Category Archives: CD

David Bowie • Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78) [3LP, 2CD]

Last year for Record Store Day we enjoyed the release of DAVID BOWIE’s triple LP live album, Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74), a superbly recorded and dynamically played concert. You either plunked down for a 3LP vinyl copy, or (as it turned out) waited two months to buy it as a 2CD, sensibly priced package. Many weren’t surprised at the release of the compact disc version, despite it not being announced when the RSD vinyl was. This year – no surprise this time – we got Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78), another 3LP RSD release trailed by a 2CD standard version. The vinyl, like last year’s release, comes in a double-gatefold package with photos from the concert and 180-gram LPs inside. (I’m assuming, pre-CD release, that that will be similar to last year’s CD package.) The concert itself was recorded at the end of Bowie’s 1978 post-Low tour, and features yet another band lineup.

I’m not as bowled over by this one as I was by Cracked Actor. The band is quite good, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t seem to gel as well as the ’74 group did and the mix isn’t as compelling. That being said, unless you’re the most curmudgeonly of Bowie fans, you’ll find a lot to like about Blackout, even if it’s just that the audio is much better than what has been available on bootlegs for years. The set list is quite good, anchored by a lengthy instrumental intro (Low’s “Warszawa”), and then mostly working backwards, song-wise, through DB’s catalog. You get a number of newer songs for the first half of the show, followed by inspired renditions of some of the man’s hits, including “Fame,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Suffragette City,” et. al. Welcome to the Blackout ends on side six with “TVC15,” “Stay” and “Rebel Rebel” – a song I’ve never grown tired of and a great tune to wrap up the show with.

If Bowie’s estate keeps doing this every year, releasing great concerts most of us have never heard, I’m okay with that. I can’t imagine a time when they’d put out so many releases (reissues or new titles) that I’d get burned out on David Bowie’s music. (Check back here from time to time for updates on that prediction.) I’d much rather that than just see countless reissues of his back catalog remastered for no good reason.

3/5 (Parlophone DBRSD 7782, 2018)

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Nick Lowe (& Los Straitjackets) • Tokyo Bay [2×7″, CD, DD]

Hey kids, hop in the car! It’s time for another quality collaboration between NICK LOWE and LOS STRAITJACKETS, and this time we’re off on a whirlwind trip to Tokyo Bay. In the front seat are A-sides “Tokyo Bay” and “Cryin’ Inside,” while our companions “Travelin’ Light” and “Heartbreaker” occupy the backseat.

Lowe & Los started their group discography with a great live Christmas record, The Quality Holiday Revue Live, a 2015 release with a few non-holiday tunes thrown in for good measure. The man and band toured that release (got to see them at the Belly Up in Solana Beach, CA), both that year and the next, and then the masked men did an album of Lowe’s songs, What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets, on which Lowe made a guest appearance (2017). Now we’re treated to a 2×7″ EP with two Lowe originals and two covers, making me hope they’ll be doing a full length collab one of these days.

Tokyo Bay is a return of sorts to Lowe’s early ’80s solo career, in which he played a hybrid of new wave, rockabilly and power pop that really suited both his songwriting and his voice. Typically backed by a crack team of musicians (including Paul Carrack, Martin Belmont and Dave Edmunds), Nick turned out some compelling records. As has always been his wont, he wrote some great originals and placed them among some swell cover tunes (“7 Nights to Rock” and “Born a Woman” come immediately to mind). Here we get originals “Tokyo Bay” and “Cryin’ Inside”, both kinda popabilly country tunes, and covers “Travelin’ Light” (recorded by the likes of Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday and Van Morrison) and “Heartbreaker,” written by the Bee Gees. Don’t worry, you’d never know it was a Brothers Gibb creation if you didn’t see the credits – Lowe makes it his own, like he always does with the songs he loves. This release again shows that Lowe also knows how to pick a band that can do justice to the material; Los Straitjackets have always been perfect sidemen (I’ve seen them back both Lowe and El Vez [at separate events!], and last summer they played with Marshall Crenshaw).

The 2×7″ comes in a nice gatefold cover, and though my records have mismatched labels on ’em, the four songs are all there and accounted for. Tokyo Bay’s available as a limited vinyl release as well as on CD and download and is out now.

3.5/5 (YepRoc YEP-2589, 2018)

 

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The Fentons • I’ve Seen It All Now [CD, DD]

Well, shave me bald and call me “Olsen” – it just dawned on me that I’ve never reviewed any of the kick-ass EP CDs my buddies in THE FENTONS have put out. Their latest, I’ve Seen It All Now, has got a typically solid handful of goodies on it and it’s about time I wrote about them.

A five-piece country band of the best kind, The Fentons are made up of brothers Dave and Jim Keller on guitars, mandolins and banjo, Steve “Blackie” Pearce on lap steel and electric guitar, Kent “Snake” Caldwell on bass and Chas Bronson IV on drums. I can’t say that this lineup pushes the envelope, at least arrangement-wise, but what these guys have is a love for the music that comes to them from years of playing all kinds of other kinds of music. In fact, three of the five – Jim, Dave and Chas – have played together in various combos for something like thirty years. Four of the five guys sing, and their harmonies recall the best of that Louvin/Everly Brothers archetype. So when they hit the chorus of “Party of 2,” for instance, they sound like they’ve been singin’ together on the front porch since they were all knee-high to a cricket… or 2.

Another great thing about I’ve Seen It All Now is the lyrics. Not sure which Fentons wrote what, but I can tell you that “There’s a Body” and “I’m the Devil” have some clever couplets going on. And “Dig a Hole,” what can I say about it? How about: I’ve been bugging them to record this son of a bitch since I first heard them do it almost two years ago. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if you want a song that tells you to get over your shit and move on, or else, then this is it. Brings a tear (or 2) to my eye every time. Their harmonies on that final chorus will do you in if you’ve got a heart and a soul.

I must say, here and now, that The Fentons are friends of mine, so this review is definitely colored by that. But, as an ethical rock critic, I also must say that every word here is true, and I wouldn’t review I’ve Seen It All Now if I didn’t like it. (Sometimes my passive/aggressive side ain’t such a bad thing!) You can get the download or buy the CD through the band at fentonstwang.com or at one of their shows – if the fools don’t forget to bring the merch tub!

3.5/5 (Flamingo Records, 2018)

 

 

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Neil Young • Roxy – Tonight’s the Night Live [CD, LP]

Another Record Store Day release, although I got the CD (non-RSD) version, Roxy – Tonight’s the Night Live is this month’s new NEIL YOUNG release. Seems the guy has always got another album up his sleeve, which comes as no surprise since he’s had over fifty big years in the business, ladies and gentlemen. You could say he oughta lighten the load of releases coming from NYA (Neil Young Archives), and you’d basically be right. But at least he’s not as slow and redundant as Sir Paul “Molasses” McCartney.

This live one was caught one night at the Roxy in L.A. back in September 1973, just weeks after Young and Crazy Horse finished recording Tonight’s the Night, an emotional album that Neil then waited a few years to release. Such was the loss he suffered after both Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry had died the way so many involved in rock ’n’ roll do – “out on the main line” – that Young couldn’t bear to put out the excellent LP he dedicated to them. But before that decision was made, the remaining Crazy Horse guys, plus Nils Lofgren and Ben Keith, became the Santa Monica Flyers and helped christen the new Sunset Strip club with a near-complete Tonight show. (The album was eventually released in 1975.)

If you’re not a fan of the harrowing, beautiful Tonight’s the Night, then you’d be excused for skipping this live release. But, as you know if you’re crazy about Neil, sometimes his live versions add extra meaning and bravado to what was done in the studio. Roxy is full of them. Granted, you don’t really get much more than what was on the album these songs came from, but it’s a decent length gig and a very nice recording, too. The fact that the band sounds like a cross between Crazy Horse’s ragged glory and the Stray Gators’ country kick is something very definitely in its favor. I could do without some of the chit chat in between songs – Neil says “welcome to Miami Beach” a few too many times, which might have been topical to the set decor but which is lost in an audio recording – but that’s a pretty minor complaint considering how generally brilliant this show is.

If you didn’t pick it up on Record Store Day you won’t have to shell out big bucks for it online because it’s been released as a readily available double vinyl set. The only difference between the two is the standard version lacks an “art print” that you probably wouldn’t have hung up anyway (why ruin the value of your highfalutin RSD purchase?). Again, I went with the CD version both as an austerity measure and because I assumed it would be something I’d wanna crank in the car. And I was right. It happens sometimes – tonight’s the night.

4/5 (Reprise 567390-2, 2018)

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The Who • Live at the Fillmore East 1968 [CD, LP]

Live albums from most acts are pretty much a dime a dozen. Nowadays, when I hear of a new live release from a band I’m into, I assume it’s probably gonna be crap. But. Not with THE WHO. When they put out one of these things I instantly hit “buy.” Live at the Fillmore East 1968 has just been released and it is nearly literally the bomb. Recorded in April of ’68 at Bill Graham’s  not-yet-fabled NYC venue, it’s a warts and all program of the band’s live set at the time. The Who weren’t quite to the Live at Leeds level of 1970, but they were well on their way.

What this 2CD/3LP release has that Leeds lacks is glorious grit. Not only is the performance loose (and somehow, as The Who were so good at, tight) but the recording is, too. Live at the Fillmore East is like a really good soundboard bootleg. You get all the instruments in pretty good quality, even somehow in stereo, but it’s definitely not perfect. At least, not by the standard definition. But as The Who have proven with prior releases like Leeds and Live at the Isle of Wight 1970, they were fucking on fire from about ’68 to ’72, whether or not they incorporated the entire Tommy program (like on the Isle of Wight set list). Missing are the first two songs of the show (“Substitute” and “Pictures of Lily,” sadly), but what’s left is incendiary. On disc one you get thirteen songs, including an eleven minute “A Quick One (While He’s Away),” a twelve minute “Relax,” and a triumvirate of Eddie Cochran covers. We’re used to hearing The Who tear apart “Summertime Blues” and “C’Mon Everybody,” but what you don’t usually hear is their insanely killer “My Way” (as in, “I’m an easy-goin’ guy but I always gotta have my way”), which is a rarity in their cannon (and I meant to spell it ”cannon”). Good gravy, that is almost worth the cost right there! But. Then there’s disc two, with a (hold your breath this long if you can) 33:02 version of “My Generation.” Of course, your hardcore Who fan knows that they don’t stick to the basic arrangement for half an hour, they veer off into all kinds of themes and vibes that are about as jazz as any haaaaaaarrrrddd rock band has ever done. Townshend, Entwistle and Moon feed off each other so effortlessly, they surpass Led Zeppelin, The Move, everybody in that way. So, jazz in the sense of free-form jamming and instruments not only working with and off of each other but intuitively sensing where the whole thing is going. And when they get there, oh, what a trip it’s been.

I’m having a hard time deciding if I like Live at the Fillmore East 1968 better than Leeds. They’re both so great, we’re gonna have to call it a draw.

5/5 (Polydor 6744485, 2018)

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Screamin’ Jay Hawkins • Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids? The Complete Bizarre Sessions 1990-1994 [CD]

Uhhhhh… where to start with this one?! I’ll bet you know who SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS is. He’s the guy from the ’50s who wrote “I Put a Spell on You,” an oft-covered minor key R&B slowburner. The guy with a bone through his nose. Well, he really only ever had that one minor hit, which was kept alive via covers by Creedence Clearwater Revival and others, and he moved from record label to record label over the years trying to rekindle that flame. By the time he landed at Bizarre Records – a suitable home, at least ’cause of its name – his number was about up. And yet, the old man still had some spunk in him. [I hear you Brits laughing.]

Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids? compiles all of the recordings he did for the label, at one point home to Frank Zappa, and it’s a whopper of a 2CD set. By whopper I mean, there’s so much here you’ll have to go through it in multiple sittings. Naturally, there’s a remake of his big hit, but this time he’s backed by a 1990 hip hop drum beat and even has a rapper doing some bits in it. Hey, if it worked for Aerosmith… and yet, no, it doesn’t really work for Jay. The band employed across all 44 tracks includes guitarist Mike Keneally (a Zappa vet) in a combo that sounds very of-its-time. The arrangements are clearly semi-rehearsed and semi-ad-libbed according to wherever Screamin’ Jay was going. And the man was going fuckin’ nuts! The songs range from some pretty cool remakes, like “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” (originally done by Louis Jordan) and Jay’s own “Strange,” to odes to current hotties like “Sherilyn Fenn” and “Amy Fisher,” which itself is reprised twice (though mercifully short). There are even a few Tom Waits covers. If you’re a fan of Hawkins’ comedic rants and, let’s say unique (old school? sexist?) viewpoints on women, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. Does the collective joke wear thin? Yes. But trust me: you don’t wanna go through this in one sitting anyway. It’ll take a few rounds to audition both discs, so you’ll have a chance to recharge your “man, this guy was crazy” batteries in between sessions.

As for the package itself, Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids? has a decent booklet inside a triple panel digipack cover, but it’s hard to discern when and where the sessions were cut or even which songs come from which albums. Basically, this compilation encompasses 1991’s Black Music for White People (what a great title!), Stone Crazy (1993) and Somethin’ Funny Goin’ On (1994). Without wading too far into the liner notes or on Discogs, this has got to have all the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins ever recorded at Bizarre’s behest. This compilation’s worth a shot if you’re in an ornery mood.

2.5/3 (Manifesto MFO 42202, 2018)

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Holly Golightly and The Brokeoffs • Clippety Clop [CD]

If you like yer country with all the dirt, dust ’n’ twang missing from most of today’s “country,” then you’ve probably heard of HOLLY GOLIGHTLY AND THE BROKEOFFS. Her/their new album, Clippety Clop, is a doozy. A dozen tracks built around songs about horses and mules, it’s a fun album that trots and gallops happily through alt country territory without ever leaving the stable. [Does that count as a mixed metaphor?] There are traditional songs such as “I Ride an Old Paint” and “Stewball,” and a wealth of well-known old school country tunes like “Strawberry Roan” and “Mule Skinner,” plus some fairly obscure ones that only the most hardcore of hard country fans would know.

Holly and her partner, Lawyer Dave, came up with a real cool collection here. Some of the tunes on Clippety Clop are of a typical I-IV-V blues pattern variety, while others occupy a darker place, such as “Horses in the Mines.” What’s really swell about this album is its arrangements and production. Not sounding like your usual slick Nashville or Hollywood thing, it’s of a more lo-fi, indie vibe. Naturally distorting guitars mix with Holly and Dave’s raw vocals in a small room with none of the glitz that makes up most of today’s records, giving the songs a more authentic feel. I don’t think I heard a pedal or lap steel on here, but don’t let that get you down. This’ll appeal to not only fans of Golightly (she’s got numerous albums under her belt, both solo and as one of Thee Headcoatees, a little sister band to Billy Childish’s Thee Headcoats), but to anyone who enjoys the genuine article. Those of us who discovered alt country via college radio and No Depression magazine will take a real shine to Holly Golightly and The Brokeoffs’ “concept” album. Though Holly says it’s merely “what came out best from a batch of songs we wanted to do,” the fact that all of these songs come from the same corral makes it an even juicier apple. Horses like apples, right?

3.5/5 (Transdreamer TR-6225-CD, 2018)

 

 

 

 

 

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Wreckless Eric • Construction Time & Demolition [CD, LP, DD]

“All your records are shit, except maybe one…” So goes one of the lines in a song on the new album from WRECKLESS ERIC, Construction Time & Demolition. If you were around in the late ’70s you might remember a few of Eric’s releases on Stiff Records, home then to names like Elvis Costello, The Damned and Nick Lowe. Or maybe you’ve heard the cover of his biggie “Whole Wide World” (by Cage The Elephant). Eric was an oddball – he sang in a low register squeak that sounded like some weird guy’s speaking voice – and appears to have stayed one. But not all of his records are shit…

His new album is a beautifully ragged semi-lo-fi collection of remembrances of things like his childhood in Hull, England, and how the (whole wide) world seems to have been continually constructing and demolishing itself ever since. The opener, “Gateway to Europe,” tells of his hometown becoming that when a bridge was built that spanned the Humber Estuary and Britain became part of the European Common Market. (Look it up, I’m not a history teacher.) The arrangement of this song, as well as the rest of the eleven songs that make up Construction Time & Demolition, is one that sounds like it’s building up, getting denser and denser, while simultaneously kind of falling apart. Jagged guitars, weird organs and fuzz bass are at home among drums, percussion, and a “horn section” led by a brilliant trumpet blowing whenever some musical bit needs underlining. As Eric himself says, “I wanted the music to sound as though it was demolishing itself as it went along, and at times I wanted to actually hear it destroy itself, fuzz in and out until all that was left was the flat tone of a heart that’s stopped beating.” Well, now. That’s a grand concept and I think Wreckless Eric has achieved it. His lyrics remain wearily wistful in a jaded sort of been-there-done-that way, making canny observations about how getting older isn’t always easy (“life is all the same old lessons / until you learn ’em / And I’ve got so many lessons left to learn, I wish I could burn it all! / I’m coming unraveled here!”).

So how did Wreckless Eric fall off my radar? I mean, I loved his new wave records back then (see the clip below with his magnificent “Whole Wide World”), but he’s kind of come and gone over the last forty years. (I actually got to see him perform in NYC in the early ’90s during a New Music Seminar – met Cheetah Chrome from the Dead Boys at a bar down the street before the show and bought him a beer. Cheetah, not Eric. On my company’s dime.) Wreckless Eric’s had a few albums out in the last decade or so but I guess I just missed them. Meanwhile, he’s now stationed here in the States and has a pretty good thing going with this new record. You can catch him on tour if you live on the East Coast or in Britain. I hope he’s got a full band with him, and one that can deliver the goods and bads that make up Construction Time & Demolition. Meanwhile I’ll be looking into some of the records of his that I missed over the years. My bad.

4/5 (Southern Domestic)

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Madness • Absolutely, 7 [CD]

[Originally published 3/23/2010 on Skratchdisc]

Two more masterly remastered and expanded reissues from MADNESS, and once again, their new parent label Salvo does a fantastic job. Absolutely and 7 were the sophomore and junior (third) efforts from Camden Town’s Nutty Boys, and instead of proving the rule that the second outing is usually nowhere near as good as the first, they disproved it by a landslide. (Quite possibly the worst mixed metaphor I’ve ever committed to paper… Oops, there I go again!)

Absolutely, released in late 1980, featured the singles “Baggy Trousers,” “Embarrassment” (one of my top Madness tunes) and “The Return of the Los Palmas 7,” and continued the band’s chart reign. Bubbly, fun melodies were still to the fore, but beginning to get noticed was the melancholy subject matter. Sure, they didn’t say directly that the girl got knocked up and made her family look bad in “Embarrassment,” but that’s clearly the story. “In the Rain,” a different recording than the one that appeared prior as a B-side (though both are here), also isn’t exactly chipper. Whatever—Madness still had it goin’ on.

In 1981 they released 7, their third longplayer and another successful outing. More big singles here, including “Cardiac Arrest” and “Shut Up” (a lot like “Embarrassment” and another Marsh-certified goodie),  kept Madness in the NME and other papers, and paved the way for eventual US success (“Our House” from the following album). They hadn’t changed the formula yet, and since these two albums followed in such quick succession, nobody seemed to notice. Original label Stiff could barely keep up with these guys, nor could those of us over here who’d already discovered them despite little or no promotion from American label Sire.

Salvo’s treatment of the band’s catalog so far has been great… all the videos are on the corresponding CDs, bonus tracks are in abundance (Absolutely features seven bonus cuts plus a 21-song live show from London), the notes and photos of ephemera are also plentiful, and the mastering is superb. No qualms here at all! Can’t wait to hear and see what they do with The Rise and Fall.

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The Rezillos • Flying Saucer Attack: The Complete Recordings 1977-1979 [CD]

THE REZILLOS – Scotland’s, and maybe the world’s, greatest punk band – recorded only one studio album, a live one, and a few singles in their original incarnation. For years, their records (especially here in the US) were hard as hell to find. In the early ’90s, Sire Records put out a CD compilation that sated those of us who couldn’t find a vinyl copy that wasn’t completely hammered. It featured their studio LP, Can’t Stand The Rezillos, most of the live record (Mission Accomplished… But the Beat Goes On) and a single, but it was missing some waxings that hardcore fans would’ve given their left nuts for. Finally that ball-busting shortcoming is rectified with this 2CD compilation, Flying Saucer Attack: The Complete Recordings 1977-1979. Cherry Red Records to the rescue! With 40 tracks, it’s more Rezillos than any sane person can stand. For me, it’s what I and leagues of fans have been waiting for.

What you get with The Rezillos is a “punk” band – that is, a band that played their songs fast and loud, without any synthesizers, lasers or other late ’70s gizmos, but sang about flying saucers, mothers who say NO! “because you’re not old enough” and girls who do good sculptures. Fronted by a guy/girl duo on vocals (Eugene Reynolds and Fay Fife) and guitared by one Jo Callis, the band also featured bassists William Mysterious, Simon Templar and D.K. Smythe (not all at once), drummer Angel Paterson and backing vocalist Gale Warning. Sire Records from America signed them after they’d issued their first single (“I Can’t Stand My Baby”) and put out another single and an album, followed by a couple more singles and a live record. The Rezillos charted in the UK but didn’t cause any harm to the US charts and after some inter-band issues they called it quits. Two different factions went on as The Revillos and Shake, but those didn’t last long, either. And that, in a nutshell, is the trajectory of the original band.

The Rezillos have always managed to stay off of those dreaded greatest punk bands lists for no other reason, I suppose, than they did fun songs about nothing at all important. There was no current cause or fashion to attach them to; instead, the band wore kooky, semi-sci-fi outfits and seemed to actually be enjoying what they were doing. You can’t usually say that about The Clash, Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols or even The Damned. Plus they did so many Sixties covers, you could almost overlook their great originals. For covers, how about “Glad All Over” (Dave Clark Five), “I Like It” (Gerry & The Pacemakers), and the king of ’em all, Earl Vince & The Valliants aka Fleetwood Mac’s “Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonite.” What a record! Why they didn’t put this out as a single, I got no idea. Speaking of singles, the 45 rpm versions of their own swell tunes “Good Sculptures” and “Top of the Pops” lack the energy of the LP versions, which is also a big question mark to me. Why didn’t the record company go with the superior versions on the album? Got no idea.

Cherry Red’s new 2CD extravaganza brings you the studio album and all of those singles on disc one, with the live album, further live tracks and some alternate, unreleased versions of a pair of tracks on disc two. The mastering job keeps the concentration on the high end, though the kinetic bass of Mr. Mysterious still comes through like it ought to. For the live album, I see from various internet groups that there is a snippet of “Thunderbirds Are Go” missing (apparently, from the actual movie), but otherwise it appears to be intact in all of its low cost mobile truck glory. The artwork by Keith Davey is pretty groovy, too, and a perfect fit to the contents of the digipack cover. In all, Flying Saucer Attack is so close to perfect I can hardly stand it.

4.99/5 (Cherry Red WCDBRED705, 2018)

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