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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Pink Floyd • The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (50th Anniversary Mono Ed.) [LP]

Just over fifty years ago, PINK FLOYD’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was released. Like so many of the records issued in the mid ’60s, it was put out in both mono and stereo versions. Since stereo eventually became the de facto standard, the mono version eventually faded away and was never reissued, except as part of the 40th Anniversary 3CD box set from 2007 (see red image below). Finally, that epochal original mono mix has been reissued on vinyl.

A Record Store Day 2018 release, this limited edition puts Piper back into the dawn it was born in, when an experimental English band – led by a mercurial guitarist named Syd Barrett – played at the UFO Club amid projected light shows that really added to the goings-on, especially if you were tripping. (I’m going by all the things I’ve read over the years – I was only four in ’67.) The album starts off with a lengthy almost-instrumental called “Astronomy Domine” (“Jupiter and Saturn, Oberon Miranda and Titania / Neptune Titan, stars can frighten…”), ascending to Barrett’s telecaster trickery and keyboardist Richard Wright’s imaginative meanderings. Next comes a short one, “Lucifer Sam,” about a Siam cat who is “something I can’t explain.” Another descender but with much more of a pop hook, it’s the should’ve-been single that wasn’t. (The English believed a single shouldn’t also be on an album; huh?) Following from there, “Matilda Mother,” “Flaming” (two nursery rhyme-esque Barrett tunes), “Pow R. Toc H.,” and side closer “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk,” bass player Roger Waters’ first solo writing credit on a Floyd record and a percussive popper.

Flip over the record and The Floyd shift into “Interstellar Overdrive,” at once ascending and descending into space, a song that has since become a staple of alt-rock bands wanting to prove their Pink prowess. (I saw Camper Van Beethoven do it at the Belly Up in Solana Beach, CA a few years ago.) The rest of the album is dominated by Barrett material, with a few more kiddie corkers like “The Gnome” (“a story about a little man… called Grimble Gromble”) and “Bike” (“I know a mouse, and he hasn’t got a house, I don’t know why I call him Gerald / He’s getting rather old but he’s a good mouse”). Fans of the album will wonder why I haven’t mentioned “The Scarecrow” (which has a pretty cool “video”) or “Chapter 24,” though now I have so they can quit wondering. (See how I did that?)

Its place in the great rock albums hall of fame can’t be denied, and not just because The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was the first album by Pink Floyd and the start of their illustrious career. Piper came out when pop groups were actively trying to push out the boundaries, before they became rock bands, and still somehow managing to chart (although not with their most out-there stuff). Barrett & Co. managed to do just that. This version of that album comes in an engaging outer box (pictured at the top of this column) with a new design based on the original’s back cover image, and a replica version of the actual cover inside the box sleeving up a heavy vinyl record with Columbia labels (that was their record company in England), and a poster depicting the band – Syd way up front and Roger all the way in the back. (Did Waters approve that? Good on ya, Rog!) Probably already sold out in your local record shop, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn in magnificent mono is one I wouldn’t hesitate to pay a few extra bucks for.

5/5 (Pink Floyd Records PFRLP26, 1967/2018)

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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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The Rolling Stones • Their Satanic Majesties Request [LP]

Why don’t we sing this song all together: I know many are calling this and other recent reissues cash-grabs, but I don’t care. I like Record Store Day and I don’t apologize for it. I’ve always wanted a copy of THE ROLLING STONES Their Satanic Majesties Request with the lenticular cover, but it always costed way too much – at least if you wanted one in decent shape. Now that the album’s hit 50 years old the powers that be issued last year’s deluxe edition (2LP+2CD, mono and stereo mixes only, no bonus tracks, beaucoup bucks), and for RSD 2018, this single record, stereo mix on groovy blue splatter vinyl. Yes!

Released in December 1967, the Stones were late to the psychedelic table – and they moved on pretty quickly, too. For Satanic Majesties was a one-off (along with the single that preceded it, “We Love You”), and the band moved on to their most storied late ’60s/early ’70s/Mick Taylor period. But the delights of this oft-disparaged album are many. From the beginning of side one and “Sing This All Together,” through the rocking “Citadel” and on to Bill Wyman’s “In Another Land” (they must have been short on material; they rarely did any of Bill’s songs), through the sort-of-reprise “Sing This All Together (See What Happens),” the “front side” of the album is worth repeated listenings. “Back Side” (side two) takes off with the exquisitely awesome “She’s a Rainbow” and its strings arranged by one J.P. Jones (who became the bassist for Led Zeppelin!), the illuminating “The Lantern,” which has been stuck in my head for a week, and then proceeds to conclusion with “2000 Light Years from Home” and album closer “On With the Show.” Satanic Majesties gets short shrift from many quarters but it’s not a bad album at all. It just sticks out like a sore thumb because it’s nothing like what came before it or after.

Whether you go for the RSD version pictured and reviewed here, the deluxe version or just a CD, Their Satanic Majesties Request really ain’t too shabby. I like it more today than when I first heard it, so for it I carry the lantern high.

4/5 (Abkco NPS-2, reissue, 1967/2018)

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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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Chris Stamey • A Spy in the House of Loud [Book]

Memoirs by rock ’n’ roll stars are a dime a dozen these days. That’s great for those of us who devour them, but the more of them we read, the more we realize that these books fall generally into one of two boxes. There are books that give us revelatory information on how our favorite albums or songs were created and read as if they were written by someone who can actually write (few and far between); and then there are those that sound like someone related a bunch of anecdotes into a tape recorder, had someone transcribe them, and then gently edit them into a semi-cohesive “book.” A Spy in the House of Loud by CHRIS STAMEY, luckily, mostly falls into that first box.

Stamey, one of the founding members of the late ’70s indie band The dB’s, somewhat misleadingly subtitled his book New York Songs and Stories. True, the North Carolinian guitarist/songwriter spent a good portion of this memoir in NYC, chasing down his muse by witnessing and creating music by and with people as diverse as Television, R.E.M., Alex Chilton and more. But his college town upbringing in Chapel Hill plays a pretty big part in his story, too. I’m guessing the New York appellation was more of a marketing decision than one of “accuracy in reporting.” Whatever.

What I like about A Spy in the House of Loud is the nice mix of stories – the Chapel Hill scene of the ’60s, how he met fellow dB’s Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby and Gene Holder, his work with legend Mitch Easter – and his personal takes on songwriting, music theory and record production. Stamey started recording his early bands’ rehearsals on rudimentary reel-to-reel decks, figuring out ways to overdub and create sounds by overriding or rejigging his recorders, at least until the venerable (and semi-affordable) TEAC 4-track decks came out. The way he tells it, though, he was always equally as interested in the technology of how songs were recorded as he was in how the instruments used on them were played and how those songs were written in the first place. The author actually takes a few minor detours in the book by dissecting what he thinks is the crux of the biscuit on songs he didn’t even write (and some he did), so-called “Jukebox” mini-chapters that talk about R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe” as well as, for instance, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message,” the first crossover rap song (written about life in NYC in the early ’80s). His descriptions give us a unique look at how all of these disciplines interconnect to create the records and CDs we’ve been listening to all of our lives.

A Spy in the House of Loud has a generous selection of photos, most from Stamey’s or his fellow musicians’ archives, and a reasonable discography and footnotes at the end. My only nitpick – besides the subtitle one – is that he sometimes comes across as stuffy and intellectual, typically when discussing advanced music theory. Maybe that’s me being bugged that I don’t know music theory as well as he does, but I prefer the passages discussing the basic writing and recording of the songs, the musicians he created them with, and the glimpse of what the climates for creating music were like in ’60s Chapel Hill and ’70s/’80s NYC. That being said, Chris Stamey has written a book that reads like it was written by someone who can actually write. And by a musician, even!

3/5 (University of Texas Press, Austin, 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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