it’s harder and more raw.  (Did Pearl Jam rip off part of the guitar lick for “Alive”?)  “One Way Street” is the album version, but an unreleased “On the Road Again” is a fun laid back jam.  Clearly B-side material, but it’s Aerosmith and light and loose.

A sax-laden “Mama Kin” from the first album is the first bonafide hit presented, and like most of the hits in the set, it’s the original version.  It is immediately obvious from the upbeat groove just why it was a hit.  Up next, it’s the slick “Same Old Song and Dance”, the heavy “Train Kept A Rollin'” and haunting “Seasons of Wither”, all from Get Your Wings.  Major props for including the underappreciated “Seasons of Wither” in this box as the song has never had the exposure it deserves.  According to the liner notes, it was written by Steven Tyler on a guitar found by Joey Kramer in a dumpster.  The fretting on the guitar was “fucked” but it had a special tone.  The tuning of that guitar “forced” the song right out of Tyler.

An unreleased live version of “Write Me a Letter” from 1976 is overshadowed by the song that follows it.  It’s the “big one”, the ballad “Dream On”, and usually the centerpiece of any side that it’s on.  The random placement on the second half of CD 1 is a little puzzling.  The title track “Pandora’s Box” follows, a dirty slow funk.

The first disc closes on a trio of rarities.  A 1971 radio jam on Fleetwood Mac’s “Rattlesnake Shake”  goes on for 10 awesome minutes and dominates the disc.  They swiftly follow that with “Walkin’ the Dog” from the same radio broadcast.  Finally, a slinky “Lord of the Thighs” from the Texxas Jam closes CD 1.  Two more Texxas Jam tracks can be found midway through CD 2, which is mildly annoying.

Disc 2

The second disc represents the musical growth of Aerosmith.  A massive “Toys in the Attic” builds on the past:  more energy, better production, more speed.  “Round and Round” is Sabbath-heavy, a sound the band rarely explored.  Only “Nobody’s Fault” (which comes later on this disc) stands as a heavier Aerosmith monolith.

Behind the scenes Aerosmith were suffering from drug-induced absences in the studio.  One day when Joe Perry and Steven Tyler were late, the core trio of Joey Kramer, Brad Whitford, and Tom Hamilton just  jammed.  The result is “Krawhitham”, a menacing unheard jam.  It’s a testament to the “other three” guys in the band and features some stunning playing even if the riff is a bit lacking.  This rough and ready track is followed by four slick Toys in the Attic hits in a row:  “You See Me Crying”, “Sweet Emotion” (the original mix), “No More No More” and “Walk This Way”.  Each song different, each song perfect.  “You See Me Crying” may be the most underrated Aerosmith ballad ever released.

Two more Texxas Jam tracks occupy the middle of disc two:  “I Wanna Know Why” and “Big Ten Inch Record”.  These jams are a blast, but why not bunch all the Texxas tracks together?  Next, “Rats in the Cellar” from Rocks has the same energy as “Toys in the Attic” but with a nastier bite.  “Last Child” is a remix, a slight one at that.  The bass sounds deeper.  An unreleased Otis Rush cover follows called “All Your Love”.  This electric blues is fully formed with a satisfying mix and could easily have made an album.  Why didn’t it make Draw the Line?  That album already had a cover, “Milk Cow Blues” (included here on disc 3) so it is unlikely they wanted two.  Did they choose the right song?

The aforementioned “Nobody’s Fault” is preceded with a snippet of the demo, called “Soul Saver”.  It truly is a monster of a track and one of the band’s few true heavy metal songs.  Nuclear holocaust is a perfect theme for metal, but Tyler’s lyrics are more thoughtful than many of his competitors.  His tormented vocal is one of his career best.  “Sorry, you’re so sorry, don’t be sorry.  Man has known, and now he’s blown it upside down, and hell’s the only sound.  We did an awful job, and now they say it’s nobody’s fault.”

“Lick and a Promise” is a necessary speedy shot in the arm.  Though “Adam’s Apple” is replaced by a live version from 1977, it is the sonic blueprint for a million bands that tried to copy Tyler’s sleazy antics.  Two Draw the Line tracks close the CD:  the title track itself (remixed), and “Critical Mass” .  Again the remix is slight.

Disc 3

The final CD is the decline, but not without plenty of high points.  (“High” points, get it?)  The first high point is a 1978 live version of “Kings and Queens”.  “Good evenin’ boss.  Been a long time coming,” greets Tyler to the hometown Boston crowd.  Live versions don’t usually surpass their studio counterparts, but this one might for its seasoned, raw vibe.”  Joe Perry’s backing vocals make it.

The previously mentioned “Milk Cow Blues” from Draw the Line is an upbeat shuffle, getting the blood pumping once more.  A snippet of a demo called “I Live in Connecticut” leads directly into “Three Mile Smile” from Night in the Ruts.  It allows you to hear how a tune evolves from an idea into a complete song.   You get to hear that again on “Let it Slide” and “Cheese Cake”.  If you love when Joe Perry pulls out his slide guitar, then you will love this pairing.  We’re well into the Aerosmith stuff that doesn’t get enough credit when it’s good.  “Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy)” is another unsung gem…and the liner notes will tell you exactly what a “Coney Island white fish” is.  The autobiographical “No Surprize” is pretty fine too.

The Beatles cover “Come Together” was one of the very few worthwhile tracks on the awful movie soundtrack Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Fortunately for Aerosmith fans, it has long been available on their 1980 Greatest Hits.  And it’s not the last Beatles cover on this box set.  But it’s the last real hit before the disc takes a serious detour.

“Downtown Charlie” is really ragged; punk rock energy with nobody at home in quality control.  It sounds like one of their “drunken jams” according to Joe Perry in the liner notes.  Wicked playing but no cohesion.  And then they split — Brad Whitford with Whitford/St. Holmes, and Joe Perry with the Joe Perry Project.  Even this is documented.  “Sharpshooter” by Whitford/St. Holmes is a box set highlight, even though it sticks out like a sore thumb by sounding nothing like Aerosmith at all.  This is straight hard rock, with Derek St. Holmes on lead vocals.  Though an astounding vocalist, he is the Antityler and the song does not fit in any way on the tracklist.  Too bad since it’s such a great track.  More at home is Joe Perry’s “South Station Blues” from I’ve Got the Rock N’ Rolls Again.  It’s preceded by an Aerosmith demo called “Shit House Shuffle”.  Aerosmith didn’t use the riff, so Joe did on his solo album.  It totally works with his lead vocal, though it’s a shame Aerosmith never used the idea themselves.  Another wasted jam, “Riff and Roll”, had potential as the kernal of a song, but Tyler’s voice is completely shot.  You can hear what they were going for.  It could have worked on Done With Mirrors had they finished it.

Aerosmith carried on in 1982 with Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay replacing Perry and Whitford.  The resulting album Rock In a Hard Place was inconsistent but not without some gems.  “Jailbait” doesn’t indicate anything was out of place, a worthy followup to frantic manic blasts like “Rats in the Cellar”.  But they only lasted one album before cooler heads prevailed and the classic lineup reunited.

With Perry and Whitford back again, Aerosmith began recording new albums for Geffen.  Columbia still released Aerosmith albums regularly, like Classics Live and Classics Live II.  A previously unreleased oldie from the Get Your Wings days called “Major Barbra” was included as a bonus on Classics LivePandora’s Box includes a second version of “Major Barbra”, a rougher alternate take.  It’s a full minute longer than the version of Classics Live, including harmonica solo.  Another track Columbia released was the classic “Chip Away the Stone” (written by Richie Supa), on 1988’s Gems.  This obscure single never had a proper album release until then, despite its awesome nature.  The Pandora’s Box version is an alternate version, with noticeably less piano in the mix.

The penultimate track is the unreleased Beatles cover “Helter Skelter”, dating back to 1975.  This one got a bit of airplay in 1991 when the box set was released.  It is undoubtedly rough but with suitably aggressive and heavy hitting groove.  The box set is then closed by “Back in the Saddle”, an apt way to describe Aerosmith’s career since.

But wait, what’s this?  “There now, ain’t you glad you stayed?” asks Steven Tyler after a few seconds of silence.  Why, it’s the hidden bonus track!  The unlisted instrumental was written by Brad Whitford and actually titled “Circle Jerk”.  It is very similar to the previous “Krawhitham” instrumental on disc two, but heavier.

Now, what about that remixed “Sweet Emotion” that was released to promote the box set, but wasn’t actually on the box set?  The remix was done by David Thoener and featured some structural changes.  The music video was a smash hit.  You could buy it as a standalone single, with “Circle Jerk” and another unreleased instrumental bonus track called “Subway”.  All three were re-released again as bonus tracks in 1994 on the massive Box of Fire.  The Thoener remix has been issued many times over the years on compilations and movie soundtracks.

There’s little doubt that Pandora’s Box was good value for the money.  For the fans who didn’t have the albums, most of the hits are included in studio versions.  The remixes are minor enough for them not to notice.  For the rest, the wealth of unreleased bonus material justified buying three CDs.  Unlike other box sets like Led Zeppelin’s four disc airship, Pandora’s Box is not designed to be an ecstatic listening experience from start to finish.  It is a study in early Aerosmith from the roots to just before the reunion.  It is the rise and fall, and still fighting to get back up.  It is uneven with mountainous peaks of spontaneous rock and roll chemistry, and also the tired struggle to keep producing music.  Much like its subject, Aerosmith, Pandora’s Box is a flawed portrait.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: The Black Crowes – Shake Your Money Maker (2021 deluxe edition)

THE BLACK CROWES – Shake Your Money Maker (Originally 1990, 2021 Universal deluxe edition)

How many times have you bought Shake Your Money Maker (31 years old but not a day over 20)?  This time the Crowes did it (mostly) right.  The last time they reissued this album in 1998, they added only two bonus tracks.  Now there are 25.  These include a whole disc of rarities called More Money Maker, and a homecoming live set from December 1990 with the original lineup and a sneak peak at new, work-in-progress songs.  All of this is worth your money to buy one more time.  Especially for the songs they were already road-testing.

Disc 1:  Shake Your Money Maker

Freshly remastered and sounding good.  Opening up with a rip of slide guitar, the Crowes made their southern bluesy roots known from the get go.  It was nothing like Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, or anybody else on the radio at the time, except maybe the London Quireboys.  They drew influence from the 70s:  Bands like the Stones and Skynyrd, as well as the old Mississippi Delta bluesmen.  Listen to Rich Robinson’s slide and dig in.  Chris Robinson’s bluesy drawl delivers a hell of a chorus.  “Twice As Hard” is perfect in every measure, and producer George Drakoulias captured it without messing with it.

Second in line is the debut single “Jealous Again”.  It sounds like the offspring of the Stones at their boogie-woogie best.  The noticable difference is the big drum sound wielded by Steve Gorman, the Crowes’ secret weapon.

Shake Your Money Maker is a well rounded album with a few piano based slow tracks.  The first ballad is “Sister Luck”, sort of prototype for the kind of things the Crowes would do in the future.  You want authenticity?  That’s Chuck Leavell on keys.

Back to the rock, “Could I’ve Been So Blind” kicks it with a shot in the arm and a great chorus.  Thing go slow again on the organ-based blues “Seeing Things”.  The wild thing is, the Crowes were just kids, but it sounds like they have years and years of pain to pour into these songs.

One of the most well known singles from Shake Your Money Maker was the old Otis Redding cover “Hard to Handle”.  A bit of a surprise to hear an Otis song on the radio, but we gladly took it.  The Robinson swagger on this one is enormous.  Back to rock, “Thick N’ Thin” begins with a car crash. Fast paced rock and roll with boogie woogie piano gets the feet moving, like the Faces on adrenaline.

One of the fastest songs gives way to the slowest one.  “She Talks to Angels” is the only one that technially deserves the tag “ballad”.  Acoustics guitars, organ, and Chris’ plaintive voice took it to #1 on the US “album rock” charts.  It’s still just as stunning today, with the feel still coming through.

Moving in for the close, “Struttin’ Blues” is relatively nondescript compared to some of the prior ass-kickers.  They save the most kick-ass for last:  “Stare It Cold”.  It starts as a standard Stones-y rocker, but then it picks up speed right to the end, brilliantly ending the debut album on a hell of a good impression.

Disc 2:  More Money Maker:  Unreleased Songs & B-Sides

This isn’t all the B-sides of course; the Crowes issued plenty of live tracks that you will have to track down the singles for.  This does collect the studio music that made it onto B-sides and bonus tracks, as well as far more serious rarities.  One of those is “Charming Mess”, a slamming unreleased track that easily could have been a hit.  Slippery guitars, bouncing piano, and a wicked chorus.  Early Crowes tended to keep things simple, and this a great example of their early charm, cranked up to 10.

The Humble Pie cover “30 Days in the Hole” is tight and clean.  Johnny Colt was an underrated bass player and you can hear it on this decent but underwhelming cover.  The original “Don’t Wake Me” is an also-ran, in the fast-paced category.  Great guitar work as always though, so always something to listen for.  The Lennon cover “Jealous Guy” always lacked something that the original had, but by turning it into a lamenting blues, the Crowes made it their own more than the other covers.  The original “Waitin’ Guilty” is a real treat.  Happier with twang, it was rarely played live, perhaps because it’s a bit of a departure.  A sweet, tasty, twangy departure.

The “Horn Mix” of “Hard To Handle” has been difficult to track down for years.  Here it finally is!  One thing not apparent when listening to it on a shitty radio — the bass really thumps on this remix.  With this version now finally widely available, it is the definitive mix.  Two acoustic versions of big hits are next:  “Jealous Again” and “She Talks to Angels”.  Stripped down to the very basics with no drums.  “She Talks to Angels” benefits very much from the bare arrangement, becoming something truly special.

This disc ends on a double treat:  Two early demos by Mr. Crowe’s Garden, the incarnation that preceded the Black Crowes.  “She Talks to Angels” is fully written but with a higher lead vocal melody.  “Front Porch Sermon” is more folksy than what we usually expect from the Crowes, at least until the later years.  Banjo is the dominant instrument.   The chorus is a dead ringer for Blue Rodeo.  Great stuff; let’s hope we get more Mr. Crowe’s Garden demos in the future.

Disc 3:  The Homecoming Concert:  Atlanta, GA December 1990

For many, this is the main feature of the set, and for good reason.  This era of the Crowes only lasted a short time and change is already evident.  The new material they were working on, and were already playing live, was different.  The band was also changing and soon guitarist Jeff Cease would be out of the lineup, replaced by Marc Ford.  This concert CD is one of our few chances to hear what Jeff Cease brought to the band.  They couldn’t have grown where they did with Cease, but as the lead guitarist on these rock and roll tracks, he’s perfect.

Chris Robinson is on fire, as evident on the stormin’ first song, “Thick N’ Thin”.  It’s an energetic version and that energy carries over into a new song called “You’re Wrong”.  It would later evolve into “Sting Me”.  The sound of Southern Harmony was starting to creep in and you get a lot more a  bit later into the set.  Although nobody sounds bored, the Crowes roll out the hit “Twice as Hard” next.  It could be one of the best versions out there, for Chris’ impassioned overblown vocal.

Favourites from the album are played one after the other:  “Could I’ve Been So Blind”, “Seeing Things”, “She Talks to Angels”, “Sister Luck”, and “Hard to Handle”.  Particularly powerful is “Seeing Things” though highlights are plenty through these tunes.  The Crowes also peppered their sets with non-album covers.  “Shake ‘Em On Down” (Bukka White) is unexpectedly followed by “Get Back” (The Beatles).  But really it’s just one extended jam on some familiar themes.

The real treat is a full 13 minute version of “Words You Throw Away”, the long jam that would one day evolve into a little hit called “Remedy”.  You can hear certain chords and rhythmic ideas that ended up in “Remedy”, and maybe also “Thorn in My Pride”.  It is however its own song, with some unbelievable hooks of its own that never made it into anything else.  Just lay back and enjoy all 13 minutes of musical nirvana.

Closing the set with “Stare It Cold” and “Jealous Again” can only be anticlimax after that workout.  What else could they do?

It’s very fortunate this live set was so well recorded, mixed and mastered for release.

In Conclusion

Though affordable, the 3 CD edition has skimpy packaging.  There is a small foldout with rare photos (and some really cool ones of Mr. Crowe’s Garden) but no real liner notes or other details.  It would just be nice to know more about where the rare tracks originated, or even the original studio album itself.  The album used to come with lyrics, but this comes with nothing.

Still the music more than makes up for up for the lack of packaging.  The top-notch live set is a revelation, and the bonus rarities are valuable and high quality.  You can’t say no to the music.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: ZZ Top – The ZZ Top Six Pack (1987)

ZZ Top – The ZZ Top Six Pack (1987 Warner)

What a strange time the dawn of the compact disc was.  Even at the end of the 1980s, vast catalogues of music had yet to be released on CD.  It was a hit and miss affair, with some early discs sounding wonderful and others sounding like a thin, tinny facsimile of the original vinyl.  The longer running time of CD was a bonus that many bands took advantage of, while other heritage groups were considering the ways they could re-release their music on this new format.

Before Jimmy Page took his first crack at remastering the Led Zeppelin catalogue for CD, ZZ Top took a different route.

Now, granted, ZZ Top’s music spans a longer time period than that of many of their rivals.  They’re also notable for starting the 1970s as a dirty raw blues and ending the 80s as clean space-age rock.  While this took them from one success to an even more massive one, it unfortunately meant that the ZZ Top camp felt it necessary to “update” their music for the CD age.  Make the catalogue sound more on an even keel with Eliminator and Afterburner.

And so the six ZZ Top albums that were so-far unreleased on CD were remixed:  First Album, Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres, Fandango!, Tejas, and El Loco.  Only Degüello was spared, having been released on CD earlier.

Apparently, updating the ZZ Top catalogue for CD was of “overriding concern” for all parties involved.  ZZ Top were aware that there were complaints about early CD transfers for classic albums.  The goal was “return to the original analog tapes and consider what steps were needed to render the music appropriate to  contemporary digital playback equipment without compromising integrity.”

The answer was none.  No steps were necessary.  The remixes were not what the old fans wanted to hear on their brand new CD players.  Rhythm tracks were updated with sequencers, drums treated digitally, and the whole thing came out sterile and flat.  Adding echo didn’t add depth.  Doing an A/B test with a remix vs. an original track makes you wonder why you even own the ZZ Top Six Pack.*  It just…doesn’t sound right.  Like a disorienting time displacement.

As of 2013, you can get all the original ZZ Top albums on remastered CD as they should have always sounded.

While it is nice to have six ZZ Top albums on just three CDs, and there is no denying the booklet is hot, you do not need the ZZ Top Six Pack anymore.  The charm of the originals is that they are a document of those hot Memphis studios where ZZ Top laid down the original tracks fast and dirty.  The remixes sound like a digital mixing board trying to tame a wild animal.  Wrong, and unnecessary.  “Francine” is actually awful.

The booklet is truly valuable (nonsense justifying the remix aside) and worth a point on its own.  The ZZ Top songs in and of themselves are always incredible, so they too are worth a point.

2/5 stars

* It was a gift from Kevin.  He also rates it 2/5 stars.  I asked him for a quote for this review.  All he had to say about the ZZ Top Six Pack was:  “I’m glad Mike took this crap off my hands.”  

Sunday Screening: July Talk – “The News”

I had a really good funny, hard rockin’ Sunday Screening for you lined up. Then Youtube took down the video Saturday morning. I hate when that happens!

So: Plan B! I’ve been listening to the new album Pray For It by July Talk lately.  Their latest video “The News” dropped a couple months ago, and it’s fantastic enough to deserve your Sunday Screening time of 3 minutes and 47 seconds.

July Talk are very hands-on with their videos. Singers Pete Dreimanis and Leah Fay have director credits while Dreimanis is listed as a producer.  “The News” is one of their most striking and entertaining clips yet, topical and catchy.  Check it out!

if only everything that happened in our dreams were true and nothing bad could ever happen to you when we feel too much we’d just wake up
and all the longing to belong would always be enough
gimme context, without context everything is true
only nothing that happens only happens to you

if the news should ever break our way
will we still hear the truth of someone that’s been left behind
and if truth should ever be unkind
will we still know that everything that’s true is by design
and that everything that’s true is ours to find

i woke up i was the same but all my dreams had died
what fucking happened?
guess everyone who spoke in tongues had lied
in the lobby watched the dawning of a different side
gimme context, without context everything is true
besides nothing that happens only happens to you

if the news should ever break our way
would we still hear the truth of someone that’s been left behind
and if truth should ever be unclear
will we still know that everything that’s fair is hard to hear
and that everything breaks down in love and fear

everything that happens
everything that happens
everything that happens

if the news should ever break our way
will we still hear the truth of someone that’s been left behind
and if truth should ever be unkind
will we still know that everything that’s true is by design
and that everything that’s true’s hard to define
and that everything that’s true is ours to find

what fucking happened?

REVIEW: Brant Bjork – Jalamanta (Remixed and Remastered 2019)

BRANT BJORK – Jalamanta (Originally 1999, Remixed and Remastered 2019 Heavy Psych Sounds)

When the needle hits wax it won’t be long,
You got your radio tuned but it won’t play this song.

20 years ago, Jalamanta was one of my favourite albums in the world.  This is my third copy.  Partly instrumental, partly vocal, but 100% Brant Bjork.  It was his first solo album, and he played virtually everything himself.  The laid-back desert vibes are perfect for a summer evening chill-out.  Humid, sparse, exotic, varied compositions take you across a hazy landscape.

In 2019, Brant and engineer Tony Mason remixed Jalamanta, to take it the place they “always wanted it to go”.  The remixes are largely subtle, just making the album sound bigger in your ears.  The vocals might be a little less buried.  It’s still raw, and sparse, and all the things you always liked about Jalamanta.  Some songs have more noticeable differences.  More guitar on “Toot”.  Tracks tend to run longer than their previous fade-outs.  But there are things I enjoyed about the original that aren’t here.  The echoey lead vocal on “Toot” — “Cat scan, cat scan…”  That echo is gone, maybe so the sonic field wouldn’t be too crowded with that louder backing guitar?

This remix will never replace an original, especially when it was one of my favourites 20 years ago.  What is “Jalamanta” made of that makes it so tasty?  Only the most basic of ingredients.  Rolling bass and drums, simple unaffected guitar parts, and Brant’s laid back singing style.

Yeah, the man shakes me down and that’s why I’m broke.
The rich man’s got all the green but it ain’t the kind you smoke.
So we turn up the rock, and we roll it slow.
We’re always flying high, and the ride is always low.

Snakey guitars jab in and out of the speakers — one song is even called “Cobra Jab”.   Other tunes are more aggressive.  “Too Many Chiefs… Not Enough Indians” has a relentless and simple riff, with the snakey guitars carrying the melody over it like a wave.  Brant’s quiet vocal is hypnotic.  By contrast, “Defender of the Oleander” has a barely-there main riff while the snakey licks do all the brilliant melodic work.  Brant goes for hypnotic again on “Her Brown Blood”, a speedy run through the desert, with a cool monotone vocal right in the middle of your head.

Whichever version of Jalamanta you happen upon, you are guaranteed an incredible listening experience.  The new remix is certainly more three-dimensional, and will sound better on your big system.  But you will lose some of the charm of the original.  The 2009 vinyl used to be the way to go, with a beautiful full-colour booklet and Blue Oyster Cult cover “Take Me Away”.  But now you can get “Take Me Away” here on CD, albeit remixed.  Another bonus is exclusive to this CD — “Bones Lazy”, which segues out of “Defender of the Oleander” into the brilliant rocker “Low Desert Punk”.  And with the title “Bones Lazy”, you won’t be surprised that it is “Lazy Bones” backwards!  Like you’re watching Tenet.  Cool though.  Even though I knew what was likely coming, I felt like it fit right in.

Get a load of this, man.

Well I’m gettin’ up when the sun goes down,
And I shine ’em up and I hit the town.
Well I trim it clean and I roll it up,
And then I take it nice and slow…so what the fuck, man.

Jalamanta makes me feel that California sun way more than any Desert Sessions CD ever has.  You can taste it.  Let it sink into your lazy bones.   And as great as this new CD is sonically, it also makes me want to hear the original.  Nothing can truly upgrade a 20 years love affair with Jalamanta.  As a complimentary piece, I don’t regret owning or listening to it at all.  Hearing guitar parts that used to be beyond the fade is the kind of bait that we nerds line up for.  The 2009 vinyl, with the gorgeous embossed cover and all that delicious photography inside, will remain my preferred way to experience Jalamanta.  The 2019 remix will be the one to play when you want to examine it in more thorough detail.

(still) 5/5 stars

 

Original CD and vinyl releases seen below.

#883: Live! Bootlegs – the Prequel

A prequel to Record Store Tales #286: Live! Bootlegs

 

RECORD STORE TALES #883:  Live! Bootlegs – the Prequel

 

I didn’t discover “bootlegs” right away.  But inevitably, I had my first encounter and was confused by what I saw.

The setting:  Dr. Disc, 1988 or ’89.  Downtown Kitchener.  In the store with best friend Bob and one of his friends.  Browsing in the cassettes, I had worked my way over to Guns N’ Roses, a band I was still learning about.  Something about an EP that came before Appetite?  But what I saw was not that.  In fact, there multiple Guns bootlegs in their cassette section, only I didn’t know they were called “bootlegs”, or what that even meant.  Each one seemed to have a different member on the front.  One had Slash, one had Axl, one even had Izzy.  They were printed on different coloured paper.  They had songs I never heard, like “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”.  Live shows from the last few years.

Were they official releases?  They had to be if they were sitting there in a store, right?  But A&A Records at the mall didn’t have these.

I didn’t get of the Guns tapes.  I didn’t have the money, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have taken a chance.

My knowledge of bootlegs was limited.  In my mind, I associated the word with the kind of bootleg records they had to buy in communist Russia.  Since you could not buy American music in the Soviet Union in the time of the Iron Curtain, fans got creative.  There is a famous series of Beatles bootleg records, etched into X-ray photographs.  It was the right kind of material to cut the music on.  Like a flexi-disc.  When I heard the word “bootleg album”, I associated it with an album that was illegal to own, but somehow you got a copy of a copy.  Not live recordings smuggled out of a gig and sold for profit.

I finally put the pieces together when I bought the book Kiss On Fire on December 27, 1990.  In the back:  a massive list of live Kiss bootlegs, from Wicked Lester to the Asylum tour.  Tracklists, cover art, the works.  Suddenly, it clicked.

“These must be bootlegs!” I whispered to myself in awe.

“We must have them,” said my OCD to my unconscious self.


I acquired my first live bootleg from Rob Vuckovich in 1992.  It was David Lee Roth live in Toronto on the Eat ‘Em and Smile tour with Steve Vai.  It was just a taped copy on a Maxell UR 90, but it was my first.  My sister got an early Barenaked Ladies gig on tape shortly after, including the rare “I’m in Love With a McDonald’s Girl”.  Then in 1994 she bootlegged her own Barenaked Ladies show on the Maybe You Should Drive tour!

Around this time, my sister and I also started attending record shows a couple times a year.  Bootlegs were now available on CD.  And there were many.  Who to choose?

Black Sabbath with Ozzy, or with Dio?  Def Leppard before Rick Allen was even in the band?  Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Motley Crue’s final gig with Vince Neil…so many to choose from!

Interestingly enough, the idea of one band member being on the cover art carried into the CD age.  By my side at one show was Bob once again.  I flipped through the Kiss.  There were so many!  I picked one out with Gene on the cover.  Not knowing what bootlegs were himself, Bob thought they were solo albums.  “Don’t get one with just Gene!” he advised.  It wasn’t something I wanted anyway — it was from the Animalize tour, which I already had represented on VHS at home.  I wanted something I didn’t have anything from yet.  There it was!  The Revenge club tour!  Unholy Kisses, they called the disc.  Stupid name, great setlist.  I only hoped it sounded good when I got it home.  They used to let you listen to it before you bought it, but I think I was too shy and just bought it.  As it turns out, I loved it.  Every thump and every shout.

That’s the thing about bootlegs.  You really never knew what the sound was going to be like.  Or even if the gig advertised was the gig you were buying.  Or just because it sounded good at the start, will it still sound good at the end?  Or did the guy recording it have to move to a different seat next to a loud dude?  A soundboard recording was almost a too-good-to-be-true find.  One thing you were certain not to hear:  overdubs.  No overdubs on a bootleg!  They were raw and authentic.

I had made a good “first bootleg” purchase.  A whole new world opened before me.  There were not just live bootlegs, no!  Also demos, remixes, even B-sides.  And among them, some great, and some dreadfully bad choices!


Hear about some of the great ones this Friday, February 26 on the LeBrain Train: 2000 Words or More with Mike Ladano

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Leatherwolf – Endangered Species (1984)

LEATHERWOLF – Endangered Species (1984 Tropical Records / 1985 Heavy Metal America)

Leatherwolf carry on today but their origins are found on a humble indi debut from Heavy Metal America records back in 1984.  The Florida band’s original lineup boasted lead vocalist/guitarist Michael Olivieri, who was finding his feet here on the first album.  His voice was enviable; the fact that he could play guitar led to a gimmick called the “triple axe attack” long before Iron Maiden were able to execute the concept themselves.

Opening track “Spiter” takes influence from the aforementioned Iron Maiden as well as the thrash scene on the west coast.  Its blast of metal power serves to open the album with gusto.  The title track “Endangered Species” has a cool layered riff that is almost buried beneath the heavy production.  This is a busy band, with drummer Dean “Drum Machine” Roberts keeping all limbs in a flurry.  A great vintage heavy metal track here, just begging for a recording less flat and brittle.  Plenty of hooks and ideas packed into five minutes.

“Tonight’s the Night” isn’t as memorable, though Olivieri sure gives the vocal his all.  I can’t but laugh at “The Hook”.  “Hey honey, looking for a date?”  Songs about the world’s oldest occupation oh so often veer into cringe territory.  This is no “Charlotte the Harlot” though that seems to be the intent.  “Keep your eye out for the hook!” sings Michael.  The quiet section in the middle is pretty cool and there are multiple nifty riffs, but the song is a clanker.

Side two begins with acoustic guitars, a needed change of tone, and soon it’s back to hammering riffs.  “Season of the Witch” isn’t half bad.  As usual one riff just isn’t enough.  An amped-up Beast-era Iron Maiden seems to be the primary influence.  “Off the Track” has a shouted chorus that passes for a hook.  Not bad, but somehow incomplete like its parts weren’t fully assembled.  A slower tempo and sonic effects make “Kill and Kill Again” an effectively heavy change of pace.  A lot of Maiden in the faster outro, though.  Then accelerate into “Vagrant” which is further into the thrash side, but the production renders the guitars too tinny and without depth.  Fortunately the album closes on title track “Leatherwolf”, a mighty strong Priest-like street fight.

Though they still remained a heavy metal band with three lead guitarists, Leatherwolf added considerably more commercial elements such as ballads and keyboards by the time of their major label debut.  Michael Olivieri would tone down the screamy side of his style, which is used excessively here.  The band had a lot of room to grow, but their youthful exuberance helps make up for it.  There are a few worthwhile tracks that may have a place in your collection, and any fan of the heavier side of vintage metal will enjoy a spin.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Priest, Live & Rare (1998 Japanese import)

JUDAS PRIEST – Priest, Live & Rare (1998 Sony Japan)

Fun fact:  in 1998, there were three Judas Priest live albums released.  First was the official ’98 Live Meltdown, featuring then-current singer Tim “Ripper” Owens.  There was also Concert Classics, an unauthorised CD from the British Steel tour that the band swiftly took legal action to remove from store shelves.  Finally, a CD called Priest, Live & Rare released by their old label Sony in Japan, featuring a smorgasbord of live B-sides.

Judas Priest’s B-sides don’t garner a lot of attention, but are worth looking in to.  Fortunately, a large assortment of them are collected on this compilation.  Covering a period from 1978 to 1986, Priest released a number of live B-sides (and one remix) that are included here.  Only two (“Starbreaker”, and a version of “Breaking the Law”) were released on CD in the 2004 Metalogy box set.  Because Priest were conscious of giving value to fans, the live B-sides are not the same familiar versions from live albums.

From the “Evening Star” single in 1978 comes “Beyond the Realms of Death”, Judas Priest’s “Stairway to Heaven”, or so some said.  It’s a rather weak comparison, but “Beyond the Realms of Death” does hold special status.  Glen’s solo, though imperfect, drips with the tension that comes from the live performance.  From the same gig, but lifted from the “Take on the World” single comes “White Heat, Red Hot” and “Starbreaker”.  You can hear the life in the songs, from Les Binks’ organic drum work to Rob’s impassioned performance.  The man is in top voice especially on “White Heat, Red Hot”.  Les Binks has an extended energized drum solo on “Starbreaker”.  These are fantastic live versions that need to be in a diehard’s collection.

The next single visited is 1981’s “Hot Rockin'”, with two live B-sides:  “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight” from that year in Holland.  The drum stool has changed hands from Les Binks to Dave Holland, and it is like the band has had a heart transplant.  The difference is notable given that on this CD, Binks went out on a drum solo.  It’s like a pacemaker has been installed and the pulse of the beast has been tamed.  But that’s 80s Priest for you, and with that said, these are two excellent versions of some serious Priest hits.  Refreshing to hear, after the same familiar ones over and over again.

Priest’s set at the 1983 US Festival has not been released on CD yet, but here are some for you.  (The Festival on DVD is not an issue — the deluxe Screaming for Vengeance contains the whole thing.)  Here you get “Green Manalishi”, “Breaking the Law” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”.  “Green Manalishi” is a fantastic version (at least for one with Dave Holland on drums!) and Rob is peak Halford.  These three tracks are sourced from a live 1983 Japanese “Green Manalishi” EP that costs some fair funds on its own.  (This is the version of “Breaking the Law” that you can also find on the Metalogy box set.)

“Private Propety” (originally from 1986’s Turbo) is a rare live take from St. Louis. It was originally released on the “Parental Guidance” 12″ single.  Therefore it’s not the same one from Priest Live, nor the Turbo 30th anniversary set.  This one predates the release of the others and has a nice untampered quality.  Finally, also from the “Parental Guidance” single, is the only disappointing B-side in this collection.  It’s the “Hi-Octane” extended remix of “Turbo Lover”!  Extended remixes were a popular thing in the 80s.  Every mainstream artist did them; for example Def Leppard, Kiss and Aerosmith.  “Turbo Lover” is one of the poorer such examples.  Were any dance clubs likely to play Judas Priest?  No, but the Priest did try.

Unweildy ham-fisted “Turbo Lover” aside, Priest, Live & Rare is a highly recommended collection to get 10 rare Priest B-sides in one fell swoop.  Definitely cheaper than tracking down all those singles.

4.5/5 stars