To The Moon And Back: 20 Years And Beyond (2-CD Set) By Blackmore’s Night

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To The Moon And Back: 20 Years And Beyond

Blackmore’s Night

Minstrel Hall Of Fame 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Who could have guessed 20 years ago that Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame guitarist Ritchie Blackmore would find love and happiness as a front man for a Renaissance/Rock fusion band, but here we are two decades later. He and partner Candice Night are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Blackmore’s Night with a 2-disc release titled To The Moon And Back: 20 Years And Beyond.

The first disc is basically a compilation of their better known material. To my ear, the mix on some of the songs appears different. The sound level on Blackmore’s acoustic work on the mandolin and guitar has been turned up and it shares equal billing with Night’s vocals. It allows the listener to hear just how intricate many of the songs are and how good a guitarist Blackmore is when everything is stripped to basics. There is also a 9 minute version of “Home Again’ that presents the  band at its best.

Disc two moves in a number of directions. They have re-imagined a number of their classic songs and “Writing On The Wall,” “Coming Home,” and particularly the bonus track “I Surrender” emerge as hard rock classics. They are more akin to Blackmore’s work with Rainbow with a female vocalist. While they are outside the usual norm for Blackmore’s Night; they are an interesting turn for the band.

Disc one is a fine introduction to their sound, while the second disc hints at possibly new directions.

Blackmore’s Night has carved a unique niche for itself. To The Moon And Back: 20 Years And Beyond brings  a period of their career to a close. Twenty years is a long journey in the world of music but it is one worth taking with the band.

Rating: ****

 

 

 

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Filet Of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings (CD) By Jan & Dean

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Filet Of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings

Jan & Dean

Omnivore 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Jan & Dean are best remembered for their string of surf and car hits during the 1960’s. Jan Berry may not have had the extended musical vision of Brian Wilson, but in the studio he was able to combine the voices of the duo into a melodic choir. In concert they were unable to re-produce their soaring sounds of the studio, so they mixed comedy into their act.

In 1965 they owed the Liberty label one last album. Filet Of Soul was a mixture of live performances, comedy, and studio sound effects. The label promptly rejected it for release. A year later Jan Berry was involved in a car accident that virtually ended the duo’s career for over a decade. The label released Filet Of Soul three weeks after the accident to cash in on the Jan & Dean legacy. They removed the sound effects and most of the comedy. I was a big fan, but even I knew the album was terrible.

Now 52 years later, Filet Of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings has returned in all its fake crowd noises, studio sounds, and some of the lamest comedy ever to grace an album. And yes, it is still terrible but at least for the hard core fan, it is a slice of the 1960’s that mercifully, in this case, will not be revisited.

The best past of the release are the liner notes by Dean Torrence. He gives a full history as to the why of the music. One other strong feature was the backing band on the true live performances. They are all introduced, so I assume they were actually present. The brass section is excellent but how Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame drummer Hal Blaine got involved in all of this is beyond me.

The listener quickly learns that the duo should not sing The Everly Brothers (“Cathy’s Clown”) or the Beatles (“Michelle” and “Norwegian Wood”) and can’t sing many of the hits of the day (“Lightning Strikes” and “Hang On Sloopy”).

The truncated original release was in many ways not their fault but this one was intentional. It is a release only for the hard care fan. If you want their best and most enjoyable, seek out their greatest hits compilation.

Rating: *

Looking Forward (CD) By Chris Bell

Looking Forward

Chris Bell

Omnivore 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Since the death of Alex Chilton, everything Big Star and anything associated with the band has been or is being released. Latest in the Big Star sweepstakes is Looking Forward by Chris Bell.

Chris Bell’s time with the band was short. He contributed to their terrific debut album #1 Record. His solo career showed promise but he was killed in a car accident in 1978 at the age of 27, leaving him as a “what if” of rock music.

Looking Forward gathers together his unreleased and rarely found pre-Big Star material. His participation in bands such as Rock City, Icewater, and the Wallabys explore his development and thus the roots of Big Star.

Seventeen of the 22 tracks are finished, well-recorded songs by the aforementioned bands. They may sound a bit primitive by today’s standards but Bell’s melodic approach and tight harmonies are present.

The best tracks are from his time with Rock City. The ten tracks have a cohesive feel and should have been placed chronologically on the CD. “The Wind Will Cry For Me,” “I Lost A Love,” “The Answer,” and “Think It’s Time To Say Goodbye” are fairly mature and have a finished feel.  The six Icewater and Wallabys contributions find him not as settled and travelling in a number of directions, including several bluesy vocals.

Bell never really enjoyed any large commercial success during his lifetime. While his post-Big Star material is more polished and focused; Looking Forward is an eclectic look at his early career and is well worth a listen.

 

Rating: ***1/2

Approved By Snakes (CD) By Jason Ricci & The Bad Kind

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Approved By Snakes

Jason Ricci & Bad Kind

EllerSoul Records 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Jason Ricci is one of the best harmonica players working today, period. Backed by his band, Bad Kind, he has just released his 11th album Approved By Snakes.

It is not an album for the faint hearted. “My True Love Is A Dope Whore,” “Something Just Arrived,” “Demon Lover,” Terrors Of Night Life,” and “Got Cleaned Up” deal with drugs, the seediness, sexuality, and the darker side of life. His gritty voice compliments the explicit lyrics as he communicates his messages.

Still, any Jason Ricci album revolves around his harp. He and guitarist John Lisi are able to play off of each other and their music comes across as more of a jam band approach.

Ricci’s albums are always musically interesting and creative but many times they have an uncomfortable element to them. Recommended but hold on.

Rating: ***1/2

A Boy From Tupelo: The Sun Masters (Vinyl) By Elvis Presley

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Elvis Presley (A Boy From Tupelo) (Vinyl Release)

Elvis Presley

RCA/Legacy 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Ladies and gentlemen; “Elvis has re-entered the building.” Elvis Presley’s material has been released in just about every conceivable way and form. The latest entry in the Elvis Presley sweepstakes takes us back to the beginning of his career. Elvis Presley: A Boy From Tupelo is a massive 85 track box set that contains every studio track, live performance, alternate take, and spoken word ever recorded for the Sun label. It even includes a new unearthed live track.

If you do not have the inclination or cash to purchase the big set and want to go a little retro then I recommend the vinyl release containing 17 tracks of his best known early material. The sound is just about as perfect as the 60 year masters will allow.

The vinyl LP just presents the basics. There is no duplication due to various takes or incomplete songs.

Songs such as “Mystery Train,” “That’s All Right,” “Baby Let’s Play House,” “Blue Moon Of Kentucky,” and “Milkcow Blues Boogie” not only began Elvis’ career but changed the face of American music. They show his ability to fuse country with rhythm & blues into what would quickly become rock and roll.

When Elvis moves away from the rock and roll, some of the electricity is missing. In some ways “Harbor Lights,” “Just Because,” and “Tomorrow Night” seem a little out of place but remain a part of his legacy and represent a style he would return to later in his career.

Despite the clarity and format, the music has been issued a number of times. Therefore this is a release that will appeal only to an Elvis fan, a vinyl collector, or someone who wants to explore the roots of rock and roll. If you fall into either of these categories, then this is a release for you.

 

Rating: ****

 

All You Gotta Do (CD) By The Nighthawks

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All You Gotta Do

The Nighthawks

Ellersoul Records 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

The Nighthawks are an ultimate bar band who made good. Now five decades into their career, they continue to play their unique and gritty brand of blues, rock, and roots music. The have now issued their latest album All You Gotta Do.

They keep it straightforward and simple on their latest release. They are no guests; just the members of the band. There also keep overdubs to a minimum. Basically what they record in the studio is what you get.

While many of their albums contain almost all original tunes, here except for three songs, they move outward to cover material from a number of very different artists.

The blues have always provided the band’s foundation. Muddy Waters “Baby I Want To Be Loved” is a grade school primer of the blues, Chicago style. They move Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Ninety Nine” close to rock and roll with Mark Wenner’s harmonica filling in the gaps. “Snake Drive” has a driving beat that would fit the smoky club scene late at night.

The three original songs travel different paths. “Another Day” is a folk-like protest piece clothed in a blues framework. “Blues For Brother John” is a hybrid song that focus’ on Wenner’s harmonica. Mark Stutso’s “Voo Doo Doll” is the requisite love song.

Harmonies have always been a part of the Nighthawks appeal. Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So” is a gentle harmonic romp though one of a song masters creations. The Standells “Dirty Water” is an ultimate garage song Thousands of wanna-be bans have covered this song. They change it up a bit but it is a fine salute to a uniquely American style.

All You Gotta Do finds the Nighthawks in fine form. An album of solid blues and rock and roll from a veteran band who have honed their craft for decades.

Rating: ***

 

Timeless: Blues Image Featuring Mike Pinera (CD) By Mike Pinera

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Blues Image Featuring Mike Pinera: Timeless

Mike Pinera and Blues Image

Purple Pyramid Records 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Not quite what I expected. Blue Image, with and without singer/guitarist Mike Pinera, was an under rated rock/blues band 1966-1970, who released three studio albums that are still worth tracking down. The commercial peak of their career was the hit single “Ride Captain Ride.” Pinera were on to become a member of Iron Butterfly, The New Cactus Band, and enjoy a long solo career, which is where these albums problems begin.

Pinera covered a lot of Blues Image and Iron Butterfly material during his solo career. Much of it is solid rock and roll but it appears here under the Blues Image moniker, which is a tad misleading. There are no other members of Blues Image listed in the credits. If you want a primer or over view of his solo career, then this is a good album to explore.  If you want to explore Blues Image or Iron Butterfly material, then look elsewhere.

“Ride Captain Ride,” “Love Is The Answer” with guest Jonathan Cain, and “Pay My Dues” with Pat Travers are songs that appeared on the second Blues Image album Open. Here they are modernized versions of the songs. Travers adds a little edge to”Pay My Dues” but moves it toward hard rock and away from its original blues foundation.

His time with Iron Butterfly is represented by “In A Gadda Da Vidda,” which is just too modern and “Butterfly Blue,” which is saved by Pat Travers.

Four tracks are taken from his 1996 solo album In The Garden Of Eden” and 2012’s Isla. “Fantasy Of Love,” and the two title tracks are competent but do not rise above that level.

Timeless: Blues Image Featuring Mike Pinera is a disappointing release that in and of itself, never rises above the ordinary. It also make one yearn for what it could have been.

 

Rating: **

 

The Beach Boys 67: Sunshine Tomorrow (2-CD) By The Beach Boys

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The Beach Boys 67: Sunshine Tomorrow

Beach Boys

Capital 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

The endless summer of the Beach Boys has reached the 55 year mark. Created in 1962, it still beckons, several generations now, to a life that is just beyond the horizon.

The Beach Boys 67: Sunshine Tomorrow is the latest entry into the bands lexicon of music. It is a album for Beach Boys devotees as it gather studio tracks, alternate versions of songs, live performances, rehearsals, and a few oddities from 1967. The two CD contain a generous 67 tracks. It is not an album you may want to pop in the car stereo while driving down the highway but it does fill in a lot of gaps in the their musical journey.

The center piece of the release is a stereo mix of the Wild Honey album. Re-mixing an album in stereo can be tricky, especially given the age of the original tapes, but here the channels are just about perfectly balanced.

I have always found Wild Honey to be more interesting than enjoyable. Brian Wilson was moving away from their sunshine pop material. Wild Honey is about as experimental as he would ever get and as such it is a unique album in their catalogue. The band would quickly reverse direction and settle into a rock/pop hybrid sound. Still, Wild Honey is worth the journey and in many ways fares better in the musical world of today.

The album is populated by a number of interesting inclusions. There are live versions of “Wild Honey” and Country Air” from a November, 1967, concert. It is interesting to hear the band tackle technically difficult material. When the Beach Boys sing hit songs by other artists, they rarely get them right, but they do provide a unique perspective. “Game Of Love,” “The Letter,” and “With A Little Help From My Friends” add little to their legacy but find them covering songs like thousands of American bands.

Other highlights include an A Capella version of “Surfer Girl,” a rehearsal of “Heroes And Villains,” plus the 1967 version of “Surf’s Up.”

Whether or not you want to acquire this release will depend upon how invested you are in the Beach Boys. If you need everything by the band, then The Beach Boys 67: Sunshine Tomorrow is a treasure trove. If you just want to experience the eternal summer, then any of their compilation albums will do just fine.

Rating: ****

Arthur Alexander (CD Reissue) By Arthur Alexander

Arthur Alexander (CD Reissue)

Arthur Alexander

Omnivore 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Arthur Alexander, (1940-1993), is one of those artists that you have heard but may not know much about. He is best known as a song writer. His compositions have been recorded by the elite of the music industry including Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bee Gees, Otis Redding, Pearl Jam, Dusty Springfield, and a host of others.

He only released three studio albums during his 30 plus year career but those releases made him a pioneer of the soul-country style of music. His best known recorded song, “You Better Move On” has been recorded and sung by countless country artists.

Omnivore has now resurrected his second self-titled 1972 album. It arrives with a crystal clear sound, new liner notes by Dr. Demento, and six bonus tracks, two of which are being released for the first time.

The album was recorded in Nashville, which helped fuse his soulful approach with country music. Backed by some of Nashville’s elite musicians, he helped found a new music form.

The best know song is “Burning Love” by Dennis Linde, which was written especially for him. His countrified version was quickly covered by Elvis Presley and became the last top ten hit of his career. His own gospel oriented “Thank God He Came” and Dann Penn’s “Rainbow Road” are emotional peak of the album.

The album quickly disappeared due to the changing musical landscape and it not really finding a niche. Four and a-half decades later it fares better as a gentle exploration of an under appreciated style. It is a fitting epitaph to a forgotten artist whose music helped shape his era.

Rating: ***

Haunted Heart (CD) By Cowbell

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Haunted Heart

Cowbell

Damaged Goods 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

Jack Sandham and Wednesday Lyle, better known as Cowbell, may be from London but their style of music is founded in minimalist American rockabilly. They have just issued their third album titled Haunted Heart.

In the past they have performed and recorded as a duo; Sandham (guitar and vocals) and Lyle (drums and vocals). They have now added some keyboards, which fills in some of the gaps a duo can’t help but create. Still, it is Sandham’s crunching and driving guitar runs that connects the music to the American south.

In many ways they are a garage band that has evolved beyond those limitations. While they still keep their approach fairly simple, they do take some chances, which enhances their approach and makes the music more interesting.

“Nothing But Trouble” and “No Wrong” take their sound to the edge of the Delta Blues. “Neon Blue” and “Doom Train” benefit from some swirling psychedelic organ that fuses with Sandham’s guitar sound.

They travel in a different direction when Lyle takes over lead vocal duties. As a woman, she brings a different feel to their music. “Downlow” is a climb into the time machine for a trip back to the late 1960’s and the Woodstock Nation. “New Kind Of Love” stands out because it runs counter to all the other tracks. It channels Patti Page and Peggy Lee as an old style torch song that you used to find in a small smoke-laden bar late at night.

Haunted Heart is a raw and energetic album that will have you tapping your feet along with the beat.

Rating: ***1/2