soul music

TV REVIEW: American Dad (featuring Cee-Lo Green) – “Hot Water”

AMERICAN DAD! – “Hot Water” (Episode 1, season 8)

Musical episodes and American Dad go together like blue suits and Stars n’ Stripes lapel pins.  Cee-Lo Green wasn’t the first musician to appear on the show, but he was the first to appear both animated, and live action!*  Cee-Lo hosted the opening episode for Season 8, “Hot Water”.  “My name?  Not important,” he begins.  What matters is this “cautionary tale” that “may affect your next hot tub purchase.”

Hot tubs?  Indeed, Cee-Lo also voices an evil, murderous hot tub.  It sings songs of temptation to Stan Smith, who is becoming obsessed with “soaking” in it.  The tub lulls Stan in with “Dip A Toe”, a light sexy Cee-Lo song urging him in.  A talking hot tub?  “Ain’t nobody got to know…just dip a toe!”  Echoes of the classic Stephen King stories Christine and The Shining are obvious, as the hot tub wants more and more time with Stan.  Even if it means Stan’s family has got to go.  Cee-Lo continues to woo Stan on “Hot Tub of Love” and “Do Whatever You Like”.  Stan begins skipping work, neglecting his family, and throwing hot tub stripper parties.  He sings, “I feel so conflicted, but this is up to me.  On one hand there’s the hot tub, the other’s family.”  Guess what he chooses?

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Scott Grimes, who voices the character of Steve Smith, is quite a talented singer himself.  Steve has songs in countless episodes.  In “Hot Water” he duets with Roger the alien in a Boyz II Men-esque song called “Daddy’s Gone”.  Francine is forced to leave Stan and the family is broken!  The man who sold Stan the hot tub, Marguerite, becomes suspicious and begins doing research on the tub, to the tune of a song called (obviously) “Hot Tub Research”.  Marguerite discovers the truth:  The tub’s original owner put a stripper pole in there that got hit by lightning.  The tub came alive!  It killed its owners when they stopped using it.  It then escaped from a mental institution and was forgotten until Stan bought it.  Can Marguerite stop the hot tub before it kills Stan’s entire family?  The answer may surprise you.

“Hot Water” was only an average American Dad episode for laughs-per-minute.  It is top notch when it comes to music and unorthodox storytelling.  As a premier episode for the 8th season, it had star cameo power and was completely different from any other episode.  That’s a win/win.  Except I don’t feel like hot tubbing any time soon.

3.5/5 stars

*Actress Gabourey Sidibe also appeared live action as herself in the episode “Stanny Tendergrass”.  In this episode, she voices one of the hot tub girls.  And Patrick Stewart, who voices CIA director Avery Bullock, appeared live action as himself in season 9’s “Blood Crieth Unto Heaven”.

REVIEW: Lenny Kravitz – Are You Gonna Go My Way (deluxe & vinyl editions)

It’s Epic Review Time!  The fourth review from Mike and Aaron Go to Toronto…Again!  Yet another score from Sonic Boom!  I bought this one new, for $24.99.  Warning:  image heavy!

LENNY KRAVITZ – Are You Gonna Go My Way (2013 Virgin deluxe edition, 1993 vinyl edition)

IMG_20141021_205756Man, I love this record.  This was the last legitimately great Lenny Kravitz album.  I’m pleased that with a fresh 2013 remastering job, it still sounds vital and raw.  Back in those days, Lenny was recording on vintage equipment all but exclusively.  In the included interview track, Kravitz discusses the collection that he and drummer Henry Hirsch had acquired, including gear that dated back to the 1940’s and 50’s.  The upkeep of said equipment is a nightmare, he states, as you can imagine.  The results that it yielded, especially on Are You Gonna Go My Way, justify the antique gear and maintenance costs.

I first got this sucker on (clear vinyl) LP back in ’94, which came with a stellar 8-song bonus CD.  I didn’t even have a good way of playing vinyl back then.  My turntable was pretty crap, so I never actually played the LP.  I got Are You Gonna Go My Way on CD a bit later, used, when I started working at the Record Store.  Now I can discard that old CD, because this deluxe renders it obsolete.  (But not the vinyl; more on that in a bit.)

Hopefully everyone knows the energetic title track, a massive smash hit single.  The simple repeating guitar riff is nothing but classic.  The track itself is basic blues-based classic rock, albeit with the tempo maxed out.  This track convinced that Lenny was ready, willing and able to be a rock hero, filling the shoes of his forebears such as Zeppelin and Hendrix.  Yet it was actually the second single, the organ-based ballad “Believe”, that shows what Lenny is truly capable of.  I consider this his best song, bar none.  The 2001 influenced video was so cool, but the delicate song stands on its own.  Its ending is epic in quality.

The other singles on the album included the frighteningly good soul-rock song “Is There Any Love In Your Heart.”  The guitar riff is pure rock, the falsetto vocal pure soul.  The song is deceptively angry.  Though Lenny does not sound enraged, the lyric is pretty clear:

“Babe you say I’m the only one, 
But you’re fucking all my friends,
Baby all that you care about,
Is Gucci and Mercedes Benz, 
You’re just the kind that’s up on all the latest trends.”

The last single from Are You Gonna Go My Way was the gentle love song, “Heaven Help”.  The amazing acoustic track was softer than I generally liked, but it’s hard not to.  It spawned a five-track CD single (or EP?), which we’ll get to shortly.

KRAVITZ ARE YOU GONNA GO_0006Singles aside, the album is loaded with incredible deep cuts.  One of the best is the emotional “Sister”, which really knocks you out by the end.  “Sugar” boats some cool, funky retro horns.  “Eleutheria” is reggae; I can’t think of a better way to describe it.  It’s also a standout, and probably could have been a single in its own right.  “My Love” is psychedelic, while “Just Be A Woman” is simply lovely.  There is plenty of variety on Are You Gonna Go My Way, without sounding fragmented.  It still sounds completely unified.

There’s only one tune I still don’t like, which is “Black Girl”.  It’s one of the softer numbers, but I just don’t find it catchy at all.  But it’s the only one.

KRAVITZ ARE YOU GONNA GO_0004The deluxe edition is jam packed with value.  Disc one boasts seven bonus tracks, all of astounding quality for B-sides.  These tracks had been previously issued on the aforementioned “Heaven Help” single and vinyl edition, so I am well familiar with each.  The upbeat “Ascension” should have been a hit.  “All My Life” is as strong as any of the album cuts.  “Brother” is the funkiest thing here, and maybe should have been included for that reason.  “Someone Like You” is a cool, 60’s-style droning rock song, a bit more upbeat than “My Love”.  “For the First Time” is a quiet slow dance, so for that reason, I can see why it was excluded.  On an album, it could kill momentum.  On a dance floor, it would result in many babies being conceived later in the evening.

Without a doubt, the most hilarious moment is the song “B-Side Blues”, a dirty spontaneous sounding song with spiteful lyrics.  In the words, Lenny complains that he’s been working hard, and only has six days off.  Yet the record company wants new songs!  This is what Lenny presumably gave them.  “Take this song and shove it up your ass,” croons Lenny.  Fortunately there’s enough Zeppelin-y blues here to keep the party going.  “Top 40, yeah!”

The second CD has some great hotel room acoustic recordings.  Sounds like cassette to me!  “Believe” is one I had previously, on the vinyl edition.  The rest are new to me, but every bit as raw and plaintive as the acoustic “Believe”.  Then there are some fantastic unfinished songs and demos.  I could not believe the quality of his throw-aways.  I don’t know if these tunes surfaced later on or not, but they certainly should.  “Work Like the Devil” has elements that sound like “Are You Gonna Go My Way”, but it’s definitely not the same song.  It only has about half the lyrics in place, but damn.  If it was on the album, it would have been a highlight.  Most of these demos are loud rock jams.  “Getting Out” though is a pure funk jam, sounding similar to Zeppelin’s “The Crunge”.  The best of these songs is the instrumental “Blood/Papa (A Long and Sad Goodbye)” which, once you get past the name is a 10 minute slow jam.  In my opinion, this one doesn’t need to be finished.  I think it’s perfect as-is.

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The last three songs are rough demos of songs written for the album Vanessa Paradis, which Lenny wrote and produced.  These are a bit soft for my tastes.  They are very unlike the rest of the material on this deluxe edition.  I know that “Lonely Rainbows” was on the album, but I don’t know if the other two were used under different names.

Finally, I want to mention two songs that I know of that are missing from this deluxe.  From the vinyl’s bonus CD is a live version of “Sister”.  This take is absolutely epic and it sends shivers up and down my spine at the end.  Just an incredible, raw live performance.  I assume somebody made a decision that live stuff wasn’t going to be on the deluxe.  That means you’re also missing the live medley of “Freedom Train/Always On the Run” from the “Heaven Help” single.  Too bad.  I think most fans would rather have those than the BBC interview.  The interview is good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also 15 minutes long.

I wholeheartedly recommend this deluxe edition of Are You Gonna Go My Way to anybody who wants to check out Lenny Kravitz on the harder side of rock.  You will not be disappointed with either the album, or the deluxe.  In the meantime, I suggest die-hard collectors find the vinyl too, just for that astounding live version of “Sister”.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Stormbringer (35th Anniversary Edition)

STORMBRINGER OUTER FRONT

DEEP PURPLE – Stormbringer (35th Anniversary Edition, 2009 EMI, originally 1974)

Stormbringer, now available in the gloriously remastered series of Deep Purple special editions, is one of my favourite Purple platters. Now augmented with bonus material, it has finally been given the treatment it deserved. It’s certainly not everybody’s cup of tea, but Stormbringer has earned some begrudging fans over the years.  I for one find it a more enjoyable listen cover to cover than 1974’s Burn.

A lot of fans did not like the funkier, softer direction of the band. You can understand this, of course. A fan who loved In Rock, one of the heaviest records of any decade, could easily be turned off by the radio-ready soul funk of “Hold On”.  Blackmore himself decried the funky direction of the band.

Here’s the good news: Whatever Deep Purple set their minds to, they could do. And they could do it well.

STORMBRINGER CDBlackmore may not have liked the album, and he did take a step back in the mix, (you can barely hear any guitar on “Hold On”).  He could stilll adapt to and play any style. His playing here, while sparse, is sublime. Ian Paice takes to the funky rhythms very comfortably, laying down some excellent grooves. Jon Lord steps up to the forefront, supplying some excellent, funky keys.

There are a few songs that harken back to the past: “Stormbringer”, the title track, sounds as solid as any epic the band had ever composed. It could have been on Burn as easily as this record. In fact, it stands out as being out of place: As the opening track, fans must have been shocked and surprised when the rest of the album was so different.

Another song that has shades of older Purple is “The Gypsy”.   It’s a slow mournful piece, perhaps akin to “Mistreated” from the previous album.  The lyrics are uncharacteristically bleak.

One track showed an interesting glimpse of the future. “Soldier Of Fortune” is an acoustic track which forshadowed much of the music Blackmore would do with Rainbow, and even now with Blackmore’s Night. David Coverdale has performed it live with Whitesnake.  I think it’s one of Richie Blackmore’s finest compositions.

Of the other tunes, “Love Don’t Mean A Thing” is one of the funkiest, and one of the most entertaining.  It’s just fun to listen to.  David and Glenn co-sing this one.  Ritchie’s solo is very understated, but appropriate.  Glenn takes his first solo lead vocal with Deep Purple on “Holy Man”, a soulful ballad.  “You Can’t Do It Right” features probably the funkiest guitar work of Blackmore’s career.  It’s fascinating to listen to, and the band really cooks on this one.  It’s one of the most extreme experiments of this funky Purple period.

As with all the Purple reissues, this has been lovingly remastered. Finally you can discard your original CD, mastered for digital ages ago, but never really letting the subtleties of the music shine. Stormbringer, of all the Deep Purple albums, perhaps has more subtleties to hear due to the quieter nature of the music.

STORMBRINGER DVDBonus material?  Oh yeah, there’s bonus material, in this case four remixes by Glenn Hughes. These remixes don’t replace the original songs, but they do act as a companion piece of sorts. Fresh light is shed on alternate takes incorporated into the mixes, and “Love Don’t Mean A Thing” is extended by over half a minute. “High Ball Shooter” is presented in an early instrumental form as well.

As an added bonus, a second disc has been included. The second disc, exclusive to this edition, is a DVD containing the original 1975 quadrophonic mix of Stormbringer! Nice. Apparently, this disc is to be a limited edition so get yours while you can. I liked quite a bit, myself. As with many quad mixes from the 70’s, the songs often bear noticeable differences from the originals.  Quad was a gimmicky fad, by today’s standards, but listening to it with the benefit of hindsight is quite enjoyable.

Lastly, I must acknowledge the great liner notes. The most entertaining story included is in regards to “Love Don’t Mean A Thing.”  While in Chicago, Ritchie ran across a street busker, who was snapping his fingers singing a song about money.  Blackmore invited him onto Purple’s plane, collected Coverdale and Hughes, and jammed for 20 minutes with this guy who taught them the song and the lyrics.  The band finished the song that became “Love Don’t Mean A Thing”, credited to the entire quintet, because nobody ever bothered to get the busker’s name.

Pick up Stormbringer in this 25th Anniversary Edition, and finally you can feel comfortable discarding your original.

5/5 stars for both the music, and the reissue!